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I recently purchased the D&D 5e book Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, and found the devils really interesting. I know there was a section in... 2nd edition(?) where there were no devils or demons because of the satanist scare, but ignoring that, what is the history behind Asmodeus in previous editions of the game?

From what is he inspired in each edition? How is he portrayed in different ways through the years? Was he always a many-headed cow goat dragon elf?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you also interested in the "real-world" mythology from which the character of Asmodeus (or at least the name) was originally drawn, or just the history of his portrayal through the editions of D&D? \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jul 3 '18 at 21:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe most of the answer you seek is in this question: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/41761/… . If you need more, please write so we can extend the scope of the answers here. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Jul 3 '18 at 21:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ZwiQ That answer (or rather the question) goes much in depth on the history of how Asmodeus came to be Asmodeus, but I was more thinking of a broad overview of not his backstory, but the history of the concept of Asmodeus through the editions. I have attempted to clarify my question \$\endgroup\$ – Blake Steel Jul 3 '18 at 22:11
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Asmodeus is more ancient than the gods.

The AD&D 2nd edition book Guide to Hell (2000) details the origins and true nature of Asmodeus.

The multiverse began in chaos, and from chaos arose law. The most powerful of these were the Cosmic Serpents: Jazirian and the winged Ahriman. The two formed the undefined chaos of reality into what would be known as the Outer Planes. Each held the other's tail in their mouth, and formed an unbroken ring that defined the (then finite) scope of the planes.

But as the concepts of Good and Evil gained power, the two took sides, and fought, and each bit off the other's tail. Each drop of blood from Jazirian's tail fell and formed a couatl, but the wingless Ahriman fell into the base of the Nine Hells where he has remained ever since, biding his time until he can heal.

Ahriman took the name Asmodeus, and conducts all of his business via avatars and go-betweens. even among the gods and the lords of the Nine Hells there are none who know his true identity.

Asmodeus intentionally encourages cults of all kinds. The souls of the dead travel to the plane of their deity, or that which most closely matches their alignment if they followed no deity. But the souls of those evil peoples who reject the worship of any deity—cultists of non-divine beings, or those who reject all belief in the divine—are claimed by Asmodeus, his right as one of the Ancient Brethren who existed before there were people to believe in gods, and whose power is not reliant on faith or worship.

Asmodeus' avatar in Guide to Hell is a giant humanoid with reddish skin (not unlike many tieflings), small horns, and a finely trimmed beard. His true form is that of a serpent hundreds of miles long.

The primary source on Asmodeus in D&D 3.5 is Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells. It concurs with the AD&D description. His backstory is similar, although his relationship to the couatl god Jazirian is omitted. It is said that he bleeds perpetually from wounds.

D&D 4th edition makes Asmodeus a deity. He was already a greater deity in AD&D. Much D&D 4th edition lore is very different to earlier lore, and he was cast out by a deity he served in a manner reminiscent of the traditional story of God casting of Lucifer. Asmodeus in this edition is, as usual, described as a red-skinned humanoid with black horns and a confident, modest manner.

Asmodeus first appeared in the AD&D 1st edition Monster Manual, where he is depicted as a humanoid with small horns and a goatee beard. He is described as the most handsome, strongest and most cunning of all devils. Deities and Demigods upgrades Asmodeus to be considered a deity.

Outside of D&D 4th edition, Asmodeus has pretty consistently been described as the most powerful archdevil, and the ruler of the ninth level of Hell. The backstory with Jazirian is limited to AD&D 2nd edition (where it could be published in the year 2000 thanks to Wizards of the Coast relaxing the ban on words like "devil"), and alluded to in third edition.

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There has been a number of different backstories for Asmodeus throughout the various editions of the game. These backstories are not really very consistent; please see the following question and its answers:

Can Asmodeus' AD&D and 3.5e backgrounds be merged without losing anything?

By the way, these inconsistencies are rather reasonable, given that he must be working actively to spread new lies all the time.

PS: In the 2e, for the reason you mentioned, his name was not mentioned at all - for example some Planescape products simply referred to the unnamed ruler of the ninth layer, but I think we can fairly assume that he was that ruler.

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