Overall Rating: 9/10
The Book of Fiends, published by Green Ronin, delivers on what it promises: Fiends and a lot of them. Get it for the extensive lore, the various ruling figures of evil, and the LARGE collection of fiendish creatures. The player options are definitely worth a look, but another balance pass should be had, and since they’re such a small part of the book, it doesn’t have a ton of bearing on the score. Be warned! This book is not for the feint of heart, and it describes unapologetic evil and acts of wicked beings. Frankly, that’s a good thing, as a book exploring fiends should not shy away from the subject matter.
If you have any desire to run a campaign that encounter fiends, want to drop true evil into a campaign, or wish to flirt with an evil-aligned character or party, buy this book!
Product Title: The Book of Fiends: A compendium of demons, Daemons, & Devils for fifth edition
Published By: Green Ronin Publishing
Authors: Robert J. Schwalb, Aaron Loeb, Chris Pramas, Erik Mona
Get it Here: https://www.amazon.com/Book-Fiends-5E-Robert-Schwalb/dp/1949160017
The Book of Fiends is still in development, so I’m reviewing the work-in-progress, which those backing the book have access to. Most of the book (as far as I can tell) appears complete. What it’s missing at this point is mostly art, so I think this review will cover the meat of the fiendish tome. The score reflects missing information on variants for summoning demons, and some questionable player options. Overall though, I think this book is great as-is, and with a few editing/balancing passes, it should be a welcome addition to anyone’s 5th Ed. Library.
WARNING! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MATURE WRITTEN EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK OF FIENDS!
A Note on Devils vs. Demons
It seems many people are confused by the difference between The Abyss and the Nine Hells, which are quite separate things! Devils are creatures of law and inhabit the Nine Hells, whereas Demons are chaotic creatures who inhabit the layers of the Abyss. The Abyss and The Nine Hells are two different places, and the Blood War is waged in the outskirts of Gehenna (among other places) between demons and devils (who don’t like each other at all).
- THE FIENDS: This book is absolutely dripping with all sorts of evil to use for your games! There are twenty-two demon princes, various other fiendish lords, demons, devils, fallen angels, Qlippoth (which are cthulu-esque evils that came before demons roamed the Abyss), and “unspeakable evils.” The latter currently has no description from the in-progress copy of the game, but I take them to be fiend-type versions of creatures, such as the “Abyssal Dragon.” Lots to love here! Most of them also have stat blocks, and a small handful have lair descriptions with stated lair actions.
- The Locations: There are three principal locations covered here, which are The Abyss, Gehenna, and Hell. The Abyss is the chaotic realm of the demons, Hell is the lawful realm of devils with their malevolent contracts, and Gehenna is a war zone of neutral evil souls and mercenaries in the Blood War. Each of these locations are explored, with various details that really open up these otherwise shadowy areas of the multiverse.
Some of my favorite are those lurid, awful details of The Circle of Lust in Gehenna:
“The seeming paradise encompassed by the circle’s high walls masks the debauched underbelly and perils that unchecked lust present to incautious visitors. Visitors to this place might find their every want met for a time, only to find themselves hunted amidst the sighing souls, from which they might notice secret, resentful gazes. The lust-chained, daemon and damned alike, are ever driven to seek satisfaction, but can never find it, and so envy they living, who have not yet cursed themselves by cheapening their own passions with greed, deception, and cruelty.”-The Book of Fiends
- THE LORDS OF GEHENNA’S CIRCLES: Gehenna has seven circles, each creating a layer around a center circle of pride. These circles mimic the Christian-based seven deadly sins and are filled with such horrors born from them. Each is ruled by an exarch that exemplifies the central sin of that circle. These exarchs are perhaps my favorite piece of lore in the books, because they feel so unique and multi-dimensional despite being tightly linked to a sin. Just read this intriguing excerpt about the Exarch of Envy, Ulasta:
“Ulasta… An undead dragon of staggering power and size, she oversees the daemons in her dominion, all of whom worship her as a god, for she has what they cannot: death. Yet for all her might and majesty, Ulasta hides the envy she has for the living behind her cruel mask and plots endlessly to escape her prison of bone and sinew and become a living woman, able to feel the air fill her chest, to experience hunger, thirst, love, and want.”-The Book of Fiends
- The Demon Princes of the Abyss: Whoa are these princes ever full of danger! A few of these you might have heard of elsewhere in detail, like Abaddon, but others like Nocticula, Princess of Moonlight, you may know little of (if anything at all). Nevertheless, they are extremely cool and deadly! They all come with interesting titles, what their layer of the Abyss looks like, what interactions they might have with other princes, and what their followers typically deal in. Some of the more interesting princes (imo) are Eligor, The Goodly Knight, who teaches trickery and lies is the better part of valour. Or Decarabia, The Sovereign of the Seventy-Seven Airs, who is so enamored with birds in flight, she cut off her own legs to prove her dedication to winged things and irreverence for the ground.
