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Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss

John Cooper

Explorer
The comprehensive sourcebook of demons in the D&D world.

Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss is a comprehensive sourcebook covering the most dangerous (and popular) fiends in the Dungeons & Dragons cosmology: demons. It provides detailed information about the powers, tactics, and organization of the forces of the Abyss -- both those covered in the Monster Manual and entirely new foes. In addition, this book provides new rules, feats, tactics, spells, and equipment for characters who battle fiends. Extensive story and campaign elements add dimension to playing or fighting creatures of this type. Included is extensive information on the layers of the Abyss and the ruling demon lords, demonic possession, and how to use demons in a campaign.
 

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John Cooper

Explorer
Hordes Of The Abyss

FIENDISH CODEX I: HORDES OF THE ABYSS
By Ed Stark, James Jacobs, and Erik Mona
Wizards of the Coast product number 953757200
160-page hardback, $29.95

Hordes of the Abyss is the first volume in what I hope will be at least a three-part series, this one dealing with demons. (I believe there are already plans for a Fiendish Codex II detailing devils, and hopefully they'll round out the series with a third book on yugoloths.)

The cover art is a Sam Wood piece, a full-body portrait of a marilith demon. This one takes a giant step back towards the "traditional look" (dating back to the first edition of AD&D), where the top half of the demon looks like a six-armed female human or elf, as opposed to that bald-headed-alien monstrosity he foisted on us on page 41 of the 3.5 Monster Manual. Of course, not content with the traditional look, he felt the need to "dungeon punk" her up a bit, what with the multiple earrings in her ear and the stud below her lower lip. He also apparently decided that the sides of her breasts needed some reptilian scales - why, I don't know; artists these days seem to feel an overwhelming need to put their own "stamp" on everything, rather than sticking with what works (and what people expect). I like the marilith's lower snake-half, and he's done a good job with her posture (virtually every marilith after AD&D first edition seems to have gained the uncanny ability to wield her weapons in such a way as to hide her otherwise-exposed nipples from view; surely there's a feat in there somewhere?), but her face - even without considering her "modern" approach to face-piercings - looks somewhat "off." Her neck seems a bit too long, for one thing, and her face is a bit swollen, or at least a whole lot rounder than I'm used to in a marilith. Also, at least one of her hands seems a bit undersized. The flames in the background look nice, though. However, the back cover is a bit plain: it's the exact same as the front cover, only without the marilith. All in all, this isn't the best cover art I've seen in a Wizards of the Coast book, and come to think of it I've been less than impressed with a few of their recent pieces of hardcover cover art.

The interior artwork, however, is quite nice. We get a total of 5 monochromatic illustrations (at the chapter beginnings) and 61 full-color paintings by 10 different artists, plus 18 full-color maps by cartographers Jason Engle and Kyle Hunter. At least two of the pieces are "reprint" art, though: the illustration of Orcus on page 73 is from the Book of Vile Darkness (and it's a poor choice for reuse, as it doesn't particularly look like Orcus should - where's the "oversized gut" from his description?), and the full-page portrait of Graz'zt and Iggwilv on page 101 was the cover art for Dungeon #121. I'm not a big fan of reusing artwork from other books, but if the decision is made to do so, it would have been nice if it was accurate (for Orcus) and didn't eat up an entire page (for Graz'zt/Iggwilv). But at least some of the rest of the artwork makes up for these; I particularly liked Anne Stokes' corrupter succubus on page 17 (classic look, nice lighting effects and moody shading); Arnie Swekel's broodswarm on page 32 (a bunch of fat, Tiny winged demons surrounding a human in bed, reminiscent of those ancient wood carvings), his disgustingly putrescent mane demon on page 46, and his "Orcus vs. Demogorgon drawing on page 57; and William O'Connor's goristro on page 40 (although again, I could have done without the five earrings and the eyebrow ring; surely the nose-ring was more than enough for what is basically a giant minotaur?). Of course, there were a few things wrong with some of the artwork, like Thomas Baxa having the lilitu's four tails grow out of the sides of her abdomen on page 44 (a rather funny place to grow tails!), or Franz Vohwinkel's illustration of "Twelvetrees" on page 135 that not only doesn't match the Twelvetrees map on page 134, but also looks to be a ring of 16 trees! Still, I was pleased to see each monster in the monster chapter and each demon lord in the demon lord chapter get its own illustration. The maps are all well done, some of them almost looking like smaller versions of battlemat-quality maps. (In particular, I'm thinking of the "Bridge Over the Grand Abyss" map on page 133 and the "Twelvetrees" map on page 134.)

