It is Hell, where sympathy withers and malice blooms.
It is home to devils.
It is the plane where the rule of law reveals evil's heart.
The Nine Hells of Baator, sometimes simply called Baator or even Hell, best satisfy the imagination of travelers, the greed of treasure-seekers, and the battle-fury of paladins. It is the ultimate plane of law and evil, the epitome of premeditated, crafted cruelty. The devils of the Nine Hells all obey a higher law than themselves, but all that really means is that they chafe and rebel in their caste. Most undertake any plot or action, no matter how foul, to advance themselves. At the very top of the hierarchy is Asmodeus, who has yet to be bested. That is the law of the Nine Hells. The Nine Hells compete with any other lower plane for their sheer diversity of vileness. The devils are more cunning, more subtle, and more dangerous than other fiends—or so say the devils. A demon revels in slavering, insane, evil power, but a devil always has an agenda, a plan of attack, and a carefully conceived plot for retribution if necessary. Baator consists of nine layers, each lower than the next, like ledges stepping down into an ever-deeper pit. Each layer descended gives a traveler a better view of the Nine Hells as a whole; the layers fit together like puzzle pieces, and each new descent allows a traveler greater understanding of how the puzzle comes together. It is an evil enticement. The Nine Hells are home to minor, major, and noble devils, as well as true deities of evil (such as Kunulmak of the kobolds and Sekolah of the sahuagin). The Dark Eight are eight powerful pit fiends who control the primary devil armies engaged in the Blood War. Worse still are the Lords of the Nine: Each lord controls one layer of the Nine Hells, hovering in status somewhere between scion pit fiend and demideiry. Of course, all the lords ultimately answer to Asmodeus, the Lord of the Nine, who rules from Nessus, the bottom layer of the Nine Hells.
The Nine Hells have the following traits.
Infinite Size: The ledge-layer extends outward infinitely, but the circumference of each inner ledge (which opens onto the Pit and the next lower ledgelayer) is finite.
Divinely Morphic: Entities of at least lesser deity status can alter the Nine Hells. Ordinary creatures find the Nine Hells as alterable as the Material plane is.
No Elemental or Energy Traits: Elemental and energy influences are balanced, except on the layer of Phlegethos (which has the fire-dominant trait). On the layer of Cania, cold is king, and a special “colddominant” trait applies there.
Mildly Law-Aligned and Mildly Evil-Aligned: Chaotic characters in the Nine Hells suffer a –2 penalty on all Charisma-based checks, as do good characters. Chaotic good characters suffer a –4 penalty on all Charisma-based checks.
The River Styx flows through the uppermost layer of the Nine Hells, Avernus, just as it does all the lower planes. Offshoots and waterfalls of the Styx can be found on every layer of the Nine Hells. Portals to other planes are fairly common. Usually, such gates appear as free-standing hoops of reddish light. A well-known gate is in the town of Ribcage located in the Outlands. Travelers usually must have an invitation from a Lord of the Nine to pass the Cursed Gate, though Paracs the gatekeeper, a devil, can be bribed. Also, a landing of the Infinite Staircase provides access to the third layer of the Nine Hells, Minauros, somewhere within the suspended dry of Jangling Hiter.
The largest population of the Nine Hells is made up of various devils: barbazu, cornugons, erinyes, gelugons, hamatula, narzugons, osyluths, pit fiends, spinagons, and countless others in the devilish hierarchy. Devils of every son delight in making complex deals with travelers and with mortals on the Material Plane. Those dealing with a devil often live to regret it, even if they only live for a little while. Devils always seek ways to increase their own power and thus gain promotion into a higher form of devilhood. Besides devils, such creatures as hellcats, hell hounds, imps, kytons, nightmares, and even rakshasas call the Nine Hells home. A few hardy mortals have set up permanent homes in the Nine Hells, living in mighty fortresses defended by lesser devils lawfully bound to short-term contracts.
