Possession is a serious condition that is performed by powerful creatures like fiends and celestials and some undead and fey. Certain spells and powers can also allow its user to possess a target, such as magic jar, but those instances should follow the guidelines presented in the description of the particular spell or power.
In order to possess a target, a creature with the ability to possess a target, called a possessor, has certain conditions it must meet described in its stat block. Many creatures are only capable of possessing one type of target, such as a creature or object. A possessed target is called a host.
Possession requires a target creature to make a Charisma saving throw against the possession save DC of the possessor. In cases where an object is possessed, merely holding the host object can subject a creature to the influence of the possessor.
Note: Possession isn’t a mechanic to use lightly. In many cases it removes agency from a player character, and in some cases can permanently remove a player character from play.
If you use possession in your campaign, it is recommended to restrict interactions with the player characters to rider, influencer, and puppeteer possessors. Usurper possessors can be powerful narrative tools but require more effort by both the DM and the players to integrate well in a campaign.
Under most circumstances, there is no way to know if a target is possessed. Normally, detection occurs when a host behaves oddly or against its core values. A skilled possessor knows how to mimic its host to avert suspicion.
In some cases, a possessor can create a spiritfont which it has complete control over. This can help to identify if a host is possessed, but can easily be mistaken as a normal spiritfont likely attached to an object. Some classes have features to reveal possession, and some spells and powers can also reveal it.
When a possessor has been identified, it will use every means at its disposal to regain its hidden status, including the removal of a creature which detected it, ideally without further revealing its presence.
Freeing a Host
Once a possession has been identified a possessor can be removed from its host through certain spells, powers, or class features. Attempting its removal will make the possessor hostile toward those attempting its removal.
- Reducing a host to 0 hit points or destroying it will drive a possessor out. A possessor driven out this way may immediately act.
- A wish spell can outright remove a possessor, returning it to its body or forcing it into its physical form. The creature must make a Charisma saving throw against the caster’s save DC. If it succeeds, its host remains possessed.
- The Channel Divinity and Banish Spirits class features and dispel evil and good can be used to drive a possessor from a host. The caster or manifester becomes locked in a battle of wills with the possessor for up to 1 minute. Each round, the possessor must make a Wisdom saving throw against the caster or manifester’s save DC. If the possessor fails three saving throws, it is forcibly removed from the host. The possessing creature is stunned for the next round and can’t attempt to repossess the host again for 24 hours. If the possessor fails less than three saves, it remains within its host and is immune to further attempts by the caster or manifester to remove it for 24 hours.
- A remove curse spell applied to a possessed object that is affecting a creature it, allows the host to make its saving throws to resist the possessor with advantage for 10 minutes.
- If the ground around the host is under the effect of forbiddance, hallow, magic circle, or a similar effect, the possessor makes its saving throw to resist being removed at disadvantage.
While it possesses a host, the possessor has some resistance to effects that normally can target it. In most cases, the host takes all damage directed at it or the possessor, except psychic damage that explicitly targets the possessor. A possessed object is considered magical for the purposes of taking damage.
The possessor normally has access to its host’s memories, and is able to recall anything its host knows as readily as the host. The host can make a Wisdom saving throw against the possessor’s possession save DC to prevent the creature from reading its memory or surface thoughts for 1 minute.
The possessor also has complete knowledge of the host’s capabilities, including proficiencies, spells, powers, and class features. It can use any of the possessed creature’s senses. When possessing an object, the possessor has blindsight up to 60 feet unless otherwise indicated.
Whenever a host must make an Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma saving throw, the possessor can substitute its own saving throw modifier instead.
When the possessor isn’t controlling its host, it can use any psionic power or psychic trait it has on its turn, and may have access to certain other traits, including innate spellcasting, as described in the creature’s description. If the possessor creates a spiritfont, it can use the spiritfont’s actions as a lair action.
Types of Possession
A possessor has a type of possession it can perform which determines what actions, if any, it can make a host take, and how a host can resist. These rules are for possession in general, and a creature may have more specific rules in its stat block which you should defer to when there is a contradiction with the rules.
The most basic form of possession, the rider simply uses its host as a form of transport. A rider is still aware of its host’s perceptions or surroundings and can read its host’s mind, but is incapable of influencing the host short of a psionic power or other ability it can use while possessing a target. If the rider has telepathic abilities it can communicate with its host.
A rider may be a spirit or creature simply seeking to be transported to another location or to be delivered to a specific target. A rider can also serve as an effective spy or infiltrator.
An influencer is a type of possessor that has means to convince a host to do its bidding. Often this is through threat of pain, or by using its abilities to cause harm to others close to its host. This type of possessor will have spells, powers, or traits that allow it to manipulate its host. An influence may also use the promise of reward as a temptation to compel its host.
