Salutations, friends. Following my excursion into the depths and chronicling unseen sights of the lower planes, I return once more! Consider this entry and future presentation and addendum to many previous treks across many realities. At this point, I have become rather adept to the dangers beyond. But, for the enterprising primer looking to handle all that the planes can offer, hopefully I can pass plenty of advice and knowledge on. So please, travel with me (in spirit) as I unravel more mysteries and wonders floating beyond the prime material plane.
Author’s Note: More planes abound! I wanted to return to my idea of the Hag Countess ascending, what an aftermath would be like. Also, I recalled that 4th Edition touched on Evard a few times, so it’s worth taking some notes from various later creations (such as a somewhat obscure Dungeon adventure) for inspiration. Hopefully, I can find myself back in the swing of things as well. I haven’t been nearly as motivated in the new year, but I’ll see what I can do.
Forever War, that is the theme of this plane. There shall be no peace, no solace, just endless conflict. It is what the most warmongering and conquest driven of petitioners have earned. As one would expect, even the natives are quite warlike. This doesn’t mean they are savage brutes, but some of the most cunning and tactical planners of the planes. It is for this reason that brave warlords and generals endure the plane, in hopes of speaking with them. When you are here, you are a pawn. You are used, you will bring glory to your cause, for all time. This is a tactical and methodical plane, recklessness will get one killed easily here.
Avalas is a plane of constantly shifting mass combat. For planars who enjoy a planned skirmish, it can be a potential place of wicked joy. This is no more apparent with two rival clans of Rakshasa, both of which operate within teleporting tents. Their goal within the plane is to contest which clan is superior. They do this by engaging with an army and helping to pit them against the rival clan’s chosen army. However, one simple loss does not end the war. In fact, they continue to count wins and losses for all eternity and both clans have a habit of tying with each other. The endless need to crawl out on top keeps them directly engaged in their feud for all time. For what it’s worth, that’s one less group of generals fighting the Blood War, but at least they’re distracted with something else. But, woe to those who get near their tent. The moment one steps inside, they’re part of their insane eternal proving match. An abetting accomplice, a soldier, a slave; the victim becomes all of these things. Other clans will detest these headbutting berks, who decry them for lacking the subtlety and observance of the rest of their kind. Lately, they’ve fallen into trouble after abducting wayward Mercykillers who strayed too far from the fort of Vorkehan. Both Mercykillers and other Rakshasa want the dueling sides to be eliminated, which is made all the harder by the ways of the plane.
One curiosity of the plane is a troop of mercenaries that followed an enigmatic tyrant known as The Master of Hule. While there aren’t many direct connections to the plane, these warriors hail from the nation of Hule within the world of Mystara. After the Master was overthrown in a joint war effort, the frustrated devotees were devoid of purpose. An exile from Glantri was among the first to discover the roaming band. Rather than plot for revenge, the mage had grand visions of creating the greatest army in reality, capable of conquering far better than the Master could of dreamed of. A ritual to create a demiplane went awry, instead transporting the group to the plane of Acheron. What strikes most strangely about this is their base of operations is the layer of Thuldanin. While most creatures find themselves petrified within 30 days time, this whole troop is somehow immune and have been within this layer for seemingly eons.
The Desecrated Citadel marks a fascinating location within the layer of Ocanthus. One might ask, it resembles the Cabal Macabre of Wee Jas. There is indeed a reason. This ruined dominion belonged to a deity from a foreign dimension who became a rival with Wee Jas over time. The two shared many similarities, but the differences went from being superficial at first to gradually more glaring. This rivalry eventually exploded into a multi-dimensional battle to eradicate the “fake goddess of death”. Of course, both sides considered the respective other to be this. Over time, the other deity lost and her domain was consumed as a war trophy near Wee Jas’ personal realm. Rumors as to who this being was are abundant. Some suggest a version of the Raven Queen from the World Axis reality, but many decry this for a wide variety of reasons. The site itself is a ruined convent grounds, lined with macabre motifs and somber places of rest. Followers of Wee Jas find this place to be cursed, but do not find its inclusion in poor taste. In the center of the walled holy fortress is a chapel, somehow in pristine condition. All traces of this mystery deity are wiped from its existence. However, a clan of outcast Bladelings have taken refuge here. The leader of the group is a member of the Athar, seeing the empty chapel as a testament of their faction’s might. Curiously, Wee Jas ignores the trespassers, rather than smiting them for mocking her prize.
