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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to The Pit Fiend

Today I'm going to try and take a comprehensive look at one of the coolest D&D Monsters - the pit fiend.

A pit fiend is an extremely power devil (or baatezu). They are the top of the food chain in Hell (Baator). Pit fiends are meant to be one of the most threatening and deadly monsters in Dungeons & Dragons. You need to be a high level character to hope to survive an encounter with them.

There is a fantastic list of pit fiend NPCs that appeared in D&D products here.


The goal of this article is to try to collect all of the relevant lore in one place so that if you decide to use them in your campaign, you don't have to dig through 10 different books for cool NPCs and ideas.
Most of the content in here is listed by edition. In the case of major pit fiend NPCS like Bel and The Dark Eight, I listed their information at the end. They are discussed in many different sourcebooks, so I compiled the information and placed it all at the bottom.


There are a lot of pit fiend miniatures out there. My favorite is the official one put out by Wizards almost ten years ago.

Simbul the Pit Fiend Slayer

The Simbul
In Ed Greenwood's novel "Elminster in Hell", The Simbul apparently killed four pit fiends! The Simbul is, according to this site, "...a wild and powerful sorceress, highly unpredictable and prone to sudden outbursts of rage."

I tried to find out more, and found some pretty scathing reviews of this book at Candlekeep. One reader mentions that The Simbul's hair allows her to wield multiple magic wands. Please don't tell me she killed four pit fiends with hair wands.

Pit Fiends and Balors

The pit fiend is the smaller one.
It's easy to get a pit fiend mixed up with a balor. They look similar. A Pit Fiend is a devil and a Balor is a demon. Pictured here is a balor fighting a pit fiend, a scene from the 4th edition adventure Prince of Undeath. In it, the heroes have to travel to the bottom of the Abyss, wade through a massive battle between devils and demons, and make their way through a magic forge.

Epic art by Mark Winters
Here's what make balors different from pit fiends:
  • They're bigger (balors are huge, pit fiends are large).
  • Balors wield a lightning sword in one hand and a fire whip in the other.
  • They are re-skinned Lord of the Rings balrogs.
Fun fact: I have an old metal balor miniature that, for some reason, includes the monster's genitals.

AD&D 1st Edition

I really like the look of the original pit fiend in the 1e Monster Manual. They're really wide and sinister, just a classic looking devil that you can tell is very powerful. Here are the properties of a pit fiend:
  • Twelve feet tall.
  • Personal servants of Asmodeus, lord of Hell.
  • Carry an ancus-like weapon in one hand and a jagged-toothed club in the other.
  • They can cast fire spells like wall of fire once per turn.
  • They have a 70% chance of gating in another pit fiend (and I guess that pit fiend cold do the same, right?).
  • They have an aura of magical fear.
  • Strength of 18/00, regenerate 2 hit points per round and they have a tail stinger.
Not much else there, as far as detail goes. There's a really cool section on devil talismans in the actual devil entry. I did a bit of searching, but I could not find any significant pit fiend encounters in 1st edition modules.

AD&D 2nd Edition

There are a couple of different artistic renderings of the pit fiend, and I really like them all. In 2e, they tended to reprint their monstrous entries in different supplements. So that means that Baxa did the first depiction, which appeared in the Monstrous Compendium. It stays true to the 1e Trampier version, which is massive and someone you do not want to mess with.

In the Planescape Monstrous Compendium, Tony Diterlizzi has a pretty epic depiction of a pit fiend as a purely evil being wreathed in flames. Here's some notes on the 2e pit fiend:
  • Gargoylish in appearance.
  • They don't communicate much, but use telepathy when they do. 
  • DiTerlizzi
  • Once per year they can cast a wish spell!
  • They are the highest ranking devils in the Nine Hells. They are commonly found in Nessus (the ninth layer of Hell)
  • They sometimes command legions of devils and lead them into battle against demons.
  • "Pit fiends are spawned from the powerful gelugons... when those icy fiends are found worthy, they are cast into the Pit of Flame for 1,001 days after which they emerge as a pit fiend."
  • The text says to refer to the gelugon entry which, when flipped to, explains that for a gelugon to be "promoted" to a pit fiend, it must have served Hell flawlessly for 777 years.
What's the Pit of Flame, you ask? Let us consult a supplement...