- THE DEVILS OF THE NINE HELLS: These may not be the devils you’re used to, such as Zariel of Avernus, but rather the lesser devils that are their own kind of powerful and terrifying. Hadriel, for instance, is a Duchess of Mephistophele’s court, who has strengthened a vast presence on the material plane in the form of the “Shrieking Violet Society,” which serves a deceptive, ulterior motive for her. These are the sort of nuances that allow you to place evil schemes into a character’s world without them being aware, and they also give you a deeper view into the aims and means of fiends mentioned in the book.
- New Spells: Some great, thoughtful additions here. Evoke Chaos, for instance, allows you to roll a d8 in addition to another roll, adding the value on an even amount and reducing the value on an odd result. Neat! Rage, gives you a mini barbarian rage, with a lot of extra damage in exchange for 1d6 extra psychic damage at the end of each turn. As a 2nd-level spell, it seems unbalanced, since you can add 2d6 damage to each melee attack in exchange for only 1d6 damage. At higher levels, this gets increasingly more powerful for melee fighters, but then again, fighters could use more damage output to keep pace with casters at higher levels. There are 17 new spells in this version of the Book.
- SOME PLAYER OPTIONS: Some things are great, such as the feat, Favor of Mytaxx, which allows you the chance to rob a creature when you hit it with an attack! Very cool! It is a touch strong in my opinion, because you can do it without spending a reaction (though the DM has final say of what it is you steal). Regardless, this is the kind of thing I want to see from player options in the fiend folio!
Many other options are great, but a few are in need of a balance sweep (either because they are potentially too strong or too weak). Player options such as the Barbarian’s Path of the Infernal Hunt turns you into a rabid, demonic beast, but I wonder if the ability to shapeshift into low CR creatures like a CR1 Tiger is actually useful at 10th character level. Other options exist for Barbarians, Clerics, Paladins, and Warlocks.
The (Potentially) Bad
- SOME PLAYER OPTIONS: There are seven feats; each of them describe the favor of some exarch of Gehenna. For instance, the “Favor of Tyrexxus”, which is just plain bad. Taking this feat gives you a +1 to Strength and whenever you take damage, you must use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack. You choose the target of this attack randomly, and if you can’t use reactions, you take 1d6 psychic damage. Yikes! That reads like quite the punishment for no reward! The psychic damage increases with higher levels. There’s no real benefit to this feat besides a +1 to strength, so why would anyone ever take it?
Other things that I’m not sure about are the Deceiver Warlock’s “Slippery Eel” feature to roll literally any saving throw with advantage. Always and forever. And no, it’s not limited by a rest. At the same time, I really like this subclass, which is all about charming, deceiving, and corrupting others through your influence. Likewise, the Demon Lord subclass just feels like it’s lacking something; it may be that its “Demonic Might” feature is simply a worse version of the Deceiver Warlock’s “Slippery Eel”, granting 10 temporary hit points and advantage on all saving throws for 1 round, which can only be used once per short or long rest. Feels like oversight, but again, the book isn’t in a finished state.
- VARIANT SUMMONING OPTIONS: The book explains there are variant summoning rules, but I can’t find them anywhere. Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong place, which would be a shame, because I really want to see this! Any book on fiends feels incomplete without some structured way to summon such evil entities. Hopefully it comes in an update!
Summoning Horde Demons Useful?
5th edition recently introduced new templated forms of summoning in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, which is (in some ways) in conflict with certain, older summoning spells, including those in this new Book of Fiends. The new summoning spells in Tasha’s have templated summoning for demons and devils, scaling in power with the spell slot used, which is great. The same, however, cannot be said for the Summon Horde Demon spell in this book (and its multiple versions), which allows you to summon a particular type of demon and no other, with no upcasting at a higher spell slot. I find this to be particularly limiting and wish instead it could be opened up to a larger subset of fiends found in this book, such as the Infernal Calling spell in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything allows.