How to Play an Archdevil in D&D

One of the most vicious varieties of villain are archdevils. These manipulative fiends also serve as warlock patrons in countless Dungeons & Dragons settings, plots, and campaigns. But what is an archdevil, exactly? In many worlds, it’s an immensely powerful entity able to shape reality and command legions of devils in the Nine Hells of Baator. Most archdevils rule over a single layer of the Nine Hells, from Avernus to Nessus and answer only to the god of devils and Archduke of Baator: Asmodeus. As a villain, a patron, or an ally, how should you play these conniving and thoroughly evil masterminds?

Outlined below are how I play archdevils in my world, and how I think you can bring them to life in yours. This article covers everything from the pillars of archdevils to advice on how to forge a unique one. Prepare to embody an archdevil.

Defining Archdevils

To play an archdevil, you need to define what a devil is. Generally, a devil is a denizen of a plane of existence who is law-abiding, evil, and always prepared to advance in power. The following sections define the typical devil and archdevil with respect to these three pillars.

Archdevils are Law-Abiding

A devil knows its place in the grand scheme of the multiverse. It understands who or what ranks above it, when it’s time to listen to orders, and when it’s lawful to scheme against its superiors. The usual devil follows a strict code enshrined by the greatest devil of all: Asmodeus (in most settings). Abiding by that code, line by line, is how the devil advances in rank and becomes a reputable member of its fiendish society. 

An archdevil also understands where it ranks in the supreme order. However, as opposed to other devils, an archdevil is cognizant of how it can twist the law and others to work in its favor. Of course, some powerful devils may be able to achieve this as well, but an archdevil soars an order of magnitude above their understanding. Play this fact up. An archdevil should be able to outsmart any one else in the room when it comes to legal matters of the multiverse, even a less intelligent one. It knows when someone breaks a law, perverts a custom, or talks out of turn. Better yet, an archdevil knows when it can get away with committing all these unlawful acts and still stay within the bounds of its innate alignment.

Play an archdevil like a master lawyer. It knows the laws of the multiverse because it embodies law, albeit perverted and vile.

Archdevils are Evil

All devils are innately evil. Dissimilar to creatures of the mortal world like humans, orcs, elves, goblins, and halflings, devils are denizens of the Outer Planes and are creatures of pure alignment. Most have no true form. In actuality, they are all clouds of evil given shape by fiendish masters. They embody evil because they are created by it. The typical devil revels in the destruction of others, the manipulation of anything, and the enslavement of the weak and strong. It feeds on and uses the souls of mortals as currency. This evil permeates the form of every devil across the multiverse, no matter how minuscule or massive the devil might be.

Art from Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus.

An archdevil, like a devil, is innately evil. However, evil does not pervade it — it spews evil. Dastardly deeds and vile words flow from the mouth of an archdevil. It feels no regret or remorse for its actions, it only seeks to pursue its desires: power, wealth, status, and respect. In its pursuit, it will commit any crime, kill any foe, and cross any line, as long as it stays within the bounds of (or is able to maneuver around) infernal law.

Play an archdevil like a despicable despot. Its thoughts, actions, and pursuits are evil incarnate because an archdevil represents all that evil is.

Archdevils are Power-Hungry

Every devil begins as a lowly lemure in the Nine Hells — the weakest form a devil can take. As it feeds on the evil of its plane, pursues devilish desires, and impresses its superior, the devil is promoted into new forms. Lemures become imps, imps become spined devils, spined devils become bearded devils, and so on and so forth. Take note: only Asmodeus himself can promote a greater devil like an ice devil or pit fiend into an archdevil. However, no matter how high a devil climbs, its ambition is never fully satisfied.

Even an archdevil is hungry for power, arguably the hungriest of the entire devil hierarchy. This is because every devil, especially those at the pinnacle of infernal society, yearn to steal the title Archduke of Baator from Asmodeus. Even Asmodeus himself will never be satisfied until the entirety of the multiverse is contractually his.

Play an archdevil like Alexander Hamilton. An archdevil will never be satisfied and will always try to usurp its superiors (lawfully and secretly, of course) and grow in strength and reputation.

Advice on Famous Archdevils

There are quite a few famous archdevils in D&D canon. Here’s some advice on how to portray each of them in your D&D games.

