If you were a noble from Hell – how would you seize power on Earth anno 1889?

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The Chronicler
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If you were a noble from Hell – how would you seize power on Earth anno 1889?

I could really need some help fleshing out how much of an impact a small group of Baatezu could have on the late 19th century Earth. Here is the general idea so far (but I´m open for any suggestions):

A small group of powerful devils have arrived on Earth. Among them is the former ruler of Avernus, Zariel. She is weak, the result of Bel draining her power for centuries. She is accompanied by Nergal, master of pestilence. Accompanying these two powerful devils to Earth are a number of lower ranking fiends. A couple of erynies, two cornugons, a handful of barbazu, a few abishai and a dozen or so imps.

Behind the escape to Earth is Moloch. He has a small army, but he does not want to bring it to Earth until he can safely leave again. The exception being a host of mazzikim – incorporeal fiends – that he has gathered. He has no qualms sending them to Earth, where their power to possess mortals may be of great use.

He counts on Nergal to keep Zariel in check (which might be a mistake) and when she is restored to her full might they will return to Hell together to wreak vengeance on their respective enemies (Malagard and Bel). At least that is his plan, it remains to be seen if Zariel will play along with his scheme.

Questions:
• Where will they go? I´ve been thinking London – the most populous city on Earth and the capitol of the Worlds greatest empire.
• How will they go about seizing power? Who will they charm, possess, or corrupt? Will they go directly for people in high office, or their advisors?
• Zariel needs to feed on thousands of spirits to regain her power. I had an idea: Zariel creates a charity caring for the sick, then gets Nergal to create a cholera epidemic. The kind nurses that brave the epidemic make the sick say an odd prayer to the angel Zariel (unknown to them, but hey, what do you do?) for help. Thus they have forfeited their souls and she can consume them. Do you have any better suggestions?
• What will she do with her power once, or if, she gets it? I imagine she would want to start a war so she can discern who are the mightiest warriors on the planet and recruit them to her cause (I also imagine Nergals wish to spread disease might conflict with such a plan as Zariel does not want potential champions wasting away rather than dying on the field of battle).

Short background:
Gothic Earth is isolated from the rest of the Multiverse by an entity sometimes referred to as The Red Death (part of a scheme by Apomps to conquer the Prime Material Plane and then the entire Multiverse). Outsiders can enter Earth, but they can never leave, which means most beings with any sense avoids the place. For this reason, Earth has been largely forgotten in the Outer Planes.

A few years ago a group of Earthlings somehow managed the impossible and left their world. These humans have accomplished great feats across the planes. They have also had encounters with forces from Hell – some of which have been violent.

The dethroned prince of Malbolge – Moloch – saw the isolation of Earth as an opportunity. He managed to free Zariel from her imprisonment by Bel on Avernus and sent her to Earth. She is severely weakened, but in time she may regain her strength by feeding on the spirits of this populous world in relative safety (who would want to risk indefinite imprisonment by going after her on Earth?)

This will give Moloch a very powerful ally, and together they might both get revenge on their respective enemies in Hell, as well as reclaiming their thrones. He hopes that Zariel will be able to break the isolation of Earth from within when she has regained her full power, but is not willing to risk imprisonment himself, and will not join her before she succeeds in vanquishing the Red Death).

Zariel and Nergal might meet opposition from humans with some knowledge of fiends, like the Order of Sion (to whom my PCs belong), the Order of St. Peter, and possibly a Solar stranded on Earth (severely weakened after having been cut off from Celestia for a very long time). There is also a fledgling agency in the UK, called Scotland Yard Special Branch X, which deals with the supernatural. In Germany there is a somewhat older government organisation called KDPP, and France also has a similar organisation. There are numerous secret qabals too, fighting the Red Death, that might be mobilised in the battle against the devils.

Palomides
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Not too original; but...

This may be too obvious but 1889 would be a period where all the chess pieces around the world were being positioned for what would erupt as WWI.

On Jan. 30 1889, Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria and his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera commit a double suicide (or a murder-suicide).
It would be very easy to re-write history as this being an initial attempt to corrupt/possess Rudolph. Perhaps the demonic forces failed but were still able to drive him mad.
Then the fiends scrambled to re-order things when their potential puppet died. His death put the line of succession for the Austria-Hungarian Empire in doubt. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was decided to be the next in line and his later assassination sparked WWI.

