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Tanar'ri (pronounced: /tɑːˈnɑːrritah-NAHR-ree[3] or: /tɛˈnɑːriteh-NAH-ree[4] or: /təˈnɑːrituh-NAHR-ee[5]) were the dominant race of demons in the Abyss, evil souls warped by its raw chaos into manifestations of mortal failing. Whether they arose naturally from sins and spirits, or were shaped by evil gods or other powerful demons, all tanar'ri were embodiments of vice, depraved inner demons spawned from the darkest corners of mortal minds.[6][7][8]

Purveyors of ill intent and creatures of utter cruelty, it's likely that the tanar'ri are the most mean-spirited and thoroughly evil monsters in existence. They view life as a nuisance. They see the living as toys to be savagely abused and then discarded. They care for nothing but themselves, and they don’t even care about themselves all that much... The tanar’ri are destructive, petty, and hateful, proud to exemplify all the worst that can come from chaos.
— Jessyme Rauch, Tanar’ri Specialist Extraordinaire[9]

Description[]

By their very nature as beings of chaos, it was a mistake to assume that the tanar'ri had any physical traits shared across the entire race. From their skin to their organs, any sense of patterns or logical progression was absent.[10] While a common set of standard forms appeared frequently enough to give the appearance of a classification system, the truth was that for every known shape of the tanar'ri there were perhaps dozens unknown.[11]

The only true rule behind the form of the tanar'ri was that they followed function, each shape an adaptation to the infinitely inhospitable depths of the Abyss. It was believed that some layers housed particular types of tanar'ri, and that those in small secluded regions might all share the same basic forms.[10][11] Furthermore, the tanar'ri were mutable, always in a state of individual evolution to grow stronger, the path of which also depended on the nature of their environment.[12] In short, the tanar'ri form followed no ultimate pattern because the lives and lands of the tanar'ri followed no ultimate pattern, with some types being entirely unique.[10][11]

Despite not following any overall rules, there were some major commonalities when it came to the tanar'ri forms. Most tanar'ri had some humanoid features due to their close ties to the mortal realm,[13] but many of the earliest varieties were monstrous and primeval in appearance with little if any such traits, the raw chaos of the Abyss leaving them in such bestial forms. Furthermore, many tanar'ri were also noted to share an odd feature in that parts of them seemed artificial, almost mechanical in appearance. Some, like the hezrou and glabrezu for example, had half-organic plating under their flesh. These were the markings of alterations made by the sibriex to the still-developing tanar'ri long ago.[8][14]

Personality[]

Just how bad are the tanar’ri, anyway? Take the worst mortal murderer, the most amoral human monster imaginable. Now imagine all the horrors he’s committed on his victims (steel yourself!) — wearing their skins, devouring their bodies, and other unspeakable acts — and multiply that by a hundred, a thousand. That mindless callousness and disregard for others, coupled with savage delight in pain and suffering, merely scratches the surface (the surface!) of the tanar’ric mindset. At least mortals who commit reprehensible actions usually feel some twinge of guilt; the tanar’ri revel in the misery they inflict.
— The dwarf Michil Kedell[15]

If the obyriths that came before them embodied the chaos of the Abyss, then the tanar'ri were incarnations of its evil.[8] Indeed, the tanar'ri were bred for evil, as well as torment and corruption,[16] not simply existing, but reveling in anarchy and bloodshed in accordance with their twisted desires.[16][12] It was these desires, not doctrines, that fueled the violent inner drives which seemed insane to other beings.[17] They delighted in cruelty towards the weak[18] and mercilessly reigned over others[19][20] with capricious, gleeful savagery.[12] Cold-heartedly callous yet burningly passionate,[16][18][21] the tanar'ri acted on bursts of manic insight and creativity,[22] and directed all of their energy into satisfying the most selfish and hateful of their urges.[18]

The vile tastes of the tanar'ri ran wide; they took perverse pleasure in the torture of the mind as well as the body. Scale was also no deterrent since the leapt at the opportunity to inflict brutalities big and small, from burning the flesh from bodies to plucking off the limbs of insects.[18] Anything that moved was at risk of being killed and anything that talked was at risk of being cheated,[20] for the tanar'ri had hate for all things that lived and even some that did not.[12] Simply put, the tanar'ri were chaotic evil personified,[17] creatures to whom the concepts of love and friendship had been long-forgotten as anything but tools to inspire hope to be manipulated and crushed in a world colored only by fury and bleak hate.[21]

You want to understand the tanar'ri? Here's how. Look into yourself. Find the core of hatred there. Don’t worry if you can’t find it right away. Just keep searching. Eventually, you'll peel away the skin of what you thought was virtue and find a writhing pit of darkest sin. Even if you’re one of the purest berks in existence, you'll still discover the part of you that's blacker than any ebony. The part that tastes of bitterness, despair, and envy. The part that tastes, most of all, of rage at all the things you can't change and all the things you might have. Hold that malevolent core in the palm of your mind for a time. Picture it expanding, slowly growing to become the size of your entire heart. Feel it thumping in your chest, stronger and stronger, attuning every fiber of your being to its wicked rhythms of pain and horror... Your heart of darkness keeps growing. It extends its veins like spitting serpents through your body, cancerous lesions of violence erupting across your skin. Your body blackens to match your heart, and your mind soon follows... Got all that? That's only the barest glimmer of how the tanar’ri feel. Don't mess with them. Don't even argue with them — their rage can scald the skin from your face and boil the water from your eyes.
— Jessyme Rauch[21]

Perhaps more than anything else, the tanar'ri raged, seething with a nameless and formless hate that burned within them.[12] Some claimed that the source of this inner rage was their hideous forms, but this wasn't the case. Most of the tanar'ri liked their forms, strong and adaptable as they were,[15] and no matter the endlessness of their bodies, malevolence still laid at their cores.[16] One of the potentially more valid explanations was that the tanar'ri were lashing out due to their oppression, venting their aggression on those they could. However, this theory also had its own holes, for it was likely that some tanar'ri accepted, and even enjoyed harsh treatment, and those that took orders from no one were still cruel for its own sake.[15]

Another theory purported that the true motive behind tanar'ric behavior was the desire for release. Through destruction and death, the tanar'ri hoped to expel their rage, passion, and fear, only to find that it was impossible. No matter how much they screamed or destroyed, they would never hope to express themselves enough, and never find even the temporary relief that a mortal could. The only thing that could alleviate the strain of ever-building rage, as the theory went, was causing suffering to others. True or not, those that would cast the tanar'ri condition as tragic in light of this idea were likely misplacing their sympathy.[12]

Through their own wicked deeds, the tanar'ri condemned themselves to the horrors of the Abyss. They were not misunderstood victims, but those who consistently and completely put their own wants above others needs, stopping only when forced to.[12] In a sense, their former selves had wanted to become tanar'ri, even if they started as the lowest of the low, as from there they could rise to greater power,[23] with those at the top having fought their way there to be truly free from anyone's demands.[15] Raw, unassailable power was their goal, the only path to achieving it to take all for yourself and crush all else beneath you, and the Abyss the best place for it.[23]

Either way, the tanar'ri liked causing agony and death even without the motivation of soothing their own suffering. If unending rage was their predominant emotion then to cause pain was their predominant desire. Though they might indulge in other passions, to hurt was the one drive that overpowered all others. Whether or not it would make them feel better, they would inflict it all the same.[12]

Chaos[]

There were those who would try and take advantage of the chaotic nature of the tanar'ri for their own benefit (particularly those of lawful natures). These individuals believed, incorrectly, that the tanar'ri were incapable of making complicated plans or even doing any planning whatsoever, and therefore would be easy victims for those that could. All this was simply wrong, and in all likelihood spread in part by the tanar'ri themselves. Chaos was not the same thing as stupidity, and the tanar'ri were by no means too chaotic to have foresight.[11][12]

Every basher's seen the Xaositects raving in the sprawling Bazaar and the stinking Hive of Sigil. Many of the poor sods are crazy and can’t help it. Others, however, struggle mightily to be crazy, trying hard to throw off the shackles of restraint (no matter who might have put them there in the first place). It’s hard to say which group has it worse and which the tanar’ri resemble more. But the truth of it is that both kinds of Xaositects typify tanar’ric nature; Barmy naturally and trying desperately to get even more so. "Barmy" may be too strong a word; the tanar’ri are too canny to be dismissed as simple lunatics. But then, only one other word can describe a whole race of creatures with no structure: chaotic.
— Michil Kedell[24]

The tanar'ri were cunning creatures,[22] fully capable of acting logically and efficiently, and did in fact make plans. Sometimes this was done in short bursts, at others it took decades, and sometimes they weaved schemes than required centuries of work. Where the chaotic nature of the tanar'ri made itself apparent was that the tanar'ri didn't work together.[11][12] The baatezu, the lawful counterparts of the tanar'ri, made calculated moves as part of a larger plan, their grand scheme to achieve racial dominion over all the multiverse. They acted both with future generations and the desires of their superiors in mind. In stark contrast, the tanar'ri enacted plans only with the goal of increasing their own power and pleasure, racial solidarity or their impact on those that would come after being irrelevant to them.[18][17][25]

When a tanar'ri acted, it was to advance their own agendas and establish their own personal footholds.[18] They preferred to wallow in the heat of the moment, and tended to ignore the bigger picture in favor of focusing only on themselves.[12] Put simply, the tanar'ri enacted their plans because they could,[18] and if anyone knew the dangers of complete self-interest, it was the baatezu.[11]

Aside from their selfishness, the tanar'ri were chaotic in that they were utterly unpredictable.[22] At times they might maim the person closest to them without a second thought and at others they might be in a generous mood and behave with relative beneficence. Laws and loopholes did not bind them, for the only rule they respected was that of force, and even that they might ignore. Instead, they might choose to deceive, perhaps with verbal manipulation, but nothing stopped them from simply lying to get what they wanted.[18] Not even a tanar'ri often knew what it would do next, and the very concept that such a being could even manage to exist could be unfathomable for those deeply steeped in the ideals of order.[11]

Although not stupid, the tanar'ri didn't exactly learn from their experiences.[26] Understanding this mindset could be made simpler, however, once one remembered the nature of the tanar'ri's home: not just chaos, but Chaos, the cosmic force. Anything could and usually did happen in the Abyss, and so the tanar'ri were justifiably paranoid, always watching their backs and doing so in every direction. They were alert for all possibilities, but normally expected the worst knowing that was the most likely outcome. The tanar'ri did lay plans, and discarded them just as quickly as they were hatched, for the trait most selected for in their environment was adaptability.[27]

We are proudly chaotic - we believe in the power of the individual. Of course, I speak only for myself in this case. Some call us evil, and perhaps we are. Yet I believe that the individual is responsible only to itself. Caring too much for others' needs is weakness.
— A glabrezu.[28]

In chaos, one could also find one of the few admirable traits of the tanar'ri (and the fiends of the Abyss at large). Each was an individual and based their lives on the triumph of individuality above all else, as well as how they differed from those around them. They fought with such ferocity because each was upholding their own personal visions.[10][15] It was in this that one could find the fundamental key to understanding the tanar'ri, an idea repeated independently by several members of the wildly independent race. Each tanar'ri believed that it, and only it, knew "the Answer", the true meaning of life. Though some of the lower tanar'ri sought only to kill and hurt, those with any level of intelligence had sought out the answers to life's questions themselves.[15]

After obtaining "the Answer", the tanar'ri then sought to teach what they had learnt, which was not the same thing as trying to enlighten others. They only sought to spread their personal chaotic philosophy, to impose it on others, and the only way they knew how to teach was by providing personal and painful experience.[15] Furthermore, each felt that the unpredictable and inexplicable ways of the cosmos sought to prove them right and that the weight of reality was on their shoulders. They were filled with impotent rage at a cosmos that cared not for them, and practically nothing could convince them that the multiverse was a kind place. In their eyes, life was cheap, and so they might as well make the most of it at the expense of everyone else.[21][22]

Redemption[]

Most of my race spend their time seducing mortals with various pleasures of the flesh. I'd like to think that I have distanced myself from that... it is ultimately a trivial and non-productive way for one to spend one's time here in the multiverse. There is much more to life, wouldn't you agree?
— Fall-From-Grace, a non-evil succubus.[28]

For a tanar'ri to ever change their ways, they would have to change from within themselves, and this is where the ever-mutable race was the least likely to change. Their inner certainty empowered them, and to change would require self-doubt, the capacity to conceive of the notion that they could be wrong.[21][15] As unlikely as it was, however, even tanar'ri were capable of that kind of change.[10] Over a millennia of exposure to carnage unending, even a tanar'ri's innate bloodlust could wane, an "unnatural" tendency they normally tried to hide.[16] Furthermore, the tanar'ri took pride in their differences, and some spent so much time focusing on the beauty and horror of the self that they stumbled upon a way to be truly unique: by wholeheartedly embracing goodness.[10]

Most tanar'ri that did this reveled in their new beliefs for a time, flaunting them whenever possible, but before long came to appreciate their past more and returned to their old habits with newfound enthusiasm and a better understanding than before.[10] However, not all of them got back their desire to kill and maim even after time away from the action,[16] and a few tanar'ri that did changed their ways truly meant it. Such tanar'ri stood by their new beliefs and learned to truly cleanse themselves of evil. They were traitors to the Abyss that was their origin, seeking to be different and savoring what set them apart so much that they defied the very nature of their being.[10]

The tanar'ri were used to all kinds of betrayal[10] and demons did hate the forces of good.[29] However, though they avenged themselves when possible, their focus on the defeat of the baatezu devils of Baator meant they had little time to plan the downfall of such a traitor, usually just letting such hatred fester.[10] They lacked the sheer vengefulness of the baatezu, as well as the cold malice of yugoloths, being too passionate and fiery to savor revenge slowly over years as opposed to just having it all at once.[18][30] This would be different if the tanar'ri had joined the baatezu, but it as likely that no tanar'ri could do that even if they wanted to, at least not for very long. Though the evil in their natures could be repressed, the tanar'ri could not truly hold back the chaos.[10]

Abilities[]

Given the nature of the tanar'ri, the race couldn't be said to have "standard abilities", merely powers seen in varying frequencies. Fiends like the baatezu had far more common powers, although to compensate the various tanar'ri breeds had far more individual powers than the baatezu ones did. Almost all tanar'ri the ability to see in darkness through infravision, had the darkness spell-like ability, could telepathically communicate, and summon various other types of tanar'ri. They also used to universally possess the power to teleport without error, but due to yugoloth tampering not even that could be said with any level of certainty.[13][17][31]

Of the various elements and harmful substances in the universe, the tanar'ri were known to be completely immune to the effects of electricity and poison. Fire was debatably useful, ranging from not working at all on them to the tanar'ri being only partially resistant, but magic fire was normally more effective. They were also resistant to the cold and to harmful gases and acid, though magical acid normally worked without fail. Magic missiles were known to be fully effective, as was the obvious holy water. In terms of weapons, magical, holy, cold iron and silver ones worked well, though the more powerful tanar'ri were resistant to silver.[13][17][31]

Remember, though: No two tanar’ri are exactly the same. A fool who expects the same thing to work on all of them is a fool. Sometimes, what kills one fiend might not even wound another of the same type.
— Xanxost the blue slaad.[31]

Aside from these commonalities, there was perhaps no telling what an individual tanar'ri might be capable of. A given tanar'ri might be able to see in many directions at once, or use their eyes to detect heat, cold, magic, anger, peacefulness, different realities, or any other numbers of things. Some were equipped with wicked claws for rending flesh while others had serpentine appendages that could strike like a blindingly fast whip. Some powers were even less obvious than that, such as those with a strange neck and oddly shaped ears being able to create sound waves capable of collapsing earth, structures, and possibly even blood vessels.[10]

Combat[]

If you will be fighting tanar’ri, here is Xanxost’s best advice: Run away instead, or bring along slaadi to help.
— Xanxost the blue slaad.[31]

The tanar'ri were dogged combatants with a relentless ferocity allowing them to keep fighting even when badly hurt,[31] the less intelligent ones often attacking without question and fighting to the death.[17] However, not all tanar'ri were simply predictable murderers. For example, they might angrily devour someone that threatened them, but might also take a shining to mortals that tried and failed to kill them, finding their overestimation of their own abilities amusing. At the same time, this might also translate to them slaughtering the mortal, laughing the entire time.[31]

A common trend among the tanar'ri was that most were normally reluctant to use their summoning powers. They disdained doing so not only due to their arrogance, but because they would likely be beholden to the summoner, and they loathed owing favors to each other. Only if they were in obvious, life-threatening danger would they use their power and risk such a debt,[13][32] although stronger demons often did so with less hesitation.[33]

Warfare[]

The military forces of the tanar'ri consisted of millions of fiends, though in practical terms they had no actual armies, but rather hordes. Driven forward by fierce wills and vicious cruelty, the tanar'ri normally had no strategy, simply charging at the foe with intent to destroy them. They moved without regard for anyone else among their number, hoping to overwhelm through sheer force of numbers knowing that countless more of them were waiting to join the fight.[12][34]

If the tanar'ri ever managed to work together to agree on specific tactics or a plan before fighting, they would have the capacity to destroy even their ancient baatezu enemies, but such a thing was not in their nature.[34] Their chaotic ways notwithstanding, the tanar'ri had little capacity to use said tactics anyway, even if they felt like they needed them and wanted to apply them. Much of this was because their incredible numbers made it practically impossible to sort them out and send them off in different directions to make calculated strikes.[35]

