When a monster in the Monster Manual doesn't need food, drink, sleep, or air, it's specified by a [X] Nature. For example, a zombie has an Undead Nature:

Undead Nature. A zombie doesn't require air, food, drink, or sleep.

Devils (and many other extraplanar creatures) lack this feature, and therefore do need to eat, drink, breathe, and sleep.

However, in the DMG, the Nine Hells are described as desolate, inhospitable wastelands. What do devils eat? How do they get their food and water?

I'm trying to flesh out Devils for my campaign, and I'd like to see if there was any official material on this topic. While I'm running a 5e game, relevant material from other D&D editions is also acceptable.


4 Answers 4


The Dungeon Master's Guide section on Hades (page 63) provides a likely answer: Larvae

A gray land with an ashen sky, Hades is the destination of many souls that are unclaimed by the gods of the Upper Planes or the fiendish rulers of the Lower Planes. These souls become larvae and spend eternity in this place that lacks a sun, a moon, stars or seasons.


A larva is a miserable fiend that retains the facial features of its previous form but has the body of a fat worm. A larva has only a few faint memories of its previous life and the statistics in the larva stat block.

Hades is crawling with larvae. Night hags, liches and rakshasas harvest them for use in vile rituals. Other fiends like to feed on them.

How do they get there? Easy: The River Styx. From page 58:

This river bubbles with grease, foul flotsam, and the putrid remains of battles along its banks. Any creature other than a fiend that tastes or touches the water is affected by a feeblemind spell...

The Styx churns through the top layers of Acheron, the Nine Hells, Gehenna, Hades, Carceri, the Abyss, and Pandemonium. Tributaries of the Styx snake onto lower layers of these planes.

The river can double as a source of water for fiends, who would probably find its foul nature refreshing.

So it's not hard to imagine that devils might have settlements near the Styx, just like humans tend to build towns and cities along bodies of water, and low-ranking devils could be sent to collect larvae periodically. Or perhaps some other enterprising fiends sell larvae to them, just like some have taken up jobs as ferrymen on the Styx.

There may also be portals leading directly to Hades (or indirectly through Sigil) and devils might build settlements "inland" from the Styx around such portals. Again from page 58:

Traveling between the Outer Planes isn't dissimilar from reaching the Outer Planes in the first place. (...) Most often, though, characters use portals - either a portal that links the two planes directly or a portal leading to Sigil, City of Doors, which holds portals to all the planes.

Starving may not be a concern for most demons. The Monster Manual suggests most don't last long due to their constant infighting. They might even cannibalize the other demons they defeat.

A demon might spawn as a manes, then become a dretch, and eventually transform to a vrock after untold time spent fighting and surviving in the Abyss. Such elevations are rare, however, for most demons are destroyed before they attain significant power. The greatest of those that do survive make up the ranks of the demon lords that threaten to tear the Abyss apart with their endless warring.

The fewer long-lived demons likely just force lower demons to get food for them:

Demons respect power and power alone. A greater demon commands shrieking mobs of lesser demons because it can destroy any lesser demon that dares to refuse its commands.

There should be no shortage of manes to do menial tasks, and given that they're weak and the Abyss constantly spawns them from the souls of damned mortals, they're probably considered expendable.

Finally, don't forget that the descriptions of the planes are written from the perspective of denizens of the Material Plane. The Abyss and the Nine Hells may be inhospitable to humanoids but that doesn't mean there's nothing there that fiends can eat. The DMG mentions some layers of the Abyss that might support demon "life" without having to travel all the way to Hades:

The Gaping Maw. Demogorgon's layer in the Abyss is a vast wilderness of savagery and madness known as the Gaping Maw, where even powerful demons go insane with fear. Reflecting Demogorgon's dual nature, the Gaping Maw consists of a massive primeval continent covered in dense jungle, surrounded by a seemingly endless expanse of ocean and brine fiats.

Death Dells. Yeenoghu rules a layer of ravines known as the Death Dells. Here, creatures must hunt to survive. Even the plants, which must bathe their roots in blood, snare the unwary. Yeenoghu's servants, helping to sate their master's hunger as he prowls his kingdom seeking prey, capture creatures from the Material Plane for release in the Gnoll Lord's realm.

Given the Abyss's supposedly-infinite layers, there's potential for many such layers to exist.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ For the pedants among us, devils and demons are somewhat different sorts of fiends. Granted, the title asks about devils, Nine Hells denizens, while the text seems to include demons. You seem to have covered demons well enough. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 16:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I'll attempt to address demons later today, though the essence of my answer (eating larvae and drinking from the Styx) addresses both equally. The rest is just informed world-building. I can add some notes about how demons are unlikely to have stable societies and how Manes starving is probably of no concern to them, but I don't think the lack of demon-specific info detracts from the answer too much. \$\endgroup\$
    – Doval
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Nailed it. Very good find, I cannot open the books right now, but I recalled them eating souls in previous editions. +1 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 17:00
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "These souls become larvae and spend eternity in this place... Other fiends like to feed on them." So... if they get eaten is that the end of them and they won't be spending eternity there after all? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 21:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ ... or perhaps they do not get entirely eaten, but fed from while "alive", and then regrow painfully. That sounds appropriate to the surroundings. This is all up to the DM, and is little defined in the rules. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 21:48

What do they eat

To date (5 September 2017) there are no canonical 5e explanations of what devils eat.

