The Nine Hells, sometimes simply called Baator or the Abyss, best satisfy the imagination of travelers, the greed of treasure seekers, and the battle-fury of paladins. It is the ultimate plane of evil, the epitome chaotic and crafted cruelty. The devils of the Nine Hells all obey a higher law than themselves, but that really means they just chafe and rebel within their caste. Most undertake any plot or action, no matter how foul, to advance themselves. At the very top of the hierarchy is the ruler of the plane, Asmodeus, who has yet to be bested. That is the law of the Nine Hells.
The devils of Baator are more cunning, more subtle, and more dangerous a foe than most will ever meet. They range in temperament from simple revelers of slavering, insane, evil power, to the more dangerous ones: creatures with a vile agenda, a plan of attack, and a carefully conceived plot for retribution if necessary. Baator consists of nine layers, like ledges stepping down into an ever-deeper pit, that seem to go on forever. 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 demons, as well as deities of evil and the dead (for example, the god Hades, the goddess Hela, and the Celtic god Balor) who have their domains in the plane. Each layer is ruled by one of the Lords of Nine, eight powerful demon lords or dark deities who rule over each layer, and each answerable to Asmodeus, who rules from Nessus, the bottom layer of the Nine Hells. Unlike a few of the other planes, Baator has a gravity much like the one found on the Material Plane, and the flow of time is identical as well. The landscapes of the Nine Hells are stable, but they can be altered at the whims of the Lords of Nine and of the deities who dwell here. The elements are found here in balance, save on two of the layers that will be detailed later. The evil that permeates the plane fills most mortals with a feeling of dread and despair. Good creatures are very uncomfortable in Baator, as it feels as though the evil energies of the plane are permeating their very souls, leaving their reaction timing, both physical and mental, off. Magic functions normally here as it does on the Material Plane.
The great River Styx begins in the uppermost layer, Avernus, and magically winds it's way down through all the layers of Baator. Portals to other plans are fairly common. Usually such gates appear as free standing hoops of reddish light. A well known gate, called the Cursed Gate, is in the town of Ribcage in the outlands of Avernus and leads to every layer of Baator. Travelers usually must have permission from a Lord of Nine to pass through the Cursed Gate, though Paracs the gatekeeper, a mighty pit fiend, can be bribed.
The largest population of the Nine Hells is made up of various devils: barbazu, cornugons, succubi, gelugons, hamatula, narzugons, osyluths, pit fiends, spinagons, and countless other forms of demon. Devils of all 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 demonhood. Besides devils, such creatures as hellcats, hell hounds, imps, kytons, nightmares, infernal dragons, undead, and even rakshasas call the Nine Hells home. A few hardy mortals have set up permanent residence in the Nine Hells, living in mighty fortresses defended by lesser devils lawfully bound to short-term contracts.
The souls of the wicked and evil beings of the Material Plane are found in great abundance throughout the Nine Hells, and can take many forms. Most of these souls take the form of ghostly 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 it's essence merge with that of Baator itself. Often, devils and deities of a particular hellish realm mold souls in their realm to conform to a specific, macabre aesthetic. Many souls are molded into a small, larvae-like blob, which is used as a kind of currency in the Nine Hells. Larger forms of larvae exist and are usually devoured by certain demon lords with evil delight.
Connection points between layers are always found at the lowest point of the higher layer, and at the highest point of the next layer down. Usually mountain tops, high fortress spires, and other tall objects contain access points where travelers can either climb or walk down to the next layer. The layers of Baator are nine and each layer has it's own ruler. All other rulers answer to the lowest, Asmodeus, in the Pit. Each of the nine layers has it's own unique environment, but they're all inhospitable and possibly outright deadly. Travelers to the Nine Hells best know how to get back out, or they might find themselves waylaid by a gang of demons or other horrifying creatures. But, even a small chance of survival in battle is better than becoming a slave in the Nine Hells for eternity.
The politics of the Nine Hells has rocked back and forth over the millennia, often accomplished by artful rhetoric or subtle poison as much as outright conflicts of devil armies warring against each other. The city of Dis, on the second layer, has withstood siege more than once from the hands of an aggressive and ambitious demon lord. However, in all the time that Asmodeus has ruled from below, no revolt has ever succeeded in overthrowing the lord of the ninth layer with a different devil, despite a ploy by Asmodeus that once allowed his rivals to think that he had been dethroned. Though the Nine Hells are governed by devils, some sages believe that the devils commandeered the Nine Hells from a far older, stranger race now called simply the ancient baatorians. It's possible, if these theories are correct, that remnants of this mysterious race still inhabit isolated portions of the Nine Hells.
Avernus, the first layer of Baator, is a wasteland of charred, rubble-strewn plains, with mountains and talus-sided foothills breaking up the monotony. Legions of mail-clad devils are always on watch here, perpetually assembling for some new cross-planar 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 likely to find themselves and ground zero of a massive fireball. Runnels of blood flow in streams across Avernus, finally joining the River Styx, which is at it's largest here than on the other layers. The origin of the blood is unknown, though devils say it is likely the blood of all Avernus' past victims. The Greek god of the dead, Hades, rules this layer from the Bronze Citadel.
