The Primordial Age of Demons
I’ve been playing Tony Dowler’s How to Host a Dungeon the last few nights, and realized it would be interesting to record my results for each Age in terms of a potential campaign setting, beginning with the Primordial.
I rolled a river with multiple waterfalls, some mithril deposits, ancient beasts near to the surface, and a demon civilization deep under the earth–which lasted only one season before erupting upwards without interacting with anything else. At the end of the Age, earthquakes caused multiple rifts intersecting the river.
Then I spent some time thinking about what all that meant for the developing dungeon, eventually moving away from the idea I was just developing a single dungeon here. At least in this portion. This felt more like a chance for world creation.
In the beginning, there were the Heavens and the Hells, and the Earth, and the Void spaces in-between which were populated by spirits of chaos and darkness in depths below even those in which the devils lived. They sought corruption and destruction, these demons of eld lore, the casting down of the Heavens that mocked their Void.
Powerful princes of the awful darkness and their ever-changing enemies fell down and down through the spaces between all things, and their darkness manifested in twisted caverns deep beneath the Earth, a place whose name no mortal tongue could pronounce, for the words of demons were like the crackle of fire, and the droning buzz of insects–and in this way you might know them when they speak.
Ten princes and their retinues lived in the corrupted stone, which had been twisted by the touch of the poisonous Void below and Outside the Earth. Giant whispering tentacles and fungal foulness curled from the cavern roof at the bottom of the world, waving in breezes whose sources lie beyond mortal ken; broken hexagons of basalt and black granite thrust upwards from a deeper darkness, in which shadow things given gruesome form flit and fought.
For years beyond counting the demon-princes’ corruption burrowed upwards from this cavernous place of exile, crawling and chewing through the stone, past dark rivers that flowed in the deeps, and further still for seasons beyond measure, clawing at the earth and tainting the bedrock while the demons feasted, fought, and sacrificed in the terrible depths–and rent one of their own number down to hideous black bones and set the world upon his back.
Then the corruption climbed past sleeping beasts older even than demons or angels, or even stars, who spent their slumbering eternities in hollow spaces serving them as immemorial beds, driven to unquiet nightmares by the corruption’s passing, before it erupted from the Earth into the new world beneath the Heavens.
The odor of fresh, sickening life drew the the Nine–last of the demon princes and their armies of foul spirits–upwards, chasing their corrupting worm to the surface of the Earth where no stone prisoned them…and from there they rose up and waged war upon the Heavens, casting down the angels and slaughtering the gods in a dark and terrible war whose era spanned untold millennia, raging until the Heavens themselves burned.
And at its end, when the last angel fell slain and the Heavens were laid to utter waste, cast broken into nothingness, the earth itself shook and cracked in grief, the victory of chaos and Void unmaking its very foundations. Dark rifts opened in the deeps as What Was began to unwind. The great rivers plunged down into the cavernous pits where the demons had laired, creating lakes of poisoned mists and black, befouled waters in which awful, half-formed things stirred, where one could speak to the shades of the once-living, and beyond which were the realms of the dead.
Then I moved into the next Age, but realized I wanted to dig into the results more. There wasn’t a whole lot to what I’d created originally, just a brief-lived civilization that left behind a plague cavern and a wandering monster. To begin with I rolled to see where the castle would go, and it ended up on the lip of the pit where the demon’s burrower lived, and a tunnel that led almost straight down to the plague cavern, past some ancient beasts whose lairs opened onto the surface. I started wondering what kind of people would live in such a fortress, with a horrible monster literally right under their feet, on the site of a war between demons and the Heavens.
Thinking back on a personal campaign someone had introduced me to years ago–which I’d only had a single chance to play in, yet whose premise was intriguing–I realized I had some ideas about the results of the war against Heaven and how to develop it. So I added devils to the mix and moved fully from a local dungeon to a more large-scale setting history, cribing from Lovecraft, the concept of Outsiders in D&D, Greek myths, and that past campaign.
Yet, even as the demon princes returned triumphant to the Void everlasting-and-never-made, carrying their spoils and trophies to rend and shatter, the devils of the Hells, knowing a world ruled by demons would collapse into unordered chaos, came quietly forth, sealing the pathways between the Earth and the Void with the foulest of their black magics, binding those lesser demons who had remained with secret words that angered the dark things, for those whispered words trapped them in service, making their chaotic wills subservient to cruel order–thusly wizards who have learned these arts take great care, lest such demon-servants gain freedom to spread chaos and destruction, or even reopen the pathways between Earth and Void!
The devils pursued this course of binding and sealing, until only the burrowing corruption remained, slumbering silently beneath the lip of the great pit upon the Earthly battlefield where Heaven had at last fallen. But the corruption was a sickness and foulness that had spread through the roots of the earth, not a demon that could be banished or bound. Instead, the devils made sacrifices to it–of criminals, or of the politically inconvenient–so it slept satiated.
Above it, the devils raised a dark fortress, and made thrones therein, to keep watch over the corrupting worm that it not awaken and undo all that was. Then the devils raised up kingdoms, and men–and other things–to worship and serve them. Under their governance, the strong ruled, and took what they wished from the weak and the sick. Men made slaves of other men as their power allowed. Sanctioned murder enshrined predators and made law. Guile and misdirection were virtue.
But the world was whole, and did not fall into chaos and dissolution as had the Heavens and the Hells.
The assassin-priests of the devil-gods keep order among men, and are given power in return for their faith. Not the power to heal the injured and the dying as the dead gods of the Heavens might have done, but to strike down and sicken, to punish and torture, to see the future, to bind and control, and to break the will of those who would not submit. And those who submit willingly are the Obedient, who are the blessed children.
Runes of sorcery and black magic burn on great black domes and spires of the devils’ temples wherein the Law is read, black magic is taught, and the devils themselves hear the pleas of their subjects, and plan war and espionage upon each other, bringing all into line with their own rule and with the Law. Imps scurry through the shadows on common errands, and even paupers may know curses to mutter against their betters.
But in the wilds and in the hidden corners of the dark cities, demon-cultists meet, chaffing under the strict and iron-fisted rule of the devil-gods, and plot to return their masters from Beyond…or are simply mad from having touched dark knowledge, having touched the Void.
In mythical places are the white bones of angels yet hidden, poison to both demon and devil, and infused with miracles. There are few enough who seek these, for most are content to follow the Law, to earn their place, and prove their greater worth and rights over other men, but the devils do send their own seeking such relics when rumor and legend of them arise–to destroy them, or lock them away if they can not be unmade, or even to give to trusted servants to carefully wield against their enemies.