I mined a bunch of books for information on the River Styx in Dungeons & Dragons. You could easily run a series of awesome adventures on the river. There is some really great stuff out there.
D&D and Real World Mythology: In older editions, D&D used a lot of mythology from the real world, including gods like Thor and Set as well as locations like Mount Olympus. As time went on, that stuff was phased out. Much of it was dropped or revamped into a unique new entity.
The River Styx is a real world mythological locale, but it still survives in D&D. I believe it is known as the River of Blood in the Forgotten Realms.
First I'll go over the 5th edition River Styx and then I'll present the material from older editions. You can use it however you like for your game.
The River Styx in 5th Edition
- The River Styx bubbles with grease and foul flotsam.
- Memory Drain: Any creature that tastes or touches the river is affected by a feeblemind spell (PH page 239). Their INT and CHA become 1 and they can do very little. Every 30 days, they can repeat the saving throw to end the spell.
- Cures: It can be cured by greater restoration, heal or wish.
- Outer Planes: It connects to Acheron, the Nine Hells, Gehenna, Carceri, the Abyss, and Pandemonium.
- There are sinister ferries that are piloted by fiends or the souls of dead creatures from the Material Plane.
So that was 5e. The other editions contribute a lot of really fun ideas. Here are the main things to know:
It Connects the Nine Hells: You can use the River Styx to sail through the Nine Hells, one layer at a time.
It Drains Your Memory: If you touch the river, your memory is erased. The severity varies in each edition of D&D.
It Connects the Outer Planes: In most editions, the River Styx connects to most of the Outer Planes.
Sailed by Devils and Demons: The river plays a huge role in the blood war, the war between devils and demons.
Falling In: In some editions, if you fall into the river, there is a 50% chance you are magically dragged into a random plane.
The Sediment of Thought: The Styx steals and stores memories. These memories often congeal into tiny gray stones know as The Sediment of Thought. It is said that yugoloths are quietly trying to figure out how to read the thoughts packed into each stone.
Immunity: There are a number of different creatures that are immune to the effects of the River Styx.
Curing the Memory Loss: High level spells like wish remove the memory loss as does a flower called Desert's Night found in Stygia.
Styx Boatmen: There is a type of yugoloth known as a marraenoloth or charonaloths. They are skeletal, hooded entities with small boats that offer speedy travel on the Styx for a price.
Charon: Charon is the lord of the Styx and is based on a mythological creature. He is nearly unkillable.
What the River Looks Like
The River Styx appears similar in most editions:
- 1st edition: "When encountered, the river is a deep, swift, and unfordable torrent."
- In 2e, it is described as putrid, oily and as purple as a bruise.
- In 3e, it is polluted and oil-slicked.
- In 4e, it is a dark and dismal stream that races in a black torrent.
“Images of tormented faces spring up in the foam caught in the eddies of the river, to be dashed to bits on the rock. Each such "face" seems to let out a faint scream when the current forces it against the rocks..."
Touching the River Styx
In 1st edition, you must make a saving throw. If you fail, you immediately forget your past life. If you make your saving throw, you forget the last five minutes of your life.
In 2nd edition, Desert's Night was introduced as a cure. It is available in one garden in the realm of the god Set, which is on the fifth layer of the Nine Hells.
In 3rd edition: Even if you make your save, you forget the last eight hours. The more extensive the immersion in the river, the more likely it is that you will experience the "permanent eradication of self."
The River Styx in Stygia
Stygia, the 5th layer of hell, is full of freezing water and glaciers. The River Styx actually winds through it without mixing with the waters of the realm.
In some editions, the effects of the river are much more potent in the realm of Stygia.
Touching the River Styx in Stygia: If you fail your save, you forget everything you've ever learned and you must save again. Failing that means that you actually forget your motor skills and how to speak. Even if you make your saving throw, you forget the last year of your life.
Regaining Your Memories
Resistance? It is mentioned in the Hellbound boxed set that the yugoloths are rumored to be able to teach people how to resist the memory-draining powers of the River Styx.
