Human beings contain mana, which is the energy required for life. Mana grows over the course of a person's life, being released at the moment of death. Demons can feed on this energy to increase their power through the creation of pacts with humans in exchange for magical power. When a demon makes a pact with a witch, the human is rewarded with a boon that allows them access to spells. In exchange, her soul goes to the demon after death. The number of souls a demon can collect, the more it can increase its own power.

This competition between demons for human souls culminated into many wars and much bloodshed among witches, which led to the detriment of everyone. To end the wars in the human world, demons agreed to a treaty amongst themselves. Instead of warring with each other for a piece of each others pie, they would share the spoils. Witches would be divided up into families called covens, each with their own patron demon. When a witch came of age or joined the family, they would sign a pact with that coven's specific demon. She would gain access to magic in exchange for her soul. Each pact is an investment for the demon, which places a seed of their power into the individual. As their Mana increases with age, the seed grows in tandem. When the witch dies and their soul is claimed by the demon, the seed has multiplied in strength, returning on the demon's investment tenfold. Through this method, a demon would be guaranteed a steady stream of souls as the coven expanded either through birth or recruitment.

This business model soon produced flaws however. It didn't take long for demons to realize that increasing the number of witches in their family as fast as possible was in their best interest. This led to a massive increase in recruitment, as many individuals among the population would simply be inducted into these covens. Potential witches were eager to sign away their souls in exchange for power from a patron, and demons were just as eager to collect more souls than their rivals. This led to a race to the bottom, as covens lowered their standards to try to outdo other covens, creating a generation of crappy witches.

What I want is for demons to value producing witches of high quality and skill, rather than turning covens into basically recruiting centers. However, it is natural for standards to be sacrificed in the name of producing content if the latter is in one's best interest. This is similiar to the streaming wars, in which most of Netflix's movies and series are crap, but it is made in such high quantities that they outpace the competition. How can I make this happen?

  • $\begingroup$ You're looking for a systemic world-rule reason (because any other would be off-topic storybuilding)? How much power can the demons transfer? Are there limits? Is there an association between souls and magic (meaning, how does magic affect the soul of the user)? What are the rules of magic in your world? How do those rules affect demons? If quantity is always a solution for demons, why wouldn't they find a more efficient (less costly) solution to contracting souls? VTC:Needs Details. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 12, 2020 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ Two interconnected things that I find objectionable in this post. First, witch doesn't just apply to females. I was a witch for most of my life, and I'm male. Second, you state that it's women who are selling their souls. Don't demons want male souls, also? $\endgroup$
    – NomadMaker
    Sep 12, 2020 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ @NomadMaker wouldn't that make you a warlock? $\endgroup$
    – Incognito
    Sep 12, 2020 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ No. You do know that Wicca is a real-world religion? It's no sillier than most other religions, and has a low presence because of people like you. "Warlock" comes from a word that means "oath-breaker." Why would I ever like to be one of those? I was a witch or Wicca. You do have the internet for a research tool and you're asking me? $\endgroup$
    – NomadMaker
    Sep 12, 2020 at 23:34
  • $\begingroup$ @NomadMaker my apologies. $\endgroup$
    – Incognito
    Sep 13, 2020 at 1:30

7 Answers 7


Adding to Matthew's excellent answer, throw in a risk factor to sweeten the value of existing vetted witches over untested recruits.

For example, imagine that a demon must invest three unit of power into a potential witch just to give her the possibility of reaching mediocre level, but that there is a 75% chance that she will fail to achieve that lowest fruitful proficiency, loosing the entire investment in the process. Additionally a proven mediocre level witch is assured of achieving the one hundred fold return level of mastery for only one unit of power each year for a decade. In such an environment, demons might invest some of their power in recruiting new potential witches, but only when they have power to spare from nurturing their proven crop. That more conservative method is their only real hope for consistently rising in power.


I'm half tempted to post this as a comment, because it's obvious, but...

Make "mana return" correlated to skill, such that the soul of a highly talented witch is more valuable than that of a mediocre witch.

Properly tuned, this can easily have the desired effect. For instance, say it takes ten times as much effort to produce a skilled witch, but yields a hundred times the benefit. No demon is going to want to recruit (and train) ten mediocre witches when they can get the same benefit from one skilled witch at a tenth the effort.


Learning takes time and devotion and getting more witches reduces power

There's two things at work here. Demons give their power and after death witches give their power.

At first a demon might not notice, but giving more and more power to more and more witches reduces their own power, weakening them. This can be exponential, making any growing in power from dying witches less substantial, unless they reduce the size of a coven again.

Secondly, they receive the power of the witches. But this requires an investment in time, effort and economics. Time and effort for a lot of training, in which the demon might be necessary. But also in food and housing and the like. It is an investment that you hope to get a return on. But if you don't or barely train them, the amount of energy received at death might be many times worse than one well trained witch might offer.

If this wasn't the case, demons would fast forward to the logical conclusion. Pose as a well respected powerful covenant that everybody wants to join. They join, sign, and are immediately killed. This would reduce the time bound to the demon and the witch has probably some power that can immediately be assimilated.

Finally the witches might grow weary and malcontent in bad conditions. Overcrowded, not enough attention of the demon for training, not enough food, power gained is low etc. This might provoke them to try to nullify the contract. For example by cleverly using the power of the demon itself at an unguarded moment to try and kill him.


A set number of Demon Seeds (and social issues):

These are solid answers, but I have a slightly different take. Since the demon places a seed in a new recruit, which expands over time, make each demon only able to generate a set number of seeds. This can be according to ability (people have 10 fingers, Demons have 20 seeds) or by agreement (treaty obligations say each coven can have no more than 30 members). It could even be by competition - Different covens COMPETE for the best new members, but are only allowed so many competitors in the competitions. Demons with big teams don't get the best players at draft time (so to speak) because they have emphasized quantity over quality.

