In this month's exclusive interview, Ed Stark and Erik Mona, two designers of the new Fiendish Codex 1 sourcebook delve into the countless layers of the Abyss. In the interests of better involving the player community with the D&D website, questions for this interview were solicited in part via the message boards. Our thanks to everyone who took the time to submit their fiendish questions.
Wizards: Was there any trepidation or delicacies involved in dealing with the subject of demons? On that note, will Fiendish Codex 1 be marked for mature audiences as was the Book of Vile Darkness?
Ed Stark: No real trepidation. We didn't want to mark FC1 as "Mature" simply because there's plenty to say about demons that isn't necessarily inappropriate for our general audience. We did avoid getting too graphic in illustration or textual detail--demons are evil, after all--but we didn't have to veer away from typical D&D topics.
Erik Mona: None that I can think of. I certainly didn't hold back any ideas as "too evil" or anything. I'd like to say that some of that furor has died down in the past several years, as people have come to realize that this is a harmless game. Looking over my copy, I don't see any "Mature Audiences" notices, although there is one sentence on page 4 that says "Hordes of the Abyss deals with demons and the layers of the Abyss in a frank manner." That's about all the "warning" the book gives, which is a bit refreshing in my view.
Wizards: Here's one on a more personal level, for Erik Mona. How did you manage to get on this book in the first place? Was this project inspired by work on Dragon Magazine's Demonomicon articles, or were those articles conversely inspired because you knew you'd be working on this book--or did both projects come about separately and happen to be a happy coincidence?
Erik: I've always been fascinated by D&D's demons, from the very first time I paged through the original Monster Manual back in the 1980s. When TSR had a presence on AOL back in the early 90s, I got in touch with Planescape author Colin McComb and served as a research assistant on Faces of Evil, the 2nd edition fiend sourcebook, and the credit for that help is my first credit in a D&D book.
One of my first acts after becoming editor-in-chief of Dragon magazine was to enlist Dungeon Managing Editor James Jacobs to write a series of articles called the Demonomicon of Iggwilv. James and I see eye to eye on just about everything related to D&D, and since I couldn't very well write the series myself I knew James was the right man for it.
I'm a huge fan of what we call "core" D&D, which is to say the series of world assumptions that underlie the Dungeons & Dragons rules. The Great Wheel is a big part of that, and I wanted to create an ongoing series in Dragon that emphasized the cooler aspects of that world. Tying in Iggwilv was, of course, a nod to my beloved Greyhawk campaign setting, as Iggwilv features in the backstory as a demon-obsessed witch-queen, lover of Graz'zt, and mother of the demon-god Iuz. The readership exploded with approval, making the Demonomicon of Iggwilv the second most popular feature in the magazine, with only the decades-long Ecology of series beating it out in readership surveys.
I can't honestly say if any of this stuff played into Wizards deciding to do a demon book. I suspect the ultimate decision was made because D&D fans are very interested in evil adversaries, and the Lower Planes have always been the most interesting (and most sales-generating) element of the D&D cosmology. It's also been one of the most confusing and erratically detailed elements of that cosmology, so I suspect they wanted to update all of the existing material into a new baseline for future development, which is exactly what Hordes of the Abyss turned into.
I don't remember where I first heard that Wizards was planning to do this book, but it only took about five minutes to write the email suggesting that James and I would like to write it. Wizards agreed, and teamed us up with in-house designer Ed Stark, and we were off to the races.
Wizards: When making this book, you likely had to consider many books from 3.5 and other editions of D&D. What books were your main sources of inspiration? For that matter, did reference and inspiration stay with D&D's worlds or interact with real world mythology as well?
Ed: Old Planescape material certainly helped influence our descriptions, but I took a lot of my cues from the old 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide. I wrote up material that I thought would inspire players and DMs to create interesting situations, dropping in proper names and specifics without always providing full detail. I think it's important to establish an interesting mythology for our game, but not to limit the DM's options too tightly.
