Monday, October 24, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: Devils

Last week I concluded my This Old Dragon retrospective of the Devil and the Nine Hells as they appeared in Dragon Magazine. Today for Monstrous Monday I want to look at some books about devils and show how there is a direct line continuity from those Dragon articles in 1983 to the 3.5 Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells from 2006 and even the 4e The Plane  Above in 2010.

Devils 3e and 4e styles

Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells (3.5)

Tyrants of the Nine Hells
PDF and Hardcover. 158 Pages. Color covers and interior art.

This book does for Devils what the Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss did for demons. Sadly there is no Fiendish Codex III. For this review I am considering my hardcover I bought back when it came out and the PDF on DriveThruRPG.

Preface: This might one of the more important bits of D&D fiction out there. Devils in D&D have always had a problem. No not from busy-body mothers and evangelicals looking to ban D&D because of devils and demons (they would find something else anyway), the issue is that the very nature of the devils in question tie them closely to the Abrahamic religions.  Asmodeus is a Jewish demon, Baalzebul comes to us from Beelzebub, another demon found in the Bible by way of Judaism. Mammon comes from the New Testament and Belial from the Old Testament.  Remove the Judeo-Christian origins who are these demons? This new(ish) preface gives us the new origins of these devils and how they fit into the D&D cosmology and the Blood War.

Introduction is just that, tells you what this book is about.

Chapter 1: All About Devils covers devils and hell. The only valuable things in Hell to the devils are souls.These are what they strive to collect, to barter, and bargain with.  Where demons are spit up from the nature of the Abyss itself, devils need souls to make more devils. This should imply there is a distinct dichotomy in the devilish hierarchy; devils that were raised up from souls to devils that fell. Speaking of hierarchy this chapter goes into that and how devils rise up from one form to the next. Also discussed are Demons and Devils and the Blood War. 

There is advice on running devilish encounters and how to deal with Faustian Pacts, devil worship and infernal alliances. Yeah, this in not 80s D&D.  Pretty much everything in this chapter can be used with any edition of D&D.

Chapter 2: The Hells. A detailed "guided tour" of Hell. We are going over some of the same ground back when Ed Greenwood took us here in 1983 in Dragon #75 and Dragon #76. There is more details here and some layers have changed a bit; Avernus comes to mind. Throughout the layers, we also get a listing of the various D&D Gods that live in the Hells. Something that I spent a lot of time covering in my series One Man's God.  There are updates not just from the AD&D 1st ed time of Ed Greenwood's article and the Blood War material of late 2nd Ed AD&D, but from 3.0 D&D as well. Phlegethos is now controlled by Fierna instead of jointly controlled by her and her father and Glasya in the newly anointed Lord of Malbolge having offed the Hag Countess. All great material and more than I'll ever use in a game.

Chapter 3: Game Rules. This cover the 3.5 D&D specific rules. There are Hellbred characters, new feats, and new Prestige Classes. Of special interest to me is the Hellfire Warlock. There are also plenty of new spells. 

Chapter 4: Devils are our new monster listings of devils. The Abishai are back, along with 16 other devils, some new and some updated.

Chapter 5: Lords of the Nine detail the Nine Archdukes. You can pretty much tell what version of D&D you are using by who the Archduke of Avernus is. In 3.5 it is Bel. Though I think he might have been it for late 2nd ed as well. All the Archdukes get a bit of a makeover from their 1st Ed days. Dispater has hair now, Mammon has a new cursed form, Levistus is the lord of Stygia, and Glasya gets the best upgrade and is now Lord of Sixth Layer Malbolge. Baalzebul still looks like a slug. Mephistopheles is still working on Hellfire. Only Asmodeus is constant. As he demands it. 

As its sister product, this is a great book on Devils and the Nine Hells for any edition of D&D.

The Plane Above: Secrets of the Astral Sea (4e)

PDF and Hardcover. 160 Pages. Color covers and interior art. I am considering both my hardcover (one of the last D&D books I ever bought at Borders I believe) and the PDF from DriveThruRPG.

4e reordered the Cosmos and that is fine for me really. In 3e they explained that how one perceives the outer planes is largely based on how they believe they should perceive them. So Hell in 4e is both a "Lower Plane" and an "Upper Plane." No contradiction really.

This book has the same relationship to The Plane Below as the Fiendish Codices have to each other. 

Chapter 1: Astral Adventures cover adventuring on the Astral Sea. Again it is easy to see why Wizards of the Coast moved their version of Spelljammer to the Astral. The seeds for that are all here. Indeed Spelljammers are mentioned on page 19 as a means of siling the Astral Sea.

Chapter 2: Divine Dominions deal with the homes of the gods and the afterlives of mortals. Different sorts of creatures are detailed here; gods, angels, the exalted, and Outsiders. A few divine domains are also detailed. Arvandor is the home of elves and eladrin. Celestia the Seven Heavens. Chernoggar is a plane/world that essentially has the Lawful Evil Gods of War Bane and Gruumsh fighting it out for all of eternity. 

The Nine Hells get their own special sections. This repeats some of the details (but not copy-paste) from 3e about the fall of Asmodeus and the creation of Hell. [Aside: D&D really needs its own Silmarillion, Kalevala, or Enūma Eliš] There some small adventure encounters here too. A few more domains are also detailed.

Chapter 3: The Deep Astral Sea is very far removed from the normal lives of mortals. Here various new races are discussed like the familiar Githyanki, and the less familiar Maruts and Quom. Here there are also forgotten and "shattered" domains like Carceri and Pandemonium. 

Chapter 4: Astral Denizens cover our "monsters." Here are 44 new monster stat blocks including six new devils. Among these, there is the return of Bahgtru, Luthic, and Other Side favorite Vaprak

This book would make for a great trilogy of books with "The Plane Below" and "Manual of the Planes." With the PDFs from DriveThruRPG it would not be too difficult to print them out and rearrange as needed.  It would be a 480-page book, but it would also be the ultimate source of the planes knowledge in D&D 4e.

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