Oh, and before I move on to the written content of Hordes of the Abyss, I just want to mention that the inside covers and the first and last pages are blood-red and made of a sturdy cloth! That was a really nice touch.

Okay, written content time. Hordes of the Abyss is broken down as follows:
  • Introduction: A one-page introduction to how the book is laid out, with the now-practically-obligatory sidebar describing swift and immediate actions.
    Chapter 1 - Demonic Lore: The origins of demons, their physiology, a table of 20 different "death throes" effects when a demon is slain, demons on the material plane, 5 different demonic roles (assassin, brute, corruptor, manipulator, and overlord, with strategies used by each and how best to combat them), and rules on demonic possession (both creatures and objects).
    Chapter 2 - Demons: Two new demonic subtypes ("loumara" and "obyrith," each a different "class" of demon like the tanar'ri), and then details on 16 different types of demon, each with a stat block, strategy and tactics, sample encounter, ecology, society, typical treasure, and a demonic lore table (detailing what your PC might know about the demon in question depending upon his Knowledge (the planes) skill check).
    Chapter 3 - Demon Lords: A preliminary page detailing fighting demon lords, their aspects, and bumping demon lords up into epic levels, and then details on 14 different demon lords, each with a stat block, strategy and tactics section, servants, enemies, and goals, and finally a lore table like in the previous chapter (although Knowledge (religion) also plays a part).
    Chapter 4 - Trafficking with Demons: 4 different character roles (demon hunter, demon master, demon summoner, and demon worshipper), a list of suitable prestige classes from other books (sorry, no new prestige classes in this book), 23 demon-related feats, 6 new cleric domains (Corruption, Demonic, Entropy, Fury, Ooze, and Temptation), 21 new spells, and details on the Black Cult of Ahm (a group of people devoted to learning more about the Abyss and its residents) and several of the numerous Black Scrolls of Ahm (1 major and 3 minor artifacts).
    Chapter 5 - Into the Abyss: A short history of the Abyss and the Blood War, details on abyssal denizens, different ways of traveling through the Abyss, Abyssal planar traits, hazards, and terrain features, and then detailed descriptions of various layers of the Abyss (Pazunia, Azzagrat, the Demonweb, Thanatos, the Grand Abyss, the Iron Wastes, the Wells of Darkness, the Gaping Maw, Hollow's Heart, Shedaklah, Yeenoghu's Realm, Androlynne, Shendilavri, and the Endless Maze), each with details on geographical features and an encounter chart for that layer.
    Appendix I - Lords of the Abyss: A table of 76 demon lords, each with a name, title, concerns, and Abyssal layer.
    Appendix II - Layers of the Abyss: A table of 91 different layers, each with a layer number, common name, and ruler.
    Appendix III - Index of Demons: A table of 52 demons, each with a name, category (demon, tanar'ri, loumara, or obyrith), and source (the book where details on the demon can be found), followed by a list of demons sorted by Challenge Rating.
Proofreading and editing were fairly good, with just a few items getting past editing manager Kim Mohan and editors Christopher Perkins, Michelle Lyons, Cindi Rice, and Penny Williams: a few simple typos ("intrduced" instead of "introduced," "statue" instead of "stature," "Anyssal" instead of "Abyssal," "Sess'Innek" instead of "Sess'inek"), a few punctuation errors (a missing comma, a period that should have been a semicolon or a dash, a period missing at the end of a sentence), a few cases of improper word usage ("affects" instead of "effects," "symbols" instead of "symbol"), an extraneous word in the middle of a sentence ("...twisted mockeries of be paladins..." doesn't need that "be" there), some capitalization issues ("PCS" instead of "PCs," "it" instead of "It"), and a virtual buttload (which is always better than an actual buttload, mind you) of words that should have been italicized but weren't (these fell into two main categories: magic items/spell names and book titles), plus there was also one instance where a couple words on either side of an italicized word got inadvertently dragged along into italicization as well. Also, the authors need to decide whether the plural of "nabassu" is "nabassu" or "nabassus," and whether the plural of "sibriex" is "sibriex" or "sibriexes," and then stick with them - in each case, the two were used interchangeably, which was rather annoying. Finally - and this is a layout issue, as opposed to a proofreading/editing one - the Graz'zt Lore table on page 66 had its "alternating colored rows" messed up, and the Pale Night Lore table was poorly placed on page 76, as it ends up in the middle of Pazuzu's write-up (not the first place you'd look).

