Naturally, the denizens of the realms beyond don’t wait for folks to shuffle off their mortal coil if they can help it. No, there’s quicker and more efficient methods to acquire the lucre that keeps the planes spinning, and it doesn’t even have to mean stealing it (though that’s also an option). After all, if they have something you want (soulstuff, essence), and you have something they want – why not make a deal? Just sign on the dotted line …
The Soul Trade
Every sapient being (and most non-sapient beings) has a soul or spirit, that un-measurable thing that makes them them. What many of them don’t realize is that you don’t need your whole soul to still be your whole you; it’s possible to give part of your soul away. More than once, at that!
Which is very convenient for soul-hungry denizens of the Manifold Palaces, because oh do they have wonders to offer. Tutoring in esoteric wisdoms, powerful magics and exotic enchantments, the bestowing of reshaped forms and invigorating new powers, promises of favours or particular pacts – all these and more may tumble from rarefied aetheran hands. The denizens of the Cerulean Hell specialize in negotiating just these contracts — for a small consideration of their own — above and beyond their own, more intimate pledges, while the Iron Judges will descend like silent blades on those who violate them.
There’s a sting, however. (Of course there is.) Even if one has made the most upstanding of trade-pacts with the most honourable of aetheras, you have still given away a part of your soul. And, while slivering off pieces won’t unmake you – unless you give away that last tiny shard – if enough of your soul winds up in one individual’s possession, that individual can exert influence on you. Influence that becomes harder and harder to resist, the more of your soul they possess.
So keep two things in mind:
• The more parts you break your soul into, the smaller the portion you keep, and fractions are jerks
• The Manifold Palaces run on the soul trade, and that does mean trade. And all someone has to do is have a greater investment in your soul than you do; they don’t have to start that way, and you don’t have a guarantee that your soul portions stay where you think they started …
The Price of Life
In the Foundations, soulstuff is valuable – it’s still an accepted currency – but the high and mighty and their imitators have a taste for something a touch more concrete. That something is Essence, and to drink deep and bear away a portion of your animating force, the more amiable (or devious) of the primals are happy to make a trade for it.
It’s not enough for you to bleed for them, after all; what they want is part of your vital Essence, and without great effort you aren’t getting that back. On the upside, there’s no tit-for-tat strings attached the way there is for the soul trade – you’ve lost vitality, and you’re arguably one step closer to death, but you aren’t risking being controlled without warning.
Essence: Is your permanent Essence score. If you have an Essence of 4 and you sign away a point of Essence for benefits, you now have an Essence of 3. You can buy it back up again with advancement points, if that’s a campaign option, but bartered Essence costs double to replace (buying Essence after that reverts to normal costs).
Soul: Your soul is measured in points equal to your (Psyche + Essence)/2, a “soulstuff pool” if you will. As long as your character retains at least one point in that pool, they’re still good to go (although they’re going to look mighty moth-eaten and unappealing to folks looking to barter, and to anyone who can sense integrity of selfhood for that matter). Buying up your traits will “grow” your soul back a bit, but this can start getting expensive fast …
[for games hewing more like B/X and its friends before and after, a character’s tradable Essence pool can be considered equal to its Hit Dice, while its Soul pool is (Wis + 1/2 Cha). yes, this means losing a Hit Die of hit points.]
Soul Trade Practicalities
So you’ve agreed to part with a piece of your soul. Or more than one. Or you’ve happened to come into possession of someone else’s soul or pieces thereof. Or maybe you want to keep your intrinsic self intact, but you don’t mind sharing your vital essence and giving a bit of life up for something more tangible.
Whichever it may be, you have a commodity and an interested party (or, again, more than one); but what might that commodity get you?
Here are some guidelines for bartering your life and soul away; but prices can always fluctuate, and remember — not all entities honour their bargains, and even the most upstanding may not actually have what you’re looking for.
Trifle (1-2 points): +1 to relevant Attribute on a specific type of test (poisons, scholarship), +2 AP (mystical armour, scales, metallic skin, force-mantle), lost knowledge, a specific ring-pattern, mundane valuables, a specific physical feature (including unusual colours or limbs or ornaments), a spell or trait, an enemy’s weakness, unusual esoterica (sponsorship, tutoring, letter of recommendation)
Boon (3-4 points): 1-2 increase to Attribute or Essence, Advantage on a specific type of test (poisons, scholarship), secrets taken to the grave, a specific physical feature that grants a special power, +3-4 AP, several spells, a single soulshard from someone else, enchanted critter companion, removing (or placing) a curse, creating a manor (or equivalent) from nothing
Treasured Boon (5-6): a grimoire of spells, elemental/environmental immunity, powerful enchanted object or weapon, defeating or killing an enemy or rival, granting a trifle or boon to a third party, exotic materials or resources, dramatic environmental reshaping, someone’s memories, innate elemental or other form of ranged attack (calling lightning, “spirit sword” at will, psychic beams)