The howls of madness echo relentlessly! These are the deafening and blinding winds that batter all walls of this plane. This is a plane of torment and madness. Those who don’t lose their hearing are liable to go barmy from the exposure. Perhaps that’s the reason why the most barmy of the Bleakers sometimes reside here. In fact, many tolerant of madness and lost hearing hide out here. Some layers, while less buffeted by the screaming gusts, prove to be treacherous in other ways.
What dread things dare to lurk within Pandemonium? Why, I’m glad you asked. One such curious facet is the Bard’s Paying Music. This curious “institution” was created by a barmy bard who was once part of The Fated faction. The chant says that in his attempt to become the best bard within Sigil, he began to research means of corrupting rivals by turning their works into atrocities. This took him to Pandemonium, where he began to create the most awful of pieces known to the multiverse, capable of doing far worse damage than the plane, if exposed at full force. Over time, he went from wanting to undo those around him to making all other art in the multiverse ugly and sense-destroying. His gallery is the utmost macabre and mind-wracking, composed sounds unknown and sights impossible. And through his dreams, he has reached out to other mad musicians, to further his dark crusade to drag all other creative minds down with him. One such victim of his dream travels hails from the world of Terra, a sad and speechless old man named Erich Zann.
On the first layer of Pandesmos, caverns big and small allow for both claustrophobic travel and overwhelming chambers of echos. One place that embodies a middle ground is Tornadum, an encased burg where the winds of the plane encircle and block everything in and out. Besides the endless wind cage, many of the buildings have a cone motif, spiraling and swirling up or down, supported by rocky beams in either direction. The surging barrier is sharp as blades and as concentrated as a narrow wind tunnel. Those who attempt to enter without protection have been sliced up. In some cases, the overwhelms’ heads burst from the pressure. This doesn’t mean the protected area beyond is any place of safety. This collection of buildings and paths is a wretched hive of piracy, crime and plenty of unpredictable berks. In fact, a number of Xaositects have found themselves here, for reasons they won’t and can’t fathom. Within a connected series of basements is a black market where all sorts of fascinating and surreal contraband is sold. Sometimes, the merchants will call for bartering or some odd means of contest as an alternative to capital. Many of the goods here were fenced off of a number of victims, some are just bragging pieces to showcase a pillaging well done. The least trusting of the pirates have made secret caches and stashes within the final layer of Pandemonium, Agathion. Within secret rocky spaces lie all means of incredible, and probably illegal, wares.
And what of the Unseelie Court that resides within the tunnels and beyond? I have covered much of them already. I have lectures and tomes to detail my voyages into the lands of the sylvan folk. However, some recapping and relevance to this plane is in order. Pandemonium is the court’s true home, the layer of Phlegethon stands as a center of operations at that. While the spindly reach of The Queen of Air and Darkness stretches to Carceri, it is far from a primary locale for unseelie fey. But, why this extended reach? Simple, to counter the influence of the Seelie Court! Just as the seelie travels across various good and chaotic planes, the unseelie spread and influence places of chaos and evil. This is one of the explanations for several unholy hybrids that aid within the court. And, thanks to deals with several hag covens, influence slowly creeps across the Grey Wastes and into Gehenna. This fact proves quite beneficial to the Tanar’ri in the endless conflict of the Blood War. Meanwhile, the Baatezu take less than kindly to this new challenge. And considering the ascension of the Hag Countess? Their troubles have just gotten worse.
Baator, the Nine Hells
The Layer of Malbolge, Revisited
Now, allow me to make an update for all dear readers. Before, some truth was revealed on the Sixth layer of Baator, Malbolge. There is more, as Malagard the Night Hag has indeed succeeded! Her revenge was far worse than Glasya or Asmodeus could have predicted! A group of adventurers took up the cause under a “mysterious benefactor” to smash a “corpse turned infernal artifact”. This drew in Moloch, who seized the attention to wreck the reshaped layer. His plan came from a coven of Night Hags who proclaimed that they were motivated by similar revenge (even though they were proxies sent by The Hag Countess herself). Moloch, upon hearing of the Tenebrus-Orcus connection, concocted a persona to bring in Abyssal and Yugoloth forces for the daring raid. Upon the day of conquest, a rift opened to Malbolge as floods of demons and some daemons conducted an expansive Blood War assault, with the goal of slaying Asmodeus’ daughter! Moloch was able to seize some artifacts belonging to him and witnessing Glasya falling back from the layer, if for a moment. And in that moment, Moloch ruled once more! However, the Countess revealed that he was merely a tool, revealing his disguise, to the disgust of demon and devil alike. The adventuring party who found themselves fighting besides fiends did all they could to escape, as much of the layer was collapsing before them. Moloch fled before his personal forces were defeated, but it was too late. The adventurers were granted safe passage, but Moloch was made to suffer.
