some angels are fiends

Happy Halloween!

The difference between devils and demons should be that devils look angelic.

I’m not making any claims to originality here: angelic devils are just about the next most gothy thing after vampires. But if Asmodeus, Baalzebul, bone devils, pit fiends, etc all looked like angels, it would solve a lot of specific D&D problems.

1) Right now, players treat devils and demons the same way. Is that a pit fiend or a balor? Imp or quasit? Who cares, just smite it. If it’s red and has horns, it probably has the same immunities and weaknesses. It’s an irrelevant distinction unless a player happens to have, say, a lawfully-aligned sword.

Now change it so that devils look like angels. Instead of being irrelevant, that ambiguity drives the story. In most cases, players really want to know whether they’re facing off against a devil or a good angel.

2) It’s impossible for me to care who wins the Blood War. A bunch of red goat men shooting fire at each other? Sounds like a family squabble I’d rather stay out of, and I’m not even interested in reading about. But red goat men battling the shining heavenly hosts, and both sides are evil? That’s a spectacle worth staging as part of an adventure. Because you can tell who’s who, it’s easier to players to foolishly root for one side or another, or, even more foolishly, get involved.

3) Pacts with devils are insufficiently tempting. The cool thing about devils is their cunning and persuasiveness. Their appearance doesn’t support that. Once you see a guy with horns, you don’t care how good his contract looks: you know that if you sign it, you lose.

Now imagine this: an angel visits you. The angel will help you, if you prove yourself worthy by performing a holy service. There’s no tip-off pitchfork in sight. The only way to distinguish between an angel and a devil is by using your own moral sense about whether the deed the angel requires is really a good deed – and your moral sense, naturally, might be skewed by your desire for the reward. This is a much more effective and plausible temptation than the usual deal offered by devils: “I’m gonna tell you right up front: eternal torture comes with the package.”

In fact, as far as I’m concerned the whole “sign your name in blood” thing can go. Both angels and devils can work the same way. If you do the deeds they require, and thus prove yourself “worthy”, you’ll get the appropriate afterlife reward (good or bad).

4) Demons don’t currently have their own thing. Devils have a thing: they’re manipulators. Demons’ thing is that they are red fire guys who cause destruction — just like devils and demodands. If anything, the demon’s defining characteristic is negative. Unlike devils, they’re NOT manipulators. This doesn’t even work very well, since the demons have Graz’zt and (sometimes) succubi on their team. If the demons had sole ownership of the horns, leathery wings, and brimstone, they’d at least have something.

5) Bad match with the lore. In a lot of cosmologies, devils are angels who were thrown out of the heavens. In a strange case of parallel evolution, they ended up looking just like their neighbors the demons – for some reason? Let them keep their nice heavenly robes. I think they’re more sinister that way anyway.

So if devils look like, think of themselves as, and refer to themselves as angels, what separates them from angels? Clerical magic certainly can’t reliably distinguish them, otherwise devils would never get their hands on their favorite victims: clerics, paladins, and inquisitors. But there are differences between the types.

For one thing, devils have no godly master. They serve themselves or other devils. (They still serve with the same spooky singlemindedness and self-righteousness as angels.)

Furthermore, they have some imperfection not shared by real angels. I’m leaning towards the fact that they need to eat souls to maintain their immortality – that’s why they want them so badly. They might need to eat living bodies to get the souls, which is why Faustian devils so often drag people offstage alive. When they can’t get human souls, they’ll take anything. You might turn a corner in a dungeon to find a bunch of “angels” stuffing bugs and rats into their mouths.

Here are some potential problems that might be caused by swapping all the devil art in D&D. Maybe you can help me solve them.

  • Tieflings. Their story is that they were corrupted by devils, and so they got horns and tails. Doesn’t make as much sense anymore.

  • Maybe you’re attached to some of the existing devil art, like the 1e fly-eyed Baalzebul. I can’t say I blame you, that guy is awesome. My suggestion: nothing wrong with an angel with fly eyes.
  • How do the angels of evil gods fit in here? How are they differentiated from devils?

  • Angels can be a little… well… kitschy. I mean, that might be a problem for some. It’s fine with me. I’m honestly not sure what’s spookier as a devil: the magnificent St. Michael type, or the cute harp-and-halo guardian angel.

  • 9 Responses to “some angels are fiends”

    1. [13] For such false apostles are deceitful workmen, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. [14] And no wonder: for Satan himself transformeth himself into an angel of light. [15] Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers be transformed as the ministers of justice, whose end shall be according to their works.
      –II Corinthians XI: 13-15 (DRV)

      Excellent ideas. If one pursues actually Satanic literature through the ages and not Hollywood’s treatment of it, Satanists see themselves as the good ones. Satan’s Latin name Lucifer means”the bringer of Light” and he is sometimes identified with deities such as Prometheus (who defied the gods to bring fire to man) or Loki (who used Hodur to kill Baldur to bring the necessary winter, a time of rest). All three are thrown out of their cosmologies, chained or punished for eternity.

      Now, if these rebel angels consider themselves right….well, it follows tyour reasoning perfectly. Good article!

