Thursday, 19 December 2019


Part 2: Animal/Anima
A series of posts about primeval spirits

A drawing of a fox in a cave in France from a really long time ago, before artists had patreon accounts.
Everything has a spirit, everything has alive: even the cold, apparently dead rock has a soul. The pace at which the mountains move might be imperceptible to you, but to the sun and stars it is barely an eyeblink. Even the empty blackness of space has some kind of consciousness, it is said, by those who stare into the void for long enough to hear it speak.

So of course animals possess anima, it is barely worth mentioning. But the collective consciousness of dumb beasts can manifest as something much more interesting.

The embodiment of an archetype
This looks cool but its on Amazon so I'm not going to link it. Try reverse image search.

Rarely encountered alone, but almost always present when large numbers of one species are encountered, the true animal spirit is that beast's ultimate expression: its archetype. They will possess a human level of intelligence and certain magical abilities, and they inhabit the skin of the most *animalist* animal among the animals.

The level of intelligence will fall on a human scale, but will be tempered by the relative intellect and character of their species: thus, the fox will be highly intelligent, but vulnerable to having its vanity manipulated; an auroch, on the other hand, presents a simpler prospect, but also possess a shorter fuse. Whatever their intelligence, all may speak freely with any other sentient being, regardless of language. This is an essential part of their existence: as the epitome of their species (literally its spirit) it is their duty to negotiate with the other ambassadors of the animal kingdom, particularly with humans.

Because of their power and influence, it might come to pass that animal spirits receive the worship of humans: this might also consist of an offering, either spiritual (the burning of an effigy, the letting of blood, libation) or physical (bringing sacrifices directly to the pack or herd that the spirit represents).

The more animals that gather, the more likely it is that their spirit is among them. For a single creature encounter, roll a d20: a one indicates that creature is the incarnation of that species' spirit. Use a progressively smaller for increasingly larger encounters.
An encounter with a party represents an opportunity for the animal spirit: make a reaction roll as you would with a humanoid/NPC encounter, but consider the motives of the animal. What do the herds of aurochs want from humans? What can they give in return?  
Worship of animal spirits can grant boons: protection, assistance in the hunt, or even spells and rituals. 
The Supernatural in the Natural

In addition to their powers of communication, all animal spirits exert some influence of those milder spirits - namely spells - around them. They are likewise capable of bestowing curses and blessings, often something that mixes both. They are immune to mundane weapons, which appear to pass through them, though if it is said that silver can cause them harm.

Animal spirits can change their shape at will, though few choose to do so. Those that do so frequently - the fox and the jackal being the most guilty of this - are renowned for their wiliness and untrustworthy natures. An animal spirit will never willingly change form in front of another and, if captured mid-transformation, it will be forced to surrender its true name.
Silvered (indeed any metallic) weapons are assumed to be rare: this makes animal spirits nearly invulnerable, and thus entities that need to be negotiated with, deceived or just entirely avoided rather than bludgeoned to death. Give them spells that reflect their nature: charms and illusions for trickster crows and jackals; necrotic magic for scavenging vultures; plant control for herbivores (okay I ran out of ideas there).
Of course, Animal Spirits need to have more hit dice and hit points, too, in case the party really does think they want to take it out in combat... 
Unlike humans and some elemental spirits, true spirits of nature cannot have their name stolen by rituals or magic, it must be earned. As stated before, if anyone is able to wrestle an animal spirit mid-metamorphosis, the creature will be unable to fully transform, and will be trapped between states.

Thence follows a battle of wills.

If the grappler tires, the animal spirit will resume their true form, and devour their would-be captor, or else decimate them if they are less fond of flesh. Yet if the spirit tires first, they will surrender their true name, and their captor will have been granted mastery over that species, whatever that entails.

One option is to provide the "catcher" with the power to summon the spirit once a day, and also to possess a speak with animals ability limited to the appropriate species. It should be pretty powerful, because it is something that will be quite challenging to earn.

Apes have souls, so they don't have a collective spirit...

From Princess Mononoke, remember?

The animal spirits only manifest among the dumb beasts. Humans and their cousins, the brute men, are each miniature archetypes of their species in their own right: in some respects, each one believes they represent the true realisation of their species, and so the collective unconsciousness of humans and brute-men is never able to form a coherent mass.

This is less true for other close relatives among the higher apes. Though chimpanzees and gorillas suffer from the same fractured consciousness as the hominids (to a certain extent), en masse a focused troops of either species can start to behave like one animal. The lower apes and monkeys are no different from any other animals, and the baboon spirit can be both friend and foe to mankind.

Conversely, the reptile folk, though lacking in individuality, believes their spirit to be their draconian ancestors: the dragons beyond the stars. They have no spirit on this plane but that which serves the masters of the heavens.

An ancient intelligence
By the guy who put the writing in the corner.

This being a time before humanity had yet mastered agriculture, the truly devastating plagues that would later haunt them have not yet manifest, and the swarm is generally a local concern. A hive, or a swarm, possesses its own consciousness, an intelligence separate from and superior to the queen or whichever creature acts as the swarms' heart. Nonetheless, these ancient spirits are mostly dormant, observing a longer time scale than the beasts of the land, instead following a calendar in common with the plants and the rocks.

