Succubi Deserve More

Dungeons and Dragons First Edition Monster Manual SuccubusWarning: I do discuss sex a great deal in this post. I’ve tried to keep things clean, but this is an extended post about sex demons. Consider yourself forewarned.

I love Succubi. Not because they’re often portrayed as sexually aggressive women with fangs and wings. The overuse of that trope is precisely the problem, actually. My fascination for succubi is similar to my fascination with vampires; as monstrous foes, they are unique in their use of guile and charm. While vampires have been characterized in many different ways, particularly in recent years, my favorite kind of vampire has always been one which suffers from all the many weaknesses of his or her kind. Must avoid garlic, must avoid holy symbols, cannot cross running water under their own power, cannot enter a building unless invited, and of course, cannot go out during the day. Vampires are more defined by their weaknesses than by their strengths, and they compensate for these manyfold weaknesses with charm. They are suave, persuasive, and seductive. Before you know it, your attractive, pale lover is nibbling your neck. And not as foreplay.

Pathfinder Bestiary Succubus Art Scantily Clad SuccubusIn a fantasy world, Succubi are sex. They don’t have sex, they embody sex. Assuming you play a game with good lore, succubi are also demons. Demons are pure manifestations of chaos and evil. Ergo, succubi are everything which is chaotic and evil about sex, made manifest. They draw their greatest pleasure from adulterous spouses, breakers of chastity vows, and authority figures who abuse their power for fleshly pleasure. Any sexual immorality which exists in your game world is one which a succubus will seek to cause. And the greater the damage, the greater the succubus’ pleasure. Breaking up a marriage is lovely, but bringing down nations or causing a genocide? That’s what really gets a succubus off. Helen of Troy was perhaps the greatest succubus of all time.

Lamentably, succubi are never portrayed this way. If they happen to appear in films or literature, it is almost always as an extremely sexually aggressive woman. There’s nothing wrong with a succubus being a sexually aggressive woman, mind you, but that attitude is one tool among many, not their baseline attitude. Succubi are masters of seduction. They can switch their personalities to fit the preferences of those around them as only a master manipulator can. Of course, the portrayal of the succubus in games is arguably even worse. The index of monsters invariably includes a picture of a beautiful demon woman, naked or nearly so, resting seductively next to a statistics block which describe her ability to magically charm & dominate. D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder actually describe the succubus’ ability to bestow negative levels with a kiss.

I get it. There are not many people who want to sit around the game table feeling uncomfortable while the GM uses NPCs to play out sex fantasies. And I understand that D&D still suffers from a lot of stigmatization. Neither WotC nor Paizo want to be featured in a Fox News segment about the corruption of America’s youth. But most of the images I’ve included in this post? They come right out of D&D / Pathfinder books. I don’t think any parents are being fooled about what the succubus is. I couldn’t find a good scan of the succubus from the D&D 3.X Monster Manual. That one actually has visible areolae. Bright red ones. How’s that for cognitive dissonance? Visual representations of exposed breasts are fine, but the raciest we can get in the text is “kiss?”

World of Warcraft Burning Legion SuccubusI would like to make clear that I am not arguing that including a succubus in a game requires a GM to allow wanton eroticism. But these are powerful and interesting creatures with a unique place in human mythology. I don’t like to see them reduced to a thinly veiled excuse to include a pair of tits in the adventure. Too many times have I seen a succubus used as a wandering monster, as if they were no more sophisticated than a skeleton or imp. And once encountered, GMs rarely attempt guile, preferring the crack of the succubus’ inexplicable dominatrix whip instead.

I like to explore the mythology behind fantasy tropes. Often it’s a great deal more interesting than the tropes themselves. I’d like to take this opportunity to share some of the succubus’ mythology, to help illustrate my point. Bear in mind that I am not a scholar of medieval Christianity, nor am I well versed in Jewish mythology. Most of my information on the subject comes from google & wikipedia. And even assuming that the information I read is accurate, I could easily have misunderstood something. In other words, I am not a credible source.