But you could still keep the focus on Britain under the assumption that there is another faction of fiends in London setting up machinations to push the British Empire into war even earlier. The PCs would be involved with foiling these plots and delaying Britain's eventual push to war

Some non-evil things that were happening in Britain that year that your players might play a hand in bringing about:
August 14–September 15 – London Dock Strike: Dockers strike for a minimum wage which they eventually receive
August 26 – The Children's Charter is passed in the United Kingdom; for the first time it imposes criminal penalties to deter child abuse

Some events in the world that could be re-written to seem more occult-like:
-Paiute spiritual leader Wovoka experiences a vision, leading to the start of the Ghost Dance movement in the Dakotas.
-May – the 1889–1890 influenza pandemic is first reported in the Central Asian part of the Russian Empire. It spreads throughout Russia and other parts of the world
-Yellow fever interrupts the building of the Panama Canal.
-Vincent van Gogh paints some of his most spiritual works including "The Starry Night"
-A huge locust swarm crosses the Red Sea and destroys crops in the Nile Valley.
-November 14 – Inspired by Jules Verne, pioneer American woman journalist Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Cochrane) begins a journey around the world in less than 80 days (Bly finishes the journey in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes). You could write her as collecting data from various sources reporting on fiendish incursions

-June 19 – A Neapolitan baker named Raffaele Esposito invents the Pizza Margherita, named after the queen consort of Italy Margherita of Savoy. This is the forerunner of the modern pizza.
[I don't see how this would tie into a campaign - but I'll be damned if I don't make the effort to salute the invention of pizza]

The Chronicler
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Thank you Palomides!

That is an awesome set of ideas!

The influenza pandemic of 1889-90 is absolutely perfect. Nergal is obviously behind that. And if Zariel can get her hands on a substantial part of the one million dead (their souls, that is) she will be well on her way to recovery.

Perhaps he is behind the yellow fewer also. Distance is nothing to them, and it might make sense to create separate outbreaks in various parts of the world so as not to cause to much suspicion. One major clue will be the presence of the same charity (secretly making deals with the dying in Zariels name, promising to end their suffering).

It makes sense that Zariel will want to instigate a major war. In fact, so does the Red Death, and it has been putting the chess pieces in place with that goal in mind for quite some time. I think an alliance with their deadliest enemies, the agents of the Red Death, might be one of the more plausible ways for the players to match the devils.

I like the idea of the Crown Princes suicide being an act of defiance against the fiends trying to either possess or manipulate him.

I am sure there will be place for the creation of the first modern pizza as well. One of Apomps agents, a Shator, is posing as an italian nobleman. He has a strong incentive to protect Apomps masterplan by helping to get rid of the devils, and might invite them to Italy :-)

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Appendium

Glad I could oblige.

Regarding the yellow fever outbreak delaying the construction of the Panama Canal, I was thinking that you could rationalize that (aside from just spreading disease) it also prevented the US from rising further in political power as most of the power needed to be in the hands of the dying European empires to make a war between them even more inevitable and devastating.

You might even write an adventure where your players try (and fail - partially or completely) to stop agents of disease from traveling to the Americas to further weaken their growing power

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US - rise to power

It´s an interesting idea to incorporate the US. The PCs haven´t been there yet so that would be an adventure in itself.

I imagine Zariel would rather have the US enter a war than to keep them out though. Maybe she already has her eyes on some promising veterans from one of the US colonial wars, either an American soldier or an indigenous warrior.

As for the dying European empires: Apart from the Ottoman Empire being constantly nibbled at, and a somewhat demographically challenged (compared to the German Empire) but highly militarized French Empire, they are seemingly at the peak of their strenght in 1889. It will take a truly great war to reveal their internal weaknesses and make some of them crumble.

Another scheme by Zariel might be to engage the US in a parallell war. To provoke a conflict between the US and Spain a decade early for example.

The idea of stopping agents of disease from traveling to the Americas could still be used however. But I would imagine that being all Nergals doing, against the wishes of Zariel, and that she might even attempt to halt his efforts.

