Monday, May 2, 2016

Pirates of Hell

So I have some players who ran through the Pleasure Dome, and instead of choosing to escape the fleeing orcs, they choose to leave with the mistress of the Dome and her genie paramour, and rode a giant lotus all the way down to Hell.

So then I had to write some Hell stuff.

What is Hell

Hell is the big trickle-down.  Everything that dies ends up here, unless a god cares enough about you to sweep you off to their appropriate heaven.  (Or to accurately, unless someone cares enough about you to sweep you off to the appropriate whatever.)

Digression: although the organized heavens tend to be much more powerful than anything in hell, there have been cases where pissed-off demons have assassinated psychopomps and dragged a soul to hell despite their good deeds.  This is why you must always be sure that your god loves you more than Hell hates you, and wise people do not blaspheme against devils nor gods.

And it isn't just death that brings something to Hell, it's ending.  Whole cultures, lost ships, burnt paintings.  It's all here in Hell somewhere.  Hell isn't infinite, but is large enough to accommodate everything that has ever passed away in Centerra; perhaps that's what determines the size of Hell.  It's certainly much bigger than the Church's Heaven.

Some say that nothing lasts forever.  Heavens will eventually crumble, even gods will die, and we'll all end up down here.

Dying in Hell

You can't really die in Hell, you can only transform into a lesser form.  Die, and you'll return as a shambling undead.  Die again, and you'll become a crawling thing.  Die again, and you'll become a soul-maggot, good for nothing except consumption and too weak to even turn a doorknob.  But even that is not the end.

And with each death, you lose a little bit more of yourself.  Memories fade and your sense of purpose numbs.

Why Hell Sucks

The surface world is organized for us (or rather, we are organized for it).  We have food and sunlight and water sources.  The temperatures, oxygen levels are all suited for our biology.  And the world is stable--we know where to find our family and friends, and we know where we fit in the context of this continent and this culture.

Hell is too big, too weird, and too shifting.
  • The environment is too indifferent.  Usually it is too hot, but it may be too cold, or the air  may be toxic.  Food and water are extremely hard to come by.
  • Everyone is dead (except for people who bodily enter Hell).  Being dead is depressing.  First, because you are trapped in a foreign body that is rotting around you.  Second, the animal pleasures no longer give any joy.  Most of the dead are vaguely hungry, sleepy, horny, etc.  But although many of them try, there is no satisfaction anywhere.
  • You don't know where you fit in.  While you grew up in a home surrounded by relatives who introduced you to your cultural context, hell is a hot pit full of strangers.  They are cruel because they don't know you.  They are full of the bigotry of bygone eras.
  • There is no way out, not even through death.  All of your future is known to you, and it is all exactly as terrible as this.
And of course there are demons.  They very wildly, but they tend to be selfish and cruel.  (Or at least, the selfish and cruel ones are most prevalent.  That's not to say that there aren't any demons who have showed kindness in the past, but demons with scruples tend to be eaten by those without.)

Altruism comes from social altruism, and there are no societies in Hell.

Devils are simply demons that have signed the Covenant with the Church's paladins.  They are recognizable by the shackles that they wear on their necks, wrists, and ankles.  While demons are numberless and infinitely mutable, devils have been numbered and regimented.  

Their duty, as appointed by the Church's agents, is to torture the inhabitants of Hell. The cities of Hell are not surrounded by farmland, but by fire pits and torture factories, where the souls of sinners suffer eternally.

And if you've ended up in Hell, you are by definition a sinner.  Unless you're a paladin.

The Paladins of Hell

If hell has a ruler, it is the paladins.  They conquered it generations ago, toppling Asmodeus and his legions of demons.  Not only do they plan and execute the myriad sufferings that damned souls must suffer, they sometimes send devils to the surface as spies and tempters, in order to better learn who is a sinner.  Because after all, they must find all the sinners, even those who have never sinned, but would sin if they were given the opportunity.

It's a religious-military dictatorship, and there are an awful lot of them.  And while they can be kind and sympathetic to other paladins, everything else in Hell is treated cruelly, with attitudes that range from hatred, to contempt, to resigned indifference.

The King of Hell is Holy Mormoth, the Underpope.  He dwells in the holy city of Excoriation, amid his attendant princes and bound devils (such as Lolth and Pazuzu).  Rumor has it that Jubilex, the Lord of Slime is being transported back to Excoriation where he can finally be destroyed (if he refuses to take the Oaths).

The Sea of Fire

It's an ocean of fire on par with the Great Lakes, and nearly all of the places of interest are on it, or near it.

It's also the only light source, which means (a) everything is backlit into silhouettes and little else, since the light is always coming from near the horizon line, and (b) things get very, very dark as soon as you move away from the sea.

The Sea of Fire is made of eternally burning oil.  If you remove some of the oil from the sea, it is just normal burning oil without any supernatural longevity.  It gradually loses it's potency over the next 24 hours until it is just filthy, mildly-poisonous water.

Ashen Shores

A cross between jagged lava rock and hard-packed ashes.  If examined closely, the ground will be discovered to be countless layers of burnt human remains, packed on top of each other like accreted layers of sediment.  And of course, they are still alive, although you will have to pack the ashes and shards into a jar and watch them for a while to have any clue.  (On a long enough timeline, even the ashes will assemble and crawl towards the light of the distant shore.  This is what an ashling is.)

Encounter: A crawling hand, caked black with ashes, with a crude map carved into its back.  It wears a crawling bracelet, which allows you to detach your hand and walk it around without any harm.  It doesn't allow you to see through the hand.

The map on the hand leads to the Widening Gyre, a dungeon where a prisoner managed to send the hand out for help.  (My party just killed the crawling hand and took the bracelet.)

