The Evolution of Tieflings in D&D: Interviews with Zeb Cook and Colin McComb
  • The Evolution of Tieflings in D&D: Interviews with Zeb Cook and Colin McComb


    D&D Planescape creator Zeb Cook and designer Colin McComb graciously answered my questions for the following article about the evolution of Tieflings from 2e to 5e. The article also links to the full text of our interviews, where they share their insight into the race and the design decisions behind developing it.

    I had a lot of fun researching and writing this article, and was beyond thrilled that these gentlemen took the time to answer my questions. I hope you enjoy.



    Comments 104 Comments
    1. doctorbadwolf's Avatar
      doctorbadwolf -
      Quote Originally Posted by Aaron L View Post
      But I cannot stand how they wrecked them in 4E, into a race of uniform devilmen (Devilmans?) with red skin and tails and ram horns and a unified culture. It's way too blatant and tacky, and it defeats the purpose of the race; an entire race of "misunderstood outsiders" is pretty ridiculous. All I can think is that Tieflings were turned into "More Drow than Drow."
      They were improved in 4e. An entire race of "misunderstood outsiders" is one of the most realistic and grounded elements in modern DnD. IRL, it doesn't even take horns and tails to accomplish that.

      A race of people whose ancestors made deals with devils, and whose physicality now bears that unmistakable mark, is quite a bit more than you're giving it credit for.
    1. Kobold Avenger's Avatar
      Kobold Avenger -
      Quote Originally Posted by MaskedGuy View Post
      That reminds me of why I like Pathfinder version of tieflings: They can be members of any 0hd race and they are basically deformed mutants with fiendish ancestry. The fiendish ancestry can be anything from devils to demons and more exotic and bizarre fiends like qlippoths.

      (same applies to all pathfinder versions of planar scions, they aren't strictly human restricted.)

      There is even optional d100 table for tiefling/aasimar powers and cosmetic appearances.

      Reading the article, it kinda feels like Pathfinder's writers wanted to throw back to older version of tieflings
      Well Pathfinder was essentially made in response to 4e, it was definitely "no we like things the way they were before" and as a result everything in Pathfinder was more open and freer in concepts, while 4e tried to become more restrictive in concepts and lore.

      Planetouched in general are mutants (of the X-Men type) of the planes. The wide diversity of forms was essential to their identity.
    1. Tsuga C's Avatar
      Tsuga C -
      It's high time to revive Planescape. Ravnica is a poor substitute and what's been done to tieflings since 2E is an abomination. TSR got tieflings and aasimar right back then and WotC has consistently screwed up the Planes--the Great Wheel is the only model for me.
    1. Scrivener of Doom's Avatar
      Scrivener of Doom -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kobold Avenger View Post
      (snip) It's very useful to hear from Zeb Cook and McComb about Tieflings, but I think Monte Cook's opinions also matters a lot on the subject.
      Actually, I think it's Wolfgang Baur who may have played a major role in the creation of the tieflings.
    1. TarionzCousin's Avatar
      TarionzCousin -
      @ThePlanarDM and others should check this out: https://www.enworld.org/forum/showth...round-Tutorial
    1. cbwjm's Avatar
      cbwjm -
      I remember having a look at tieflings over the editions and looking at how they changed with each new edition, this included stats and abilities like spells and resistances. My preference is still for the 2e version and I loved that each tiefling could have very different physical characteristics instead of the homogenised 4e appearance to the point where I ignore what tieflings appear as now and instead still use 2e for ideas on coming up with unique looking tieflings. I also don't like how it only seems to be archdevils that sire tieflings, I want a variety of fiends like pit fiends, mariliths, maybe even vrocks tainting the bloodlines of tieflings.
    1. dwayne's Avatar
      dwayne -
      Have to say the planescape where they came from, was the best ones as the abilities and looks were a random roll that made it fun.
    1. Aldarc's Avatar
      Aldarc -
      Quote Originally Posted by Aaron L View Post
      But I cannot stand how they wrecked them in 4E, into a race of uniform devilmen (Devilmans?) with red skin and tails and ram horns and a unified culture. It's way too blatant and tacky, and it defeats the purpose of the race; an entire race of "misunderstood outsiders" is pretty ridiculous. All I can think is that Tieflings were turned into "More Drow than Drow."
      Though I respect your preference, I nevertheless disagree. I never really cared for the 2E Planescape tieflings, which often did lean on the "misunderstood outsiders" angle pretty hard as well. Though I understand that the idea that they could be anything in terms of morphology, appearance, culture, history, etc. works in their favor for some people, it also worked against them for mine. It felt odd to me that tieflings would just be the "samey" from having fiends as their background or even from being plane-touched. After all, weren't demons and devils diametrically opposed? But a tiefling descendant of a demon could look the same as a tiefling descendant of a devil? Not to mention the yugoloths.

