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Soldiers of the Blood War
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

T wo weeks ago, I showed off the story brief I wrote to guide our design team in putting together the beholder for D&D Next. This week, I have the easiest column in the world to write, because I'm pretty much just pasting in those story briefs for a whole bunch more monsters.

But before I get to that, let me share something that we discovered (or remembered) when we got together to talk about demons and devils. We were struck, in looking at their incarnations in past editions of the game, at how much they had changed-and, in particular, expanded. Here's a clear example: the spell-like and other special abilities of the hezrou (or type II demon) in the past four editions of D&D.

1E AD&D 2E AD&D 3.5E D&D 4E D&D
Infravision* Infravision*   Variable resistance*
Darkness 15' radius* Darkness 15' radius*    
Teleportation (no error)* Teleport without error* Greater teleport Demonic step
Gate* Gate* Summon tanar’ri*  
Cause fear Animate object Gaseous form  
Levitate Blink Chaos hammer  
Detect invisible objects Duo-dimension Unholy blight  
Telekinesis Produce flame    
  Protection from normal missiles    
  Summon insects    
  Unholy word Blasphemy  
  Wall of fire    
  Bear hug (grab) Improved grab  
  Stench Stench Noxious stench
* Indicates spell-like abilities common to all demons (tanar'ri).

So the 2nd Edition incarnation of many of these creatures (originally presented in the Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix) simultaneously got a ton of additional spell-like abilities and also acquired some of their most iconic characteristics (the hezrou's stench, for example). Their roles in their home planes were detailed for the first time, but some weird changes happened as well. An example of the latter: the bone devil lost both its bone hook and its gossamer wings.

My principle in working out these story briefs was to hone in as much as possible on what was iconic about each one and strip away any extraneous abilities. In the hezrou's case, I made sure it works as a melee combatant and left it the stench it acquired in 2nd Edition (that has become pretty important to its identity). As it turns out, this is pretty similar to the approach we took in 4th Edition, where we wanted to make sure that every monster's stat block was easy to use and contained all the information the DM needed to run the monster at the table.

As we go through the demons and devils, you'll see a couple of places where I've called out other things that have changed through the editions. I hope that's as interesting to you as it is to me.

Demons and Devils (General)

Demons and devils are fiends, and they are two different forms of evil incarnate. Being evil, they both tempt, they both lie, they both destroy-that's what evil creatures do. It's hard to make broad generalizations about what demons and devils do differently, because there are exceptions on both sides. Most often, the differentiation happens at a more granular level-it's easy to say that this archdevil has different goals and a different way of pursuing them than that demon prince, or even than this other archdevil.

Demons and devils can't enter the Material Plane unless summoned there. More often than not, fiends get involved in mortal conflicts because mortals pull them in-a wizard summons demons to slaughter enemies, or a warlord makes a deal with a devil to increase his or her power in the world.

The Blood War is far more important to demons and devils than any mortal affairs. The yugoloths of Hades, caught in the midst of the war, serve as mercenaries and brokers of both power and information, playing the two sides off each other. The creatures variously known as demodands or gehreleths are not important in the grand scheme of things; they live on the lower planes but don't exemplify the nature and philosophy of those planes the way demons, devils, and yugoloths do.

As a rule, demons and devils should not have long laundry lists of spells or spell-like abilities. The briefs below identify one or two key features of each demon and devil type, and design should focus on those specific elements rather than throwing in all sorts of extraneous abilities.

Demons
Type: Fiend
Level: By type
Environment: Abyss

The chaotic evil demons live in the Abyss, where demon princes rule them. Demons have no real hierarchy, but the strong lord it over the weak and pull together bands of servants and slaves to do their bidding. They crave power for power's sake.

Demons summoned to the Material Plane never serve willingly-they all believe they are superior to mere mortals and should not have to serve a lesser creature. Unless carefully bound, they make every possible effort to kill those mortals foolish enough to summon them. When demons take the initiative to mess around in the mortal realm, it's typically in an effort to gain more personal power-they want to claim a powerful artifact (like the Crystal Shard) or legendary tome. Sometimes, demons that find themselves unable to exercise power in the Abyss make their way into the Material Plane and lord it over the puny mortals there. (Several wizards of Greyhawk who were actually demons are examples of this behavior.)

