This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!
Problem: Weakened Demon Lords
When I got to the chapter in Fiendish Codex I about the arch-demons, I was seriously disappointed. Explicitly written there was the fact that some of the demon lords that had already appeared in Book of Vile Darkness (one of my favorites) were made weaker so they could be used as final enemies for high-level but not quite epic campaigns. I know that I can simply make them strong again, but being printed, such position becomes official ....
Demogorgon is (if I'm not wrong) CR23 in that book, while the standard Balor has CR 20. If Demogorgon is that weak, I see absolutely no reason why an older, progressed Balor or Marilith wouldn't have killed him already. Demogorgon should be nearly unbeatable -- he is Demogorgon, prince of demons, after all.
For me, it is inconceivable that a group of adventurers, as a final quest, decides to invade the abyss and kill Demogorgon. He should never be a target for such a thing. Isn't the 'make the impossible possible' policy making the scenario more fragile and killing the roleplay?
-- Jehferson, from AskWizards.com
This question has been around since the original AD&D Deities and Demigods came out in 1980 -- why do gods have stats? True, there were already stats for archdevils and demon lords in the Monster Manual, but the line suddenly blurred, such as with Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders, who was not just a demon lord (lady?) but also explicitly the goddess of the drow (as Demogorgon was of the ixixachitl and Yeenoghu of gnolls). In The Vault of the Drow (as a projection of herself) and Queen of the Demonweb Pits (up close and personal) adventures, the expectation was that your PCs might very well kill Lolth. What does that mean? You just killed a goddess? Is it OK for PCs to be able to do that?
That's a philosophical question that you need to ask and answer for yourself as a DM. In my experience, as soon as gods had stats back in the olden days, you had people trying to kill them. Not in strange, mystical, storytelling kinds of ways, but simply by hunting them down and duking it out in melee. Heck, the gods had cool magic items that you could take if you whacked them, so why not hunt and kill Ma Yuan, the Chinese mythos killer of the gods, and take his triple-ultra-super weapon (a triangular piece of stone that becomes any weapon that the wielder wishes), or punch out Thor and take Mjolnir for your own? Sure it was crazy, but the temptation was there. Gods became super-monsters, and many were the pantheons that got wiped out.
History and philosophy aside, the FC1 challenge ratings were set to enable these creatures to be used in more campaigns. Most campaigns never get to the point where a CR 30+ creature is relevant (except as a far-off mastermind villain who is never seen in person and could never be challenged anyway). Thus, a CR 23 creature is just about right for an end-of-campaign main boss villain.
It sounds as if you don't agree. You want demon lords to be tougher -- so in your campaign, have them be tougher! The 'official' rules have nothing to do with it. Besides, you already have official rules that support your position -- Book of Vile Darkness. No law that states that you must let the Fiendish Codex supersede the Book of Vile Darkness. Or, you could use the Fiendish Codex versions as the power level of these demon lords' aspects when they manifest on the Prime Material Plane. Faced on their home planes, you could use the much tougher Book of Vile Darkness versions. In fact, in FCII: Tyrants of the Nine Hells, this was explicitly done, introducing the Lords of Nine as aspects of their superior selves.
You also could look at the "Demonomicon of Iggwilv" article series and the corresponding adventures in Dungeon and Dungeon magazines. These popular articles have in-depth write-ups with enhanced power levels and unique personal abilities for a variety of demon lords, bring them back up to Book of Vile Darkness power levels, edit them for full 3.5 compatibility, and add interesting extra details for each one.
Another option is to just bite the bullet and house-rule these entities into the ranks of divinities. This fixes the problem of why those advanced major demons with class levels don't just bump off the supposed demon lords and take over for themselves. As deities, the demon lords have a raft of divine powers that set them apart and also make them virtually impossible to kill. Even if an abyssal revolution did manage to take down the demon lord, it would only be temporary (with a terrible vengeance brewing), barring major intervention from another entity of similar power.
As to whether making demon lords killable helps or hurts roleplay, that's debatable. The conversation you might have with such a being is different when you have no hope of ever hurting them versus maybe being able to honestly threaten them. It does give them an incentive to at least listen to you rather than ignoring you as inconsequential gnats. Personally, I think characters fighting gods cheapens the divinity of actual deities. Demon lords, however, are not quite the same to me. At the same time, they're not just super-monsters, so they should have something that distinguishes them from other high-CR creatures (even divine-touched creatures like epic abominations from the Epic Level Handbook). Making them sort of quasi-deities (divine rank 0 if you're using the new Deities and Demigods or Forgotten Realms Faiths and Pantheons) may be the best way to accomplish that, to better distinguish them from other high-CR creatures such as elder dragons, liches, and even regular fiends with class levels.
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About the Author
Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, and son Allen. He just finished his doctorate in education and is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981.