OSR: The Only Good Demon is a Good Demon

Ok, the title is a little silly. Let me explain.

In my generic medieval OSR setting there is no cosmic Evil or universal Good. The stage isn't set for an epic struggle between Light and Darkness. The story isn't a fable and it isn't a moral lesson. Instead, like the real world, it's full of people. If evil exists, it is a very human evil, perpetrated for very human reasons. The entire setting is full of people acting on their motives and not for some supernatural cause. or metahuman alignment.

Since people keep asking me why my demons are faithful, I thought I'd write a few notes. To make up for the lack of gameable content I've included plenty of illustrations.

In the Beginning...

The Authority created the world and set the natural laws of Creation in motion. The Authority is omnipotent, but He* cannot change His own laws, lest Creation unravel. He is omniscient, but He cannot see the future, lest time itself grind to a halt. And because Creation is delicate, He sends messengers and lieutenants, Angels, prophets, and saints, to do His will. He has a plan.
*Church doctrine insists the Authority is male.
Mortal creatures have an immortal soul in a body made of matter. This presents a problem; when the body dies or breaks down, where does the soul go? The Authority created Heaven, a realm in the upper air, by holding back some goodness and kindness and peace from the world. This is why things are awful and imperfect; there has to be enough goodness left over for Heaven.

But He took most of the wickedness, cruelty, and violence in Creation and put it deep in the earth, below the stones, where it couldn't trouble anyone. This is Hell. All the torments of the world are like moonlight to the sunlight of Hell's condensed misery, pure, unrefined, and untroubled by cause and effect.

When a mortal creature dies, the soul has several possible destinations. If the creature is sufficiently powerful, the soul might stick around, reanimating the body, reincarnating, flying around, or otherwise causing trouble. For humans and human-like creatures, this state is usually called undeath.

Otherwise, the soul is grabbed by one of the many Angels of Death, examined, and sent to judgement. Souls with uncomplicated histories are sometimes judged summarily. Some require further examination in Heaven.
Souls retain some of the memories of life, trimmed and smoothed and slowly fading. They look like tiny versions of person's body made of soft white light and mist, but they rapidly expand to their original size as residual proprioception kicks in.
Untitled, Justin Cherry


In Heaven, the Authority or His appointed angels judge a soul and decides whether it worked for or against His Divine Plan, and obeyed the laws He gave to mortals through His Church.*
*Opinions vary widely on what exactly these laws are and what you need to do to get into Heaven. The Church is absolutely certain it has it right.
If the soul meets the requirements, great. Heaven is a wonderful, slightly tedious place, and doesn't warrant further description in this article. In fact, it barely warrants description in the Church's doctrine, either except in a negative sense; it's not like this. There is no pain, no hunger, no warfare, no disease. All the troubles and cares of mortal life are are swept away.

And if the soul doesn't meet the requirements, a demon shows up and carts it to Hell.

Hate is my name, Felip Escobar

The Adversary

Someone has to run Hell, so the Authority created the Adversary. She* is not adversarial to the Authority's plan; in fact, She's a vital part of it, and She knows it. She is adversarial to mortals. She is the lamp that casts virtue into sharp relief, the assayer that purifies the base metals. It's a thankless task, but someone has to do it.
*Church doctrine insists the Adversary is female.
The Authority doesn't want people sneaking into Heaven by finding loopholes in His divine rules, or altering his plan by behaving badly. In order to separate true virtue from false-seeming pretense, the Adversary send her legions of demons to torment and test mortals. Angels and demons are the same thing, and often work together on the same problems. They are colleagues from different departments. Demons tend to be a little more mortal-like and comprehensible. They are deeply faithful.

Subtle Theology

The Church takes a very dim view of demons and devils. In the public eye, they are the source of many evils. The Adversary's role as a winnower of souls is mostly forgotten; She is instead portrayed as disobedient and malicious. In the minds of most people, demons are utterly evil. They possess people and drive them mad (it's mostly ghosts and loose spells), they steal cattle (mostly neighbors), cause toothaches (mostly bad diet), nightmares (ditto), and hailstorms (water elementals). They do turn up to tempt and harass people in dreams and visions because that's their job. You can banish a demon by ignoring it and making the sign of the Authority.

There are also tales of witches summoning demons, or of foul pacts with the Adversary in exchange for gold, wealth, or beauty. Demons, of course, encourage these stories as much as possible.

