The Nine Hells of Baator
- Alignment: Lawful Evil
The Nine Hells of Baator inflame the imaginations of travelers, the greed of treasure seekers, and the battle fury of all moral creatures. It is the ultimate plane of law and evil and the epitome of premeditated cruelty.
The devils of the Nine Hells are bound to obey the laws of their superiors, but they rebel within their individual castes. Most undertake any plot, no matter how foul, to advance themselves. At the very top of the hierarchy is Asmodeus, who has yet to be bested. If he were to be vanquished, the victor would rule the plane in turn. Such is the law of the Nine Hells.
The Nine Layers
Baator has nine layers. The first eight are each ruled by archdevils that answer to Asmodeus, the Archduke of Nessus, the ninth layer. To reach the deepest layer of the Nine Hells, one must descend through all eight of the layers above it, in order. The most expeditious means of doing so is the River Styx, which plunges ever deeper as it flows from one layer to the next. Only the most courageous adventurers can withstand the torment and horror of that journey.
No planar portals connect directly to the lower layers of the Nine Hells, by Asmodeus’s orders. As such, the first layer of Avernus is the arrival point for visitors to the plane.
Avernus is a rocky wasteland with rivers of blood and clouds of biting flies. Fiery comets occasionally fall from the darkened sky and leave fuming impact craters behind. Empty battlefields are littered with weapons and bones, showing where the legions of the Nine Hells met enemies on their native soil and prevailed.
The Archduchess Zariel rules Avernus, supplanting her rival, Bel, who has fallen out of Asmodeus’s favor and is forced to serve as Zariel’s advisor. Tiamat, the Queen of Evil Dragons, is a prisoner on this layer, ruling her own domain but confined to the Nine Hells by Asmodeus in accordance with some ancient contract (the terms of which are known only to Tiamat and the Lords of the Nine).
Zariel’s seat of power is a soaring basalt citadel festooned with the partially incinerated corpses of guests who failed to earn the archduchess’s favor. Zariel appears as an angel whose once-beautiful skin and wings have been ruined by fire. Her eyes burn with a furious white light that can cause creatures looking upon her to burst into flame.
Dis, the second layer of the Nine Hells, is a labyrinth of canyons wedged between sheer mountains rich with iron ore. Iron roads span and wend through the canyons, watched over by the garrisons of iron fortresses perched atop jagged pinnacles.
The second layer takes its name from its current lord, Dispater. A manipulator and deceiver, the archduke is devilishly handsome, bearing only small horns, a tail, and a cloven left hoof to distinguish him from a human. His crimson throne stands in the heart of the Iron City of Dis, a hideous metropolis that is the largest in the Nine Hells. Planar travelers come here to conspire with devils and to close deals with night hags, rakshasas, incubi, succubi, and other fiends. Dispater collects a piece of every deal through special provisions that are added to contracts signed on his layer of the Nine Hells.
Dispater is one of Asmodeus’s most loyal and resourceful vassals, and few beings can outwit him. He is more obsessed than most devils with striking deals with mortals in exchange for their souls, and his emissaries work tirelessly to foster evil schemes in the Material Plane.
The third layer of the Nine Hells is a stench-ridden bog. Acidic rain spills from the layer’s brown skies, thick layers of scum cover its putrid surface, and yawning pits lie in wait beneath the murk to engulf careless wanderers. Cyclopean cities of ornately carved stone rise up from the bog, including the great city of Minauros for which the layer is named.
The slimy walls of the city rise hundreds of feet into the air, protecting the flooded halls of Mammon. The Archduke of Minauros resembles a massive serpent with the upper torso and head of a hairless, horned humanoid. Mammon’s greed is legendary, and he is one of the few archdevils who will trade favors for gold instead of souls. His lair is piled high with treasures left behind by those who tried – and failed – to best him in a deal.
Phlegethos, the fourth layer, is a fiery landscape whose seas of molten magma brew hurricanes of hot wind, choking smoke, and pyroclastic ash. Within the fire-filled caldera of Phlegethos’s largest volcano rises Abriymoch, a fortress city cast of obsidian and dark glass. With rivers of molten lava pouring down its outer walls, the city resembles the sculpted centerpiece of a gigantic, hellish fountain.
Abriymoch is the seat of power for the two archdevils who rule Phlegethos in tandem: Archduke Belial and Archduchess Fierna, Belial’s daughter. Belial is a handsome, powerfully built devil who exudes civility, even as his words carry an undercurrent of threat. His daughter is a statuesque devil whose beauty encases the blackest heart in the Nine Hells. The alliance of Belial and Fierna is unbreakable, for both are aware that their mutual survival hinges on it.
