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Author Topic: Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss  (Read 3807 times)

ColonelHardisson

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Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss
« on: September 13, 2006, 04:36:53 PM »
Hordes of the Abyss discusses demonic physiology, life cycles, and mindsets. It also discusses the roles demons play in the D&D cosmology, as well as the roles they can play in D&D campaigns and adventures.

The book also gives an overview of demonic possession, and its effects on beings and objects. A little over five pages long, it nonetheless gives a concise, informative look at the subject. Game mechanics are given, which aren’t very complicated, but roleplaying tips are also given.

In addition, there are new spells, feats, and magic items, which is pretty normal for a D&D sourcebook.

New spells include Morality Undone (which can turn a creature to evil), Exorcism (which is based on the clercal ability to turn undead), and Beckoning Call (which draws a creature near to the caster).

New feats include Dark Speech (which originated in the Book of Vile Darkness and is a language so foul it can cause damage and mayhem), Demon Mastery (which improves a spellcaster’s ability to summon and command demons), and Poison Healer (poison can actually heal you when ingested).

The Black Scrolls of Ahm are a group of artifact-level writings that impart the knowledge and power of demons to those who possess them. There are quite a few of these books floating around, apparently, each of which covers different subjects.

The Black Cult of Ahm is a group that has sprung up around the Black Scrolls. This group’s mission is to find and bring together under their control all the various books that comprise the Black Scrolls. This organization is detailed using the “Affiliation” rules of the Players Handbook II, which makes creating NPCs – and, yes, evil PCs – that belong to the Cult more interesting. The history, goals, and general worldview of its members is covered.

Surprisingly (and happily, in my opinion), there are no prestige classes in the book. However, ones from other sources that are appropriate to a demonic-oriented game are given a brief discussion.

In addition, there are several new demons. Well, new to 3e, at least, since many of them are familiar critters from earlier editions of the game: the evil orangutan-like bar-lgura, the wolf-and-snake-headed molydeus, the mane (these guys are just now making their 3e appearance?!?!), the huge, buffalo-headed goristro, and the giant mosquito/fly chasme are all familiar figures to me.

In addition, there are some really odd demons (and that’s saying something when it comes to demons) that are of a couple new demonic subtypes called obyriths and loumaras. Obyriths are an ancient race of demons that predate the tanar’ri (see The Ugly, below). Loumaras are newer, said to be “the byproduct of the plane’s [the Abyss] attempt to digest the fitful last dreams of a dying pantheon of evil gods.” They include the dybbuk, a possessing spirit of a creature that is derived from Hebrew folkore.

Good chunks of the book detail demon lords and the Abyss, the home of the demons.

In the demon lord section, familiar names to one who has played D&D for a while are Demogorgon (the two baboon-headed, tentacle-armed “Prince of Demons”), Orcus (the enormously fat, goat headed and legged (“Prince of the Undead”), Fraz-Urb’Luu (“Prince of Deception” – think King Kong with wings and a more human face), Graz’zt (what’s up with the apostrophes, anyway?) (“The Dark Prince” – think a tall, dark, handsome human male with ebony skin and a demonic look), Juiblex (“The Faceless Lord” – a big green pool of goo with eyes), and Yeenoghu (the emaciated, hyena-headed “Prince of Gnolls”). In addition, the demonic patron of minotaurs (Baphomet) and a rival of Thrym’s for the patronage of frost giants (Kostchtchie) make an appearance. Among the others are strange obyrith lords like Obox-ob (too bizarre for me to briefly describe), Pale Night (the wispy, white “Mother of Demons”) and Dagon. Yep, Dagon. Made famous by H.P Lovecraft, Dagon is a demon and/or god who has been showing up in ancient lore as far back as 2500 BC. Here he is, showing up in D&D as the Prince of the Depths.

The section on the Abyss goes over its history, inhabitants, and layout. Traditionally in D&D, the Abyss has 666 layers. In recent years, it’s been given an infinite number of layers, with 666 kept around as more of a good round figure to refer to, more or less. The history of the Abyss, particularly the Blood War – a Planescape trope which posited an unending ancient war between tanar’ri (demons) and baatezu (devils) – seems to be essentially that which was given in the Planescape setting. The role of the obyriths is something I’m not sure about, so they may be a new creation for this book.

The layout of the Abyss goes over the various “landmarks” that can be used to travel throughout the Abyss. The Abyssian Ocean, the Infinite Staircase, and the River Styx are among those discussed. These accessing and dangers of these conveyances are revealed. Also detailed are common hazards in the Abyss, from cacklestorms (a storm of demonic laughter which can cause one to literally die laughing) to viper trees (demonic trees whose branches have snakes’ mouths which attack those who pass near).

Fifteen Abyssal layers are detailed. Notable ones are Pazunia (the “top” layer of the Abyss, with countless portals to deeper layers), Thanatos (a cold, dark layer, the realm of Orcus), The Wells of Darkness (a layer containing dark pools that are the prisons of some of the most hated demons), and The Gaping Maw (a tropical layer of hostile seas and nightmarish jungles, the realm of Demogorgon). Each plane has several noteworthy locations detailed, as well as a random encounter chart tailored for that specific plane.


