There is almost nothing more iconic in most High Fantasy Tabletop games than the Outsiders, beings beyond this mortal plane who exist on a higher (or lower) level of reality.
Amongst their numbers are such beings as Angels, Devils, Demons, and Elementals.
How do they come to be? How do they work Mechanically? And How can GMs use them best in their games?
That is the subject of our article today!
What is an Outsider?
Outsiders as a type show up only in Pathfinder First Edition, inherited as they are from Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition.
They are being partially formed from the essence of another world outside of the Material plane. This could be Heaven, Hell, the Abyss, or even other stranger realms.
Less powerful Outsiders will sometimes cross into the Material plane on missions for their superiors or for their own personal whims, but more powerful Outsiders do not regularly come to the Material World, and when they do it is often on matters of great importance.
Each Outsider type is different from each other, but they all share the same basic Mechanics as shown on the Pathfinder SRD:
An outsider has the following features.
- d10 Hit Dice.
- Base attack bonus equal to total Hit Dice (fast progression).
- Two good saving throws, usually Reflex and Will.
- Skill points equal to 6 + Int modifier (minimum 1) per Hit Die. The following are class skills for outsiders: Bluff, Craft, Knowledge (planes), Perception, Sense Motive, and Stealth. Due to their varied nature, outsiders also receive 4 additional class skills determined by the creature’s theme.
An outsider possesses the following traits (unless otherwise noted in a creature’s entry).
- Darkvision 60 feet.
- Unlike most living creatures, an outsider does not have a dual nature—its soul and body form one unit. When an outsider is slain, no soul is set loose. Spells that restore souls to their bodies, such as raise dead, reincarnate, and resurrection, don’t work on an outsider. It takes a different magical effect, such as limited wish, wish, miracle, or true resurrection to restore it to life. An outsider with the native subtype can be raised, reincarnated, or resurrected just as other living creatures can be.
- Proficient with all simple and martial weapons and any weapons mentioned in its entry.
- Proficient with whatever type of armor (light, medium, or heavy) it is described as wearing, as well as all lighter types. Outsiders not indicated as wearing armor are not proficient with armor. Outsiders are proficient with shields if they are proficient with any form of armor.
- Outsiders breathe, but do not need to eat or sleep (although they can do so if they wish). Native outsiders breathe, eat, and sleep.”
As we can see from these features and traits, Outsiders are already very powerful creatures in their own right. If they are intelligent, they can take Class Levels as other characters do. However they have these features and traits independent of even those class levels.
Let me tell you, an Angel or Archon with Paladin levels is incredibly powerful.
The major downside to an Outsider’s otherworldly-ness is that they are extremely hard to bring back if they pass away in combat. In fact, most Outsiders are made with this in mind, as they are oftentimes formed by powerful forces to complete a mission and nothing more.
Sometimes spellcasters get the “bright idea” to call on Outsiders and attempt to bind them to their will. Sometimes this goes well, and the Outsider Ally provides the knowledge and assistance the caster needs. Sometimes this goes poorly, and the caster ends up as a red smear on the flag stones.
The method of binding an Outsider is different depending on the tradition of the specific spellcaster.
Divine Casters will often entreat their Deity for help when calling on Outsiders. Typically it is much easier for them, because they can pray to their Deity and the Outsider who arrives is already predisposed to help them as a servant of their chosen faith.
A Divine Caster can cast the Planar Ally and hit the ground running as far as convincing the resulting Outsider to help them complete their goals. Sometimes there might still be a need to bargain somewhat, but you are already on an even footing when starting out.
Arcane casters will have a much harder time when it comes to calling on Outsiders.
Arcane Casters specifically need to be able to create a protective magical circle to trap the Outsider when it appears. This circle is typically made from a substance that is anathema to the Outsider they are attempting to summon (Holy vs Unholy, Lawful vs Chaotic), and needs to be damn near perfect to avoid the possibility it could be accidentally broken.
When they cast Planar Binding, they call an Outsider into their trap with a lure. The Outsider makes a Will Save versus the caster’s Spell Save DC WITHOUT the aid of their own Spell Resistance. If they fail, they are drawn into the magical circle prepared by the Caster.
Once in the circle, the Outsider can attempt to flee using any dimensional travel spells it has (which the caster can and should counter with a readied Dimensional Anchor spell) or the Outsider can attempt to break out of the binding through either forcing the caster to overcome it’s Spell Resistance with a Caster Level Check or overcoming the caster with its “spiritual presence” (Outsider makes a Charisma Check DC 15 + ½ the Arcane Caster’s Level + the Arcane Caster’s Charisma).
If the Outsider manages to succeed at the above checks, the binding breaks and the Outsider is free. Most good or neutral-aligned Outsiders will bug out, maybe with some admonishing words to the caster for interrupting them from whatever they were doing.
