Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Starfall: Pneumotology Revisited

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Spirits are magical entities whose body and soul are one in the same, and pneumatology is the study of such beings. Most spirits tend to be incorporeal in nature, with some capable of temporarily manifesting a physical form or physically interacting with the material world, but there are plenty whose form is quite substantial. Some spirits enjoy meddling with mortal affairs, and others prefer to remove themselves wholly from such trifling events. It doesn’t take much to see how varied the innumerable spirits are, but these can largely be broken down into a handful of broad classes.

Nature Spirits

In antediluvian days memorialized in folk memory from before the Starfall, nature spirits were worshiped across the world. These simpler times saw them heralded as deities, and in time, some became just that. These were the spirits of nature who inhabit and govern everything in the material world, from the smallest spec of sand to the highest mountain – even carefully masterfully manufactured objects can acquire spirits of their own. Now the worship of spirits at large has diminished, but their spirits themselves remain as inscrutable, willful, deliberate, capricious, and ubiquitous as ever.

Plant & Animal Spirits

As with everything in existence, even plants and animals have spirits. While they typically lack the tripartite spirit of humans and other sentient creatures, the still, at the least, possess the most rudimentary part of a soul – the agni. Most plants and all animals also possess the animal instinct that drives plants to grow toward the sun and animals to hunt, feed, and procreate – the ap. Occasionally, such spirits awaken, either by magic, worship, or happenstance. These achieve the full eschatological triumvirate as they acquire a vayu, or intellect. These are the talking bears, panthers, snakes, tigers, wolves, etc. of legend and more.

Animal and plant spirits usually have qualities and characteristics associated with the creatures they represent, and are often called upon to provide food and necessities to sentient creatures. It is widespread custom to give offerings of thanks and gratitude for the sacrifices these spirits make in sustaining higher lifeforms. Particularly powerful plant or animal spirits are often anthropomorphized with better-than-human intelligence and humanlike form. These are the animal lords spoken of in myth and legend and sometimes serve as totem spirits.

When considering what traits an animal spirit may have, first consult the mental traits of the animal they inhabit. Plant spirits usually have some level of Green Mind (see GURPS Magic – Plant Spells, p. 6).


Elementals embody the essence of the primal elements of nature – air, earth, fire, ice, stone, water, wind, etc. They are numerous beyond imagination, and usually exist solely to sustain and propagate their element. This doesn’t mean they are unintelligent, however! Elementals are a complete soul, and even the simplest, smallest elementals are fully sapient.

Elements usually have personality traits typical of their respective elementals – callousness for ice, resolve for stone, etc., and those elementals are often predominated by the concerns of their elements. Perhaps this is because they are among the oldest and most primal spirits in existence. Either way, they tend not to concern themselves with anything that does not immediately affect them or pertain to their element.

Elementals range greatly in power – a power they draw from one of the Elemental Houses, those elemental pocket planes within the Astral Plane often considered the palette with which the world was painted. Usually, but not always, the grandeur of the spirit is a gauge of its power, but sometimes tremendous potency can be found in the tiniest of packages.


Beyond just elementals and animal and plant spirits, there are those spirits who personify abstract concepts, human qualities, and natural forces. These exist in a very real sense, but are usually cold and removed from daily life. Theirs are concerns of grander purpose – maintaining seasons, governing beauty, etc.

Personifications can embody nearly anything from natural features to abstract ideas and emotions. They are what cast shadows in Pluto’s caves, and they are not to be trifled with. They may exhibit humanlike thought, behavior, and appearance, but they exist to promote the ideals they embody. Many of the gods today are ascended personifications.

Genius Loci

Places often have spirits inextricably tied to them. These are spirits of specific trees, mountains, lakes, etc., and they are often confused with elementals or personifications. Genius loci are best distinguished by the specificity of their focus. An earth elemental may choose to inhabit a hill and may promote and protect hills, but the genius loci of a hill is the spirit of that hill and protects that hill. In fact, a genius loci’s very existence is tied to the existence of the place with which it is associated. Thus, a hill spirit is healthy when its hill is healthy and weaken as its hill erodes.

