Hordes of the Abyss


Hordes of the Abyss

Author: Various
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Publish Date: 06/2006
ISBN: 10-7869-3919-2
Pages: 157
Rating: 9 out of 10
Retail Price: $29.95


I’ve been quite impressed with the few books Wizards of the Coast has released that detail specific monstrous races exhaustively. Books like Draconomicon and Lords of Madness were very much a cut above the standard cloth of mediocrity I’ve come to expect from most Wizards of the Coast publications. I was very excited when Wizards of the Coast began releasing their Fiendish Codex series, as I expected good things from a race book about evil outsiders. Hordes of the Abyss didn’t let me down.

The first chapter is a potpourri of topics relating to demons. One popular theory for the origins of demonkind is presented, as is a basic rundown of known demon physiology. Rules for demonic possession are given as well. The bulk of the chapter is dedicated to detailing a few standard demonic roles within a campaign, such as the manipulator demon, who uses others for its amusement or the brute demon, who simply smashes anything it dislikes. This chapter also introduces the black scrolls of Ahm, a series of powerful artifacts that originated as a guide to demons and the Abyss. Most of the information in Hordes of the Abyss is supposed to originate from these works, and they constantly pop up throughout the book, with a separate work, the Demonomicon of Iggwilv, being cited occasionally to provide alternate theories. It bares mentioning that Dragon Magazine has been running a series of articles that are supposed to be excerpts from the Demonomicon of Iggwilv and build upon the information in Hordes of the Abyss.

The second chapter introduces sixteen new demons. Unlike many creatures appearing in monster sourcebooks, it appears that a great deal of thought went into the creatures in this chapter. The entire spectrum of challenge ratings is covered, from the CR1 mane, a pitiful creature that is even more pathetic than the lowly dretch to the CR19 molydeus, a demonic enforcer that could hold its own against a balor. Even more importantly, demonic subtypes are also spelled out. The tanar’ri that are presented in the Monster Manual are only one of three subtypes of demonic life. Included among demonkind are ancient obyrith that ruled the Abyss for eons before the tanar’ri even existed and the incorporeal loumara that enter existence as the tortured dreams of dead gods. These subclasses and the history attached to each gives demons a new depth that raises them above being simple monsters to fight and helps establish a sort of hierarchy for the politics of the Abyss.

The third chapter is the one I was looking forward to the most, as it details many of the demon lords that reside in the Abyss. I was impressed by the fact that the book details more than the small handful of popular, well known demon lords like Demogorgon and Orcus. Stats, history and motivations for other powerful lords of all three demonic subtypes are given, such as Fraz-urb’luu and Kostchtchie. I was particularly impressed with an obyrith lord named Obox-ob, and actually shuddered a bit at the thought of pitting him against a group of high-level adventurers. Each of the demon lords that were originally found in the Book of Vile Darkness are also here, though their power has been reduced significantly so as to make them attainable goals for high-level adventurers. The one gripe I have about this chapter is that one of the first things it mentions is aspects, which are physical manifestations of powerful beings (such as demon lords) that can manifest separate of the beings themselves. After mentioning this, it points the reader to the Wizards of the Coast website for examples and says nothing more about it. Bad form.

Moving on, the next chapter contained the majority of the “crunchy” stuff. Surprisingly, no new prestige classes were given, though the book did point to other d20 sources for demon-related classes. New spells were included, as well as a few new domains. Additionally, new feats were included. Many of these feats were reproductions of earlier versions found in the Book of Vile Darkness, including a few vile feats, which only the most evil can gain. A new idea introduced by this chapter is the abyssal heritor line of feats, which allow one to gain a watered-down semblance of the chaotic power of demonkind without having to resort to the half-fiend template. The black scrolls of Ahm are also detailed here, with some being minor artifacts and some being major. What sets them apart from other artifacts is that they have a built-in mechanism for removing them from play if it becomes obvious that they’re throwing off the balance of your game, since using them often has the side effect of summoning demons, and the scrolls immediately teleport away when demons are near.

Of everything in this book, I looked forward to chapter five the most. This chapter details the Abyss itself, including a history of the Blood War. I was disappointed that more reason for the war’s beginnings weren’t made apparent, but I had expected as much. A history of the overthrow of the obyrith by the tanar’ri was detailed and a hierarchy for each inhabitant of the Abyss, from petitioner (the soul of a deceased chaotic evil mortal) to deity, was also given. A few pages were dedicated to travel through the Abyss, with special attention paid to the river Styx. Most of the example encounters on or near the river consisted of yugoloths, but unless you own a copy of Fiend Folio, you’re probably not going to be able to use any of them. I sincerely hope that there is a Fiendish Codex III that concerns yugoloths. Some of the more interesting and powerful areas of the Abyss were also detailed in their own right, including the Lolth’s Demonweb Pits (layer 66), Grazzt’s Azzagrat (layers 45-47), Demogorgon’s Gaping Maw (layer 88) and Orcus’s Thanatos (layer 113), as well as several others. Each included a fairly complete history and a guide to the locations and dangers of each layer, putting to rest any sane person’s ideas of simply teleporting in, wiping the floor with a demon lord and making good on an escape. The gripe I have with this chapter is that Orcus’s history includes him knowing a dark and hidden incantation known as the Last Word, which is so powerful that it can be used to kill gods (in fact, four gods he has killed with the Last Word are mentioned by name). However, Orcus’s stat block in chapter 3 makes no mention of this, and I would think that if you can kill gods with an utterance, getting rid of rivals like Grazzt and Demogorgon should be little problem.

Any one of the 663 known layers of the Abyss would be worth its own book. Each one is almost a completely separate entity from the rest, and would therefore easily fill up dozens of pages without intruding upon other such books. However, there’s only so much an author can do, and I think that the authors have done justice to demons and the Abyss with this work. There’s a minor reliance on other books (most notably Fiend Folio and the Book of Vile Darkness), but Hordes of the Abyss otherwise stands on its own very firmly.