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The Spirit Magic System

The second major magic system in Voodoo is a collection of abilities of and skills for interacting with spirits. It is less clearly defined than Ritual Magic, and more closely linked to Initiation, so it requires more substantial modifications for general use. Though less broadly useful than Ritual magic, it better models traditional shamanism than the GURPS magic variant on R116-125, particularly if combined with the Paths of the Dead and Spirits.

Like Mystic Initiation the various Spirit Magic powers can be acquired in manners ranging from long study to a side effect of a childhood fever. Indeed, in most cultures the initial powers usually are acquired accidentally - rarely does one plan to become a shaman.

Advantages, Disadvantages, and Skills



This advantage (CI p41) is equivalent to Spiritual Hearing, Invite Spirit and an unspecified level of Spiritual Sense.

New Advantages

Resistance to Spirits: 2 points/level

The level of this advantage adds to resistance rolls to any spirit ability or spiritual power.

Shamanic Gift: 10 points

This advantage allows the magician to learn to control spirits (or demons, raksasa, djinn, kami etc.) through a clash of wills, without the trappings of ritual magic. The actual abilities are purchased as skills, though in some settings they may default to IQ or IQ-6 for anyone with the Shamanic Gift. Like the Path of Spirits this ability may need to be specialized to the spirits of a particular tradition or group of traditions. The common skills are listed below.

Spiritual Charisma: 4 points/level

Spirits like you, the level of this advantage adds to reaction rolls from them. This replaces Spirit Empathy (CI 46); to reproduce it exactly add a 20% limitation: you will not harm or enslave spirits and oppose others doing so.

Spiritual Hearing: 5 points

You can hear the voices of spirits. If spirits can hear thoughts directed at them (as they can in the Shadow War setting, see VO84) this is enough to carry on a conversation.

Spiritual Sense: 3 points base

You can sense spirits, In-Betweeners and other supernatural creatures, magical effects and objects, and anyone with a spirit related advantage. Purchase it using the rules for Senses below.

Spiritual Voice: 20 points

The ability to 'speak' in the manner of spirits. Spirits and those with Spiritual Hearing can hear you. Others usually hear nothing, though you can use this power to speak to them at a cost of 1 fatigue per short sentence sent. This mimics some of the effects of Telepathy, but is not psionic and unaffected by Mindshields. No control is implied, but people do sometimes act on suggestions from voices in their head. The GM may require anyone intoxicated or under severe emotional stress to make a Will roll to resist such a suggestion, particularly if it is something the victim might want to do.



In many cultures this disease is regarded as a type of possession. If this is true it may bought off with spiritual cures. It is a suitable disadvantage for mediums and other spirit magicians, a sort of Involuntary Possession that doesn't allow either the magician or the spirit to do anything useful.

Split Personality

Another disadvantage often attributed to possession, the second personality may be a separate soul occupying the same body. A past life personality is also a possible cause.

New Disadvantages

Susceptable to Possession: -2 points/level

Your spirit is not firmly attached to your body, attempts to possess you, imprison your soul or otherwise override your control of your body supernaturally are at a bonus equal to your level of susceptibility.

Susceptable to Fatigue Theft: -15 points

Once per day spirits can steal up to half your fatigue by winning a quick contest of Wills. If you live in a world with many spirits the GM should require contests throughout the day until one spirit suceeds.

(I doubt this was thought out carefully in Voodoo, where it's relegated to the section on spiritual abilities, but it is a serious disadvantage in the Shadow War. Having half your base fatigue vanish at the whim of the GM is potentially fatal.)


Exorcism: page CI154

Though similar to both the Path of Spirits ritual and the Shamanic gift, religious exorcism is not quite the same effect. It requires a much longer ritual, uses a somewhat different contest and allows the possessed victim to assist in expelling a spirit. But probably the most important difference is that religious exorcism is permanent; the spirit could be invited back, but otherwise doesn't return.

New Skills

Command Spirit (Will/Very Hard)

Prerequisite: Shamanic Gift

By winning a contest of skill with the Will of a spirit, the magician can force it to perform a single service, including reveal some bit of information or leave the area. Defeated spirits will be respectful and disinclined to challenge the magician again in the near future, victorious spirits usually try to possess him.

