As discussed in the last installment of ‘Reading Dragon’, Dungeons and Dragons has a well-established canon of evil realms associated with the afterlife. The devilish Nine Hells and the demonic Abyss have impressive amounts of lore available for them, grown from the real-world beliefs and myths that originate them – but they’re not the only deadly realms to have been adapted for the game.
In September 1986, Dragon Magazine #113 published (among a variety of articles about clerical politics, player-character moneymaking schemes, and even a cardboard dragon that can be assembled at home!) one such dive into the dead lands of Hades, as interpreted by Bruce Barber.
You can read the entirety of the article here: Dragon Magazine 113
The Ideas and Content of ‘Welcome to Hades’
The article has a number of sections going over just what players might expect if they were to journey into the domain of Hades, Grecian God of the Dead. There are 3 layers to the land, called Glooms. The final layer, called Erebus, is the domain of Hades, Grecian God of the Dead. It also has sections laying out potential encounters in the Glooms, what life is like there, and how the casting of magic works in the direct domain of a powerful god like Hades.
The First and Second Glooms
The first Gloom is relatively easy to enter. It can be accessed through the Astral Plane, which has well established rules and means of traveling, or through any of the adjacent planes (most of the ‘lower’ or evil ones will work). The problem, which players will soon discover, is that no matter how you enter the First Gloom, you do so on the wrong side of the Styx. Passing the river of the dead requires dealing with Charon, who will charge them for the passage. Whether he wants gold, or something else, is up to the DM.
Once inside, the First Gloom is mostly a barren, volcanic wasteland. Wandering for a while may lead you to the roots of the World Tree, and various areas of the Second Gloom, but those aren’t really discussed here. Even further wandering will bring players to the gates of Erebus.
Erebus, the Third Gloom
Approaching the gates of Erebus will get the attention of Cerberus, who can be distracted with food for entrance. Inside the gates is what will really interest players, after all: the lands of Hades and Persephone. It mostly resembles a cave, with stalactites and stalagmites or black marble which have been carved into Gracian pillars and statuary, and lava pools perfectly tiled and carefully kept.
Three hours’ walking takes a traveler to the House of Hades, which is surrounded by ghost-like flowers and trees. By its front door are two pools – one supplied by the Lethe, which causes any drinker to forget all they’ve known, and one which may reverse the effects of the first if the owners of the house will it. Inside they’ll find a welcoming hall, and potentially the masters of the house – Hades and his wife Persephone. Dealing with a god directly is, of course, a bad idea, but if you’ve made it this far it might be necessary. If your characters are lucky, they’ll just encounter the Fates or the head demon around here.
Life in Erebus
Erebus is filled with a number of demons and shades going about their business (which is usually not to the benefit of mortal beings) serving Hades, and their immediate demonic superiors. Status isn’t so strict as it is in the Hells, nor as loose as the Abyss, but closer to something that humans might recognize from their own lives. Hades is, of course, at the top, and occasionally takes a break from his brooding to ensure that the shades are wandering aimlessly enough, and the demons are carrying out the punishments placed upon particularly notable humans.
Magic in Erebus
There are a few major guidelines for magic in the Glooms, and many smaller notices for individual spells. These are the big ones:
- Healing spells do not work in Erebus unless they instead deal damage (such as to an undead creature).
- Magical communication and travel only work to planes directly connected to the Glooms.
- Enchantments are unlikely to work since most creatures are immune.
- Plants and animals aren’t really “natural”, so spells which normally affect them will not, unless they have been brought from outside.
- Light and darkness cannot be conjured or dismissed – the gloom is a direct result of Hades’ preference.
- The overwhelming gloom and evil makes casting inspirational or good-aligned spells extremely difficult.
Is This Article Still Relevant?
Yes! This article is still very useful.
Whether you’re running something in the Forgotten Realms, Theros, or your own setting, if you want to include Hades you’ll probably want some idea of how his realm operates. And if you want your players to adventure all the way to meet him, like Orpheus, it’s even more useful.
How to Use this Content in a Current Campaign
Unlike most Dragon articles, pretty much everything in the article can be used as-is for a 5e campaign. It does, of course, reference monsters and stat blocks from other articles, which are going to need updating. You could always just use 5e content, either official or homebrewed, though.
You can past this location in Theros without problem, or simply have your players stumble across it while they traverse the Astral Sea or commune with their gods. Perhaps Hades has in his possession an artifact that your players need for some reason. Perhaps they died, and somehow were sent to Hades’ land of the dead instead of their proper afterlives, and now have to journey home.
But no matter how they get there, this is a classic setting that is sure to keep your players interested.
Have you ever played a campaign where Hades, or Erebus, made an appearance? How did it go? What happened? Let us know in the comments below!