Demons come in a tremendous variety. No two demon princes look alike or resemble any other kind of demon, and each demon prince has some unique forms of demon that serve it alone (as yochlol serve Lolth, for example, or goristros serve Baphomet).

Demons have a handful of common features. They're resistant to cold, fire, and lightning, and, except for the very weakest demons (manes, dretches, and quasits), they have magic resistance. They have darkvision. They have the telepathic ability to communicate with any intelligent creature.

Demons can gate in other demons, usually limited to demons weaker than themselves, but they are hesitant to use this power unless desperate. Summoning aid from another demon creates the appearance of weakness, and it puts the summoner in the other demon's debt. Summoning lesser demons and demanding their aid is the best tactic, as long as the summoner can maintain the illusion of strength.

(For my own purposes, I tried to pick a single word that captures the essence of each demon, so I labeled the balor as a flame demon. We won't actually use those words in final products.)

Balor-Flame Demon. A balor is a Large (12' tall), high-level demon that is primarily a melee combatant, defined by its sword and whip. It uses its whip to drag opponents into the fire that it can create around its body. Its sword, which looks like a jagged lightning bolt, is often a vorpal blade. It has high Intelligence, Strength, and Charisma scores. It is resistant to weapon damage unless the weapon is magic or made of cold-forged iron.

Balors are the most powerful demon except for demon princes, and they often gather weaker demons around themselves until they rule a tiny portion of an abyssal layer like petty demon princelings. They are generals in the Blood War, marshaling armies that are far more organized than most of the howling hordes of the Abyss.

Glabrezu-Hybrid Demon. A glabrezu is a Large (9-1/2' tall-it got much bigger in 2E), high-level demon, standing between the hezrou and the nalfeshnee in power. Known for having two pair of arms, it's capable of both devastating melee attacks with its huge pincers and magical attacks using its smaller, humanlike arms, combining both kinds of attacks in a single round. It casts spells like a wizard of an appropriate level, employing a selection of both single-target and area-effect spells. It has high Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. It resists weapon damage except from magic or cold iron weapons.

Glabrezu are schemers and tempters, and they are the most likely demons to get involved in Material Plane affairs in search of greater power. They are not averse to spending power to gain power, trading artifacts or lore from their own hoards for similar items in the possession of mortals. They hate serving mortals as much as any demon, but they recognize that each visit to the Material Plane offers an opportunity for the demon to increase its power in that realm.

Hezrou-Brute Demon. A hezrou is a Large (just over 7' tall), mid-level demon, more powerful than a vrock but less so than a glabrezu. It is a froglike brute, reveling in the destruction it wreaks with its own hands. Aside from its melee attacks, its only notable feature is the horrible stench it emanates when agitated, comparable to that of a troglodyte. The stench is a poison effect that sickens its enemies. It has a high Strength score but a low Intelligence score.

Hezrous are deferential and obedient to more powerful demons, and they are summoned by mortal spellcasters who want a strong, stupid bodyguard. In the Blood War, they drive hordes of dretches or manes before them, wading into the slaughter with something akin to delight.

Manes-Least Demon. A manes (both singular and plural) is the weakest of demons, the first incarnation of the spirit of a chaotic evil mortal that ends up in the Abyss. It is Small (3' tall), low level, and virtually mindless, with no memory of its mortal life and no will of its own, serving only as fodder for the Blood War and sometimes food for a more powerful demon. It is also the first demon that a young mortal wizard might learn to summon, useful enough in the Material Plane to cause mayhem and destruction on a relatively small scale. It attacks with its weak claws and feeble bite, but it fights fearlessly and relentlessly until it or its target is destroyed. Like a zombie, it is fearless and mindless.

