At last, I climb out of the Abyss! Only to fall into the Nine Hells! Goddammit, I’m gonna be here forever, aren’t I?
Devils are among the most creative monsters in Dungeons and Dragons. Granted, they’re not the most deadly. Out of all of them, only one of them poses a genuine threat to a party at any level. But the question isn’t how dangerous they are. The question is: are they any cooler than the Demons?
God, I hope so.
While Demons are the personification of chaos and destruction, Devils are the embodiment of tyranny. Their society is totalitarian and dedicated to one aim: dominating all mortal life. Their home, the Nine Hells of Baator, is ruled by Asmodeus, the dark lord of Nessus (proper noun, proper noun, proper noun), who strives to satisfy his thirst for power by conquering the universe. To fulfill that aim, he sends his servants to the mortal realm in order to corrupt souls, which will proceed to descend into his realm to become another member of his armies.
Devils live for three purposes: conquering, enslaving, and oppressing. Oppressing others and punishing those who rebel give them unparalleled pleasure. They try to display their power with every interaction, and all devils know exactly how to abuse said powers. Worse yet, they understand exactly how to make use of the failings of intelligent mortals to turn them into their slaves. They mostly target leaders, such as kings or emperors, in order to create mass chaos efficiently.
Even when they dislike or envy their superiors, devils are still loyal to them, as they know that their loyalty will eventually be rewarded. If not for this, the Nine Hells would be as chaotic as the unruly Abyss. At the same time, however, devils are schemers by nature. They will always seek out a method to become stronger, even if it means betraying their loyalties. Should an opportunity present itself, a Devil will never hesitate to take it.
While devils are generally confined to the Lower Planes, where the Nine Hells are located, they often travel beyond them through portals or powerful summoning magic. They love to make deals with mortals, but any mortal striking such a bargain must be careful. All devils have a singular aim: to further Asmodeus’s will. It is rare for a devil to ask for anything other than your soul and even rarer still for them to be honest about it. If you make such a deal, only divine intervention will be able to save you.
But you’ll be fine. If anyone in your party is smart, you’ll have at least two clerics. So you can basically make any deal you want and get off scot-free.
Much like Demons, Devils are impossible to kill in the Material Plane. If their body is slain there, they will simply melt away and return back to the Nine Hells. However, if they are slain there, they shall meet a permanent end. A fate which even Asmodeus himself is afraid of.
There is a rigid hierarchy within the Nine Hells, with Asmodeus standing alone at the top. From the top to the bottom, it goes as follows.
- Archdevils: all the current and deposed rulers of the Nine Hells, as well as the dukes/duchesses that serve them. These creatures are each unique, with their own abilities and appearances.
- Greater Devils: includes the Pit Fiend, Erinyes, Horned Devil, and Ice Devils that command lesser devils and attend Archdevils.
- Lesser Devils: includes the numerous strains of fiends, Imps, Chain Devils, Spined Devils, Bearded Devils, Barbed Devils, and Bone Devils.
- Lemures: the lowest form of all devils. They are the twisted, tormented souls of corrupted mortals, twisted into horrific forms. They can only be killed permanently with a holy weapon, even if they are slain in the Nine Hells.
Should a Lemure manage to prove itself, an Archdevil or a Greater Devil has the power to promote them to Lesser Demons. Should they continue to do so, Archdevils can further promote them to Greater Devils. However, Asmodeus alone has the power to promote a Greater Devil into an Archdevil. Each promotion invokes a brief but painful transformation, although the devil’s memories remain intact.
A low-level promotion is usually based on military need, typically when a Pit Fiend requires imps for espionage or something else of that like. High-level promotions, on the other hand, are based entirely off of merit. However, a devil is very rarely promoted more than one step at a time. Letting a Devil gain too much power too quickly could threaten the stability of the hierarchy.
Promotion is not a permanent thing. Should a devil fail horribly or disobey an order, they will usually be demoted by an Archdevil or a Greater Devil. Should a Lesser Devil suffer such a fate, they will once again be reduced to a Lemure. An Archdevil can do so to a Greater Devil, so on and so forth. Again, their memories remain from transformation to transformation, which often results in Devils vowing vengeance against those that stole their more powerful forms from them.
Only Asmodeus can promote or demote any devil he pleases. In other cases, it is up to the Archdevil that employs the devil. This is done to prevent chaos among political ranks, preventing any Archdevil from interfering in the business of another.
Their home, the Nine Hells, is a single plane made of nine separate layers. The first eight are each ruled by Archdevils that answer only to Asmodeus, who dwells on the ninth layer. To reach the bottom, one must crawl through all eight layers before it. The quickest way is through the River Styx (hey cool, get some Greek myth in there!), which plunges deeper and deeper with each passing layer. However, it takes a truly courageous heart to withstand the torment and horror of the journey.
Holy shit, there is a lot to unpack here! There’s a ton of stuff you can do with a Devil-themed campaign! Perhaps the party needs to stop a tyrannical king ruling a Devil-infested land! Maybe they make a deal with a lowly devil to help it climb up the ranks, ala Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor! Or maybe your party is maximum level and aiming for the ultimate challenge, so they climb through all nine layers to fight Asmodeus! Put your imagination cap on because there is a lot of potential here!
And that’s before we get into the individual devils themselves! But that’ll have to wait until later!