But it's the stat blocks where the real problems lie. I guess it's somewhat appropriate that the stat blocks found in Hordes of the Abyss are themselves somewhat abysmal, but since there's only one Development Manager listed in the credits and no other Developers, it's pretty easy to point the finger of blame directly at Jesse Decker. (Author James Jacobs, while politely not naming names, also mentioned on a recent EN World messageboard thread on the subject that the stats he turned in are different from the stats as published, and in each case the errors were added by the developers; that's got to grate!) In any case, with my standard provisos that these are merely the errors I noted during a single read through of the book, and the list is therefore guaranteed to be neither necessarily complete nor entirely accurate (although I hope I didn't goof up anywhere myself - and if I did, please let me know so I can fix it!), I recommend making the following changes to the stat blocks in Hordes of the Abyss:
  • pp. 29-30, Bar-lgura: Flat-footed AC should be 19, not 17 (+8 natural, +1 bracers of armor).
  • p. 31, Broodswarm: AC should be 19, not 17 (+2 size, +5 Dex, +2 natural) - swarms get the size bonus of their constituent members, which in this case is +2 for Tiny creatures. Touch AC should be 17, not 15. Flat-footed AC should be 14, not 12.
  • p. 33, Bulezau: Huge +1 ranseur damage should be 3d8+18/19-20/×3, not 3d8+21/19-20/×3 (+6 Str bonus means +9 for a two-handed weapon, +1 magic weapon bonus, +8 for a 4-point Power Attack with a two-handed weapon) - all other attacks work out as a 4-point Power Attack (although this is not specified), and all melee attacks in a given round must strike with the same Power Attack values. Huge +1 ranseur attacks should be at +13/+8 melee, not +12/+7 (+10 BAB, -1 size, +6 Str, -4 Power Attack, +1 Weapon Focus, +1 magic weapon bonus).
  • p. 34, Chasme: Claw attacks should be at +12 melee, not +17 (+9 BAB, -1 size, +4 Str). Bite attacks should be at +10 melee, not +15 (+9 BAB, -1 size, +4 Str, -2 secondary attack with Multiattack). Gore attacks should be at +10 melee, not +15 (ditto).
  • p. 38, Ekolid: "Senses" line shows Listen +4, Spot +4, yet "Skills" entry shows Listen +13, Spot +13; the "Skills" line is correct. Ref should be +10, not +8 (+5 as a 6-HD outsider, +3 Dex, +2 Lightning Reflexes).
  • pp. 41-42, Guecubu: Will save for possession should be DC 15, not DC 17 (10 + 1/2 HD + Cha bonus = 10 + 2 + 3 = 15) - it does have the feat Ability Focus, which grants an additional +2 to a DC, but it's for its sleep touch, not its possession. Speaking of which, the Will save for sleep touch should be DC 17, not DC 15 (10 + 1/2 HD + Cha bonus + Ability Focus = 10 + 2 + 3 + 2 = 17) - it looks like they applied the Ability Focus to the wrong special ability.
  • p. 43, Lilitu: Claw attacks should be at +17 melee, not +22 (+14 BAB, +8 Dex with Weapon Finesse, -5 for secondary attack without Multiattack).
  • p. 45, Mane: Jump should be -2, not +4 (4 ranks, +0 Str, -6 speed).
  • p. 46, Molydeus: Touch AC should be 18, not 17 (-1 size, +6 Dex, +3 deflection). Flat-footed AC should be 34, not 33 (-1 size, +18 natural, +4 bracers of armor, +3 deflection).
  • pp. 52-53, Sibriex: Will save for form of madness should be DC 24, not DC 25 (10 + 1/2HD + Cha bonus = 10 + 7 + 7 = 24).
  • pp. 54-55, Yochlol: Dominate person spell-like ability should have a DC 20, not DC 16 (10 + spell level + Cha bonus = 10 + 5 + 5 = 20). In humanoid form, AC should be 21, not 26 (+4 maximum Dex, +7 +2 mithral chainmail) - it doesn't get its +5 deflection bonus while in humanoid form, as explicitly stated in the "Lolth's favor" description. Likewise, while in humanoid form, touch AC should be 14, not 18 (+4 maximum Dex), and flat-footed AC should be 17, not 22 (+7 +2 mithral chainmail).
