Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Many Hells of Mayfair Games - A Closer Look At The Demons Line Of Products For Use With Old School Horror Games

Back in 1982 Mayfair games had come out with the Role Aids series of  backup products for AD&D first & second edition. For anyone of my normal readers I don't have to go through the entire focus of  T$R vs Mayfair games or the reasons for it. Want to know about that then by all means read about it Here

In 1992 the first of the Demon line was released & it made the products infamous. Mostly because of the suit but the line was way ahead in many, many ways. Time & again I've heard about the suit but not the demon product line itself. 

Demons basically offered a line of products that filled a very special niche in the second edition AD&D era of TSR. It offered with little to no apologies a demonic legion from the very pits of an alternative Hell to the 7 we know & love from the Monster Manual. 

Demons Box Set (Role Aids) [Paperback]

Staff (Author)

Demons Box Set 
FULLY COMPATIBLE WITH AD&D 2ND EDITION. Eons ago...they were imprisoned in a vast inferno for fomenting a conflict a midst the gods themselves. Now, they're loose and free to prey upon the will of man. Run out of challenges? Try matching wits with the embodiment of all evil. The Demons sourcepack includes: * 48 pages of hole-punched monster descriptions, covering the demons and the inhabitants of their inferno lairs, for your players to add to other game materials; * An 80-page game master's booklet; * The 64-page Infernicum Mallemancia, an ancient book of demon lore that provides your players with all the clues they need to tackle and defeat their diabolical adversaries; * New character classes, including the demon-summoning Thaumaturgist and the demon-hunting Slayer; * Rules for half-demon player characters; * Dozens of new spells and new magic items; * A Full color, 22 "x 34" map; * A complete adventure; and the most powerful spells in fantasy role-playing!
 The first demon box set was interesting with a very, very, detailed background of the plane of the Infernus. The box set contained an entire background that could be dropped whole hog into a AD&D campaign whole hog. This was a complete alternative cosmology from the AD&D norm. The set contained everything from low rank & file demons to full presidents & barons right there at your finger tips. This was a God sent to a DM. The flavor was very gothic, the subject matter was adult, & presentation very solid for a pre internet product.
Not everything was fire & brimestone, there was the slayers character class & they got a work out in my campaign worlds.  The demon-summoning an Thaumaturgist NPC class all the way & was never intended to be used as a PC class at all. Rules for half-demon player characters were plan excellent and offered a random element to the creation of this PC race. They were at times problematic as a PC race. The magic items were very well done. The price was pretty solid for what you got.
 The next year saw the release of The Demons II box set. Basically Hell in a box set! 

Demons II Box Set (Role Aids) [Paperback]

Kevin Hassall (Author)

FULLY COMPATIBLE WITH AD&D 2ND EDITION. In Demons, you met the lords of the Infernus. now learn the dark secrets of these evil fiends, their methods most foul and how they taint the world of mortals. Learn too, how they might be sought out and destroyed. The world has faced no greater threat than the palpable evil that is... Demons! ~ The Demons II sourcepack includes: * An 80 page game master's book detailing how demons act and how they taint the world around them; * A 48 page book of demonic adventures; * The 32 page "Razor of Righteousness", a tome which discusses how demons may be recognized, hunted and eradicated; * The "History of the Endeavor", a book of notes describing the Cabal, a brotherhood of ambitious thaumaturgists; * A new character class, the Inquisitor,his habits and techniques; * Expanded information on Slayers, Thaumaturgists and half-demons; * Descriptions of the Gates, the demons' pathways to the plane prime; * Information on the ways of the demon-worshipping cults; * Dozens of demon-wrought magic items and adventure inspirations!
Basically Demons II is a companion/ expansion on the whole of the first product line & it builds on the first one. We get dozens of pieces of mature well thought out information that would make many mums & whatnotdogooders shake in their pants. It did. I actually had this set burned up in front of me in high school by a well meaning teacher. I went out & got another copy next week. It was the 90s & the D&D panic was still going strong.
 So we get a A new character class, the Inquisitor,his habits and techniques whose basically a solid pain in the rear of all things diabolical & sometimes other PCs as well We also get fully e
xpanded information on Slayers, Thaumaturgists and half-demons. This is more flesh on the bones of the first box set. "Descriptions of the Gates, the demons' pathways to the plane prime" We get a whole lot of background on the paths of the monsters, we get the diabolical mating habits, the  false religions & gobs of cults, magic items, etc. All ready to be inserted into your favorite campaign. 

