The Shaman – A Random Advancement Class for the OSR

Recently, in a post by FM Geist on G+, I was educated about a shamanic practice from the old ways of northeastern Europe, in which medicine men of the Saami and other tribes would feed psychotropic mushrooms to reindeer and then distill a tea from their urine in order to get righteously high as all hell and see some weird stuff. This is pretty wild to start with, and immediately belongs in my game world. In the same thread, a gamer by the name of Saker Tarsos suggested that a complete class based around ritual body modification should exist.

What a good idea, I thought, immediately launching Microsoft Word.

So, here we are. This is the Shaman, an utterly confusing mix of utterly inaccurate nonsense with no claim toward legitimacy to any form of shamanism or religious practice now or in the distant past. Bits of all kinds of esoteric sorcery find their way into this character class somehow. If you are of the Saami or other peoples whose cultural practices include shamanism, hopefully this doesn’t offend you.

Without further ado:

The Shaman

The Shaman is a magical “medicine man”, a respected tribal sage whose wisdom — imparted by peeking through the veil of this world and the worlds beyond to speak with all manner of spirits, from element to ancestor — is invaluable to the tribe. Through ritualistic markings and the consumption of powerful drugs, the Shaman enters trance-like states to become closer to the unknown beyond, seek deeper knowledge of existence, and unravel the secrets of healing and power.
  • 1d4 HD
  • Daggers and clubs/maces only
  • No armor or shields
  • No spells at first level
  • Magic-User saves
  • Magic-User XP requirements
  • Cleric spells-per-day progression


 Shaman Mechanics

These mechanics are, of course, specific to the Shaman and most of them are probably optional if you don’t want the added complexity. I think they give the class some unique flavor but you can ignore them in favor of a stripped down class. Since we’re really after the “be different from a Magic-User or Cleric for the sake of being different from a Magic-User or Cleric” thing, though, I would suggest trying them out. The Ritual Marks, in particular, are the entire reason we’re here.
Instrument: A drum, rattle, tambourine, or other simple instrument made of simple, natural, meaningful components, required to cast any Spirit Song. If this instrument is lost or destroyed, a new one can be made in 1d12 hours with suitable components decided by referee (e.g.: treant trunk, skin of a beast, ochre pigments, sinews of an axebeak to make a drum).

Spellcasting: Called “Spirit Songs” to the Shaman. Shaman class characters can, depending on advancement rolls, also acquire Magic-User/Elf or Cleric spells, as well. A Shaman may know many spells and spirit songs but will still only have the Cleric progression of spells available each day. Each extant spell or spirit song can be cast only once per day. As with Clerics and Magic-Users, spells and spirit songs must be meditated upon at the start of each day to regain and select them. Casting requires free hands, a ritual instrument, and the ability to speak. Allies must be able to hear in order to benefit. Enemies do not need to be able to hear in order to be harmed.
Ritual Marks: Must perform rite of modification – tattoo, scarification, piercing – to enter ecstatic state and receive new wisdom from the spirit world (spells, abilities, bonuses); when applicable, level up as normal (roll hit dice, etc) but do not grant newly-acquired abilities or bonuses until modification carried out. If limb with modification or modifying device is removed (hand with tattoo chopped off, earring stolen, etc), ability goes away until limb replaced and modified OR sufficient replacement modification is performed.
Hallucinatory Visions: May forage for hallucinogenic or psychoactive materials; can identify the potency of their psychoactive properties by communing with spirits to analyze materials. Must commune for 0-60 minutes depending on rarity/obscurity of materials at referee’s discretion. Once identified, the Shaman can record a given material and identify its properties automatically any time it is encountered again. The referee decides if foraging is successful in a given area; some areas may simple have nothing with hallucinogenic properties – in this way, the referee can also control the rate of use of drugs to some degree. 
The Shaman may consume psychoactive materials to see into the realms beyond reality and commune with spirits for wisdom and power. 
Effects last: 
  • 1d4 hours for weak materials 
  • 1d6 hours for standard potency materials 
  • 1d8 hours for rare and strong materials 
  • 1d12 hours for extremely powerful materials. 

The Shaman suffers penalties for being high as a kite:

  • -1 to all saves 
  • -1 to-hit 

These penalties are x2 for uncommonly powerful (1d6 duration) drugs, x3for rare (1d8 duration) psychoactives, and x4 for extremely potent (1d12 duration) materials.

