If not evil, then what?
A major part of Quartus (especially since the end of the 3rd Age) is that no creature is condemned to be evil or good--all have choice. This includes the natives of the Astral Plane, including angels and devils. If that's so, why are angels and devils different? How are they different from demi-gods and other members of the Choir Divine? It all comes down to their source of anima and their concomitant duties.
Devils--Contractors to the Gods
By decree from the Four, the direct intervention of the Congregation on Quartus is severely limited--in most cases to cryptic dreams and visions, as well as granting spells to their faithful clergy. This mostly works well, keeping the mortals free to live their lives. But what if the gods need a more hands-on approach? What if a devout follower asks for a servant to aid them in the pursuit of the god's interests? That's where the devils come in. They are allowed (by virtue of their lesser connection to the Great Mechanism) to take on material forms and descend to the mortal plane, to be summoned and commanded by mortals. In return, the god on whose behalf they're acting pays a portion of anima. In principle, this is a fair wage, compensating the devil for its time, trouble, and risk. In practice, this payment is starvation wages for the bulk of the infernal population. It's enough to survive, but not enough to gain strength.
In reaction to this order of things, the fiends organized themselves into families. Each one specializes in a particular type of intervention and protects that metaphysical turf from any challengers. There are 45 families, organized into 5 territories. Each family is headed by a Don, territories are handled by a council of Dons and represent related jobs. When picturing these families, imagine a cross between the Mafia, the Yakuza, and unions. Some are more formally organized and lawful; others are held together by main force and an understanding that however much they hate each other, they hate the world outside even more. Not all Dons are individually powerful--at least one family is headed by an imp who happens to have dirt on many other members and is a tremendously effective organizer. Most are powerful though or have the personal allegiance of some powerful individuals.
Most families are organized as follows (although the details vary tremendously):
- The Don
- Lieutenants: The right-hand fiends to the Don. They don't directly control territory but act as enforcers and overseers.
- Brigadiers: These control sub-elements of the population and pay tribute to the Don. They're the equivalent of dukes.
- Bratoki: These fiends control a squad of associates and report to a Brigadier.
- Associates: These are the foot-soldiers and the lowest rank other than commoners.
- Commoners: These poor fiends are the masses. Most of them are on the astral dole and pay "insurance" to the local bosses.
What makes up the difference?
Devils are hungry for more anima--after all, they can't grow without a steady supply of it. The divine dole is enough to survive, but that's it. The rest must come from mortals. Unlike demons who devour souls, devils make contracts for a sip of anima at a time. What are these contracts? It depends on the class of devil. Minor devils do odd jobs--a summon here, a cursing there, a bit of information on the other side. They usually aren't directly contacted--they work through their bosses and are delegated tasks. In return, they pay a large portion of their take upward. They usually don't deal with the same summoner time and again--they go where called. Intelligent fiends like imps often seek out masters willing to give them steady work. The downside to those lasting contracts is risk--see the portion about summoning.
Middle-weight fiends have ongoing contracts--are on retainer so to speak. They're called upon to act as muscle, consulted for information, or otherwise handle bigger jobs, usually for the same set of mortal "masters." Larger fiends can build protections into their summoning contracts, mitigating much (but not all!) of the risk.
Major fiends tend to act as administrators, doling out work and receiving the lion's share of the payment. Most of their efforts go to holding off their competitors within the families. Very few of these are ever seen outside the Astral plane.
Shapes and Sizes
Being creatures of diffuse anima, devils have no intrinsic shape or gender. In fact, the difference between a fiend and an angel is only one of order--the nimbus of a true angel is unchanging and fixed, while that of a devil is opalescent and ever-shifting. To mortal eyes, both tend to appear as androgynous humanoids of nearly identical proportions. Their nimbuses show the identifying marks of their family (or legion, for angels) and rank.
When summoned, however, Astral entities must don a puppet-body of flesh to interact with the mortal world. The shapes of these bodies are set by the summoning contract--bodies of celestial mien when working for the Gods, more fearsome visages when working for mortals (especially in a combat role). Most of these bodies are traditional--like wearing a cultural costume for tourists. The devils take as large a body as their personal anima allows.
Contracts and Summoning
Fiends can enter the mortal plane in one of three ways--
- On contract with a god. Here there is very little risk and very little direct interaction with mortals. The devil appears, performs the task (usually invisible to normal mortals), and returns home. On the rare occasions that they have to be visible, they take on ordinary appearances as a matter of course. They can always be caught out by their nimbuses which are too smooth and opaque to be mortal. In the extremely rare cases when they have to appear as outsiders they appear as avatars of the god that sent them (with appearance based on the god's objectives).
- Summoned in accordance with a contract. Here the shape and role depends on the contract (as mentioned above). The cost of such contracts is measured in soul-year-equivalents: one SYE is the amount of anima produced by an average human over the course of one year. Losing that much would leave a normal human weakened for several weeks and overall costs about a month of life-span. People with more personal power than that can handle the stress just fine without weakening them much. One SYE will get you a few hours of service (or the equivalent) from a low-middling devil. Ongoing contracts allow the devil to tap the contractor for much smaller amounts of anima periodically (a credit account, so to speak). These contracts are reasonably low-risk for the devil--the standard contract contains an escape clause allowing the devil to return home when defeat is inescapable but before the devil's own anima is at risk. Lesser devils that make long-term-residence contracts (like a wizard's imp familiar) gain a constant source of anima and can grow powerful very quickly (in astral terms anyway) but run significant risks. They can retreat into their astral pocket on sustaining substantial damage; however, if the master is killed while they are tucked away the pocket collapses and the fiend is destroyed.
- Directly through a portal. This is the only way the major devils can enter this world, as no caster can pay the cost required to give them a fitting body. Opening such a portal usually requires either major magic (gate or the equivalent) or the sacrifice of several adult mortals (willing or otherwise). This is also extremely risky for the devil--if they are killed before being able to planeshift out, they're dead permanently. As a result, this happens vanishingly rarely.
The scruples of fiends vary considerably--some will not accept compelled contracts and are very choosy about how they fulfil their contracts; others are less picky and will take anything that comes along. Some won't accept orders that would cause collateral damage; others revel in destruction. Some are loyal to their masters and their contracts; others are more mercenary. If you're thinking of summoning a fiend, make sure you do your research first.