The Outer Planes: Hell

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As mentioned in a previous post, Hell consists of nine layers. This post goes into more detail about the individual layers, describing additional planar traits, landscape features, inhabitants, and other tidbits.

River Styx

The River Styx springs up in Asphodel from the Spring of Lethe and flows down through all the laters of Hell, eventually exiting the plane entirely through a boiling waterfall in Tartarus. From there, it flows as a planar path into the Far Realm.

The Styx remains stubbornly watery even in the layers that are fire-dominant (namely Phlegethon and Tartarus), though in those layers a haze of steam rises from the river, impeding vision similarly to the Obscuring Mist spell.

Drinking from the River Styx inflicts the drinker with Stygian Plague1. If the water is heated, there’s only a 50% chance of contracting the Stygian Plague. In Phlegethon and Tartarus, the water is always considered to be heated, so drinking from the Styx is slightly safer in these layers.


The top layer of Hell is known as Asphodel. For the most part, it is a dreary windswept plain, with sickly grass and patches of marsh. It’s relatively safe for visitors, as long as they don’t fall prey to scavenging bands of minor fiends or drown in a patch of quicksand.

One notable location in Asphodel is the Spring of Lethe, from which springs the River Styx. Drinking from the Spring of Lethe causes total amnesia2 (no saving throw), but unlike entrapment traits, the victims of Lethe don’t have any particular desire to remain in Hell. The surest way of curing the amnesia is to drink from the Spring of Mnemosyne in Nirvana, the top layer of Heaven.

Apart from Cerberus, the most significant fiends to make Asphodel home are the night hags (as well as their lesser cousins, the twilight hags3). Most night hags live in small huts in the marsh, hatching their evil plans in solitude.

Other fiendish creatures you might encounter in Asphodel are barghests, yeth hounds, and nightmares. It’s also common to encounter fiendish animals of various types, such as dogs, wolves, vultures, or animals commonly associated with a marshy environment. Minor fiends from the lower layers may also be encountered.

Cerberus, the three-headed canine sentinel, guards the main passage down to the next layer, but there are numerous other passages and sinkholes that also lead downwards.


This layer is entombed in constant darkness, limiting even darkvision to a maximum of 10ft; light spells of 3rd level and below are blocked, while higher-level light spells are impeded. Whether a spell is blocked or impeded is determined by its effective level, so applying metamagic feats to a light spell may be enough to make it function. The See in Darkness supernatural ability (possessed by all devils) can easily penetrate the darkness of Erebor, as can any blindsight that doesn’t rely on scent. Anyone who remains in Erebor for more than a week without light gains a +10 circumstance bonus to all Listen checks, but are blinded for 24 hours by even the slightest spark of light. If they remain in the light for the period of blindness (to allow their eyes to adjust), they lose the circumstance bonus to Listen.

In Erebor, an unusual corrupt metal is mined, known as fell iron. This metal is identifiable by its black sheen. It’s known for its ability to absorb darkness to temporarily strengthen it (the details of how this works may be covered in a later post).

Erebor is the home of the devils. All the types of devil make their home here. The mindless lemures are by far the most commonly encountered fiend in Erebor, of course, but imps are also extremely common. Other relatively common devils include zebubs, barbazu, kytons, bezekiras, erinyes (the singular of which is “erinys”), and osyluths. The Nessian Warhound (a type of hell hound) also lives here; it is used as a mount by some of the fiends small enough to do so, and also travels in packs with some of the larger fiends for additional fighting power.

Less commonly encountered devils include phistophiluses, hamatulas, gelugons, gylous, bdellavritras, and cornugons. Then there is the ruling class, consisting primarily of pit fiends together with some puragauses.

Erebor differs from the general state of Hell in the following planar traits:

  • Alignment: Mildly law-aligned
  • Special: Darkness (see description)
  • Magic:
    • Enhanced - Spells with the darkness descriptor are cast as if heightened to the maximum level you can
    • Impeded - Spells with the light descriptor of effective level 4 and above are impeded
    • Blocked - Spells with the light descriptor of effective level 3 and below are blocked


Pandemonium is a wind-swept rocky plain, with often treacherous footing and occasional patches of trees or vegetation.

