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When Demons Intrude
By James Wyatt

I n this week's Legends & Lore, Mike talked a little bit about the monster story work we're doing right now, presenting the (a?) tale of the medusa's origins. Today, I want to talk about a story element that has cropped up a couple of times in our discussions. Basically, we want to make it very clear in the story of the D&D worlds that when demons enter the world, it's a Bad Thing—and when demon princes enter the world, they leave a stain that will never be removed.

Summoning Demons

A variety of summoning spells throughout the game's history has allowed spellcasters to bring creatures from the elemental and Outer Planes to the Material Plane. That's a part of D&D history we want to keep, for sure, and we're not particularly excited about having people summon celestial badgers or fiendish piranhas. We think calling a creature from the Outer Planes, particularly, should be a pretty big deal, and it should get you a recognizable celestial or fiend—something you can find in the Monster Manual without adding a template.

But summoning a vrock or a bone devil is not easy. Well, bringing a devil to you isn't necessarily hard, but getting it to do what you want it to do is trickier—you need to give it something as well. And summoning a demon requires a messy blood sacrifice, so you're not going to do it unless you're really evil. It's easier to bring something like a modron or slaad, a yugoloth, or a gehreleth (demodand), and there are fewer strings attached.

So you know that when an evil cult is working to bring a demon prince into the world, there's going to be a lot of slaughter even before the demon shows up. And the results aren't going to be pleasant.


Where did the gnolls come from? One story goes like this:

Ages ago, in some Prime Material world that is long gone and all but forgotten, a group of mad cultists succeeded in opening a gate to the 422nd layer of the Abyss and brought forth Yeenoghu. With a single sweep of his multiheaded flail, the demon prince annihilated the cultists, now useless to him, and he set out on a rampage of destruction and slaughter.

Nothing could stand against his terrible might. Packs of wild hyenas trailed in his wake, keeping a safe distance but feasting on the carrion he left behind. The more they ate, the stronger and bolder they grew, and Yeenoghu soon had a wild horde of demonic hyenas hunting at his side.

At last, somehow, his wild rampage was stopped. Some legends say that it was Yondalla, of all people, who stood up to him, countering his desolation with her abundance and his slaughter with her bounteous life. Whoever it was, Yeenoghu was defeated and sent back to the Abyss with his tail between his legs, and his pack of demonic hyenas went with him.

The last of the hyenas, though—those that had not yet grown large and strong enough to fight at their master's side—feasted on the gore left behind in the great battle between Yeenoghu and his opponent. These hyenas were transformed, gaining a shard of the demon prince's cunning and savagery and changing into his physical image.

They became gnolls.

Although they were originally contained to that one Prime Material world, they spread like a plague and infected nearly every known world of the D&D multiverse.

And let that be a lesson: When a demon prince enters the world, no world is untouched by its corruption.

Orcus and the Bloodstone Lands

Long ago, a cult of Orcus almost succeeded in bringing Orcus into the land of Vaasa, in the Forgotten Realms setting. (This saga is told in a strange series of adventures: H1, Bloodstone Pass; H2, Mines of Bloodstone; H3, Bloodstone Wars; and H4, Throne of Bloodstone, all published in 1985–88. Strange because H1 featured large-scale combat using the Battlesystem rules, and H4 was ostensibly for characters level 18–100.) The spirit of Orcus possessed a duergar and ravaged an entire city of svirfneblin before it was destroyed. But Orcus remained a threat, with a gate to his home in the Abyss remaining and his cultists working to bring him bodily into the world.

They did not succeed, but Vaasa was never the same. Though its Witch-King was defeated and the hordes of humanoids, undead, and demons that served him were routed, the demonic influence of Orcus is still felt to this day. The ruined Castle Perilous, once the home of the Witch-King, has recently sloughed off its façade of ancient, crumbling stone and re-emerged as a sleek and dark edifice, shimmering with black runes.

It is even possible that the dreaded Warlock Knights of Vaasa, ostensibly powered by a metal they call ironfell, harvested from the regenerating body of a fallen primordial, are not entirely free from Orcus's lingering influence. Perhaps Orcus's power drew Telos to Vaasa, or it could be his will, not that of some inert primordial, that exerts itself through the strange ironfell.

What Do You Think?

Are we on the right track here?

