Armies of the Abyss
Armies of the Abyss Capsule Review by Alan D. Kohler on 05/05/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
This volume provides a reference for demons, their lords and princes, and their mortal allies in the d20 system.
Product: Armies of the Abyss
Author: Erik Mona
Company/Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing
Line: d20 system
Page count: 64
Year published: 2002
SKU: GRR 1012
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Alan D. Kohler on 05/05/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Horror
Armies of the Abyss
Green Ronin's first foray into non-adventure products for the d20 system, Legions of Hell, was an instant hit. Not only did it strike a note with me, it won wide critical acclaim and an award or two. It had a variety of interesting foes for the players, some of them unique villains. Further, the book was lavishly illustrated and each entry was a seed with interesting plot ideas.
Of course, when Green Ronin announced that there would be a follow-up product describing denizens of the Abyss, it soon became a widely anticipated product. So, can it live up to the expectations? Let's take a look.
A First Look
Armies of the Abyss is a 64-page, perfect bound softcover book priced at $14.95. This is the same as its predecessor and rather typical of a d20 product of this size.
The cover art is by Brom and depicts a muscular winged demon.
The interior is black and white, and features artists Toren "MacBin" Atkinson, Tom Baxa, Brian Despain, Chris Keefe, Sam Wood, and Drew Baker. Overall, the quality of the art is well done, but I wouldn't go so far as to say it surpassed Green Ronin's earlier efforts in Legions of Hell and Jade Dragons and Hungry Ghosts.
The interior layout is very nice. The creatures don't strictly begin on page breaks, thus it seems that the use of space is better as there is no white space owing to having insufficient material to fill a page. Only a single column is used on each page, which keeps it from looking as cluttered as the WotC MM.
A Deeper Look
Armies of the Abyss is divided into four chapters plus an appendix.
Into the Abyss
The first chapter is introductory in nature and lays out the history of the Abyss. As with Legions of Hell, Armies of the Abyss does invent some new conventions for the plane of the Abyss, but stays within walking distance of the canon version of the Abyss.
One of the new creations is the qlippoth, a "new" race of demon that exists in the Abyss in addition to the tanar'ri. The qlippoth supposedly ruled the abyss in pre-mortal times, but were dispersed by the might of the eladrin. The tanar'ri were merely slaves at that time, but after the eladrin smashed their masters, they became powerful. Some races of qlippoth remain, and they have their own racial traits distinct from the tanar'ri.
In addition to this, the chapter covers details such as the nature of demon lords and princes, the role of souls in attaining power among demons, and the afterlife of chaotic evil souls in the abyss.
Those Who Serve
The second chapter introduces a new core class, the thaumaturge. The book's interpretation of the thaumaturge is a divine spellcaster who serves a demon prince. The spellcasting ability of the class is very similar to the cleric. It uses the cleric spell list and, similar to clerics, gets two domains from its patron, though there are a number of new domains appropriate to these fell lords. A thaumaturge must perform a ritual called an obedience to regain his spellcasting ability each day; the nature of the obedience is determined by the demon prince that the character follows.
Unlike clerics, thaumaturges have saving throws and combat abilities on par with a wizard, but get a familiar. As a thaumaturge gains levels, he gets "corruptions" that are random and may be beneficial or baneful. And, of course, his soul belongs to his demon prince upon death. The book says that this grisly fate can be bypassed by "resurrection spells or the like." This is a very vague statement: does "the like" include raise dead; or like death effects, is only resurrection effective?
In addition to the class, there are 4 new feats for use with the class. These are abyssal familiar, adept summoner (increased duration of summon monster spells), master summoner (extends range of summon monster spells), and influence chaos warp (allows less random corruptions).
Overall, I don't find the thaumaturge that compelling to integrate into the campaign. Although the obediences and corruptions are interesting elements, ultimately they seem like a rewarmed and weak cleric to me.
Those Who Rule
The third chapter details demon princes. They do not have statistics beyond domains and favored weapons, used for clerics and thaumaturges. However, there are notes on their nature and the domains that they rule, as well as the obediences required of their thaumaturges. The demon princes seem to be based mostly upon mythological sources, but are adapted to fit the D&D concept of the Abyss.
The demon princes cover a variety of domains (including several new ones; see the appendix on demonic magic). They essentially cover a complete pantheon excluding entities of law and good. One variant that the book suggests is a campaign wherein the gods are dead and only the depraved lords of the Abyss remain.
In addition to the bumper crop of new demon princes, there are rules for adapting the more familiar ones from the D&D canon to use the thaumaturge, including domains and obediences. However, those that don't have names drawn from mythology are renamed. For example, the demon queen of the dark elves is "arachnadia."
Creatures of the Abyss
The meat of the book, the third chapter describes various inhabitants of the Abyss. As with Legions of Hell, some of these creatures are unique, in this case demon lords. These creatures have high CRs, from 13 to 21, and include such creatures as Rahu the Tormentor (a demon lord specializing in anatomy and the inflicting of pain) and the Lady of the Qlippoth who schemes to play the eladrin against the tanar'ri to once again restore her race to power.
The bulk of the chapter, however, is the more populous beasts of the abyss. The creatures range from a CR of 2 for the mandragoras, small demons who serve well as familiars, to a CR of 25 for the awe-inspiring armageddon beasts. The creatures include tanar'ri and the new demons, qlippoths, as well as some other creatures such as constructs and undead.
Some of the creatures are:
Overall, the creatures are interesting and have abilities and techniques distinct enough that they cover new ground from that of the demons in the Monster Manual. Though the creatures span a wide range of CRs, there are few in the 13-18 range, which is addressed by demons in the MM.
There are three appendices: an appendix on demonic magic, a listing of demons by CR, and a bibliography.
The demonic magic section introduces new domains, primarily intended for use by thaumaturges, but they could easily be used for clerics. The new domains introduced are catastrophe, change, crippling, disease, eloquence, fear, pain, pleasure, prophecy, and subterfuge. New spells are provided for these domains such as femurburst (ouch!), greater contagion, and phantasmal lover.
Most of the spells are well conceived, but I found the concept of phantasmal lover (and its mass version, phantasmal orgy) a bit odd. When I first read it, I thought it might be a spell to distract or seduce an enemy. Not so; rather, the recipient of this spell is cured of all hit point damage, ability damage, blindness, deafness, and disease. Not only is this is a bit powerful for a 4th-level spell, but it seems to me like someone was taking Marvin Gaye a little too seriously when he sang about sexual healing.
Armies of the Abyss should be a wonderful resource with which to torment your players, especially for challenging PCs whose levels are too low or too high for the existing selection of demons. The demon prince entries could also be a great source of ideas for patrons of enemy cultists. Alas, I was not that enthused by the thaumaturge class; if you feel that the flavor touches don't make the class worthwhile, you could use the cleric for servants of the demon princes. The new domains and demon princes should be useful in that capacity.
While the layout is more attractive than that of Legions of Hell and uses space better, I still appreciate Legions of Hell more for the plot ideas that each of its creatures offered, and I found the creature ideas themselves a little more interesting. That said, if the proportion of unique creatures in Legions of Hell put you off, you might find Armies of the Abyss more enticing as it only details a few such creatures.
-Alan D. Kohler