Several kinds of petitioners are found in the Nine Hells. Evil, proud, ambitious souls unconcerned with others and bereft of empathy find their way there. Most of those souls take the form of ghost-white shades, shells of their mortal forms, which devils cruelly mold and shape into twisted, agonized forms of horror. Only when the soul is so twisted and molded that it is truly, finally slain does its essence merge with that of the Nine Hells itself. Often, devils or deities of a particular hellish realm molds petitioners in their realm to conform to a specific, macabre aesthetic. These average hellish petitioners, sometimes called soul shells, have the following special petitioner qualities:
Additional Immunities: None.
Resistances: Cold 20, fire 20.
Other Special Qualities: Powerful devils have an innate power to warp and mold soul shells, usually into shapes that are inherently painful and degrading.
Particularly vile petitioners become lemures. Only the most evil of mortals can achieve status as lemures, and they usually end up here regardless of the deity they worshiped in life. Lemures, of course, are despised by all other devils, and they serve the most base duties in any devilish group they are part of. In any initial Blood War confrontation, the lemures are the shock troops that draw the enemy's fire. Lemures appear as revolting blobs of molten flesh, with vaguely humanoid torsos and heads. Hints of the petitioner's former mortal features are visible when they are not too twisted by anguish. Lemures are mindless, though they are sensitive to telepathic messages from other devils and obey their mental commands, doing the bidding of the strongest devil in the closest proximity. Lemures have the following special petitioner qualities:
Additional Immunities: Fire, poison.
Resistances: Cold 20, acid 20.
Other Special Qualities: Mindless, damage reduction 5/silver, spell resistance 5, no planar commitment.
Mindless (Ex): Lemures are immune to all mindinfluencing effects, and unless commanded, act as if feebleminded.
No planar Commitment (Ex): Unlike most other petitioners, lemures can leave their home plane.
Movement in the Nine Hells is much like movement on the Material Plane. Even moving between layers is fairly straightforward. The connecting points between two layers are always found at the lowest point of the higher layer and at the highest point on the next layer down. If there is a mountain, hellish fortress spire, or other high structure along the ledge on the lower layer, then the traveler can climb down. Otherwise, simply stepping off the lowest, ledge-like projection on the upper layer sends a traveler plummeting into the lower layer. The distance fallen is subjective, but seems to be at least a half-mile. Creatures without some way to slow their fall take 20d6 points of damage when they impact the lower layer.
The layers of Baator are nine, and each layer has its own ruler. All other rulers answer to the lowest, Asmodeus, in the Pit. Each of the nine layers has its own unique environment, but they're all inhospitable and possibly outright deadly. Travelers to the Nine Hells had best know how to get back out, lest they are waylaid by a devilish press gang bound for the Blood War. But even a small chance of survival in battle would be preferable to enslavement in the Nine Hells for eternity. The politics of the Nine Hells have rocked back and forth over the millennia, often accomplished by artful rhetoric or subtle poison, but sometimes accomplished by outright conflict involving armies of devils warring against each other. The city of Dis on the second layer has withstood siege more than once at the hands of aggressive devils. However, in all the time that Asmodeus has ruled from below, no revolt has ever succeeded in replacing the lord of the ninth layer with a different devil, despite a ploy designed by Asmodeus that once allowed his rivals to think he had been dethroned. Though the Nine Hells is governed by devils, some sages believe that the devils commandeered the Nine Hells from a far older, stranger race now simply called ancient baatorians. It's possible that remnants of this mysterious race still inhabit isolated portions of the Nine Hells.
The Dark Eight are the generals of the Blood War; these eight pit fiends hold council every sixty-six days. The Dark Eight hold immense power, but they still answer to the Lords of the Nine, who each control a layer of the Nine Hells, and ultimately they answer to Asmodeus. The pit fiends that make up the Dark Eight are called Baalzephon, Corin, Dagos, Furcas, Pearza, Zapan, Zaebos, and Zimmimar. These eight rule the devils beneath them, meeting in the fortress of Malsheem in Nessus, the ninth layer. In addition to planning the next Blood War offensive, they also have a hand in determining which devils get promoted. On the rare occasions when they are not leading their armies, they reside in Nessus. When away on some hellish errand, they often appear in malefic human guise.