Zariel is dissimilar to most other devils. A recently instated archdevil in D&D lore, she relies on unbridled fury and skill in combat to overcome her foes, not sheer intellect and genius manipulation. Though the previous ruler of her layer of the Hells, Avernus, a devil named Bel, serves as a general in her army, his previous strategy of logistical superiority is not used by Zariel. Play Zariel like a frenzied berserker, only sated by bloodlust, gains in power, and the unwavering loyalty of her lessers.

Art from Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes.

Dispater is a master of secrets and a seller of arms. His lust for discovering the secrets of the multiverse drives him forward, and his mining and forging operation across the plane of Dis fuels that desire. Armor and weapons forged in Dis are found across the multiverse; Dispater is proud of that fact. Regardless, Dispater is a deeply troubled creature. He trusts no one yet yearns to discover secrets in every corner of every world. This peculiar dichotomy leads the archdevil to a draining paranoia that, one day, could be his downfall. Ensure you play Dispater as a devil desperate for secrets who is terrified of something going wrong. He doesn’t like surprises; showcase that.

Mammon is a greedy and grubby profiteer. In all his actions, he only cares about making a profit in gold. Whether he is trading a soul, battling a demonic invasion, or urging a mortal to join the ranks of the Hells, gold is always top of mind. Mammon’s obsession for monetary treasure is so great that the infrastructure of his entire layer, Minauros, is dilapidated and sinking into the layer’s muck. It matters not to Mammon as long as his coffers are full, and he remains the richest being in the multiverse. Play Mammon like an avaricious CEO; all that matters to the archdevil is his bottom line.

Fierna is a brilliant archdevil, her charisma second only to the overlord of the Nine Hells. Though she rules the fiery domain of Phlegethos beside Belial, she’s in constant contest to be the supreme lord of the layer. She is a sweet talking seductress who knows how to corrupt any mortal’s soul. In an instant, she can suss out every desire one seeks and devise a way to twist it into her favor. Play Fierna like a genius seductress who can manipulate words like an airbender can shift the wind.

Belial, in many ways, is the opposite of Fierna. He is cold and calculated, relying on law to rule his judgement over himself and others. He runs the legal system of the Hells (the Diabolical Court is based in Phlegethos, after all) and, like that system, he is rigid and lawfully manipulative. When you include Belial in your campaign, play him like a diabolical judge; he knows the law and how to make it bend to his will.

Art by Eric Deschamps.

Levistus is the oddest of the known archdevils, for he is trapped in impenetrable ice. From his frozen domain of Stygia, he focuses not on conquest or battle in his stationary form, but on the corruption of mortal souls from afar. He reaches out to those in need of escape, a sadistic request of Asmodeus (the one who trapped him in the ice). Thus, all manner of criminal seeking freedom flock to Levistus, rising him to the status of the second greatest crime lord of the Hells (more on that soon). Play Levistus like an immovable gang leader, who, despite his circumstance, is able to get all manner of creature out of difficult situations.

Glasya, the criminal mastermind of the Nine Hells, is also its jailer on the layer of Malboge. The supposed daughter of Asmodeus, Glasya didn’t begin her stint in Baator as an archdevil: it was a punishment, her promotion. With the duties of an archdevil, she could no longer roam the Hells and swindle all other devils, at least not as much. Even with this position, she plots near-criminal schemes, just inside the bounds of the law. In fact, like her father, she has mastered the law, especially when it comes to contracts. She helps her followers find ways out of binding agreements — infernal and not — as quickly as Asmodeus can. Similar to Levistus, play Glasya like the ultimate criminal mastermind, except she plays on the fine line between law and chaos.

Baalzebul is a traitorous archdevil who specializes in lying. Cursed by Asmodeus to become a giant slug whenever he lies to a devil because a sinister betrayal in the mythic past, he focuses on corrupting mortals who seek redemption. The archdevil lures them in with promises of renewal and reinvention, before ultimately tricking them into becoming a puppet for his endless ploys for power. Play Baalzebul similar to a merciless liar who, for all his strength and intelligence, will likely never be promoted again after his betrayal of Asmodeus and all other devils.

Mephistopheles is one of the most talented mages in all the Hells and perhaps the multiverse. His primary duty is to defend Nessus — Asmodeus’s layer of the Hells — from outsiders. To accomplish this, he’s constructed a magical, icy wasteland of sorts out of his home layer, Cania. When he’s not researching new arcane weaponry or safeguarding Nessus, the archdevil binds the souls of wizards and other spellcasters across many worlds to his service. Play Mephistopheles like a cruelly efficient and intelligent archmage who is immortal. He has unlimited time to hone his craft.

