Spooky Scary Skeleton
The fiendish folio is a decent chunk of the Dungeons and Dragons menagerie.
Fiends, broken down into devils, demons and yugoloths, are generally pretty interesting as antagonists, if a little overused. They can provide a wide variety of challenges to player characters who have outgrown the more mundane fare. Like goblins and kobolds and orcs. Oh my.
Fiends can range from mindless yet powerful beasts all the way through to Machiavellian manipulators, twisting the very fabric of reality with their scheming.
The devil in the story below is a far cry from that level of subterfuge, but I still wouldn't recommend making a deal with him.
If you're planning on playing through the Dungeon of the Mad Mage and want to go in blind, this blog post spoils some stuff on one of the deeper levels.
You have been warned.
Shrieking Skulls Will Shock Your Soul
She slumped in the chair, face swollen, lips split, teeth shattered. She had willingly broken a contract with a mortal soul, and it was my job to ensure that she understood the ramifications of her actions.
The unholy law must be maintained after all. Otherwise we are no better than the demons.
I gently took her chin in my skeletal talons and lifted it up. One red eye balefully glared at me, the other swollen shut. The remains of her ruined wings fluttered weakly.
Her terror was delicious.
The punishment for breaking a contract willingly struck was demotion. To be transformed into a lesser form and be forced to work your way back up the strict hierarchy.
It could take her thousands of years.
"I know things. Valuable things. We can make a deal." she pleaded.
The words sputtered from her ravaged mouth, and I gave a rictus grin in response, the taut flesh of my skeletal face stretching in a grotesque mockery of a smile.
"Can we now?" I replied, and she sagged, knowing that there was nothing she could do. No honeyed words that would stop the inevitable.
I felt a faint tug. A crude weave of magic, strangely twisted, pulling insistently. A mortal was summoning me to the material plane.
"Be right back my dear" I crooned. "This won't take long."
The rippling shifts in reality cleared, and I was standing in a large room, an exhausted looking human swaying back and forth in front of me.
An amateur, but not entirely without talent.
I could feel the binding in the summoning circle, and it was strong. Complete. I would be unable to physically harm this one.
Not yet anyway.
"You. Devil! I command you to kill my rival. Her name is Skrianna Shadowdusk and I hereby bind you to this plane until she is dead!" he shouts.
Bold. Overconfident. This will be easy.
"I live to serve oh great summoner. The bargain has been struck, but you will have to loose me from the powerful circle that you have created. I cannot leave without your permission."
His eyes glitter with ambition and arrogance
Blind to the loophole.
"Yes yes, you are free to leave the circle and carry out my bidding, now go!"
With his command I feel the binding magic in the circle release and I step forward, tasting the air, venomous tale twitching in anticipation.
"Thank you, oh great master."
I stab out with my tail and catch him in the stomach, easily hefting him into the air. Blood bubbles from his mouth as I draw him closer to my face, looking directly into his eyes.
"You never said I wasn't allowed to harm you though."
The walls and doors of this place are wreathed in protective magic that keeps me imprisoned. Unable to return home. Unable to complete my contract.
But I am patient.
Eventually someone comes looking for the summoner. His red robes are the colour of blood and there is an odour of death about him. As he opens the warded door he senses something and stops himself from crossing the threshold.
The cloak of invisibility that I have woven around myself is perfect, even though the threads of magic here are strange and distorted.
But he knows.
I rush forward but it is too late. He takes a step back and slams the door closed in my face. The wards flare a brilliant white as I run into them and they force me back.
Through the glass I can see the smug expression on his face.
"Oh Yarek, you idiot" he mutters to himself "An osyluth? I didn't think you had it in you."
"Yarek might have been stupid, but you are clearly his better" I reply "Surely you are strong enough to bind me to your service. Yarek just wanted me to kill a rival, but I can tell that your desires are much grander. I can help."
He glances at me, and I can feel the ambition throbbing in his veins, but he turns away without a word and walks off down the corridor.
A smart decision.
A few minutes later the red-robed man returns with another. An old fellow, eye festooned cloak fluttering like it has a mind of its own. Trailing after him comes a gaggle of onlookers. Two half-blood fiends, a small boy, a dark-skinned elf and a human woman dressed in a noble's finery.
"Let this be a lesson to the rest of you" the old man says matter-of-factly, addressing everyone but me. "Yarek thought he could summon a devil to do his bidding but he obviously overestimated his capabilities and is now dead."
He turns to me, seeking confirmation.
"Your friend Yarek is currently rich beyond his wildest dreams, relaxing in a tavern somewhere with a serving girl on both arms." I lie.
The old man nods.
"See. It lies. It does nothing but lie. But we shall make the best of this. The student that successfully removes this devil from my academy shall be awarded a passing grade for conjuration, no questions asked."
The students exchange wary glances with each other at that. Interesting.
"You are all dismissed." he says.
With that they file out of the corridor until only the old man remains.
He looks at me through the warded window and gives a strange half-smile, before turning around and leaving himself.
I may be patient, but even I have my limits.
None of the students have returned, clearly not confident enough in their abilities to take the old man up on his offer.
I have resorted to making art from the remains of this Yarek fellow, stripping the flesh from his bones and arranging it into pleasing shapes and patterns.