      It wasn't until 4E that I found tieflings a compelling playable bioform. To reiterate from my earlier point, 4E gave them a connection to the world. They were not "outsiders" from the planes, but, rather, they are descendants of human nobles of Bael Turath that sought to save and expand their kingdom by making dark pacts with devils. (Which is ironically not far removed from what Cheliax in Golarion did.) That empire would nevertheless fall later in conflict with the draconic kingdom of Arkhosia, and their tiefling descendants represent the hubris of that diabolic pact. This is far less Drow and far more Faustian. This gave me a much more defined sense of tieflings and their place in the world. It gave them a mythos that amounted to more than mutants of some distant fiend but instead to pact made between devils and human mortals. While I understand that some people miss the morphological variation of tieflings from earlier editions, I have found the new direction more new player friendly to the extent that it's easier for new players to spot a tiefling in the art as opposed to a satyr or something.
    1. Zardnaar's Avatar
      Zardnaar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Aaron L View Post
      I really liked the original Tieflings, people with some distant fiendish ancestor that gave them random deformations and dark powers... it fits with a medieval magical mentality, that being born with a deformity is a sign of having a tainted ancestry. I even love the name; from Teufel, the German word for Devil (they're Devilings.) But I cannot stand how they wrecked them in 4E, into a race of uniform devilmen (Devilmans?) with red skin and tails and ram horns and a unified culture. It's way too blatant and tacky, and it defeats the purpose of the race; an entire race of "misunderstood outsiders" is pretty ridiculous. All I can think is that Tieflings were turned into "More Drow than Drow."
      Yeah I like the 2E ones. That and always go with originals. Didn't mind the Bael Turoth lore so much but the artwork bleah.
    1. AriochQ's Avatar
      AriochQ -
      I am not a huge fan, but I did have a younger player start playing a tiefling in one of my home games. It has good role play potential, and she does a great job with it. Of course, I run in Greyhawk, so I had to fit them in. I ended up just tying them to Iuz and the Greyhawk wars, which seemed an easy way to explain their lack of history in the setting.
    1. Zardnaar's Avatar
      Zardnaar -
      Quote Originally Posted by AriochQ View Post
      I am not a huge fan, but I did have a younger player start playing a tiefling in one of my home games. It has good role play potential, and she does a great job with it. Of course, I run in Greyhawk, so I had to fit them in. I ended up just tying them to Iuz and the Greyhawk wars, which seemed an easy way to explain their lack of history in the setting.
      Basically what I would do if I added Tieflings to Greyhawk as Cambions are a thing.

      At least it makes sense for the setting.
    1. Aldarc's Avatar
      Aldarc -
      Quote Originally Posted by AriochQ View Post
      I am not a huge fan, but I did have a younger player start playing a tiefling in one of my home games. It has good role play potential, and she does a great job with it. Of course, I run in Greyhawk, so I had to fit them in. I ended up just tying them to Iuz and the Greyhawk wars, which seemed an easy way to explain their lack of history in the setting.
      I would probably tie them into the fall of the Suel Imperium. Something something Suloise sorcery. Something something Rain of Colorless Fire. Something something Wee Jas and her devil attendants.
    1. Anthraxus's Avatar
      Anthraxus -
      Nice article! I definitely prefer the 2e Planescape Tieflings to what they did to them in 4e. I'm glad some of the 5e supplemental books let us add to the variety of the Tiefling appearances and heritage.
    1. AriochQ's Avatar
      AriochQ -
      Quote Originally Posted by Aldarc View Post
      I would probably tie them into the fall of the Suel Imperium. Something something Suloise sorcery. Something something Rain of Colorless Fire. Something something Wee Jas and her devil attendants.
      That is sort of how I worked in Dragonborn. They were magically genetically engineered warriors used by the Suel and Bakluni to fight their wars.
    1. Imaro's Avatar
      Imaro -
      This was an interesting read. Yeah count me as another who really didn't like the changes to Tieflings in 4e which I have reverted in my 5e games. 4e's changes just feel stifling compared to the freedom in appearance & origin 2e Tieflings had. They went from being a planar race of outsiders stoked in mystery with near infinite possibility for appearance and origin to just another cookie cutter Prime race from a long fallen kingdom. Not sure why that was considered an improvement and I wish they had reverted them for 5e but it's easy enough to do in my own games.
    1. Wrathamon -
      Considering how popular tieflings became in the 4e & 5e era. I think the change was a success.
    1. Imaro's Avatar
      Imaro -
      Quote Originally Posted by Wrathamon View Post
      Considering how popular tieflings became in the 4e & 5e era. I think the change was a success.
      Or it might have been that they were (finally) put in the core rulebooks, you know the books that the majority of people playing the game actually buy and use... just saying.

      EDIT: And in 5e at least (not sure about 4e) they have already given variants of the monolithic Tieflings that players can choose.
    1. doctorbadwolf's Avatar
      doctorbadwolf -
      Quote Originally Posted by Imaro View Post
      Or it might have been that they were (finally) put in the core rulebooks, you know the books that the majority of people playing the game actually buy and use... just saying.
      Druids are in the PHB, and yet they're pretty low on the list of most played classes. PHB status doesn't explain it by itself.
    1. Anthraxus's Avatar
      Anthraxus -
      Quote Originally Posted by Wrathamon View Post
      Considering how popular tieflings became in the 4e & 5e era. I think the change was a success.
      Considering that Tieflings were introduced into a core PHB in 4e, that probably has more than anything to do with their rise in popularity.
    1. Kobold Avenger's Avatar
      Kobold Avenger -
      Quote Originally Posted by doctorbadwolf View Post
      Druids are in the PHB, and yet they're pretty low on the list of most played classes. PHB status doesn't explain it by itself.
      But chances are they'll still be more popular than Artificers or Psions even after those classes officially come out. Being in the PHB really does matter for exposure.
    Comments Leave Comment