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Demonic Cults
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

O ne of the things we want to accomplish in D&D Next is to develop the groups that serve the various demon princes and archdevils. We want to flesh them out into groups that are distinct from each other, each with its own look, agenda, and membership. So this week’s column is basically a stab at that—looking at the ways that mortals worship three different demon princes.

Demogorgon

Demogorgon is sort of the Cthulhu of D&D. Although he’s always been described as highly intelligent, he’s also clearly insane—the idea that his two heads scheme against each other is, I think, only one reflection of that fact. He is a bestial creature of primal rage, a raw destructive force who is acknowledged as “Prince of Demons” because no one else dares challenge him.

There’s no “church” of Demogorgon, no universal symbol adopted by his cultists or standard set of rites they perform. But now and then, people (of whatever sort) come into contact with some fragment of his being, and some hint of the terrible weight he exerts on the cosmos. Perhaps a jungle tribe uncovers an ancient idol carved in his likeness and slowly goes mad, turning to the service of this insane being from the Abyssal depths, worshiping him in bloody rites far from civilization. Or perhaps a wizened sage reads a passage from an ancient tome that fills his mind with visions of the Prince of Demons, and he can’t shake them off—they’re like a sore tooth he can’t help worrying with his tongue, until his mind breaks and he brings others into a strange, unholy cult. Or an adventuring party spends the night in a ruined temple that was built in Demogorgon’s name, and the same fate befalls them. It’s not a big stretch to imagine that the Temple of Evil Chaos that lies in the heart of the Caves of Chaos (from the classic Keep on the Borderlands adventure) has ties to Demogorgon as well, with its maddening tapestries.

The insane cultists who serve Demogorgon have certain tendencies in common. They sever the heads of people they sacrifice to their Prince. They’re often obsessed with bifurcating themselves—splitting their hands between the ring and middle finger, cutting a line of skin along the center of the head. They write crazed tomes of maniacal ravings, or carve strange idols to mimic the image that seeded their madness. (The image of Richard Dreyfuss shaping his mashed potatoes into the image of Devil’s Mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind came up in our conversations.) They’re drawn to lurid purples and greens, the colors of the Prince of Demons’ scales.

Demogorgon is hard to contact, but the barlgura demons are his servants and one might occasionally answer a summoning intended to contact the Prince of Demons. If he ever were summoned to the Material Plane, it would be like Cthulhu rising from R’lyeh or Godzilla coming to Tokyo—an unstoppable force of destruction.

Baphomet

Cults of Baphomet are more organized and have more threads in common. Some minotaurs serve him, of course, but even when humans form cults devoted to the Horned King they can get very minotaur-like.

Imagine a group of decadent nobles who gather in secret underground sanctums to indulge their inner savagery. They have captured innocent townsfolk and imprisoned them here, and on one special night they release the prisoners into a maze they’ve constructed. The prisoners are unarmed, of course, but the cultists who follow them in carry axes or knives or cruelly barbed whips. And the night is spent hunting, stalking, and killing these victims.

Baphomet is the god of Mr. Hyde, the dark inner self who resists the strictures of conventional morality and polite behavior and indulges in violence. Evil minotaurs have no civilized mask to set aside, but his human cultists do, and that’s how they worship their demonic lord.

Baphomet’s worshipers, human and minotaur alike, use symbols of mazes (perhaps something like a Celtic knot) to show their allegiance to the Horned King, whose Abyssal home is an enormous maze. They use dark brown and rust-red colors in their ceremonial garb. Goristros are the demons that serve him most commonly.

Graz’zt

All the lurid stories extracted from so-called witches in the Salem witch trials? That’s what the cultists of Graz’zt are like. If Baphomet is the violent, sadistic side of the shadow self, Graz’zt represents the decadent, lustful, hedonistic side. Graz’zt’s cults are fundamentally nihilistic, based around no sense of hope or meaning, just a desire to enjoy life’s fleeting pleasures without restraint of any kind.

Graz’zt, too, has his cults of decadent nobles who use the worship of the demon prince as little more than an excuse to indulge all their carnal appetites. But he is also served by “witches” (men and women both) of the lower classes who gather in the fields to worship the Dark Prince in what might look a lot like fertility rites. In some ways, they are—Graz’zt likes siring children, spreading his influence and his likeness throughout the planes. Succubi and half-demons serve him and frequently appear among his worshipers to propagate the demonic bloodline in the mortal world.