Glasya too came back, with forces of Asmodeus readied for final confrontation. The trapped essences were freed and the Hag Countess became a Goddess! In a flash, the Hag Goddess returned to the layer, reshaping it into a torment against Glasya. For once, Asmodeus had been outdone, something that fills him with absolute fury. Mountains erupted around the layer, creating a divine domain called The Glaring Peaks, a place named after the Goddess’ rage. However, much of the layer is free from her influence. Floating above an inky and glowing void is much of the layer as Glasya had ruled it. However, it was changed by the Goddess’ influence. To keep Asmodeus and others from rampaging the layer, the vast remainder of Malbolge was left to Glasya’s hands. But in the end, is it truly in her hands anymore?
The ribs and skull became spear-like rock pillars and a devilish cave face respectively, as Malbolge was pierced with mountainous protrusions until a ring of spires and tall rock enclosed the layer. The Forest of Hair became glassy bladed fibers that constantly break and reform. The earth took a rocky but pallid green tone. Among these green-ish rocks are invasive Lower Planes plants like razorvine, sapping from the vile dirt and poisoned water supply from beneath the rocks. Several canals have formed from the misshapen innards and pools of bile, creating underground rivers of powerful acids and poisons. These rivers and lakes sometimes converge outside, where the heat of the molten rock creates lethal acidic steam. The layer morphed into an amalgamation of old and new! Tumor-like boulders continuously rain down and slam upon all in the central valley, especially all belonging to Glasya. A mote of a green and glowing void surrounds the valley, where many tumbling rocks descend into (only to be brought back to the top). Likewise, many fiends that either have abandoned Glasya or align with Malagard have carved their own niches within the slopes leading to the downward pits. Some have earned her blessing of reviving the Metallic Fortresses that once existed upon the plane.
The Goddess takes glee in ring around the layer being her divine domain, as she tortures Malboge’s current ruler. Plus, this ascension foiled plots for Asmodeus himself to ponder becoming a Power all his own. He plots to undo this mess, but in the end he’s stuck in a back and forth game with the angered night hag. Eventually, Glasya found a way to weave things too her advantage. The Cavern Palace, Ossiea, that she dwells in, as well as surrounding city under her jurisdiction, exist as a safe haven against the barrage from gradually strengthening wards. Those who fail to heed all of Glasya’s words are exiled to face Malagard’s vengeance or to face an eternity of the Forest of Cutting Glass. In terms of outsiders, Malboge will take little interest in them, unless they prove to aid her enemies in some manner. But, those who travel to the heart of her domain are at her mercy. The Ascended Hag demands much in tribute, especially to keep her allegiance with other hags. After all, taking on more lawful qualities is something that the natives of the Grey Wastes disagreed upon. However, they remain in allegiance to keep a Hag-based Power active. And, while not plotting in unison, both Asmodeus and Glasya hatch plans to push Malagard’s domain into Gehenna; a plane equally fitting to the Night Hag Goddess’ methods.
Demiplane of Shadows
The Shade Enclave of Thultanthar. I have always been reluctant to explore such a place, such a danger. Yet, here I am! This is the true home of the Shades, the shadowy remnants of the Netherese Wizards. It is in this dreadful treading ground that these fallen mages plot and scheme. To the primers of Toril, they are but a conspiracy, they are a tale of madmen. But, those who look beyond the planes know better. It begs the question, since I’m finding their own keep, do I truly know better? There is only one way to find out.
Rumors tell of the city, atop an inverted mountain shape, emerging from a shadowy portal into the prime material. Such claims are greatly exaggerated, so say many. The Shadovar are mysterious as they are insidious. As long as they plot some dark mission, they will take an equal amount of planning to cover it up or make witnesses look unreliable. One of their joys is abducting hapless common folk for arcane experiments and randomly placing them back with little memory of the event… save for just enough to induce dread and terror within the victim. Part of the reason for this is understanding what has become of Toril in the ages since their absence. In the end, they wish to infiltrate and slowly weave themselves into every working of the world. In fact, some say that they’ve successfully integrated and taken hold of several governments already. But, you can’t prove that, right? Conspiracies aside, let’s focus on their headquarters, shall we?
While many would debunk Thultanthar as myth, it is very much true. It lines up with a city that was reputed to vanish amidst the Folly of Karsus. But, such records could have been falsified easily. But, for the “non-existent” city? It truly reflects the demiplane it was built in. It is a warped mirror of the Netherese look, stretched and contorted like the shadowy denizens. Architecture is otherwise as it was in the ancient past, constantly maintained by its citizens. Radical change is loathed within the confines of the Shade City as tradition is maintained through one means or another. While new means of magical secrets are discovered and logged, Netherese culture is held in a sacred position among the people of the enclave. Seeing as how much of it was wiped out in the centuries leading up to the 1st year of the Dalereckoning, the residents do all they can to clutch onto an identity that would otherwise perish.
