Banishing The Darkness

And for today it’s a bonus post – responding to a question from Alzrius

One thing I’ve noticed in most d20 games is that banishing – as in, sending a creature from another plane of existence back to its realm of origin (or at least, removing it from the plane it’s currently on) – has no ability to enforce the banishment after the initial act of removal.

Spells like dismissal or banishment will send a creature back to its home plane, but most such creatures that warrant that level of magic being thrown at them have the ability to plane shift and greater teleport, meaning that if they want to come back, it will take them 2 rounds to do so (one to plane shift back, with the 5d100 off-target roll, and then one to greater teleport back to the exact place they were before).

Given that there’s no standard metric (other than local world laws) that formalizes the whole “demons and devils cannot enter the mortal world unless called by local residents,” this really seems to leave banishment options without any teeth. Even most exorcism options (which are a variation, to my mind, of banishment) simply expel the possessing spirit; they don’t stop it from simply trying again (e.g. a ghost can just use malevolence again). Since summoned creatures go back to their realm of origin anyway when “slain,” and called outsiders apparently die permanently when slain regardless of where they are when killed, it seems like it’s always going to be a better idea to just go ahead and kill extraplanar enemies, unless they’re summoned (not called) creatures of extraordinary power and are there for a long duration (such as a Pathfinder summoner’s eidolon).

To bring this to a question: how would you fix this? Adjust local world laws to change how extraplanar creatures can get to a particular world? Or come up with better banishing spells and effects? Or something else entirely?

-Alzrius

Well, in the wild days of first edition, putting together some widely scattered bits, it looked like an outsider who was forcibly cast out of the material planes could not return for a year and a day, while one that was slain on the material planes took a very long time (normally a century, although it was shorter for really powerful creatures) to reform on their home plane (often including a temporary or permanent demotion to a lesser form). One slain on it’s home plane was gone for good. Still… first edition; there were plenty of special exceptions and even likely some contradictory rules.

Third edition was originally pretty straightforward; if a creature was actually there and was killed, it was dead. If it was summoned, and was thus basically a copy, puppet, or construct, then no matter what happened to it there was no effect on the original creature (if there even was one). If it was Dismissed or Banished… It was sent home if it was really there while a summoning simply ceased to exist. Speculatively, perhaps you used a spark or your own vitality to help maintain the effect – and that linking to extraplanar energies was what gave those spells an alignment and potentially affected yours.

Then, of course, the Fiendish Codex I turned up. It focused on Demons, but I’d assume that the same general ideas applied to most outsiders.

According to it, if a demon was killed outside the Abyss, it’s body would dissolve in spectacular and horrific fashion and return to the abyss (unless magically restrained) while its “essence” fell back into the raw chaos of the Abyss, there (barring the direct intervention of a a god-tier entity) to be reformed as a new, and generally much lesser, demon.

Summoned demons, of course, weren’t really there, and couldn’t actually die; they were just spiritual puppets (barring the use of optional rules), so the demonic essence just come unanchored when the construct-body was “slain” and returned home to it’s real, undamaged, body if they were even real creatures in the first place.

If a demon was killed within the Abyss it was annihilated, both body and essence. Divine intervention could restore such a demon, but nothing else could. Thus most demons were FAR more cautious on their home plane.

In Pathfinder this sort of thing was addressed in Pyramid Of The Sky Pharaoh, according to which a dead Outsider either merges with its plane or has its essence escape into the planes. In either case it’s eventually drawn into the Maelstrom and wiped clean, to be born again at some point in the future – which is pretty much the eventual fate for everybody else too.

Unlike Death, Dismissal and Banishment do seem to be strictly temporary inconveniences. Of course, they are only 4’th and 6’th level spells respectively. They’re also potential one-shot encounter enders, given that an awful lot of Outsiders do not have the ability to plane shift on their own.

One-shot encounter enders are usually targeted for easy encounters, simply because the baseline “encounter” is supposed to use up about 25% of a parties resources. If an encounter is reasonably likely to be ended by one character with a single spell… it probably isn’t much of a challenge. Ergo, Dismissal (becoming available at level seven) is probably balanced for use against creatures of around challenge rating six or less. Banishment, which becomes available at level eleven and can handle multiple targets, is probably balanced for use against creatures with an individual challenge rating of eight or less.