Dissipate Spirit (Will/Very Hard)

Prerequisite: Shamanic Gift

By winning a contest of skill against the greater of the Will or Fatigue of a spirit, the magician can injure it. Each point by which he wins the contest inflicts 1 point of damage. If the spirit is reduced to -HT, it is destroyed.

Exorcise Spirit (Will/Very Hard)

Prerequisite: Shamanic Gift

By winning a contest of skill with the greater of the Will or Fatigue of the spirit the magician can expel it from a vessel or place to which it is not native (i.e. you can not expel a soul from its body or a deity from its temple). An entity from another plane may be expelled from the world entirely. The spirit may return eventually, though traditionally not for a year and a day, nor is it likely to if the magician remains nearby.

Greater Summoning (Will/Very Hard)

Prerequisite: Summon Spirits

Compels a deity or other multi-faceted spirit to appear in a form greater than a minor manifestation. Otherwise it is identical to Summon Spirit.

Invite Spirit (Will/Average) Defaults to Summon Spirit -0

Prerequisite: Shamanic Gift

The polite form of Summon Spirit, the spirit hears the invitation, knows who is making it, and may chose to appear. In the Shadow War setting this is unnecessary since spirits automatically hear their names and can travel to the speaker, but in many settings they lack that ability.

Summon Spirit (Will/Hard)

Prerequisite: Shamanic Gift

Compels a spirit to appear before the magician, though a multi-faceted spirit or god need not appear as more than a minor manifestation. Unwilling spirits resist with Will and the spirit is not required to do anything but appear for a few seconds. The magician must know the name of the spirit; in some traditions obtaining that name is a significant challenge.

Spiritual Stealth (Will/Easy) No default

By winning a quick contest of this skill with the Alertness of anyone using a spiritual sense, psi sense etc. you can appear less supernatural than you actually are. If the sense only detects supernatural power you can elude it entirely.


Shamans are religious professionals skilled in dealing with the spirit world. In cultures with animistic or totemic religions, including many primitive societies, shamans are the primary religious leaders. They are often marginalized by the priesthood in more complex religions, but you can still find them - Christian exorcists and New-Age mediums fill the same role.


Possession by supernatural entities is a nearly universal theme, though oddly mostly on the margins in the great religions. It has become even more marginal as Western medicine redefines hostile possession as psychological disorders, but it is worth noting exorcists have better cure rates than psychotherapy until the introduction of reliable psychotropic drugs at mid TL7.

Traditional possession comes in many shades. Perhaps the most useful distinction is whether the spirits have 'biographies'. Possession by spirits that do not - Christian demons, Islamic jinn, the nymphs of classical myth or the animas of the Lodges - looks much like mental illness. Spirits like the Muses or the Voodoo loas that do are more like true deities. Household divinities are an important intermediate type, worshipped within a kin group and often possessing the lineage head, but unknown outside the family - Roman genius and lares, or Yoruba orishas. Often they are associated with a more widely known deity, as the demon goddess Samdzimari first links a Georgian shaman and his hat'i, or the cult of Sasta and the Goddess is associated with the 'deified demons' of popular Hinduism.

Inspiration (literally breathing in the spirit) is another traditional motif, in which the possession is by an almost abstract concept. The abiographical forms are more like virtues (e.g. creativity) than mental illness. The kabbalistic sefiroth as aspects of the godhead are perhaps the best example, and the classical Muses also show some of this character. Of course they easily acquire myths and personalities - as the sefiroth have become specific angels.

Mystery cults often involve divine possession causing insane behavior - as in Panic (possession by the god Pan), the Maenads (possessed by Dionysis) or the priests of Attis (best known for castrating themselves during the ecstasy). Other deities are more inspirational - the oracles of Apollo, the Muses, or Hermes the Wise Serpent, and some - the theolepsy of Eros or possession by the Christian Holy Spirit, fall somewhere in between.

In the most extreme form of possession the deity becomes indistinguishable from the possessed. Divine kingship and incarnate priesthoods can work like this. Christ's incarnation, the avatars of some Hindu deities, and the serial reincarnations of Tibetan lamas or other Buddhist bodhisattvas can be seen in this light.

