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The Night Hag has an ability that can reduce a character's hit point maximum via nightmares provided they are evil. It then proceeds to state:

If this effect reduces the target's hit point maximum to 0, the target dies, and if the target was evil, its soul is trapped in the hag's soul bag.

The non-stat box text says:

If the hag has driven her victim to commit evil deeds, she traps its corrupted soul in her soul bag (see the "Night Hag Items" sidebar) for transport to Hades.

The soul bag is described as follows:

Soul Bag. When an evil humanoid dies as a result of a night hag's Nightmare Haunting, the hag catches the soul in this black sack made of stitched flesh . A soul bag can hold only one evil soul at a time, and only the night hag who crafted the bag can catch a soul with it. Crafting a soul bag takes 7 days and a humanoid sacrifice (whose flesh is used to make the bag) .

What happens if Raise Dead is cast on the body of the victim? If the victim cannot be raised this way, how can his soul be recalled and reunited with his body to revive him?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does there need to be a way to revive them? Can't they just stay dead? \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Feb 15 at 20:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you clarify a bit what problem you're having? Are you a GM and you're unsure how to manage the night hag? Are you a player looking for a solution? The tour to RPG.SE says "Focus on questions about an actual problem you have faced. Include details about what you have tried and exactly what you are trying to do." D&D is a very open-ended ruleset. In many cases an answer is highly dependent on circumstances. We can generate a "50 ways to free a soul from a soul bag" list, but unless we know more about the specific circumstances, it's a pretty generic answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Feb 15 at 20:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi all, what is still unclear to me is: is the soul still imprisoned after it has been deliverd to hades? The answers seem to assume that. Isn't it natural for an evil soul to go to a lower planes afterlife, as it would be for a good soul to go to one of the higher planes? And once there, would it not be willing to return if called back? Not sure about the process here, should I update this question (which may be problematic), or make a new one? Guidance wellcome \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16 at 7:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jack: I am considering siccing a Night Hag on my characters, and want to understand what the rules are before I accidentally permakill one of them. I know I can just house rule differently to avoid that (and likely would) Still would be nice to understand how it works which is not clear to me from the MM. The team here has a lot more expertise with esoteric details of the game than me. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16 at 7:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin that would be a separate question at this point as all the answers assumed you were asking about freeing them from the bag, not freeing them from Hades. Most likely because you didn't mention Hades in your question, just talked about the bag. Since I'm the only one that thought the soul makes it to Hades (the others thought the soul could be freed before then), I can update my answer about why the soul still can't escape, but I don't think that would be fair. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Feb 16 at 7:31

3 Answers 3

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Kill the hag, or obtain the bag some other way.

DM: After fleeing the night hag, you rush to the temple with Groody's lifeless body, you burst through the door and place him on the floor at the foot of the altar, throwing a bag of gold at the priest. The priest, understanding the circumstances, proceeds to cast raise dead, yet no breath returns to Groody's lifeless form. What do you do?

Thomas: RIP. Next quest, I guess.

Unless Groody had a really poor relationship with the rest of the party, this is not how it's going to go down. We want vengeance, and we want to free our friend's soul.

Not even true resurrection can bring Groody's soul back from the hag bag, as even the most powerful resurrection spell requires the soul be both free, and willing. So the only solution is to free Groody from the soul bag the old fashioned way - kill the hag and destroy the bag. To be fair, the Night Hag's description doesn't tell us what happens in this scenario, but to me, it seems quite natural that destroying the soul bag would release the soul inside.

And then return to the priest with another fat sack of gold.