Where the tanar'ri forces excelled however, was in their reactivity. In the swirling conflict and chaos of a wartime scenario, the tanar'ri thrived on confusion and disorientation. Members of other military forces would try to keep track of the number and location of enemy forces, but the tanar'ri mostly didn't care where they were or when so long as they could fight the enemy, and their commanders could simply respond to new problems by driving forward more soldiers to plug the holes in the offensive.[35] Furthermore, the residents of the ever-changing Abyss weren't truly caught off guard when ambushed, just going with the flow and attacking any invaders.[36]

Society[]

Society? Balderdash! The Abyss has no society, and neither do the tanar’ri - at least, none that spans the whole plane... Certainly, small kingdoms do exist throughout the plane, and some fiefdoms blanket entire layers. But whereas the baatezu rally around a single unifying principle, the tanar'ric instinct encourages divisiveness and chaos by its very nature, and the imposition of a single society goes against every drop of blood the tanar’ri possess.
— Michil Kedell[15]

The tanar'ri were the unchallenged master race of the Abyss, reigning over almost every layer within it.[13][16] However, this in no way meant that the Abyss was in any state of peace or unity. Rather, the Abyss was defined by a constant struggle of plotting and battles, endless petty fights for position and power. Though the details changed, such as the subtlety of the conflict or the fate of the losers once the battle had ended, the overall condition remained the same.[24][17]

The Abyss was filled with innumerable strongholds of various materials both mundane and esoteric, each tried and tested by the constant, assaults that happened almost daily, at least somewhere, within its depths. The nature of the tanar'ri meant that it was practically impossible to predict when an attack was coming or adequately prepare for all potential attacks. Sometimes it was due to a relatively pragmatic territorial dispute, at others it was because one party felt insulted, and at others still the aggressor simply felt like attacking. Furthermore, the would-be attacked tanar'ri had their own violence and schemes that they sought to enact without interference from outside forces.[24]

It was in this need to hold one's enemies at bay that tanar'ri politics came into play. Through political maneuvering, the tanar'ri could forestall attacks until they were prepared, buying them time to marshal their defenses, ready their own attacks, or summon their supposed allies. In stark contrast to the rigorous and complicated procedures of infernal politics, the tanar'ri system was turbulent and simple. In the Abyss, politics was merely a matter of who seemed to hold the most power, whether it was physical, magical, numerical, influential, or any other form.[24]

The tanar'ri were a fickle race that normally sided with the strongest party unless they were (or believed that they would be) personally threatened, in which case they attempted to appear stronger in order to gain more allies themselves for their own protection.[24] They served out of fear rather than any sense of loyalty to their masters, and unlike the baatezu only took their duties seriously if at risk of being caught avoiding them. They could be bribed with money, power, or chances at vengeance, and if not insulted by the offer would likely take the bribe, although if and how long they would stay bribed was a different question.[16][19][37]

This complete lack of certainty in the world around them was the reason why tanar'ri politics were so unstable.[38] Tanar'ri culture reflected its participants, simultaneously expecting nothing and staying ready for anything.[27] It was impossible to predict the next moves of their rivals, for their enemies might move without any provocation or forethought.[38] The fiends were always suspicious of one another, to the point that one of the best responses when asked awkward questions by them was to change the subject to their enemies, even if one didn't know who those enemies were. Each was always looking over their shoulder and looking out only for themselves[16][19] for the one cardinal rule that even the tanar'ri obeyed was to trust nothing and no one.[38]

Castes[]

Why, do you know that some primes still classify the multitudinous tanar’ri by type, creatively labelling them Type I fiends, Type II fiends, and so on? I can’t decide which is greater: the irony of trying to pin one of the most haphazard races in the cosmos to the wall like dead butterflies, or the arrogance of the primes in thinking they could do it in the first place.
— Michil Kedell[11]

A common misconception about the tanar'ri was that, like other fiends such as baatezu or yugoloths, they followed a caste system of forms.[39] This was simply untrue, for although the tanar'ri could be broken into rough rankings, the truth was that the tanar'ri could not be organized into any kind of form-based hierarchy. Any terminology used to try and sort them, such as the "Type" system or the "least, lesser, greater, true" format, was something placed upon them by other beings.[11][39][12] At best, the rankings were broad guesses of a common form's general level of power.[17]

Practically speaking there was no such thing as stations in the Abyss.[10] The ranks only mattered so far as it affected assumptions of a given tanar'ri's power,[39] for the status of the tanar'ri was determined not in what they were, but in what they could do. For example, something that looked like a balor would be treated as such (that was to say normally left alone) but there was no social consequence for attacking a balor (at least without further context) besides whatever the balor saw fit to do to its assailant. A tanar'ri might want to see if such a being was really as powerful as they had heard and actually commit to attacking them.[10] Furthermore, if a weaker tanar'ri type did manage to best a normally stronger type, they would receive great amounts of status themselves.[17]

Ironically, the tanar'ri themselves sometimes used these mortal-made labels, flaunting them in order to convince others to do their bidding. For example, a lesser tanar'ri might try and convince a least tanar'ri that it stood no chance against a being of higher rank, only to instantly ignore the castes and argue to a greater tanar'ri that the divisions were useless, citing some other advantage as evidence.[24] Similarly, the tanar'ri changed their personal titles faster than the average person changed their mind based on whatever they felt would get them the most respect and power.[40] Ultimately the tanar'ri cared little about monikers or supposed castes, only power,[17] and like all their politics those mattered to them only so long as it served their current wants and needs.[24]

Advancement[]

Although many tanar'ri were focused on gaining power and influence within the Abyss, it was important to note that not all of them were.[41] Some didn't crave the level of strength and infamy that others aspired to, and were generally content to cause chaos at their own personal level. Unlike with the baatezu, the large majority of them weren't obsessed with rising to the top, even if they did have their own goals.[10] To ascend to the heights of power would take eons of unrelenting wickedness and likely the betrayal of everything they held close. However, for those who did pursue the path for power, they would find that all they had left was the desire for more.[12]

At the lowest end of the power scale, tanar'ri politics was simplistic and savage, with the lesser fiends operating purely based on apparent destructive power. In other words, if something looked dangerous, whether due to physical or magical power, the more likely they would be avoided or obeyed. A brutal appearance and cruel demeanor had to be displayed simply to survive. Higher on the power scale, tanar'ri of around the same power level as each other were more subtly imposing. At this stage, tanar'ri had to deal with each other from many positions, both high and low, and took on different visages depending on who they were talking to.[38]

A hezrou slaver whipping various fiends into line.

For example, weaker tanar'ri didn't understand the greater subtlety of their superiors. They obeyed strength and equated it with appearance, shrinking from it even as they desired it themselves. As such, when higher tanar'ri communicated with their lessers, they took on a more ferocious form, power being a language their inferiors could understand.[38] However, tanar'ri that rose higher also needed to start hiding, rather than just exaggerating, their true strength. Acting all-powerful would swiftly result in being tested from all sides (for tanar'ri loved toppling what others had built) but seeming too weak also made one a target, creating a delicate balance that had to be maintained to avoid attack.[24]

Among the highest members of the tanar'ri race, politics (in other words looking dangerous) went beyond brutality and appearance. At this level, it depended on word choice, posture, gesturing, and many other factors that went unnoticed by the lesser members of the race. The players of this game wanted not just to survive, but thrive, seeking the power of rulership and in doing so created an atmosphere of constant hate and paranoia. Notably, despite despising their own oppression, the tana'ri that rose to power had no compunctions about perpetuating the cycle of abuse with their lessers. They used their own suffering as justification to hurt and use others, reinforcing the race's chaotic evil ways.[38]

Near the top of this system were the tanar'ri princes, who gathered on the 1st layer of the Abyss, The Plain of Infinite Portals, in massive iron fortresses. Warring and scheming, these entities commanded massive hordes and attempted to glorify themselves in the eyes of their peers and mortals alike. They astrally projected to the Material Plane to sway events in their favor and tried to best the other tanar'ric princes, all to the end of claiming an entire layer of the Abyss as their own. Those that managed to accomplish this feat would join the infamous ranks of the demon lords.[40][42]

Parasites of Power

For those tanar'ri who could not endure the harsh abuse of those above them any longer but lacked the capacity to orchestrate a coup, another path to safety existed — that of the parasites of power. The parasites were tanar'ri that attached themselves to a more powerful fiend, giving up on their own desires and driving motivations to make themselves more useful to their masters. Becoming a parasite involved no change in form, simply a submission of will, adopting a willingness to do anything for their chosen master no matter how menial or humiliating.[38]

Parasites learned all they could about their master and imitated them in any way possible. This included surface level observations, such as their sense of style, to their mannersims and choice of enemies, to the point where particularly adept parasites could be mistaken for their overlord by mortals. If they perceived another to be standing between them and their master they would feign friendship (sometimes subservience) to the interloper before betraying them, and if two parasites of the same master were at odds, the copycat fiends knew best how to make the other miserable and did so with relish.[38]

The tanar'ri that became parasites were those that felt that they wouldn't amount to much on their own, choosing instead to ally themselves with someone they perceived to be a winner. They sacrificed their beloved independence and own chance at importance just to be associated with someone they believed to have already have it, hoping to make themselves seem as powerful, dangerous, and interesting as their masters. Known parasites have ranged in status from lowly dretches to fiends with the capacity for lordship, if they had not condemned themselves to sycophancy. Yet all was not lost for parasites, for rumor was that some had managed to learn from their masters so well that they eventually overthrew them.[38]

Tanar'ri Lords[]

At the very peak of the system were the demon lords, the kings of the tanar'ri.[16] They were the most powerful adherents of the tanar'ric path to power, their struggles against each other affecting almost every recess of the Abyss.[43] Even more so than the normal members of the tanar'ri race, each one held to their own personal vision, their idea of what was "best" for the Abyss and the multiverse at large, and worked against each other to achieve it.[38] Were one to grow powerful enough to unite all the layers, the Abyss could hypothetically have a singular ruler.[15]

However, this was more hypothetical than anything else, for while a demon lord could claim multiple levels of the Abyss, becoming too powerful would prompt action. The threat of such domination would likely result in the weaker tanar'ri rising against the one who would crush their freedoms (for even the tanar'ri were capable of concerted action). Moreover, were one Abyssal lord to become too dangerous (or arrogant) the others might band together to thwart them by marshaling their armies, banishing him, or by turning a confidante (for even the tanar'ri were known to have confidantes) against them. Conversely, this could fail, and while the tanar'ri might be able to occasionally ally, they always expected betrayal and tried to do unto others before they could do it to them.[15][24][38]

(from left to right): A succubus of Pazuzu, a bar-lgura of Demogorgon, a nabassu of Orcus, a babau of Kostchtchie, a palrethee of Pale Night, and an arrow demon of Zuggtmoy.

Exactly what they wanted to accomplish varied from lord to lord, though there were dozens of examples of tanar'ri lords claiming dominion over specific types of tanar'ri, such as succubi or barlguras.[44] However, there was one rank that several of the most powerful tanar'ri of the Abyss all aspired to: the mantle of "Prince of Demons". Unlike the various self-granted titles of Abyssal lords and princes,[40] "Prince of Demons" was not just some hollow epithet, but a position that granted the holder actual, tangible power. The wielder of this power exuded an aura of demonic command, allowing them to force virtually all demons to do as they desired. Only other demon lords and those who pledged their souls to them (those imbued with a tiny fraction of their power) were immune.[45]

For the power to be claimed, the current holder first had to be slain, causing a strange, shadowy, crown-like emanation to appear, a manifestation of the right to mastery. The one who killed the previous holder was vastly more likely (though not guaranteed) to receive the mantle, with the odds increasing based on personal magnetism, involvement with the death, and blood relation to the former ruler.[46]

Well-known tanar'ri lords included:

  • Baphomet: Known as the Prince of Beasts, Baphomet was the patron of minotaurs and other savage creatures, and divided the world between him and his predators and a cosmos of prey. He sought to destroy the weakness of civilization so that all would embrace their animal instincts, and to remake the multiverse into his own personal hunting ground. His strength and savagery tempered by shrewdness and study, the Horned King combined the dual aspects of man and beast to become something more dangerous than either one.[47][48][49][50]

Orcus fighting Demogorgon in a battle that shook the Abyss.

  • Demogorgon: Prince of Demons by right of sheer might, Demogorgon was the primeval, first tanar'ri, and the embodiment of chaos and destruction. Formed from the primal fears of the earliest mortals, Demogorgon's very name inspired that same terror, he himself being constantly paranoid and seeing everyone as possible threats. His twin aspects — Aameul and Hathradiah — sought to corrupt all goodness, undo all order, and ultimately leave themselves alone in the universe, finally able to rest free from any fear of harm.[50][47][7][51]>[52]
  • Fraz-Urb'luu: Known as the Prince of Deception, Fraz-Urb'luu was the most duplicitous of all demons, the patron of tricksters who used every cunning ploy to manipulate others into enacting his will. The master illusionist crafted fantasy worlds to lure his victims into lives of self-delusion and considered himself the only being smart enough to see the truth behind the many lies of the multiverse. It was unknown if his cryptic talk of guiding the cosmos to some enigmatic, grand design was yet another deception.[53][54][55]
  • Graz'zt: Called the Dark Prince, Graz'zt was patron of corrupt rulers and decadent tyrants, his reputation as the most humanoid demon lord belying his capacity for evil. The Prince of Pleasure viewed the multiverse as a plaything that he would one day fully dominate, creating a cosmos where all beings loved and worshiped him and existed only to give him pleasure. Charming and guileful, Graz'zt was the ultimate hedonist and an inciter of uncontrollable urges, a being for whom the only sins were moderation and kindness.[50][53][56][57][58]

Zuggtmoy clashing with her nemesis Juiblex.

  • Juiblex: Ridiculed by his peers as Lord of Nothing, Juiblex was the loathsome and often shunned demon lord of slime and ooze. The Faceless Lord was said to have spawned all slimes, leaving new oozes in his dripping wake, and his sole reason for existence was to flood the multiverse with his vile filth until all that lived were his amorphous reflections. Juiblex's foul nature reflected the corruption that was the source of the Abyss, and every putrescent slime was a mindless extension of himself, a limb bound to his nauseating will.[50][56][59][60][61]
  • Kostchtchie: Known as the Prince of Wrath, Kostchtchie was the patron of frost giants, seeking to utterly subjugate them above all else and enraged by nothing else more than the idea that some did not worship him. He had long identified as one rather than as a tanar'ri and quickly unleashed his fury on those who suggested he wasn't, indeed desiring the complete genocide of the entire tanar'ri race. Kostchtchie's rage and hate were legendary in the Abyss, his awful temper the reason why most left him to rule his icy wastes.[62][63]
  • Malcanthet: Holder of the title Queen of Succubi, Malcanthet was the patron of the indulgent and lustful, those who would use their charms to control and destroy others. She valued most the sensuality of her body, and all her schemes went towards her primary motivation of achieving self-gratification, whether by experiencing a new form of pleasure or bringing down a hated rival. Though once strictly a resident of the Abyss, she had once shifted allegiance to the Nine Hells, and had become a mistress of the lower planes as a whole.[64][65][66]
  • Orcus: The self-proclaimed Prince of the Undead, Orcus was a patron of those seeking undeath, as well as those already in its cold embrace. The nihilistic lord despised the dead, only using them as tools to silence the incessant noise of the hated living and extinguish all light, thus leaving the cosmos a dead, dark, and eternally unchanging necropolis. Though not the strongest lord, he had the greatest cult and was the closest to obtaining divinity, having already risen as the undead demon god Tenebrous before coming back to "life".[50][56][67][68][69]
  • Yeenoghu: Called the Prince of Gnolls, Yeenoghu was the patron of the hyena-like race, and sought to see his people dominate the world before all life, including them, was extinct. The Ruler of Ruin hungered most for senseless slaughter and death, delighting in the sorrow that followed the destruction of the cherished, and ultimately pursued the utter annihilation of all. Moreso than other demon lords, the Beast of Butchery embodied killing, and he was the one, through his brutal massacres, who had most scarred the mortal world.[50][56][70][71]
  • Zuggtmoy: Known as the Lady of Fungi, Zuggtmoy was said by some to be the source of such organisms, the progenitor of all mushrooms and mold. The Lady of Rot was utterly inhuman, an alien, fungoid intelligence parodying the ways of a living mortal who sought only to infect, consume, and, perhaps ultimately, control all other living things. Some believed that she was not truly a patron of fungi, for she desired decay not to renew life but for its own sake, embodying only the virulence and death that fungi represented.[56][72][56][73]

Military/Blood War[]

The tanar'ri defend their home from an encroaching legion of devils.

