To Chance with Hell (Planescape)
Quick navigation: Main | Races | Factions | The Planes | Sigil | Characters | NPCs | House Rules
The Nine Hells is home to devils, evil kin to the demons of the Abyss. What makes a devil different to a demon is their adherence to rules; they’re still interested in cheating you, using you, and maybe even killing you, but there’s a procedure they follow to ensure you end up not only regretting it, but are unable to wiggle out of it. If you get played by a devil, it’s almost certainly your own fault.
Each of the nine levels of Baator are controlled by one of the Lords of Nine, the most powerful of devil-kind, ruled by Asmodeus. Descending further into Baator is a chancy proposition, as each layer is hospitable to devils, not humanoids. Still, cities exist in most layers that adventurers (or fools) may trade in. The Pillar of Skulls also exists here, a collection of skulls from the Blood War from all imaginable races and creatures. The pillar has the collective knowledge of all the former “owners” of the various skulls, and will tell its secrets… for a price.
Alignment: Lawful Evil
Borders: Acheron, Gehenna
Connected by: Ribcage(Outlands), the River Styx.
Planar features: Generally, normal gravity, time, and magic, although the layers of Phlegethos and Cania are fire and cold aligned respectively. The top layer is functionally infinite, which each layer being finitely smaller.
By Arishdacq Serpent’segg
You‘re here, good. Any shadows? Al‘ight, scan this, cutter. You, me, the others, we‘re going to make our way down the Nine Hells, all the way to the lowest pit of Baator. I ain‘t barmy, just listen! You and me, when we‘re deaders we‘re ending up in Baator for sure, and we‘ve got nothing but an eternity of torment to look forward to. But before we‘re done, we‘re going to plumb the depths of the Nine Hells for the biggest prize of them all. You‘ve heard of it in hushed whispers, but here‘s the dark of it. Those that make the trip, from top to bottom, well bloods like that are prized by the fiends and made into greater baatezu right then and there. So it‘s up to you; you want to count down the days until you‘re reborn as some mindless larvae, or you want to make such a name for yourself that even the Lords of the Nine take note? It won‘t be easy, I won‘t lie, but nothing worth it is, right?
Some of this you already know, but I‘m gonna drill it in just to be sure. Imagine the plane like a mountain, but inverted, each pit smaller than the one above, yet the deeper you go the more of the plane you can see. Layer to layer, the path gets harder, and it don‘t start easy to begin with. In Baator, the virtues of temperance and fortitude feed centuries-old feuds of vengeance, feelings of friendship and kindness fester into the ultimate malice, and order itself is perverted into a weapon to be used against others. The plane tempers one‘s soul by forces subtle yet pervasive; the dangers are less blatantly vicious than in the Abyss, the inhabitants more interested in using you for their own designs than mindlessly killing you. Any rule that can be exploited is, while to trespass against the system means being crushed under its weight. Thus, it can be a fine place for evil bashers like us to get ahead, provided you can survive the machinations of those around you.
There‘s a few ways into Baator: portals in Sigil, the River Styx, and the gate-town Ribcage. We‘ll be going to Ribcage to get a guide. I‘ve been to Baator many times, but I know better than to think we can get by without one. Not only will the guide show us around, but they‘re also helpful with the natives. It‘s better to do things nice and legal; get a writ of passage from one of the Lords of the Nine. Guides can help negotiate that. Sneaking in‘s possible, but without one of those writs, you‘re fair game. We‘ll come in as merchants looking to expand into the Blood War trade. All this usually takes hard bargaining, both to get in and out. But that‘s the thing: the baatezu can be dealt with, unlike their demonic enemies. Just keep your eye on loopholes; just ‘cause they‘re lawful don‘t mean they won‘t cheat.
