Often when I tell people what I write, they want to know how it works with regards to the game. The default assumption is that someone hands me an outlined story and says “Write this.” (That’s not what happens). The follow-up assumption is that they give me a transcript of the game to novelize. (That’s not it either). The reality is that I have to come up with the story—characters, plot, and all—and what I get is the setting (which I usually get to flesh out a bit) and maybe some other elements to work around (e.g. “Set this in Neverwinter” “Find something in this game document about Neverwinter to use in your story, somehow.”)
After explaining things, people still tend to get stuck on the notion that the game is dictating what I write. I like to think of it more as guiding. The analogy I’m fond of is that if novel writing were poetry, regular stories would be like free verse and shared-world would be like writing a haiku or a pantoum. The rules certainly can make it harder, but they can also inspire you to more interesting creations.
The main villain in Brimstone Angels is a succubus called Rohini. She’s featured in the Neverwinter Campaign Setting as well, and is planned as a character in the upcoming
Neverwinter MMO. The story of how Rohini came together is long and twisty (and unfinished, actually, since we’ll have to wait for that MMO).
But she started out as a way to tie the story I already wanted to write to a line in Cryptic’s story bible about a man called the Foulspawn Prophet. And a big, big reason she came together the way she did, is because of the dramatic shift between succubi and erinyes in 3.5 and 4.0 D&D.
To review: This is a succubus and an erinyes from before fourth edition
The succubus was a demon, the erinyes a devil. (Here is a quick summary of what that means) In the Blood War (a millennia-long war between the demons of the Abyss and the devils of the Nine Hells), these two monsters were sort of counterparts. They were both listed with about the same difficulty. They look an awful lot alike, and although the erinyes are still warriors, both eventually have the same modus operandi: get to the material plane, look like a sexy, sexy lady (or sometimes man), seduce men (or sometimes women), corrupt. The differences were very nuanced and the nuances were aggressively played up, in my opinion.
Then fourth edition created this:
Now the Blood War is over and the succubi have switched sides: they’re devils just like the erinyes now, albeit they have the same m.o. they did before. The erinyes however, have gotten closer to their Greek roots—they are monstrous, the elite soldiers of the Hells. They’ve gotten a higher CR than the succubi. And note, they have lost their wings.
If pockets of the internet are to be believed, this was one of the worst things ever. There are still people upset about it. You might be one. If you’d like to take a moment to vent in the comments, now’s probably the best time. I’ll wait.
. . .
I need to admit up front, though, I love the new erinyes. The sexy female monster who wants to sex all the dudes gets a little tiresome. And when it happens as often as it did for a bit there, it gets a little insulting, too—creatures don’t stop varying when they’re female. Erinyes in Greek myth are not sexy. They are terrifying. They are ugly. They are dangerous. And they mean business.
But all of that aside, the situation as of the start of Brimstone Angels stands thus: Succubi
are devils, subordinate to their former counterparts. Erinyes got ugly and flightless. They are all sharing the same space now.
Much as I love erinyes, I love this even more.
I’m willing to bet this was not what drew the designers of fourth edition devils to shake things up. I’m willing to be this was more about cleaning up a system that had picked up a lot of extraneous and contradictory lore and making it feel neater, or maybe introducing elements that someone felt would be cool and make the game more fun. But in doing so they opened up some major, major spaces for story.
Imagine it: You’re a succubus. You’re easily the least crazy demon in the Abyss. But that distinction suddenly starts becoming more and more distinct. Things start getting weird and dangerous, and you and your sisters know its only a matter of time before you’re screwed. You decide to bail for the enemy side and thank the gods, it works. But now you’re caught in the middle of this hierarchy, under those bitches, the erinyes. No one in the Hells is going to trust you—more so because everyone there has spent millennia fighting against you. They’re probably sneering at you and calling you a crazy whore behind your back. This hierarchy business might sound intriguing, but what’s the point? You have to get in good with the archdevils and no one’s going to let you in.
Or this: You’re an erinyes. Your main goals in life are to mess up demons and corrupt mortals. Then one day, something happens. Your entire appearance changes and suddenly your bosses are bringing in these succubi who you’ve spent millennia trying to eradicate, and they get to keep their appearance? Even if you can let go of the fact that you’re not as pretty and you can’t change your shape (and maybe you can let that slide, since you’re more important now and those jerkface [devils] are scared of you now), those goddamned succubi get to keep their wings. And you’re grounded. You don’t trust the succubi and you’re not about to make things easier on them.
And no one has said “This is why we’re doing this.” (Though, frankly, even if they had, neither of you would be all that pleased).
This, people, is the sort of game mechanic I love.
It begat Rohini, a succubus who’s risen to the edge of promotion. Just one more mission and she might have pleased the archdevil she serves enough to become an erinyes. Rohini knows what people say about her, but she shrugs it off. She might feel the pull of the Abyss, but she knows how to control it. And the rest of the Hells can assume she’s just a dumb slut all they want—she knows they’ve all realized she’s someone to be afraid of. Someone who can corrupt and manipulate in a thousand, neatly tailored ways . . . and also kill her intended without a lot of trouble. She’s caught between reaching the peak of her potential, and wanting out out out. One more mission and she doesn’t ever have to hear people doubt her again.
The devil in charge of that mission is an erinyes though: Exalted Invadiah. Invadiah has also reached her peak in a lot of ways. She commands the elite corps of erinyes—all her daughters—that enforce the will of Glasya, the archduchess of the Sixth Layer. Invadiah is clever and cruel and very much lording her position over Rohini. But she needs Rohini to complete this mission for Glasya. Even if she’d rather beat the tar out of this smug succubus. She wants to succeed and yet she’d also really like Rohini (and her precious wings!) to fail.
And an additional compounding factor?: Cambions. Cambions used to be the male offspring of a succubus and a mortal. In fourth edition, the term became gender neutral and the race became devils along with their mothers. (If you need to vent about this, go ahead).
But they also became the offspring of every other devil-mortal pairing. Which means erinyes stopped making baby erinyes, and started making cambion children. Which also means that Invadiah’s streak of erinyes daughters ended in a cambion boy-child, Lorcan. Which means I have another character with a more interesting backstory because of this shift.
And why has all this happened? Well, I think I ought to leave some things for you to read in Brimstone Angels (available November 1).