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Also fitting in well with the

Also fitting in well with the time period look up: "The Scramble For Africa". Also referred to as "The New Imperialism", it was a brief period from about 1881-1914 where a host of European nations all charged madly into the "Dark Continent" to partition it up and divvy the natural resources, secure mines, and also make mass religious conversions.

I've been trying to learn a bit more about African mythology and folklore because it's almost completely overlooked in modern fantasy. If you have the time maybe check out a novel called Black Leopard, Red Wolf (book 1 of the Darkstar Trilogy) for inspiration.

If your players are ok with very mature themes of slavery, rape, pillaging of resources and genocide/cultural erasure - this could be a good sub-theme for your fiends' worldwide plot. As you said it would make sense for them to have several irons in the fire at the same time in case they don't all pan out equally.

Plus I always dig the theme of allying with the locals to drive out the exploitive, dogmatic imperialists/colonialists.

The Chronicler
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Perhaps the Congo?

Quote:
If your players are ok with very mature themes of slavery, rape, pillaging of resources and genocide/cultural erasure - this could be a good sub-theme for your fiends' worldwide plot. As you said it would make sense for them to have several irons in the fire at the same time in case they don't all pan out equally.

That is not a bad idea at all VikingLegion.

I have come to the conclusion that the Baatezu force is too small to rely on possession, charm or corruption through pacts etc. to achieve their objectives.

They will instead establish an international gentlemen´s club, or an quirky fraternal order, somewhere along the lines of Odd Fellows. Through this order they will gradually attract many of the Worlds richest and most influential people.

Why would they join this club? Well, they will be granted actual boons and favors of great worth, and the word of this will spread to anyone eager to increase their fortunes.

The members are then gradually initiated into more seedy secrets and pleasures, which will appeal to many (and those who think otherwise disappear). The image they project to the outside world is one of altruism and humanitarianism however.

One of their charitable ventures is the aforementioned health mission that they sponsor: “The Sisters of Angelic Mercy”, or something (could need some help with the name of both the charity and the club/order). Another could be a mission to bring the fruits of progress to the “primitive” parts of the world, such as Africa.

I think King Leopold IIs new enterprise, The Free State of Congo, might be good candidate. The king and his associates cloaked their ghastly enterprise in a veil of humanitarianism. It´s not hard to picture Baatezu hands in this particularly dark chapter of European colonialism.

What do the devils want from the Congo? Hardly rubber, or other natural resources. Zariel needs souls to devour. Nergal delights in spreading disease. They can achieve both goals in the Congo, perhaps easier than anywhere else.

I want these series of adventures involving the devils to be more gruesome and disturbing than our average game sessions. I think a visit to the Congo, that turns out to be anything other than a benign development project on a grand scale, might be a chance to showcase some real fiendish (as well as human) cruelty.

Perhaps the Order has established something as sophisticated as a canning factory in the Congo. Instead of pork, however, the raw materials for the spam they are exporting is actually the bodily remains of the people who have been tricked into ceding their souls to Zariel.

I would really appreciate any tips on small and greater examples of cruelty and wickedness that make the devils stick out a little from the PCs regular foes. It´s not as easy as I thought it would be.

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Drat

I wrote up a lengthy bit and then lost it to a computer glitch
Bullet points:
*Here is a Wikipedia page with gentlemens's clubs in London at the time - real, defunct and fictional. If nothing else, it might inspire some names for your creations
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gentlemen%27s_clubs_in_London

*I treat devils as beings who corrupt you in order to have control over you.
A demon might start a club with orgies just to get people to sin and to destroy marraiges, etc.
A devil might start a club with orgies in order to blackmail people later or to control them by threatening to cut off the addiction the devils created

For this reason, devils seem to fit in well with Victorian England where keeping up the appearance of propriety was of utmost importance and could be used to keep mortals in line.
If the devils could corrupt/control even a small cadre of powerful aristocrats, their social standing could make a lot of innocent underlings fall in line. Who would side with some uppity PCs against Lord Humpherump of the Cambridge Humpherumps?
I think that the PCs bringing enough dark deeds to light and convincing some good people against their blind faith in the upper class would be a major accomplishment and be dramatically satisfying (along with trying to convince the innocents not to be completely disillusioned and bitter). What is distinct from other foes is being able to shift the avalanche of social pressures that the fiends would be manipulating to further their plans.