Vast, disorganized companies of tanar'ri hordes disembarked every days from the depths of the Abyss, spreading mayhem across the multiverse. Though they sometimes spread their chaos across the Middle, or even Upper planes, the focus of the demonic host was the Lower planes.[9] Since the dawn of the tanar'ri,[17] almost as long as the existence Great Wheel, they had waged war against the baatezu, continuing the ancient conflict known as the Blood War.[43]

Some believed that the tanar'ri lived only to fight the Blood War, which was true enough in some cases. Most of the strongest tanar'ri, those called the true tanar'ri, drove the war effort, pushing the rest of their race to erase the baatezu from existence.[9] The disorderly demons fought the Blood War primarily because the true tanar'ri pushed this will onto them,[17] for in their eyes the only purpose of the lower class (those often classified as "least" or "lesser" tanar'ri) was to fight the Blood War,[74] an arrangement they only seemed to benefit from.[9] The many tanar'ri lords of the Abyss also meddled in the Blood War to varying degrees.[12]

Some tanar'ri lords hated the baatezu with passion surpassing even the most passionate balor, throwing their resources into it, while others were actively interested in it only as a means to gain more power. Kostchtchie sent murderous frost giant wizards loose on them, while Lissa'aere the Noxious's alu-fiend, nabassu, and vrock army had stopped more than one invasion at the Abyssal borders. Alzrius, Lord of Infernal Light, had his army of armanites and babaus conduct lightning-quick strikes beyond the Abyss, leaving trails of burning destruction in their wake,[75][76][77] and even the Queen of Chaos, a non-tanar'ri demon lord, made rare contributions, sending mobs of a subspecies of spyder-fiend tanar'ri called phisarazu to conduct rapid raids.[78]

At the same time, many tanar'ri lords didn't care all, some locking themselves away, others preferring to scheme against their fellows, and others still wanting to end the Blood War and unite all fiends to destroy the forces of good.[9][75] In truth, not all tanar'ri cared much about the Blood War, with many avoiding it in favor of domestic politics.[43] One would assume that the leaders would do all they could to promote their own race, but both the true tanar'ri and tanar'ri lords often pursued their own agendas at the cost of victory.[12] Shaktari the Marilith Queen, for example, won legendary triumphs over the baatezu only to be imprisoned, purportedly through an unthinkable pact between archdevils and her demon lord enemies.[79] There was no central command to coordinate the many hordes of the Abyss,[12] and no lords agreed on just how to proceed.[9]

Roles[]

Recruitment 

An alkilith opens a window to the Abyss.

Different types of tanar'ri played different roles in the prosecution of the Blood War, some of which were not directly combat oriented, such as recruitment and resource gathering. The surprisingly subtle glabrezu were an excellent example, for while they took only a smallfl part in the slaughter of the Blood War, they were still frequently associated with it. Their manipulative ways drew strength from other planes, sapping them of strength and souls to empower the Abyss.[76][80][81][82] Conversely, alkiliths brought the Abyss to mortals rather than the other way around, spreading its hate, spite, and corruption (both physical and moral) to the multiverse. Though able to avoid recruitment by hiding in inhospitable places, they would fight when needed, and they would viciously attack any baatezu they encountered.[83]

Succubi (before their change of allegiance at the least) served a similar purpose, contributing to the war effort by corrupting and killing mortals, thus getting them sent to the Abyss. They acted independently and generally answered to no one, a situation the more powerful tanar'ri tolerated due to their service.[84][85] Nabassu meanwhile served only to spread the belief that the tanar'ri were beings to be feared, entering the mortal world to kill and terrify locals. In the Outer Planes, where belief could translate to power, this duty went to strengthen the race as a whole.[85]

After a mortal died and were sent to the Abyss, many would end up before a nalfeshnee, who were tasked with judging the quality of mortal spirits by their capacity for hatred and evil.[76][86][87] Afterwards, a great majority of the new arrivals were deposited either on a layer where they'd be sent to the forefront of the war, or the 1st layer,[88] which the baatezu were bent on taking.[42][42] Nalfeshnee did not command armies, but determined their composition by empowering or depowering new recruits, altering their forms and intelligence. Some said that the nalfeshnees truly controlled the Blood War for this reason, as the success of the tanar'ri depended on the quality of recruits, the armies doomed to failure if their soldiers were not properly vetted and given forms unworthy of their wickedness.[76][86][89]

Warriors

The most expendable warriors of the Blood War were the tanar'ri normally deemed to be least, the manes, dretches, and rutterkin.[12] Of them, the rutterkin were both strongest and least utilized, as they were social outcasts. Though sometimes used as common foot soldiers and skirmishers,[12][16][88] they often were not even given the questionable prestige of being fodder, serving only to guard their home.[12][90] Weakest of the least were manes, who shared the mania of the rutterkin[12] and were first to be herded into battle,[39] washed over the enemy in vast mobs like a controlled fire.[91] The most "respected" of the least were the dretches, pathetic primary infantry important to the war.[12] The mindless manes quickly forgot their orders or to use any weapons they were given, but dretches had some self-preservation and could understand their situation.[12][92][92]

Among the more powerful tanar'ri, several specialized in direct confrontation. Bulezau were bred to fight in the Blood War, essentially acting as much more powerful manes or dretches. They were possibly the toughest front-line troops of the tanar'ri, used as heavy infantry and assault leaders. They enthusiastically pursued the War, engaging the baatezu with frightening bloodlust and plunging into the fray with reckless abandon, their dependable refusal to retreat even when clearly doomed being highly valued.[76][85][93] Another group of tauric tanar'ri warriors were the armanties, mobile shock cavalry that devastated the enemy with quick, repeated, aerial charges rather than relying on tactics or timing, to survive. They reveled in the chaos of mass combat, but were also mercenaries, favoring bloody missions with little personal risk.[76][85][94]

The tanar'ri also had many members among them who specialized in ranged combat. Arrow demons were associated with the Blood War and, notably for tanar'ri, preferred fighting in ordered legions with several hundreds of their kin, and were fielded as such by their commanders. From behind masses of fodder they rained down barrages of missiles, often using arrows with heads made from materials able to overcome the resistances of commonly-encountered foes.[95] Solamiths meanwhile, offered little to Blood War armies, but still found occasional employ. When not used to dispose of unwanted captives, they helped to ward off extraplanar threats, acting as sentries or army artillery by hurling globs of "soulfire" at the enemy with great accuracy.[96]

Other types of tanar'ri specialized in the use of stealth and subterfuge to assist in the Blood War. Barlguras used their camouflage abilities to scout ahead for the more "organized" tanar'ri forces. Though experts in surprise attacks, they actively tried to avoid participation in the Blood War.[85][76] On the other hand, cerebriliths, demonic users of the Invisible Art, only joined Abyssal armies as specialists to deal with specific psionic targets.[97] Most maurezhi, meanwhile, were recruited before getting the chance to unlock their true potential, acting as skirmishers and marauders, but those who did were assassins and spies that kept an eye on the baatezu war effort. They were used to infiltrate baatezu camps undetected, stealing the forms and possibly secret plans of their foes.[85][76][98]

Tanar'ric half-fiends also served in the Blood War. Cambions, defined the offspring of tanar'ri and female humans, were perhaps the most useful of those typically classified as lesser. They too were excellent spies and infiltrators, sometimes using their ability to change forms to sneak into enemy ranks and confuse the opposition, and were valued in the Blood War as assassins.[85][76][99] Alu-fiends, defined as the offspring of succubi and humans, aided the Abyss as battlemages, unleashing minor arcane destruction. Their spellcasting managed to win a few battles, but mostly had little lasting effect, though they were still valued by their superiors enough that they refused to release them.[39][76]

An aerial assault by vrocks spearheads the advance of the tanar'ric horde.

Among the most dangerous participants in the Blood War were vrocks. Though relatively weak as individuals, when vrocks acted in unison, coordinating with perfect timing able to give even baatezu pause, they became the elite troops of the Abyss. They rivaled the bulezau in resilience, but were also mobile, letting them serve as scouts, skirmishers, aerial bombers, and gather together to unleash magical destruction.[16][80][76][93][100] Jovocs were also frequently connected to the Blood War and considered to be invaluable on the front lines of tanar'ri armies due to their ability to inflict the damage they suffered on others. They were experienced with ambushes and often using hit-and-run tactics, yet a unit of them could survive repeated attacks and still survive to get their revenge.[101]

Goristroi, meanwhile, lacked magic, mobility, or coordination, but compensated with incredible strength, for they were bred for war. They were used as citadels to carry lesser tanar'ri, who rode on giant helms strapped to them, and to destroy enemy fortifications. Though practically fearless, they feared falling from great heights and so were rarely ordered to scale walls.[80][76][102] While goristroi had to be guided into battles, the wastriliths consciously chose to take part in the Blood War (albeit only because they didn't want to share the waters with anyone, including each other). They repelled invasions that came by water, gathering aquatic monsters to fight off such attacks, and took the fight to the baatezu by attacking them on their home plane.[80][76]

Commanders

The tanar'ri recruiters of the Blood War were the babaus, who performed the integral function of roaming the Abyss and rounding up tanar'ri commonly deemed least and lesser to ensure the baatezu faced as many foes as possible. They, along with glabrezus, also arranged newly arrived conscripts into motley bands, filling the ranks of the armies for the strongest tanar'ri in exchange for their own freedom (and doomed to take their place if they couldn't find enough).[74][76][80] After babaus assembled armies, it fell to hezrous to oversee them. They performed the vital task of enforcing the will of the most powerful tanar'ri, turning their charges into crack fighting forces and ensuring their masters' orders were heard, understood, and obeyed. They also served as heavy troops, but were spared from near-certain death on the front-lines for their service.[76][80][103]

While the babaus were responsible for recruitment and the hezrous for supervising troops, it fell to the chasme to patrol the Abyss and punish those guilty of dereliction, and like the other two were rewarded for this duty by not being sent to fight in the front lines. Tanar'ri pressed into serving in the Blood War were emotional scarred in such a way that the chasmes could track, possibly across layers, and only death or negation by the strongest tanar'ri could free one from it. Punishment by chasme didn't always work, as there were deserters anyway, but nor did the killings have a negative impact on the war effort since the Abyss spawned seemingly infinite fiends.[76][80][104]

Mariliths were the strategists behind the tanar'ri who devised what tactics they did use and had the nearly impossible task of synchronizing their activities. They formulated the complicated feints and surges of the tanar'ri, predicted the next moves of their opponents, and concocted plans able to befuddle even the baatezu. But while the mariliths were the head of the tanar'ri forces,[76][80][89][105] the balors were its very heart, the influence and energizing presence behind the war effort. In a sense, the balors were tanar'ric embodiments of the Blood War, their absolute devotion rousing all tanar'ri into murderous frenzies and destructive fury. They acted as wandering generals, traveling throughout the Abyss and forming armies before commanding them in battle against the baatezu.[76][89][106]

The molydei acted as quartermasters and sergeants, and were responsible for ensuring that the vision behind the Blood War was not strayed from. They performed the duties of the babaus, hezrous, and chasmes, looking for new fiends to recruit, making sure those recruited stayed loyal to the cause, and killing any deserters. In this capacity, they existed purely in service to the cause, and would not hesitate to destroy any tanar'ri that shirked responsibility or showed the slightest sign of infidelity. They assumed all but the tanar'ri normally deemed "true" were disloyal by nature, and so rather than try to enforce doctrine they simply used constant threats and punishments on them. They existed in a weird station of their own, reporting to the balors yet also bound to report any that strayed.[76][89][16]

Deficiencies[]

A mob of tanar'ri falls to infighting while their baatezu enemies stand before them in confusion.

Unfortunately for the tanar'ri, despite their great numbers and powers, their military system had several holes from top to bottom. At the lower end, the "least" tanar'ri who made up most of the fodder would often abandon their kin under the slightest pressure.[82] Dretches would stay in battle (being so lowly that they may consider death more favorable than further disfavor) only if a tanar'ri of around "greater" or higher status was watching them, fleeing otherwise.[92] Despite their general lack of self-preservation, even manes could know terror and attempt to escape a Blood War death sentence,[88] yet on the other hand, might keep fighting even when doing so proved detrimental to their own side.[92]

Bulezaus shared a similar over-aggressiveness. They perceived all non-combat activities as wastes of time, their impatience making them poor sentries or scouts. When they saw an enemy, they charged and if they didn't, they went to find one, including in their own ranks. Though less powerful tanar'ri appreciated that the presence of bulezaus could help them slip away themselves, the creatures were also prone to murderous frenzies at the slightest provoking, regardless of consequence. They had to be carefully watched by powerful and strict commanders to make sure their units didn't self-terminate, and there had been engagements where more dretches and rutterkin had been lost to bulezau rather than baatezu.[85][93]

Other dangerously bloodthirsty, tanar'ri including the likes of the vrocks and goristroi. Vrocks, despite their capacity for teamwork, could become single-minded in their search for slaughter and unending desire to fight. Caring little for their own safety, they could be easily lured apart, and in their reckless abandon end up in extremely unfavorable situations.[100] Goristroi meanwhile were just as likely to devour their own troops as the baatezu in the heat of battle.[76] They were willing to snack on lesser tanar'ri that their simple minds thought wouldn't be noticed,[102] and even the higher-ranking tanar'ri were cautious around them.[80]

Besides cowardice or impatience, disloyalty was also an issue among the tanar'ri. Alu-fiends sometimes set out to be unreliable on purpose out of resentment for their thankless roles, while bar-lugra hated other tanar'ri more than they did the baatezu, only obeying when forced.[76] Armanites were notoriously fickle, mutinying if given orders they disliked, and they responded to a lack of plunder by deserting or rebelling even at the climax of battle.[94] Besides their aggression, bulezau also had a rivalry with both armanites and vrocks, meaning that they refused to work with the former[107] and almost always tried fighting the latter.[93] "Lesser" tanar'ri sometimes ganged up on babau to escape service while chasme were so unpopular among their tanar'ri kin that they were often attacked on sight, both needing some protection from "true" tanar'ri.[74][104]

Even the highest-ranking leaders of the Blood War jeopardized success through their rivalries and feuds. Both nalfeshnees and mariliths considered themselves superior to the balors, the former due to their intelligence and the latter believing that the balors were unneeded. Neither openly acted on this feeling, recognizing the greater strength of the balor, but each acted out in their own way. Nalfeshnees rarely let an opportunity go by when they didn't try to secretly embarrass balors by foiling their plans, giving no heed to whether or not their actions hurt the war effort. Meanwhile, mariliths tried to discredit the glabrezus, whose subtle trickery they held in contempt but which was favored by the balors, who prevented the mariliths from outright destroying them.[105][108]

Prosecution[]

Before Battle

A horde of dretches scramble over each other trying to get to the line of barbazu.

Even the chaotic tanar'ri practiced the art of engagement, at least in their own way. Before they could battle, they had to get to the battlefield, the specific battlefield and how they would get there differing based on scout reports of enemy positions (which was as often as not ignored). Once ready to move, they either traveled by the river Styx (hiring merrenoloths to ferry them to their location) or used gates, whether by traveling left across the Great Wheel or by moving through the Outlands to approach from an unexpected direction. Unfortunately the tanar'ri lacked the discipline and documentation to use gates effectively, causing logjams by swarming to get in, fighting over the key to use them, and often requiring a guide to help them find the same one twice, so many times they used scythes of plane-opening to make their own.[109]

Sometimes the tanar'ri moved between planes using Ships of Chaos, vessels of entropy formed using millions of crushed larva and bones made with the help of the Doomguard. Powered by crushed spirits and bound using fiendish enchantments, the Ships of Chaos were meant to be used as weapons of war against the baatezu, as its powers were drawn from the shifting stuff of chaos and specially designed to counter and destroy law. The ships magically disrupted baatezu formations through an effect similar to the fear inspired by dragons, making it much easier for them to be overwhelmed. Fortunately for the baatezu, tanar'ri infighting and rumors debating their range meant that this minor tanar'ric advance rarely saw use, though the few that were used were a terrifying sight to behold.[110][111][112]

There were multiple primary embarkation points for tanar'ri armies about to engage in the Blood War, one of which was the 274th layer of Durao. It was a finite and small layer of rusting iron streets, barracks, and wharves huddled upon the banks of the Styx (used to carry the troops to war) and wedged between trackless, oozing swamps. Constant tromping by thousands of demonic troops and Abyssal monsters could be heard for miles. All new recruits were sent to Durao, whether they were fiends pressed or tricked into service, hired yugoloths, or mortal slaves being made to fight for something they couldn't possibly understand (and few mortals were allowed to live once they saw the core of the tanar'ri war machine).[82][113][114]

The three molydei that prowled the outskirts of Durao simply killed attempted escapees, reasoning that they would soon be replaced. The layer became more volatile as battle drew near and seething swarms of warriors were packed so tightly that they could do little more than stand. As crowds thickened and tanar'ri were left to fester, fights began breaking out everywhere, scuffles turning into beatdowns before becoming outright battles. While inactivity could cause outbreaks of violence, however, news of a particularly gory battle prompted mass desertion, for while more cunning tanar'ri (such as hezrous and glabrezus) gleefully embraced such opportunities for bloodshed, "least" demon fodder would seek to escape. More than once the hezrou captains had to launch invasions early simply to prevent tanar'ri armies from self-destructing.[82][114]

It was difficult to estimate tanar'ri populations, but they easily outnumbered the baatezu by a hundred fold,[17] and infernal forces could very well end up in twenty to one encounters.[115] The tanar'ri used their endless numbers in a war of attrition against the baatezu,[17] something that the devils were incapable of winning, leading them to wage a battle of wits instead, doing most of their fighting before the battle began.[35] Tanar'ri were often undisciplined fighters and almost absurdly poor strategists[115] (a single hamatula once slew half a force of 50,000 by killing troops as they squeezed into a portal one by one, forcing the leaders to retreat upon realization of what was happening).[109] Conversely, the baatezu had unbending morale and superior tactics, as well as better equipment, strategic goals, and a mastery of military science equal to their dedication to subterfuge.[17][115]

