I have been involved in RPGs (table-top dice role-playing games) since 1979; it is a passion of mine, I bleed dice. So when I was asked to write an article on the Hierarchy of Hell for an RPG I was thrilled. A version of the original appears in Scaldcrow Game’s “Worlds of Pulp: Demon Construction Tables” (due out in Fall 2015) but this is the complete and fully expanded article. Enjoy, and remember, this was written for a game.
For as long as there has been humanity, there has been the fear of demons. Mankind has made every attempt to discover the nature of evil and in doing so, categories and species of infernal beings have been described, if not outright created, in order to reign in the chaos of the very creatures intellectuals and religious academics sought to understand.
Scholars, both ancient and modern have written books, papers, pamphlets, and theses on the subject of the hierarchy of Hell; this is a process which is still being undertaken to this day. Why is it so difficult to pin down and write a clear and concise order of the right of succession for the democracy of Hell? Well, to begin, one must take into consideration all of the religions of the known world from the ancient past to modern day. Then, from each of these, we then must first determine what each of these religions considered to be a demonic being. Next, you must then draw a hard line and take an educated guess as to which demons are more powerful than others, assign rank to them, and place them in an ascending order to the throne of an infernal empire. Somewhere in this process, an infernal realm is also selected from all of the infernal realms that have been recorded to act as the primary hell from which all other hells are a sub-divisions of.
(shameless self-promotional plug — “Encyclopedia of Demons in World Mythology and Religion“)
This process does not even account for devils; some academics argue devils are not demons but rather a completely different species of infernal being. Additional intellectuals claim devils are fallen angels, while others say “no, devils are devils” and fallen angels are their own sort of infernal being.
As you can see, it is a very complicated and unruly mess to have to sort through; as chaotic as the infernal beings themselves.
And speaking of chaos…the hierarchy of Hell does not necessarily follow suit to the hierarchy of anything else. For instance, in traditional rankings, a baron is higher than a knight but this may not always be the case among demonkind. In Hell it is literally pandemonium and anything goes. Can the Royal Food Taster to the Marquess of the Norther Region of the Mountain of Tears be higher up in the social order than a sovereign prince? Who knows? But if in your game you need this demon to be, than make it so.
As it happens, Christian scholars have done a great deal of work in the regards of classifying the infernal beings in order to understand and to know how best to defeat them and their dark lord, Satan. They assigned each demon dominion over a sin, a month in which its infernal powers are at their peak, and a saint to be its personal adversary. Other aspects were assigned, but there was no universal format to which was adhered. Like everything else involving demons, it was not standardized.
In the sense of order and consistency, I prefer this attempt of organization the best. I feel when ranks and titles we are already familiar with are utilized, we can best appreciate and thereby properly fear the demon presented. For instance, I may not be as fearful of the Assistant Wine Steward of Hell, but I would most certainly give an extremely wide berth to the Grand Marshal of the Hell’s infernal cavalry; he just sounds so much important and therefor powerful.
Consider what demons are: beings of evil and hate manifest. As your gamers sit around the table playing their characters, the point of demons being dangerous cannot be heavily enough impressed upon them unless they have something to give comparison against. In my opinion, using the familiar ranking system initially established by the Christian scholars of yore is the best way to make a fast and obvious point.
Below I have outlined a sample Hierarchy based on the culmination of the scholarly works before me: The Testament of Solomon, Michael Psellus’ 11th century classification of demons, Alfonso de Spina’s (1467), Peter Binsfeld (1589), Francesco Maria Guazzo (1608), Sebastian Michaelis (1613), Francis Barrett (1801), Alibeck the Egyptian (1517), Johann Weyer (1583), and the anonymous 17th century work entitled “The Lesser Key of Solomon.”
Naturally, it would be impossible to map out fully or in any amount of detail the pecking order of Hell, but below is a good example I created so GMs and players alike can begin to understand the vastness, complexity, and depths of the politics of Hell. Please feel free to use, consider, or modify the following for your campaign world however you wish.
The Overlord of Hell. He will be ruler over all of the infernal realms, and all infernal beings. He will most directly command 4 Kings.
The 4 Kings will each represent a compass point–one for the North, South, East, and West (Kings of the Compass)
The Kings of the Compass each rule one quadrant of Hell. Over their quad, they each have a Regional King who rules over a portion of the quad (King of the South West of the Northern Quadrant, King of the South East of the Northern Quadrant, King of the North West of the Northern Quadrant, and the King of the North East of the Northern Quadrant, for example). All demons having rank between Kings of the Compass and Knight are considered to be of the Upper Court.
