Using Fiends as Monsters:

Fiends in RPGs

I mentioned in a previous post that back in the 1990’s Tipper Gore got all bent out of shape because  D&D used demons and devils as types of monsters. At the time, I dismissed her concerns. Nowadays, some 25ish years later, I think she may have had a legitimate concern.

In the intervening years, D & D has developed a significant body of information about the demons and devils it uses. Devils have talismans, and demons have amulets. Players that get a hold of such things, bathe them in blood, or perform some other hideous ritual, can gain power over these fiends.

Honestly, going into that much detail about fiends is something I find a little ill-advised. At least for children.

Fiends and the Real World

Of course, most people in the developed world these days do not believe in demons or devils. This is largely because of the success of science of having explained so much. And most scientists don’t give demons or devils a second thought.

However, in my personal experience “paranormal” phenomena, at least, are real. As to demons and devils, I wouldn’t rule them out. I do have unusual beliefs about Satan, though, but let’s jump off the real world discussion of fiends and get back to fantasy.

As far as the real world is concerned, I wouldn’t mind if the demons and devils in D & D were excised from material intended for children (and probably teens, too). Adults … well, I don’t know. Adults should be able to handle just about anything.

Fiends and the Fantasy World

Anyway, on to fantasy and using fiends.

The most common use of a fiend in D & D is as a powerful foe. 5th edition fiends are no different. Demogorgon, The Prince of Demons, for example, is challenge rating 26, I think. That makes him incredibly difficult to defeat. Likewise, for Orcus and a number of powerful Archdevils. They are all designed to be a challenge for even 20th level characters to take on.

The usual story is that there is a cult of demon or devil worshipers who must be destroyed bv the PCs. They might first encounter members of the cult as a low-level group. The demon cult might be the primary focus of a series of adventures. Or, the cult might linger in the background, its full scope and nature a secret, always intimated at but never fully divulged – until a final battle that exposes the fiend’s high priest. The priest is defeated, but now the PCs must seek out and destroy the fiend itself. Truly, a herculean task.

Warlocks and Fiends in 5th Edition D & D

Then there is the Warlock character class. Who, honestly, even for adults seems like a case in point of Tipper Gore’s concerns. I can see using the Warlock (Fiend) as an NPC, but a PC? Um, no. I would have no compunction against restricting Warlock PCs from making pacts with Fiends … actually, Warlocks, in general, rub me the wrong way. I probably wouldn’t allow them at all for PC’s in an adventure I DM’d.

Real World Sources for Fantasy Fiends

Of course, there are fiends that are completely disconnected from the real world. While you can find real world source material for Asmodeus (the Bible), Mammon (also, the Bible), Demogorgon (a misreading of the Greek demiurge – which comes from Plato’s Timaeus, I think), Orcus (Roman myth), and a host of other demons and devils, I think there are a number whose names were simply made up. For example, I don’t think there are real world sources on Yugoloths (or whatever they are), although I could be wrong.

Fiends as the Final Villain in a Campaign

In the end, though, I think something like fiends is really necessary for D & D. There has to be an end-level bad guy. Liches are fine, of course. As are ancient dragons. But, when presented as a foe, a powerful demon prince or Archdevil makes for a great finale. I mean, after that, what else can you fight? A Tarrasque, maybe? Or, I guess, an evil deity. But that, all things considered, is just about the same thing as a fiend.

Fiends and Worldbuilding

When building a world most DMs and authors prefer to develop their own fiends . And, I think, I would encourage that. Take it as an opportunity to stretch your creative muscles. Try to avoid using real world fiends, as tempting as they may be. Although many people probably don’t take exception to talk of demons and devils, there are some who might. Plus, when you start throwing in different cultures, there is a lot of opportunity to unwittingly cause problems. I mean, according to the Muslims, Satan was a Jinn.


RPGs, in my view, are the pinnacle of the “game” concept. Chess and Go and similar games, although great for strategy, don’t really incorporate chance. RPGs have everything. Strategy. Chance. Action. Mystery. Whatever you want. Don’t spoil it by unnecessarily invoking unsavory real world nasties. The more that comes from your own imagination, the better.  

Published by atoasttodragons

The author, Matthew D. Ryan, lives in northern New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, one of the largest lakes in the continental United States, famous for the Battle of Plattsburgh and the ever-elusive Lake Champlain Monster, a beastie more commonly referred to as Champy. Matthew has studied philosophy, mathematics, and computer science in the academic world. He has earned a black belt in martial arts.

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