A great many cultures have tales of demons and spirits which resemble the succubus. The succubus we know today draws primarily from the legends of medieval Europe. The Catholic church was even more ridiculous about sexual morality back then than they are now. So if a fellow awoke in the morning to find that he had pitched a tent, or – ahem – had a nocturnal emission, it wasn’t an innocent occurrence. Sex was so taboo that the source of these disturbances was deduced to be demonic. And thus was the succubus invented; a demoness who appears in men’s dreams in the form of a woman. Her goal was to steal men’s seed for her own devious ends.

A likely satirical tome called the Alphabet of Sirach provides an origin for the succubus. I’m not sure if this book was responding to existing folklore about succubi, or if said folklore only took hold after the book was written. According to the AoS, Eve was not the first wife of Adam. Before her, God created a woman from the earth and called her Lilith. And then, as the story goes:
The first succubus. Adam's First Wife, Lilith. Painted by John Collier.

Adam and Lilith began to fight. She said, ‘I will not lie below,’ and he said, ‘I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be in the superior one.’ Lilith responded, ‘We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.’ But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air.

Not sure why Lilith can fly. Again, I’m no scholar, but my guess would be that “the Ineffable Name” would be the true name of god. Speaking it is blasphemous in the Jewish tradition, so perhaps simply by speaking she has already taken on demonic traits such as wings.

Regardless, Adam then calls to God, complaining that his woman has run away. God pursues her, but finds her unwilling to return, and so she is cursed so that each day, one hundred of her children will die. God then returns to Adam, and makes Eve out of his rib. Apparently, ribs make for much more demure, obedient women than earth does. Lilith later mated with an archangel, spawning the demon queens, and eventually, the entire race of succubi.

So, as established above, succubi harvest semen from sleeping men. But what do they do with it? I found a couple different explanations, but my favorite comes from an Inquisitor named Heinrich Kramer in 1486. To quote him:

Another terrible thing which God permits to happen to men is when their own children are taken away from women, and strange children are put in their place by devils. And these children, which are commonly called changelings, or in the German tongue Wechselkinder, are of three kinds. For some are always ailing and crying, and yet the milk of four women is not enough to satisfy them. Some are generated by the operation of Incubus devils, of whom, however, they are not the sons, but of that man from whom the devil has received the semen as a Succubus, or whose semen he has collected from some nocturnal pollution in sleep. For these children are sometimes, by Divine permission, substituted for the real children.

There is no better fantasy sourcebook than religion.

The emphasis above is mine. To put it into slightly more clear language, what the inquisitor is saying is that a succubus is able to transform between the female form, and the male (incubus) form. So first, the demon harvests a man’s seed as a succubus, then transforms itself into an incubus, and impregnates a woman with the semen stolen from the man. And let me just say that, as a philosophy major, it tickles the hell out of me to see respected scholars like Aquinas taking this stuff seriously.

Of course, we need not tie ourselves to mythology as though it is dogma. Study of the source material merely gives us some perspective to help ground our own ideas. Part of the fun of being a game master in a fantasy game is the opportunity to place our own fantastical ideas next to time tested ones like the succubus, vampire, or Medusa. We can even modify those creatures themselves if we so choose, though, my experience is that keeping a creature grounded in its core concept always produces the best results.

So, all of that having been said, here are some things I like to add to the succubus.
Fiendish Codex Succubus Offering Crown to Victim

