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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hell in Dungeons & Dragons

Hell is other people, amirite?
I repeat this almost endlessly to my D&D players: "Demons are chaotic and live in The Abyss; Devils are lawful and live in Hell." You have to drive that home when you deal with these creatures. It's confusing to a new player and hard to keep straight, especially when there's so many types of devils and demons.

In my D&D Next game, our heroes are involved in The Blood War - the battle between the devils and demons. My source material for devils has been primarily the D&D 3rd edition Fiendish Codex 2 and the Pathfinder Book of the Damned: Princes of Darkness. They are both fantastic references.

But I've always heard about an article from an ancient issue of Dragon (Dragon Magazine #75, to be precise) by none other than the mighty Ed Greenwood about The Nine Hells. I finally snagged a copy and... wow.

It even has art by Larry Elmore. That might as well be Sturm Brightblade standing there.
Ed starts off with a page or so of notes on how he went through all of the published products and gathered the scattered information on Hell from them. He thought it was a good idea to keep deities out of hell (sort of, not really). He lists a pile of literary sources on Hell, everyting from Dante's Inferno to William Beckford's "Vuthek".

It says "Vuthek" in the article, but it is actually "Vathek". I looked it up. Here's a description of the book: "The novel chronicles the fall from power of the Caliph Vathek (a fictionalised version of the historical Al-Wathiq), who renounces Islam and engages with his mother, Carathis, in a series of licentious and deplorable activities designed to gain him supernatural powers. At the end of the novel, instead of attaining these powers, Vathek descends into a hell ruled by the demon Eblis where he is doomed to wander endlessly and speechlessly."

I am going to go through and give you some of the most interesting points of each of the Nine Hells, and summarized the various Dukes and Princesses found on each. What's weird is there's another article in this issue, by Gary Gygax, that lists other NPCs from Hell and has abishai stats and stuff. This column will just focus on Ed's article, because it is gigantic - and it only goes through level 5. Apparently there is another article in a future issue of Dragon that lists the rest of the layers of Hell!

1. Avernus

- It is ruled by Tiamat! So much for keeping deities separate.

- Tiamat has 5 dragon bodyguards that she mates with often. When she mates with one, the other four form a protective ring around them while they... do it. Geez, Ed always brings the dirty stuff. I salute you, good sir.

Anyway, she bears litters of 1-4 dragonets (aka "mewlings" - another great Greenwood phrase).

All of this is interesting to me. In the final adventure of the 4e Scales of War adventure path, the heroes raid Tiamat's lair and must defeat a huge dragon of each color. The monster stats were too weak, but the idea was cool. The story had something to do with how Tiamat couldn't bear children, though, if I remember correctly.

- Fireballs form spontaneously from vapors and explode. In newer versions, the fireballs plummet from the sky.

- There's a pile of NPCs which I will gleefully snatch and use for my own purposes. It is so clear that Ed put an insane amount of time and thought into this article. As much praise as the guy gets, I feel that his talents are actually under-appreciated.

Amduscias: He's a duke who can shape change into a dirty yellow unicorn with eyes of flame and a purple horn! I am going to die of thrills, that is so fantastic. He has other forms, too. He can be a hawk-headed man in robes of red or black. His favorite form is that of a wolf with a serpent's prehensile tail. He is a skillful negotiator.

Malphas: He's a "dark-complexioned" man in lack velvet robes with 333 gems on them. He also takes the form of a large crow. Tiamat orders him around.

Nergal: He is a lion-headed winged toad enveloped by magical darkness. "His mottled pinkish-grey, warty sking is covered with sore which ooze a clear colorless ichor" (don't drink it, it's poisonous to humans). He is a schemer who hoards information.

Bist: She is like a hellcat and a selfish master of duplicity. She can't leave the Hells without being summoned. She is invisible except for her fiery eyes. Awesome.

Caim: A gossip and a sneak. Loves to eat elves and men. He often appears as a thrush with a belt.

2. Dis
- Dis has the city of Dis, on an island in a lake of poison water.

- Erinyes devils are more powerful here, and are the loyal eyes and ears of the ruler, Dispater.

- Dispater has a bodyguard force of malebranches called "The Iron Guard"

- The city is dismal. There's zombies, garbage-choked streets with rot grubs and black puddings, iron-barred cells full of chains and torture implements.

- The palace of Dispater has trees of iron. There's caverns underneath known as The Pits of Dis, where prisoners fight for "edible garbage" that falls down through shafts from the palace.

Prominent NPCS:

Lilis: Dispater's consort. She has orange skin and looks like a short, plump "well-preserved" female of human middle-age.. except for the horns, wings, etc. She can cause insanity by touch! She is a clever strategist. Huh.. kind of an odd choice for Dispater's girlfriend.

