The Infinite Layers of the Abyss
|Cosmology / Powers and Deities / Dramatis Personae /
Rules and Mechanics / Character Creation / Equipment
It is an infinity of clutching horror.
It is home to demons.
It is where morality crumbles and ethics perish.
The Abyss is all that is ugly, all that is evil, and all that is chaotic reflected in infinite variety through layers beyond count. Its virtually endless layers spiral downward into ever more atrocious forms. Conventional wisdom places the number of layers of the Abyss at 666, though there may be far more. The whole point of the Abyss, after all, is that it’s far more terrible than conventional wisdom could ever encompass.
Each layer of the Abyss has its own unique, horrific environment. No theme unifies the multifarious layers other than their harsh, inhospitable nature. Lakes of caustic acid, clouds of noxious fumes, caverns of razorsharp spikes, and landscapes of magma are all possibilities. So are less immediately deadly terrains such as parched salt deserts, subtly poisonous winds, and plains of biting insects. The Abyss is home to demons, creatures devoted to death and destruction. A demon in the Abyss looks upon visitors as food or a source of amusement. Some see powerful visitors as potential recruits (willing or not) in the never-ending war that pits demons against devils: the Blood War.
Demon lords and deities inhabit the Abyss, including Demogorgon, Graz’zt, Pazuzu, Blibdoolpoolp (deity of kuotoa), Diirinka (deity of the derro), the Great Mother (deity of beholders), Gruumsh (deity of orcs), Hruggek (deity of bugbears), and many others, including the well-known deity Lolth (draw deity and queen of the demonweb pits).
Other demon princes include Yeenoghu, Alzrius, Baphomet, Eldanoth, Fraz Urblu, Juiblex, Kostchtchie, Lissa’aera, Lupercio, Lynkhab, Pale Night, Verin, and Vucarik.
As noted before, the Abyss has layers beyond count, though the top layer is well-known: the Plain of Infinite Portals.
The Abyss has the following traits:
- Normal Gravity: The top layer of the Abyss, the Plain of Infinite Portals, and many other layers have the normal gravity trait, but other layers of the Abyss can contain wildly different gravity traits that run the gamut of possibilities.
- Normal Time: Time flows at the same rate in the Abyss as on the Material Plane. However, rumors persist of a layer where time flows backward with regard to aging. The reverse flow is erratic, however, and a visitor could be reverse-aged to childhood or out of existence altogether.
- Infinite Size: The Abyss goes on forever in the form of an infinite number of layers, although its well-known realms are bounded.
- Divinely Morphic: Entities at least as powerful as lesser deities can alter the Abyss. Less powerful creatures find the Abyss indistinguishable from a normal Material Plane (alterable morphic trait) in that the plane can be changed by spells and physical effort.
- Mixed Elemental and Energy Traits: This trait varies widely from layer to layer. In the Abyss as a whole, no one element or energy constantly dominates, though certain layers have a dominant element or energy, or a mixture of two or more.
- Mildly Chaos-Aligned and Mildly Evil-Aligned: Lawful characters in the Abyss suffer a –2 penalty on all Charisma-based checks, and good characters suffer the same penalty. Lawful good characters suffer a –4 penalty on all Charisma-based checks.
- Normal Magic
The two most well-known access points to the Abyss are a gate in the Outlands from the town of Plague-Mort, and the River Styx. Both of these links provide access to the top layer of the Abyss, the plain of Infinite Portals.
Called Demonholme by some, the Abyss harbors demons and is likely their ultimate source. Demons rule most known layers of the Abyss. Other evil creatures reside among the layers as well, including bebiliths, bodaks, retrievers, undead of every sort, renegade devils, twisted mortals, and worse. A class of demons called tanar’ri are the unchallenged masters of the Abyss, although the nigh-infinite variety of the plane means some areas exist beyond their reach.
Those souls from the Material Plane that are not simply absorbed into the structure of the Abyss become petitioners called manes. Manes have pale white skin, cruel claws, sharp teeth, sparse hair, and white eyes. Often, maggots visibly squirm through a mane’s bloated flesh. Manes that survive many years are sometimes “promoted” to lesser demon types, though they retain no memory of their former lives.
MOVEMENT AND COMBAT
In general, the Abyss functions like the Material plane with regard to movement and combat. On layers where the environment is radically strange, different rules apply. Individual layers of the Abyss could have the fire dominant trait, for example, or have subjective directional gravity. Unless stated otherwise, those traits function the same in the Abyss as they do everywhere else.
THE SHIPS OF CHAOS
Demons sometimes move from plane to plane in entropic vessels formed of powdered bones, crushed spirits, and petitioners. Meant for use against devils in the Blood War, these ships of chaos have wild powers specifically designed to counter the effects of law. The tanar’ri have commissioned only a very few ships of chaos, but the few demon-crewed ships that do sail the planes are a terror to behold. For brave or foolhardy travelers, the tanar’ri sell passage on a ship of chaos, if the price is right.
FEATURES OF THE ABYSS
The Abyss has more layers than anyone knows, mortal or deity. A few of the most well known are described below. Vision in the Abyss is normal except on layers where environmental conditions inhibit it. Unless noted otherwise, hellish suns, phantom glows, or similarly unpleasant radiances illuminate all layers of the Abyss. Unless a particular layer somehow inhibits sound, hearing is also normal in the Abyss.
Plain of Infinite Portals
This is the topmost of the uncountable Abyssal layers. It is a barren, dusty place without life or greenery, baking beneath a hell-red sun. The dusty plains are broken by three features: huge pits in the earth, great iron strongholds, and the River Styx. The pits of this first layer are portals to deeper layers. Dropping down a given pit soon deposits the traveler into the associated layer, though jumping into random pits that lead to unknown planes of the Abyss is insanely dangerous. Most of the pits are two-way portals, but some are only one-way, leaving travelers stranded on the new layer.