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I'm currently preparing a session in my campaign where one of my players is going to consider signing a contract with a devil. While writing the contract, I noticed something that seems like a loophole that definitely isn't worth it, but it looked interesting nevertheless. Imagine the following scenario:

  1. A PC signs a contract with two different devils;
  2. Both contracts state that the respective devils get the PC's soul upon death, may the PC violate the contract.
  3. The PC goes and violates both contracts.

What would happen here? Would the second devil never take the contract? Does the second contract become invalid? Does the second devil have to estimate whether the PC doesn't violate the first contract, and take the contract based on their guess?

Additionally, if the PC breaks violates either contract, would there still be a reason to follow the second contract?

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If the first contract has the price of the soul, the second contract cannot be entered into because the character no longer owns the soul and thus cannot sign it away.

Descent into Avernus (a published adventure) has the necessary rules for infernal contracts.

The contracts are described as:

A hallmark of devils is their delight in striking deals with mortals. These deals are more than mere agreements; they are cosmically binding exchanges in which a devil grants a mortal character some measure of power for a price. Once an agreement is reached, the deal is sealed with a binding contract, which both parties must sign.

[...]

Infernal deals are enforced by the weight of the multiverse itself, by the very essence of the forces of Law and Evil.

That last paragraph in particular does mean that effects that would attempt to "capture" the soul at the moment of death (like soul cage) are unable to divert the soul, as it is bound to hell, and this is enforced by the multiverse itself.

The basic form of a deal, and how it's contracted is described under "Making Deals":

A deal consists of a proposal that covers the terms each party expects, and a contract that seals the deal and makes it binding.

The restriction on a soul being claimed twice is described under "What Devils Want > Souls":

When characters give up their souls to devils, they are promising to serve in the Nine Hells as devils themselves after death. Once promised to a devil, a character’s soul can’t be claimed by another creature.

A characters soul being forfeit is a common penalty clause of an infernal contract, and when the character dies they are instantly reborn in the Nine Hells as a lemure (no chance of revivify etc). This is described under "Infernal Contracts > Breach of Contract":

A character bound by an infernal contract who fails to pay the price specified in the contract immediately suffers a penalty for breaching the contract, as specified in the contract itself. Common penalties include the following:

  • The character’s soul is forfeit when the character dies (that is, the character is reborn in the Nine Hells as a lemure).
    [...]

It is however, possible to have a contract voided with the agreement of both parties:

Voiding an infernal contract releases all parties from its terms without penalty, as if the deal never happened. Any gifts or prices revert immediately, though some contracts might leave a scar or other lasting effect.

The devil and the character who signed the contract must both agree to void the terms of the contract. As an action, the devil magically produces the contract. When both parties state their agreement to terminate it, the contract crumbles to dust and is destroyed.
[...]

A devilish contract can also be destroyed, and voided as a result:

The Contract Forms table has examples of different forms of infernal contracts. The sections that follow the table describe the various contracts and the means by which they can be destroyed and voided.

The text goes on to describe different contract types and how they can be destroyed.


If neither contract has the soul as the price, but merely as a penalty clause, then it doesn't matter which contract they violate, the Nine Hells still gets its due.

The soul is pledged to the Nine Hells upon violation, not the individual devils. As a result, it doesn't functionally matter which contract they violate, they still forfeit their soul, when they die their soul is still transferred to the Nine Hells, and they are still reborn as a lemure.

This is described under "Infernal Contracts > Breach of Contract":

A character bound by an infernal contract who fails to pay the price specified in the contract immediately suffers a penalty for breaching the contract, as specified in the contract itself. Common penalties include the following:

  • The character’s soul is forfeit when the character dies (that is, the character is reborn in the Nine Hells as a lemure).

[...]

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Once promised to a devil, a character’s soul can’t be claimed by another creature." Does this mean that they're immune to effects like Soul Cage? \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Apr 14 '20 at 4:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ But isn't there a difference between a contract's price being the soul or a contract's penalty of breach being the soul? After all, as long as the contract isn't breached, the devil has not claimed the soul. As such, couldn't the soul be used as security for multiple contracts? \$\endgroup\$
    – Pahlavan
    Apr 14 '20 at 6:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pahlavan just addressed in the answer \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Apr 14 '20 at 6:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @illustro you say "upon breaching, the character dies immediately" but the language in the contract says "WHEN the character dies", so I don't think it's meant to be that if you breach the contract you immediately fall down dead, but rather that your self is forfeit when you die at a later time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Apr 14 '20 at 7:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik That's a fair point! I'd misread it last night, and interpreted the bit in brackets as an immediate effect (being reborn in the Nine Hells) as opposed to after they have died. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Apr 14 '20 at 10:07
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This situation is (presumably) impossible

MM's "Devils" chapter describes signing a contract as a mysterious action, directly connected with Asmodeus:

... a contract with even the lowliest devil is enforced by Asmodeus's will. Any mortal creature that breaks such a contract instantly forfeits its soul

If a contract allows a devil to claim a mortal's soul before death, it can instantly return to the Nine Hells with the soul in its possession.

The fact of breaking the contract becomes immediately known to the devil, so it's plausible to assume the fact of signing the contract can not be hidden from devils as well.

So you can't sign a second contract, if your soul is already pawned by the first one.

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Presumably there would be a clause in the first contract that says you can't sell your soul again while the contract remains in force, but that's entirely up to the DM to determine. If playing two devils off each other is a fun time for the table, go for it.

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Signing the second breaks the first

Under the terms of the first contract you have promised your soul in you break it. Attempting to subvert that promise by entering the second contract is a breach of contract. The penalty clause triggers and your soul gets dragged to Hell the instant you touch the second contract with your pen.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As described in the question, the penalty clause only gives the devil a claim on the mortal's soul after death, not the right to immediately collect. It is oddly lenient. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Apr 13 '20 at 21:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells but the law of Hell says if you break an infernal contract your soul is immediately forfeit. As we all know, contracts are made under the law. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Apr 13 '20 at 21:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells the soul is still the property of the devil who signed the contract. They are allowing the character the use of the soul for the remainder of their mortal life (like a rental agreement). Devils are immortals, they can wait a few years, or decades to claim their due. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Apr 13 '20 at 22:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, you can even cite the reference that illustro did for further support. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 14 '20 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ That only works if the contract specifies it as such. Assume contract 1 is that you must take a coin from a beggar every day, and that contract two is that you must kick a kitten every day. It is possible for the character to continually steal from beggars but miss kicking a kitten, leading to the second contract being violated and the soul being forfeited. Or it's possible for them to keep kicking kittens but not steal, leading to the first being violated. Or, as is specified here, both at once. The conditions can be orthogonal and therefore nothing in the second inherently violates the first \$\endgroup\$ Apr 14 '20 at 18:04

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