They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!’ For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
LUK8 26-29 (NIV)
Demons could look like anything. If you examine the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, for example, you'll see that his demons are downright surreal. Other old depictions often give them cloven hooves and/or fur from the waist down, like a Satyr. Depictions of demons can run the gamut from humanoid to angelic to eldritch abomination.
According to the “confessions” of those who have been tortured into "admitting" they are witches (and/or had sex with a demon), demons often have icy cold bodies, black skin, and weigh more than humans. If such Demons also sometimes appear as animals, usually all black specimens, such as the traditional black cats as a Witch's Familiar. (Of course, confessions given under duress of torture might not have any truth to them.)
A lot of movies and tv shows depict them with horns, wings, and claws. Often the body is an odd color, like bright red, deathly gray, or lustrous black. When it's gray, they look a little reminiscent of medieval gargoyles. Most of the demons on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it's imitators are pretty much Rubber Forehead Alien or People In Rubber Suits.
It's also pretty common to see Demons depicted as looking like, or inhabiting humans. Due to tropes like Evil is Sexy and Horny Devils, this will often result in a demon that wears a slinky dress, S&M leathers, or a stylish business suit. When angered or on the prowl, however, they may manifest fangs or femme fatalons, or just Glowing Eyes of Doom. See Glamour Failure for more ideas on demons that can almost pass for human.
With or without wings, demons are often depicted as being capable of flight. As a spirit, they may be able to turn Invisible or Intangible. Many demons have potent combat powers, sometimes including pyrokinesis (see also hellfire). But the most universal power ascribed to demons is the ability to tempt, seduce, influence or possess. Some can grant wishes, or bargain for power, but there's always strings attached.
Demons in Religion:
In Christian Demonology, a Demon is specifically a Fallen Angel. Lucifer rebelled against heaven, and was cast down by the armies of God (which were lead by the Archangel Michael). In the New Testament, Jesus drives out demons left and right. In more recent times, mere mention of the name of Jesus is often depicted as enough to at least force a demon to reveal itself, if not flee. “The Power Of Christ Compels Thee” is a useful (and memorable) line to insert into your game.
Of course, if a PC is going to do this, some measure of religious faith (perhaps even true faith) may be a good idea:
Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?’ Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
ACT19: 14-16 (NIV)
The term demon predates Christianity by several centuries, however, and did not always mean what it does now. Demons fall into two categories in the Hebrew Bible, the se'irim and the shedim. The term “demon” was also employed by Hesiod, Plato, and Xenocrates to refer to various spirits and weaker gods (the actual Greek word daimon meaning a spiritual being without indicating any particular moral affiliation). Some elements of the demon concept in Judaism and Christianity originated in Zoroastrianism. In addition, many of the demons mentioned in religious works of Judaism and Christianity share the names of various gods of other religions and mythologies.
Demons and Devils:
In settings with a Multiverse full of numerous Planes of Existence, and/or systems that care a lot about Character Alignment, you may find a functional or thematic difference between Demons and Devils. In such a case, often the Devils are the Legions of Hell, a Lawful Evil army in the service of Satan, in contrast to the Chaotic Evil demons. Another fairly common take is that devils are focused on evil, whereas demons are focused on chaos.
Lately, some media (Buffy, for example) have popularized the notion of a Demon not necessarily being evil. These recent films and shows are not the originators of such a concept, however, as both Hesiod and Shakespeare depicted some “good” demons. The terms Daemon, Daimon or Eudaimon is sometimes used to refer to such spirits, to distinguish them from the fallen angel types. However, Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40k use Daemon to mean Demon (or perhaps Demon In Space), so you can't always assume the alternate spelling actually means a darned thing (etymologically, daemon is simply the Latinized version of daimon).
Interpretations and Classifications
- Classification of demons
- Hierarchy of Demons
- Christian Demonology
- List of theological demons
- List of fictional demons
- Archdemon – a demon that leads other demons, parallel to an archangel
- Asuras – can mean demigod or anthropomorphic demon in Hindu Mythology
- Azazel – half-goat demon from the Hebrew Bible
- Devils – see Demons & Devils section, above
- Fylgja – a supernatural animal or woman from Norse Mythology that relates to your fate. Can be a guardian spirit, or a herald of death.
- Imp – mischevious demon, sometimes very small
- Incubus - male demon that rapes or seduces women. May also be a Succubus, thanks to shape-shifting
- Jinn – also known as Genie or djinn, from Arabic Mythology.
- Mazikim - a Hebrew term for harmful spirits or demons, but often meaning the corrupted soul of a dead, evil person.
- Nephilim – From The Bible, either half-angels, half-giants, or descendants of Caine.
- Nightmare - a hellish horse, gender notwithstanding.
- Oni – monster of Japanese Mythology, sometimes translated as demon, devil, ogre, or troll
- Pishachas - cannibalistic demons of Hindu Mythology
- Rakshasas - belligerent, shapechanging terrestrial demons of Hindu Mythology
- Se'irim – hairy wilderness spirits from the Hebrew Bible, similar to a Satyr.
- Shayātīn – an evil devil or jinn from Islamic lore. Made from the light of fire.
- Shedim – from the Hebrew Bible, but based on mesopotamian mythology
- Succubus - Female demon that seduces men. May also be an Incubus since it's usually a shapeshifter
- Vampire – traditionally not a demon, but thanks to Buffy…
- Vetalas - bat-like spirits of Hindu Mythology
- Angel Face Demon Face
- Anthropomorphic Personification
- Deal with the Devil
- Demon Head
- Demon Lords And Archdevils
- Demon Slaying
- Demonic Dummy
- Demonic Invaders
- Demonic Possession
- The Devil
- Glamour Failure
- Hellish Horse
- Horny Devils
- The Legions of Hell
- Noble Demon
- Our Demons Are Different
- Rebel Against The Devil
- Red Right Hand
- Speak of the Devil
- Ultimate Evil
Demons In Science, Psychiatry, and Philosophy
- Maxwell's Demon
- Descartes’ malicious demon
- Laplace's demon
- Morton's demon
- In Glimpses of the Devil, A Psychiatrist's Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption, M. Scott Peck explores the notion that some mental disorders may actually be demonic possession. He started such research trying to debunk possession, and saw things that convinced him it was real.
Demons in the News
- Event: Dyatlov Pass Incident
- Event/News: Demons Hit School
- News: Are You Evil? Profiling That Which Is Truly Wicked
- Daemon (mythology)
- Darvaza Gas Crater
- Dictionnaire Infernal
- Folk devil
- Knights Templar
- Mythological Characters
- Mythological Creatures
- Shadow People
- Spiritual warfare
Game and Story Use
- Demons make perfect villains - there's no doubt (in most settings) they're evil, and they come with a pretty wicked back story. May serve as the Big Bad, or a conjured demon may be The Dragon.
- Demonic Possession makes it easy to insert a misleading villain that is not what he seems. Either an ally who gets possessed mid-campaign, or an obvious villain who looks like one creature or trope, but has a diabolically sinister secret.
- With the right players, you could even have a PC who starts possessed.
- See also the episode of Joss Whedon's Angel in which possession turns out to be the least of the "victim"'s problems…
- When backed into a corner, some PCs might be willing to deal with the devil. Unless the game has cheap resurrection, there might not be any disadvantage to the players for selling their characters souls.
- On the other hand, a sneaky GM may just figure out how to make the drawbacks kick in while you're still alive.
- Deadlands combines the resurrection with the deal with the devil. Sometimes a dead hero comes back as a Harrowed, a sporadically-possessed form of undead. You still get to play the character, but there's a constant struggle for control.