In Practice

You can summon demons. They wrote the books and scattered them around Creation. The dribbly candles and clouds of smoke are just set dressing; the demon is there, waiting, the moment you pick up the book. And they will give you what you want. Gold? Trivial. Beauty? Easy. Power? Sure!

But demons cannot harm the innocent. They will not kill your rival for you. They might show you the way to your rival's chamber, or give you a shiny dagger, but they will also try to arrange things to ensure nobody gets stabbed. You'll be betrayed, discovered, and punished. Demons aren't here to kill people. They are here to tempt people. It's not entrapment, it's a sting operation. They appear in dreams and visions, but can manifest with ease.

People do awful things all the time without any divine intervention or temptation. Demons are therefore very cynical, but they are very proud of their finished products. They might work for years to pry at a secret vice of a bishop, only to wave him happily into Heaven as he dies untempted and unblemished. They don't want people to fall away from divine favour, but it's their job, and people are very eager to fall. Demons keep a running tally of how many people - not starving, desperate, or mad people, just regular ordinary people - have promised their souls for a turnip. It's nauseatingly high.

Rogue Demons

Demons are, by design, willful, inquisitive, and cynical. Their task is very vague and open-ended; they have a great deal of leeway in how they winnow souls. Some demons become rebellious and seek a different life. They try to possess a living creature and hide from both the Authority and their fellow demons. It sometimes works. More commonly, weary demons will disguise themselves are moral guides and try to tempt people back onto the path of righteousness. They are very faithful, after all, and it hurts them to see so many people willingly choose a path that ends in flames and torment.
The Book of Revalation, Chris Koelle

Minor Demons

Straight from the Monster Manual. No stats because the PCs aren't likely to encounter demons anyway. They're only included because people asked.
Don Ed Hardy
Barbed Devil
Appears as a humanoid made from smooth red clay - the blood-soaked ground of a thousand pointless battles. Can grow any weapon from its skin. The Barbed Devils guard the Final Pit, the last gate of hell beyond which there is no return. They are there to scare off souls who might still have a chance at redemption, and to toss in reluctant sinners. They target people who have sworn vows of peace, tempting them with rage or visions of friends in danger. A barbed devil always knows the right words to hurt someone's pride.
Reaper, Bogdan Rezunenko
Bone Devil
Half skeleton, half insect, all legs and scuttling ribs. Alternatively, the corpse of someone familiar to the viewer. Bone devils spend most of their time tempting the virtuous in dreams, convincing them of the horrors of death or their guilt in past crimes. Bone devils love a public confession. Some get overzealous and hound the faithful for minor sins. They love ensnaring people in arguments over minor points, magnifying small difference and flaws into psyche-shattering contradictions.
Demon Sketches, Nick de Spain
Demons (Types 1-4)
Too boring to bother listing. If you have to give your demons numbered types, maybe it's time to rethink your cosmology. The minor angels and functionaries of hell, created for specific tasks, set on specific paths.
Malevolence, Michael MacRae
Messenger angels. They tend to look like whatever the person's culture expects demons to look like, and they show up to cart a soul off to Hell. Their role allows them to be rude, boisterous, and unsympathetic. They appear as backing choruses for the major demons, or in visions to tormented saints and sinners.
N-e-g-e-n-s, Y-mir
Horned Devil
Enforcer angels, sent to deal with particularly difficult souls. They weren't made for subtlety or craft. Each one is like a meteor of chitin and sulphur, full of blades and fire and gold and the howling of firey winds. They are the cruise missiles of hell, set loose at a target, rising from the earth like comets. They are barely self-aware.

Source unknown
Ice Devil
Logicians and planners, but fully empathetic. They are constantly wreathed in frost and steam; their invisible bodies are so cold air freezes on contact, leaving sizzling trails of very confused air elementals behind them. They support philosophers and skeptics in their inquires, sometimes to draw them into atheism and callousness, and sometimes to because they delight in helping others uncover the secret mechanisms of Creation. They also entrap charlatans, false healers, and book-burners.

In the Court of the Hollow King, Alex Konstad
Included for completeness. Penitent souls. Either sliding down to the Final Pit or crawling upwards to the Second Judgement. Thin, wispy things, resembling their mortal shells in a few ways. Sometimes naked, sometimes in the clothes they wore in life. Sometimes wailing, sometimes mad, sometimes grimly determined.