Another place that the May fair products really went to town on was the player hand outs. The stuff was solid gold for setting a mood. The handouts like the :
  • The 32 page "Razor of Righteousness", a tome which discusses how demons may be recognized, hunted and eradicated; * The "History of the Endeavor", a book of notes describing the Cabal, a brotherhood of ambitious thaumaturgists
  • 64-page Infernicum Mallemancia, an ancient book of demon lore that provides your players with all the clues they need to tackle and defeat their diabolical adversaries. 
  • Both of these hand outs had built in in inaccuracies so that the players would know some info but not all of the really juicy stuff. The DM could decide where to stick it to them or not. 

Here's a look into the box set itself. 
This was typical of what you could expect from the demons line. The art was black & white. The whole was well laid out & the monsters were ready for play. 

Demons & their worship was considered a cancer in the box sets with the side effects showing through the cracks of society, the effects of demonic possession, sexual congress with these entities, & so forth. 

 The NPC classes were the real cult leaders, villains, etc. They filled the middle ground with the PCs acting as opposition. They could be very deadly & it gave the box set a gothic Call of Cthlhu AD&D flavor at times

The Slayers & the Inquisitors were out matched, out gunned at every turn & really were facing down the minions of the most dangerous Hell themselves. It wasn't until much, much later that the PCs would gain divine help. 

All the sins of the various cults were laid bare in stark detail. This is long before Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Carcosa was even a twinkle in anyone's eye. This is way, way before the Book of Vile Darkness either. This was straight out the gate second edition AD&D weirdness at its vile. 

Yet none of this stuff was a complete campaign set at all. This was drop this demonic stuff right into your pre existing campaign & run with it.

As you can see this is the monster lay out from the Demons box set. The line was supported by many little "Denizens of " products which rounded out the already existing cults, NPCs & monsters. This was from the second edition AD&D binder age. The era when dozens of binders were loosely packaged with monsters & the hardbacks of the 70s & 80s were being fazed out. As if.
The "Denizens of " products were constantly being reviewed by White Wolf Magazine, Dragon, etc. & always reviewed on their own. They were never meant to. These products were suppliments to be fitted into the cosmology of the already expanded demons line.
What came next was interesting.

Apocalypse: AD&D (Role Aids) Accessory [Box Set] [Paperback]

Jonathan Tweet (Author)

Apocalypse: AD&D (Role Aids) Box set 

Includes Game Master's Book, Tumult and Tribulation adventure, dozens of detailed maps, pre-generated characters and NPC's.
The Demons line added another angle with this box set. The Demons line Apocalypse box set added a do it yourself game master Tribulation in a box! 

The demons war with the various AD&D heavens results in the end of a world or the beginning of a campaign! The art was very well done. The adventures were interesting & the overview of the various apocalytic events, the portents & signs are all there for the taking! 

I used these box sets on a regular basis & there's a bit of stuff that can be converted to other systems very easily. There was a definitive Gothic feel to the box sets. They were constructed for use & not to be sitting on a shelf & left for a pretty. 

These are the hand outs & maps for the set. This continued the trend of well thought out maps & actual usable adventures the Mayfair way. The construction was well done.The graphic art very interesting. 

The DM & Adventure guide. The set was aimed at the DM infact the entire Demon line was for the DM & not the players at all. This fact seemed to escape lots of the reviews of the time. 

Solid tables, well laid out stats, & the adventure events following one after the other wagon train style later to be known as rail roading which any DM worth his salt can deconstruct using methods learned through the years in Dragon & other publications of the time. 

The art in many of the Mayfair box sets was lots of skillfully re purposed public domain Gothic artwork which gave the box sets a weird horror noir feel to them. 

Many times the PCs were out gunned, out powered, & out of luck. This is gave the adventures & the whole line a sort of survival horror/Gothic feel. This trend would even continue well into the end of the line. 

So where was this line going? Well the PCs were outgunned, out manned, & their back was against the wall. They needed some help from on high! 

Sentinels (Role Aids) [BOX SET] [Hardcover]

Kevin Hassall (Author)

