Tuesday, January 9, 2024

You're Doing Demons All Wrong

In the older conceptions of “demons”, they were invisible spirits of wisdom, messages, or disease. They twisted fate and puckered men’s hearts. It’s pretty long list, since so many types of evil spirits have been imagined.

But now most of the demons we encounter are just bags of hit points with thematic powers. Blame Gary and blame Blizzard, but also blame yourself and blame me. Our players need interesting things to stab, after all, and for that we’ve caged them inside stat boxes.

And yet.

There is something there, isn’t it? In the old, cruel, incomprehensible concept of demons? A demon could be religion or disease or bad luck but whatever it was it was poorly understood, and only the wisest could hope to circumscribe their shape.

But we can’t have them be too nebulous either. After all, we are writing for tabletop games, so the thing probably needs hit points somewhere.

So here’s my attempt to make a better Demon, without making it too complicated.

The Horrors of AI "Art"

Cool Things About Demons

One of the cool things about demons (that they share with vampires and liches) is that they’re sometimes hard to kill permanently. Oh you killed it, but you didn’t sprinkle the remains with holy water, so the demon will come back in 3 days.

So that’s fun. That creates the possibility of having your demon be something of an OSR-style puzzle instead of just a bag of hit points. And unlike vampires and liches, your players probably don’t sit down at the table with a clue about what is required, so they come in as blank slates, which is excellent.

The second fun thing about demons is the whole possession thing. In Centerra, both demons and undead are just evil spirits puppeting an animal or corpse (respectively). However, mind control and possession kinda suck in play, since the player loses all agency. So, while possession is cool, it must be deployed tactically. This also gives us fictive license to put demons in whatever you want. Corpses. Stone Gargoyles. Volcanoes. An ambulatory suspension bridge. A whaling ship dragged along by an undead whale crawling on tapeworm tank treads.

The third fun thing is the whole ritual of summoning, binding, bargaining. That stuff is all over fiction and it’s great. Let's not forget about that.

The fourth thing–and this overlaps a bit with the third thing–is warlocks. The idea that you can bargain with this horrible entity for magical power is quite nice.

Other Design Goals

In their current implementation, demons are kinda locked up in a cage that only high level wizards can open. You need spells like see invisible, dimensional lock, banishment, protection from evil. You need magic weapons to even hurt them. I don't like that. It seems like you're creating an artificial problem (this demon is only hurt by adamantine weapons of +3 or better) that has an equally artificial solution. It turns a it into a clash of system mechanics, not of anything supernatural. And worse, it locks a solution behind a door that a low-level party has no way of opening. (If the key is dimensional lock, then it's not an OSR-style problem.)

Demons are also an opportunity to roleplay against an alien psychology. Demons are creatures of the outer chaos, they should be at least as diverse and weird as the human NPCs in your game, and potentially much weirder.

The last thing to mention is how demons were handled in Geoffrey McKinney' Carcosa. There were specific rituals that the players could learn that let them summon, bind, and banish specific demons. The rituals were tied to places on the map, sort of like how Wolves Upon the Coast handled magic, where spells were rituals you learned and performed in specific places.

I like it when magic feels embedded in a setting. You aren’t just summoning a glabrezu from hell, you’re summoning the Orphansnake from the basement of the burned-down orphanage in west Lon Barago.

Those are the ingredients. Let's cook.


Of the little demons who perish irrevocably upon their bodily destruction, we will squander no further words.

Let us speak of Demons, then, brought to our world and bound in flesh. Sometimes by a summoner, less often by their own force of will, and rarer still by the strange siroccos of the Underworld.

Unlike the lesser demons, if a Demon's fleshy vessel is destroyed, they will typically return in 3 days.

For every demon, there exist at least four rituals: Summoning, Binding, Tormenting, and Banishing.

When a demon is Summoned from hell, it appears in short order, entering through the vessel you designate, most commonly inhabiting the sacrifice itself.

When a demon is summoned from elsewhere, it is compelled to travel to you in all haste, unless other obligations prevent it. Once it arrives, it is free to act as it pleases.