Okay, so we‘re going to meet all sorts of interesting people. Though there are a couple different races of devils, the most numerous are the baatezu. They‘re ordered in a strict hierarchy, the low serving the high. The leatherheaded lower-ranks may be weaker, but are more dangerous, since they have less self-control. Those with their brain-boxes strapped on right get promoted, then get to torture and rule their lessers. The Dark Eight, pit fiend generals of the Blood War are about as high up as they can aspire to, but far above them are the rulers of the layers, the Lords of the Nine. Was a time that many Lords were unknown, even the Lord of the Ninth. There‘s names for all of them now (though maybe not the right names). Hundreds of treaties have been written about their laws and customs, many by the baatezu themselves. You‘d be wise to read some of them; study it long enough, and you might be able to pick out the utter screed from the stuff that has bits of truth to it.
There‘s petitioners in Baator, like every other Outer Plane. Most of ‘em are larvae or lemures, the lowest of the low, subject to the tortures of those above them. They can‘t be killed, of course, so they‘ll endure great suffering for eons, until they‘re considered worthy of advancing. Bar that, I don‘t fancy being flayed until I earn my next step. No, I‘m going to leapfrog the ranks while I‘m still alive and give the lesser baatezu the laugh.
We‘ll also run into visitors like ourselves, especially in the cities. Merchants do business in the Hells, just like anywhere else, and mercenaries can find all manner of work. Adventurers go there often enough as well, usually on a specific quest – looking for an artifact, rescuing someone, and sometimes they just want to see how many devils they can kill. That‘s usually a short game, but fun to watch. Then there‘s those who‘ve made their home in Baator, so as not to be bothered. They usually have enough power to keep the baatezu at bay. Some of these hermits choose to live on the Hells because of their own peculiar studies, or because they‘re hiding out from cutters who won‘t look for them there. Not all of them are evil, and some of them can be mighty useful, if you show the proper respect.
All right, so we‘re going to start from the top. There‘s shortcuts to get into some of the lower layers, but we need to do this right. First is Avernus the Blasted, a land of twisted earth and bloody rivers that flow into the Styx. We‘ll want to hurry; besides the legions led by Bel, the pit fiend Lord of the First, and tanar‘ri invaders, there‘s the exploding spheres of flame that continuously shoot across the sky. No cities here, but there‘s some fortresses we can take shelter at. There‘s also Darkspine, which was a gate-town that got sucked up. The berks who live there are cutthroats, at least with each other, but they tend to be hospitable to visitors. We can get supplies there, but ask the merchants for warranties on their goods. We‘ll also stop at the Pillar of Skulls. It‘s got so many heads, some of ‘em‘s bound to have answers we‘ll need. They tend to bicker, though, and they all have their own bargains to make.
The portal to the second layer is at the back of the Cave of Greed, guarded by the dragon queen Tiamat and her consorts. Just be brave and polite, and they‘ll be willing to deal. That‘ll take us outside Dis, the Iron City, which gives the second layer its name. Its iron spires point accusing fingers at the ash-green sky, and its burning hot iron streets stretch as far as can be imagined. The city is forever expanding from the labors of the petitioner slaves, and it can be damn hard to tell where the burg ends and the rest of the plane begins. Still, it‘s welcoming enough to visitors, at least in the Foreign Quarter. More importantly, some of the petitioners here are actually shades with fragments of their memories intact. The secrets of the dead can be plenty useful to the living, which is one of the reasons I suspect folk come here. We‘ll do some trading for goods and chant, then head to the third pit.
Minauros the Stinking Mire is a bog drenched in polluted rain, oily sleet, and razor-sharp hail. The main city is Minauros the Sinking, made from the black volcanic stone of the area. The slaves keep shoring it up, but the stone‘s getting scarcer. It‘ll be a few millennia before it sinks completely, but it keeps the inhabitants in a sour mood. There are a few other realms, such as Jangling Hiter, City of Chains and home of the kytons, as well as a couple communities of slaves who‘ve actually escaped their shackles. I know just such a group who are willing to show us paths to the next layer in exchange for weapons and supplies.