Once you have established a few ranks of villains, exposing a seemingly untouchable British lord and his immediate corrupted followers would carry the most weight and the specifics of the deeds would be secondary.
If a devil deaks in wraith and inflicting pain, he might corrupt members of the Nimrod Club (society of big-game hunters) to hunt people released into the woods around a lord's estate
If a devil works with the sin of pride, he might seduce a society of literary elites (or society of "enlightenment" missionaries) of their "natural superiority" over other races and the lower classes. Justifying innumberable cruelties
What, I think, makes these evils stand out is the hypocracy and the false rationalizations that the good (but unquestioning) people use to justify the acts of their "betters". The brutal murder of a woman is vile. But a murderer who commits the act under the claim that he does so to improve the overall moral caliber of people in the city is extraordinarily evil. This can be further magnified when the police seem to excuse the man's behavior

[Note: I was two-thirds of the way through this before I saw the obvious parallels with recent events in Atlanta - I apologize if I am hitting too close to a real-world sore spot]

The Chronicler
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YES!

Quote:
*Here is a Wikipedia page with gentlemens's clubs in London at the time - real, defunct and fictional. If nothing else, it might inspire some names for your creations
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gentlemen%27s_clubs_in_London

Wow! Thank you. I wish I had that when I started this campaign years ago :-)

Quote:
I wrote up a lengthy bit and then lost it to a computer glitch
Bullet points

I hate when that happens!

Quote:
*What, I think, makes these evils stand out is the hypocracy and the false rationalizations that the good (but unquestioning) people use to justify the acts of their "betters". The brutal murder of a woman is vile. But a murderer who commits the act under the claim that he does so to improve the overall moral caliber of people in the city is extraordinarily evil. This can be further magnified when the police seem to excuse the man's behavior

Yes! I absolutely agree with you. Having devils on Earth is a perfect way of illuminating the evils of Victorian times, the hypocracy, the double standards and not only a passive absence of compassion for the weak and unfortunate, but an active loathing and vilifying of them.

I´ll take your cue and use the devil incursion as an opportunity to highlight this. It´s not been completely absent during our gaming sessions, but it has rarely, if ever, been prominent, more a “that´s just the way it is” kind of backdrop to the great struggle against the Red Death.

I´m getting a lot of good ideas from this. I´ll be back when I have processed them.

What I´m thinking so far, in terms of gaming progress is:

Dropping hints: I´ll start dropping clues that something is going on while the PCs are busy with other foes and challenges. Not necessarily scary ones. For example an acquaintance telling the PCs (who are also upper class English gentlemen) that he has joined this exciting new club, why don´t they come along etc. And he might have match box with the emblem of the order (I´m picturing something with angel wings, that alludes to Zariels angelic past). Then they find that same symbol in some more ominous setting, at a crime scene for example.

Coincidental omnipresence? The PCs belong to an international order themselves, and in addition to that they are in contact with a number of other qabals. Intelligence that arrives from different parts of the world might contain hints of a connection to this seemingly harmless club/order. For example the presence of this charity that they fund, who are very often present at the exact locations where outbreaks occur with suspiciously precise timing.

A scandal avoided: Some slander reaches the PCs ears, as it does, about an MP, or Lord that has managed to get into some actual trouble by knocking up a woman of low class, but still some fame, like an actress. Then the problem goes away. Perhaps dramatically, with the pregnant woman supposedly throwing herself of some building, impaling herself on a iron fence. The would be father might be observed, smugly commenting that it´s such a tragedy, while pulling out a cigarette from a silver case with the symbol of the order/club engraved on it.

It will be terribly hard to react to several of these clues, from all around the world. The PCs are not able to teleport, after all. But it might be just as exciting getting reports by telegraph, or in some cases, and much more ominous, lack of reports of the attempts of other agents of good attempting to interfere with the devils, or more likely, their human proxies.

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Champion of Hell - a new ally - or foe - or both...

I´ve got some new ideas on how the Baatezu might fight the insurrectionists hiding away on Earth, without having to risk being imprisoned by the Red Death.

