Thursday, December 8, 2011
Like Roger E. Moore's "The Astral Plane," "The Nine Hells, Part I" is a work of remarkable scholarship, mining the entirety of the AD&D corpus available at the time for hints as to what the planes of Hell might be like. Also like "The Astral Plane," this article wasn't content to simply regurgitate what we already knew. Rather, it expanded on that information in clever and sometimes surprising ways, painting a picture of the Nine Hells that was both true to its gaming source material but also evocative of other works of fantasy and myth. Greenwood doesn't present his Nine Hells as canonical for anything other than his own Forgotten Realms campaign, but it wasn't long before it received Gygax's blessing, which gave it a status it enjoyed until comparatively recently, where books as recent as 2006's Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells continued to make use of ideas laid down in 1983. That's a degree of influence that few articles (or authors) can match.
In addition to giving names to each of the Nine Hells and discussing their locales and points of interest, Greenwood also devotes a fair bit of space to their inhabitants, in particular unique devils. Prior to this issue of Dragon, the arch-devils were the only unique devils described in AD&D. Now, both Gygax and Greenwood have provided a coterie of such personalities, which, as a referee, I found a terrific boon. Unique devils gave me the opportunity to pit the PCs against powerful devils that weren't rulers of entire planes. This not only gave the PCs a fighting chance to defeat them but, in the event that the PCs did defeat them, the multiverse wouldn't resound with their victory the way it might if they bested Dispater or Geryon. Greenwood also found a way to work Astaroth from "The Politics of Hell" (from issue #28) into his depiction of the Nine Hells, which I know endeared him to many older gamers of my acquaintance who adored Alex von Thorn's article from way back when.
"The Nine Hells, Part I" (and its sequel, which I may well wind up discussing next time) are in a rare class of Dragon article: ones I actually used. Ever since I started playing AD&D, I desperately wanted to run adventures in the Outer Planes, but I rarely did, in large part because the game gave so little information on them. That's why articles like this and "The Astral Plane" were so useful and inspiring to me. And, unlike "The Astral Plane," Greenwood's Nine Hells articles were remarkably concrete, describing people and places one could encounter in addition to providing rules for how magic worked differently in this plane of ultimate Lawful Evil. I liked that a lot; I still do.