"You cannot measure the Other Side, city man, there is no way to do it. It is a reflection of our world, like the Sun is reflected on a lake, in a way the same, but so deeply different at once. It is our world, you see, but it is less and so much more. It is in our world where lie most of the beginnings, in the other are most of the ends. Yes, it is here where all dead things continue their existence, and live things that have never lived.
Take a look around, on these great plains stretching far and wide... there used to be a great forest here, it grew and lived and prospered for ages, but was brought down by fires and droughts, humans, even. Now it is gone.
But on the Other Side, it is still present, as a memory and more. And there are rivers that have dried up, tall mountains that are now mere hills, everything that is in our world now and that was once before."
What does it look like?
It is like our world, but there are few cities or settlements of any kind. The sun is in the sky, but it is darker than during the day... and night there is lighter than it is here. You can see into the far, but distances are deceptive, and what you see may certainly not be the truth. The entire world is, as if, flowing a little... missing the sharp contours of our world; gently, slightly, moving around you, and through you.
A spirit of a living mortal cannot stand in one place, for it is not a part of the moving world around. As it moves around you, and as you walk or simply stand, you may discover what seem to be other worlds hidden beneath what you seem to know. Yes, it is very easy to get lost in there. Do not visit it without a guide, ever. Know that if you become lost, your body will die without your presence, and you will become a ghost.
What are the creatures living there?
All are called spirits, but there are differences. First there are those who are truly at home there - the spirits of the departed, spirits of nature and... other things, which are hard to explain or even know. For one thing, there are spirits of stillborn children that grew up here, but cannot be longer described as human.
Then, there are those who are just visiting, whether it is by purpose, like the shamans and various gifted people, or by chance, most often in dreams or with strange accidents. They come into the Spirit World, but leave soon again.
Lastly, there are those who are at home neither here nor there: ghosts. They are the dead who somehow failed to notice their state or refuse to do so. And surely, there are dead who simply need to stay behind. They stand between the worlds, unable to move in either. But of ghosts you have surely heard enough.
As you see now, there is no wall separating these two worlds. The Living are mostly here, the spirits are mostly there, both cross the borders on occasion.
What are they like?
Different laws govern the Spirit World, and the spirits live according to them. Time itself seems to pass differently for them. They can move faster in places they know well, and slower where not, or where there is resistance (see Ignorance below as one example).
Most spirits cannot change their form, but those that can, will be always recognized by those familiar with them (but that can take time...). Know however, that all spirits change with time, in form as in nature and demeanor. Some change slowly, almost unnoticeably, some merge with other spirits and become radically different. It is said that all spirits eventually loose most of their characteristics and merge into more primal forces hidden away from our senses, impacting the world in many ways though.
By contacting the spirits, the Living can gain great knowledge, but also other forms of aid. There are of course problems associated to it... and breaking promises given to spirits can get very nasty, so watch out.
Why are they not everywhere?
Really, if there are so many of them, and more join the club every day? Even if we suppose they stay in the Spirit World, its base is an extension of ours, in some places the barriers more than thin and interaction is easily possible.
- Reincarnation - very rare but happens.
- Merging is the major reason for a lesser number of spirits, over the millennia most merge sooner or later.
- The Spirit World is continually expanding, offering new localities to explore and live in.
- The spirits loose their interest for the Living. After a thousand years, it is really all the same song.
- The Living tend to push them out with the power of Ignorance (and in return, spirits push mortals of their domains).
So there are no spirits in our world?
Oh, there definitely are. Most spirits feel uncomfortable here, but some do adapt to humanity and keep living among us, exerting their nigh to invisible influence.
Ignorance (Or the history of People and Spirits)
It is said that some people have the gift to see the spirits. But many of those that have the gift, say the opposite: that some have the gift to ignore the spirit world.