Previous Poll Results

Does this description of goblins and kobolds help you make the decision of which to use in an adventure?
No, I consider them interchangeable and that’s fine with me. 41 2%
No, I still have no idea why I’d choose one over the other. 54 3%
No, I already use a different set of criteria to decide which to use. 384 23%
No, I knew all this already. 341 20%
Yes, I’ll use these criteria from now on. 508 30%
Yes, it inspired me to come up with different criteria 354 21%
Total 1682 100%

Can you imagine an innkeeper sighing and saying, “We’ve got kobolds,” as if he had a vermin infestation?
No, it trivializes what should be a serious threat. 569 33%
No, I can’t imagine kobolds tunneling into an inn’s cellar. 72 4%
Maybe, but I’m not likely to use that in my game. 478 28%
Yes, and I’m going to use that—kobolds beat giant rats any day. 571 34%
Total 1690 100%

Is it helpful to imagine goblins as creatures so used to being bullied that they become bullies themselves?
No, there’s really nothing funny about that. 183 11%
No, goblins shouldn’t have humorous elements to them. 130 8%
Yes, but I already knew that. 782 46%
Yes, that helps me understand how to use goblins better. 603 35%
Total 1698 100%

Is it helpful to think of kobolds like vermin that hate being seen?
No, it’s too far from the traditional kobold. 443 26%
No, kobolds shouldn’t have humorous elements to them. 202 12%
Yes, but I already knew that. 330 19%
Yes, that helps me understand how to use kobolds better. 702 41%
Total 1677 100%

What do you think regarding goblins as wolf-riders?
They have no business riding wolves. 77 5%
They should always ride pathetic wolf-dogs like you describe. 147 9%
They should ride pathetic wolf-dogs unless hobgoblins put them on better mounts. 664 39%
They should ride normal, tough wolves with more hit points than they have. 510 30%
They should ride dire wolves or worgs that are much scarier than they are. 279 16%
Total 1677 100%

Does this description of goblinoid mythology make sense to you?
No, and it doesn’t account for all the goblinoid deities. 57 3%
No, I don’t use these deities in my campaign. 247 15%
Sure, but I’m not likely to use it in my game. 563 33%
Yes, but I already knew that. 177 10%
Yes, that helps me understand how to use goblinoids better. 640 38%
Total 1684 100%

Does this description of Kurtulmak make sense to you?
No, I don’t think kobolds have a mythical paradise. 107 6%
No, I don’t use Kurtulmak in my campaign. 256 15%
Sure, but I’m not likely to use it in my game. 514 30%
Yes, but I already knew that. 233 14%
Yes, that helps me understand how to use kobolds better. 570 34%
Total 1680 100%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
It appears a certain amount of effort has gone into promoting gnolls as the new "always-evil" race, the one you can slaughter at-will without any moral qualms. Orcs used to fill that role, but the popularity of half-orc characters, and in particular the influence of the Warcraft games, have led them away from that and into the "honorable warrior-race" territory, much like Klingons in Star Trek.
Myself, I prefer the stance that only outsiders (demons, angels, etc) are wholly good or wholly evil. Mortal races have free will, including "monster" races like orcs and gnolls.
I don't have a story for the origin of gnolls, but for the origin of Yeenoghu, I really like the story in Ursula Vernon's webcomic "Digger" (she doesn't use the words "Yeenoghu" or "gnoll", but she portrays a society of tribal hyena-people who are very gnoll-like).
Somewhat paraphrased:
In mythic times, there were two hyena deities, He-Is ... (see all)
Posted By: Otookee (11/4/2013 7:19:27 AM)


I thought the canon already established Orcus as having a big influence on Vaasa? H4 certainly makes it clear that Orcus will return, and the 4E FR sourcebook certainly seems to reinforce that. For what it is worth, the Living Forgotten Realms adventures did a great job with that material across 3 adventures: SPEC2-2 Tyranny's Bleak Depths, SPEC2-2 Tyranny's Bitter Frost, and SPEC2-2 Tyranny's Perilous Bastion.
Posted By: Alphastream1 (11/3/2013 6:49:56 PM)


Interesting story for Yeenoghu, but not for the origin of gnolls.
In my campaign setting, Yeenoghu, Baphomet, Semuanya and others beast-like humanoids demon or deities where mortal creations of the firsts gods, later deserted, who have searched immortality for itselves. Some becomes gods, some becomes demon princes, many dies trying.
In this search for power, Yeenoghu become the archenemy of a feline-like god and the races he later create, so the gnolls where created to slaying this felines peoples (yes, its dogs versus cats!).
Why the gnolls have ever hungries? Because Yeenoghu, before gain the status of demon prince, die starved (so he gain also his decaying aspect).