The baatezu relied on strike forces, usually made up of clever cornugons and a few barbazu, to find unguarded herds of manes and dretches and destroy them. Though success was not common, since high-ranking tanar'ri kept an eye on their fodder, it was rumored that several famous victories on their part were possible because half the enemy had been killed before hand (and it wasn't impossible to kill the keeper of the fodder as well).[35] The tanar'ri (at least in the early days of the Blood War) proved to be poor infiltrators when it came to blending in, their chaotic cores making it impossible to imitate baatezu customs.[116]

Fighting

The tanar'ri seized their advantage when it came to actually fighting their battles.[35] An unexpected assault left the baatezu off-guard,[36] while their well-coordinated maneuvers could be hampered in practice by uneven and unpredictable terrain that the tanar'ri were thrilled with.[117] The start of a Blood War battle normally had the lemures and nupperibos of the baatezu go against the manes and dretches of the tanar'ri, the opposing sides mixing into an indistinguishable mess. The highest ranking tanar'ri sent in the lowest rankers first to at least distract, but preferably soften, the baatezu, allowing their more powerful kin to kill the enemy more easily. The greater amounts of casualties suffered due to this method were ignored given their seemingly limitless supply of soldiers.[9][35]

After the initial assault, rows of determined and well-positioned baatezu made their stand against the wild waves of tanar'ri, who attempted to overrun the enemy faster than they could be cut down. The horde of millions of clawing demons launched themselves at their hated foe, and was mowed down by the millions by steadfast devil legions.[9][35] The baatezu did have the advantage that mob rushing was incredibly ineffective. Certain types of troops (whether due to magical resistance or other reasons) just could not hurt enemies past a certain level of power, and the baatezu could fill out their ranks to create match-ups in their favor. However, powerful fiends could still be neutralized even if unable to be directly damaged, such as if buried under choking masses of fodder, and sheer numbers was the tanar'ri specialty.[118]

The baatezu had several common strategies they used against the tanar'ri. In the Broken Wheel, the baatezu formed a line with their backs against an obstacle before letting tana'ri crash into the center, breaking the line in two, and then wheeling the halves around to join back together, leaving the tanar'ri pinned. In the Rain of Death, a deep line of seemingly weakened troops emerged in full view of the tanar'ri only for ambushing troops to flank and pin the tanar'ri in on themselves, taking advantage of their tendency to lose track of friend and foe in the heat of battle. The tanar'ri's own lack of awareness and disinterest in searching for missing units was also used against them when baatezu flanking forces could slip away from the main force without being noticed.[35][34]

However, the tanar'ri were not incapable of learning from their experiences, if infrequently.[119] For example, they knew that lightning was dangerous for the baatezu and so used it in Blood War battles whenever possible.[109] Tanar'ri commanders could experiences flashes of inspiration and decide to surround their enemies as the baatezu often did to them. Furthermore, they could learn from failed strategies that took place even centuries ago and use similar situations to their advantage.[119]

Aftermath
If there's an infinite number of tanar'ri, and a finite number of baatezu, well, the tanar'ri can't lose - not unless they're also infinitely incompetent.
— The average conclusion of a Prime with basic knowledge of the fiends.[120]

In the aftermath of battle, in cases where the tanar'ri won, the battlefield was often littered in random equipment. The tanar'ri rarely bothered to pick up after themselves and half the time left so quickly that there was no time to anyway.[121][122] Fortunately for them, their Abyss-forged magical weapons dissolved once the owner died, the absence of such an occurrence meaning that the weapon likely came from somewhere else.[17]

Though the tanar'ri did take prisoners, they were less likely to do so than baatezu and their security was much more relaxed. The guards of the Abyss were easily distracted by spontaneous ideas and diversions, and the wards used to prevent escape (the same used by the baatezu) were randomly placed around the camps. Like in most areas however, tanar'ri compensated for quality with quantity. Their wards were laid everywhere, they could afford to station enough guards that at least a few would notice break-outs, and the alarm prompted guards to swarm over intruders and inmates alike.[123]

Despite their numbers and battle lust, the forces of the Abyss were only able to succeed around half of the time, countered by the brilliance and determination of their opponents.[115] Beings of the Prime Material Plane, a few of them scholars, often felt that the uncountable numbers of the tanar'ri meant that they could afford to fight sloppily and still win.[12] Other planar scholars, meanwhile, argued that the baatezu weren't stupid enough to fight an unwinnable war, holding up the baatezu's commitment and certainty as evidence of the tanar'ri's finite nature. They disagreed that the tanar'ri warriors were infinite, some claiming that the tanar'ri only seemed that way due to their incredible replenishment, while others believing that only a few of their infinite number took part in the war (though others took issue with the idea of a finite subset of infinity).[120]

The slaughter was fantastic! Rivers of beautiful devilish ichor flowing along the field and all that. We defended our way of life from the enemy, I tell you. They'll be back, of course. The war just keeps going. I mean, it has for as long as I can remember. Always fighting. We never really stop. We don't really want to.
— Dinoslag the balor.[124]

It was true that many tanar'ri had no stake in the Blood War, instead tormenting, corrupting, and jockeying for power,[43] but whether or not the tanar'ri were truly infinite was still a matter debated by scholars. Until it was proven so, the baatezu would continue to wear away at the tanar'ri convinced that they could succeed[120] while tanar'ri generals flocked to fight the baatezu with the unachievable goal of annihilating their foes,[43] battling across the Lower Planes and invading Avernus on a regular basis.[125]

Law[]

Are there laws in the Abyss? You might as well ask if there’s chaos on Baator, or order in Limbo, or evil on Elysium! Now, I’m sure that many of our friends in the Fraternity of Order will find structure in the Abyss (even if they must impose it themselves!), but let me tell you, friends, the only kind of law among the tanar’ri is the tanar'ri. By that I mean that each fiend is a law unto itself, each seeking its own way and its own truth or deceit (as the case may be)... The tanar’ri believe in making their own rules; that way, only they can tell when they’re breaking them.
— Michil Kedell[24]

The tanar'ri sought to claim absolute freedom for themselves by besting any higher power that would threaten their independence. In their minds, they were judge, jury, and executioner, bringing punishment to all who would break their "laws", yet even they likely didn't know how they established them in the first place. The very idea of staying consistent, forcing themselves to follow even the systems they invented, was anathema to them. Tanar'ri didn't believe in weighing themselves down like that, and constantly reinvented themselves and their rules.[24] Still, there were higher authority figures in the Abyss, and some semblance of lawful proceedings, at least in certain areas.[88]

One of the few layers of the Abyss that followed any kind of pattern was the Woeful Escarand, the 400th layer and home of the self-styled nalfeshnee "Lords of Woe". Vast herds of wriggling soul larvae (often formed from vile mortals who that did not pledge fealty to any specific power before death) filled the layer, the quaking forms of new arrivals causing the layer itself to undulate. The petitioners and other new arrivals were herded by lesser nalfeshnees across the dangerous terrain to the single visible feature of the layer and location of the only portal exits, the Mountain of Woe.[88][22][126]

From upon their flaming thrones, the Lords of Woe passed judgement on the mortal spirits brought before them according to a few general guidelines. The pompous magistrates turned those with little potential into manes, while those that showed enough wickedness and capacity for change became dretches. Various other fearsome judgements existed for other circumstances. Those believed to need lessons in humility were transformed into the hated rutterkin, while the most cruel and despicable souls were sentenced to the rumored Pits of Despair below the Mountain to night hags in league with the Lords, who would turn them into broodswarm demonlings for use in capturing the innocent.[88][22][126][127]

You — manes.
You — rutterkin.
You — dretch.
You — dinner.
— The nalfeshnee lord, Magistrate Oozewart, judging petitioners[128]

However, the Lords did not always follow their guidelines,[22] and might reward a soul that impressed them with a greater form,[87] a fact that revealed the true nature of the court. While they claimed to be able to spot the larvae with the best potential for becoming great tanar'ri and barked charges at the mindless worms, their efficacy was doubtful. Sometimes their accusations were actually based on the mortal's life and at others they seemed completely baseless, and odds were that the decisions were completely arbitrary. In reality, the nalfeshnee court was a dark parody of a lawful system, a mockery of a selection method influenced by the unique styles and biases of the individual judges.[88][22][126]

Court

A case is put forth before the Lords of Woe.

Aside from the judgement of new souls, the Lords of Woe, by rule of ancient pact dating back to the start of tanar'ri dominion, had the authority to hear demonic appeals on non-promotion related issues. Since demons made a mockery of the idea of law, this was, on a purely legal level, more likely to get one killed than helped in anyway. Most laughed off this so-called authority as a legend, and few demons would willingly submit themselves to the court's will.[88]

However, even if no longer remembered, the pacts that created the nalfeshnee court still applied and were not merely abstract dictates. Through a series of actions and events similar to a complicated spell it was possible to bind a demon, forcing them to make an immediate court appearance. The exact rites were well-kept secrets, but always involved traveling and arduous tests, making them similar in tone to a quest, and always took place in a many-terraced public chamber dominated by a menacing judicial bench and packed by heckling spectators.[88]

The highly chaotic nature of the court meant that few rules applied consistently in these hearings, but generally the accuser set the demands they sought to be arbitrated while the defendant determined the "flow" of the case. Although evidence and witnesses might be involved in any given case, these were ultimately irrelevant to the verdict, which was simply a reflection of which side had won the judge's momentary favor, whether honestly or not. Earning a judge's favor was often significantly affected by exploiting their personal prejudices, such as a hatred of balors, though how to do that varied wildly.[88]

The self-interested Lords always tried to manipulate Abyssal politics, and it was possible to get into the good graces of a curious one just by directly imploring their involvement. Some favored the most cultured party, while others applauded bravado and detested desperation. In some cases, the judges actually cared about their duties, but had vastly different ideas about what fulfilling them meant. One might believe the best justice was the most expedient and favor those that were clearly going quickly, while another might even be extremely formal, actually using ancient precedents and documents, and could be swayed by appeals to the "Great Demonic Tradition".[88]

The losers of a given case were forced to abide by the final judgement of the presiding judge, magically compelled to obey through an overwhelming version of geas. Their specific rulings often included some element of surprise and were highly abstract in some way.[88] One of the greatest powers of the court was their ability to rescind punishment as well as dole it out. They were one of the few entities able to demand a prisoner's release from the Wells of Darkness, a series of black pools containing some of the most vile, tragic, and powerful entities in the multiverse. Though the denizens of the Abyss viewed the idea of an impregnable prison as a challenge that would inevitably be bested, few things besides the Court had the capacity to free one of the demons and godlings trapped within besides intervention by greater deities.[129][130]

Others[]

The Lords of Woe aside, nalfeshnees in general were the judges of the Abyss,[16] and the hezrou demons acted as the long arm of their laws.[103] In addition to tracking down Blood War deserters, chasmes had a strange gift for spotting demons that deserted their lords. They often took special pains to bring traitors back alive in hopes of reward and a chance to torture them, which they also had a talent for, and they relished the opportunity to act as interrogators and taskmasters.[131][132] Kastighurs often served as fugitive hunters and wardens, relishing both professions, though they sometimes let prisoners go for the thrill of hunting them down again.[133]

Bringing his own brand of moral policing to the Abyss was the lord Alvarez, the self-proclaimed Inquisitor of the tanar'ri. From his own layer of the Abyss known as Torturous Truth, Alvarez brought inventive torments feared even by fiends. When a tanar'ri showed signs of having dealt with the baatezu, such as acting too orderly, Alvarez and his intensely loyal team would come to "question" them (as well as send mortals to threaten or spy on them). All in the Abyss feared the coming of his followers and his followers feared they would be the target of his next investigation, for insanity burned in the eyes of the Inquisitor.[87]

Language[]

To tell the truth, the tanar’ri are a deconstructionist’s dream. They don’t ever fully understand the speech of another fiend, and it goes without saying that they’re not fully understood either... That may well be part of the reason the tanar’ri are so angry all the time — they’re constantly and fundamentally misunderstood. That may also explain why the tanar’ri often resort to methods of communication that can’t be misconstrued — like torture.
— Jessyme Rauch[27]

Most tanar'ri were capable of telepathic communication, able to mentally "shout" as far as 3,000 feet (910 meters) even across crowded battlefields. Much like how audible screams could leave one's ears ringing, a mental shout could deafen a listener for a moment or so, but couldn't cause proper damage and did not disrupt concentration enough to interrupt activities requiring focus, such as maintaining certain kinds of spells. Tanar'ri incapable of "mindspeak", such as the simpering manes, were simply presented to their superiors if needed so that their minds could be read.[27]

Tanar'ri telepathy notably transcended language barriers and could be used to communicate with any intelligent creatures; more than words, their mindspeak relied on symbols and concepts. Far too diverse to have come together to form a unified language, the tanar'ri as a whole just learnt to project their thoughts. The lower tanar'ri incapable of expressing complex concepts normally projected harsh and crude symbols difficult for non-tanar'ri to understand, though the cannier ones eventually figured out how to translate them into more easily intelligible concepts. Even so, the tanar'ri penchant for causing pain meant they sometimes intentionally scarred listeners through their mental symbols.[27]

Despite their telepathy, the tanar'ri also communicated verbally, although for most this was just noise rather than actual speech. Lower tanar'ri vocalizations were reminiscent of canine barking, the incessant yapping of creatures vying for attention. More refined ones made droning noises, creating something akin to the soft sound of ocean waves mixed with a violent swarm of wasps. However, as in most things with the tanar'ri, they were ultimately unpredictable, lower ones sometimes smoothly whispering and higher ones occasionally making mangled yelping sounds.[27]

The tanar'ri did have a language of their own, though there were many dialects among the chaotic fiends and learning just one or two was immensely frustrating. Among the tanar'ri that regularly interacted with mortals, such as various half-fiends or succubi, a few managed to master a couple mortal tongues. The downside of verbal communication was that unlike telepathy it generally revealed the speaker's location. A given tanar'ri might decide to threaten aloud and/or in telepathic silence, using whatever method was most convenient, effective, or, more likely, whichever they most felt like using.[27]

Magic[]

Just think of all the cruel, sweet spells yet undreamed of...
— Kurige Ytembi, alu-fiend sorceress[27]

For the countless eons that the Blood War have raged, the tanar'ri, like the baatezu had steadily designed new ways to destroy each other, whole legions sometimes dedicating their existence to the design of new magical spells and items. While the baatezu usually failed at this due to their lacking creativity however, the tanar'ri inventors were limited by their fickle lack of concentration, or by the fact their creations were too bizarre to be useful.[134]

The tanar'ri alone had access to scythes of plane-opening, weapons that cut through flesh as well as dimensions. In areas on the Outer Planes where philosophical borders were thin and overlapping, a scythe could slash through the mesh, allowing squadrons of tanar'ri to cross over. The created portal would only last a few minutes however, and was dangerously harmful to cross, capable of killing weaker fiends that tried. It was thought that the reason that the baatezu didn't use such scythes, aside from the lack of certainty for where exactly they would end up, was the inherent chaos and disruption inherent to cleaving space.[134]

The tanar'ri had also developed several spells for use against their baatezu enemies. One such spell created by the marilith Theiras was chaos hammer, a devastating display of offensive magic useful in the middle of fights. Chaos hammer created waves of concussive force to roll out from all directions around the caster, injuring and knocking prone all non-chaotic beings nearby. Much more insidious was the misfortune spell, a more powerful and lasting version of curse and a useful weapon in the tanar'ri arsenal of espionage. The spell turned the target into a focal point of disaster, causing magic to go wrong, equipment to malfunction, and other unlucky happenings to ensue. A well-placed casting, in addition to being a source of much delightful mayhem, could be the catalyst for baatezu defeat.[135]

Wizardry

That said, the tanar'ri found it difficult to take up the practice of wizardry, a result of their unfocused nature. The vast majority of the tanar'ri, those being the unintelligent, "least" manes, dretches, and rutterkin, as well as the bestial bar-lguras and bulezaus, generally weren't smart enough to take up wizardry even if they wanted to. Most others didn't think much of "learned" magic, nearly all alkiliths, maurezhi, and molydei never bothering to try and only the occasional mature nabassu taking the time to bother. Among the disciplinarian fiends, babaus preferred more straightforward methods, while hezrou and chasme wizards were extremely rare.[136]

Even so, a fair fraction of the tanar'ri managed to overcome their capricious ways to learn magic, even if only to create more chaos. Many became wild mages while others dabbled in the schools of evocation and conjuration, while abjuration, enchantment, and illusion (despite the latter being enhanced in the Abyss) were usually too subtle for their liking. The most common tanar'ric wizards were found among the half-fiends, something thought to be caused by the influence of their mortal heritage. Cambions were the ones who most frequently took up the art, while the smartest alu-fiends could become more powerful mages than would normally be expected for tanar'ri of their level, and never specialized in a single school.[136]

In the talons of a vrock is a copy of the Book of Vile Darkness.