Apocalypse Demon, Piotr Jabłoński
Pit Fiend
The Archangels of hell. Each one was created for a specific task. They slumber in red sarcophagi half a mile high, waiting for the day they are needed again.
Butterfly Angel, Milan Nikolic
They only target people who have made a vow of chastity or fidelity. A wanton stranger from Foreign Parts is safe (from them, at least). A pious Paladin or married shopkeeper is not. They can appear in any form and satisfy any desire. They try not to get into philosophical arguments about doctrine and focus on the physical desires. They will give a few warning shots to pious targets, including a life-draining kiss. In a different guise they secretly give advice to pious orphans. There are no half-demon children (although many parents would claim otherwise).

Significant Demons

The best at their jobs, and therefore the most likely to be encountered. Utterly faithful. They all go to the same Church once a week (and yes, there is a Church in hell. Their guest sermons are something to behold.)
Ignis the Cleansing Fire by legendary-memory
The classic devil in fancy dress. Loves making deals, producing comically large scrolls, signing them in blood, etc. It's all a sham. The contract doesn't mean anything (although Asmodeus will usually follow through, just to make sure the contracted party is properly damned). The sin is making a deal for power or glory. Will pretend to despair at loopholes, vanish, and return to claim the contracted soul anyway - the intent of the deal is more than enough. Scrupulously keeps secrets. Particularly enjoys claiming the souls of diplomats, lawyers, moneylenders, and cheating salesmen.

Occasionally, a righteous person whose prayers have gone unanswered turns to the Adversary in anger and frustration. Sometimes, a demon turns up to seal their doom and feed their vices. Sometimes, their anger is justified, and they are willing to sacrifice their own soul to save others. Asmodeus isn't above tipping the scales a little and providing some secret help, if the circumstances are right. Anyone willing to suffer the torments of hell for purely unselfish reasons might be heaven-worthy.
The Summon, Natasha Nanook

Lord of spectacle and special effects. Appears in a thousand hideous forms, with a thousand equally hideous sound effects. Shocks, frightens, and warns. Cheerfully inventive. Loves all living creatures, but also loves a good jump scare, and knows exactly what everyone is afraid of. Happy to feed fears, paranoia, and guilt. Also in charge of people who try to cheat death or the Authority. It rarely ends well.

Breath of Eternity, Lizzy-John
In charge of liars and hypocrites. One head sees the truth. The other sees every possible lie. They are in perfect agreement. Demorgorgon tempts people away from confession and self-knowledge, giving them every excuse to ignore their own nature and sins until it is too late. Enjoys writing hymns and protecting musicians.

Berserk, Emperor Ganishka
Lord of rules and laws. Every time an cunningly vague law is proclaimed, a mock trial is staged, or an official breaks an oath, Dispater is there (in theory. He's usually busy.) He appears as a crowned demonic king, an ur-father judging from below. His voice is a thousand death sentences. His cloak, a thousand nooses. Dispater doesn't care if the laws of mortals are particularly fair, but he does care if they are broken or twisted by people for their own benefit.He is immensely sympathetic to innocent prisoners and occasionally helps them escape. Similarly, he will offer his aid to criminals, the desperate, and the blood-soaked, only to reveal in the end that it was all a ruse. Their faith in him was misplaced and childish; they should have begged for forgiveness, not for freedom. Remember, demons do not entrap. They only illuminate.
Renekton2, Chenthooran Nambiarooran
Deals with animal and plant souls. Most of the time, their souls evaporate before collection, but a particularly wise tree or a very evil dog might get a place in the afterlife. Creatures that can't choose and can't think can't be punished; you need to know you're breaking the Authority's laws to meet Geryon. He doesn't deal with thinking, complex creatures, and he likes it that way. Has a fondness for whales, beetles, and gut bacteria.
You dare awaken me, witch? Cryptcrawler
Underemployed. In theory, Jubilex seeks out the depraved, the self-loathing, and the utterly amoral and monitors their descent. In practice, it can barely keep up with the inventive drives of mortals. A thousand perversions are attributed to Jubilex - it probably invented two, ever, and they are pretty tame by any estimation. Wryly amused, patronizing, and grimly resigned. Also tasked with monitoring the souls of slimes and jellies (they do have souls, but their thoughts, morality, and religion is completely alien to humanity, and can't easily be explained).
Untitled, Justin Cherry
Deals with escaped souls, ghosts, the undead, and rogue demons. Hell's own inquisitor. Not very bright, but utterly faithful. Has been known to fly to the gates of Heaven itself with evidence condemning a soul, or saving it. In art, a black ram with a man's legs. In reality, an ibis the size of an elephant.
He is the one that rules the sky, Tano Bonfanti
Knows exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The enumerator, the counter, the designated auditor of the infernal order. If an unexpected soul arrives, he'll be the first to investigate. Looks like a 66 headed hound (the heads overlap like a glass flower). Feeds lost causes and pointless, prideful leaders. Occasionally assists the very, very old, but only if he can find a rule allowing it.
The Molars of Leviathan, Wayne Barlowe