Planescape - Faces of Evil: The Fiends

The Pit of Flame

The Pit of Flame is guarded by hordes of cornugons and is located in Phlegethos (The Fourth Layer of Hell). It is a huge lake of boiling filth and excreta, burning with searing white flames that reach over 100 feet high.

Devils who bathe in the pit heal and gain strength but also suffer great pain.Those not lawful evil are instantly consumed by the fires.

Fires of Dis

I feel like I talk about this adventure endlessly. Here's the pit fiends that appear in this scenario:

Kri'ik: Kri'ik is a pit fiend that serves Dispater in the Iron Tower of Dis. In the adventure, he tries to embarrass his master by helping the adventurers steal a holy sword named "Guardian" from Dispater's tower.

Zaggutch: This pit fiend first shows up in a very cool encounter. The heroes look into a mirror. Zaggutch appears inside the mirror, and begins doing terrible things to the adventurer's reflections! He kills them and eats them. Here's some of the flavor text:

"Hiya, flaggoes!" laughs the fiend in the mirror, though you can't be sure if he's talking to you or your reflections. "Ready to have some fun? Ol' Zaggutch'll teach ya how to have a real good time!"

Zaggutch is a lieutenant fiercely loyal to Dispater. Dispater has given him the power to become a spirit who can possess people. Zaggutch possessed the paladin who wielded guardian and did his best to turn him evil.

While I hated the section on Tiamat's lair, this adventure has a ton of really cool stuff in it.

Well of Worlds

This book has a number of adventures, including one that deals with the blood war (the eternal war between devils and demons).

Blood Storm

This is a real twisty adventure with many possible outcomes. The heroes get mixed up in a blood war skirmish, where disguised demons and devils try to get the heroes to help them achieve their goals. The devils are represented by a pit fiend named Gallus.

Gallus: He disguises himself as a portly merchant and tries to pay the heroes in cursed gold. If spent, the heroes want more of that particular gold. The only way to get it is to do more work for Gallus.

There's a pretty amusing section of this adventure where the heroes escort a bunch of weird people out for a night on the town. The people are very cruel and extremely lucky at games of chance. It turns out these are polymorphed demons trying to keep our heroes occupied. I can just imagine all the shenanigans that went on when people ran this adventure

D&D 3rd Edition

This depiction of the Pit Fiend is pretty good. I especially like the pit fiend miniature that came out in this era. It does a good job of keeping the tone of the original depiction but also blending in the modern elements.
  • Third edition pit fiends have an AC of 40, over 200 hit points and have very high spell resistance.
  • The bite of a pit fiend can infect you with a strength-draining disease called "devil chills"
  • Twice a day, a pit fiend can summon a few devils like an erinyes or an ice devil.
  • 3rd edition has some helpful combat tactics, which is a cool feature. Basically, they'll probably hit you with a fireball, than a meteor swarm (!) and then close in on an injured PC for the kill.
Devilishly Difficult Opponents

This article on the wizards site discussed pit fiends in 2007. It mostly talks about how to handle pit fiends in the 3.5 rules system. There's a nice sidebar that discusses the notion that devils like pit fiends deplore chaos and keep meticulous records.

Fiendish Codex 2: Tyrants of the Nine Hells

This book, to me, is the best supplement on Hell. It has so much great stuff. The 2e Guide to Hell is very good as well, but this gets more in-depth and has much better art.

The Court of Asmodeus includes a number of pit fiends:
  • Alastor, executioner of Nessus
  • Baalberith, majordomo of the palace
  • Martinet, constable of Nessus
There's also a very cool spell..