Demons can also be Bound. These are methods by which a demon may be prevented from leaving a summoning circle, or barred from crossing a doorway, or trapped in some behavior. In all cases, the demon cannot willingly interfere with the binding device; they cannot smudge the chalk themselves. However, if the device is destroyed, or the demon shoved across the line, the Binding is undone.

Most summoners would never Summon a demon unless they are also able to Bind it. An unbound demon is liable to kill their summoner, or drag them to hell. A Bound demon is liable to negotiate. However, a patient demon may simple refuse negotiation, sit on the floor, and wait for the summoner to die of old age. (In most cases, this also looses the Binding.)

Powerful Demons (more than 2x your Lvl) are only loosely bound, and can return to hell whenever they wish. You may bargain a trade, or you may pledge to serve them in exchange for some boon.

Demons will not just serve you because you summoned them. Some sort of Contract must be struck. These are typically oaths that are sword in the name of the Ninth Satan, or Zulin, or even the Prophetessa (may she live again). These are not the legalistic Contracts of devils. The Contracts of demons are woven from intent, not sophistry, and for most people, the power of the contract is sufficient that the signers are entirely unable to break it.

If Binding and Contracts are not sufficiently enticing, the demon can be Tormented. This is a third ritual (like Summoning or Binding) that inflicts great harm on the demon. This ritual is useful to both the Summoner and the Scourge, and any prospective demonologist must take care that the rituals of Torment are not discovered by any paladins or witch-finders, less their demon by scattered like a kicked cat.

Lastly, there is the ritual of Banishment, by which a demon may be driven back into the Abyss.

Behold His Girth and Tremble, Ye Truffles


Demons can teach you magic, even if they are not very adept themselves. This is just a fundamental aspect of demons. To them magic is as palpable as dirt. Even if they can't do anything useful with it, they can grab it and rub it on your shirt.

Whether you are master or servant to a demon, you can learn magic from them. Demons are usually happy to teach magic, since it costs them so little, and humans prize it so much. (And there is so many more opportunities for them, when magic abounds.)

Treat Warlock as a single template class that pairs well with Wizard. Based on your relationship with the demon, you will get either the (Master) or (Servile) abilities below. There's nothing stopping you from entering in contracts to multiple demons and taking multiple levels of Warlock. You can even serve one demon while subjugating another.

Spellcasting: as wizard. Like familiars, the demon replaces your spellbook.

Spells: Each demon can teach you 2-3 spells.

Servant (Servile): if a demon serves you, you can probably get it to do stuff for you. Demons are often sluggish and disobedient, though, especially when out of sight. Treat them like a retainer. If your demon is destroyed, you go into a coma until they return. If you die, they are free.

Soul Burn (Master): Once per combat, when casting a spell, you can add another MD to the spell that you are casting. You take damage equal to that die result.

Soul Bind (Master): If you die while bound to a demon, you’ll serve that demon for the rest of your contract (typically a thousand years).


If you have a demon serving you, it’s mostly just a weird retainer, typically one that can appear and disappear when called (jumping in and out of your shadow, etc).

If you have an equal partnership with a demon, then you are a warlock only as long as the partnership lasts. Treat them like an NPC, with their own goals, fears, and personality.

If you are serving a demon, then you will invariably be serving that demon’s interests. This is tough, for most groups, since the demon will probably have goals that conflict with the party. If this happens, the warlock PC probably splinters off as an NPC under the DM’s control. If you want to prevent this, it’s best to serve demons who don’t have antagonistic goals, and probably talk to any potential warlock players about this.

Depending on your demon’s goals, they might be suitable as a warlock patron, or they might be good only as something to be destroyed. If a player wants to be a warlock, they should be able to find a demon in the first category.

Potential Goals for Demon Lords

“Murder the innocent.” - Not acceptable, unless you are playing a very evil campaign.

“Destroy and humiliate the Church” - This might be acceptable to certain types of parties.

“Sell drugs and build a giant brothel.” - Many parties could accept these terms, I think.

“Free all the slaves.” - A perfectly viable goal for a demon. The ones that meddle with the human world are the same demons who love to overturn human institutions.