    2. And in response to Baalzebul’s appearance, check out the description of angels in prophetic and apocalyptic literature such as Ezekiel or Revelation

      [5] And in the midst thereof the likeness of four living creatures: and this was their appearance: there was the likeness of a man in them. [6] Every one had four faces, and every one four wings. [7] Their feet were straight feet, and the sole of their foot was like the sole of a calf’ s foot, and they sparkled like the appearance of glowing brass. [8] And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides: and they had faces, and wings on the four sides, [9] And the wings of one were joined to the wings of another. They turned not when they went: but every one went straight forward. [10] And as for the likeness of their faces: there was the face of a man, and the face of a lion on the right side of all the four: and the face of an ox, on the left side of all the four: and the face of an eagle over all the four. [11] And their faces, and their wings were stretched upward: two wings of every one were joined, and two covered their bodies: [12] And every one of them went straight forward: whither the impulse of the spirit was to go, thither they went: and they turned not when they went. [13] And as for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like that of burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps. This was the vision running to and fro in the midst of the living creatures, a bright fire, and lightning going forth from the fire. [14] And the living creatures ran and returned like flashes of lightning.
      Ezekiel I: 5-14 (DRV)

      And in response to finer comment about Michael and cherubim’s, in the movie Prophecy one of the fallen angels says that to be angel is stand in the Divine Presence singing hymns and praises to the Almighty while one wing is stained with the blood of the slain.

    3. 1d30 says:

      I like the idea of making the entire thing ambiguous. You’ve got some guy with horns and dripping blood – but maybe what he wants is also what you want. You’ve got some smooth feathery-winged guy – maybe he’s working with your enemies. It doesn’t matter what they ping as under Know Alignment. Regardless of Alignment, you are truly aligned with those who have the same goals.

      Say, for example, you have a Persia and a Greece, and they both have Paladins who are Lawful Good. I don’t see a problem with these Paladins beating the crap out of each other and invoking their deities who, in both their eyes, are LG. And in fact, the system can say both deities are LG. Someone does not become Evil just because he becomes your enemy.

      The real Chaotics are the ones antithetical to humanity. The real Evils are the ruthlessly selfish.

      So let’s say you have an alien creature from between the stars or sleeping under the ice, and some humans decide that’s a pretty good thing to side with: their cult would be Chaotic at least. If they allied with some LE devils they would have to look out for trouble – the Lawful devils are interested in seeing humanity thrive, or at least support the conditions for humanity thriving.

      This suggests that the Lawful devils are trying to enslave humanity sweetly, and for that they need humanity to continue as it is. The Chaotic demons just want to destroy humanity – or destroy the places where humans live and the things humans need to survive.

      Because of that, a human could make a pact with a Lawful devil and maybe see his way through it alive, but he’s playing into the devil’s hands as to what the devil wants out of him. A human can’t really make a pact with a demon – he can only protect himself from it, command it, hope to destroy or banish it.

      Let a demon break your circle of protection and it’s lights-out. Let a devil break your circle of protection and he’ll just sidle up reassuringly and say, See? I’m not your enemy. We’re partners in this. Let’s go get some things done together.

      This all assumes that alignment is a human construct from the perspective of humanity. Humans don’t like it when the wilderness spontaneously generates monstrous foliage and ravenous animals, when spirits of winter tear apart their fields and cottages, so those forces would be considered Chaotic. Destruction, entropy, are the return to a pre-human world. When a human wakes up in the morning and cares for her child, goes out and hews stone to build a wall, plants an orchard which won’t bear fruit for half a decade: these are human endeavors to change reality to conform to humanity’s desires.

      Devils want you to plant that orchard. You just don’t know what’s wrong with the seeds they gave you.

    4. paul paul says:

      Great thoughts in the comments.

      >Destruction, entropy, are the return to a pre-human world.
      This suggests to me that the demons and the elves are on one side of the war and the devils and humans are on the other side. Interesting campaign idea.

    5. Caduceus says:

      Step back to any other edition and tieflings work fine again. They were only corrupted by devils in 4E; before that, they were descendants of any fiend, several generations removed. You could have demonic tieflings, devilish tieflings, demodand/yugoloth tieflings, whatever. And the signs of their ancestry were variable too; some could have horns or cloven hoofs, others could look totally human, but smell a little bit like sulfur or even just have an ineffable gleam in their eyes that something wasn’t quite right about them.

    6. Paul says:

      Good point about tieflings!

    7. Benedict says:

      “[12] And every one of them went straight forward: whither the impulse of the spirit was to go, thither they went: and they turned not when they went.”

      Love this as a monster concept — 4 faces, perhaps with 4 different gaze attacks, each covering 90 degrees of view, each facing due North/South/East/West and never turning. Back it into the northwest corner of the room and disable the two strongest attacks!

    8. kaprou says:

      I think much of the issue is simplified if you swap out “angel” or “devil” for “cosmic being.” These creatures are made up of extra-planar energy with senses we cannot fully understand, bound by laws alien to our own (both socially and physically.) Then our efforts to put them in boxes relax of necessity, as they are in some ways unknowable.

    9. Damon L says:

      I have found that an easier way of handling this came about when one of my players decided to fight his way into hell and change the way things were run. Creating a business hierarchy and making devils looks a little less devilish. Taller than your average man and having a few strange traits of there original devil counterpart the layers of hell would have there people in suits and ties. This not only made them distinctively different from demons but also gave them that lawful feel via corporate codes and what not. This was something that I felt had a very “Crowley” feel to anyone who is familiar with the tv show Supernatural.

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