  • p. 58, Baphomet, Prince of Beasts: Flat-footed AC should be "—", not 38 (his "natural cunning" special ability, like that of a minotaur, prevents him from ever being flat-footed). +2 wounding glaive attacks should be at +31/+26/+21/+16 melee, not +30/+25/+20/+15 (+24 BAB, -2 size, +11 Str, -5 Power Attack, +1 Weapon Focus, +2 magic weapon bonus) - and I derived the +5 Power Attack value from the damage, as follows: 1-1/2 × +11 Str = +16; +2 magic weapon; 16 + 2 = 18; 28 (the damage bonus in the stat block) - 18 = 10; 10 ÷ 2 (since a glaive is a two-handed weapon, Power Attack damage is double that of the penalty to hit) = +5; thus, Power Attack value is +5. Gore attacks in conjunction with +2 wounding glaive attacks should be at +23 melee, not +28 (+24 BAB, -2 size, +11 Str, -5 for secondary attack, -5 Power Attack) - all attacks that round must include the same Power Attack penalty to hit. Wild empathy modifier should be +29 (+25 magical beasts), not +31 (+27 magical beasts) - (druid level + Cha bonus = 24 + 5 = 29).
  • pp. 59-60, Dagon, Prince of the Depths: Doomsong Will save should be DC 27, not DC 25 (10 + 1/2 HD + Cha bonus + Ability Focus = 10 + 12 + 3 + 2 = 27).
  • pp. 61-62, Demogorgon, Prince of Demons: Bite attacks should be at +34 melee, not +35 (+27 BAB, -2 size, +14 Str, -5 secondary attack). Tail slap attacks should be at +34 melee, not +35 (+27 BAB, -2 size, +14 Str, -5 secondary attack).
  • pp. 65-66, Graz'zt, the Dark Prince: If he's using a 6-point Power Attack (+27 BAB, -1 size, +8 Str, +1 Weapon Focus, +5 magic weapon bonus, -6 Power Attack = +34 to hit, which is what his stats say), then +5 acidic burst bastard sword damage should be 2d8+19/17-20 base damage, not 2d8+32/17-20 (+8 Str, +6 Power Attack, +5 magic weapon bonus). Without using Power Attack (and on a positive note, it was nice seeing a stat block give both the "using Power Attack" and "not using Power Attack" values for the same weapon; let's hope that becomes the standard), +5 acidic burst bastard sword attacks should be at +40/+35/+30/+25 melee, not +41/+36/+31/+26 (+27 BAB, -1 size, +8 Str, +1 Weapon Focus, +5 magic weapon bonus), and base damage should be 2d8+13/17-20, not 2d8+18/17-20 (+8 Str, +5 magic weapon bonus).
  • pp. 74-75, Pale Night, the Mother of Demons: Part of her "Skills" entry reads "Perform +39 (song) +39" - that should read "Listen +39, Perform (song) +39" instead. (I suppose you could make the argument that this is more of a typo than a stats block error, but the end result is a messed up stat block, so I'm including it here in the "unofficial errata" rather than in the paragraph of proofreading gaffes.) Also, given that the "Lore" tables always have "steps" of 5-point differences on the skill check rolls, I think that first entry should be DC 29, not DC 20.
  • p. 76, Pazuzu, Prince of the Lower Aerial Kingdoms: One of two choices: either he only has 20 points of natural armor (not the "+30 natural" as listed), or AC should be 53, not 43, and flat-footed AC should be 40, not 30.
  • p. 78, Yeenoghu, Prince of Gnolls: If he's using 5 points of Power Attack (+24 BAB, -1 size, +10 Str, +3 magic weapon bonus, -5 Power Attack = +31, which is what the stat block has listed), then his triple flail damage should be 3d6+28, not 3d6+25 (1-1/2 × +10 Str = +15; +3 magic weapon bonus; double the +5 Power Attack for a two-handed weapon = +10; 15 + 3 + 10 = 28).
  • p. 79, Zuggtmoy, Lady of Fungi: Pseudopod attacks should be at +35 melee, not +30 (+26 BAB, -1 size, +10 Str). Claw attacks should be at +30 melee, not +25 (+26 BAB, -1 size, +10 Str, -5 for secondary attack). Her womb should be AC 25, not AC 26 (following the "half the natural armor bonus" rule, half of her +30 natural armor bonus is +15; 10 + 15 = 25). Also, given that the "Lore" tables always have "steps" of 5-point differences on the skill check rolls, I think that first entry should be DC 28, not DC 20.
So, let's do the math: I count 31 separate stat blocks in Hordes of the Abyss, of which I found errors in 19; that's a 61% error rate. Shame on you, Jesse! I'd say it's about time to confess to your boss that you need a little extra help in the stat-block-checking department, as your success rate of late (in this book and numerous recent others) has been atrocious!

