The Demonomicon of Iggwilv

A Walk Through the Planes – Part ?: Demonomicon of Iggwilv




This is going to be a weird write-up because it’s not focused on a single, short work of writing, but rather a whole series of articles published in Dragon, Dungeon, and even the pseudo-publication Dragon+ that rose from their ashes only to die off ignominiously not long ago. The “Demonomicon of Iggwilv” consists of an absolute shit-ton of writing, and during its span from 2005-2015 went through a series of changes, most of them for the worse. Were I a slightly more thorough chronicler for this series, I might devote an article to each of the 18 columns that make up the “Demonomicon.” That being said, while the details within these articles change quite a bit (obviously), covering these pieces individually would mean repeating myself again and again, so I thought it made more sense to sum up my overall thoughts on the “Demonomicon” as a whole. 

There are really two columns called “Demonomicon of Iggwilv,” though this might not appear to be the case at an initial glance. The first of these would be a 10-part series written by James Jacobs from 2005-2007. All but the final of these was published by Paizo during its run of Dragon, and all of them are written for D&D version 3.5. These are capacious, well-researched, and wonderfully imaginative articles, beloved by readers and also some of the most important works related to the game’s cosmology since the end of Planescape. Each one is a joy to read through, and this series could’ve easily been compiled together as an excellent, book-length work I would be thrilled to own a copy of. Jacobs’ work in this series is one of the pinnacles of this era’s writing from Paizo, and something everyone who enjoys reading about the planes should search out for themselves (friendly reminder: they’re easy to read for free on


The second column by this name spanned the 4th and 5th edition versions of D&D, were frequently-but-not-always written by Robert J. Schwalb, and are a poor simulacrum of what Jacobs achieved. More about this later, but for now let’s accentuate the positive and stick with the earlier column. 

The original “Demonomicon” series always began with a full-page demon lord drawing. The magazine’s editors knew that these articles were good and really supported them.

The Demonomicon of Iggwilv as a concept originated as an artifact in Gary Gygax’s 1982 module “The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.” This adventure actually consists of two books, one containing the module proper, and one filled with additional monsters, magical items, and spells that would later be more formally added to the game—this includes planar monsters such as the energons, genies like the marid and dao, and some of the demon lords who I earlier attributed as first appearing in the Monster Manual II. Whoops! If I were to revise this series for some sort of more formal endeavor, I’d have to include an entry on this early and influential module and amend that article, as this adventure is a weirdly important source for the game’s cosmology, but since that isn’t the case right now… guess I’ll stick with whoops. In my defense, a lot of players also avoided modules entirely, so it wasn’t uncommon to be unaware that ideas from within core books often originated in these. This particular adventure also isn’t planar in nature, it just has these demon lords and such tacked on in a weird way, seemingly because Gygax became so enamored of the Demonomicon that he needed to add some new demons to the game to play with; nearly five pages of the adventure are devoted just to this artifact and the spells it contains. 

The in-game Demonomicon is described as a “brass-bound book [that] contains a treatise on the powerful evil creatures of the lower planes.” Six copies of it exist, and they also hold many powerful spells and information about another item from this particular dungeon, but it was really this first idea which took hold for the Dragon series. Notably, Igwillv’s identity is not revealed here to be Tasha, and in fact this wouldn’t be added to the game until I believe Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk, though my memory isn’t perfect in this regard so I could be wrong and it’s even later than that. In any case, it was a cool name, a great concept, and led to an in-universe explanation as to why a person would be compiling demonomic information of the sort Jacobs was to publish in Dragon

Which isn’t to say that I always love the art, but it did tend to fit the tone of each particular demon lord.

Each of Jacobs’ columns uses the same format. Following a brief in-world bit of verse and an introduction of the demon lord at hand, the lord receives a statblock. I should note that these statblocks always differ from ones in other sources, which may lead to some contradiction as far as how powerful these beings are as of this edition of the game, but really it’s hard to care, and Jacobs advises DMs to adjust power levels to fit their own campaigns. These are mythical, godlike figures, and as far as I’m concerned these statblocks are all rough guidelines anyhow; running a campaign where players beat the face of Graz’zt in is just lame. Following these statistics, there’s a description of said demon lord, a section on how they fight, and in the earlier of these articles a separate description and stating out of the demon lord’s aspect (these would later be dropped because the aspects were available as a web supplement to Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss). I should note here that these aspects don’t exactly follow the rules from the Miniatures Handbook, and in this they seem more like avatars, but whatever, that distinction was always ridiculous and dumb. At this point, aspects are just what the game calls avatars when they’re for demi-gods/fiends, and the rules about them from before don’t really apply.

