Pathfinder Chronicles: Book of the Damned—Volume 1: Princes of Darkness (PFRPG) (based on
Paizo Publishing, LLC
Abandon All Hope...
From the origin of the gods to the inhabitants of the darkest infernal pit, Princes of Darkness: Book of the Damned Volume 1 is an unflinching look at the methods, motivations, and goals of Asmodeus, the archdevils, and the entire hierarchy of Hell. Whether you’re planning to storm the gates of Avernus or trade in the exotic and immoral markets of Dis, or simply want to add a splash of diabolical flavor to a standard campaign, this 64-page book is full of delicious temptations worthy of Faust himself.
Princes of Darkness includes:
A layer-by-layer description of Hell and its rulers
The hierarchy of Hell, and how devils are promoted
The role and duties of each kind of devil, including the infernal dukes and the herald of Asmodeus
Guidelines for infernal contracts
Devil talismans, true names, and their uses
New Hell-themed spells, magic items, and artifacts
The diabolist prestige class, complete with imp companion
Five new kinds of devils, from the blaspheming apostate devil to the relentless levaloch
(Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4)
Disclaimer: I write for Paizo and I know Wes Schneider, and he’s the Editor-In-Chief. That may completely disqualify this review. If you can get past that, what I have to say may help you decide whether you want to buy this book or post your own review.
“Is misery made beautiful right before our eyes
Will mercy be revealed or blind us where we stand?”
-Sarah McLachlan, Witness
I have owned this book for approximately four years. During that time, I have referred to it, referenced it, but never just sat down and read it from cover to cover. You know? Like prose instead of an encyclopedia. Recently I was given an assignment that required some insight into the matter of Hell and devils and I grabbed this book. Something in me said, “Why don’t you just read the entire thing, with an eye towards enjoyment rather than just select paragraphs. Take it all in.”
I was glad I did. At this risk of being a suck-up, this is a magnificent piece of work. Allow me to articulate why. Mr. Schneider is not only a skilled editor, the man can write. This is not a book of interesting facts, it borders on poetry. Each sentence is lovingly crafted and considered. Every word is rich and evocative and he spares no imagery to communicate his vision of Hell, it’s denizens, his concepts, and plot hooks and adventure seeds. I imagine he paced the floor after writing each paragraph in order to scrutinize how it might be made better, or he wrote this while high and drunk during a raging thunderstorm. It is poetic without being poetry. What exactly do I mean? The imagery is savage, hideous, and monstrous and yet somehow beautiful.
Let me give you an example of the language:
The pristine halls and lavish sanctuaries of Baalzebul’s court are dedicated to his profane glory, perverted visions of a grand cathedral that hide shrines filled with fly-ridden sacrifices and cesspit-like chevets. Within the heights of Betzebbul’s central spire lies the throne room of the archfiend. Here, more than half dead, hangs the suspended and shackled corpse of the forgotten god Azhia, endlessly fed upon by the innumerable flies that make up Baalzebul’s verminous form.
Within the deepest pits of Hell, profane smiths rip ingenious blasphemies from the minds of the damned and sculpt soulflesh into creations of unparalleled malignancy. Several diabolical masterworks, creations of exceptional depravity, appear through accounts of history’s darkest annals, leaving wakes of ruin and damnation in their heinous paths.
The entire book is that lavish and evocative, save perhaps certain sections of game mechanics which would not be well served by it anyway.
I give this book an easy five stars. I also offer a bucket of tears that Wes’s duties only permit him to write the occasional sourcebook. Would should be so lucky and fortunate if he would, one day, captain a Bastardhall project.
In addition to fantastic prose, there is a generous helping of actual game mechanics (spells, items, artifacts), all of which appear balanced—including a prestige class and 5 new demons. There is something for everyone. Let me stress, it’s cool just to read it.
I would love to see a hellmouth creature someday. It would be weird without a standard movement, but I love the idea of a “living” portal with eyes and other features.
That concludes my review, but I have a few remarks I am going to put behind spoiler tags.
Wes avoids something I have seen in other books and I double down on my praise of him for not following suit. What follows is editorial.
I am not a fan of a certain sentence structure that goes like this:
“Scholars and sages whisper about this interesting thing but nobody can tell you anything else about it.”
“Only the Gods know how Groetus was transformed into cheese and on this topic they will neither speak or nor answer.”
I’m somewhat sick of “X” alluding to something cool and but then the author shuts the topic back down. I enjoyed the Great Beyond, but at times I wanted to hurl that book across the room for this reason.
Let me be clear. Wes never does this in this book. I award him a 6th Special Devil Star for that reason. I understand what is happening when authors do that. Bless their hearts they’re trying to add a little bitty plot hook to the setting and let the GM run with it, or see if anybody gets excited by it. That is a laudable goal. My issue is that it gets repetitive, fast, to the degree it has become a pet peeve of mine. Rather I would have authors introduce a little tidbit to the setting and just let the reader draw their own conclusion. Wes does this well in this book with the Ihyssige, in the Hell Realm of Stygia. That is a mystery which Wes does not explain and it works beautifully. When other authors have all these scholars, sages, mad hermits, and gods who introduce topics and then refuse to elaborate, what the author is communicating to me (the reader) is “Hey, I am being intentionally vague here.” Trust me buddy, I figured that out on my own.
In, Princes of Darkness, Wes takes responsibility for writing about Hell, Asmodeus, and the whole infernal gang and does so with authority. When he wants to leave a plot hook open for the GM to explore, he does so without an awkward declaration of that intent. If the Gods want to point something out and refuse to discuss it further—they may do so one single time per 64 page sourcebook. In Princes of Darkness, it never happens. Kudos.
Here is some constructive feedback. It in no way warrants the loss of a star. It is minor stuff (and no not grammar and punctuation).
