Humor & Hellspawn

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 86: Humor & Hellspawn




Just a month from our last planar Dragon article, we already have another pair to check out in issue #306 (April 2003), the “Humor & Hellspawn” issue. Not that either of these articles have much humor to them, but there is actually more than a bit of hellspawn for us to cover in the first of these articles, “By Evil Bound.” No, it isn’t the cover article with its sexy succubus, that’s instead a more generalized piece about how characters get seduced by evil. The article we’re concerned with, by Mike Mearls, is instead focused on offering up half a dozen new demons, devils, and daemons (yugoloths), plus a little bit of backstory relating who the hell they are and why we’re only hearing about them now.  

Before profiling these fiends with pretty standard monster entries, Mearls treats us to a little backstory regarding a pit fiend named Balruhk, who grew too powerful and so was betrayed by his own baatezu allies and taken down by a tanar’ri force with the help of a mortal and his yugoloth allies. The whole plot is… not terribly interesting or necessary, but does serve to slightly explain the origins of these fiends, as well as why we’ve never heard of them before and never would again afterwards (at least that I can recall). That being said, the real reason for the latter would be, I suspect, that the devils and demons here just aren’t terribly interesting or unique. The demons are all elemental-themed, which feels more like a fourth edition trope to me than third edition, and fits awkwardly with the rest of the whole demonic hierarchy. There’s an air demon, ash demon, earth demon, fire demon, ice demon, and water demon. Each has a bit of a description and some unique fighting abilities, but they’re also just elemental demons and so highly forgettable. 


The included devils fare slightly better. They’re called “hellforged,” as they were originally constructs but over time “the strange magic of the Nine Hells gradually transformed these creatures from constructions into true beings.” Uhh sure, why not? Anyhow, this means that although the devils in question aren’t elemental, they’re still themed after materials, and so we get the coal devil, glass devil, lead devil, obsidian devil, sand devil, and spiked devil (who are iron devils but, umm, spikier… though there are no iron devils so why not just call them that?). I found these fiends marginally more interesting than the demons, partially because the glass and sand devils have some interesting abilities, but overall it’s still very rote. 

Wayne Reynolds drew images for all 18 new fiends, and did a great job. The pictures are far more memorable than the profiles, but they’re also displayed in this column format and so don’t really stand out.

Finally there’s the battleloths, who unlike these other fiends are in fact full-fledged yugoloths rather than demons and devils but strangely lacking in baatezu or tanar’ri heritage. They can be wielded as weapons, and with this change back and forth between weapon and fiend form. That’s right, they’re transformer fiends, evil in disguise. They’re also on the whole a lot weaker than the devils and demons from earlier, with challenge ratings beginning at one and only going up to three. While the general theming of these fiends is about as lazy as the earlier ones (there’s the arrow battleloth, axe battleloth, crossbow battleloth, pick battleloth, spiked chain battleloth, and sword battleloth), due to how they’re all wielded as weapons Mearls had to get a bit more creative with the abilities and personalities than in the rest of the article. I can actually see why a person might use them, which is hard to say is true about the earlier monsters. 

In all, while this article radically expands the number of fiendish species in the multiverse, it did so in such an uninteresting manner that it had essentially no lasting effect. Let’s face it, there are already plenty of fiends for pretty much whatever purpose you’d like, so at this point they have to be particularly interesting to get picked up on for the future. While I think this requirement does actually apply with the battleloths, as that’s simply not something we’ve seen before with any monsters (hitting someone with an axe that then becomes a fiend is legitimately sweet), that’s really it, and even here there’s far more listed than needed. There’s a reason why this article seems to be largely forgotten, and while it’s not actually bad, retaining what you read here about the ice demon and ash devil and all of their kin is simply not going to happen. 

Battleloths don’t look too intimidating, which is probably good because really they’re not so scary.

“Killing Cousins” by Chris Thomasson was a much better read and added something legitimately interesting to the multiverse. While githzerai hit squads hunting mind flayers had been featured since at least Planescape, now we’re introduced to their hit squads who focus on attacking githyanki. Though the name for these groups, gith-attala, is going to slip from your mind as quickly as the traits of the lead devil, the overall concept adds something to the war between the githzerai and githyanki, a new dimension that makes sense and offers more possibilities for players interested in this race, not to mention some obvious plot hooks. 


The article also adds in a bunch of new githzerai-exclusive feats, many of which focus on dealing with the more annoying githyanki abilities, but what I found more interesting was a completely new character advancement table for the race. Here, instead of using the usual advancement for “monsters,” with EC levels and all that from the get-go, instead githzerai characters level as normal except at particular junctures where they gain githzerai powers instead. As this only happens twice, it makes their parity with other characters change at a very different rate, though unfortunately if anything it feels to me like this makes githzerai characters far more powerful than they were before. It’s an interesting concept, but unfortunately EC levels and this table still don’t quite balance out well, and racial balancing is something that fifth edition has ultimately succeeded with a lot better. 

Cousin-killing githzerai are apparently pretty badass.

Rounding out this article is a surprising addition to the githzerai army: gormeel mounts. Gormeels are a fluke breed of lawful slaad who ended up in an alliance with the githzerai, the idea being that anything truly chaotic is going to occasionally produce something lawful from its randomness. While gormeels can shapeshift, in their natural form they resemble “a massive, four-legged reptile.” They’re extremely strong, with CR 10, and seem like they were created largely to even the odds between the gith ranks, given that the githyanki have all those red dragons at their disposal. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that they were ever mentioned again, meaning we’re left with yet another obscure slaad race to be forgotten despite how much they change our conception of the species. I rather like the slaad, but keeping track of the species is pretty chaotic. Wait a second, maybe that’s on purpose…. nah.


My suggestion for the two articles is to only read the section on battleloths from the first, and skip the feats section in the second unless you have a compelling reason not to (like actually running a third edition campaign). One oddity of third edition’s brief period in the spotlight was that during this handful of years we somehow received more coverage of the githyanki and githezerai than we did in pretty much all of the game’s history before now, and that’s only going to increase in the near future. The planes as a whole may feel a bit neglected, but for the moment, at least, gith are suddenly ubiquitous.

Oh, and as a largely unrelated side-note, I’m choosing not to touch the Races of Faerûn splatbook that came out about this time. Admittedly, it features yet more planetouched races, but as I’ve mentioned before I’m really sick of this accumulation of beings and rather wish Wizards would stop making them up. The fact that some of these made additional appearances in the game does nothing to dissuade me that they’re a bad idea.

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