However, the Shaman adds that same duration die as a bonus damage die to any Shaman abilities (i.e.: not to M-U/Elf or Cleric spells) for the duration as well. 

The referee and/or player is encouraged to concoct flavorful hallucination effects for descriptive purposes. A simple goblin should become a sixty-eyed toad with the voice of a cat, carrying a stiffened snake as a weapon, for example, and a dragon should be absolutely preposterous. Foxes have the faces of men, and the local shopkeeper appears as a bipedal puffer fish. 

The referee rolls percentile dice each time the Shaman consumes such materials: 
On a90-100, the Shaman gets a bonus roll on the advancement table on next level up. 
On a roll of 11-89, the Shaman receives no bonus roll on the advancement table on next level up, but also suffers no further negative effects. 
On a roll of 5-10, the Shaman suffers ill effects; roll 2d6 to determine their extent on Subtable: Ill Effects
On a percentile roll of 3-4, the Shaman becomes comatose, trapped in their vegetative bodies with their mind in the realms beyond the veil of reality; they can be restored by any means which can cure magical diseases. 
On a roll of 1-2, the Shaman straight up dies.
A kind referee could allow a saving throw vs death to avoid dying on a roll of 1-2; if so, a successful roll would basically convert that percentile roll of 1-2 into a percentile roll of 3-4. This is not mandatory, though. Risks are good. Stop smoking illithid bladders and licking weird mushroom pastes to see bizarre spirits if you don’t wanna die.
Subtable: Ill Effects

The shaman is reduced to 1HP.
The shaman rolls save vs poison each dungeoneering turn for one hour; failure means shaman screams loudly.
The shaman suffers -2 on all saves for one hour.
The shaman suffers -1 on all saves for one hour.
The shaman suffers -1 on to-hit rolls and physical damage rolls for one hour.
The shaman has -1 AC penalty for one hour.
Luckily, the shaman is doing fine, bobs head to unheard drum beats and just seems to be having a good time, actually.

Shaman Spell (Spirit Song) List

Shamanic spells are chants, dances, songs, mantras, and codewords to communicate with the realm beyond reality. Through their constant visits to the spirit world, the Shaman has made alliances with many spirits and entities which wish to impart wisdom or effect change in the material world. These songs are granted to the lucky few who find the right spirits.

1. Speak From Beyond – Communicate with a known, specific ally (one way only) while concentration is maintained, across any distance.
2. Chant of Ancient Wisdom – 60’ – Grant all allies within range +2 on saves vs spell, wand and breath; lasts 10 minutes per Shaman level of the caster.
3. Drums of the Earth Mother – 60’ – Become as the stony earth itself, granting +2AC to all allies within range; lasts 1 minute per Shaman level of the caster.
4. Dance Like the Wind – 60’ – Buffeting breezes harry enemies in range who fail their save vs paralysis and invigorate allies in range, causing impacted foes to lose their next action in combat and allies to gain a second melee attack (martial classes) or a +1AC (caster classes) on their next action or action against them respectively.
5. Embrace the Storm – 60’ – Imbues target with the ability to store or reflect a single spell used against them when they succeed on the saving throw for the spell; on spells with saves for half-damage, target still takes half-damage but retains or reflects the spell. Enchantment lasts one day, can be dispelled by countermagic abilities. Stored spells can be used any time before the enchantment wears off. Reflected spells take place immediately, interrupting normal initiative order. A retained, or stored, spell, can be used on a normal turn. Stored spells not spent before the enchantment wears off dissipate.
6. Six Voices as One – 60’ – As wand of fear, affecting enemies equal to caster HD or lower who fail save vs spell.
7. Gather the Bones of Ancestors – 60’ – Animate nearby humanoid or non-magical animal corpse within range with the atavistic spirit of an ancient shaman for 10+2d10 minutes. Has HD of corpse. Has no fear, follows commands unflinchingly, will fight to death or walk into certain doom. Increase duration by 1d10 for every two shaman levels (eg fourth level shaman animates corpse for 10+4d10 minutes) as the shaman’s connection to the realms beyond strengthens.
8. Chorus of the Elements – 30’ – Natural spirits respond to your call, vexing foes with otherworldly assaults. Inflict 2d6 damage to each enemy in range which the Shaman can see. Increase by 1d6 for every three Shaman levels (eg sixth level shaman does 4d6) as bigger and nastier spirits pierce the veil of reality.
9. Plaintive Cry from a Carcass – 30’ – A swarm of biting, stinging, verminous insects manifests and attacks all foes within range and sight of the shaman, causing 3d4 damage; save vs breath for half-damage. The insects die and litter the floor after their attack. Increase damage by 1d4 for every two Shaman levels (eg fourth level Shaman does 5d4 damage) as more and more stinging insects answer the call.
10. Cacophony of the Hidden World – 60’ – Selected target must make a save vs spell or suffer 1d10 damage as it briefly sees into the psychedelic horror show of the space between realities with an unprepared mind. Successful save blocks the attempt to tear a window in the veil. Increase damage by 1d10 for every three Shaman levels (eg sixth level shaman does 3d10 damage) as the window peers into more and more chaotic spirit dimensions beyond the natural world.
11. Tectonic Crescendo – 30’ – Shake the very soil and stone beneath your enemy’s feet, causing all in the area of effect to make a save vs breath to avoid losing their balance. Those who fail take 1d4 damage for every two Shaman levels of caster (eg sixth level shaman does 3d4), and suffer -1 to-hit on their next attack.
12. Circle of the Avatar – 60’ – All allies in range and visible to the Shaman may roll 1d4, plus 1d4 for every two Shaman levels of the caster (eg fourth level Shaman would enable allies to roll 3d4). Allies are healed by the amount they roll. 