There desires and whims are more complex, in many ways, and shaman and spirit-talkers have struggle with direct communication almost as much as they do with plants. Conversations with insect swarms often head in peculiar directions, and rarely end satisfactorily.
Treat all insect swarms as normal unless a PC makes direct overtures to communicate with it: this is an option available to all characters, but non-spellcasters will have a -4 penalty to the reaction roll. Any result other than "friendly" will result in silence, and the weird feeling that maybe they're standing there trying to talk to an anthill.
Without the use of magic, an insect swarm will communicate by making pictures in the air, though they will understand the humans perfectly. This will make communication at night problematic, unless the PCs are addressing a colony of fireflies.  
The content of the conversation will be strange: swarms want to feed and reproduce, but they also want to explore and exploit, to make and unmake, in ways that are not compatible with the human experience in the same way that the needs of birds, mammals and reptiles are sometimes. 
What is gained, what is lost...

There are two ways in which animals enter into domestication, both of which involve a divorce from the collective soul of their species and a new covenant with their humanoid (or other) masters.

The first way is conventional (and boring): by selectively breeding captured or friendly wild animals that exhibit the arrested juvenile development necessary fro domestication.

The second way is by bargaining with an animal spirit: they may "give" a pack or herd of creatures over to humans as a reward, although with special stipulations: you my drink their milk but not eat their flesh, or you may eat the flesh only of  the male, or you must always treat them in such a manner and in return they will work for you.

Dogs, being domesticated juvenile wolves, don't have a collective spirit: their soul evolves alongside their human masters. there are, however, intelligent dogs, but that deserves another post.

Cats have not (and never will be) domesticated: at this stage in human development, they are viewed with suspicion, especially as so many of them loiter around the City of Ghosts.

Other magical talking animals

A giant, talking hyena might not necessarily be the embodiment of a hyena spirit. could be  an elemental spirit assuming the form of an animal. could be a sorcerer or witch or other shapeshifter. could even be one of the powerful, ancient spirits that humans will one day call gods.

There's really know way of knowing, aside from trueseeing  magic.
These could be separate entries on your random encounters table, or if you want to mix things up, make it an additional die roll: 2d6, 1-9 if  it's an animal spirit, 10 a sorcerer, 11 an elemental, 12 an elder god in animal form.
...a random encounter with a herd of buffalo has an outside chance of being a chance meeting with Moloch. 

Roll 2d6, modify with charisma bonuses of the party's lead speaker/negotiator:

2d6 Reaction
2-3Hostile/ wary
the spirit will follow the instincts of its herd/pack:
attacking or fleeing.
4-6Mildly hostile/cautious
They will make some probing questions:
modify accordingly and re-roll after the interrogation.
Swarms will remain silent.
As above, but +4 if party answers questions favourably.
Swarms will remain silent.
The spirit wishes to engage, and affects an air of friendliness.
It will be motivates solely by the needs of its followers, however:
so its intentions could still be malevolent.
The spirit has a special request or purpose (see below)
The animal spirit has a specific reaction to the party:
1d6 Reaction Roll (prey animal spirit)
the spirit requests that the party protect the herd:
travel with us for one day, protecting us from predators.
We will reward each party a member a boon for doing this
2.Destroy the predators:
A predatory pack is plaguing them,
please exterminate.
We promise that you will be rewarded.
3.New Watering Hole:
Please escort us to the nearest watering hole...
Your "leader" will be rewarded for doing this.
4.Gather Flowers
We love the flowers that grow on the crocodile infested banks.
Please bring some back for us.
There is also a new entheogen growing nearby which we will teach you to use.
5.Engage Tribe
One off your tribes (determined by GM) hunts us.
We insist they stop.
Do this for us and, and we grant you one of our herd each month.
6.Give us your...
The smiling spirit has one humble request: a hand, a limb, a child, your laugh... something valued by the PCs.
In return, the one making the sacrifice will be granted a spell-spirit.
If they don't want to give it over, roll TWICE for what they have to do instead.

1d6 Special Reaction (predator animal)
1Join Us
the spirit requests that the party hunt with the pack:
once they catch some prey, they are free to go.
2Bring us flesh
The party are required to bring at least 3 hit dice of meat.
Your prize is your life.
3Hunting Grounds
Lead us to a new hunting ground, at least four miles from here.
4Destroy our Rivals
A rival animal pack (different species)
is dominating the wilderness:
destroy them, and you will be rewarded with a boon.
5Destroy Your Weapons
Your human hunting tools offend us:
This is not nature's way to hunt.
Destroy them and you will be rewarded.
6Give us your...
The smiling spirit has one humble request: a hand, a limb, a child, your laugh... something valued by the PCs.
In return, the one making the sacrifice will be granted a spell-spirit.
If they don't want to give it over, roll TWICE for what they have to do instead.
Unless otherwise noted, failure to comply with a predator spirit's request turns them (and their cohorts) immediately hostile.
1d6 Special Reaction (Insect swarm)
There is a termite hill 2 miles west of here: go find and smash.
We hunger for...
1-2: something sweet; 3-4: something rotting; 5-6: something alive.
Bring us (random item)
The hive has birthed a new queen:
Take her to a new home, half a mile from here.
6Give us your...
The swarm-spirit has one humble request: a hand, a limb, a child, your laugh... something valued by the PCs. If they don't want to give it over, roll TWICE for what they have to do instead.
Unless otherwise noted, failure to comply with a swarm spirit's request turns them (and their cohorts) immediately hostile. Successful completion has a 50% chance of resulting in a reward for each party member, or no reaction whatsoever. They're difficult to understand, these insect swarms.

Partly inspired by these goblin punch posts:

...and just the notes about talking animals in a The Hobbit inspired setting