Why? However interesting and useful can be information from the Other Side, it is still a deeply different world, and concentrating on it makes living in this world harder. Communing with ancient spirits, gleaning a fraction of their amazing knowledge, learning to fly in the sky or swim in earth is certainly a fun, but won't get you bread on your table, nor will help to see all the problems of the Spirit World spilling into ours, or enduring immortal spirits that will stop by, at any hour, day or night, just out of interest or of mischief. Be aware that those who can enter the Spirit World may enter it unwittingly in their dreams... often with serious consequences.
Simply, most people do not want to see spirits. They are trained from an early age to concentrate on the vibrations of the material and ignore all this other stuff.
People that minded their own affairs were in the end better off, and their 'thickheadedness' has spread widely. The oft risky interaction was anyway done through talented and knowledgeable people, shamans, so not much was lost, besides the age-old link between The Living and The Dead. And as the fortunes of the people started to rise, they started to forget what they had once, they were loosing the very talent to communicate with spirts. And there were fewer and fewer shamans.
Ignorance is but more than a simple lack of sight (supernatural, even). It is a mindset, a set of instincts how the world works, what belongs to it and what not (as well as the thought 'it belongs to us'). It is also a power of its own, a power that suppresses what is 'not proper'. A spirit is in itself a belief, a thought, an emotion, and reacts on beliefs, thoughts and emotions more than on what we consider solid matter. A commoner that thinks 'this ain't' is a mere annoyance, but dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people complicate things for spirits - they become slower, their powers are harder to use and less impressive, as if the world was against them... for in a way, it is.
Borrowing of skills: a distinct spirit can imbue a Living with its skill or feature (something special it had in life); there are also other 'bonuses' and services to be gained... for a price. A great hunter could imbue you with hunting skill and luck; a warrior, with endurance and a feeling for the spear. Obviously, easier to pass on are skills based on instincts rather than knowledge itself.
Reincarnation: is possible, if a spirit manages to push itself into an unborn child, before it can create its own soul. In the process it has to shed much of the former self, but the base of its personality stays behind, with fractions of memories that will be felt during life. It is widely believed that mental disorders and diseases are caused when this process fails; therefore, many of the customs concerning pregnant women are supposed to hinder this.
Contact: is something between a friendly handshake, and a telepathic meld of two minds. It is hard to explain to those that are not spirits, suffice to say that something is shared for a while - feelings, attitudes, thoughts if they are strong enough, to a small degree strengths as weaknesses. It is very individual for spirits whether they like to make Contact or not, how often and with whom.
A physical contact may trigger a true Contact, but there must be some willingness on both parts, or, at least, no opposition to it. (Note the strange feelings when a ghost actually passes through a living body... something mortals are rarely fit to handle.) The right form of Contact can be a viable alternative to sex. More usefully perhaps, spirits in Contact can communicate without anyone being able to listen, and find lieing to another very hard.
Merging is the joining of spirits, where several become one. Spirits that are close to each other and often make contact, eventually get so near, that they cannot back anymore, and slowly melt into one.
What will be the result, cannot be told in advance. Still, there are many typical merged spirits, though they are described elsewhere. Between the singular spirits, and merged spirits (which is mostly hard to tell) is also a third, transition state:
Spirit groups are spirits on the halfway to being united into a single one. They loose much of their distinctiveness, and cannot move too far from each other. Their power, however, is united. What seems as a temporary affair, can be a surprisingly stable arrangement. Well known are tribal spirits of primitive people, flocks of birds and animal packs, where there is still a semblance of individuality, with a strong collective consciousness.
Possession is very rare, reserved for the most powerful or cunning spirits, that can force or trick a mortal's spirit out of its living body. There is however a different way for a spirit to return to life: in approaching a mortal, staying with him, possibly also helping him, contacting him many times, the two could eventually merge into one. It is very handy to have a willing spiritual servant, just be careful how the relationship ends.
Death is actually something that happens to mortals. It is still of great importance for spirits, for they are 'born' in that moment. When dying, a great trauma assaults the living part of a mortal, shutting down, even destroying organs that carry the personality and intimate knowledge of the person. The incident can cause people forget large parts of their past; the guiding principle seems to be the strength of emotions connected to memories, the stronger, the better they will be remembered after passing on. Some ways of dieing, particularly very painful ones, can produce spirits that remember little of their life save for its ending; they often become ghosts.
