Introducing Rage of Demons

The already substantial dangers of the Underdark have been multiplied by the presence of several demon lords, who have escaped the abyss to spread their insanity and lay waste to the worlds below and above. Can you stop the madness before it consumes you?


There’s never a dull moment in the Underdark. Fear reigns in this subterranean wonderland, which is home to horrific monsters that have never seen the light of day. The darkness alone can drive you mad. Despite that, traders and other travelers maintain contact between the surface and those who dwell in this vast and twisted labyrinth. Until now…

As a major new Dungeons & Dragons storyline kicks off, the Underdark goes quiet. Those who regularly travel between these two different worlds are conspicuously absent, as wild rumors spread in dimly lit taverns and dark alleys. They talk of a foul spell cast by the Archmage of Menzoberranzan, a dark elf called Gromph Baenre, which was meant to ignite the faerzress – a magical energy that suffuses the Underdark.

Word has it this spell went disastrously wrong, instead tearing open portals to the demonic Abyss. They say what stepped through those portals surprised even Baenre. Names of powerful demon lords such as Demogorgon, Orcus and Graz’zt are whispered, as reports begin to filter up to the cities of the Sword Coast that the denizens of the Underdark are being terrorized.

Chris Perkins, Principal Designer on Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast, worked with his story team and authors R.A. Salvatore and Troy Denning to revisit the Underdark. Salvatore, who is affectionately referred to as “Bob” by the team, signed on as a story consultant several months before he was slated to begin writing his novel telling the same events.

“We told Bob about our plan to revisit the Underdark and use his novel to set the events of our Rage of Demons story in motion. Our discussions led to the idea of Baenre’s terrible spell, which has far-reaching consequences for the Underdark and potentially the surface world as well,” Perkins tells Dragon+.

“Troy Denning, another D&D novelist, was also a consultant on Rage of Demons. Both authors spent a week at Wizards of the Coast helping us break the story. Whereas Bob’s novel kicks off the Rage of Demons story, Troy helped develop a storyline involving another demon lord: Orcus.” Some of those ideas will feature in a short story by Adam Lee in the next issue of Dragon+.

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“Once we started talking about the setting and the base story, the ideas for the novel flowed from there and we came up with some great stuff,” adds Adam Lee, Designer for Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast. “After the story summit, Bob went off to his arcane sanctum and wrote an amazing tale with all the trimmings.”


Sanity Check

The extreme environments of the Underdark test the mettle of the most stoic warriors or learned wizards. This otherworldly setting created some unique challenges for the creative team, who had to incorporate the key theme of madness.

“Our inspiration for the Rage of Demons story was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, so one of the challenges was to bring the Underdark, which has often been portrayed as anything but colorful, to life as a wondrous underworld full of madcap characters,” Perkins says.

The demon lords add a sinister and eldritch evil, which is amplified by the magical nature of the faerzress. This heightens the range of their corruption and makes it powerful enough to drive even the toughest adventurers stark raving mad. The caverns below the surface are suddenly thrown into ultimate chaos, as those who battle the demon lords risk succumbing to the madness they embody. From that moment on, the insanity pervading the Underdark escalates and threatens to shake the Forgotten Realms to its foundations.

Perkins notes that Lewis Carroll’s characters, from the Madhatter to the Queen of Hearts, exhibit different kinds of insanity. Similarly, D&D has an amazing assortment of demon lords, each one embodying a kind of madness. “By bringing all of the demon lords into the Underdark, we can show different kinds of madness. The faerzress, a magical Underdark radiation, becomes a conduit through which this madness spreads,” says Perkins. “As the story progresses, we see creatures such as drow, duergar, and myconids become ‘infected’ by madness. The heroes of the story are also susceptible, and there are plenty of opportunities in the story for characters to battle their ‘inner demons.’”

“One of the interesting things that we had to figure out was what color on the spectrum of madness did each demon lord express,” says Lee. “To come into proximity with one of them would affect mortal travelers, challenging them to maintain their sanity or devolve into madness.”

