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Skip Navigation LinksContent>Magic>Magic Systems>Validus Familiaritas>Totemic Shamanism>System
Totemic Shamanism System
Validus Familiaritas

Totemic Shamanism

Totemic Shamanism System Totemic Shaman Totemic Shamanism Variations
Totems & Gifts Totemic Shaman Package Deals  
Totemic Shamanism is part of the Validus Familiaritas archetype.
GM Notes on Totemic Shamanism
Totemic Shamanism (toe-TEM-ick SHAH-mah-NIS-um) is a type of Divine Nature Magic that allows practitioners to manifest powers appropriate to one or more animal Totems.
Casting Model
Totemic Shamanism is a form of "Familiarity Casting", where in there is a set list of Magic abilities and a character buys a Familiarity with each Magic ability they wish to be able to use.
All Totemic Shaman have a Power Skill called "Totem Lore", which is EGO Based. This Power Skill is used to learn new Powers and also serves as a combination Knowledge Skill and Professional Skill for Totemic Shamanism if necessary.
The adjoining chart illustrates relative skill levels by Totem Lore roll, and the cost for each level. The associated titles don't have any actual literal meaning; they are merely meant to be illustrative.
Totem Lore: Power Skill (EGO based)
Real Cost: 3 points
A Totemic Shaman can also opt to instead buy a separate Totem Lore Power Skill per type of Totem, such as Wolf Lore (Power; EGO Based). As a benefit for doing this, Totemic Shaman gain a flat +2 specialization bonus to Power Skill Rolls that only apply to a single Totem.
This option might prove to be more economical to a Totemic Shaman that only intends to use one or two types of Totems, but is generally inefficient for practitioners that intend to have a broader mastery.
There are a number of Totems provided in the Totemic Gifts document, and by default each Animal Totem contains four Gifts chosen from a set list of Totemic Gifts (listed below). Some Totemic Gifts are "Basic" and have no more than 15 Active Points, while others are "Advanced" versions of Basic Gifts with up to 30 Active Points.
Instead of paying the Real Cost of Totemic Gifts, Totemic Shaman instead take 1 point Familiarities with the Gifts granted by various Totems. This Familiarity allows them to use the relevant Gift as if it were a Power on their Character Sheet.
Familiarity with a Basic Power costs 1 point, and a Familiarity with an Advanced Power costs an additional 1 point.
Since the Totemic Shaman is only paying 1 point for such Powers, this could quickly get out of hand if not controlled. Thus the list of Gifts available is extremely restricted. A Totemic Shaman can only take Gifts specifically listed, which is to say that they cannot just write up any given Power, pay a point for a Familiarity with it, and start using it. Further, the Gifts are organized into specific Totems and are only available where thematically appropriate; thus the Dolphin Totem does not give access to the Gift of Flight for example.
Further, to buy an Advanced Totemic Gift a character must already have the applicable Basic Totemic Gift from the same Totem. Additionally, all of the Advanced Gifts are just improved versions of their relevant Basic Gifts. Thus Advanced Tooth & Claw is just a better version of Basic Tooth & Claw rather than a separate ability. In effect, all of the Advanced Gifts render their Basic versions obsolete; their effects do not stack.
Some animals don't exist in some areas, or perhaps at all in a given Campaign setting, and a GM is recommended to only allow culturally/regionally appropriate Totems to characters. So for example if the GM has determined that Foxes don't exist in their setting they could either name a parallel creature to "proxy" the Fox Totem, or simply disallow the Totem altogether.
In a similar vein, it's quite reasonable for the GM to deny the Shark Totem to a Totemic Shaman from landlocked nation that lies hundreds of miles from any Ocean, or the Lion Totem to a Totemic Shaman from an icy northern land far from any prideland. In all cases check with the GM ahead of time to determine what Totems are available to a given Shaman.
When a Totemic Shaman has all of the Gifts of a particular Totem they can be said to have a "full" Totem. Essentially, they have achieved mastery of that particular Totem, which grants access to other abilities and has some additional benefits as well. What constitutes a "full" Totem is covered in detail under Totem Restrictions, but the benefits of mastery are:
  • Beast Speech: Totemic Shaman can speak with animals matching their mastered Totems, for free.
  • Beast Forms: Totemic Shaman can Multiform into animals matching their mastered Totems, at normal cost.
  • Animal Companions: Totemic Shaman can have Animal Companions of an exceptional nature matching their mastered Totems, at normal cost.
Totemic Shaman are considered to have Beast Speech as the Talent (Fantasy HERO) with all animals for which they have a full Totem at no extra cost.
