We're hoping this column becomes your window into roleplaying design and development—or at least the way we approach these things here at Wizards of the Coast. We'll handle a wide range of topics in weeks to come, from frank discussions about over- or underpowered material, to the design goals of a certain supplement, to what we think are the next big ideas for the Dungeons & Dragons game. All of this comes bundled with a healthy look at the people and events that are roleplaying R&D.
"The best way to understand devils and their ways is to listen to the stories they tell about themselves..."
To start the meeting, the development team first locked themselves inside an iron cage, which was then raised above a bottomless pit (think Time Bandits). No one would leave until their work was done, however bloody and brutal the arguments might become.
The focus of this meeting: an initial development pass of Fiendish Codex II’s Chapter 4: Devils....
Actually, if memory serves, the development meeting took place in one of the many comfortable conference rooms here at Wizards of the Coast. This particular room was named Graceland; all of the meeting rooms are thematically named, and decorated— up here in Online Media, we also have The Swamp, The Abyss, and Borderlands. While FCII released mid-December, this development meeting took place back in early March, led by Stephen Schubert along with Jesse Decker and Mike Mearls. And while no iron cage was involved, a very critical eye did gaze upon the devils, looking hard at their abilities, synergies, concepts and descriptions; the blue pen of editing made quick, ruthless work of many an entry. (As Jesse noted more than once, there was nothing he could do for a creature; "the blue pen had already spoken.")
So how did the initial devils compare with their final, published versions? Let’s take a look, with notes from where these devils originated, included their initial concepts, what was discussed at the meeting, and how they eventually turned out. It’s time to “give the devil his due” (to pilfer Bartleby.com’s… although, despite the impossibility of working it into a sentence, I prefer: “The devil's on the loose and he's dancin' with the mummy!”).
Concept: The abishais are cruel torturers and wardens of the Nine Hells. They owe their allegiance to Tiamat. In order of ascending power, the five colors of abishais are white, black, green, blue, and red.
Where they came from: 1st edition Monster Manual II. In their original incarnation, these chromatic-colored devils did not inflict damage types depending on their color; rather, they wielded different arms: black abishais used halberds, white used flails, red wielded long daggers, green used guisarme-voulges, and black used tridents.
What was discussed: During the meeting, the dev team has concerns about the abishais’ similarities to Monster Manual IV’s spawn of Tiamat, which received a huge focus, appearing in adventures (Red Hand of Doom) and minis (including the Blackspawn Exterminator, Bluespawn Godslayer and Stormlizard, Greenspawn Razorfiend and Sneak, Redspawn Firebelcher, and Whitespawn Hordling). Both abishais and spawn are similarly themed according to chromatic dragons (in fact, the abishais’ description even states that they consider themselves the “children of Tiamat”). One idea at the meeting is to tie the abishais to various layers of Hell; perhaps, the abishais have been rejected by Tiamat in favor of the spawn, and have struck out on their own.
What they became: In the end, the abishais survived the development process largely intact. While the spawn tend to represent Tiamat abroad, the abishais occupy massive strongholds on Avernus (Hell’s first layer).
Concept: An advespa is a devil that patrols the skies of the Nine Hells of Baator. When in groups, they are often under the command of a more powerful baatezu.
The wasplike creature has an endoskeleton of chitin and amber-colored wings. It has four armored legs that end in serrated claws. Its heavy body terminates in a barbed, dripping stinger. Large dull ovoid eyes click as they move beneath its antennalike horns.
Last seen: 3rd edition Monster Manual II.
What was discussed: A few jokes when debating this devil—is vespa Italian for wasp? Or little scooter? As flying devils, they make good use of the Flyby Attack feat, but combined with their Large size, they may be too powerful at CR 3.
What it became: Cut from the book. Although its art order had already been commissioned and still exists. Originally in the Amnizu Checkpoint on pg. 113, the amnizu had advespas helping search travelers, not white abishais.
Concept: Amnizu are guardian devils whose task it is to oversee traffic through the gates of Hell.
Where they came from: 2nd Edition’s Monstrous Companion: Outer Planes. “First and foremost, they are the guardians of the River Styx.... This is rightly seen as a weak point in the defense for the Nine Hells. The amnizu are entrusted with the important task of keeping foolish individuals out of the Nine Hells.”