For earlier editions:

  • AD&D: it did not appear to be addressed.
  • AD&D 2e: they are described as having Diet: None for the least baatezu1 or Diet: Carnivore for the rest. It did not say that they needed to eat.
  • D&D 3.x: devils are outsiders and outsiders don't have to eat. They derive their sustenance from the ambient energy of tormented souls in Baator, though they can still eat if they want to. Some enjoy consuming the remains of their organic or demonic foes as a celebration of victory. Others can enjoy the sensual pleasures of fine food and drink.
  • D&D 4e: I have no idea.

1 Devils did not exist in AD&D 2e for reasons. However, there was an extra-planar group of outsiders called the baatezu who looked remarkably similar. This podcast goes into details.

How do they get it

"Desolate, inhospitable wastelands" could mean:

the Moon the Sun

in which case finding food would be a problem (although a long term problem compared to asphyxiation and freezing/burning).

Alternatively it could mean:

desert Antarctica

in which case finding food is just really, really hard.

Of course this assumes that devils eat what animals eat and this is boring! Devils hunger for souls! You think they enter all those contracts just for fun? No, they're ordering out.

Resources for the Nine Hells

  • 16
    \$\begingroup\$ "Of course this assumes that devils eat what animals eat and this is boring! Devils hunger for souls!" Very important point, it should be emphasized more. They may just need some kind of energy source to go. Doesn't have to be organic. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 8:38
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Granted, I do recall creatures (perhaps not canon) that did need souls for sustenance, but I've always assumed that Planars on their home plane only need attention, from a deity or souls, and the souls they may gather are not (necessarily) meant to be consumed, but rather, something like captive worshipers. \$\endgroup\$
    – kaay
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 9:29
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ The idea of devils and demons having a smartphone-like device and ordering souls for lunch/dinner is too amusing to pass. I think I know what I'll use on my next D&D adventure... \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 13:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Many fictionalized accounts have lesser demons trying to kill greater ones to absorb their life essence and grow. \$\endgroup\$
    – JohnP
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 0:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ MToF mentions eating, might want to edit your answer like I did mine. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 6:23

With the release of Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, 5e finally explicitly mentions that devils eat. In the bestiary, the flavor text for the nupperibo (p. 168) says that they are supernaturally hungry and that they do in fact eat their prey.

The nupperibo has the Hunger-Driven trait, which mentions "any creature that has taken damage from any nupperibo's Cloud of Vermin" - and Cloud of Vermin can affect "any creature, other than a devil". So, the lowest hierarchy of devils will eat any creature that isn't a devil, presumably raw/still living. There is no other mention of devils eating in any 5e sourcebook.

It can be presumed that higher devils will have a more refined palate, but that does not mean that they cannot eat anything that a nupperibo can.

In general, just because a location is desolate or a wasteland doesn't mean that it isn't possible to acquire food and water. The best real world example would be Las Vegas, a desert turned into an economic center thanks to modern engineering. Importing food and water is possible for communities that are wealthy enough. Similarly, treating waste can reduce the reliance on imports.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd use another example; before being a city, Las Vegas was a meadow oasis. Admittedly, now it's a desert (they use all the water, leaving only enough for xeric vegetation) and they have to pump in lots of water (people use a lot more water than the region produces). \$\endgroup\$
    – Charles
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 18:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Las Vegas always was a desert, technically speaking; that depends on incoming water, not ground water. Even then, I don't get the impression that the watered land covered the full range of the metropolis; it was a small spot in a large valley. The point may be that people don't tend to settle complete wastelands, but Las Vegas still has to import virtually all of its water and food now. \$\endgroup\$
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 5:15

In the Faces of Evil: The Fiends from AD&D 2e, the fiends are gone over in detail and the prevailing theme seems to be that while they love living flesh they don't need to eat it for the protein, but that most of the nutrition comes from some aspect of the consumed creature.

  • Tanarri (demons) behaviour regarding food is chaotic and is not known for sure. They apparently gain nutrition from the fear and suffering of the soul of a consumed creature. Various forms of tanarri can also eat for different purposes; in order to assume the victim's forms, in order to satisfy a sense of superiority, in order to prevent the foe from returning to life, etc.
  • Baatezu (devils) don't need to consume anything to survive, but can ingest any food, and prefer meat. They also gain a special sustenance from life itself, from the devouring of the living being's spark. So they favor meat from intelligent creatures, in particular good-aligned ones. Meat from celestials is prized the most.
  • Yugoloths (daemons) actually prefer to consume intelligent food full of negative emotions (fear, anger, etc.) but as they increase in rank it just becomes more a matter of personal disgust towards the rest of the living universe so at the highest levels they consume all that the person ever felt and was. Some don't care much about the quality of meat and can even gain nutrition from long rotten flesh.

Now if you want more details I'd recommend the book, there are not a lot like it nowadays, as it is a fluff book. Overall the fiends seem to eat each other, the souls of the damned sent to them as soul maggots, and more than that - any good creature, mortal or planar, that they can get their hands on. Either by hook or by crook. They'll pay mortal slave rings, demand sacrifices from cultists, use trapped towns, or just raid places. Because you have to remember that the universe doesn't lock them away very well.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I have done a major edit of your answer as you had mentioned you were writing from memory. I hope you are ok with it. \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 15:31

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .