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Hell in the Forgotten Realms

By Sean K Reynolds

The Nine Hells of the Forgotten Realms are no place for a human wizard -- even an immortal one. In Ed Greenwood's novel Elminster in Hell, the Sage of Shadowdale is captured by a devil and left to wander in Hell while his captor tortures his body and consumes his memories in a search for the key to Mystra's silver fire. With Elminster's attention focused on the psychic battle and the horrible mutilation of his body, he was understandably sparse on the details of the place and its residents. Here you can learn more about the harsh environment and evil creatures found in the novel.



Hell is another dimension, or "plane of existence," where the souls of evil folk go when they die and where powerful beings commonly known as devils fight and scheme with each other for personal power. Unlike the Abyss, which is the home of demons and a dimension of chaos and evil, Hell is a place of law and evil: rigid castes, formalized methods of promotion and demotion, and cruelty more terrible than any evil human government. Hell is called "Baator"(bay-AH-tor) by planar scholars, but to the common folk of many worlds it is simply "Hell."


The Layers

Hell actually comprises nine "layers" of similar lawful and evil temperament, often called the Nine Hells. ("Fires of the Nine Hells" is a common expletive in Faerûn.) Stacked on top of each other in a metaphysical sense, each of the nine layers is smaller and more evil than the next. Each layer is controlled by a powerful being called an archdevil, some of which may rival minor deities in power. Together, these archdevils are called the Lords of the Nine.

The wasteland of Avernus is the highest layer, and it is ruled by Bel, a very powerful pit fiend who defeated Avernus's previous lord. All of Elminster's travels in Hell in the novel take place in Avernus.

The next layer is the burning iron city of Dis, which is ruled by Dispater, the goat-footed lord who rarely leaves his Iron Citadel.

Third is the dire and polluted swamp of Minauros, which is ruled by the serpent-bodied Mammon, who few archdevils would ever trust after a previous betrayal.

Fourth is fire-blasted Phlegethos, with its rivers of lava and animate fire that wanders the air. It is ruled by the devil Belial and his daughter Fierna.

Fifth is Stygia, which is a watery realm of crushing ice and lightning-fractured skies. It is ruled by Levistus, who is sealed in a great block of ice as punishment for his betrayal of the lord of the ninth Hell.

Sixth is Malbolge, which is a mountainous dimension that suffers continuous avalanches and falling boulders. It is ruled by a powerful night hag known only as the Hag Countess.

Seventh is Maladomini, a place of ruined abandoned cities and constant construction. Its ruler is Baalzebul, an archon of good who was cast down into Hell and transformed into a sluglike creature.

Eighth is Cania, colder even than Stygia, with glaciers that move as the fastest human sprinter and avalanches of snow that bury everything in sight. Cania is ruled by Mephistopheles, who faked his own coup to discover enemies in his camp.

Nessus is the ninth layer of Hell and is a land of impossibly deep canyons. Powerful Asmodeus rules this layer. This mysterious and ancient being may date back to early in the creation of the multiverse.

All of the archdevils are superficially allied with each other to control and destroy the enemies of Hell, but within their own ranks they plot and betray each other for power and prestige, and they secretly resent the leadership of Asmodeus, who has been challenged in the past but never defeated. Asmodeus laughs at their plots against him and prepares for the next inevitable battle.



The first of the Hells is the largest since it's actually of infinite size. It is the site of many battles and often the only part of Hell that visitors see. Avernus is a wasteland of charred, rubble-strewn plains, with occasional mountains and loose-rock foothills. The sky is usually red or violet, and a blood-red hue suffuses the air from all directions; there is no sun. Fiery globes streak across the sky and sometimes explode for no apparent reason. Nothing grows here, and all native creatures constantly search for other beings to slay and consume.

The river Styx, which connects all of the evil planes in one way or another, winds its way across Avernus. Other rivers and streams made of fresh and thickening blood mark territorial borders and eventually pour into the Styx. Some say that the source of the blood is from all previous victims of the plane, but its actual origin is unknown.

Because it connects to the other evil planes, Avernus is the most likely target for any attack by demons, and so large numbers of the devil soldiers are constantly on the march here in search of potential enemies or creatures that they can torture and kill for entertainment. In addition to the fiendish armies, rogue devils, strange native monsters, and even deposed arch-devils find places to hide in this place and pursue their own desires of murder, torture, and greed.



