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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - Brimstone Angels by Erin M. Evans

I just finished reading Brimstone Angels by Erin M. Evans, a D&D novel that involves the Nine Hells, Glasya, Asmodeus, the erinyes and Malbolge, the sixth layer of Hell. I recently wrote a bunch of guides to the Nine Hells and when I saw this book, I felt like I should check it out.

I have mined the book for material that you can use in your D&D campaign. Let’s go through that and then I’ll do some bloviating.

Glasya's Agents

Invadiah: Glasya’s favored erinyes, Invadiah runs the elite guard known as The Pradixikai. She has a mane of deepnight hair that cascades nearly to the floor. She is known to wear either char-black armor or a gown of chain adorned with carapace-like plates of smoldering gold. She answers directly to Glasya and she owns a number of magic items that her children steal from her now and then.

Invadiah is not nice at all. She is thoroughly evil and very violent.

The Pradixikai: 58 erinyes warriors, Glasya's personal guard. All of them are daughters of Invadiah.

Two members are Namaiah and Aornos, weak, vicious erinyes who like to bully lemures and Lorcan. They guard Invadiah’s treasury in Malbolge.

Saorche: I’m guessing on the spelling, here. It’s pronounced “Say-ur-CHAY”. She is a daughter of Invadiah, clever like Lorcan. I think she’s a cambion. She meddles in Lorcan's schemes and is a mischievous creeper.

Rohini: A succubus agent who goes on personal missions for Glasya. In this book, she infiltrates the city of Neverwinter and ends up getting involved with aboleths who try to control her. She has red hair, black wings, and pale skin.

It is revealed that some time ago, she killed one of the commanders of Levistus, lord of the fifth layer. When she returned from that mission, she was covered in blood and had his severed hands with her as proof.

The Ashmadai: This is the name of the cult of Asmodeus. Even Lorcan fears them. They have a saying: “What benefits us benefits Amodeus, and what benefits Asmodeus benefits us all.

A lot of the ashmadai are tiefling warlocks, they sacrifice people. They're in the book but I don't recall too many unique details. The Forgotten Realms wiki has a lot of info right here.

Warlock Pacts

Probably the most interesting thing in this book from a D&D perspective is the depiction of how a warlock pact works.

In D&D, most warlocks I've seen don't really mention their patron. In this book, the warlock's patron is a pivotal character who shows up constantly. He's not some distant godlike entity, he's a dude who hangs out at his mom's job.

The Pact: Farideh had to agree to the pact. When she did (he smooth-talked her while she drooled over him), he touched her and lines appeared on her skin, like a magic tattoo. The magic tattoo was connected to Lorcan, and through it she has a bit of an empathic bond with him. Sometimes when he's near, the tattoo pulses.

Monitoring the Warlock: Most of the time, Lorcan watches her through a magic mirror in Malbolge. He can use this device known as the Needle of the Crossroads which lets him travel to the Forgotten Realms and back. He uses a magic ring attuned to it to teleport to and from the Realms.

Changing Patrons: Farideh eventually learns she can switch patrons if she wants. She has to find another one, but it can be done. Lorcan knows this and tiptoes around the issue.

I think it's a great way to use a warlock. I've tried this kind of thing but I wasn't too good at it. This book gives a very clear and well-thought-out example of how it is done.

What Happens when a Devil Gets Demoted

The various D&D books give a lot of different gross ways for devils to be demoted. Many of them involve a devil being dragged off for torture over the course of weeks or years.

Glasya demotes a barbed devil into a spined devil in this book. Here's what happened:

She waved her hands and the devil’s muscles contorted. It screamed as if its intestines were being pulled out with a single hooked finger. There was an explosion of energy that burned hot and thick with soot and the devil tore apart with a sick wet ripping sound. All nearby felt a burning wind pass over them.

In the tattered bloody midst of its former body is a smaller form. It twitched and jerked, tearing muscles. The spined devil form broke free and stretched its delicate wings, flinging gore everywhere.

Succubi

In this 4e-era story, succubi can be promoted to an erinyes and an erinyes can be demoted into a succubus. The succubi were on the side of the demons, but they joined the devils when Asmodeus became a god. Erinyes and succubi hate each other.

In 5e, some succubi work with devils and others work with demons.

Malbolge, the Sixth Layer of Hell


It is specifically mentioned that Malbolge, which is the massive fleshy remains of the Hag Countess, is still alive. The suppurating ground actually devours any who die here. I wonder if the Hag eats enough people, can she transform back into the person she was?

Invadiah’s Tower

Invadiah has a treasury in one of the Ten Towers. Each of these bone spires were once fingers of the Hag Countess. Lorcan goes into the treasury to “borrow” magic items fairly often. Sometimes it is guarded by two erinyes, members of the Pradixikai.

Exterior: venomous flowers twined their way toward tall bone spires, fed by streams of shimmering effluvia that changes color by the hour. The ground is ruddy.

Special Door: The door to the treasury is very cool. The door is made of bone, crisscrossed with sinew strong as steel. In the center of the sinew is an infernal seal. Lorcan merely has to touch the seal to open it. I would guess that devils with the blood of Invadiah can activate it. Anyone else probably sets off some kind of alarm or is hit with a gory trap. 