“Capture other demons and send them back to hell to serve me.” - Another great one.

“Destroy all mirrors/books/shoes.” - Another perfectly viable goal for a demon. I see no reason why their motivations need to ape our own.

“Teach magic to everyone, not just the Rich and the Good.” - Another good one for a campaign. Destabilizing to the current power structures, fun for players, and not too evil.

“Destroy all devils.” - In Centerra, devils serve the Church (ever since the conquest of Hell) and work to tempt humans, in order that all humans suffer temptation equally. Devils labor under their Contracts. Best to kill them, sending them back to where they can be free.

“Build a tower to my specifications.” - 20k cost, 5 year build time. What does the tower do? Does it summon a demon army? Open a portal to hell? Make everyone forget the events of Tuesday, March 8th, 2021?

Anyway, let's put this into practice with a demon I've already written about before.

Scary how lifelike they look.


Fuckload is a legion demon–capable of possessing many bodies at once. He is only capable of possessing pigs. He can possess up to 30 pigs, although this taxes him. At a typical moment, he is inhabiting 1d12+12.

He can harness any pig that is within a half mile of any pig that he controls. The only caveat is that no pig must be more than half a mile from any other pig. Pigs get no saving through against his possession attempts. He is a specialist.

He has one secret ability: he can see and hear out of any pig corpse, as long as it is mostly intact.

Pigs have normal pig stats and are capable of crude speech only with extreme difficulty. Normally, long-term possession invariably has effects on a creature, and if Fuckload managed to possess pigs long enough, the herd would probably get a stench attack or eruptive pustules or fire breath, etc. . .

However, Fuckload’s many-splendored soul is vagrant. He flits from pig to pig, never staying in one long enough to visibly corrupt it.


Fuckload has seized control of Faris Farm, home to about 10 cows, 20 chickens, and (now) about 40 pigs. Here, he breeds and slaughters pigs (two activities he greatly enjoys). He holds the family hostage.

Old Man Lander - The father. Old. Bedridden. Smells like pee. Forbidden to leave the house.

Larabel - 22-year old daughter. Practical. Every time she goes into town, she tries to research demonology. Great at feigning obedience.

Vikus - 19-year old son. Barely-concealed anger. Has embraced religion, and now prays furiously whenever he bring the pigs to market.

Mumin - 4-year old daughter of Larabel. Raised by pigs as much as by her mother. Forbidden to leave the pig-sty. The prime hostage.

40 Ordinary Pigs - Lvl 1, leather, 1d6. Half are in the (relatively huge) pigsty, but half of them wander around the property, digging up roots. (Remember, Fuckload gets uncomfortable possessing more than 20 pigs.) Fuckload typically inhabits the wandering pigs, but in a pinch, he can possess the pigs in the sty, use a couple of pigs as a ramp for the other pigs, and escape with the majority of them.

The Big Pig - Stats as Lvl 3 bear. A royal swine, still prepubescent, about 600 lbs. The king has already paid for it. It should be ready to be eaten in about 3 more years. Stats as a Lvl 3 bear. (The most dangerous thing at the farm, but the players can lock it in the barn if they are stealthy about it.)

The Little Big Pigs - Hidden in the barn are two more royal swine, recognizable by their dark coats and reddish crests. These are highly illegal, as sumptuary laws prohibit anyone from raising more than one royal swine at a time. (This is also highly dangerous, since mature royal swine are psychotically aggressive towards each other. However, Fuckload believes he can keep them in check.)

Fuckload’s Stupid Plan

Everyone has sworn an Oath. They will never reveal Fuckload’s existence to anyone and never try to escape. In return, Fuckload will never harm them.

Fuckload has a stupid plan: stockpile weapons and money, hire a mercenary army with all the money he’s made from selling ham, summon and install a demon in Mumin to be his wife, and then become king of Lon Barago.

All of these goals are almost certainly doomed to fail. The pig farm is not nearly as profitable as it needs to be. (Fuckload has no idea how numbers work.) There are more people in Lon Barago than he thinks. (Again, Fuckload can’t count.) And he has no know idea how demon summoning actually works. (Just like becoming a midwife requires more qualifications than “being born”--but this is a distinction lost on Fuckload.)