Once all of that was out of the way, Jacobs returned to the more interesting part of these profiles. A section about the demon lord’s goals received about a page of space, and then a page or so focused on the lord’s cult of worshippers. A prestige class for a thrall of this demon was included (and if originally offered in the Book of Vile Darkness was updated for 3.5), then a section on their minions. Finally, a page or so was devoted to said demon’s realm on the Abyss, which depending upon the level of detail offered elsewhere (i.e. the Codex) could be anywhere from just a few paragraphs to pages of description and even, in a couple cases, a map. 

Only a couple early columns included maps, but at least they were unsurprisingly excellent.

This may not sound like a lot of material, but taken as a whole these articles offer a rounded, clear picture of who these demons are and what they’re about. Many of the lords featured in this column had never received more than a handful of paragraphs of space in the entire history of the game (or less when they were the new creations of Paizo), and even more famous ones like Pazuzu or Demogorgon received plenty of new details. What’s more, Jacobs clearly did a ton of research for this series, and his versions of these monsters follow closely with everything that had been revealed about them before. Often this means that he needs to invent storylines to make sense of the details we do know (for instance, why is Zuggtmoy creating a weirdo elemental evil cult anyhow?), but these are integrated so well that it feels like these histories were always in place. Likewise, Jacobs threads the demon lords’ stories together, making all of the entries feel like puzzle pieces of the Abyssal hierarchy that can be combined into a coherent whole. 


Not a single one of Jacobs’ original series is bad or even middling. A few of the new monsters created for these articles are forgettable, but that’s only to be expected when each one includes at least one new demon, often several, tied into the highlighted demon lord’s lore and layer. The stories of these characters’ cults and plots are all compelling, whether it’s Pazuzu’s slippery slope to hell method of corrupting paladins, or Kostchtchie’s struggle to keep safe his permanent portal to Ysgard, or the utterly terrifying “feast of the self” ritual done in Demogorgon’s honor (which condemns even righteous souls to the Abyss, damn). References to obscure bits of Planescape lore are numerous, to the point that in his penultimate column Jacobs has some quite direct mentions of the Dungeon adventure “Nemesis.” After reading through these articles, none of the demon lords feel like interchangeable statblocks, instead each individual, their realm, and their minions is tonally and thematically unique. Dagon couldn’t be less like Fraz Urb’luu who feels utterly unlike Malcanthet, which makes the series hard to put down once you start reading. 

Turns out Kostchtchie isn’t even a giant, he just likes to play one at parties.

With that in mind, I can’t ignore that Jacobs was also co-author of a book we’re yet to cover, Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss. For this work, Wizards essentially hired Paizo’s top talent to devote themselves to demonology, and there’s an assumption with the later entries in the “Demonomicon” that you’re familiar with that work. Which is great, and as it should be. It makes the storytelling part of this series even more cohesive, and given the amount of care Jacobs took in everything he wrote during this period this completes the portrait of a compelling and “realistic” multiverse. While this altered some of the content for his column, I’m glad that Jacobs didn’t repeat himself and instead chose to assume that anyone really interested in these things had access to the Codex, so instead he should focus on entirely new information. It all worked together perfectly in concert, and Jacobs seemed to have accomplished the impossible by both moving the game’s canon forward in surprising new ways while still retaining its connection with the past.

And then, just like that, edition 3.5 of D&D was finished, and with it went Wizards’ creatively and commercially fruitful relationship with Paizo. I have no idea what happened behind-the-scenes during this tumultuous period, but when fourth edition was just around the corner Wizards reclaimed its publishing rights to Dragon and Dungeon. Gone were the wonderful writers and designers at Paizo, chief among them James Jacobs and Eric Mona, who were left creating their own world and version of the game with Pathfinder. But the “Demonomicon” column had been extremely popular, so in order to pretend at continuity Dragon brought Robert J. Schwalb in to continue the series… and oh boy, it sure did go immediately south. 

The Far Realm is far from the only place Lovecraft’s mythos seeped into D&D, as evidenced here by Dagon.