Evil Outsiders might attack or kill the Arcane Caster. Some may even pretend to be bound, but betray the Caster whenever the time is most inconvenient.
If the binding holds, then the Caster can bargain for the Outsider’s service and they can strike a deal. It isn’t a one sided deal though. Typically the Outsider will want something in return beyond just being set free.
They might want the Caster to perform a certain act or offer something specific for it like gold or food. Others might want a future boon, or the Caster’s first born son.
Either way, the Outsider gets paid for its service. Ain’t Nothing Free in Golarion.
Iconic Outsider Types
The number of Outsiders published in Pathfinder resources are huge and varied. To list them all here would be almost impossible unless I had an unlimited word count. However, I can touch on some of the more famous and iconic types of Outsiders that are listed on the Pathfinder SRD.
Many of these Outsider types have further derivations and hierarchies of creatures inside them. While no Outsider Subtype is a Monolith, there are similarities between all among one category.
Before we touch on the more famous Outsiders, we should bring up the concept of the Native Outsider.
Native Outsiders are still Outsiders, but their essence is more closely tied to the Material World. They are not as otherworldly as the other Outsiders, but they have their own benefits. They can be much more easily resurrected, and cannot be banished by summoning magic.
Some Examples of Native Outsiders:
Aasimar – The Aasimar are a humanoid race descended from Celestial beings like Angels and Archons. They often have an intense aura of goodness and light around them, with otherworldly traits like hair color or eyes that look like precious metals or jewels.
Kami – The Kami are spirits created by the Gods to be attached to an animal, a place, or an item. They are guardian spirits, most often aligned with Good or Neutral Forces. They exist to protect their Wards and keep important places or things safe from the enemies.
Oni – Oni are evil spirits born from the material plane and clothed in the flesh of mortals. They are most closely related to Demons, but are native to the Material World. They are devious shapeshifters who often delight in tricking and corrupting other Mortals.
Rakshasa – Also known as the Earthbound Evils, the Rakshasa are humanoid creatures that look like anthropomorphic animals. They are tricksters brought into being by evil mages. They delight in making deals with mortals that slowly corrupt them and lead them down the path of evil.
Tiefling – Tieflings are the opposite of the Aasimar above. While the Aasimar are descended from Celestial Beings, Tieflings count the Devils and Demons as their kin. Their family lineage traces their way back to evil Outsiders, and their tainted blood manifests devilish features like horns, red skin, or a faint smell of brimstone wherever they go.
Angels are powerful outsiders hailing from the Celestial Realms of the Great Beyond. They are typically seen as beautiful humanoids with great wings allowing them to fly.
They can be anywhere on the spectrum from Lawful to Chaotic, but almost all Angels are Good Aligned. They often serve as messengers and soldiers in the service of good-aligned deities, and some are older than even the creation of the Mortal Plane.
Demons are evil outsiders hailing from the chaotic realm of the Abyss. They are devious and conniving beings interested in the corruption and destruction of all things good.
Their attitude is always chaotic, and while they may play at making deals for power, they will break those deals as soon as they can. They have a rivalry with Devils, who they compete with for evil souls to swell their ranks.
Devils are the other side of the evil coin from the Demons. Hailing from the Lawful plane of Hell, the Devils have a strict hierarchy of who is in command and who serves their betters.
They are irredeemably evil, and seek to destroy and corrupt as much as Demons. However, where Demons are raving and ravaging, Devils are careful and meticulous.
Elementals are the living embodiment of one of the 4 elemental forces: Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. They are sometimes mindless, seeking only to join with other sources of their element.
But they can sometimes be intelligent with their own goals and ambitions. They are often summoned by spellcasters for simple tasks, and then released back to their own elemental planes.
Archons are Good-Aligned beings of Law. They are like Angels, in that they serve goodness and the light. However, they also take their attachment to Law and Order just as seriously.
They often serve at the behest of Lawful Good Deities, and make war against both the Devils of Hell and the Demons of the Abyss. Oftentimes they are the Hammer of Heaven to strike against Evil.
Daemons are the split between the Chaos of the Demons and the Order of the Devils. These creatures are irredeemably evil and care not for Law nor Chaos. They are embodiments of raw greed, death, and pain.
They seek to spread despair and anguish everywhere they go, wanting only for mortal life to live in inevitable pain and fear until all life is extinguished.
Also known as Jinni or Jinn, the Genie are a race of humanoid outsiders from one of the four elemental planes. They are most often sought out by mortals to bind or enslave because of their ability to grant wishes to their master.
They vary in alignment, some being good while others are wicked. It is best to be careful how you word a deal with a Genie, as they are extremely good at finding holes in the wording of contracts.
