But what if you want exorcisms to receive more attention and provide more opportunities for action? If you want to see this in your game, this blog series might be exactly what you need.
Understanding the Goal
It’s important to realize that no in-game exorcism is ever going to resemble anything from books or movies. There are some reasons for this.
|In books and movies||In fantasy roleplaying games|
|Authors have absolute control over the action.||GMs must react to dice rolls and player decisions.|
|Exorcists are usually loners or outcasts||FRPGs are group efforts. Exorcists are typically backed by a powerful team of specialists.|
|The setting is usually low-magic. Often the demon is the only character with any kind of supernatural ability.||FRPGs are usually high-magic settings. Spellcasters can be plentiful, and every character has magic items.|
Therefore the goal is not to duplicate a movie, but to create something exciting that fits the game. Since exorcisms are resolved with one quick roll of the die in Pathfinder, we need reasons for characters to interact with the demon prior to that all-or-nothing saving throw. These interactions will provide the missing danger and excitement.
A Look at Exorcists
Exorcists were introduced as an archetype of inquisitor in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Ultimate Magic rulebook. (Pathfinder’s rules are also available online at Paizo.com.)
Why introduce an exorcist when spells such as banishment and dismissal already exist? Why not just use those spells and ignore the exorcist?
When those spells were created, the standard assumption was that demons and devils would always have real physical bodies just like everyone else. Demonic possession is a special case, though, and it was recently added to the game. In possession, the demon or devil exists only as an intangible spirit inhabiting someone else’s flesh.
Therefore it’s reasonable to rule that spells such as banishment and dismissal work as expected in standard situations but are powerless in special cases such as possession. This ruling allows these spells to continue functioning as originally intended, but also ensures a vital role for the exorcist.
A Look at Possession
In early-stage possession, the demon hides behind the victim’s soul. This protects the demon from magic, and it also grants a +5 bonus to saving throws against exorcism.
In advanced-stage possession, the demon manifests itself (comes out of hiding). Now it is no longer protected from magic, and it also loses the exorcism saving throw bonus.
In both stages of possession, the intertwining of demonic spirit and mortal flesh wards the demon against magical effects such as banishment and dismissal spells.
Because it makes exorcisms easier (eliminates the demon’s saving throw bonus), exorcists frequently attempt to transform early-stage possession into advanced-stage possession.
The Penalty for Failure
The official rules impose no penalty for a failed exorcism. The exorcist is free to try over and over again ad infinitum.
Instituting a penalty for failure adds tension and suspense. It also provides a reason for exorcists to take some risks beforehand to increase their odds of success.
Every failed exorcism strengthens the demon’s hold on its victim, giving it a cumulative +2 bonus to future exorcism saves. Failed exorcisms also unleash a wave of demonic energy, which can have a variety of unpleasant effects.
|1||Demon becomes more powerful, gaining a +1 bonus to all attack rolls, damage rolls, and saving throws. This bonus stacks with the “failed exorcism” bonus (above). Permanent until the possession ends.|
|2||Demon directs an automatically successful dispel magic effect at any one spell or magical effect within 100 feet. Line of sight not required.|
|3||Demon looks deep into the mind of someone present at the exorcism, learning one randomly determined secret and gaining a +5 insight bonus to all interactions with that person for the next 48 hours.|
|4||If the demon is restrained, all nonmagical restraints break and all magical restraints are subject to dispel magic (CL equals demon’s CR).|
|5||Exorcist is knocked unconscious for 1d6+3 rounds. Fortitude save to resist, DC = 10 + 1/2 demon’s HD + demon’s Charisma modifier. On a successful save the exorcist is only stunned.|
|6||Someone present at the exorcism is cursed (see bestow curse spell). Curses bestowed by the demon include:|
|4. Withered hand (useless until healed)|
|5. Club foot (need cane or crutch until healed)|
|6. GM’s choice: Select a result or invent a new one.|
|7||A nearby demon (same CR as the possessing demon) uses the demonic energy to attempt a possession. Starting with the exorcist, the demon attempts to possess each person present until it is either successful or everyone has resisted.|
|8||GM’s choice: Select a result or invent a new one.|