Dragon Encounters

Making dnd combat fun, finding monsters that fit together, monster tactics and strategies, and other ways of using the monsters of dungeons and dragons

BARBED DEVIL: Why Devils Need to Pay for Souls


Combat rating 7


1 Barbed devil (CR 5)

4 Animated armors (CR 5)


Combat rating 8


2 Barbed devils (CR 5)

1 Spectator (CR 5)


Combat rating 9


1 Barbed devil (CR 5)

2 Flameskulls (CR 4)

2 Gargoyles (CR 2)


Combat rating 11


2 Barbed devils (CR 5)

1 Night hag (CR 5)

3 Nightmares (CR 3)

Devil Contracts

Before going into the meat of the article, I wanted to write a little about devil contracts. There seems to be a gaping plot hole in the entire idea. Surely, those people who would sell their soul for gain are already pretty corrupt, and as such their souls are surely bound for the lower planes anyway. Why would the devils bother paying for something that they’re going to get for free?

Also, given that there are so many people going down anyway, why is it worth such an investment of resources just to get a few extra souls? I guess you could answer that they want to ensure that souls end up in the Hells, and not in a different one of the lower planes, but that seems to defeat the theme.

Below are three different answers that I came up with to answer this question, along with how you would use these as part of your campaign. If you have a different answer, please send it to me. I would love to know what you think.

Answer 1: The devils offer bets, or trades, where they provide help and in return the other person has to fulfill a certain condition or accomplish a certain task by a set time. Sometimes, they manage, and in doing so both they and others are encouraged to try again. Other times, they fail, and the devil collects their soul. [This idea was all but mentioned in the Monster Manual straight out, actually. I just added in that the goal was to get the soul when the one dealing with them fails, and that they can use their loss as a marketing ploy.]

How to Use: I would recommend against letting a PC make a bargain with a devil, since their frustration if they fail will be extreme. Instead, let it be a friendly NPC who bargains with a devil, and the players have to help the NPC complete the task by the allotted time so that they aren’t lost. The bargain with the devil can happen before the meet the NPC, when they’re not around, or after discussing the matter with them and deciding to take the risk. You can even have them be part of the bargaining session with the devil. Just find a reason why they can’t be the one to bet their soul.

You could also have the devils give tasks that are set up to lead to their ruin. For example, the devil will give them something in return for them acquiring a certain object, and the devil knows that taking it will tarnish their reputation, or unleash a curse effect. This idea could theoretically target PCs also, since you can stop them before they bet their souls. See more corruption ideas in my article: a deadly friend.

Answer 2: The devils specifically target certain souls, probably those of the really powerful warriors and mages. Perhaps a stronger soul makes a stronger devil, when dragged down to the hells. [You could have them raise those souls out of being lemures immediately, or you could say that feel that if the soul is strong enough, it will eventually claw its way to the top.]

How to Use: Same as above.

Answer 3: The devils are seeking to find ways to put corrupt tyrants in power, whose bad example will help lead to more people becoming evil. [While it is true that nobody is ever forced, in any circumstances, to become good or evil, it’s also true that certain environments are highly conductive one way or another.]

How to Use: According to this answer, the devils aren’t really concerned with trading souls for favors. At least, not all the time. Instead, they’re using that as cover for their main scheme, which is a full out conquer to world/country plot.

There is a potential fourth answer, but it’s not anyone would want to use. The answer would be that just like there are people, in real life, who have sacrificed their life for their family, their friends, their country, and sometimes even for strangers, presumably in a world where the option existed some of them would even sacrifice their souls. The problem, of course, is that these are the people who least deserve to go to hell.

I would add a rule saying that devils can only lay claim to a soul sold for selfish reasons. If someone sells their soul for selfless reasons, the devils can cry “Breach of contract” all they want, and it will be in vain. The devils know this, and won’t accept these kinds of contracts. (It could be that D&D had this mind when they said that a deity can redeem a soul, even if the devils laid claim to it.)

The Barbed Devil – How to Use

The most noteworthy thing about the barbed devil is that there is a penalty for grappling it. To make the most of this feature, we need to set up scenarios where the players are going to want to grapple it. How can we do this?

Combat Encounter 1 (difficulty 6)

The setting: The end of a significant battle, probably involving mages, devils, or both. The battle also involved a magic spell/item, that the players now want and the enemy doesn’t want them to have.

[You could have them be here in the first place in order to claim the item, you could have the item be a focus point for an evil ritual that the players interrupted and prevented. Either way, I would make the item significant to being able to stop the villains permanently. While it could be a treasure instead, you’re going to have to balance it very carefully between making the item significant enough that they’ll risk their characters for it, and not so significant that they’ll be devastated if they lose it.]

When the enemies see that they’re losing the fight, the summon a barbed devil and instruct it to take it back through the portal. You can have the portal be there all through the fight, or you can have it appear when the barbed devil appears.

You’ll want to have this happen before they win, as otherwise it will be too easy to target the barbed devil with everything they have. You probably don’t want it to happen to early, as stopping the devil won’t be an easy task, and having to do it while also fighting a number of enemies will be quite difficult.

Note that the barbed devil has to be summoned, or in hiding until his moment. You can’t have the barbed devil be there throughout the battle, as keeping your mind on subtly keeping one monster alive while fighting the players to the best of your capabilities with the rest is extremely difficult. If you try, he will most likely end up getting killed, either by accident or when the players realize that he’s somehow a priority.