Shaman Titles 

Shamanic titles vary from tribe to tribe, culture to culture. I am also not very good at coming up with them. Take it or leave it!

Medicine Man (Medicine Woman)
Great Shaman
9d4+1 (no CON)
Shaman Chief
9d4+2 (no CON)
Speaker of the Chant
9d4+3 (no CON)
Speaker of the Song
9d4+4 (no CON)
Speaker of the Spirit
9d4+5 (no CON)

The Random Advancement Chart

 The entire point of this character class to begin with is the inclusion of mechanical involvement of scarification, tattooing, and other body modifications. Therefore, as mentioned above, all Shaman characters roll on this chart one or more times at level-up (depending upon their luck with drugs) but they do not receive the benefits in-game until they complete their modification. This is why we’re here. Don’t avoid it.
It should not be difficult for the Shaman to acquire simple rings or a tattoo in a town; scarification can be done in the field either by the Shaman or with the help of a Cleric.

Roll on this chart once each time the Shaman levels up. 

As mentioned in the mechanics section: each time the Shaman takes psychedelic substances, he or she is actively seeing between realms and potentially gaining spiritual wisdom and power. Each such trip earns the Shaman a percentile roll (see Mechanics section) performed by the referee which may result in a bonus roll on this table, above and beyond the normal roll. Bonus rolls also take place at level up, and should be tracked by the player. There exists the possibility of players receiving multiple bonus rolls. This is kept in measure by the constant side effects, threat of serious ill effects including poisoning and death, possible rarity of hallucinogenic substances, and fairly narrow odds (10%) of actually scoring the bonus roll to begin with. However, lucky players could end up with a number of bonus rolls depending on how much they’re willing to gamble, and this should be encouraged – like dungeoncrawling to begin with, taking risks for possible great reward is the entire point of the game! 
SCAR: Four concentric circles on forehead.
Roll on Cleric spell list once or roll on Spirit Song list once; re-roll duplicate spells.
SCAR: Intricate quatrefoil on left shoulder.
Permanently gain +1d4 HP. Repeat on subsequent rolls if you land on this again.
SCAR: Complicated knotwork on left forearm.
Roll on M-U/Elf spell list once or roll on Spirit Song list once; re-roll duplicate spells.
SCAR: Rows of dots across cheeks.
Roll on Cleric spell list once or roll on Spirit Song list once; re-roll duplicate spells.
SCAR: Interlocking basketweave across upper belly under pectorals/breasts.
+2 to save vs paralysis. Subsequent rolls add +1.
TATTOO: Blue strophalos on right pectoral/breast.
Roll on Cleric spell list once or roll on Spirit Song list once; re-roll duplicate spells.
TATTOO: Thirteen red glyphs in an esoteric tongue running down spine.
Roll on M-U/Elf spell list twice or roll on Spirit Song list once; re-roll duplicate spells.
TATTOO: Extremely complex ritual circle on throat.
Roll on Cleric spell list once or roll on Spirit Song list once; re-roll duplicate spells.
TATTOO: Nine angles on the sole of right foot.
+2 to save vs dragon breath. Subsequent rolls add +1.
TATTOO: Nude human figure wearing an animal mask, with a halo at small of back.
Abhor the unnatural: +2 to hit all abominations, demons, devils, and the undead. Subsequent rolls add +1 to all.
PIERCE: Series of fine gold rings in lower lip.
Roll on Cleric spell list once or roll on Spirit Song list once; re-roll duplicate spells.
PIERCE: Heavy silver hoop in right earlobe, from which a bird skull dangles.
Winds whisper rumors to you when outdoors; roll 1d6 every day spent outdoors; on a 1-2 the wind tells you a lie, on a 3-4 the wind tells you a misleading half-truth, on a 5-6, the wind trades in truthful tales including warnings of particular danger.
PIERCE: Sew left eye shut with blessed thread.
Lose -10’ vision range, increase enemy surprise chance against character by one-in-six; roll 1d6 to determine result: 1-3 Roll on M-U/Elf spell list twice or roll on Spirit Song list once; re-roll duplicate spells. 4 Gain darkvision as Dwarf. 5 See invisible to remaining max vision range. 6 Gain darkvision as Dwarf and see invisible.
PIERCE: Large gold septum ring shaped like Ouroboros.
Roll on M-U/Elf spell list twice or roll on Spirit Song list once; re-roll duplicate spells.
PIERCE: Flower-like pattern of surface piercings across middle of back.
Fanatical follower joins you; 1HD humanoid will not betray or flee. Roll 1d6 for race: 1-3 Human, 4 Halfling, 5 Elf, 6 Dwarf. Not impacted by CHA score whatsoever. If rolled again, add 1HD to follower if alive, or generate new follower.
SCAR: Spiral around right forearm from wrist to elbow.
Roll on Cleric spell list once or roll on Spirit Song list once; re-roll duplicate spells.
TATTOO: Ancient symbols for four base elements of nature on left shin.