Hades wrested control of the layer from it's former ruler, a devil prince named Bel. Bel's arrogance provided his undoing, and Hades moved in quickly to expand his domain and take control of Avernus. In a large keep in the center of the Bronze Citadel, Hades rules the layer from his ebony throne, his mystical golden scepter always in hand. His pet, the demonic dog Cerberus, has been moved by Hades to guard the gates of his throne room, only allowing in those the god sees fit to parlay with. For one-third of every year, Hades is joined by his consort, Persephone, who is bound to his domain due to eating the fruit of Hades' realm. It is rumored that Hades keeps the still living form of Bel hidden deep within the Bronze Citadel so that he may siphon his hellish power into himself, increasing his own abilities while slowly reducing Bel to nothingness.
What may have once been a citadel constructed of bronze, the Bronze Citadel 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 the twisted souls under the control of Hades, and hundreds of thousand of demons all under the god's command and all ready to fend off any attempt to wrest control of Avernus from their lord and master. Because Avernus is the beachhead from any other-planar attack, fortifications are always being added to the Bronze Citadel. Work gangs of souls, imps, and lesser devils constantly expand and repair the city. The construction is so pervasive that bone scaffolding is as likely to be supporting a given wall as not.
The Pillar of Skulls, a massive landmark of actual skulls represents devilish trophies taken in planar wars over countless millennia. Most of the trophies are the skulls of goodly creatures, varying in size from minuscule to the size of a house, though demon skulls are found in abundance as well. The pillar rises in height to more than a mile. The pillar stands near part of a ledge where access to the next lower layer is an easy walk down a particularly tall metal spire of the city of Dis reaching up through the haze between layers. This spire sees a lot of traffic from demons, souls, and other creatures and has quite a few accidental and non-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, called the Queen of Chromatic Dragons, is an evil draconic goddess with long necks, each ending with the monstrous head of one of the five chromatic dragons (red, blue, green, white, and black). She enjoys such wretched pastimes as torture, bickering with certain travelers, and destruction. Tiamat's lair's location is close enough that she is considered the guardian of the access between Avernus and Dis at the Pillar of Skulls. She usually stays within her cavernous realm however, only coming out when the foolish travelers with goodly hearts are close by the pillar. Five consorts, powerful male great wyrms of each color (red, blue, green, white, and black) attend her at all times. Hades, a Lord of Nine and ruler of Avernus, makes it a point to keep the Queen of Chromatic Dragons happy and on his side, for Tiamat is an enemy the Greek god does not need. The horde of Tiamat, hidden deep within her cavern system, is said to equal the treasuries of a hundred worlds.
Tiamat is the mortal enemy of the Metallic Dragon King, Bahamut, and she has attempted to destroy the Platinum Dragon for countless millennia.
Another deity who makes their home on Avernus is the Spider Queen, Lolth. The goddess worshiped by most of the dark elves, Lolth was once a member of the elven pantheon called the Seldarine, but was cast out after an attempt to take control from the pantheon's head, Corellon Larethian. Cast out of their domain and into Baator, Lolth quickly carved for herself a kingdom on the layer in the form of an intricate, spiderweb-shaped cave system, called the Demonweb Pits. Lolth rules her domain from an iron palace shaped in the form of a spider that crawls around the cave system, and is served by her personally created demon breed, the yochlol. Lolth has many forms, from that of a giant spider to that of a beautiful dark elf maiden. Ever the schemer, Lolth is already plotting to take control of the layer from Hades. Hades knows of Lolth's machinations and it was these plots which forced Hades into a shaky alliance with Tiamat. Lolth is still trying to figure out a way to turn Tiamat against Hades and dispose of the Greek god as ruler of Avernus in a way that Asmodeus will not object to.
Dis, the second layer of the Nine Hells, is a burning city of iron. The red glow of the 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 of Dis. Some claim that if 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 in the demonic armies break the cityscape here and there. Every iron wall glows with heat, and casual contact with the walls will burn the flesh of any creature not immune to fire. Even the iron cobblestones glow with heat. Without iron-shod boots or magical protection, visitors soon writhe on the streets as their feet begin to burn. Screaming damned souls and mortals kidnapped from the Material Plane fill subterranean prisons beneath the streets. The sound of their agonized laments 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 and 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 lesser demons and horribly sculpted souls vie with countless work gangs who sally forth to repair, extend, or remodel the city at the behest of Graz'zt, the Dark Prince and Lord of the Second Layer. The Dark Prince rules Dis from the Argent Palace, a grand structure of sixty-six ivory towers and one-hundred cold, mirrored halls. The palace is a sterile, echoing space where those seeking Graz'zt's audience room must wend their way through the mirror and portal maze in which ravenous bodaks roam. The Argent Palace is the largest structure on Dis and is visible in some fashion throughout the entire layer.
Graz'zt, a tall darkly handsome demon with shiny black skin and green, glowing eyes, is one of the most powerful Lords of Nine. The Dark Prince loves to dress in regal finery, but the slightly pointed ears and yellow fangs mark him for the demon he is. Most striking of all are his digits: he has six ebony fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. He is a deviant devil prince and visits the Material Plane often when summoned by witches and sorceresses, granting them sexual favors and magical powers in return for their mortal souls. A deeply sexual and erotic being, Graz'zt never goes anywhere without a retinue of female monsters, usually lamias, succubi, and mariliths. He is dangerously charming and seductive, and speaks with such eloquence and grandeur that captivates most listeners.
Graz'zt has ruled Dis for many millennia, having wrested control of the layer from it's previous lord, Dispater. Dispater fell out of grace with Asmodeus and the ever-scheming Graz'zt used the opportunity to strike. His armies surprised and easily overtook Dispater's forces, and the Dark Prince finished off Dispater himself with the use of his acid-spewing great sword. Graz'zt tore down Dispaters Iron Fortress and created his Argent Palace in it's place, a grander, more noble structure than what Dispater ruled from. The Dark Prince and the Lord of the Seventh, Orcus, are bitter rivals, with both secretly trying to assassinate and over throw the other. Their hate for each other is so legendary that it has even erupted into open warfare every few centuries.