What was discussed: This devil’s role is called into question: so amnizus guard the gates of Hell, but how often are PCs going through these gates? Likewise, they occupy checkpoints along the River Styx, but at ten mile intervals—meaning they are fairly easy to avoid (Hell’s version of Minute Men), and which overlaps the Xerfilstyxes. Plus, there’s the idea that they hunt down PCs that have snuck past Hell’s defenses—but in which case, how would they even know the PCs have entered?
Their use of fireballs is appreciated. Perhaps, they make use of maximized fireballs, centered on themselves (and to which they are immune) to damage PCs.
What it became: The amnizu role is somewhat broadened: not only do they guard the physical gates of Hell, but all gates (portals and planar touchstones) in the Nine Hells. Originally a group of advespas were said to protect them, which became barbed devils.
Concept: The dogai are devils that travel to the Material Plane to infiltrate and destroy mortal societies.
What was discussed: Nicknamed Hell’s ninjas; the idea of ninja-like devils is appealing, the problem is with their powers of invisibility—at CR 14, what party won’t be able to see invisible creatures? Rather, this should be transformed into ghost step.
This leads into a side discussion on invisibility in general: the problem is that invisibility comes too soon at lower levels (a mere 2nd level sorcerer/wizard spell), but the next step in the “evasion” chain: etherealness, is too powerful an ability.
What it became: Dogai are renamed “Assassin Devils,” and their Indistinct ability renamed Shadow Form. Solid black skin in their description becomes solid gray skin. Plus, their CR 14 drops to 11.
Concept: The ayperobos is a swarm of hateful devils that work together to bring down larger foes.
These creatures were not even in their first draft, but added later.
Concept: A carabum is a depraved devil that leads planar travelers to their dooms.
This plump child flutters about on small leathery wings. It has a mop of unruly black hair and a jovial expression. Gleaming red eyes stare out beneath a pair of small horns sprouting from its brow. A string of drool hangs from its lip.
What was discussed: Demonic version of cherubim gets frowns all around the table. Combating children, even demonic ones, is just not acceptable.
What it became: As predicted, cut from the book. We’ll just have to wait for some other creature to make use of the Giggle (Su) ability:
As a swift action, a carabum can loose a disturbing giggle. All creatures within 20 feet of it must succeed on DC 13 Will saves or become shaken for 1 round. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Concept: Harvester devils are the seductive schemers of legend, undermining societies and exposing individuals to insidious temptation.
What they became: Compared to their first draft, these devils gained the Infernal Debt and Refuge of the Damned abilities, but lost Soul Capture (Su):
The souls of victims who die after being reduced to -1 or fewer hit points by a blow from the harvester devil’s magic scythe are whisked immediately to a prison located on the devil’s home layer of Hell. Until the soul is somehow released from its imprisonment, life-restoring spells and effects, such as raise dead, reincarnation and resurrection, cannot be used on the character.
The original devil also included the spell-like abilities: engineer mishap, provoke envy, provoke gluttony, and provoke sloth. Plus, their original scythe was swapped out for an ichor-soaked dagger—a more subtle weapon, after all, for a seductive schemer. Finally, the "Harvester Devils in Eberron" section did not make the cut:
Harvester devils are native to Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead, but as traffickers in power-enhancing soul essence, travel frequently to Shavarath and other planes where devils can be found. They find their wares in Eberron itself, by corrupting the souls of the weak.
Concept: Hellfire engines are infernal constructs constructed as artillery for use in the Blood War.
What was discussed: The need for an evocative piece of art; the team wants a true war machine, not a mere hellish robot. It’s suggested that the hellfire engine would work well in conjunction with spined devils, who might carpet-bomb with their spines to slow down opponents in the hellfire engine’s path.
What it became: Aside from some tweaking of the stats, the hellfire engine remained largely as initially presented. One section does appear to have been cut: "Hellfire Engines in Eberron":
Instead of being the product of Mephistopheles’ diseased imagination, hellfire engines are instead Asmodeus’s creation. Desiring an end to the war, he’s had his minions working to fabricate the frames for these automatons. Once assembled, Asmodeus fills them with dark magic, binding to them the souls stolen from Dolurrh and ignited with hellfire.
Concept: Kalabons are devils harvested from the flesh of the Hag Countess’s carcass. Though dead, her essence lives on in their minds.
