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I'm new to D&D, but I'm really interested in it. I've been building a character, but I've hit a spot that I'm not sure how to handle: making a human character without a soul.

I was thinking she would have simply never been born with a soul to begin with. I intend for this just to be a character detail that might come up from time to time in the narrative (e.g. if she makes a deal with a demon for her soul, she'd be able to cheat), but I don't have any particular goals with the soullessness.

How does D&D 5e (or even D&D in general) handle souls, and what would be a characteristics of a character who technically doesn't possess one?

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There are several mentions of souls in the rules.

What we learn:

  • the soul can be separated from the body via Astral Projection (Astral Projection)
  • that the soul can leave the body without killing the body (Magic Jar)
  • that after death it continues to exist (Raise Dead, Resurrection, True Resurrection, Reincarnation)
  • that it is not always free to return once dead (ibid.)
  • that it can refuse to return (ibid.)
  • that it can perceive who is attempting to resurrect it (ibid.)
  • that the soul is separate from the "animating spirit" (Speak With Dead)
  • that memories (including languages) are available to the animating spirit in the body separately from the soul (ibid.)
  • that memories in a possessed body are not available to the possessing soul (Magic Jar)
  • Some Monsters are made from Mortal Souls (MM: Demon, Devil, Genie)
  • Vampires' souls are still bound to the body.

Things that being a soulless body apparently prohibits (based upon how Speak With Dead works):

  • Learning anything
  • Cannot comprehend new information

However, we know from Wraiths and Speak With Dead that Animating Spirits can continue an existence.

And it's pretty clear that ....

  • being resurrected, raised, cloned: (which explicitly reunites soul to body in order to function)
  • being subjected to Magic Jar as the primary target.

So...

Implications

If your character truly possesses no soul, then it has something functionally similar; a more powerful animating spirit.

It's pretty clear that it cannot use any of Raise Dead, Resurrection, True Resurrection, Reincarnation, Magic Jar, Clone.

It is implied but not clearly stated that Magic Jar would pretty much automatically take over the soulless body.

It's less clear about Astral Projection, but I'd not allow it, either.

It could be argued that the character would be unable to learn, too... at which point they cease being a good potential PC. Free-willed undead are often soulless.

The character likely can be turned as if undead, and may in fact be undead; if it is undead, perhaps it is even unaware it is undead. If not undead, then it's some form of unsouled life.

Supporting Quotes

from the Player's Basic Rules, v. 0.2

Damage types...

Necrotic. Necrotic damage, dealt by certain undead and some spells, withers matter and even the soul.

Astral Projection:

Your astral body resembles your mortal form in almost every way, replicating your game statistics and possessions. The principal difference is the addition of a silvery cord that extends from between your shoulder blades and trails behind you, fading to invisibility after 1 foot. This cord is your tether to your material body. As long as the tether remains intact, you can find your way home. If the cord is cut—something that can happen only when an effect specifically states that it does—your soul and body are separated, killing you instantly.

Raise Dead:

You return a dead creature you touch to life, provided that it has been dead no longer than 10 days. If the creature’s soul is both willing and at liberty to rejoin the body, the creature returns to life with 1 hit point.

Resurrection:

You touch a dead creature that has been dead for no more than a century, that didn’t die of old age, and that isn’t undead. If its soul is free and willing, the target returns to life with all its hit points.

Speak With Dead:

Until the spell ends, you can ask the corpse up to five questions. The corpse knows only what it knew in life, including the languages it knew. Answers are usually brief, cryptic, or repetitive, and the corpse is under no compulsion to offer a truthful answer if you are hostile to it or it recognizes you as an enemy. This spell doesn’t return the creature’s soul to its body, only its animating spirit. Thus, the corpse can’t learn new information, doesn’t comprehend anything that has happened since it died, and can’t speculate about future events.

True Resurrection:

You touch a creature that has been dead for no longer than 200 years and that died for any reason except old age. If the creature’s soul is free and willing, the creature is restored to life with all its hit points.

Additional Supporting Quotes from the PHB

Clone:

This spell grows an inert duplicate of a living creature as a safeguard against death. […] It remains inert and endures indefinitely, as long as its vessel remains undisturbed.

At any time after the clone matures, if the original creature dies, its soul transfers to the clone, provided that the soul is free and willing to return. The clone is physically identical to the original and has the same personality, memories, and abilities, […]. The original creature's physical remains, if they still exist, become inert and can't thereafter be restored to life, since the creature's soul is elsewhere.

Magic Jar:

Your body falls into a catatonic state as your soul leaves it and enters the container you used for the spell's material component. […] The only action you can take is to project your soul up to 100 feet out of the container, either returning to your living body (and ending the spell) or attempting to possess a humanoids body.

[…] [possession] The target must make a Charisma saving throw. On a failure, your soul moves into the target's body, and the target's soul becomes trapped in the container.

Reincarnate:

You touch a dead humanoid or a piece of a dead humanoid. Provided that the creature has been dead no longer than 10 days, the spell forms a new adult body for it and then calls the soul to enter that body. If the target's soul isn't free or willing to do so, the spell fails.

