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Baator — Layer the First

The Imbrued Gardens of Avernus, the Hateful Vistas of Avernus

Themes of the Layer: The sin of wrath. Avernus is wracked by three wars—the Blood War with the tanar’ri, the ongoing struggle between Bel and Zariel for the layer, and the guerrilla war between the outcast Rabble of Devilkin and the baatezu nobility.

Abandon Hope all Ye Who Enter Avernus…

…as the saying goes; welcome to the fiery upper crucible of Baator. Picture a desolate wasteland, bathed in the eerie glow of a perpetual blood-red light. There’s nothing so clichéd as a sun here, cutter. Or, for that matter, the respite of darkness—there’s no day or night here, just that endless glow. It’s hard to remember when to sleep and when to eat, let alone what day it might be. Of course, the baatezu don’t care for such niceties and find it amusing to watch mortals struggle.

Speaking of struggling, many of the rocks on the layer are shaped disturbingly like contorted human faces, petrified mid-scream. Or weird, misshapen humanoid shapes that might be statues, or might be something far more troubling. Chant goes that some petitioners get turned into stone as special punishments. Which, to be honest, is probably preferable to some of the other punishments on the lower layers. Baatezu are nothing if not creative with their tortures.

Avernus is a layer where the air is so thick with the stench of blood you can taste the iron, and the ground is littered with the shattered remains of countless battles. This hellish layer is a truly nightmare landscape, with razor-jagged rocks of obsidian and glass threaten to cut through the boots—and flesh—of the careless. Watch your step on the slick, cratered ground, cutter! 

Remnants of blood and gore stain the earth in a disturbing number of places, while the remains of defeated creatures crunch underfoot, serving as grim reminders of the ceaseless violence that has gripped this plane since the baatezu arrived. One mercy: at least the noxious gases that roll across the wasteland seem to kill off the flies.l In fact, there are precious few creatures here that aren’t fiendish. Apparently ‘Avernus’ means something about ‘no birds’ in an ancient language, and it’s absolutely true. The baatezu probably ate them all long ago, even the vultures.

The other thing you’ll soon notice is the fireballs which streak through from the blood-red sky at random intervals, exploding on impact and scorching everything in their path. These fiery projectiles are said to be manifestations of the rage of Avernus’ former lord Zariel, imprisoned long ago by the current ruler of the plane. To make matters worse, the entire layer is also an active battlefield, with armies of devils constantly marshalling and training for the eternal Blood War against the forces of the Abyss.

For travellers brave, unlucky or foolish enough to venture into Avernus, danger lurks around every silently screaming rock. Baatezu patrols roam the plains, ever vigilant for intruders, and they’re quick to dispatch any who dare to trespass on their territory without the right papers, or a very convincing excuse (read: garnish). The air crackles with tension, as tanar’ri from the Abyss launch sporadic invasions, plunging sections of Avernus into chaos which can last for minutes or years before the baatezu repel them.

The Arch-Rival Lords of Avernus

Avernus has been shaped by the blood-soaked history of its infernal rulers, for two mighty archfiends have wrestled for dominion over this tumultuous layer throughout the aeons.

First and foremost is Bel, an archdevil who has reigned over this fiery domain for thousands of years. Bel is a formidable pit fiend, known for his strategic brilliance and unwavering dedication to the eternal Blood War. Under his command, the legions of Avernus have stood firm, mostly, against the ceaseless onslaught of demons from the Abyss, earning him respect and fear in equal measure from both sides.

But Bel’s rule has not gone unchallenged. In ages past, Avernus was ruled by another powerful archdevil known as Zariel. Originally a celestial who fell and was tempted by Asmodeus to turn stag on the Heavens, Zariel became a fierce and ambitious leader, eager to prove herself and secure her place among the infernal hierarchy. However, her fiery temperament, and reckless tactics ultimately led to her downfall, and she was betrayed and overthrown by her close advisor, Bel.

Now this is where the chant gets unreliable, but they say that Bel imprisoned Zariel for years in the Bronze Citadel, slowly feeding on her power, and perhaps even her flesh. At the same time time, his role in the Dark Eight kept him so busy with Blood War business that Zariel may have escaped and overthrown him back. To be honest cutter, these archdevils are as bad as each other and perhaps it doesn’t even matter who is currently in control of the layer, it’s Bad News either way.

And of course it wouldn’t be Baator is there weren’t whispers of a darker presence lurking in the depths of Avernus, some kind of being of ancient and malevolent power whose true nature remains shrouded in mystery. Some say that this entity is the true master of the layer, pulling the strings behind the scenes and manipulating the Lords of Avernus like pawns on a chessboard. Could be Barbatos, could be one of the rabble of devilkin that infest the wild parts of Avernus, or it could all be a big peel by Asmodeus himself. You just never can tell with the baatezu.