The first layer of Baator is a wasteland of charred, rubblestrewn plains, with mountains and talus-sided foothills breaking up the monotony. Legions of mail-clad devils are on perpetual watch here, always assembling for some new cross-planar Blood War sortie. Blood-red light suffuses the air, and fiery balls flit randomly across the sky, sometimes detonating to terrible effect. Travelers not protected by artificial structures or caves are 10% likely per day to find themselves at ground center of a fireball dealing 6d6 points of fire damage (as if cast by a 6th-level spellcaster). Runnels of blood flow in streams across Avernus, finally joining the River Styx. The origin of the blood is unknown, though the devils say it is likely the blood of all Avernus's past victims.
Bronze Citadel: What may have once been a citadel constructed of bronze is now a brutish, unimaginative city covering dozens of square miles and featuring twelve concentric ring walls, each bristling with war machines. The city is filled with petitioners, both lemures and soul shells, and hundreds of thousands of lesser devils of all types bound for the Blood War. Because Avernus is the likeliest beachhead for any massed demonic arrack, fortifications are always being added to the Bronze Citadel. Work gangs of soul shells, lemures, and imps constantly expand the city. The construction is so pervasive that bone scaffolding is as likely to be supporting a given wall as not.
Pillar of Skulls: This massive landmark of actual skulls represents devilish trophies taken in the Blood War. Most of the trophies are twisted, demonic skulls, varying in size from minuscule to the size of a house. The pillar rises to a height of more than a mile. The Pillar stands near the part of the ledge where access to the next lower layer is an easy walk down a particularly tall metal spire of the city Dis reaching up through the haze between layers. This spire sees quite a bit of devil and petitioner traffic on its spiral stairwell—and quite a few accidental and not-so-accidental falls. However, a massive cave mouth near the base of the pillar of Skulls holds a particularly terrible sentinel of the ledge: Tiamat.
Tiamat: The Chromatic Dragon, Tiamat, is revered by evil dragons, and her five heads each bear the color of one kind of evil dragon. She enjoys such wretched pastimes as torture, bickering, and destruction. Tiamat guards the access between Avernus and Dis near the pillar of Skulls, but she usually stirs forth only to counter demonic incursions. Five consorts, powerful male great wyrms of red, black, green, blue, and white varieties, attend her at all limes. The hoard of Tiamat, hidden deep in her cavern, is said to equal the treasuries of a hundred worlds.
The second layer of the Nine Hells is a burning city of iron. The red glow of infernal heat burns within the scorched iron walls, and a pall of smoke rises up to form a general dark haze over the entire layer. For the city is the layer and the layer is the city, Dis. Some claim that a traveler who walks far enough can leave the city behind, concealed within a great ring of mountains. Ranks of red, glowing buildings extend to every horizon, rising and falling according to the hidden terrain. Palatial mansions of particularly important devils and officers of the Blood War break the cityscape here and there. Every iron wall glows with heat, and casual contact with the walls deals 1d6 points of fire damage. Even the iron cobblestones glow with heat. Without iron-shod boots, visitors soon writhe and burn in the streets. Screaming petitioners, captives from the Blood War, and mortals kidnapped from the Material Plane fill subterranean prisons beneath the streets. The sound of their agonized lament is usually audible from small vents in the city walls. Some sections of the city host markets and bazaars where creatures from a variety of different planes meet. Most seek to buy or sell questionable wares, or hire a bloodthirsty band of mercenaries for work that only a devil could love. Crowds fill the streets. Parades of devilish nobility attended by lemures and horribly sculpted soul shells vie with countless work gangs who constantly sally forth to repair, extend, or remodel the city at the behest of Dispater, Lord of the Second.