That said, any number of other methods may work here, as long as they involve the soul being released from the soul bag, be it through a trade deal with the hag, deceiving the hag, stealing the bag, etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Reading the description, I'm not seeing an option to free a soul from the bag. Only that it's one soul per bag. In fact, it says "If the hag has driven her victim to commit evil deeds, she traps its corrupted soul in her soul bag (see the “Night Hag Items” sidebar) for transport to Hades." So I don't think there is an escape once you're caught. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Feb 15 at 20:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott Right, but if the soul has not yet been transported to hades by the hag, it's still in the bag. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 20:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott It don't think it has to. The description states exactly the effect it has on the soul. If we destroy the bag, we can assume the bag has no more effect on the soul, because there are no destruction-contingent effects listed. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 15 at 21:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not every problem is going to have a defined solution. It's not a video game. Remember that song, "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover"? Maybe not, it's from like last century. Anyways . . . there's gotta be 50 ways to get the soul back. 1) Kill the hag 2) steal the bag 3) make a deal ("I'll give you TWO souls for that soul you got right there"), 4) Swap the bag when the hag ain't lookin', 5) Make a deal with a different hag. 6) Trick the hag. 7) Force the hag. 8) Slip out the back, Jack. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Feb 15 at 21:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ To me, "A soul bag can hold only one evil soul at a time", implies that it is possible for the bag to hold multiple souls, just not at once, so there must be some way to remove a soul from the bag. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16 at 15:30
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I'm sure this is the unpopular opinion but...

Say good-bye to Groody Broody

Lacking any other information, it would appear there is no way to save a soul once it has entered the bag.

But it's not like you weren't warned

The whole process takes time. The Nightmare Haunting is listed as a once a day effect. It only happens while the victim is sleeping without magical protection. It takes an hour of contact to reduce the victim's maximum hit points by 5 per night. The hope is that all these bad night will cause someone to do something evil, because if the target remains neutral or good, the hag does not gain a prize.

So it takes days before the victim's max hp is reduced to zero. This just lowers the maximum, it does not remove any hit points. At any point during this period of time, a "greater restoration spell or similar magic" can wipe the slate clean.

If during all this time, the victim remains pure, then there is no point in performing the final blow.

Note,

Sly and subversive, night hags want to see the virtuous turn to villainy: love turned into obsession, kindness turned to hate, devotion to disregard, and generosity to selfishness. Night hags take perverse joy in corrupting mortals.

So the hag is going to try its best during the day to corrupt the victim in order to turn them "evil". Once evil, the hag can perform the final ritual and trap the soul.

The soul is trapped, what now?

The soul is trapped and all resurrection spells state that the soul needs to be free and willing. Being trapped in a bag would be the opposite of being free. So how can a soul be freed, if at all?

Timing problems

In the description, it says:

...she traps its corrupted soul in her soul bag for transport to Hades.

How long does it take to transport? The description of the bag dictates:

A soul bag can hold only one evil soul at a time...

Souls are currency. Souls are used in trading 1. To the hag, the soul itself is only good for either trade or food, and they can only hold one soul per bag, it would stand to reason that a night hag would want to get rid of the soul as soon as possible. Lore states that there may even be pre-arranged contracts to deliver souls pushing the hag to trade the soul as soon as she gets it. So there is a short time frame that a soul can even be attempted to be freed before being eaten, turned into a larva, or used for evil magic.

If eaten, the soul is no more, preventing any attempt of revival. If traded, then the soul is still not free, also preventing any revival.

The bag only works for one person

The description for the bag states,

...only the night hag who crafted the bag can catch a soul with it.

If only the hag can put a soul in, it would stand to reason that only the hag can voluntarily remove the soul. And that's a BIG maybe. You would be hard pressed to convince someone to give up a soul2. And until someone converts a soul into a coin/larva, I don't think it has weight/mass to "shake out" from the bag.

Can the bag be destroyed? I'm torn

Crafting a soul bag takes 7 days and a humanoid sacrifice (whose flesh is used to make the bag).
If [the bag] is lost, the night hag will go to great lengths to retrieve it, as creating a new [bag] takes time and effort.

This is an evil, magical object that can only be used by the hag that created it. That sounds like a pretty tough item. But bags of holding and mirrors of life trapping are also powerful magic items and they can be destroyed. But unlike the hag bag, they give great details about what happens when these items are destroyed. So can the bag be destroyed? Sure, lots of things that are not indestructible don't have rules about the consequences. But does that destruction release the soul, or it speed its journey to Hades? For that I don't have an answer, but I'm in the camp of the soul is gone for good.