Interior: The hallways throb and fleshy pink walls tremble with tortured ghosts of the previous ruler's thoughts. The walls are lined with bloody mucus and bone juts out from corners.

The Needle of the Crossroads: Lorcan spends quite a bit of time in a room containing an artifact. It is a small room with a green obelisk enclosed by fleshy walls that ooze sickly yellow fluid. A polyp lights the room, which is full of treasure.

The needle of the crossroads is an artifact that creates a temporary portal tied to anywhere in Toril.
Near it is a large iron mirror. Lorcan uses a magic pin that allows him to peer into the mirror and observe his other warlocks. He can hear through the mirror, though the sound is warbly.

Throne Room of Osseia

Glasya sits on a throne carved from the ivory of the teeth of the Hag Countess. Glasya has bat-like wings, coppery skin, and dark hair. She radiated like a star and she swallowed up the light around her. To look upon her is a special sort of madness.

She is served by hellwasps, who have stingers the size of swords and bladed legs. Glasya is flanked by two pit fiends with whips.

Exterior: On the exterior of Osseia, which is the massive skull of the Hag Countess, are two sharpened fangs on which Glasya frequently impales those who displease her. In this book, two cultists of a rival archdevil actually tried to sneak around Malbolge. Both were impaled and scream in pain for hours as their blood drips down on those who enter or exit.

The Brimstone Angel 


The book mentions her a few times. Farideh is a descendant of hers. There are some hints that Farideh might also be linked to the deity Selune somehow. I have no idea who the Brimstone Angel is, I am guessing it will be explained in future books. She sounds like a potentially really cool NPC.

Overview

I don't really read fantasy novels. I'm more of a non-fiction kind of guy. I obtained this book through a free audible trial, so I didn’t read this, I listened to it.

Overall the book is very good. Erin M . Evans writes extremely colorful descriptions, her plotting skills are fantastic and she is able to bring characters to life. She stopped me in my tracks by using the word “insouciant” in a sentence.

I assume many of you have tried to or have written a fantasy story of some kind. I once tried to write a novel, and I had to stop because I actually bored myself. What started out as a tale about time-traveling shenanigans with gatling guns and planar spiders ended up mired in relationship drama on a pirate ship. 

I don’t want to spoil the story too much. Basically, Farideh makes a pact with Lorcan, she ends up in Neverwinter and she ends up embroiled in a conflict involving aboleths, Glasya and Asmosdeus. The whole thing unfolds naturally. The characters drive the story and nothing feels contrived.

She has an adventuring party:
  • Havilar: Her twin sister, a fighter who is pretty funny.
  • Bryn: A guy with a lot of secrets, somewhat inept but a good dude.
  • Mehen: A gruff dragonborn who is a stepdad to Farideh and Havilar.
  • Lorcan: Lorcan, the cambion, is pretty much a party member, even though everyone hates him.
The Narrator: The audiobook is narrated by a woman named Dina Pearlman. She was pretty incredible when it came to depicting a scene and saying dialogue as it would be said when things are exploding. She could convey a sense of urgency, drama and nuance.

She's good, but there were a few things she did that would take me out of the story. Here we go.

Story Time: There were times when it felt like she was reading the story in a patronizing tone, as if she was reading to little kids.

Man Voice: The voice she did for the males, especially Lorcan, was just no good. It's not her fault, really. She doesn't have a man's voice. But she did this throaty "making fun of the way dad talks" voice that was very jarring.

"Brim-sta-NAY Angels": She pronounced everything differently. By the end of the book, I was convinced I've been saying everything wrong. Listening to this, she says "Wyvern" is "WEE-varn" and Erinyes is "erih-YEEZ".

When I see the name "Farideh" on a piece of paper, I hear "Fair-ih-DAY". It's not. It's "Fah-REE-da". When I see "Invadiah" I hear "INVADE-eeya". It's "In-va-DEE-yah." My pronunciation world got rocked from chapter one all the way through to the epilogue.

My pronunciation confidence is so shattered that I will never try to say "halberd" out loud in D&D again. I'm still not saying "Siggle", City of Doors, though.

My Favorite Part

The book won me over pretty quick with a stellar description of Farideh meeting Lorcan for the first time. We learn that he is red-skinned, cinder-haired and black-eyed. He has “shapely horns” and veiny wings SO BIG they almost scrape the ceiling! He’s slim, well-muscled and clothed in snug leather. 

I was already cackling at this sideways eroticism. Then I heard this part:

"To Farideh, he looked like sin. He looked like want. He looked like all the thoughts she couldn't let herself have bundled up in a skin and watching her drip snowmelt on the floor. Handsome was a paltry word for him. Tiefling, human or anything else, boys didn't look like this. Boys didn't make her feel as if someone was pulling seams loose inside her."

I died laughing. That’s five stars right there. There is no question I am going to work this quote into a D&D session ASAP.

The central theme of the book is the relationship between Farideh and Lorcan. Farideh thinks he’s hot. Lorcan has a thing for her. She’s important to him because she’s one of the descendants of the Brimstone Angel.