Iron Tower: The Iron Tower is visible from every part of Dis, for it reaches high above the city, piercing the haze of the layer. The tower's form seems to constantly shimmer and change textures and architectural styles. The Iron Tower is Dispater's personal redoubt. Within its walls, he enjoys a +20 bonus to his Armor Class, spell resistance, and all saving throws. He is almost invulnerable there, so he rarely ventures forth, preferring to lead through erinyes messengers.
The third layer of the Nine Hells is a fetid swamp of mire and pollution. Acidic rain, bitter winds, and flesh-slicing hail rule the bog. The waters of the marsh are so cold in some places that they have iced over. In others, the dank water boils and steams with infernal heat. Terrible creatures with no names swim the murky waters, and even devils fear to stray too far from their various cities. Where the layer is lowest, a constant dribble of slimy water sluices into a long fall down to the fourth layer. Many a lost traveler and petitioner has accidentally been caught up in that long, lethal fall to Phlegethos.
The City of Minauros: This metropolis of devils gives its name to the plane. Minauros is also called The Sinking, because the stony weight of the city is forever slipping beneath the cesspool waters. Only the eternal effort of a stream of petitioners and slaves keeps it from finally succumbing to the swamp, but still, the city sinks a little farther into the mud every year. Ruins below the city are said to contain vast riches. It's possible that the ruins below represent a town pulled from the outlands millennia ago.
The City of Jangling Hiter: The City of Chains hangs suspended above the bog of Minauros from thick metal links. The city is ruled by kytons. The lowest portions of the city just graze the roiling swamp, but the strength of the chains keeps the mire from drawing Jangling Hiter down where so many other cities have drowned. No one knows to what structure the suspending chains are finally connected, though a good bet is that they somehow pierce the layer boundary and connect to the underside of Dis above. The hail-laden clouds hide the truth of the matter.
Though kytons generally consider each other equal, they often defer to a particularly clever kyton named Quimath. He resides in Panos Qytel, a cathedral-like, triple-towered structure in the heart of Jangling Hiter.
The fourth layer of the Nine Hells is a place of fire and pain much like the Elemental plane of Fire. Rivers of liquid fire rule the land, and the air is consumed with dancing flames—in fact, the layer of Phlegethos has the firedominant trait. Creatures without fire resistance or immunity are soon immolated.
Abriymoch: This city of hardened magma, obsidian, and crystal squats in the caldera of an almost extinct volcano. Abriymoch's foundation is said to be the grave of a deity slain by Asmodeus. The city offers some protection from the fiery environment of the rest of Phlegethos, but even so, certain quarters are open to the raging flame. A legion of more than five thousand hamatula devils resides here, a force kept in reserve should a demonic attack pierce this far into the Nine Hells. A pit fiend named Gazra commands the hamatula devils, but he directly answers to the Lords of the Fourth, Fierana and Belial. They also reside in Abriymoch in a palace of jagged obsidian built on one lip of the caldera.
The fifth layer of the Nine Hells is a realm of cold and ice. Most of the plane is drowned in a sea of crushing ice floes and icebergs. The only open water is the rushing River Styx, though icebergs and fiendish sharks make navigating it quite dangerous. Lightning constantly rips through the sky, so flying creatures are particularly rate except for those that are immune to electricity. Ice floes serve as the foundation for many devilish cities and castles.
Tantlin: Called the City of Ice, Tantlin is the largest city of the layer. Like the smaller cities, it is built on an ice floe, but it has a “harbor” bordering on one side of the nearby River Styx. The city is ruled by a pit fiend, though she rarely stirs from her citadel. This “hands-off” approach leaves the streets to various gangs interested in dispensing their own law at the expense of each other. The gangs are a motley assortment of devils, though a few planar mortals of evil disposition also run with the packs. Despite the disarray in the streets, Tantlin actually serves as a crossplanar trading stop, due to its location on the Styx. The residents of Tantlin can't long forget the ruler of the layer, Levistus, because he is frozen deep within the heart of an iceberg (Levistus's Tomb) that floats in the middle of the harbor. Despite his immobility, Levistus is fully aware of the events occurring on his layer, and he is able to telepathically communicate with the other devils of Phlegethos at will within a ten-mile radius.