Marilith-Soldier Demon. A marilith is a Large (7' tall), high-level demon with the head and torso of a human woman (slightly larger than human size), six human arms bristling with swords and axes, and the long, thick tail of a snake from the waist down. Domineering and cruel, a marilith is defined by its seven melee attacks-one with each weapon, plus the chance to grab and constrict a foe in its snaky tail. It wields its weapons with tremendous expertise, and its mechanics might want to echo the fighter's because of this. It has high Intelligence, Strength, and Wisdom scores. It is resistant to weapon damage unless the weapon is magical or made of cold-forged iron.

Mariliths are strategists and tacticians in the Blood War, but not necessarily generals. They are consummate officers, devoted to warfare as a principle and disgusted by the subtle machinations of the glabrezu.

Nalfeshnee-Fear Demon. A nalfeshnee is a Large (10-1/2' tall), high-level demon that combines the worst features of an ape and a boar, with tiny wings that seem ridiculously small for its bloated body. As its size and bulk suggest, it is deadly in melee, but its nature is to inspire terror in its foes. It can cause fear at will. Also, as an action, the demon surrounds itself with a nimbus of lurid, shifting colors that offer it some protection against attacks. It can maintain this effect by concentrating, and any time while the nimbus is present the demon can use another action to end the effect, sending beams of light out from its body to daze its enemies. Creatures affected by this burst are plagued by visions of their greatest fears and might run away, frightened, or they might simply stand in a daze of dread and terror. (In 3E, we called this ability Smite, but it's more like a Nimbus of Terror.) It has high Intelligence and Strength scores. It is resistant to weapon damage unless the weapon is magic or made of cold-forged iron.

Nalfeshnees are the judges and punishers of the doomed souls that enter the Abyss, responsible for creating manes from the majority of these souls, and elevating a select few, the most wicked and depraved in life, to a higher status, usually in tormented servitude to a sadistic nalfeshnee. In the Blood War, they are the marshals of the manes, and they strive to recreate those that die on the battlefield as quickly as they are slain.

Succubus-Tempting Demon. A succubus in its natural form appears as a beautiful human woman with horns and huge, batlike wings. Physically the weakest of the demons (except the pathetic manes), succubi use their magical abilities to secure servants and allies for their own protection, ruling through wit and threat rather than a raw show of power. They are not very discriminating in their choice of servitors, selecting from among other demons, devils, yugoloths, and even mortals as the opportunity arises. This might account for the mistaken impression among some mortal sages that succubi are actually devils, rather than demons. Their magical abilities reinforce this role: they can charm, suggest, dominate, and otherwise control weaker-willed creatures, as well as change shape and read thoughts well enough to maintain complex disguises. Succubi have high Intelligence and Charisma scores, but low Strength scores. They are resistant to weapon damage unless the weapon is magic or made of cold-forged iron.

Devils
Type: Fiend
Level: By type
Environment: Nine Hells

Lawful evil devils live in the Nine Hells, organized into a strict hierarchy of archdevils and dukes, each with a retinue of chamberlains, stewards, and other servitors. Their society is strictly regimented from top to bottom, and every devil knows its place. Every devil also resents its place and longs to move to a higher one. The hierarchy is filled with rivalry and antagonism as devils nurture old grudges, plot against their betters, and scheme their way up the social scale of the Hells.

When devils are summoned to the Material Plane, they see opportunity-the opportunity to better their position through clever manipulation, with the end result of obtaining the summoner's soul, which is a valuable currency in the Hells. If properly commanded, they serve the summoner, but they obey the letter of their orders, twist the terms of their contracts, and constantly watch for an advantage in what they see as a very unevenly matched battle of wits. It's also possible for mortals to play a significant role in devils' schemes against each other, though the mortals in this case are pawns in a game much larger than they are and which they can barely hope to understand.

The ranks of the Hells are much more orderly and display less variation than the hordes of demonkind. Apart from the numerous examples of any one kind of devil (thousands of horned devils inhabit the Hells, for example), even the unique devils that fill the upper ranks of the hierarchy tend to stay fairly close to a single form-basically humanoid, with a sinister, often red-tinted appearance.