Investiture of the Pit Fiend: It's a 9th level spell that gives the target fangs and wings of a pit fiend. The target can do stuff like make claw attacks, let out a cloud of disease-ridden air, or gain a fear aura. It lasts around 15 minutes.

Lord of the Iron Fortress
This adventure involves a half-duergar/half-red dragon named Imperagon. He's re-assembling this powerful efreet sword called the Blade of Fiery Might. Once the sword is made, he's going to lead an army of allies that includes illithids and "the hosts of hell" to attack our heroes' world.

Imperagon's main devil ally is a female pit fiend named Lydzin. Lydzin's minions include a devil-tainted cloud giant, a fiendish hydra named Torrix.

The adventure goes to great lengths to explain how Lydzin used a wish spell on the fortress, and has placed an unhallow spell and all of these magic symbol traps throughout the place.

Lydzin is part of the final battle, turning invisible and using spells, mostly.

D&D 4th Edition
Obviously the 4e version of the pitfiend is more concise and has some new powers. 

4e has declared that each pit fiend is a lord of a large domain and is a vassal of an archdevil. Pit fiends run cities and lead legions. Each archdevil commands less than 12 pit fiends, except Asmodeus. Other details:
  • They lurk in the background and scheme.
  • They have a flame-touched mace
  • This power is awesome: A pit fiend can slide an allied devil up to 25 feet and cause it to explode, injuring foes.
  • It could summon devils once per encounter, which is very, very rare in 4e. It can summon 8 minions to use as fodder for it's explosion power.
Manual of the Planes

This pit fiend just doesn't look right to me
The 4e manual has a nice section on Hell that discusses a few different pit fiends in passing:
  • Amon: A pit fiend who serves as the seneschal of Levistus. He commands a vast stygian army.
  • Lenphant: A pit fiend that controls a city called Grenpoli, the City of Guile on the seventh layer of Hell.
  • Neshm: A pit fiend who rules Neshminaar, a secretive city in Nessus. Here, devils experiment with breeding monsters and creating infernal constructs.
E3 Prince of Undeath

In this super-high level adventure, our heroes end up rescuing the Raven Queen from Orcus, who is trying to kill her and become the god of death.

Utarla: A female pit fiend who is trying to stop Orcus's plot. The heroes can avoid a fight with her by convincing her that they're on the same side (in a really lame skill challenge). Her master is Asmodeus.

D&D 5th Edition
The 5e pit fiend has most of the same powers as earlier versions. It can cast fire spells and has a fear aura. They have " inflated sense of superiority and entitlement", which is amusing. They are manipulative and political.

I really like the artistic depiction of them, although it's got some weird blue tint thing going on. I'd really like someone to paint what a female pit fiend looks like. Do they look just like the males?

Dead in Thay


Baazka had tried to build an army in Dragonspear Castle in the Forgotten Realms, but a priest of Tempus defeated Baazka using a magic sword called Illydrael. The blade broke off in the pit fiend's body as it fled through a portal.

"Had the blow killed him in the world, the devil could have returned after a century to wreak his revenge. Had it killed him in the Nine Hells, Baazka would have ceased to exist. Instead, the pit fiend’s black heart continued to beat around the blade. Fearing that removing the broken sword would mean his end, Baazka has struggled along in the Nine Hells, reminded of his desire for revenge with every painful heartbeat."

Baazka can enter the Forgotten Realms only in a ghostlike form that can possess people. How cool is that? Baazka proceeded to team up with the Red Wizards of Thay to build a bloodgate that might cure him of his condition as well as allow the Thayans to bring their forces to the Sword Coast.

Major Pit Fiends Referenced in Multiple Editions

The Dark Eight

Legend has it that long ago, a pit fiend named Cantrum teamed up with eight other pit fiends to become a sort of mediating body between the Lords of Hell and the devils. Cantrum was assassinated. The rest of them, The Dark Eight, are now in charge of running the Blood War.

