Holden Shearer wrote an informative forum post about demon summoning in Exalted some time back, illustrating how a demon’s alien mentality can be troublesome without invalidating either its loyalty to the summoner or its utility for its designated tasks. A revised version of the post was slated for inclusion in the Third Edition corebook as a sidebar. This was cut for space, but fortunately, Holden has given me permission to republish the original forum post here. I hope you find it useful!
Demon summoning isn’t a trap, a Faustian bargain, or a surefire path to corruption. Most sorcerers view it as an easy source of supernatural slave labor, and for the most part, they’re right. A bound demon follows both the letter and spirit of the sorcerer’s commands to the best of its will and understanding. The greatest difficulty faced by most demon summoners is coping with the alien natures and inhuman desires of their bound retinue, making it important to choose the right demon for any given task.
Example: Lord Sky of Urim calls to a pair of bound blood-apes and says, “The city is not safe, and my people are watched. I must send my son to Chiaroscuro, to dwell with my ally Prince Nahim of the Seven Pearls, until the current troubles are over. Yet were I to send him out escorted by my men, his guards would surely be ambushed along the road and he would be taken hostage or slain. Smuggle him out of the city tonight, and see him safely to the door of Prince Nahim in Chiaroscuro.”
The blood-apes understand that Lord Sky values his son, and that their job is to see him safely into the care of Prince Nahim. Lord Sky can rest assured they’re not going to devour or beat his son for annoying them along the way. They also understand not to leave his son unattended on Prince Nahim’s literal doorstep.
But… they’re blood-apes. They’re crude, vicious, stupid brutes with little understanding of children, summoned up from the depths of Hell and eager to do their master’s bidding.
It’s a coin-toss whether they’re going to realize eating the guards on the city’s postern-gate will to leave a suspicious trail. Assuming they think that far ahead, they may well decide to smuggle the child out through the sewers—they’ll find the muck and stink comfortable and homey, after all. Then they’re going to negotiate the best stealthy journey to Chiaroscuro they can. This is apt to involve lots of off-road travel with Lord Sky’s son clinging to the matted, stinking fur of a blood-ape’s back as it goes loping through hilly light forest and broken foothills to avoid the major roads—and he’s only going on the demon’s back once they realize he can’t keep the pace they want to set on foot without breaking his legs in the dark or collapsing from fatigue. The child will almost certainly see his two guards kill any loners or small groups that spot them along their journey in the interests of secrecy and security (and also because they’re bored and hungry). The blood-apes are likely to offer him a haunch of whoever it is they’re eating after they conduct these security operations, because Lord Sky favors his child, and the demons, as his genuinely loyal servants, will try to be polite. They’re not going to understand all his whining and complaints along the way. They won’t raise a hand to the child, as they understand he’s not to be harmed, but they’re going to lose their patience and bellow at him periodically. Once they hit Chiaroscuro, assuming they manage to make it there without any kind of major catastrophe befalling the group, there’s going to be some trouble if Lord Sky neglected to tell them how to find Prince Nahim’s residence in the city, as a blood-ape’s idea of asking for directions involves lots of death-threats and biting skulls open.
Lord Sky would do well to send a trusted lieutenant or a smarter demon along to manage the expedition. The two blood-apes can get the job done, and they will mercilessly kill anything that threatens his son if it’s within their power to do so, but when they’re not fighting to protect him, blood-apes make for incredibly poor, trauma-inducing nannies.