This spell from page 104 the Dungeons and Dragons, 3rd Edition supplement Book of Vile Darkness--even more than the spell consume likeness--makes my head hurt. I'd just let it go and find a different spell, but I'm pretty sure it's the lowest-level spell that traps a soul.

Soul Shackles
Necromancy [Evil]
Level: Brd 5, Sor/Wiz 5
Components: V, S, F, Location
Casting Time: 1 [standard] action
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Target: One living creature
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None (see text)
Spell Resistance: Yes

The caster draws out the soul of a dead creature and imprisons it within a specially made talisman. The subject must have had the talisman in his possession when he died, or the spell cannot function.

Henceforth, if the talisman is in the caster’s possession, she can call forth the soul of the subject and question it about what it knew in life for up to 1 round/level each day, asking one question per round. The soul looks as it did in life, including the clothing and equipment it had with it on the day it died. Answers are clear, complete, and precise.

If the subject is hostile, or if the answer to the question was an important secret to it in life, the subject gains a Will saving throw. A successful saving throw indicates that the spell ends and the soul departs to the afterlife.

Focus: The talisman that will be the receptacle for the soul.

Location Component: An area under the effect of a desecrate or unhallow spell.

The Spell's Two Readings

  1. The Dysfunctional Version: The caster slips the talisman in among the future target's possessions. The future target, while he's carrying the talisman, dies in some abrupt and horrible fashion--that certainly had nothing to do with the caster!--while in possession of the talisman. The caster casts the spell soul shackles on the now-dead target, imprisoning the target's soul in the talisman.

    The dysfunction is that the spell, despite never being subject to errata, instead of reading Target: 1 living creature should read Target: 1 dead creature. This makes the spell interesting but not game-changing; the target's saving throw is, essentially, not accepting a gift from an evil wizard. The spell's manageable. Getting any important fellow to carry around something for no apparent reason in D&D 3.5 is a challenge.

    This is how I'd read the spell for a long time. Then, when considering adding the spell into an upcoming Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 campaign, I looked at the spell again and thought Maybe it's not supposed to be played that way. Maybe the spell's doing something that defies my expectations. Thus below's the alternate rules-as-written reading.

  2. The Functional but Wild Version: The caster casts the spell on the target. Later, the caster convinces the target to carry with it the talisman. When the target dies, the target's soul is sucked into the talisman, which the caster retrieves at his leisure.

    Maybe I rejected this rules-as-written reading as too frightening. With no saving throw and 1-standard-action Casting Time, the caster could cast this on anyone or everyone. With its instantaneous duration, there's no aura to give away the spell's effects--the target's soul's fundamentally and forever altered so that instead of the dead target's soul departing the Material Plane, heading through the Astral, and eventually arriving on the plane of its eternal reward the dead target's soul goes into the talisman.

    That is, that's what happens if the creature dies while its carrying the caster's talisman. Nonetheless, the campaign implications are huge.

    Casters might cast the spell on everyone, selling tchotchkes on the cheap from push carts and swiping them from the families of the dead, 'cause, hey, souls--awesome. Dozens of casters might've cast this spell on a single target, and the target may be carrying several talismans; where does the soul go? The instantaneous duration means there's no magic aura to detect on the talisman; a target's soul could be in anything he was carrying when he died, and the only way to find out if the target reached his reward is to ask a god if he's seen the target lately. If the talisman containing the soul's destroyed, and the creature had a different (or the same!) caster's soul shackles spell cast on him before he died, and that different (or same) caster's talisman was in his possession when he died, does the soul enter a new receptacle?

For those who've had experience with this spell, how've you used it? Did you use the spell as written, or did you house rule it? Did the spell change the campaign as much as I imagine it would, or am I overreacting?

