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Review of Demonomicon by Wizards of the Coast

I’ll swallow your soul!” ~ Possessed Henrietta (Evil Dead II, 1987)

Demons have long been the stuff of High Fantasy Fiction, long before Dungeons & Dragons began to cram them into a small corner of a Monster Manual, under the Letter D.  From pulp fiction heroes like R.E. Howard’s brawling Conan the Cimmerian, to Moorcock’s tragic Elric of Melnibonea, to Lieber’s swashbuckling duo Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, fantasy authors have been conjuring demons to beset heroes since the 1930s.  demonomicon cover finalAnd whether the protagonists are facing the horridly-tentacled Thog, or Arioch of the Seven Darks, or a foggy demon of pure Hate, the heroes are squaring off against some of the most horrid and dangerous monsters in all of fantasy literature.  For most Authors are quick to remind us that demons are not merely content with killing the body and eating it, but are also capable of devouring the heroes’ very souls as well!

Over the years, and across the various D&D editions, demons have gone through a number of transformations.  Many remember the change of name to present a more “politically correct” game to the public, changing “demon” to “tanar’ri”.  And there were even some cosmological changes as well, particularly during the advent of Planescape, when demons, devils, and daemons became embroiled in a brutal Blood War across the Lower Planes.

But now, with D&D 4E, the multiverse has changed once again, the Elemental Chaos and the Astral Sea have become re-defined in the cosmos, and even the Abyss has become something a bit stranger and darker than it was in previous editions.  And with those changes, the WotC developers have released a new book, the Demonomicon, based upon the arcane tome penned by the Witch Queen Iggwilv, and offering Dungeon Masters a new vision of rampaging demons for Characters of all Levels to face.

Demonomicon
  • Authors:  Mike Mearls, Brian R. James, Steve Townsend
  • Cover Illustrator: John Stanko
  • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
  • Year: 2010
  • Media: Hardbound (160 pages)
  • Retail Cost: $29.95 ($19.77 from Amazon)

The Demonomicon (of Iggwilv) is an official sourcebook for use with Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, containing new esoteric demon lore, a tour guide of notable Abyssal locations, and a monster manual of new demons to be used at all levels of play.  The sourcebook is campaign “non-specific”, presenting demons for use with the general cosmology described in the Manual of the Planes and the Dungeon Masters Guide.

The Production Quality of the Demonomicon is excellent, with some very fine writing by the Authors and other contributors, and the information presented in a logical fashion, which makes it easy to use by Dungeon Masters.  Admittedly, there are occasional references to other published works, such as Dragon Magazine or Manual of the Planes, but these are always noted with a page number to facilitate a look-up.  The new demons presented in the book use the new format of monster stat blocks, along with more descriptive monster lore sections accompanying the stats, as was recently introduced in the Monster Manual 3. And the artwork in the Demonomicon is frankly stunning, particularly in the latter portion of the sourcebook where the new demons are detailed.  But there are also some very fine maps rendered of the Abyssal locales as well in Chapter 2, which should prove very useful for Dungeon Masters when their adventurers choose to plumb the deepest depths of evil.

The Demonomicon is divided simply into three broad Chapters – Demon Lore, The Abyss and Demons – with the latter essentially functioning as a Monster Manual Supplement of new Demons and Demon Lords.  The first two chapters are then divided up into sub-sections, each discussing different topics of Demon Lore, and the Layers of the Abyss, respectively, and the Authors present the information in a reasonably organized fashion.  Like the Monster Manuals, the final chapter presents new demons and demonic creatures alphabetically, although there is a table at the end which lists demons by Level to make them easy to add to encounters.

In the first Chapter on Demon Lore, the Authors present some rich background information on the formation of the Abyss: a terrifying plot designed to destroy this cosmos by evil beings from another universe, called the Obyriths.  I actually found the background information really fascinating, as it involved an old power from the Greyhawk Campaign setting, Tharizdun, as the progenitor of The Abyss in the Elemental Chaos, after he had been corrupted and mislead by the alien Obyriths.  Although the story of Tharizdun and the Cult of Elemental Evil has been edited somewhat from its original material to make it fit the new 4E cosmology, it is actually a nice homage to Gary Gygax’s vision of a dark primal god of pure evil so terrible that the gods had to bind him in perpetual imprisonment to save all of creation.1

