Dungeons & Delvers: Brainstorming the Shaman

I made a shaman for A Sundered World based on the shaman from 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, mostly because during the original playtest campaign one of the players played a goliath shaman, but I also liked the class well enough.

In D&D it's a primal leader, which basically means it uses druidish magic (called evocations) and has a lot of healing and buffing capabilities, though from what I recall there was also some bleed over into de-buffing and area-effect evocations (stuff controller classes generally had access to).

The big thing about the class (which was carried over to the A Sundered World version) is that you get an animal spirit that you can summon whenever you want to, and some shaman evocations are linked to it: as in, they make the spirit do something or had to originate from the spirit.

For the Black Book I want to deviate from this a bit, and make a shaman that regularly gets to deal with a bunch of different spirits (or at least can).

Shamans will be good with the Medicine skill (baseline proficient, but also a possible ritual effect to take 10 or 20 or some other benefit), be able to sense spirits, and enter the spirit world via ritual to commune with and bind spirits. Communing with spirits lets you learn information and can even function as a sort of divination: it's binding spirits where things get tricky, and will require playtesting to see how this all works in actual play.

Here's what I'm thinking of right now:

Shaman talents include spirit types, such as Fire Spirit and Wood Spirit (or maybe something like Novice Fire Binding). At 1st-level you have to choose a Spirit talent, which reflects that your character is especially good at dealing with those types of spirits. As with the cleric you can always opt to pick up other spirit talents as you go.

Each spirit type has a list of abilities. Some are automatic: when you bind the spirit you gain access to them. Others require a Spirit talent to gain access to. So, for example, if you choose the Fire Spirit talent and bind a fire spirit, you gain access to abilities that require that talent, but if you bind a water spirit then you'd only gain access to some baseline abilities.

For especially powerful abilities, I'm thinking of using the universal recharge mechanic I cooked up for the the bone devil (scroll all the way down to the spell-like abilities section): basically if you use a spirit power with recharge, you can't use any that require a recharge roll until you successfully roll whatever the recharge value is.

You can release a spirit whenever, but it takes another ritual to bind a new spirit. At first level you can only bind one spirit to yourself at a time, but as you level up you can bind more at once (automatic, you don't have to choose this). In this way shamans can be pretty flexible if you have time (and ideally you can use your divination-type class feature or talent to better inform you as to what you should bind).

Talents at higher levels will let you gain further mastery over certain spirits, gaining access to potentially more abilities when they are bound. Other talent choices include:
  • Astral Projection: Project your spirit out to a set distance. Another talent could build on this and have the entire party astral project.
  • Bind Spirit: You can bind a spirit to an object or even another person temporarily. Spirit type determines what effects/abilities are granted.
  • Healing: Would have to be a ritual healing ability to avoid being able to spam heal the party up to full. Definitely have a Wound Recovery bonus. Could also remove diseases and poisons.
  • Necrotic Resistance: Self-explanatory.
  • Rebuke Ghosts/Spirits: You can keep ghosts/spirits at bay. Another talent could force them to obey you.
  • Spirit Companion: You have a more permanent spirit that follows you around and helps you out. Would use the ranger's animal companion as a baseline.
The other thing I'm thinking of right now that I think would also work well, but might be too similar to the cleric:

The shaman chooses Spirit talents as normal. These reflect spirits within him, or are around him and willing to work with him: like the cleric's Domain talents this translates into access to certain abilities, though I could still do my flexible-spirit-binding thing and say that you can only bind x spirits to yourself at a time, which can change each time you commune with spirits.

The key difference is that the shaman then undergoes a trance into the spirit realm, and when he returns gains x Boons (like the cleric's Favor this would basically be a once per day thing). These Boons can then be spent to get spirits to do bigger magical things, similar to the cleric using Favor. Also like Favor, the shaman would be able to give things to spirits in exchange for more Boon if he needs it in a pinch.

I can see this system being good because cleric players won't have to learn much going into this class (and vice versa), plus I can tie healing into Boons without worrying about constant spam healing, which was a problem waaay back when cleric Favor was effectively an encounter resource.

I'm curious if people think this is too much like the cleric, though. The druid already went that route (it made the most sense), but I don't want to end up with three cleric-y classes if I can help it.

Here are some other things I thought of but not sure if I want to use them:

One idea I had was to have a trancing shaman make a Diplomacy or Perform check to convince a spirit to help him out. If you failed, you either only received limited access to various abilities, or suffered some sort of penalty until you released it (the spirit is displeased and/or it takes more effort for you to keep it bound).

Problem here is I could see players just releasing it right away and trying over and over again until they succeed. Plus it's the meat of the class: don't imagine many players would be happy if their fighter randomly got penalties for using weapons, and their wizard just randomly couldn't use certain spells.

Another idea would be to do the Boon currency thing, but make it more encounter-based: when you bind a spirit you gain x Boon, and some spirit abilities require the use of Boon. When it runs out you can't use those abilities, but when you bind another spirit you would gain another x Boon.

But, like the default Dungeon World druid turning into an animal, doing 1-3 things, reverting back to human form, but then going right back into an animal to do another 1-3 arbitrary-animal-things, this bugs me. Also makes healing harder to deal with unless it's a ritual that takes x time and costs y cash.

It look a lot longer than expected, but we finally released The Jinni. As with our other monstrous classes, this one is more faithful to the mythology (so don't go in expecting elemental-themed jinn).

After putting it to a vote, the next couple of classes on the docket are the warden (think 4E D&D warden) and apothecary (gotta go see what they're all about).

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).


  1. Don't know if it's helpful in any way (inspiration or whatever), but the description of the class reminds me of Schierke from Berserk, what with her summoning wheels of fire, spirits of the cardinal directions, the rot lord (or whatever he was called), and so forth. To that end, I guess I'm in favor of boons or similar for bigger effects.

    1. I've heard of but never seen/read Berserk: I'm sure I could just find a Berserk wikia that details what Schierke can do, but do you think the anime/manga holds up? Would it be worth the watch/read?

      Otherwise good to know on the boon preference. I might do a vote on this soonish once I get some spirits hashed out.

    2. She's a witch but most of her magic is calling forth a powerful spirits that she had previously made contracts with and if she doesnt keep the spirit controlled it might take over her and run amok.

    3. What Victor said. I've read it and really enjoyed it, enough to stick with it for a decade or so. The art can be especially good.

      **Spoiler/Trigger Warning** That said, it's certainly not for everyone, as it contains some pretty brutal depictions of violence, rape, and similar. Although it seems like the later portions, after the first major arc really, tone it down a good deal... even if they're currently traveling through a rape victim's memories in an attempt to restore her broken mind.


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