D&D General What Would Happen if Fiends Came to Fill the "Low CR Monsters" Niche?

I've been thinking for a while that D&D, if it wanted to, could just shift a lot of the negative traits ascribed to goblins and orcs and whatever to certain low CR demons and make them more common as low-level enemies. It would also help give dretches and what not more personality.

Part of the argument against having orcs and goblins and such as common enemies is that their are frequently good individuals, they reproduce, and they may be native to the area. In contrast, low CR demons (manes, rutterkin, dretches, quasits, etc) are are pure evil without the civility that devils can have, don't reproduce, are invaders from the Abyss rather than natives of the world, and don't even really die when destroyed unless destroyed in the Abyss. Their presence in large numbers also increases the Abyss' link to a world, so wiping out incursions is also an imperative, and there are higher CR demons that can serve as bosses forcing lesser demons into servitude (though, being Chaotic, many of these demons would probably flee to go do their own thing, further making them a threat to the countryside even as the boss demon summons more minions from the Abyss).

Demons are the most obvious choice for rampaging monsters, but devils and even yugoloths could be justifiable (thought currently the lowest CR yugoloth, the mezzoloth, is at CR 5). How many adventures with some villain forcing orcs or goblins into their employ would work just as well with summoned fiends in that role?

The only thing is I have the suspicion that putting demons in the goblins' niche might somehow end up making people want to start portraying literal demons and devils more sympathetically, which would be bad optics for the game that once suffered under the Satanic Panic. Making them staples of low level adventures where the authors try to get creative with them might make them more interesting as NPCs, and we could have players starting to want to play good demon PCs.

Thoughts?
 

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Jer

Legend
Supporter
Demons are the most obvious choice for rampaging monsters, but devils and even yugoloths could be justifiable (thought currently the lowest CR yugoloth, the mezzoloth, is at CR 5). How many adventures with some villain forcing orcs or goblins into their employ would work just as well with summoned fiends in that role?
I've been doing this in my current 13th Age campaign, though instead of using existing fiends I just use the stats for orcs, goblins, bugbears, and hobgoblins and map them to different kinds of Chaos Demons. Keeps the difficulty levels the same, and makes it really easy to adapt published adventure sites to my own game.

I've done similar things in my campaigns for a long time - I like having enemies who can be beat up without moral quandary for the times when that's needed. I use low-level undead and constructs to fill similar roles when demons don't feel quite right for the scenario. I've had previous campaigns where orcs and goblins were basically fungal creatures that exuded from an alien fungus and had no minds of their own, and where they were constructed from slime by evil wizards to act as their minions.

The only thing is I have the suspicion that putting demons in the goblins' niche might somehow end up making people want to start portraying literal demons and devils more sympathetically, which would be bad optics for the game that once suffered under the Satanic Panic. Making them staples of low level adventures where the authors try to get creative with them might make them more interesting as NPCs, and we could have players starting to want to play good demon PCs.
I mean, we had sympathetic demons in Planescape in the 90s, so that ship has sailed for D&D.

Also the kids have manga these days and "sympathetic demon" is basically a trope. :)

But IMO the trick to having low-level demons as foes is that you want them to be either engines of pure chaos or basically mindless under the control of someone else. In my current campaign the real bad guys are the Demon Empire - they're an expansionist human-centric empire that uses demons for their dirty work. The demons themselves don't really have a personality - they're chaos energy that has transformed some animal body into a form it can use to destroy things. Personalities are reserved for the more powerful demons, not the minor ones.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I wouldn't say the issue is necessarily people starting to take demons and devils more sympathetically... but rather the background of what those creatures are means the narrative of where your game is taking place obviously will be much, much different than your typical fantasy realm. A land infested with demons means you need to come up with how/why that happened, and it's going to be a story that make your world very different than what most players are used to. Not saying it can't be done... but if you introduce your world as "We got humans, dwarves, elves, and then masses of demons outside the city walls"... they are rightly going to be asking a lot of questions.