  • Taking on pleasing forms is basic to a succubus’ art. They become tall, short, blonde, brunette, thin, round, whatever their victim desires most. So for a creature which relies on its shape shifting ability constantly, a permanent mark which cannot be shape-shifted could lead to interesting situations. Perhaps many succubi get tattooed in obscure locations to associate themselves with a specific demon lord or lady. And while most weapons would leave no scar on a succubus, a weapon of strong good alignment could leave a small mark behind even after healing. Not much of one, but something a perceptive character could spot.
  • Succubi have their own aesthetic. In their natural state, all succubi demonstrate some number of demonic traits. Some have cloven feet, some have tails, some have spines. Some even have scales or glowing red eyes. The only demonic traits which all succubi share are wings and horns. But there is a great deal of variance in the types of even those two features. Some wings are leathery, while others are feathered, and still others seem to be made of shadow, or silk. Horns most often sprout from the head, but they could sprout from the chin, or even the cheeks of a succubus, and they form in any number of shapes.
  • Succubi have the ability to enter into the dreams of any sleeping character at will. While in a character’s dreams, the Succubi plants enticing suggestions. When the character wakes, he or she will be less capable of resisting the succubus’ charm.
  • Succubi have no technical gender. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say they are all hermaphrodites, capable of switching between the male and the female form at will. So each succubus is also an incubus.
  • Succubi may breed with any species that reproduces sexually.
  • Succubi have absolute control over their own reproduction. They may choose the gender of their children, gestation period, and even how many children will be produced from a single coupling.
  • They may also control how much of their demonic blood infuses the child. At their will, they may produce a small flock of imps, a half demon, a creature which appears completely human, or anything in between. Their only limitation is that they can never birth a child with no demonic blood whatsoever. At the very least, the child will have a predilection for chaos and evil.
  • Succubi are immune to disease themselves, but may store and pass on diseases to others.
  • Succubi feed on the suffering which sexual immorality causes. They can gain experience from any acts which result from their manipulations. (Ex. Helen of Troy would get experience for every Trojan and Greek killed. Ka-ching.)

Findish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss, Malcanthet Queen of Succubi and the 570th layer of the AbyssAs a final word on this post, I would like to give a shout out to one of the few sourcebooks which I felt actually did succubi some justice. Two of the best supplements which ever came out for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 were the Fiendish Codex I & II. FC I: Hordes of the Abyss, provided a lot of detail about demons, and the abyss they live in. Aside from including some very useful demonic archetypes (along with charts for each archetype, indicating how likely it was for a particular type of demon to fill that role), the book introduced Malcanthet, queen of the succubi. A mere four pages were all they were able to devote to her in a book which was packed tight with awesome abyssal lore, but those four pages (plus the dragon magazine article released about the same time) were fantastic. I would heartily recommend the book to anyone, regardless of what system you use.

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17 thoughts on “Succubi Deserve More”

  1. Ok Just felt I would throw this out there but Succubi and Incubi are in fact to distinct entities. They are related, but aren’t one and the same. A succubi preys on men primarily and occasionally women if they have to while incubi are the opposite. They are notorious for the in fighting that is common within their ranks.

    This is based on the greek, roman, jewish, christian, and Nordic legends of the Cubi devils. Cubi being their type with the Suc and In being their genders.

    1. Which, of course, their names are derived from.

      “Sub Cubo” – I lie beneath, eventually corrupted into Succubus

      “In Cubo” – I lie atop, eventually corrupted into Incubus

        1. No stranger than the Babylonians having dragons while the Chinese were imagining similar creatures thousands of miles away at the same time.

  2. Actually, while it has yet to pan out, a succubus features into the backstory of one of my own characters.

    Matthias Tantras, paladin from the nation of Cheliax, a nation famed for it’s rulership by the House of Thrune, a family of aristocrats who seized the throne 60 years ago after the death of Aroden, by making use of pacts with devils, which quickly became fashion amongst the aristocracy.

    After reading a copy of Kobold Quarterly, they had a featured article on the ecology of succubi (Issue 21, if you’re interested. I recall it being very good, with the exception that they listed succubi as DEVILS, not DEMONS, though, with Erinyes being more faithful now to their roots as the Greek Furies, Devils lack any tempters of the physical variety, so perhaps they really do swing both ways now.)

    One of the ideas they brought up, that I really liked was in a Succubus’ childhood, they tend to celebrate their birthdays with masquerades, where they travel to the Prime Material plane and kidnap children to have as party guests, after which they return them at the end of the evening. But apparently they tend to get rather attacked to them and frequently visit their erstwhile guests in the prime material, apparently accounting for many children’s imaginary friends and idyllic childhood romances.

    Yes. I have a paladin from a nation of diabolists, failed surgeon and former apprentice to a necromancer who seeks to hunt him down like a dog, and happens to be pursued by a succubus who believes she loves him, and happened to be his imaginary childhood friend/sweetheart. Feel pity for this man.

    1. I like this background… Much better than the Magus Iconic Character. Though I have to give them props for making a Lawful Evil Iconic.