The third layer of the Nine Hells is a fetid swamp of mire and pollution called Minauros. Acidic rain, bitter winds, and flesh-slicing hail rule the bog. The waters of the march are so cold in some places they have iced over. In other locations, the dank waters boil and steam with infernal heat. Terrible slime creatures with no names swim the murky waters of Minauros, 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 to the fourth layer. Many a lost traveler has accidentally been caught up in that long, lethal fall to Phlegethos.
The City of Minauros, a metropolis of devils, gives it's name to the layer. The city is also called The Sinking, because it's stony weight is forever slipping beneath the cesspool waters. Only the eternal effort of a stream of souls and slaves keeps it from finally succumbing to the swamp, but still, the city sinks a little farther into the mud ever year. Ruins below the city are said to contain vast riches.
Unlike the City of Minauros, the City of Chains hangs suspended above the bog from thick metal links and is ruled by kytons. The lowest portion of the city just grazes the rolling swamp, but the strength of the chains keeps the mire from drawing the city down where so many other cities have drowned. No one knows to what structure the suspended 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 often consider each other equal, they often defer to a particularly clever kyton named Quimath. Quimath resides in Panos Qytel, a cathedral-like triple-towered structure at the heart of the City of Chains.
The Faceless Lord, Juiblex, rules over the entire layer as Minauros' Lord of Nine. A loathsome demon of slime and ooze, Juiblex is shunned by most other demons, and the other Lords of Nine are said to refer to him as the "Lord of Nothing." Juiblex is often appearing as a nine-foot tall cone of jelly and slime striated with black, green, and a disgusting mixture of brown, yellow, and gray. At other times Juiblex is nothing more than a seething pool of animate ooze. In any form, pulsating red eyes that look in all directions cover Juiblex completely. Juiblex was once a handsome archdevil until his failed attempt to dethrone Asmodeus. Asmodeus transformed him into a creature of slime to resemble his layer of Baator, but allowed him to keep his position as the ruler of Minauros. Juiblex no longer resides in any city on the layer, instead dwelling in the expansive, foul swamp of the entire layer, always accompanied by slimes and oozes. Juiblex hates Asmodeus for what has become of him, and plots to one day take the throne of the Nine Hells and regain his true form.
The fourth layer of the Nine Hells, Phlegethos, 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 flame. Creatures without resistance or immunity to the fires are quickly immolated. Abriymoch is the largest city on the layer. Made of hardened magma, obsidian, and crystal, the city squats in the caldera of an almost extinct volcano. Abriymoch's foundation is said to be the grave of a ancient deity slain by Asmodeus. The city offers some protection from the layer's fiery environment, but even so, certain quarters are open to the raging flame. A legion of more than five thousand hamatula devils reside here, a force kept in reserve should an outer-planar attack piece this far into the Nine Hells. A pit fiend named Gazra commands the horde, but is answerable to the Lord of the Fourth, the Queen of the Succubi, Malcanthet.
Malcanthet was one of Baator's first succubi and quickly rose to power by eliminating her competition using her intelligence and guile. Malcanthet is described as a incredibly beautiful humanoid female with bat-like wings, a pair of small horns on her head, a long, prehensile tail ending with a spike-like stinger, and is always dressed in a revealing silken gown. Her lips are the color of a bright ruby, and her eyes are smolder with a dangerous sensuality. Her stinger at the end of her tail can sap the will of a victim, completely enthralling them under her yolk. It is even said that her gaze can dominate the minds of beings, forever enthralling them for all eternity. The Succubus Queen wields a silver scepter of frightening magical power that is said to be carved from the bones of the layer's previous ruler who's name has been forgotten to time.
She is the ultimate seductress and rules Phlegethos from her castle, Shendilavri, in the city of Abriymoch. Always attended by lesser succubi and enthralled mortals, the Succubus Queen is a cunning adversary and those dealing with her are always alert and wary, even her fellow Lords of Nine. Graz'zt has disdain for Malcanthet due to some ages past transgression the Succubus Queen performed upon him. Though his hate for her is no where near as strong as it is for Orcus, Graz'zt none-the-less uses any opportunity he can to bring down her power base little by little, with the Queen of the Succubi executing the exact same machinations towards Graz'zt.
Malcanthet has small cults in the Material Plane, but they are so disorganized that they pose no major threat to the good of the realms. Most are nothing more than brothels run by one of her succubi followers, or a magic-wielding woman of one of the fairer races. Men in her cults are very rare, but the ones that are part of the Succubus Queen's Earthly minions are treated as nothing more than lowly servants or convenient muscle power with no hopes of advancing higher into the cult's hierarchy.
The fifth layer of the Nine Hells, called Stygia, is a realm of cold and ice. Most of the plane is drowned in a crushing see of ice flows 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 rare, save those immune to electricity. The ice flows serve as the foundation for many devilish cities and castles.
Called the City of Ice, Tantlin is the largest city of the layer. Like the smaller cities, it is built on an ice flow, but it has a "harbor" bordering on one side of the nearby River Styx. The city is run by a pit fiend, though she rarely stirs from her citadel. This "hands-off" approach leaves the city open 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 with evil dispositions also run with the packs. Despite the disarray in the streets, Tantlin actually serves as a cross-planar trading stop. The residents can't long forget the ruler of the layer, the Persian god of evil and darkness, Ahriman.
