Help! My Roommate is a Genie!
Robert Lebling, in his wonderful book Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar retells a bit of Bangladeshi creepypasta about a coed who was revealed to be a jinniya, a female jinni. If Lebling repeats the story a little credulously, well, it’s a good one.
The yarn, reportedly found on the Internet around the turn of the 21st century, recounts in first-person perspective the tale of a student at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, who gradually comes to believe her roommate, Lucy, is a jinniya. Lucy is breathtakingly beautiful and a dear friend to the student, if a little arrogant. At one point, Lucy enters a room the teller is certain was locked, though she does not have a key. Though the student has her suspicions, she only discover’s Lucy’s true identity by accident, when she sees that Lucy casts no reflection in a mirror. The teller screams and faints. When she comes to, she’s surrounded by her floormates. She tells them the story, and Lucy is never heard from again. But later the student is assigned a new roommate who has Lucy’s same smile…
The Muslim world is full of stories of shapeshifting jinn, many said to be intelligent and curious. Small surprise that folks would tell stories about disguised jinn enrolling in human colleges to get an education. This particular story presents us with some fun twists on shapeshifter stories in RPGs.
Maybe the Queen of All Jinn has heard nothing from her daughter, who left to experience the human world as a student at the University of Dhaka. The queen sends the PCs to make contact with her daughter and make sure everything’s all right.
Or, in a more sinister take, there might be a rash of disappearances at the university, and the PCs are called into investigate. The vanished students were each seen in the company of one of their close friends. But each friend, when questioned, hotly denies it. Djinn stories are the source of the word ghoul, originally djinn who eat human flesh. Perhaps Lucy is such a ghoul, using her shapeshifting powers to pose as her prey’s most trusted friend and luring them away. (This one has a very Buffy feel to it)
Either way, it’s important that Lucy be physically distinctive. For example, in the original story, she’s absurdly beautiful. Physical appearance is connected to her nature as a shape-shifter. It may make more sense for Lucy to try to be physically unremarkable to blend in, but it’s more thematically resonant for someone whose appearance is secretly as remarkable as they come to actually look remarkable.
Shapeshifter stories often involve a test. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, blood samples taken from changelings immediately revert to orange goo. Battlestar Galactica has Gaius Baltar’s supposed Cylon detector. And Lucy has tests as well! If she forgets to ensorcel a mirror, she will not appear in it. And supposedly, jinn flee from the casual blessing ‘bismillah’ (“In the name of God”), which begins each sura of the Quran but one (“In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.”)
But be careful! In addition to passing as human, jinn can fly, turn invisible, turn into beasts (especially snakes), possess the unwilling, and perform feats of great strength. If you confront Lucy but fail to contain her, she can easily re-integrate into society – hence the Bangladeshi coed’s new roommate.