EXAMPLE: Ul-Nar has mastered the Bear, Boar, Dear, Eagle, Panther, Stag, Weasel, and Wolf Totems; he has Beast Speech with Bears, Boars, Deer, Eagles, Panthers, Stags, Weasels, and Wolves for free.
Totemic Shaman have special permission to purchase a Multiform construct (at full normal cost)  to allow them to have one or more forms of a point value up to their own current points to change into any animal type for which they have a full Totem. The GM might require further restrictions, such as specific required Limitations, but the point cost of such an ability should serve as a self-limiting factor.
EXAMPLE: Shal-Nam has mastered the Bear, Boar, Hawk, Weasel, and Wolf Totems; she is permitted to take a Multiform Power that allows her to change form into a Bear, Boar, Hawk, Weasel, and / or Wolf with points equal to or less than her own current point total.
Totemic Shaman may have Animal Companions bought as Followers (at full normal cost) using entries from the HERO System Bestiary (or some other source if the GM prefers), as any character might. However for each full Totem they have special permission to add some reasonable upgrades and even (with GM permission) mystical abilities to Animal Companions of that type.
Thus a Totemic Shaman with the full Wolf Totem might have one or more Wolf Companions that are "exceptional", perhaps larger and stronger, smarter, tougher, more lethal, or similarly advantaged compared to other normal wolves. And with the GM's permission, they might even have some minor mystical enhancements.
Also, a Totemic Shaman has special permission to take mystical abilities pertaining to their Animal Companions for themselves (at normal  Real Cost). Some abilities that would be appropriate would be Mindlinks with their Animal Companions, Clairsentience based distance-vision via the senses of their Animal Companions, and similar appropriate effects. These abilities should not mimic the Totemic Gifts or otherwise render them unnecessary.
EXAMPLE: Val-Ar has mastered the Wolf Totem and has several loyal Wolf companions of exceptional size, intelligence, ferocity, and resistance to harm. Val-Ar also has the ability to communicate with them mentally over vast distances, and to sense what they currently sense if he wishes to (purchased as Powers).
For higher powered campaigns GM's might allow a player to design thematically appropriate Power Constructs that are more powerful or different from the common set of Totemic Shaman Powers and pay the Real Cost for them directly. If allowed, these abilities should each be appropriate to one of the Totems that the player has all the Familiarities for.
The normal Real Cost for such Special Powers is paid for by the Character, and these Special Powers have the same SFX as a normal Totemic Shamanism Power. Because the Character must pay the normal Real Cost, there is no Skill Roll or other obstacle required for them to learn the new Special Power (unless the GM chooses to impose one), and they do not need to take a Familiarity for the Power.
However Special Powers are still restricted by the Totemic Shamanism Power design requirements (below); such Powers exist outside the structure of the Totem Familiarity schema, but not the mechanics of the Magic System. The only exception to this is that such abilities may take RSR: Totem Lore if the player wishes (or the GM insists).
The impact of the cost in Character Points should be sufficient to keep this sort of expansiveness under control in most cases, but GM's are recommended to monitor the practice for potential abuse.
EXAMPLE: Val-Ar has mastered the Wolf Totem but would like to also be able to make a chilling Wolf's Howl that frightens foes. The GM might allow Val-Ar to have the following Special Power
Val-Ar's Chilling Wolf's Howl: +35 PRE; Offensive Use Only (-1), Extra Time (Full Phase; -1/2), Incantations (Howl; -1/4), RSR: Totem Lore (-1/2), Noisy (-1/4)
Real Cost: 10 points
There are a number of restrictions which apply to this type of Magic Use, as follows.
This type of Magic has a set list of predefined Powers, called "Gifts". Further each Totem has specific Gifts available to it, and the list is closed.
Basic Gifts have a maximum of 15 Active Points, and Advanced Gifts are between 16 to 30 Active Points.
All Totemic Gifts must have Limitations totaling to -1 at a minimum, and must cost Endurance to activate or use. Totemic Gifts that grant Characteristic bonuses must take No Figured Characteristics.
Totems have some specific Campaign Groundrules that limit their use.
As mentioned above until a Totemic Shaman has all of the Totemic Gifts of a particular Totem, they do not count as having a full Totem. For example the Wolf Totem grants access to Basic Senses, Advanced Senses, Basic Tooth & Claw, and Basic Running; a character that does not have Familiarities for all four does not yet have the full Wolf Totem.
Each Totem is distinct and all of the Gifts that are granted by that Totem are particular to that Totem even if the same gift is offered by other Totems.
For example, the Owl and the Raven Totems are almost identical, differing in only one Totemic Gift. Thus if a Totemic Shaman had the full Owl Totem they could not just take the Basic Trickery Gift of the Raven Totem and be considered to have the full Raven Totem. The Shaman must also re-purchase the three overlapping Totemic Gifts of the Raven Totem to have the full Raven Totem.
