Devil Tactics: Greater Devils

Yesterday I looked at the lesser devils. Today I’ll look at the greater devils: horned devils, erinyes, ice devils and pit fiends. (The fifth-edition Monster Manual doesn’t include stat blocks for archdevils.)

Like the lesser devils, all the greater devils have certain features in common. They have darkvision out to 120 feet and the Devil’s Sight feature, indicating a preference for operating in darkness. They’re immune to fire and poison and resistant to cold (except ice devils, which are immune to cold as well), magical effects, and physical damage from normal, unsilvered weapons. And they all tend toward a brute ability profile—high Strength and Constitution—indicating a preference for melee combat.

Finally, since it’s in the nature of devils to obey those with power over them, a devil fighting in the course of carrying out an assigned duty will never flee from combat, no matter how badly injured it is.

Horned devils, a.k.a. malebranche (mah-leh-brahn-keh), are described in the MM as “reluctant to put themselves in harm’s way,” but there’s no reason why they should be: they have extraordinary Strength and Constitution, a triple melee Multiattack and a huge number of hit points, and they can also fly. This last feature gives them the ability to hover in the air, swoop down, attack a foe, then swoop back up out of reach. They don’t even have to come within 5 feet of an opponent to attack, since both their fork attack and their tail attack have 10 feet of reach, allowing them to attack from beyond opportunity attack range of any foe except one wielding a spear or polearm.

When will they choose to Hurl Flame rather than make a melee attack? Their Multiattack allows them to substitute Hurl Flame for any melee attack. Against AC 15, Hurl Flame’s +7 attack modifier gives them a 65 percent chance to hit, for a total expected 9 hp of fire damage. In contrast, their +10 attack modifier on melee attacks gives them an 80 percent chance to hit, for expected damage of 12 hp on a fork attack and 8 hp on a tail attack. However, the tail attack additionally requires a saving throw against the inflicting of a bleeding “infernal wound.” This adds an extra expected 5 hp of damage (80 percent chance to hit, times 65 percent chance of failed save, assuming a +3 Constitution saving throw modifier), plus more later on. This is a nasty attack that the horned devil won’t be quick to give up.

To elicit Hurl Flame from a horned devil, an opponent will have to be out of melee range (i.e., more than 70 feet away—really, more than 30 feet away, so that the devil has movement left to retreat), within range of the feature (i.e., 150 feet away or less) and conspicuously more threatening than any of the devil’s likely melee opponents. This entails inflicting damage of a type that the horned devil doesn’t resist, such as acid or radiant damage, and/or using a magic weapon. Simply casting spells—even spells that require Constitution saves—isn’t enough, because of the devil’s Magic Resistance. Horned devils are very good judges of which enemy or enemies pose the greatest threat to them.

Having only a 30 percent chance of success at summoning another horned devil under the Devil Summoning variant rule (MM 68), they use this action only as a last-ditch measure when seriously injured (reduced to 71 hp or fewer).

Erinyes (eh-ree-nee-yees; singular “erinys,” eh-ree-nis), a.k.a. furies, are warriors, enforcers and agents of retribution. Winged and grand in appearance, they might be mistaken for celestials at first glance, but that misapprehension won’t last long once combat ensues. Their Dexterity is closer to their Strength and Constitution than one usually sees in devils, so their ranged attacks compare more favorably to their melee attacks. Fundamentally, they’re still brutes, but they have a good reason to initiate combat with ranged attacks and only then close in: Their longbow attack has a chance of inflicting the poisoned condition, which imposes disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks. Thus, they’ll try to poison their enemies before casting their bows aside, closing in and engaging them in melee, especially if they’re not fighting in darkness.

Erinyes have 60 feet of flying movement, which they’ll use to hover, swoop in, attack and swoop back out of range. Unlike horned devils, they don’t have extra-long reach with their weapons, but they do have the Parry reaction, which they can use if needed to bat away an opportunity attack that might inflict a meaningful amount of damage. (Parry is good only against melee attacks—they can’t use it to knock away a missile fired from range.)

On top of Magic Resistance, erinyes have proficiency in all the big three saving throws: Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom. Charisma, too, so save your dispel evil and banishment. Combat with erinyes is where magic goes to die.

Under the Devil Summoning variant rule, an erinys has a 50 percent chance of successfully summoning allies, so it requires only two subsequent rounds of combat for one erinys to pay for its spent action by summoning another. How do its other options compare? Poorly, in the case of 1d6 bearded devils, but very favorably, in the case of 3d6 spined devils. Although they’re relatively weak, even an average number of them can present a formidable challenge, and a greater number of them will be ferocious. Erinyes will absolutely attempt to summon spined devils as their first action.

Ice devils are, frankly, somewhat uninteresting brutes. Their one distinctive feature is Wall of Ice, which works similarly to the spell of the same name. With high Intelligence and Wisdom, they can make shrewd decisions about where to place these walls in order to shut enemies either out or in—or whether to simply drop them on top of opponents for big cold damage. Beyond that, though, all they have are melee attacks, albeit melee attacks with a 10-foot range. Thus, their goal in placing walls is to ensure that those who need to die, die.

