Spirit Board (rules)

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Origin: mechanics from scenario "The Moonchild" by Paul Fricker


The original rule specified Spirit ("Ouija") boards, but the same general concept can be expanded to a variety of divination technologies:

Spirit Board

The spirit board, also known as a talking board or a "ouija" (wee-jah) board ("Ouija", from a combination of French oui and German ja both meaning 'yes', is a trademark of Hasbro, Inc. in the United States, but is often used generically to refer to any talking board), is a flat board marked with the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0–9, the words "yes", "no", "hello" (occasionally), and "goodbye", along with various symbols and graphics. It uses a small heart-shaped piece of wood or plastic, often with a transparent window in the middle, called a planchette; improvised variations might use a transparent drinking glass or glass paperweight instead. Participants place their fingers on the planchette, and it is moved about the board to spell out words. The players take turns asking questions and then "wait to see what the planchette spells out" for them; sometimes, a medium guides a spiritual group through the proceeding, or uses the board alone.

Following its commercial introduction by businessman Elijah Bond on July 1, 1890, the original Ouija board was regarded as a parlor game unrelated to the occult until American spiritualist Pearl Curran popularized its use as a divining tool during World War I. Spiritualists believed that the dead were able to contact the living and reportedly used a talking board very similar to a modern ouija board at their camps in Ohio in 1886 to ostensibly enable faster communication with spirits.

Some Christian and other religious denominations have warned against using spirit boards, holding that they can lead to demonic possession. Occultists, on the other hand, are divided on the issue, with some saying that it can be a positive transformation; others reiterate the warnings of many Christians and caution "inexperienced users" against it.

Of course, paranormal and supernatural beliefs associated with Ouija have been harshly criticized by the scientific community, since they are characterized as pseudoscience. The action of the board can be parsimoniously explained by unconscious movements of those controlling the pointer, a psychophysiological phenomenon known as the ideomotor effect.

Additional rituals and rules variously applied to the board's use might typically include:

  • an initial invocation to the spirits to attend and influence the proceedings
  • a formal closing of the seance by uttering the word "goodbye"
  • designation of a "leader" to keep constant contact with the planchette and ask all the questions (apparently to avoid "confusing" the "spirits"), and sometimes a designation of a single user to record the answers
  • advice to use the board in a dark and quiet location (candlelight is frequently suggested)
  • numerous warnings, including:
    • never use the board alone
    • never use the board in a home (lest a malevolent spirit be contacted and then linger in the home)
    • never use the board in a cemetery (said to be home to many desperate - and too often malevolent - spirits)
    • never treat "the spirits" with disrespect (by laughing or taunting the spirits or expressing skepticism in their presence)
    • never ask "tactless" questions or questions that may tempt malevolent spirits to mischief (for example, never ask when you are going to die)
    • remove the planchette from the board when it is not in use (supposedly to keep from attracting malevolent spirits to the board)
    • immediately say "goodbye" and end the session if the contacted spirit communicates a "countdown" through the numbers on the board or through drawing symbols like "figure-8's" and stars with the planchette (apparently common themes with malevolent spirits)
    • immediately say "goodbye" and end the session if the spirit gives a suspicious-sounding name or otherwise begins saying or doing things that suggest a deceptive or malevolent nature
    • never burn the board (this can supposedly invite worse trouble than the recommended method of firmly saying "goodbye" and then simply separating the board and planchette to deactivate the board)
    • never look through the transparent "window" found on some variants of the planchette (or through the bottom of a glass or other transparent implement used as a planchette), unless the device is placed firmly on the board (supposedly, the glass or other transparent material acts as a window to the spirit world, with potentially disastrous results)

Dowsing or Divining Rods

Some Sorcerers do boast they have a Rod,
Gather'd with Vowes and Sacrifice,
And (borne about) will strangely nod
To hidden Treasure where it lies;
Mankind is (sure) that Rod divine,
For to the Wealthiest (ever) they incline."
- "Virgula divina", from Epigrams theological, philosophical, and romantick, by Samuel Sheppard, 1651

Dowsing is a type of divination employed in attempts to locate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil, gravesites, and many other buried or hidden objects and materials without the use of scientific apparatus. Dowsing is also known as divining (especially in reference to interpretation of results), doodlebugging (particularly in the United States, in searching for petroleum) or (when searching specifically for water) water finding, water witching (in the United States) or water dowsing.

