Devils make contracts with mortals. It's what they do. In D&D, this has always been a pretty vague thing in terms of how the rules work. But now, in 5th edition, we have some pretty concrete rules that can be used to make contracts be a more involved and integral part of a D&D campaign.
I'm going to go over the official 5e rules for infernal contracts, the Pathfinder rules, and the rules in a 5e DMs Guild product called "A Guide to Infernal Contracts" to see if I can understand them, and to compare them and see which set of rules work best. Here are the products this information comes from:
- Devil's Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contracts
- Pathfinder Adventure Path 101 - The Kintargo Contract
- Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus
Descent into Avernus Appendix A: Diabolical Deals
Check out page 212. This is the official 5e Infernal Contract info. Who can make contracts?
- Lemures and Nupperibos can't make contracts.
- Lesser & Greater devils can't make deals outside of the Nine Hells unless very specific conditions are involved (truenames and/or devil talismans).
Price: Soul, fealty, or a service (see pg 213)
Haggling: Charisma checks don't work on devils.
- Devils can try to make Deception checks vs. the character's Insight.
- Slip in an extra clause: Character who can read Infernal makes an Investigation vs. the devil's Deception.
Breaching the Contract: If the character fails to pay the price specified in the contract, they'll suffer the penalty listed in the contract. That includes forfeiture of the soul when the character dies, or losing all monetary wealth, etc.
Voiding a Contract: Voiding a contract releases all parties from the deal, no strings attached. The devil and the character can agree to this. The devil summons the contract with an action, and then it crumbles to dust once both parties agree to void.
Devils will want compensation for this. They might want soul coins, gold, sacrifices, or an artifact.
Charms: On page 215, the book lists charms that archdevils might us as gifts for mortals. These are really good. There's a charm of agelessness, a charm that lets you summon a horned devil that serves you for 9 days, all sorts of stuff.
Pathfinder Adventure Path 101 - The Kintargo Contract
In the back of this book on page 63, there is a section that describes the Pathfinder rules for infernal contracts.
In Pathfinder 1st edition, there are "contract devils," also known as phistopiluses. Most devils can make infernal contracts.
Negotiating: The devil provides whatever the mortal requests, and in exchange receives the mortal's immortal soul, to be delivered to the devil at the moment of the mortal's death. "Some devils, like pit fiends, can grant wishes, effectively giving a mortal almost anything she desires..."
Price: Devils usually want a soul, but sometimes accept an artifact or the murder of 1,000 innocents (!), stuff like that.
Creating the Contract: Contract devils have the ability to magically create a contract. Other devils use an intermediary, someone in Hell who makes it for them. Creation times range from days to months (later on in this section, there are special contracts listed, each with its own creation time).
Some devils travel to Dis (the second level of Hell) and train in the making of contracts. They gain a feat called "Infernal Legist."
One note in the listing of this feat: "As long as the infernal contract remains in effect, the victim cannot be restored to life after death save by a miracle or wish."
Knowledge Points: All infernal contracts have a "knowledge point" score. These act in a way similar to Hit Points.
Researching a Contract: Reading an infernal contract can take hours or days.
To research a contract, a character needs to make a Linguistics check. This takes 8 hours of uninterrupted research. Up to two characters can aid another on the check.
Success on a check: This is a little complicated. Succeeding reduces the knowledge point score. Bards reduce the score by 1d12 + their INT modifier. Other classes have lower results.
If a character reduces the knowledge point score to 0, they discover a flaw that could allow for an early termination in the contract. A mortal could exploit the loophole to terminate the contract. Sample loopholes appear on the contracts listed on pages 66-67.
Failing two checks in a row causes the researcher to hit a dead end, and no more attempts can be made. The researcher has misunderstood the contract's terms!
Escaping an Infernal Contract: When a contract is signed, two copies manifest. One goes to the mortal, one goes to the devil. Mortals can do whatever they want with their copy. Devils generally either keep them close at hand, store them in vaults, or file them away in a secure facility in Hell (usually in Dis, the 2nd level of Hell).
Transferring a Contract: Sometimes a devil can be convinced to adjust a contract so that it applies to a different mortal, if the other mortal consents to take it on.
Destroying a Contract: If both copies are destroyed, the contract tends. If the mortal signee has died and their soul is already in Hell, the soul remains in Hell unless some bold adventurer goes down there and rescues them.