Devils have a handful of common features. They're resistant to cold and immune to fire, and except for the very weakest devils (lemures) they have magic resistance. They all have darkvision and a special form of telepathy that allows them to communicate with any intelligent creature. Like demons, they can summon other devils to their aid, but they can typically only summon devils of a like kind, and such summons are not always answered.

Asmodeus-Arch-Devil: The Overlord of all the dukes of the Hells, the Ruler of the Ninth, is so mighty as to be virtually or actually a god. He is Large (13-1/2' tall) but otherwise appears as a devilishly handsome man, concealing the ultimate evil he represents behind a charming, sophisticated façade. In combat, he can deal terrible damage with a touch of his ruby rod, and he also wields powers of fire and ice, reflecting his command of the Hells themselves. His angry gaze causes terror and weakness, and he can charm or dominate with a word. He is resistant to weapon damage unless the weapon is magic or made of silver.

The Cultists of Asmodeus are the perfect examples of infernal pact warlocks, wielding powers of fire, charm, and fear like their dark master. They wear his symbol as secret gold amulets or openly, embroidered in scarlet on their black robes, when performing their dark rites. They gather in secret, of course, but find or create spaces for worship that are appropriate to the grandeur of their patron, for Asmodeus will not heed prayers offered in a dingy cellar or dank tomb. His cultists aspire to wealth, power, and prestige, and many of them are nobles and merchants who have already attained plenty of all three, serving their dread lord at night while pretending to be upstanding members of society by day. They perform human sacrifice in elaborate rituals upon ornate altars, preferring beautiful women whose souls will be pleasing to their lord.

Barbed Devil (Hamatula). A barbed devil is a Medium (7' tall), medium-level (lesser) devil defined by the sharp barbs that cover its body. It lies between the erinyes and the bone devil in power. It is exclusively a melee combatant, attacking with its barbed hands and horrid, spiky tail. Its melee attacks also generate supernatural fear in the target-that could be an effect that builds over time or one that applies only on the first hit on a particular target (as in 2E and 3E). It should not grab people in order to impale them on its spikes, as it did in 2E and 3E. It has high Strength and Dexterity scores.

The iconic image of the barbed devil shows it holding a flame in its cupped hand, so it's appropriate to give them an ability equivalent to produce flame, which they can use as a minor ranged attack or just to set things on fire, which they like.

Barbed devils are constantly alert and make excellent guards. They should resist surprise in some manner. They're most common on the third and fourth layers of the Hells, and they throw interlopers into those layers into a great crystal prison on the fourth layer.

Bone Devil (Osyluth). A bone devil is a Large (9-1/2' tall), medium-level (lesser) devil that carries a great bone hook and stings with its scorpionlike tail. It lies between the barbed devil and the horned devil in power. It is entirely a melee combatant, snaring opponents with its hook so it can easily sting them with its tail. Alternatively, it can attack with two claws to grab hold, but in any event it should sting only people it has grabbed. The poison in its sting saps the strength of the victim. It has high Strength and Dexterity scores.

There's a weird disconnect (besides the bone hook) between the bone devil in 1E and its later incarnations: the 1E version has dragonfly wings. Every version of the bone devil has fly as a spell-like ability, and if they're going to be flying around the Hells, we'd just as soon they had wings again. They can also create a wall of ice.

Bone devils are the Gestapo of the Hells, reporting on the activities and performance of the other devils. They're found primarily on the icy fifth layer of the Hells.

Horned Devil (Malebranche or Cornugon). A horned devil is a Large (9' tall), high-level (greater) devil that resembles a gargoyle, complete with wings. It is the weakest of the greater devils, falling between the bone devil and the ice devil in power. Like a gargoyle, it has a lot of attacks: it can do a claw/claw/bite/tail routine or attack with a weapon (a two-tined fork, a barbed whip, or a spiked chain) and its tail. A hit from its weapon can stun the target. Its tail doesn't do much damage initially, but it leaves a terrible wound that bleeds until it is bound or healed. It has very high Strength and Constitution scores, and it is more intelligent than the lesser devils. A horned devil is also resistant to weapon damage unless the weapon is magic or made of silver.

