To Chance with Hell (Planescape)
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The Gray Waste
Thinking of giving up it all up? What’s the point, right? Well, maybe you’re just the petitioner to end up in the Gray Waste. Sometimes referred to as Hades, the majority of the Blood War rages across its barren plains, a reminder of how senseless (yet enduring) evil can be. Here, evil acts aren’t done out of reason or whim, they’re done because that’s simply the quickest way to breaking someone down. Evil for the sake of evil.
The corpses of the Blood War lay all over this plane, and malicious disease has followed it. Few who enter this plane leave without at least a small illness. And those that can leave! Oh, could they know what they have avoided! This plane, a sea of grey in every which way, tears at the most resolute of spirit, until they eventually decide that there isn’t any point. The evil of the Gray Waste has taken hold of their soul.
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Borders: Gehenna, Carceri
Connected by: Hopeless (Outlands), the River Styx.
Planar features: As normal (gravity, time, magic). Of note, long-term exposure without substantial magical protection on this plane is highly dangerous.
It was wise of you beseech us for the knowledge you seek. The guardinals have spent many centuries attempting to understand and even reconcile the existence of a plane that is opposed to everything we live for. The Gray Waste is the lowest of the Lower Planes and the blackest pit of despair in the entire Great Ring, the very embodiment of true evil in the multiverse. And yet, it is neither as vicious as the Infinite Abyss nor as nefarious as the Nine Hells. So what is true evil? Is it mindless hate and violence, an utter lack of restraint or conscience? Is it the devious cunning of someone that sees others as tools to their own ends? Or perhaps it is simply selfishness, a willingness to benefit at the expense of others. No… true evil is despair. It is the belief that nothing matters, in this life or the next; neither laws nor rights, neither life nor death. Just as darkness is born in the absence of light, evil is born in the death of good, in the loss of hope and prosperity. When there is no hope for a better existence, when one believes that their actions have no effect or meaning, then all incentive for kindness and cooperation fades away. In that emptiness, there is no need for ambition or sadism as motivation, evil is done for the sake of evil alone, because it appears to be all there is and ever will be.
The Gray Waste embodies the essence and concept of pure evil, unsullied and undiluted by the essences of law or chaos. It is an indomitable presence, pervasive and unrelenting; a palpable force that governs all that takes place. Inhabitants of the Waste have a saying: there is no cause and effect; things happen because they must. Events occur not because of logic or will, not because they matter, but because of the agonizing and inexorable march of fate. Their belief in the inevitability of evil leads them to feel no responsibility for their own horrid actions, to view their lives and the lives of others as insignificant and meaningless. The strong willed attempt to bring about some small pleasure or personal gain from the evil around them, but most simply surrender, becoming powerless victims of the plane.
Each of the Three Glooms bears its own form despair, abject misery, emotional wasting, and an ever-present crush of pointless and inevitable agony. There is neither sun nor stars to brighten the sky, and little to mark the passage of one dreadful moment to the next. The first layer, Oinos, is the eternal, central battlefield of the Blood War, and that is all the reason one needs to avoid it. The ash-colored, largely featureless plane is decorated mostly by the carnage that lingers in the aftermath of the meetings between armies of baatezu and hordes of tanar‘ri, for their slaughter knows no bounds and no end. Mortal mercenaries in the Blood War often find themselves hurled into hopeless battles as chattel rather than valued soldiers, promises of power and wealth revealed to be nothing but hollow words regardless of which side they were pledged. Almost as horrendous as the wars that ravage the layer are the diseases that fester in the corpses left behind, plagues of no equal that scour the surface like nearly sentient things. The swiftly flowing and often bloodstained waters of the River Styx meander across Oinos, while the infamous marraenoloths patrol its length and provide transport for those who can pay their price. It is typically the fastest and safest way to cross the layer and reach the bordering planes of Gehenna and Carceri, but a drop of the Styx is a sure way to lose ones memory and life. It is but another testament to the senseless loss that Oinos embodies.
Rising high above layer, perched upon the brow of the Lower Planes, is the Wasting Tower of Khin-Oin. Stretching some twenty miles high and an unknown number of miles below, the stone tower is said to be the spinal column of a god slain by the yugoloths ages ago. Khin-Oin is the base of their power on Oinos, and from its apex the greater yugoloth vie for position while carefully watching the battles that rage below. The bowels of the tower are the heart of evil, possibly the strongest concentration of it within all existence, and perhaps the birthplace of the yugoloth race itself. While a great number of fiendish races can be found on the Gray Waste, the yugoloths are the true exemplar of the plane. While it would appear the bulk of their race has moved to the neighboring furnaces of Gehenna, even in absentia the machinations of the yugoloths run deep. Make no assumptions that what they lack in apparent numbers belittles their power across the Three Glooms; the yugoloth spawn directly from the essence of the Waste, and even if one does not see them flooding across the plane as often as the armies of the baatezu and tanar‘ri, it is their plane, and they are its children.