The Township of Night is by far the most populous ward of the city, composed of once small villages that banded together in support of the archmages, growing into a ring of connected small cities of their own accord. Overtime, the connected territories gave power to a central authority. It was here that the Circle of Karsus was born. Here, matters of the bureaucratic are addressed. The Lord Shadow and the other twelve have been seen scantly within this area. It is here that courtly mage apparel of the ancient times are more common, compared to more drag garb of the more common arcane folk. How these people qualify for a higher rank in society comes down to magical prowess and skillful cunning, it would seem. The Night Piercing Spires act as magically empowered watchtowers to help survey the status quo of the cityscape, while keeping a watch out for outsiders. After all, The Shade don’t exist to the masses and want things to stay that way. Besides government buildings of high important, a religious ward exists nearby too. The Shar Covenants dwell within various temples and places of devotion within the otherwise political ward. It is here that the Netherese pay tribute to the patron that helped to spare them oblivion. Within the dead center of the city is the incredible artifact of the Mythallar, the magical force that keeps the city afloat. In addition, both magical items and experiments are further bolstered by its might.
Below the city is quite literally an upside down mountain, carved and utilized by the ancient archmages in the first place. Networks of caves are inhabited by shadow-infused creatures and other horrors. Many of them are escaped experiments either deemed failures by the mages or simply let loose for study purposes. Even the more powerful arcanists don’t care to venture into The Under Shadow, as some have dubbed this region. Officially, the floating rock below has no name. A number of explorers have taken to the underground in attempt to hide from ever vigilant Shadovar forces. Most of these explorers are enterprising magical thieves who blathered conspiracies about the shades to begin with. Seeing as few people would believe them, they’ve taken it upon themselves to secure the secrets of the city for themselves. Considering none who have tried have come back alive, proof and whereabouts of the city remain a continuous mystery.
Demesne of the Dark
A secret hideaway for a legendary shadow mage from Oerth, Evard the Black. The Master of Nethermancy had many excursions to the private retreat, where he practiced all means of literal dark arts. Now, it stands merely as Evard’s Shadow. Where the wizard has gone off too in the time since then? Largely unknown. But, what is available is a dark dungeon filled with truly dangerous magic. After all, the man devoted much of his free time to creating new spells within these grounds. In fact, many of his own secrets remain locked within the walls of these confines, or so speaketh the Dark of the matter. But, what sights lie within this strange mansion of madness? Many sights, many wonders, and far more deadly encounters.
At a first glance to the naive observer, the property is a stately manor upon a hillside ending at a gated fence, a literal planar gate if you will. Bardic humor, we can afford to use it once in a while. No matter, the property contains the faded color of the demiplane with the contrasting dim and bright light, creating stark contrasts and strong shadows; truly the best place for a magic-user of Evard’s caliber. The plants within the sloping reaches that climb down from the house take an unnatural and arcane color, signaling that this is no place of the prime. Something about them is equally uncanny, as they’re augmented by the shadow magics of the plane. In fact, removing them from the ground unleashes a shadowy toxin capable of suffocating a victim if enough is inhaled. Towards the house proper, another imposing gate blocks the way. Should they manage to overcome the magically imbued bars, they gain access into the home in the darkness. The mansion itself is worth some mention. The aesthetic appeals to a distinct aesthetic seen in the likes of Gloomwrought, without the twisting and turning sensations of the buildings. Many say that the mage visited the city in a variety of disguises.
The interior is far less ornate and far less of a bragging piece. This was the inner sanctum and laboratory of Evard, after all. The first couple of rooms were lined with several comforts of home, all twisted and warped to fit Evard’s personal sensibilities. All furnishings and decor carries a shadowy mystique to it, as one could expect. Part of this rather droll presentation is to throw off interlopers and intruders. In reality, there are all means of traps strewn throughout. One of his favorites, according to a diary, is an arcane panel in the center of a dining hall that opens a planar door to a separate demiplane full of starved ghouls. Given the seriousness of Evard, this tacky sense of humor feels rather out of place. Another noteworthy trick within the layout lies in bookshelves. Amidst otherwise mundane and ordinary books are intentionally out of place titles, laced with glyphs and sigils meant to activate deadly traps. But, should one approach the house with a meticulous paranoia, traversing the first area proves quite easy.
