Tyrants of the Nine Hells


Tyrants of the Nine Hells

Author: Robin D. Laws & Robert J. Schwalb
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Publish Date: 12/2006
ISBN: 978-0-7869-3940-4
Pages: 158
Rating: 8 out of 10
Retail Price: $29.95


As much as I liked Wizards of the Coast’s first book in the Fiendish Codex series, Hordes of the Abyss, I figured it was a pretty safe bet that I would like the second book, Tyrants of the Nine Hells, as well. I was reassured by the book’s preface, which is a telling of a creation myth in which the gods voluntarily give Asmodeus and his dark angels power in Hell so that they wouldn’t have to concern themselves with the more violent and shameful acts of punishment for evil deeds, only to find out that Asmodeus has tricked them into signing over the power to potentially rule the universe. This story goes a long way towards illustrating just how devious and cunning devils, and Asmodeus in particular, really are.

The first chapter gives reason for Hell to exist beyond simply being a breeding ground for monsters. As part of the Pact Primeval (mentioned above - the contract signed by the gods that allows devils to draw power from the souls of the damned), devils don’t draw their power from the gods, as angels would. Instead, they take power from the souls of mortals that end up in Baator after their death. A devil that corrupts a mortal essentially owns that mortal’s soul after it dies. This has resulted in mortal souls being used as a form of currency among devilkind, since the more souls one owns, the more power one has. With this in mind, the first chapter details how much souls are worth, how devils that collect souls for their masters are rewarded and how devils that fail to collect souls are punished. Different pacts devils use to get mortals to sign away their immortal souls are detailed and potential benefits to the seller are listed. The worship of devils and even a system for corruption (which eventually changes a person’s alignment to lawful evil so they end up in Baator after death) is presented. While the Blood War is briefly touched on, the rest of the chapter is definitely geared towards the acquisition and use of mortal souls.

The second chapter takes the lion’s share of the book and details each of the nine layers of Baator. Each layer is individually described and information about the layer’s archduke, the dukes under him or her and any other unique devils is provided, though actual stat blocks are contained in chapter five (in my opinion, it would have been better to have each archduke’s stat block accompanying the description of his or her layer). Information about the types of devils one is likely to find on the layer is given and any important locations are detailed, some with an accompanying map. Some of the locations are actually magical locations that allow a character willing to undergo a daunting or painful experience to gain a magical benefit, albeit, usually accompanied by an alignment change towards lawful evil. If a deity resides on the layer, his or her realm is touched on. Finally, a handful of encounter ideas are presented to give the DM ideas for random (or not so random) encounters.

The third chapter contained most of the new mechanical information. First was a new race, the hellbred. This race is not born, but is instead created from the soul of a truly repentant mortal upon his death as a means to give the mortal one last chance for redemption. Personally, I didn’t like the race. The favored class is paladin, but a hellbred is free to multiclass as he wishes and still return to the paladin class. Further, he can use items keyed to evil alignments (such as demon armor or the sword of Kas) with no penalties and he starts with and can gain devil-touched feats (basically the opposite of exalted feats) as his hit dice progress. Frankly, this just seemed like a cheap way to create a paladin that doesn’t have a strict code of laws to follow.

The selection of new feats was actually pretty good. The majority of them are only available to devils and require that they pay homage to a single archduke of Baator. Replacing some of the creature’s Monster Manual feats with these might be an interesting way to spice up what would otherwise be one more generic encounter. There were a handful of divine feats, which let a user sacrifice a turn undead attempt for some other ability, but the real focus was on devil-touched feats. The first in this feat tree requires that one sell his soul to a devil, but as he progresses, he gains more and more power, as most of the abilities of devil-touched feats get better the more devil-touched feats one has.

As usual, I was not impressed with the selection of new prestige classes. While they were devil-themed, they didn’t seem inspired at all. The hellbreaker is a thief that specializes in stealing from devils. The hellfire warlock uses the warlock class from Complete Arcane as a basis and gains an insane amount of extra damage while still gaining invocations as though progressing as a warlock. The hellreaver is a sort of divine warrior that gains a point reserve equal to his class level that allows him to activate any of several abilities and could quickly become an unpredictable mathematical nightmare for a DM. The soulguard is a divine crusader that specializes in freeing unjusty-captured souls from devils and offering redemption to those that have started down a path of corruption. There wasn’t anything overly bad about the soulguard class, but it wasn’t obviously great, either.

Finally, the chapter also offered a new domain (in addition to another domain that was sidebarred in an earlier chapter) and a handful of new spells. Most of the spells were “investiture of...” spells, which were all basically the same spell at different levels that allow the caster to almost transmogrify himself temporarily as a devil and gain various benefits according to the type of devil. Frankly, I’ve seen better spell selections.

The fourth chapter detailed new types of devils. This chapter was very hit or miss, though it hit much more often than it missed. One of the misses were the abashi, devils that are sort of dragon-like and work for Tiamat, who lives in Avernus, the topmost layer of Baator. The dogai (assassin devil) seemed like a great opponent to throw a a cocky group of higher-level PCs. I was pretty impressed with the hellfire engine, a huge construct used in the Blood War that belches forth hellfire, a flame so hot it burns right through fire immunity (dealing normal, un-typed damage). Combined with a few handler devils, I could see a real challenge, even for a group of 20th level PCs.

The final chapter detailed each of the Lords of the Nine, providing a basic history, goals and motivations and a stat block for each. Like the demon prices from Hordes of the Abyss, the power of the archdukes has been reduced a great deal to make them more of an attainable challenge for high-level PCs&at least in theory. Unlike the demon lords presented in the previous book, the archdukes of Hell have stat blocks presented as aspects, which are splinters of power from the real being. As a result, even the weakest archduke, whose aspect is a CR20, is probably more than a match for even the most powerful of the demon lords. A trend I noticed as well is that each of the archdukes’ stats includes at least one feat from a separate sourcebook. Alternate selections are suggested for those that don’t have the books, but this still seems a bit like bad form.

This book is not without its problems. Yugoloths are mentioned briefly a few times, but as this is a book about devils, no information beyond the name “yugoloth” is given. I sincerely hope that there is a Fiendish Codex III that concerns yugoloths. The layout of the chapters also makes the book a bit of a confusing read in places. I understand the desire to save the stats on the universe’s most powerful villains until the end of the book, but if the layout had followed Hordes of the Abyss’s and had the new devil types and the archdukes closer to the front of the book, some of the passages would likely have made much more sense. All in all, I liked Tyrants of the Nine Hells and I think it’s well worth the money if you’re planning on making fiends a central part of your game.