A Light in Darkness
“Flesh and blood can do nothing, sir, against devils; and that’s what’s in the Grey Room after dark.”
— William Hope Hodgson, “The Gateway of the Monster”
Few hunters, no matter how successful and persistent their careers, ever have the misfortune of encountering one of the fell creatures known as fiends. These infernal monstrosities are evil to an extent that most cannot imagine, so much so that they warp the fabric of reality around themselves. Do not lightly seek them out, for to fall into the clutches is to risk not only one’s life, but also one’s very soul.
There are two known ways in which a fiend might find itself in the Land of Mists. The first if these is the process known as transposition in which the fiend slowly trades places with a mortal already within Ravenloft.
Fiends appear capable of sensing the thoughts and feelings of mortals, even from another plane. They are particularly able to detect thoughts of evil and wickedness, and they are drawn to these as a moth is to a candle. Fiends appear to feed in some way from the wickedness of mortals (though it may in fact be psychological pleasure they receive rather than physical nourishment), and a fiend who manages to find a budding source of evil seeks to bring it to fuller bloom. A psychic link is formed between the fiend and its unwitting vessel, and the fiend uses this link to encourage the mortal to greater and greater acts of infamy. As the mortal succumbs, the bond between the two grows ever stronger. The mortal begins to physically change, increasingly resembling the fiend. This is an extremely painful process. The fiend’s lust for continued malevolence eventually proves its undoing. If it continues to spur the mortal on, it eventually takes the mortal’s place in Ravenloft. The mortal is trapped in whatever infernal realm the fiend came from, while the fiend is trapped in Ravenloft in turn.
An individual who fails a powers check might find herself transposing with a fiend in lieu of the usual consequences. Transposition occurs in five stages, with each failed powers check moving the victim to the next stage. The exact effects of each stage of transposition can vary depending on the type of fiend involved, but all transpositions have the effect of granting fiendish characteristics to the afflicted.
At stage one, the psychic bond between the fiend and the victim is formed. This stage is accompanied by minor physical changes in the victim, which can usually be disguised with difficulty. A victim transposing with a nabassu might find that his eyes have turned entirely gray, for instance, while one transposing with a succubus might actually become more physically attractive, with wrinkles smoothing and blemishes vanishing. Some minor aches accompany this stage, but they are not debilitating.
In stage two, the victim suffers a glaringly obvious physical change, such as gaining scales or horns, and the pain increases drastically. So great is the pain that the victim suffers a -1 penalty on all skill and ability checks.
In stage three, the transposition begins in earnest. The “fiendish” template is applied to the victim. The victim’s fiendish characteristics are now unmistakable. The victim might have scales from head to toe, or small, nonfunctional wings might sprout from her back.
In stage four, the fiend has nearly taken the victim’s place. The “fiendish” template is replace with the “half-fiend” template. The DM should feel free to alter the template to better represent the breed of fiend the victim is bonded with.
With stage five, the mortal is doomed and the fiend entrapped. The mortal vanishes to the infernal realms, and the fiend takes her place in Ravenloft.
A more common way for a fiend to enter Ravenloft is through magical conjuration.
The gate spell is an example of how a fiend might be magically called to Ravenloft. When the conjured fiend finds out that it cannot return to its plane of origin, it will certainly be incensed. The summoner had best have magical means of compulsion ready, such as the binging spell, though it would be far wiser not to conjure a fiend at all.
The very presence of fiends has a warping effect on their surroundings. This warping is called a reality wrinkle. The sheer, undiluted evil of the fiend reacts with the Mists and creates what is essentially a mobile pocket domain centered on the fiend.
The size of the reality wrinkle is directly related to the power of the fiend. Powerful fiends such as pit fiends or balors have incredibly large reality wrinkles, while weak fiends such as imps might have reality wrinkles that barely extend beyond themselves. A typical fiend has a reality wrinkle with a radius of 2,000 feet per Hit Die, but individual fiends might have reality wrinkles that vary greatly from this guideline.
As mentioned above, the reality wrinkle serves as a pocket domain, with the fiend itself as lord. Unlike a true darklord, however, the fiend is not cursed, and is free to wander within Ravenloft as it wishes. The reality wrinkle moves with the fiend, and wherever the fiend travels ti temporarily usurps control of the land around it. This means that the closed borders of a domain cannot hinder the fiend, for its reality wrinkle supersedes those borders. Nor can any darklord exert any of its granted powers within a fiends reality wrinkle. Darklords are immediately aware of any fiend within their domain, as they can feel the sudden severance with a portion of their land.
Under normal circumstances, fiends exert no special powers within their reality wrinkles other than those described above. There is a method, however, known as a power ritual, for the fiend to gain such powers.
A power ritual is an arcane rite, known only to fiends, that enables a creature to draw great power directly from the land itself. The exact nature of these rituals is unknown, and each one seems to be unique. A fiend can only attempt one power ritual in each domain. After that one attempt, whether it succeeds or fails, the fiend in unable to draw further power from that land and must try another domain in its place.