While possessing an object, an influencer can attempt to influence a creature which carries or wears the object or one within 15 feet of it.
An influencer can communicate with its host or a creature it can influence. Whispers that only the host can hear are most common, but telepathy is preferred if the creature has the ability. A possessor may also need to rely on audible speech, but is cautious to do so only when its host is alone.
Rather than convince a host, the puppeteer uses telekinesis to directly control its host. The puppeteer shares the same initiative count as its host or a creature holding or wearing its object host, taking its turn before its target.
A puppeteer can attempt to pilot its target at the start of its turn. The target must make a Strength (in the case of telekinesis) or Constitution (in the case of body control) saving throw against the possessor’s possession save DC. If the save is failed, the puppeteer can move and act using the creature’s actions. It uses the host’s movement speed and its weapons, but can’t use the host’s spells, powers, or class features. When it makes an attack via the host, it makes a melee or ranged power attack using its possession ability modifier + its proficiency bonus, and it can only make one attack during the turn unless its description indicates otherwise. While the puppeteer is in control, the host is incapacitated.
When possessing an object the puppeteer can either attempt to control a creature holding or wearing the object in the same way it can a direct host. Additionally, it can animate the object as if under the animate object spell or puppetry power. It uses possession ability modifier and proficiency bonus to determine its attack and damage roll modifiers. A host object gains the hover trait and a flying speed of 40 feet.
A usurper acts like a rider until such time as it exerts control over its host. It shares the same turn initiative count as its host or a creature holding or wearing its object host, taking its turn before its target.
The usurper can attempt to control its target as an action. The host must make a Wisdom saving throw against the possessor’s possession save DC. If the save is failed, the host is fully under the control of the possessor for the duration of the usurper’s possession trait, which is usually 10 minutes. At the start of each of it turns, the host makes a new saving throw, which, if successful, permits the creature to act normally until the start of its next turn. If the host succeeds three such saves in a row, the possessor loses control and can’t exert control over its host for 10 minutes for every Charisma bonus the host has (minimum 10 minutes).
The usurper can use any of the host’s abilities, including spells, powers, magical items, and class features. It can make any action the host could normally make, as well as any of its own actions and legendary actions provided it has the equipment to do so. If it has access to lair actions, it can also use them, including on turns when the host shakes its control.
Controller. A controller is a special type of usurper. Once it possesses a host or succeeds in influencing a creature holding or wearing its host object, a controller always succeeds in its attempt to exert control over its target. Its target never makes an automatic saving throw to regain control, and the host must be freed from possession to regain control.
Transformation. Exceptionally virulent possessor may transform its host into another creature. If this transformation is complete, the host is lost, with either its soul dying or it becoming a monster. Only a wish spell or act of divine intervention can rescue a creature from such a transformation.
Possessing a target requires an action or a period of time of concentration. Additionally, certain conditions may also be required for the possessor or its target to meet, such as a hit point threshold or status condition. A possessor can abandon a host as an action. If the rules a creature uses to possess a target is different than the rules presented here, use the rules in the creature’s description.
A possessor might transform into a spirit form, and disappear, being fully subsumed within its host. If it is forced out of or exits its host, it will automatically reform its body in the nearest unoccupied space.
Alternately, a possessor might project its consciousness into its host. Its normal body will enter a state of suspended animation. If its body is attacked, it is immediately aware and can use its reaction to eject itself from its host and return to its body. Such a possessor tends to go to lengths to protect its physical form. When expelled from its host or exiting it of its own will, a remote possessor instantly returns to its body, even if its body is on another plane of existence.
While possessing a host, a possessor might have the ability to create a spiritfont by using its action or spending time. The creature’s stat block will describe if it can take this action. The spiritfont is centered on its host. A creature can typically only create a number of spiritfonts equal to its possession ability bonus.
A possessor may also have the ability to assume control of existing spiritfonts within a given area. If it gains control of a spiritwell, it also gains control of each connected spiritfont.
If a creature can create a spiritfont, the spiritfont’s range is equal to 30 + five times its possession ability modifier feet. If the spiritfont is created while possessing a host, it can be centered on the host, moving with the host. Otherwise it can be created at any space with 30 feet of the creature.
If a creature is ever more than 100 feet from the outer range of its spiritfont it controls, the spiritfont will disappear if it was created by the creature or become uncontrolled after one hour. If the creature returns in range before that time, it can reestablish control.
A possessor which has control of at least one spiritfont is capable of using the spiritfont’s actions as a lair action. It can also awaken or render dormant each spiritfont it controls of its choice during its turn by taking a bonus action.
Certain traits are also available to a creature while possessing a host. These can be used as normal and are indicated in its stat block. A possessor may also be able to exert control over its host as described by its type above.