One core aspect of the Forgotten Realms is the Nine Hells – layered domains of lawful-evil lords and their underlings, filled to the brim with dark, dangerous power, held in check only by their own desires to usurp each other, and the benevolent powers of the Divine on the Material Plane.
To the average character in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, the Nine Hells, and the devils who inhabit them, are shrouded in mystery. Knowledge of their workings is as fiercely protected as their true names, and anyone who knows too much is quickly “taken care of.” Luckily, that same obscurity doesn’t have to apply to GMs and players!
In November 1984, Dragon Magazine #91 published another of many articles by Forgotten Realms author Ed Greenwood, explaining the structure of the Hells, their inhabitants, and the rewards that may await anyone brave enough to enter them (and strong enough to make it out alive). This particle article served as a follow-up to previous articles in Dragon #75 and #76, but is entirely usable on its own as well.
You can read the entirety of the article here: Dragon Magazine 91
The Ideas and Content of ‘Nine Hells Revisited’
While the articles that it follows explain major denizens of the Nine Hells (archdevils and many of the dukes who serve them) this article covers information less likely to be familiar to most players.
Instead of the rulers of the Hells, it features the outcasts. 10 Greater Devils, each with their own personality, goals, and appearances, are detailed within it. These devils have been exiled to Avernus, the weakest layer of the Hells, which is ruled by the imprisoned former-goddess Tiamat (who later regained her divinity within FR lore). Many would like to take that power for themselves, but are limited for one reason or another.
These devils are, in alphabetical order:
- Armaros, The Resolver of Enchantments. A powerful mage who mostly enjoys his exile in Avernus, but is banned from speaking to most archdevils.
- Azazel, The Serpent. A talented general exiled for rejecting authority, and the chance that he might try to become an archdevil himself.
- Cahor, The Deceiver. A sly and talented actor who sows confusion for fun. He cannot be trusted by either underling or authority, but furthers many devilish aims on the Material Plane with his wiles.
- Dagon. Exiled for trading too much information about the Hells and archdevils. He’ll gladly pay to regain his position and influence as a knowledge-broker.
- Duskur, The Dark Lady. A she-devil exiled for refusing to become a consort to any archdevil, and banned from making a permanent fortress. She wanders Avernus, slaying foes and seeking to amass more power.
- Kochibel. A marshal to a former archdevil, Kochibel’s many victories earned him just as many enemies. When his master was slain, Kochibel was exiled to Avernus.
- Malarea. A beautiful but bitterly envious she-devil who longs to become a consort to an archdevil, but whose temperament instead earned her exile.
- Nisroch, the Eagle. Exiled for poisoning one too many feasts, Nisroch mostly spends his time concocting new toxins and poisoning whatever food sources he can, just for fun.
- Rumjal. The best-tolerated outcast by the archdevils, Rumjal feels that his exile is a temporary fall from favor (for harassing an archdevil’s consort). He is still loyal to the hierarchy of the Hells, and will gladly do a more powerful devil’s bidding to earn favor.
- Gargoth, The Lord Who Watches. Gargoth isn’t an exile stuck in Avernus, but an archdevil who willingly left the hierarchy of the Hells to live on the Material Plane. His goals are unknown, and his name has fallen into legend, but his power is very, very real.
Treasure in the Hells
The article goes on to give a brief overview of the environment and riches that might be found in each layer of the Hells. Different layers have different environments, of course, and the demeanor of their various rulers mean that each has something unique to offer adventurers.
Any treasure, Greenwood is careful to note, is probably going to be heavily guarded. If you want something of real value from one of these domains (other than the standard weapons or bones of the devils, which might fetch a fair price from collectors on their own), you’ll probably have to face down an enormously powerful foe to get it.
The Nature of Devilry
Like any powerful political force, devils need followers. In the FR, they get most of those in the form of human agents, who conduct a devil’s (or a devil’s lord’s) wishes in exchange for magical power or influence. Or, a powerful devil can shape the form of a much weaker devil, giving them a huge amount of control over their own minions, and each other.
Is This Article Still Relevant?
This is not only still relevant to modern D&D players, but also still canon.
The Forgotten Realms are probably the most widely used setting for DnD today. Even people who ostensibly ‘homebrew’ their own settings often use sections of the FR wholecloth – and the Nine Hells are one of the most frequently re-used aspects of it.
The explanations of how exactly devils gain and maintain power over one another are something especially useful to bear in mind while running a game of DnD. Especially if you play, or DM for someone who plays, a warlock, tiefling, or other devil-adjacent character. Or if you want to run the popular module “Descent into Avernus,” or any other number of campaigns and oneshots that feature devils as an enemy.
How to Use this Content in a Current Campaign
This article is mainly about world-building and lore. And where it does have stat blocks and mechanics, they’re meant for AD&D, which looks a lot different from the currently used 5e stat blocks. This leads the usefulness of the article to be mainly found in plot hooks, NPCs, and story inspirations.
Each ‘outcast devil’ would make for a great warlock patron, main villain, or even an unseen power propelling machinations in the shadows! They don’t even have to be an adversary – after all, most of these devils would take each other down if given the chance, and the enemy of an enemy makes for an effective ‘friend.’
Have you read this article? Have you ever used its content in any of your games? Let us know in the comments below!