Succubi mages used magic in their subtle schemes, while glabrezu wizards were known for direct and destructive casting. Nalfeshnee wizards often focused on necromancy for the purpose of making undead to guard their homes, while wastriliths, naturally, specialized in elemental water magic. Marilith mages, who like alu-fiends also never specialized, had the rare and dangerous ability to cast with two arms while dual wielding with another two, with some rumored to be able to cast two spells at once. Balors were capable of reaching the heights of magical power, while vrocks were an exceptional case, unable to become wizards individually no matter their intelligence but able to collectively cast spells that a group of five or more had studied, and reach power well beyond what one would normally be capable of.[136]

Tanar'ri wizards could play dangerous roles in the Blood War. Wastrilith mages often went head to head with similarly trained amnizu, while balor and pit fiend spellcasters could wrack vast areas in devastating sorcerous battles.[136]

Religion[]

Among the various fiendish races, the tanar'ri had the most clerics in their ranks, their loose society allowing them to make such pledges without angering a superior. Unlike baatezu priests, who kept their loyalties hidden to avoid the ire of the archdevils, tanar'ri priests eagerly displayed their allegiance, not just wearing the symbols of their faith, but marking their flesh with them. Tanar'ri clerics loved attacking other priests, particularly those of good powers and baatezu clerics, the latter of which were unfortunately too subtle to be clear targets. They were known to craft weapons to match their god's shape or symbol, and praise their deity by screaming curses before charging into battle.[137]

However, while the disorderly ways of the tanar'ri made adopting clerical ways easier, that same chaos also meant that they were unlikely to stick to a chosen god. Only direct threats from a powers' proxies could keep tanar'ri priests in line, which could have its own problems. Lesser tanar'ri sometimes served as lesser proxies, but were more dedicated to themselves than their patrons, their sinful natures possible to exploit to distract them from their duties. The mightiest proxies were among the "true" tanar'ri, who were vile enough to earn great status among their kin, but even though all feared their masters, they still had little loyalty. Even so, the chaotic gods of the Abyss didn't mind seeing their servants in disarray, and there were always plenty to fill the role of a traitorous servant.[16][137]

Tanar'ri that walked the religious path normally favored demon lords that had ascended to divinity to some level. Those that had not become true gods attracted the service of weaker tanar'ri who couldn't become powerful priests in any case. Those lords with a stake in the Blood War put their priests in positions of command at the forefront of their offensives. Some tanar'ri priests, meanwhile, favored the non-tanaric gods, including but not limited to; Lolth, Laogzed, Vaprak, Urdlen, the Great Beholder Mother, Kali, and Umberlee. No matter which god they were dedicated to, however, tanar'i temples were often huge sites of decadence, debauchery, and death built on grandiose scales, as if to suggest a former cathedral of good had been desecrated.[137]

Twelvetrees

A vile ritual taking place at Twelvetrees.

Another source of religious experience for the tanar'ri was the Abyssal layer of Twelvetrees. In the ancient past, several powerful tanar'ri had tricked a dozen astral devas into the Abyss before binding them to the trunks of twelve towering trees in a desolate layer. In a heinous arcane ritual, the devas were sacrificed, forever infusing the layer with vile energy and haunting it with their deafening death-screams. A great platform of basalt was constructed to commemorate the original sacrifice, built in the ring formed by the sickly pines on which the angels were killed, each of which still oozed spiritual slime in an echo of the spilt blood.[138]

In memory of their defiant ancestors, tanar'ri from all across the Abyss made the pilgrimage to Twelvetrees in memory of their defiant ancestors. Nearly all tanar'ri knew and respected the power of the layer, an offense against all demons. The layer's palpable evil drew pilgrims like a drug, inducing feelings of religious ecstasy. Those basking in the euphoric haze paid little attention to the outside world, and the few who would even pay attention to visitors weren't interested in what they had to say.[138]

Most pilgrims to Twelvetrees were dretches, rutterkin, and demonic crossbreeds desperate for a path to power. Many pilgrims hoped to use the platform to empower their own rituals and enhance their wicked schemes. Evil spells cast upon the platform were enhanced, and their effects prolonged. However, more powerful tanar'ri, including hezrous, vrocks, nalfeshnees, and mariliths, might also count themselves among the pilgrims.[138]

Becoming Divine

It was no secret that the masters of the Abyss actively sought the worship of Prime Material beings, as by gathering their worship it was possible to ascend to the ranks of demon lord, and from there true divinity, even if that was a difficult task. Being a race that thrived on corruption, tanar'ri lords could corrupt the followers of true gods, normally converting those of evil deities through threats and promises. Lords could hide all signs of conversion, allowing the priests to gain divine power from their original patron until otherwise discovered, and if enough such worshipers were gathered, godhood could be obtained.[16][27][139]

A lilitu posing on an altar.

A key instrument in the subversion of mortal faiths to the Abyssal cause were the lilitus. Lilitus specialized in slowly converting their victims to the worship of specific demon lords, infiltrating temples and corrupting the priests. Although their heretical nature made them vulnerable to the true magic of deities, they were masters of imitating divine magic, allowing them to outwardly appear to be clerics. Clergies eventually succumbed to their treacherous influence, embracing the worship of the lord even when revealed, allowing the lilitus, if not rooted out, to cultivate vast networks of interconnected cultists worshiping a demon lord in the guise of various benign deities.[140]

Aside from this, demon lords would go so far as to grant spells to those who summoned them in the hopes others would try to replicate their success. There was an equal chance that any given summoner would be rewarded or ripped apart, as the tanar'ri actively sought to ensure that mortals couldn't predict their reactions.[27][139] If they could, it would make it all the easier for the baatezu to do the same,[27] and the devils already sometimes posed as tanar'ri to trick would-be demon worshipers out of their souls.[141] Balors seeking to become demon lords also distributed their names to try and be summoned and create a worship base, and ironically tried their best to keep their word, at least until they could gain sufficient power, in order to spread their infamy.[27]

Art[]

In short, the tanar’ri aesthetic mirrors their lives — as all good art should... I can no more explain the tanar'ri aesthetic than I can explain the dreams of the wind. The fiends are beyond definition. But they produce very, very interesting art.
— Michil Kedell[15]

One of the few points where the tanar'ri excelled was in their sense of artistry; occasionally an Abyssal denizen could manage to craft a work of undeniable appeal, able to touch hearts of beings across the planes.[15] On the whole it was not pleasing or pretty, and in fact beautiful sights were often considered worthy of ridicule,[142] but it was always thought-provoking (as well as disturbing).[15]

From their paintings, architecture, music, and stories, tanar'ri artwork was a mishmash of conflicting images and themes, portraying ever deepening depths of twisted atrocity. It was harsh yet soft, clean but messy, jagged despite flowing, and ultimately unpredictable. They could write moving poetry regarding loyalty and betrayal, and even known pieces that showed a level of delicacy and compassion thought to be unthinkable among their kind.[15]

Economy[]

Despite the chaos of the Abyss, there were cities within its depths and trading that went on among its occupants. However, the prices paid for goods and services didn't necessarily take the form of mere coin, ranging from working bodies to spiritual capital.[143][144] Manes were often used as currency by the fiends, either between them and mortals or among one another as slaves and food.[145]

Demogorgon's city of Lemoriax hosted some of the largest and most diverse slave markets in the Outer Planes, perhaps outmatched only by the variety of exotic servitors to be found in the markets of Graz'zt's city of Azzagrat. Azzagrat had a staggering degree of other products and services for sale, attracting those from across the multiverse seeking obscure lore or otherwise unobtainable (and likely depraved) delights.[143][144] Besides those demon lord ruled cities, the aquatic myrmyxicus tanar'ri acted as the suppliers of thousands of slaves, providing buyers throughout the cosmos with conscripts, gladiators, and simple laborers.[146]

A glabrezu in Sigil purchases a sack of soul larva from a night hag.

The tanar'ri also participated in the soul larvae trade with the night hags of Hades, a notably curious fact considering their already vastly superior numbers. Though they claimed that their only reason for doing so was so was obstructing the baatezu, forcing them into a business rivalry, the truth was that they were simply better off buying the more stable larvae of the hags. Those made to change form often reverted back into larvae, and since millions of fiends could die daily in the Blood War both sides needed a constant stream of reinforcements.[147] The hag goddess Cegilune herself traded larvae with the tanar'ri (rather than baatezu), a deal each party resented; Cegilune needed the magic provided by the Abyssal forces to sustain herself, begrudging every trade, and various tanar'ri were forced to work with her for their own reasons.[148]

Planes[]

The tanar'ri treated the Abyss as their storehouse, center for recruitment, and free leave, but navigating their native plane could be a struggle even for them.[16] The Grand Abyss, the primary location for two-way portals in the Abyss was one of the most dangerous ways to navigate the plane, for while the obyriths had managed to come to some agreement on its use, the tanar'ri had no such consensus.[149] Beyond that, there were some places within the Abyss that the tanar'ri were loathe to probe, so hostile to the mind or body that even the mightiest beings could fall to their influence. The tanar'ri actively encouraged their enemies to meet them in these for battle in the hopes they would be foolish enough to do so.[150]

The tanar'ri were the demons most likely to be found outside the Abyss.[13] They were known to raid both Limbo and Pandemonium,[151] though not even they coveted the inhospitable bottom layer of the latter, Agathion.[152] In the other direction on the Great Wheel, Carceri served as both a mustering ground for their Blood War troops[153] and the battleground in a perpetual war of insurgency between the demons and daemons, with both sides constantly losing and gaining the upper hand.[154] Gehenna meanwhile acted as a skirmishing ground in their fight against the baatezu.[153] Tanar'ri of "greater" or higher status were known to roam the Astral and Ethereal planes in a ceaseless hunt for fresh victims.[17]

Relations[]

Fiends[]

The most infamous enemy of the tanar'ri were their eternal rivals, the race of devils known as the baatezu. Almost all "true" tanar'ri had a vested interest in keeping the Blood War raging, but why they were so eager to was a mystery.[9] They seemed to have a primal urge to annihilate the baatezu[17] and generally took the matter very seriously, their devotion inspiring the lower ranks of the tanar'ri. By tanar'ri standards, however, this was more akin to bullying the lower ranks into sharing their opinions,[80] forcing their less powerful kin to serve their purpose and continue waging the War.[17] For the baatezu's part, fighting the tanar'ri (which was a collective term they applied to all demonkind for convenience) was their second major activity next to harvesting souls.[155]

With the removal of those loathsome baatezu, this place has become even more agreeable. The scent of roasting flesh, the small power struggles, and the minor dramas combine to make this a most pleasant environment. I'd hear more screams, but then, this isn't the Abyss.
— A glabrezu.[28]

It was said that the true tanar'ri saw baatezu advancement as an attack on their beloved chaos.[80] While the lower tanar'ri were "content" to indulge in meaningless squabbles, the higher tanar'ri saw the threat that the baatezu represented, certain that the foolish devils sought to take the passion out of causing pain, replacing burning, hateful violence with cold, calculated cruelty.[76] The baatezu represented the order that the tanar'ri so hated, with some theorizing that the Blood War was a kind of diversion allowing the tanar'ri to focus the fury that fueled their infighting and turn it on a symbol of structure.[27] Perhaps their goal was as simple and aggressive as stripping the law from evil.[9]

Other theories proposed slightly different variations on this theme. It was possible that the tanar'ri just figured that the meaning of their lives was to destroy the baatezu,[9] or that the baatezu were trying to dictate the Answer (and thus, their meaning) to them.[80] Perhaps there was some form of power to be gained by destroying the baatezu,[9] as both sides discovered early on that the victor of their feud would have the multiverse as their prize. The seeds of the fighting were attributed to many factors, including philosophical differences, pre-emptive defense, the desire for territory, the urge to hold territory out of selfish spite, and simple hatred, but perhaps the greatest drive was primal struggle between law and chaos, and for them that was as far as it needed to go.[156]

In the minds of the manipulative yugoloths, emotion was a weakness to be manipulated, and the tanar'ri had taken their dark, primal drives to ridiculous extremes.[157] The first meeting between the two supposedly had the tanar'ri torture and kill them for the fun of it,[156] yet in more recent times both the tanar'ri and the baatezu made use of their mercenary services, if only out of fear the other would gain the sole patronage of the daemons if they didn't.[158] The yugoloths had much experience in manipulating both baatezu and tanar'ri, a mindset reinforced by their alleged past.[159]

According to yugoloth histories, the daemons supposedly created the tanar'ri through the use of a magical jewel called the Heart of Darkness, which purged them of all traces of Chaos (as well as Law). The ethical energies passed into the larvae of the Gray Wastes (which at this point in time were not formed from mortal souls), who were mutated into twisted reflections of the yugoloths. According to the texts, those that received strands of Chaos either journeyed to the Abyss or were herded there by yugoloths, and would eventually become the first tanar'ri. Though of extremely disputed accuracy, the yugoloths still believed the chaotic tanar'ri carried their essence, and thus would be controlled them again when they ruled the multiverse.[156]

The hated counterparts of the yugoloths were the gehreleths, exiles native to the Red Prison of Carceri. Despite leaning towards chaotic evil, the gehreleths mostly avoided the Blood War, hating both the baatezu and tanar'ri for constantly getting them stuck in the crossfire. Even so, they occasionally traded a few of their farastus to serve as mercenaries,[135] and when the greater tanar'ri visited to recruit them for their wars, they almost always accepted, eager as they were to despoil and slaughter.[160]

Celestials[]

An avoral, ghaele, and astral deva summoned to battle a marilith and vrock.

Despite rumored plans of major strikes, the tanar'ri wasted little time with the Upper Planes.[112] Most of them considered their true foes (at the moment) to be baatezu rather than entities of good.[10]

Of the various celestial races, it was likely the orderly archons who hated demonkind the most,[161] and if given the choice would first seek the total annihilation of the tanar'ri before the other types of fiends. The tanar'ri were not just diametrically opposed to them, but actually beyond the archons' comprehension.[162] Just as love and empathy were foreign notions to the tanar'ri, known to them only by their definitions,[21] the archons were aware of the existence of hate and prejudice but didn't fully understand such concepts.[163] The baatezu, at the very least, were an enemy that could be tactically maneuvered against.[162]

Conversely, the fey-like eladrin most strongly opposed the organized evils of tyranny.[164] In an ironic way, the tanar'ri actually had the eladrin to thank for their rise to power; when the ancient obyriths were weakened, it was the further efforts of the invading eladrin host that created an opportunity for the tanar'ri to overthrow their masters, the assault ensuring that the obyrith's rule came to an end.[165] However, the eladrin made little distinction between the two subraces, slaying both with impunity,[166] and since that time hosts of demons and eladrin made periodic attacks against each other, only succeeding in making the other hate them more.[165]

Despite both being champions of chaos, the similarities between eladrin and demons only threw their differences into sharper focus.[165] The eladrin were the celestial race that cared least about the feuding of the tanar'ri and baatezu, content as they were to let them destroy one another. This relative neutrality ended, however, when mortals were involved; while the tanar'ri each sought ultimate power for themselves and lured mortals into their clutches to do it, the eladrin felt that mortals had the right to determine their own destinies without their wicked predations, fighting off the influence of lower-planar agents one fiend at a time.[162]

Better to be caressed by chaos than strangled by law.
— A bariaur proverb.[167]

Other chaotic celestials also "favored" the tanar'ri, at least more than the baatezu. Asuras (as well as the more chaotic angels) usually preferred the random of tanar'ri behavior as opposed to the premeditated methods of the baatezu, believing that the fate of the multiverse was best entrusted to the unpredictable forces of chance.[162] Similarly, bariaur were too free-spirited to accept baatezu reign, believing the devils would smother the multiverse under rigid conformity, though they would only grudgingly assist the tanar'ri until they were capable of fighting on their own again.[167]

Powers[]

Many powers opposed the tanar'ri, such as Gruumsh of the orcs. In his eye the tanar'ri were an undisciplined, mewling mass, a horde of rabble of that he did not want running rampant throughout the multiverse. Chaos was weakness, weakness was to be destroyed, and when he could spare them he would send his fiercest fighters to contribute to the Blood War. Less wicked than Gruumsh was Primus, the ruling power of the modrons, who hated the tanar'ri (even if he didn't appreciate the baatezu either). When the tanar'ri seemed like they might threaten Mechanus, he would subtly set into motion the actions to stop them, usually just by casting their movements as an undesirable shift in the cosmic balance to his followers. From there they might coordinate with the archons, lend the baatezu numbers, or just march on the Abyssal forts.[168]

Meanwhile, most chaotic powers were too disorganized to provide the tanar'ri with useful assistance, if they provided any at all. They might ignore the Blood War for centuries before suddenly launching into an overwhelming, spastic show of support before losing interest again.[168]

The Norse pantheon were known to favor the tanar'ri in the Blood War, although their reasons for getting involved were often out of boredom or sport rather than any noble reasons. The boisterous, roughhousing einheriar (and valkyries) of Ysgard marched forth from their realm, regarding their involvement as a playful matter, while the deities provided their followers with a diversion from the sometimes routine battles of of their homeland. Usually they emerged in the middle of the fighting and aimed for where it was thickest. It didn't take much for the tanar'ri to turn on them however, not sharing their sense of kinship through chaos, at which point the fight was considered truly exciting. After a decade or two the Norse invaders grew homesick, took their dead, and returned to Ysgard.[168]

The interference of Loki was slightly different to that of the other Norse gods, such as Thor or Odin. When sulking after being scorned, he would scheme to annoy both the baatezu and tanar'ri by sending frost or fire giants to harass them, although when forced to choose he sided with the Abyssal hosts.[168] Similarly outcast, the greater titans of Carceri felt they were above the Blood War, only interfering if they believed that they could manipulate tanar'ri generals into helping them achieve freedom.[160]

Others[]

Although they too were creatures of chaos, the slaadi participated in the Blood War on the tanar'ri side for the sake of proving themselves more than anything else. They lacked the organization to devote true armies, didn't coordinate with the tanar'ri, and in the thick of battle sometimes forgot which side was which and could end up helping the baatezu, who would likely proceed to tear the chaotic creatures apart.[162] The neighbors of the slaadi in Limbo, the githzerai, had mixed feelings about which side to help. Some elders believed that order had to be brought to chaos while more wanton would follow the slaadi lead and support the tanar'ri, though they largely avoided involvement out of a desire not to be dragged into the conflict.[167]

Mortals[]

They do have free will... We could have no foothold if they would just resist us. It is their weakness that dooms them. If they would only strengthen themselves, we could achieve nothing. As it is, they do not, and so we grow stronger. It is the way of existence. And if it were not, we would make it our way.
— A glabrezu.[28]

Despite their origins, most tanar'ri either couldn't remember or didn't care that they were once mortals or came from mortals, believing themselves to be the multiverse's ultimate race.[41] Much like the baatezu, the tanar'ri desired power on the Material Plane and were willing to make deals with mortals to do so.[18] Rather than the intellectual evils of pride, ambition, and subversiveness that the baatezu tempted their victims with however, the tanar'ri exploited the evils of appetite, luring mortals into crimes of passion, instant gratification, and sensual desire.[17][25]

A hezrou tries to escape the bonds of the drow caster keeping it trapped.

