A Soul Jar is an object which holds all or part of a person's soul (or life, or heart) outside of their body, making that person immortal and/or invulnerable. It may offer direct invulnerability, it may cause the owner to resurrect after each "death", or the soul may just possess holders from within the item. But no matter how it works, the character can't be Killed Off For Real without destroying this item first.
This is obviously very desirable for villains, but will also be their Achilles Heel. Those who use a Soul Jar will ensure it's very well hidden and very well protected. Still, that protection will inevitably be easier to handle than a direct confrontation with the Big Bad, so heroes are likely to quest for these things. And the heroes can get away with that too, so long as the villain doesn't take them seriously or doesn't realize what they're up to. This type of soul jar is standard equipment for the lich in its modern form - in which case it may end up being called a phylactery.
Alternatively, the soul jar may be an evil sorceror's way of holding a pawn's soul hostage - a bokor may keep his zombies' souls in a jar or calabash in his place of power and freeing them may cure … or kill … the zombies.
Game and Story Use
- Very classic for evil wizard villains. Can work well, but find some way to avoid feeling cliché.
- If they can, villains who use a soul jar have a good reason to keep that fact secret to prevent heroes from trying to find it. Thus, a villain the heroes thought they defeated can suddenly turn out to be alive and gunning for them. And you can make this decision at any time.
- The PCs are secretly rebels in a dystopian world order. One of them by one means or another obtain access to a set of resurrection chambers. This gives them an advantage, as no matter how many times they are killed, they can come back to continue the task of overthrowing the world system. The one world order has immense power and force to bring down to bear on the PCs and whoever they bring to their side.
- Appears in Russian myth in the case of Koschei the Deathless who hid his soul inside an egg. The effect being immortality with the interesting wrinkle that anyone who possesses the egg has direct power over him. In the Sandman series of graphic novels a gemstone called the Emerald Heart of Koschie the Deathless is traded to Baba Yaga … if this fulfills the same function as the mythic egg, this may qualify as a Fate Worse than Death.
- If your PCs are slow on the uptake you can run a whole campaign like this.
- An alternative to a soul-in-a-jar is the heart-in-a-jar: the character has removed his heart by magic and put it in a hidden container. As long as the heart continues to beat, he cannot be killed - shades of the Egyptian Mummy in here perhaps.
- A body hopping villain may prove to be a nasty surprise for PCs … they think they have killed the BBEG, but suddenly someone completely different appears with the same MO and/or powers. The dead villain left the body they killed for a soul jar (possibly the same one he came from to start with) and has now possessed someone else - maybe even a hostage the PCs rescued from his lair. This trope works equally well in fantasy and modern crime fiction.
- If a PC tries this trick, make sure that someone disagreeable lays hands on the soul jar. Their next character should be less munchkiny. Otherwise rinse and repeat until they get the message.
- The hostage soul is also a good plot device for allowing smart PCs to level the odds in a boss battle: one minute they are fighting The Dragon, next minute The Thief has hit him with some stolen crockery and he has his soul back and is turning into The Atoner.