Sheyruushk: This underwater realm is accessible from a crack between two icebergs not too far from Tantlin. The icy waters are dark, but that does not bother the sharklike sahuagin who live here. The sea devils cavort in the court of their deity, Sekolah. Awful rites pay homage to the brutal shark deity in which captive devils feature prominently as sacrifices. Sharks of every size and every type constantly roam the waters of Sheyruushk, though both the sharks and sahuagin often swim up into the River Styx. They love to sink River Styx boatmen and merchant craft; Sekolah's blessing is sufficient to render the raiders immune to the influence of the waters of Styx for a short time.
The sixth layer of the Nine Hells is an endless rocky slope. Cascades of boulders are frequent, pulping anything in their path. Above, the sky boils with leprous colors. The devils on this layer take shelter in copper-clad fortresses, designed to channel and deflect the frequent rock-flows. However, nothing can withstand the worst of the avalanches. The rocky slopes of Malbolge are like Gehenna's, and a Climb check is required to move around on Malbolge's surface. See Falling on Gehenna, earlier in this chapter, for a list of Climb DCs and the consequences of failure. Maggoth Thyg: Rumors describe ancient places built underneath the slopes of Malbolge. Below the hellish rock and stone, creatures older than the devils themselves—the ancient baatorians—might still roam. A certain hard-to-find defile leads to a cavern whose walls glow with a brain-numbing, grayish light. Boulder falls often clog the defile, but somehow the cavern is reopened time and again. Devils sent by the Lord of the Sixth to investigate have never returned. Terrible cries sometimes issue forth from the cavern, echoing across Malbolge's slopes. Strangely, petitioners on this level cannot hear the cries. But devils can, and the sound is innately terrifying to them.
The seventh layer of the Nine Hells is dotted with ruined, abandoned cities. Under the blood-black sky, petitioners quarry, carve, and build new cities for the Lord of the Seventh. Mine pits, slag heaps, and brackish canals cover the land like sores. Newer cities are built upon the backs of older ruins. As each city is finished, the Lord's dissatisfaction forces his subjects to begin anew. The abandoned cities are not empty. They serve as home for petitioners who've fled their devilish tormentors, beasts from other planes who've become especially lost, and lost planar travelers who don't want to be found.
Malagard: The current city under construction is called Malagard, and it serves as home for the Lord of the Seventh, Baalzebul. It is a beautiful city of perfectly straight boulevards, fountains of delicate yet terrible visage, and towers that reach straight as an arrow into the blood-black sky. It is the greatest city yet seen in Maladomini, but no one doubts that it, too, will soon be abandoned, as Baalzebul strives for hellish perfection in all things.
Grenpoli: Grenpoli, the City of Diplomacy, is domed, and access is granted only through one of four gates on the city's exterior. Entrance to the city comes after a thorough search during which all weapons are taken for the duration of a visitor’s stay. Strife and open displays of magical aggression are against the law, and those who break the law are slain immediately. The Political School of the Nine Hells, in Grenpoli, is where enterprising devilish nobility come to learn about treachery and deception. An erinyes named Mysdemn Wordtwister rules Grenpoli.
The eighth layer of The Nine Hells is another realm of cold, but Cania's cold is so bitterly penetrating that it is like a living thing. Glaciers moving as fast as a running man grind and crash against each other, sending avalanches of snow down upon any creature unfortunate enough to be caught between the battling ice titans. The frigid cold penetrates even the warmest natural clothing. Characters take 3d10 points of cold damage every round they are in an unsheltered area in Cania. Moving glaciers often reveal thousand-year-old corpses, past victims of the merciless chill.