Whatever the truth may be, one thing is certain: Avernus is a realm steeped in treachery and intrigue, where the balance of power has shifted many times before and surely will again. And as sure as the fires of the Blood War will continue to rage, the contentious would-be Lords of Avernus will stop at nothing to secure their place in the infernal hierarchy.

Denizens of Avernus

On Avernus you’ll find a motley crew of infernal creatures, each more fiendish than the last. Let me paint you a picture of the beings you might encounter amidst the accursed landscape:

Baatezu (that’s ‘devils’ to the Primes at the back): Naturally, the most numerous inhabitants of Avernus are baatezu themselves. From the lowly lemures to the mighty pit fiends, these fiends serve the infernal hierarchy with largely unwavering loyalty. If you’re unlucky, you might encounter patrols of bone devils, flying legions of abishai, and battalions of barbazu, all keeping a watchful eye on the fiery plains.

Hellish Creatures: Beyond devils, Avernus is home to a variety of monstrous creatures spawned from the darkest depths of Baator. Be wary of barghests, hell hounds, nightmares, and the like that prowl the infernal wastes, ever hungry for the flesh of the unwary.

Lost Souls: The River Styx runs through Avernus, its waters filled with the lost memories of countless souls. Beware those who have fallen victim to the Styx, for they wander the shores of Avernus as mindless husks, driven only by primal instincts and a hunger for soul energy.

Outcasts and Exiles: Avernus is also a refuge for outcast baatezu who have been cast out from the infernal hierarchy. These renegades lurk in the shadows, nursing their grudges and plotting their revenge against those who wronged them. The ‘rabble of devilkin’, as they’re called, are outside the baatezu hierarchy of nobles, by choice or more commonly due to being exiled. This means they can potentially be useful—if treacherous—allies for cunning bloods who can find something to tempt them, and deadly adversaries for those who can’t. The other kind of exiles are fallen celestials. Every so often, an archon or aasimon whose halo has slipped gets booted out of the Upper Planes, and lands with a crash and a crater in Avernus. Assuming they survive the fall, these unfortunate berks then become denizens of Baator. Whether they pitch in with the baatezu or try to restore their besmirched glory, that’s a decision for them.

Mercenaries and Adventurers: Despite its dangers, Avernus attracts its fair share of mercenaries and thrill-seekers. Some come seeking glory and riches, while others are drawn by the promise of power and influence in the infernal realms, and yet more are indentured after foolishly signing a contract after not reading the small [print carefully.

Blood War invaders: While the baatezu usually make short work of invading tanar’ri hordes and even yugoloth mercenaries (although these bashers are just as likely to be garnished into turning stag and joining the baatezu), it’s possible to stumble across tanar’ri who’ve evaded detection and are hiding out, or rampaging openly.

The Blood War

This ceaseless conflict has stamped all over the very fabric of the Lower Planes, and transformed Avernus into a hellish battlefield like no other. It is a war of attrition and annihilation, waged with an intensity and ferocity unmatched by any other conflict in the multiverse. For eons uncounted, the tanar’ri have tried to bring the fight to the baatezu, clashing countless times on the fields of Avernus, seeking to gain the upper hand and secure their dominance over the Lower Planes. The baatezu, of course, are never fiercer than when defending their home turf.

The relentless violence of the Blood War has left its mark on Avernus in more ways than one. Once upon a time, the chant goes that Avernus was a realm of breathtaking beauty, a paradise used by the first baatezu to lure mortals into damnation. But those days are long gone. Now, Avernus is a wracked and blasted wasteland, its once-fertile plains scorched by the fires of war and littered with the shattered remains of vicious battles. More than one wag has noted that the tanar’ri have managed to re-create the first layer of the Abyss in here Baator, in all but name. 

The skies above Avernus are choked with smoke and ash, the air thick with the stench of sulfurous brimstone and blood. The fireballs leave craters which further scar the desolate landscape and set even the rocks ablaze. The ground itself is cracked and pitted, churned by the claws and hooves of fiendish warriors.

Amidst the chaos and carnage of the Blood War, the architecture of Avernus reflects the grim reality of the conflict. Mighty fortresses and citadels, once symbols of infernal power and grandeur, now stand in ruins, their walls shattered and their halls haunted by the echoes of ancient battles. Everywhere you look, you’ll see the detritus of the war: barricades, trenches, and other defensive works erected to repel the ceaseless onslaught of demon hordes, as well as abandoned war machines and broken weapons.

Travelling Avernus

One of the fastest ways to cross Avernus is along the infernal highways that crisscross the layer. The so-called Road of Good Intent is patrolled by legions of baatezu and fortified with infernal citadels and watchtowers. Traveling along such highways is risky business, as you’ll have to contend with baatezu patrols, tanar’ri raiding parties, and the hazard of other traveller.  Make sure your papers are in order and your garnishes are generous, and you won’t have too much trouble from the first of those three, at least.