Asmodeus is the greatest orator in all the multiverse. He believes the Hells are the key to achieving utopia across all realms, realms that he would eventually preside over. The leader of all devils, Asmodeus resorts to battle only when necessary; every time he can, he strings charisma, logic, and law together to demonstrate his point, though it almost always ends up pursuing an evil end that contributes to his endgame vision of the multiverse. Don’t play Asmodeus like a commander, play him like a president or prime minister of near-limitless power who wishes to command every single soul in existence.

Art by Eric Deschamps.

Archdevils as Warlock Patrons

Plenty of warlocks make fiendish pacts with archdevils; that might be the primary way archdevils appear in your campaign or world. This might be your chance to show your players how archdevils work in your world. You can highlight their lawfulness, their sheer evil, their ambition, and any other unique traits you decide to weave into your archdevils. 

Even as patrons of a character in the campaign, archdevils pursue evil ends. Don’t forget that. Just because an archdevil is working with a PC does not mean the archdevil is a good entity. The archdevil may ask the PC to perform vile acts or pursue terrible deeds. If they refuse, their power might wane or the archdevil might punish them in other ways. It's important, though, to ensure this remains fun for the player. Here are a few ideas about archdevil warlock patrons.
  • The character was forced into a pact with an archdevil to save a family member. Their soul is tied to the archdevil unless they give up the soul of their saved family member.
  • The character was tricked into a pact with an archdevil. The archdevil posed as a helpful, angelic creature before revealing its true nature.
  • The character willingly formed a pact with an archdevil. However, the archdevil’s demands have grown more and more evil and diabolical as time has passed.
  • The character accidentally formed a pact with an archdevil. They believed the archdevil to be a genuine ally before realizing its infernal ties.
  • The character was saved by an archdevil and formed a pact with it. At any moment, the character may break the pact with the archdevil and their soul will leave to its proper afterlife.
  • The character formed a pact with an archdevil as their parents and grandparents did before them. The archdevil presides over this family and might even be the character’s true parent.

Archdevils as Villains

As entities of pure evil and ambition, archdevils are perfect villains for typical D&D campaigns. If you want to run a campaign whose villain is purely on the side of evil but their motivations have structure, use an archdevil. With an archdevil, you can begin a campaign at first level with their cultists rampaging across a tiny farming village and conclude it at twentieth level as they invade their the archdevil’s domain in the Nine Hells. Here are a couple ideas on how to use an archdevil as a villain.
  • An archdevil corrupts an entire nation’s populace into fodder for the legions of the Hells. In secret, it puppeteers the nation's leader and brings doom to the land...all for the greater purpose of battling the hordes of the Abyss.
  • An archdevil lusts for one of the party members and does anything it can to bring them to the Nine Hells.
  • An archdevil connives its way to the mortal world and seeks to establish a dominion of its own on the world’s fertile soils.
  • An archdevil loses its rank and its ensuing fit of rage turns the devil to the Abyss, where it becomes a demon lord.
  • An archdevil takes Asmodeus’s title and power, becoming the god of devils and Archduke of Baator. However, its approach to absolute order in the multiverse is wildly different than Asmodeus’s...

Archdevils as Allies

When an alliance serves them, archdevils might reach out to your PC's and offer assistance or insight. Using an archdevil as an ally is a great way to surprise your players and make them question their ally’s every move. However, if they play their cards correctly, they might forge a powerful bond with one of the strongest lawful evil entities across the planes of existence. Here are a few ideas of how you can use archdevils as allies in D&D.
  • In an attempt to save itself, an archdevil reaches out to the party and asks them to eliminate a rival.
  • Greed overtakes an archdevil as it considers making a considerable offer for a magic item in the party’s possession.
  • An archdevil holds the soul of an individual the party must speak with. The archdevil will give them the soul, but only if they retrieve an artifact stolen by demons in ancient times.
  • Asmodeus threatens to demote a certain archdevil if they don’t complete a near impossible task. The archdevil contacts the party and requests assistance in exchange for a plot of their layer of the Hells.
  • An archdevil realizes one of the party members is its spawn. The archdevil wants to establish a relationship with that particular party member — a positive one.

An Archdevil of Your Own

The archdevils famous in the regular D&D multiverse need not be the ones of your world. Perhaps the normal ones do exist, but they are fallen and disrespected like dethroned archdevil Geryon. I encourage you to create an archdevil or two of your own. It’s exciting to mold an entity of immense strength that’s not all-powerful like a god. 