Dowsing as practiced today appears to have arisen in the context of Renaissance magic in 16th century Germany, when it was used in attempts to find metals, and to have migrated with German miners to the UK and the Americas. A Y-shaped twig or rod, or two L-shaped ones - individually called a dowsing rod, divining rod or witching rod - are sometimes used during dowsing, although some dowsers use other equipment or no equipment at all. When a rod is used, it might variously be of any substance, or of hazelwood or witch-hazel wood and preferably fresh, or as plain or fancy as individual or regional variations in dowsing practices demand. Early attempts at an explanation of dowsing were based on the notion that the divining rod was physically affected by emanations from substances of interest.

"The corpuscles... that rise from the Minerals, entering the rod, determine it to bow down, in order to render it parallel to the vertical lines which the effluvia describe in their rise. In effect the Mineral particles seem to be emitted from the earth; now the Virgula [rod], being of a light porous wood, gives an easy passage to these particles, which are also very fine and subtle; the effluvia then driven forwards by those that follow them, and pressed at the same time by the atmosphere incumbent on them, are forced to enter the little interstices between the fibres of the wood, and by that effort they oblige it to incline, or dip down perpendicularly, to become parallel with the little columns which those vapours form in their rise."
- Mineralogia Cornubiensis by William Pryce, 1778

At various points in history, the practice of dowsing or divining was considered witchcraft and on occasion made illegal under Catholic Church authority. Dowsing is today considered a pseudoscience, and there is no scientific evidence that it is any more effective than random chance, and the motion of dowsing rods is now generally attributed to the ideomotor response, and a study towards the end of the nineteenth century concluded that the phenomenon was attributed to cryptesthesia, whereby the practitioner made unconscious observations of the terrain and involuntarily influenced the movement of the rod. Despite the scientific evidence against the practice, dowsing is still used by some farmers and by water engineers in the UK, the US, and elsewhere, and was popular in rural areas throughout the "Gaslight" and "Classic" eras as a means of digging wells, finding minerals, searching for bodies or hidden clues at crime scenes, locating the presence of hidden ghosts or spirits, and other such purposes.

Pendulums and "The Ring Test"

Pendulum divination is a practice very similar to Dowsing, in which makeshift or specially-designed pendulums are sometimes used in divination. An example of this is tying a wedding ring to the end of a string, and using the motion of the pendulum to divine the gender, legitimacy, and health of an unborn child (the "Ring Test"). Other examples include using a pendulum with a calendar or clock to predict a date or time, with a map to determine the location of something, with an elaborate or makeshift ouija board (sometimes as simple as "yes" and "no" answers) in place of a traditional planchette (see above) for spirit communication, or using a pendulum in a manner similar to divining/dowsing rods (described above) to locate buried or hidden objects or substances, determine the state of health or cause of illness of a patient, etc.

Some prescriptions for the practice of pendulum can specify fairly detailed and elaborate rules for the shape, size, material, design, decoration, incantation, and cleansing of a pendulum before use, for example specifying particular materials and shapes for specific purposes, or requiring that the pendulum be "cleansed of other emanations" with burning sage smoke, etc., or suggesting that the pendulum be protected from spiritual tampering within an enchanted pouch or bag when not in use.

Automatic Writing and Other Related Devices

Similar divination devices to spirit boards have also been employed in astonishing and individual variety, with much the same warnings and rules (as well as similar game mechanics). Some common variants include:

Automatic Writing: Automatic writing has the medium use pen and paper while in a trance, allowing "walk-in" spirits to use the medium's hand to write, sketch, or draw. A variation on the spirit board attaches a pencil or pen to the planchette, used on blank paper rather than a board, allowing a group at seance to all keep in contact with the writing instrument, in a sort of hybrid between a spirit board and automatic writing. Like Spirit Boards, many automatic writing results can be parsimoniously explained by unconscious movements of those controlling the pointer, a psychophysiological phenomenon known as the ideomotor effect.

