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Friday 17 November 2017

Dealing with demons - part 1

"Dealing With Demons" appeared in White Dwarf issue 44 (August 1983) and was to be an official part of Games Workshop's Questworld pack, except that Questworld never happened. It was later adapted to Dragon Warriors in James Wallis's gorgeous but elusive In From The Cold book, but the translation didn't really work because you can see from the demons' names that they were intended for a culture far less Eurocentric than Legend.

For this post I've reverted to the original Runequest rules. Today we've got the basics of demonology. Come back in a week for the demons and demon lords.


To the superstitious, a demon is any obviously powerful supernatural being. The word is even used to describe unusually malformed Chaotic creatures or the less familiar elementals. In the precise sense, however, a demon is a being which usually lives on another plane of existence, but which is capable of acquiring a physical presence in the mortal world. The demon’s native plane must be one that to the demon itself constitutes physical reality. For this reason the spirit plane does not qualify, so embodied spirits such as dervishes or elementals are not true demons.

It is fairly well known among those with more than a passing understanding of the subject that the demonic hierarchy consists of sundry demon races ruled by ascending ranks of nobility up to the demon princes, each of whom may reign over several different planes of existence.

The categorization, study, and control of the many demonic types comprises Demonology, a Knowledge skill with a base score of 0%. Familiarity with Demonology means that the character knows something of the relationships, powers, and Runic associations of the various demons. From this, he or she may be able to infer their weaknesses, if any. The Demonology skill does not include summoning techniques or other magics, although it is useful to know something about demons before you start trying to summon them.

The Pentacle of Protection
In case a demon turns out to be hostile, the Pentacle of Protection is a useful defence for the summoner. The Pentacle must be drawn out with various substances on some hard surface around the summoner. This takes several minutes and so must be prepared before the Ritual of Summoning is begun. When the Pentacle is complete, the summoner casts a point of battle magic POW into it, thus activating it for the next hour. So long as another POW point is cast into the design before the hour has passed it will remain active. Once the Pentacle’s power is allowed to lapse, the design smoulders away into fine ash.

A hostile demon cannot cast spells into nor enter an active Pentacle. Neither can it use summoned minions of its own to attack the summoner. There are minor design differences between Pentacles according to the type of demon the Pentacle is intended to ward against. If the wrong demon materializes, the Pentacle is useless.

It takes only a few hours to learn to draw a Pentacle. Draw Pentacle is a skill with a base score of 70% adjusted for characteristics as follows:

Increase in the Draw Pentacle skill is by experience only. Remember that the summoner won’t know whether he has drawn out the Pentacle correctly until a hostile demon tries to violate it. Also, one Pentacle cannot be drawn inside another, so characters cannot double their insurance that way.

Pentacles are not the summoner’s last line of defence by any means. Common sense and a good grounding in Demonology can provide a beleaguered summoner with further wards (special herbs, words and spells that the demon will retreat from, etc) to slow a hostile demon’s attack until it can be dispelled.

The Ritual of Summoning
This is the form of magic most people would think of in connection with demonology. The Ritual of Summoning is a skill that can be practised by anyone with POW of at least 10 and with INT and DEX both 12 or more. It has a base score of 0%, modified as follows:

The Ritual of Summoning takes fifteen minutes to perform and requires several rare components such as incense, chalks, paints, and certain powders and distillations. These components are used up in the Ritual and must be prepared for each summoning, at a cost of 2d4 × 10 Lunars. As the evocator completes the incantations he rolls against his Ritual of Summoning skill to see whether the demon appears. Many demons have an innate resistance to summoning which acts as a negative modifier to the character’s chance of success. Critical and fumble rolls usually have no special significance, except that on a roll of 00 some other demon than the one intended will appear.

Bringing the demon into being causes a drain on the summoner’s life force. At the moment of completing the Ritual he loses ld3 points of CON, later recovering at the rate of one point per week. Once the demon has been evoked, it remains on this plane of existence for 1-4 hours and then returns to its own world. Only the Ritual of Binding will prevent this.