The Dark Prince’s six-fingered hand is his symbol, and children born of his blood often have six fingers themselves. Black and white are his colors.

What Do You Think?

So, now we have presented three demon cults in the mortal world. How did we do?

 How well do the cults of Demogorgon described here fit with your sense of the worship of the Prince of Demons in the D&D world?  
1—Terrible: Keep your Cthulhu out of my Demogorgon.
2—Pretty bad: I don’t see much of a resemblance.
3—So-so: It makes sense, but it doesn’t grab me.
4—Pretty good: I can see using such a thing in my game.
5—Awesome: This is what I’ve always wanted from Demogorgon in the game.

 How well do the cults of Baphomet described here fit with your sense of the Horned King’s worship in the D&D world?  
1—Terrible: Keep your Mr. Hyde out of my Baphomet.
2—Pretty bad: I don’t see much of a resemblance.
3—So-so: It makes sense, but it doesn’t grab me.
4—Pretty good: I can see using such a thing in my game.
5—Awesome: This is what I’ve always wanted from Baphomet in the game.

 How well do the cults of Graz’zt described here fit with your sense of the Dark Prince’s worship in the D&D world?  
1—Terrible: Keep your Salem witches out of my Graz’zt.
2—Pretty bad: I don’t see much of a resemblance.
3—So-so: It makes sense, but it doesn’t grab me.
4—Pretty good: I can see using such a thing in my game.
5—Awesome: This is what I’ve always wanted from Graz’zt in the game.

 Do you feel like these three cults are distinct and recognizable? If you came across one of the cults, could you tell which demon prince it served?  
No, they blur together too much.
I guess, but they could be better differentiated.
Yes, they feel like three distinct entities in the world.

Previous Poll Results

Daemon, yugoloth, or just make ’em demons?
Yugoloth -- it worked for two editions, and it'll work again. 845 52.4%
Daemon -- stick with the classics. 392 24.3%
Demon -- the distinction is too subtle, and they're awfully demonic. 376 23.3%
Total 1613 100.0%

How many arms should a mezzoloth have?
Four 813 56.4%
Two. 576 39.9%
Other. 53 3.7%
Total 1442 100.0%

How many arms should a nycaloth have?
Two. 777 55.7%
Four. 551 39.5%
Other. 66 4.7%
Total 1394 100.0%

Overall, how well does this description of the mezzoloth match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
4 -- Yeah, I recognize that as a mezzoloth. 625 55.6%
3 -- It's getting there. 249 22.2%
5 -- Eclavdra would be pleased to summon such a wonderful mezzoloth to her service. 126 11.2%
2 -- It's not really doing anything for me. 110 9.8%
1 -- I don't know what it is, but it's not a mezzoloth/mezzodaemon. 14 1.2%
Total 1124 100.0%

Overall, how well does this description of the nycaloth match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
4 -- Yeah, I recognize that as a nycaloth. 578 53.3%
3 -- It's getting there. 273 25.2%
5 -- Eclavdra would be pleased to summon such a wonderful nycaloth to her service. 113 10.4%
2 -- It's not really doing anything for me. 106 9.8%
1 -- I don't know what it is, but it's not a nycaloth/nycadaemon. 14 1.3%
Total 1084 100.0%

Anthraxus? Phraxas?
Anthraxus is an appropriately foul name. Stick with it. 656 52.0%
Just call him the Oinoloth, a title that is held by different yugoloths at different times. 282 22.4%
Get rid of him entirely, and go with the ultroloth "General of Gehenna" or some other figure as the leader of the yugoloths. 169 13.4%
Anthraxus makes me uncomfortable. Stick with Phraxas. 154 12.2%
Total 1261 100.0%

Demodand? Gehreleth?
Gehreleth -- it worked for Planescape, and it'll work again. 702 55.1%
Demodand -- stick with the classics (and 3E!). 571 44.9%
Total 1273 100.0%

Overall, how well do these descriptions of gehreleths match with your sense of the iconic D&D creatures?
4 -- Yeah, I recognize them as gehreleths. 520 47.7%
3 -- It's getting there. 280 25.7%
2 -- It's not really doing anything for me. 155 14.2%
5 -- With these awesome gehreleths there, I'm staying away from Carceri for sure! 113 10.4%
1 -- I don't know what they are, but they're not gehreleths/demodands. 23 2.1%
Total 1084 100.0%

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.
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