Remember that summoning demons may happen by deceive or desperation.
------------------------------------------------------------------------... (see all)
Posted By: Eilistraecomeback (10/25/2013 6:39:40 PM)


I agree with the blanket statement that summoning demons should be a bad thing. I also like the idea that summoning a demon prince leaves a lasting impact on the world.

However, I hated the Gnoll origin story. It baffles me that 73% of people are ok with that as a story. Did one of the designers summon a demon prince to leave that lasting mark on the poll? I can't express enough how much I hate the Gnoll story.
Posted By: Johnny_Angel (10/25/2013 4:05:22 AM)


I like the general premise. Summoning Demons should (by default; individual campaigns may differ) be a big deal, and a Demon Prince should be an even bigger deal. I 100% agree with that.

Though, I didn't really understand the point of the Orcus mention. It seemed a little bland with a side of bland while not really making sense in the context of the article.

I dislike the Gnoll story. I dislike it less now that I've had time to think about it. My initial reaction was probably more extremely negative than was warranted. I've managed to move from "absolute hate" to "dislike, but can live with I guess."
Posted By: Johnny_Angel (10/25/2013 6:28:06 AM)


Gnolls are descended from hyenas who ate Yeenoghu's gore? Well, I guess it's not any worse than a cross between a gnome and a troll.
Posted By: Tony_Vargas (10/24/2013 10:14:54 PM)


As to the evilness of summoning demons, I think it should come down to the method used. There are lots of sources that suggest demons and devils could be bound by a wizard who uses specific runes, circles and items to bind the entity into service against its will. This would not, intrinsically, be an evil act. After all, Cadderly from R.A. Salvatore's Cleric Quintet summons a devil through such means in one of the Drizzt novels. Alternatively, cultists who use sacrifices to summon demons do so to entice a demon or devil to serve willingly because they wish to align themselves to it. That would be an evil act.
Posted By: SpellBlayde (10/23/2013 11:10:37 PM)


What in the Hells even ARE Yugoloths and Gehreleths?
Posted By: Pantone (10/23/2013 8:30:45 PM)


Just like Devils (such as Baatezu) are Lawful Evil beings that dwell in the nine Hells (the LE outer plane) and and Demons (such as Tanar'ri) are Chaotic Evil beings that dwell in the infinite layers of the Abyss (the CE outer plane), Daemons (such as Yugoloths) are Neutral Evil beings that dwell in the wastes of Caceri (the NE outer plane).

Since D&D used neutral mostly in the "balanced, middle path sense" a lot (as opposed to the "ignorant, incapable of making a decision" sense that might now be called "unaligned"), these fiends may be thought of a more natural, straight-forward sort of evil than the tyrannical bureaucracy of Hell or the mindlessly destructive hordes of the Abyss. Basically "what do you mean 'neutrality isn't an interesting ethicsl position'?" fiends.

Gehreleths I'd never heard of until today. Apparently they are NE fiends, but are also a pet race of an arch-fiend called Apomps, who personally creates ... (see all)
Posted By: longwinded (10/24/2013 12:45:09 PM)


I don't care for this gnoll origin story. I prefer something closer to the classical minotaur creation myth. You know, when Zeus transforms into a bull and mates with a woman to produce the half-man/half-bull hybrid. Something like that would be cool for the gnoll. Gnolls as the result of some unholy coupling.
Posted By: earthwizard (10/23/2013 4:00:26 PM)


I think summoning Demons or Devils should require a sacrifice. Indeed, I feel summoning anything should require some type of sacrifice, including angels. Sacrifice, in itself, is not evil.

The type of summon attempted though, should affect the type of sacrifice required. Summoning an imp may only require killing a rat, or similarly small animal. Sacrificing sentient life would produce more impressive results.

When considering other extra-planar creatures, the sacrifice should be appropriate to the nature of the creature. Maybe summoning an elemental of fire requires destroying something valuable in a pyre. Like wise, summoning an angel, may not require the destruction of something valuable, but instead sacrificing time. Maybe the ritual can only be successfully performed after having already completed hours, months, or years of hard labor towards the goals of the Celestial that chosen.
Posted By: nefestous (10/23/2013 1:02:52 PM)


That's a pretty weak origin story for gnolls. "Demon breaks in, smashes up the place, and absent-mindedly leaves his kids to keep smashing up the place" doesn't inspire any real adventure ideas or interesting ways to use the monster in question.