Simply evoking a demon does not give the summoner any control over it, and if he does not use the Ritual of Binding he will have to bargain for its services. In this case, use the response table in Appendix J of the Runequest rulebook. A demon that takes an active dislike to its summoner will attempt to kill him; if thwarted in this (by a Pentacle of Protection, for example, or if the summoner is obviously too powerful) it will depart. A moderate response indicates that the demon is prepared to serve, but may drive a hard bargain; if offered significantly less than it would normally expect, it may become enraged and attack (check response again at -10) or simply depart. A friendly demon will probably settle for a deal close to the summoner’s first offer, as long as this is not wildly short of its expectations. In the case of NPC summoners, Bargaining rolls can be used. If the summoner is a player-character, however, then the referee should take the role of the demon and haggle.

Once the deal has been agreed and the demon has received its payment, the summoner must say, ‘Here then are my wishes...’ and go on to describe the service he wants the demon to perform. This must be concisely and carefully worded. Demons are adept at twisting the meaning of a casual phrase and at following the letter of an agreement in order to discommode their summoner. The demon will then embark on the task set and continue until it has done what was asked of it or until the time limit on its summoning runs out, whichever comes first. Demons are typically quite happy to undertake suicidal missions because the destruction of their physical form only returns them prematurely to their own plane. If the demon’s spirit or freedom of action is endangered, however, it will be considerably less enthusiastic about completing the task. If it voluntarily backs out of an agreement, the demon must return 90% of its payment to the summoner.

The lesser demons are usually called upon to kill, spy or steal in their evocator’s service. Although the demons may have special skills which make them excellent for such activities, it is after all much the same sort of thing for which common thugs or mercenaries might be hired. Demon lords and princes will not stoop to menial annihilations and the like, but may be persuaded to use their grand supernatural forces, sometimes to the summoner’s lasting benefit. The demon Lord Kesh, for example, can teach a character to brew venoms and acids. The exact services available from the various demons, and the payments they might ask in return, are described later.

Banishing a Demon
For a number of reasons the summoner of a demon may want to banish it before it would normally fade from this plane of reality. Banishment requires the demonologist to chant a mystic phrase. This takes five rounds, during which time he can defend himself but not attack or cast spells. When the chant is completed, the summoner rolls to see if his attempt is successful, the chance of success being the same as his chance of summoning it in the first place. If successfully banished, the demon disappears immediately. Only one attempt at banishment can be made; if that fails, other means must be used to destroy the demon.

A character skilled in demon magic will also be able to use banishment against a demon summoned by someone else. In this case the chance of dispelling the demon is half what the character’s chance of summoning that demon would be. As before, the character has only one opportunity to make the banish roll.

The Ritual of Binding
Binding eliminates the necessity of bargaining with a demon but it has its drawbacks in that attempting to bind a demon without its consent will certainly enrage it. The Ritual of Binding takes only one melee round to perform, but to stand even a chance of success the caster must expend battle magic POW at least equal to the demon’s own POW. The caster can spread the load over all his bound spirits and POW storage crystals. The POW points are committed without the character knowing the demon’s exact POW, of course. It is a good idea to overestimate.

The Ritual of Binding is a Knowledge skill with a base score of 0%. If the character succeeds then the demon is bound in his service. Instead of vanishing after a few hours, it remains on this plane until killed or banished. A bound demon cannot directly harm the one who bound it, nor can it deliberately kill itself in order to escape from this plane. The binder can give it one command of up to thirteen words, and the demon will obey this command literally. Commands such as ‘Obey all my future commands’ or ‘Serve me loyally’ are not effective, and immediately free the demon if tried. That is, the command must specify particular services and actions rather than establishing conditions or attitudes for future behaviour.

