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Do all living creatures have souls in the D&D multiverse (and in the Forgotten Realms in particular)?

The only hint I've found so far was from Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes:

A nabassu can eat the soul of a creature it has killed within the last hour, provided that creature is neither a construct nor an undead.

This implies that constructs and undead either do not have souls, or have a specific kind of "inedible" soul.

Related question: Does an intelligent undead have a soul in 5e D&D?

Inspired by Where does an unaligned creature's soul go after death?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related search for 5e and soul: here (brings up many related questions) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 19, 2019 at 14:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Heck there used to be a difference between Souls and Spirits: iirc way back in 1E and 2E, humans had souls and demihumans had spirits. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Sep 19, 2019 at 15:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related for dnd-3.5: Do animals have souls? \$\endgroup\$
    – user37158
    Sep 19, 2019 at 17:32

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All living creatures appear to have a soul.

According to the Dungeon Master's Guide p.24, "Bringing Back the Dead":

When a creature dies, its soul departs its body, leaves the Material Plane, travels through the Astral Plane, and goes to abide on the plane where the creature's deity resides. If the creature didn't worship a deity, its soul departs to the plane corresponding to its alignment.

This strongly suggests that all living creatures, at least, have souls.

It's more ambiguous for non-living creatures, at least in 5e lore. Undead are the only creature type which cannot be raised with raise dead, a spell which restores the soul to its body. However, as mentioned in Does an intelligent undead have a soul in 5e D&D?, different types of undead vary in whether or not they have souls.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Strictly speaking, "when a creature dies, its soul departs its body" doesn't mean that all creatures have souls. It's like "when a person dies, their heritage goes to their heirs" doesn't mean that everybody have heritage and heirs. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Sep 19, 2019 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is at least one official exception: the residents of Barovia are mostly soulless. (ref Curse of Strahd) \$\endgroup\$
    – Destruktor
    Sep 19, 2019 at 20:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, it says that soul departs its body, then leaves the material plane. But what about the creatures that don't live on the material plane? Genies, elementals, angels,....? This part of the rules implies that only living creatures on the material plane possess a soul. \$\endgroup\$
    – Negdo
    Sep 13, 2023 at 12:31
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So long as the creature is mortal it has a soul

In the Monster Manual, the Devil section has this to say:

Dark Dealers and Soul Mongers. [...]Any mortal creature that breaks such a contract instantly forfeits its soul, which is spirited away to the Nine Hells.

Similarly, the Ghost entry in the Monster Manual describes ghosts as:

A ghost is the soul of a once-living creature, bound to haunt a specific location, creature, or object that held significance to it in its life.

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There are a few exceptions

The game does not exactly define What is a living creature?, but answers that this stack came up with are things like living creatures are: (1) creatures that have a soul, in which case the answer here would be yes, or (2) creatures that have a metabolism (and thus normally need to eat, drink, and breathe to sustain themselves), in which case not all of them would necessarily need to have a soul.

By formal logic, statements like "if a living creature dies, its soul departs its body", or "any mortal creature that breaks such a contract instantly forfeits its soul" do not strictly mean a living or mortal creature must have a soul. For that to be true you need an antecedent statement, which is only implied here, namely "Every living/mortal creature has a soul". As @encryptor stated in a comment, this situation is like the statement "when a person dies, their heritage goes to their heirs" which doesn't mean that everybody has a heritage and heirs.

The rules, however, are neither a treatise on formal logic nor a legal text, and I think that for practical purposes @QuadraticWizard's answer is correct here; living creatures (however you identify them) normally have a soul, and everything beyond that is an exception or corner case, and would need the DM to adjudicate. Here are some of these:

Genies

One such exception are Genies. They are elementals, so neither constructs nor undead. Their lore states:

A genie is born when the soul of a sentient living creature melds with the primordial matter of an elemental plane. Only under rare circumstances does such an elemental-infused soul coalesce into a manifest form and create a genie.

Thus genies do not have a soul, they are a soul, coalesced into manifest form.

Barovians

Another more straightforward example are the Barovians. The Curse of Strahd states (p. 10):

Barovians are made of flesh and blood. They are born, they live, they age, and they die. But not all of them­ - only about one in every ten - have souls.


PS: creature types are just a label upon which to hang other rules. Your example of the Nabassu shows well how that works -- there is no general rule that constructs do not have souls, but the Nabassu can use the creature type, in this case to declare that a construct does not have a soul that the Nabassu can eat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ “They do not have a soul, they are a soul, coalesced into manifest form.” Seems like a distinction without a difference to me. Does a genie not “have” itself? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 13, 2023 at 12:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I think you are right in the sense that there is a soul involved. But normally a creature does have a separate body, and a separate soul (in extreme cases the soul can even be physically separate from the body, like for some fey, or under the influence of spells like magic jar), so the creature "having" a soul to me makes more sense if there is something to the creature that is not the soul. Other creatures can have their soul trapped etc -- it seems unclear how that would work for a Genie, where it is inseparable. I agree also that Barovians are more clear-cut (and say so). \$\endgroup\$ Sep 13, 2023 at 12:34

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