This built in redundancy is intentional and helps to offset the extremely low point cost of Totemic Gifts in general.
Each Gift should have a SFX suitable to the Totem that grants it. This is particularly important for characters that have overlapping Gifts from multiple Totems. Thus a character that had both the Tiger and the Eagle Totems might have Basic Tooth & Claw from both of them. If the character uses the Tooth & Claw Gift of the Tiger Totem it should have a different SFX from the Tooth & Claw Gift of the Eagle Totem, even though the game mechanics are the same for both Gifts and they are in fact redundant abilities.
Totemic Gifts have the SFX of Divine, Magic, Totemic Shamanism, and whatever Totem a Gift originates from. These mandatory SFX cannot be altered by any means, including Variable Special Effects. These various SFX can be interacted with as normal; thus a Magic Users of another System casting a Spell that Dispels Divine Magic could affect Totemic Shamanism Gifts. Similarly, if such a caster had a "Detect Canines" Spell they might detect a Shaman using a Wolf Totem Gift with a good PER check for their Detect, while a "Detect Wolf Magic" Spell would easily detect a Shaman currently using a Wolf Totem Gift.
Note: The Wolf Totem Gift of Advanced Senses is always Magic, always Divine, always a Totemic Shamanism Gift, and always from the Wolf Totem.
  • No Gift may be on Charges
  • No Conscious Control and Independent may not be taken on any Gift
  • All Gifts must either cost END by default or take the "Costs END" Limitation
    • Gifts may take Reduced END
    • Gifts may take "Costs END Only to Activate" where allowed by the rules normally
      • All Costs END only to Activate Gifts must have a defined termination, expressed either as a duration or a specific and reasonably common event
  • Gifts may not be imbedded in a Focus, but may require an item to be activated; use Restrainable instead of Focus in these cases
  • Gifts must have at least -1 in Limitations
  • No Gift can Require a Skill Roll to be activated
The single greatest restriction on this Magic System is that all Gifts must cost Endurance to activate. This serves to restrict the frequency of Magic Use over a short term period, such as combat scenes. It also prevents or discourages certain Power Constructs from being used by Totemic Shaman due to mechanical conflicts or inefficiency.
A Totemic Shaman explicitly may not have Endurance Reserves for their Totemic Gifts.
Totemic Shaman do not have a concept of "Specializing" in a formal sense, but a Totemic Shaman that only has one Totem could be said to be "Specialists". Thus a character that only had the Wolf Totem, but concentrated on having an entire pack of wolves as followers and a werewolf-like Multiform, could be called a "Wolf Shaman" fairly accurately.
Practitioners of Totemic Shamanism can only use their abilities while wearing no, cloth, leather, fur, or hide Armor. However, they suffer no penalties at all to their Totemic Gifts if wearing one of the listed types of armor (other than non-proficiency penalties if applicable).
Creating New Magic Items
Totemic Shaman are not able to create magic items in general, however there are three types of items that they can make, as described below.
With the GM's permission a Totemic Shaman can make a suit of leather, hide, or fur Totem Armor for themselves from the pelt or hide of an animal that they have a full Totem for; such Armor can grant up to 10 PD / 10 ED. However this Totem Armor must be paid for with Character Points, and must take the Limitations OIF (Armor; -1/2) and Independent (-2). Totem Armor detects as being magical.
If the Totem Armor is taken from the Shaman, they lose the points they have invested in it unless they can reacquire the Totem Armor. A Shaman does not have to have an Armor Proficiency to wear Totem Armor of their own creation.
It takes appropriate raw materials, one day per total DEF of the Totem Armor or (PD + ED) / 2 if PD and ED are disproportionate), and a successful Totem Lore Skill Roll at -1 per 10 Active Points in the Armor Power.
The GM might also allow other relatively minor defenses or thematically appropriate benefits to be included in such items, such as LS: Intense Cold for Totem Armor made from a Bear's hide, or LS: Extended Breathing for Totem Armor made from a Dolphin's skin.
Totem Armor can be bought and sold as a commodity. The recommended base cost of such items is ((Active Points * Real Cost) * 5) in the standard denomination of the setting's currency (typically gold or silver). Circumstances, market conditions, and use of skills such as Trading influence this base cost in the normal fashion.
Some Totems are harder to reasonably justify Totem Armor for than others (such as Bird Totems for instance), but in general a GM should be lenient and allow some creativity; it is Magic after all and further it does cost Character Points to make which should serve as sufficient deterrent to abuse. However, a GM is within their rights to cap the max PD / ED of such Totem Armor to something they think reasonable if they see fit to do so.
