Sometimes a trail grows cold, a goal cannot be achieved, or a powerful enemy is too great to be overcome. In such cases, a deal can be struck to give individuals great power…for a price.
Contracts with Devils can be interesting for players and DMs alike, leading to unique powers and stories. But how do you, as the DM, provide such an interaction in a believable way? How do you set up a deal with a devil in Dungeon and Dragons 5e?
To successfully hook your players into a deal with a Devil and create a believable contract that can become its own story hook later, you should follow these 6 steps:
- Determine the Devil striking the Deal
- Offer something your players desire or need
- Agree to the Terms and Conditions
- State Consequences
- State Punishments
- Sign the Deal
First of all, all of the information about Devils and Demons below is abridged from Morkenkainen’s Tome of Foes. If you don’t have this amazing resource, I highly recommend it. This source takes an in-depth look at various monsters and their cultures.
It is a wonderful resource if you are looking to change up your campaign from simplistic, “monsters are bad, kill them!” to something that makes your players think and consider their actions. You can grab it at your local game store, or for $10 off retail price with our partner, Noble Knight Games!
The Difference between Demons and Devils
Demons and Devils are completely different beings (and each would have your head for confusing them for the other.) Demons and Devils have waged war for millennia, though neither side has ever gained the upper hand. Here is a quick guide to Demons and Devils:
Demons (Chaotic Evil)
Home: The Abyss
Demons have no rules or laws. The strongest rule, the weakest must serve or die. Demons see little use for mortals and rarely make deals with them. Demon Princes often have cultist followings, but this is purely for the Demon’s pleasure and purpose, often demon’s provide little in return.
The Demon’s realm of the Abyss is directly connected to the Devil’s realm via the River Styx. Often, Demon Prince’s will gather their forces and attack the first level of the 9 Hells, but with rare and temporary success.
Demons are chaotic, killing machines. They have little use for strategy and prefer to kill with brute forces and overwhelming numbers.
Devils (Lawful Evil)
Home: The 9 Hells
Devils are opposite of Demons in every way, save one, they are evil. Devils pride themselves on their strict set of laws and bureaucracies that govern every aspect of their lives. Devils are organized into a hierarchy that is governed by Arch-Devils, each one of whom rules a level of the 9 Hells and has a unique personality and goal.
While Devils adhere strictly to their laws and hierarchy, they are constantly scheming against one another to gain more power. Devils can only move up the ranks by proving themselves in battle, sneakily killing off a superior, or making deals with mortals.
Devils see themselves as the rightful rulers of all realms who could bring order to the chaos. This mindset also distinguishes devils from demons. While demons are only looking to kill, destroy and create chaos, devils seek to bring about a “perfect” world by their rule. If the other realms would bow to them, then the universe could finally see peace. Or so the devils think.
Making Deals with Mortals
Devils love to make deals with mortals. Their ultimate goal is to own the mortal’s soul, which becomes another devil when that mortal dies. The more souls a devil obtains, the higher it can move up in rank (the more powerful the soul, the better). Each Arch-Devil has a quota of souls its “department” must bring in, meaning Devils are always willing to make a deal.
Which Devil Should Your Players Make a Contract with?
Each Arch-Devil has its own level of the 9 Hells and specializes in certain types of mortal dealings. Depending on the situation your party is in will determine which Arch-Devil’s messenger they might encounter. (Of course, they won’t be meeting with the Arch-Devil themselves until they are at a power level that merits such attention. Most often it will be a lower-ranking Devil in the Arch-Devil’s forces.)
Depending on what your party or party members value will determine which Devil might make the most enticing offer.
Power in Battle: Zariel
Zariel is herself, a fallen Angel. Allured by the sights and sounds of battle, Zariel gave up her place as an angel and become the Lord of the 1st Level of the 9 Hells. Those who seek strength in combat seek to make deals with Zariel.
Forbidden Secrets: Dispater
Lord of the 2nd Level of the 9 Hells, Dispater constantly sends out his spies and minions to scour the Material Plane in search of secrets. Any secret will do, no matter how small, Dispater knows all secrets have power, and he is willing to pay for them. Mortals seeking knowledge will make a deal with Dispater to find out secrets for him in return for forbidden knowledge.
Mammon is the richest (and stingiest) Devil in all the realms. Mortals seeking to gain riches and power will often make a deal with Mammon. Mammon is willing to lend money to power-hungry war-lords to finance their victories, but Mammon’s debts must be repaid, or else there are terrible consequences.
Ruling Emotions: Fierna and Delial
These two Devils rule together, but Fierna is almost exclusively in charge of making deals. She is well known as the second most charismatic Devil in the 9 Hells (beaten only by the Ruler of the 9 Hells, Asmodeus). She is exceptionally gifted at manipulating emotions and often charms others to do her bidding. Those seeking power through charm and manipulation will find her deals irresistible.