They hold council four times per year at the fortress of Malsheem in Nessus. The assassin of Cantrum was a paladin from Mount Celestia who was killed before he could escape Hell. If they go to other planes they magically disguise themselves as humans.

When a member of the Dark Eight is slain, another pit fiend replaces them, takes on the destroyed member's name and magically alters its' appearance. The idea is to promote the concept that the Dark Eight are immortal.

They are:
  • Baalzephon - Supply Master of Baator, the only surviving member of the original group.
  • Corin - Spymaster, frets a lot, always expects the worst.
  • Dagos - Marshall of the Pits, haughty and contemptuous.
  • Furcas - Minister of Mortal Relations, restless.
  • Pearza - Chief of Research, magic-obsessed, commands Fierna's armies, but cozying up to Mephistopheles.
  • Zaebos - Minister of Promotions.
  • Zapan - Minister of Immortal Diplomacy, "reviled by all for his fawning demeanor".
  • Zimimar - Minister of Morale, described as "thundering".

He was a general in the blood war who convinced the demons he was defecting, then led a huge demon army right into a devil ambush. As a reward, he was given control of all of the armies on Avernus (the first layer).
  • Bel went on to betray Zariel, the ruler of Avernus. He overthrew her and took control of Avernus.
  • He captured Zariel and has been draining her energy to add to his own.
  • Bel's Blade: +3, +5 vs. demons. It does double damage against cold/ice creatures.
  • Bel is trying to form an alliance with Tiamat. She agreed to let him use her abishai (draconic demons). "Imprisoned in the bowels of the Bronze Citadel, Zariel languishes under the cruel knives of abishai torturers that carve off bits of her flesh to feed their master."
  • On page 68 of the 5e Monster Manual, Zariel is listed as the current ruler of Avernus. On page 64 of the 5e DMG it is said: "The archduchess Zariel rules Avernus, supplanting her rival, Bel, who has fallen out of Asmodeus's favor and is forced to serve as Zariel's advisor". 
Final Thoughts

I think pit fiends are awesome. I don't like some of the ways they've been used in certain products. I don't think they should be snooping around in disguise - they should send flunkies for that. I also don't think they should run cities. It just doesn't feel right to me.

My take on pit fiends is that they are terrifying warlords. When they show up somewhere, everybody quakes in terror. Because they are used to this reaction, they serve the archdukes begrudgingly and regard them with resentment. Only the fact that they focus their hatred on the demons keeps the archdukes relatively safe from full-fledged devilish treachery.


Timothy S. Brannan said...

Another great post. Thanks for this!

Some guy said...

"On page 68 of the 5e Monster Manual, Zariel is listed as the current ruler of Avernus! How did she escape? Is Bel still alive?"

Both the DMG section on Hell and Rise of Tiamat answer this question. Bel is still alive but lost favor with Asmodeus and Zariel was given her postion back. Bel was then given the role of her adviser.

Anyway I don't see Pit Fiends as resenting the Dukes. I see them as ambitious as other devils. Loyally serving until they can one day replace them and become unique Devils themselves.

Sean said...

Tim: Thanks, and I really appreciate the plug on your site!

Unknown: I'll update my post. Thanks for reading!

Eodrid said...

I've always loved Pit Fiends, but never got to use them in a game. I really liked their 4E ability to use their allies as explosive weapons.

Sean said...

Eodrid: 4e pit fiends were so much fun! Very unique.

Anonymous said...

Gates of Hell, by the DiceFreaks folks give a good definition of Hell and the Pitfiends. One in one million devils is a Pit Fiend by their reckoning.

Anonymous said...

Hi from 6yrs after you posted, oof.
Very nicely covered, PFs are a personal fav for end game bosses and you not only did them justice but more!
I am curious though where the art of the pit feind scolding a teifling is from, i cant seem to find it anywhere.
Thanks again for a top post!

Anonymous said...

Quite funny to see the evolution of the pit fiend and balor especially in terms of size.
The original AD&D Monster Manual said both creatures were 12' in height, clearly no longer the case now.