Asmodeus in the Flanaess

While demons feature prominently in the World of Greyhawk, and certainly have the most detail and variety of the various denizens of the Lower Planes, I’ve personally always felt that devils were far more interesting.

While I’ve never been a fan of the Blood War concept from Planescape, I do in the back of my mind have the idea that in prehistory the major axis of conflict was not good vs. evil, but rather law vs. chaos. So there would be archons, modrons, and devils aligned against slaad, demons, and CG devas, planetars, and solars. Over time, the conflict would have changed, as all sides decided that outcomes (protecting the weak/reinforcing the strong) were more important than means (law and organization/individuality and liberty). This would be in keeping with the battle of Pesh “where Chaos and Law contended.”

To my mind the organization of the devils makes them a much more interesting and dangerous enemy. While demons engage in plotting and scheming, their efforts are usually straightforward, and rely on stabbing one’s allies in the back. The plans and schemes of the devils, on the other hand, can be sublimely intricate, both multi-layered and multi-faceted, with their agents sometimes not even realizing who they are truly working for.

It’s also worth noting that we know that the cult of Asmodeus is active in the Flanaess, and in Greyhawk specifically. Gygax referenced it in one of the Gord the Rogue stories, specifically mentioning that its members bear a tattoo of a red ruby, which is the symbol of Asmodeus himself and his rod. Too, in one of his stories, an imp pretended it was a quasit in order to fool a human seeking to make a bargain. Too late, the human realizes that a quasit could never have made a deal so deviously; it took the cunning of a devil, if even a least devil, to be so legalistic.

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

7 thoughts on “Asmodeus in the Flanaess

  1. Can you tell us the source of the story that includes a lawful imp masquerading as a chaotic quasit?

    My first guess was Night Arrant, but a word search for quasit came up empty.

    1. It’s in Night Arrant, specifically in _Cats_vs_Rats_.

      The Asmodeus cult is dealt with in _Cat_or_Pigeon_ from the same book.

      My problem with the whole thing is Gygax’s apparent inability to decide who was leagued with whom. In the Gold Box the Horned Society was listed as linked to the devils, the Scarlet Brotherhood having no specific affiliations identified. In the Gord books, even before he left TSR, the Horned Society was affiliated with Anthraxus, a daemon, and Nerull, while the Scarlet Brotherhood was linked to Hell. I want to say even in the same book Iuz refers to the Horned Society’s masters as “diabolical” and soon afterward as “demodand-kissing”, putting them in with the devils again, or maybe Tartarus, though one could argue the last two examples might just have been adjectives with little further meaning.

      Dude needed a better editor. 😉

      I personally keep the Scarlet Bros leagued with Hell and Horned Society more in the Neutral Evil space. And I don’t recognize the Blood War. 🙂

  2. I really like your point of view about devils, Mr. Bloch. Not only do I agree about Asmodeus’s presence in the Flanaess, but I’d also consider him one of the main patrons of the Horned Society.

    The Horned Society is kind of a sore point for me. I was really disappointed that they got wiped off the map in the Greyhawk Wars, and that hardly anything was done with them after that. There’s Andrade Mirrius in the Fellreev Forest, but he hardly seems to have done anything. The LGG talked about the Horned Society being spread across the Flanaess, which would make for a great campaign hook (and which I would have used if I DMed a 591 CY campaign) but I don’t know if they did anything in Living Greyhawk.

    It just seems like a huge waste of a cool villain group. That’s why, in my alternate take on the Wars (published in Oerth Journal #33), I had the Society be the big winner in the north, conquering the Shield Lands and Iuz’s old homeland. They lost in their invasion of Furyondy, but a tense cold war settled between them. I still kept Iuz in play, as he set the Boneheart to a contest where they’d each try and carve out his new kingdom. You could contrast the brooding, militaristic and organized devil-backed Horned Empire with the crazed, murderous anarchy of the demon-backed Cells of Iuz and his free-for-all contest.

  3. I completely agree on all counts. I never understood the need for the “Blood War”; I assumed it was some weird result of the effective removal of demons & devils from the game in the 2nd edition days thanks to the absurd “satanic panic” (of which I have painful memories of…), so the goings-on in the lower planes were re-written altogether. I wasn’t aware of an Asmodeus cult in the Free City until I read this; I haven’t read the Gord the Rogue novels in 35 years and only just started re-reading them. Devils were indeed more interesting, sinister, creepy foes, even through their human cultists proxies, than the simple demons who were largely portrayed as just extra-planar monsters. Thank you for this little tirp down memory lane. 🙂

  4. I hated the Planescape stuff in general. Every aspect of it: the art, the writing, the plotlines, particularly the Blood War, just rubbed me the wrong way. And I agree that devils are inherently more interesting than demons. But in my campaign I’ve adopted the Swords & Wizardry approach. Or more accurately, their approach is similar to mine. The entire Underworld, which I call the Infernus, is an intertwined series of planes/realms that basically consist of all the traditional AD&D Lower Planes. The “top” is basically the First Gloom of Hades, guarded by Cerberus. The planes intersect in helix fashion and one can therefore travel between say, Hades & Malebolge pretty readily. But to mortal travelers it feels like you are always traveling down in spiral fashion until you reach Nessus. And you can therefore encounter devils, demons, daemons, etc., anywhere in this vast netherworld, though ratios will vary by realm.

  5. Just came across this nugget today while trying to write up some details on Suel pantheology / mysticism for my latest campaign: it’s not Gygax, but it is the Flanaess… Len Lakofka’s third installment of the L-series of modules, written but unpublished during the Old School Era and only released in 1999, features the machinations and corruptive influence of Baalzebul.

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