Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A to Z of Witches. S

S is for Shaman

Shamans and Witches often get confused with each other on a few levels.

A shaman typically has a closer connection to the natural world than say a witch does. A shaman's magic then will appear to be more in harmony with the rest of the world.

Along with witches, Shamans are also often a forgotten source of magic in many Fantasy Roll-Playing games.
When I was working on my book of Witches for the d20 game, there was a group doing a d20 Shaman.  I worked with them and they with me and it was great to be able to exchange ideas.

Now I am doing "Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch & Warlock" and as it turns out the next book inline is "Strange Brew: The Ultimate Shaman" and again these two teams will be sharing ideas.  I enjoy this, it it nice to have people to bounce ideas off of.

I don't recall ever playing a Shaman character though.  Any time it would have come up I played a Druid or a Witch.    I might have to give that a go sometime.

Supernatural AtoZ


Sophie Duncan said...

The shamanic tradition is one I've only taken a cursory look at - it seems much rawer than the witch tradition to me and more directly connected to the spirits of nature.
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Mina Burrows said...

It sounds like the Shamans's are misunderstood and possibly unappreciated.

Sara C. Snider said...

Shamanism is an interesting concept that I don't know nearly enough about. I've wanted to buy a book on the subject, but I was unable to track down the one I wanted without paying an unsightly sum on shipping alone.

The games that I've played with shamans have only been computer RPGs, though the only time I tried one was in World of Warcraft. They used totems which I thought was pretty cool.

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I have a Shaman character for Shadowrun, and I ran a D&D campaign for a long time that had a Shaman in it. He had some weird tricks up his sleeve :) Hungary seems to have had shamans before we became Christian, and they still show up in our folktales.

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Rich Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich Howard said...

Thanks for the heads-up on today's post, Tim. I'm the lead designer on Ultimate Shaman coming out later this year. I agree that shamanism is underrepresented in RPGs and many of the versions I've seen handle the subject...oddly. Let me address the comments already posted.

Part of the challenge of creating a comprehensive RPG class is that shamanism is not an organized religion. The word shaman is believed to originate from the Siberian Evenk word, ṣāman, and is a catch-all term used for the animistic spiritual beliefs of hundreds of cultures. Because of the range of practices collected under one umbrella, defining shamanism is challenging. In fact, druidism, witchcraft, voodoo, wiccan and scores of other beliefs can be seen as forms of shamanism. Many aspects of Jesus' story, such as fasting 40 days in the desert to see visions, parallel shamanic practices as well.

Shamanism does connect with the primal aspects of nature as well as other-planar beings that reflect our physical world (sometimes called the Middle World). One commonly accepted aspect of shamanism is that the shaman acts as an emissary between our world and the spirit world, allying themselves with various spiritual beings. Though there is some crossover, witches tend to deal with a different flavor of other-planar being. Most RPGs present shamans with an animal companion for totems, usually because they already have companion rules to port in, but totems can be ancestors, elementals, plants and even technology.

If you're looking for information on shamanism in the real world, I recommend "Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices and Culture". Titles that deal with modern, or Neoshamanism, are more prevalent and harder to sift through. I recommend: "Journeying: Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet", "The Way of the Shaman", "Animal Speak" and "Animal Wise" for starters.

For d20 related RPGs, The Shaman's Handbook by Steve Kenson from Green Ronin handled the subject with a deft hand, and if you can get your hands on a copy, it's a solid primer for shamanism. My review of Shaman's Handbook includes links to a other shaman-class attempts for d20 systems. http://www.richplayingitforward.blogspot.com/2013/12/shamans-handbook-from-green-ronin.html

The game that handled shamanism in the most interesting and game-relevant way was the original Werewolf: The Apocalypse from White Wolf. I haven't read enough of the reboot to know how they handle it. If you want an idea of the depth and breadth of totems, check out any of their books.

If you have any other questions, feel free to post them. I'll be happy to answer what I can. You can also link over to my site: www.richhowardauthor.com or www.gameschangelives.com. I'll be posting this information and more on an upcoming blog.

Nicki Elson said...

I've only ever had a vague idea of what shaman actually means, but I've always thought it sounded cool. I'll bet it was excellent fun for witches & shamans (shamen?) to collaborate.

Rich Howard said...

Tim and I have had a great time chatting and helping each other with the sometimes subtle differences.

Multiple shaman is "shamans". The 'man' part has nothing to do with English gender. I was confused on that at first as well. Takes some getting used to.

Tasha Duncan-Drake said...

Shamans need more recognition it seems. I suppose they are often associated with tribal culture so it's harder to separate them unlike witches and wizards.
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Rich Howard said...

That's an interesting observation. Something similar can be said about barbarians as a class, so I suppose that can't be the only reason.

I'm not sure why shamans haven't been solidified as a core class. It may be that druids have fulfilled the need for a nature-focused divine caster over the decades, though, again, there were rangers long before barbarians entered the game. It may be that the challenge of defining shamanism prevents the creation of a stable core class, which I find odd because its flexibility is its strength in my mind. The cleric class was based on templar-like warrior priests, but the flexibility introduced in v3.0 makes them both effective and intriguing. Shamanism can easily encompass the same flexibility

The core class, alternate classes and archetypes we're putting together for Ultimate Shaman will emphasize the flexibility and unique flavor inherent to shamanism. We'll be addressing urban shamanism, warrior shamans, multiclass shamans, modern shamans, a huge number of potential totems, planar travel from the view of a shaman, using real-world shamanism from around the world as inspiration for your games and whole lot more.

Timothy S. Brannan said...


Thanks so much for coming in while I was out of town. I should have just let you guess post! ;)

Rich Howard said...

Any time, Tim. Thanks for letting me hijack your comments thread. Glad you had a safe trip.