The layer of Stygia was once a sweltering landscape of dark fearsome forests and dank fetid jungles, but the scheming Ahriman attempted to wrest control of Baator away from Asmodeus ages ago, and failed miserably. As punishment, Asmodeus transformed Stygia into a frozen wasteland, making it a "hellish" domain for the reptilian Ahriman. Ahriman dwells in his frozen fortress, Ghestal, that floats in the middle of the Tantlin harbor. It's thirteen dark, fang-like spires jut high into the freezing sky and are visible from anywhere within the city. Inside, Ghestal is perpetually bathed in darkness, and it's halls are filled with undead and demonic thralls to the dark god that defend the fortress with their lives. Ahriman himself is rarely seen and rarely gives anyone an audience, even if they happen to be devoted worshipers of him. Though when he does make an appearance, Ahriman is truly a fearsome sight to behold. His upper body is that of a scaly, muscular humanoid with clawed hands, and bears the head of a viper with the mane of a great lion. The eyes of Ahriman are large and reptilian in shape, and blaze with an eerie yellow light. The god's lower torso is that of a mighty constrictor serpent, with the tail forking off into two separate thirteen-foot, whip-like tails that end with a slender barb that constantly drips venom.
The underwater realm of Sheyruushk is accessible from a crack between two icebergs not far from Tantlin. The icy waters are dark, but that does not bother the shark-like sahuagin who live here. The sea devils cavort in the court of the demon lord whom they revere as a deity, Sekolah. Awful rites pay homage to the brutal shark demon in which captive devils feature prominently in sacrifices. Sharks of every size and type constantly roam the waters of Sheyruushk, though both the sharks and sahuagin often swim up into the River Styx to sink boatmen and merchant crafts, and to capture beings for sacrifice. Sekolah's blessing is sufficient enough to render the raiders immune to the influence of the waters of the Styx for a short time.
The sixth layer of Baator, Malbolge, has seen some drastic changes in the course of the past few centuries. It was once ruled by the arch-fiend, Maloch, and was a realm of endless rocky slopes and jagged mountains. But Maloch took bad advice from his consort, the Hag Countess, Malagard, and attempted to take Asmodeus' place as ruler of the Nine Hells. Like all those who tried before him, Maloch failed to topple the Lord of the Nine. But, unlike past punishments, Asmodeus' hatred for the bumbling Maloch led to Malbolge's ruler to be utterly destroyed by Asmodeus' dreaded ruby wand. As was her plan all along, Malagard took control of the layer.
Malagard's reign was short lived however, as she was disposed of by Glaysa, the daughter of Asmodeus. Glaysa used her magic and the body of the Hag Countess to form a brand new layer out of Malbolge, one that would be her own. Thus the sixth layer of Baator is now nothing more than the Hag Countesses innards and bones. The once mountainous layer is now a diverse landscape of dark forests (the Hag Countess' hair), large ivory deposits ripe for mining (Malagard's teeth), large patches of dry wastelands (the Countess' flesh), jutting spires of black obsidian mountains (Malagard's finger and toe nails), underground labyrinths (the Hag Countess' intestines and innards), milky dark clouds (the Countess' brains), and lakes and rivers of blood and bile (Malagard's vile ichor and organs). The Hag Countess is dead, but her life force lives on throughout the layer.
Rumors describe ancient places built underneath the slopes of Malbolge's great mountains where creatures older then the devils themselves might still roam. A certain hard to find cave leads to a cavern, called Maggoth Thyg, whose walls glow with a brain-numbing grayish light. Boulder falls and often clog the cave's entrance, but somehow the cavern is reopened time and again. Devils sent by the Lord of the Sixth to investigate have never returned. Terrible cries sometime issue forth from the cavern, echoing across the slopes of Malbolge. Strangely, the souls of the damned and most travelers on the layer cannot hear them. But devils can, and the sound is innately terrifying to them.
Laduguer, the dwarven deity of evil and black magic, resides in his domain of Hammergrim, a large fortress carved into the slopes of a mountain in Malbolge. Laduguer was cast out of his place among the dwarven pantheon for reasons long forgotten, and is has a deep running hatred for Moradin and the dwarves that follow him. He takes great pleasure in twisting and corrupting dwarves to his dark path and turning them against the principles of the dwarven gods of good. Laduguer is attended by another deity, Abbathor, the dwarven god of greed, who aids him in his quest to subjugate the entire dwarven race away from Moradin.
The current Lord of the Sixth is the daughter of Asmodeus and Bensozia, Glaysa, who rules from her citadel of bone, Ossiea, in the middle of the city of Tartach. Tartach is a newly created city formed by Glaysa's molding of the Hag Countess' bones with Malagard's skull as her keep. The buildings of Tartach are grizzled and formed in a twisted manner with no two looking the same. It is slowly turning into the main place of trade on the layer, and holds a few well-guarded portal to the Material Plane. Ossiea is formed from the hideously enlarged skull of Malagard, complete with ruby glass windows in the eye sockets, and five floors of luxurious chambers inside the skull act as Glaysa's well-guarded play rooms.