And the addition of a new order of evil entities that corrupted Tharizdun, which seeded the Abyss in the first place with Tharizdun’s help, is just begging for development into a campaign arc.   And the Authors of Demonomicon do just that by giving Dungeon Masters an example of one called “Rise of the Obyriths”.  Although it is just a “bare bones” outline, the Demonomicon envisions a fairly epic campaign arc, starting with squabbles between demon cultists in the Heroic Teir, and ending in the Epic Tier with a mass charge into the Abyss at the head of an army of allied forces from all over the astral plane in order to stop the Obyriths from remaking cosmos in their own demented and evil image.  Definitely enough material there to keep adventurers busy for 30 Levels – and it is, of course, only one possibility for a campaign against these evil alien entities!  It is actually somewhat hard to convey just how much really great “fluff” and adventure hooks are packed into the first chapter of this sourcebook.

But Chapter 1 of the Demonomicon has quite a bit of decent “crunch” in it as well, as the excerpt on Cacodemon Possession as was previewed in June on the WotC site can attest.  Of course, there is a lot more to the discussion on Cacodemons, and to demonic possession in general, which DMs can use to spin-off some amazing adventures.

Now as a Dungeon Master, I am a huge fan of Monster Themes, as I recently revealed with my own Bloodtainted Theme a couple weeks ago.  I am pleased to find that the Authors of Demonomicon created really awesome new Themes to use to create the followers of the various demon lords, such as Yeenoghu’s Death Pack, Kostchtchie’s Winter Host, and my personal favorite, the Faithful of Graz’zt.  There is also a brilliant Theme designed for pairing a demon and a mortal summoner in an encounter – Demon Summoners and Bound Fiends – which gives each of them powers that are specifically used to act more synergistically during an encounter.  And yes, there is a listing for the Summon Demon Ritual for Ritual Casters, should they be so inclined (or insane) to want to try bargaining with a demon for help!

Admittedly, I was ambivalent about the “Theme” which allows a DM to substitute a different encounter power for a demon’s variable resistance ability.  While an interesting concept, it is not really a “theme”, but more a way to play to the weakness of a group of Heroes for not having enough elemental attack powers to make the variable resistance worth having.  However, I did think these new demonic powers were pretty darned nice, but it feels a little too contrived to edit monsters just to oppose a party’s weak suits.  It is definitely one of those stat block edits that Dungeon Masters should be careful about using too often.

Chapter 1 ends with some very “crunchy” demonic-related hazards to spice up an encounter.  Many of the hazards take the form of furnishings and architecture, such as pillars, altars, and tapestries.  This provides Characters a very good reason to be little more concerned about the décor than just viewing everything a DM describes in an encounter setting as mere flavor text.
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Chapter 2 deals with the nature of various layers of the Abyss, detailing their rulers, ecology, inhabitants, and hazards.  There is a very nice Table of Abyssal Layers in the middle of this chapter, offering Dungeon Masters a quick reference of over 80 listings, of which nearly a score of these locales are discussed in the Demonomicon.  The table also denotes the name of the demon lord which rules that layer, and the page number to reference either the Demonomicon, or Manual of the Planes or a particular Dragon Magazine (usually from the column from which this sourcebook gets its name).  It is worth mentioning that there are listings for demon lords and Abyssal layers which have not been developed by the Wizards of the Coast design team in this or any other sourcebook.  No hint is given if these will be developed later in future Dragon Magazine columns, or are just offered to spur the creativity of Dungeon Masters, with fascinating names like the demon lord Socothbenoth’s layer called Goranthis or Azazel’s layer called the Outcast’s End.  Regardless, there are some tantalizing locales provided for Heroes to seek high adventure.

Of the Abyssal layers discussed in the Demonomicon, some of them are given considerably more detailed descriptions than others.  For instance, the Plane of a Thousand Portals, the realm of demon lord Pazuzu, and the triple-layered realm of the demon lord Graz’zt, called Azzagrat, are given some incredible details, discussing not only the nature of the Abyssal realm, but also specific geographical locales and noteworthy terrain.  These areas can be quickly developed for use in a campaign with a little or no work, and would provide heroes a good stomping ground for their adventures in the Abyss.  Other well developed locations from the Demonomicon include The Blood Rift and the City of Morglon-Daar, the Iron Wastes of Kostchtchie, Demogorgon’s Abysm, and Oublivae’s realm, called simply The Barrens.