The most commonly summoned among the most powerful tanar'ri were the glabrezu, but they required a true name to call, without which one was more likely to get a bulezau or armanite. Though these haphazardly summoned creatures hated being bound to mortals, they would also be intrigued by new experiences, and causing mayhem on the Material Plane would be a completely novel activity. However, the tanar'ri had none of the concern for the rules of negotiation or diplomacy that the baatezu possessed, making the end result of calling them much more likely to end violently.[18]

Despite many tomes describing how to call tanar'ri, very few properly described the true secrets of binding them, partially because many of them were written by tanar'ri trying to trick mortals into freeing them on the Material Plane. They could of course use portals, but doing so was somewhat unreliable and too public, allowing them to be followed. Even if a tanar'ri had the power to get there on their own (such as by plane-shifting) they would first have to find a greedy enough victim to tempt. Being summoned granted them anonymity, as well as a perfect victim.[18][139]

I won’t tell you how I learned to bind the life force of a marilith to my own, but I did it just the same. See, I wanted immortality and riches beyond my wildest dreams. ’Course, I knew the fiend's word wasn’t worth a speck of dirt, but I also knew she couldn’t refuse; after all, I held her life in my hands, right? Wrong. She took some of mine in return, and I’ve learned since that the immortality I was promised is eternal life as a dretch in her service. Sound like something a tanar'ri'd do? No, I didn't think so, either. See, I was ready for her to boldly break her word and try to squash me. I wasn’t ready to be peeled. But it just goes to prove my point: Every tanar’ri is an exception to the rule.
— Telson Splithorn, a bariaur that dealt with demons.[15]

Further complicating the matter was that some tanar'ri (such as balors trying to become deities by spreading the means to summon them on the Material Plane) sometimes had their true names spread by their enemies as part of schemes to get them summoned away when least convenient. Unthinkable torment likely awaited the unfortunate tricked into calling such a fiend unless their wards were powerful and perfectly crafted. In general however, there was no telling how a tanar'ri would react on a given day nor given moment, and every time they were summoned, the summoner was putting their lives and others in jeopardy.[27]

If a summoned tanar'ri managed to escape the one who called them, they often set themselves up as dangerous figures up to and including deities. Fortunately most lacked the self-control not to run rampant in a new world and weren't canny enough to hide out first, sometimes prompting a celestial to deal with them. One of their favorite tricks was taking control of a mortal's body using a special ability similar to magic jar The demons simply ran riot after obtaining new bodies, gorging themselves on the reputedly enhanced sensations of mortal form without a care for what happened to their puppets, leaving the victims feeling violated in the most profound way afterwards.[18]

In the Abyss[]

Arguably more demented than those who would willingly summon a tanar'ri were those who would go to them, entering the Abyss to strike deals with them. Of the few that returned from making such arrangements, nearly all were surprised when the tanar'ri immediately went back on their promises the moment it was convenient. Arrogant mortal mages might find themselves lucky enough to be gifted a quasit only for their former servant to drag them away upon death, while some were searching out the source of evil.[20] Mortals that actually lived in the Abyss were a heinous assortment of hardened killers, traitors, and thugs.[16]

Not all mortals that ended up in the Abyss meant to go there however. Some were the sacrifices of bargains made with the tanar'ri, and in all likelihood would soon be food. Some accidentally (whether they created it or not) went through a portal to get there, and of those who could even temporarily survive whatever inhospitable environment they were stuck in, only a lucky few found shelter as slaves to whatever tanar'ri found them first.[20] The wiser planar being didn't plan to stay long in the Abyss (if they did at all), doing what they needed and quickly getting out.[37]

One of the easiest ways to survive a trip was to make one's self useful to a tanar'ri powerful enough to hold a stronghold and enforce a pass of safe-conduct. Few were willing to coddle beings of the Material Plane, but sometimes even the lords just needed an expendable messenger. Usually the tanar'ri could be trusted to keep their word so long as their benefactor was both useful and interesting (and they'd likely kill him as soon as they stopped being one of the two). Unfortunately killing the messenger was a bad habit of the tanar'ri, even if one's patron tanar'ri liked them enough to try and avenge them, so a clever traveler picked allies that could be beaten if they were betrayed.[37][169]

Biology[]

A dretch on the dissection table.

Most demons were living things, yet as creatures not from the Material Plane, they lacked the same biological requirements found in those that were and had strange features of their own. For example, a dissection performed on a dretch revealed that while their muscles were cable-like and their bones dense while they were still alive, their tendons became atrophied and their bones brittle when they had died, implying their strength was not simply biological, but magical in nature.[170]

Like with their most of their myriad abilities, the features of specific types of tanar'ri generally reflected where they came from. The substance they were made of, whether bone or metal, sometimes indicated the most common material of their native layer, and those that seemed drastically different (such as if one was covered by spikes and another with slime) were likely from very distant layers. Their style of movement — whether they sinuously slid, jerkily stumbled, or made great horizontal bounds — often indicated the dangers of a layer and possibly the best way to traverse it. The home of a tanar'ri with sharp teeth, claws, or horns likely encouraged close-quarters combat and the shedding of blood, while a layer with predators that were dangerous but had poor senses might host tanar'ri able to turn translucent under the right angle of light.[10]

Diet[]

An Abyssal tavern with dretch servers.

The notion that the tanar'ri needed to eat at all, let alone had any specific dietary requirements, was a matter of contention.[31] For a frame of reference, dretches were noted to consume nearly all organic matter, living or dead, and while they did have a rudimentary digestive system (consisting of an esophagus connecting the mouth to a "stomach") no other digestive organs, such as intensities or bowels, were to be found.[170] Some tanar'ri allegedly consumed the spirits (as well as corpses) of their enemies, while others were said to draw the magical essence out from their bodies. The feeding of many types of tanar'ri, including maurezhi, nabassus, and nalfeshnees, had an esoteric component.[31]

Whether or not they needed to eat, many tanar'ri chose to for a variety of reasons, sometimes just for the simple pleasure of the act. Vrocks, for example, devoured their enemies mostly for symbolic reasons, a gesture of their superiority over the adversary. If an overall structure or symbolic meaning underlaid tanar'ri eating habits, such a thing was unknown and certainly not being actively followed. Like with most things regarding the tanar'ri, trying to force them into neat categories based on how they ate was a futile endeavor. Their feeding, mirroring the rest of their activities, was senseless and destructive.[31]

However, even if the tanar'ri didn't need to eat, they still derived nourishment from doing so[17] (although overslaking themselves could leave them feeling letargic).[10] On the surface, the answer to what they ate overall was both simple and expected: great quantities of meat, preferably alive. If not that, most tanar'ri fed upon the life force of other creatures. What made a meal even better for them however, was when it was scared. It was a known fact that the tanar'ri could literally smell fear, and supposedly the meat took on a bold, vastly more satisfying flavor for them when their victim was horrified. They also seemed to derive greater nutrition from a frightened victim, leading to the addition of a middle step, terrify, in the typical predator methodology of stalk and kill.[17]

Furthermore, it was sometimes theorized that there was something deeper behind the process of tanar'ric consumption. Unlike creatures such as yugoloths (particularly the lesser daemons) that enjoyed fear and pain as a flavoring for their meat, it was thought that the tanar'ri consumed the agony and terror itself, that they relished the act of ripping into the living because the screams spread the fear to other prey. Furthermore, it created dark stories about the tanar'ri, increasing the fear on an even greater scale, and some perhaps intended to instill a painful, frightful reminder in their victims of their own mortality. In any case, the tanar'ri found sustenance in both suffering and flesh, whether or not they needed to.[31][171]

Sleep[]

Although capable of it if they desired and able to be rendered unconscious, demons generally didn't require sleep and didn't gain any benefits from doing so.[170] If tanar'ri did do anything more than dozing they managed to avoid revealing it, as everything indicated that they were creatures of constant activity, always moving from one task (however pointless) to the next.[31]

Some theorized that they did in fact sleep but did so with imperceptible speed, getting the rest they needed between steps and blinks. Some thought this an explanation for their behavior, portraying the tanar'ri as halfway between the world of the sleeping and awake never certain which was which. This was also posited as an explanation for their more bewildering reactions and ability to jump to insightful conclusions. Then again, their strange ways could just as easily be explained by the idea that they did need sleep and never got it, their behavior able to be written off as insanity born from insomnia, and whether real or not they were just as determined to wreak havoc in their surroundings.[31]

Creation[]

The tanar'ri were an incredibly prolific race, outnumbering their baatezu rivals to a staggering degree and possessing a wide variety of advantages when it came to the numbers game. For example, both the baatezu and tanar'ri could emerge spontaneously from their native planes, but the tanar'ri blossomed from the chaotic maelstroms of the Abyss far more frequently than the baatezu could pull themselves out from Baator's unfeeling order and rigid ground, as was to be expected from somewhere as structured and regulated as the Nine Hells.[172][22]

Unlike their obyrith progenitors, who were spawned directly from the heaving flesh of the Abyss, the tanar'ri emerged from the more fertile soul of mortal spirit. However, the original tanar'ri breeds were not truly born from the first humanoid souls to enter the Abyss, but rather forged from them. Several varieties of the chaotic fiends had to be coaxed and shaped into existence by the obyriths, particularly through the aid of the sibriexes. In more recent times the process continued without intervention, with the tanar'ri emerging from sins on their own. Some sins were ageless, invariable in nature across time and so spawning commonly known tanar'ri, but there were often new depravities that existed for a brief window of time, resulting in transitory breeds able to go extinct before even coming to the attention of the Material Plane.[6]

The most pitiful of chaotic evil souls (assuming they did not worship an Abyssal lord or deity, in which case those beings would choose their form) manifested in the Abyss as the worm-like soul larvae.[22][173] Demons often devoured these petitioners, utterly destroying them and permanently erasing all that they were from the multiverse,[173] but the tanar'ri "promoted" almost all of the creatures into higher forms,[22] bending the tenuous natural order of the Abyss to make them into true demons.[173] This was among the many reasons why the tanar'ri outnumbered the baatezu, who trolled the Hells for only the hardiest larvae that struggled against harsh conditions and met their strict standards to mold into lemures.[22][174]

Many (but not all) new souls were spawned directly on the Woeful Escarand to be judged according to the dubiously upheld standards of the Lords of Woe, assigned a tanar'ic form, and from there deposited on some other layer of the Abyss.[173][22][88] Most souls, however, did not have to start as a pathetic larva, but rather took the form of a mane which vaguely resembled their mortal selves, albeit driven feral by the overwhelming psychic shock of their transformation.[173]

Procreation[]

Some tanar'ri employed the more traditional methods of reproduction. Unlike with the baatezu, whose females were all infertile, many types of tanar'ri were capable of breeding among themselves.[10][31][175] It was not uncommon for tanar'ri to take on different sexes at will, going between male, female, both, and neither as they so desired. Over time they generally stuck with one form, letting their strongest predilection dominate the others. This was partially because changing between them was a considerable effort even for the mightiest of them, effort that they'd generally rather use on something destructive.[10]

Tanar'ri offspring were normally the same type as their parents or of a type somewhere between the relative strength of the two, favoring the mother's due to their influence up until the birth. Some were carried for mere days before being left to the Abyss, others were carried over decades and given time to incubate, and others still were laid as eggs. In any case, a tanar'ric birth could end badly for the bearer if proper precautions weren't taken. These "true-born" tanar'ri were planar beings born ready for the hardships of battle from the moment of inception. Fortunately for the rest of the multiverse, most of such creatures were killed in infancy by their own parents soon after being spawned.[31][16]

A tanarukk and a fey'ri, two planetouched of tana'ric ancestry.

Unfortunately for many, the tanar'ri loved to mate with a countless variety of races. From seduction and disguise to brute force and unholy pacts, they had many methods to get what they wanted in this regard.[31] The unluckiest mortals were the ones chosen as breeding stock;[34] conversely, some sought out tanar'ri to couple with for the sake of power. Sometimes tanar'ri were motivated to crossbreed by the desire for a new sensation,[39] while at others they sought simply to create more of their ilk,[34] tanar'ri nature (notably their ability to magically transform)[176] able to override the most pressing biological barriers to crossbreed with nearly any mortal species. However, mortal mothers almost always died in the painful throes of Abyssal childbirth, while mortal fathers were often killed soon after the coupling (assuming they didn't die the moment their seed took root).[31][34]

Examples of mortal-tanar'ri crossbreeds included cambions, alu-fiends, and draegloths, and the further interbreeding of tanar'ric half-fiends and mortals could produce various other types of fiendish hybrids down the line.[34][177] A key example of these distant descendants were demonic tieflings, their ancestors usually being either succubi or mariliths.[176] Other examples included the fey'ri, the descendants of a house of sun elves that secretly bred with succubi to empower their bloodline,[178] and the tanarukks, the descendants of tanar'ri (particularly vrocks) and the orcish slaves they bred with in an attempt to create an army of shock troops. Notably, tanarukks bred true amongst each other and pure-blooded orcs, and could theoretically breed with goblinoids or even ogres to create strange (if likely sterile) crossbreeds.[179]

Ascension[]

Just look at the tanar'ri. Uncountable fiends at their command, and still the fools can’t defeat us! We rise based on skill and cunning, but they rise through luck and hatred. That won’t win many fights in the long run.
— The opinion of an erinyes devil.[180]

The tanar'ri were constantly taking on new shapes,[12] always changing to become more powerful,[181] and most types of tanar'ri originated from weaker fiends that had advanced into a higher form.[10] Baatezu ascended by obtaining favor and stamps of approval from important fiends and infernal ministries, yugoloths by proving their competence and conviction in wickedness, as well as how best to demonstrate it,[10] and even the slightly chaotic gehreleths by waiting for the deaths of enough superiors.[182] The tanar'ri, meanwhile, had no such rigmarole,[10] nor the set torture procedures used to elevate castes.[12] Unlike other fiends, it would be inaccurate to label their transformations "promotions" or even to say they were "rising". Rather than ascend, it would be more accurate to say the chaotic fiends "changed" and they did so with no apparent rhyme or reason.[10]

The most common theory behind tanar'ric transformations was that the demons changed based on what they believed. It was a strange combination of posturing and self-confidence where by convincing both themselves and those around them of their strength and intelligence, reality would shift to match perception. Whether or not they were right was irrelevant, for so long as others believed (and if they deluded themselves into believing), the lie would eventually become true, but it helped to have some edge, such as cunning, power, magic, or deep self-confidence, to back up their supposed greatness.[10][12] This change was not believed to be automatic, but a gradual, self-determined process, and the means by which tanar'ri shaped themselves to best survive in their native layers.[11][10]

But just as the Abyss shaped the tanar'ri, the tanar'ri shaped the Abyss, feeding it with their own beliefs and power and it empowering them in turn.[11] In the ever-changing depths of the Abyss, power was station and it was adapt or die. The lowest Abyssal petitioners, the soul larvae, learned quickly of the brutality of their existence and advanced towards strength and sentience as fast as possible. When new kinds of fiendish life spontaneously appeared in the Abyss, it was because the larvae there had undergone a twisted kind of evolution. On harsher layers of the Abyss, generations could go by before one managed to rise above the rest and assume a form able to exploit their environment.[11]

Indeed, just as the tanar'ri adapted to the Abyss, the Abyss adapted to the tanar'ri, forming new hazards and inhospitable realms to crush all but the most capable lifeforms.[22] The most common shapes of the tanar'ri were those able to inhabit multiple specialized environments, even those completely obscure to most mortals.[11] In a sense, it was the many hostile layers of the Abyss that taught the tanar'ri which forms to take (and which to flee from) to survive.[10] After obtaining forms capable of survival, a tanar'ri could attempt take on new forms, but only if they had the energy to spare.[11]

However, it was important to note that the newer demons were not simply changing to match their homes. Rather, these tanar'ri took cues from more experienced fiends, imitating the strength and abilities that gave them their staying power.[11] A tanar'ri that adapted a pair of sharp claws, for example, needed not be from a layer that truly encouraged close combat, but merely to believe that excelling in this area was the most worthwhile of goals.[10]

A fair number of people felt that faith was an insufficient explanation of tanar'ric transformations. Some were certain that other forces, such as balors or nalfeshnee, manipulated and channeled the belief, while others thought that the Abyss randomly determined a tanar'ri's form without regard for skill of mental capacity.[10] In reality, neither of these views were wrong. In the chaos of the Abyss, both force of will and pure luck played a role. The spontaneous evolution of manes, for example, usually happened at the whims of the Abyss, even if an individual's chances were higher. Furthermore, stronger demons did engineer the promotions of manes on occasion, generally the unusually cruel and intelligent.[11][173][183] The nalfeshnees in particular drained life and dark emotions from those they judged, readying the husks for torturous transformation into tanar'ri.[41]

