Just because Asmodeus is top dog in the Nine Hells doesn’t mean he’s the only source of fiendish influence on the material plane. Even the Nine Hells as a whole don’t have a monopoly on it; the demons of the Abyss certainly have their own goals and influence, decidedly messier though they may be. From different breeds of Tiefling to infernal cults to abyssal champions, the latest Unearthed Arcana presents us with all sorts of new Fiendish Options, for both sides of the DM’s screen.
Unearthed Arcana: Fiendish Options is one of the few UA articles to offer new material for players and DMs at the same time, from immediately-playable options to pieces of a toolkit that can be used to make new material for your game. The heart of the entire article is to make different breeds of infernal and abyssal characters and monsters stand out from the crowd, which makes a lot of sense: the various infernal tyrants and abyssal overlords are a varied and eclectic bunch with quite different abilities and methods, so it follows that their descendants, followers, and champions would reflect some of that. On that alone I can salute the article’s effort to provide more variety for players and DMs to use and roleplay with.
First up are the Tiefling Subraces. Each subrace is classified based on which Lord of the Nine Hells the subrace is descended from; notably, if you’re playing a tiefling descended from Asmodeus himself, you’re simply playing the base tiefling from the Player’s Handbook. From there the differences between tieflings descended from Baalzebul, Dispater, Fierna, Glasya, Levistus, Mammon, Mephistopheles, and Zariel are two-fold: ability score modifiers and replacements for the Infernal Legacy trait.
All tieflings continue to gain +2 to Charisma, but only some of these subraces continue to gain +1 to Intelligence. The rest instead gain +1 to a different ability score, and every single ability is featured in at least one subrace. This is a lot like the Eladrin for the elves from last time, really opening up the class options for many prospective tiefling players who may feel pigeonholed by the PHB score modifiers.
Second, and a little more interesting, is each subrace’s replacement for the PHB tiefling’s Infernal Legacy. Like Infernal Legacy, each trait (Legacy of Dis, Legacy of Phlegethos, and so on) grants the tiefling the use of a cantrip and access to a spell at 3rd and 5th levels. Aside from providing some varied magical power, the magic in question is chosen to be very thematic for the related infernal lord. Legacy of Phlegethos grants the descendants of ‘master manipulator’ Fierna friends, charm person, and suggestion. The Legacy of Stygia passes down the power of chilly Levistus in the form of ray of frost, armor of Agathys, and darkness. All of these magic powers use Charisma, as with Infernal Legacy, so no matter what other path the tiefling takes they’re at least going to be decent with them.
Overall I think this section is a win. Some people aren’t going to care about the minutiae of which layer of the Nine Hells their tiefling is descended from, and there are those who would never choose to play a tiefling in the first place for whatever reason, and for those people this material doesn’t have much use. However, those who’re interested in the lore of the Nine Hells, or who want to break the paradigm of being descended from Asmodeus, are going to find this quite useful. Since it’s effectively the same race, just with carefully chosen changes, there’s not a lot to worry about when it comes to being ‘broken’. The only curious interaction might be with the option for tieflings presented in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide; presumably the options from that book that replace Infernal Legacy (i.e. wings) would also replace the ‘Legacy of’ trait.
The second part of the article jumps behind the DM’s screen to present rules for Diabolical Cults. Each cult is devoted to a particular lord of the Nine Hells, and most include a few different things. First, the goals of the cult are explained; Fierna wants ‘control over the emotions of others, turning them into puppets and playthings’, for example. Second, there are suggestions for the Typical Cultist, either a personality type (any NPC or creature who has fallen from grace, for Baalzebul) or a list of NPCs/creature types from the Monster Manual. Most then have a list of Signature Spells that fit their lord of choice, which a DM can grant to a creature or replace an already possessed spell with. Finally, every cult has one or two Traits that are granted to cultists depending on their cult; some are granted to every single cultist, some are only granted to important cult figures or leaders.
This is material that I think that every DM who ever wants to feature a cult can use, as they’re essentially templates you can apply to your cult of choice. Even if you don’t plan to delve into the nature of the cult, even if they’re not really important for the main story, this lets you shape the cult so that it has a unique feel. You pick from the list of Typical Cultists, switch a few Signature Spells in, and apply Traits where necessary, and once you’ve got them pursuing their Lord’s goals you’ve got yourself a memorable cult!
The third and final section of the article delves into Demonic Boons, gifts given by demons and demon lords to their champions. Fittingly, and unlike their infernal rivals, these Boons are not given out to a group, since abyssal followers have a harder time organizing into cults without letting the Chaotic Evil turn themselves against one another. They do (usually) have Signature Spells that serve the same purpose, and each champion receives one or more traits/abilities, but the most drastic part of the Boons show up as Ability Score Adjustments, which directly change the character’s attributes. These can be quite extreme, as the most tame can grant up to +4 to an attribute, with some going as high as +8! Some also provide bonuses to certain attributes while decreasing others; the Boon of Juiblex is probably the most extreme, granting up to +8 to Constitution while inflicting an equal penalty to Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma!
Of course, you have wiggle room. You don’t have to use the maximum increases/decreases, after all. Still, this third part is definitely the one that needs to be tested the most. The Tiefling Subraces pretty much check out, the Diabolical Cults really just need to have their Traits tested, but I’d be really interested to see just how crazy a Demonic Boon can end up being depending on who is granted it.
So, there we have it, tieflings of all kinds, infernal gatherings, and (usually quite mad) abyssal champions warped by the evil of their masters. It’s nice to see something for everyone in this Unearthed Arcana, but as always only time will tell if the options here will make the grade (I keep thinking of an Abyssal Kraken of Juiblex and shivering). So, trace your infernal bloodlines, hunt evil cultists as they perform their foul rituals, and face down against abyssal terrors, and we’ll see how it all shakes out!