Mephistar: A blue-white jewel fashioned of ice, this mighty citadel perches upon an equally impressive glacier named Nargus. Clouds of vapor constantly roll off the sides of the icy spike. The glacier's movement is controlled by the Lord of the Citadel, Mephistopheles, and Nargus has flowed over and obliterated many a lesser glacier, as well as its share of rival fiendish armies caught unaware in Cania. The interior of Mephistar is heated. In fact, lavish heated baths, scented fires, and hell-bright tapestries are everywhere. Gelugon nobles abide in the warm sanctuary of Mephistar, waiting on the whims of their lord Mephistopheles, who is the Lord of the Eighth. Shapes in the Ice: Some glaciers in Cania entomb alien shapes frozen in the heart of the ice. The frosted glacier distorts vision, so it's difficult to make out exactly what's buried in such an icy prison. From time to time, enterprising mortals melt exploratory shahs toward particularly intriguing blots. Some of the blots are apparently devas and archons frozen in place fighting spined creatures of unknown origin. Other shapes are abandoned cities of prosaic or alien design.
The Pit: Mighty glaciers form a ledge surrounding a dark pit several hundred feet in diameter. The utterly dark Pit is the primary access down to the lowest layer of the Nine Hells. One devil-guarded stairway cuts back and forth down one glacier's face, and on each landing sits a guard tower bristling with gelugons. Of course, one could forgo the stairs and plunge directly into the Pit. However, a supernaturally strong downdraft makes any type of flying a chancy proposition. Fliers must make a Reflex save (DC 30) when they first enter the downdraft or be dashed into the icy side of the pit for 20d6 points of damage. If they succeed, they've managed to find a stable tunnel of air within the swirling wind and can descend to Nessus normally.
The ninth layer is the deepest realm of the Nine Hells, a plain shattered by rifts deeper than the deepest ocean trench. Many of the ravines and canyons here teach thousands of miles into undifferentiated, dead stone. Most of the trenches seem natural, but some appear as if they were cut or blasted into the land. Rumor has it that an offshoot of the Styx flows here and there, dropping into trenches and trickling its way across the layer. Few know how to reach this tributary, if it exists at all.
Malsheem: A rift of incredible depth and width lies immediately below the layer boundary between Cania and Nessus (the Pit up in Cania leads to Malsheem in Nessus). Malsheem, the Citadel of Hell, rises in its dark, elegant, fiendish beauty from the trench. The stronghold is monstrously large, rising miles above the plain. But like an iceberg above water, its visible spires and fortifications are small compared to the vast halls contained within the trench. Malsheem is the largest known citadel in the Outer Planes. It is big enough to house millions of devils, an army larger than any fielded in the Blood War. Asmodeus, master of Malsheem, Lord of the Ninth, and undisputed King of the Nine Hells, holds these hordes in reserve for a cataclysmic battle he foresees that will dwarf the “petty” maneuverings of the Blood War. The citadel is so vast that it is nigh unmappable; Malsheem's secrets are known only to Asmodeus himself.
Serpent's Coil: Brutally repressed rumors suggest that there is more to Asmodeus than he admits. The story goes that the true form of Asmodeus actually resides in the deepest rift of Nessus called the Serpent's Coil. The shape seen by all the other devils of the Nine Hells in the fortress of Malsheem is actually a highly advanced use of the project image spell or an avatar of some sort. The secret rift, formed by Asmodeus's plummeting body when he first arrived in the Nine Hells, spirals inward over the course of hundreds of miles. His titanic, mileslong form still rests here—and his wounds have yet to heal. His acid-black blood pools in the hollows of the rift, a substance fouler than foul.
From where fell Asmodeus? Was he once a greater deity cast down from Elysium or Celestia, or is he older yet, as the rumor hints? Perhaps he represents some fundamental entity whose mere existence pulls the multiverse into its current configuration. Nobody who tells the story of Asmodeus's “true” form lives more than 24 hours after repeating it aloud. But dusty scrolls in hard-to-reach libraries (such as Demogorgon's citadel in the Abyss) yet record this knowledge. Unless it is pure fancy, of course.
Use Table 7–7: Hellish Encounters for random encounters in the Nine Hells.