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Lee describes the Underdark as “not a place for the faint of heart or fragile of mind”, which makes it “a bizarre playground for writers”. It’s also an environment that actively provides great story hooks and interesting threats to thwart characters. “A good story thrives on your characters not getting what they want, being challenged and taken off their path to give twists to the plot. The Underdark is doing all that and more,” he adds.

However, traditionally the Underdark is portrayed as being silent and pitch black, with Lee describing it as “a giant sensory deprivation tank.” Such a dark and disorienting experience gnaws away at the thin trappings of civilization.

“The first and largest challenge was lighting, as we didn’t want characters wandering around in a pitch black environment,” explains Richard Whitters, Senior Art Director. “I had Sam Burley create some environment concept art, which gave use several creepy or dangerous lighting solutions, including glowing crystals, lava and bioluminescent plants.”


Villains

Demon lords are not creatures that are born, live, and die, they are supernatural forces that have been spawned of pure evil. These incarnations of chaos spread insanity and bloodshed, and the Underdark is their new playground. Their very presence radiates a kind of madness that the faerzress amplifies, warping and transforming the denizens of the Underdark in ways unique to each demon lord. They exploit their surroundings, feasting on flesh and rending the fragile minds of mortals.


READ ABOUT THE DEMON LORDS:

  • DEMOGORGON

    Demogorgon radiates evil and madness to such a degree that his mere presence provokes insanity in sentient creatures. Just looking at his likeness or symbol can cause a subtle whispering within a person’s mind, coaxing him or her to slip toward instability and paranoia.

    “Demogorgon has always been my favorite and he really makes his presence felt in Rage of Demons,” says Perkins. “I like Demogorgon the most,” agrees Whitters. “I had to take great care in the redesign in order to keep the nostalgia aspects, but to also achieve a bit of a nasty facelift – or should that be faces-lift?”

  • ORCUS

    Orcus is brooding and nihilistic. He finds some amusement in the suffering of the living but is satisfied only when they are dead. He focuses his anger and hate on living creatures, turning them into undead puppets that he directs against any enemy who dares cross his path of destruction. Orcus resents both Demogorgon and Graz’zt for their power, and he covets their realms in the Abyss.

    “There’s a special place in my heart for all of the demon lords and each is a total jerk in their own delightful way, but if I had to choose, I would have to go with Orcus,” says Lee. “I think his particular warping of the world is fun as a writer to explore. He’s offering ‘immortality’ through undeath, which has this insane, twisted logic to it. I’d love to write about a character that goes on that journey. The justifications and decisions that gradually get more and more disturbing would be really fun.”

  • JUIBLEX

    No one knows anything about Juiblex’s motives beyond consuming everything in its path. The Faceless Lord cares nothing for cultists or mortal servants; its sole desire is apparently to turn everything into glistening copies of its horrid self.

  • YEENOGHU

    Yeenoghu wants nothing but slaughter and senseless destruction. The gnolls are his instruments in this cause, and he drives them to ever-greater atrocities in his name. Yeenoghu takes pleasure in causing fear before death, and he sows sorrow and hopelessness through destroying beloved things. To him, the best world is a wasteland where the last creatures alive are the gnolls, tearing one another apart for the right to feast upon the bodies of the dead. Hyenas that feed on Yeenoghu’s kills are transformed into gnolls under his command.

  • GRAZ'ZT

    Graz’zt is a creature of wanton lust and desire who strives to accumulate more power. He delights in ostentatious finery and pageantry, and fosters the decadent desires of those he encounters, driving them to more lascivious and hedonistic behavior.

  • BAPHOMET

    The demon lord Baphomet rules over minotaurs and others with savage hearts. He seems wholly bestial, but underneath the brutish exterior lies a cruel intellect dedicated to subverting civilization. He seeks a world in which all peoples live out their basest desires in animalistic savagery.

  • ZUGGTMOY

    The only desire of fungal demon lord Zuggtmoy, who graces our cover this month, wrapped in the D&D Ampersand, is to infect and control living creatures, bending them to her will and using them to spread her spores.