Erik: One of the sources I used was the first edition Deities & Demigods, as a few entities from that tome were said to live in the Abyss. I'm thinking specifically of Ma Yuan, the Chinese slayer of the gods and Dahak, an apocalyptic dragon spirit. Both are now imprisoned in the Wells of Darkness, a layer mentioned on the poster map that accompanied the Planescape Planes of Chaos boxed set. Other inhabitants of the Wells include the villain from my first ever RPGA tournament (The Ebulon Affair), plenty of folks from the infamous list of demons on page 35 of the first edition Monster Manual 2, and two demon lords from old Dungeon adventures. My section of the book dealt with the Abyss, and I'd be willing to bet that every layer I designed pulled stuff from at least five different sources. The Demonweb in particular is riddled with Easter eggs.
Wizards: Obviously, the Abyss is all about its demons. What does the book introduce about the nature of these fiends? Just why are they after souls in the first place?
Erik: The opening chapters of FC1, by Ed Stark, cover this ground extensively, outlining several different roles a demon might play in the campaign, and providing DM and player tactical advice about how to run or defeat them in the game. This is extremely useful, high-caliber stuff that is sure to be used in my campaign and that will help DMs and players get a lot of use and variety out of the dozens of monsters in the book. There's a good deal of ecology information on them as well, in large part consistent with material from Faces of Evil: The Fiends, which dealt with the subject about 10 years ago. There's a lot of new material, too, but we went to great pains to keep in touch with how things were done in previous editions and D&D supplements.
Ed: Demons are creatures of primordial chaos and evil. FC1 explores a few different theories about how demons come into being and why they want souls (or destruction or anything else) but leaves some elements open for debate. The nature of the Abyss is also pretty interesting. Everything in the universe may have been formed out of the Abyss--or, at least, the primordial chaos part of that--and the evil nature of the plane wants to destroy life and return everything to its original state. Demons might be abyssal tools in that pursuit.
Wizards: Folks know the most famous grouping of demons, the tan'nari. What can you tell us about the obyrith?
Erik: The obyriths are the original demonic race, emerging from the chaos of the Abyss in the years of multiversal creation. Those rusting, decaying iron fortresses on the first layer of the Abyss? The obyriths built those. Their ultimate fall is tied to the defeat of the obyrith Queen of Chaos on the fields of Pesh during the great Law/Chaos war that defined multiversal prehistory, and at that moment they were overthrown by their servitors, the tanar'ri, whom they had created out of the soulstuff of the earliest mortals. Obyriths are more primal, more unknowable than the tanar'ri, and as a result simply looking at one can have disastrous implications for your sanity. Most of them have fled to the deepest, darkest layers of the Abyss, from whence they hatch countless schemes aimed at putting themselves once again upon the throne of Abyssal power. But it's not likely to happen. They are too few, too beaten, in some ways perhaps too alien. But that doesn't stop all of them from trying.
Wizards: When it comes to the demonic roster, have demons from previous sources (and for that matter, previous editions) been converted to 3.5, and/or are new ones introduced? What of demon lords--who will we see get their 3.5 treatment as well? (And Demogorgon--baboon heads or jackal heads?)
Erik: Yes. We've updated an enormous number of demons, invented a few more, and hinted at a couple we didn't have room to develop. The book contains stats for fourteen demon lords, with most of them clocking in around CR 20 to make them appropriate villains for high-level play. Since a lot of players prefer more powerful, godlike demon lords, we've also included guidelines for extending their powers into the realm of Epic Level play, which gets you statistics more like the ones we're running in the Demonomicon series.
The full roster of demon lords includes: Baphomet, Dagon, Demogorgon, Fraz-Urb-luu, Graz'zt, Juiblex, Kostchtchie, Malcanthet, Obox-ob, Orcus, Pale Night, Pazuzu, Yeenoghu, and Zuggtmoy. An appendix in the back lists the name, title, concerns, and layer of 76 demon lords, as well as a numeric list of all known Abyssal layers.
Oh, and Demogorgon has his baboon heads, as it should be.
