This month, Monster Manual 2 unleashes a veritable horde of monsters into the game, from returning favorites to entirely new critters. While we could not look back at each one of those returning from past editions (behir, iron golem, bullywug—we salute you), we did want to present something of a retrospective on the MM2's cover monster: the monkey-headed, tentacle-armed Prince of Demons himself—Demogorgon.
On the Use of Demons
Personally speaking, my own deep enjoyment of the game's first monster manuals came from their eclectic, almost encyclopedic, listing of creatures from such a wide mix of genres. D&D's creators did not limit themselves to including just the monsters they created out of whole cloth; instead, they mined a vast array of resources, statting out creatures from legend, literature, medieval bestiaries… as well as their own creations. Even the creators' toys influenced the game, a set of Japanese plastic monsters becoming the canonical rust monster and bulette. According to Steve Winter, these toys were sold at the Ben Franklin store next to the Dungeon Hobby Shop in Lake Geneva well into the 1980s. He believes the owlbear, umber hulk, and carrion crawler may even have come from this store as well.
For a kid that loved (and really, what kid didn’t love) monsters, dinosaurs, Greek mythology, and knights—a book that collected them all together, added new creations, and let you play with them in game… what could possibly be better? I'm not ashamed to admit that the 1st Edition Monster Manual allowed for a secondary activity as well: the book's black and white illustrations were ready made for a kid like me to color in.
A brief mention here of the general inclusion of demons and devils in the game's bestiary. We need not get into 2nd Edition's renaming conventions (or circumventions), or their return in 3rd Edition forward. Considering D&D's creators left almost no source unexplored in order to populate their game with creatures, it's no wonder they also brought along the demons and devils of literature and theology. And really—in my opinion—it's a fine thing that they did, for this reason alone: the fouler and more dangerous the opponents in the game, the more heroic the player characters are allowed to become.
And who could be fouler, more dangerous, than fiendish Demogorgon!
Demogorgon in the Game
Demogorgon entered the game—along with his chief rival, Orcus—in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, written by Gary Gygax and Brian Blume. It's unclear how his distinctively horrible appearance came about—if there was ever literary reference to a double monkey-headed demon, or if this was entirely the inventors' creation. Granted, Appendix D of the 1st Edition DMG allowed random physical combinations for creatures of the lower planes: monkey-likes heads and tentacle-arms could be derived, but not the two headed feature of Demogorgon:
It is contended by some that this demon prince is supreme, and in any event he is awesome in his power. This gigantic demon is 18' tall and reptilian. Demogorgon has two heads which bear the visages of evil baboons or perhaps mandrills with the hideous coloration of the latter named beasts. His blue-green skin is plated with snake-like scales, his body and legs are those of a giant lizard, his twin necks resemble snakes, and his thick tail is forked. Rather than having arms, he has great tentacles. His appearance testifies to his command of cold-blooded things such as serpents, reptiles, and octopi.
Actual literary references to Demogorgon, however, can be found in such various texts as Milton's Paradise Lost, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, even a mention in Moby Dick. It's well worth taking a look at his origins, as well as those of other such fiends familiar to the game—in various sources, Demogorgon has a palace in the Himalayas and holds council with the genies of the world. Orcus has his own literary connections, his name having evolved into Tolkien's "orcs." And Asmodeus, over on the devils' side of things, appears in stories of Solomon and his mystic ring.
Demogorgon's game stats changed little in his next appearance in 1st Edition's Monster Manual, with his heads hypnotizing a vast number of lesser beings, his forked tail lashing as a massive whip, and his tentacles able to grab and rot opponents; add to that, a wild array of other powers and abilities: continual darkness, charm person, create illusion, cause fear, levitate, detect magic, read magic, read languages, detect invisible objects, ESP, dispel magic, clairvoyance, clairaudience, suggest, water breathe, polymorph self, wall of ice, charm monster, telekinesis, feeblemind, project image, power word stun, symbol, turn sticks to snakes, and (phew!) gate in other demons (possibly to the cries of "You know we're billing you overtime for this," and "We were told there'd be cake!"). He was, by most estimates, the toughest demon in the Monster Manual by a fair margin and arguably the toughest thing in the whole book. Only Asmodeus could stand up to him, and smart money would probably still be on Demogorgon. Orcus and Baalzebul came in a reasonably close 3rd/4th, but Orcus would have been smoked without his wand of death.
Both Demogorgon and Orcus appeared in the D&D Immortals rules set for the Basic Game. In this incarnation, Demogorgon was referred to as "she", and went by such nicknames as The Child, Bane of Souls, The Lizard King (no offense, Jim Morrison), and The Dark Lady (really no offense, Shakespeare). A bizarre take, this version of Demogorgon "often polymorphs into the form of a human child, apparently the essence of youth and innocence. When she chooses to fight, however, she assumes her normal form."
