Third Party D&D: The Book of Fiends (Green Ronin Publishing)
Let’s cut right to the chase, the book I’m going to talk about today focuses on a subject that’s become rather taboo in our hobby; devils and demons. The book in question is The Book of Fiends.
For me, one of the most fascinating concepts in all of Dungeons & Dragons is the mythical war between the powers of good and evil. Being a fantasy game, this conflict can take whatever form the Dungeon Master decides. Perhaps in your gameworld, the powers of good are represented by just one omnipotent figure similar to the Judeo-Christian God. Or, maybe your world is ruled by a pantheon similar to the beliefs of the ancient Greeks. The fictional lore of D&D worlds is as varied as the real religions of our own planet. Because of this, when worldbuilding, resources like the Green Ronin’s Book of the Righteous can be immensely valuable. But whenever a DM brings up the details of the divine, its natural for the players to ask about the other side of the coin. That’s when things tend to get especially interesting.
Early editions of D&D did not shy away from these subjects. To the early creators of the game, battling the forces of evil seemed like something that good-natured heroes would want to do. It just seemed natural. The problem arose when the fiends that were being detailed started to mirror those found in real-life mythology. For example, first-edition D&D gave stat blocks for devils and demons named after those found in ancient Jewish texts. Combine this with the overall “Satanic Panic” scare of the 80’s and you ended up with a recipe for controversy. TSR (the company behind retro D&D) tried to stave off this stigma in the second-edition of the game by renaming “devils” and “demons” to something else, but old players like myself still knew what they were talking about. Over the years, the controversy has largely died down, and the terms “demons” and “devils” have been quietly reintroduced to the game. But still, WotC is very cautious about the level of detail they provide to these types of creatures. This over abundance of caution has opened the doors to third-party publishers, making them the primary source of information on these fiendish characters.
The Book of Fiends is to fictional evil what the Book of the Righteous was to fictional gods – a resource that can be used by DMs in whatever way they choose. Perhaps, it serves as nothing more than a source of inspiration for your campaign, or maybe you take the information in it and use it in your game exactly as it’s detailed. The choice is yours. But there’s no denying the wealth of content found between these pages.
So what is this book exactly? For the most part, The Book of Fiends can be considered a bestiary for fiendish planar creatures. It is chock full of sat blocks for various devils, demons, daemons, and other planar monstrosities. Many of these creatures were originally created for older versions of D&D, but in this new book they have been updated for fifth-edition rules. The quality of these monsters are second to none. Make no mistake, this is more than just some cheap splatbook. All of the creatures detailed here are well designed and sure to strike fear into the hearts of players.
But aside from monster stats, this book also does a fantastic job of detailing various lore from the lower planes. It explains the history behind these various fiendish races; their motivations and desires. The details here make working these mythologies into an existing campaign easier than ever. With the upcoming release of the official Planescape campaign setting for 5E, I’m curious to see just how much (if any) crossover the details of this book is going to have with the official rules. Even if this does occur, it will still be easy enough for a good DM to incorporate ideas from this book if needed.
The final part of this book is likely to be the most controversial. This book includes character options that are evil in nature. Perhaps your cleric doesn’t follow one of the popular gods, maybe he aligns himself with a demonic entity instead… this book has what you’re looking for. Backgrounds, feats, even evil-themed spells – they’re all here. Of course, generally speaking, evil characters are not a popular option. Still, there’s nothing stopping you from taking these rules and using them to design an evil NPC to surprise your players.
I’ll admit to being fascinated with the “devils” section of the old 1E Monster Manual. I always had the fantastic idea that one day my PC would trek into the lowest level of Hell and do battle with Asmodeus himself. That never happened in any of the campaigns I played, and frankly, I felt robbed. But it doesn’t have to be that way for your players. If you’re a DM looking to introduce some classic lower planes horror into your campaign, this book is a great place to start. It’s a quality product with a wealth of content. When I say that, I mean it. The binding is tight, the pages are colorful and they are filled with plenty of fantastic ideas. Combine the contents of this book with what’s found in The Book of the Righteous and you’re well on your way to an epic campaign that your players are unlikely to forget!