EXAMPLE: Uthira Rejal only knows the Raven Totem, but would like to make Totem Armor for herself. A GM might allow her to make Totem Armor in the form of a cloak with Raven feathers stitched to it.
Val-Ar's Wolf Pelt: Armor (10 PD / 5 ED); Hardened (+1/4) (27 Active Points); OIF (Wolf Pelt; -1/2), Independent (-2)
Creation: 8 Days, -3 to Totemic Lore Skill
Real Cost: 8 points
Recommended Monetary Cost: 1080 xc
With the GM's permission a Totemic Shaman can craft a wooden pole with symbolic carvings representing each Totem that Shaman knows. While the Totem Pole stands it works as an Animal Friendship effect vs. animals of the types represented by the pole's Totems for the purposes of keeping such animals calm and non-aggressive while in its Area of Effect, or to just avoid the area all together.
All Totem Poles use the following generic write-up, with the Totems actually represented simply annotated without reducing the cost. As this write-up uses a (long-lasting) Non-Recoverable Charge it counts as an Ephemeral Magic Item and thus does not cost Character Points to create.
However it does take appropriate materials, one Day per Totem, and a PS: Woodcarving (or equivalent) Skill Roll at no penalty for the carving of the pole, in addition to a Totem Lore Skill Rolls at -1 penalty for each Totem in the pole. A Totemic Shaman can take more time to craft a Totem Pole if they like; each doubling of time grants a cumulative +1 bonus to both the PS: Woodcarving and Totem Lore Skill Rolls.
A Totemic Shaman usually craft Totem Poles for their own residence, but they can create them elsewhere as well if they wish and some sell them to generate income or otherwise treat them as a commodity. In such a case the recommended base cost of such items is (Active Points * Real Cost) in the standard denomination of the setting's currency (typically gold or silver). Circumstances, market conditions, and use of skills such as Trading influence this base cost in the normal fashion.
Totem Pole: Animal Friendship, 1 Continuing Charge lasting 1 Century (+0), UAA (+1), AOE (32" Radius; +1 3/4) (75 Active Points); IAF Immobile (-1 1/2)
Real Cost: 30 points
Cost to Shaman: 0 points
Recommended Monetary Cost: 2250 xc
With the GM's permission a Totemic Shaman can craft a "fetish", which are simple objects of generally primitive design and no real practical purpose. However a Totemic Shaman can instill one of their Basic Gifts that they also have the Advanced Gift for into such a Totem Fetish, which can then be used by others.
A Totemic Shaman can create a single Totem Fetish per each Basic Gift that they have the corresponding Advanced Gift for (from the same Totem). Thus a Bear Shaman that has both Advanced Mightiness and Advanced Toughness could make two Totem Fetishes, one for Basic Mightiness, and one for Basic Toughness.
All Totem Fetishes are Ephemeral Magic Items with a finite number of Charges. Once a Totem Fetish has been expended or destroyed a Totemic Shaman can once again make another one for whichever Basic Gift was instilled into that Totem Fetish.
To make such a Totem Fetish requires something to serve as the fetish, which should be thematically relevant to the Totem of the Basic Gift being instilled in it; teeth, bits of pelt, and claws are all typical fare. It takes six (6) Hours and requires a Totem Lore Skill Roll at a -1 penalty to instill the Basic Gift into the Totem Fetish. A Totemic Shaman can opt to make a Totem Fetish in less time than this, taking a -1 to their roll for each step down the Time Chart (decided upon prior to making the Skill Roll).
The Power Construct of a Totem Fetish is handled by simply taking the write-up for the Basic Gift, dropping all "initialization" Limitations from it such as Incantations, Gestures, Concentration, Extra Time, etc, and finally adding one or more Non-Recoverable Charges to the write-up; the Continuing Charge option is almost always applicable as well. Charges used in this fashion may not become an Advantage; the final value for the Charges modifier must be worth at least -0.
Totemic Fetishes detect as magic items, and are considered to be Ephemeral Magic Items as they use Non-Recoverable Charges; thus they do not cost Character Points to make.
Some Totemic Shaman grant such Fetishes as boons to friends, but some sell them to generate income or otherwise treat them as a commodity. In such a case the recommended base cost of such items is (Active Points * Real Cost) in the standard denomination of the setting's currency (typically gold or silver). Circumstances, market conditions, and use of skills such as Trading influence this base cost in the normal fashion.
Basic Flight Fetish: Flight 5", x4 Noncombat (15 Active Points); 12 Continuing Charges lasting 1 Day each which Never Recover (-1/4); IAF (-1/2)
Real Cost: 9 points
Cost to Shaman: 0 points
Recommended Monetary Cost: 135 xc