Several rivers cross Avernus that can be used for transportation. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Avernus is the noxious presence of the River Styx, its black waters flowing through the heart of the battlefield like a bile duct. The Styx meanders right through Avernus, its currents carrying the damned to their final destinations. But beware, cutter, for the River Styx is no ordinary waterway. Its waters rob the memories of those who fall into its depths, leaving them adrift in a sea of forgetfulness. Navigating the Styx requires a strong will and a steady hand, for one misstep could spell doom for your soul. Fortunately (?) the Styx is plied by the marraenoloths, and assuming you’ve sufficiently paid the ‘loth not to betray you, can be one of the safest ways to cross the layer. The River of Blood is a more unpleasant way to get around, and without marraenolth guides travellers are forced to rely on less reliable ferry folk, or even attempt to navigate the clotted flow themselves. Finally, the River Pyriphlegethon crosses the layer, although specific, but for fleshy types who tend to have an annoying vulnerability to infernal flames, this is not an advisable way to travel.

Finally, there are those who choose to travel overland, braving the harsh terrain of Avernus on foot or by mount. This is perhaps the most perilous option of all, as you’ll have to contend with the roving bands of demons and devils that haunt the wastelands of Baator. But for the brave, the desperate, and cutters who are trying to keep a low profile, the wilds of Avernus are the most subtle pathway.

Three Ways to Dis

Traversing the treacherous wasteland of Avernus to reach the infernal city of Dis, the second layer of Baator, is no small feat, cutter. But for those brave or foolhardy enough to attempt it, there are a few paths that might lead you to your destination. On Baator you get to choose your peril.

For those who have a head for heights, it’s worth mentionign that an especially tall spire in Dis pierces the planar boundary and protrudes into Avernus. You can find it near the Pillar of Skulls. Petitioners and baatezu use this pathway to descend the spiral staircase and cross into Dis directly. Travellers are advised to tread carefully as unlucky berks fall—or are pushed—with alarming regularity. And whatever you do, don’t look down.

A more traditional way to cross into Dis is through one of the Gates of Hell. The Gates of Malsperanze stand on the Road of Good Intent and are heavily used by the baatezu. The cheery inscription ‘Abandon Hope’ graces these gates, presumably an example of baatezu humour. But if you’re trying to avoid baatezu then another option is the Gate of Greed, which is conveniently located… in the lair of Tiamat. Yes sorry, cutter, I falsely got your hopes up there? The queen of evil dragons is certainly no pushover, but she and her minions who guard the gate have no love for the baatezu, and perhaps you can use that fact to your advantage. Chant goes that Tiamat used to be yet another ruler of Avernus, before even Bel, and she’s still sore about being replaced, even after all this time.

A third option is to travel by river, using the black waters of the River Styx to ferry you to your destination, for it is an interplanar river that touches most of the layers of Baator, and flows through Dis in a corrupted canal. 

Locations of Avernus

  • Abthalom, the Nether Reaches (realm of Takhisis)
  • Bel’s Fortress (site)
  • Bronze Citadel (site)
  • Cave of Greed, the Dragonspawn Pit, Azharul (realm of Tiamat)
    • Gate to Dis (gate)
  • Darkspine (independent burg)
  • Draukari (realm of Kurtulmak)
    • Frekstavik (realm town)
    • Nibellin (realm town)
    • Snjarll (realm town)
  • Elturel (independent burg)
  • Gallery of Skins (site)
  • Garden (site)
  • Gates of Malsperanze (gate to Dis)
  • Gate to Limbo, the (site)‡
  • Great Avernus Road (site)
  • Ki’pik (realm of P’kk)‡
  • Lake of Blood (site)
  • Maggot Pit (site)
  • Malharak, Hell’s Bastion (site)
  • Peaceable Lands, the (realm of Bargrivyek)
  • Pillar of Skulls (site)
  • Promised Land (domain of Barbatos)†
  • River of Blood (site)
  • River Pyriphlegethon (planar pathway)‡
  • River Styx (planar pathway)
  • Road of Good Intent (site)
  • Sacrufico, City of Struggling (independent burg)‡
  • Shelves of Despond (site)
    • Lake of Despond (site)
  • Spire of Dis (gate to Dis)
  • Sovereignty (independent burg)‡
  • Stainless Caress (realm of Ardad Lili)†
  • Stenching Evil (independent burg)‡
  • Stigmaris Mountains (site)
  • Thronerock (site)‡
  • Tree of Eternal Suffering (site)‡
  • Walk-in-Wrath (fortress of Zariel)†