Glaysa appears as a tall (nine feet) being of incredible beauty, with copper-colored skin and dark red hair. She appears human save for bat-like wings, horns that hold her long red hair from her face, and a forked tail. She and her father never really saw eye to eye and she seemed to discredit him whenever the opportunity presented itself. On the other hand she liked her mother quit a bit and often would root for her and aid her when she could. However, when the archdevil Geryon attempted to drive Asmodeus from his keep by killing Bensozia he earned every ounce of her hatred. Despite this action, Asmodeus did not kill Geryon, he instead gave him as a gift to his daughter. Glaysa took her revenge on Geryon and rumors persist that the archdevil is still alive in a state of eternal torment in the bowels of Glaysa's citadel. Glaysa and her father have since settled their differences, at least for the moment, and she enjoyed his blessings in taking over Malbolge from the Hag Countess. Glaysa is a sadist through and through, and her very touch can bring forth horrible diseases that will rot the body of a being in minutes.
Hel, the Norse goddess of death, has her realm, Helheim, protected by a ring of insurmountable mountains on Malbolge. The goddess, Hel, has a striking appearance of a beautiful woman from the waist up and a shriveled undead thing from the waist down. As such, she is usually seen in long gowns that hide her lower half when the need to parlay with others arrives. The walls of her great hall, Sleet-Cold, rise up high into the sky. The entrance into Helheim is a large iron gate, called Nagrindr, adorned with many runes. It is at this gate that Garm, guards the entrance to Hel's domain where the souls of the unworthy and the wicked roam in agony. Unlike the rest of the layer, Helheim is a place of cold, and Hel's hall of Sleet-Cold is surrounded by the localized river, Gjoll, a frozen river of ice shaped like razor sharp daggers. Some believe that the goddess taps into the magical nature of Stygia's biting chill and channels some of it to her domain, though this has yet to be proven.
The seventh layer of the Nine Hells, Thanatos, is dotted with ruined, abandoned cities. Under the blood-black sky, undead creatures roam this layer as much as demons and damned souls do. Cold winds sweep across the layer, chilling travelers to the bone. The air of Thanatos is much thinner than the other layers, making mortal travelers not used to it tire quicker than usual. Dark caverns and pits and brackish canals cover the land like sores. Tombstones of every imaginable and unimaginable type dot the landscape, sometimes standing alone and other times grouped haphazardly as if in small cemeteries. Undead range everywhere and appear to be more plentiful on Thanatos than even demons.
Naratyr, called the City of the Dead, is a cold realm carved into the surface of a large frozen lake. Naratyr's icy architecture is a frigid necropolis of tall mausoleums, towering funeral obelisks, crypt parapets, and carpets woven of hair removed from the thousands of unquiet dead that reside in the city. Naratyr's warlike legions include retrievers, vampiric giants, and liches of all types. The rank and file of the population is mostly zombies, ghouls, wights, and other decaying corpses that move with a dark purpose. Several evil deities have their domains on Thanatos, but they all answer to the ruler of Naratyr, Lord of the Seventh and the Demon Prince of the Undead, Orcus.
Orcus is a massive, bloated demon prince (bloated on spite, bile, and contempt), who was once murdered ages ago by a rival devil named Baalzebub. But Baalzebub's rein over Thanatos did not last long. Within a century of his "death", Orcus rose from the grave and brutally killed his usurper. Now having reinstated himself into his former position and gained more power as being an undead demon, Orcus has focused his hate on the absolute destruction of his enemies and spreading misery and woe on the mortal realm. Truly a demon reborn, Orcus is more terrible and dangerous than ever.
Orcus hates both Graz'zt and Demogorgon, the Lord of the Eighth. He resents them for their power and wishes to annihilate them completely. Orcus commands a host of undead as well as an army of devils that ravage anything they cross. One interesting fact is that Orcus is worshipped as a god more so than any other demon lord, save of course Asmodeus. And it's a fact that Orcus hopes can lead to godhood. Orcus, along with Demogorgon, is one of the only two devils who have not made a play for Asmodeus' throne...at least, not yet.
Standing fifteen feet tall, Orcus is a massive demon. His head bears the striking resemblance to that of a demonic ram, and his legs end in cloven hooves. Bat-like wings complete the picture of the archetypal demon. In fact, when commoners think of a demon, they most likely think of Orcus they once saw somewhere. Orcus is best known in some circles for his wand, an artifact of malefic might. This wand, more accurately described as a rod, is made of black iron and obsidian and topped with a human skull. It has terrible powers and if a horrific weapon in it's own right. The black, skull-topped rod also serves as Orcus' symbol.
Balor of the Evil Eye, a Celtic god of evil, resides here in his realm of Fomoria. Despite having his one eye always closed, the cyclops-esque deity can see all that transpires around him. And when he chooses to open his eye, beware. Anyone who makes eye contact with Balor as the god gazes at them will die instantly. He is waited on by his servants, the Fomorian giants. Larger than the standard giant, and much crueler, the Fomorians, along with a contingent of demons, make up Balor's elite forces that he sends out to smite his foes and defend his realm.
Another deity who makes their home on Thanatos is Amatsu Mikaboshi. Little is known of the dark god's realm as it is covered in a state of impenetrable darkness, and the only entrance is fiercely guarded by a host of demons under the command of the August Star of Heaven (the title of Mikaboshi). Mikaboshi usually keeps to himself in his domain, but, when the need to travel arises, the god takes the form of a large humanoid, usually dressed in fine Japanese robes and wearing a tengu mask. In his true form, Mikaboshi is an amorphous shapeshifter comprised of utter darkness blacker than his domain. Supposedly born of the blackness from before the universe came into being, Mikaboshi is not technically a member of the Japanese pantheon. Whether this rumor is true or not is unknown, but the August Star of Heaven is still seen as a god of evil and darkness in the country.