To create an archdevil, you need to conjure a few important foundational blocks. First of all, ensure it fills a niche not already taken by one of the other popular archdevils. You don't want to make slightly different version of Mammon, for example, that covets silver instead of gold. Next, you need to build a rich history for the archdevil. Even Zariel, the newest addition to the host of archdevils in D&D canon, boasts an involved and interesting backstory. Your archdevil should be the same. Asmodeus isn't going to promote a random stranger to the Hells, but he will promote someone who has proven themselves and become a pillar of infernal lore. Finally, give them an interesting and exciting personality. Archdevils are flamboyant characters who stand out amongst even the most powerful beings in the multiverse; ensure your creation achieves that as well!

Here are a few new archdevils I’ve created for my world. Use them in your world or as starting points for archdevils of your own design! I created them using my supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I. Check it out if these infernal masterminds are interesting to you.

Art by Eric Deschamps.
  • Garvlath is an archdevil who phases in and out of existence. Demoted by Asmodeus long ago, the archdevil roams the layers of the Hells, a rebel devil, consuming all in his path. He is a scourge on the Hells and Asmodeus longs for his destruction, but can’t quite manage to rid of him, not matter the course of action he takes. It’s rumoured that Garvlath is of another world entirely, promoted by Asmodeus out of fear; some posit the archdevil longs to return to his home, or turn the Hells into a replica of that distant place. Dispater, master of secrets, believes the key to Garvlath’s destruction lies in the creature’s origins.
  • Lariza is an archdevil who leads Avernus’s infernal legions alongside Zariel. In many regards, she is Zariel’s opposite: she is a pure devil, she enjoys planning, and she is intrigued by the politics of Celestia. Lariza connived her way into Zariel’s bed through sheer charisma, and was promoted to archdevil status after helping Zariel strategize multiple key victories against the hordes of the Abyss.
  • Omglat was a demon lord in ancient times who nearly conquered the Nine Hells of Baator. In a last ditch effort to save them, Asmodeus persuaded Omglat to leave the final few layers of the Hells alone and turn its eyes to the Seven Heavens of Celestia. Together, Asmodeus and Omglat would conquer the Heavens. Omglat fell for Asmodeus’s trick, attacked the Heavens, was driven from the Hells, and betrayed by its own kind. In respect and hope for the demon lord, Asmodeus shaped the fiend and transformed it in a devil and, eventually, an archdevil. It would lead no layer of its own; instead, it would serve by Asmodeus’s side forevermore, bound to the Archduke’s will.
  • Tiefomoth, also called Asmodeus in my world, is the patron deity of all devils and lawful evil incarnate. He is the architect behind many of the most important laws that rule the universe, both good and bad. Most impactful of all are the Supreme Pact and the Blood of the Baatori. The former governs how deities may interact with the mortal world. The latter dictates the breeding between devils and mortals and brought about the existence of tieflings. In addition, he is one of the original Incarnations of alignment, molded by the gods when they first created life other than themselves. He is, of course, the Incarnation of Lawful Evil; in canon, he's called the Incarnation of Baator.

Lessons Learned

While there is no set strategy on how to play an archdevil in D&D, there are plenty of pillars you can base your archdevil persona on. Remember the following.
  • Archdevils are lawful. Play them like your favorite prosecutor or criminal attorney.
  • Archdevils are evil. Emphasize their vile darkness and sinister values.
  • Archdevils are power-hungry. Ensure they always want more, they are never satisfied.
  • While there are many archdevils that already exist in the D&D multiverse, feel free to make your own!
  • Many archdevils are excellent and diabolical warlock patrons. Even as a patron, they can serve as an antagonist to the party, asking the warlock to commit dastardly deeds.
  • One of the most common campaign-long villain types are archdevils. Their cultists might spread their words in an dilapidated tavern in session one, and the party might infiltrate their infernal citadel in the Hells in session sixty.
  • If you want to surprise your players, have an archdevil approach them with a deal or a request for assistance. Nothing will surprise them or put them more on edge than a devil in need.
For further reading on archdevils and the Hells as a whole, check out Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes! It was a stellar resource when writing this article.

Until our next encounter, stay creative!

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  1. excellent article - for an unrelated 'Non D&D' reference to arch devils and how they roll, i recommend the C.S. Lewis book 'The screw-tape letters' . It is a set of advice from a seasoned devil to a new devil.

    1. I'll check this book out. Thanks for the recommendation!