Fuckload’s innumeracy can be used as a comedic device. “The five of you should never have come here!” “But there’s six of us.”

Lastly, Fuckload has a soft spot for Mumin. Although he threatens often to eat her (and might, in one of his blackest moods) he generally dotes on her, appeasing her with synchronized pig dances and such. He keeps her in the pig sty because she is a necessary hostage, but also because she isn’t horrified by him, and treats him like a friend.


1. Vikus is an angry young man who prays furiously in the Church whenever he is in town. A family friend or a priest might want to send the PCs to check on the family.

2. Vikus is also trying to quietly buy weapons. That attracts a lot of attention. Someone might want to investigate him, since he may be turning to banditry or selling weapons to the Fire Cult rebels (a capitol offense).

3. Larabel sells pigs in town, but she is also quietly consulting people and books about demonology. This may attract attention from a friend (who is worried that she may be trying to raise her dead mother) or from a witch hunter (who has among his informants, the local sage).

4. If Davok escaped from the Lair of the Lamb, then he will be looking for his “little brother” to punish him (for the events inside Mt. Maggoroth) and compel his assistance. Depending on how Lair of the Lamb goes:

The players may be serving Davok, who will send them to find his “little brother, who lives in a pig”. (Davok has forgotten that Fuckload can possess many pigs.)

The players may be hunting Davok, and they may hear that Davok is asking for directions to the Faris Farm. (Where the mother died under strange circumstances a year ago.)

The players may just learn that Davok is interrogating pigs for some reason. Maybe he even terrorized a butcher, who then then approaches the party. “He asked where that pig was purchased from. I didn’t tell him it was from the Faris farm. I lied to him. What do I do?”

Investigating the Faris Farm

The players will probably notice the pigs walking around all over the place. (One pig is always carefully observing the party at all times, but Fuckload is subtle enough to not have all of the pigs be suspicious simultaneously.)

Further investigation will probably reveal an extremely dirty little girl playing in the pig pen.

Cracking into the barn will reveal the two (highly illegal) royal swine piglets, and about a dozen spears and helmets hidden in the hayloft.

Unless Vikus is in town, the players are liable to be driven off by Vikus, who will accuse them of trespassing.

If approached by Larabel, she will also drive them off, but she will mouth the words “meet me in town” and glance sharply at the distant town walls. Once she gets them alone, away from the farm, she will fabricate a story about how she needs to learn about demonology to banish her mother’s tortured ghost, which still haunts the nearby hill. She offers the party good money if they can get her good books on demonology.

If the PCs approach at night, they’ll probably be caught by a patrolling pig, who will summon Vikus, who will arrive on a horse, with a lantern, helmet, and spear. The pigs will just mill around squealing. Fuckload will only drop his innocent pig disguise if Vikus is unable to drive the party away.

The exact course of the investigation will be driven by the players, so DMs will need to be flexible.


If things escalate, a counterattack can be conducted by Vikus finding out where the PCs are sleeping, followed by a nocturnal porcine assault.

Alternatively, it could turn into a hostage rescue, where someone needs to be rescued from Fuckload.

A variant on a hostage situation: a witch hunter shows up, recognizes the pigs as demons, assumes that Larabel is the demonologist responsible, and then takes her hostage in the hayloft. If the demon hunter doesn’t return to town by nightfall, his peers will come searching the Faris farm for him. He’s holded up in the hayloft because (1) he knows he’s no match for 40 pigs on open ground, and (2) pigs can’t climb ladders. The PCs may even be the reason why the witch hunter knows about Faris farm. It may even devolve into the witch hunter yelling at the party to go get help, while Vikus promises everything under the sun if they can get his sister back, and the pigs just glower and menace.

And of course, if Davok shows up, it’ll get messy fast. Not in bloodshed but in ancient, unsettled arguments between demons. If the PCs do nothing, Davok will end up subjugating Fuckload and the Faris family. Together, the two demons are much more threatening than apart.

