In stories, exorcisms are exciting events. In fantasy roleplaying games, exorcisms are usually glossed over. Pathfinder, for example, condenses exorcism into a single saving throw.
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.|
6 thoughts on “Exorcism Enhanced, Part 1”
You forgot some of my favorite exorcism tropes in your penalty for failure table, let me fix that for you!
8) Victim expels acidic vomit at any 1 target in 30′ radius, vomits deals 4d6+4 damage reflex save for half (DC=10+1 for every hitdice of base creature)
9) Repelling force emanates from the possessed making a free bull rush attempt one everyone within 30′ of the possessed.
10) DMs choice…
Seriously though looking forward to your next installment.
Oh hey! My 13th Age campaign is set in a demon-haunted frontier province, and although I’ve hinted that possessions happen I haven’t yet thought of rules for it. This is fantastic, thank you.
Wonderful written and it finally gives the demons back what they really are – some frightening entity not to be taken on the light shoulder.
Looking forward to your next part.
With a mighty beer to cheer
Some other effects that might be fun:
* Victim could vomit serpents, spiders, noxious cloud of gas, etc. (DM’s choice of vomit, but best if it relates to the demon’s nature or portfolio)
* Demon possesses a different character (save DC equals demon’s CR), effectively jumping to a new host
* Body of victim begins to transform into that of demon (e.g. grows new appendage, skin changes, some other feature becomes more bestial, etc). Each point the attempt fails by brings the victim 5% closer to irreversible transformation into demonic form. Changes are reversed upon successful exorcism (or not, if you choose)
* A random demon appears through a momentary gate that opens nearby (10-100 feet away).
* A bloodcurdling scream emits from the victim. All creatures within 25′ must make a fortitude save at a -2 penalty or be deafened. Those who save are merely dazed for 1-4 rounds. The scream can be heard up to a mile distant.
* The victim undergoes an effect as if he’d seen a ghost (e.g. ages 1-4 years, hair turns white, gains -4 on fear saves until a successful remove curse is applied, etc)
Obviously, you can have a lot of fun with this. Use your imagination and make it especially visual and visceral!
GM_Solspiral and Pseudodragon, thanks for your excellent ideas! :)
Wade and The Bull, glad you enjoyed it. :)
Wow–what a way to bring back the horror! Looking forward to the other blog posts and implementing the ideas. Solspiral & pseudodragon–great add ons!