Ending

Nothing in the verbiage of the creature does it say straight out, hint at, or allude to, that the soul is anything other than gone. If there was a possibility to free the soul it would have been called out at least once: "Until freed", "While trapped in the bag", "when the bag is destroyed freeing...". But there are no hallmarks of a freeing process.

Honestly, there are so few ways in D&D 5e for perma-death, I'm okay if a monster can completely kill a character over the course of days with no option to bring back.


1 This is canon from earlier editions of D&D and may or may not be relevant to 5e, but is given here for background and general lore.

2 Night Hags are immune to Charm, so you cannot charm or dominate them to hand back a soul. It would have to be through guile or some serious intimidation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The Night Hag lore tells us that the hags travel the planes to trade the souls they carry. So it takes however long it takes the night hag to travel to hades and sell the soul. The bag isn’t a mail box, it’s a mail bag; it doesn’t do anything but hold the soul, it doesn’t send the soul anywhere. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16 at 0:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is about as high quality of a dissenting response that could be made. I disagree with the conclusion, but this is a good answer. I very rarely upvote answers I disagree with, and this is one of those times. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16 at 1:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott: I would be most grateful if you would not imply I am evil and going to hell. Tsk, these racial prejudices... \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16 at 7:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Given that you state yourself that the Hag trades the souls, even if you can't get it out the bag yourself, it's pretty clear that the soul can leave the bag and become free again. If you accept that only the Hag can do it, that means you either need to barter with it to get the soul back, or wait for the Hag to trade it to another being and get it from them. The soul would have no trade value if nothing could remove it from the bag, because what's anyone going to do with an unusable soul? \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Feb 16 at 8:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are general rules for destroying magic items (see Magic Item Resiliency) that don't talk about them being that difficult to destroy with effort. Artifacts often have specific rules on how they can be destroyed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim Grant
    Feb 16 at 13:44
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This is up to your DM

There are four stages for a soul captured by a Night Hag:

  1. In the soul bag*
  2. Released in Hades
  3. Made into a Larva
  4. Killed in Hades

Reanimation Spells

There are several spells to recall the soul and reunite it with the dead body: Revivify, Raise Dead, Reincarnate, Resurrection, True Resurrection and Wish. They all differ slightly but (with the exception of Wish) share language that the soul must be free and willing to return. There is also a general statement on p.24 DMG that a soul cannot be returned to life if it does not wish to be.

For the rest of this answer, we assume willingness. It is highly likely that a soul being tormented in Hades wants to escape and return to life. Moreover, in this case it is the soul of a player character whose player wants to continue playing the character. If not, the soul cannot be reunited with the body, and the story ends here.

So the only question we need to answer at each stage is: is the soul free to return?

In the bag

It is obvious that while the soul is in the bag, it is trapped, not free. How to get it out of the bag?

  1. Negotiate a deal. If the hag agrees, she can release it. The hag certainly is able to do so. As the hag is immune to charm, she cannot be magically compelled to do so, she either needs to be convinced, tricked or threatened. This solution is unequivocal.

  2. Obtain and destroy the bag. This likely involves killing the hag, but it might be possible to steal the bag from her. There is uncertainty about how hard it would be to destroy the bag, but consensus is that it is not an artifact, so it should be feasible. It is not unequivocal if the soul is released by destroying the bag, but the majority opinion is that it would be.

  3. There may also be other ways, like bringing the bag into an Antimagic Field to suppress its function and release the soul, or even just opening the bag. As for #2, it is not clear-cut if these actions would free to soul.

If it is released before being brought to Hades, it is free and can be used for resurrection.

Released in Hades

As presented in MivaScott's answer, the bag is a transport vehicle, and the soul is going to be released in Hades. The duration of how long the released soul will stick around before being used is DM territory. Is it free to be resurrected during this time?

Consensus says this is not clearly defined.

According the the DMG, in Hades mortal souls take the form of insubstantial shades (Greek cosmology, p. 44).

Also according to the DMG, Hades is the destination of many souls that are unclaimed (...). These souls become larvae (p. 63). This can be reconciled with the statement that souls take the form of shades if the shades eventually get turned into larvae.