    Perkins describes Zuggtmoy and the Underdark as “a match made in heaven,” while Whitters says his redesign of her is the one he’s most proud of: “She really didn’t have a strong design before this version, so I got to play around with her quite a bit.”

  • FRAZ-URB'LUU

    Fraz-Urb’luu knows he is not as strong as the other demon lords and uses his power as a trickster and deceiver to manipulate his enemies, demon or mortal, to force them to his will. He particularly enjoys helping mortals destroy his demonic rivals, then revealing himself to devour his pawns’ souls. All the while, Fraz-Urb’luu continues to search for the pieces of his legendary staff and commands his cultists to do the same.


Having tasked his team with creating a scary, creepy Alice in Wonderland vibe for Rage of Demons, Perkins was keen to populate the Underdark with similarly ‘mad’ characters. Along with Lee, he crafted a host of supporting non-player characters to aid or harangue the adventurers.

“Many of these NPCs remind me of the creatures that Alice encounters in her Wonderland adventures. Two of my favorites in the Rage of Demons story are Yuk Yuk and Spiderbait, a pair of goblin adrenaline junkies. I’m also a fan of Glabbagool, an intelligent gelatinous cube that might help or hinder the adventurers,” Perkins says.


Heroes

As the races of the Underdark are plunged into turmoil, the surface realms learn that it is only a matter of time before the demon lords turn their dark ambitions upward. The renegade drow Drizzt Do’Urden is sent to investigate. No stranger to the Underdark, he seeks to learn the truth about the demonic threat and put an end to it.

Whitters says he didn’t need to do any new designs for Drizzt when it came to costuming and accouterments, as he wanted to keep the character consistent in the world and maintain his recognizable look. “You don’t change Superman’s costume,” he says by way of explanation.

However, the faerzress takes its toll on anyone entering this environment, including the legendary drow. Although outwardly calm and composed, Drizzt hides a burning rage, a legacy of his dark elf heritage. He keeps a tight rein on this side of himself, which he refers to as “the Hunter,” but it can still overcome him. Will he be strong enough to hold back the madness? It will be up to you to aid in his fight against the demons, before he succumbs to his darker temptations.

Meanwhile, agents of the five factions who escaped the Underdark tell unbelievable tales of horror and madness. The defenders of order and sanity realize that if they do not work together to stop this menace, the demon lords unleashed upon the world will eventually breach the surface, and the fate of all Faerûn will be sealed in darkness and ruin. The factions respond as best they can…

“They send operatives into the Underdark to assess and combat the emerging threat,” Perkins shares. “In Out of the Abyss, the TRPG adventure tied to the Rage of Demons story season, the five player factions send representatives to meet with King Bruenor Battlehammer of Gauntlgrym. They provide operatives and resources. The characters get to lead a small army into the Underdark, which is something no D&D adventure has done before.”


READ ABOUT THE FACTIONS:

  • THE HARPERS

    Since ancient days the Harpers have sworn to put an end to unbridled evil in all its forms, especially evil that wields dark magic. They know that the demon lords seek to prey on the weak and corrupt the innocent and they forbid such acts. The Harpers feel that this is the moment they have trained for, and their conscience now calls them to act.

  • ORDER OF THE GAUNTLET

    The demon lords embody the kind of evil that the Order of the Gauntlet was created to destroy. All members of the order see this as the opportunity to deal a mighty blow to the forces of the Abyss. They want to send the demon lords howling back into the pit, proving the worth of the order as well as testing their own valor and bravery.

  • THE EMERALD ENCLAVE

    The demon lords represent a clear and present danger to the natural order, and the Emerald Enclave cannot tolerate those who corrupt and twist nature. Members of the Emerald Enclave are well aware that the corruption will not be solely contained within the Underdark, and will eventually break through to the surface and threaten all the Realms.

  • THE LORDS' ALLIANCE

    All cities under alliance protection are in grave danger from the demon lords, who corrupt and enslave sentient beings. Unlike devils who can be held to deals and reasoned with, demons are forces of pure chaos and evil and make no such bargains. Should the demon lords break free of the Underdark and roam the surface, all of the Realms would be despoiled.