Spirits of place usually dwell in the places they embody, and many cannot leave their homes without facing sickness and decline. Moreover, most have substantial power over their homes and guard them ferociously. This has led to the veneration of many genius loci throughout history. Some scholars use to believe that some of the grander elementals and personifications may have once started out as spirits of place.

Spirits of place are ferocious protectors, but may otherwise exhibit any array of personality traits. They typically know everything there is to know about their place, but may have little to share about what stretches beyond that boarder. They also tend to be more active in the world than personifications and many elementals.

Celestial Spirits

Celestial spirits are those who are native to the Astral Plane, Maelstrom, or some other plane of existence beyond the physical world. They tend to be more powerful and possess broader power than nature spirits, but plenty of counterexamples involving extremes exist. Unlike nature spirits, celestial spirits are usually susceptible to banishment back to their home plane, and also tend to have physical presences more often than not. Below are the three main types of celestial spirits.


Demons are the embodiment of all that is corrupt in the universe, and hail from the seething pit of chaos their worshipers call the Maelstrom. They are entities tied to depravity, destruction, impurity, and madness, demons who came to this world wrapped in skyfire and now sew discord, strife, and war wherever they set foot. Rarely are they directly observed, and those few who do witness their horror never survive long enough to describe the encounter to others. The horrid few first-hand accounts describe aberrant combinations of beasts and man, fluctuating illusions, and impossible colors, and the acts described surpass the vivid and deranged imaginations of the most manic drug-induced deliriums.

Perhaps mercifully, demons rarely interact directly with humanity. Instead, they use their unseen corrupting influence to arouse people to vicious, debauched acts with wild abandon. They pervert offspring within their mothers’ wombs, choke and wither of crops, and shower populations with pestilence. They are often portrayed as exhibiting an overabundance of such human traits as greed, envy, lust, pride, hatred, wrath, etc., but the few accounts of actual interactions describe inscrutably inhuman motivations and thoroughly alien emotions.

Demons are treated as Elder Things, meaning they are neither Living nor Not Living and Truly Evil, but are not subject to banishment (see What Are Dungeon Fantasy Monster Classes?). Furthermore, they are almost always unique monsters, due to their rarity and preference for operating though cultists and pawns. This means that an encounter with a demon should be an unpredictable and terrifying event for any group of adventurers. They will be created with this in mind always.


The most powerful of natural and celestial spirits are sometimes worshipped as gods by the people of the world. This worship seems to have had the effect of elevating some those spirits to true divinity. The power of a particular deity can range from that of an ordinary spirit to near omnipotence, just as those gods may roam the physical world or reside in astral or spirit realms where they govern their spheres of influence from the seat of their power surrounded by their divine servitors (see below). Ultimately, what defines a deity in terms of these classifications is their role as patrons and superiors of lesser spirits, their ability to manifest through their mortal worshipers, and their ability to grant their followers miraculous powers.

Thus it is that any spirit willing to interact with and empower mortals and other spirits is a deity, and any given sphere of influence will have many different patron deities throughout the world. Typically, regional deities will hold sway in that region, but this doesn’t mean foreign gods are without their abilities. Furthermore, the followers of deities rarely seek to evangelize to others. The gods are the gods, and no one god is worshiped to the exclusion of others lets those grow jealous. Even warring cultures ultimately incorporate some or all of each other’s gods into their own faiths.

In mechanical terms, deities are simply spirits that grant some level of Divine Favor to their followers and have a retinue of attendant spirits. The type of Divine Favor (see Totem Spirits) depends on the power of the individual spirit. While a deity’s ability to grant and perform miracles should be tied to where it is most worshiped, this is far too complicated for Dungeon Fantasy.