Obviously, in a book which is only 160 pages long, not every layer of the Abyss can be listed in such expansive details as the previously mentioned locales.  The Authors make note of nine other realms of interest, and give them a quick 2-3 paragraphs, as well as a table of the layer’s traits.  Disappointingly, Zuggtmoy’s realm of Shedaklah is one of those having a short entry, which is surprising as the demon lord of fungus makes her grand re-emergence to 4th Edition later in Chapter 3.  Those old-school AD&D gamers will undoubtedly remember this nasty demoness from the Temple of Elemental Evil adventure, the sequel to the Village of Hommelet module.

But perhaps even more noticeable an omission is the listing for the infamous demon lord Jubilex.  Perhaps one of the most well-known demon lords from the early days of Dungeons & Dragons, second only perhaps to Orcus, it seems a clear case of oversight to include his rival Zuggtmoy, but to omit a stat block for Jubilex – particularly in light of the fact that his realm, Molor, was discussed in The Plane Below, yet he was not given stats in that sourcebook either!
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However, despite the omissions, Chapter 2 of the Demonomicon is a well-designed primer to the Abyss, capable of giving Dungeon Masters a good starting point to begin planning their own campaigns there.  It should be noted that the Authors also provide some very interesting material regarding a variety of ways to travel through the Abyss using all manner of portals and gates, as well as a bit on nature of demonic cults and temples.  Strangely, the latter section would probably have been a better fit in Chapter 1: Demon Lore, rather than Chapter 2: The Abyss.

The final section of Chapter 2 features two Demonic Delves, with detailed adventure locales, hooks, and a couple of encounters designed specifically for each delve.  The first delve which is designed for the end of the Paragon Tier, entitled The Wasting Tower, is of particular note as it features a trip into the Abyssal realm of The Blood Rift, to the Tower of Khin OinPlanscape fans will enjoy the fact that the famous power broker of Sigil, Schemeshka the Marauder, plays a big part in this short adventure, which makes this Demonic Delve a noteworthy experience.

The last Chapter of the Demonomicon, which is the largest section of the book, is a monster manual of new demons and demon lords.  The authors have created the stat blocks for five demon lords and nearly sixty other demons ranging in power to be capable of use in all three Tiers of play.  One of the new demon lords introduced, Oublivae, was discussed in the Spotlight Interview – 3 Questions: Oublivae and from her stat block, she does a good job living up to the “hype” offered by the designer, Steve Towsend.  The other demon lords included in the Demonomicon include Kostchtchie, Pazuzu, Zuggtmoy, and Phraxas, several of which have appeared in previous editions.  And although Phraxas seems to be a new demon lord, he actually bears a certain resemblance to Anthraxas the Oinodaemon, a daemon lord from AD&D.

In fact, many of the previous editions “daemons” or “yugoloths” have been inducted into the Abyss as demons now, including the guardian demon, derghodemon, piscodemon, yagnodemon, hydrodemon, and a new minion form of the mezzodemon.  But the slide of daemons to demons started long before the Demonomicon, and this sourcebook merely presents a wide variety of demonic creatures which can ravage the cosmos in almost any environment.  I was very pleased to see the authors include the Nabassu demon, which was one nasty piece of work in the old editions, and is just as mean and nasty in 4E.  The Authors also looked beyond the “classic” AD&D demons and daemons to draw inspiration from, and included a host of demonic entities like the abyssal ravager, the blood demon (previously blood fiend), and the zovvut.
ixit trans
There were, however, some critters which made the leap from just plain old monster to demon that were a bit surprising.  The ixitachitl is no longer a strange form of intelligent sting ray with an Aztec-ish name, but are now demonic servants of Demogorgon, created when he was an aquatic primordial before his transformation to demon lord.  And clockwork horrors have graduated from mere constructs to elemental demonic constructs created by a demon lord of Alchemy and Artifice named Haagenti.  I cannot say that I am opposed to these changes from the original monsters, just more surprised they would be taken in such a drastically different direction than their original AD&D concepts.

Overall Grade:  A-

With very little reservation, I can definitely recommend the Demonomicon as a truly excellent sourcebook, and is fighting hard for the top spot in my library against the previously release Underdark earlier this year.  Much like Underdark, it is narrowly focused onto an iconic portion of the D&D universe, and offers rich and well-developed content which will provide the foundation for numerous campaign arcs and adventures for many Dungeon Masters everywhere.