It is not very original. I´m stealing the idea of the character Saint of Killers, from the Preacher comics. But the general idea behind it is that instead of wasting valuable troops by sending them to fight the insurgents on Earth, where they will be lost whether they are victorious or not, the Baatezu decides to send a petitioner from Earth back to that particular Prime Material world to do their dirty work for them.

It needs to be a warrior, particularly vicious and dark hearted, with an iron will. The killer of Saints was a former confederate soldier. I think I will rather base my equivalent on the Northern-Irish officer, John Nicholson, who played an important part in suppressing the sepoy rebellion of 1857. Brutally so.

I thought I would make this character more tragic than his real life counterpart by making him someone who used to be sympathetic to the Indians and an admirer of their culture. Even learning how to write and recite sufi poetry with skill and elegance.

All that changes when the rebels savagely murder his wife and children. To make the shock worse, one of his native friends, a Moghul prince no less, was in command of the rebel forces that massacred his family, not having the courage to even attempt to halt the rampaging sepoys, which he admittedly had very little control over.

Our anti-hero, let´s call him Henry Cavanaugh, goes on a quest of vengeance, methodically slaughtering rebels, and even civilians. More than anything he wants to make his former friend pay for the deaths of his family. When he finally catches up to him, he is ordered to let him go. He may still have a role to play in the future The Company has planned for Dehli. That doesn´t stop Henry from killing the Moghul prince though. It only means he has to kill his own superior officer before he gets his revenge, which he does, shortly before he himself is shot and killed by his own men.

I am not entirely sure how he will interact with the PCs, whether he will be interested in cooperating with them or not, but I imagine that if they will be able to point him in the right direction, he might do some substantial damage on the Baatezu rebels. It is very unlikely that he will be able to eliminate them all by himself though.

I think I will simply steal the abilities and weapons of the Saint of Killers. His main weapon is a revolver (an Adams instead of a Colt, of course). He also carries a sabre. Both weapons can hit and kill anything. His revolver has the very substantial advantage (in gaming terms) of never having to be reloaded and never running out of ammo. He also has the ability to regenerate quite quickly and quite formidable strength and hit points. He is immune to normal weapons and able to travel great distances at an impossibly short time. He is also able to track devils who teleport, which, when the devils learn of this, might limit their use of teleporting.

That may even the odds a bit for the PCs struggling to keep up with the devils.

He has been promised to be released from Hell if he achieves his objective of eliminating the Baatezu rebels and has been led to believe that this might lead to him being reunited with his family. That is not likely, although I have no idea of where he´ll actually end up. Any ideas on that?

There are other questions that remain to be answered. Which powers of Hell would be the most likely creators of this champion of Hell? Is it something Bel (the main enemy of Zariel) or Malagard (the main enemy of Moloch) could/would do? The Dark Eight? Or would something like this need to involve Asmodeus himself?

Would Asmodeus even care about Moloch and Zariels attempt to regain their thrones?

The Chronicler
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A few other outsiders that may aid the PCs

I would like for the players to only gradually be aware of the infernal threat they are facing, and then to realize that they are in way above their heads. That they cannot defeat the devils on their own.

There might be a little help to be found though. Here are some of my ideas so far:

“Nora” and “Torvald”
Very few outer planar creatures would willingly travel to Gothic Earth, where they´ll be trapped. Some end up there by accident though. Many are evil, but not all of them. Those that do are insulated from the corrupting force of the Red Death by the bubble of autonomy surrounding outsiders, that van Richten has described (can´t recall what he calls it).

Two such creatures are the firre Nora and the cervidal Torvald. This is not their real names of course, but the firre has sought refuge from the evils of this world by immersing herself in art and surrounding herself by freethinking writers, painters, actors, playwrights etc.. The firre is especially fascinated by the plays of Henrik Ibsen, and has taken the name Nora from the play a Doll´s House, because this fictious character is trapped in the choking norms and expectations of marriage and womanhood, just as the firre is literally trapped on Earth.

She has given the poor cervidal, whom she met after a couple of decades on Earth, the name Torvald, after Noras husband in the play. Not a very flattering name, and he naturally objects, but to no avail.