Bound demons are not like bound spirits. The binder cannot see through their eyes, nor use their INT and POW for spell purposes. A character cannot have more than seven demons bound on this plane at one time; if he tries to bind an eighth, all are freed.

Some demons have a special resistance to binding, which works like Defence against the binding Attack. With enough POW (and guts) a character could try binding a demon lord, but their resistance is likely to be 80% or higher.

Binding can in some cases be to the demon’s advantage. It may want permanent residence on this plane. Demon lords invariably desire to return to their realms as soon as possible, but some of the lesser demons lead a difficult existence in their own world and would prefer being bound to this plane. The problem is one of trust. There is nothing to prevent a summoner from agreeing to bind a demon ‘as a favour’ and then giving it any order he likes. There is thus only about a 1% chance of a demon asking to be bound. If you then actually keep your word and bind it without giving it a command, you will have that demon’s eternal gratitude.

The Pact of the Dark Companion
After successfully bargaining with a demon its summoner can, instead of requesting a service, offer the Pact of the Dark Companion. This applies only to lesser demons—demon lords will not even consider making the Pact with any except the mightiest human heroes. A character can have only one Pact operating at any given time.

For the demon to accept, it must already be very well-disposed towards the character (an ‘extremely friendly’ reaction on the response table). The Pact is then sealed in any of several revolting ways, the result of which is that the evocator gives the demon some of his own life and soul: his POW and CON both drop permanently by 1 point. They can still be increased in the usual way, but the character’s maximum possible score is also reduced by one. After sealing the Pact, the demonologist receives the demon’s mark and the creature departs.

Thereafter the evocator can call on his Dark Companion at any time. The normal summoning procedure is unnecessary. There is a 20% chance each round of calling the demon’s name that it will hear and come to aid him. It will always serve to the best of its abilities, but cannot remain on this plane for a total of more than twenty-one Combat Rounds in a single day. If slain, it vanishes and cannot rematerialize that day.

The Dark Companion must slay at least one sentient being each month as it feeds on the release of life-energy. If prevented from doing so it will end the Pact and then seek to slay the evocator before returning to its own world forever. The evocator can thus force a conclusion to the Pact by withholding victims. Other methods are to try banishing the demon, dispelling it using the Curse of Asterion, or destroying it in spirit combat.

The Curse of Asterion
Also called the Curse of Binding Energy, this is a technique for dispelling a particular demon for all time. It is usable only once in a character’s lifetime (for reasons which will become obvious), and in fact only two cases of its use are recorded—once when the noble Asterion employed it to save his daughter’s life, the other when the lunatic mage Athat turned it against a demon lord in a moment of arrogant pique.

The Curse is learned by a character reaching 85% in Demonology. A fairly short phrase, the Curse is only effective if the character follows through the complex logical arguments associated with it as he speaks the words of the Curse. This is represented by a roll of INTx5 or less on percentile dice.

The procedure is as follows: the character must touch and grapple with the demon as he (or she) activates the Curse of Asterion. If successful, both the demon and the character disappear forever from this world. Are they both disintegrated by the power of the magic? Or transported to a dimension of their own where they battle on together throughout eternity? The truth is unknowable.

The possession spells are a group of enchantments for possessing people (usually the caster's companions) with the spirit-essence of a demon lord. The demon is not summoned by the spell. The effect of a possession is to enhance the recipients' fighting prowess or other skills. The exact effect varies according to the demon invoked.

Possession spells take five rounds to cast and have a duration of fifteen minutes. Although they cost battle magic POW to cast, possessions do not have to be memorized within the caster's INT limit like battle magic spells. Instead the caster must make his roll in the Cast Possession skill for the spell to work. If he fails, he loses half the POW cost of the spell to no effect. Cast Possession has a base score of 0% with these characteristic adjustments:

To cast a possession spell one must also have the talisman appropriate to the demon lord invoked. This could be a mask, wand, bell, gong, amulet, or one of several other items. The caster must prepare talismans for any demon lords he wishes to invoke at a construction cost of 3-18 Lunars each. Alternatively, he can buy or otherwise obtain talismans prepared by another demonologist. The character must make his Demonology roll to see whether he has properly prepared a particular demonic talisman, as Cast Possession will always fail if the talisman used is defective.