The ice spear variant is more interesting, potentially reducing opponents’ movement speed and shredding their action economy. The damage done is significantly less—47 hp per turn, on average, if all weapons hit, vs. 66 hp per turn for bite/claws/tail—but the slowing effect keeps the ice devil in the fight longer, adds welcome variety and will give a good scare to players who think their characters may be outmatched in the encounter. If the PCs are high-level enough for an ice devil encounter to be anything less than Hard, however, I’d stick with the vanilla attack and its optimized damage.

That being said, ice devils, unlike the devils previously mentioned today and yesterday, have a 60 percent chance of successfully summoning another ice devil. This means that they come out ahead if the battle lasts even two more rounds afterward, and 5E Dungeons and Dragons assumes that the average combat encounter lasts three rounds. Therefore, this action is the very first one they’ll take.

Pit fiends are the mightiest of the greater devils. These brutes have 300 hp, a fourfold Multiattack, a Fear Aura that can impose disadvantage on attackers within 20 feet of them, and the ability to cast fireball at will. At will.

When initiating combat, a pit fiend identifies its most powerful enemy—with Intelligence 22, it can make this identification unerringly—and goes straight for him or her. If this enemy is between 60 and 90 feet away, the pit fiend first casts hold monster to render him or her immobile.

If you’re using the Devil Summoning variant, however, the pit fiend calls for backup first. It has a 100 percent chance of success, so there’s no reason for it not to do this right away. Summoning 1d4 barbed devils offers the greatest average benefit, thanks to encounter difficulty multipliers: bearded devils are numerous but not powerful enough, and a single erinys is powerful but not numerous enough.

Pit fiends have the ability to fly, but using the same swoop-in, attack, swoop-out tactic as other flying devils would undermine the effect of their Fear Aura. A pit fiend wants to be within 20 feet of the enemies it’s fighting on their turns. Thus, it will begin using the swooping tactic only when all its opponents have developed immunity to its Fear Aura with successful saving throws.

As a Large creature, the pit fiend takes up four 5-foot squares (or three 5-foot hexes). This means it can surround itself with a ring-shaped wall of fire, 20 feet in radius diameter, and force enemies trapped inside with it either to take damage from the flames or to remain within reach of the pit fiend’s bite. If it can catch at least four two enemies this way, that’s exactly what it does. For extra savagery, it can then cast fireball on itself, exploiting its immunity to fire to subject every enemy inside the wall to 8d6 fire damage (halved on a successful Dexterity save). And it can do that as many times as it likes, forcing panicking PCs to take 5d8 fire damage while running through the flaming wall to get out.

Looking at the pit fiend’s melee Multiattack, we can calculate total expected damage per turn as 95 hp against AC 15—and that’s not even counting the chance of becoming poisoned by the pit fiend’s bite. By comparison, a fireball that catches four opponents who have a 50/50 chance of resisting the effects does only an expected 84 hp of damage. Thus, a pit fiend will favor its melee Multiattack anytime it’s surrounded by four enemies or fewer. But it will make an exception if its melee opponents’ attacks are ineffectual, while a ranged opponent is managing to damage it with damage types it doesn’t resist (acid, radiant, etc.) and/or striking it with magical weapon attacks. Pit fiends also lack proficiency in Charisma saving throws, so even though their raw Charisma is quite high and they have advantage on saving throws against spell effects, trying to cast dispel evil or banishment on them will infuriate them.

In these instances, if a pit fiend can’t reach the enemy nuisance in a single turn’s movement, it will fly to within 90 feet, then cast hold monster to keep its victim-to-be from running away or doing anything else. It sustains concentration on this spell until it can close to melee distance, then give the nuisance a thorough drubbing. It won’t release its hold until the enemy is beaten unconscious.

Pit fiends will also use fireball against any group of four opponents clustered together within the spell’s area of effect beyond their 60-foot flying distance, or against any group of five or more clustered opponents, period.

In short, a pit fiend encounter should strike fear into even the highest-level PCs. Don’t hold back.

Next: demons.

2 thoughts on “Devil Tactics: Greater Devils

  1. What about an erinyes with a rope of entanglement? It’s mentioned as a variant in the MM, they can use the rope in place of two of the attacks from their multiattack. (I think that means rope+attack, not rope+rope+attack/rope+attack+attack. But I’m not sure.)

  2. Regarding the horned devils being reluctant to get in harm’s way, the way I read the MM entry, this has more to do with apathy than fear. They aren’t AFRIAD to fight, they just don’t WANT to. They don’t want to do anything, if they don’t have to.

    Once combat begins, your advice is spot on, as always, but this angle could lead to some interesting parleys where the party tries to convince the devil to let them pass (or what-have-you) and it milks them for as many bribes and gifts as it can, while waiting for them to find the loophole in its orders that would convince it to stand down. Of course, it would’ve stood down without them giving it anything, but since they insist on trying…

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