Lord of the Ninth: Asmodeus, King of the Nine Hells
|Title(s)|| Supreme Master of the Nine Hells |
Lord of Nessus
Lord of the Pit
King of the Hells
|Power Level|| Archdevil|
|Subservient Deities|| |
|Symbol(s)|| Clawed fist gripping a skull, inverted pentagram, or a ruby tipped rod|
|Home Plane|| Baator|
|Alignment|| Lawful Evil|
|Favored Weapon|| Ruby Rod of Asmodeus|
|Primary Allies|| |
|Primary Foes|| Celestials, Demons|
|Amia Domains|| Law Evil Tyranny Trickery Magic Nobility|
Asmodeus, the King of the Nine Hells and Lord of the Ninth, is at the very least an archdevil, but he may possess the power of a true deity. He resides in Malsheem, located on the lowest layer of Baator, Nessus. He is rarely ever seen, and only when the elite of the Nine Hells gather in any one of a hundred different audience chambers does Asmodeus make his presence known, usually in the form of an unprepossessing humanoid with black hair, a black goatee, and eyes of flame.
The undisputed master of the Nine Hells, he commands fear and respect from all those who occupy his realm. Even the gods who dwell in the Nine Hells give Asmodeus his proper due. Though the archdevils might work to usurp him, few have the courage to act in the open. Asmodeus’s machinations are long in the making, and they might take centuries, if not millennia, to see resolution. He works on a grand scale, carefully constructing insidious and inexplicable intrigues, maneuvering the forces of wickedness like chess pieces on a board that encompasses all the planes. His core concerns are simple. First, he wants the power structure currently in place to remain exactly as it stands now, with him in charge. He has spies on every layer, plants in every court. No fiend knows for sure which of its minions actually serve Asmodeus, so the climate is one of justified paranoia. Asmodeus also expands evil.
He directly opposes celestials and good-aligned deities. His minions combat the agents of the Celestial Planes, murdering them whenever and wherever they can. Finally, Asmodeus waged war against the demons throughout the period of the Blood War. He saw the untold legions as a direct threat to his supremacy. Asmodeus is aware of every plot hatched against him. Older than the oldest archdevil, he has watched the rise and fall of other archdevils far craftier than any of Asmodeus’s contemporaries. He keeps to himself, letting his minions stew in fear of what he will do next. Of course, few have forgotten that Asmodeus emerged unscathed in the Reckoning, proving to all that he is their better. On the Prime Material Plane, Asmodeus has more cultists than all the other archdevils combined. Mortals who worship devils actually draw power from Asmodeus. He influences all levels of society and has followers of nearly every race, even within the strongest bastions for good. His path is the way to great and unattainable power, so his clerics are mighty men and women with influence and personal magnetism that makes them natural leaders among their kind.
As the unquestioned master of Baator, Asmodeus can work nearly any magic within its boundaries as an act of will. He can alter the forms of other archdukes, though he might not be able to slay them outright. He can also reach into other realms and reshape them with the merest thought. Recently, Asmodeus achieved a long-standing goal that had previously eluded him for eons—he tamed his daughter’s rebellious spirit and exacted new pledges of loyalty from her. In exchange, he made her ruler of her own layer; an event that has the other archdukes scrambling in reaction. Asmodeus currently enjoys a renewed sense of political supremacy. He has his archdukes right where he wants them scared and anxious to please and his grip over the Nine Hells has never been stronger. Now he seeks to expand that power to the Material Plane. More souls will give him still more divine power, and perhaps enable him to tip the alignment of the material world toward lawful evil.
Asmodeus has been challenged many times, most recently during the Reckoning—the Hells-wide rebellion that ended unsuccessfully — but never has he been defeated.
Asmodeus is devoted to oppression and might through subversive action. He imposes strict rules and harsh punishments on his followers. The cult of Asmodeus urges its adherents to seek power over others, to repay evil with further evil (an eye for an eye), to exploit kindness for personal gain, and to show no compassion for the weak and downtrodden. All done in the most legal possible manner of course, and never overtly.