Last Hope of Salvation: Levistus
Cursed by Asmodeus to help any who call out to him, Levistus is a strange savior to the criminal about to meet his end. Those who are on the brink of death, or find themselves in an impossible situation, are the prime clientele for Levistus. Levistus will give such individuals a reprieve from death, or the power to escape their situation, as long as they promise something in return.
Queen of Loopholes: Glasya
Essentially the lawyer of the 9 Hells, Glasya (daughter of Asmodeus) thrives on finding loopholes in the law. She will scour Devil contracts, looking for ways mortals can avoid paying the price (of course, while requiring her own price from them) or assist mortals in avoiding the law of the Material Plane. Getting around legalities is her specialty, but good luck getting out of her contract…
Those who have an ax to grind or desire to find redemption for something done in their past will find a friend in Baalzebul. Baalzebul once tried to usurp Asmodeus as Ruler of the 9 Hells. His scheme failed and Asmodeus placed two restrictions on him.
1. He must not lie to another Devil or he will be turned into a giant slug for one year.
2. Any deal Baalzebul strikes will end in disaster. These two conditions mean that Baalzebul is trusted by all the other Arch-Devils, but that they never strike deals with him.
However, mortals do not know this limitation and those seeking redemption from past mistakes often come to Baalzebul for the power to correct their mistakes.
Arcane Knowledge: Mephistopheles
The reclusive Arch-Devil Mephistopheles is in charge of creating new arcane weapons on the armor of the Devil army. He deals exclusively with the brightest mages who can add his endeavors in the afterlife.
Mephistopheles can open mages’ minds to possibilities never before conceived, or give them access to incredible power. But a deal with him almost always means spending eternity as an assistant to his insane experiments.
Understanding the Terms and Conditions of a Devil Contract
Devils are, above all else, evil beings seeking mortal souls. They will not offer a deal that does not benefit them or their leader, even if that benefit is disguised or unknown to the mortal it is dealing with.
Their schemes bring about evil in some way and even the most mundane of deals will turn out poorly for your players in the end. This can be fun to play with and weave into the plot of the campaign, but offering a contract with a devil shouldn’t be a regular activity. Such contracts are intended to be eternal and come with lasting consequences.
Because of their evil nature, devils will often include tricky conditions, vague wording or withhold information to let mortals jump to their own conclusions. Again, this is completely within the laws of the 9 Hells. A devil can be tricky, but they cannot lie in a contract. So have fun with this!
For example, a devil could offer a magic sword to a barbarian on the condition that the adventurer “feeds” it at least once a week, preferably daily, or it will lose its magical properties. Feeding the sword simply requires killing a creature and letting the sword drink its blood. No big deal! Right? Except that the sword is really sending the blood to the 9 Hells where a legendary sword is being forged with the siphoned blood. The Arch-Devil plans to use this sword to defeat Asmodeus, which will send the 9 Hells into utter chaos…but the party doesn’t need to know that!
The less the mortals know, the better, and the more the devil can getaway within the bargain, the best!
If your party is too leary for vague wording to work, try being overly specific. Specific words can have different meanings, therefore changing the nature of the contract depending on interpretation. Also, certain extremely specific conditions can be arranged for the devil’s benefit.
For example, the condition of the contract could state that the devil is allowed to possess the mortal’s body only when the mortal shakes hands with the devil, which is a very specific action. However, this specific wording says nothing about the devil looking like itself or disclosing the fact that it is the devil. So the devil could disguise itself as a shopkeeper, town guard, or even a friend and simply shake hands and take possession of the player’s body for an undisclosed amount of time.
Catfishing Good Players
Most players should know that devils are evil. This means that good-aligned players are likely not going to be interested in making a deal and may actively prevent other players from striking a deal. If you really want the deal to be a part of your plot, then you may need to “catfish” your good-aligned party.
The law of the 9 Hells states that devils cannot lie in their contracts. This doesn’t mean that devils can’t lie about who they are or what their purpose is. This means a devil can disguise itself as a messenger from a good god or angel, requesting the party to go on a mission that will prevent a demon army from invading the Material Plane.
This is totally legal by devil terms and something a devil would do. Devils will do anything to prevent demons from winning even the slightest advantage over them. It is also something good-aligned players can get behind, especially if they think it is a messenger from their own deity.
Why Does the Devil Need Your Party:
There are many reasons a devil might need your party’s help in completing a mission. It doesn’t have to always be about owning the mortal’s soul. Rifts that allow devils into the mortal realm are few and far between. Devils can rarely make it to the material plane and often need help obtaining items or doing tasks on the Material Plane. Here are some ideas for why a devil might approach your party (that don’t include their souls):
-To cause pain
Devils are evil after all, and they do love to inflict pain. Perhaps they simply want to cause as much suffering as possible.
-To progress a plot of an Arch-Devil
Arch-Devils are constantly scheming against one another. A devil could need an item, ingredient, or person from the Material Plane for their master’s next plot.
-Just to have some fun
There is nothing better than slowly corrupting something good. Do you need a better reason than that?
