[RPG] Discouraging the soul-trade


Creatures in D&D have a Soul. This concept is fairly un-explored, though.

In my current open-world game, one of the players has unleashed a number of Devils upon the world. (They are basically on cleanup duty, and do not pose an immediate threat).

So far, she's the only one who was willing to deal with them, and the other offers to trade a soul for power have been turned down because of roleplaying reasons. And that's a good thing, because I don't really know what to do if someone decides to trade their soul.

While from a roleplaying perspective it makes some sense to try and keep your soul, from a mechanical perspective the soul doesn't really do much for you. And this is a game with currently about 2 dozen players, ranging from roleplayers to powergamers. I don't really want to set a precedent that selling your soul is a cheap way into gaining power, as it would unbalance the powergamers and the roleplayers too much.

The only thing right now that would happen if a player would trade their soul, would be they'd be unable to be resurrected, but since the highest level player is currently only level 4, that doesn't seem to be a big loss.

Is there any lore in D&D 5e (or older editions) about non-roleplaying reasons for keeping your soul? What prevents characters from just trading it away for power at first opportunity?

Best Answer

The closest thing I can think of in 5e...

(Tomb of Annihilation spoilers ahead; not just little stuff, but the major unknown-at-first plot-point of the whole shebang.)

The dangerous artifact in Tomb of Annihilation hidden beneath the eponymous tomb is an Acererak-created one-off called The Soulmonger. The Soulmonger has two linked abilities.

(a) To vacuum up any souls that leave their body and intercept them before heading to their planar/religious/whatever-happens-to-souls-in-your-cosmology destination, making resurrection magic null and void (since the souls aren't available to stuff back into the/a body).

(b) To slowly draw souls that have previously been re-stuffed away from their body. This "death curse" manifests as any creature who's ever been the recipient of resurrection magic losing 1 hp off their max per day until they hit 0, at which point their soul is hoovered by the Soulmonger. This is the bit I think has some relevance for you.

We can see here that losing your soul does have mechanical relevance: you die without a soul. Period. Full stop. Even wishes are going to have a hard time countering this.

Though see "Nanny Pu'pu" in Tomb of Annihilation for a slight workaround.

So what should you do with this information? I'd suggest that immediate death is a silly outcome: it stinks for the player, and if the devil could do that as part of the bargain,why would anyone ever be alive "waiting" for their deal to come due? But the examples do suggest a mechanical, incremental, detrimental effect* that the devil could be able to exert on the character.** Whether this happens every in-game week, or every time the character does something the devil doesn't like, that's up to you. (And the player, if you want to share this bit of worldbuilding.)

* it's the

HP max loss, just to spell it out clearly

** - It's come to my attention that there are two different ways of thinking about what's going on here; they're both interesting (IMO) and don't seem to change much of the end-effect, but I'll spell them out just to be clear:

1) The deal made with the devil gives the devil the power/ability to siphon away bits of it occasionally, until it's all gone and the character's dead;

2) The deal immediately transfers the soul to the devil's possession but they use some magic to keep you going in some state of "life, but with conditions" (compare with magic jar or clone or the like).

Either way, the devil's got their hooks in the character.