The Pact Primeval
The best way to understand devils and their ways is to listen to the stories they tell about themselves. The most famous of these tales have propagated as myths throughout all the worlds of the Material Plane, becoming familiar to mortals of all sorts. But as is often the case with legends, contradictions abound. For example, the tale of the Pact Primeval is the accepted version of the multiverse’s creation. But an alternate story claims Asmodeus as the fallen creator of the universe. Countless cultures have their own versions of the Pact Primeval legend. The names of the deities featured in it change depending on where it is told, but the names of the devils are always the same. Perhaps this fact is what inspired Philogestes, the accursed philosopher of evil, to pen his famous proverb: “The gods exist in multiplicity, but Asmodeus is unique.” As is the case with any myth worthy of the name, the following tale is true—whether or not it actually happened.
In the beginning—and even before—chaos was all that existed. Out of it came demons—the living manifestations of chaos. Time had not yet been invented, so the demons fought each other continuously in a vortex of disorder over an immeasurable period. A state of raw chaos was intolerable to the universe, so a force arose to combat it—the power of law. From this principle of abstract order, a number of beings coalesced to combat the demons. These new deities of law suited themselves in gleaming armor made of pure stability and took up weapons forged of ideal thought. Then they waded into battle against the demons. After the battle had raged for uncounted eons, the law deities felt the need to track their progress. They created numbers, to record the enemies slain, and time, so they could see how long victory would take. Gradually, however, the deities of law began to suspect that the supply of demons was infinite. Weary of battle, they wished to move on to other projects, such as the creation of worlds and intelligent beings.
So they made beautiful winged warriors to serve them and wield their divine magic, both in the endless war against the demons and in the worlds yet to be created. These beings, glorious in their diversity, were called angels. The bravest, toughest, fiercest, and most beautiful of the angels was Asmodeus. He slew more demons than any other of his kind—more even than any deity. But as the eons wore on, Asmodeus and the members of his magnificent and terrible company began to take on some of their enemies’ traits, so as to fight them more effectively. Gradually, their beauty turned to ugliness, and the deities and other angels began to fear them. Eventually, the inhabitants of the celestial realms petitioned the great gods to banish Asmodeus and the most fearsome of his avenging angels.
So Asmodeus was put on trial before Heironeous, the god of valor. The darkest of the angels responded readily to the charges, reading from the great tablets of law that he had helped to carve. “The first duty of law is to destroy chaos,” he argued. “I have performed this duty better than any.” “You have made war, and made it well,” Heironeous agreed. “Yet you and your company have poisoned yourselves in the process. Can you not go elsewhere, lest we become contaminated too?” Asmodeus smiled, and the smoke of a thousand battlefields rose from his lips. “As Lord of Battle,” he pointed out, “you should know better than any that war is a dirty business. We have blackened ourselves so that you can remain golden. We have upheld the laws, not broken them. Therefore, you may not cast us out.”
The gods huddled together to discuss what they had heard. Great was their consternation when they could find no counters in their tablets of law to Asmodeus’s arguments. The dark angel knew the laws better than they did and could wield their clauses like a knife. With the passage of time, Asmodeus and his war band grew ever more alarming in aspect. Fangs jutted from their mouths, their tongues grew forked, and they wreathed their bodies in mantles of fire re. The deities built new citadels to escape them, but Asmodeus and his followers penetrated these as well. They sued the gods under their own laws, demanding full access to all the privileges accorded champions of order. The deities were distressed but could find no lawful way to stop them.
So the gods retreated to their great project—the creation of mortals, and of verdant worlds for those favored beings to live on. But when demons invaded these worlds, the warbands of Asmodeus were called upon to stop them. Although the voracious hosts of the tanar’ri were no easier to vanquish on the new worlds of the Material Plane than they had been on the battlegrounds of the Outer Planes, Asmodeus and his dark angels generally succeeded in driving them back. Together, the gods and angels created barriers on the Material Plane to keep the demons at bay. They erected walls, threw up ranges of mountains, covered portions of their worlds with icy wastes, and buried the entrances the demons had used under vast oceans. Thus were the newly created worlds, like Asmodeus and his lot, scarred and made ugly for the greater benefit t of law. Then the deities of order made a horrifying discovery. The mortals they had created—their pride and joy—immediately set to work tearing down these barriers. They scaled walls, climbed mountains, and traversed glaciers to let the demons back in. Upon returning to the Material Plane, the demons ran riot, destroying one earthly paradise after another.
