• FINAL DAYS! -- The Awfully Cheerful Engine on Kickstarter! An action comedy RPG inspired by cheerful tabletop games of the 80s! With a foreword by Sandy 'Ghostbusters' Petersen, and VTT support!
log in or register to remove this ad

 

D&D General Spirits and Souls in D&D. What the Heck is the Difference?

Are Spirits and Souls the Same Thing in Your World?


  • Total voters
    34
This thread isn't so much to discuss the official lore on this matter, but can include that and what the difference is in your world and campaigns. I know that in some people's worlds, they're just two different terms for the same thing, but I want to know what the community thinks of them. Answer the survey above, and feel free to discuss below. I will add what the difference is in my world when I get the time.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Voadam

Legend
In D&D there used to be a difference in AD&D that affected raising versus reincarnation for humans and most demihumans versus elves and I think most humanoids.

In 3e and 4e and 5e it has not been a difference that I remember.

I prefer less baroque cosmology of souls along those lines. I prefer my soul complexity to be along lines like what can trigger different forms of undeath. Making elves and orcs cosmologically different along death stopping magic lines from dwarves and humans is not something I am interested in.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
The way I think about it is everything has a soul. Rocks, trees, groves, mountains, people (all humanoids, anything sentient, etc), etc. Think Animism and/or Shinto. But when the physical form dies or is destroyed the soul can move on (to whatever end, reincarnation, recycling, etc) or it can linger...which makes it a spirit. So a spirit is a disembodied soul. It lingers for any number of reasons, has any kind of disposition, want any kind of thing from people, etc. Not necessarily undead, but kinda yeah. Mindless undead have no soul. They’re thankfully empty husks...unless it would make for a scarier story for them to retain memories, etc. I’ve had lingering spirits seeking the destruction of their animated corpse before. It can be fun. Sentient undead sometimes retain their souls or sometimes a different spirit inhabits the body. It gets messy. Dead PCs can have their souls put into “empty” bodies...think Minder from FR or the reborn lineage from Ravenloft.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Personally I treat the Soul and the Spirit as distinct parts of the living entity.

The Soul is the animating life essence of a person, a unique living part of the Person that is seen as the aura and makes a persons unique nature. The soul is what dies (making the body go cold) and it can be stregnthened, dminished, consumed and even traded and used as an energy source by magical entities (usually demons who will make deals to possess them).
Everything that exists has a soul.

The Mortal Spirit is the Immortal part of a person that is anchored to the body in life and continues its ‘Being, Personality and Self’ even after death. Depending on religion a Spirit can go back to its Diety, become an Ancestral Spirit or hang around as a Ghost/Wraith/Spectre.
There are Spirits who are not Mortal Spirits and thus do not have bodies, some like Elementals and Djinn find their own anchors to the Material World, while some manifest from the concious existence of groups of things (eg Nations, Types of Animal, Beleifs). Spirits can be manipulated, summoned, enslaved and banished but generally can not be destroyed except in extreme circumstances.


A Body & Soul with no Spirit = Mindless Undead
A Body & Spirit with no Soul = Living Dead, Mummy, Vampire etc
A Soul+Spirit with no body = Ghost
Soul + Anchor = Haunt
Spirit + Anchor = Elemental, Wraith, Spirt
 
Last edited:

Personally I treat the Soul and the Spirit as distinct parts of the living entity.

The Soul is the animating life essence of a person, a unique living part of the Person that is seen as the aura and makes a persons unique nature. The soul is what dies (making the body go cold) and it can be stregnthened, dminished, consumed and even traded and used as an energy source by magical entities (usually demons who will make deals to possess them).
Everything that exists has a soul.

The Mortal Spirit is the Immortal part of a person that is anchored to the body in life and continues its ‘Being, Personality and Self’ even after death. Depending on religion a Spirit can go back to its Diety, become an Ancestral Spirit or hang around as a Ghost/Wraith/Spectre.
There are Spirits who are not Mortal Spirits and thus do not have bodies, some like Elementals and Djinn find their own anchors to the Material World, while some manifest from the concious existence of groups of things (eg Nations, Types of Animal, Beleifs). Spirits can be manipulated, summoned, enslaved and banished but generally can not be destroyed except in extreme circumstances.