+3 reaction roll on elemental beings, +3 damage to elemental beings. Add +1 to both factors if this result is rolled again.
PIERCE: Large etched stretching plate in lower lip.
Roll on Cleric spell list once or roll on Spirit Song list once; re-roll duplicate spells.
SCAR: Star-like arabesque patterns radiating outward from left nipple.
+1 to save vs spells, +1 to save vs death ray/poison, +1 to save vs wands. Subsequent rolls add +1 to all.
TATTOO: Pyramid of simple pictographs representing animals in order of closeness to godhood – possum at top.
Learn a 10-minute ritual to summon a non-magical animal with HD equal to half your HD (round up). They will obey simple commands which do not place them at extreme risk for eight hours before evaporating. Ritual can be performed 1/day requiring expenditures of uncommon natural material components of referee’s selection. Re-roll if this result comes up again.
PIERCE: Split tongue lengthwise.
Your speech takes on an alien tone as you lift the sounds of the realms beyond reality to color your words. Lose -1 CHA permanently; gain +1 WIS. If this result comes up again, lose -1 CHA and gain +1 WIS accordingly as more voices join your chanting.
SCAR: Interconnected geometric shapes down the length and breadth of right thigh.
The weather has begun to sense your will. Conjure storms or sunshine at will while outdoors. Cast Lightning Bolt for free as a M-U of your level 1/day with no memorization or preparation required. Re-roll if this result comes up again.
TATTOO: Detailed artwork of a great holy tree.
Nature hears your pleas. Gain 1/day free use of Wall of Stone or Transmute Rock to Mud. Re-roll if this result comes up again.
PIERCE: Golden discs inserted into cheeks.
Induce fear and revulsion in foes. -1 to reaction rolls; enemy Morale lowered by -1. If this result comes up again, re-roll.
SCAR: Series of chevrons on chin, pointing towards mouth.
Regain 1d4HP when consuming raw meat, up to 3d4 per day. Gain constant hunger for raw meat; roll 1d6 when non-magical animals are slain and eat its raw flesh for a full 10 minutes on a roll of 1-4. Re-roll if this result comes up again.
TATTOO: Repeating, complicated sawat batik pattern covers top of left foot.
Add WIS bonus to all spell damage. If this result appears again, re-roll.
PIERCE: Bone spears through upper arm flesh.
Natural spirits repair your wounds. Regain any lost limb over the course of a week. It looks ridiculous during the process. This boon may stack; if you re-roll it but have not yet used it, you may now regrow two limbs as the need arises. Once used, boon is lost.
SCAR: Sacred trapezoids frame a crude human skull on top of right hand.
Gain ability to summon rock construct 1/day; 2HD; obeys commands until destroyed. Rock construct gains +1HD for each subsequent roll on this result.
TATTOO: A fishing bird on left ribs, in blue.
+1 to all saves. Re-roll if this result comes up again.
PIERCE: Stone beads are implanted beneath the eyebrow ridge.
Enemies are at -1 on all saves vs your magic. Subsequent rolls penalize all enemies a further -1 on all saves vs your magic.
SCAR: Spiderweb motif expands from left knee.
Anytime you kill a non-magical animal, or any form of plant monster, you harvest enough parts to make a potent brew which salves 1d6 HP but also puts the drinker at -1 to all saves for two hours while its effects wear off. At 4th level, shaman teas heal 2d6 HP with the same penalties. At 8th level, these teas heal 4d6HP with the same penalties.
TATTOO: Stag skull with fractal antlers below navel.
Learn how to Cure Disease 1/day via 10 minute ritual and the expenditure of relatively rare natural material components of referee’s choice. Re-roll if this result comes up again.
PIERCE: Jewel is set between your eyes.
Roll 1d10 for jewel type:
1 ruby: 1/day, cast Aura of Enraging Confusion; 30’ centered on caster; affects all enemies of caster’s HD or lower within range who fail save vs spells; those impacted will attack friendly targets until they make the save successfully on a future turn.
2 amethyst: Double hit points regained from ecstatic trance.  
3 emerald: +1d4HP.
4 quartz: +2 to initiative.
5 topaz: 1/day, become a living light source; radiate golden light as per lantern for 1d4 hours. Light cast by the gemstone functions as sunlight for purposes of monster weaknesses.
6 lapis lazuli: +1 AC.
7 opal: enemies equal to half your HD or lower (round up), who are hit by any of your spells, must make a save vs spells to avoid being afflicted by an extreme case of sudden onset synesthesia, causing them to spend 1d4 rounds vomiting or laying supine from vertigo induced by smelling the sound of swinging blades and hearing the color of their own blood. Fae beings are unaffected.
8 garnet: +1 CHA, +1 loyalty.
9 citrine: immune to poison.
10 onyx: 1/day, cast Fear as per Wand of Fear; enemies must save vs wands or flee from the user at maximum speed for 30 rounds. Undead beings are immune.