This could also be due to side-effects on society. Maybe the rulers don't like souls going to demons. Maybe there is a church out-competing demons for common souls, and only those with sufficient inherent power can break away. Maybe the witches children turn out mutated by Mana, and the human population was plummeting as a significant portion of the populus gave birth to monsters. Covens themselves may want to be exclusive (to concentrate their power) and if everyone has magic, the competition for (fill in the blank, Ley lines, spell components, special favors from demons) becomes too fierce and the strongest witches decided to eliminate the competition.

Finally, these are DEMONS we're talking about. Perhaps all this warfare has given rise to a system where newly admitted members (acolytes) are not fully admitted until they have captured and sacrificed a rival coven's acolyte as an offering to their demon. New acolytes who aren't very good are going to get killed, and no one really WANTS to die at the hands of a rival gang - I mean, coven. This screens out witches who are afraid of death, or are unwilling to commit murder, and those who's magic isn't strong enough to compete with other acolytes. Covens don't want RIVAL covens to grow stronger, and selecting weaklings just feeds the membership of rival covens.

Ruthless covens may even enter into arrangements together, so select acolytes are recruited purely as molech - offerings to be given to the other coven so chosen acolytes aren't at risk (this could even be punishment for poorly performing acolytes).


Witches are Fast Food

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Human beings contain mana, which is the energy required for life. Mana grows over the course of a person's life, being released at the moment of death. Demons can feed on this energy to increase their power through the creation of pacts with humans in exchange for magical power.

Mana is to demons, as food is to humans.

Initially, Demons competed with one another in recruiting as many humans as possible, seeking to consume as many souls as possible, as quickly as possible.

However, the demons quickly realized, not only is the 'texture', or taste, of mana in the soul determined by its concentration and purity, low-quality mana also serves the same role as cholesterol in the human body.

Human souls are not just composed of mana. They are also filled with emotions and feelings, an accumulation of their lives and memories. If the human suffers throughout their life, or their life end with extreme tragedy, the negative emotions will condense into grudges, becoming a 'tortured soul'.

By enlisting a large quantity of humans and driving them to quick deaths to harvest their souls, a majority of these souls will also become tortured souls.

Not only would the 'taste' of such souls be less savoury, there would also be deadly side-effects.

Demon nobles would never be satisfied with feeding off these tortured souls, but the low-caste demons have no choice but to consume them.

This is why many lower-caste demons have no sense of self, and consumed by negative human emotions, they live only as thralls for use in blood and war.


Another major reason, looking past the gruesome side-effects of impure souls, is that over-consumption of low quality mana contributes to bottlenecks in power increase. This is because demons have a limited mana capacity. If low-concentration mana is worth one magic unit per mana volume, and high-concentration mana is worth 10 magic units per mana volume, a demon that only feeds on high-concentration mana will be 10 times as powerful as a demon that only feeds on low-concentration mana.

When the mana has saturated, a 'bottleneck' is reached, and only by obtaining purer sources of mana can the impure mana be forced out, and the bottleneck be broken through.

On top of that, by putting greater pressure on their mana storage, high-quality souls allow demons to increase their capacity through the pressure over time, especially applicable to younger demons. By having both a higher capacity and higher concentration of magic, demons can become even more powerful.

Powerful souls are both rarer and harder to cultivate, resulting in lower quantities, just like fine dining, but by cultivating the most powerful souls, the nobles not only avoid bottlenecks, but also train themselves to become the most powerful beings in their society. The exceedingly large power difference between demons fed by pure souls and demons fed by tainted, tortured souls, allows the nobles to keep both the lower-caste demons, and other lower-power nobles in check.

As such, both noble demons and common demons alike are in need of high-purity souls, not only to avoid the nasty side-effects of tortured souls, but also to cement their power and status.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 only because I had never considered it bottlenecking power! $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Sep 14, 2020 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ @ITAlex Thanks! It could become similar to the bottlenecks in Xianxia novels, where they need X power to break through into a separate tier, but not sure if such a system would be needed for this setting. $\endgroup$
    – Enthu5ed
    Sep 14, 2020 at 17:47

The power curve for highly skilled witches is quadratic in nature.

A lowly acolyte witch is worth barely even enough to replace the power given with her soul. This will be our unit of measure, AP (acolyte power).

So our lowly acolyte, works hard but doesn't manage to learn much and only becomes a tier 2 acolyte netting our demon 4 AP for his trouble. over the course of the acolytes life she may even have cost him more power from the spells she used. The demon gets a net increase of 2 or less based on how much the witch used minus his initial investment (1AP).

Picking a high quality acolyte, that acolyte might become a tier 7 witch accumulating 49 AP! Assuming that the ratio to demon power spent in the lifetime to AP is about 1/2, after the initial investment of 1 AP, 48/2 = 24 AP for our demon! It also took a lot less effort than having 12 different crappy acolytes.


Instead of a cost, it can be a special reward. Some demons have figured out that if they help the seed growths on particularly gifted individuals, the quantity of mana liberated is astronomical. But it only happens with the finest, even a very strong selection of witches does not guarantee this effect.

Furthermore, to help the growth of the seed the demons must limit the number of people they turn into witches. (more people less likelihood of mana big-bang) Regularly, once a year, or a decade demons must send more mana to the seeds in order to strengthen the link with the hosts. Witches created this way are more powerful but, less numerous. Demons carefully cherry-pick each of them hoping that one out of 10, 100, 1000 will create the mana equivalent of thousands of normal witches.

It is a risk versus reward approach as some demons will take the risk and limit their power in the short term while hoping that in long term it will pay off.


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