The eighth layer of the Nine Hells, called the Cania, is a realm of briny waters and rocky prominences used as rookeries by flying demons. Aboleths, kraken, and ixitxachitl war in the depths, but all bow before the might of the Lord of the Eighth, Demogorgon. It is a primal tropical realm that reflects the bestial elements of chaos and evil, attracting feral devils and crude humanoids from throughout the Nine Hells. A massive, primeval continent covered in dense jungle houses these demons and mortals who serve Demogorgon as a force of strength and brutality, while the briny oceans surrounding the land mass hide other less humanoid denizens.
The two opposing serpentine towers of Abysm, Demogorgon's fortress, emerge from the sea about a hundred miles off the shore just South of the continent. Each spire ends in a minaret resembling an enormous fanged skull. Demogorgon stalks the halls and winding stairs of Abysm, pondering the myriad of mysteries of the Nine Hells and setting grand plans in motion from his grand redoubt. The stone towers extend so far below the surface of Cania, that they open into the sky of the ninth layer, Nessus. Many vile creatures and twisted experiments walk the halls of Abysm, all hungering to serve their master.
Demogorgon, self titled Prince of Demons and Lord of all that Swims in Darkness, is one of the most powerful beings on the plane, both physically and magically, after Asmodeus himself. Despite his power, the self-styled Prince of Demons wages war, both open and subtle, with two other Lords of Nine, Graz'zt and Orcus. Demogorgon is a vile and fearsome sight to behold and is bizarre by even devil standards. The Lord of Nine stands eighteen feet tall and has two heads, each like that of a hyena. His body is long and serpentine, covered in dark, blue-green scales. His necks are long and snaky. Rather than arms, Demogorgon has two long, sinuous tendrils not unlike the tentacles of an octopus. His legs are lean and muscular, and his tail long and forked.
The low sea bed surrounding the Cania mainland, called the Brine Flats, provides shelter from the otherwise intense tides of this layer's ocean, resulting in miles of shallow, salt-rich flats that make perfect habitat for the ixitxachitl, whom Demogorgon has chosen as his favored mortal servants. The thoroughly evil aquatic rays inhabit wide-spanning coral reefs just below the surface, carving out enormous tunnel complexes that occasionally hold lore, magic items, or prisoners crucial to Demogorgon's machinations.
The pit fiend, Belcheresk, honored agent of Demogorgon, dwells withing one of the largest pinnacle systems of the Gaping Maw, the continents sole and colossal mountain range. The upper portions of his domain teem with flying demons and monsters of all kind, while the balconies of the Maw are filled with succubi, kytons, cornugons, gelugons, and many other kinds of demons who serve as Demogorgon's main armies. Belcheresk bear a large conch-like shell known as the Horn of the Sea Mother, whose dolorous calls are capable of enraging all the layer's aquatic inhabitants.
The largest city of Cania's continent, Lemoriax, holds wide, overgrown avenues and crumbling ziggurats that echo with the screams of tens of thousands of savage demons. Travelers expecting the relative stability of other Baatorian cities do not last long in Lemoriax, where the slightest provocation can explode into a whirlwind of vicious mob violence. Demogorgon rules the city himself from his fortress, Abysm, and ventures to the city to climb to the top of the tallest step-pyramid to stoke his follower's passion and bestial rage. Demogorgon's blasphemous declarations and the chorus that follows them can be heard throughout the jungle for miles.
Despite the dangers, Lemoriax boasts the largest slave market of all the Nine Hells, drawing buyers and sellers from not only all of Baator, but from other planes as well. Mortal searching for demonic muscle can take their pick of the brutes of Cania provided they're willing to pay a price that isn't always measured in coins. Finally, Demogorgon's investigations into the deep mysteries of the Nine Hells ensures a great flow of historical and magical objects from remote reaches of the plane. While most ends up in the treasure vault in Abysm, the surplus or misidentified items usually end up in the hands of the rank and file of Lemoriax.
Massive storms, some reaching hurricane status, continually form over the mighty brine ocean and destroy the ships of infernal boatmen and traders alike. Some storms reach the mainland on occasion, and tear through the jungle with savage fury. One location of such raging storms is a location out in the ocean of Cania called the Stygian Eye. The Eye is a persistent and large swirling maelstrom that draws in ships that get too close to it's churning whirlpool waters. Incredible storms blast the region with hurricane force gales and massive bolts of lighting and waterspouts.
The Egyptian god of evil, Set, makes his home in Cania in his realm called the Twelve Hours of Night. Set has the body of a muscular man, but, like the other deities of his pantheon, has an animalistic head. But, unlike the other gods, Set's head is not of a true animal, but a bizarre mix of an aardvark and a jackal with red, matted fur. Set is a cunning and crafty deity, and has gained more power from absorbing the power of the demonic entity, Apep. Set sometimes appears in animal form as a large hunting dog, a dire hippopotamus, or a wild boar with huge, bloodied tusks when visiting the mortal realm. Set commands a force of demonic scorpion centaurs, infernal nagas, yuan-ti, and a few demons who patrol his domain, which is perpetually covered in magical night. Set is not foolish enough to challenge Demogorgon, and gives the Lord of Nine a wide berth and has formed a tenuous alliance with the Prince of Demons. As such, Demogorgon leaves Set to his own devices and stays away from his realm, though the Lord of the Eighth is always watching the Egyptian god.