Why can ghosts kill people?
Ghosts are spirits with a special attachment to our world. For some reason (mostly unfinished business, but also fear of the beyond) they refuse to depart. Their will to stay is rarely strong enough, a spirit needs some 'context', some anchor to reality. Thus comes into being the haunted mansion, and that is why they seem to be so obsessed with repeating of activities favoured in life.
As EchoMirage pointed out some time before, a ghost's form is created out of its mind and memories, to make the interaction with mortals easier. But at the same time, a life-like form gives more support to its existence, especially if it is seen by mortals (and believed in, above all).
Therefore, spooking people is almost mandatory for ghosts if they want to stay around - they _have_ to be seen and heard. On the other hand, a series of events that attracts a spirit otherwise not active in our world is also possible.
Ghosts are correctly percieved as dangerous, but it is not true that a mere touch could harm or kill. A spirit can't hurt your body, it is immaterial. But if it attacks, it hits your _own_ spirit. While the spirit itself is little harmed (the equivalent of subdual damage between mortals), the body is shocked: that which is supposed to be inside it, the very life's energy is violently removed. A weaker hit can cause inner bleeding, a concentrated attack can cause the whole organism collapse in disarray, cells out of control.
So ghosts can kill.
Spirits can't truly kill one another, but fights are common between the restless (and often unstable) ghosts, and some behave the same way to mortals. Many of them don't even realise they are this dangerous, some know and even prefer to do so.
In theory, a well-trained martial artist with a strong spiritual side could defeat a ghost with bare hands. Trouble is, it will be only knocked out...
(Despite warnings, a character decided to take a look into the Spirit World, and consumed a large dose of a certain herbal product that is reported to help. For a while, nothing happened... )
...you turn back to your papers, but the touch turns them into a fine dust, which turns to nothing. You jump on your feet, and on this sudden movement, the whole house evaporates into nothingness. Now you are standing on the rocky side of a mountain, the terrain looks still familiar, only some bushes and trees are placed differently. There are other differences, but you ignore them for the moment. 'It looks quite normal.' you tell to yourself, and try to mean it. Then you turn around.
There wasn't much of a view before here, but now, even with the trees around, you can see into the valley, and far beyond it... you see hills and forests, you see mountains far away where you have never been.
As you are looking, powerful clouds gather into a great thunderstorm, with rain and much lightning; then, moments later, the weather calms down. The clouds disperse, and move with a wind you do not feel, changing directions quickly; behind them you see the stars, although it is bright day.
And out of the clouds flew a shape, in the likeness of a bird, with feathers and wings, but there is something disturbingly human about the creature. You feel that it smiles on you from above, circles once, then leaves to look for new and amazing things, while you stay on earth. But there is more: a herd of what must be horses, rides upon a hill and grazes there. Several moving points in the distance, and even a strip of smoke suggest this world is far from empty... though you do not see cities, where you remember them to be.
Then a shadow falls on your surroundings, without any visible source... the sky is clear now. Scared without a clear reason, you instinctively back off. The shadow slowly passes and is gone. As you were looking for a firm support in the rock around, you started to realize, that it is not so solid... the whole WORLD is somehow... unstable, slowly moving and changing, changing even as you are standing here. The rock seems to soften, your feet sinking into it, you are dragged into the mountain to die!
Your panic is interrupted by a rough, coarse croak, and a gigantic raven lands on a tree nearby. Then it jumps down. hops towards you, and with something that looks like a friendly smile pecks your hand with his mighty beak.
Terrified, with an aching hand you fall on the floor of your humble abode.
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? Responses (11)
This is a fantastic and superb idea. It brings a lot of myths and ideaas together into a plausable medium. Its great. So many ideas for plot hook its amazing...
Informative, fun-to-read and invaluable! Unlike some (boring) articles that discuss role-playing issues and solutions, this is an article that should be printed and stuffed into the Ol' GM's notebook asap!