Note: I've labeled this question because I'm comfortable with either reading of this spell, and both readings mandate going beyond the text.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ An alternative that bypasses the issue is to dump the spell and introduce a brand-new one with the same name and details but with the target line rewritten; essentially, errata'ing it yourself. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 5, 2014 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I like to figure out how something works before I change how something works. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 5, 2014 at 19:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's fair! In this case though, it's a matter of intended effect rather than interactions, so it's far less important/useful to suss it out any more than you already have. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 5, 2014 at 19:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to confuse things still further, I would interpret the talisman requirement differently; I think the talisman is meant to be constructed after the subject's death out of something carried by the subject. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6, 2014 at 1:37

5 Answers 5


Like many things in the BoVD, yes, this spell is horribly dysfunctional. There's no rules coverage for a lot of obvious consequences of the spell's use, and what rules there are are at best unclear and at worst contradictory.

Focusing on the part of the spell text that deals with the actual casting and not the aftermath:

Soul Shackles
Necromancy [Evil]
Level: Brd 5, Sor/Wiz 5
Components: V, S, F, Location
Casting Time: 1 [standard] action
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Target: One living creature
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None (see text)
Spell Resistance: Yes

The caster draws out the soul of a dead creature and imprisons it within a specially made talisman. The subject must have had the talisman in his possession when he died, or the spell cannot function.


Focus: The talisman that will be the receptacle for the soul.

Location Component: An area under the effect of a desecrate or unhallow spell.

If we try to extract from that the circumstances under which the spell can be cast...

As per standard spellcasting requirements, the caster must:

  • speak the verbal and act out the somatic components of the spell
  • possess the focus (the talisman)
  • be in the required location (the Desecrated area)
  • spend a standard action (the casting time)

The target needs to be:

  • within 25+(5 per 2 levels) feet
  • be a single living creature

The talisman:

  • must be in your possession on casting, as you're using it as a focus
  • must have been in the target's possession when it died, despite the fact the spell must be cast on a living target

So, as written, this only works on a single living creature that has previously died with the talisman in their possession, but who is now alive; and the caster has to be nearby, with the talisman and stood in a Desecrated area. That's obviously silly, and not how the spell is meant to work. Although the spell isn't completely impossible to use as written, it's nonsensical garbage - it effectively works as a Trap the Soul with no save against anyone living if the caster possesses a talisman the victim held the last time they died (i.e. it only works on people who have previously died and been resurrected).

What I think this is meant to do:

I'm generally in agreement with your first reading. The immediate contradiction between "Target: 1 living creature" and the first sentence of the description calling the victim "a dead creature" seals it as an error for me.

The second reading is pretty much ruined by the use of the past tense in the text - "The subject must have had the talisman in his possession when he died, or the spell cannot function" - which places the target's death chronologically before the casting of the spell can take place. The talisman focus required to cast the spell is only complete once the target dies while holding it, and without it "the spell cannot function".

I think this spell was meant to be a lower-level version of the second usage of Trap the Soul (in which you trick someone into touching a prepared vessel, and it sucks their soul out), with the attendant extra restrictions and casting hurdles because it's level 5. In this case, you're meant to somehow get them to hold the talisman (reverse pickpocketing, disguise it as loot, a Sympathy spell, etc), then kill them in a Desecrated area while they still have it and quickly cast this spell on their corpse to trap them. You could also force the talisman onto an uncooperative enemy or sacrifice while they're restrained, then kill them to trap their soul with this.

How I would fix this broken mess:

First, change the target line to "1 dead creature (see text)". Add extra specifications to the text limiting the time the creature is allowed to be dead for (probably something like 1 minute/level), and specify that the target must also be in a Desecrated area.

Second, add some sort of description of how one prepares the talisman, and what forms it can take. I'd probably go for any object with some small gp cost for the process (something like a 1 hour ritual, one talisman per ritual, max simultaneously prepared talismans equal to level), and make it radiate faint Necromancy once "prepared" (presumably the caster would go to some effort to hide that, otherwise it's a potential tip-off for the victim).

Third, add extra rules describing what happens if the Talisman is destroyed or damaged - "the spell ends and the soul departs to the afterlife", as with a successful saving throw (or, if a victim hasn't yet been trapped, the spell simply ends). That plus the revised target requirements eliminates the possibility of one person being affected by multiple spells, as only one spell can affect their corpse initially (it's instant, and after the first cast there's no soul left to trap - if they had multiple talismans on them, the Necromancers responsible will have to race to be the first to cast this spell on the body) and once the soul is in the talisman it'll be outside this spell's targeting restrictions.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If it wasn't so hard to get the amulet back, I would give an amulet to all my servants, so that I can ask them what wrecked my dastardly plans. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Jan 11, 2016 at 17:16

I think your interpretation 2 is correct, but that it is breaking because you are being overly liberal in your interpretation.