Is this a real picture?  AI is too powerful.

Warlocks of Fuckload

If you serve Fuckload, or if Fuckload serves you, you gain access to the following spells as a warlock:

  • swap souls (self and pig only, lasts until you dispel it)
  • summon pig
  • make delicious (save or all carnivores who smell you want to eat you, save resists)

It's conceivable that the PCs might be able to gain Fuckload as a servant for a fixed length of time, or for a set number of services. If this is the case, you might have to negotiate dungeoneering with 20 pigs alongside the party. If so, you should know that (1) pigs cannot see in the dark, (2) pigs cannot walk long distances, especially not fat farm pigs, and (3) Fuckload is not great at doing more than 2 things at once.

If you serve Fuckload, he will have the same goals as he did previously. He will want to destroy Davok, or enslave him. He barely remembers Drivian. He is terrified of Shinedown. He will remember the great treasures of the Light Collector, and might send the party to those dungeons to recover them.

The Four Rituals

The four rituals should be easy to find once the players know what they are looking for, but they should be located in four different locations. Spread them out a little bit. Maybe deliver them in the order of Summoning - Banishment - Binding - Torment.

As a DM, the deployment of these rituals is a puzzle, since Fuckload is not a trivial enemy to defeat. The players might be able to get 2-3 sausage chains, but getting 20 will probably require calling in some favors.

The farm is an open environment and Fuckload is not a highly intelligent foe. Both of these factors mean that the players have a lot of flexibility in how they approach the situation, so expect combat-as-war.

Some history: Fuckload was first summoned by the Light Collector, a powerful wizard, who employed the demon to run his kitchens. Back then, he was only ever addressed as Chef.

Also be sure to communicate to the players that every Demon is an opportunity to become a warlock, either by serving the demon or forcing it to serve you.


Fuckload can be summoned by raising a pig on a diet consisting of only pig. When it is 13 months old, you must dress it like a king, address it as “Lord Irukan, we've prepared your meal.” thirty-three times, and then feed it a poisonous Amanita mushroom.


Fuckload cannot cross a line of sausages.

If all of Fuckload’s possessed pigs are encircled, he cannot jump to a new pig outside of the circle. If his pigs are all killed while inside the circle, then his malevolent spirit will loiter there for all eternity until the circle of sausages is broken (or decays).

If you’re clever, you can even use sausage to bisect and divide the pig herd until Fuckload is driven into a single pig. Sausages are a much more potent weapon than the anti-demonic spice mix below.


The method of tormenting Fuckload is by throwing a certain anti-demonic spice mixture on him. The mixture is composed of salt, onion, garlic, pepper, and paprika. This burns him for 1d6 damage, always hits, and can strike two adjacent pigs in a single attack. The cost of a small bag is about 20s–spices are expensive, and vendors don’t often stock much paprika.

It can be a little confusing to find this page in a demonology book, since it looks like part of a recipe. Alternatively, it can be hidden in a recipe book, with the demonology book simply telling you the Author, the year, and the page number.


The last pig containing Fuckload must be eaten in its entirety in a single night, between sundown and sunrise. The best way to do this is to kill the last pig inside a sausage circle, bind the corpse in (uncooked) sausages, then cook and eat him immediately.

An adult pig weighs many hundreds of pounds, so hopefully you managed to trap him in a piglet, or else you have a hundred hungry people ready for a meal. A hungry dragon would also work. Ironically, so would a pig farm.

If you want to make this event more hellish, the semi-dismembered pig could return to life briefly during this time, to either hurl abuse or make a last attack.

If you want to make it plaintive, the cooked pig head could briefly awaken and ask if Mumin is okay, before shuddering and tumbling down to hell.


  1. I'm missing the sacrifice of 12 Green Men and 4 Orange Women, but otherwise this is absolutely great. But really, I never realised how well could Carcosan ritual work for more standard demonology. Now I want to play some Carcosa.

