Saturday, September 14, 2013

On my problem with Demons and Devils

Jeeeeezis, has it been two weeks already? Sorry, guys, real life has been eating me alive. But there is some good news, I have plans to set up an LGBTQI and allied women's West Marches game! Neat, huh? But that's not what this post is about. Though if it gets off the ground I will post about it, I assure you.

So here's what this post is actually about: For a while now I haven't liked most D&D Demons or Devils and I never was able to put a finger on why. Until tonight. Tonight I realized that the ones that I like the best (Balors, Succubi, and Imps/Quasits, and to a lesser extent Malebranche/Cornugon and Abishai-- Abishai in particular, as they were illustrated in 3.5, are in my opinion particularly attractive) all have something in common. Or rather, that the ones I don't like all have something in common. Iconicness. Those three demons are all very recognizable, very easy to grok. And for me that's an important part of D&D's specialness-- it's built on images that just about anyone who's read a few fairy tales or mythology books or been to the movies in their lives understands well enough that they can follow along and work with. Even many of its monsters, I think, are easy to make sense of. A mind-flayer is a tentacle alien that eats brains. A carrion crawler is a big scavenger worm. An owlbear is exactly what the name suggests it would be. A Bulette is a land shark, literally. A rust monster is a silly looking animal that makes metal rust.

But so many of D&D's fiends feel like... well, strange hodgepodges of thrown-together animal parts with a random assortment of magical spells. If I say "devil" or "demon" your brain probably doesn't leap to "insect person with ice powers" or "four-armed dog-gorilla with lobster claws", it's probably more like one of these bastards: exaggerated, funny-colored humans with goat horns and bat wings and tails with a little arrowhead thingy on them and fangs, and perhaps cloven hooves, conjuring up fire and darkness and either here to kick some unholy ass or buy your soul for wealth, power, or wishes, but either way here to make sure somebody goes to hell; the stuff of heavy metal album covers.

The weird thing is that most of the highest ranks of D&D's demons and devils look like this. Asmodeus, Orcus, Grazz't, they all look like devils and demons. But their underlings just don't click for me.

Of course I like the occasional possessor too. D&D never really had that, as far as I know, the closest it ever got was the Shadow Demon, which isn't too awful either, but even that only sort of felt like it was the thing.

So here's how it'll be. My next several posts, I'll give you some demons I might use. I'm not saying they're original. I'm not saying they're clever. I'm definitely not saying they're gonzo, they're about as far from that as you get. But if you want them, you'll have them.

1 comment:

Edward Wilson said...

Yeah, I'm not happy with a lot of the D&D demons/devils for the same reason. The ones with animal bits stuck together sort of go with the Greek mythology approach to monsters, most of which are part human, part other bits. Looking forward to your ideas on them.