The fifth layer of the Nine Hells is a freezing realm of ice within which cold flames burn. A frozen sea surrounds the layer, and its gloomy sky crackles with lightning.
Archduke Levistus once betrayed Asmodeus and is now encased deep in the ice of Stygia as punishment. He rules this layer all the same, communicating telepathically with his followers and servants, both in the Nine Hells and on the Material Plane.
Stygia is also home to its previous ruler, the serpentine archdevil Geryon, who was dismissed by Asmodeus to allow the imprisoned Levistus to regain his rule. Geryon’s fall from grace has spurred much debate within the infernal courts. No one is certain whether Asmodeus had some secret cause to dismiss the archdevil or whether he is testing Geryon’s allegiance for some greater purpose.
Malbolge, the sixth layer, has outlasted many rulers, among them Malagard the Hag Countess and the archdevil Moloch. Malagard fell out of favor and was struck down by Asmodeus in a fit of pique, while her predecessor, Moloch, still lingers somewhere on the sixth layer as an imp, plotting to regain Asmodeus’s favor.
Malbolge is a seemingly endless slope, like the sides of an impossibly huge mountain. Parts of the layer break off from time to time, creating deadly and deafening avalanches of stone. The inhabitants of Malbolge live in crumbling fortresses and great caves carved into the mountainside.
Malbolge’s current archduchess is Asmodeus’s daughter, Glasya. She resembles a succubus with her small horns, leathery wings, and forked tail. She inherited her cruelty and love of dark schemes from her father. The citadel that serves as her domicile on the slopes of Malbolge is supported by cracked pillars and buttresses that are sturdy yet seem on the verge of collapse. Beneath the palace is a labyrinth lined with cells and torture chambers, where Glasya confines and torments those who displease her.
The seventh layer, Maladomini, is ruin-covered wasteland. Dead cities form a desolate urban landscape, and between them lie empty quarries, crumbling roads, slag heaps, the hollow shells of empty fortresses, and swarms of hungry flies.
The Archduke of Maladomini is Baalzebul, the Lord of Flies. A bloated fiend with the lower body of an enormous slug, Baalzebul’s form was inflicted on him by Asmodeus as punishment for wavering loyalty. Baalzebul is a miserable and degenerate monstrosity who has long conspired to usurp Asmodeus, yet has failed at every turn. He carries a curse that causes any deal made with him to lead to calamity. Asmodeus occasionally shows Baalzebul favor for reasons no other archduke can fathom, though some suspect that the Archduke of Nessus still respects the worthiness of this fallen adversary.
Cania, the eighth layer of the Nine Hells, is an icy hellscape, whose ice storms can tear flesh from bone. Cities embedded in the ice provide shelter for guests and prisoners of Cania’s ruler, the brilliant and conniving archdevil Mephistopheles.
Mephistopheles dwells in the ice citadel of Mephistar, where he plots to seize the Throne of Baator and conquer the planes. He is Asmodeus’s greatest enemy and ally, and the Archduke of Nessus appears to trust Mephistopheles’s counsel when it is offered.
Mephistopheles knows he can’t depose Asmodeus until his adversary makes a grave miscalculation, and so both wait to see what circumstances might turn them against each other. Mephistopheles is also a godfather of sorts to Glasya, further complicating the relationship.
Mephistopheles is a tall, striking devil with impressive horns and a cool demeanor. He trades in souls, as do other archdevils, but he rarely gives his time to any creatures not worthy of his personal attention. His instincts are as razor sharp as Cania’s frigid winds, and it is said that only Asmodeus has ever deceived or thwarted him.
The lowest layer of the Nine Hells, Nessus is a realm of dark pits whose walls are set with fortresses. There, pit fiend generals loyal to Asmodeus garrison their diabolical legions and plot the conquest of the universe. At the center the layer stands a vast rift of unknown depth, out of which rises the great citadel-spire of Malsheem, home to Asmodeus and his infernal court.
Malsheem resembles a gigantic hollowed-out stalagmite. The citadel is also a prison for souls that Asmodeus has locked away for safekeeping. Convincing him to release even one of those souls comes at a steep price, and it is rumored that the Archduke of Nessus has claimed whole kingdoms in the past for such favors.
Asmodeus most often appears as a handsome, bearded humanoid with small horns protruding from his forehead, piercing red eyes, and flowing robes. He can also assume other forms and is seldom seen without his ruby-tipped scepter in hand. Asmodeus is the most cunning and well-mannered of archdevils. The ultimate evil he represents can be seen only when he wills it so, or if he forgets himself and flies into a rage.