The Dark Eight are eight pit fiend ministers who determine Hell's actions in the Blood War. They have also been described as a guild of sorts that mediates between the whims of the Dukes of Hell and the needs of common devils (Faces of Evil, page 29).
As the leaders of Hell's eight ministries, these eight pit fiends hold immense power, but they are subordinate to the Lords of the Nine Hells, and ultimately they answer to Asmodeus. Their prestige and influence are comparable to that of the Dukes of Hell, although the Dukes possess greater physical power and greater proximity to the plane's true masters. The Dark Eight holds council every sixty-six days.
The relationship between the Dark Eight and Bel, Lord of the First, is somewhat complex and ambiguous, as it is Bel's main responsibility to lead Hell's armies against the demon hordes, which places the Eight under his nominal control. However, Bel owes responsibilities to the Dark Eight (particularly Dagos, the Marshall of the Pits) that he was not allowed to back out of when he ascended to his current position (Dragon #223, page 14). According to Hellbound: The Blood War, Bel is only one of the nine generals under Dagos's command.
The pit fiends of the Dark Eight, and their respective responsibilities, are:
- Baalzephon - Supply
- Corin - Espionage
- Dagos - Strategy
- Furcas - Mortal Relations
- Pearza - Research and Implementation
- Zapan - Immortal Relations
- Zaebos - Promotions and Demotions
- Zimimar - Morale
Although they existed in secret for some time, the group first emerged dramatically during the Reckoning of Hell, when they led the nine armies of the plane against the rebellious lords who dared to march against Asmodeus. After the Reckoning the hierarchy of the Hells was restructured to give power over the majority of Hell's legions to the Dark Eight instead of the rebellious lords. The group was originally called the Dark Nine (reflecting the plane's nine layers, as well as of course the group's nine members). The ninth member to this illustrious gathering was the pit fiend Cantrum, who was acknowledged by the rest as their leader. Cantrum was murdered by a paladin (or, some say, a disgruntled underling), and instead of trying to replace their irreplaceable leader, the rest re-organized and called themselves the Dark Eight.
Each of the Dark Eight is responsible for a single aspect of the Blood War, and they are each given the freedom to execute their duties as they see fit. The entire body has the ability to veto decisions made by an individual member of the Eight, but often they pursue their own agendas. Despite the inevitable intrigues, the Dark Eight work well as a team.
Each of the Dark Eight commands a legion from one of the layers of Hell, except for Nessus, where Asmodeus holds his forces for a greater conflict yet to come. They rule the devils beneath them and meet in the fortress of Malsheem in the ninth layer of Nessus. Other than planning the next Blood War offensive, they also have the power to determine which devils get promoted.
When they are not leading their armies (which is a rare occasion indeed, in the case of Dagos), they reside in Nessus. They also each have estates within the Bronze Citadel of Bel in Avernus. When away on some errand of hellish nature, they often appear in malefic human guise.
The Dark Eight did not appear in 1st edition AD&D, although some of the individual members (Baalzephon, Furcas, Zapan, Zaebos, and Zimimar) were described as being part of the Nine Hells' hierarchy in other roles.
In the Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix (1991), the Dark Eight appeared for the first time. In that source, they were not only the leaders of the Blood War, but of the entire baatezu race. The text suggested that there might be more powerful leaders among the baatezu, but if so they kept themselves hidden, remaining unknown even to to the wisest of sages. The previously described archdevils were not mentioned in that source because of fears at TSR, Inc. that they added fuel to claims that the Dungeons & Dragons game incited devil-worship.
Fears had relaxed enough a few years later that more powerful leaders were once again introduced in Planes of Law and Dragon #223, although of the nine only Dispater (who had been briefly mentioned in the Planescape Campaign Setting in 1994) still resembled the 1st edition archdevils. It was explained in those sources and Hellbound: The Blood War (1996) and Faces of Evil (1997) that while the Dark Eight were the supreme rulers of the "common" baatezu, they were still outranked by the fiendish nobles and the Lords of the Nine.
A Paladin in Hell (1998) by Monte Cook introduced a new origin for the Dark Eight, saying that they had been the nine generals of the rebellious armies of Hell during a civil war, now thousands of years past. As a reward for betraying their disobedient superiors, they were given command over the bulk of Hell's legions.
3rd edition made much less use of the Dark Eight. Fiendish Codex II (2006) reduced their role dramatically, making them subordinate to Bel rather than the other way around, and housing them in Avernus rather than Nessus.
- Cook, Monte. Book of Vile Darkness. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2002. ISBN 0-7869-2650-3
- -----. A Paladin in Hell. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 1998. ISBN 0-7869-1210-3
- LaFountain, J. Paul. Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1991.
- Laws, Robin D. and Robert J. Schwalb. Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2006.
- McComb, Colin. Faces of Evil: The Fiends. Renton, WA: TSR, 1997.
- -----. "The Lords of the Nine." Dragon #223. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1995.
- McComb, Colin, and Wolfgang Baur. Planes of Law. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1995.
- Varney, Allen, ed. Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1994.