Are creatures combining Plane Shift and Teleport to come right back after being Dismissed or Banished a common problem? Well… searching the Monster Manual turns up only seventeen creatures with access to Plane Shift as a standard thing. Those are:

  • Angels (Astral Deva, Planetar, and Solar), none of whom have Teleport – although a few have a once a day Wish. They probably have better things to do with it though.
  • Genies (Djinni, Efreeti, and Janni* (Janni are listed as having a Plane Shift special quality, but that is apparently referreing to Ethereal Jaunt. As natives, they’re not appropriate targets anyway)) have Plane Shift, but – once again – not Teleport.
  • Nightshades (Nightcrawler, Nightwalker, and Nightwing) also have Plane Shift but not Teleport.
  • A few individual creatures also have access to Plane Shift. These include the Trumpet Archon (which also has teleport! We have a winner!), Couatl* (no teleport and native anyway, so not a valid target), Bebilith (no teleport), Githyanki (1/day Plane Shift at at ninth level or higher, but no innate Teleport), Githzerai (1/day Plane Shift at eleventh level or higher but no innate teleport), Marut (Plane Shift 1/Week, but no Teleport), and Mind Flayers (Not generally appropriate targets, no innate teleport).

That leaves the Trumpet Archon (CR 14) as the only creature in the Monster Manual that can just pop back after being Dismissed or Banished.

The Monster Manual II only provides four creatures with Plane Shift – Ethereal Doppelganger, Ethereal Slayer, Glimmerskin, and Spell Weaver – none of whom normally teleport.

So against the intended targets, and most of the more powerful targets if they work, both Dismissal and Banishment are pretty much “out of the game” buttons. Evidently third edition pretty much handled the problem by making most creatures that you had any reasonable expectation of being able to handle with a mid-level spell unable to come back – and handled the “dimensional invasion” problem by simply not giving most of the more obnoxious creatures direct access to the material planes. I’m not sure if Pathfinder continued that offhand, but it seems fairly likely.

Now if you are plagued by evil spirits that keep returning… that’s likely to be a homebrew or third party rules problem, and so homebrew and third party rules solutions are in order.

  • In Eclipse the simplest thing to do is to build a little Metamagic into the spell formulas – most likely Compact (Using an expensive focus, taking 1d4 points of attribute damage from the casting (most likely Charisma) on the grounds that exorcising dark spirits is not easy) and +2 levels of Infliction (Ignorance: victims will remain unaware of the specific plane from which they were banished for a century to come. A fairly trivial effect really, given that there are myriads of prime material planes. I could easily justify cutting it down to +1 level of infliction).

World laws are more interesting though. “Extraplanar creatures must be summoned by natives of the plane they’re summoned to” puts an interesting limit on Conjuration, as well as preventing most demonic invasions. It does keep extra-dimensional beings from summoning allies though, unless you refluff that ability as “splitting off bits of their own essence”. Similarly, “Once banished, an outsider may not return to the plane of banishment for a hundred years” would work well. That might cripple a Summoner of course, but I rather suspect that Eidolons are constructs anyway, and not really subject to being Dismissed or Banished for very long.

For an interesting change of pace, take a leaf from “A Personal Demon”; In that book summoning demons was actually quite easy, and they didn’t really want your soul – but when one failed to come when called, you had to ritually bar it from again entering your world to keep it from using the portal later, Over the millennia… demons had failed to answer because they had currently been summoned by someone else – and so when they returned to the Abyss, they could not return. Over thousands of years… the supply of demons had been exhausted until no one believed that they existed any longer.

And then one middle-aged professor did his demon-summoning routine at a party, using the name of a trivial lust-demon from a newly translated clay tablet from a recent dig – a demon that no one had ever heard of because the ancient priests had noted her existence, but had ignored her and failed to pass on her name because she was too trivial to bother with.

And thus the Professor became “Master” of the last summonable demon on earth – basically “I Dream of Jeanie” long before that show came along. In a world similar to that… magicians might command the services of a single demon, with a very specific set of powers, and be frantically trying to steal other mages demons and searching for lost names.

And I hope that helps with the question!

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for this! I have to admit, I thought there were a lot more (evil) outsiders that had plane shift among their spell-like abilities, but it looks like my memory was playing tricks on me.

    Presuming that semi-permanent banishment were a thing (at least for extraplanar creatures in general, rather than outsiders in particular), I wonder if part of the argument against it is that it could be used against PCs, which would quickly cut them off from a lot of planes. In fact, if that were the case it would serve to interdict a lot of planar travel in general, now that I think about it.

    • You’re quite welcome! And I had exactly the same impression until I started running searches… I suspect that the notion is a holdover from earlier editions and expectations; I remember a number of encounters where relatively minor demons exploiting summoning, teleportation, and their other inherent powers for all they were worth turned themselves into pretty major menaces to fairly high-level parties – pitching well beyond their expected encounter level.

      And, unless you’re DEEPLY into simulationism, pretty much anything that has long-term effects is much worse for the PC’s – who are expected to be around for a long time – than it is for the monsters, who are supposed to get eliminated in fairly short order. It would be amusing to have the characters being told that “Get out and STAY OUT!” actually meant that they’d have to send envoys and make a deal with the locals to be allowed back in though.

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