The deities were angry but also confused. “Why did my sweet halflings do this to me?” cried Yondalla, who had created them. “I invented mountains and set my clever dwarves as their protectors!” thundered Moradin. “Why did they tunnel under them and into the demon crypts?” The gods wailed and lamented until Asmodeus came to them with the answer. “Your mortals are taking these actions because you gave them minds of their own.” “Of course we did!” said the deities. “Without free will, the choice to follow the law means nothing.” “Indeed,” replied Asmodeus, crushing a small insect that had crawled out of his neatly trimmed red beard. “They are curious creatures, these mortals, and the demons have promised them freedom. Soon they will learn that the liberty dangled before them is that of absolute anarchy, and that in a demon realm, they are free only to be destroyed. But by then, it will be too late for them. You might create more worlds and more mortals to people them, but I promise you, the same folly will recur eternally.”
When the gods realized the truth of the dark angel’s words, they were downcast. They rent their garments and wailed in despair. “I have the solution that eludes you,” said Asmodeus, “one that will allow your precious mortals to retain the free will you have so beneficently given them. The problem is this,” he continued. “Your law is one of voluntary obedience. You command the mortals to abjure chaos, but what happens when they disobey you?” The deities had no answer. “We are their creators,” moaned Yondalla. “Of course they should heed us.” “Indeed they should,” replied Asmodeus, bowing gallantly to the fair Yondalla. “But they do not, because there can be no law without Punishment.”
“Punishment?” muttered the host of deities and godlings. “What is this Punishment of which you speak?” Asmodeus pulled it from its sheath. At this time, Punishment was shaped like a mighty sword, though it has taken on many forms since then. “I have invented this item for you as the ultimate weapon of law. When laws are broken, the wrongdoers must be made to suffer as a warning to others. Thus, mortals can choose between the paradise of rightful action and the torment of wickedness. A few will suffer Punishment so that the majority can see the consequences of lawbreaking.” The gods were disquieted by this pronouncement, but as usual, they could find no flaws in their champion’s logic. How could mortals be expected to choose virtue if evil went unpunished? At last, one of the godlings stepped forward and said, “Yes, retribution is the basis of all law.” These words transformed him on the spot into the greater deity now known as St. Cuthbert.
On that day, the deities began to see that law and chaos were not the only principles in the universe. Good and evil were natural forces in the cosmos as well. So the gods separated themselves from one other on that basis. Deities such as Hecate and Set offered patronage to Asmodeus’s poisoned angels, while Heironeous and some of the others drew back from them still more. So the deities handed down their new laws and sent their clerics through mortal lands to announce that the punishment for sin would be torment. The gods were pleased with the arrangement. They truly thought that everyone would obey and that no one would actually be punished. But as mortals died, some souls trickled into the celestial planes who bore the stink of transgression. Asmodeus, aided by Dispater, Mephistopheles, and others of his dark brigade, set about their lawful punishment. They flayed these sinners, and burned them, and placed them on racks.
The shrieks of the damned reverberated throughout the heavens, and the flowers in the gods’ idyllic gardens dripped with blood. The deities of law tried to shut their ears, but they could not abide the horror. So they put Asmodeus in chains and again charged him with high crimes against them. “I have merely done what I said I would, under the laws you drafted,” said Asmodeus. Again, the gods had to admit he was right. “But I have a proposal for you,” the grim champion continued. “You wish to see the law upheld, but you do not care to witness its ranker consequences. So to preserve your delicate sensibilities, my followers and I will take our project elsewhere. We will build a perfect Hell for you. You will gain from its existence but need never lay eyes upon it. We shall put it . . . there.” And he pointed to an empty land, which is now called Baator. “Yes, yes!” said all the deities. “You must move your Hell there, forthwith!” “Nothing would please me more,” said Asmodeus. He extended his hand, and a ruby rod of power appeared in it. “But first, we must make a pact.”
“A pact?” asked Moradin suspiciously. “Yes, indeed,” said Asmodeus, producing a document with a wave of his hand. “It is to your benefit to ensure that we, who labor for you in a place you will not venture, continue to carry out your will. This agreement specifies the fate of damned souls. In exchange, it allows us to draw magic from these souls, so we can fuel our spells and maintain our powers.” “I’m not sure I like the sound of that,” said the flinty Moradin. “Your concerns are entirely understandable, O Maker of Dwarves,” said Asmodeus in his most reassuring tone. “But since we will be separated from you, we will not be able to draw our powers from you, as we always have. You would not wish to make us gods independent of yourselves, would you?” “Assuredly not!” huffed Moradin, appalled at the thought. “So instead, take this lesser measure, and simply sign this pact,” he said with a smile. Thus, the law deities signed the agreement that determined the boundaries of Hell and the rules for the transmission of wicked souls. Today, mortals know this document as the Pact Primeval.
