View Full Version : Suggestions for moral quandries in the Nine Hells?

2017-04-20, 07:33 AM
Hey everyone!

Inspired by fond memories of Planescape, my PCs are about to find themselves stranded in the Lower Planes. A band of demon cultists are about to teleport the entire castle the PCs and their retinue are staying in into the Lower Planes, right on the frontlines of the Blood War.

This little corner of the 1st plane of Hell (Avernus?) is far from the major actions on the front, because the demon cultists' boss, a Nalfanshee, wants all of those delicious mortal souls for itself. However, before the Nalfanshee can swoop in, the local devil forces will try to claim the PCs for themselves. In the ruins of the castle, the PCs and their followers need to plot their escape before one of the infernal forces outside routs the other.

One of the ways the PCs can escape is to try to shift the ruins to the Outlands. Since belief shapes reality in the Planes (at least according to Planescape), being "good" enough people, doing enough "good" deeds, ought to push the already tenuously-anchored castle out of Hell.

--> Where I need help is coming up with "good" actions that the PCs can use to shift the castle. Also, any tips on finding good descriptions for the 1st plane of Hell (any setting really)?

Bit of background: Parts of the castle are warded against evil, so they should have a little breathing room (the local priest thought something like this was going down, but not on this scale). The castle contains Demon cultists (including the Lord of the keep), his non-cult garrison of regular soldiers, the PCs and their small army, and several hundred refugees in front of the keep who got swept along in the teleportation. A bunch of refugees got sacrificed by the Lord to shift the castle, but there's still a lot of them remaining.

Ideas so far:
The PCs are attacked by a devil wielding a glowing crystal flail. This is a ridiculously good weapon, one which the demons recoil from, but is powered by some of the souls of the sacrificed refugees.

A tiefling dashes to the keep seeking sanctuary. She claims to be a good person, just got wrapped up in this whole Blood War thing due to genetics. She isn't lying, but if she's let inside her shadow separates from her and lunges at the civilians.

As always, thanks for any and all input!

2017-04-20, 07:45 AM

Well, it's easier to start with a list of themes. So: five classical elements, nine layers of hell, seven deadly sins, eight solar planets, four human temperaments, six realms of rebirth ... you can make a challenge for each, as suits your particular universe. I'm not exactly a Planescape adept, so I'm not sure to what degree any of these fit in.

2017-04-20, 08:45 AM
I haven't reached it yet, but Baldur's Gate 2 (or was it Baldurs Gate: Throne of Bhaal?) apparently has a series of Hell-trials. You might want to take inspiration from them.

2017-04-20, 12:11 PM
Why are the demon cultists dropping this place into Hell, where enemy devil forces can come for it, rather than dropping it into the Abyss, where the demons can slurp up the souls at their leisure?

That said, given the situation, I'd look to survival horror genre. Not for the monsters (that's taken care of), but for the degradation of civilization angle, writ on the smaller scale of a castle. What are the needs for survival? What are the plans for escape? What are the factions that can form, and who would naturally be in the core of them vs. who would be lonely and in the cold until they found one to join as a low-ranking member?

The majority of the dangers in survival horror "after the fall" stories is from man's cruelty to man, and inhospitality brought about by fear of the same (as well as scarce resources). These also give plenty of room for moral quandaries, rife with whether it's right to deny aid when you lack safety, yourself, and hard choices about dealing with trouble-makers who would normally, in more civilized safety, be reprimanded, but now represent a greater danger due to less authority structures and less security to "catch" anything they metaphorically knock over.

2017-04-20, 01:26 PM
Why are the demon cultists dropping this place into Hell, where enemy devil forces can come for it, rather than dropping it into the Abyss, where the demons can slurp up the souls at their leisure?

Two reasons: So the PCs have a chance at not dying instantly, and because the Nalfanshee is not as clever as it thinks it is.

The Nalfanshee wants to climb up the ranks of demonkind by gobbling souls, but it recognizes that it's on the weaker end of the scale compared to its brethren. If it summoned the castle into the Abyss, the souls would be snatched up in a heartbeat by all of the Nalfanshee's considerably more competent rivals. Out in a relatively quiet patch of the Blood War, the Nalfanshee has a higher chance of snatching all the souls for itself. Besides, being a Nalfanshee, it arrogantly considers devils not much of a threat, at least compared to its demonic rivals.

Since the Lower Planes are the epitome of the nastiest places in existence, dropping the PCs anywhere besides a deserted portion of the front lines is basically a death sentence. If it isn't, it's hardly The Nine Hells in my opinion.

Yeah, Survival Horror is exactly what I'm going for. Just looking for more specific pointers/scenarios for inspiration at this point. Thanks for the input!

2017-04-20, 01:46 PM
Power blocs likely will form around:

The kitchens/food storage
The guards/armory
The stables/kennels/animal pens
Any garden areas
The church (likely overrun with the demon cultists)
Any concentrated magery (the court wizard or sorcerer, for example, and his tower)

Any of these factions/blocs led by demon cultists will automatically have an evil bent and be out to screw over the others that aren't useful allies. This will make the other blocs distrustful of EVERYONE not in the individual blocs in question, rendering cooperation hard.