Specially Made Talisman

I think the biggest issue is your interpretation of this line:

imprisons it within a specially made talisman.

Your "broken" scenario goes on to talk about:

Casters might cast the spell on everyone, selling tchotchkes on the cheap from push carts and swiping them from the families of the dead

And I believe this is incorrect. You can't use any random tchotchke you want, it needs to be a specific "thing." The average villager can safely buy a spork without worrying about losing his soul. It's only when he goes in to shop for a talisman specially made to trap souls that he needs to worry.

Sure, this guys might have a problem:

Benny from The Mummy with many holy symbols

But your average village-person or adventurer? Less so.

So what exactly is a talisman? According to the dictionary:

an object, typically an inscribed ring or stone, that is thought to have magic powers and to bring good luck.

Yes, there is an English-language interpretation of "specially made talisman" that supports your scenario:

"This is my lucky spork. I think it's magic (because I'm casting spells into it). It's even inscribed (with a smiley face). Therefore it's a talisman. I made it with love, therefore it's 'specially made.'

"This is my lucky shot glass..."

But I think that if you're being that lax in your sentence parsing, any brokenness is on you :)

Casting Spells

You're also neglecting that the caster has to cast the spell, while holding the specific talisman that he's going to give the victim. This means the caster has to speak an incantation, while making measured and precise hand movements, while looking at the victim (perhaps through a peep hole?), and standing in a desecrated area.

Clearly, push carts are right out. What's the DC to hear an incantation through a cart wall? How many peasants on average before someone lucks into that DC with their +0 Wis?

I guess you could go the other way. You could cast the spell before the person walks up to your cart (you'll still need something enclosed). Then do the whole "this specific one is calling to you!"

Because that isn't creepy at all.


And that's not all! Once you handle the logistics of actually getting the spell cast and the talisman in the victim's hands, you still don't see any benefit until the victim dies. Which is probably not going to be for another 20-40-some-odd years (unless you intervene).

Sure, you could create some massive tchotchke-selling murder conspiracy. But at that point, wouldn't it be a lot easier (and safer for you) to just kidnap people?

Using the Spell

The case the spell (at least as written) appears to address is a ritualistic sacrifice. It goes something like this.

  • You have captured your victim, bound him, and taken him to your vile temple. He is helpless.

  • You cast this spell on him.

  • You give him the talisman.

  • You murder him (probably ritualistically).

There is a secondary use that seems reasonably plausible:

  • You gain access to the victim (perhaps by being an evil vizier).

  • You cast the spell on him (either by having a dark altar somewhere within sight of the victim, or magic item cheese).

  • Your accomplice slips the talisman into the victim's belongings.

  • You arrange for your victim to have a little "accident."

  • Continue your schemes, because this is a lot of infrastructure to use just for the acquisition of one soul.


Other than the lack of definition about what a "specially made talisman" is (and how marketable it is), the main ambiguity you're going to run into is what happens if multiple people cast the spell on a single target.

For that, you're kind of on your own. There are a lot of options, but I'm not aware of anything that elevates one above the others. Pick the one that's most interesting for your campaign:

  • First cast wins.

  • Last cast wins.

  • Soul chains from one talisman to another from last to first (improbable, but could be fun).

  • Soul chains from one talisman to another from first to last (improbable, but could be fun).

  • As above, but "first" and "last" are defined by when the victim gained possession of the talisman.


I don't think this spell is particularly dysfunctional at all.

While in a desecrated area, you cast the spell on a living creature, and get the talisman into their possession. Henceforth, when the creature dies, it will (so long as it has the talisman in its possession) have its soul trapped in the talisman.

There are two ways to accomplish this chain of events in a straight-forward fashion. 1) The sapient-sacrifice scenario as described by AceCalhoun. (Kidnap the victim, take them to your lair, cast the spell, tuck the talisman into their belt, and kill them.) 2) Cast the spell on a knowing (and willing) participant, perhaps an agent, who understands what they're getting into. (The talisman will be fetched or otherwise returned to your possession by other agents, either in the same team, or sent after the fact.)