-To recover something they have lost
Perhaps this devil is being punished for his/her last act of mutiny and has had something taken away. That devil might request the party to find something for it, or give it something, such as an eye if it has lost its sight.
What does this devil need from the party? An action, an item or a task? Determining the level of action requested will determine the reward given. They should be in proportion to one another, even if they don’t seem like it.
A devil could request any number of services from your party. From killing a nosy paladin who is getting too close to dangerous secrets to disrupting a noble’s travels so they don’t arrive at a location on time. Whatever it act, make sure it makes sense for the Arch-Devil you are using and plays into an ultimate plan to either defeat demons or gain power.
Need more ideas? Check out this post from dndspeak.com! 100 Things Devils Ask for in Their Contracts
Retrieve an Item
Often, devils need mortal help retrieving items of power or interest from the Material Plane. The retrieval of such items could certainly be worthy of a deal. These items could be legendary or mythical in nature, or even something more mundane, such as gems or gold. Any such requested item should be used to advance the devils’ plans, but they likely would not volunteer such information to mortals.
Maybe a devil has a task it is assigned to do, but it just doesn’t feel like it, can’t figure it out, or isn’t strong enough to get the job done. At such a point, a devil might find some strong adventurers to give it a hand.
Once the devil has outlined what it wants to be done, the part will certainly start asking, “What’s in it for me?” Rewards for signing a contract or completing a task could include:
The devil empowers a party member with strength in battle, a honey tongue, fearsome qualities, or some other boon based on the Arch-Devil making the deal. This boon persists permanently, as long as the contract is binding.
Magical weapons, armor, wands, scrolls, or accessories all make great rewards. I would avoid a gold reward unless your party is working with Mammon. I find that creating unique items based on the devil they are dealing with is much more interesting and fun.
If your party is in a tight spot and needs something, be it an escape, medicine, or for someone to “disappear” devils are often willing to do such tasks. Having a devil show up at just then time the party thinks there is no hope can be a really interesting scenario to play out.
Although the rewards of a devil’s contract can be beneficial, they are never without a cost. Whatever the deal is, no matter how simple for mundane, it should carry a consequence. Some of my favorites are:
Permanent Reduction in Stats– If a devil’s deal gives a player a point in Charisma, then it takes that point from Strength. Law of equivalent exchange.
Required Giving– As part of the deal, players must place 60 gold on the last day of each month into a bag. The gold disappears and is sent to the 9 Hells. If they forget or cannot pay, the deal is broken.
Alignment shift– The deal permanently shift the party member’s alignment one point toward lawful evil. If they were good, they are now neutral, if neutral, they are now evil.
Considered Evil by members of the Clergy– Although there are no obvious effects from the deal, the stench of evil remains on them and all clergy can smell it. The player is now distrusted and considered evil by all clergy.
A contract is only good as long as the two members in it uphold it. So, what happens if your party fails the mission or breaks the contract in some way?
What happens if the players break the contract?
The punishment for breaking a contract should be swift and severe. Here are some of my personal favorites, but your imagination is the only limit.
- Rapid aging. 1 week = 1 year
- Strength drops to 1
- Their soul is immediately taken to the 9 Hells
- They are marked as a betrayer. Anyone who looks at the cursed person’s face must roll a Constitution Save or be frightened of them.
- A random person they care about is taken to the 9 Hells
- A plague is unleashed on an innocent village (or their home village if the player cares about it)
What happens if the devil breaks his/her own contract?
As stated above, devils take their law very VERY seriously. A devil would never break a contract unless tricked or unable to fulfill it because if they do, they are punished for eternity. If a devil breaks a contract, then the contract is null and void and the devil is whisked off to the prison layer of the 9 Hells to be tortured for eternity.
Sign the Contract
Now that all the terms have been agreed to, it is time to seal the deal. You can make this as dramatic or mundane as you want. Some devils might require a sacrifice or a signature in blood. Others might simply have the player sign on the dotted line, after all, they are very busy and there are many other mortals on the schedule for the day.
However you choose to do it, once the deal is signed, it is binding.
Make Some Deals
Providing players with the option to make deals with the dark side proves both challenging and rewarding for players and DMs alike. While you need to do your homework to understand the world devils are from and what they have to offer, this challenge is far outweighed by the roleplay and story opportunities that can be gained.
To get the full picture of the 9 Hells, Devils and all they have to offer, make sure to pick up a copy of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. See it and many other helpful resources on my DM Must Have page and buy it at your local game store! (Go local!!)
You don’t need to be particularly clever or tricky to come up with a deal, you just need to know what might entice your players and what the devil you are using might need.
Start small and work your way up. Have a devil present himself as a friend, offering small tasks for good rewards many times, then have all those seemingly unrelated tasks come together into a big plot the players then have to stop. Or, just throw out some options just for the fun of it. You never know what can happen when dealing with a devil!
Until next time,
May your game have advantage, my friends!
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