Genius Loci
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Basic Information

Genius Loci can refer to three different concepts:

  • In Roman Mythology, a Genius Loci is a protective spirit of a place, and it often manifested as a snake, or was represented by a statue or other piece of artwork built into the walls. See also Gorgoneion, Lares, Manes, and Numina. In other cultures such spirits may be manifest or even incarnate as entities like dormovoie and brownies (for buildings) and nymphs and leshies for more rural places.
  • In Architecture, Genius Loci is the concept that building designs should always adapted to the context of the building. Instead of building just another cookie-cutter building, you'd modify your design based on the landscape, what's across the street, the purpose of the building, etc. You capture the spirit of the place. See also Phenomenology and Landscape Architecture.
  • In the speculative fiction trope, a Genius Loci is a self-aware location. A place that is also a character. It may be because the haunted house is suffering from demonic possession, or it may be that the location has built-in computer system with Artificial Intelligence. It can be as small as tool shed, or as large as plane of existence. It's likely to have some measure of control over it's form, which can vary from being able to shut doors and control elevators, to full-on shape-shifting. This would generally make it a Bad Place. Of course it is technically possible for the Genius Loci to be benevolent… this trope may shade into the mythological one above.

Related Tropes:


  • Stephen King's It is an excellent study of how something that is effectively a genius loci can serve as a BBEG.

Game and Story Use

  • Places are people, too!
    • Beyond it's application as Terrain or Scenery, a location can also reinforce a Theme or embody a concept. See also Personification.
    • Or, literally, the place can be a character, complete with motivations, goals, and personality. Having a computer with a voice synthesizer helps, but it's not strictly necessary, especially in a setting with some allowance for magic or psionics.
    • The Determined Homesteader might baby his house, in the same way a person who loves their car does.
    • Even without magic, a home or car can function as a character - one without a voice, but that has flaws, foibles, preferences, and a tendency to break down. "Come on baby, hold together…"
  • In Ancient Rome, the Genius Loci (plural: Genii Locorum) watches over the property that it manifests. It's a form of household god, and may be as powerful as that sounds. A game set in the Roman Empire might include a house-rule to give a "home field advantage" to all actions taken within the domain of a friendly Genuis Loci, or a penalty to actions taken at cross-purposes to the household spirit.
    • The difficulty to break through a door or wall may have nothing to do with the building material or construction, and everything to do with the will of the spirit of the place. If you perform the proper rites, your home is your castle, but if you offend the local spirit it may grow angry or even suicidal.
    • The character of a place may well be shaped by those that live there - generations of a healthy, functional family may create a strong, mostly benevolent power, albeit possibly one that is intolerant and resistant to change - and maybe dangerous to those it considers a threat whilst a long history of wickedness may turn the home into a thoroughgoing bad place. Regular changes of occupants and/or inconsistent behaviour may lead to confused and/or weak spirits and those who have been neglected for a long time may be sullen, withdrawn and possibly somewhat feral. Moving home may involve careful spirit-placating rituals, as may introducing new family members1 - building a house may need extra measures to ensure orderly colonisation by helpful spirits and as little trouble from displaced nature spirits as can be managed.
  • The architectural principle suggests a different way of designing a castle or dungeon. Instead of starting by drawing the structure, start by thinking out what the land was like before the structure was built. What kind of rock does it sit on, is the ground flat or sloping, what makes this a good place for this type of building, in what direction is town or the enemy, etc. Only once you have a good feel for the spirit of the place, do you put pen to graph paper.
    • Combining the meanings by way of geomancy, a magical architect might deliberately design a place so as to attract or create a particular kind of spirit.
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