Possession usually involves personality changes, which in long term relationships may endure even when not under the influence of the spirit. Some powers also demand vows or duties which appear similar - e.g. when a maltheistic power requires Murder Addiction is it a duty or a personality change? Spirits using someone else's voice can sound different from the possessed individual, sometimes this is a change in accents, but in others it is a dramatic change almost indistinguishable from the original voice of the spirit. Do apply the limitations of the Voices skill though - the voice is not be close enough to the original to convince good voice recognition software. Possessions can even produce slight changes in appearance; changes in facial muscle tensions can make most people look younger or older, haggard or alert or idiotic. Long term associations may even cause more significant changes like prematurely gray hair.

Channeling 10 points

You can enter a trance and allow spirits to speak through you. Entering the trance requires several seconds and a Will or Meditation roll. During the trance any spirit in the area can take limited possession of your body and use it to speak or write messages. The channel is unaware of what is happening while he is possessed and does not know what the spirit said.

Once a spirit accepts an invitation, it may not violate the terms. To possess the channel and do something other than speak it must release him and attempt possession normally.

Spirit Warrior varies

The ability to assume a template of abilities you do not normally possess. In the original form in GURPS Voodoo you invite a spirit granting the abilities to share your body. But it could also represent petitioning a god to grant you a temporary ability, tapping skills from your past lives, or triggering psychological conditioning to raise abilities stored in your subconscious. See Wetware Sub-Personality (BIO p72) for a version of the advantage as a bit of advanced technology.

Any ability can appear in a Spirit Warrior template, though incredible skill levels or super abilities make the effect obviously supernatural. Each template must be paid for; find the normal cost of the abilities and add appropriate limitations. In GURPS Voodoo spirit warriors are limited to a single template, that of the spirit they are devoted to, but in some magic systems multiple templates, or even multiple templates active at the same time, are possible.

The spirit warrior remains in control of himself, though some forms of the ability (particularly partial possession and subconscious constructs) include psychological disadvantages, compulsive behaviors, or speech or personality quirks in the template. This reduces cost, but can be inconvenient; and failure to role-play them may make it difficult to call up the ability later, or result in the GM taking over your character next time.
Much of the feel of the advantage comes from the limitations applied. The standard Voodoo limitation package (requires Good or better reaction roll at +4, 1 minute duration, renewable by additional rolls at -1 per minute, costs 1 fatigue per minute payable at the end of duration, and various conditional modifiers to the reaction roll) is rather arbitrarily set at -30%. Other suitable limitations include Accessibility (only on certain days, times, places, or in certain situations), Costs Fatigue (-5% per point), Limited Duration (1 hour -5%, 10 minutes -10%, 1 minute -20%, 10 seconds -35%, 1 second -50%), Preparation Required, Requires material components (-10%), Requires ritual words or gestures (-10%) or both (-20%), Requires skill roll (-10%), Takes Extra Time (-10% per doubling), and Unreliable. As always the maximum reduction is -75%. There is a minimum cost of 5 points per template.

Combat personas are popular templates. Increased strength and endurance, a few points of DR, pain resistance, enhanced reaction times such as extra move or combat reflexes, increased (or entirely new) weapon skills, and the loss of psychological disadvantages that might interfere with efficient killing are typical. Extra fatigue or hit points are also common, when the spirit departs they are subtracted from your current total, possibly causing unconsciousness or forcing one or more death rolls. This is in genre, in many tales possessed warriors ignore lethal wounds, only to collapse after the battle.

Spirit Possession: varies

Mechanically similar to Spirit Warrior, but the alternate personality has control.

If the player also controls the alternate personality, treat this exactly like the Spirit Warrior advantage, adding Split Personality if the switch is involuntary.

If the GM controls the alternate personality but the player controls when and if the switches occurs, design and cost the alternate personality as a Spirit Warrior template with the No Free Will disadvantage (see below).

If the GM controls the alternate personality, and the player is not in control of the switch, the abilities the character has while possessed cost nothing, and the PC takes the No Free Will disadvantage with limitations reflecting the frequency and conditions under which the player loses control.