A single casting of possession affects up to three people. To be affected they must be conscious but passive – the spell cannot be applied to a character in combat. Possession can be directed at subdued or harmonized enemies of the caster, but he must overcome their POW for the spell to take effect. Also, possessions do not give the caster control over the spell's recipients – the possessed characters retain their own normal aims and motives. However, they cannot under any circumstances harm the caster so long as he carries the proper talisman.

The average POW cost of a possession spell is some 12 points. Exact costs and effects are given later.

Campaign notes
You cannot just walk into a Lankhor Mhy college and enrol in demon magic classes. Demonologists tend to be scarce and reclusive for several very good reasons. One is the fact that they occasionally indulge in human sacrifice and other practices not widely approved of. Another is the very high risk taken by the habitual summoner. Most telling of all, the priests of established temples consider demonology synonymous with demon worship, a threat to their own authority, and so the practice is universally frowned upon if not actually outlawed.

How then is a character to learn the demonic arts? There are two ways. Either collect the rare books and study them, or else seek out one of those reclusive masters and convince him that he needs an apprentice. Both may well be expensive, but the crucial factor in the character's study will be one of time. The Skills Table reflects this.


  1. Demonology strikes me as kind of an NPC only magic system. It's difficult to learn, has multiple downsides and in the end gives you a (temporary, highly untrworthy) minion to do something you're probably better off doing for yourself anyway. Banishment is likely the best thing to learn and even that is difficult and unreliable. It's probably easier to either make the demon a better offer or just get your party together and chop it into cat-meat. And then track down the summoner and do the same thing.

    1. Jamie's character Lord Jadhak hiVriddi in our Tekumel campaign was an accomplished demonologist, but frequently ended up having to summon another demon to fix the problems incurred by invoking another. I often wondered why he didn't leave well enough alone, but power is a drug more addictive than zu'ur.

  2. Figure a lot of it goes to the idea of "if you have a hammer, every problem is a nail." Jadhak is a demonologist, so he solves problems by summoning demons even when there's probably an easier/safer/better way of doing it. He's the kind of guy who would spend 12 hours and risk his soul to summon a bakeneko (cat demon) to get a kitten out of a tree instead of just grabbing a ladder.

    1. Oh yes. I do hope Jamie joins in this conversation for once. He has a lot of stories which, in hindsight, might show him where demonology wasn't the best solution to his problems.

    2. Sure, but there's also playing the role to consider. Your character would get a ladder. Probably my character would get a ladder. But Jadhak is going to draw a summoning circle in cursed catnip so he can summon and bind the bakeneko to get the kitten for him.

      In one of Lee Child's recent Jack Reacher novels, Reacher and his companion are confronted by a small mob intent on running them out of town. The companion tells Reacher something like "All right, let's go. We can't fight 30 people." Reacher's initial response in his head is 'Of course we can. We both have guns, so that's 10-20 dead right there, and then...' Eventually Reacher decides to accepting the mob's demand so he doesn't commit double-digit multiple homicides. Right then, anyway. Sometimes bad judgement is part of good role-playing.

    3. I can't recall all the fraught summonings Jadhak did, but they led to some very interesting developments in the campaign. By the end, when he was installed as Grand Adept of the temple of Chiteng, his attitude had changed completely -- he'd kicked the demon habit. But even then he would occasionally get an order from the Emperor -- "I want the Legion of Red Devastation to travel to the Do Chaka protectorate, and they need to be there tomorrow." And then out would come the Book of Ebon Bindings, because in the absence of FedEx you can really only do a job like that with demons.