  • THE ZHENTARIM

    The Zhentarim leaders see the demon lords just as they do any other faction – a threat to their way of life. Zhentarim bonds of family, oath, and honor hold the network together and galvanize its members in purpose. With the demon lords at its doorstep, the organization is using its full might to stop them from breaching the surface and destroying the Zhentarim’s unity.


Lee says that for those who know the true depth of the catastrophe, that multiple demon lords are rampaging under their feet, this is the most horrifying reality imaginable. The most pressing problem is to keep the demon lords contained within the Underdark itself. They cannot be allowed to reach the surface.

“So, marshal your forces, close up all the known entrances to the Underdark and clerics, start your praying. The Harpers would summon the most powerful mages to a wizard’s summit, and the other factions would bring forth all the demon-slaying weapons and enchanted armor they could muster. People on the surface will get unified in a way that they haven’t been in some time. It’s an ‘all hands on deck’ moment,” Lee says.


Race Relations

It isn’t just members of the surface cities who must react to this devastating threat, leading to some unlikely heroes in Rage of Demons. However, Perkins says the existing Underdark races will not react well to the new threat.

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“Underdark cities such as Menzoberranzan and Gracklstugh find themselves ill-equipped to combat the demonic threat. It’s up to the heroes to figure out the extent of the problem and find ways to send the demon lords back to the Abyss. They’ll find a few allies scattered throughout the Underdark, including some madcap Carrollesque figures.”

The races of the Underdark must react alongside the members of the surface cities to fight for their very survival – or face annihilation at the hands of the demon lords. That includes the deep gnomes (or svirfneblin), who live in the ruins of Blingdenstone following its devastation by the drow. These tough, resourceful people are wary of strangers, but warm up quickly to any who lend a helping hand to rebuild their once-great city.

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The drow themselves reside in the city of Menzoberranzan, divided into a number of noble houses and ruled by priestesses of Lolth. Betrayal and assassination are a way of life here, and a cruel and suspicious nature is a sign of good breeding. Yet they will need to put that aside to combat the demon lords.

Two very different dwarven races hold sway in the Underdark. The Shield Dwarf kingdom of Gauntlgrym has been the stuff of legend for centuries and its massive entrance is sealed with wards against all but dwarves from the line of Delzoun. That keeps out the duergar, a cruel and evil sub-race of dwarves based at Gracklstugh. Their kingdom resembles a hellish foundry and glows with firelight and the ruddy gleam of hot metal at all times, thanks to a red dragon called Themberchaud, who slithers around the city blasting the forge fires to life. In return, the duergar guard Themberchaud’s hoard and add to it, occasionally feeding him criminals and ill-tempered slaves.

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Despite being a cavernous place for the most part, there were many structures in the Underdark for Whitters to create. Being underground, they naturally had different needs to similar buildings on Faerûn’s surface.

“We created a few sample structures, especially for the Duergar city Gracklstugh,” he says. “The first thing I realized is that they don’t need pitched rooftops for rain and snow to slide off of. In addition to this, the architecture should reflect the society. The Duergar and the Derro – the latter a largely unwanted underclass in Gracklstugh, which is shunned by the Duergar – live together, but in very different conditions. The Duergar are very utilitarian, while the Derro live in crudely built mud huts.”

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Perhaps the most dangerous inhabitants of the Underdark are the mind flayers. Found throughout the Underdark, but in particular calling the enclave of Cyrog home, these illithids (as they are also known) pair a humanoid body with an octopus-like head and feed on the brains of sentient creatures.

The Underdark also plays host to intelligent, mobile mushrooms known as myconids and mad, unpredictable fishlike beings known as kuo-toa. “I love the kuo-toa, they are the insane, wild, fish-eyed dwellers in the deeps,” Whitters says. “They feel a bit Lovecraftian, but they can add a lot of humor to an adventure in game. I drew several kuo-toa characters based on what Adam and Chris had written. It was a lot of fun giving each one a different expression.

“Anthony Waters also created some excellent designs for the kuo-toa and illithid environments. He really knows how to nail the culture of these odd creatures.”

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