Phlegethos of the Flame, the fourth layer if you‘ve been keeping track, is a hellish land of volcanoes and liquid fire. Chant goes the flames actually moves to some dark design, either seeking out those who don‘t belong, burning away the good in a berk‘s heart, or some such. Supposedly, the only city of the layer is Abriymoch, built in a mostly extinct volcano‘s caldera. Look out for a sign saying simply “Greth”. That marks the site of a hidden magic shop, where we should be able to get some real sweet deals, right under the devils‘ noses.
Then it‘s Stygia, the Great Sea. The Styx‘s headwaters are said to be here, worming its way through the frozen sea. I‘m told there are a number of cities built upon the ice floes, but things stranger than the baatezu dwell beneath the water. With any luck, we‘ll find a path to the next layer in short order. If all else fails, out in the trackless wastes is the Oracle of the Hungry Ice. Feed it a piece of yourself and ask your question. The more important your need, the greater the cost in body parts. Hopefully we shan‘t have cause to use such a grisly device, but be prepared.
Information on the lower reaches of the plane is hard to come by, so we‘re gonna have to play it by ear. Malbolge the Crushing is a tilted land showered eternally by boulders rolling down its surface under a sky of red steam. We‘ll look for hints of the tunnels that are said to twist beneath the debris, though something lives down there, older than the baatezu. After that is Malodomini the Ruined. The Lord of the Seventh is never satisfied and commands his servants to build new cities on the shattered remains of the old. Grenpoli, the domed City of Diplomacy, is often spoken of by the baatezu, for the place epitomizes their love of politics and deceit. Don‘t trust the smiles you‘ll be greeted with; get what you need, then give ‘em the laugh before heading to Cania the Glacier. Colder and meaner than the fifth layer, we‘ll need to come up with a way to bore deep into the ice. See, there‘s things buried there. The Guvners have done it before; so can we. Those sods came back trembling pale, murmuring stories of celestials and fiends frozen in eternal combat with strange, spined beings and of alien cities. The secrets of the ancients are down there, I say, and I mean to have them.
One way or another that should take us to Nessus, the ninth layer, land of opposites. The hottest flames, the coldest ice, the deepest pits, the steepest cliffs. The most revealing lies. Making our way where few mortals ever have, we will solve the ultimate riddle. Every level we travel, our knowledge of evil grows, until we reach the final depth. From there, we can see back to all that came before. All of it. And then we will be granted power beyond our small imaginings. We will seize the birthright of the hellish blood that flows in our veins and take our rightful place in the Nine Hells.
Ribcage (Outlands Gate-Town)
By Marila Tendershoot
Aye, I know a thing or two about the gate-towns to the Planes of Law. Great place to do business, find lore, and acquire services without going to all the trouble of traveling to the planes themselves. Ribcage is a tough place, though; I suppose it‘s gotta be to keep the fiends out. It‘s centered in the Vale of the Spine, named after the spires of the mountains surrounding it. They arch up in such a way to nearly meet overhead, like, you guessed it, a ribcage. The residents have built up walls between these ribs, taking advantage of the natural architecture to build up their defenses against assault. Travelers, so long as they keep their noses clean and don‘t protest any of the local laws, should do fine—but I wouldn‘t suggest setting up kip there unless you‘re in the mood to toe the line.
Like most of the gate-towns to the Lower Planes, Ribcage doesn‘t want to merge with its plane. Baatazu themselves are not welcome within the city limits, and the armies of the Nine Hells are encouraged to find other more welcoming portals through which to march. The city‘s leaders have also made an effort to create diplomatic ties with gate-towns of more good-aligned cities, garnering both their positive influence on the town and their support in trade. That‘s what brings me there these days. While there‘s some fuss about the legality of slave trade, it must be said that Ribcage is about the safest place to do honorable business on the lower side of the Great Wheel.