|Asmodeus, King of Hell, as depicted in Dungeon #197 (2011). Art by Brian Valenzuela.|
|Title(s)||King of Hell, Lord of Lies, Overlord of the hells|
|Home Plane||Nine Hells|
|Portfolio||Power, domination, tyranny|
|Domains||Diabolic, Evil, Law|
|Alias(es)||Dark Lord of Nessus, Ahriman|
Asmodeus is an Archdevil of the Nine Hells (Baator), and the Overlord of the Dukes of Hell. He is the leader of the devil race. He uses several symbols, including a clawed fist gripping a skull, a ruby-tipped rod, and an inverted pentagram.
Asmodeus retained his position all through the Reckoning of Hell, unlike many of the other archdevils. Asmodeus is lord of Nessus, the Ninth Layer of Hell, though he is generally recognized as lord of all Baator.
Asmodeus has the power to alter the form of lesser devils, including the other Lords of Baator. He transformed Mammon into a humanoid/serpent hybrid, and cursed Baalzebul with the form of a gigantic slug with tiny, useless arms.
Through all four editions of Dungeons & Dragons, Asmodeus is depicted as the strongest, most cunning, and most handsome of all devils. He is typically described as appearing as a giant human, over 13 feet tall, with dark skin and hair, red eyes, handsome features, and small horns on his forehead. He dresses in regal finery of unimaginable expense. Beneath his clothing, Asmodeus's body is covered in bloody wounds which he sustained when he fell from the Upper Planes. His wounds ooze blood daily, and the drops of his blood which touch the ground grow into powerful devils.
Asmodeus has several strategic alliances with evil gods, including Set and Hecate, who supply clerics of diabolic cults with spells in exchange for Asmodeus's help with other matters. He has an understanding of sorts with Hextor.
Asmodeus has instigated several long-running feuds among the gods, and has dozens more in the works. He attempts to trick the gods into fighting one another so that their worshippers will become discontented with their squabbling nature, and turn to atheism or diabolic cults instead.
The following beings are among the most notable subjects of Asmodeus on Nessus, outside of the Dark Eight and the other Lords of the Nine. The forces at their disposal are listed, where appropriate:
- Adramalech — Chancellor of Hell, Keeper of Records (DR76).
- Alastor the Grim, pit fiend — Executioner.
- Baalberith, pit fiend — Major domo.
- Bensozia — Consort of Asmodeus, Queen of Hell (deceased) (DR76).
- Buer — 15 companies of pit fiends (DR76).
- Bune — 30 companies of cornugons (DR76).
- Glasya - Daughter of Asmodeus and Bensozia, former Mistress of the Erinyes, now Lord of the Sixth (DR76).
- Martinet, pit fiend — Constable.
- Morax — 9 companies of pit fiends (DR76).
- Phongor — Inquisitor of Hell (DR76).
- Rimmon— 5 companies of gelugons (DR76).
- Selm — Prince of Possessors (DR42).
- The Spark Hunters - Lord Asmodeus's personal guard of 13 barbed devil rangers/mortal hunters who capture and/or slay mortals who draw their master's ire.
- Zagum — 30 companies of hamatula (DR76).
The following beings once served in Asmodeus's court:
Asmodeus is devoted to oppression and might. He imposes strict rules and harsh punishments on his followers. The cult of Asmodeus urges its adherents to seek power over others, to repay evil with further evil, to exploit kindness for personal gain, and to show no compassion for the weak and downtrodden.
Though Asmodeus's faith is by far the largest of the diabolic cults, few of Asmodeus' followers are known by name. A notable exception is Christophe Jean Markosian, "The Devil Behind Thrones," a hierarch of the Horned Society. Most of Asmodeus's worshippers are based in the towns and cities of humans and demihumans, though Asmodeus has some monstrous followers as well. His cultists use his faith as a stepping stone to wealth and power. They form secret alliances, using their wealth and connections to bring status and power to other members of the society.
The favored weapon of Asmodeus's clerics is the heavy mace.
In most lands, temples to Asmodeus are hidden subterranean complexes, though in places dominated by lawful evil, they may dominate the landscape. If a cult of Baalzebul overthrows the local government, cultists of Asmodeus typically assume control of their headquarters to bring the local diabolism into its "establishment phase."
Asmodeus is never seen without his Ruby Rod, a glowing rod of pure ruby as old as time itself that serves as a badge of office, as well as having several powerful offensive and defensive powers.
A 4-foot shaft of solid ruby, the Ruby Rod was crafted from a single ruby of incredible size, bathed in the blood of a thousand mortal sacrifices, quenched in the acid drool of Tiamat, and polished with the tears of 777 angels. The Rod also displays the names of several good-aligned deities spelt backwards. Fourth edition's Demonomicon (2010) states that it was formed from a shard of evil from the heart of the Abyss (p. 9).
