- 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 demideity. 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.
- Normal Gravity.
- Normal Time.
- 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.
- Normal Magic.
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 sort 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 and Combat
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 Three Rules of Hell
There are three basic rules for travelling through Baator that apply to all nine layers. Echoing the Rule of Threes, these laws are as follows:
- Rule #1. DON'T. If a berk simply has to go there, refer to rule 2.
- Rule #2. Hire a guide rumoured to be trustworthy who also knows his way around the Nine Layers, or just the one layer the traveller's business is on. Note that finding a reliable guide is a herculean task in itself.
- Rule #3. Get out as quickly as possible, and don't stop to talk to the natives.
Anyone violating these rules deserves whatever he or she gets. Baator's not a friendly place, and though its denizens might act nice at first, they're natives of the plane of law and evil for a reason. If business is really that pressing, a body is best advised to bring quick wits, a ready blade, and a mind brimming with spells.