If the ritual is successful the fiend’s reality wrinkle immediately shrinks to half its former size, and its bond to the Land of Mists grows stronger. Corruption points represent this bond. The more corruption points a fiend possesses, the stronger its bond to the land. A fiend starts with 0 corruption points. Each successful power ritual raises its corruption point total by 1d4. Corruption points make it harder for the fiend to successfully complete future power rituals, and they also make it harder for the fiend to escape Ravenloft.
|Corruption Points||Chance of Failure|
Corruption Points: The number of corruption points the fiend possesses at the start of the ritual.
Chance of Failure: The percentage chance that the power ritual fails and the percentage chance that any subsequent attempt by the fiend to leave Ravenloft fails. Fiends with many corruption points ore so tightly bound to the land that they may be unable to successfully use portals or magic items that would normally enable them to escape.
On the other hand, the fiend gains one land-based power.
If the power ritual fails, the consequences are severe. The fiend suffers 6d10 points of damage as magical energy burns and scars its body from the inside. The fiend may not apply any resistances to this damage. This damage cannot be magically healed or regenerated, though most of the loss is regained naturally over time. One quarter of the hit point loss, however, is permanent and never is regained. Other consequences are possible, such as gaining corruption points or even being permanently banished from the domain.
Land Based Powers
Fiends acquire land-based powers using power rituals, as described above. Each domain grants a unique power to fiends that successfully perform power rituals within their borders. Samples of these powers are given in the list below (DM only section). Unless otherwise noted, all land-based powers are considered supernatural powers and any relevant saves are at DC (10 + 1/2 HD + Charisma modifier).
Of all the creatures in Ravenloft, fiends are among the most deadly and heinous creatures. They prey upon not only the body, but the soul as well. Anyone desiring to hunt down and rid the Land of Mists of one of these foul creatures should prepare themselves thoroughly before seeking out their quarry.
Detecting the Fiend’s Presence
Few hunters set out with the intention of fighting a fiend. Rather, they are drawn to a place in response to some other impetus, such as a series of unexplained murders or rumors of a cult springing up in some small village. Some observant individuals may notice a strangeness in the air, evidence of the fiends reality wrinkle. Rumors of odd shimmerings of the air or a sense of “wrongness” about a place may be the first hint that a fiend has come to occupy a part of Ravenloft and stake its claim to the Dread Realm.
The patter of murders may also alert investigators to the presence of a fiend. Exceptionally brutal or ritual murders are often hallmarks of a fiend’s bloodthirstiness and desire for inflicting pain and suffering. This stage of the investigation is certainly not for the squeamish.
The rise of a cult in a town or village may be a sure sign of a fiend, since these creatures seek to gather around them a group of willing servants and protectors. Hunters are advised not to attempt to join such a cult in the hopes of exposing the fiend. Too often, it is the hunter who is exposed, to his detriment.
The process of transposition causes a visible effect on the host body. Townspeople may remark that “old man Jellins isn’t looking like himself lately” may provide the essential clue that makes all the others click into place and reveal the presence of a fiend.
The ability of a paladin to sense the presence of evil outsiders such as fiends and to do effective battle against them cannot be denied. Hunting parties would do well to make certain that they enlist a paladin for their mission. Indeed, most paladins willingly volunteer for such a task.
Lastly, study the effects of a fiend’s passing carefully. From observing how its presence affects the land and how it attempts to corrupt people, hunters may deduce its most frequently used powers and take steps to acquire protection from these abilities before taking on the creature in battle.
Joining a cult dedicated to the fiend in hopes of spying on it and learning its powers may be possible for characters with good stealth-related skills and the ability to disguise themselves nonmagically, but it is a risky proposal at best. If the cult discovers the spy in its midst, they will not only be warned (and thus able to warn their master), they may slay the character outright or offer him as a sacrifice to their fiendish lord. They may even attempt to convert the character, giving him a choict between joining them and dying a torturing him until he agrees to join. If this happens, the fiend has a double agent it can use against the hunters, leading them into a trap.
Most observations are best made, therefore, from a distance through indirect means.
Confronting the Fiend
A number of items and techniques are useful in combating fiends. Successful hunters take advantage of every opportunity, combining spells, traps and weaponry to focus their attacks on the creature. Battling fiends leaves little room for error.
Magical weapons are a requirement for fighting most fiends, though the power of the item varies from fiend to fiend. Some fiends are rumored to be vulnerable to iron weapons. In general, the stronger the magic weapon the better the chances it has of penetrating the fiend’s defenses.
Most fiends have at least some resistance to spells. Even so, magic spells are generally useful if they can bypass the creature’s spell resistance. Defensive and protective spells enable hunters to withstand a fiend’s attacks long enough to deal damage to it.
Since most fiends can use teleport at will, they often have a distinct advantage in combat. Renown hunter Dr. Rudolph Van Richten once spoke of an elaborate cage designed to prevent a fiend from teleporting, essentially trapping the fiend and its hunters in a magical field until the fiend is either destroyed or defeats its opponents. The cage requires much time, labor and resources to construct, making it impractical in instances where time is a factor, but the intent of the device is worth remembering. Anyone wishing to go against a fiend must consider the creature’s extreme mobility and the likelihood that it can teleport away if the battle begins to go against it.