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Magical Possession

This section explains the nuances of possession magic, as used in the possession spell, as well as monster abilities and other spells.

What Is Possession?

True possession is when a creature displaces or overrides the target’s consciousness with its own, establishing direct control over the target’s body. This game features several effects that are often conflated with possession. The section below describes several possession and possession-like effects and the differences between them.

Domination: Dominate spells are often confused with possession, as they produce superficially similar outcomes. However, domination and possession are not the same. Domination is mind-control, enslaving the target’s mind and forcing it to carry out the caster’s will; thus, the caster doesn’t directly control the target’s body. The target’s dominated mind merely carries out a mandate given by the caster with the means, knowledge, and experience it has available.

Spell Possession: The primary source for possession mechanics was the magic jar spell. Magic jar allows the caster to detach her soul from her body and place it in the body of another creature, displacing the host’s soul and leaving the caster’s own body essentially empty. Like possession, these effects belong to the necromancy school of magic, as befits magic that manipulates life force and souls. This is true possession, as the end result is control of the host’s body rather than the mind. The marionette possession spell operates under an identical principle, but does not displace the host’s soul because the target cedes control to the caster willingly.

These forms of possession carry great risk for the caster. The caster has no means of survival without a body to inhabit, so if her soul is ejected from the host’s body while her own body is out of the spell’s range, the caster dies instantly.

The possession spell follows similar rules to magic jar and marionette possession, but with a few key differences. Possession does not displace the host soul when the possessor seizes control of a creature’s body. Additionally, the caster does not perish instantly if her body is outside the spell’s range when she is ejected; the range on the possession spell pertains only to the distance the caster can be from her intended target at the time of casting. Once ejected, the caster’s soul snaps back to her body from any distance, so long as it remains on the same plane.

Incorporeal Possession: Ghosts, shadow demons, and similar creatures do not possess physical bodies. They are simply disembodied souls. They use the rules below to govern the interaction between their mental characteristics and their hosts’ physical forms. Such a creature merges with the host’s body and is unharmed when ejected. Creatures that use magic jar can often use the new possession spell instead.

Core Mechanic and Clarification

The possession spell contains the core mechanics for possession. The description of the magic jar spell states the possessing creature can use her mental abilities, and the possession spell works similarly. This term wasn’t previously defined, and has been a source of confusion in many games. The term mental abilities as used here refers to the following.

  • The possessor uses her skill ranks, along with any feats the possessor has for which she still qualifies in the host’s body. The possessor doesn’t gain any of the host’s feats or skill ranks, but does apply bonuses and penalties associated with the host’s body. For example, When attempting Fly checks, a character who possessed a bird would use her own ranks in the Fly skill, but the bird’s Dexterity modifier and racial, size, and maneuverability bonuses.
  • The possessor can use spells and spell-like abilities. Appropriate spell components and foci are still required for spells that call for them. Some spell-like abilities are racial in nature, but the soul’s essence temporarily instills the possessing creature’s quintessential nature into the host’s body. For instance, a shadow demon possessing a paladin can still use its racial spell-like abilities during that time.
  • The possessor can use non-magical and magical class abilities such as domain, hex, rage, and school powers.

Supernatural abilities (with the exception of class abilities) are not considered mental abilities, as they generally rely upon a creature’s physical form. For example, a red dragon possessing a cleric could not use its breath weapon ability to breathe fire while inhabiting the cleric’s form. The GM can choose to make a specific exception if she believes an ability is solely mental in nature.

Rule Interactions

Several different mechanics allow a creature to influence or control another creature, and sometimes it isn’t clear how these competing effects should play out, whether it be possession versus compulsion or even possession versus possession. These systems interact in the following ways.

Possession versus Charm and Compulsion: Possession overrides charms and compulsions that are in control of another creature. Neither type of effect prevents the other from functioning, but possession bypasses the mind and takes direct physical control of the body which may result in a possessor enslaving an intelligence that is essentially helpless already because of a compulsion.

Compulsion and charm effects move with the mind or soul of the creature originally targeted. For example, if you cast mind swap on a dominated creature, the domination effect remains active but transfers with the originally dominated mind to its new host body, and a dominated creature capable of possession could possess another creature while still remaining dominated.

If the host’s mind or soul is not displaced from the body, a dominating creature can still telepathically interact with its now-possessed target, even though the target is helpless within its own hijacked body. The dominating creature can even command the target to explain what the host body is doing, if the host has access to its senses.

Conversely, a caster can target a possessing creature with a compulsion or charm effect. If the possessing creature is the only mind or soul in the host body, the compulsion or charm effect works on the possessing creature normally. If the possessing creature is later evicted from the body, the compulsion or charm effect remains active on the possessing creature when it returns to its original body. For instance, if a mesmerist is using mind swap on a bard, and a succubus uses her dominate monster spell-like ability when she meets the possessed bard, the mesmerist must attempt a saving throw against the spell. If he fails, the mesmerist becomes dominated by the succubus, and when his possession ends and he returns to his body, he remains at the mercy of his new mistress.

When both the host creature and a possessing creature occupy a body at the same time, a charm or compulsion effect can target either one.