The Drugs

If you’re using the drug rules (and you should be, because why even bother otherwise), several things require tracking duration. Standard dungeoneering turns are 10 minutes in Dungeons and Dragons, and therefore it is easy to break hours up into six dungeon turns. I have made a PDF for just this purpose, though, so you can easily track it!


You can get the PDF here at my Sheets Page (obviously for free); it is hosted on Google Drive.

There you have it: the random advancement Shaman. Please feel free to change, edit, reflavor, remove, etc the various modifications; just because one is listed as a tattoo of the nine angles on the foot of your shaman doesn’t mean you couldn’t substitute in a brand that looks like a French cave drawing of a grazing beast instead. Do you! Of course, this post owes an obvious debt to Zak Smith and Jeff Rients, who really brought about the random advancement classes for the DIY D&D/OSR scene, so go check them out or grab their latest available projects: Frostbitten and Mutilated by Zak Smith and Luka Rejec, and Obscene Serpent Religion 2 by Jeff Rients and Journeyman1029.

If you enjoyed the Shaman, if you want more of this content or less of this content, if you just want to point out that the damage output of this is unbalanced compared to a normal Magic-User, or something else altogether, hit me up on Twitter @dungeonspossums or on G+, where I go by +Dungeons and Possums, and let me know what you’re thinking!

PS: I have no idea why there’s like six fonts in this post. Ive tried, repeatedly, to format the fonts to a single default and it’s not having it. Blogger is exhausting at times.

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