To me... the "solution" to the issue is simple: Just give the antagonists reasons for being antagonists.

Don't treat all the enemies as disposable. Give them motivations. If I want it to be okay for the party to go attack an orc tribe... it'll be by those orcs having done something that can justify the response.
 

I wouldn't say the issue is necessarily people starting to take demons and devils more sympathetically... but rather the background of what those creatures are means the narrative of where your game is taking place obviously will be much, much different than your typical fantasy realm. A land infested with demons means you need to come up with how/why that happened, and it's going to be a story that make your world very different than what most players are used to. Not saying it can't be done... but if you introduce your world as "We got humans, dwarves, elves, and then masses of demons outside the city walls"... they are rightly going to be asking a lot of questions.
Having demons and other fiends be more common would be a big change in D&D lore, admittedly. My thinking wasn't so much that demons would be all over the place, but that they could appear more often from temporary Abyssal portals.

My reasoning for using them is basically because they're the closest thing D&D has to the way many video games treat monsters; creatures that exist only to fight with no trace of civilization or young, spawning into existence from seemingly out of nowhere.

The 4E Demonomicon, BTW, introduced the idea that temporary portals to the Abyss could sometimes manifest in mundane doorways, windows, and other apertures, though natural spirits called "door guardians" usually prevented this.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I've set my latest game up with demons, aberrations, and undead being the forces of Evil/Chaos/Irredeemable-whatnot. For the rest of the creature types I try to do it like the better westerns - it isn't race or ethnicity that makes them bad, it's what the particular individuals are doing. And the good guys don't just go out and kill people (or even animals) without a reason. They sure as heck are going to take out demons, chaos things from the outer void, and zombies.
 


HammerMan

Legend
The only thing is I have the suspicion that putting demons in the goblins' niche might somehow end up making people want to start portraying literal demons and devils more sympathetically, which would be bad optics for the game that once suffered under the Satanic Panic. Making them staples of low level adventures where the authors try to get creative with them might make them more interesting as NPCs, and we could have players starting to want to play good demon PCs.
that is my problem. I don't mind useing devil/demon things but most of the time I want more nuence. So if D&D assumption (and stats) for the next edition made the low CR monsters all demons... I would end up making good and neutral demons.
 




Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Why must your enemies be irredeemable? If bandits try to murder villagers and steel their harvest, and get killed by the adventurers defending it, then tough, they missed their chance at redemption. Bandits fault, not adventurers fault.
I have lots of villains like that too (one party I'm DMing recruited a Kobold enemy to join them, and another has a truce with a Medusa). But if I want a rampaging mindless existential threat, I use demons, aberrations, and undead.
 

HammerMan

Legend
Try using humans.
I do... I go in spurts. Sometimes it's orcs, sometimes it's elves right now I am on a Hobgoblin kick. Humans are normally about 30-40% of my homebrew worlds (so a majority of the people) so lots of good and bad of them. Kobolds seem to never go out of style thought with me... Kobold enemies and kobold alies have appeared in just about every D&D game I have run since 92.
In my current Roll20 campaign I tried to step away from hobgoblins (that have featured in my last 3 campaigns) so I am trying to use Gnolls, but I still WANT to use hobgoblins cause that is the kick I am on...

However I also have this little fun bit with humans... I have 3 diffrent (like very slight) version of Knights and I have had small groups of them plus a few bandits (stats but not really bandits) being bullies of local towns... the best part is the exact same stats for those 3 knights are also being used for alies the PCs have.
 


From what I understand, the idea behind using predominately evil orcs and goblins and kobolds and whatever in D&D was to have enemies that PCs could kill without moral quandary, whereas human opponents could lead to questions over whether killing them was right or not.