      My question is: Is he a Paladin or Anti-Paladin? Or some homebrewed “Blackguard” or even the Hellknight Archetype my friend post online a while back?

      1. Oh no, he’s very much a paladin, painfully noble, perhaps a just a bit naive, idealistic, a bit shy, though charming whenever he manages to get over how nervous he was a minute ago.

        Matthias has a tendency to place blame for certain things squarely on one person. Himself. He tends to be a bit of a martyr, with a white knight complex, always having to save people, even to his own detriment most times. Left his equipment behind to go swimming at one point, only to have a bunch of kids find it and start playing with his armor and sword. He runs back in an effort to keep the kids from hurting themselves, has to go diving for his helmet when one of them drops it in the water, comes back up with a snapping turtle, which in turn bites his earlobe off.

        He refuses to get a regeneration spell cast on him, preferring to keep his missing earlobe as “penance” for forgetting to be diligent with his equipment.

        His basic shtick is that he was the only child of a pair of Cheliaxan air-head aristocrats who had been quite fond of travel. He traveled alot as a young child, in the arms of his wet-nurse most times, as he started to grow up, he got some very strange and unsavory ideas his parents didn’t approve of, horrible things like racial and societal equality, the idea that a ruler is a servant of his people first above all other things, you know that sort of stuff.

        His parents, who wanted him to become a surgeon, sent him off to learn from a master, who was noted for being very loyal to the House of Thrune, hoping that he would rub off on their son.

        Turns out said surgeon was also a necromancer, whom he worked with for several years, growing more and more disgusted by his master, but usually too shy to voice his discontent.

        So eventually, he just gets fed up and runs away across country, eventually ending up an Iomedean monestary in Lastwall, but not before stealing a scroll, sealed with an incendiary rune, containing his master’s copy of the formula for lichdom, leaving him a marked man, constantly keeping his eyes peeled for a blackbird (his master’s familiar) on the horizon.

        *looks up* Oops… sorry, I guess I got that TTMAYC syndrome going on.

        1. Heh you never know LS might get inspired by your characters background and make a Colorful Character loosely inspired by your character.

          I’m just glad to see I ain’t the only one who had a similar concept…

          My PFS character (never been played, barely finished building him in fact) fled Cheliax to Andoran. He is a LN Fighter with a major Good streak and a deep loathing of slavery. It is unlikely he will see action as there are no PFS players in my area that I know of. I also have a CG Barbarian in the works.

          Hmm I guess I might need to look into starting a PFS group at my FLGS.

          1. Heh. I got an entire list of them I keep in the stable.

            Marvik Whintone, Halfling fighter, the surliest halfling around, despises being called “Shorty” and will take you off at the kneecaps for it.

            Garumber Sandwalker, Dwarven Cleric of Nethys, former caravan guard, dedicated to hunting down and killing his mad twin brother.

            Lord Llanister “Finch” Makeris, the swashbuckling half-elven bard.

            Alishen “Shen” Tyras, the world’s most misathropic elven ranger.

            Kurg Halfsback, half-orcish thief, the sort of fellow who will hit you over the head with his club and tell your buddy “Hey, when he wakes up, tell him I stole his money.” (subtlety ain’t his strong suit.) adopted out of guilt by a knight from Lastwall after being forcibly orphaned.

            Derringer Hamelin, lame Ulfen solider turned Oracle, now gifted with visions of the future and fantastic powers by the gods of battle.

            Though, there is the possibility that you could always see about setting up a game to run online. I personally have tried several times myself, though I have yet to find a really good online tabletop.

            Though, hell, if you’re ever in the Anchorage area, you can try giving me and my group a call.

                1. Ah yes, Shen, that’s what his friends call him. Or at least they would if he had any.

                  Yes, I enjoy creating quirky and interesting characters just for the sheer fun of it. Hell, half my novel is made up of a character focused plot

                  Personally, as I said, try setting up a game via the internet. If you’re looking for bodies, I’d join.

  3. A good article – I’d like to point out, though, that there’s quite a few similarities between what you came up with and the Neomah demons of Exalted.

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