The Rod functions as a weapon of epic power, delivering streams of vitriol, crackling death, or frigid wind. Its majesty often leaves creatures staring helplessly at it, and its magic can save its wielder from even the most grievous harm or ailment.
Myths and legends
At least three different accounts of Asmodeus's rise to power have appeared in D&D literature. However, as these stories are told as myths, it is difficult to verify which, if any, is most accurate.
The Politics of Hell
In Dragon # 28, the article "The Politics of Hell" by Alexander von Thorn details the history and politics of Hell in the AD&D universe. This article gives a different history to that detailed below, and includes statistics for Satan, Belial and Astaroth. Satan is more powerful than any other Devil, but lacks support, having been exiled from hell by Beelzebub following a revolution. Beelzebub ("Lord of the Archdevils") was himself overthrown by Asmodeus and is forever after known as Baalzebul ("Lord of the Flies," with "flies" meaning "little devils" in this context).
The Book of Vile Darkness somewhat backs up this story, as it states that while Asmodeus is the oldest devil in the Nine Hells, he may not be the original ruler.
A Guide to Hell and the 3rd edition Manual of the Planes suggest a different story. According to a scholar named "Chrystos" in Guide to Hell, the multiverse was originally nothing but swirling Chaos. Gods slowly formed in the primal confusion, and among them formed the greatest of Law's champions, the Twin Serpents Jazirian and Ahriman. In the beginning they were intimately intertwined with one another, Jazirian's tail in Ahriman's mouth and vice versa. Together they established the fundamental principles of the planes: the Unity of Rings, the Rule of Threes, and the Center of All, creating the ring-shape of the cosmos, the triads that dominate it, and the plane of neutrality called the Concordant Opposition or the Outlands.
Ahriman and Jazirian, who originally worked together in all things, warred over which plane would be the center of everything. Ahriman chose Baator and Jazirian chose Heaven. They struggled so greatly that, with their tails still in one another's mouths, they forcibly tore apart. The blood from Jazirian's damaged tail formed the first couatls, while the blood of Ahriman, whose terrible fall created a vast pit called the Serpent's Trench, formed the first pit fiends. Ahriman, wounded and imprisoned by the laws he himself created, now goes by the guise of his avatar, the archfiend Asmodeus, while Jazirian remains quietly in the background, using her couatls to gather intelligence on Ahriman's goals.
No one who tells the story of the true form of Asmodeus survives more than 24 hours after the telling, though it is said that dusty records in the fortress of Demogorgon record this knowledge.
The Pact Primeval
According to Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells, Asmodeus began life as a servant of the lawful gods. Asmodeus is described in some versions of the myth as an "angel." He was "the bravest, toughest, fiercest and most beautiful of angels." He and the other angels were created to fight the demons of the Abyss, so that the gods could concern themselves with creating worlds and sentient beings.
After eons of fighting the creatures from the Abyss, Asmodeus and some of his fellows began to change. They grew similar in appearance and methods to the demons which they fought. Afraid of his power and of the changes he had undergone, the gods put Asmodeus on trial and demanded that he be cast out of the Upper Planes. However, he argued effectively (and correctly) that he and his fellows had not violated the Law. Asmodeus and his followers successfully sued for access to the Upper Planes and the honors to which they were entitled.
Once the gods created worlds and sentient beings, the demons attacked these, too. The gods created mountains, oceans, and wastelands to seal up the gates to the Abyss, but their creations defied their orders and explored their worlds, accidentally unsealing the gates. The gods could not understand why their creations did not follow their instructions, until Asmodeus explained to them that their system did not work because it relied solely upon voluntary compliance. Asmodeus explained that the only way to ensure obedience was to threaten mortals with a disincentive; hence, Asmodeus invented the concept of punishment.
Asmodeus convinced the gods to sign a contract called the Pact Primeval. This contract allowed Asmodeus and his fellow devils to take up residence in the abandoned realm of Baator, to punish the souls of wicked mortals, and to extract magical energy from the souls under their care in order to fuel their powers. Otherwise, Asmodeus reasoned, they would have to be granted the powers of godhood in order to do their job, which the current gods would surely find unacceptable.
At first, the gods found the arrangement agreeable. However, they eventually realized that fewer and fewer mortal souls were ascending to the Upper Planes, and Asmodeus was deliberately tempting mortals to damnation. When they arrived in Baator, the gods found that Asmodeus had turned it into a nightmarish world of endless suffering, filled with countless new devils. When called to account for his actions, Asmodeus uttered the famous words, "read the fine print."
This story is presented as mythology, and Fiendish Codex II itself admits that it does not tell the whole truth. For example, it is known that Asmodeus did not depart from the Upper Planes under amicable circumstances: He was cast out, and literally fell into the Lower Planes, sustaining serious wounds which have never healed. Part of Asmodeus' long-term plans includes using the magical energy harvested from souls in order to heal his wounds, and ultimately, the complete destruction of the Upper Planes, as well as to one day achieve godhood.