Now that killing orcs and goblins and kobolds and whatever is being questioned anyway, might as well shift the "okay to kill without moral quandary" role to demons, which lack the things that caused people to question the morality of portraying the traditional D&D monstrous humanoids as always evil. I'm talking about qualities such as the occassional good individual, being natives to a region, having children, etc. Fiends don't have all that baggage.
 

HammerMan

Legend
I have lots of villains like that too (one party I'm DMing recruited a Kobold enemy to join them, and another has a truce with a Medusa). But if I want a rampaging mindless existential threat, I use demons, aberrations, and undead.
medusa, mind flayer, beholder, orcus himself are some of the stranger allies my good aligned PCs have had...

back in 3e there was a BoVD race that hated and wanted to kill the gods... my buddy made a campaign around them trying to wipe out all of the gods. My Wizard/Cleric/Mysthic theurge of Vecna not only worked with a Paliden of Pelor, a ranger (NG), and a cleric of Behomut, but my character and the cleric ended up falling in love (me NE and her LG) it was a wild ride.
 

Voadam

Legend
In 5e dretches from the MM are CR 1/4 and known for being in numberless hordes in the Abyss so they can be used as small humanoid stand ins mechanically and narratively if you want.

Throughout D&D there have been common low power fiends so you could do this from fairly low level (manes since 1e MM1 and then dretches being common ones since 1e MM2), and lots of supplements through different editions provide more options for lesser fiends. Mayfair Games had a fantastic set of Demons Supplements for 1e.

The issue is tone and flavor for why the monsters are demons. Either you have the Demon Lands where demons are running around because there is a gate from the Abyss or whatever (Pathfinder's Golarion and 3.0's Twin Crowns setting do this), or people who summon them. Both can work, but either makes for specific setting and story issues.

The 3.5 version of Green Ronin's Book of Fiends has a ton of options for lower CR fiends so I assume the 5e version does too.

Really low CR fiends (goblin level) are fairly rare, but there are a lot of options for a variety of mid low CR depending on edition and supplements you have available and want to use.
 

Voadam

Legend
From what I understand, the idea behind using predominately evil orcs and goblins and kobolds and whatever in D&D was to have enemies that PCs could kill without moral quandary, whereas human opponents could lead to questions over whether killing them was right or not.
I would say instead originally it was more a DM perspective.

Labelling things generally evil meant they were generally hostile to PCs as opposed to things that were generally friendly at base or neutral.

The assumption to start was that PCs were greedy well armed adventurers seeking loot, not crusaders seeking to righteously exterminate evil creatures.

Whether PCs engaged monsters of any alignment in parley, avoided them, or fought them was up to the PCs and the situation. 1e for example had a class that required you to be LG and not associate with evil, but also a PC class that required you to be evil. There was a lot of options for doing things different ways.
 

Honestly my biggest issue with demons in DnD is they're so regular - specific forms fitting into specific categories and set to a logical taxonomy. They're made of chaos; they should be impossible to categorize!

I get that statblocks need to exist, but still. It annoys me in a low-grade way.

Recurring demon incursions would pretty much dominate the story of the campaign, but I'm not sure that's such a terrible thing. You should be fighting monsters associated with the main story, so if you want to do a story about a necromancer trying to take over the world... use skeletons.

For a story-less game, just tweak the setting rules to make "uncontrolled demon incursion" easier to happen than normal. It would also explain why this region on you hex-map isn't heavily settled anymore.
 

It's a shame they're MtG creatures, because the small cackler demons from Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica could really fill the goblin niche.

rakdos-cackler-ryan-barger.jpg


They even have the Mimicry trait to mimic sounds and voices, so they could lay ambushes by mimicking past victims' cries for help or whatever.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
It's a shame they're MtG creatures, because the small cackler demons from Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica could really fill the goblin niche.

View attachment 150662

They even have the Mimicry trait to mimic sounds and voices, so they could lay ambushes by mimicking past victims' cries for help or whatever.
Now that they're in that book they're D&D creatures too, right?
 

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