Considering the many hazards upon the first layer, many planewalkers use Yggdrasil, the World Ash, and travel directly to the second layer of the Waste, Niflheim. Named for the realm of Hel, the Norse goddess of death, Niflheim is heavily forested and perpetually shrouded in a thick billowing fog that limits vision and dampens both body and spirit. It is all too easy to become lost in the gray woods, and terrible beasts haunt the wilderness, including wolves, trolls, and flocks of wastrels whose melancholy calls drain a blood of their will to live. The layer holds danger, but more haunting and claustrophobic threats than the wars and diseases of Oinos. Even in the middle of such gloom there are still spots of respite to be found, however. The town known as Death of Innocence sits perched among the mist-cloaked pines of the layer. While the origin of the burg remains a mystery, it provides rare shelter and a friendlier atmosphere than elsewhere in the Waste. The draining effect of the Gray Waste doesn‘t touch those within the city, though the pressures of the neighboring powers is its own source of misery. Because the Blood War so rarely comes to Niflheim, a number of powers hold their domains there as well, such as Mask and Shar of the Faerunian pantheon, Ratri, the Indian Queen of Darkness, and Annwn, the Celtic god of death. Many of their realms offer some protection for those who find them, though each has its own morbid take on life that rarely leaves visitors unscathed.
Pluton, third layer of the Waste, is a blighted land of withered trees and solitary olive groves. The land is almost peaceful compared to the previous layers, but it is the sad calm of resignation. A feeling of inexorable doom hangs in the air, as if everything on the layer is aware of its own mortality. The lowest fringes of Mount Olympus, home of the Greek pantheon, connect to the edge of the Underworld, domain of Hades, which sprawls across Pluton and is perhaps the single most known landmark all of the Gray Waste. Many other powers reside there as well, including Hecate, Greek goddess of magic and dark portents, and Cegilune, who demands the worship of the night hags. The Gray Sisters are easily the most numerous of fiends on Pluton and can often be found wandering the layer on foot or upon nightmare steeds, herding larvae collected from throughout the plane. The crones hold a monopoly upon the trade of evil souls across the Lower Planes, and woe to any who would seek to change this. Mortals sometimes come to the layer seeking the lost souls of their dead loved ones, be they wrongly condemned to Hades‘ domain or killed and sold as part of the fiendish currency of soulgems in exchange for larvae. Most just end up a part of the night hags‘ collections.
Sigh… nothing I‘ve said truly captures the bleakness of the plane. The gloom touches every aspect of life, draining things of pigmentation and vibrancy until they are dull and gray, robbing people of their hopes and dreams until they can see no point in leaving the plane or doing much anything else. The petitioners are the greatest victims of this draining. Overwhelmed by years of apathy and sadness, many of them are so depleted by the plane as to become pale wraiths without substance. Most of them were selfish and malicious in life, and now that evil has devoured their souls and left them hollow shells. They instinctively flock to any signs of life or emotion, desperate to feel the slightest trace of the hope all living things possess. These miserable shadows can provide little help for themselves, let alone others.
Places free of the draining are few and far between, with Death of Innocence being one such haven in addition to some of the divine realms situated across the Three Glooms. Perhaps the most frequented is the City at the Center, a unique location where all three layers of the Waste meet. It is a three-part city, built upon the spot that borders and connects each part of the plane. Center holds itself as a trader‘s city, and a place of refuge from the Blood War, the diseases of Oinos, and the soul sucking embrace of the Waste. Entrance is free and without tax, and exit is likewise without restriction. For all of the wealth that could be garnered from transit between the layers, it is odd that the lord of the town, a tiefling named Dandy Will, allows it to happen for no change. Yugoloth have been seen coming and go from his palace, however, so like many things in the Gray Waste, the City at the Center likely bears a cost, but one that is paid unasked.
Hopeless (Outlands Gate-town)
By Teman Albrack
The sheer endurance of a basher‘s spirit in the face of utter despair and pointlessness should not be underestimated. Many souls plod along in life fully aware that they‘re surrounded by misery and have nothing but misery in this life to look forward to. The gate-town Hopeless happens to be where a good number of such berks gather. It‘s a colorless pit of apathy, little more than a grey tinged road of depression spiraling down to the gate to the Gray Wastes at the town‘s center. All the buildings flank the single descending street, the structures composed of weathered gray wood and pitted grayish stone. No colors mark the town save for the screaming gate, and the dreary, melancholic air that hangs over the town only worsens as one descends down the spiral road, deeper into the city.
Everywhere the situation of Hopeless is the same: depression, gloom, and apathy to mirror that of the Gray Waste itself. Still, the spirits of the locales persist as they find ways to keep themselves occupied, whether it‘s visiting any of the town‘s taverns, collecting books and trinkets from passing merchants, or passing along rumors and stories. It‘s impressive, really, and reason why I think they could use the Dustmen‘s help. They‘ve already accepted that this life doesn‘t have anything to offer them, they just need someone to show them how to move on from here.