Electronic Devices: "Spirit boxes", "EVP" audio recordings, and other electronic devices - some as simple as a flashlight with a hair-trigger button - have been devised for similar purposes. For the flashlight variant, the light's switch is balanced in such a way that it very nearly makes a complete circuit, allowing the lightest of touch or other changes in the environment to allow contact, allowing "spirit" communication in the form of flashes to yes/no questions, and perhaps something as elaborate as communication through Morse or similar code. EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) audio and video recordings attempt to capture supernatural sounds and voices on audio, for spiritualists and occultists to interrogate and try to translate answers from the static and distortion for. More elaborate "spirit box" variants of the technology use similarly delicately-balanced instruments to allow electronic devices to play sounds - typically recorded speech in the form of simple words and phrases.

Tarot Cards: See Tarot cards (rules) for the use of shuffled paper tiles or cards for divination.

Dice: Dice have an ancient history of use in similar ways to Tarot, randomly rolling numbers - presumably chosen and influenced by "spirits" - which are translated in various ways into "communications from the spirits" (such as aligning numbers with answers to questions). Note that some arcane traditions assign occult meaning to numbers, allowing for "numeromancy" via reading arcane meanings into the numbers generated by dice. Some custom dice - often carved from bones, teeth, or made from "enchanted" or "holy" stones and sticks of wood - use runes, letters, or words in place of dice (thus divination by "casting of runes"); the materials used might linked to Elemental nature spirits (gnomes or dryads, perhaps) or the Ghosts of their former owners as supposed sources for the "arcane knowledge" imparted by the dice.

Horoscopes and the Stars and Planets: Charts and tables used for divination based on stars and planets and their supposed interactions and influences on people have an ancient history.

Other devices:

  • The "Magic 8-Ball", marketed by Mattel toy and game corporation, uses objects similar to dice, suspended in a fluid medium contained in a spherical black shell with a window in it (the black, spherical, plastic shell is stamped with a white number '8' in imitation of the "8-ball" from a game of billiards); the "dice" inside the ball are marked with simple "advice" in response to questions, such as "Yes", "My Sources Say No", "Concentrate and Ask Again", "Very Doubtful", "Don't Count on It", "Reply Hazy, Ask Again", etc. There is, effectively (assuming no intervention from "the spirits"), a 50% chance of a positive answer, a 25% chance of a negative answer, and a 25% chance of an "uncertain" or "ask again" type answer.
  • Darts or other sharp objects might be thrown at a board marked with words, numbers, symbols, etc.
  • Divination based on plants and leaves, including the shapes left in tea leaves, are not uncommon in folk magic. Similar techniques might read prophecies or communications into the shapes of clouds, etc.
  • Divination based on the behavior of insects and other animals are sometimes seen in folk magic, as is hieromancy, the study of the entrails of slain animals, and similar divination techniques based on the shapes and colours of bones, or on supposed patterns splashed in blood, and divination based on the movement of animals or crawling of babies over charts and tables.
  • Palmistry and Physiognomy (divination based on the "lines"/folds in the palms of a subject's hands, or the shape of his/her head and face), have enjoyed times of popularity.


Heresies and Controversies

  • The source of the revelations from a spirit board comes not from any psychic power within the investigator, nor from the spirit board itself, but from beyond: from mythos powers greater than the investigators, perhaps helpful (Elder Gods), perhaps malevolent or even indifferent (perhaps accidental or incidental). ("The Moonchild" by Paul Fricker)

Keeper Notes


An investigator may gain information from the Keeper through the ability to commune with spirits using an spirit board or similar instrument. The investigator must expend 1D10 magic points and describe how she is achieving the contact (with the aid of an Ouija board, entering a trance, using automatic writing, or something equally evocative of the player’s choosing. However it is achieved); the result is much the same. Each expenditure of several magic points allows for a few rounds (up to one minute) of contact. The Keeper should use this as an opportunity to feed the player information (or misinformation) with the aim of directing the investigators towards whatever seems most interesting and appealing to the Keeper, perhaps for the purpose of supplying missed clues, or directing the investigators toward a neglected plot point.