There are a couple contradictions within certain sections.
One example is “Escaping an Infernal Contract”. The second paragraph goes to some length to explain that devils are loathe to renegotiate an infernal contract and explains why. The next paragraph goes on to suggest that devils have no issue with renegotiating infernal contracts and explains why. I was left asking, “Well, which is it? They hate it or they’re fine with it?”
I get what Wes is trying to say here. In principal, obtaining a better soul is always good business. Yet, devils are cautious because mortals inevitably try to change the terms in their favor. This happens to the point of being predictable—and it is seldom worth their consideration.
Another example exists in “True Names and Infernal Sigils”. I was left confused by the first section which suggested it was easier to discover a devil’s sigil because it is used in Hell and must appear on infernal contracts. To discover a true name is harder, because you have to actually hear it and the sigil doesn’t automatically translate to the name. That makes sense, though I noted it would be rough to learn a true name in that case. The next section on “Discovering True Names and Infernal Sigils” contradicts that by providing a means of how true name can be discovered through academic research.
This not a big deal. I actually prefer there is a means to learn the true names through research. I’m just pointing out the small contradiction.
I went looking for summon hellmouth. When I googled it I saw that it has been brought to Wes’s attention already. I won’t belabor it. This review was written WITHOUT reading the forums or consolation of previous reviews. I read the whole book so I reviewed it all by myself.
Bottom line, I think this is one of the best sourcebooks I ever read, and these are the only issues that I felt worthy to mention in a 64 page book written by a single author. That’s outstanding. I only mention them because I feel one honors the author/creator by taking the time to offer whatever stuff you can to improve their craft; to offer a meaningful and constructive critique rather than just empty praise. That was the best I had because this book already sets the bar high from the start.
If you're going to buy this product, do yourself a favor and pick up the second half. Together these supplements are one of the best supplement products created for the campaign setting. They give you a clear view of hell and the agenda and politics within. They go over each of the lords of hell in detail and will actually make you want a campaign there.
I must admit, that as I am a fan of using devils and the Hells as the focus of my campaigns I’m a bit bias towards liking this book.
The book is a 64 page, softcover book focused on a specific topic which comes in at only $20; just how I like my supplement material. The layout and artwork are both impressive and the Book of the Damned Vol. 1 provides a wealth of exciting material as well as a handful of new options for players and GMs alike, including spells, magic items, and even a prestige class. The book also contains a few new and cool devils. Much of the book is fluff, however, but while it seems both well written and well thought out, many people might not appreciate having less usable material in favor of flavor.
In my personal campaigns I’ve gotten a lot of use out of this book, but it will likely not appeal to anyone who isn’t running or playing a game centered around devious and devilish foes. For anyone who is I strongly recommend this book.
First volume in Books of the Damned - a series on Evil outsiders - concerns with Devils, the good old manipulative LE schemers of the D&D world. Wes Schneider tackles the job of improving over 3.5ed Fiendish Codex II, which wasn't all that great. Let's see how it goes.
Chapter 1 describes the archdevils (Asmodeus included) and their realms, the layers of hell. No statblocks are given, due to Pathfinder not having epic rules to handle that yet.
Chapter 2 provides information on the ecology of the regular devils, as well as some information on other denizens of hell. I really liked the Whore Queens idea, I must admit.
Chapter 3 presents rules for mortal involvement with devils. Infernal contracts, devil binding, fiendish spells and magic items and a Prestige Class - the Diabolist - are all here. I think it's the best chapter in this book, one that I've actually used.
Chapter 4 is the compulsory bestiary section. Four new devils to pit against your players.
Now, what's my conclusion? Honestly, the style of writing puts me off. The author sinks into Dante/Milton inspiration somewhat too deeply and the result borders on purple prose, with superfluous passages that feel like taken out of some Romantism novel.
The maledictions of the archdevils and their personal histories and drama are are all very well thought out, but this book has very little substance for a GM that runs something less...dramatic. I didn't get that much use out of this book as I hoped for.
For a primer on how to write such book as to make it a worakble source for the GM, refer to the next volume in series, Lords of Chaos, which is far better.
I was highly disappointed with this book - the 3.5e WotC Fiendish Codices 1-2 are MUCH MUCH BETTER.
The authors of both Volume 1 and 2 made a good effort, with an obvious desire to show off their vast vocabulary or thesaurus skills (some of their word choices were bizarre, I mean seriously, I don't want to pick up a dictionary on every page). I get it - you guys like big words. Exciting details of the realms governed by the Lords were poor to say the least, no maps are provided, and the excerpts from the Book of the Damned uses a font extremely difficult to read.
Volume 1 made no mention of this but Volume 2 states that statistics for the Lords are not needed as they would completely destroy any heroes (other than Epic) that dared to challenge them. This was disappointing and one of the few running complaints I have had with the Pathfinder books as a whole, including stats for the Gods.
The artwork is for the most part very good. Graz'zt and other of my favorites were not carried over for IP/proprietary reasons I assume.
Having played D&D for ~ 31 years now...I'm hypercritical of course, but Paizo/Pathfinder has saved D&D for me. WOTC's 4e was the last straw. With that being said, these two books were my first two disappointments in the Pathfinder texts.
The 1e Manual of the Planes about the Infernal Realms was riveting, I read those sections over and over. I have always wanted to run an Infernal campaign "Paladin in Hell" etc. but these books don't provide enough detail to significantly help this project - if anything is emphasized, it's the politics of the Infernal Realms. The Blood War is hardly touched upon either.
The books are short, also disappointing.
This is basically the same review I posted for Volume 2.
I hope in the future these are redesigned, reworked, expanded with numerous maps and statistics, and re-released using new authors.