[Whiteleaf] Structure of the Nine Hells

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[Whiteleaf] Structure of the Nine Hells

Post by willpell » Sat Jul 28, 2018 10:05 pm

As part of my "giving away" Whiteleaf, here is a description of how I reskinned the Nine Hells of Baator to suit its cosmology. I had hoped to surprise the players with this info in an actual campaign, but I can no longer hold out realistic hope of that happening.


The infinite horrors of the Abyss are constantly seeking to boil forth into the rest of the cosmos, as literally limitless numbers of demons seek to escape the grasp of Oblivion. To prevent this, the creators of the universe placed a barrier, known as the Membrane, across the "bottom" of the Protean Sea of Chaos, preventing all travel in the "upward" direction, which ensured that the Abyss could only be left through a single planar region that this barrier did not cover (such a region was necessary, much as a dam must inevitably have a spillway to prevent it from eventually breaching due to pressure buildup). To fortify this passable region against the constant influx of demon "refugees" into the Material Plane and other habitable zones, the Nine Hells were placed in the path, each one stacked "atop" the previous one, and the race of Devils was charged with the thankless task of fighting demonkind forever. It is unclear whether the architects of this design expected what happened next, though it seems like an obvious consequence - the devils soon grew to hate the world they protected, and have worked to exploit and corrupt the humanoid races ever since.

Thusly, the Hells have two basic functions - the original purpose of defeating Chaos, and the secondary one of harvesting resources from the living world, with souls being primary among these resources, and thus the corruption of humanoids into the service of Evil being paramount to their objective. While it is unquestionably true that the world would be destroyed without Hell's protection, it is also true that Hell's influence poisons the world enough that one could argue it was better off destroyed. The influence of the Celestials still largely counteracts what the Devils can do on Terrestra, and life in the Empire remains good for the most part - but the devils argue, and they may be right, that Heaven is endangering the world by not allowing them to pollute it completely with Evil, and thereby turn it into an efficient enough weapon to actually defeat the Abyss forever. Is such a thing truly possible? Nobody knows, and the gods certainly don't want to see it come to that, if the price is to extinguish Good forever and fill life with nothing but utter misery.

Regardless, however, the devils continue to try and recruit as many mortal souls as possible into the service of Hell, whether they are to be transformed into new devils, imprisoned in fiendish devices that harness their talents, or simply consumed for energy in order to fuel the never-ending Blood War. The power of humanoid emotion and willpower can potentially be transmuted into the most potent of magics, but it's difficult enough that it's often easier simply to obliterate the soul completely; thusly, whether to keep a "petitioner" alive and suffering, turn him into a Larva which can be extinguished for some trivial advantage, or "promote" him to a Lemure and make him part of the diabolic army, is a calculation constantly being managed by the "bureaucracy" of Hell, which carefully analyzes the projected values of every soul they gain access to. In every case, the key to utilizing any soul for Evil purposes lies in the Sins which can turn a soul to Evil's cause; for every Sin, there is a Hell which focuses upon its use, and the resident Devils reflect that sin's nature and purpose. Each of the Nine Hells is devoted in various degrees to these three purposes, with a fairly obvious gradation from one to the next. Without further ado, here is a list of them all, ranked from "bottom" (closest to the Abyss) to "top" (closest to the Material Plane), the opposite of the sequence wherein mortals (even adventurers) are likely to encounter them.


The Red Hell of Wrath is the primary battlefield of the Blood War (although it often spills over onto the "orbiting" demiplanes which have formed along the Membrane over the centuries, such as Gehenna and Pandemonium; these flaws in the barrier's effectiveness diminish the Mandate of Hell's importance, but no devil would acknowledge such a truth, and those who can think of it at all believe such realms will eventually be absorbed into Wrath or another Hell, cutting off any possible demonic entry). Since a finite number of devils fight here to defeat a never-ending army of demons, they cannot afford even 1% casualties, and thus they have converted the entire layer into an extremely efficient deathtrap, where intruders can be slaughtered by the thousands at a single chokepoint, lured into ambushes and pitfalls, devastated by artillery emplacements, and so forth. Despite this, the war effort is still a hopeless cause, and every soldier is crucially necessary; devoted solely to this side of the Diabolic Agenda, the Wrath hell is the least often visited by mortals, as few indeed can muster a strong enough degree of Wrath to become warrior-devils, or even enough to explode in a blast of annihilating rage.

The perennial second fiddle of the Netherworld, the Green Hell of Envy ostensibly serves as a redundant battlefield for destroying any demons who manage to break through the Wrath layer, but its real purpose is to be second, since this emotion is what empowers the Hell itself. All of the magic commanded by its resident devils hinges upon their festering, acidic hatred for those who dare to exceed them; they hate the Wrath hell for playing a more important role in the Blood War, although they have reasons aplenty to hate everything else as well. Every mortal or devil who finds their way to the Envy hell is made to constantly feel just inadequate, forever being hectored to push themselves harder, no matter how impossible it seems, and their impotent frustration at failing constantly is what the layer seeks to extract from the mortals and imbue into the devils, allowing it to be harnessed effectively as Dynamic Tension which can fuel the War.


In the unlikely event that demonic marauders manage to make it all the way through Envy in one piece, the Blue Hell of Sloth is designed to capitalize on their exhaustion and sense of accomplishment, persuading them to rest on their laurels and advance no further; a relatively high proportion of mortals have devolved to this deep layer of Hell, specifically to allow their indolence to ripen into a contagion which can affect even the constantly-raging virulence of Abyssal life. The fact that the Blue Hell has nothing to do most of the time is part of the point; its prisoner-souls gradually rot away under their own inertia, doing as little as possible and squandering their afterlives just as they wasted their time on Terrestra, eventually merging entirely with the layer itself. The apathetic nature of these souls extends to the new devils which are spawned from them, and only their sheer numbers justifies their use in the Blood War armies, as following the path of least resistance does manage to prove highly efficient.