Gruumsh, the demonic deity of the orcs, resides in Cania as well. His kingdom is a small territory carved out in the Northern area of the continent, and it's borders are guarded by demonic orcs and a legion of narzugon calvalry that was given to him by Asmodeus for a long forgotten favor. Brooding in his iron fortress, Nishrek, Gruumsh hates the elven gods with a dark passion and wants nothing more than to see them and their followers die a horrible death. Part of this is due to Gruumsh losing his right eye in direct battle with Corellon Larethian, the chief deity of the elven pantheon. It is this injury that has given him the nickname of Gruumsh One-Eye. Like Set, Gruumsh stays clear of Demogorgon and, in return, the Prince of Demons allows Gruumsh to control his territory on his own. Gruumsh himself appears as a giant orc, standing at twelve feet tall, whose long black hair is blooded and matted. His eyes burn with a fiery orange-red light of hate for the elves, a stark contrast to his ebony skin, and a pair of pure white tusks that jut out from his lower jaw.
The ninth and final layer in Baator is Nessus. The deepest realm in the Nine Hells, Nessus is a blasted plain shattered by rifts deeper than the deepest ocean trench that floats in a swirling crimson void. It's roughly ovoid, jagged edged land mass extends for approximately 2,500 miles from East to West, and 1,100 miles from it's Northernmost and Southernmost points. Many of the ravines and canyons here reach 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. The largest of these crevasses are miles wide and dozens of miles deep. Rumor has it that an offshoot of the Styx flows here and there, dropping into trenches and trickling it's way across the layer. Few know how to reach this tributary, if it exists at all. the absolute flatness of Nessus allows a traveler to see miles in all directions. The layer is devoid of trees, structures, and changes of elevation, giving it's desolate landscape little to no cover. Beings moving across it's surface can be seen for hours before finally closing into weapons range.
The denizens of Nessus live in canyons, either in caves carved out along the walls, or on the crevasse floors. Although the surface of Nessus is finite, it's twisting canyons and runnels contain an effectively infinite amount of space. The canyons intersect confusingly across the surface of Nessus. In a few places they weave around each other, sculpting towering mesas. To reach a specific destination, a traveler must be able to tell one gorge from another, a difficult task for any who do not dwell on the layer. In keeping with the layers utter hostility to travelers, the canyons and crevasses are unmarked. Maps of the surface have been cobbled together from sketches created by generations of suicidally brave cartographers. Even when accurate, these maps are difficult to match with conditions on the ground.
Few bridges span the canyons, and those that do exist are either heavily guarded or trapped. Any seemingly unguarded bridge is ready to hurl travelers to the canyon floor below if the correct password is not spoken when they reach the midway point. Flightless devils are expected to remain in their home crevasses, but, in case of emergency, they can climb out up the treacherous walls or via rope ladders. Most with poor climbing skills only venture out of the caves when their lives depend on it. Even still, the floors of most canyons are littered with the bones and bodies of demons who fell to their deaths.
The ruler of Nessus is Asmodeus, the King of Hell, Lord of the Nine, the Grand Duke of Baator, and the Archfiend. Asmodeus commands all devilkind, rules over the Lords of the Nine, and is the undisputed master of the Nine Hells. Even the deities that reside in Baator pay Asmodeus a great deal of respect. Asmodeus is certainly older than any devil in Hell, although some say he was not the plane's first ruler. On the other hand, some claim that he is indeed the original, primal force of evil in the universe and creator of the demon race as every drop of his blood spawns a new devil. The actions of Asmodeus are often mysterious to outsiders, but that is due to the short-sighted and dim-witted view most beings have. The Archfiend's machinations are labyrinthine and insidious. They work on a grand scale, although when it suits his needs he is willing to focus his attention even on the status of a lowly mortal soul. Throughout countless millennia, Asmodeus has shown that he can take on virtually all other archdevils in Hell and arise triumphant when the smoke clears. His will alone dictates who rules the various layers of Baator. Once a year, he gathers the other Lords of Nine together in his home on Nessus, the fortress called Malsheem. None have ever refused this call.
Asmodeus stands at just over thirteen feet tall, with lustrous dark skin and dark hair. He is handsome in the same way that a thunderstorm is beautiful. His red eyes shine with the power of Hell, and his head is crowned with a pair of small dark-red sharp horns. The robes he wears are of the finest red and black material of all the planes, and they are studded with black diamonds and fiery rubies. Asmodeus carries with him always a rod that appears to have been carved from a single ruby that radiates with the infernal power of the plane itself. Dubbed the Ruby Rod of Asmodeus, this artifact of terrible power is one of the most deadliest devices in existence.
Asmodeus' concerns are simple. First, he wants the power structure of Baator to remain in place, with him in charge. To meet this end, the Lord of the Nine has spies on every layer, plants in every court. No fiend knows for sure which of it's minions actually serves Asmodeus, so the climate is one of justified paranoia. the second is the expansion of evil. Asmodeus directly opposes celestials and goodly deities. His minions combat the agents of Celestia, murdering them whenever and wherever they can. Finally, Asmodeus covets that which other devils seek: godhood. To attain godhood, Asmodeus has discovered that it not only takes rituals both ancient and foul, but also a base of mortal worshippers. As such, Asmodeus has slowly instituted one of the largest cults of evil on the Material Plane, quietly corrupted those with weak minds and tainted hearts. His cult is larger than those of all other devils combined. He influences all levels of society and has followers of nearly every race, even within the strongest bastions for good.
