Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Articles of Dragon: "The Nine Hells, Part I"

And so we come, once again, to an excellent article written by Ed Greenwood -- "The Nine Hells, Part I," which appeared in issue #75 (July 1983) of Dragon. In retrospect, it's easy to see why Greenwood would enjoy such success; he was not only prolific but also imaginative. Plus, his articles were memorable. Even now, nearly three decades later, I clearly remember the first time I read this issue of Dragon, filled as it was with information about the lower planes, thanks to both Gary Gygax's extensive preview of new devils from the upcoming Monster Manual II and the first part of Ed Greenwood's tour of the first five levels AD&D's version of Hell. I was absolutely blown away by what I read, much to the chagrin of my players at the time, several of whom found themselves on unexpected visits to the domains of one or more arch-devils.

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.

13 comments:

  1. The "Hell Trilogy" (as I always thought of them) were some of the best of the best of Dragon. I still use them in my games today.

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  3. Those were great articles. My players fought and killed a major devil from one of them when it was summoned by a wizard in the climactic two-campaign-ending battle I had.

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  4. Yes, these were definitely superior articles. Most of The Dragon now looks like junk to me, but these still shine.

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  5. The follow-up article "Nine Hells Revisited" in Dragon #91 was also quite useful.

    Allan.

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  6. Later even then that, the Nine Hells exist in a recognizable form in the 4e cosmology as well.

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  7. We never had much interest in dragons. Devils, demons and the lower planes were always the ultimate adversary when we played D&D.

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  8. For the french speaking persons, there is a translation (I did it) of Ed Greenwood's articles on Hell (and much, much more) on the web site : Le Donjon du Dragon :
    http://dnd.ezael.net/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=4024#p67689

    I love those articles, and Alex von Thorn's article too !

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  9. We featured these articles not too long ago on the Roll For Initiative podcast. Yep, this is Mr. Greenwood at his best.

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  10. I remember these. It was in high school, a student named Tom W. was in the library and showed me this. I didn't play the game, but thought they were interesting nonetheless. The artwork left an impression. I still remember the picture of Dis, lonely city surrounded by dark rivers under a black sky. Cool stuff.

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  11. dragon 400 featured a reprint of this article and gave the following as part of the intro

    In 1983, Ed Greenwood laid out the D&D game’s
    first great vision for extraplanar adventure in a two part article appearing in Dragon issues 75 and 76. Before “The Nine Hells” articles, all that we knew about Hell in the world of Dungeons & Dragons is that it had nine levels and was home to the race of devils (and a few stray lawful evil gods). But in Dragon 75, Ed Greenwood took us all on an unforgettable
    tour, filled with vistas of infernal grandeur
    and dozens of the most fully realized villains to be found anywhere in the multiverse. It all began with a wonderful full-page illustration of two heroes standing over the smoking corpse of a barbed devil, and perhaps the biggest, boldest, and most purely epic call to action ever written for a D&D game: I ride on the Hells tomorrow.

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  12. Greenwood's articles on Hell and Moore's on Gladsheim (issue 90) were just plain awesome. I got loads use out of them, not least for their imagination, but also for the opposing alignments they represent. Chaotic neutral with good tendencies was for me the quintessential D&D alignment I associated with fantasy heroes like Conan, Fafhrd & Grey Mouser. And the lawful evil domains of Hell stood in complete opposition to that. I ran a campaign on Mammon's (third) level that was especially nasty for all involved.

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  13. I have always wanted to read the Ed Greenwood -- "The Nine Hells, Part I, and II" and the original "The Politics of Hell" (from issue #28) by Alex von Thorn.

    Is there anywhere to find these online?

    If not, can you purchase these old Dragon issues?

    Thanks in advance for the help

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