The Structure of Hell

You can walk to Hell. It's below the Veins of the Earth, below everything, but there are stairs and passages and the occasional gate. People have done it. It's not a pleasant journey, and you will not be a welcome visitor in Hell, although your reception will be far less hostile than expected. A faithful pilgrim could pass to the edge of the Final Pit and back without harm.

The Authority ensured Hell has enough space for all time. There are entire vaults that have yet to be opened. All the elements are present, not because they are being punished, but because the elementals obey the Authority, and he required their presence.

Imagine an agglomerate of fossil shells. Then take away the shells. The space that's left is what Hell looks like. There are spirals and curves and plates of half-melted cities. There are halls for lectures, galleries for pain, illusory forests, cascades of fire, and plains of white cold sand. Hell is a mixture, orbiting (at tectonic speed) the Final Pit.

Damned souls can, sometimes, clear themselves of their sin and earn forgiveness through penitence, self-discovery, and clarity. This requires nearly supernatural effort. Most souls don't bother, and slowly spiral downwards towards the Final Pit. Demons will try and pry souls off this self-destructive path if they can, but it is an impossible task. 

The Final Pit contains all the suffering, pain, and horror the Authority couldn't put in Creation. It isn't torture - it's something beyond torture, like sunlight to moonlight. Mortals only live by moonlight.

 Le Pandemonium Louvre, John Martin

Fighting Demons

Any faithful person who makes the sign of the Authority or speaks a heartfelt prayer can banish a demon on the job. There's no point - they'll try again later. It's like hanging up the phone.

A rogue demon is more troublesome and more powerful. And if you need to fight a demon - in a proper fight, for high stakes - don't expect holy weapons or prayers to work. The demons can pray harder than you.


  1. I HIGHLY approve of seeing Barlowe anywhere. This was a very enjoyable article, it did a good job combine Arnold's, Patrick's, and your own cosmology into a unique and satisfying whole.

    1. I'd say that we're all drawing from the same well, but thanks!

  2. This is kind of adorable. I still think that Arnold K's cosmology is a better jumping off point for adventuring, but the thought of all the Demons being buddies with the Angels is such an uplifting thought.

  3. Personally, I like thinking of Devils as just literally Angels with different clothing- It lets you use the term "Demons and Devils" To describe the things that are true threats to humanity.

    Course, thats because I love the trope of bargaining and binding devils.

    And because "Angels in Disguise" sounds like the premise of a shitty-great 80's TV serial.

    Am I digressing? I'm digressing.

    Great post.

    1. "It lets you use the term "Demons and Devils" To describe the things that are true threats to humanity."

      The true threat to humanity is humanity (at least, in my setting). Someone pries the lock off an ancient prison to sell the metal for scrap. Someone invents a new spell that summons a skeleton wizard (who can summon another skeleton wizard, etc.). Someone finds a big red button that says "DO NOT PUSH - BY ORDER OF GOD" and pushes it immediately. Human nature is a far better source of problems than any supernatural evil.

    2. Have you read Pact? It's a great combination between these two ideas. demons and devils will fuck over humanity- but only because humans are too busy either summoning the damn things or pretending they don't exist. Their existence is slowly devouring Creation, but they only exist because even trying to effectively deal with them gets you labeled a diabolist.

      Diabolists, of course, are kill on sight.

      Human nature as the ultimate evil is pretty great, but demons make a damn fine "DO NOT PUSH" button

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  6. Hello Skerples, your work is really awesome. Would it be possible if i translate some of your posts into my spanish blog decenasdemundos.com? Thanks a lot :)

    1. Sure, go ahead! As long as you link back to my blog/the original post.

    2. Of course!!!! Thanks a lot!!! Please, continue with your amazing work :)

  7. Nice artwork. I especially like Chris Koelle's work.