Demonic possession, Soul Binding, and Paladins of the Wild Frontier
A multi faceted and setting specific magic system for Knave 2e
Most of the ideas in this post are heavily inspired by the excellent World of the Five Gods books by Lois McMaster Bujold. If you haven’t read them, why are you wasting time on this blog? Go do that instead. They are too good to miss out on.
What’s a demon anyway?
Demons, sometimes also called elementals, are incorporeal entities that haunt the spirit realm. Their origin is lost in the mists of time. Some scholars propose that they are sentient concentrated chaos left from the creation of the universe, others say it’s the corrupted soul of men not claimed by any of the gods that become demons.
Everyone agrees they are bad news.
Demons cannot sustain their existence in the material world, unless they tether themselves to the soul of an host. More than anything, they crave access to the physical world, a place of sensations that they cannot otherwise experience.
Most often, demons that get strong enough to attempt a possession choose to take over the soul of simple beings like small animals. The stronger the will of the prospect host, the harder it would be to force themselves in. But there are other ways too.
Some unscrupulous or credulous sorts welcome the embrace of a demon, for with it comes power over the material and the spiritual worlds. Uncanny feats of magic are enabled by demonic possession, but the price to pay is very high indeed.
Like a parasitic infection, the demon will spread and consume the host’ soul, growing in power, until only a tattered husk of the person remains. Sooner or later they will exist solely as a vessel for the demon.
Mechanics of demonic possession in game:
A player character can willingly accept to host a demon. Depending on the demon strength, this will cost them item slots equal to the number of powers granted by the elemental. This is the demon level. An host can only accept a demon of power equal or lower to their current level. A starting character can be a demonic host, but they must renounce one of their careers, forgotten in trade.
The sacrificed item slots are treated as soul scars, a kind of incurable wound that only a Paladin can remove (along with the demon itself).
The demon is a separate entity that can communicate telepathically with the character. It has wants and needs, and can demand the character acts in a certain way forcing a CHA test against its level to do otherwise.
When the character would level up, they make a CHA test against the demon level. If they fail, they take another soul scar and another power, but cannot increase their CHA.
If at any point the number of soul scars equals half the character’s slots or more, the demon takes over the host body completely, effectively consuming them and making them an NPC in the hands of the DM.
If the character dies, the demon reverts to their incorporeal state and is unable to bond with a living soul for d100 years.
The longer they remain unbound in this way, the more power and personality they lose.
Creating a demon
Every demon grants the power to see the spirit realm. Relics, ghosts, and other demons shine with an intensity based on their level. Paladins are painful to look at.
Demons have no name unless an host gives them one. They are defined by their cravings and their powers. Their personality is influenced by a specific trait of their host, and grows stronger with their demon level.
Use the table below to quickly generate a random demon, or come up with your own by answering the questions.
|What sensation do they crave the most?
|What personality trait of their host are they influenced by?
|What powers do they grant?
|Breath of element
|Immunity to element
A secretive group of individuals, often called witches or warlocks, found ways and means to make deals with demons without risking to completely lose themself in the bargain.
Soul binding is the practice of bartering just a small part of your soul in exchange for eldritch knowledge, and a demonic familiar.
This bound demons consume the soul and occupy the body of a common animal, but are sustained by the continual sacrifice of the soul binder. They retain a fraction of the power of an actual possession, with none of the usual risks.
Mechanics of soul binding in game:
To perform a soul binding, a character must learn the ritual from a practitioner. Starting characters can be soul binders at the discretion of the DM, but they lose a career in trade.
The demon must either answer one question truthfully and to the best of its knowledge, or perform one task to the best of its ability, to fullfill the contract.
Only minor demons can be bound to a familiar. The binder sacrifices one item slot permanently, gaining a soul scar in its place. The demon is then attached not to himself, but to a common small animal (no smaller than a mouse, no bigger than a dog). That animal gains 1d8 HP, the demon sight, its associated power, and its uncanny cravings. It also doesn’t age anymore, since it is technically already dead. They still retain all their physical characteristics (flight, night vision, etc…)
The bound demon cannot comunicate telepathically with the binder, and cannot influence them in any way. They also don’t ever level up.
If the binder is killed, the binding is undone, and the demon reverts back to its incorporeal state.
If the familiar is killed, the binder’s spirit is raked by the forceful disentangling, suffering 1d6 direct soul rending damage.
Both binders and familiars tend to be extremely protective of one another. Familiars are also terrified of Paladins (with good reason).
Paladins, also known as Temple sorcerers, or sometime Saints, are revered everywhere for their ability to banish demons.
The best kept secret of their trade is that their power is the result of demonic possession too.
Temple demons are elementals tamed and groomed into loyalty over entire lifetimes, enjoying the benefit of long term cooperation with the clergy instead of the blaze of glory of a common possession.
The main difference between a Temple demon and a common sort is they don’t consume the soul of the host, but instead grow alongside it, achieving a strong mutualistic bond. When the time comes, the demon is then bequeathed to the next host, but retains a strong impression of her previous keeper, as well as all their knowledge.
The transference of a Temple demon is a very complicated ritual that happens when a Paladin is ready to leave the mortal world behind and join the gods in the afterlife.
A chosen inheritor is selected and trained well before this fatidic moment. It can be anyone, and the choice is by tradition the Paladin’s own.
It’s an incredibly costly loss of knowledge and power when a Paladin dies without being able to pass on their demon to the next host.
Mechanics of the temple bonding ritual in game:
A Temple demon must be inherited from a dying Paladin. Starting characters cannot be Paladins (but they can be chosen to become one later in life).
Even though the liturgy is complex, the transfer itself is as fast as a single touch, but can be very painful for the recipient (CON test vs. demon level or lose consciousness for d20 hours).
Temple demons do not force a CHA test on level up, and in fact only increase their demon level when the previous owner dies, as a consequence of all the accumulated experience of a lifetime together.
For each demon level they possess they grant a power and a soul scar (soul bond) as a standard demon, but also the knowledge and personality of a previous owner (make one up or roll on the table below).
Their own personality is also stronger and more human-like, molded by all their previous existences.
Nothing happens if their demon level is greater than half the slots of the host.
A Paladin can also force other demons out of their bond by touching the host and passing a CHA test vs the demon level, with a +5 bonus for each level of its own demon. If the check is passed by 10 or more, the exorcism also removes all of the soul scars from the host.
Temple demon heritage
|The previous host was…
|Their area of expertise was…
|A stern but just second child of a nobleman
|A jovial young priest, died too young
|Wines and Vintages
|A fanatic crusader, veteran of many campaigns
|A carefree socialite and expert spy
|An hermit, deeply in touch with the natural world
|A shady eunuch servant
|A courtesan, paramour to a king
|An accomplished big game hunter
|A well traveled peddler
|Foreign languages and cultures
|A foreign poet that no-one understood
|A boisterous inn-keeper
|A condemned murderer, later proven innocent
|Laws and justice
|An obsessive folklorist
|The wise captain of a merchantman, and occasional pirate
|A reformed soul binder, exorcised by another Paladin
|A lowborn stablehand
|An arrogant physician
|An hedge magician with a penchant for bad puns
|A straight backed scholar who never smiled
|A loudmouth adventurer with a can-do attitude
Roll straight or mix and match!↩︎