Pandemonium is constantly filled with screaming winds that cause permanent deafness after 24 hours; sonic spells and hearing are limited to a range of 10ft (permanent deafness can be cured by greater restoration, wish, miracle, psychic chirurgery, or reality revision). The Avoid Planar Effects spell protects against the deafness, though hearing is still impaired nonetheless.

Pandemonium is one of the homes of the demons. Several types of demons make their home here, including coloxuses, kalakavuses, nabasus, omoxes, schirs, shadow demons, shemhazians, and vrolikais. It’s also the home of cerebriliths, howlers, xacarbas, and thanatotic titans.

Pandemonium differs from Hell as a whole in the following traits:

  • Alignment: Mildly chaos-aligned
  • Special: Deafening effect (see description)


Acheron is essentially a desert, the dominant terrain being a red gravel mixed with larger rocks. There are occasional oases, though the water in them is foul and usually causes some sort of disease if drunk.

On this layer, formations of a type of pink quartz exist, known as blood quartz due to its thirst for blood. Whenever blood quartz comes in contact with a wound, it absorbs a little of the blood, doing 1 point of damage to the bleeding person. It’s usually used for weapons, since blood quartz armour absorbs its wearer’s blood and is considered cursed because of this. The exact details of how blood quartz works may be covered in a later post.

Another notable landmark in Acheron is the Throne of Suffering. This is a major artifact (overwhelming conjuration, CL 40), which could in theory be removed by someone of sufficient strength (it weighs 20,000lbs). A person sitting in it can craft a brand-new disease. I won’t go into the exact mechanics of it here, maybe in a later post.

Acheron is the home of the asuras. All the types of asura make their home here. Other creatures found here include achaierais, hell hounds (both wilds and trained), and hellwasps. Sometimes you may encounter a barghest, especially a greater barghest.

Aside from the asuras, the most fearsome thing in Acheron is a swarm of hellwasps, with their uncanny ability to invade a living body and control it, and even animate corpses. However, hellwasps are more commonly encountered individually or in small groups which are too few to use their inhabit ability, in which case their poison is the only danger.

Acheron differs from Hell as a whole in the following traits:

  • Affinities: Minor negative-dominant (natives are immune)
  • Alignment: Mildly law-aligned


Phlegethon resembles a parched mud flats, except with a majority of the cracks sprouting flames as high as 15 metres (about 50 feet). Geysers of oil are another significant hazard, usually raining down flaming oil from above (though occasionally they escape ignition). It’s very difficult to extinguish flame here, as it will often continue to burn even without fuel or oxygen. It’s not quite as hazardous as the plane of fire, though.

The inhabitants of Phlegethon are the divs, a class of genie-like fiends. Many of them live exclusively in the elaborate, gaudy cities they build, and travel between them through a network of enclosed tunnels raised into the air. These cities rely on the oil geysers for fuel, and the cities can often be located from a great distance simply by the plume of black smoke wafting into the air.

Phlegethon differs from Hell as a whole in the following traits:

  • Affinities: Fire-dominant
  • Magic:
    • Enhanced - spells with the fire descriptor are heightened by two levels (which can even place the effective level above 9th) and also empowered
    • Impeded - spells with the cold, water, or acid descriptors are impeded


Cocytus is filled with dense mists and a wailing which causes permanent insanity after 7 days; sonic spells and hearing are limited to a range of 20ft (permanent insanity can be cured by the same means as the permanent deafness of Pandemonium). The Avoid Planar Effects spell protects against the insanity.

The terrain in Cocytus is predominantly marshy, making quicksand a significant hazard (particularly since the mists make it difficult to see it before you get into it). Where it’s not marshy, it’s mostly rocky scree.

Cocytus is one of the homes of the demons. Several types of demon make their home here, including babaus, bebiliths, dretches, glabrezus, hezrous, mariliths, nalfeshnees, quasits, retriever demons, succubi and incubi, and vrocks. It’s also the home of the dreaded balors and the abyssal greater basilisk.

Cocytus differs from Hell as a whole in the following traits:

  • Affinities: Water-dominant (mild variant, fire creatures take half damage)
  • **Alignment:(( Mildly chaos-aligned
  • Special: Insanity effect (see description)
  • Magic:
    • Impeded - spells with the sonic descriptor are impeded, and also limited to a maximum range of 20ft
    • Impeded - spells cast with a verbal component are impeded


Gehenna is a bleak, dusty, and largely featureless plain. The only landmarks in Gehenna are those built up by the inhabitants, particularly the daimons who tend to congregate in small towns. There is no food or water to be found here, except for the periodic rainfall (which is highly acidic).