- Each King of the Compass will have 8 Princes
- Each Prince will have 8 Sub-princes
- Each Sub-prince will have 6 Grand Dukes
- Each Grand Duke will have 4 Dukes
- Each Duke will have varying numbers of Counts
- Each Count will have varying numbers of Earls
- Each Earl will have varying numbers of Knights
- Each member of the Upper Court will also command some number of infernal legions of troops and some number of Servitors. All of these servitor demons and infernal troops are theirs to command and do with as they wish.
- Each level of demon is answerable to all the demons who rule above it.
- Each member of the Upper Court will have his own Household, as it were. This need not be a literal household with literal staff, but it may. Within the Household Staff is any number of imaginable positions.
In a traditional Household it would not be uncommon to have demons with the title of Master of the Hounds or Second Assistant to the Upstairs Maid. Any Household position that can be created, may exist.
Since there is an Upper Court it would stand to reason there would be a Lower Court; this consists of the members of society which are essential to maintaining social order but are not royalty. For instance, Judges, Sheriffs, Barristers, Constables, Criers, Tax Collectors and the like make up the Lower Court. Since each member of the Upper Court has dominion over his own region in Hell, there are numerous demons sharing the same job title. For example, there are many demons with the position of Tax Collector in any given Hell. Each member of the Lower Court will also have a full staff which enables him in carrying out his daily duties. Additionally, he too will also have a Household filled with staff.
The next social level down in the infernal realms would be The Court. These are the demons which make and supply the goods and services which allow the Upper and Lower Courts to operate. The Court is where demonic cartwrights, flower girls, cobblers, clothiers, and the like rank socially.
The lowest social class is referred to only as Legion. These are the demons which make up the ranks of the infernal armies, as well as fulfilling any other duties which any demon of higher rank needs accomplished. These tasks can be anything from hundreds of thousands of Legions being called upon to destroy an Earthly city, a score or two to possess a nun, or merely a single Ligonier Servitor to be used as an invisible and intangible door opener so the demon who summoned it need not ever pause to open the door himself.
In each of the Courts are demons which specialize in specific sins, methods of corruption, acts of violence, and preferred types of victims. And for each of these types of specializations, there are 4 varieties of demons of to choose from: Air, Fire, Earth, and Water who may be called upon.
What is important to remember in the demonic Hierarchy is with the exception of the Overlord of Hell, all demons are accountable to someone. Also, each demon has a personal adversary who is either a divine being of some description or a holy man who can thwart him. In some cases merely calling out the name of the antagonist is enough to banish the demon for a while. In other cases a spell or incantation was given to the world by the demon’s rival which can be used by anyone who is in danger from demonic attack.
If all of this is just too overwhelming and boggles the mind, than I did my job right. Nevertheless, here is a list of titles and ranks for you to refer to and utilizes as you see fit. They are listed in order of highest to lowest.
Overlord of Hell
Sovereign Overlord of Hell
King of Kings
Khan of Khans
Ruler and King
King of the Land
He of Power
Governor of the Realm
Deputy for the Whole Empire
Prince of “a significant region of Hell”
Crowned Prince (Dauphine)
Archbishop of “a significant region of Hell”
Archbishop of “a significant region of Hell”
Bey of Beys
Lord High Treasurer to the Sovereign Overlord of Hell
Lord President of the Council
Lord Privy Seal
Lord Great Chamberlain
Sardar of Authority
Lord High Admiral
Lord Steward of the Royal Household to the Sovereign Overlord of Hell
Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household to the Sovereign Overlord of Hell
Master of the Horse
NOTE: Some regions of Hell are more important and significant than others. If you have a list of regions, have an idea of their order of importance. This is essential because a lowly County Court Judge of the most important region is actually higher in the hierarchy than a Duke of an insignificant region.
Earls (vide Dukes)
Bishop of “Most Important Region of Hell”
Bishop of “Second most important region of Hell”
Bishop of “Third Most Important Region of Hell”
Barons (vide Dukes)
Lord of Parliament
Commissioners of Great Seal
Treasurer and Comptroller of the Royal Household
Vice-Chamberlain of the Household
Fount of Honor
Secretary of State
Head Knight of “A Significant Infernal Order”
Knight of the Manor
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chancellor of the Duchy of “Fourth Most Important Region of Hell”
Lord Chief Justice
Master of the Rolls
Lord Justices of Appeal and the President of Probate Court
Judge of High Court
Knight of “A Significant Infernal Order”
Knight Grand Commanders of the” A Significant Infernal Order”
Knight of “A Significant Infernal Order”
Knight Grand Commanders of “Fifth most Important Region of Hell
Knights Grand Cross of “A Significant Infernal Order”
Knights Commanders of the various Orders
Commanders of “A Significant Infernal Order”
County Court Judges
Masters in Lunacy
Lord of the Manor
Companions of the various “Significant Infernal Orders”