Monday, July 20, 2015

Paladins in Hell

by David C. Sutherland
Hell was finally conquered in 788 TFM, in a brutal chapter of military history called the Last Crusade.  Asmodeus was destroyed, the gates of Hell were sundered, and all over the continent people of all race celebrated the Year of Eternal Triumph--the day when humanity finally triumphed over the Unholy Land.

The furnaces of Hell were repurposed.  The demons that would not swear the Oaths were herded into them and utterly incinerated in holy fire.  The demons that swore the Oaths became devils, and became bound in service to the new lords of Hell: the Knights of the Ninth Circle.

They are also called Hellknights, Adamants, or Helldivers.  They have very few spellcasters in their orders, because it is believed that wizards possess a unique vulnerability to the lures of demons.  Only warriors who have embraced their own deaths are immune to the demonic temptation of immortality.

A Digression About Geology

One fun thing about Centerra is that many places that are "normally" extraplanar are in fact locations on the planet (Phosma).  A gate to the Plane of Air doesn't lead to a different dimension; more likely, it just leads somewhere really, really high up.

It's a hollow planet.  You can reach the interior and gaze on the secret sun by traversing the literal underworld.  Beneath the planets crust are rivers of magma and the silent halls of the dead.  (This is why there are so many undead in dungeons, and why the bottom level of every dungeon is Hell.  At least in theory.)  It's like a cross of these two pictures.

Hell, Today

Hell continues to function much as it ever did.  The souls of the wicked are still punished, because if a soul has found its way to Hell, it is the soul of a sinner, and surely deserving of punishment.

Souls are strange things.  Naked, they experience the world but cannot affect it.  No mortal can hear their screams, and no devil ever cared to listen.

Some say that hell has grown crueler now that its masters are human.  Others say that this is a good thing, as demons were always too lax in their punishments.  Only with proper regulation and discipline can the souls of sinners be properly punished.

In theory, Hell is a conquered nation.  It has a human king and queen.  It has erected Hesayan churches, and the paladins worship there.

The devils worship in their own, inferior churches, praying for their own salvation.  It is said that there are many among them who are utterly stalward in their dedication.

Because of the depth of Hell and the instability of the roads that lead to it, visits between the Hell and the surface kingdoms are rare.  It often takes more than a year to climb from the depths of Hell.

Not so long ago, it was tradition that the king of Hell would travel to Coramont (the center of the Hesayan Church) in order to bow before the Patriarch and receive his blessing.  But the king of Hell hasn't been seen on the surface in a generation, citing health difficulties.

There are many who say that the Kingdom of Hell has grown distant from the Church, and their faith no longer aligns.

The Devil You Know

The primary duty of Hell is to eternally punish the souls that trickle down into it.  Additionally, it pays tithes to the Church and defends it in times of war.  (Theoretically.  This has never been put to the test.)  They also fight against demons whenever they find them.  But there are secondary duties as well.

The Doctrine of Untested Steel states that devils should be tasked with moving over the surface of Centerra and testing mortals to sin.  "Testing" mortals is essentially different than "tempting".  Devils of the Unholy Land merely offer an opportunity for murder, blasphemy, theft, and infidelity--they do not coerce anyone, nor do they corrupt anyone.  And when they encounter a mortal who engages in such a degree of sin that they are irredeemable, the devil must then kill that human.  This sends their foul soul to Hell where it belongs, and removes their stain from the surface world, making the world a better place.  The Doctrine of Untested Steel is fully condoned by the Church and takes place every day, all over Centerra.

It's a bit like getting caught in a prostitution sting, except that instead of a cop arresting you, you have a bone devil waving a holy book and trying to eat your head.  These are not common--there are a great deal of people and only limited numbers of trusted devils.

The Doctrine of the Inescapable Conclusion states that devils should be tasked with moving over the surface of Centerra and finding mortals are are in danger of backsliding.  These mortals, whose souls are currently saved but who are also in danger of falling into future corruption, are also killed when a devil has identified them.  The reasoning is that it is better for a mortal body to be slain when the soul is saved, and capable of enjoying Heaven for all eternity, than for today's saint to live long enough to become a sinner, when they might someday fall so low as to slip into the iron embrace of Hell.

The Doctrine of the Inescapable Conclusion was practiced for only 3 years before the Church condemned it as heresy, and many apologies offered.  The Patriarch who proposed it was publicly burnt.

Of course, there are those who say that the Doctrine of the Inescapable Conclusion is still practiced, albeit in a smaller, more clandestine capacity.  But are these Church-ordained devils or lawless demons?  In truth, the devils and demons would be largely indistinguishable even if they weren't shapechangers.

More Rumors

Are the paladins the master of Hell in name only?  Have they been corrupted by their malevolent environs?  Does some other demonic master pull the strings behind the scene?

There is talk on the surface of replacing the leadership of Hell, or at least holding them to a higher standard of accountability.  Part of the problem is that the machinations of Hell are beyond all human reckoning--there are too many souls, too many furnaces, too many pits of madness.  Hell cannot be governed like a worldly country.  It eludes quantification.  It mangles its own description.

And there is the great worry that any call for greater accountability will alienate the Kingdom of Hell.  And open warfare with Hell is certainly impossible, since all of the greatest warriors, warrior traditions, siege engines, and powerful weapons for generations were all used to conquer it, and still reside there.

Not to mention the great service that Hell provides, of course.  The best witch hunters are Hellknights, born in the infernal pit and sent above to bring a spiked gauntlet down on those who would spurn the grace of Hesaya.

And there is another, more troubling theory: the Hell we know is not the only one.  Certainly, the planet is large and unknown.  And although Hell and its devils struggle to organize and increase, there forces are eternally outnumbered by the demons who are numerous beyond counting.


  1. I think you just explained Solaire from Dark Souls

  2. "Not so long ago, it was tradition that the king of Hell would travel to Coramont (the center of the Hesayan Church) in order to bow before the Patriarch and receive his blessing. But the king of Hell hasn't been seen on the surface in a generation, citing health difficulties"

    This will surely end well.

  3. Is the "Inescapable Conclusion" taken from Gygax's own forum posts RE: how a Paladin treats evil prisoners who have changed to a good alignment?

    1. Never read it. It's an echo of the arguments I used to get in back in Catholic school.


      Apparently that's actually how it worked in at least some of his settings, unless he's being facetious

    3. Holy shit. Gary was hardcore. And treading some dangerously moral waters. It's like cynical, utilitarian paladin (which is weird, because I imagine all paladins being strictly Kantian) but I guess that's easier when you're looking down at a game board, using pieces as ends to themselves.