In Schwalb’s defense, he did (as he notes himself) have big shoes to fill, and what’s more the cosmological changes between these two editions were both immense and frustratingly opaque. What was now canon and what wasn’t seemed piecemeal and haphazardly decided, as designers chose with each individual release what they wanted to include from earlier editions of the game and what would be retconned into the ground. As a result, most of what was written just a few months ago about these demon lords no longer seemed to be part of the multiverse. This left Schwalb to write about the demons’ relationship to primordials and a chained god at the bottom (?) of the Abyss and some sort of ancient god war as if all of this wasn’t a new and confusing development for the game’s meta-story. Those hundreds of detailed pages Jacob wrote about the demons and their planes were tossed straight out the window. 


Even if this edition of the game hadn’t stacked the situation so badly against him, Schwalb just isn’t up for writing this sort of lengthy, in-depth article. His prose is noticeably muddier than his predecessor’s, and he doesn’t seem clear on what details are important and what aren’t. While Jacobs’ articles were free of filler and seemed bursting at the seams, now there’s a prattle of meaningless words padding out sections for no clear reason. Instead of each demon lord feeling like a puzzle piece, an integral part of an interplanar web of  demi-powers competing for domination, Schwalb’s entries feel like individuals, unlinked with anyone else. The Abyss itself no longer feels like any sort of ecosystem either, and it’s difficult to tell which characters he mentions will ever crop up again or have any sort of relevancy. Jacobs’ articles remind me of the lore in From Software’s Soulsborn games, where even small details come together to tell an overall story that’s greater than the sum of their parts. Conversely, Schwalb and later writers (we’ll get to this) of the “Demonomicon” remind me more of the lore in Elder Scrolls games, in that it’s so eye-glazingly boring that getting through each page is a fight against sleep. I obsessed over Jacobs’ original series, and kept reading them when I should’ve been doing useful tasks. Once I hit Schwalb & Co’s later work I ended up skimming through in a hunt for occasional nuggets of creativity, though unfortunately I usually came up empty. 

Malcanthet just hanging around, doing succubus things. She’s one of the new demon lords invented by Jacobs, Erik Mona, and Ed Stark in the Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss.

Schwalb only wrote four of these later columns (he also co-wrote the Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells, so we have that to look forward to…), but he set the general tone for the series at this point, so perhaps unfairly I lay the blame of the column’s abrupt downward slide on him. One later column not by him focuses on the Ebon Maw, Turaglas, and is written by the monster’s originator by Ari Marnell. As such, it’s actually pretty good, though for the most part it simply repeats the original article’s information while updating its format and offering fourth edition statistics. Much weirder was another piece by a one-off pair of authors focused on Shemeshka the Marauder, that’s right the yugoloth we all know and love from Planescape. It might be worth noting that Shemeshka isn’t a demon lord, which seems obvious, but perhaps more notable is that he’s also not even a demon. And now that he’s gone through fourth edition’s cosmological fuckery, he’s not even a yugoloth or daemon either, he’s a “raavasta,” which… what the hell? What even is that, and am I supposed to care? Also, I learned from reading this column that there’s a Blood War truce, and just… I can’t. This is making me so tired and annoyed, what the hell is going on in fourth edition and why is it so dumb? Bah. 


The series finally reaches its true nadir with Matt Chapman’s single page entry for Dragon+ on Belaphoss, a balor who’s also not a demon lord but is at least an Abyssal demon. That this is in the same series as the 16-page cover story bonanzas Jacobs wrote a decade earlier feels a bit insulting, but this decline is pretty easy to track when reading these pieces in the order in which they were published. By this point, I was glad to see the “Demonomicon” column come to an abrupt and unceremonious end. 

This was the cover of a returned-to-Wizards Dragon magazine published online. That’s right, it’s fourth edition content that snuck into this column early.

None of what this column was to become takes away from James Jacobs’ original achievement. His series for Dragon is roughly 140 pages of excellent material that still feels defining as far as the Abyss and all of these individuals are concerned. If you want to feature any of these demon lords in an adventure, even peripherally, I recommend going back through what was written about them here—you won’t be disappointed1.

As a final note, reading through this series in close succession has given me a confusing whiplash of anticipation. While I’m now anxious to read through Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss, the specter of abominably bad writing and nonstop retroactive continuity disasters from fourth edition D&D looms on the horizon. Let’s hope I have it in me to keep powering through this series when it hits in full force, because from this early look, it’s going to get rough. 

  1. The Forgotten Realms wiki has a convenient listing of which issues these columns were originally published in here.

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