Lords of the Nine

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 27: Lords of the Nine




One of those things about Planescape that has grown to bug me is that for the first year or so of its releases the setting can feel a bit like a draft. While some parts of it are relatively set, for instance the factions or the list of known planes, other parts continually grow in a way that can be a tad frustrating. I touched on this in the last article about the Monstrous Compendium Appendix II, where we learn about huge planar races who’d previously gone unmentioned, and that’s also the problem with Lords of the Nine. It’s an article that presupposes you’ve already read the book about Baator in Planes of Law, but at the same time it offers information that by all rights really should’ve been in that book. You’d think information about who actually rules a plane would be part of the book focused on said plane, especially given that most of the information within is specifically for DM’s and not characters. This problem becomes less of an issue once we leave these boxed sets on the outer planes behind, but really this is core information that shouldn’t have been hidden in a Dragon Magazine article. 

That being said, there are a few reasons why this information might’ve been delayed, chief among them that TSR was still struggling to figure out how to approach the topic of devils. While demons and devils had been renamed with AD&D‘s second edition, the fact is that the named fiends from earlier editions had real world connotations, something the company was at this point still doing its best to avoid. This dated back all the way to that first, messy and largely apocryphal 1979 article in Dragon, “The Politics of Hell,” which posited Satan as the original ruler of the plane before being deposed by Asmodeus, at which point:


 Thus it was that Asmodeus became Lord of Hell. Shortly thereafter, the “War to End All Wars” was fought, and then came Mussolini and Hitler, the death camps and purges, the A-bomb and other atrocities in a war that claimed more than 15 million lives in battle and countless other lives. One could say that Asmodeus has had some success.

Err… well, ok then. As I said, it’s kind of a weird proto-version of the Hell, and only details Satan, Belial, and the afterwards-never-mentioned Astaroth, who “in addition to his duties function as the devil responsible for financial matters, is also the devil in charge of supervising activities of devils in the United States. This would seem to indicate that the devils find the United States of great importance and stature, for no other nation has a devil of such rank overseeing it.”  It’s not canon, but at the same time it’s not too far off from what soon became standard game lore, and seems to have at least a tad of influence on Gary Gygax and Ed Greenwood, whose works in the monster manuals and later issues of Dragon became the game’s standard.

Levistus seems less like a great evil warlord and more like a surly bartender.

In those first two AD&D Monster Manuals and Greenwood’s articles that served to give them context, the Lords of the Nine are actually quite different from what we see here in Planescape. Here’s the original rundown of layers and their rulers: 

  1. Tiamat the Chromatic Dragon, lord of Avernus
  2. Dispater, lord of Dis
  3. Mammon, lord of Minauros
  4. Belial, lord of Phlegethos
  5. Geryon, lord of Stygia
  6. Baalzebul, lord of Malbolge, through Grand Viceroy Moloch. It was revealed Beherit was the original ruler.
  7. Baalzebul, lord of Maladomini
  8. Mephistopheles, lord of Caina (a typo in later editions officially changed the spelling of the layer to Cania)
  9. Asmodeus, lord of Nessus.

The complete removal of their existence as of the game’s second edition, in favor of the far duller and significantly less-detailed Dark Eight, seems like a result of the desire to remove devils/demons from the game entirely as a response to the 80s Satanic panics, regardless of this plane still retaining its name The Nine Hells right up until Planescape arrived. 


These nine rulers were so integral to the plane’s identity that erasing them never sat well with players, so it wasn’t long before they went from missing entirely in the Campaign Setting to partially there in Planes of Law to mostly there as of this article. The gradual revelation of their identities may have been intended also as a bit of a suspense-plot, but mostly it comes off as awkward and unsure. Over the following years, the rundown would go through a weirdly large number of variations, but for right now this is what we’re given:

  1. Bel, Warlord of Avernus
  2. Dispater, Archduke of Dis
  3. Minauros, Viscount of Minauros
  4. Fierana, Lady of Phlegethos
  5. Levistus, Prince of Stygia
  6. Malagard, Hag Countess (and also queen?) of Malbolge
  7. Triel, Slug Archduke of Maladomini
  8. Molikroth, Baron of Cania
  9. ????

    Of the original rulers, only one still remains, leaving us with the most recognizable of the lords no longer in charge. This is the most substantial addition provided by this Dragon article, of key interest being Dispater still somehow ruling Dis. His existence points to a sort of continuity from the game’s first edition, a hint that perhaps Hell’s rulers aren’t so different as it initially seems. 
Ok, they’re not DiTerlizzi’s best work, either.

There are a couple other noteworthy pieces of this essay, though, chief among them being the explanation as to why information about the lords was missing until now. “…many discount the Lords as the crazed imaginings of those who’ve wandered the bleak waste of Baator.” One of the things that both players and, weirdly, DM’s should be used to about Planescape by now is that nine out of ten times, whatever strange rumors people have heard are very much true (perhaps even becoming true due to the prevalence of belief in these rumors). At times like this, it feels like TSR is really lampshading its consistency issues, but it does kind of work. By now, it should be clear to anyone running a campaign set in the planes that your average individual in Sigil knows a lot less about what’s actually going on than they think, which doesn’t mean they won’t happily make up stories about the many things they’re unaware of.


Beyond this, I find it interesting that the article broaches the question of these devils’ divinity. As of this point, the Lords of Hell are unable to grant spells, probably for those usual second edition TSR-y reasons, but they do gain power from mortal worshipers, “just as a God would.” Since they can’t grant spells, they make a deal with the evil Powers in Baator to grant these spells for them in return for some of the power gained from worship. It’s a strange workaround that allows devil-worship to function in gameplay as if these individuals were gods, but without actually giving them divinity so as to avoid those Satanic Panic problems. Somehow, this seems both smart and idiotic at the same time.

He’s scary, see, cause he’s a shadow and stuff.

Relatedly, unlike in first edition, the devils themselves aren’t stated out. After all, they’re supposed to be at approximately the same level of power as the, well, Powers (i.e. gods), though the article really goes out its way to avoid equating them more precisely than this. As such, instead, we’re provided with the statistics for their avatars. This is something AD&D‘s second edition did for all of its divinities, and is a choice I wholeheartedly support. I’ll touch on this very soon in the future when we look at some books devoted to deities, but as such this does a better job than anything else in creating an equivalency between these Lords and Gods. 


There’s one last noteworthy thing about this article, which is that DiTerlizzi drew a portrait for all eight of the Lords who get detailed. However, as usual they didn’t print all that well in the magazine, and this is coupled with a messy layout such that none of it looks great. It’s also a strange article in that this version of the Lords, while theoretically definitive, really didn’t last long at all. It’s nice to see them fleshed out more than what we’d seen before, but given the changes they’d be going through just a few months later this article ends up a weird footnote, and not worth pursuing or even reading except for real diehards. 

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