Monday 30 September 2013

Demons Revisited

Demons are popular antagonists in many Pathfinder games (not to mention numerous other roleplaying games as well). While they are in the limelight at the moment in many recent products, they have always shown up with regularity in Pathfinder products and adventures. Demons Revisited by James Jacobs is another of the recent books focusing heavily on demons—indeed, in this case, focusing entirely on demons. One of the strengths of this book is that, while it is a great stand-alone product that looks at ten specific demon types in detail, it is also the perfect companion product to several others. Combining them all together provides a huge wealth of information and adventuring opportunities, giving demons a life and “reality” that most other monsters in the game don’t have.

Demons Revisited naturally works well in conjunction with The Worldwound, allowing gamemasters to bring to life the dark entities that rule that land. Not surprisingly, it also works well with the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path, which is all about demons and the Worldwound. Then there’s the Demon Hunter’s Handbook (a book I haven’t quite got round to reviewing yet, but it’s next on the list), which arms player characters with the tools they need to go out and fight the demons in Demons Revisited. But there’s also a much earlier book that Demons Revisited makes the perfect companion to: Book of the Damned Volume 2: Lords of Chaos. The three Book of the Damned volumes are an excellent series detailing the fiends of the lower planes. However, of the three, I’ve always felt that Lords of Chaos is the weakest for the simple fact that it is the one most constrained by its size. The Abyss is far larger in scope and size than either Hell (home of the devils of volume one) or Abaddon (home of the daemons of volume three). As a result, in order to cover everything there (or at least, a sizeable chunk), each individual part has to make due with considerably less detail. Demons Revisited helps to fill in the blanks Lords of Chaos couldn’t cover. In a sense, it’s almost like part two of Lords of Chaos and its existence makes the Book of the Damned more complete.

Of course, Demons Revisited is also part of the Revisited series, occasional books in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line that look in detail at ten examples of a specific category of monsters. For the most part, this has always been a very good series of books (with Fey Revisited being the only one to disappoint me) and Demons Revisited is one of the best of the bunch. Certainly, the book’s greatest success is turning what are too frequently generic monsters into detailed personalities. Demons become real characters with plots and schemes, even desires. Make no mistake, they are the worst of villains, but they are also more than just nameless entities to kill. More so than other Revisited books, Demons Revisited takes the time to detail specific individuals of each race it looks at. Every Revisited book always has a sample character or advanced version of each race it looks at, with complete game stats. Demons Revisited likewise has the complete stats of an individual of each demon type, but it also contains background information on numerous other individuals of each type. These other examples don’t have full stat blocks to go with them, but that doesn’t really matter. There are just enough examples to allow gamemasters to fully appreciate the breadth of personalities extant amongst demonkind.

Now, as I said above, one should not mistake detailed characterization for demons being in any way sympathetic. They are not, and as a word of warning, Demons Revisited is a nastily gruesome book. James Jacobs does not shy away from the utter acts of depravity demons commit—or more often, the acts of depravity demons inspire their mortal victims to commit. I do wonder if the front or back cover of this book should have had some sort of trigger warning, as there is some truly stomach-churning stuff within, particularly some of the things people must do in order to conjure demons. Mariliths, for example, require the severed hands of six still-living generals who are in command of significant armies. And that’s only one of the milder examples.

The ten kinds of demons described within the book are, not surprisingly, the more commonly known varieties. They include the babau, balor, glabrezu, hezrou, invidiak (shadow demon), marilith, nabasu (and consequently its mature form, the vrolikai), nalfeshnee, succubus, and vrock. Each type has six pages devoted to it. Six pages doesn’t really seem like a lot, but there’s a ton of information crammed into them nonetheless. Each chapter is divided into the same basic sections. To start with, there is a quotation from the in-world Book of the Damned. This is followed by a general introduction to the type of demon being discussed. There is then information on the demon’s physiology and demonology (methods of contacting and conjuring the demon). After that, there is a brief look at the demon’s campaign role (how to fit this type of demon into ongoing campaigns) and the types of treasure it likes to hoard. The remainder of each chapter (usually amounting to about half the chapter or more) is devoted to specific individuals of the demon type. Each chapter also has a couple of sidebars, one of which is always about half-demons of that type. This is a good example of game mechanics working to support flavour. The generic half-fiend template in the Bestiary is for the progeny of a mortal with any kind of fiend, not just demons. The various half-demon sidebars in this book offer modifications to the half-fiend template to make the progeny of different kinds of demons stand out from one another. As such, half-nalfeshness are towering, monstrous beast, while half-succubi can almost pass for human. The other sidebars focus on various different things appropriate to each demon type. They are often mechanical options such as new feats that augment invidiaks’ possession ability or new powers for balor lords.

One of the things I really like about the book is that demon personalities are often far more intellectual than their brutish appearances might at first suggest. Nalfeshnees, for example, are very scholarly and collect knowledge as part of their role as demons of greed. One of the sample nalfeshnee, Zrubuaar-Pathas, spends his time carefully studying the qlippoth of the deepest parts of the Abyss, learning all about their strengths, abilities, and goals. Demons can surprise in other ways, too. One tends to think of succubi as being all about sex and nothing but. As demons of lust, sex is obviously one aspect of succubi, but the book also details how lust can cover a great deal more than sex and how succubi are just as capable at luring victims with other kinds of temptations, such as unique spells for wizards who lust after such things.

The number of individual demons in each chapter varies slightly, but there are always at least five (including the one with complete stats) and some have as many as seven. Some of them are taken from previous Pathfinder products, while some are brand new for this book. All of them make compelling villains and would work well as the main villain for an adventure or, in some cases, an entire campaign. Amongst the most interesting individuals are the Gloom Widow and the Misbegotten Prince. Ilzunae, the Gloom Widow, is an invidiak who identifies potential couples, then possesses a friend of that couple. She then manipulates events so that the two individuals fall deeply in love and eventually marry. At that point, she teleports the possessed friend to a far-off location and possesses one of the lovers so that she can experience a bit of their marital bliss before killing the other one. Finally, she appears before the survivor and tells that person that this was all made possible by the friend who has fled to another land. She then watches as the survivor takes his or her revenge. Uvaglor, the Misbegotten Prince, could possibly be the son of a union between the goddess Lamashtu and the demon prince Pazuzu, two of the greatest enemies in all the Abyss.

Demons Revisited is really a very good book and the perfect companion book for several other Pathfinder products. It’s a gruesome book (understandably so) and people should be aware that it discusses some rather depraved acts. However, it successfully turns demons from being just powerful monsters to kill into fully fleshed-out and utterly evil villains. Their final defeat at the hands of player characters becomes all the more satisfying as a result.

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