The Good
There is a lot of good in this book, especially given its brevity. There isn’t a lot of filler here. Virtually everything is useful in some way, at the very least as a campaign or adventure hook. The writing and ideas are imaginative and far-ranging.

The Bad
I was never a big fan of Planescape. While this book provides a refreshing revamp of that setting’s tropes, it still retains some of the tropes I disliked about that setting. The word tanar’ri is chief among those tropes. It (along with devils being renamed baatezu) was devised as a way to deflect the ire of parents and church groups who had gotten up in arms over the depiction of demons and devils in D&D. Planescape took these new names and ran with them. This is only a minor quibble, really, because demons were renamed, well, demons, and now tanar’ri is used to denote a demonic subtype (the dominant one, to boot). But it’s just a reminder of a darker time in D&D’s history.

The Ugly
The obyriths. Damn, those things are ugly.

Why you will like it
It’s a good-looking book packed with a lot of material that can be used to scare the hell out of player characters.

Why you won’t like it
D&D has a cosmology all its own, developed over the 30+ years of its existence. This cosmology doesn’t resemble anything from the real world or fiction, except in passing. The demons detailed, while often inspired by demonic beings from real-world myth and legend, bear little resemblance to anything they may have been inspired by. So if you’re expecting to get a treatise about “real world” demonology, you’re probably going to be disappointed by Hordes of the Abyss.

I like D&D/d20, should I buy this?
If you have any hankering to use demons in your game, or have any desire to send the PCs planes-hopping on demon-hunting expeditions, then this is the book for you.

I don’t like D&D/d20, should I buy this?
Well, that’s a good question. Be warned: there is a decent amount of crunch in this book. It is outweighed by the fluff text, but the crunch is pretty pervasive. If, like me, you’re one of those people who buy GURPS sourcebooks for the ideas that can be mined, even if you don’t play, or even like, GURPS, then this book might be worth a look to you. This presupposes you play a fantasy RPG that includes the possibility of demonic entities and parallel planes of existence. It might be of use, especially for campaign or adventure inspiration, even if you play a game that isn’t fantasy-based. Some of the material could work in the context of a Call of Cthulhu game, or just about any horror-themed game. The further away from fantasy your game of choice is, though, the less utility you’ll find in the book.

Where’s the fun?
For my money, the fun comes in the chapter “Into the Abyss.” Specifically the descriptions of the layers. Some of these layers I could see being used as the actual world for a pretty dark and desperate campaign. There are many very cool adventure and campaign hooks throughout.

My personal favorite layers, in ascending order:

Androlynne – This is a layer that was the site of a massive invasion by the forces of good. Creatures of faerie and staunch defenders of good came here to protect kidnapped children of the fay, and have succeeded in infusing the layer with a decent amount of good energy. Can the good guys wrest this layer away from the forces of chaos and evil?

The Endless Maze – Realm of the demonic minotaur Baphomet, this layer is, as its name implies, an unimaginably huge maze. When not stalking hapless adventurers in the maze, lounging about in Lyktion, his thousand-room palace, Baphomet might be found hanging out in his Tower of Science. Of course, this is a tower devoted to sciences that pique Baphomet’s interest, like torture, taxidermy, and vivisection. He is a demon lord, after all.

The Iron Wastes – Perpetually pissed-off, possibly by always being described as “bandy-legged,” Kostchtchie rules this realm with his BFH (Big Frickin’ Hammer). Here in this glacier-gripped realm, the big K sacrificed his own daughter (sired upon a captured Valkyrie, who ended up with a snapped mind) to create a permanent gate between his realm and Ysgard. Yep, that Ysgard. Kostchtchie has designs on invading the upper planes of good, after he unites all the frost giants under his sway.

The Demonweb – The realm of the dark elf deity Lolth, the Demonweb first appeared in the old AD&D module Queen of the Demonweb Pits. There are lots of references to that old module. The demonweb itself contains many portals to worlds Lolth has conquered or is in the process of conquering. Many of these portals will be familiar to those who played the original module – Caer Sidi, a world where an Unseelie Court of elves has a truce with Lolth, and uses anything and anyone they happen to run across as a way to hamper Lolth’s plans; Erelhei-Cinlu – the fabled subterranean city of the dark elves, the Drow, stands as a bastion of evil deep within the mountains of a campaign world of your choice (originally Greyhawk, of course); a world of perpetual night, held in thrall by a vampire lord, and Maldev, the doomed final stronghold of the dwarves in a world Lolth has, in the 25 or so years of time between the original module and this book, succeeded in capturing.

And that’s just 4 out of 15 of the layers described. Add to that a listing of 100+ layers and their rulers in an appendix, and there are enough hooks for a fun game than you can shake a staff of power at.
 
"Illegitimis non carborundum." - General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell

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Mcrow

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Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss
« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2006, 04:42:51 PM »
Nice (and detailed) review, thanks for submitting it!:D