Try and keep the origin story for the monsters personal and from the ground level, rather than focusing on the demon-god that tossed them out and then buggered off.
Posted By: wetsail (10/23/2013 11:43:35 AM)


I actually liked this article. Very good read so far.
Yes, I think that, in order to summon demons, you should make bloody sacrifices. It is a good catch. However I don’t think that someone who did this is necessarily always evil. Sometimes people are desperate. But yes, summoning outsides should be a big deal. Maybe if each kind of outsider required a different method… This would be exciting.
Loved the story about gnolls, now that is a story worth of a fantasy RPG: overflowing fantasy. I want more of these stories, not just “they evolved from dinosaurs”. I mean, evolution? Really?
Thank you, for a read that made me excited in Next in a very long time. Now if you talked about Nerath… That would make me happy!
Posted By: cassi_brazuca (10/23/2013 11:33:15 AM)


You know that Yeenoghu story would have made a sweet high level adventure. I like the multiversal aspect of it as well.
Posted By: Mechagamera (10/23/2013 10:29:46 AM)


If summoning fiends is inherently evil, then that kind of screws over summoners. What ends up happening is you get into a catch-22 situation: If you summon a demon, you are EVIL for summoning a fiend. But instead if you summon an angel you are EVIL because you are controlling a being of good.
Posted By: Luke-Lightning (10/23/2013 10:25:28 AM)


What if, instead of "controlling", we look at it as "contracting"? Summoning an angel to help out a good cause is just giving that angel an opportunity to do something it's happy to do.

Summoning less benevolent things--modrons and slaads, for example--might instead suggest that you're somehow paying them for their services (even if that payment is just part of the magical energy expended in the casting of the summoning spell).
Posted By: Matt_Sheridan (10/23/2013 12:53:04 PM)


My personal view is that this falls into the category of things better left up to the individual playing groups to decide. anyone with the necessary know how, skill, and power can summon a planar creature. In my group for example, if a PC wants or needs to summon a demon to extract information from it, he or she should probably be able to do so without having to kill the neighbor's cat (or the neighbor!). Perhaps tie the component used in the summoning ritual with the intent behind the summoning. If I'm summoning a demon to kill my rival, perhaps a blood sacrifice helps fulfill the bargain, but if I'm summoning a demon to interrogate it, perhaps burning a scroll of secret magic sufficies: the component used relates to the intended goal. Consider also that if summoning a demon requires a blood sacrifice, what does summoning an angel require? If an evil PC wishes to summon an angel, does he or she need to donate all their worldly goods to the nearest church and help five grandmoth... (see all)
Posted By: SkidJax (10/23/2013 9:04:20 AM)


You hit the nail when you describe a story as a possibility.

A legend says that Gnolls were created like that, but that legend could be just wrong, something that gnolls believe in and is spread in certain parts of the world.

That's how fantasy lore should be, in my opinion. They 4E described almost everything as true lore didn't help creating stories at all.

By assuming that summoning evil creatures is always an act of evil you are killing the possibility of people being mislead into summoning a evil creature.
Posted By: Avin (10/23/2013 6:38:00 AM)


The Yeenoghu story is rather good, and fits into every setting imaginable, and makes a nice connection between gnolls and the thing they worship. Adds more depth and colour to both gnolls and ole Yeenoghu, so keep it.

My issue with the orcus-concept is that it is tied to one place in a particular setting, and thusly to the NPCs tied to that area; so it isn't of too much use in a game not set in the FR, that lacks the location, NPCs and background. And it reads -sorry- like some old ideas just gobbled into one pot and boiled a while. It doesnt add much to Orcus or his cult. Its just a nondescript potential adventure location on the map, but contributes nothing new to the story of the demon lord O.
Posted By: Schmieth (10/23/2013 6:23:14 AM)


I love this idea. I think summoning a demon should be a messy and wholy evil business because they are creatures of hate, rage, and destruction. On the other hand it should be easy to summon a devil and be open even to good beings because devils are about corruption, and what better way to corrupt a hero of good then pretending to be an ally? Also please make angels, archons, guardinals, and eladrin celestials again. Queen Morwell should be the Queen of the Court of Stars and the Seelie and Unseelie courts should be seperate.
Posted By: Butters7 (10/23/2013 5:50:47 AM)


