The gods and spirits are two very different things to the people of Mithlond. See the gods for the names of some of the gods. See Trionesse Spirits for a list of some of the spirits in the Shattered Forest region.
The spirits are immortal beings who are incorporeal but can manifest in physical form that are tied to places such as rivers, groves, caves and so on. By travelling to a spirit, mortals can gain boons, should the spirit be inclined to aid. Channelers are priests who can channel a spirit's boons at a distance. Spirits and the honoring of spirits play an important role in all mortals' lives.
The gods are corporeal immortals who dwell in the high mountains. They are wise and powerful and require honoring but do not grant boons directly as spirits do except for in the matters of the afterlife. Mortals fear the gods and honor them to avoid calamity but the relationship is much more distant than with spirits.
Spirits dwell throughout the landscape, usually at some prominent feature such as a grove, spring, river, distinctive hill, or even a crossroad or particularly important artifical structure. Spirits are immortal in the sense that they can exist indefinitely but a spirit whose focus is destroyed will fade away. This happened to many of the nature spirits during the Cataclysm.
Spirits usually can only take one corporeal form, usually a sentient humanoid but other forms exist. Water sprites, treants, bears and so on are not unusual. Their corporeal forms are real forms that can interact with the world as any creature of that type, including eating, drinking, and mating. Spirit offspring are not unusual and spirits often take a special interest in their offspring. Hunters will often leave a distinctive animal alone for who knows if that white stag is simply an unusual beast or the child of a stag spirit?
There are countless spirits in the world. See Guide to Spirits for some general information on their types and natures.
Nature of Spirits
As very old beings, spirits tend to have the wisdom of age but they are not necessarily benevolent and are certainly not unselfish. A spirit with offspring might take special care over that offspring and favor him in any matters on which she is consulted, for instance. Spirits can certainly hold grudges and it is not unusual for a spirit to hold someone accountable for a harm committed by a long dead ancestor.
Spirits are most often neutral although spirits of any alignment exist.
Visiting a Spirit
A person at the focus for a spirit may very well see the spirit and can ask boons of the spirit. Of course, offerings are typical in this case and the nature and quality of the offering will affect the boon. A boon is usually the equivalent of some D&D spell or ritual such as a cure disease or blindness or other spell-like effect. Certain types of spirits grant certain types of boons (see the Guide to Spirits for more details).
Channeling a Spirit
Some people can channel the boons of a spirit at a distance. These people are channelers (or as they are more commonly called, priests) and serve as the priests of this world. Since spirits are usually neutral, most channelers are neutral as well.
Spirits and The Cataclysm
The Cataclysm did not affect the spirits' ability to manifest and grant boons but it did damage or destroy the focus of many spirits. A damaged focus weakens the spirit resulting in lesser power and boons. Destruction of a focus destroys that spirit. Furthermore, with the massive loss of life in the Cataclysm, both sentient and animal, the spirits get much less attention. All this makes spirits less friendly towards humans than they had been in the past since they blame humans for the Cataclysm.
Creation of Spirits
New spirits arise all the time. The process is not well understood but beings particulary associated with a place that could be a focus sometimes become a spirit at or even before their death. This is rare at any given time and place but common enough across the span of the world. Some places, like Ophio have spawned a many spirits in only a few hundred years of existence.
Whereas people can travel to a focus and physically interact with a spirit and the actions of the priests keep the spirits close whereever they are, the gods are more distant. While songs and tales do not agree on the count of the gods and the wise recognize that some gods use multiple names, there are many fewer gods than spirits, something on the order of 100 or less. See the gods for information on some of the better known gods.
These gods wield powerful magic, are physically and mentally superior to nearly all mortals, and have the wisdom of the ages but they can be slain. (In this context immortal means they do not age and they heal quickly, not that it is impossible to kill them.) For this reason, they dwell apart from mortals in the high reaches of the spine mountains and when they travel in mortal lands, they usually travel under a disguise.
Due to the Cataclysm caused by humans, the gods have withdrawn from mortal lands. Some say their absence is complete others that the gods travel as much among mortals as ever before but reveal themselves far less.
The gods do not grant boons like spirits but since they govern the passage of the dead (see below), they are propiated, especially at funerary rites and there are temples to the gods.
The gods do not have priests like spirits do. Instead, bards, lords and other high ranking persons handle the duty of honoring the gods and maintaining and shrines or temples to them.
Since the Age of the Walking Dead, the gods have ordered the passage of souls (see world history for more details). Some dead, they select for themselves and take these souls to their dwellings in the high mountains where, for an age, the dead take corporeal form again in an ageless body that matches their own in the prime of their life. Most, however, pass into the underworld where they fade as distinct beings and their essence becomes reborn in the world. Certain souls may escape the net of the gods and become undead on the surface of the world: a ghost haunting the place of his murder, a vampire rising nightly in her grave.
Any stranger could, possibly, be a god in disguise or a manifesting spirit. While it is unlikely that any given stranger is anything other than a normal mortal, any wise person acknowledges the possibility and takes care to behave accordingly. Of course, the lawless bandits and the like of the world have abandoned all hope and have no such scruples.