Sample Contracts: Each contract has a hidden condition, a termination clause, a complexity score, and more. The complexity score calculates the DC for the research checks. The contracts are also given a CR score to represent how powerful they are in comparison to one another.
I'm going to talk generally about what each contract does, but I don't want to spoil them by revealing their hidden conditions and termination clauses. So here's a light overview.
- Pact of Blood Taking: The mortal gains the ability to deliver bleeding wounds that are difficult to be healed magically. The signee can't regain hit points through natural healing!
- Shadow Coin Bargain: The mortal can speak with shadows and can see in darkness. Once per week, the mortal must kill a sentient creature and leave a platinum coin in its mouth. Failing to do so means the mortal's soul is damned.
- Vow of Heartrime: The mortal stops appearing to age, gains immunity to cold damage. Don't need to eat or drink, just consume 1 gallon of ice each day. The area around the mortal is always 10 degrees colder and any liquid on their person freezes in 1 minute.
- Curse of the Ever-Soul: The mortal gains 1,000 years of life, can speak every language (and can speak with animals). The signee must sacrifice 100 sentient mortal lives to Asmodeus within 1 year of the signing, otherwise the payment becomes the signee's mortal soul.
It's more complicated and is a real wall of text for me, but if you take the time to dig through it, and absorb each piece, it can add a ton to a game.
Devil's Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contracts
This is going to be a review as well as an information hunt. I love the cover. We start off learning about some contractual terms:
- Signatory/Signee: Creature that signs a contract.
- Drafter: The devil making the contract.
- Contract Administrator: The party that offers the contract (usually the devils).
- Agent: A devil working on behalf of a higher-ranking devil.
- Benefactor: The higher-ranking devil.
Consideration: Both the devil and the mortal must incur some burden to have a valid contract. Otherwise, the offer is a gift, and devils don't give gifts.
Life-years: Sometimes, instead of giving up their soul, a mortal can agree to sign away a portion of their remaining mortality. The signee must serve a fiend for that amount of time once they have died. Once the time is up, the soul is free to proceed to its original planar destination.
Offers: Identify the number of life-years that the signee is putting up. Then consult the Offers table on page 9.
On the table, the offers are ranked by tier. The smallest rewards are things like succeeding on an attack roll (costing up to 10% of your life-years) to casting resurrection without components (costing up to 99% of your life-years).
One thing I really like is that higher level characters who hand over their souls can get different things than lower level characters.
- Heroes of level 10 and under can gain levels, boost ability scores, or undo the deaths of multiple creatures.
- Heroes of level 11 or over can "undo a TPK," Boost an ability score to its maximum, or resurrect a creature that died in the past millenia.
Fine Print: Heroes can scour the fine print with Arcana, History, or Investigation. The DC varies, ranging anywhere from 15 to 25+. There is a list of possible entries in the fine print. One I like: "The benefit conferred upon the character is taken from someone else."
Acceptance: Signing the deal might include a toast, leaving an infernal tattoo on the signee's skin, or other entries on the "devil clinches" table.
Collection: "It's common for a signee to struggle or attempt an escape when their time runs out." Devils sometimes send "collection agents" to go deal with the mortal. What an awesome idea! There are three types:
- Baggers: Tall, gangly devils who go get the signee and stick them in a magic sack.
- Bloodhounds: Hell hounds that have been magically altered by Mephistopheles so that they can sniff through illusions and magical non-detection.
- Handlers: Devils who vary in appearance, the quintessential collection agents.
Appendix A has stats for the Collection agents. The "bloodhound" hell hound has this power: Planar Tracker. The bloodhound knows the most direct path to a tracked creature. If the creature is not on the same plane of existence as the bloodhound, it knows the closest arcane portal to that plane.
Right at the end, there is a sample contract.
This is an AMAZING DMs Guild product. The idea of collection agents is so great. It boggles my mind that nobody has come up with it before!
I'm not totally sold on the idea of life-years. It's a little confusing. I think I'll stick with handing over your soul, for the most part.
I still love the Pathfinder rules, but I think going forward in my games I'll use a hybrid of all three books to depict my contracts. The DMs Guild book has tons of extremely useful details. It really spells out the whole concept in a way that is inspiring and easy to digest.