A Body & Soul with no Spirit = Mindless Undead
A Body & Spirit with no Soul = Living Dead, Mummy, Vampire etc
A Soul+Spirit with no body = Ghost
Soul + Anchor = Haunt
Spirit + Anchor = Elemental, Wraith, Spirt
I somehow got in my mind that "soul" came from a term that meant "self", and therefore in my non-D&D design tend to use a similar system to yours but with the words reversed. But then I just looked it up and couldn't find any strong basis for the idea I had. :/ At least in D&D I don't have to worry about it because I don't make a distinction.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Interesting @Tonguez, because I would nuance it differently, but my own perspective tends to be influenced by biblical theological anthropology. In the Tanakh/Old Testament, it's ruach (spirit/wind/breath) that serves as the animating life essence of a person rather than the "soul." The "spirit" is the vital life-breath that empowers life in a creature. It is only when the body is imparted with a ruach that it becomes a living being/soul (cf. Adam in Genesis 2:7), and its absence in a creature is synonymous with death. Nephesh (soul/person/throat) is the living person/creature and the total essence of a person's being, self, and life. The spirit and soul of a person are distinct, but interconnected with blurred lines.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
Odds are that your PCs won't be learning the definitive answer to this question.
Therefore I don't need to come up with the answer & the differences between spirits/souls can be whatever I need it to be atm.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
A soul is created and grows as part of a living creature. A spirit does not. Some spirits may inhabit living things but their creation is separate from the creature. When the soul leaves the body because a creature dies, it becomes a spirit.
 

Everything has both a hun spiritual, ethereal, yang soul which leaves the body after death, and also a po corporeal, substantive, yin soul which remains with the corpse of the deceased.

I have most undead continue to be animated by the po. Skeletons, zombies, ghouls, vampires, etc. Incorporeal undead are po that are detached from their corpse.

The hun always moves on, and can make a great story hook if you bring it back to confront the po. Hun is also what becomes petitioners, larva, and what devils bargain for.

In a few cases, the hun is trapped and used as fuel, bargaining, etc. A lich is a great example of a po trapping their own hun.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
A soul is a being's unsignatatured "mana" or life energy.
A spirit is the mana or life energy that is tagged with the being's self in some way. It is contains some on the being's mind, element, and alignment.

When a being is alive, the soul and spirit fuse as the soul copies the spirit and partly becomes tethered to the body and spirit.
When a being dies, the soul loses the spirit's signature and dissapates. The spirit then goes through the afterlife process.

Sorcerers and innately magical beings have spirits with signatures that they can manipulate the copying soul to do arcane magic.

Unintelligent corporal undead are mindless because they both have no spirit and lack a working brain.
Intelligent undead have no soul. Their hunger or obsession is the body's conversion of flesh or energy into soul energy to keep animated.

Dead Body+Soul = Zombie. Skeleton
Dead Body+Spirit= Vampire, Ghoul, Lich, Mummy, Revenent
Spirit+Soul= Ghost or Spectre
Part of Spirit + Soul = Wrath
Elemental Body + Spirit= Elementals, Fey, Outsiders
Elemental Body + False Spirit= Constructs
 

Self aware, intelligent creatures have souls. Beasts and mindless monsters have spirits. Spirits are reincarnated by the world, while souls move on to the outer planes for the afterlife. The practical difference between them is almost negligible, except in AD&D where spirits can't be raised from the dead.
 

King Babar

Explorer
For my own homebrew setting a spirit is broadly defined as a being that normally lives within the spiritual plane; so nymphs, elementals, ghosts, gods big and small, etc. All beings (material or spiritual) have souls, but really only with material beings (plants, animals, mortals, etc.) do you get any real concept of separation (the body dies but the soul lives on).

More or less. I try to keep it intentionally vague.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
For me, a spirit is the animus of an animal, object, place, or abstract concept. They inhabit the ethereal plane and while they usually have material counterparts, they exist independently of those counterparts. A soul is the vital essence of a sapient being. It’s the seat of the “self” and the component of a being that goes to the afterlife when the body dies. Curiously, beings with souls don’t have spirits. Some speculate that souls are the spirits of sapient beings, but they behave quite differently than one another, so that’s probably not the case.