So engrossed I am in my work that I don't even hear her until she charges at me. A tiny fairy, wielding an axe almost as big as she is.
Not one of the students then.
I deftly dodge the blow, twisting out of the way and turn to face her. Spittle froths at the edges of her tiny mouth, her delicate features contorted with rage.
"A visitor! I'm sure we can wo..." I start to say, but she flits toward me faster than I expect and smashes the axe into my shoulder, brutally slicing into the bone beneath the paper-thin flesh.
I relish in the pain.
"No deal then. So be it" I hiss and grab my polearm off the ground, swinging it violently through the air and catching the fairy across her midsection, sending her flying across the room.
Taking stock, I realise she is not alone.
A heavily armoured female. A squat little dwarf, magic already sparking in his fingertips. A shirtless elf, tattoos painted across his flesh.
The armoured one rushes forward, fists at the ready, while the fairy comes at me from the other side.
I twirl to the side just in time to force the plated fist of the armoured women to crunch into the face of the fairy, knocking her out cold. A quick jab with my tail puts the woman off-balance, and the follow up arc from my polearm slams into her leg, knocking her to the side.
She is nimble though, and recovers quickly.
"So confident! But are you sure you can best me? Maybe talking will be more profitable" I say, harsh laughter in my voice. "Or if you prefer, we can keep fighting. I do enjoy a good bloodletting."
Fiery bolts slam harmlessly into my back from the dwarf, and I glance towards him, wagging my skeletal talon disapprovingly. I don't have time to savour the confused look on his face though.
Succulent pain blossoms as a reinforced fist slams into my side and I twist back just in time to catch the follow-up blow with my hand. It flares a brilliant white, blinding me.
I crush the gauntlet in my fist and hear a satisfying grunt of pain from the woman before she kicks out and catches me in the mid-section, forcing me to let go.
As my vision clears, I see them run for the door, the elf carrying the unconscious fairy in his arms.
I lunge, but the armoured woman slams her hands together and another bright flash of light blinds me again.
I hear the door slam as they make it out and stalk up to it, shaking my head, the bones in my neck audibly cracking as I do so.
"Going so soon?" I taunt through the door "We were just getting started."
"Don't worry" says the armoured woman, her voice distorted through her heavy helm "We'll be back."
"I look forward to it." I reply.
I hear them planning their assault outside the warded door. It might keep me in, but it doesn't keep the sound out.
They aren't the only ones who can make plans.
I weave a cloak of invisibility around me, feeling the strangeness in the threads of magic here. No doubt they will be expecting me to be where I was last time, so quietly move through the room and set myself up opposite to where they think I will be.
I watch as they quietly open the door and move into the room. The armoured woman and the arcane dwarf are back, along with a great lump of a half-orc, a sturdy looking fellow and a bookish woman with a clipboard.
They fan out and move towards the top half of the room, in front of the illusory wall, no doubt hoping to catch me unaware again.
As they rush through, I pounce on the bookish woman before she knows what is happening, slicing a great gout of flesh from her shoulder with my polearm and knocking her backward. Holy light flares from her and I recoil, not expecting such power.
The confusion is all too temporary though, as the rest of her companions move swiftly to intercept me and protect her.
Still, they are no match for me, and I settle into the flow of combat, dodging and weaving, lashing out where I can. Wearing them down.
But they have learned from our last encounter.
The armoured woman gives me no chance to use the polearm, battering me with blow after blow. Her gauntlets are imbued with holy magic and the strikes wound me deeply.
The large half-orc is far more effective than the fairy, using the distractions of the armoured woman to slice at me with a sanctified blade.
They hack and slash into my flesh, while the rest support them from afar, and I realise that I will not be the victor in this conflict.
A bitter realization. The contract I agreed to with the dead human will remain unfulfilled, a black mark on my record.
With a thunderous blow, the armoured woman breaks my jaw, the fangs within scattering across the floor. At the same time, the half-orc severs one of my legs and I drop to the floor.
The victors stand over me and I see the triumph glittering in their eyes.
I glare back, hatred echoing their satisfaction.
"Be seeing you" I whisper into their minds as they collectively deliver the coup de grace.
My return to the Nine Hells is as expected.
My peers immediately use the unfulfilled contract against me and I am demoted. I would have done the same if I was in their place. It is only right.
I maintain my form, but am forced to wander the streets of the Crawling City, looking for meaningless breaches of unholy law. If I had a soul to crush, this would do it.
They say that if I find and punish enough of the scum, I will be regain my standing.
But it doesn't matter.
I need to go back to that place.
The sensation of those tangled threads lingers in my mind. The twisted and gnarled strands of magic leading ever deeper into the labyrinth.
To the knotted heart at it's core.
And it calls.
And Seal Your Doom Tonight
I'd say that most players are too genre savvy to make a deal with a devil. It's a pretty common trope after all.
That doesn't mean you can't use devils as a set-piece or story element though, you just have to be a bit more tricksy.
In this particular case, the deal-making happened well in advance of any of the players characters getting involved. Instead, they had to deal with the ramifications of someone else's mistake.
Of course, an even better situation would be for your players to have made a deal with a devil without even realising it. Infernal law can be awfully complex after all, and who can really say what constitutes a binding contract these days.
Like a carefully worded blog post.