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Background

We are currently running our third DnD campaign in this group. Each campaign has a different DM but the same adventure group. This time I'm DM (first time DM, but 5-6 sessions in doing good so far, I'd say).

My campaign is generally about the death of a warrior character from our first campaign who died in an epic finale.

For one of our next sessions I now have the idea of having the wandering soul of said (dead) character possess/contact one of the current PCs (wizard) in order to give them some information. I'd keep it that way for maybe 1-2 sessions.

My research:

All I could find either handled the topic of

  • possession by ghosts during combat, or
  • how to create/roleplay a possessed character when creating a new character from scratch

but my case is covered by neither of those.

Details/my thoughts:

The biggest concern I think is player agency, so The first things I want to clarify are:

  • I created neither of those characters
  • The Player (random name: Bob) who created the warrior character is also playing the wizard whom I want to be contacted
  • Bob is the most experienced and talented RPG Player amongst us (by a factor of 5x at the least)
  • I don't want to tell Bob beforehand as it would possibly spoil part of the story around it

My current intention would be to take Bob aside after event X and tell him that

  • his wizard PC is now possessed by his warrior PC
  • he will gain information through him
  • beyond that, it is 100% up to him how much his wizard is influenced by this situation

As for the last point, he can choose that the soul only contacts him and allows him to communicate without anyone noticing, or we can go to any length he feels like (appearing to "hear voices" when he communicates, or even 100% warrior in control possession or influencing the personality of the wizard PC is all on the table if he wants it)

I also intend for this event to take place at the end of a session, so this player can properly think about it and prepare himself for the roleplaying part if he wants to. (or maybe I need that time after some interesting questions on his part...)

Question:

With all that clarified my question is: Have I covered any possible problems with this kind of contact/possession, or am I missing something elementary?

I think I have thought/worked it through as much as I can on myself, but I don't feel 100% certain I have thought of everything that needs considering, since this is my first time as a DM.

I have already read through a lot of questions here and on several occasions I thought "that's a non issue" only to be mind blown of the implications I have missed.

I would especially appreciate any insights/lessons learned anyone can provide after having tried something similar.

update:

I edited the question slightly to reflect that the PC does not neccessarily have to be possessed

Since it came up in comments: I am only asking about the social component/making sure Bob can enjoy the campaign throughout. The event in question has several unique elements to sufficiently explain any deviation from existing rules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't tink this is agnostic, because ogf the possession rules. Which edition? \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Nov 3, 2021 at 13:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Was previous character death something Bob wanted / agreed to? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Nov 3, 2021 at 14:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish, my train of thought was that my question addresses the social aspect of the possession/situation and not the rules, the exact same situation could come up with any other RPG with a setting allowing for possession, existence of rules don't really matter (I'm DM after all, if it makes sense and is fun, where we're going... we don't (neccessarily) need rules...) and 3.5 to answer your question \$\endgroup\$
    – Livor
    Nov 3, 2021 at 16:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot the death was semi planned. It was already decided Bob would run the second campaign, so the DM didn't hold back and when in the last few rounds the warrior was (incidentally) trapped he went all in... oh... the goosebumps :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Livor
    Nov 3, 2021 at 16:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Some games have very explicit rules on how to handle possession. For example, in Shadowrun, possession of a spirit overwrites the will of the possessed and makes them a backseat viewer without the ability to interact with the spirit in them unless the character that is possessed is the summoner of that spirit, in which case the summoner controls and the spirit is just a stat boost. In the World of Darkness, someone possessed by a Demon doesn't get to witness anything because they are completely overwritten - and typically dying or dead anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Nov 3, 2021 at 16:54

3 Answers 3

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The most likely problem seems moot, but a graceful fallback will be helpful

The most likely problem is probably the player's reaction to having control of the character taken away from them. This is probably moot because the spirit is the player's own previous character and you are giving the player a lot of choice in how they play the possession. You can also have a fallback, described below, if the doesn't want to play a possessed character at all.

In some games, possessions like this are expected. For example, I play in a Call of Cthulhu campaign, and it is not uncommon for characters to be possessed or suffer a temporary insanity. The GM tells us what our characters are thinking, perceiving, etc., and how we should act, and we act it out. That's part of the roleplay. But not everyone will enjoy that. If you're playing CoC you had better be prepared for it. In a D&D game it's a little more unusual, and something that might be addressed in a Session 0.

In your specific campaign, possession is (a) not something that will happen often, and (b) something you want to be something of a surprise. Bringing this up in a Session 0 would be misleading (why spend time talking about something that might only happen once, ever) and would give away a surprise. Not having addressed this in a Session 0, you are concerned about the player's reaction.