While I'm listing problem areas, I'll also note that the Abyssal frenzy spell on page 90 shows a base claw damage of 2d8 for a Colossal creature; this is the same damage as a Huge creature and less than that of a Gargantuan creature, so I'm willing to bet that should read "Colossal - 4d8" instead.

One final negative (and this is just personal preference on my part): I also noted that Lolth has a drow lieutenant named "Adinirahc." That's a rather obvious anagram of "I, arachnid" - I hate stuff like that; couldn't the author of that particular name try to be just a little bit creative? (I'll also note that odds are none of the authors of Hordes of the Abyss are responsible for the stupid name; more than likely, they just "inherited" it as previously-established Lolth lore.)

Okay, that's it - I'm done with the negativity. At this point, you'd probably expect me to be giving Hordes of the Abyss a 2-star rating and warning you away from it. Quite the contrary; despite its obvious flaws in the stat block arena, the rest of the book is top-notch. Erik Mona and James Jacobs have already established themselves as "fiend experts," what with their previous books and Dragon articles on the subject. (I'm not positive about Ed Stark's "fiendish credentials," although it's certainly possible.) They do a terrific job with the subject considering the constraints they were under; in my mind, Hordes of the Abyss should probably have been at least a 224-page book, if not 280 pages. Still, they made what I consider to be logical choices for space-saving cuts: we probably didn't need another half-dozen "demon-flavored" prestige classes, especially when they point out (on page 82) twelve pre-existing prestige classes that fit well with the concept. While they certainly, given enough extra room, could have done up stats for more demon lords and provided information on additional layers of the Abyss, the ones they chose to go with were certainly the most logical ones, and the ones that would have been missed the most had they been left out. I was glad to see two new "demon races" - the obyriths and loumaras - as it's nice to see that not every demon in the Abyss is a tanar'ri. (Also, they did a great job of incorporating the obyriths in particular into the history of the Abyss and several of the plots and treacheries of the individual demon lords.)

There's been a small uproar over the fact that Hordes of the Abyss keeps the demon lords at a maximum of Challenge Rating 23 (as opposed to the higher CRs in the write-ups of the various "Demonomicon" articles that James writes in the pages of Dragon), but I'm all for it. Of course, it probably helps that I'm smack dab in the middle of the group of DMs that the decision to do so was based upon: those that don't run campaigns beyond 20th level. For those of us like me, having stats for a CR 30 demon lord doesn't do any good, because it'll never get used, whereas a CR 21 demon lord makes for an excellent final foe in a campaign. I applaud the decision, and I hope the authors can take the waves of "That sucks!" in stride - for my money, you guys made the right call.