Nora and Torvald are not nearly powerful enough to defeat someone as mighty as Zariel, but they might be helpful in encounters with her underlings.

The man in the shadows
Whether the Baatezu incursion on Gothic Earth was what finally tipped the Rilmani off about the growing imbalance in favor of evil on this planet, or if it was the growing power of the Red Death (the do not know that the Red Death is an instrument of Apomps), is unknown.

What is clear is that they finally decided it was necessary to intervene to balance the scales. Knowing full well that he would be trapped on Earth, the argenach Guptar volunteered to go there. He has only one companion with him: a stealthy assassin (cuprilach) named Hash.

Guptar does not intervene directly. Instead he provides crucial information about the foes he seeks to diminish to their enemies. In the case of Zariel and Nergal, that is the PCs (but not exclusively them). Guptar can provide information on how the devils operate, where they are located, and most importantly how to hurt them.

Guptar meets the PCs in dark back alleys, under bridges and in parks at night, behind a newspaper on the train etc. I hope to make him almost as spooky as the devils.

Do you have any additional ideas?

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Suggestions

It sounds like you are progressing pretty well without help.

Are you asking for ideas for addition "agents" on Earth? Or are you asking for more detail to flesh out the agents you have?

Regarding the question if Asmodeus would care about Moloch and Zariels attempt to regain their thrones - I imagine that Asmodeus deals with this contantly. I think he wouldn't give it any more (or less) attention to it than all the other plots - unless this plot is unique enough that it provides Asmodeus some inspiration of how he could use it for one of his own plans

It seems like Nora and Tovald would come across as other humans fighting on the side of good (with some comedic elements as though they are a long-married couple - with light bickering and inside jokes).
Do you see Guptar acting more like Van Helsing/Van Richten or more like M (from the James Bond world) or the Smoking Man from "The X-Files"? Or do see elements of both in him? (Or do you envision something else entirely)

I looked at a more detailed break-down of the Circle of Eight and found these:
**Dagos, the Marshall of the Pit took on the role of strategist and court-martial, directing other generals AND PUNISHING BAATEZU THAT ATTEMPTED TREASON in various ways
**Furcas was responsible for he Ministry of Mortal Relations that supervised interactions between important mortals and devils. While the vast majority of mortals were seen as vermin, some mortals had accrued enough magical power or combat prowess that they were worthy of a small amount of respect. Mortal Relations focused on corrupting and recruiting such mortals, missions that often left those in question feeling betrayed.
Seems like either of these might well serve the role of shadowy mastermind behind the scenes

BTW: I think the word for the outsider warping effect from Van Richten was a "reality wrinkle"

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I don't know how much of this

I don't know how much of this might be useful in this specific setting, but I think Zariel has a particular opportunity in this time period, if it possesses the same historical philosophical/religious/magical traditions as our world to this degree.

Zariel has arrived when Spritualism is a fairly popular philosophy in the English-speaking world -- seances, mediums, ouija boards, and many of the trappings of this collection of beliefs were formalized around this time. If Zariel is sufficiently powerful on Gothic Earth that she can hear herself invoked in prayer, then send one of her servant spirits to the location to respond to calls and perform wonders to convince the audiences (now or to await another seance by the same worker; devils, even imps, are renowned for their patience), she is in an excellent position to set herself up as the gatekeeper angel that Spiritualists are to call on for access to the next world.

I'm not sure how much benefit she might obtain from rituals that she could design on Gothic Earth, but certainly the Lords of the Nine in original Planescape were capable of granting low-level spells through worship. If it follows anything like the usual Planescape rules for belief, Zariel could start acquiring divine power by convincing Spiritualists to petition her at the beginning and end of their activities. She might even be able to empower more serious necromancers -- mediums dealing strictly with ghosts and the like, and reanimators like Victor Frankenstein, seem like they are in-genre for this time and style of game. I assume the Red Death will not brook a real rival to its power, but a devil lord with a portfolio of death and necromancy seems like a pawn it would find useful.

One set of likely opponents of such an interloper would be practitioners of Voodoo, who would recognize the evil elements inherent in the sacrifices that Zariel demands for greater power or the advice she and her servants give. Papa Legba, loa of crossroads, would be the power they normally invoke for the role Zariel would be trying to usurp.