A lot of this turns on how you think the specific player in question will react. However, I suspect this is not going to present a problem because the possessing spirit is the spirit of a dead character played by the same player. Some players might be annoyed to get "assigned" a completely different character. But, presumably, this player liked the character they had created previously, and might enjoy having the chance to bring that personality back for a couple of sessions.

It also seems like you are giving the player a lot of choices here regarding how they act out the possession—do they hear voices, do they just get information, is the dead character fully in control, etc.? This is good in terms of the player being OK with the situation.

There is a recent precedent I can think of in a D&D module. I'm hesitant to say which one, because even naming the module could constitute a spoiler. But the mechanic used is that the player is given flaws, bonds, and ideals of a possessing spirit. It is entirely up to the player whether and how to act those out. The DM is never in the position of saying "You are doing this wrong, you should be doing X." But there is a minor reward that the player character gets after the possession ends if, in the DM's judgment, they do a good job of acting out the possessing spirit's flaws, bonds, and ideals.

If you want to have a fallback, give the player the choice when the time comes

It seems like you have already set it up in a way that will facilitate this. The possession will come after a specific event which is planned for the end of a session, so the player will have time between sessions to think about how they want to play this. All you have to do is give them the opportunity to make a choice after they think about it, or in discussion with you. If they say they would rather not play a possessed character, you can instead have the spirit of the dead character manifest, or speak in their character's mind, and give them the information you want to share, without it being a "possession".

FWIW, this is also about knowing the player. As a GM, there are many people I play with who I would have no concerns about telling them that they are possessed, and how they should try to act. Knowing the players, I know they would enjoy it as part of the game. But there are others I might not ask that of, most likely due to lack of experience, or because a player seems really attached to their particular character, or because a character has a specific and necessary role in the party.

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    \$\begingroup\$ All Answers gave me interesting insights, but since this Question is what I am going to use I marked this as accepted. The story had already enough victims so that any no name spirit might contact him, so I will give him 2 choices then, 1) as mentioned: how does it affect him and 2) who is the possessing soul. If he is not cool having his warrior back he can have a newly created character contact him... If i remember this question after the relevant session, I'll update with any experiences with this, thanks for the help! \$\endgroup\$
    – Livor
    Nov 15, 2021 at 21:56
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Main problem is social here.

Point by point:

  1. Bob decided* that his warrior character needs an epic death as a culmination of previous adventure.
  2. Now Bob decided that it is time to play a radically different character concept.

By bringing warrior character back without telling, you kinda diminish the meaning of his death, and you are making Bob to play, at least partially, character that was already gone. You are removing his choices.

As with everything that changes who character is, I strongly recommend either

  1. Make it temporary and easily dispellable, or
  2. Get player's buy-in beforehand.

We cannot tell you if Bob will be comfortable with your idea. Only Bob can. If it would be a short episode then it's OK-ish (still, knowing my dead character's soul is not in the afterlife it earned might be a bit unfun), but making player play character he didn't envision or plan for is a recipe for an unfun game. Don't do it.

I didn't have the exact same situation, but I did abandon a game when my character changed into someone I didn't want to roleplay. I would prefer spoilers.


* If death in final battle was unavoidable, then it is a separate problem.

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    \$\begingroup\$ your mention of the afterlife is a big thing I missed I believe, I can easily see the player picturing his warrior feasting with his ancestors, taking that away would probably hurt. \$\endgroup\$
    – Livor
    Nov 3, 2021 at 16:52
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Mechanical Considerations:

As to how the rules of possession work and getting caught off guard by some unseen consequence of this set up -- well, you're the DM. How the possession works, and by what mechanism, can be unique to this instance. Some item, event, some link between the characters, or a literal act of the Gods. Your call.

It is always nice, for suspension of disbelief, to have something more grand than "Because I said so" -- Have an answer ready that gives some in-story reason. The ley lines intersected with the light of the three stars of Bobfalia Constellation that was anointed by the god of Handwavium...

Roleplaying Considerations:

Your largest danger zone here isn't some obscure ruleset or your veteran roleplayer not being up to the challenge -- it is that you are putting your most experienced roleplayer even more center stage.

If he is really good, he should be able to leverage having an old, second character in his head into more interaction to draw the other players in. Warrior Bob is meeting this new party for the first time.

I would make sure this isn't ALL about Bob. It is a great idea -- one I might steal (highest form of flattery, you know) -- but I would make sure to give some thought to how to make sure a rising tide lifts all boats.

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