  2. One of my favorite takes on demon summoning is in the Delta Green campaign Impossible Landscapes. The campaign had a summoning ritual (the usual elaborate ceremony with long chants and fancy tools) for the Ars Goetica demons…but because it was a surreal horror campaign, the demons themselves took the forms of bizarre encounters with semi-normal people who randomly could help you out with One Weird Trick, approaching you in the street. The “demon” seemed to be just an ordinary person living a normal life outside of the summoning, even when they did blatantly impossible shit.

    Notably, if you wanted to port this into a more standard fantasy setting, the surreal horror element meant you could just…not convert them into fitting NPCs. So you do the summoning ritual and it causes a modern guy (complete with cell phone and maybe a car) to just show up in the middle of your medieval fantasy village to casually chat about granting a supernatural boon as if it were the most normal thing. One of the “demons” will just give you some guns (modern day ones, unregistered, unlicensed, free, no ammo) when you summon him. Pull that as a WTF for your players.

  3. The whole "build a tower to my specifications" thing works very well as a Warlock PC's mission, because it's the kind of task that would take most of a typical campaign to accomplish. Plenty of time to get good adventuring in, as a functional member of the party. The consequences for building that tower come later, during a sufficiently climactic segment of the campaign.

    "My demon patron has tasked me with building a tower. What do you want?"
    "I want treasure, because Reasons."
    "Ah, good. We can work together until the tower is complete. After that, things will get difficult."

  4. I love the idea of demons being nebulous encounters. Some potential ways to complicate this that come to mind:
    1. Demons actively obscuring knowledge of certain rituals to try to fix interactions in their favor, and trying to impede the supply chain to make them harder to perform. Maybe when dealing with a demon, the note on the binding ritual has clearly been tampered with but the missing ingredient can be identified from recurring thefts where the party finds out that the stolen goods are always destroyed.
    2. Particularly powerful and clever demons might have more extensive manipulation. Maybe a demon can only be bound by a produce item that they've made extinct during past summons. At that point solutions become difficult. Maybe convincing a powerful druid to un-extinct a plant for long enough that the banishment can be performed, after which point the party destroys knowledge of the summoning ritual to try to keep that demon out of play for longer.

  5. "This ritual is useful to both the Summoner and the Scourge, and any prospective demonologist must take care that the rituals of Torment are not discovered by any paladins or witch-finders, less their demon by scattered like a kicked cat" is this a spelling mistake?

  6. I am 100% going to use Fuckload and company is a session. Great post :)

  7. I think one of my favorite things about Fuckload is that he's kind of a dullard. I feel like its too often that because something is supernatural it is assumed it has be super cunning, if not nearly omniscient.

  8. I just ran this today for my group. They were trying to stop a different demon from fucking an entire region up. They summoned him, bound him, and tormented him (by making him count spilled jars of marbles over and over). In order to stop his curse, he demanded they either make sacrifices, or banish Fuckload (who was his old rival).

    They entered Fuckload's town, which was already suffering from the original demon's curse. A church inquisitor was torturing the farm-girl in the stocks (for asking about demons).

    The players heard a children's song referring to Fuckload and used the clues within to track him down to his farm. The butcher-shops were burned in town (due to animal attacks caused by original demon) so they were only able to procure a small ring of sausages.

    They ended up in a giant knock-down battle with Fuckload and all of his pigs. Two of the players tied themselves together with sausages and were basically invincible, while Fuckload compelled the farm family to snatch the sausages.

    It ended up with the whole family killed, the barn collapsed, and 40 dead pigs bearing witness to a feast. The players kept one Fuckload pig alive by getting really drunk and casting a Drunk Reversal spell (which transfers the blood alcohol level of 2 characters).

    The pigs almost escaped with the little girl riding on top, but the Witch in the party vaporized her and her steed with an area-spell. They returned to town and burned the last farm-girl at the stake. The original demon was now content to torture Fuckload in Hell, so agreed to his own banishment.

    Two demons down, with plenty of innocent blood spilled in the process. I think they'd be happy about it.

  9. So, so happy you're back to posting. Honestly a highlight of my month. Thanks for this post especially because I was secretly hoping for more about Fuckload (oh god what did you just make me type)