As a (seemingly) mortal child, Azbaelus was subjected to all kinds of torments from the devils around him, although he was never in real danger, as he was also recognized as being under Asmodeus’ aegis. He was given the ability to shapeshift for this reason: centaurs don’t function well in a castle. Stairs? Humanoid-designed furnishings? Narrow doorways? All impossible.
Shortly after he gained the ability, he took the shape he is now known for: a huge build, and claws…mainly as a defense against the same devils who taunt and hound him.
Note I say devils; in D&D devils are the minions of lawful evil, demons chaotic evil. In game terms, Azzie would have had no truck with demons. In Trials, the terms are interchangeable for inhabitants of the Nether Realms.
Where did the character of Frank Rhoades come from? I have no idea. I’d read so many stories where the average Joe gets sucked into another world, and suddenly has magic, or insane physical prowess, or is the prophesied savior, or has martial arts skills to make Jackie Chan cry….and while I don’t mind these stories, part of me wanted a REAL everyman. Someone whose only skill might be in having the inner strength to stand tall and true, and that only after being pushed right to the brink. Frank has a drinking problem. Frank is self-destructive. Frank wallows in self-pity. Frank chain-smokes. Frank can’t hang onto money, eats poorly, and is woefully out of shape.
Frank is normal. He has human failings. And when he is selected for the quest, it’s not because he has some incredible gift that eclipses those failings. It’s because he has no one and won’t be missed. How’s that for getting your corn flakes pissed in?
And when he does get to another world, he mentally refuses to accept it (my other beef with a lot of fantasy stories is how accepting the protagonist is of things that shouldn’t exist). It’s a dream, and he’ll play along. It isn’t until 3/4s of the way through that he finally has to accept that it’s real.
By this time, he’s lost both his pants and consciousness far too often to count. But hey, I think he’s a fun character, and he does grow. It’s a journey I think is enjoyable and worth the ride.