What was discussed: There’s much examination of this devil’s concept, particularly how to better incorporate it into its abilities. It’s appreciated that kalabons fight together to reform their lost mistress, but perhaps their coming together can lead to more integrated mechanics.
What it became: Sure enough, the kalabon gained the Colony Mass, Colony Growth, and Colony Split abilities. In their place, it lost Hive Mind (Ex):
All kalabons within 1 mile of each other are in constant communication. If one is aware of a particular danger, they all are. If one in a group is not flat-footed, none of them are. No kalabon in a group is considered flanked unless all of them are.
Legion Devil (Merregon)
Concept: Merregon’s are Hell’s weakest foot soldiers, warriors that serve in vast, endless legions. They overwhelm their enemies by working together as an effective team.
These creatures were also not in their first draft, but added later.
Concept: Malebranche are baatezu that serve other, more powerful devils. They are brutes, lacking finesse or grace. But beneath the warlike façade lies a dim cunning.
Where it came from: 1st edition Monster Manual, under “Horned Devil.” In 2nd edition, horned devils became “cornugon,” a term which continued into 3rd edition. Malebranche have now returned as their own devil (also appearing a such in 3rd edition’s Monster Manual II).
What it became: The final version received some stat boosts, were given Regeneration, a higher AC, more hit points, and a resulting rise in CR from 12 to 14. Its original trident was also changed to a ranseur. (Note, the 1st edition horned devil (malebranche) carried a two-tined fork and barbed whip, the 2nd edition horned devils continued to carry barbed whips, and 3rd edition’s horned devils advanced these into spiked chains.)
Concept: Narzugons are the baatezu’s elite cavalry. Mounted on nightmares or other fell beasts, they ride across the plains on errands of evil.
Last seen: 3rd edition’s Manual of the Planes.
What was discussed: This devil essentially gives an “official” rider to nightmares. The catch is that their DC is significantly higher than it should be (it seems to factor in their mount), so wouldn’t PCs simply look to kill the nightmare first, then go after the weaker rider?
What it became: Indeed, the narzugon’s CR dropped from 10 (and even from its original 9 in the Manual of the Planes) to 5. The DC of its gaze effect was lowered as well.
Concept: Nupperibos are tormented devils forced to take on pathetic, weak forms for their failures.
Where it came from: 2nd edition Monstrous Compendium: Outer Planes. Originally, nupperibos were the remains of lawful evil creatures not significantly malignant to be changed in lemures. Nupperibos were a station just above lemures, but had to first become lemures before evolving into higher devils.
What was discussed: As an applied template to other devils, this might work mechanic-wide: yet the “one size fits all” approach seems to take something away from the devils’ hierarchies; after all, a defeated balor should not appear the same as a defeated lemure.
What it became: Sure enough, the nupperibo remained a low-level devil. The nupperibo template was discarded, which provided the following (condensed):
Speed: Halve the base creature’s speed (minimum 20 feet).
Concept: Orthons are foot soldiers in Hell’s armies. Though specialized in killing demons, they are equally dangerous against mortal foes.
What it became: The orthon significantly improved from its originally written version, gaining the Hellspear, Hellfire Crossbow, Hellstroke, and Maggot Burst abilities. The original hellspear was written as the “duom”:
The duom is a longspear fitted with a standard spearhead, as well as two blades curved so they point backward along the haft. The weapon has reach, allowing you to strike opponents 10 feet away with it. Those proficient with the duom can also attack adjacent foes with the reversed heads using a practiced “reverse thrust.” Apply a -2 penalty on the attack role if you use the duom to attack a second opponent in the same round you attacked the first opponent.
Concept: Paerliryons are crafty baatezu that manage vast spy networks extending across the planes.
Last seen: 3rd edition Fiend Folio.
What was discussed: Jokingly referred to as Hell’s Miss Piggy. Its Belittle ability is enjoyed—in fact, it would be great to have a spreadsheet listing the insults given. The Intoxicating Perfume is also liked for its effect, if not its name. One suggestion is to broaden this ability, so that not only does it act as a debuff for the person it inflicts, but that person should carry around the same debuffing effect—affecting others—until cured.
What it became: Little change to this one; Intoxicating Perfume, however, was not broadened.
Concept: Kochrachons are diabolical torturers. They torment souls cast down to the Nine Hells to spend eternity in suffering.