Beyond that is a private garden of the wizard. But, as one would expect, these plants are far from ordinary. Carnivorous plants and shadow-tainted flora inhabit this surreal space. Besides those monsters, reanimated corpses of intruders fed to the plants also skulk in hiding, some of which were animated after being attacked by said plants. As for the layout itself? It is a minature maze of spiked hedges (akin to the Razorvine of Sigil), morbid and bizarre topiary sculptures and a menagerie of truly awful plant creatures. Most disturbingly is a series of stone statues with a distinctly amorphous talent. By which I mean, they change shape based on whose in the demiplane. And by this I mean, they take the form of the visitors, slain in gruesome ways. Let it be said again, Evard displays a particularly morbid sense of humor.
Beyond the Night Gardens is a personal study, truly filled with rich knowledge. Those who have proved themselves this far must face far more insidious creations of shadow. Matter from the plane has sculpted all sorts of dark guardians, waiting to attack any intruder at first glance. Weaponized versions of the infamous Black Tentacles spell have been placed as booby-traps throughout the study room. Beyond the study lies a staircase downward. Shadowy devotees all study around a glimmering pool of chilling water. The murmurs of the students indicate it has the powers over “midnight”, a curious and vague thing. Beyond that, a shocking secret, Evard’s “own shadow” works tirelessly to enact a ritual. It seems that his own shadow has been split in an elaborate magical experiment. The shadow itself has gone mad, seeking to unite both the powers of this world with its true host. While the two would unite again, this would introduce an overwhelming force of the demiplane upon the Prime Material. The results would be truly awful. Seeing as I failed to ward the spectre, it continues to operate.
The Maelstrom & Beyond
So, what would bring an intrepid adventurer like me back to an awful place like this? Closure. Quite honestly, there is no further reason. As discussed prior, the Maelstrom is a dangerous place at the heart of the Primordium. It is by far the rawest and most erratic place within the plane. It is here where elemental products break down into a rift of raw energy. This rift alone is reason for the Elemental Chaos misnomer among Primers. Now, for anything besides elemental creations that get too close to this center of swirling vortex? Almost certainly destroyed. And from this destruction and raw broth of power? Renewal in elemental energies, chances for new things to be born throughout the dimension. As it were, think of it as a means of this cosmic plane recycling the unneeded so that new developments in Primordium may occur. It is for this reason why it’s appealing to the Doomguard of Sigil, who hijacked a floating temple as a base of operations. To them, this is rightful entropy. Ultimate death and destruction and the inevitable renewal that can arise from it.. But, beyond the void space where reality and elements break down, what is there? Well, all mysteries have secrets waiting to find discovery. Your reluctant writer is somewhat willing to the task!
The Elemental Vortices are powerful means of jumping to a respective plane of energy. But, what if there was another way? For those able to endure the impossibly harsh force of the maelstrom’s core, it acts as its own gateway throughout Primordium and the True Elemental Planes themselves. By harnessing the unfiltered essences in the center and through the thought of the appropriate plane, any careful enough survivor can have themselves magically transported away. In fact, those of strong will with a particular destination in mind can find themselves in it. A word of warning, even with protection from physical damage, the sheer awe of this primal energy is too much for many minds. Bouts of insanity from exposure to the whirring torrent of unfathomable potential is not uncommon. But for those who can wield it to their advantage? Much adventure! Or in the case of the City of Brass? A tale of embarrassment.
The Efreeti Sultans of the city have always had their ties to Baator on some level, both respecting infernal powers and crushing law. Several creatures of water took offense to that, particularly denizens of Gloamnull. Gloamnull was already a city that had suffered much in the way of the Efreeti, but when allegiances between those two forces were bolstered, action had to be taken. Such a unity outside of elemental kind showed not only aiding and abetting outside forces, but a conspiracy of something greater. As such, many rivals decided to get their own hands dirty. The particularly malicious reached across the fabrics of the planes to contact an eldritch abomination, Father Dagon, who has ties to The Abyss as well. Enticing the being with threats of fire and law upon the planes, forces were lent to the cause. Particularly adept acolytes were bestowed a dark knowledge, the truth of the Maelstrom’s core! What wards and protections would normally aid the City of Brass were subverted and bypassed by the Maelstrom’s mighty doorway. The Guardians of the Maelstrom were quickly overwhelmed and rushed, crippled by an onslaught of angered elementals and summoned demons. Unfortunately, this attack left them open for their fate at the hands of Doomguard years later. These actions culminated in a surprise invasion from a vengeful demiplane city. Literal floods of forces struck back against the city and wouldn’t relent until ties were loosened. This lies a moment of great shame for the fiery city, one that invokes rage at the very mentioning.
IMAGE SOURCE: Richard Wynne Keene – Dragon holding a Goose