Saturday, March 30, 2013

Improving Shamans in Dungeon Fantasy

So I had some words about the effectiveness of shamans in DF, along with a teaser about ways to improve them. Below is a revised shaman template that hopefully has a better place in the delving milieu.

SHAMAN 250 points

You're an expert diplomat, negotiator, and bargainer. Sometimes you make deals and solve the problems of people in the material world, but more often you deal with spirits. You're equally comfortable with both worlds, and repaid favors from spirits often allow you to overcome challenges in the mortal realms. You can heal and harm with equal facility. Your fellow delvers appreciate you most when dealing with spirits, but you can also negotiate past unfriendly guards, interrogate prisoners, bargain with the Merchant's Guild, and defeat foes in combat. Your powers work best on material things with minds or with spirits, and you prefer bodyguards when exploring dark pits and corrupted tombs.

Attributes: ST 10 [0]; DX 12 [40]; IQ 14 [80]; HT 12 [20].
Secondary Characteristics: Damage 1d-2/1d; BL 20 lbs.; HP 10 [0]; Will 14 [0]; Per 14 [0]; FP 12 [0]; Basic Speed 6.00 [0]; Basic Move 6 [0].
Advantages: Charisma 2 [10]; Medium [10]; Power Investiture 2 (Shamanic) (see below) [20]; and Spirit Empathy [10]. • Another 60 points in Shamanic gifts (see below), additional spells, or ST +1 [10], DX +1 [20], IQ +1[20], HT +1 [10], Will +1 to +3 [5/level], Per +1 to +3 [15], FP +1 to +5 [3/level], Acute Senses [2/level], Animal Friend 1-3 [5/level], Channeling [10], Charisma 3-5 [5/level], Deep Sleeper [1], Empathy [15] or Sensitive [5], Energy Reserve (Shamanic) 1-20 [3/level], Fearlessness [2/level] or Unfazeable [15], Fit [5], Healer 1 [10], Higher Purpose ( Protect the spirit realm; etc.) [5], Intuition [15], Languages (Any) [2-6/language], Night Vision 1-3 [1/level], Outdoorsman 1 [10], Power Investiture 3-6 (Shamanic) [10/level], Spirit Badge (DF: Summoners p. 5) [1], Spirit Weapon (DF: Summoners p. 5) [1], Temperature Tolerance 1 [1], or Voice [10].
Disadvantages: -10 points chosen from among Code of Honor (Shaman’s) (DF: Summoners p. 18) [-5], Disciplines of Faith (Ritualism or Mysticism) [-5 or -10], Sense of Duty (Regular Spirit-Helpers orA large category of spirits) [-5 or -10], or Vow (Vegetarianism or Always help a spirits who ask for aid) [-5 or -10]. • Another -15 points chosen from among Addiction (Weird mushrooms; Cheap; Hallucinogenic; Legal) [-10], Appearance (Unattractive or Ugly) [-4 or -8], Curious [-5*], Delusion (“Anyone could talk to the spirits if they weren't being deliberately stupid”) [-5], Obsession (Becoming as familiar with the spirit realm as with material reality; Defending humanity against evil spirit workers; etc.) [-10*], Sense of Duty (Fellow adventurers; or Community/tribe) [-5, or -10], or Wealth (Struggling or Poor) [-10 or -15]. • A further -25 points chosen from among the previous traits or Epilepsy (Mitigator, Daily herbal medicine, -60%) [-12], Innumerate [-5], Language: Spoken (Native)/Written (Broken or None) [-2 or -3], Loner [-5*], Low TL 1 or 2 [-5 or -10], Odious Personal Habit (“Scruffy primitive”; Talks to people no one else can see; or Willfully enigmatic) [-5], Skinny [-5], Social Stigma (Excommunicated† or Minority Group) [-10], Stubbornness [-5], or Weirdness Magnet [-15].
Primary Skills: Diplomacy (H) IQ [4]-16††; Herbal Lore (VH) IQ [4]-13; Hidden Lore (Spirits) (A) IQ+1 [4]-15; Merchant (A) IQ [2]-15.
Secondary Skills: Exorcism (H) Will [2]-13; First Aid (E) IQ [1]-14; Interrogation (A) IQ [2]-14; Meditation (H) Will-2 [1]-12; Naturalist (H) IQ-1 [2]-13; Stealth (A) DX [2]-12. • One of Bow (A) DX [2]-12, Sling (H) DX-1 [2]-11, or Thrown Weapon (Spear) (E) DX+1 [2]-13. • One of these two melee skills packages: 
  1. Either Axe/Mace or Spear, both (A) DX+1 [4]-13, and Shield (E) DX+2 [4]-14.
  2. Staff (A) DX+2 [8]-14.
Background Skills: Six of Brawling, Jumping, Knife, or Knot-Tying, all (E) DX [1]-12; Riding, Throwing, or Wrestling, all (A) DX-1 [1]-11; Blowpipe or Net, both (H) DX-2 [1]-10; Area Knowledge (Home Area) or Camouflage, both (E) IQ [1]-14; Animal Handling, Cartography, Falconry, Fortune-Telling (Augury  or Dream Interpretation), Navigation (Land), Occultism, Teamster, or Traps, all (A) IQ-1 [1]-13; Diagnosis, Theology, or Veterinary, all (H) IQ-2 [1]-12; Carousing or Singing, both (E) HT [1]-12; Intimidation (A) Will-1 [1]-13; Fishing (E) Per [1]-14; Observation, Search, or Survival (any specialty), all (A) Per-1 [1]-13; or Detect Lies (H) Per-2 [1]-12.
Spells: Choose ten shamanic spells (see below), which will be either (H) IQ [1]-14 or (VH) IQ-1 [1]-13 with the +2 for Power Investiture.

