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I always thought that Cambions (only considering Infernal Cambions here for simplicity) were half devils, whereas Tieflings were more distantly related to devils.

From the PHB, pg. 42:

Tieflings are derived from human bloodlines, and in the broadest possible sense, they still look human. However, their infernal heritage has left a clear imprint on their appearance.

And

... tieflings know that this is because a pact struck generations ago infused the essence of Asmodeus—overlord of the Nine Hells—into their bloodline.

And from the MM, pg. 36:

A cambion is the offspring of a fiend ... and a humanoid (usually a human).

But then from Xanathar's Guide to Everything, we have this table on page 62:

Tiefling Parents

d8      Parents

1-4      Both parents were humans, their infernal heritage dormant until you came along.

5-6      One parent was a tiefling and the other was a human.

7          One parent was a tiefling and the other was a devil.

8          One parent was a human and the other was a devil.

These last two entries on this table are what confuse me. So apparently a tiefling can be a half devil as well? Then what makes it different from a cambion? Is there a difference? Is a cambion basically just a "monster manual" tiefling as opposed to a playable race tiefling?

Note that I'm chiefly interested in 5e, but if information from older editions is required to explain this, I'll accept that information too, but I'd prefer 5e information.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wow. There's a lot of really dumb stuff in XGtE, but that is really beyond belief. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jul 7 '18 at 8:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ What's most bizarre is that table doesn't even have an option for "both parents are tieflings"! \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jul 7 '18 at 10:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer like two north poles on a bar magnet, tieflings repel one another rather than attract one another. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 7 '18 at 20:12
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XGtE is optional

It's important to remember that most of XGtE's content comprises optional rules, and this particular section on character generation is no exception. In fact, the opening on page 61 explicitly states:

IDEAS, NOT RULES

Even though these pages are full of tables and die rolls, they don’t make up a rules system — in fact, the opposite is true. You can use as much or as little of this material as you desire, and you can make decisions in any order you want.

Stretching that a little, we could infer it to mean that despite what might be implied by the options presented here, none of it should be taken as informing the actual rules of the game. It definitely doesn't help that this section of Xanathar's does contradict the racial history given for tieflings in their own description in the PHB. But if we want to take the content as presented and try and make it work, we could consider the variability of genetic expression.

All cambions are half-fiends (but not all half-fiends are cambions)

Simply put, though a cambion is a half-fiend and is always the result of union between a fiend and a humanoid, the union of a fiend and a humanoid does not always result in a cambion. Sometimes, when a devil and a humanoid procreate, perhaps the result looks more like a tiefling.

To draw a crude analogy to the real world, children of mixed race parents can vary wildly between strongly expressing the racial characteristics of one or the other parent or appearing somewhere in between - depending on exactly what random bits of genetics get passed on and in which combination. It's not even unusual for children from the same parents to appear to be completely different races!

Obviously the genetics of a fantasy world are much more complicated than ours could conceivably be (especially when you allow for magical factors). It is not much of a stretch to imagine that the children of a devil/humanoid pairing may sometimes express much more of their fiendish heritage (producing a cambion) and sometimes less (producing a tiefling).

What's the difference?

The general difference between a tiefling and a cambion is that a cambion is a very strong expression of fiendish ancestry that perhaps you can only get with one directly fiendish parent, but a tiefling is a much lesser expression of such ancestry which can also occur in descendants far removed from the original fiendish influence.

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The Xanathar’s Guide to Everything version is harking back to pre-4th edition when Tieflings were primarily part of Planescape. The Tieflings from those days weren’t a race in the “species/culture” D&D sense - they were individuals with fiendish blood, and were often half-devil or similar - the fiendish version of an Aasimar.

The 3rd edition included both Aasimar and Tieflings (including PC rules) in the Monster Manual, but they were referred to as “planetouched”, showing a pretty direct influence (thanks to Carcer for this info). Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes goes further by presenting variant options for Tieflings descended from (or at least associated with) the various Lords of Hell, though the “Feral Tieflings” from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide went partway there first.

You could say that the default assumption is that player character Tieflings are descendants of the fallen empire of Bael’Turath (or whatever you want to call it in your campaign), as per 4th edition and the 5E PHB, but the other books present you with rules and options for Planescape-style, individual fiendish bloodline Tieflings as player characters.

On the other hand, Cambions are half-fiend NPCs. A fictional distinction might be that the fiendish blood is stronger in them, leading to them having wings and fiendish powers beyond those of PC Tieflings, but you could also just call them Tieflings NPCs if you want to run with the Planescape style “race”.

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In my created world, I struggled with the same issue. My experience is all 5E, no prior history or references at all.