Lorcan

I really don't like how Farideh has a thing for Lorcan even though he's a complete prick and he manhandles her. Maybe it’s realistic, but it is very off-putting to me. The solution the book comes up with is not for her to ditch him, but to have her obtain a magic item which magically blocks Lorcan from hitting her.

That said, toward the end of the book I found myself desperately wanting this dude to help the group and was quite happy when he did.

Character Development: What was interesting was that Lorcan is evil, but he changed slightly. As the book progresses, you can see how tempting it must be for the author to have him completely change alignments and become a true ally, but she resisted it big time.

Lorcan changes for the better, but just a tiny, tiny bit. You get the feeling he might change more as the books progress, but right now he's still very evil.

The 4e Curse

These books should be more popular than they are. I think what happened here is that this series was launched alongside the most reviled edition of D&D (not reviled by me, I loved it). This was a time when a lot of players were immersed in Pathfinder and anything D&D was radioactive.

On top of that, from what I understand, Forgotten Realms fans really didn't like how 4e advanced the timeline of the realms and made massive changes to the setting. This book utilizes 4e concepts like the wingless monster-erinyes, the Elemental Chaos, the 4e Neverwinter, spellscars, and the spellplague.

She had 3 billion strikes against her right from the start.

The thing I got most out of this book is a reminder of what a good adventure feels like. As a DM, I slip into a rut sometimes where I run the game too much like a game. This is a nice way to reset your brain and keep your game running as a story rather than numbers on a piece of paper.

You can read a sample chapter here.

5 comments:

Max Z said...

I have read it last year. At first I was very sceptical about it, but more I dig in it the more I like it! At the end I was fully sold. This book gave me so much inspiration. Aboleths, succubi in the church, how hierarchy of nine hells may look like. And most of all, relationships between the warlock and and the patron - almost always in play we are hardly develop this side. "Ok, you choose this patron, here your spells, here you boons, let's go" - no communications, no history, no arcs.
I highly recommend you to look for Evans blog. There she has pretty cool posts about dragonborns. Dragonborn traditions and society. She's got degree in anthropology, so be prepared to all kinds of awesomeness.

Ocampo said...

As a matter of fact, this book is mentioned as recommended reading in the 4e Neverwinter Campaign Setting. And I thought it really helped any DM who wanted to flesh the city out with interesting characters and a more personal backstory.

While I am loving 5e, I still have a 6 years-old 4e group and they LOVED Neverwinter and anything related to it. The Ashmadai subplot was greatly enhanced with inspiration from this book and my players enjoyed every bit of it, from the danger and intrigue of dealing with the hidden cult up to a grand melee at Mordai Vell's mansion which put an end to cult activities in the city... for that time being, of course.

UtarefsoN said...

I absolutely LOVE these breakdowns, and have ended up using ideas you have plotted in my campaign. This time there is a female rogue tiefling PC with ties to devil worshippers, and this has been of great help. Awesome as always!

Timothy Brannan said...

I am a big fan of Audible, so I just added this to my wish list.

4e was the first time I could actually stomach the Realms.

baticeer said...

I absolutely love the Brimstone Angels books. Erin M Evans does characters so well. I hope she writes her own fantasy series someday, as I feel like most of the things that don't work as well in Brimstone Angels for me were because the books have to fit in with the D&D metaplot. Still my favorite D&D novels though.

Lorcan gets a shout-out in the list of possible Forgotten Realms warlock patrons in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, where it describes him as "a cambion who collects warlocks like one might collect butterflies." I love that because he's basically the devil equivalent of a geek. He just wants to be left alone in his tower to brood and collect a full set even though his mom thinks his warlock collection habit is weird and pointless! He didn't ask to get involved in all this Material plane cult politics! :P

I hope you keep reading the series, there is some really great adventure inspiration in the rest of them too, and not just about devils. Like, the 2nd book is basically a "dungeon crawl" type adventure about discovering an ancient Netherese magic library. In the 4th book they get involved with the royal court politics of Cormyr. The 5th book takes place in Tymanther and has a ton of great worldbuilding about the Dragonborn nation & culture. Although in all of them the overall plot related to devils and the original Brimstone Angel continues (without spoiling things, you are right in guessing that she is a very interesting NPC).

Also, a major character who shows up in one of the later books is the most interesting exploration of the "fallen paladin" idea I've ever seen.

About pronounciation: I was saying Farideh as "FAH-ree-deh" so I am disappointed that I apparently got it wrong. Erinyes is a name for a creature in Greek myth, so I knew that one, but I will keep pronouncing Farideh wrong, I like my way better! Also, Lorcan's sister's name is spelled "Sairché" (and yes she is a cambion as well). I think it's supposed to be a weird version of the name Saiorse.

The way they talk about sexual things in these books makes me laugh and reminds me of YA novels (in a good way), I like how Farideh and her sister actually act like teenagers. You will get a kick out of this: There's a part in one of the later books where someone makes a crass joke like "I've never slept with a tiefling girl, are the rumors true that they've got teeth down there, AND it's on sideways?"