If you decide to give the Styx memory-draining powers in your campaign, there is one adventure-driven way to cure it:
- A blossom known as desert's night can cure the lost memories of the Styx.
- The desert's night blossom only grows in a single glade in Ankhwugat, Set's realm in Stygia.
- The Keeper of the glade is a short, swarthy worshiper of Set who has a tattoo of Set on his forehead.
- The glade is patrolled by guards of the nearby town of Khas-tep.
- Not far from the walled garden is an agent of Set named Nekrotheptis Skorpios, who commands many manscorpions.
In many planes, the Styx is very dangerous. Waterfalls, glaciers, and styx-dwelling beasts are just some of the hazards involved.
Often, travelers will pay a marraenoloth for swift passage. Marraenoloths have the ability to skip entire planes when sailing the River Styx.
Taking a Journey on the River Styx: Here's the ins and outs:
- Without a guide, sailing the River Styx will deposit you on a random lower plane.
- Ships full of armies sail the river on their way to or from a blood war battlefield.
- Soul collectors scour the riverbanks for soul shells.
- In the Nine Hells, there are checkpoints every 10 miles. Styx Devils will examine paperwork and perform a humiliating strip search.
- There are no river guards in Gehenna, Carceri and the Grey Wastes, as neither the devils nor the demons control either of those planes.
- Some say that the River Styx seeks to destroy those who sail upon it.
- There are a number of creatures that swim in the river, including Styx dragons, stygian linnorms and xerfilstix.
Where the River Ends: Some say that it ends and/or begins in Stygia. In others, it says that it pours into a crack in Nessus. In the 4e Manual of the Planes, it says: "Some stories claim that the Styx pours back out into the Astral Sea after its frozen passage through Cania."
Where the River Begins: In 3rd edition, it begins in Pandemonium, seeping from a place called Winter's Hall. A mixture of infinite melting snow, godly poison and the blood of an endlessly tortured deity flows through Pandemonium's layers.
In 4th edition, it originates from the "Lake of Despond." Above the lake is a storm cloud/funnel that sucks you from the astral sea into Hell.
It has an Anti-Magic Field? According to Dragon Magazine #113, the Styx is 1/4 mile wide and radiates an anti-magic field that temporarilty negates the magic items of non-planar beings.
The God of Gnolls Drinks From it: Gorellik, the original god of the gnolls, was dethroned by the demon lord Yeenoghu.
Gorrellik likes to drink from the Styx to forget his past. Because of his divine blood, the memory drain doesn't last long.
Orcus Diverted the River Styx: During the Savage Tide adventure path, a demon lord named Shami-Amourae was trapped in a magical well on an Abyssal layer called the Wells of Darkness.
Demogorgon didn't want her out - she knew things he wanted kept secret. He put a magical contingency in place. If she ever left the well, it would trigger the Stygian Deluge!
The Stygian Deluge: As soon as she exits the well, the River Styx is diverted and a torrent of dark water cascades from the sky, as if a great waterfall had suddenly appeared in the heavens. The magic tore a hole in the bed of the River Styx and sent it here.
Adventures Sailing Through Stygia
Tales of the Outer Planes has an entire adventure about sailing through Stygia. Baalzebul forces the heroes to go to Stygia to obtain an infernal gem that, if moved, can alter the nature of the Nine Hells.
Devilbane: A gem of deep green with a light green fire burning at its center . It acts as a barrier that prevents devils from overrunning the Prime Material plane. It must be placed in the center of a plane to work. It is inside a keep that magically blocks non-good creatures from entering.
The heroes sail past many small stone islands in Stygia. The group can hear the screams of the damned - they are trapped in the ice of the realm.
Here are some of my favorite islands:
- An island where the group can possibly befriend a disgraced paladin who rides a black pegasus.
- An island containing a sphinx prisoner that will join the party if freed.
- An island with cursed black dragons.