The names of the "gods" involved seem to change depending on what world and source the myth is told on, and some aspects and versions of the origin myth contradict others. For example, the version told in the Fiendish Codex II states that Saint Cuthbert became a distinct deity when he agreed with Asmodeus that "retribution is the basis of all Law," while the Deities & Demigods sourcebook states that Cuthbert is a mortal who ascended to godhood.
He Who Was
The core setting of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition offers yet another origin for Asmodeus, identifying him as a former angel in service to a god only known as He Who Was. Asmodeus, as one of the greatest of the angels, was entrusted with leading angelic hosts in battle against the enemies of the gods. Though he served He Who Was loyally, Asmodeus believed that his deific master was far too forgiving and unwilling to use force. After the conflict, which came to be known as the Dawn War, Asmodeus was assigned to guard the entrance to the prison of the god Tharizdun which was located in the Abyss. The demon lord Pazuzu appeared to Asmodeus, as detailed in Demonomicon (2010), and encouraged the angel to act on his thoughts of rebellion against He Who Was. Asmodeus returned to Baathion, the realm of He Who Was, gathered those angels who would join his side, and instigated a rebellion that ended with his former master's death. With his last moments of life, He Who Was cursed Asmodeus and all the angels who had followed him. The angels were transformed into the first devils, and the beautiful astral dominion of Baathion was transformed into a prison realm known as the Nine Hells of Baator. Asmodeus assumed the divine might of the fallen deity and became a god himself, albeit one trapped inside his own dominion.
Asmodeus is named for the Judeo-Christian demon, Asmodai from the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit and for a fallen angel of the same name who appears in John Milton's Paradise Lost.
Asmodeus debuted in the first edition Monster Manual (1977), and his realm was further detailed in Ed Greenwood's "The Nine Hells Part II" in Dragon #76 (1983). Asmodeus did not initially appear in 2nd edition, and in the Planescape line the lord of Nessus was unnamed and mostly a secret. Eventually, the Lord of the Ninth was revealed indeed as Asmodeus, in Guide to Hell (1999). In third edition, Asmodeus appeared along with the other lords of the Nine Hells in the Book of Vile Darkness (2002). He was further detailed in Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells (2006). Asmodeus appears as one of the gods of evil in the 4th edition Dungeon Masters Guide (2008).
The Dragon magazine article, "The Politics of Hell," in issue #28 mentions older kings of Hell such as Satan, who was deposed by Baalzebul, who was in turn deposed by Asmodeus. This idea was never considered canonical, but an allusion to it resurfaced in a vague reference decades later in the Book of Vile Darkness. This was revised completely in Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells, when Asmodeus was confirmed as the original founder of the current, Baatezu dominated, Nine Hells during the signing of the Pact Primeval. Manual of the Planes mentions a supposed legend that the form of Asmodeus seen by the other archdukes and visitors was merely a specter or aspect, and that his true form, that of a titanic, serpent-like devil, resided at the bottom of the canyon known as "Serpent's Coil," so named for the outline he made when he hit the surface of Nessus, still wounded from his fall out of the upper planes. Fiendish Codex II does not directly contradict the story, but does seem to retcon it, mentioning in its description of Nessus that Serpent's Coil is shaped for the spiraling path Asmodeus fell, and that his Malsheem sits at the bottom of that canyon. The assertion seems to contradict the idea that Asmodeus's "true form" was serpentine, and brings it into line with the Pact Primeval account. Most angels, after all, are humanoid in form. The idea of his wounds, however, remains. In 2nd Edition's Guide To Hell it was stated that Asmodeus was a Lawful Evil or corrupted Lawful Neutral serpentine entity, who along with his Lawful Good counterpart serpent Jazirian, was responsible for the current ring-shaped structure of the Outer Planes. Asmodeus fell once their embrace ended as they struggled over the proper role of Law, eventually plummeting all the way to the Serpent's Coil in Baator. Guide to Hell claimed that his wish was to destroy all creation by making all sentient beings atheists, and thus negating the belief energy holding the Outer Planes together, so that he may fill the void and create it entirely in his own image, without the help of any other deity.' Few of these theories have appeared in subsequent books, or possessed a foundation in prior material, though the theme of Asmodeus as a fallen being of Law has remained. Second Edition's Hellbound: The Blood War and Faces of Evil: The Fiends present another version of Baator and Asmodeus's history and origins. These sources state that the Baatezu only supplanted the original natives of the plane, the Ancient Baatorians, and were themselves first created as the lawful spawn of the General of Gehenna's purification of the early yugoloths. The chronology of the Blood War in Hellbound also states that Baator's Lords of the Nine only appeared in their positions around or slightly after the Blood War began, but also before the existence of deities. Asmodeus himself is left intentionally dark and largely undefined, though his power is made clear, with more detail devoted to the history of his race and their conquered plane.
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