It is not clear if souls released from the soul bag are immediately transformed into larvae, or if there is a time -- up to forever -- during which they remain insubstantial shades. This would be up to the DM.

It is likewise unclear if only some souls become larvae, as in earlier editions), or if all do. The wording on p. 63 suggests all do, the shades on p. 44 contradict it. I think this is a cosmology-building decision left to the DM.

For the released soul as an insubstantial shade that is the soul, we have precedent from the Specter that such a form of a soul can exist (MM p. 279: "A specter is the angry, unfettered spirit of a humanoid that has been prevented from passing to the afterlife. (...) Some are spawned when dark magic or the touch of a wraith rips a soul from a living body.)" It also is accepted that it can be recalled and brought back to life.

There is no limitiation for Hades as a plane that would treat the souls there as trapped (as could be the case in Carceri). From this perspective, souls in shade form in hades would be free to be resurrected.

The DM may rule that the soul used by a Night Hag or its customers for trading or experiments is stored in a way that keeps it trapped. Then the party, to resurrect their friend, would need to

  • travel to Hades (via Plane Shift or similar means), and free the soul from its prison
  • contact the Night Hag or the soul's current owner and negotiate terms for release, similar to when the soul still was trapped in the bag.

Made into a Larva

Assuming the soul has been finally turned into a larva, either directly upon release from the bag, or after some interim period it spent as a shade, does the form of the larva impose entrapment?

A larva is living creature. Would this block the soul from being resurrected? The text of most reanimation spells requires touching a "dead creature". So then, what is a dead creature?

There is no consensus if "dead creature" refers to the corpse of the former creature (now an object, technically speaking), because this is what you can touch, of if it refers to the combination of body and departed soul.

  • If it refers to the corpse, then the status of the soul is immaterial and it can be recalled

  • If it refers to the combination of departed soul and corpse, one can argue that both parts need to be dead for the overall creature to be dead (if a soul could ever be dead). Since the larva is alive, the overall creature then could not be target of a spell that cares about the creature being dead. Revivify stills works, it only requires a "creature that has died", and die they did, not a "dead creature", but revivify has such a short window of time, it is unlikely to matter.

In conclusion, there is neither clear language nor consensus if it would be possible to resurrect a creature whose soul has been turned into a larva. So, this is up to the DM to rule.

Killed in Hades

What happens if the soul as an insubstantial shade (similar to a Specter) gets destroyed? We do not have consensus answers to guide us. This is up to the DM.

Hades is crawling with larvae. Night hags, liches, and rakshasas harvest them for use in vile rituals. Other fiends like to feed on them.

What happens if the larva gets killed, used in a vile ritual or fed upon, is the soul destroyed forever, or does this free the soul to be resurrected?

There is consensus that larvae count as native to the plane of Hades, even though the soul may have been from another plane originally.

There also is precedent both for demons, and devils (denizens of other lower planes) that they are utterly destroyed when they die on their native plane:

The only way to truly destroy a demon is to seek it in the Abyss and kill it there. (MM p.51)

Devils that die in the Nine Hells are destroyed forever. (MM p. 67).

Do these examples mean that if a larva dies in Hades, it also would be truly destroyed? There is no explicit language about it, so in the end it is up to the DM.

Final Conclusion

For most points we are not able to establish clear answers from Rules as Written or published lore, so they come down to DM to adjucate.

P.S.

For what it is worth, I liked Darth Pseudonyms idea that you can recall a soul that has been made into a lemure or larva, but it will be tainted and what you get back is a corrupted version of the former character; once your soul gets turned into a larva on Hades, there is no way to undo it fully. Maybe one could grant an exception to Wish.

I'll adopt the approach that if you destroy the shade or larva, the soul is gone for good, but before than you can resurrect the tainted soul. This makes Night Hags very tough - one of the few ways to permanently destroy a soul.


  • The question is not limited to the first stage, the bag. Thomas's and MivaScott's answers assume that. Therefore another question was added to address the later stages. This post compiles findings from all related questions, answers and discussions.
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