I'd make the kitchens/food faction one of the more ambiguous ones. Brokering access to food during a siege is a strong power source, if you can hold it. Holding it requires ruthlessness. But these are not replenishing with the castle in the Nine Hells; is the Chief Cook maliciously hoarding, or is she rationing just to try to keep people alive as long as possible?

Those who control the animals and garden areas could conceivably hold out for a long time...if they had immediate stocks. Their motivation is to get enough to live on for now that they don't have to burn what little is edible in their replenishing supplies. The animals also make attractive targets for the militantly armed faction of guards/armory.

A lot of the moral quandaries will naturally evolve as you come up with specifics of supplies and shortages, and then throw the villains at the mess with their desire to break everything to feed their Nalfeshnee master. Witch hunts to root out the demon worshippers should start to evolve as the demon faction finds itself outnumbered, and has to rely on hiding in the secret passages of the castle walls from the angry majority who didn't want to be dragged here.

Infiltration into the ranks of the other factions should naturally have occurred long before they WERE "factions" rather than just places to have a job while also being a cultist. So moral and ethical questions of how to deal with internal distrust and what is acceptable in hunting for potential cultists abounds. Safety might call for erring on the side of caution: merely strong suspicion could call for exile or execution; morality might call for erring on the side of mercy: without proof, is it right to condemn this scullion that's been accused of helping bring food from the kitchen faction to the demon cultists to death?

Law is also important. Adherence to Law will keep them in Hell or Acheron, while engaging in Chaos will tend them towards Gehenna or the Outlands. (Acheron or the Outlands if they're "good enough" to pull the castle out of Hell.)

Consider, also, that local devils of lower power might sneak in to try to offer "help." They don't want that Nalfeshnee winning, but can they be trusted with their promises, or are they hiding lies in their technically-true promises that will let them reap the souls, instead?

Mark Hall
2017-04-20, 01:49 PM
A couple things come to mind:

1) How they deal with the cultists. Quick and brutal killing is normal, but consider that it's not exactly "Good". If they're looking to force themselves into the Outlands, a more outstandingly Good solution will be needed. And, since you're in the 9 Hells, if the solution is also a bit Chaotic, that won't hurt.

2) Saving the refugees. Not just from the devils outside, but from starvation and predation from the evil forces among them. In a similar game, a bard and a cleric held a prayer service (our goal was to shift a Gate town to Arcadia, but the idea is the same)... the bard got everyone fired up for the cleric's message of Law and Goodness.

2017-04-20, 05:18 PM
A group of refugees is led by a demon/devil in disguise. The refugees hold out in a storeroom but have need of water, which the fiend provides magically. As such, the refugees are dependent on the fiend, and for good measure, they are charmed as well. The fiend has considerable melee power and a few choice SLAs.

If the fiend is attacked, the refugees will fight alongside it (ineffectively).
If the charm effect is dispelled, the refugees will still support the fiend, but they will not fight for it.
If the fiend is exposed, the charm effect will keep the refugees loyal, but they will not fight for it.
If the fiend is exposed and the charm effect is dispelled, the refugees will turn against the fiend, but they will not fight it.

The fiend will try to kill the party, using dominate on an armoured type, and buff spells and healing on the refugees.
The fiend will maintain its disguise, keeping its melee power in reserve, even if the fight goes badly.
If exposed, it will start using its melee strength (this should be more dangerous to the party).
If the refugees turn against it (disguise and charm broken), it will flee, taking one or more hostages if convenient.

If ignored, the refugees will turn evil and be lost, making it harder to take the castle anywhere (that is, the party can't be selfish, they have to look out for these challenges).
If the fiend dies before being exposed, the refugees will flee from the party and most likely die.
If the fiend dies after being exposed, the refugees will look to the party for aid, specifically: water and protection.

Regardless of how the fight starts and ends, killing the refugees - or allowing them to be killed - is bad karma, and makes it harder to free the castle. Killing or driving off the fiend and protecting the refugees is good karma, but the fiend will try to convince the refugees that the party is evil, even going so far as to flee from the fight in disguise, rather than use its melee power and expose itself. The refugees provide the party with a blessing, if saved; the blessing confers a +2 sacred bonus to all saves (or whatever is thematic & fits other challenges).

2017-04-21, 05:53 AM
Avernus (the first layer of Hell) is described briefly in Manual of the Planes and gone into depth in Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells. Avernus is covered in randomly erupting fireballs and is otherwise a desolate wasteland.

A thought:
An entire castle has just popped into his realm: it is only so long before Bel, Lord of the First, sends an aspect or agent to investigate this. Good news is he does not really care about their souls. Bad news is he always wants more conscripts for the Blood War so the players will either get recruited or be in a bad place. He won't demand much probably, just follow orders and kill the enemy (something that will align your players to the forces of Hell anyways).