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The Hermetic tradition lists Fire spirits for the Combat category.
The description of the traditions seems to make this optional:

[...] indicating which types of spirits and spirit powers they might be likely to call upon in particular situations.

Can a Hermetic mage use a Spirit of Man for combat?

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The answer to this question depends on whether you are using Street Grimoire or not. As you note, in the Core Rulebook, the spirit selection is merely a guide, but the individual practitioner is able to choose whichever spirit the feel is most appropriate.

However, in Street Grimoire it is stated more explicitly that the summoner cannot task a spirit with a task outside its domain. From Street Grimoire, Second Printing, Pg 41, first paragraph:

Mages of that particular tradition may only summon the spirits listed with that tradition, and they are restricted in the tasks they can assign them. Assigning tasks outside the general area of their tradition will not receive a response from the spirit (for example, a Buddhist mage telling an air spirit to heal him will get no response, as air is a Combat spirit in that tradition, while the Health spirit is earth).

No errata to date has clarified the issue one way or the other, but it is generally accepted (at least in my experience, and I think the devs had mentioned it as well, but don't quote me on that) that rules in supplements override rules in the core book when those supplements are used, on the assumption that they are replacing the appropriate sections with more detailed options, as well as being "newer". In other words, the supplements are expected to tweak some rules in the core book in order to allow the modifications and extensions they put forth.

So, if your table chooses to use SG, then that change (or clarification) is part of the package, though your GM can always choose to ignore it - most GMs I played with did, as it was overly restrictive and lead to some weird situations. For example, in the example in the book, the Earth spirit used by the Buddhist tradition for healing has no healing powers, optional powers, or skills. Of course, aside from Spirit of Man and their Innate Spell optional power, or Task Spirits and their Skill optional power, no spirit has much healing ability, making that a problem for many traditions even without the additional restriction, but almost all of them with it.

But as you've noticed, often one spirit is straight up better than another for certain tasks. Say you are fighting underwater, and your combat spirit is Fire. Even though you could summon a Water spirit, you are stuck with Fire because of your tradition. It's hard to imagine that this is intended, especially for a tradition like Chaos Magic, but RAW, it is the case.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Indeed you should definetly ignore this rule. It results in over 50% of the traditions iirc to don't have spirits with Elemental Auras for combat. The spirit choices of some Traditions can be ridiculous for some Traditions. Sioux get fire spirits as healing spirits. (This could make some sense as fire could represent body warmth) Those cannot heal you and in fact if they so much as touch you, they do the opposite... \$\endgroup\$ – fabian Jul 31 '18 at 7:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fabian I disagree with that you should ignore them. Since 4th edition, the traditions lost yet another piece of flavor that magicians had from previous editions, the spirits being the last mechanic that still retains the flavor of each tradition. If you choose to ignore that, might as well ignore traditions altogether as a house rule. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jul 31 '18 at 11:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fire spirits being Healing types means that's the kind of spell they can be bound to Aid Alchemy, Sorcery, and Study, so not only you can bound them to be ready for combat, but also to help you learn new spells, and increase your dice pool for casting Healing spells and rituals as well. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jul 31 '18 at 12:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras If I can choose between making conjurers of some traditions less useful than others simply because the cannot choose freely which spirit the spirit type they can to use for a certain task and simply ignoring this rule and loosing a bit of flavor where some of the flavor is "The Hermetic's spirits would be better suited for this.",I don't need to consider both options. I simply choose to roleplay the mage based on the tradition's world view. Forbidden Arcana provides you with some optional benefits,if you also accept some restrictions,btw,which is much better at adding flavor. \$\endgroup\$ – fabian Jul 31 '18 at 12:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer seems to imply that only Water spirits can be used for combat if that's your tradition, which is not the case. Also, you can summon fire spirits underwater, just expect them to be really mad at you (due to their severe allergy to water). Finally, none of the six basic spirits has any healing powers, so using that as an argument can mislead readers. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jul 31 '18 at 12:20
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Yes, they are

Each tradition has certain spirits that are better than others at certain tasks, while the specific spirits of each tradition are more suited to that tradition's views of their roles. So, while an air spirit of the shamanistic tradition may appear as a thunderbird, the air spirits of qabbalistic tradition may appear as a djinn. While their powers are similar, their roles are different.

The Core Rulebook (p.279) talks about this briefly but doesn't really explain how this restricts magicians, other than saying that they can only summon those five type of spirits.

Different aspects of the world (the elements) are important to traditions in different ways—the description of each tradition describes how each element lines up with the different types of spells, reagents, and spirits in their thinking, indicating which types of spirits and spirit powers they might be likely to call upon in particular situations. Each tradition’s description also includes the Attributes used in the Drain Resistance Test for spellcasters of this tradition.

The text from Street Grimoire (p.41) expands on this a little more:

Mages of that particular tradition may only summon the spirits listed with that tradition, and they are restricted in the tasks they can assign them. Assigning tasks outside the general area of their tradition will not receive a response from the spirit (for example, a Buddhist mage telling an air spirit to heal him will get no response, as air is a Combat spirit in that tradition, while the Health spirit is earth).

Do note, however, that this is talking mostly about bound tasks, such as Aid Alchemy, Sorcery, and Study or Spell Sustaining.

Despite the example used (asking for healing from a combat spirit), the only means that the six standard spirits can heal someone is if they have the Innate Spell critter power and take a Healing type spell, as no other powers available to them allow them to heal others. In fact, the power is only available to Spirits of Man. So, the only reason I think of about that example being used, is that the conjurer was asking for the air (combat) spirit to aid the conjurer on casting a Healing spell, which was already covered in the core rules:

Aid Alchemy, Sorcery, and Study: As a service, the spirit can add its Force as a dice pool bonus to your Alchemy, Spellcasting, Ritual Spellcasting (for spell rituals), and Learning Tests if its type matches the spell’s category, as listed under your tradition (p. 279).

Using this service means that when you want to cast a Fireball (a combat spell) and want to add your spirit's Force to your dice pool, a hermetic mage should ask help from a fire spirit, while a shaman should ask help from a beast spirit. Other spirits will not help on that task.

Historically, since the first edition of the game, any spirit can be used in combat, and this isn't something the developers would change without explicitly mentioning in the rules. There are many other tasks that they can perform other than fighting, though, and that's where each tradition's spirit types come in. In fact, they have been lifting tradition's restrictions on every edition of the game (example, hermetics could only bind elementals, while shamans could only summon spirits in 2nd edition), and it's one complaint from veterans, as that removes some of the flavor that all types of traditions had in previous editions.

Also, keep in mind that spirit task is not actually a game term, the term used is Services (tasks being used for technomancer's sprites), so there is no reason to assume that Street Grimoire author is trying to restrict all services available to your character with that clarification, especially given the wording used.

With that said, don't worry about it, all spirits can be used in combat, as that is a basic service that all bound and unbound spirits can perform, and none of the later-released books changed how this works.

Combat: You can have a spirit fight on your side in combat. The entire fight counts as a single service.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't understand how you get to the conclusion that all spirits can be used for combat. The description services states (emphasis mine) "A service is a single task that you request (or demand) from a spirit." which includes all services. You state yourself that the section in SG is mostly about bound spirit services, i.e. it's not restricted to those services only. Furthermore most powers could be assigned to a "area", e.g. Movement -> Manipulation, Search -> Detection, Concealment -> Illusion, which would greatly restrict the power use service. \$\endgroup\$ – fabian Jul 31 '18 at 13:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fabian As I explained, he used a bad example there. The wording shouldn't be taken literally, as that has never been the rules about how spirits work in battle. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jul 31 '18 at 13:49

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