You’ll want the portal to be 100-120 feet away from the item that the barbed devil seized, as the devil will use his first action to dash for the portal. You’ll want to set it up so that there are at least one or two PCs between the barbed devil and the portal. He will run around them, of course, but this will give the players characters that can catch up to the barbed devil and still have an action.

If the barbed devil is prevented from moving toward the portal, he’ll attack the PC’s stopping him. He’ll use melee when he can, and hurl flame when the PC is out of reach and can’t be reached without moving away from the portal.

To make the encounter more significant, I might put a large cluster of boulders somewhere to the side. If the barbed devil sees that it isn’t going to manage to get to the portal, it would make sense for it to hide inside the pile of boulders. Then it can either use hurl flame to hit and run [ possibly while ambushing PCs that come after it], or it can try to sneak forward to get near to the portal. If you place the rocks in a big enough area, it can try to sneak around, to eventually approach from a different direction, and the area the players have to defend is bigger.

Just remember that you have to place the boulders before the original fight, and of course you have an idea of what happens next if the barbed devil does escape with the item.

Combat encounter 2 (difficulty 6)

This scenario is built for those who’d rather have the barbed devil available from the beginning of the fight.

Introduction: The barbed devil is holding on to [or wearing] a talisman that will be active in 10 rounds. The players have to stop him before that time.

I’m giving a lot of time because I don’t actually intent for the talisman to activate. The time limit is just because there needs to be some level of urgency for this fight to make sense. That said, you should obviously prepare on contingency plan for its activation just in case. It can’t be something to make the fight harder, because if the players have failed to take the barbed devil down in ten rounds, they clearly are not ready for a harder fight. It will have to be something scenario related.

The setting: A trail worn into the side of a mountain that curves back and forth. Think of it as five ramps, one on top of each other, each one starting where the other ended and going back the other way. The length of each ramp is either 10 or 20 feet, with twenty being my recommendation. [For simplicity’s sake, I would have the ramps be of uniform length.] The entire area is rough terrain.

The track is wide enough that someone on the track immediately above cannot be seen/attacked by the person on the track below. With exceptions for someone on the bottom five feet, who is visible from the track below, and someone on the top five feet, who can target the track above. The one higher up can target someone on the track below them, but if they do so they expose themselves to anyone from up to two tracks below who has readied an action to make a ranged attack or spell against them.

The distance in Height between the two tracks will always be equal to the distance to the place where the track meet. [Explanation: On a steep path, the ground will rise one foot for every two feet you advance horizontally. Since both tracks are moving away from each other, vertically speaking, that means that every foot that you advance horizontally equals half a foot that the path rises, and another half foot that the path below descends. Together, this means that the horizontal distance from the connection equals the vertical distance from them path immediately below.]

Attempting to climb to the track above requires spending an action and half your movement, and making a skill check. [DC equal to the distance between the tracks. If the distance is five feet, success is automatic, but still requires an action.] Jumping down to the track below requires a DEX save to avoid falling prone and taking damage. [Save DC 5 + half the distance between the tracks, rounded down. Damage is 1d6 falling damage, 2d6 if jumping 20 feet.]

(I apologize if I made it too complicated. I was trying to figure out what seemed sensible.)

The barbed devil’s strategy: The barbed devil starts where the first path meets the second. The PCs begin at the bottom. When he can, he’ll use hurl flame and then retreat higher up. When cornered, he’ll use physical attacks and then take attacks of opportunity in order to retreat. Using the dash, dodge, and disengage actions should only be done if the fight’s up to the end of round 7. Until then, it’s a losing strategy, as he’s sacrificing the ability to fight back for a little less damage.

Jumping down behind the PCs should also be pushed off as long as possible, as it costs him a superior position. Only once he’s at the end of path four is it worth considering. (I might do it then, because if you wait for the end of path 5, the players will anticipate it. Even then, it depends of the situation.)

If you want to increase the difficulty, you can use two barbed devils instead of one. Only one will have the talisman, but the other can defend him, attack the PCs from behind by jumping down, and possibly take over holding the talisman if necessary. (That last one depends on whether the talisman can be transferred, a rule you’ll want to decide on in advance. Also decide on whether the players can tell the two devils apart, especially if the talisman is not transferrable.)

Summary – 6 ways to use

(Make them grapple it!)

  1. Just as they’re about to win the fight, a barbed devil pops out of hiding and grabs [insert important treasure]. Then it dashes for the portal. Can they stop it?
  2. The devil is hiding in a stony valley. If they search together, it will snipe, run, hide, repeat. If they split up, it will ambush. If they ignore, it will snipe sporadically. Have fun.
  3. The barbed devil has a magic device that will activate in ten rounds. It will try to evade them, although it has to stay in the general area. Therefore, it will attempt to buy time by circling them when possible. Use obstacles. (It will hurl flame when it can.)
  4. The devil is inside a valley filled with thorns [or other flammable material]. It has cover. If they come in after it, it will light the valley on fire. Being fire-proof has its advantages.
  5. The players have to protect an unconscious NPC at all costs. There are 2 barbed devils that are trying to kill him at all costs. (They respawn in hell, after all.) (Note that the NPC should be safe behind cover, or the players have no chance.)
  6. The barbed devil is wearing an item that they want. If they don’t get it off the devil before they kill it, devil and item will return to hell. (Make sure the players know this.)

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About Me

I have been a DM for several years, and I was designing home RPG games since my young childhood. I have been a fan of many different types of games (computer, board, RPG, and more) and have designed several for my own entertainment. This is my first attempt to produce game content for a wider audience.