Powers of Avernus

  • Ardad Lili (Queen of the Night, power of seduction and snakes)†
  • Bargrivyek (goblin power of cooperation)
  • Bel (General of the Third Command, Lord of the First, baatezu archduke of Avernus) — rose to power through treachery, imprisoned Zariel to absorb her power and secured reluctant support from Asmodeus
  • Kurtulmak (kobold power of war, traps and mining)
  • P’kk (neogi power of tyranny and fear)
  • Takhisis (Krynnish power of control and hatred)
  • Tiamat (draconic power of evil dragons)
  • Zariel (former Lord of the First, fallen solar) — became obsessed with ending the Blood War, leading to her defeat and imprisonment by Bel, but she will rise again to reclaim her title, facing further betrayal from her former advisor

Nobility of Avernus

  • Amduscias (the Horned Duke) — a baatezu in the service of Tiamat
  • An-Ur (the Wandering Death) scion of Tiamat
  • Barbatos (baatezu archfiend of animals, corruption, gateways)†
    • Eaqueo (baatezu duke of depression, nooses, tragic stories)†
    • Furcas (baatezu duke of duty, flames, herbalism)†
    • Kalma (baatezu duke of burial rites, death, insects)†
    • Losarkur (baatezu duke of dominance, hounds, punishment)†
  • Beleth, Prince of Imps — a loyal informant for Bel who uses his network of imps to keep tabs on other baatezu nobles
  • Caim — a charismatic yet deceitful thrush-like archdevil, notorious for duping visitors with his skilled oratory, yet universally despised by the Archdukes of Baator
  • General Goap (the Marauder) — skeletal fiendish duke, serving Tiamat
  • Maeha — Father of False Worlds (an asura rana paragon)†
  • Malphas (Duke of Azharul) — a servitor of Tiamat
  • Mordukhavar (the Reaver) — red dragon servant of Tiamat
  • Qirozzan Archduchess of Avernus in service to Zariel

The Rabble of Devilkin, Exiles of Avernus

  • Amon the Wolf – former spymaster of Levistus
  • Armaros, Resolver of Enchantments banished by Asmodeus for being too great a threat
  • Azazel the Serpenta fallen angel
  • Bist — exiled for treachery and stripped of her true name
  • Cahor the Deceiver exiled for his chaotic behaviour
  • Dagon — banished for revealing true names of baatezu, his own name was stolen by Asmodeus
  • Duskur — commands an army of undead, but cursed to never be able to settle in one place
  • Herodias — a former magistrate of treacherous Geryon, escaped destruction by Asmodeus and now lives in exile
  • Kochbiel — a former general of deposed Beherit, this exiled baatezu now skulks in caverns below Avernus
  • Malarea — seeks to replace the consorts of archdevils through trickery
  • Moloch (former Lord of the Sixth) — betrayed by his lover, the Hag Countess Malagard, leading to his deposition and exile
    • Bethage a baatezu who takes the form of a white wolf
    • Herobaal — rumoured to have recently defected to serving the orc power Gruumsh
  • Nergal the Bringer of Pestilence — exiled after a failed attempt to seize Malbolge
  • Nisroch the Poisoner of Hell — concocts deadly toxins from the sparse plantlife of Avernus
  • Rumjal — a former general of Geryon, but potentially a double agent for Asmodeus, spying on fellow rabble
  • Samael — said to be the first baatezu but since deposed and exiled, Samuel is still a force to be reckoned with and can grant wishes
    • Agaliarept — commander in Samael’s secret police
    • Decarbia — grants familiars and bestows magical knowledge to witches
    • Demoriel (the Twice-Exiled) — a fallen angel, now a concubine of Samuel
    • Elelogap — has power over water
    • Put Satanachia — former commander of the First Legion of Baator
    • Tari Hima —  commander in Samael’s secret police
    • Xaphan (the Burning Duke) — attempted to set fire to Mount Celestia during the Schism and was cast out with Samael

Canonwatch: Entries are from D&D canon unless otherwise marked, although when the canon is sparse I’ve got creative with the details; † adapted from a 3rd party publication; ‡ homebrew.

Canonical Sources:

  • Baldur’s Gate – Descent into Avernus [5e]
  • Book of Vile Darkness [3e]
  • Chains of Asmodeus [5e]
  • Dragon Magazines #75, #91, #143, #295, #358, #359
  • Faces of Evil [2e]
  • Fiendish Codex II [3e]
  • Fiend Folio [3e]
  • Fires of Dis [2e]
  • A Guide to Hell [2e]
  • Hellbound: The Blood War [2e]
  • Manual of the Planes [1e, 3e, & 5e]
  • On Hallowed Ground [2e]
  • Planar Handbook [3e]
  • Planes of Law [2e]
  • Planescape Campaign Setting: DM’s Guide to the Planes [2e]
  • Planescape Monstrous Compendium Vols. 1 & 2 [2e]
  • Planewalker’s Handbook [2e]
  • Well of Worlds [2e]

More details to follow!

Source: Jon Winter-Holt

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