Earlier this week, I wrote about demons in Magic: the Gathering. The problem with them: They lack subtlety. They are monsters that tear the world they inhabit apart. They will usually end the game in someone’s favor, but they aren’t necessarily interested in whose. They will follow your orders, but only if they are paid.
The real scary demons are not like that. I was reading Hellblazer: Bloodlines just yesterday. It includes a storyline called Royal Blood, (trying to avoid spoilers here) which is about a demon called Calibraxis possessing a man of note. The depictions of the nature of the possession are quite violent, but they happen in the head of the possessed man. The demon tears and sinks its claws deeper, but only “spiritually”. There’s an image of the demon laying on top of the man’s brain. That’s scary. That goes deep. We don’t want anything in our heads, where it can control us.
Another, not as scary, but interesting take, is the character of Mr. Nick in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus played by Tom Waits. He is more like bored than actually malevolent, making him mischevious instead of strictly evil. However, he has a long-term plan and will probably toy with his poor victim for the rest of eternity, giving him just enough line and reeling him back in.
Now, how to do this in an RPG? I believe Wraith: the Oblivion had the answer, of sorts.
In Wraith, each character had a Shadow. A Shadow is basically the dark side of his personality, but the Shadow is played by another player. Its always there, lurking about looking for weaknesses. Someone is always thinking about how the Shadow can gain influence over the good side of the character. It has its own personality, so there are different approaches to this. Leading the character into enough danger to rely on the help from the Shadow always helps.
Sadly, back when I had the opportunity to play Wraith, my gaming group wasn’t quite mature enough to do it. There were also religious problems with the idea (no, really, separating fact and fiction seems so hard for religious people), as the Shadows seemed quite demonic (for a reason), and one of the players was not a good player, as he was more interested in GMing instead (and wasn’t very good at that either).
Still, I’d love to try it out now that I have a better gaming group. Just a matter of finding the right time, which will never happen, as our schedules are already too full to keep our current games going. Life, sigh.
Anyway, the major idea of the Shadow is obviously putting much of the burden of running them on the players. The GM has enough to do as it is (although I tend to keep my own workload quite light), so running three to five major characters all the time would be a major distraction.
Maybe I’ll just insert the idea into one of our random RPGs.