Time[]

It was said that the strongest tanar'ri (those deemed "true") were never born into their place but had to evolve into it; even those that hatched from eggs, for example, were other fiends first and kept all their previous memories.[80][173] However, a larvae created from an exceptionally evil being, such as a major dictator or violent mastermind, might technically start weak, but immediately turn into a much stronger demon.[173] The mindless manes occasionally underwent a similar transformations, generally those that possessed the most fragments of shattered memories and the highest levels of cruelty, gaining forms ranging from the lowly dretch to even a molydeus.[183]

Normally however, it was practically impossible for a tanar'ri to make even one jump in status (going from least to greater for example), a feat only the most ambitious and devious of their kind were known to have accomplished. Changing rank at all could take anywhere between a century to millennia depending on a given tanar'ri's drive. Most accepted the gradual changes, allowing them to experience and take in all the many variations in the existence of their kind.[10] Granted, the chances of a mane becoming even a dretch was one in a thousand and their chances of becoming something better (such as an armanite) one in a million. Even so, the tanar'ri were incredibly plentiful,[181] and even a lowly mane could become a lord, albeit only after eons of struggling;[12] some of the strongest lords started their afterlives as mere petitioners.[173]

Non-Tanar'ri[]

Also of note was the fact that non-tanar'ri demons could undergo a kind of metamorphosis. A primary example of this phenomenon was Pazuzu, an obyrith lord who seemed to have evolved with the rule of the Abyss. Despite technically being an obyrith, he had been "accepted" by the tanar'ri and represented a kind of transitional link between the two. Over the eons, due to this dual nature, he had taken on a less horrible shape, his mind-warping form replaced by an aura that made avians servile to his will, and he had also gained several tanar'ri-like qualities, including the power to summon them.[184] Another example were wastriliths; they too were once obyriths, but had evolved beyond their origins into unique entities and were frequently deemed to be tanar'ri at one point.[185][186]

Types of Tanar'ri[]

How many different kinds of tanar'ri exist? A dozen? Two? Perhaps we've only identified some twenty-odd types of Abyssal fiends, but I'd bet a week’s wages there are more kinds of tanar’ri than there are portals in Sigil, trees on Arborea, gears on Mechanus — you get my meaning.
— Michil Kedell[11]
Adaru 
Millipede-like demons of pure corruption, adarus were verminous, venomous tanar'ri that oozed filth and spewed toxicity. Created by Talona, Lady of Poison, they awoke to vile sentience in response to the terrible results of a mortal's deceit, and manipulated other demons with lies and false promises.[187]
Alkilith 
Disgusting masses of phosphorescent green ooze, alkiliths were pollution and putrescence made hatefully alive. The spawn of Juiblex, Demon Lord of Ooze, were embodiments of sloth that by merely infecting the world brought moral decay, desecration of the pristine, and the corrosion of reality itself.[7][83][188][189]

An armanite (left) and uridezu (right) in front of a goristro.

Armanite 
Monstrous, centaur-like tanar'ri, armanites acted as heavy cavalry in demonic armies when not running wild across the Abyss. Vicious and quarrelsome yet brutally disciplined, armanites were militaristic mercenaries that fought for plunder, and to sate their bloodlust in the chaotic frenzy of battle.[94][107][190]
Arrow demon 
Four-armed, humanoid tanar'ri capable of wielding two longbows at once, arrow demons were created to fight in the armies of the Abyss. Although the Abyssal archers understood a life of service and the value of group action, they were demons through and through, hateful of hope and alien to altruism.[95]
Babau 
Sneaky, skeletal demons of deviousness and discretion, babaus were tanar'ri notable for placing work before pain. Efficiently evil and mechanically malicious, they were the alleged result of Glasya and Graz'zt's "union", when the subversive Princess of the Night spilled the Dark Prince's blood.[74][191]
Balor 

A balor and marilith.

With burning rage and lightning fury, balors were mighty tanar'ri champions and generals with the primal urge to battle. Brilliant, corruptive, and inspiring, they were passionate hate personified, and channeled their unholy power into the fight for freedom — the freedom of evil from order and reason.[76][89][106]
Barlgura 
Animalistic ape-like demons, barlguras were tribal pack hunters that took gruesome trophies from their prey. Manifestations of savage brutality, leaping demons bounded unseen through the wilds using camouflage and teleportation, for the ambush predators were experts in guerilla warfare.[85][192][193][194]
Bulezau 
Minotaur-like demons of unending ferocity, buleazus were embodiments of nature's violence, heavy infantry that went beyond savagery with bestial, suicidal rage. Made by Baphomet by breeding minotaurs and tanar'ri, the buleazu were too wild even for the Prince of Beasts.[93][195][196]
Cerebrilith 
The size of an ogre yet intellectually fearsome, cerebriliths were tanar'ri with exposed, swollen brains, and the power of psionics. The horrifying creatures loved to kill intelligent beings so as to extract and examine their brains to gain new insight into the Invisible Art.[97][197]
Chasme 
Cunning, craven tanar'ri sent to punish other demons, the lowly, fly-like chasmes tracked down traitors branded for service through a psychic imprint of chaotic evil before returning and torturing them. They emerged as maggots from the Abyss's dead, before feeding off the plane's pervasive corruption.[80][104][131][198][199]
Dretch 
The wretched dregs of the tanar'ri, dretches were the least of their kind, pathetic and squalid beings with few redeeming qualities. Cowardly and stupid, it was only due to possessing enough mutability and malice as mortals that dretches managed to maintain a fraction of their former minds.[192][200][201]
Gadacro 
Small, flying tanar'ri with a love of shiny baubles and a taste for freshly plucked eyes, gadacros were lesser demons of viciousness tempered by cowardice. Like demonic carrion birds, murders of them trailed demonic hosts to pick off surviving stragglers, betraying their kin whenever beneficial.[202]
Glabrezu 
Monstrous in appearance and of devious mind, glabrezus were ambitious demons, insidious schemers and the foremost corruptors of the Abyss. Embodiments of envy, such tanar'ri tempted the weak-willed with infectious promises of unmatched power, the onset of megalomania that would beget a pandemic of sin.[6][80][33]
Goristro 
Another creation of Baphomet, goristros were huge, ferocious tanar'ri that resembled fiendish minotaurs and were often used as living siege engines. The hulking demons had unimaginable strength, and spending centuries in breeding pits had made them frighteningly good at their sole task: smashing.[192][203][204]
Hezrou 

A hezrou overlord keeping a leash on his dretch as a manipulating succubus whispers to him.

Stinky, slimy, and violent, hezrous were toad-like tanar'ri that kept watch of weaker demonic forces for stronger, less numerous masters. Unusually compliant and brutally simple, they sought only to eat and destroy, and would work with anyone of sufficient strength who tolerated these traits.[192][103][1]
Jovoc 
Resembling the blackened corpses of children, jovocs were nimble demons that spread their pain to those around them. Born from gloom, despair, and strife, jovocs existed to cause further anguish, their appearance in the world a portent of the suffering soon to come.[101][205]
Kastighur 
Massive, sadistic tanar'ri, kastighurs often served as prison guards and hunters for more powerful, intellectual demons. More than mere sadists, they literally consumed the terror, panic, and hopelessness of those they tortured and tracked down, their greatest delight being the act of breaking wills.[133]
Klurichir 
Tanar'ri of truly unfathomable might, klurichirs were demonic abominations, rare entities so powerful that they terrified even balors. Rivaling the power of demon lords but not bound by a layer, they were spawned in the lowest levels of the infinite Abyss by the corruption at its core.[206][207][208]
Lilitu 
Former succubi reborn in their own ashes, lilitus were heretical tanar'ri that subsisted on the profane joy of twisting priests into demon worshipers. The first to become lilitus were born of Malcanthet, Queen of Succubi, and Ansitif the Befouler, whose corruptive nature unlocked the blasphemous rite.[209][210]
Mane 

A mane (lower left) next to a bar-lgura and rutterkin (back).

Little more than demonic petitioners, the corpse-like manes were mere sub-tanar'ic spirits even lower than the dretches. Truly abysmal, they were the physical shells of souls driven to mad hatred by loss and agony, too wicked to be spared from the Abyss but not enough to have real promise there.[92][91][173]
Marilith 
Six-armed, serpentine tanar'ri of militant brilliance, mariliths were demons that could act with cold logic. Proud of their martial prowess, experts in warfare, and able to coordinate demon armies, mariliths could master or suppress their inner rage to predict (if not truly understand) the forces of law.[192][80][89][105]
Maurezhi 
Ghoul-like tanar'ri created from a corrupted elf society by Doresain, Prince of Ghouls, maurezhi consumed their kills to steal their forms and memories. Scourge incarnations of the undeath plague, they spread chaos and evil through vile bite, infecting mortals with an unholy, overpowering hunger for flesh.[98][211]
Mavawhan 
Rare, cold-dwelling demons native to the Iron Wastes, mavawhans were tanar'ri known for focused fury and chilling magic able to freeze victims solid. The ice demons sought to take back their homelands from tanar'ri-hating Kostchtchie, who had driven them to the corners of their home.[212][213]
Molydeus 
Two-headed tanar'ri created by demon lords, molydei were sent to ensure the loyalty of more powerful servants, rivaling balors in power and surpassing them in fearsomeness. Their wolf head symbolized rage and their serpent head mistrust, the latter's bite able to reduce any demon to a mere mane.[214][215][216]
Myrmyxicus 
Primeval, aquatic demons, myrmyxicuses were among the earliest tanar'ri, immensely powerful creatures that commanded respect from even the haughtiest balor. Rulers of the Abyssian Ocean, each was the master of a grand slave empire, their captives ranging from unlucky humans to overconfident demon lords.[8][217][218]
Nabassu 
Gargoylish demons ever-hungry for souls, nabassus were tanar'ri spawned from gluttony that peered into the Material realm waiting to enter and feed. Instantly recognizable as demons, they spread fear and death on the Material Plane to instill terror in mortals, thus bringing power to all demonkind.[6][219][220][221][222]

A brutish nalfeshnee, corrupting glabrezu, and babau assassin.

Nalfeshnee 
The corpulent nobles of the tanar'ri, nalfeshnees were the judges of souls, picking the forms of most arrivals based on their own warped sense of "justice". The bloated demons embodied both hunger and sloth, and readied souls for conversion by consuming their hate and despair, leaving only husks.[89][39][41][223]
Palrethee 
Constantly aflame, palrethees were tanar'ri of arrogance and ambition who sought to rule the Abyss as balors. Despite their great levels of sadistic intent and wickedness, the power-hungry creatures failed their trial by fire, and so as punishment were sentenced to burn for all eternity.[224]
Rutterkin 
Twisted mutants in unending pain, rutterkin were outcasts of demonkind, utterly despised creatures cursed with deformity for their pride. Creatures of utter chaos, they were unrestrained by relationships, societies, and even consistency, their own forms always warping horrifically against their will.[200][225][226][227]
Solamith 
Obese tanar'ri of all-consuming appetite, gluttonous depravity, and burning hunger, the flesh of solamiths was charged with the spiritual fire of their prey. They savored each bite of lesser fiend or petitioner, and once finished, a spiritual echo pleading for release appeared as a new face on their guts.[96][228]
Sorrowsworn demon 
Tanar'ri of emptiness and futility, sorrowsworn demons were predators and perpetuators of weakness, grief, and despair. They appeared after tragedies in places of great misery, whispering about losses big and small, past and future, real and imagined, and the inevitably of losing what one held most dear.[229]
Spyder-fiend 
Combining the worst traits of lupines and arachnids, spyder-fiends were the servants of Miska the Wolf-Spider, the second Prince of Demons and first tanar'ri to claim the title. The horrid demons were cruel, cunning, and said to be the offspring of their master and the Queen of Chaos.[78]
Succubus 
Sinister seductresses, succubi enticed important souls with vile debauchery, encouraging their darkest desires before leaving them with empty pleasure. Embracing mortal form rather than twisting it, they were born from the primal, deadly sin of lust, the one most potent for seeding new demonic life.[6][85][230]
Uridezu 
Cowardly and rat-like, uridezu were verminous tanar'ri that served as henchmen for more powerful demons. The rodents retained a connection to the rats of the Material Plane and had a similar niche in the Abyss, that of scavenging nuisances that lurked unseen in the shadows stealing scraps of food.[231]
Each tanar'ri — or demon, as you mortals may call us from time to time — represents a way of thinking, a particular expression of the mind's will to power. Now count the limitless numbers of the Abyss. Truly, we demonstrate the strength of our cause in the minds of mortals.
— A glabrezu.[28]
Vrock 
Vulture-like demons of notorious selfishness, vrocks could coordinate with each other to a startling degree, battling with uncanny grace in elite fighting squads. They were also hateful creatures spawned from the ancient sin of wrath, their instinctive teamwork undermined by greed and bloodlust.[6][80][100][232][1]
Yochlol 
Known as the Handmaidens of Lolth, yochlols were tanar'ri created from succubi through terrible rites exclusive to the Spider Queen. Though absolutely loyal to Lolth and sent to ensure drow fealty, they were notable being able to work with each other, and form genuine friendships with mortals.[14][233]

Death[]

A decorated nalfeshnee skull.

There was little question to what happened to a tanar'ri that was slain in the Abyss: permanent death. They were too close to the source of their being to reform, the pull of the Abyss so strong that their spirits were sucked into the heart of the churning mass of hatred. Normally the body was taken along with the spirit, feeding the Abyss that would eventually spit the corpse out in the form of a mane or other lesser creature.[31] This, however, was assuming that they weren't completely destroyed in the process (such as if they were devoured or taken out with holy weapons or water).[123] If a tanar'ri's spirit was destroyed, the corpse just withered and the Abyss would get nothing from it.[31]

A more debated matter was what exactly happened when tanar'ri died away from the Abyss. The best possible fate for a killed demon under these circumstances was instantaneous reformation in the Abyss, their bodies swiftly dissolving and eventually returning (assuming they weren't kept bound by a spell like spirit anchor) their minds intact, and their "essence" reincarnating as a new demon. But even in this best case scenario, a demon's life was still put at great risk. A fiend that fell back to the Abyss (assuming they weren't summoned, in which case death was ultimately irrelevant) was in danger of "demotion", either suffering a reduction in rank or potentially starting at the very bottom of the rung. Even the mighty balors could be subject to this phenomenon, and only by the will of a demon prince could one be exempted.[234][235]

Less charitable understandings of demonic reincarnation cast this process as taking far longer, specifically a hundred years or so. The burning rage of the tanar'ri's spirit had to reshape its individual form from the gestalt rage of the Abyss, and moreover had to retain their will to live the entire time; a moment's hesitation and they would be lost forever. Fortunately for them, most tanar'ri fought to the last, and depending on their strength of will might be able to come back even stronger than before.[31]

Some other slaadi have told Xanxorst it is barmy. “Xanxost”, they say “like we have told you, you are barmy!” They think that any tanar'ri that dies just reforms in the Abyss as the lowest of the low, returning to life as a manes. That this always happens, to all fiends. It would explain why the Abyss is so full of tanar’ri. But it is probably not true. Other fiends can die when they die. Even slaadi die when they die. So who says tanar'ri should come back to life? Not Xanxost! The tanar’ri are contrary, but not even they can give death the laugh forever.
— Xanxost[31][236]

This, however, was assuming that a killed tanar'ri would be able to find their way back in the first place. Whereas being killed in the Abyss put a tanar'ri too close to the source of their being, being killed outside put them too far away. The weaker ones lacked a sufficient link to the Abyss, so it was not guaranteed that they would be able to make it back. Even if they did, there was no telling if they would have the willpower to endure the potentially decades long reformation process. Only a tanar'ri of approximately "true" status had both the ties to the Abyss and willpower to come back, having mastered their forms and inner fires over the centuries. Some claimed that they carried fragments of the Abyss in their hearts before leaving the plane which could be called back when their physical shells were dispersed.[31]

History[]

There were few tanar'ric accounts of history, and those that did exist were not particularly useful. Their "accounts" were too muddled and hyperbolic,[237] for the position of tanar'ri historian was filled by whoever wanted it. The demons took the axiom "history is written by the winners" to its logical extreme, with their past rewritten to fit the motives of whoever was currently in power,[116] and their rampant individualism meant they generally wouldn't rally around a common deception.[15]

There were, however, two claims that the tanar'ri generally agreed upon: they were the first race of fiends and the baatezu were twisted representations of themselves, a branch of chaos corrupted beyond corruption into order.[174] The first point was entirely false; the tanar'ri had deliberately attempted to erase their progenitors from history.[166] The second point, however, might have had some grain of truth to it.[238]

In the Pact Primeval origin story, perhaps one of the most accepted creation myths for the cosmos[238] and which had at least some basis in reality, [239] it was said that Asmodeus was originally an angel created to fight against demons. Over the eons, however, he and his host became more cruel and wicked, adopting many of the traits of demonkind in order to fight them more effectively, before eventually becoming the more commonly known diabolical tyrant.[238] At any rate, baatezu history placed the race as being at least as old as the tanar'ri, having both sprung from the hearts of their home planes.[237]

