I was recently quite surprised to find that, despite being inscribed with statistics for legions of demons, devils and undead, the only creatures in the 5e Monster Manual capable of actually possessing another humanoid according to their as-written stat-blocks, are ghosts.
I guess I assumed that other creatures, certainly demons and maybe incorporeal undead of different stripes might possess the ability to inhabit humanoids but each of their stat-blocks are noticeably devoid of these capabilities: aside from the aforementioned ghosts. For instance, even the demon entry found in the manual has an entire section on Demonic Possession, but no mechanical parts grafted onto any individual demon itself.
I can see that this may just be a design decision, allowing DMs to frame demonic possessions in terms of plot-devices instead of nuts-and-bolts creature abilities, however I was somewhat disappointed.
So, from a device standpoint, I decided to investigate real-world mythological monsters as a little inspiration into how to run just such a thematic plot point. I thought it would be a neat idea to come up with different personalities, based on these mythical creatures I read about.
Rather than simply having ‘a demon’ possess an NPC, I thought it might be interesting to give that demon a specific personality similar to real-world traditions. I also thought that these may be nice little markers that perceptive players can pick up on and deduce, without arcane or divine means, that a certain NPC is more than meets the eye. So here is a randomized chart of what type of possessed personalities might come your PCs way. Enjoy!
d10 – Possessed Entity Trait
- Hot-Blooded. Based on the Djinn from Islamic folklore, these demonic beings were said to be made from smokeless fire. Entities flavored with a djinn-like personality will act violent and aggressive. They may hide themselves just enough to be able to inflict damage on as many other humanoid creatures as they can. In addition, these beings possess an obsession for heat and covet objects that possess warmth, going to great lengths to obtain such artifacts, in addition to perpetuating their more violent tendencies.
- Vengeful. Fallen angels and vengeful spirits from Christian lore are generally all about causing suffering to those who have yet to fall. Spirits and entities with a vengeful mindset should act without compunction in meting out painful retribution, but should do so in a cold, calculating manner, hiding both their emotions and their intent until just the right moment. However, despite their poise, vengeful spirits and demons are generally seething with emotions, which can often give them away in crucial moments.
- Purposeful. Purposeful possessions should be played as single-minded machines. From Jewish mythology, the dybbuk inhabited humanoid bodies to accomplish a specific goal, sometimes accepting aid, sometimes not. Purposeful spirits and entities should be direct and uncompromising, but with an eye towards those who may assist their ultimate goal, while weeding out, violently if necessary, those who are in their way. Purposeful spirits and beings may be quite literal, and poor at deceiving others, or simply be uninterested in topics outside their ultimate goal.
- Hedonistic. Beings with a hedonistic mindset are focused solely on using their given vessel to the fullest capacity for fun and pleasure. These may prove to be difficult to track and subdue of all possessions because these types of entities will typically avoid conflict in favor of partaking of all the joys a corporeal humanoid form can indulge in. Such entities may be well-known in certain areas, and may have an obvious reputation for outlandish behavior and appetites. Among these activities is of course the pursuit of carnal delights, as exemplified by the real-world Brazilian spirits of Exu and Pomba Gira, both of whom personify sexuality and desire.
- Tempting. Demonic or similar possessions by beings looking to entice other humanoids can be considered tempting possessions. The objective of these entities is to bring as many other souls into whatever fold the possessing spirit belongs to, either a demonic prince, an earthly master or even a plane of mournful dead. Like the hedonistic possessor, tempting spirits and demonic beings look to extend their stay as long as possible and are exceedingly deceitful in their attempts to expand their influence. Tempting entities may be attracted to certain areas or peoples, such as specific religious organizations or widows where they can hone their skills on preying on a unique population.
- Animistic. Whether actual animist entities or beings with a penchant for more bestial forms, animistic possessions should imbue their humanoid hosts with a strong connection to certain types of beasts. These can include wolves, cats, dogs, lions, foxes, monkeys or small creatures like snakes, owls, rats and crows. The entity possessing the host may have supernatural authority over these creatures and may be able to call upon their aid when needed. Conversely, other creatures should shun these beings and their inhabited forms, making their presence somewhat more readily detectible. In Indian and Buddhist scripture, these “seizers” have an unfortunate propensity to target children and may even be able to appear in animal form.
- Sovereign. While most spirits and demons may actively seek to disguise and hide their presence, more powerful beings may openly display their true natures. These rulers and leaders are typically found among cults and clergy as revered embodiments and avatars of their chosen deity or demonic lord. In other instances, followers and practitioners may engage in trances and communions in an attempt to draw within themselves certain spirits and entities. While easily identifiable, these possessed beings should be the most dangerous, not simply for their own abilities but for the zealousness of those who are to be found in ready defense to their safety. Many cultures include such these type of possessions, from Christians inhabited by the Holy spirit, to Sri Lankan Tamil’s and their religious festivals to the noted loa of Haitian Vodou and their accompanying spiritual experiences.
- Materialistic. Rather than a goal or absolute purpose, materialistic possessions may be entities that simply want to enjoy being corporeal for as long as possible. Unlike hedonistic possessions, materialistic entities may be motivated simply by a fear of what happens once they are removed from their host and returned from whence they came. Returning to a servitor status in one of the Nine Hells, or simply being a disembodied spirit endlessly roaming the material plane, materialistic entities inhabiting humanoids may be trying to live an ordinary life. They will likely flee if found out and may in fact be harmless incorporeal beings, their only crime being the willful inhabitation of an unwilling host.
- Destructive. Of course, potentially the most obvious and short-lived of possessions, destructive entities inhabit beings and once there, cause as much mayhem and destruction as possible. These demons and spirits disregard the well-being of their hosts entirely and generally lead to their hosts demise. These can be the most painful possession, not simply for the harm these spirits and beings can cause, but for the difficulty in exercising their presence from their hosts without damaging the hosts themselves.
- Benign. It is rare that a good being would inhabit a host, but there may be just cause for a godling, or similar creature to take control over a humanoid. Perhaps the creature requires corporeal form only temporarily in order to speak to material beings that would be too unnerved by the presence of a higher power or maybe the inhabiting spirit or force simply wants to experience life in the flesh for a short while. Whatever the case, these types of possessions make for good quests and have the potential to leave a lasting positive impact on a campaigns trajectory.