    4. For something like that (transporting an army) I'd have the actual demonologist be an NPC while the player-characters have the job/quest to obtain the special gems (ruby/sapphire/diamond Zork II shoutout) that will serve as components for the summoning/binding. Or maybe a PC magic-user can do it if he has the right ritual. But ultimately it would be a case-by-case generally one-time/plot-necessary thing.

      Demonology is a magic much like Necromancy that seems really cool from the outside but can ruin games through overuse. I remember playing AD&D with a Necromancer character. Dr. Gertrude von Harres was specialized in Necromancy and was basically a forensic pathologist with spells. Eventually learned the "Animate Dead" spell. So, the next time we went into a dungeon, it became, "Zombie, open that chest. Zombie, walk down that potentially trapped corridor. Second Zombie, walk further down that definitely trapped corridor..." A good bit of the tension/fun in adventures comes from the characters taking risks and testing their abilities against the opposition, including traps, the environment and other beings. So, that tension/fun gets reduced when the characters can basically order minions to test their abilities with no consequence. I don't mind rare/unique situation, but too often doesn't work.

      For example, in the Dresden Files series, there's a point where Harry uses necromancy. It's forbidden to use necromancy on humans, but there's no real point in using it on anything else because other corpses can't contain much power. However, the older a corpse is, the more power it can contain. So, Harry uses necromancy to animate Sue, the complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is at least 65 million years old and can thus contain a massive amount of power. Harry riding a dinosaur into battle was awesome, but I wouldn't want Harry doing that during every book.

    5. "Demonology is a magic much like Necromancy that seems really cool from the outside but can ruin games through overuse."

      Believe me, John, nobody in our Tekumel campaign felt any inclination to overuse it!

      For an example of the interesting ways that reanimating the dead can backfire, I recommend Jonathan Strange & Mister Norrell. I'll say no more to avoid spoilers...

    6. I've been meaning to check out JS/MN for several years but I've just never quite gotten around to it.

      Probably "overuse" was the wrong term. Maybe "unpredictable" use will convey my meaning better. For the most part, character capabilities in a game are finite and relatively well-defined. You're X Strong, do Y damage with your preferred weapon. You have Z points with which to power your magic and tend to prefer A, B and C as your most used effects. Know that, I can plan my scenarios to give you a good challenge.

      With Demonology things are a bit different. Let's use the Lord of the Rings movies and say that Jadhak has perhaps a 90% chance of summoning and binding a demonic version of a fairly tough orc (capable but mostly inferior in terms of the party members' average "level." He has a 60% of summoning/binding something like a giant or troll (something basically a relative equal to the average party member) and he has a 20-30% of calling up something like Smaug or the Balrog ("Fly, you fools!") It makes it hard to plan and balance a scenario when I really don't know exactly what the party's capabilities will be.

    7. None of the summonings I'm talking about here could be performed off-the-cuff. As it was a Tekumel campaign, we went by the Book of Ebon Bindings, which specifies every demon's powers and what you have to do to summon them. There's a lot of preparation involved, usually at great cost, so Jadhak never just used summoning to give himself a powerful monster to control. In fact there is no way to fight a Tekumelani demon lord. It'd be like PCs trying to take on Cthulhu.

  3. Jadhak would never have summoned a demon to fetch a cat, far too dangerous. He only ever did such things when the stakes were really, really high. Even if you succeeded, there was always a price to pay somewhere down the line. The summonings were so complex and dangerous that the collecting of the components, the rituals, spells all at vast expense could be an entire campaign in itself, if not an evening session. It was a lot of fun. Having said that, that's all for major demons. Minor demons could be summoned and bound into pieces of armour or rings, or just unleashed into combat. They were really just summoning spells. Still dangerous, but not to an accomplished demonologist in the Tekumel world. As for a cat in the tree? Even minor demon magic is not without risk, so Jadhak wouldn't take that risk. He was, for a demonologist, very cautious. More a Gorice 12th, than a Gorice the 7th. On the other hand, correctly wielding the power of Tekumel demons made him very, very powerful. Jadhak even wrote his own demonology tracts.