It is possible to have both these last two, in which case pay for the template for the voluntary ability and take the limited disadvantage.

Spiritual Allies

Spirit Ally, Ally Group, Contact or Patron: varies

Social advantages involving a spirit work normally - keeping in mind that even fairly weak spirits can be high point characters and often qualify for the unusual reach or powers enhancements. Spirit allies devoted to you to the extent of risking destruction in your service (such as those specified in GURPS Voodoo at higher levels of Initiation) have the Fanatic disadvantage and should be treated as any other fanatically devoted ally.


Familiar Spirits, often in animal form, are more in genre in the Voodoo systems than in GURPS Magic. Magicians with a strong focus in the Path of Nature or the spirit world should consider one. Most of the rules on CI 37-8 are reasonable, but add another 5 points to the costs for See Through the Familiar's Eyes and Take Familiar's Shape and make them at will abilities with no fatigue cost. You can take Draw Strength From Familiar, it is just less useful to a ritual magician.

Spirit Advisor

The character has an intangible ally that shares information with him. This can be a spirit or ghost, or a personality from a previous incarnation. It is incapable of doing anything but providing information. The Spirit advisor should be built like any other NPC. The base cost is 10 points, modified by the frequency of appearance (B23). An advisor with extremely unusual and valuable skills, or an IQ far in excess of your own may be worth a base 15 points at the GM's option. The cost assumes the advice is generally good and offered at useful moments, though it may be colored by the frame of reference or prejudices of the advisor. Asking a neolithic warrior spirit for help with an administrative error to your bank account may produce seriously bad advice. People are plagued by spirits that give bad or actively dangerous advice suffer from the Voices disadvantage.

Divine Favor

Source: Jonathan Lang

The line between spirits and deities is often very thin.

Blessings and Pacts

Some powers grant abilities permanently, Blessed is a good example. The cost is that of the advantage or skill, though many gods add faith related vows or codes of honor; break the vow and the god removes the power. Customarily the worshipper already has the code before being offered the power as a reward, but some entities are willing to cut a deal, in which case the relationship is usually called a Pact. In most traditions darker powers offer Pacts, but while mythmakers assume people follow bright powers out of virtuous impulses, actual bright powers may be more pragmatic....

The basic form of a Pact is a template of abilities it grants you, together with some disadvantages that reduce the cost and represent what the granting power gets from the deal. Common disadvantages include Vows or Codes of Honor, Duties or Hazardous Duties, or some sort of sacrifice. Sacrifices may be actual disadvantages (put out your right eye...), cost no points (promise me your soul...), or even buy off disadvantages (give me the life of your infant daughter...). The latter deals may seem to invite rules abuse, but in some ways that is realistic. People who take a deal like that are those primarily interested in power, who regard others as not real, or who think the deal is a game they can play with Satan and win.

The traditional pacts with the devil are for riches (the Wealth advantage), political power (Status etc.), sexual power (Appearance, Pheromone Control), Immortality (Longevity or Unaging), assorted loyal slaves (Ally Group) and magical knowledge (points in any magical skills). In some traditions certain monsters - vampires and werewolves particularly - are humans who have made a pact with the devil to be transformed. It is also possible to sell your soul for a specific immediate benefit - the death of an enemy, procuring a particular person as a sex toy, or escaping certain death.

Major Self-Sacrifices

Intentionally inflicting disadvantages on yourself - scaring yourself to reduce appearance, cutting off limbs, castrating yourself, putting out your eyes - or reducing your ability scores (often manifesting as unnatural aging) is generally reserved for long term bargains, where the cost of the disadvantage offsets part of the cost of the abilities granted in a Pact or other deal with a spirit. If the GM permits major self-sacrifices to boost ritual magic rolls each CP is good for a +1 or +2 bonus. Note the sacrifice must lasting - if you ceremonially blind yourself and then try to install cybereyes, the best you can hope for is the operation fails. At worst the irritated powers inflict some nasty curse on you, the cybersurgeon, your friends (i.e. other members of the party)... as a warning to others who might try to cheat them of a sacrifice.

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