Customization Notes

Although shamans have a lot of potential powers, any given shaman only has a subset of them. There are a couple of obvious ways to focus.
  • The spirit master puts most of his points in Allies. He should choose spells like Minor Healing that helps him empower and protect those allies. Background skills like Observation, Net, and Theology allow the shaman to warn his allies of potential ambushes, aid them in combat, or direct them toward identifiable supernatural threats.
  • The bargainer puts more of his points in Charisma, Empathy, and Influence skills. A powerful combat focused Ally, such as an Elemental or Enslaved Demon, can make up his lack of direct combat power, but he mostly focuses on avoiding combat through negotiation. Take Animal Handling and Animal Empathy to help get past hostile critters.
  • The empowered shaman puts most of his points into shamanic gifts such as Terror, Mind Control, or Paralyzing Spirits. A Chanting Shaman with the Mind Control advantage gets a fair bit of utility for very few points. Secondary skills should include Brawling and Wrestling.
  • The spellcasting shaman increases his Power Investiture to 4 or more and buys up a lot of spells, making him more like a wizard or a cleric. Again, a combat focused Ally makes for a good bodyguard.

Power Modifier: Shamanic Gift -20%

A shaman has a Power Investiture, granted by the various spirits that she has befriended, enslaved, or bargained with. A shaman's power waxes and wanes depending on her relationships with the local spirits, and a successful shaman is a master of negotiation and bribery.

When entering a new territory (GM determines, but generally a change of terrain is necessary) and each week thereafter, the shaman must make a Reaction Roll for, or use an Influence skill on, the local spirits. The ease or difficulty of using shaman abilities and spells depends on the result:

  • Disastrous: No spell casting or shaman abilities can be used at all! A further -2 on Reaction Rolls and Influence skills when dealing with spirits in this territory in the future.
  • Very Bad: -10 on all on spell casting rolls and on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities. A further -1 on Reaction Rolls and Influence skills when dealing with spirits in this territory in the future.
  • Bad: -5 on all on spell casting rolls and on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities. 
  • Poor: -2 on all on spell casting rolls and on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities. 
  • Neutral: -1 on all on spell casting rolls and on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities. 
  • Good: No bonuses or penalties to casts spells or on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities.
  • Very Good: +1 on all on spell casting rolls and on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities. 
  • Excellent: +2 on all on spell casting rolls and on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities. A further +1 on Reaction Rolls and Influence skills when dealing with spirits in this territory in the future.

Whenever a shaman attempts to activate a shamanic gift (but not cast a spell), she needs to make a successful Diplomacy roll to persuade the local spirits to do what she wants.

No shaman can attempt to negotiate with the local spirits without having made a fundamental agreement with the spirit world. The shaman must have a combination of Code of Honor, Disciplines of Faith, Sense of Duty (Spirit Community), or Vow totaling at -10 points to form the basis of that pact. If the shaman violates any of his Pact disadvantages, he must immediately reroll the Reaction Roll, as though he had just entered the territory, but with a -5 penalty. This reaction penalty applies to every new territory the shaman enters until he atones appropriately. Repeated violations can increase the penalty and the difficulty of the penance.