The most common inhabitants of Avernus are the devils. While some scholars refer to them as "baatezu" (bay-AH-tez-oo), others argue that not all devils are in fact baatezu, and most people don't care what they're called as long as it keeps them far away. The devils delight in inflicting pain on others (and even themselves), and they have a strange biology that allows -- under the right circumstances and with the right kind of magic -- to change into more powerful forms after extended torture. Thus, devils use pain to show dominance over the weaker kinds, and they are in turn subject to greater pain as a means of increasing their own power. For example, even the lowest lemure can transform into an osyluth at the hands of a more powerful devil with the right powers and torture techniques, and even the great pit fiends are said to have been created from lesser devils because they were burned in a terrible supernatural fire for over a century. The fact that these creatures must use pain to improve themselves shows how warped they are at the core of their beings, and it also reflects their lawful (hierarchal) and evil (promoted by suffering) nature.

Lemures are among the weakest devils. Man-sized blobs of molten stinking flesh, lemures are the shock troops and laborers of the devils. The most selfish, cruel, and evil mortals that die and come to Hell become lemures. Their soft bodies regenerate quickly, making them convenient victims of torture for the devils. A lemure is about as tough as a typical human zombie. The only things lower in the devilish hierarchy than lemures are nupperibos, which are strange gangly-limbed bloated creatures with no minds or eyes that serve as the cannon fodder of Hell.

An osyluth, or "bone devil," looks like a tall, emaciated being with a bony scorpion's tail. They exude the stench of decay and serve in Hell's armies as police and informers by monitoring their fellows. Osyluths are about as powerful as wyverns.

A barbazu, or "bearded devil," fits the traditional description of a devil, with tail, clawed hands and feet, scaly skin, and a vile-looking beard. They are elite shock troops, and they lead masses of lemures into battle and combat key foes while the lesser devils swarm over the minions. A barbazu is about as dangerous as a medusa.

Erinyes are the devilish equivalent to succubi and are sent to Faerûn to tempt mortals. They also avenge insults against Hell. They appear as attractive women with feathery wings and sinister eyes. They can charm their prey and use magic ropes to bind creatures they want to capture alive. Erinyes are about as tough as a barbazu.

Hamatulas are similar to barbazus, except they are taller and their bodies are covered in sharp, barbed spikes. They serve as guardians and patrol troops. They like to grab their opponents, pull them close, and impale them on the their body spikes. Hamatulas are as powerful as stone giants or mind flayers.

Cornugons are larger and more monstrous than hamatulas, and they favor great whips that can stun enemies. Wounds from a cornugon's attacks continue to bleed profusely until tended. They are the elite defense forces of Hell and often act as bodyguards for important devils or guard powerful war machines. A cornugon is about as powerful as a fire giant.

Gelugons are strange insect-like devils, with faceted eyes, large mandibles, and a thick tail covered in razor-sharp spikes. Their bodies create numbing cold, and creatures struck by their tail or metal spear are usually slowed in their tracks. Gelugons are super-elite guards and spies, and they normally work as bodyguards to archdevils or change their shape to study enemy devils or powerful mortals. A gelugon is about as dangerous as a beholder.

The pit fiends are the officers of Hell's armies, and the greatest armies of Hell are led by pit fiend generals called the Dark Eight. Twelve feet tall and bat-winged, with red scales, great poisonous fangs, and shrouded in flame, pit fiends spark fear wherever they go. They are the most powerful sort of devil save the archdevils, and in comparison they are more dangerous than an iron golem, as intelligent as a typical lich, and more destructive than a twelve-headed hydra.

Abishai are gargoyle-like draconic beings in the service of the deity Tiamat, who has been known to exert power on Avernus from time to time. Like their great queen, abishai come in the five colors common to the evil dragons of Faerûn: white, black, green, blue, and red, in ascending order of power. Abishai serve as torturers and wardens in Hell, and they are not above attacking lone devils of different kinds, particularly in packs. A white abishai is slightly less powerful than an osyluth, and a red one is about equivalent to a hamatula.

In addition to the devils, which by far outnumber any other creature in Hell, the place is home to evil dragons, giant maggotlike fiends, strange creatures of many mouths, eyes, and limbs, and even more bizarre varieties of horrible monsters. Most of these kinds are not catalogued by mortal sages because they are little more than powerful eating machines, and most people who summon Hell's creatures to Faerûn do so because they seek information, power, and minions. By far the most common fiendish arrivals are the devils, rather than the mindless all-consuming beasts with no language, knowledge, or concept of obedience.

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