I’ll be honest. I was blown away by how surprisingly thorough the treatment of Spirit Magic, Shamanism and Spirits is in RuneQuest Glorantha.
I’ve been pretty public about how much of a Mage: the Ascension and Awakening fan I am in this blog, so checking out the magic sections of RPGs is always something I look forward to. Most of the time I expect it to be a short paragraph of metaphysics then a long spell list, possibly tagged at points to denote which schools of magic can cast a certain spell.
Not quite the case here in RuneQuest, I’m happy to say.
This chapter centers on Spirit Magic, the most commonly accessible form of magic in Glorantha. The mechanics behind it are fairly simple and the chapter details not only the metaphysics involved, but also where and how to learn it.
As expected, the act of learning magic is a community affair, and ties neatly back to your cult as a source of learning. Shamans are mentioned here as well as Spirit Magic Specialist, and a much (MUCH) more thorough treatment is given in a later chapter.
The chapter goes into the mechanical aspects such as Spell Holding Limits, Spellcasting abilities, Resistance rolls and Strike Rank, but does so without neglecting to paint a vivid picture of the flavor of Spirit Magic.
The Spirit Magic spells are then described at the end in the honored tradition of the spell list.
Shamans are given their own chapter, detailing the role that they take in the community and their nature as one that truly lives with one foot in the Spirit World. It becomes extremely clear that the nature of the Shaman is very different from just anyone who entreats the spirits with Spirit Magic as explained in the earlier chapter.
Shamans are treated as something of an “Advanced Class” so to speak, a role in the community that requires a lot of dedication and sacrifice. The entire journey of becoming a Shaman is detailed, and it’s a huge effort. In exchange, the Shamans unlock a host of abilities unique only to themselves and they gain insight only available to those who see into the Spirit World.
Of course, Shamans also work with Taboo’s that restrict their behaviors somewhat. Some are rather easy, like not eating bear meat. Others might make for a plot hook on their own, such as Making a pilgrimage to the Earth Camp in the Spirit World once per season.
The Spirit World
It would be remiss if RuneQuest didn’t go into the more esoteric details of the Spirit World of Glorantha and they certainly deliver. Starting off with a description of what Spirits are and how to negotiate with them.
There’s also a sizable section about Spirit Combat and how to resolve it. The Spirit World is a wondrous place, but it is also quite dangerous. Shamans and other characters that seek to meddle in it need to be careful and able to defend themselves should negotiations turn hostile.
Spirit Cults are an interesting detail as they revolve around religions that worship particular spirits as opposed to gods. This form of worship has it’s own benefits as initiates obtain Rune spells as provided by spirits.
RuneQuest’s treatment of Spirit Magic is flavorful, thorough, vivid and visceral. The book succeeds in being able to convey the significance of Spirit Magic in the daily lives of Glorantha. The mechanics are a bit involved, but that’s to be expected, and I’m starting to feel that the complexity of combat and magic in Glorantha is a means of highlighting the ritualized nature of both.
Next up, we’ll take a look at Rune Cults and Rune Magic!
For those interested in the hardcover, I’d recommend buying from Chaosium as they’ll be issuing a coupon for those who bought a PDF to discount the price from the physical copy!