Combined with the wonderful and redundantly named 'Spirits of the Spirit World' (:D) this is a bounty of useful and thought-provoking information.
That by chance would be directed at me for my (boring) articles for campaign solutions... are you? :)
... WOW. This is extremely in depth. You get my HoH for the day.
Excellently written, it was engaging through the entire piece, despite the fact that most of the material seemed quite familiar! (Scras has played Werewolf and Mage, both of which have a strong spirit world aspect) Far from waving the accusing finger of plagiarism, this is by far unique enough to invalidate such arguements. It gets a 5/5 and a HoH.
Good work Manfred.
Well, let's see... it all started with some submissions here on the Citadel, they hinted at something, and I tried to expose what it was. Also, a certain lack of a spiritual side was felt (there are some cool ghosts among them, but without a solid background they are in the end also monsters to be defeated). My inspiration starts by some Citadel posts, continues with the nigh-to-nothing I know about ancient ancestor beliefs, sprinkled with bits of everything I have read and seen on the topic. (I do remember reading some Werewolf material when I started making this, which I partially liked, partially loathed. So there you go. :) )
Frankly, I have no idea anymore which parts of this are unique and which ummm... borrowed. Some may be even re-invented. But if you borrow, do it large-scale I say!
Following is a small list of things that have contributed to the vision of Spirit World, or could be used to expand it.
Icathian Lycanthropes - had these connected to spirits a long time ago already, all it took was to make the connection complete.
Spirit Beacons - offer a way for settlements to attract minor friendly spirits. Can be easily applied.
Saint Duncan - a historical saint that may come in handy if you concentrate slightly more on the 'evil spirits' and restless ghosts.
Voonsai - may have been the first 'real' spirit here in the Citadel, not simply a ghost, but a creature of its own, with an agenda that makes sense, and has some impact on the mortals. This one started it.
Virzimir - my copycat spirit that brought many questions, like where the spirits are actually from, and if they are not 'making' their own spirits of a similar sort.
Folk Magic - contains some useful ideas for the common folk. Spirit Recruitment can be outright stolen.
Mountain Gate - a location that came up as I started pondering spirits, notes some differences between the laws of our world and theirs, and how close both actually are.
On Death and Undeath - SparK's great systematic post. While it is quite different from Spirit World, it inspired me to do it, and there are also some contact points. It could be interesting to mix the two, and create something new.
The Crying Ones - a wonderful example of a restless spirit, that off-handedly mentions a Matron Spirit that just has to exist. With this started all the pondering of how many spirits would there be exactly - surely uncountable numbers - and how to solve the dilemmas that come from it.
Welcoming Spirits - a quick inspiration, that had to wait on the rest. Here I came on the concept of the Contact.
Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0324864/) - a TV miniseries of uncertain impressions, but with much inspiration value. It showed the 'memories' of places that weren't existing anymore in our world, spirits meddling with mortals and vice-versa. Especially watch Antubis, a very potent spirit, characterised by a little ghostly girl: 'He eats disease. He likes to be scratched behind the ears. He's horrible. Beautiful.' Note that the way he is seen may be simply based on a painting, and he may look differently at other points, or to other viewers. He seems to have also some larger agenda, though he is mostly on the good side.
The Crow (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109506/) - the movie. Well, it didn't really help that much, but is a good illustration why some ghosts cannot find peace, even if they wanted.
An introductory scenario for Werewolf: the Forsaken from http://www.white-wolf.com/index.php?related=580&id=78 - had some interesting parts, but some things were too opposed to my ideas... spirits being 'evil', or at least opposed to humans almost by default, and so on.
...and much more. :)
I really like the ideas behind what you are describing here. Though the description lacks a personal touch, more like a description of a description. But this is great platform for new ideas and different directions. Full disclosure, i have not read the user submitted ideas. But I think this is sweet idea, smoothly realized.
A great collection of ideas! Nicely done Manfred! Come back and stay a while!
Really good read manfred. Come back!
Also noticed that this was posted in 2006, even better!