Divine Servitors

These spirits exist to serve a particular deity or group of deities. They may embody the ideals of a god or be simple servants. Either way, they represent the projection of a divinity’s power and are the prime means by which deities interact with the physical world. They are the keepers of the god’s spheres of influence, messengers to the mortal realm, and soldiers in times of war. They may be vastly powerful – nearing godhood in their own right – or base entities barely noticeable in their unassuming nature. Their appearance usually suits the deity they serve, and they are most often deal with worshippers of their deity.

All divine servitors are, however, unwavering in their obedience to their god. They do not disobey, even if they creatively interpret directives on occasion. This is not a matter of compulsion; it is what makes them divine servitors in the first place. In the instance that such spirits break faith with their patron, they are usually stripped of their powers and cast down to become nature spirits of some kind. This doesn’t always sit well with them, but that is of little concern to deities.

The reaction of such spirits to their expulsion from grace varies greatly. Some seek to become gods themselves. Others turn to the demonic in hatred of their former patron. Still others accept their new role in the cosmic order and continue their existence peacefully. This change of status does result in a change of Monster Class – from Divine Servitor to one of Elemental or Spirit.

The Human Spirit

Very much like plants and animals, humans also have a spirit that spends most of its existence bound within a corporeal body. Death releases the human spirit from its corporeal vessel and allows its component parts to separate and pass onto whatever awaits us all after death.

The Soul

The soul is tripartite: the agni resides in the head and represents vigor, life force, and magical energy. The ap dwells in the liver is the base part of the soul responsible for a person’s animalistic instincts and passions like hate and lust. Found in the heart, the vayu embodies knowledge and personality, and is the part of the soul that actually enters the afterlife. The study of the soul is called Eschatology.


The most prevalent form of undead are aps that do not pass onto whatever afterlife may exist. Such beings continue to inhabit the world of the living as incorporeal spirits who no longer belong to this world. Far less common are uncremated bodies who rise as restless undead fueled by an agni that never rejoined the world spirit, Ananta, upon death. These result in corporeal undead who, upon rising, are preserved by the agni and no longer suffer from decay.

The least common form of undead includes a vayu that never rejoined Ananta. In their least powerful form, these are ghosts and shades that need shriving to release their grip on the physical world before being re-enveloped by the mother spirit. In the thankfully rare cases that a mortal wanted to become undead, the vayu is often tainted by the Maelstrom and virtually impossible to shrive. Such undead spirits must almost always be destroyed.

What causes an undead to be created is largely a mystery. They existed before the Starfall, so not all can be blamed on demonic forces, even if today that is a predominant factor. This suggests some flaw in the death process or points to a degree of freedom enjoyed by all mortal things.

Ascended Spirits

An ascended spirit is a one-mortal spirit that has discorporated and ascended to a higher plane of existence but is still in contact with the physical world. Such spirits may offer guidance and advice or remain aloof and merely observe events from afar. Similar to undead, ascended spirits differ from their impure cousins by means of their creation. Mortals who ascend trade their physical bodies for a spiritual one, and in doing so never actually die. Thus, they escape the mortal coil without being tainted by the process.

Indeed, most saints and mystical Immortals are ascended spirits, as are many prophets and mythic heroes. Some people believe the act of ascension deifies the individual, but this is not true. While he may gain the worship of others, the ascendant merely becomes an immortal spirit without claim to special powers or the ability to perform miracles. In fact, most ascended spirits leave the physical world behind and intervene only through visions, dreams, portents, possession, or channeling.

Ascended spirits retain much of their personality from corporeal life. Their perspective changes over time, as do their wants and desires, but the core of their personality still remains. The process of ascension is varied and anything but widely known. Even the most powerful mystics cannot say exactly what allows a mortal to break the cycle of birth and rejoining with Ananta. All that is truly known for sure is that such spirits were once beings of flesh and blood but no longer are.

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