However, the caster must be aware of the possessing creature’s presence in the host body in order to target it. Otherwise, the effect targets the host by default, generally with limited effect.

Possession versus Divination Effects: Possession does nothing to obfuscate or block most divination spells. For example, if an evil mesmerist is possessing a paladin, detect evil will sense the presence of an evil creature when the paladin’s body enters the area of effect. The Hidden Presence feat can assist a possessing creature in foiling divinations. If a creature’s body and soul are in two different locations, as in the case of a caster of magic jar, divination spells that depend on location, such as locate creature or scrying, fail to produce results. The exception is discern location; This powerful spell provides both locations unless the body and soul are protected by mind blank or a deity.

Possession versus Possession: If you attempt to possess a creature that is already possessed, the possessing creature must succeed at the possession spell’s save or be ejected, allowing you to enter the host. If the possessing creature voluntarily fails its save, first that creature is automatically ejected and then the host attempts the Will save instead. A possession effect that doesn’t allow a saving throw automatically causes the possessing creature to be ejected.

A Primer On Possession

Source PZO9446H

Haunted heroes need not be pursued or influenced by ghosts alone. Possession can be the result of pacts, bargains, and circumstances with forces beyond the material world.

A medium who opens his body to the psychic impressions of long-dead legends is no less haunted by his powers than a shaman who communes with the spirits of her ancestors.

Whether attained by making eldritch pacts with shadowy patrons, inviting spirits into their bodies, or having a close encounter with a corruptive entity, the abilities of haunted heroes are just as often a curse as they are a boon.

These heroes must work to keep the otherworldly forces empowering them in check, lest they lose themselves wholly to entities they might barely understand.

The act of possession lies at the heart of many haunted heroes, whether it’s direct control by a spell or monstrous ability, or the subtler influence of whispers and promises.

Possession occurs when one creature, the possessor, forcibly displaces or overrides the consciousness of another creature, the host, with its own. True possession occurs only when a possessor gains direct control over another creature’s body. Effects that allow a creature to merely commandeer another being’s mind (such as dominate monster) aren’t true possession effects. Two general types of true possession exist: spell possession and incorporeal possession. Magic jar and possession are both examples of spell possession, magic that allows the caster to detach her soul from her body and invade her host’s body with it. In such cases, the caster’s body is often left behind—a glaring vulnerability for the possessor’s enemies to exploit. Incorporeal possession occurs when a creature without a physical body (such as a ghost or shadow demon) merges with the body of its host. In this event, the possessor leaves no trace of itself behind for foes to target.

When possessing a host, the possessor uses her skill ranks and mental ability scores, along with feats she still qualifies for while in the host’s body. She gains all bonuses and penalties associated with the host’s body, and uses its physical ability scores in place of her own. The possessor retains the use of her spells and spell-like abilities, and can use her non-magical and magical class abilities (such as a cleric’s domain powers, a barbarian’s rage, and a wizard’s arcane school power). However, she can’t use supernatural abilities that rely upon her true form.

Possession overrides the effects of any charms and compulsions controlling the possessed creature, as these effects target a creature’s mind rather than its body and therefore move with the mind. A creature controlled by dominate monster that casts possession is still dominated when it forces itself into the body of a new host. Conversely, if a possessor is targeted by a charm or compulsion effect while possessing another a creature, the effect targets her mind, rather than the mind of her host. For example, if dominate monster is cast on a creature possessed by a shadow demon, the shadow demon must attempt a saving throw against the spell. If it fails, the shadow demon becomes dominated rather than its host, and remains at its new master’s mercy even after it leaves its host’s body.

If both the host creature and a possessing creature occupy the same body at the same time, charms and compulsions automatically target the host creature’s mind unless the caster is aware the creature is being possessed (letting the caster choose to target either the host or the possessor).

Possession doesn’t obfuscate or block divination spells, so detect evil registers an evil presence if a host possessed by an evil creature enters the area of effect. Possessors can use the Hidden Presence feat to conceal themselves from divinations in such situations.

Divinations that target a creature fail to produce results if the target’s body and soul are in two different places (such as while possessing another creature with magic jar).

Discern location, however, provides both locations unless both the creature’s soul and its body are protected by mind blank or a deity’s direct influence.

If a creature attempts to possess a target that is already possessed, the initial possessor must succeed at a saving throw against the new possession effect or be immediately ejected, allowing the new creature to enter the host. If a possessing creature voluntarily fails its save, the possessor is immediately ejected and the host attempts the Will save instead. If the possession spell doesn’t allow a Will save, the possessor is automatically ejected.

Section 15: Copyright Notice

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Occult Adventures © 2015, Paizo Inc.; Authors: John Bennett, Logan Bonner, Robert Brookes, Jason Bulmahn, Ross Byers, John Compton, Adam Daigle, Jim Groves, Thurston Hillman, Eric Hindley, Brandon Hodge, Ben McFarland, Erik Mona, Jason Nelson, Tom Phillips, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Thomas M. Reid, Alex Riggs, Robert Schwalb, Mark Seifter, Russ Taylor, and Steve Townshend.