Once it was signed, Asmodeus, Mephistopheles, and Dispater decamped to Baator, which was then a bleak and featureless plain. With them went a host of other dark angels that called themselves erinyes. “What have you gotten us into?” Mephistopheles moaned. “This place has nothing!” Dispater complained. “Just wait,” said Asmodeus. Then he explained his plan. The deities of virtuous law reveled in their newly purified celestial domains, now free of the cruel angels’ degradation for the first time. It was not for many years, in mortal terms, that they discovered an alarming drop in the number of souls being transmitted to their various heavens. Upon conferring with their clergy, they realized that devils were corrupting mortals and ensuring their damnation by turning them toward evil.
The deities formed a delegation, which set off immediately for Baator. To their surprise, the once-featureless plain had been transformed into nine tiers of monstrous horror and torment. Within its confines, they found countless souls writhing in pain. They saw these souls transformed, first into crawling, mindless monsters, and eventually into an army of powerful devils. “What goes on here?” Heironeous demanded. “You have granted us the power to harvest souls,” replied Asmodeus. “To build our Hell and gird our might for the task set before us, we naturally had to find ways to improve our yield.” The war deity drew forth his longsword of crackling lightning. “It is your job to punish transgressions, not to encourage them!” he cried. Asmodeus smiled, and a venomous moth flew out from between his sharpened teeth. “Read the fine print,” he replied.
In fact, Asmodeus’s parting from the lawful deities after the signing of the Pact Primeval was not amicable. Once he had committed himself to residing in Baator, the deities physically cast him out of the upper realms, and he fell—and fell, and fell. Upon reaching the plain of Baator, he plunged through the nascent layers he had begun to shape. In some versions, his fall created the layers, breaking the formerly featureless plain into nine pieces, which then arranged themselves into floating tiers. At last he hit solid ground but continued to fall, spiraling through rock and soil. The protesting earth of Baator tore at his flesh, opening scores of gaping wounds. Still he fell, until he could fall no farther. The point where he finally stopped was the deepest part of Baator—the Pit. The wounds that Asmodeus suffered in his dramatic fall have never healed. Though he manages to appear blithely unperturbed by his injuries, they still weep blood every day, and he has been wracked by constant pain for millennia.
Ninth Layer: Nessus
The ninth and deepest Hell was a land of extremes in the Great Wheel view: regions cold as Cania, volcanoes like Phlegethos, a lake of ice, a flaming forest, sheer cliffs, firewinds, and a citadel even larger than Khin-Oin in Hades (later, the Khin-Oin became part of the Abyss). The World Tree view did not contradict this description of Nessus but focused more on the blasted and torn landscape out of which rose Malsheem, the Citadel of Hell. It was said that Malsheem could hold millions of devils within its mountainous edifice, from the lowest warrens deep in the trench to the soaring spires miles/kilometers above the tortured plain. The World Axis model agreed that a progression of rifts, pits, and chasms lead down and down, forming a vertical maze hundreds of miles/kilometers deep that contained great cities, fiendish armies, and the mighty fortress of the Overlord Asmodeus.
Asmodeus is depicted as the strongest, most cunning, and most beautiful of all devils. He is typically described as appearing as a human, 13 feet tall, he has lustrous dark skin and black hair, handsome and dangerous, his red eyes shine with infernal power, a pair of small sharp horns crowns his forehead. He dresses in regal finery of red and black robes studded with black diamonds and fiery rubies, which are of unimaginable expense. Beneath his clothing, Asmodeus's body is covered in bloody wounds which he sustained when he fell from heaven. His wounds ooze blood daily, and the drops of his blood which touch the ground grow into powerful devils.
Asmodeus is never seen without his Ruby Rod of Asmodeus, seemingly made of a single carved ruby that shines with the power of Hell, that serves as a badge of office as well as having several powerful offensive and defensive powers. The Rod allows Asmodeus to attack with elemental forces, force his enemies to cower in fear, or cover himself with a field which heals and protects him.