A shaman can use  a bribe to further entice the local spirits to do her bidding. Bribes are small gifts of unusual rocks, herbs and spices, strange incense, and food. Generic bribes weigh 1 lb per $100 value. A shaman can offer bribes before attempting to activate a shamanic gift to get a +1 on the Diplomacy roll per $1 spent, or +1 per $3 spent after the roll is made. A shaman can also get a bonus on the Reaction Roll or Influence skill made when entering a territory, at $10 per +1 bonus made before the roll or $30 per +1 bonus made after the roll.

A successful Merchant roll with a penalty equal to the size of the bribe bonus halves the effective cost of the bribe.

If a shaman runs out of generic bribes, a martial artist's chi incenses or a bookish wizard's reagents can be used, but at half value. In a pinch, a shaman can also use food, but each meal (whether a $2 traveler ration or $15 elven wafer) is worth $1 as a bribe.

Power Modifier: Shaman Chanting -30%

A shaman can apply this modifier to any of his powers except Allies. With this modifier, the shaman must summon the spirits to him before using any power by loud, rhythmic chanting. The spirits will only stay and support the shaman as long as he continues chanting.  The shaman must have Singing at 14+ and must take a Concentrate maneuver before using a power. He cannot talk while chanting, and the power ends immediately if he stops chanting for any reason.

Shaman Chanting is an additional modifier on top of Shamanic Gifts.

Shamanic Gift Abilities

Absolute Direction (PM, -20%) [4]; Animal Empathy (PM, -20%) [4]; Blessed or Very Blessed (PM, -20%) [8 or 16]; Clairsentience (PM, -20%) [40]; Danger Sense (PM, -20%) [12]; Dark Vision (PM, -20%) [20]; Detect (Supernatural phenomena or Supernatural phenomena and beings; PM, -20%) [16 or 24]; Healing (Earthly Xenohealing +40%, PM -20%) [36]; Luck or Extraordinary Luck (PM, -20%) [12 or 24] or (Active, -40%) [6 or 12]; Magic Resistance 1-3 (Improved, +150%; PM, -20%) [5/level]; Mind Control (No Memory +10%, Puppet -40%, PM -20%) [25]; Mind Shield (PM, -20%) [3.2/level*]; Oracle (PM, -20%) [12]; Paralyzing Spirits [38]; Plant Empathy (PM, -20%) [4]; Resistant to Disease (+3) or (+8) (PM, -20%) [3 or 5]; Resistant to Spirit Powers (+3) or (+8) (PM, -20%) [3 or 5]; See Invisible (Spirits; PM, -20%) [12]; Serendipity (PM, -20%) [12]; Speak With Animals (PM, -20%) [20]; Speak With Plants (PM, -20%) [12]; Stunning Spirits [23]; Telekinesis 1-5 (PM, -20%) [4/level]; Terror (PM, -20%) [24], True Faith (PM, -20%) [12].

Paralyzing Spirits is Affliction (Speed/Range Malediction +150%, Paralzying +150%, PM -20%) [38].
Stunning Spirits is Affliction (Speed/Range Malediction +150%,PM -20%) [23].

Shamanic Chanting Gift Abilities

Blessed or Very Blessed (PM, -50%) [5 or 10]; Clairsentience (PM, -50%) [25]; Dark Vision (PM, -50%) [13]; Detect (Supernatural phenomena or Supernatural phenomena and beings; PM, -50%) [10 or 15]; Healing (Earthly Xenohealing +40%, PM -50%) [27]; Luck or Extraordinary Luck (Active -40%, PM, -20%) [3 or 6]; Mind Control (No Memory +10%, Puppet -40%, PM -50%) [5]; Paralyzing Spirits [35]; Plant Empathy (PM, -20%) [4]; See Invisible (Spirits; PM, -50%) [8]; Stunning Spirits [20]; Telekinesis 1-5 (PM, -50%) [2.5/level]; Terror (PM, -50%) [15], True Faith (PM, -50%) [8].


Shamanic spells are unaffected by mana levels and sanctity, but they are affected by the shaman's relationship with the local spirits as described under the Shamanic Gifts power modifier.