Encounter: Maggot-takers.  A wide line of humanoid figures armed with shovels and lanterns, sweeping the landscape like a search party combs the woods for a lost child.  In front of them, an enormous pig-thing sniffs the ground.  Behind them, some sort of flesh-and-metal arachnid shambles along, with pale limbs reaching out from it's cage-like abdomen.

(The Pig-Thing is a black pudding wearing the skin of a dire boar.  Use the stats of a dire boar until the skin takes enough damage to fall apart.  The arachnid is a modified bebelith, with an enlarged abdomen-prison and a placid personality.)

Every once in a while, the pig-thing will snuffle and paw at the dirt.  The searchers will dig until their shovels come up bloody, and then extract a screaming "maggot" from the ground, which is then fed to the arachnid.  ("Maggots" are generally considered the least of the useful forms of souls.  They resemble hairless, gelatinous child-selves of the person they once were.  They've died so many times that they only remember 1d6 facts of their original life.  They are the most common prey of demons.)

The Iron Docks

Three tongues of metal, jutting out into the Sea of Fire.  They have been savaged, torn apart, and rejoined with rivets.  They are blackened with soot, but they are not rusted.  Metal buildings squat on the long pier.

The air above them shimmers with heat.  Bare feet will blister and burn almost instantly, and metal boots will likewise fare poorly.  (This is also true aboard ships, since most are metal.)

The First Shack

The first small building has a sign in front: three fish eating the same object.  Inside, the floor is coated with thick leathers.  There are three mirrors and a table covered with broken glass.  In the mirrors, you can see the occupants of the room: three mermaids.  You cannot interact with them in any other way.

The mermaids will caress the hair of your mirror-self and communicate by reading your lips.  If the mirror is broken, the shards will bleed profusely and one of the mermaids will die.  The surviving sisters will attack with phantasmal killer spells.

Each sundered mirror has a 2-in-6 chance of yielded a crystal ball shard.  (This is a single-use item.  When broken under your teeth, you act normally for six seconds and then rewind time back to the moment when you broke the shard.)

But they are merchants, not murderers.  They sell only one thing: short term wishes.  Anything that they grant will be undone by the next day, although the indirect effects remain.  Wishfood that was eaten will still have nourished you, and a wish-ship that vanishes will still have carried you to your destination.

They are not interested in money.  Instead, they are interested in things like:

  • Courage.  (Permanent -4 to save vs fear.)
  • Peace.  (Gain an insanity.)
  • Kindness.  (You can no longer commit altruistic acts.  You cannot even aid another PC, unless your life depends on it.)
  • Anything else the PCs can suggest.
The Second Shack

The sign outside depicts a bottle.  Inside, the shack appears to be full of metal garbage: iron looms, torn armor, gnawed wheelbarrows, snarls of wire, defaced marble busts.  It stinks of hot vomit.

Clinging to the ceiling is a huge creature, something like a scaly gorilla with an ox skull for a head.  This is Samael, who suffers the nightmares of creatures too insane to cogitate them.  He is enraged by excessive stimulus (lights, loud noises, surprises, loud people), but is otherwise a decent fellow.

If you give him a bottle, he will vomit out one of the nightmares and give it to you.  This process takes 10 minutes, and then he will drop a bottle imp to the floor.  He also desires alcohol.

The Third Shack

There is no sign outside this shack, but there is a stained hook, large enough to impale a horse.  This is the lair of Mogrel, who runs a fetching service.

The room descends a leaden staircase, below the burning surface of the ocean.  The heat here is tremendous (1 damage every minute of exposure). 

The room at the bottom of the stairs is an office.  A huge fishtank holds five things that look like obese, wriggling eels with the faces of horses.  A bell hangs from the ceiling, and a tapestry on the wall depicts sailors being devoured by a deformed whale.  (This is a depiction of Gurlungangus, a local whale demon.  The tapestry is worth 200g.)  These is a steel door at the back.

If the bell is rung, Mogrel will emerge.  He resembles an elongated walrus with an oversized head.  Instead of eyes, a cluster of small, eyeless narwhal heads emerges from his brow.  He has the stats of an HD 5 ogre, and is capable of attacking everyone in melee range at once.  If he deals max damage, the target is impaled.  If he is killed, his meat will rot into nothingness over the next 24 hours and he will self-resurrect.

In exchange for fresh souls (usually 'maggots'), he will offer to let you use one of his bat eels.  If a hunk of flesh is placed into the tank, an eel will eat it.  If an eel is removed from the tank, it will quickly grow to its full size (stats as a dire bat) gaining 1 HD per round.  If the eel ate a hunk of flesh, it will then be compelled to fly off, locate the person from whom the flesh originated, and carry their corpse back here, where it will impale it on the hook.  Eels that haven't eaten hunks of flesh will just try to escape, and then attack people on the docks.

There is a final room, and this is where Mogrel watches the undersea through a small porthole.  He is in love with a mass of mangled intestines that sometimes swims past the porthole.  Also in the room are a bed of nails and a small steel chest.  The speak with locks spell is written on the bottom of the bed of nails.  The steel chest contains a fat leech (attacks as a viper, spits demon blood into you that reduces all healing by 10, but this penalty decreases by 1 each day), a wavy dagger, a telescope, and the beating heart of Mogrel, who will permanently die if the heart is destroyed.


  1. I like all of it, but the mirror mermaids most.

  2. WOW! This is GREAT! What do you see as the effect of being given a nightmare by Samael?

  3. Great stuff all, but the first thing I'm stealing is "speak with locks". That one ought to be a standard D&D spell.