Asmodeus is aware of every plots hatched against him. Older than the oldest archdevil, Asmodeus has seen rise and fall of other archfiends far craftier than his current contemporaries. He keeps to himself letting his minions stew in fear of what he will do next. Of course, few have forgotten that Asmodeus has emerged from every attempted coupe unscathed, proving to all that he is their better. The court of Asmodeus is comprised of a select few dukes and archfiends, most notably Andramalech, the Chancellor of Hell, and Phongor, the Inquisitor of Hell. Asmodeus once had a wife in the devil, Bensozia, a beautiful, wingless, red-skinned humanoid with long white hair, and completely black eyes with a cold, haughty, yet polite, demeanor. From this unholy union, Glaysa was born. She was murdered though by the archdevil Geryon in an attempt to get to Asmodeus. Asmodeus has yet to take another consort as he did with Bensozia since her death.
Asmodeus' origins are shrouded in mystery, and many legends and stories claim to hold the truth behind the Archfiend's past. In the most famous of these legends, Asmodeus began as a servant to the lawful gods. He was said to be the "bravest, toughest, fiercest, and most beautiful" of the goodly servants of the gods. It was said that he and his fellow servants were created to battle the yugoloths, an ancient race of evil creatures that resided in an unknown dimension long before the dawn of man, so that the gods could focus their attention with creating the world and sentient beings.
After eons of fighting the yugoloths, Asmodeus and his fellows began to change, growing similar in appearance and methods to the yugoloths they fought. Afraid of his power and the changes he had under gone, the gods put Asmodeus on trial and demanded he and his ilk be cast out of Celestia. However, Asmodeus argued effectively (and correctly) that he and his fellows had not violated the law. Asmodeus and his followers successfully sued for access to Celestia and all the honors to which they were entitled.
Once the gods created the world and sentient beings, the yugoloths attacked them too. The gods created mountains, oceans, and wastelands to seal up the gates to the yugoloth's home dimension, but their creations defied their orders and explored their world, accidentally unsealing the gates. The gods could not understand why their creations did not follow their instructions, until Asmodeus explained to them that their system did not work because it relied solely on voluntary compliance. Asmodeus explained that the only way to ensure obedience was to threaten mortals with a disincentive; hence, Asmodeus invented the concept of punishment.
Asmodeus convinced the gods to sign a contract called the Pact Primeval. Which allowed Asmodeus and his follows to take up residence in the abandoned realm of Baator, to punish the souls of wicked mortals, and to extract magical energies from the souls under their care in order to fuel their powers. Otherwise, Asmodeus reasoned, they would have to be granted the status of godhood to do their job, which the current deities would fine unacceptable. At first, the gods found this arrangement agreeable. However, they eventually realized that fewer and fewer mortal souls were ascending to Celestia, and that Asmodeus and his followers were deliberately tempting mortals to damnation. When they arrived in Baator, the gods found Asmodeus had turned it into a nightmarish world of endless suffering, filled with countless new devils. When called to account for his actions, Asmodeus uttered the famous words, "Read the fine print."
This is but one of many legends concerning Asmodeus' origins. Most of the myths tell that he was cast out of the Upper Planes, and fell and fell and fell until he crashed into Baator, shattering the plane into nine layers and tearing his flesh open into gaping wounds, until coming to rest at the bottom most layer. Another tells that Asmodeus' true form is that of a giant serpent-like creature who was cast out of Celestia before the creation of the gods, and who's fall into Baator created the eighth and ninth layers of the plane. It is said that he is still recovering from his wounds in the pits of Nessus, and that his devil form is just an avatar of the real Asmodeus. Nobody who tells the story of the true form of Asmodeus survives more than twenty-four hours after it's telling. Whether any of these or the other stories about Asmodeus' origins are true remains to be seen, if it will be revealed at all as the one being who does know, Asmodeus, isn't telling.
Two famous gorges of Nessus are Hell's Lips and Reaper's Canyon. Mortals traveling through Hell's Lips become unnaturally hungry and thirsty, consuming their supplies in a matter of minutes. Travelers entering Reaper's Canyon always shudder as if in the presence of death itself. Wounds sustained in Reaper's Canyon are much worse than they would normally be, and bleed more profusely. It is here, at the junction of these two canyons, that Asmodeus' citadel of Malsheem rests. The main structure, built of stone and Baatorian green steel, stretches in an "X" shape for miles along the floors of both gorges. Additional chambers and garrisons have been created by digging deep within the canyon walls. If Malsheem ever collapsed, millions of devils would die in the crush of rock, but since the fortress was designed by Asmodeus himself, such fears seem foolish.
Malsheem houses Asmodeus' vast army, which grows in number every time he sheds a drop of blood. These forces are restricted for his personal use, when the moment comes to storm the heavens. The citadel and it's connecting tunnel complexes are so large that a map of them would run thousands of pages. Adventurers occasionally find documents purporting to map small portions of it, but these are undoubtedly bogus.
Jutting from the side of Reaper's Canyon is a magical citadel called Tabjari that is accessible only from the tunnels inside the earth. These tunnels are elaborately trapped and guarded, as Tabjari contains a treasure which Asmodeus must protect at all costs. No devils patrol the halls of Tabjari, as the treasure exerts a disturbing influence over them. Tabjari's deepest vault holds Asmodeus' copy of the Pact Primeval, struck between himself and the primal deities of law. It's divine energy suffuses the entire complex, radiating an overwhelming aura that is both ineffably good and unspeakably evil. Mortals that enter Tabjari are subjected to this aura that defies all metaphysical principles, and loose their minds to confusion and insanity. The other copy of the Pact Primeval resides somewhere in Celestia, under similar guard. Both copies are said to be indestructible.