So one of the things I planned on using this blog for is posting ideas that I would like to use for my game at some point. At the very least it lets me write down and polish them for myself and maybe share them with someone else while I’m at it. I’ve seen the haunted doll trope a lot recently. Between the podcasts I listen to and the various short stories I read it has come up a lot. So I thought about how I’d like to use them.
Poppets are dolls that either intentionally or accidentally harbor a portion of someone’s soul. Either they are dear to someone in life and the ghost maintains a connection to it or a living person secrets a sliver of themselves into one through a ritual.
That a humanoid form is the best container to keep a soul in is fact. Some scholars argue that’s why people are shaped the way they are. The more the doll resembles the subject the better. Also the more care and time that is spent in its creation the better. A hand made doll with hair from the subject and carefully selected glass eyes of just the right color works best.
The ritual itself lasts a few hours and must be done while the subject still lives. Once they have died they are beyond the reach of this magic. The ritual has two goals. First, it symbolically gives the doll the same name as the subject, blurring the line between the two metaphorically. Second, a shard of the subject’s soul is placed in the doll with the name. Some philosophies make the claim that a person’s name is their soul and by sharing the name with the doll it accomplishes both feats at once. But that’s just theory.
After the ritual is complete the poppet shares a unique bond with the subject. It is a common story for poppets to manifest scars and wounds that the living counterpart sustains. The subject subconsciously begins to view the poppet the same way as they view themselves. A well adjusted person would be find it quite companionable. A person filled with self-loathing would grow to resent the poppet. Other people might find the poppet unsettling but as long as the subject and poppet survive that is the extent of the effect.
If the poppet is destroyed the living person will feel a jolt of pain and chill as the separated portion of their soul is destroyed. If they are weak enough it is possible this will kill them but most people shake it off after a few minutes. However the real reason the ritual is performed is insurance against the living person’s untimely death.
Sharing the same name and a sliver of the same soul between the living person and the poppet confuses the natural process of death. If the living person dies from something other than old age while the poppet still exists their soul is torn in half. Half going where ever it is supposed to go and the other half flowing into the poppet. This results in the poppet animating under its own power and consciousness. A broken consciousness.
Having a portion of someone’s soul splintered is traumatic enough. Surviving the experience of death with only half of a soul is mind shattering on a whole new level. Many poppets have difficulty remembering who they were, why they are here, what happened to them, and all suffer some manner of obsessions.
Still surviving with mental trauma is still better than not surviving at all. At different times nobles in several different kingdoms were known to create a poppet of their children at birth in case they were assassinated or killed during war. This certainly didn’t help maintain a stable nobility and has also lead to darker situations.
The tradition of making poppets is long and storied in Borennon. Most people don’t know the actual magic and just hope that the doll will absorb the tragic fate set out of their child in place of them. Some nobles know the truth though, they still practice the old ways. By severing a portion of their child’s soul when they are an infant there are better chances of them recovering and growing up normal. Of course that also means there are more animated poppets running around too. Unable to be seen in public many are tasked with clerical roles in the family. After all if they can’t be a physical presence they might as well be an intellectual one.
Some servants talk though. They tend to the chronically ‘sick children’ of the nobility that never seem to eat much and never leave their rooms. They tell other rumors too. They tell of secret meetings between poppets. Of hushed whispers and councils by candlelight. Necromantic laboratories staffed by walking dolls intent on reversing the process and putting themselves into living bodies. These can only be rumors of course. Can you imagine a soul that had managed to place themselves back into a living body? How broken would they be? How obsessed with physical sensations. And if they did the poppet process again? A splinter of a splinter? Not to mention one that had mastery of such arts and in such a powerful position as a noble family.