  4. I guess the main object I have to Demonology in PC hands is what I call "The Airwolf Effect." Airwolf was a TV show that ran in the 80s in the US. A pilot played by Jan-Michael Vincent was hired by a government agency to retrieve Airwolf - a highly advanced jet-propelled attack helicopter from Libya. He does this but keeps and hides that chopper stating he'll only return it if his brother who went MIA during the Vietnam War is found. As a kind of side-deal, he occasionally does favors for said agency using Airwolf.

    The upshot of all this is that most episodes of Airwolf involved some kind of capability by the bad guys to present a reasonably credible threat to a powerful attack helicopter. So all kinds of people got easy access to attack helicopters, rocket launchers, jet fighter planes, etc.

    If I have a party with a powerful demonologist (or even a weaker but reckless one), I have to consider my own version of Airwolf. If the demonologist calls up "Urrgh the Destroyer" or what ever an there's nothing in the scenario that can deal with that, he romper-stomps through the adventure with boring ease. On the other hand if I set up something that can challenge "Urrgh" (perhaps Blarrgh the Annihilator) and Urrgh doesn't get summoned, the folks getting romper-stomped will be the party. I can always split the difference, but then I have to come up with a reason why, say, a group of rum smugglers just happened to have a holy artifact that can repel or banish powerful demons. Like that.

    So, generally I deal with "The Airwolf Effect" by mostly disallowing Airwolf - or making the use of it so difficult and costly that it's mostly not used. "Yeah, you blew the hell out of those orc raiders with Airwolf. By the way, the King just repossessed your lands and castle because you spent all your tax money on Hellfire missiles and aviation fuel."

  5. Except that really isn't how demonology works in Tekumel. You can't bind super powerful demons so they become some kind of uber magic item permanently available. And in any case, players shouldn't be held back by artificial rules because it makes life easier for the GM. It's all about the story and the role playing. In this case, it also depends on how demonology, if it exists in a given world, works. Also, it's not like most 'demonologists' can suddenly summon the most powerful demons just like that. It takes time, you build up to it, the campaign itself levels up, as do the other characters and NPCs so you're not summoning mighty demons to clean out an orc infestation style of thing, it's all part and parcel of a higher level campaign. If a player who's at a low level tries to summon a mighty supernatural being - well, the chances are he's going to fail his demonology roll and that's instant death in most systems. No, let the players run with it. If they fail, they fail, if they succeed, and you have to think how to make things more challenging for them, well, do the work. You're the GM.

  6. Sure, I get all that. I suppose that if I have a problem with the above system, it's that there's too much system. A simple, reliable (if lengthy) spell/ritual is fine for more standard spells (Amber rod and silk cloth? Check. Gestures mimicking a violent rain dance? Check. Incantation calling the names of thunder? Check. Lightning Bolt spell is a go.), but summoning a demon, even a minor imp shouldn't in any way be standardize. Every time this is done, it should be a unique, unpredictable event. Every summoning cracks open a door that should never be opening. Every time a demon is summoned, Great Cthulhu's slumber gets a little bit lighter. There's the risk that the door will open too wide for too long and the demons will flood in, bringing their Hell to the mortal plane.

    So, for me, you don't learn "Summon Imp." You learn "Summon Geezer the Imp to the circle drawn on the Fifth highest of the Mountains of Ganesh on Monday September 14, 3007 AD between the hours of 1 AM and 2 AM." And once you've used that spell, it's pretty much useless. If you want to summon Ganesh or some other Imp, you need to figure out a different ritual. From scratch. Again.

    Also, there is no real Demonology skill. There's general Occult knowledge which covers what people think they've figure out about demons. That's skill you'd use to summon a demon. And anybody can use it, even non-magic users. Because Demons WANT to be summoned, because every time it's done, they get a chance to wreak havoc and bring the hours closer to the time of Hell on Tekumel.