Transitive Planes:

The Astral Plane is the realm of thought and dream, where visitors travel as disembodied souls to reach the planes of the divine and demonic.

from the Monster Manual

Demon:

Other demons (such as manes) are created from mortal souls shunned or cursed by the gods, or which are otherwise trapped in the Abyss.

and

As long as the demon remains in possession of its host, the soul of that host is in danger of being dragged to the Abyss with the demon if it is exorcised from the flesh, or if the host dies.

Devil:

Lemures. The lowest form of devil, lemures are the twisted and tormented souls of evil and corrupted mortals.

Genie:

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.

A genie usually retains no connection to the soul that gave it form. That life force is a building block that determines the genie's form and apparent gender, as well as one or two key personality traits.

Wraith:

When a mortal humanoid lives a debased life or enters into a fiendish pact, it consigns its soul to eternal damnation in the Lower Planes. However, sometimes the soul becomes so suffused with negative energy that it collapses in on itself and ceases to exist the instant before it can shuffle off to some horrible afterlife. When this occurs, the spirit becomes a soulless wraith-a malevolent void trapped on the plane where it died. Almost nothing of the wraith's former existence is preserved; in this new form, it exists only to annihilate other life.

Other Dribs and Drabs

Vampire:

Afflicted characters have the following options:

[...]

Vampirism. These characters can be cured either by a wish spell cast by a fellow PC (wish is not available as a spellcasting service), or they may be slain and returned to life via raise dead–at the normal cost of 1250gp.

(Adventurer's League FAQ update 5-19-2015)

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    \$\begingroup\$ The PBR quotes are from a document that is available at no charge, and are the bulk. Aside from the end notes, this is pretty consistent with academic fair use levels of quotation. Plus, there's not enough text to actually use the spells the text is quoted from. \$\endgroup\$ – aramis Dec 26 '14 at 9:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ "can't learn anything" should be emphasized a bit more, and it inequivocally means "can't be a PC". \$\endgroup\$ – o0'. Dec 26 '14 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, I understand. It seems that in D&D, souls also serve as a general life force? Anyways, thanks for the info \$\endgroup\$ – Zoey Holman Dec 26 '14 at 16:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ This would imply that a vampire can't learn new information about its surroundings, such as noticing a victim, and would be unable to hunt, &c. That's a bit of a hitch for this synthesis. Which is unfortunate, because it otherwise seems like a nice, solid bit of metaphysics. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 26 '14 at 22:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie there's a difference between cannot perceive and cannot learn. A robot can be programmed to perform complex actions but not actually learn. There are documented cases of people who have no mid-term memory - they cannot remember you after about 5 minutes, cannot learn anything new, but they can access (but not form new) long-term memories, and can function enough to feed themselves. There are fewer, but still documented, cases of no long term memory formation, but still having mid term (5m to 5 hour range) memory working. Again, they don't learn, but do function. \$\endgroup\$ – aramis Jan 2 '15 at 3:02
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A soul doesn't impact the game much. It's mostly a roleplaying detail which your character wouldn't have.

But there is one incredibly important caveat here:

Technically, if you don't have a soul, you can't be resurrected. This is a serious issue, becuase it means that if you die, that's it. Game over, new character.

Normally, this would sound like a really cool way to play and be invested in your character. D&D, hardcore mode! But for your first time, I can't really recommend playing with this kind of handicap.

Note: Unlike the other methods of resurrection, the Revivify spell doesn't actually mention the soul. So it's possible that you can be resurrected even without a soul, if your DM agrees and whoever's resurrecting you gets to you within a minute of you dying. (And they have the spell prepared, a spell slot available, the requisite diamonds, and so on.)

So, for this to work, whatever explanation you come up with for your character's lack of a soul also needs to explain how your character can be resurrected despite not having one. How that works is up to you, I'm guessing you already have some idea of how and why your character lacks a soul.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Best way to view Revivify working is simply stating that it takes about one minute (maybe more) for the soul to leave the body upon death. Consider that the time to brain-death and look at Revivify as an advanced form of CPR. \$\endgroup\$ – Aviose Jan 2 '15 at 15:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ typo in becuase \$\endgroup\$ – Cœur Dec 3 '18 at 13:06
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This isn't precisely what you're asking, but if you're interested in this mainly as a roleplaying detail that doesn't have significant mechanical effects (like not being able to be resurrected), you could play a character who believes she doesn't have a soul for whatever reason.

This would be a great thing to list under the "Personality Traits" section of your character sheet. And as the campaign went on, and you and the DM explore why she thinks that and what effects it has, you can decide later on whether the character is right or not.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 because I like the narrative aspect this goes into. The character might even be found to have more than one soul. like conflicting souls that almost negate each other to explain that "soulless" feeling like a lawful good soul and chaotic evil soul. \$\endgroup\$ – IT Alex Dec 3 '18 at 15:01
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You Being a new player I would suggest working with what’s available at the moment in the players handbook, and maybe other supplements. You have so much to work with already.

If you absolutely want your character to not have a soul work with your DM, they should be the one to help you since they’re the ones that have to deal with the logistics and narrative of your choices.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This would have been a good answer in 2014; they are probably not a new player anymore. :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 3 '18 at 14:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ True but I just came across it my accident so I’m sure other people will to. As a dm I just get a little annoyed when I have a player who tries to do odd things withiut telling me, which usually happens with the new players. They just want to be “different” when they have even played the game yet \$\endgroup\$ – GoopBGone Dec 12 '18 at 9:30

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