Denizens of the Plane of Shadow, the Kytons are wicked and evil outsiders who seek to bring pain to mortals. They are born of the most depraved of mortal souls, dragged by chains into the dark plane to be reborn as these corrupting villains.
Kytons seek truth and enlightenment through pain and torture, either themselves or through the pain and torture of others.
Snake-like creatures born of pure chaos, Proteans are most at home in the unbridled chaos of the Maelstrom. They have existed since the planes were created, born from the whirling energies that gave form to everything around them.
They are beings of a perpetually changing temperament. While they are not Good-Aligned by any means, they have a bitter fight with the Demons who they feel are just corruptions of their pure form.
Psychopomps are neutral beings who convey the souls of the departed to their final reward. They are servants of nothing and no one except the flow of mortality.
They are not death itself, but simply the means of conveying dead souls to the afterlife. They care not for evil nor good, and they cannot be reasoned with. They simply are, and will be forever.
A Petitioner is the soul of a dead mortal who has traveled to the afterlife and received their final reward. When a soul becomes a Petitioner they take on the essence of whichever realm they have been taken to by a Psychopomp.
Once this transformation happens, only the most powerful of resurrection magics can return them to life. They often remember small details of their mortal life, but overtime either are absorbed into their destination plane, or are changed into another creature entirely.
An old godlike race who existed when the worlds were young, the Titans were created by the Gods to help them build and run the Multiverse. For a reason lost to time, the Titans rebelled against the Gods in a large war that shook the foundations of creation itself.
A portion of the Titans sided with the Gods in the end and remained their divine servants, while the others were banished to the Evil Realms.
How to Incorporate Outsiders into Gameplay
As a GM, it can sometimes be challenging to incorporate Outsiders into your game, especially if the players are of a lower level. Involving the Outer Planes in a plot can sometimes ramp the stakes up TOO much TOO quickly, and make other games and plots feel meager by comparison.
The best way to incorporate Outsiders is to use a very light touch. Like Saffron, Ghost Pepper, or Liquid Smoke, a little bit of Outsider spice goes a long way.
At the early levels, play up the grandeur or terror of a Outsider with your NPC reactions.
Most Devil/Demon groups have some weaker villains lower level parties can tangle with, and Summoning Spells can provide some lower level Angelic or Good-Aligned Allies for the PCs to get to know over time.
Use a light touch overall, and you can have your party really feeling like they are Shaking the Pillars of Heaven.
Where are Outsiders Found?
It is somewhat of a cop-out to say “On their Home Plane, duh” when this question comes up, but it is true. 99 Percent of Outsiders will probably never leave their own home plane, just how 99 percent of mortals will never leave the Material Plane.
When Outsiders DO sojourn out, it is always something to take notice of because it is a change of some kind of natural law.
Most of the time, if an Outsider is on the Mortal Plane, it is because it was summoned here. Perhaps a cabal of evil casters are calling up Demons, or a saintly church is requesting help from Angels. Nine times out of ten it’s because mortals offered something in exchange for help from the Outer Planes.
That isn’t always the case though. Sites of great evil could cause a “Planar Alignment” and evil demons or devils could start crossing into the Material Plane. Maybe the personal sacrifice of a great and powerful Paladin is enough to call down Archons from the Heavens. Magic is weird, and Planar Magic even more so. There is no end to the possibilities.
Outsiders as Allies
The easiest way for the Players to get access to Outsider Allies is through Summoning Magics like Planar Ally. Calling in backup when things get really intense is a no brainer for most Clerics and Wizards.
However, Outsiders might also seek out the party if they become powerful enough. Outsiders can be great for offering guidance if your players are stuck, or a way to offer some healing assistance if they are about to die in the wilds alone.
Heck, maybe a Petitioner they used to know somehow finds his way back to the Mortal World and starts adventuring with them.
As the GM, make sure to highlight the “inhumanity” of the Outsiders. While they may be friends and allies, they are not mortals like the Players. They are Otherworldly in a very literal sense.
Outsiders as Enemies
Like above, the most common way Outsiders will come up as enemies is through Summoning. Evil Mages just LOVE to call up Demons and Devils when the dung hits the fan. As always, play up the otherworldly and “wrongness” of this kind of summoning.
Powerful Outsiders can also make recurring villains for the party. Devils always have long-term plans, and making one a personal nemesis of the party is textbook for a memorable campaign.
Even if the party manages to kill the Devil in question, they’ve got a boss who is probably going to be pretty perturbed they just lost a servant no matter how incompetent.
Because Outsiders do not age, they are perfect for long term magical plots and antagonists. Make sure to start out slow and let the party slowly figure out just who they are locking horns with.
The shock that the secret worldwide slavery ring the players have been fighting was actually controlled by a Kyton is the great capstone to any story.
Happy Pride Month, Pathfinder!