By 2nd Edition, Demogorgon's background began to incorporate things aquatic (hence his swim speed and association with Dagon). And while his 4E description mentions kuo-toa followers, earlier versions—including the 2nd Edition Monster Mythology—focus more on the vampiric ixixachitl:
Why he chose the ixixachitl to become his worshipers, and why that race of sentient rays has chosen to follow him, is very hard to determine. Demogorgon may wish to use the ixixachitl to further the ambitions of the tanar'ri in the Blood War, although how they could help him is not clear. What is known is that Demogorgon has a hatred of Sekolah the sahuagin god; some myths portray the tanar'ri as a one-time vassal of Sekolah, magically compelled to service through an artifact. Demogorgon does not direct ixixachitl attacks specifically at sahuagin, but he is pleased if his servants happen to find themselves in a position where sahuagin are the logical next target for their massed attacks.
From the ixixachitl's point of view, they may be gaining power from their association with Demogorgon-as is the tanar'ri lord himself. Through some strange warp in the Abyss, it may be that the actions of vampiric ixixachitl in energy draining victims (in sacrifices in many instances) somehow transfer magical energy to Demogorgon and strengthen him. This twist in the planar fabric may somehow amplify and transform this energy, and some of it appears to create a backlash on the ixixachitl, who have become more powerful spellcasters than they once were. The fact that vampiric ixixachitl alone can become the most powerful priests seems to support this hypothesis.
In 3rd Edition, Demogorgon appeared in a number of sources, including the Book of Vile Darkness (where his monkey heads oddly transformed into hyena heads), Fiendish Codex I, as well as being gloriously depicted on the cover of Dragon Magazine #357 and statted within by James Jacobs.
In the 4th Edition Monster Manual 2, Demogorgon not only returns to take on the players—but with the two sides of his personality taking on each other as well. As explained in his lore:
Arcana DC 22: Demogorgon’s two heads are named Aameul and Hethradiah. Aameul prefers deception, and Hethradiah favors destruction. Originally, Demogorgon had one head and one mind. A mighty blow from the deity Amoth split him nearly in two before Demogorgon killed Amoth. After he healed, Demogorgon’s head remained split. The two heads often disagree with one another but turn disagreement to their mutual advantage. For instance, one head struck an alliance with a powerful lich queen of the deep Shadowfell, and the other killed her to steal her powers.
Arcana DC 37: Twins born to cultists or kidnapped and indoctrinated at a young age lead Demogorgon’s mightiest cults. Each twin serves one of Demogorgon’s two personalities. Invariably, such a cult falls to infighting as one high priest turns against the other, hindering many a foul plot.
A Rival Throwdown
From their mutual introduction in Eldritch Wizardry, Demogorgon and Orcus have long feuded. "Rivalry between demon lords is great, but the enmity between Demogorgon and Orcus is immense and unending." In 4th Edition, Orcus appeared first, on the cover of the Monster Manual and presented within as a Level 33 Solo Brute (Leader). In the MM2, Demogorgon now appears as a Level 34 Solo Controller.
While our current Creature Competition (with our final round being voted on right now) did not involve open combat between the entrants, let's consider that question between Orcus and Demogorgon. If push comes to shove (comes to raining deadly blows upon each other's head or heads), who do you think would win in a fight between these demon princes?
After casting your vote, consider our own very unscientific results:
In your own version of this challenge, you might play these two as originally presented, or you might reconfigure Orcus closer to the newer solo monster design tenets: give him 20% fewer hit points, -2 defenses, but also increase his damage output by 50% when bloodied. Either way, if you do recreate this challenge, we'd love to hear about it at: email@example.com.
As a side note, Chris Youngs and I have our next challenge already lined up: Ancient Red vs. Ancient Gold Dragon!
About the Authors
It is possible that Bart Carroll is a relative of the beholder, for there are remarkable similarities between the two species. Bart dwells only at great depths of the ocean, floating slowly about, stalking prey. He has two huge crab-like pincers to seize its victims and a mouth full of small sharp teeth. His primary weapons, however, are his eyes. The author has a large central eye which emits a blinding flash of light to dazzle and stun those in its unless a saving throw versus death ray/poison is made. The author also has two smaller eyes on long stalks with which he is able to create an illusion; or, acting independently, the small eyes are able to cast hold person and hold monster spells respectively.
Steve Winter is a writer, game designer, and web producer living in the Seattle area. He's been involved with publishing D&D in one form or another since 1981. Tiny people and monsters made of plastic and lead are among his favorite obsessions.