Wizards: Let's say I want to kill Orcus, but I don't want to have to wait until 20th level to do it. Will the book support campaigns that aim at tackling the Abyss at lower levels? In other words, how can PCs take on archfiends which themselves can take on deities?
Ed: While the book itself doesn't provide rules for tackling aspects of Orcus, we do plan an online enhancement that showcases some of the Demon Princes' aspects. PCs can get into plenty of trouble fighting these aspects and setting up the true demonlords as enemies for later action.
Erik: The book's web enhancement will include lower-level aspects (a la the Miniatures Handbook) of many of the demon lords, which will make them appropriate adversaries for lower-level play. Looking over my printed copy, it's clear that they weren't able to fit in everything we provided. Would that it could have been a thicker book!
Wizards:Fiendish Codex 1 introduces a number of demonic-themed feats. Are these designed for characters to take on more of the aspects of demons, to better fight against them... or a little of both?
Ed: Both. It's not much fun to put in tools that the players can't use, so we decided we needed feats for demons and demon-hunters alike.
Erik: A lot of both, actually.
Wizards: What locations does the book cover--are particular layers examined in detail? How much of your own ideas of horror, fear and evil came into play when shaping the Abyss?
Erik: The book includes a list of 93 layers (complete with their demonic or deific ruler) in the appendix, and chapter 5 (Into the Abyss) covers 15 layers in much greater detail. I tried to give each layer a distinct mood and feel, thinking first about its role in a campaign. Rather than say "let's do this layer," I thought about what types of layers DMs would want to include in their campaigns, and went from there. There's the layer with all the portals to the rest of the Abyss, the layer filled with undead, the layer where everything looks OK but things are really deadly, and so on. Of course there were a few I absolutely had to cover (The Demonweb, Thanatos, Azzagrat, Gaping Maw) and a few I threw in for fun but which got cut for space (The Mansion of the Rake, Woeful Escarand, Spirac), but there's a really good survey of the Abyss in the chapter, including lots of information on how to move from layer to layer via the Infinite Staircase, River Styx, or more esoteric means.
Wizards: What is the current state of the Abyss, as presented in Fiendish Codex 1, in terms of politics? For instance, does the book include information regarding the Blood War? As a chaotic realm filled with chaotic denizens, how is anything accomplished--how is the war fought, new souls gathered, etc?
Erik: The Blood War is still there (it's even given a bit of context and rationale that I hope makes it more palatable for people who look at it as too simplistic) but the primary struggle on the Abyss is demon vs. demon. Most of the Blood War fighting takes place on other Lower Planes and on specific layers of the Abyss. Some demon lords care about it, others don't, and we provide some reasons for that as well.
Wizards: What can you tell us about your own experiences using demons and the Abyss in your campaigns?
Ed: For me, demons are the guys you get to strike back at. When PCs in my campaigns first encounter demons, the demons are summoned or conjured monsters invading the Material Plane and messing with the PCs. They're almost always tough encounters and the PCs know that, most of the time, when they "kill" a demon they're really just banishing it back to the Abyss. In a demon-themed campaign, that makes the PCs eager to destroy their recurring foes "for real."
When the PCs get powerful enough, they start planar traveling and they begin to take the fight to the demons. Now, it's the PCs that harass their enemies on their home turf, and there's nothing quite like taking down a demon prince in its own throne room to make you feel like a hero!
Erik: Many of the twelve RPGA tournaments I've written deal with demons and the Abyss. Ever since reading the original Monster Manual, and especially after reading Monster Manual 2 (1st edition), I've been obsessed with them. I think it was the list of undefined demons more than anything else--the names seemed to have a lot of imagination-conjuring power, and the idea that I could do whatever I wanted with them was very appealing. That's one reason this book includes so many throw-away references and so much information on demons that are not covered in full. My hope is that the list of Abyssal layers and demon lords will inspire a new generation of readers to work up their own demonic stories that will eventually make it into the game some time around ninth edition. If I'm still editing Dragon at the time, I promise we'll run a detailed preview.
D&D Fiendish Codex 1: Hordes of the Abyss, June 2006 Release Date, hardcover, full color, 160 pages, $29.95