Once, it is said, there were only eight Hells, and also eight Heavens, but now there are seven and nine, for some celestial realm that once had another name eventually proved itself to be the Violet Hell of Hypocrisy, a place of penultimate richness and beauty whose function is entirely to deny the truth of its own existence. Shifted deep into the middle of the "stack" after its fall from Good, this world took a crop of egotistical angels with it, and is now the primary home of the Erinyes race of devilkind, who still count themselves as an aristocracy of sorts, despite having been "married" into the normal diabolic advancement chain long ago. Nowhere else in Hell are the resident devils more thoroughly Lawful, though they also surpass all in Evilness; speaking almost entirely in blatant lies and sarcasm, they demand constant praise from their most hated rivals, and show exquisite politeness laden with careful sarcasm whenever they speak to a superior. A major component of the Infernal leadership, Hypocrisy is largely responsible for defining the principles which devil-kind is expected to uphold, all of which must be carefully decrypted from the doublespeak in which they are written. Very few entities suspect that the true ruler of the Nine Hells lurks on this layer, its non-central location being an intentional smokescreen.


The Blackest of Hells is the ostensible capital of the Inferno, and is filled with pomp and circumstance to befit the inflated self-opinion of its resident devils, the foremost of which is the decoy ruler puppeted by the true Adversary. At the crossroads between the war-front and the Material-facing "recruitment" arm, Pride commands both efforts and works to integrate them, while also budgeting the dark energies which "fuel" all of the layers. The Black Hell intentionally culls itself of most of the mortals who naturally gravitate there, faulting them on their inadequacy and shipping them off to the other layers (most especially Envy, which is a natural outgrowth of thwarted Pride, and Sloth, which results when it is accepted in spite of contrary evidence). The reasons invented to justify their arrogance are legion, but ultimately does not matter; it is in the pretense of their accomplished nature that these devils and Damned mortals actually achieve their best results. The phrase "fake it until you make it" is nowhere truer; this section of the Netherworld values appearances above all else, and thus the charismatic and utterly self-possessed actually can reach nearly as great a height as they believe themselves entitled to - although, in most cases, this is only so they can be crushingly dashed from those attainments.

Gaudily bedecked in the finest royal silks, the Purple Hell of Vanity (often called Narcissus) is certainly the most beautiful spot in the Inferno, not that this makes it any less horrible. The buildings are intentionally constructed of shiny, brittle materials which shatter at the slightest pressure; everything about this realm is a shallow façade which explodes into ragged edges when challenged. The Barbed Devils primarily live here, and insist that they are the most glorious creatures in the Lower Planes, happily impaling anyone who dares to contradict this obviously nonsensical boast.

The Golden Hell is a treasure beyond estimation, and all of it is yours, no matter who you are. More solitary than any other damned souls, the petitioner/prisoners of Avarice often don't take long to realize that they have competition for the ownership of the trove which their infernal contract has granted them; a delusional inability to remember this truth, or recognize the patterns as they are forced to battle one rival after another, is key to the process of "juicing" the Sin out of them. Some of the most interesting infernal residents, including the godlike Primordial dragon-mother (whose eight heads constantly argue about which one of them actually owns the hoard which their attached body sleeps upon), can be found on this layer...but they seldom appreciate the one who finds them.

Called the Orange Hell even though it often tends more toward a shade of brown, the second-highest layer of the Inferno is a home for those who gorge without restriction, either on literal food or other indulgences, and it is particularly blatant about the way in which it exploits these petitioners. Able to feed until they burst, the food generally being somewhat prosaic but mostly satisfying, the damned eventually return far more energy to the Hell than it expended on generating their meals, and don't notice as their usually-massive frames gradually waste away after these purgations, until at last they are little more than hollow sacks of skin that yearn constantly to feel full again. The Nupperibo are the rank-and-file of the resident hellspawn, most of them having originally been these foolish humans, although the layer also plays home to at least one dragon.

Tantalus, the White Hell, is physically the largest of the layers (comparable in area to the Material Plane) and by far the most populous, with a huge number of petitioners, disguised devils, and even tourists (the Greed, Gluttony, and Vanity hells also often get visitors, but Lust attracts as many as all of the others combined, since it does a better job of hiding its horrible truth). Effectively a giant PR machine among other functions, the Hell presents itself as a viable alternative to Paradise, possessing only trivial flaws which only make it more accessible to the average mortal; many persons who aren't even close to truly becoming Evil can be tempted just a little bit toward the clutches of Hell, simply by arranging a nearly-perfect liason for them with someone who is themselves still a mostly-untainted mortal petitioner, whose path to damnation stretches so much further ahead than behind that they can't even think to worry themselves about where it's going. Bit by bit, across hundreds or even thousands of encounters, these individuals are gradually and almost-painlessly debauched, until at last they reach an "event horizon" which even they would still balk at - only then do the "kid gloves" come off, and the sinner is pushed into doing the one thing they were certain they could never stomach doing. In most cases, that experience completely unravels their identity and destroys the soul, releasing intense emotional energies which Hell can harness and turn into a weapon; if a captive doesn't seem like they will respond to such treatment, they are steered toward ending up on the other side of the equation, feeding the Lust of others instead of their own, and thus become part of the incentive for others to be likewise damned. Naturally, if all contact with the Inferno was guaranteed to end in disaster, only the most foolish diabolists would traffic with Hell, and so one of the most important duties of Tantalus is to let a few of its "victims" escape unscathed, so they may serve as advertisements for the "benefits" of signing away just one or two of your more minor liberties.

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