Thursday, March 3, 2016

Ethereal Things Lurk in the Cities

Last post I talked about spirits of nature. But really, there are all kinds of spirits out there. Nature doesn't have a monopoly of anthropomorphic entities, and spiritualism is important to city folk as well as those that live in the wilds.

In towns and cities, the concept of deities have taken more of a hold in the daily lives of the common man. These are beings more powerful than many of the local gods and nature spirits. Still, the benefits of invoking and respecting more personal spirits is apparent, especially since spirits seem to answer requests more directly and frequently. The concept of guardian spirits and totem beings also extend to those in the cities. Many people have totems, genii, or house gods that they pray to in order to keep their home and their family safe. House spirits, such as kikimoras, brownies, and lares, act as guardians for households. As long as they are respected and brought offerings, these house guardians give good fortune and protection to families poor and rich.

Cities have more people in them and that means more opportunities to have souls of the dead haunting different buildings and alleyways. Haunted houses and streets make excellent encounters and colorful history for any town. Ancestor spirits are probably more common in cities, especially in cultures that still practice ancestor worship. I've always loved ghosts and ghost stories and I like putting them in my games when I can. Ghosts are a cool type of undead because they are ones you can talk to and even bargain with. They can also give some great background history for an area your players are exploring and can warn you about different parts of the dungeon they haunt. And there is always their main quest of finding peace that the players can help with.

Then you have the messengers of the gods and devils themselves. Demons, angels, genies, and anything between. I prefer them to have more spiritual bodies, possessing unsuspecting vessels to do their deeds. I think in my games, 'outsiders' have a body but can only form it if a) they are summoned directly or b) they spend some time (weeks?) forming it with magic. If they are on a mission with a time limit, it makes them more willing to possess people. And exorcisms are always cool.

There are also spirits of concepts that you'd only see with sapient creatures. Spirits of freedom and liberty, of law and justice, of despotism and oppression, of wealth and commerce. It's unsure whether these spirits have always existed or if they are creations of the mortal civilizations, but they exist. 
The one spirit I want to talk about is the spirit of the city. Every city has a personality feed by its people and its culture. Proud and warlike, haughty and decadent, scholarly and rational... the spirit of the city is the collection of the emotions, cultures, and attitudes of her citizens. It's not a spirit you can talk to (at least, not easily), but when the moment is right, she can be called upon for advice and even help. Beyond the city is the spirit of a time period. The zeitgeist. Formed by mortals and their actions and attitudes of a time period, the zeitgeist transcends most spiritual concepts. It is alive yet not sentient. It's almost like a virus and memetically infects those around it. You can see the effects of the zeitgeist with large political movement and war, The relationship between the zeitgeist and the citizens is an unusual one. It's curious whether the spirit is forcing people to do this, or if it is dependent on people feeding it with actions.

One major difference between the spirits of nature and the spirits of the city is that in nature, the spirits don't usually seek out reverence or people to help. They tend to be happy in the wilds and only help if an offering is made. City spirits though crave mortal worship and human interaction. Whether through altruistic reasons or more mercenary motives, city spirits want to help mortals, though not without a price. It's very much a favor economy. You give them an offering and they help your household. Many believe that through worship, they'll become more powerful and become gods.

Of course, gods and worship is a post for another time.