This creature has the dark blue-purple carapace of a beetle. Its head is small, equipped with a long serrated proboscis. It stands on two long thin legs that end in sharp claws.
Where it came from: 2nd edition; 3rd edition Book of Vile Darkness.
What was discussed: Although kochrachons carry over from 2nd edition, their physical beetle-like image still doesn’t convey their role as diabolic torturers. They should have the appearance of a blood-stained apron wearing, instrument wielding torturer. Likewise, their abilities don’t quite mesh, either: Aura of Sorrow (Su), and Disease (Ex) Devil Chills.
What it became: As expected, the kochrachon did not appear in the book. In its place, the pain devil took on the appearance and abilities much better suited to Hell’s torturers.
Concept: The brachina is an insidious devil that specializes in corrupting the servants of the gods.
What was discussed: The name (brachina) has a strange connotation to it, recalling brachiating and climbing trees. Essentially, this devil is a greater erinyes, whose Foul Enchantment ability will make her a tough adversary.
What it became: This devil took a more descriptive primary name (pleasure devil), and Foul Enchantment was renamed Beguile. For D&D Minis players, this ability will also sound familiar, implemented in Blood Wars’ Succubus and Lilend.
Concept: A ronwe is a ghastly devil that devours other creatures to transform them into her thralls.
This repellent thing reclines on a mattress of conjoined twins. It cackles with mirth, its flab shaking with each guttural chortle. A thin shift of excrement-stained silk cover sits horrid form. Beneath, serpentine shapes writhe and twist, staining the sheltering material with foulness. By far, the most horrific thing about this abomination is its cavernous maw. A long green tongue licks its calloused lips in expectation of its coming meal.
What was discussed: This one is quick to hit chopping block, its description just too much. At this point, the manuscript is already 4000 words to long, so a cut here would make space for more appropriate material.
What it became: Cut from the book. PCs will not have the chance to face this CR 17 menace, or its Birth Sacks (Su) ability:
Small or Medium creatures slain while inside the ronwe’s gizzard are absorbed into its body. Over the course of 1d3 rounds, the ronwe grows a quivering nodule on its body that promptly falls off into an adjacent square. This nodule has an AC 23 and 20 hit points. If left alone, it splits open 1d4 rounds later to release a dripping new ronwe spawn. Destroying the birth sack prevents the ronwe spawn from forming.
Concept: Soul shell mobs are petitioners of the Nine Hells.
A crowd of ghastly white people surges forward, screaming and pleading for help.
What was discussed: Although a compelling entry, essentially it requires a DM to first apply this template to a creature (so that it loses it skills and feats, and becomes a zombie-like being forever restricted to the Nine Hells), and then also apply the mob template from the DMG II. That’s simply too much work.
What it became: Cut from the book. However, their art still exists. A reference also persists on pg. 38’s The Maggot Pit: “Dispirited, listless soul shells mill together in stony garrison-style structures, waiting insensately for their turn to be transformed into lemures. Bands of cranky pain devils ensure that none escape their lawful punishment.”
Concept: Spined devils are small but cruel fiends that delight in torture. They sometimes serve the archdevils as spies.
Where it came from: 1st edition Monster Manual II.
What was discussed: As another pesky flier, it's wondered if this role is not already best occupied by the imp. Perhaps its spines can be made more useful, such as by causing Dexterity damage to slow PCs down before a big fight.
What it became: Indeed, the spined devil’s spines now penalize speed and AC, weakening opponents. This also connects with the hellfire engine, which might then move against slower, weaker PCs.
Concept: A steel devil, or beuroza, is a soldier that fights on the frontlines of Hell’s wars.
What was discussed: The concept is essentially of a cobwebbed suit of armor; however, there already exists animate armor (the helmed horror). It’s suggested that this might become a kind of solid creature, like a golem (although it’s also pointed out that there already is a hellfire golem).
What it became: The steel devil survived, though its CR dropped from 8 to 6, and it was given the Push ability.
Concept: Xerflistyxes are terrifying devils that make their homes in the unclean waters of the river Styx.
What was discussed: A difficult name to pronounce, “styx devil” might be better. As mentioned with the amnuzi, they both occupy the same niche—and how often will PCs actually be at the river Styx? Of course, its joked, they may also be found at Styx concerts…
What it became: Essentially, it survived intact.
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