Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sympathy for the Succubus, Part 1

I'll admit it.  I have a soft spot in my heart for Succubi.   Those little trollops from Hell tempting men with their wild demonic ways.  There are the fangs, the wings and the whole draining your life force and taking your soul to Hell.

What is not to love?

Maybe it was that David Sutherland Succubus from the AD&D Monster Manual.  This was hot stuff back in 1979. She was like a perky little cheerleader for Satan. With wings instead of pom-poms.  I always said if I ever got a tattoo this would be it.  Well, maybe never said that out-loud.

One of the very few movies about a succubus was called, at least when I rented it on VHS many years ago, The Succubus.  I looked for this film forever.  Of course I finally found it again, under it's more common title of The Devil's Nightmare.  She was a blue skinned demon that reminds me of the old AD&D Monster Cards. Though there is this other movie also called "Succubus",, but I don't think I ever saw that one.  I wonder why Succubi don't appear in more movies but I can think of a few named succubi that appear in D&D alone and that is not counting the Anime, modern horror books, webcomics, and even their own Wiki and Blog.  Reaper minis have practically made a market on little metal succubi.

I was recently going through the old Mentzer Immortal set for Basic (BECMI) D&D.  One of the very cool things in that book was how they portrayed the Succubus.  They called them "Whispering Demons".  How cool is that.  That really changes their nature in terms of a combat game.  Now they are not out there fighting the characters, but working subtly behind the scenes to get things done.  Sort of like how they re-visioned the Orion Slave Girls in Trek.  I like that idea myself.  Ups their temptress/seductress side and down plays their combat. Even if in the Immortal rules, they are 15 HD compared to the MM's 6 HD. Ok, not exactly the same systems I know.  The succubus has had a few changes over the years and editions.  They were absent from AD&D 2nd Ed for the longest time only to turn up as Tanar'ri.I guess that was an attempt to placate the Religious Right.  In D&D 3.x they were back to their 1st Ed demonic selves really, but some of the 2nd Ed baggage was kept.  In D&D 4 they become devils (more on that in a sec) but they are certainly the same things.  In fact, the only thing really different about them is they are not just content to tempt humans but Arch Devils now too.

I did a review/write-up on the Selfish Succubus from Flames Rising and did a bunch of stat ups for that, not all of which were demons.  In the WitchCraft game (and in the old Vampire game too I think) they are a type of Vampire.  I also have some Succubi I did for a Willow & Tara adventure, but mine were not much different than what appeared in the 1st Ed. AD&D book.  I did play of off my 2nd Ed AD&D Witch book and classified them not as demons, but as Lilim, or the Daughters of Lilith.  Compare this to what they did to them in D&D 4.0, where they are now listed as devils. This one of the changes to the D&D 4 game I actually disliked at first.  I can see the reasons behind it, but it seemed to be a odd change to me.  Demons are about destruction and lust, betrayal and dominance is just another form of that.  What though is nice about the 4E Succubus is she now fills the role of both the 3E Succubus and the 3E "Pleasure Devil" or Brachina, which was something like a fallen angel.  Plus I do like the idea of the Arch Dukes of Hell having their own group of Succubi spies.

Going to the myths is helpful, but confusing.  There are so many creatures that are like the succubus and they are also often confused with vampires, lamias, and Night Hags.  Though that is the thing about RPGs.  In myth there are thousands of monsters with lots of overlap or maybe even different names for the same thing.  So I can have my succubus and my night hag and even though they share similar backgrounds I can keep them separate.  Playing off of the Maiden-Mother-Crone archetypes I can have my Succubi as twisted Maidens (stealing men's vital essence), Lamia (and not the collection of bugs one) as the dark Mother that eats babies, and Night Hags as a Crone who does not impart wisdom, but madness (and a nasty surprise).

I could argue then that Succubi in my games are Lilim, the offspring of Lilith and various devils.  I think I can live with that.  Succubi in my D&D games then at least, are the offspring of Demons and Devils.  Sure.  Desired by all and trusted by none.

How to Use Succubi in your game
Succubi are the perfect foil for a group of adventurers.  Adventurers, especially high-level ones, are everything a Succubi would want.  They have power, fame, and prestige and can influence the world. Since a fair number of adventurers are in it for fame and fortune, or at least ale and wenches, a succubus is like candy.  The beauty of it is that even when some players figure it out, they still might go for it.  It's like the "alien girlfriend" trope in some Anime; "I am so awesome my girlfriend is a Demon!" It's the same reason there are so many catgirls out there.

The obvious choice is of course the Temptress for a darker power.  The Succubi are sent to the game world to collect souls.  Once they have them they go back and give them to their pimp the Arch Duke that employs them.

In my Unisystem games I have used Succubi/Lilim a couple of different ways.  In one adventure she was captured along with a bunch of other supernatural types but had fallen in love with an angel.  In another during the same campaign I used succubi as lures and bait for some humans using their magic to drain mundane humans.

What I like to use the most for is a surprise.  Don't get me wrong, I like the whole bad girl thing they have going, and I am a fan.  But a succubus in a game lacks honest surprise from the players.  Not just a good succubus but something way out of the ordinary.  The Succubus Paladin that WotC was going on about in the 3.x days was cool, and I love to hear more of her story.  In 4e I'd love to build a Succubus Warlock. Infernal of course, with her natural 22 Charisma as her casting stat (that's +10 to start). That would be very awesome and a great NPC foe for the PCs.  3rd Ed had level adjustments, so I'll have to figure out how to build her in 4e or even other systems. I think an awesome character then is in order here.  Not Lilith, too much baggage. But something entirely new, and like Dirty Nellie, someone I can use across a lot of different games.

Here is what I have so far.  A succubus was sent to tempt a powerful wizard.  She went in disguised as a human in order to win him over and steal his soul for her dark master.  Of course, the wizard knew what she was all along and finally revealed that fact to her.  They struck a bargain, she would remain and continue her affections (he was still human after all), and he would teach her magic.  Each thought they would have the upper hand, so they both agreed.  Several years later, the succubus had learned much in the ways of magic, and wizard eventually died.  He attempted to cheat his fate by becoming a lich, but she ultimately won.  With the soul in hand, she returned to her dark master.  But once there she had no desire to be the willing servant anymore, so with the power of the wizard's soul and all the magic she had learned she trapped her former master in a soul cage.  She changed her true name and set up shop in the wizard's former tower.  In a moment of what must have been weakness, she released the wizard's soul to find its own rewards in the afterlife.  Now the succubus remains in the world. She seeks out all sorts of magical knowledge and grows in power.  She has a cadre of apprentices to aid her in magical research and provide her with the life energies she needs.

Still needs a bit more detail and a name.  But this is a good start and flexible enough to use in D&D, Ghosts of Albion, any modern horror game, or even a supers game.

Next time: Crunch

Sympathy for the Succubus, Part 2
Sympathy for the Succubus, Part 3
Sympathy for the Succubus, Part 4


James said...

Great stuff! Looking forward to the Crunch.

Tera S said...

Really a neat summary Tim! Thank you so much for the ideas!!

ckp said...

Have you seen the tv show "Lost Girl"? It's right up your alley, streamingly available on Netflix, and has a Succubus protagonist.