Oh look, D&D put out a book about demons! How controversial!! :eek:
You see, once upon a time the game was accused of being a way to teach kids witchcraft. That was a long time ago (70s-80s) though there’s some people who still believe that (religious zealots, mostly). Actually The Demonomicon is another 4th edition sourcebook that describes one of the game’s extraplanar settings- in this case, The Abyss, home of the demons. While I can understand what they were aiming at, they could have called the book something more neutral, like “Guide to the Abyss”.
The book basically explains the origins of the plane, provides a high-level campaign against Demon Lords, and of course, describes lots and lots of infernal creatures to be used in this and other D&D campaigns. As with most 4th Edition books this is basically a reinvention of existing ideas and characters from the earlier editions, but there are plenty of new ones as well.
Why is D&D so obsessed with demons? Seriously, all the way from the very first edition of the Monster Manual there were demons and demon lords described (that certainly didn’t help their reputation.) I guess it’s because a) demons make good RPG monsters- they’re utterly evil and unnatural, so even the most touchy-feely player would not complain about killing them for experience and money like they would, say, Orcs or wolves. And b) they give a sort of realistic touch to the game since many of them are taken from literary sources like Dante’s Inferno. The rest are made up for the game, and since they are so unnatural, people had fun creating the most bizarre fiends without worrying if they made sense or not.
So, what is the origin of the Abyss? It’s actually a surprisingly original and interesting one: the plane, which is basically a colossal maelstrom with the demonic realms floating in it as it spirals down like planets orbiting a black hole, was created when a god named Tarizdun (some of you may recognize that name from some D&D novels) “planted” a shard of Ultimate Evil in the plane of Elemental Chaos. But where did that shard come from? From another universe, it turns out: one that had been destroyed due to the manipulations of evil beings called the Obyriths. Dying themselves as a result, the Obyriths sent the shard into the regular D&D universe hoping it would build a connection they could use, and it did; when the Abyss was created they slipped into it and became the first Demon Lords. Note this is a secret known to very few beings, even most demon lords; the Obyriths are actually secretly working together to conquer this universe, though they pretend to fight each other like the “younger” demon lords do, to avoid attracting suspicion. The campaign included is precisely about the Obyriths’s plan to conquer the Abyss and then the rest of the universe. Pretty clever stuff!
Oh, the book itself has its own “legends”: supposedly the Demonomicon (and yes I know they are ripping off the Necronomicon from the Cthulhu mythos) was written by a sorceress named Iggwiz who not only mastered demon summoning but bound a demon prince to her will and became his consort (!) Again, nice touch of story background.
The book describes several of the 666 (ohh, cute) layers of the Abyss, some of its demon lords (others can be found in the 3 current Monster Manuals) and loads of monsters mainly demons. The art is very good, novel-cover quality I’d say.
Overall, The Demonomicon makes a very interesting read and a very good sourcebook if you are planning on using any demonic stuff in your campaign. About the only thing I’d complain about (besides offending the religiously sensitive of course) is that reading page after page of “this being is SO evil!!!” can get old after a while, so I recommend you don’t read the whole thing in one sitting.