Fiendish Fortresses

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 34: Fiendish Fortresses




One of the unfortunate facts about mid-90s Dragon Magazine was that it was a house organ, existing primarily to support TSR, and as a result many of its articles are largely a form of advertisement. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad, but it does mean that often-times they’re written less because of the merit of their ideas and more because the publisher had something to promote. If you’re looking for something analogous, think of Nintendo Power, also not an intrinsically bad magazine, but certainly as much an advertisement as it was any sort of true editorial entity. 

Monte Cook’s essay “Fiendish Fortresses” is unfortunately one of these tie-ins, which certainly have some merit to them, but are nonetheless there largely to convince people to purchase the company’s primary products. The product-in-question here is Hellbound: The Blood War, and as usual with these sorts of things I end up frustrated that this information wasn’t simply included in the original release. After all, if these boxed sets are supposed to be the be-all, end-all of information on their subject, sticking random facts and tidbits into a random magazine article instead of the set itself seems in poor taste and a disservice to purchasers. But, well, that’s how the business works, or at least completely failed to work circa 1996, so I’m probably complaining too much. 

Yup, it’s a fortress that looks like a hand, alright. Yay?

And fortunately for the many Hellbound fans who I’m sure were never aware of this blip of semi-relevant information elsewhere, they weren’t missing out on much. The article’s seven pages include roughly five pages of actual writing, actually a little less than that, and what’s here is mostly some flavor about the Blood War that should be obvious to anyone who actually read through that set. Fiendish fortresses are designed in weird ways because fiends have teleportation and other magical abilities. The Baatezu ones are very organized and well-thought out, the tanar’ri ones are messy but still powerful. No real surprises here, and there’s a lot of recapitulation and in-character musings about the conflict that add little to what we already know about all of this. It’s all essentially written for outsiders to sell the product, so if you already have that product, which you very well might given that it had been out for a couple months at this point, there’s little noteworthy to be found, at least in the first couple pages.


What is new here are a few specifics. There are details about a few fiendish siege weapons, including one that allows them to shoot spells over great distances. Likewise, we learn how teleportation traps work, get the rundown on a ward against teleportation spell (that is kind of an entertaining mess), and statistics for demonic living fortresses. None of this is vital, but it gives us a few pieces of new information that could actually be used, and in terms of actual mechanics is more than what we usually get with Planescape. 

I’m not writing up the article that goes with this illustration because it’s just pages of crunch, but thought I’d include it here as it’s a completely unique DiTerlizzi work that I’m guessing very few people have seen.

The most important parts of the article are details about one specific devilish and demonic fortress. The baatezu one looks like a giant hand clutching a silver sphere in its claw, and accordingly is named Clutched Victory. It’s ridiculous and kind of awesome, and is something I could actually see ripping off wholesale from this article because why not? It’s good, and if you need a weirdo fortress example it fits well with what would be expected. The tanar’ri fortress is one of the living ones, which “are often characterized by eyes, limbs, and even mouths seemingly built into the walls, floors or ceilings.” These are lovely details, but the actual stats seemed underwhelming to me. It’s a cool concept, but the execution feels only so-so, such that I’d probably make a lot of adjustments if I were to bring one of these into a campaign. 


Which is fitting for the article as a whole, I suppose. Before reading this piece, I’d hoped that we’d get a map of each of these two fiendish fortresses, or at least one of them. This would make the whole article lot more usable, as well as giving us some specifics when Cook’s writing is forced to wallow in a lot of generalities about what these fortresses were like. Sadly, that isn’t the case, and while Adam Rex’s illustrations here are fine, they’re also not particularly inspiring and add little to Cook’s descriptions. Hell, I’d trade this whole article for a detailed baatezu fortress map, as that’s something that might save me time as a DM. This, instead, largely just tells people that if they want to learn more about the Blood War they should check out Hellbound. Which I guess is true, but isn’t the sort of takeaway that makes you feel great about what you just read. 

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