Archives of Candlekeep: Moloch: Always Swipe Left
This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Forty-five on 9th Decembet 2020.
Killer DM: Oh whatever. Ryu for some reason asked Ostron for this research assignment and then she foisted it off on me! Can you believe it? The nerve!
Ostron: Oh, she gave *you* the Moloch research? That’s a very…interesting approach. I think there was an ulterior motive here.
Lennon: Make *us* miserable?
Ostron: No…I think you’ll understand once we get into it. You have done *some* work on it, right?
Moloch comes up a lot when you start looking up a who’s who of big names in the nine hells, but it’s sort of the same deal as when you’re talking about famous kings and you get to Louis [LOO-ee] the [16th] XVI. A lot of people know who he was, but that ‘s mostly from the time when his underlings rose up and threw him out. Also he had a harpy wife that people weren’t crazy about either. That’s the metaphorical harpy, not a literal one. Anyway Moloch’s fame, or really infamy, comes from much the same place.
First let’s go over the actual being. Moloch is another archdevil that goes with male pronouns most of the time and he doesn’t bother with glamours or illusions to hide his true form unless absolutely necessary. In the raw, he’s a 15 foot / 4 and a half meter humanoid. His body has a build reminiscent of a gorilla with extreme musculature and a bit of a hunch to his walk, but featuring goat legs, two curved horns coming out of the top of his head, and brick red skin. His face is also more or less humanoid. Most portrayals of him only feature him in a loincloth and carrying a six-tongued scourge as a weapon.
In most other respects he is a typical devil brute, specializing in close combat, usually trying to grab his foes and either shred them with his claws and teeth or crush them if he doesn’t beat them to death with his scourge. The scourge isn’t an artifact or even magical beyond a basic level of magical energy because it was forged in the Nine Hells. What little spellcasting Moloch does is mostly Fire based, though some of those spells can be very powerful. As a devil, however, he has a wide range of resistances or immunities to damage and mind-altering spells are often ineffective. The only other unique ability he has is a breath weapon which inflicts fear and despair on its targets.
Moloch is referred to as an archdevil in the mortal world partially because of his strength and abilities and partially because of his history. Technically he no longer holds that rank or in fact any rank in the nine hells. The reason is a bit of a story.
Moloch had the misfortune of being in the “always a bridesmaid, never the bride” positions in the Nine Hells. He originally got his archdevil title when he was put in charge of Malbolge, or the sixth level of the nine hells which acts as a prison level of sorts. Those of you already checking your notes probably have someone else in charge of that level which you’re correct about; it’s not clear exactly how long ago Moloch’s archdevil status was granted, especially because time is a bit of a fluid concept in the nine hells to begin with, but from the perspective of the material plane it was at least a millennia or so in the past.
Yes, thank you for clearing that up I was worried I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. Moving on before people withdraw their money from boredom, Moloch was always playing second fiddle. His rule of Malbolge had an asterisk next to it because at the time he was officially under Baalzebul, another archdevil ruling the level Maladomini at the time. That’s the one with all the books and the record keeping, your beholder librarian might like it there. Moloch got the job because of his military service in the Blood Wars, though if you talk to his troops at the time he apparently won the way the Russians did it in the first world war; send enough bodies against the enemy and eventually they run out of men or ammunition. I’m sure the fact that he was screaming and insulting all of them helped with morale as well.
Mister “winning friends and influencing people” maintained his management style when he took over Malbolge, to the absolute joy of his subordinates. He had a second in command who he didn’t trust so he bullied an imp master spy into working for him and spying on his viceroy. His boss had a female devil under his command named Lilith serve as a consort for him but, and ladies raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before, despite having a consort who apparently never wore clothes and was attractive enough to regularly seduce other male devils, he decided to find himself a side piece.
Now the KDM isn’t just bringing this up to highlight Moloch’s misogyny. His other companion was Malagard, known as the Hag Countess, and at one time she was the most powerful Night Hag in the realms. They became an item around the time that the other Archdevils were beginning the Reckoning, which some may recall was the attempt by other archdevils to overthrow each other and Asmodeus. Moloch was originally going to sit it out, possibly in the hopes that his boss would be killed or otherwise demoted and he could fill the gap. However, Malagard convinced him to take a more active role supporting his boss against Mephistopheles, with the goal of eventually usurping him once Baalzebul replaced Asmodeus.
This might have worked if he wasn’t betrayed by literally everyone. Malagard tipped off his second in command and spymaster that he was going to betray Asmodeus and his boss, and all of them reported that to the archdevil Geryon [GER-ee-yon], who was still fully loyal to Asmodeus. Given Moloch’s popularity with his troops, getting them to betray him involved the cunningly complex scheme of simply asking them to do it, so his attempt at a coup failed spectacularly, as did all the other Archdevils’.