Ghosts and other ethereal undead are souls that refused to go with the Raven Queen to the afterlife and instead clung to the world, but were unable to be reunited with their bodies (which requires resurrection magic). Corporeal undead are created by shoving a spirit into a corpse where a soul should go.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
IMC, everything has a spirit. It's usually what you talk to when you cast a spell that lets you talk to a rock or plant or dead body. Spirits are generally pure, in that they are what they are. A rock doesn't question its rockiness, or wish it were something like a bird instead. It exists as a rock and "behaves" as a rock. To put it simply, it exists without self-conflict.

The soul is more complex, and not everything has a soul. It grants a being the capacity to evolve beyond the nature dictated by its spirit. It's free will.

Only certain beings innately have souls. However, a soul is like a flame that constantly throws off sparks. Occasionally, those sparks will catch and ignite in something that doesn't have a soul, which is frequently traumatic for the newly enkindled being. A fire elemental might have burned indescriminately for centuries, only to possibly begin questioning the morality of burning people alive, after becoming enkindled. However, for such enkindled creatures, their soul is impermanent and might flicker out at any time. The only real protection is to remain in the presence of other's with souls.

As a result, spiritual creatures such as fey and elementals will often avoid the presence of beings with souls. Being enkindled is both personally unappealing, and usually results in for banishment from their people (lest the "contagion" spread).
 

A soul is a being's unsignatatured "mana" or life energy.
A spirit is the mana or life energy that is tagged with the being's self in some way. It is contains some on the being's mind, element, and alignment.

When a being is alive, the soul and spirit fuse as the soul copies the spirit and partly becomes tethered to the body and spirit.
When a being dies, the soul loses the spirit's signature and dissapates. The spirit then goes through the afterlife process.

Sorcerers and innately magical beings have spirits with signatures that they can manipulate the copying soul to do arcane magic.

Unintelligent corporal undead are mindless because they both have no spirit and lack a working brain.
Intelligent undead have no soul. Their hunger or obsession is the body's conversion of flesh or energy into soul energy to keep animated.

Dead Body+Soul = Zombie. Skeleton
Dead Body+Spirit= Vampire, Ghoul, Lich, Mummy, Revenent
Spirit+Soul= Ghost or Spectre
Part of Spirit + Soul = Wrath
Elemental Body + Spirit= Elementals, Fey, Outsiders
Elemental Body + False Spirit= Constructs
This, but the other way around. The soul contains most of the "self" and is what passes to the afterlife, while the spirit is the force that animates the body, it dissipates after death unless it becomes undead through magic or other curses. Spells like Raise Dead always talk about calling the "soul" back from the dead, while Speak with Dead explicitly doesn't summon the soul, only the lingering spirit.
 


There is also the idea that a living being is a soul, with a material body and an immaterial spirit. A soul perishes when the connection between the body and the spirit is severed.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Interesting @Tonguez, because I would nuance it differently, but my own perspective tends to be influenced by biblical theological anthropology. In the Tanakh/Old Testament, it's ruach (spirit/wind/breath) that serves as the animating life essence of a person rather than the "soul." The "spirit" is the vital life-breath that empowers life in a creature. It is only when the body is imparted with a ruach that it becomes a living being/soul (cf. Adam in Genesis 2:7), and its absence in a creature is synonymous with death. Nephesh (soul/person/throat) is the living person/creature and the total essence of a person's being, self, and life. The spirit and soul of a person are distinct, but interconnected with blurred lines.

I think my use of Spirit for the Immortal 'Personality' is due to the wider use of the term for elemental and other Spirit Beings that operate beyond the existence of a physical body

We invoke Wolf Spirits or the Spirits of Ancestors rather than their Ancestral souls etc
 

glass

(he, him)
In my homebrew campaign setting, I have decided that that all mortal, sapient creatures have a multi-partite soul. What I had not decided is whether a spirit is another word for that soul, or one of the parts of it. Or indeed how many parts/what they are. Spirit can of course also refer to things that have nothing to do with a mortal creature's soul (primal spirits, frex), so they are different in that sense.

What I don't do is the old-school "humans and dwarves have souls, elves have spirits" thing. Except I kinda do, because elves are a bit weird in my setting (and so are their souls): They are an amalgam of flesh-&-blood creatures and fey/nature spirits. And also plants.

In the end, I voted "I have not decided".

_
glass.
 

Awfully Cheerful Engine!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top