Illustration by Tylor Walpole

Roots & Beginnings: Book of the Damned

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting gave readers a glimpse of the tortuous layers of Hell and the diabolical machinations of the archdevils who rule them, and The Great Beyond, A Guide to the Multiverse, scheduled to be released in June, will further whet the appetites of those who crave to add a healthy dose of the infernal to their game. The definitive treatise on Hell, however, is being written by none other than Paizo's own F. Wesley Schneider: Princes of Darkness—Book of the Damned, Volume 1. I had the chance to speak to Wes recently about the sources he consulted when writing this daunting tome, and how he managed to reconcile the mythological roots of Hell with the lore of previous editions of the game.

Wes: "The two primary sources of inspiration are obvious: Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno. Other influential real-world sources included the Lesser Key of Solomon—and the Dictionnaire Infernal.

"The problem is these sources have been used over and over in the game and in third-party supplements. The way the entries for individual demons are written in the Lesser Key, for example, they already sound as if they were appearing in RPG products. I tried to avoid using the entries that have been bandied about the game frequently, as they've had enough coverage already. I didn't want to use too many of the fiends from mythology that have already appeared in products like Necromancer's Tome of Horrors and Green Ronin's Book of Fiends, as they have lives and details of their own. The 1st Edition Monster Manual II has a list of names of demons—some are made up and so we can't use them, but the ones from obscure mythology were perfect.

"The problem with Hell, in my opinion, is that it is the red-headed step-child to the Abyss. Whereas the Abyss is infinitely large, full of an infinitely diverse number of cool monsters, Hell has been stereotyped as a place of boring rigidity ruled over by scary-looking dudes with whips and pitchforks and goatees. When I wrote The Book of the Damned, I wanted to get rid of these stereotypes, and to make the archdevils actually monsters, because that would be much cooler than just generic cackling overlords. I tried to draw on the mythology that was already established for them but make them more like monsters. A good example is Geryon—in the original game he was just a snake man with a spear. Classical Greek mythology, however, portrays him as a warrior possessing a human form from waist down, but with three torsos and six arms. For The Book of the Damned I mixed the both the mythological and game interpretations of Geryon into something at the same time evocative of past images, but still new and very cool.

"The biggest differences between the Pathfinder version of Hell and the classic interpretation in the game is that we play up the "law and order" aspect—it's more about tyrants and the hierarchy of Hell, in that while Hell is first and foremost a punishment, it also has a goal and intention, and the personalities there are ancient and have neat concepts behind them. Beyond just Asmodeus and the archdevils, there is a whole host of deity-like beings: infernal dukes (of whom there is unlimited room for further development and details), malebranche (powerful diabolical warlords sent out to conquer specific worlds), and a few other tiers I’ll save as surprises for the final book. The biggest thing is that there is a lot going on and it's interesting, and it sticks to both the lore of the game and the mythological roots; it also draws on interesting history of deities that have been subsumed by other religions."

Stay tuned for Part 2 of "Roots & Beginnings: Book of the Damned"!

David Eitelbach
Editorial Intern

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