To make matters worse for him, Geryon convinced him the best way to apologize to Asmodeus was to be belligerent and combative, to prove that he was a devil of action and determination. After literally spitting on the lord of the nine hells, Moloch was stripped of all titles and had no one coming to his defense; Geryon had his own problems to deal with; Lilith by then had started cozying up to Baalzebul, who was allowed to keep his archdevil status, albeit ruling a less prestigious level of the hells; and his so-called side piece was given his job of ruling Malbolge and gleefully banished her former lover from the plane of hell he’d once ruled over.
He spend the next few centuries gathering forces of monsters, mortals, and desperate devils in the outskirts of the nine hells, but when he tried to secure an artifact that would let him break into Malbolge he got trapped. The delay left his army at loose ends and totally unable to defend themselves when Malagard attacked.
Following the tried and true management success strategy of “if something doesn’t work once, try it again the exact same way you did the first time,”
Moloch gathered forces to attack and retake Malbolge on a regular basis and failed spectacularly each time. At this point sources are conflicted about his status regarding the Nine Hells. Some say that he’s actually banished from Baator (that’s the actual plane the nine hells are in). The banishment is a curse that means if he returns to the plane he turns into an imp until he leaves again. Others simply say that he can remain in the Nine Hells without a problem, but his reputation is so tarnished that no one will follow or support him in anything anymore.
That extends to the mortal realm, by the way. Moloch used to enjoy cult followings and sacrifices made by stupid, desperate mortals just as much as any archdevil but when he lost his position he also lost his fan club. Some of them heard it through the grapevine that Moloch was just so last year and wanted in on the hot new thing, which at this point is Asmodeus’s daughter Glasya [GLAZ-ee-ah]. Apparently at one point Malagard suddenly started inflating like a balloon for no reason and eventually popped, leaving a vacancy in leadership that Glasya slid right into. The fact that her father Asmodeus is capable of altering the physical form of anything in the Nine Hells is never, ever brought up when people wonder why Malagard suddenly got an extreme case of gas.
Apart from wanting to curry favor with other archdevils, many of Moloch’s followers abandoned him for more practical reasons. Stripped of his seat of power and his resources in the Nine Hells, Moloch cannot grant spare power or resources to anyone asking, because he lacks them himself. On top of that, he is constantly trying to acquire resources to fund his own attempts to retake his level of the Hells, so anyone summoning or otherwise dealing with Moloch would be met with aggressive demands for support with no reward or power given back at all, merely a promise of support once he regains his seat of power, which, remember, is something he’s never successfully done.
For that reason, temples and statues of Moloch are typically only found in the depths of ancient dungeons on the material plane, though they are still sought out because most statues of Moloch featured enchanted crystals or large rubies in the eyes. As for the devil himself, people claim to have encountered him in Sigil, trying to barter and bargain for wealth to hire the armies he’d need to try reconquering the level of hell he used to rule.
Like his function in the lore, Moloch is mostly known in modern D&D because of historical nostalgia. The player’s handbook for the first edition of D&D featured cover art of several adventurers stealing a jewel from the eye of a statue in some underground ruined temple. Though it was apparently a bit of a retcon, Wizards has since stated that the statue on that cover is an idol of Moloch. The archdevil as a creature has been around since first edition and was reprinted in various resources throughout D&D history, though his status as an exiled devil who apparently lacks most of the guile and strategic ability of his former peers means he hasn’t featured in any major adventures for some time.
Lennon: You know, after hearing all that, I think I get why Ryu wanted you to study this guy.
Killer DM: I don’t. I mean, look at this; it’s a litany of bad decisions and failure, how does this apply to me at all?
Ostron: Well, he did have a problem getting along with his superiors.
Killer DM: Well I don’t have any of those so again, why does this matter to me?
Lennon: How about all the frightened and mistreated underlings then?
Killer DM: Oh come on, everyone loves me, just ask around. Ostron, we’re the best of pals, aren’t we?
Ostron: Well…I mean you do kill me and take my kidneys a lot.
Killer DM: Well yes, clearly I can’t trust that responsibility to just anyone. That’s why I always come to you.
Lennon: Okay, I get the intent here but I feel like this is going to do more harm than good. We promise we’ll have a chat with Ryu.
Killer DM: Fine then. And remind her to wash the fishnet stockings if she’s inviting me around next time; I couldn’t find clean ones.
Ostron: What does…okay, no, you know what? Scrying pool. The scrying pool has questions that *don’t* make me want to bleach my brain.