PI 1: Astral Vision, Fear, Final Rest, History, Know True Shape, Message, Recover Energy, Sense Life, Sense Mana, Sense Spirit, Spasm, Stop Spasm.
PI 2: Affect Spirits, Awaken Craft Spirit, Command Spirit, Command, Daze, Detect Magic, Materialize, Mental Stun, Minor Healing, Panic, Paralyze Limb, Pathfinder, Rooted Feet, See Secrets, Silver Tongue, Solidify, Strike Barren, Strike Blind, Strike Deaf, Strike Dumb, Strike Numb, Summon Spirit, Turn Spirit.
PI 3: Banish, Control Elemental, Divination (Augury or Oneiromancy), Dream Sending, Entrap Spirit, Major Healing, Mass Daze, Pentagram, Planar Visit (Astral Plane), Predict Weather, Presence, Projection, Repel Spirits, See Invisible, Skull Spirit, Sleep, Suspend Curse, Terror, Total Paralysis, Turn Zombie, Watchdog.
PI 4: Animation, Animate Shadow, Bind Spirit, Bless, Compel Truth, Cure Disease, Curse, Deathtouch, Dispel Magic, Dream Projection, Force Touch, Madness, Nightingale, Nightmare, Planar Visit (Realms of the Dead), Remove Curse, Rider Within*, Soul Rider, Summon Elemental.
PI 5: Astral Block, Create Elemental, Explosive Force Ball, Magic Resistance, Mystic Mist, Planar Summons, Remove Contagion, Retrogression, Sense Observation, Soul Jar, Summon Shade, Trace Teleport, Utter Dome.
PI 6: Beacon, Beast Summoning, Create Door, Hide Object, Planar Visit (Any), Plane Shift, Summon Demon.

When using Rational Damage Spells, shamans have access to the Body and Force elements, and the Touch, Jet, and Weapon forms, all at PI 4, in addition to the specific spells listed above.

Designer's Notes

The goal was to create a shaman who was generally useful. Making Diplomacy and Merchant into primary skills both centered the character and makes the shaman into an alternate social monster for delving groups that don't want a bard.

The spell list was expanded, adding a number of Body Control, Knowledge, and Mind Control spells to give the shaman something to do when spirits aren't on the center stage. They're still not generalist problem-solvers, but they can engage against a wider range of foes. Major and Minor Healing also allow the shaman to act as a semi-cleric, though a delving band expecting to fight undead would still want a full Cleric or Holy Warrior. Similarly, the list of shamanic abilities was expanded to include some generally useful abilities.

The higher levels of the PI are still lacking somewhat in spells. It's hard to add spells that don't overlap with the druid, necromancer, or demonologist. The spell list has been revised since this article was first published, but could still use more work.

I significantly altered the power modifier, to codify the idea of negotiating and bargaining with spirits. It might be a bit more cumbersome in play than the original rules, but I think it gives the shaman a lot more flavor.

Edited on July 17, 2014 to add additional spells.


  1. Would it be best for the shaman to have Merchant with the optional specialty Spirit? A shaman isn't going to know much about running a business or haggling with people. That saves a point to keep at 15, which we can put into spells.

  2. A shaman's abilities, whenever reasonable, should applicable to challenges outside of dealing with spirits. Littering his abilities with the tag "spirit only" is why the published template is so ineffectual. As designed, one of his specialties is being the party fence, since there's always a use for that, even if the adventure is "the endless rooms of totally mundane orcs".

    If you want an unworldly shaman, take the appropriate Odious Personal Habits, Social Stigmas, and other disadvantages. By default, the shaman is supposed to be a canny trader, whether he's dealing with embodied or disembodied spirits.

  3. Obviously no time to playtest the template, but I think it's solid. There will surely be some that argue that it steps too much on the niche of the wizard, but that's okay in my book. One can choose to play a wizard or a shaman or a demonologist, and they'll all have significant overlap.

  4. I've been playtesting this template in a game now, and while it's not awful, it has some annoying weaknesses that could be addressed.

    The biggest issue is that most of its combat spells are either resisted, or have a high PI requirement. Which means if the foe has Magic Resistance, a beginning shaman has nothing to do.

    A simple and straightforward solution is to add Boost (Attribute) to the PI2 spell list, and add Grace, Might, Vigor, and Wisdom to the PI3 spell list. If nothing else, the shaman can buff his allies, which helpfully plays into the theme of being a team player.