After each week spent in Gehenna by a non-outsider, they must make a Will save (DC 5 + the number of consecutive weeks spent in the layer). For the first failed save, they suffer one point of ability damage to each ability score; for the second failed save, they suffer two points of ability to each mental ability score; and for the third failed save, they suffer total amnesia and cannot be restored except by wish, miracle, or reality revision. Entrapped characters have no desire beyond remaining in Gehenna forever, and will resist any attempt to remove them. The Avoid Planar Effects spell grants a +5 circumstance bonus to saves to resist entrapment, while the Attune Form spell grants a +10 circumstance bonus to the same.

Gehenna is the home of the urdefhans and the soul eaters. It’s also the home of the daimons. All the types of daimons make their home here, including all those described in the preceding link plus two others. The cauchemar is a common mount in Gehenna and can also sometimes be found wild.

Gehenna differs from Hell as a whole in the following traits:

  • Alignment: Strongly evil-aligned
  • Entrapping: Save DC 5 + weeks spent in Gehenna (see description)


The landscape of Niflheimr is best described as a glacier. Although there’s sometimes soft snow, for the most part a visitor is walking on hard-packed snow or even ice. As with a real glacier, crevices are a real danger, though at least you don’t have to worry about increased dangers due to summer melting, since it never melts here.

So cold is this layer that anyone in it takes 1d6 points of cold damage each hour; spells with the fire descriptor are impeded, and spells with the cold descriptor are empowered and heightened by two levels; this can even place the spell’s effective level above 9th (so for example, Polar Ray would be heightened to 10th level). The Avoid Planar Effects spell protects against the cold damage. In addition, travellers who remain on the layer for more than 30 days must succeed on a DC 22 Fortitude save or be instantly frozen solid (this is equivalent to petrification). If the traveller succeeds the save, they must make another save after an additional 30 days. Creatures with cold resistance get a bonus on the save equal to their one-fifth of cold resistance. The Avoid Planar Effects spell does not protect from being frozen solid but does does grant a +5 bonus on the save. The Attune Form spell renders you immune to the effect. A creature who has been frozen solid may be revived only by powerful fire magic (8th level or higher), which thaws the creature but also risks killing it, or by miracle, wish, or reality revision.

The primary inhabitants of Niflheimer are the Niddhoggs3, a type of colossal draconic fiend without wings, and the nainrouj3, a tiny gnome-like fiend whose harmless appearance is highly misleading. It’s also common to find wendigos in Niflheimr, though these fiends often live in the Material Plane as well.

Niflheimr differs from Hell as a whole in the following traits:

  • Affinities: Cold-dominant


Tartarus is a hellish landscape of lava fumaroles, magma pools, jets of flame, and other fiery hazards. Even most fiends avoid the inferno of Tartarus, with the exception of the native shining children and a few others. Tartarus is also known as the source of taint4, a form of concentrated evil that can infect people, drive them insane, and even kill them.

Although Tartarus is fire-dominant and for the most part a roaring inferno, there are some areas that are relatively calm and even free of fire. There are even hot springs, though their water is foul and polluted.

Tartarus differs from Hell as a whole in the following traits;

  • Affinities: Minor negative-dominant, fire-dominant
  • Alignment: Strongly evil-aligned, mildly tainted (natives are immune)

  1. DC 20, incubation 2d6 days, damage 1d6 STR. Anyone who takes 6 STR damage from the disease needs to make another Fortitude check or suffer a negative level. Requires five consecutive successful saves to recover, rather than two. 

  2. This amnesia is represented by a number of negative levels equal to one less than the character’s hit dice, which cannot be cured by restoration, does not go away after 24 hours, and does not run the risk of permanently reducing the character’s level. This amnesia can be cured only with wish, miracle, or reality revision, or by drinking from the Spring of Mnemosyne in Nirvana. It’s also not caused by negative energy, so isn’t affected by anything that might protect a character from negative energy. 

  3. This is a custom race, so it may be covered in more detail at a later time. 

  4. According to the taint rules from Unearthed Arcana. The taint of Tartarus is resisted by a Will saving throw, not a Fortitude saving throw. 

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