Tieflings are descended from humans who had children with devils or made pacts with one of them (if there even is a difference)

Tieflings are derived from human bloodlines, and in the broadest possible sense, they still look human. However their infernal heritage has left a clear imprint on their appearance.

From the PHB. Stay with me here, because SCAG adds to it.

Tieflings (SCAG)

The Mark of Asmodeus

Subsequently, Asmodeus and a coven of warlocks, the Toril Thirteen, performed a rite wherein the archdevil claimed all tieflings as "descendants" of the Lord of the Nine Hells, regardless of their heritage, and changed them into creatures that resembled their supposed progenitor.

They can be descended from any of the nine (ten? Belial isn't mentioned in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes as a tiefling subrace.) Archdukes or Archduchess of the Nine Hells. The nine varying subraces are on pages 21-23 of Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes. Asmodeus' subrace is the typical D&D subrace described in the PHB.

Cambions and Infernal Cambions are different things.

Cambion (Monster Manual)

A cambion is the offspring of a fiend (usually a succubus or incubus) and a humanoid (usually a human).

...

Spawn of Graz'zt. The demon lord Graz'zt is fond of procreating with humanoids who have made pacts with fiends, and he has sired many cambions who help him sow chaos across the multiverse.

Graz'zt is a demon lord who rules over The Triple Realm in the Abyss. And if you know anything of the Blood War demons and devils hate each other. So it sounds like Cambions can be any sort of creature that isn't a devil...

Infernal Cambions (MToF)

Some archdevils consort with mortals to produce cambion offspring. While most have the typical abilities for a cambion (as detailed in the Monster Manual), some gain abilities reminiscent of their archdevil parent.

It had to specify the difference. A typical cambion is a fiend's or demon's direct child, whereas a tiefling is a descendant of a humanoid race and an archdevil. None of the books exactly specify whether it has to be directly or not. It does imply that a tiefling's ancestry can skip generations or be direct.

Pg 62 Xanathar's Guide

1-4 Both parents were humans, their infernal heritage dormant until you came along.

5-6 One parent was a tiefling and the other was a human.

7 One parent was a tiefling and the other was a devil.

8 One parent was a human and the other was a devil.5-6 One parent was a tiefling and the other was a human.

Cambions and Tieflings are not the same, but they are 'cousins.'

Let's look back to the cambion's description.

Cambions inherit aspects of both parents, but their horns, leathery wings, and sinewy tails are hallmarks of their otherworldly parentage.

Born to Be Bad. Cambions grow into ruthless adults whose wickedness and perversion horrifies even the most devoted mortal parent. Even as a youth, a cambion identifies its rightful place as an overlord of mortals. It might orchestrate uprisings in towns and cities, gathering gangs of humanoids and lesser devils to serve it.

Pawns of the Mighty. A cambion forced to serve its fiendish parent does so out of admiration and dread, but also with the expectation that it will one day rise to a place of prominence. Cambions raised in the Nine Hells serve as soldiers, envoys, and personal attendants to greater devils. In the Abyss, a cambion carries only as much authority as it can muster through sheer strength and force of will.

Tieflings seem to have more control in their lives and less pride in what they are. Now I can argue tieflings don't have wings but there are variations in the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide that are Feral, Winged, varying physical characteristics, and two new traits.

Cambions are direct lines that in my guess don't typically procreate after that with humanoids just due to the commonality of them and if they do - their fiendish, abyssal, or infernal ancestry would presumably get lost over time and cease to resurface. Although the inclination towards evil seems far stronger in them than their tiefling cousins. They presumably are counted 'blessed' and were sired by evil humanoid parents as well.

Tieflings are also direct lines although it seems to be more of a 'curse' that they are dealing with that was created from a pact struck generations ago or less commonly by their parent(s). I'd go so far to argue that they have stronger blood. If it can resurface later then I presume the infernal heritage is a much more powerful influence genetically (at least appearance wise) and that these children are more unintentional than cambions which seem to be intentional.

Alignment. Tieflings might not have an innate tendency toward evil, but many of them end up there. Evil or not, an independent nature inclines many tieflings toward a chaotic alignment.

So not the same as Born to Be Bad like the cambions.

Heck someone could argue that Cambions are what became Tieflings!

Keep in mind much of this is from the Forgotten Realms which was designed by Ed Greenwood, so if you are making your own world, play with it!

For my world, I decided that the gods, devils, and demons have left the inner planes, so tiefling's are all that's left. Cambions only existed before the gods disappeared. In my world, there are no humans, so my tieflings are Elven and Dwarven. It's your campaign: in the end, it's all up to you.

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