As a greater devil, a horned devil also has more magical abilities than lesser varieties. It can create a wall of fire that deals more damage than usual or produce flame like a barbed devil. It also instills supernatural fear in any creature adjacent to it.

Horned devils are the elite soldiers of the Hells, found primarily on the sixth and seventh layers. They mass in terrible armies under the command of pit fiends to fight in the Blood War, but they also serve powerful ice devils and pit fiends as personal retainers and bodyguards.

Here's a weird inconsistency in past lore: In 1E, this was a horned devil, also called a malebranche ("evil horn"). In 2E, it was a cornugon. The horned devil (cornugon) appeared in the 3E Monster Manual, but then the malebranche appeared in Monster Manual II. In 4E we called the malebranche the war devil (malebranche). Our preference is to stick with the 1E approach.

Ice Devil (Gelugon). An ice devil is a Large (10-1/2' tall), high-level (greater) devil that resembles a bipedal insect with huge compound eyes, terrible mandibles, and a long, spike-studded tail. It falls between the horned devil and the pit fiend in power. It can attack with its claws, bite, and tail, but some carry a great, ice-covered spear. The devil is as cold as the icy winds of its home on the eighth layer of the Hells, so its attacks can paralyze its target with cold. If it attacks with its spear, it can still lash with its tail. An ice devil has high Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma scores. It is resistant to weapon damage unless the weapon is magic or made of silver.

In addition to its physical attacks, an ice devil can create a wall of ice or an ice storm. Like a horned devil, it also radiates supernatural fear, but in a 10-foot radius.

Ice devils serve as commanders in the armies of the Hells, and they lead with the same savage brutality they display in one-on-one combat.

Lemure. A lemure is comparable to a manes-not truly a devil, but the spirit of a lawful evil mortal given terrible, pathetic form in its final resting place. It is little more than a human-sized blob of flesh with vaguely defined arms and facial features. It is low-level and can be summoned by relatively inexperienced wizards making their first connections to the Nine Hells. It is utterly mindless, and it is both fearless and relentless in attacking anything it sees that is not a devil. It attacks with a slam of its indistinct limbs. Lemures regenerate while they're in the Nine Hells, so they're impossible to destroy there without the use of a blessed weapon or holy water.

Pit Fiend. A pit fiend is a Large (12' tall), high-level (greater) devil with pronounced fangs that drip with venom and huge wings it can curl around itself like a cloak. In some ways, a pit fiend is like a terrible, infernal dragon, though it stands upright. It fights fiercely with claws or weapons, buffeting wings, lashing tail, and toxic bite. It can also hurl fireballs around the battlefield on a whim, even while it attacks in melee. (It was a quickened spell-like ability in 3E.) It wields a jagged club, a flaming mace, or a wounding pick. Its tail can grab and constrict its target. The poison of its bite inflicts slow and painful death on its hapless target. A pit fiend has very high Strength and Charisma scores, and it has high Constitution and Intelligence scores. A pit fiend is also resistant to weapon damage unless the weapon is magic or made of silver.

In addition to its fireball ability, a pit fiend can create a wall of fire or something like a symbol of pain. It can produce flame like some lesser devils. It exudes an aura of fear that affects any creature within 20 feet of it. Once per year, it can use the wish spell-sometimes to advance its own desires (though even the power of a wish is insufficient to affect a devil's status in the hierarchy of the Hells) and sometimes as a reward or temptation for a powerful mortal. Pit fiends should not have an aura of fire, which would tread on the balor.

Pit fiends are the personal servants of Asmodeus, the generals of the devilish armies, and often petty lords of small fiefdoms in their own right. They are found mostly in the ninth level of the Hells, directly under Asmodeus's command.