"Now come the Sentinels: creatures of godly origin with the harrowing task of combatting demonic evil. Can you solicit these divine guardians to aid you in the great struggle, or will they oppose you as they reveal some grander scheme against the Infernus?" The Sentinels Sourcepack includes: * The Sentinels Sourcebook, explaining the mythos of the seven Domains of Heaven and the unique methods of the Sentinels you reside there. The sourcebook also introduces the race of the Scions and the Elysiat and Seraphist character class. * The Adventure Book, containing a complete, multi-part adventure designed to embroil your characters in the activities of the Sentinels, as well as suggestions for ongoing campaigns. * Two beautiful player handouts: the Treatise on our Divine Aid, giving an explanation of the Sentinels and their history from the character's point of view; and The Delicate Maul of Bright Shadows, detailing the insane ramblings of a member of the Cabal who plots the overthrow of the divine Domains. * Dozens of Monster Folio sheets detailing the Sentinel hierarchy of each glorious Domain. ~~ COMPATIBLE WITH AD&D, 2ND EDITION.
The Sentinels source pack did two things for the PCs, one it gave them some real solid help from the heavens! Two it gave two very nasty classes in the form of the the Elysiat and Seraphist character class. These are magus who summon scions (angels) from the very foundations of Heaven itself. These classes aren't for the faint of heart! 
The books were laid out in a sort of pseudo Bilblical style & it added a bit to the false biblical front of this product. These weren't nice angels at all. These were the Old Testiment style creatures willing to turn your favorite demon cult leaders into pillars of salt. Guess who was going to help!

There are various things in this book that make even me uncomfortable. Things like angellic soul sucking mechanisms rotting away on some nether plane. 

Devine PC handouts written in weird verse form. 

Strange details about adding these angel hit men to your games. The continuing war between the Infernus & Heaven. The whole thing reeks of  divine vengeance & intrigues of the various board rooms of the vaults of Heaven. 

These two classes never ever appeared in my games accept as NPC classes. These folks take the very nature of angels & use them for personal gain. These guys were the scum of my games. Peddlers in the names, ranks, & divine favors of the Heavens. They were a cult unto themselves 

"The Adventure Book, containing a complete, multi-part adventure designed to embroil your characters in the activities of the Sentinels, as well as suggestions for ongoing campaigns."
The adventure was a pretty high level affair & I used bits & pieces of it for a wide variety of games. The Sentinels were a group that offered help to the various Slayers & Inquistors within my campaigns but their was always a price here. 

In case you haven't guessed the Sentinels box set added another layer to already cool Demons line. There were other things in the works for the line but it all stopped! Cold, dead stopped because of that law suit we talked about earlier & one other reason : "Gary Gygax had advocated arranging a licensing agreement between TSR, Inc. and Mayfair Games for their Role Aids line of game supplements, but was outvoted in the board meeting considering the question". That law suit I talked about ended all of this. 
The Demons line & The OSR 
The demons line is a long forgotten memory in many folks minds. The OSR has come in & the Demons box set gets mentioned from time to time. People have used the artwork of the line for various fan based projects over the years. The line is now more viable then ever as fodder for your cosmology or dungeon. 
Here's why : 
  1. The Demons line allows anything from dungeon fodder to the principals & presidents of the Infernus to be used. 
  2. The line is not well known allowing the DM to use whatever the heck he wants in his games 
  3. There's a real Gothic feel to the demons line & this allows one to establish that line of adventures with little problem. 
  4. The monster stats are close to OSRIC that easy conversion is a dead easy snap. 
  5. The whole line could be used as a line into a Biblical post apocalyptic era game. Mutant Future's PCs allow one to go toe to toe with the rank & file of the Demons line. 
  6. Alignment isn't such a deciding factor in these games as it is a lightning rod for the forces of light & darkness. The PCs can easily find themselves right in the thick of it fast! 
  7. The Apocalypse box set is a game changer. This set can flip a game campaign very quickly & right off the bat establish the mood & frame of reference for a campaign. 
  8. With the retro clone movement in full swing this set is a perfect counter point to a full blown evil campaign where things are are not so clear cut & nice. This is a straight up Solomon Kane balls to swords campaign. The monsters are there but seldom met! 
  9. These box sets go for cheap at the moment & are perfect fodder for a DM who needs or wants something different 
  10. On the whole the Demons line could be inserted into a modern noir game for a real kick in the teeth. 

Next up is a ready made setting for exactly this style of Gothic horror game from one of the masters of science fiction. We'll also be covering other Mayfair Role Aids horror settings such as From Hell & Back! 
Stay Tuned! 


  1. I picked up some of the Denizens supplements at GenCon and got the two _Demons_ box sets soon after. They're really good stuff, with a couple of the denizen products being my favorites. Sounds like I need to get Sentinels, too.

  2. Its really a crime that they're so under rated. The line needed to grow more & it needed some trimming & editing to get really off the ground. That will never happen but its fun to speculate.
    The Sentinels box set was fun & offered my players some needed relief actually compared to the 20 miles of bad road that Demons dragged them through.
    I'm covering more Mayfair goodness tomorrow! Trey!

  3. Does anyone know where I can find a pdf of the sentinels sourcebook?

  4. Don't we all, my friend? I would love to find a copy of Sentinels in either PDF or physical form myself.

    1. Got to be a physical book there are illegal scans of it on the internet but the quality of those is horrible.