And unlike Manual of the Planes, The Plane Below and The Plan Above, the Demonomicon does not try to take on so much material that it cannot adequately develop it within a moderately sized sourcebook, but because of its focus, manages to provide a very satisfying blend of “fluff” and “crunch” regarding all thing demonic.  Now I am not saying that I would not have preferred to see more than just a 160 page sourcebook, but for its page length, Demonomicon definitely packs in a lot of material.  Sadly, the MSRP for Demonomicon is its most disappointing feature, and I have already voiced my concern about page length shrinkage versus retail price in previous blogs.  But given the potential demonic mayhem that can be loosed on a campaign from this sourcebook, owning a copy of the Demonomicon of Iggwilv should be high on the priority list of every Dungeon Master who wants to show their adventurers the depths of pure evil.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Grade Card

  • Presentation: A
  • - Design: A
  • - Illustrations: A+
  • Content: A
  • - Crunch: A
  • - Fluff: A+
  • Value: B

  • About The Author

    Editor-in-Chief
    Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.

    Comments

    7 Responses to “Review of Demonomicon by Wizards of the Coast”

    1. greywulf says:

      An excellent and thorough review, as ever. Thanks for taking the time to write it. This is one book that’s well and truly on my own “must buy” list!

    2. Sean Holland says:

      Solid review.

      Even as a vary casual 4th ed DM, this book intrigues me. Lots of interesting idea and adventure hooks.
      .-= Sean Holland´s last blog ..Organization – Draconic House Hazolai =-.

    3. beej! says:

      I’ve always been a fan of fiendish books in D&D. On the 3.x end, I have Fiendish Codex (FC) I and II on my shelf, and I’ve been looking for someone with a Book of Vile Darkness (BoVD). But I’ve been leery of getting the Demonomicon for 4e, if only because I dislike the cover art. But this good review makes me want to buy this book after all.

      Now on to some specifics:
      * I first heard of the obyrith’s back in FCI. Back in 3.x lore, they were demons with a Lovecraftian twist to them, and Pazuzu, Dagon, Obox-ob and Pale Night were some powerful examples of the “race.” The obyriths existed before the tanar’ri, and they created the latter from the souls of chaotic evil mortal souls. This 4e version of them is an interesting on the former lore, especially as tanar’ri are now more “corrupted elementals” as opposed to “evolved, corrupted souls.”
      * I was really hoping for Jubilex to show up, and I’m disappointed that it didn’t. As he was mentioned here and there in former supplements, I wonder if the decision to not include it means that they plan to feature it in an upcoming dragon article or monster book (the EDnD Monster Vault, perhaps?)
      * I’m glad that the ixitachitl finally made the transition to demonhood. While they were aberrants in 3.x, I think the BoVD and FCI specifically mentions them as common sights in Demogorgon’s realm (I’m away from my gaming library right now and can’t check). It’s kind of weird for a nondemonic race to survive, if not thrive, in one of the most savage realms of the Abyss. So, to me at least, the shift was expected and makes sense.
      .-= beej!´s last blog ..Updates! =-.

    4. @beej – agreed, I like how the Authors did revision of the Obyriths, adding in the Tharizdun angle to be their double-agent in the PC’s cosmos. Went back to check and it appears that several of the Obyriths from 3.5 are listed as demon lords in the current Demonomicon – Dagon, Obox-ob, Pale Night, Pazuzu, Queen of Chaos, and Ugudenk are all mentioned on the Abyssal Layer table – and the sibiriex demons also found a new home in this sourcebook.

      Have to also agree with you about the cover art as well. Without meaning any disrespect to the cover artist, I don’t think that the picture of a vrock flying off with a victim was a strong choice to create a great first impression of a sourcebook. That said, there was alot of really great art in the book, including a fantastic piece of Graz’zt standing behind Iggwilv and helping her put her cloak on. A fairly chilling piece of work really, given that Graz’zt and Iggwilv are two of the most notorious villains in the history D&D lore. Must be nice to have a demon lord as your personal valet!

      Let’s keep or fingers crossed that Jubilex finally oozes Its way into some Dragon Magazine or some other sourcebook. Makes me almost want to take a stab at designing It myself.

    5. Thanks for the excellent, detailed review. I’m certainly more interested in picking this up now!

    6. Thanks for the detailed review Michael. Much appreciated.

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