The White Tower: There are holy symbols from every good faith here. Goyner the Archmage, Head of the White Order of Law, runs this place.
So guess what happens when the heroes show up? A devil army arrives. Let's look at the makeup of this army:
- Asmodeus riding a nightmare
- Geryon and 13 minotaurs
- 1300 orcs
- 13 green dragons
- 6 beholders
- 13 blue dragons
- 52 pit fiends
- 39 erinyers
- 26 rakshasas riding manticores.. etc
- Osiris, Egyptian God of the Dead
- Tyr, Norse God of Law and Trust
- 14 gold dragons
- 14 silver dragons
- 14 Valkyries
- About 1500 angels of various types
Sailing the Styx Through the Abyss
In Dragon Magazine #358, F. Wesley Schneider wrote up what you'd encounter if you took the Styx through the Abyss. I thought it was hilarious. Here's some of my favorite parts:
The Blood Shallows: Once you have sailed through Pazunia, you will pass through a reeking bog with soggy spits of land that demon warlords fight over with petitioner armies.
One isle is owned by a nalfeshnee warlord Basthilwhim who commands a "leaking army" of rutterkin.
Thanatos: The Styx winds through Thanatos, home of Orcus. The heroes risk being trapped forever within the freezing, death-haunted realm. Bergs of ice, frozen bodies and waterlogged zombies are some of the hazards.
Shedaklah: This one is very cool. The Styx is the boundary that splits the warring realms of Zuggtmoy, demon queen of fungi, and Juiblex, demon lord of oozes.
Eventually you must choose a fork, one leading into each realm.
Zuggtmoy's Realm: There are cannibals and memory draining fungi to watch out for. There is a portal to Zuggtmoy’s palace. The guard protecting it can be bribed.
Shendilavri: The Styx sails through beautiful, flowering fields. These fields hide... depravity!
The heroes will pass the city of Miomanta, where debased artisans live with elite succubi.
Goranthis: The pleasure palace of Socothbenoth! I had no idea he was detailed in D&D products.
This one made me die laughing. There is a "pornographically sculpted waterfall." You’ll drift past the Saturnalia, a vast sculpture garden where all manner of sybarites and voluptuaries bask within full view of the Persuader's Palace of Quivering Flesh. I want someone to stat out a "voluptuary."
While discussing the love life of Malcanthet, the article says: "Demogorgon's legendary bestiality and virility ignite Socothbenoth's lust."
Acheron: The River Styx actually cascades through the open air, sliding onto the floating metal cubes. There's an entire cube called Rezmis that is trapped in a massive waterfall, spinning endlessly in the black water.
I love that article. You could run an epic series of adventures based on that.
Creatures of the River Styx
Charon: Charon is a god-like entity, the lord of the Marraenoloths. He is virtually immortal. Factoids:
- As long as at least one creature remains alive in the multiverse, the River Styx continues to flow and Charon cannot permanently die.
- If he is slain, he melts away into a puddle of black water that seeps into the ground.
- Each time he is resurrected, the River Styx imbues him with more power.
- Charon can take you to any connecting plane plus the Astral, Ethereal or Prime.
- He can cause the Styx to rise up like a water elemental.
- In Dungeon Magazine #150, Charon commands a fleet of 5,000 marraenoloths in the battle against Demogorgon.
- They are telepathic.
- If you offend one, you can't use the Styx again until you sacrifice a good intelligent being in a desecrated temple of good.
- They can pilot their crafts to the astral plane.
- A marraenoloth without its vessel is lost and useless.
- If you cheat one of them, they all know.
Hydrodaemon: They swim in the Styx and glide like a flying fish for up to 10 rounds.
Styx Devil (amnizu): Residing in Stygia, Styx devils search for souls and bring them to Geryon. They have the power to cast imprisonment once per day.
Styx Dragon: There’s really not much to these creatures. They breathe acid. Their bite doles out Stygian wasting, a disease that causes flesh to rot away and hair to fall out.