Some of the demons in Chapter 2 seem brand new (at least I don't recall ever having seen them before), while others are updates from previous sources. Some of these are really good, like the broodswarm, my personal favorite - not only is a swarm of Tiny winged demons that stitch their victims up a cool idea, but I love the fact that they're created by a night hag ripping loose pieces of her flesh and feeding them to manes 300 times over the course of a month; it's an origin full of flavor, and it deftly explains why any given night hag is unlikely to create more than one broodswarm at a time - the Constitution penalty that's in effect while the broodswarm exists is a good incentive to hold back! Others, like the lilitu, take a pre-existing demon (in this case, a succubus) and make an "advanced" version of it. While the lilitu failed to grab me like the broodswarm did, I do like the fact that it's born of the ashes of a slain succubus. The sibriex, however, is just plain weird - when I think "demon," I seldom think "giant, tethered, floating balloon-head."

As much as I enjoy the monster section of D&D books, though, I have to say that I was really impressed with the last chapter of Hordes of the Abyss. If, after reading through the descriptions of the various layers of the Abyss, you can't think of a dozen cool adventure ideas, you're probably not trying very hard (especially since each layer comes with a handful of adventure hooks already written out for you). The authors have managed to make each layer a completely different world (as is appropriate in an outer plane of chaos), with fantastic concepts like the only sunlight on the layer rising up from the ground (Azzagrat, the 46th layer), the moon constantly changing phases when obscured by clouds (Thanatos, the 113th layer, and if that doesn't exemplify chaos, I don't know what does), and an atmosphere of palpable evil so thick that demons "bask in a euphoric haze of religious ecstasy and pay little attention to the world around them" (Twelvetrees, the 12th layer). I also found it fascinating that Shedaklah, the 222nd layer and home to both Juiblex the Faceless One and Zuggtmoy the Fungi Queen, is actually minor positive-dominant: living creatures (including exploring adventurers!) gain fast healing 2 while on the layer. I'm so used to associating the Abyss with negative traits - like Orcus' undead-filled Thanatos, which drains 1d6 points of damage to living creatures each round - that a life-abundant Abyssal layer really threw me for a loop.

Hordes of the Abyss is a very well-though-out and well-written book, and I credit the three authors with having put a lot of effort into it. Had the stats not been a botch job, this would probably have been well worth a 5-star rating. As it is, I'm going to drop it down to a "4 (Good)" and hope - as I've been hoping for years now - that Wizards of the Coast will finally put a bit more attention to the accuracy of the stat blocks, especially in books like this one that rely heavily on monster stats. Books like Hordes of the Abyss just cry out for proper stat block treatment, and it's sad to see so little attention paid to that area.
 
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KL

First Post
Adinirahc is actually the reverse of Charinida, Lolth's High Priestess in Module D3 Vault of the Drow.
 

SeemosYantra

First Post
One question regarding this book: the last appendix mentions TONS of other minor layers. A few of them are in the old Manual Of The Planes of 3.5, but a good batch of them are nowhere else to be found. Are they part of any adventure, book, or something? I ask because I would have, at least, to have a "tag-line" description of said layers because, knowing their ruler without even knowing how they actually look like is a bit silly for me... (worst even, we don't know how these rulers even look like either, so is like Name + Name, what am I supposed to do with that alone?)
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
They're all compiled from other sources, largely 2e Planescape. Many of them are described or visited there, but some are just names and layer numbers. FC1 is wonderfully comprehensive with earlier sources.
 

SeemosYantra

First Post
They're all compiled from other sources, largely 2e Planescape. Many of them are described or visited there, but some are just names and layer numbers. FC1 is wonderfully comprehensive with earlier sources.

Thank you very much. I found out what you mention yesterday while doing some research. Is truely a pitty that much of such things weren't re-updated or, at least, outlined as to give the users of the book an idea of WHAT they mean. I mean, is okay: we got plenty of empty spaces in between several abyssal layers for like comming up with our own bizarre ideas, but is truely a pitty that you name something only to not give a dime about it for the sake of "space filler". Just MHO.
 

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