Any other scenario stands the very obvious risk of the talisman and the target becoming separated prior to, and not reunited by, their time of death. 1) Knowing, unwilling target: discards the talisman at the earliest possible convenience, probably into a bonfire or a forge, ensuring its destruction. 2) Unknowing, willing target: Could become separated by chance, and unable to retrieve the talisman before their death. 3) Unknowing, unwilling target: Could become separated (as above), and if they become aware of the purpose of the talisman, they toss it into the nearest forge (as above).

Seeing as how this is a spell from the Book of Vile Darkness, it's pretty clear that this is intended to be used for unwilling sacrifice, or agent-of-evil scenarios.

In a high-enough level game (ie: where minions or lieutenants can cast 5th level spells), this could be a spell used by agents of evil, trapping chosen souls, and returning them to their master, who uses their knowledge against his enemies.


Rules as Written

You can, essentially, replicate the effects of Speak With Dead 1 round/level each day.

House Ruling

Let the player use it as a wondrous item that allows the effect described above. As far as further soul manipulation, allow a Will saving throw. Examples of soul manipulation can be to offsetting xp costs for magic items creation, traded as extra-planar currency, golem creation, etc.

Personal Experience

I have never used , nor heard of anyone ever using, Soul Shackles.


Yep, That's the lowest level spell to trap a soul.

But it has some serious limitations that are required in order to emulate an 8th level spell such as Trap the soul and each one of those has to be cast in preparation to trap the soul or else the spell fails. The way I interpret it is thus:

First off, and probably the hardest to fulfill is the Desecrate or Unhallow requirement. The area that the target is in when they die has to be under the effects of one of those two spells. The problem therein lies that those spells are Wizard spells ( and in the latter instance, druid spells ), and they would have to have either a Cleric to cast the spell.

In the instance of Desecrate, the area will be under the effects for at most 18 hours ( using a 9th level cleric since the Wizard casting has to be at least 9th level to cast Soul Shackles ) With Unhallow the spell lasts for a year though which gives leeway, even if it does take 24 hours to cast. But without this component the soul will not be sucked into the Talisman.

Second, The spell draws the soul from a creature who had the talisman on his body at the time of death. The person casting the spell has to have a way to get an object onto his target at some point during the game ( Which could be easy, just wrap it around a shiny doodad and throw it in a treasure pile. Or cast an illusion on the talisman to make it look like a shiny. Or slide it into a book and give the book to a PC. The talisman can take any form since it isn't described in the spell description. )

This one is not that hard to fulfill. PCs are notoriously weak against shinies.

The last requirement is that the spell is cast while the target is alive, according to rules-as-written. Then, afterwards, when the target dies ( staying alive is their saving throw, if you're dead technically you don't have a will save, because you're dead, and therefore have no will. ) So the situation I'm thinking of is this:

The big bad finds a method with which to slip a talisman disguised as a gemstone into a PC's inventory, so that fulfills the second criteria. Second, The Big bad has either a cleric minion or an evil druid cast the spell to desecrate his fortress. That fulfills the first requirement.

The last requirement can be done as soon as the PC steps into his desecrated wizards tower, evil cave, doomcastle or wherever your big bad has made his lair, he casts the spell. Once this happens all three criteria have been completed. If the PC dies at any time during the trek to his dangerous inner sanctum the soul will be trapped inside the talisman. If the Wizard enchants the Talisman he could use a spell to get it to him somehow most likely, until the PCs can recover the soul of their ally, but that's how I perceive the spell to function.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Which reading are you using or are these your house rules? The rules-as-written version requires the spell to be cast while in an area affected by the spell desecrate--accomplished on the cheap by a ring of desecration--but, after the spell's cast, the soul gets vacuumed into the talisman (if the talisman's in the target's possession) regardless of where the target dies. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 5, 2014 at 6:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's house rules. The Rules as written don't really make a lot of sense to be frank. Sorry I didn't clarify. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sandwich
    Oct 6, 2014 at 23:20

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