I commented on the recent article about proposed new fluff for the medusa that I like these kinds of details if they're presented as possibilities or as things that are specific to a particular campaign setting, but hate them if they're presented as being universal (a new "default" for the whole game). These bits about demons are great examples of the kind of fluff presentation that I like. They tell specific stories that have interesting details, but they don't imply that those details will necessarily apply to all campaigns. If this is the kind of stuff that shows up in the new core books, I'll be quite pleased.
Posted By: goldengod (10/23/2013 3:52:53 AM)


I like stories like these, and they could go into an Monster Manual entry for these demon lords. But, you really should leave out the Forgotten Realms stuff. Not everybody uses FR as their campaign world. Nor should they feel like they need to use FR stuff to enjoy DnD.

Keep the FR myths to an FR campaign guide. Core books, like MM's, either need to be campaign world-free, or waste a lot of space giving a paragraph for each 'official' campaign world and how that creature fits into it.

I agree, there should be a Summoner as a Mage subclass (or however that will be eventually worded). Summoners should be able to summon beasties equal to their level, and use their actions to direct the summoned creature (or creatures) in combat.
Posted By: seti (10/23/2013 2:30:41 AM)


I'd be fine with setting-specific information touched on briefly in core books. I didn't recognize any of the references in the Orcus story, but if the Monster Manual just had something like "in the Forgotten Realms, Orcus was summoned to the land of Vasa X years ago, and it remains desolate and corrupted to this day." I get an idea of the long-lasting power that Orcus has, and enough information to look into the story further if it interests me, while not requiring me to know anything about the setting.
Posted By: LawfulNifty (10/23/2013 5:11:06 PM)


I agree - monster manual information should be setting-neutral, with maybe at the most a paragraph or two after the main entry denoting any information related to settings the monster plays an important role in.

What worries me the most of absolutely anything about 5e is that it will be Forgotten Realms centric in terms of presentation. The system so far is pretty fantastic, the rules the exact right blend of light and heavy - but if every book is going to be hawking how awesome the Realms are, I'm going to be running Dungeon World or 13th Age.
Posted By: wetsail (10/23/2013 7:14:31 PM)


I have always firmly believed there should be a dedicated mage class focussed entirely on the summoning and control of extra planar creatures.
Essentially these mages have spells designed around making summons more powerful but don't do much in combat themselves as they direct a more powerful creature to fight for them.
PLEASE design at least a school of wizardry that focuses on this. Other mages can then get watered down versions of these spells.
Posted By: Rartemass (10/23/2013 1:52:30 AM)


Solomon was said to summon demons to do his bidding. I think it should be possible to summon demons for good ends, but at the same time require some sort of specialized and powerful magical item to do so. Otherwise, demons can only really be summoned by the truly vile and those willing to do horrible things.

I don't mind the demonic origins of gnolls, but as someone who opposes the idea that all members of a mortal race are inherently evil (I make exceptions for dragons, but I chalk that up to their immense power tying up their free will). I think Yondalla might have done what she could to purge their demonic energies, but failed to affect most of them, and the ones she managed to purify still had some innate strangeness to them that makes them hard to deal with.
Posted By: the_Horc (10/23/2013 1:01:32 AM)


I definitely agree with the idea that all mortal races/humanoids/monstrous humanoids should have 'free will'. True, DMs use lots of them as antagonists and adventurer fodder, but...It should be made clear that alignments for any sentient being (INT over 3, in past editions) are variable.

It's really simple to do. Under a MM entry, put the word 'usually' or 'often' in front of a creatures' suggested alignment.
Posted By: seti (10/23/2013 2:52:26 AM)


Yeah, but there needs to be fluff provided so DMs can work out alternatives, instead of just relying solely on the Alignment entry.
Posted By: the_Horc (10/23/2013 9:09:53 AM)


My wizard in 3e loved his celestial badger. He was a summoner and it proved to be a regular ally. It was the unofficial fifth member of the party. It had a name and everything.

It's not inherently exciting or as narratively interesting as summoning demons, but low level summoning magic has a place in the game. I'd dislike it if the 1st level version of Summon Monster was just limited to "big" or "important" planar creatures. Summoning a badger from heaven is as dramatic as you want to make it sound.
Posted By: The_Jester (10/23/2013 12:50:51 AM)