Spined Devil (Spinagon). A spined devil is a Small (3' tall), low-level (least) devil that looks like an imp or a small gargoyle bristling with spikes from head to toe. It is the weakest true devil, more powerful than a lemure, but not by much. It carries a short military fork (comparable to a javelin), and it prefers to attack on the wing, allowing it to bring its taloned feet to bear as well as its weapon. It can also loose spikes from its body like a manticore, except that its spikes burst into flames when loosed. It can loose two spikes per round, up to 12 per day. It can also use itself as a projectile, forsaking its weapon and attempting to drive its spikes directly into its target.

Spine devils are servants and couriers across the Nine Hells, often left to the menial task of herding lemures. In their travels carrying messages from layer to layer, however, they see and learn a great deal of useful information, so wise archdevils cultivate their spine devil servitors as spies.

What Do You Think?

That's a massive brain dump of information about demons and devils. I'd like to hear your thoughts about our general approach as well as your sense of each kind of fiend as a group. If you have comments about a specific type of demon or devil, well, use the comments!

  First, do you like our approach to the lore of these creatures?  
1-No, demons and devils should have lots of magical abilities.
2-No, they don't need the strange powers (like the hezrou's stench) they gained in 2nd Edition.
3-No, there's still too much going on.
4-Yes, it makes good sense.

  How well do the demons we've described here, overall, match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1-These hurt like an unholy word.
2-No, these barely resemble D&D demons.
3-It's getting there, but not quite working for me.
4-Yeah, I recognize them as demons.
5-This is exactly how I want my demons to work.

  How well do the devils we've described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1-Reading them is like being tortured in Dis.
2-No, these barely resemble D&D devils.
3-It's getting there, but not quite working for me.
4-Yeah, I recognize them as devils.
5-The devils are in the details, and you nailed them!

  Succubus: Demon or devil?  
1-Demon!
2-Devil!
3-They play both sides!
4-Something else entirely.

Previous Poll Results

How do you like the presentation of bugbear statistics in this entry? (Again, keep this in mind as you answer: I’m not talking about page design, graphic design, or art direction. All I’m really thinking about at this point is what information belongs here and the order in which it’s presented.)
1-I hate it. It actively impedes my ability to use the monster. 22 1.3%
2-I don't like it. It's an eyesore and/or confusing. 139 8.1%
3-It's OK. 498 28.9%
4-I like it. It makes it easy to run the monster. 924 53.5%
5-I love it! It's the best stat block ever! 143 8.3%
Total 1726 100.0%

Do you feel like the monster entry as a whole gives you a good sense of the monster?
1-No. Three articles in and I still don't know what a bugbear is. 55 3.3%
2-Yeah, but I would have liked to see more. 616 36.5%
3-Absolutely. 1018 60.3%
Total 1689 100.0%

Do you feel like the monster entry would help you create encounters or adventures featuring bugbears?
1-Not at all. It gets in the way. 87 5.2%
2-Yeah, it gave me some ideas. 1015 60.9%
3-Definitely. It sparked my creativity. 566 33.9%
Total 1668 100.0%

Do you feel like the monster entry would help you bring bugbears to life for your players in the game?
1-No, it's useless. 119 7.2%
2-Yeah, I can work with that. 1058 63.8%
3-You bet! 482 29.1%
Total 1659 100.0%

Overall, how would you rate the quantity of information contained in this entry?
1-Too little. 405 24.9%
2-Too much. 88 5.4%
3-Just right. 1136 69.7%
Total 1629 100.0%

And here’s a random question to round out the bunch. How important is it to you that a monster entry specifies the language(s) a creature speaks?
1-Intrusive. I'm going to handle languages the way I want to, and putting that information in the monster entry just clutters it up. 50 2.8%
2-Not important. I assume any monster that can speak knows Common, and the other languages don't matter. 85 4.8%
3-Not all that important. I can usually figure it out on my own, either because I know the monster has its own language or because I can guess which of the 10 or 20 languages in the game the monster speaks. 286 16.2%
4-Important. I want players to benefit from the language selections they've made, so it matters what language the monsters they meet speak. But having it in the body of the monster entry would be fine. 873 49.5%
5-Crucial. I want it in the stat block where I can find it right away, so I know whether the player characters can communicate with it or not. 469 26.6%
Total 1763 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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