Arioch: He is in charge of avenging slights to Dispater's honor. He has a flat, reptilian head with a lion's mane. His skin is dark red and he has bat wings.

Biffant: He is a portly, blood-red devil who always smiles. He's an administrator-type.

Merodach: A winged wolf who leads 21 companies of barbed devils.

Alocer: He is a lion-headed humanoid who can blind you just by looking at you. He leads 36 companies of Erinyes.

3. Minauros

Owlbear wins the 1982 Heisman Trophy
- There is an amusing ad featuring 4 young D&D players being menaced by an owlbear mini. Goofy!

- Nothing of value lasts long here before either being destroyed or snatched by Mammon. Mammon lives in a black fortress built on pillars that is constantly sinking into a bottomless ooze.

- The layer is a marsh where it constantly rains dirty water and hail. People are chained to rocks in watery pits and are tortured by barbed devils.


Focalor: He is Mammon's bailiff. He is thin, silent and a master strategist. He looks like a human with feathered wings and cloven hooves.

Caarcrinolaas: He is a dog-headed humanoid with red bat wings, hooves and a forked tail. He's in charge of 36 companies of barbed devils.

Melchon: He's a dude jealous of the other dukes.

4. Phlegethos

- This realm is full of volcanoes, fires, hills of ash and "pits of smoking dung". There's something to put on a map.There is also a river of liquid fire that salamanders live in.

- There are "firefalls" (fire-waterfalls) which are great places to make magic items. "The best flame tongue swords are made in such places; one account of the making of a helm of brilliance mentions one such site..." Awesome.

- Belial lives in a hollowed-out shell of a dead volcano called Abriymoch.

Princesses and Dukes:

Not in this Hell, young lady

Naome: She is Belial's consort. She is good at resolving disputes and bargaining. She is short, burly and middle aged. Why did Ed make all of the female devils 45 year old librarian ladies? It is more interesting than a standard hot chick with wings, a whip and a g-string, but when I imagine a princess of hell, I do not picture "burly" (?) middle-aged women. If he's going to go that way, I'd like it if he added in some cool details like smoking sockets for eyes or monster claw hands or something. Make them more monster-y, maybe. 

Chamo: This guy is Belial's "legate". He's got a staff that has skulls of sixteen paladins. He's a red-skinned, white-haired middle-aged guy with horns, hoovers, etc

Balan: He is violent and unliked. He's a giant yellow-skinned man with a beard.

Bathym: Wears all black armor and rides a nightmare. His skin is a "dead fishbelly-white" color.

Gaziel: Some dude who leads 11 companies of bone devils.

5. Stygia

- The River Styx fills this plane in the form of a vast salt swamp lit by "cold fires" - weird freezing white flames. This place is ruled by Geryon from his huge castle, Tantlin.

- Lemures, the lowest form of devil, are tortured here constantly by styx devils. Underneath the swamp is a vast ocean, where a great white shark called Sekolah lives.


Cozbi: No, she doesn't have jello pudding pops. She is Geryon's consort. She is quiet. She is an unnaturally tall woman with chalk-white skin and long pale green hair.

Gorson: Geryon's bailiff. A quiet schemer.

Herodias: Geryon's magistrate. He thinks he will one day rule the nine hells. He is portly and has tiny, useless wings.

Agares: He commands 31 companies of bone devils. He looks like an old man who has a hawk on his wrist. He likes to train hawks.

Mavhalas: Commands 11 companies of barbed devils. He has black scaly skin and a red head that is ugly and batlike.

Phew. Ed went to town on this thing. What an incredibly useful article! I'll see if I can get my hands on part 2.


Jim said...

Check out Hellbound - planescape boxed set. There is a series of adventures there where your players can make a small and permanent impact on the eternal Bloodwar. That with Ed's greenwood will give you years and years of gameplay.

Jim said...

Check out Hellbound - planescape boxed set. There is a series of adventures there where your players can make a small and permanent impact on the eternal Bloodwar. That with Ed's greenwood will give you years and years of gameplay.

Matt Maranda said...

Which issue is it? I've got the old PDF compilation TSR released on several CDs but searching it is abysmal.

Sean said...

This article is from Dragon Magazine #75. I should probably edit that in.

I have seen Hellbound but it is mighty expensive!

ShyberKryst said...

I also tracked down the old Dragon Mag articles on Hell by Greenwood. I was deeply disappointed to be honest. To me, the articles were nothing more than a huge laundry list of stat blocks and physical descriptions of unique devils. There weren't any plot hooks or interesting fiendish politics to mine.

dmfumbl said...

In addition to Issue 75, issue 76 contains part 2 of Ed Greenwood's article. Also, there is an update from Ed in issue 91. Finally, there is a related article "The Politics of Hell", by a different author in Issue 28.