On the other hand, the daemons claimed that they created both the tanar'ri and baatezu. Using an artifact called the Heart of Darkness created by the General of Gehenna, the yugoloths supposedly purged themselves of the "impurities" of law and chaos, expunging those forces into the larvae of the Gray Wastes (which at this point were not made from mortal souls). The larvae grew, mutated, and twisted into impure mockeries of the yugoloths, with those that received strands of chaos journeying to the Abyss (possibly herded there by the yugoloths) and eventually transforming into the first tanar'ri.[237]

Many regarded the yugoloths as hopeless liars, dismissing their tale as a simple fable designed to reinforce their superiority,[240] although their claims weren't completely meritless. The same yugoloth tomes that described their story made mention of the very real Maeldur Et Kavurik, a corrupted celestial once used to give many of the fiends their power to teleport (something they believed they could do innately). The Maeldur knew the names of practically every baatezu, yugoloth, and tanar'ri in existence (among other forbidden knowledge) at one point, whispered to it by arcanaloths, and it served as a massive teleportation matrix for all the fiends whose names it knew.[237][241]

Age Before Ages[]

Before the tanar'ri, mortal life, and perhaps even the gods themselves, was the Age Before Ages. During this period, the primordial Abyss was an even more horrifying place, but nonetheless occupied by life fecund and foul. The rulers of the primeval plane were the first race of demons, eldritch fiends known as the obyriths.[242] Of all the beings of creation, only the obyriths had the natural capacity and cunning to survive in the brutal realm of seemingly unending chaos and evil.[166]

During those younger days of the multiverse, when the aftershocks of creation still shuddered the depths of the Abyss,[166] most obyriths avoided the plane's lower realms, for even they could not survive in such a hostile environment. Instead, the majority clustered upon the uppermost layer, the barren wastes of the Plain of Infinite Portals that would later be known as Pazunia. It was that land where they fought and bred,[242] ruling from mighty iron citadels on the rims of great chasms leading to lower layers. Though they searched the depths carefully, they rarely stayed long before resurfacing, either to make war with each other or make life in their own terrible image through unholy rituals and surgeries.[166]

Eons passed at the obyriths went about their vile ways content to struggle against each other, until the rise of one being. This entity, now known only by her self-given title — The Queen of Chaos — did what no other being thought to do. Looking beyond the Abyss, she laid witness to a shocking revelation, the appearance of lifeforms outside their realms.[7][242] As these first lifeforms lived, sinned, and died,[6] their souls seeped into the Abyss; the obyriths quickly learned that these spirits could be shaped and their innate chaos and evil enhanced to create a new race of demons, the very first tanar'ri.[242] The Queen of Chaos was among the first at the forefront of this latest development, the nurturing and cultivation of a new brand of evil.[7]

Origins[]

The first tanar'ri creations of the obyriths were twisted parodies of life fit only for slaves or worse.[242] They were rendered monstrous by the unconstrained chaos of the Abyss,[8] rejecting and warping their previous forms.[6] The very first tanar'ri, formed spontaneously, was a "deformed abortion of evil". This was Demogorgon, and the howling, snapping, two-headed manifestation of primal mortal fears only came to be when the first evil mortal soul arrived in the Abyss. Ultimately he was an uncontrollable monster that the Queen tossed aside in favor of the less malformed tanar'ri that came after him.[8][7] The process of souls falling to the Abyss and their subsequent conversion to tanar'ri became commonplace over time, and with it did tanar'ri forms become more stable.[8]

Yet it was the sibriexes that played a massive role in the creation of the tanar'ri race,[14] for it was with their aid that the obyriths prompted the tanar'ri into being[6] and the marks of their ancient work on the developing tanar'ri races could still be seen millennia later.[14] Nascent life filled their vast breeding pits, each generation bringing new depraved innovations,[166] and the more the tanar'ri grew, the more augmentation and transformation the sibriexes were called to perform.[7] Whether or not the modification of the tanar'ri was part of a grand plan on the part of the sibriexes (given the eventual domination of the newer fiends) remained a mystery.[14]

Before long, the tanar'ri rivaled their obyrith masters in variety and specialty,[7] eventually becoming the most numerous of their creations. The lords of the iron fortresses needed a constant supply of servitors for conquest, espionage, and self-defense, and the tanar'ri, whether for domestic decadence or military action, served their creators as a slave race. The internal squabbling of the obyriths, however, was merely one part of the larger narrative of the Age Before Ages, a time when the primal conflict of law and chaos that had started in the elemental Inner Planes had entered the developing Material and Outer Planes.[166]

Law and Chaos[]

As the obyriths learnt of the other planes, the Queen of Chaos eventually came to the conclusion that it was for her to destroy these domains.[242] In the midst of a titanic battle that nearly split the Abyss, she killed the obyrith lord Obox-ob, the first Prince of Demons,[242][7] and gave the title to Miska the Wolf-Spider, her most trusted servitor and consort.[166] Miska had already been the most powerful of tanar'ri before the Queen crowned him the new Prince of Demons once he had matured into a demon lord to rival the obyrith lords of old.[7] Not only did this rank mark him as the foremost amongst his kind to the obyriths, it garnered the Queen the loyalty of the tanar'ri race.[166] Most obyriths were marshaled and cowed before the Queen's banner, even her rivals, and nearly all those that remained defiant were banished, imprisoned, or slain.[166][242][7]

With her obyrith and tanar'ri forces now in tow, the Queen and her Prince marched to war, tipping the cosmic scales in favor of chaos. Miska's savage demon hordes brought massive spoils in the form of territory and converts, particularly on the Material Plane. Worlds fell under her dominion, each victory turning saner times into a half-forgotten memory. The laws of nature had begun to break, the once immutable became fluid, and as chaos ascended, so too did the Abyss. The war went on for eons until eventually shuddering to a stalemate. Using an artifact called the Rod of Law, agents of order known as the Wind Dukes of Aaqa banished Miska to an extradimensional prison on Pandemonium. Word of his legendary defeat and the item itself soon spread throughout the multiverse, and would forever change the nature of the conflict.[166]

Upheaval[]

The Queen of Chaos had underestimated the balancing forces of law, and her forces had been decimated.[7] The obyrith survivors of the devastating loss had retreated to the Plain of Infinite Portals,[242] but with the defeat of Miska, the alliance of demonkind had been fractured. Tanar'ric cooperation was no longer assured, the Queen's most powerful ally was missing, and the Queen herself had abandoned the 1st layer and left for the 14th, the Steaming Fen. This was the beginning of the tumultuous Upheaval, but it would not be law that spelt the final end of the obyrith era, but chaos.[166]

Sensing weakness, an enemy of the Queen of Chaos struck out[166] eager to cleanse the Abyss of obyrith corruption.[7] From the heights of the wild, Olympian Glades of Arborea, none other than Faerie Queen Morwel, leader of the chaotic good eladrins, ordered an attack on the remaining fiends. A vast eladrin host descended upon the Plain of Infinite Portals to launch a furious raid, legions of ghaele knights storming its iron fortresses.[166][243] But even as the obyriths struggled to maintain their strongholds from the assault without, both them and their thralls dying in the thousands, they were set upon from within by none other than their own tanar'ri slaves.[166][7]

This betrayal threw the obyriths into complete disarray,[7] the tanar'ri burst into open revolt even as the sky swarmed with gleaming, armored celestials. By no means were the eladrin working with the tanar'ri, killing all demons with little interest in their differences. Demons of all types fled into the depths of the Abyss and were faced with an infinite variety of deadly environments, many vanishing forever either due to the dangerous realms themselves or their fellow refugees.[166] The eladrin armies, however, were nonetheless intent to finish the job the forces of law started, continuining their crusade through the infinite layers destroying all they could, and in the aftermath, the Abyss laid severely depopulated.[6][244]

Even a loss as dire as this, however, was little but a stutter in the vile fecundity of the Abyss.[6] Though many had died in the layers of the Abyss, other thrived, and managed to bend whole layers to their wills. The tanar'ri in particular proved adept at becoming demon lords, coaxing layers into strange, symbiotic relationships,[166] for indeed the tanar'ri had sensed back during the initial eladrin invasion that the Abyss was ready to shift its support to their kind.[7] Their domination occurred in the blink of a cosmic eye,[6] and by the time the few remaining eladrin wardens were purged and the Plain of Infinite Portals reclaimed, the tanar'ri were the undisputed masters of the Abyss.[166]

Blood War[]

In the wake of the obyrith's fall from power, the greater conflict between law and chaos had, for the most part, collapsed into an awkward but sustained and relatively peaceful stalemate between opposing philosophies. Yet despite this truce, some races refused to stop fighting, for to do so was not in their nature. Long after the rest of the multiverse had settled into uneasy coexistence, the races of demons and devils continued to destroy each other en masse. This conflict would be known as the Blood War, and while nonetheless rooted in the ancient battle between law and chaos, the actual reason behind it was far less important to the participants than the tradition of unending violence.[166]

After establishing their foothold in the Abyss[237] since the utter devastation wrought by the eladrin crusade,[6] a group of tanar'ri decided on a whim to explore the planes. Eventually they made their way to the Nine Hells, whereupon they met a small patrol of baatezu. Meanwhile, a party of baatezu explorers set out to discover the planes, pushing into the Abyss where they met their first tanar'ri. These first meetings immediately exploded into hate-fueled, rabid violence, the manifestation of their innate philosophical differences. A few of the tanar'ri explorers slipped back to the Abyss while the others insisted on killing all baatezu. The baatezu party similarly killed as many as tanar'ri as they could before heading back to Baator to report. This was the beginning of the Blood War.[237]

At first the Blood War consisted only of small skirmishes and raiding parties, but over time entire armies formed. In these initial years of the conflict the balance of power would swing radically back and forth, with entire swathes of Carceri and Gehenna falling under the control of one side and drifting over into other planes before being lost and sliding back. Over time however, as the two sides grew to know each other better, great victories and losses become less and less frequent.[237] Eventually both tanar'ri and baatezu came to learn of other planes of existence, the believed spoils of war once their foe was defeated, and came into contact with celestials and god-like beings (which swiftly learned to avoid interfering too much).[245]

After millennia of fighting, both sides then discovered a new element of the conflict: soul larvae. Before, both the baatezu and tanar'ri simply ate these spirits from an unknown plane, but at one point the baatezu began experimenting on them and realized they could be twisted into baatezu. Eventually this knowledge leaked to the tanar'ri (possibly by way of the yugoloths) and they discovered they could use larvae to create more tanar'ri. This discovery was a turning point in the conflict,[245] as unlike before, where both sides dwindled as they clashed since few of their number could reproduce,[237] there was less of a need to worry about casualties. After a while both became curious about where the spirits came from, discovered the Material Plane, and eventually formed their infamous relationships with mortals.[245]

At one point the commanders of both baatezu and tanar'ri tried to sue for peace, but seemingly any chance of that ended when, at the conclave, a balor sat in a pit fiend's chair and refused to move, causing it to erupt into carnage.[110] Indeed, in the millennium following the Upheaval period the appetite of the Blood War threatened to engulf all the Abyss. That was until a cadre of nalfeshnee demons that would become the Lords of Woe discovered a way to subvert the process of demonic promotion and shunt many larval souls to the Woeful Escarand. This would become the centralized layer for the promotion of larvae, where judgement could be passed on the spot and larvae could be transformed to feed the endless needs of the eternal conflict.[173][88]

Prince of Demons[]

The militant activities of the tanar'ri across the Lower Planes was only one half of the Abyssal post-obyrith period. Even as foreign conflicts flared, the domestic front of the tanar'ri was embroiled in its own wars. It time it became clear that the tanar'ri were too numerous, spiteful, and chaotic to unite under a single leader. With Miska gone, scores of powerful "evolved" tanar'ri would emerge from the deepest Abyssal layers, squabbling over who would become the new Prince of Demons.[173] Though occasionally more subtle, this conflict was no less brutal than the Blood War.[246]

Without the supervision of the obyriths, the Abyss spent an unknown epoch in an even more chaotic state than before; no Prince of Demons reigned over this plane, and the former vassals had fallen to total war. The obyriths themselves were in no condition or mindset to reestablish themselves, having already suffered multiple cumulative defeats. Even as they warred amongst themselves, the tanar'ri scions would scour the Abyss trying to wipe the obyriths from existence and record.[173][247] Notably a cabal of seven lords led by Ansitif the Befouler (one of the first tanar'ri lords) allied to take down the powerful obyrith known as the Malgoth, a strange entity that haunted many Abyssal layers. Hunted down on the fields of Spirac, its defeat helped marked the rise of the tanar'ri in the centuries after the retreat of the Queen of Chaos.[247][248]

This was a time of betrayal and ruin, of legendary deaths and ancient imprisonments, all of which afforded the demons great excitement and murderous glee. Though the mantle of Prince of Demons was the prize, few could manage the feat of becoming a demon lord in the first place. Just as one would-be lord was poised to conquer a layer, the final step to lordship, his enemies would rise against him to drag him back down. Not all who endured this age of treachery succumbed to backstabbing however, for with the advent of betrayal came opportunity for growth.[247]

Eventually the race for the crown was between two particularly powerful tanar'ri that had risen rapidly to prominence; soon all knew that either Orcus or Graz'zt would become the next Prince of Demons. However, in their clash, neither noticed the strange silhouette that had risen from the forgotten depths of the Abyss, the malformed accident who, in the shadow of plane-spanning conflicts, had grown strong. Indeed, none were prepared for when this being, who had previously earned the grudging respect of all demonkind for his victories over the waning obyriths, would claim the title of Prince of Demons.[7]

Dozens of the most powerful tanar'ri lords were eager to slay the new Prince, yet a dozen died before him while the rest only survived. Demonkind rankled at his arrival, yet none would raise fist, claw, or tendril against his overwhelming might. No one, not even Graz'zt and Orcus, could oppose him, for both had exhausted their resources in their war against each other. The first tanar'ri, Demogorgon, had become the Prince of Demons.[7]

Modernity[]

Since the tanar'ri ascent to power, the Abyss had been defined by the war for dominion between them. At the pinnacle of this ancient feud were Demogorgon, Orcus, and Graz'zt, whose epic three-way war for control had been going on almost as long as tanar'ri rule.[166][43][249] Each archfiend had been laid low in the past only to return (Demogorgon spontaneously reforming after being slain by adventurers,[250] Orcus rising again after his defeat as Tenebrous,[58] and Graz'zt escaping from the clutches of the witch-queen Iggwilv),[68] and never since the struggle's inception had the Abyss fully known peace from their ceaseless conflict.[249]

The few obyriths that remained from their momentous defeat were of a race slowly shuddering towards extinction. Those that still maintained a shred of influence either had the tacit acceptance of the tanar'ri or laired in such extremely isolated or inhospitable places that they couldn't be dispatched.[43] Though the sibriexes were called to augment the armies of the Queen of Chaos, they were too canny to let themselves truly be roped into the war, and as a result survived relatively unscathed (if extremely few in number and unable to reproduce), acting as sages and flesh-sculptors for the tanar'ri lords much as they once did for the obyriths.[14]

Meanwhile, those obyrith lords that managed to survive their fallen age were in no condition to regain their power then and were still a faded force eons later. Many were trapped or crippled in some way, could not reclaim their native layers, or had minds too alien to desire power.[247] Some few obyriths awaited the return of the Queen of Chaos, who had not been seen since the eve of the Upheaval.[43] Some seers, however, predicted that she would one day appear on Pazunia with the Rod of Law in hand and members of a secret obyrith alliance in tow, ready to return to the fight against order.[251]

Obox-ob, the original Prince of Demons, lurked in the shadows of the Abyss for many eons before finally emerging from hiding, only to find the obyriths fallen, the tanar'ri risen, and himself a forgotten relic of the past. Reduced to the Prince of Vermin, and the title he once held passed from tanar'ri to tanar'ri ever since his defeat, Obox-ob sought nothing less than to reclaim his mantle and cleanse the Abyss of all tanar'ri, returning it to obyrith rule.[252] The enigmatic Pale Night, said by the Black Scrolls of Ahm to have been the genesis of the entire tanar'ri race, might not have been far off in desire.[253] From her fortress of bones, she created draudnu obyriths, genocidal monstrosities that made up the bulk of a obyrith army mustering on Banehold no longer content to wait on the Abyss's fringes.[254]

Deep-dwelling Dagon on the other hand acted as an oracle of the tanar'ri, accepting offerings of weapons and sacrifices in return for his ancient knowledge of holdings that predated their rise.[185] The Prince of the Darkened Depths was specifically allied with Demogorgon, and yet remained strangely aloof to his struggles despite actively helping him.[250] In truth, Dagon had watched and waited in shadowy silence for a long time. He had felt the end of the obyriths drawing near even before the Queen of Chaos rose to power, and remained confident that their reign too would come to an end, and that when they fell, he would remain.[242][255]

While we've strived to bring you the truth, what you read here may or may not be wholly accurate. That’s because what’s true now may become false later, and what was false before may become true in time. With the tanar’ri, all things are possible.
— Jessyme Rauch[21]

Ill omens were abound about the end of the tanar'ri, yet Demogorgon remained the mightiest of all demon lords,[256] surviving every assassin attempt Obox-ob sent his way.[244] Graz'zt, supposedly the child of Pale Night, had surpassed even the mind boggling power of the Mother of Demons.[257] And Orcus, however hazardous the remnant of it was to his own stability, still had in his possession the Last Word, an utterance gleaned from the ancient past so potent that even deities would fall to its power.[258] Despite the portents, the tanar'ri remained the masters of the Abyss and a continuous threat to all the cosmos.[13][115]

Appendix[]

References[]

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