Guide to Hell

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 65: Guide to Hell




While Warriors of Heaven felt like a hastily reworked Planescape product in more ways than one (emphasis on the word hastily), Guide to Hell has no such issues. It never feels like it should’ve been part of Planescape, nor does its formatting cause you to question the professionalism of the entire TSR/WotC apparatus, though admittedly typos within the manuscript are still absolutely rampant. No, Guide feels like what it is, which is to say a generic-brand supplement for players interested in exploring D&D‘s version of Hell, without all of that mucking about the rest of the multiverse that Planescape concerns itself with. This isn’t necessarily a book just for people who like seeing devils get bashed, but rather it’s a book for people who in one way or another like to deal with devils and integrate them into your basic, Prime Material Plane campaign. The publisher’s marketing may have done their best to make this and the last book look like a matched pair, but that’s anything but the case. 

Which is not to say that it doesn’t include a whole ton of worthwhile planar information. Guide features an introduction, six main sections, and a nearly useless appendix. The first half of the book focuses on character options and how devils tend to interact with Prime Material worlds. Very little of this is terribly exciting, especially from a planar perspective, though all of it is quite well-written. Given that the book was by Chris Pramas, this bears out my memory of his Green Ronin books from the early 2000s, which is that they read well but aren’t terribly well-balanced or copy edited. He includes spells for interacting with demons (few of which are new), as well as four kits for PCs, none of which seem, well, terribly well-balanced or copy edited. One particularly worthwhile part of the book’s first half is the focus that Pramas places on actually running a game. Whereas Christopher Perkins in Warriors of Heaven more or less left this whole mess up to DMs to figure out on their own, Pramas offers ideas and prompts. There are concrete examples of how all of this might work, including strongly designed details for an anti-devil inquisitorial force on the world of Greyhawk. 


However, the most interesting part of Guide to Hell comes largely concerns the archfiends and, in particular, Asmodeus. This emphasis comes even before the book’s introduction, with a two-page story called “Serpents of Law” detailing a strange new idea behind the multiverse’s cosmology. For the first time ever, the origins (or at least very early days) of the multiverse are explained as a result of the agreement and then disagreement between two great proto-gods, the serpents of law Jazirian and Ahriman. They at one time formed an ouroboros between them, and set up the three rules of the multiverse a la Planescape’s rule of three, unity of rings, and center of all things. But when they argued over this last point, it broke the ouroboros apart and Ahriman, who lacked wings unlike his counterpart, fell down into Hell. This serpent would rename himself Asmodeus and birth the entire baatezu race of devils. Meanwhile, Jazirian just chills up above with his couatl mates and slowly fades out of the game’s cosmology entirely. Cool.

It’s the circle of snakes… and it moves us all.

Admittedly, Guide‘s information about the origin of devils contradicts previous sources, in particular Hellbound, which explains the creation of both the baatezu and the tanar’ri as coming from the yugoloths. I suspect this change resulted from Colin McComb leaving the company, as he seemed to be the person most responsible for the yugoloths’ brief prominence in the multiverse (following his exit, the fiends largely take a hint from Jazirian and leave the main stage, though at least they’re still a part of the game). From here on, Asmodeus is going to be the big bad of D&D, and it’s his machinations that will ultimately result in fourth edition’s mess of a cosmology. His background and origin would also be retconned multiple times over the intervening decades, but I still consider Pramas’ version to be perhaps the most interesting, complete, and reasonable one the company ever published. Also notable is that unlike Planescape’s sourcebooks, which tend to couch this sort of thing in legends and the unknowable, Pramas instead tells us “this is how it is.” Guide isn’t about hiding things from DMs, instead it’s telling them the whole dark of how the multiverse works. 

Not only is Asmodeus derived from this primeval creator-serpent, we also learn that his goal in the multiverse is something truly nefarious and unmentioned before. Prior to this book, the souls of atheists were assumed destroyed, rather than heading out to the various Outer Planes for rebirth as a petitioner. No longer. Pramas alters the cosmology such that Asmodeus feeds on these atheist souls, to the point that it’s their power he works to cultivate. Yes, he backs the Athar, but more than this he does what he can to crush faith on the Prime Material Plane, creating cults in order to wreck them and cause their adherents despair. 


Oddly, despite this book being nominally a guide to Hell, new information about the actual plane itself is minimal-to-nonexistent. The revelations concerning Asmodeus are huge, but otherwise the back of the book largely serves to reiterate information from Planes of Law, Faces of Evil, Hellbound, and A Paladin in Hell. Its section on the plane’s layers is shorter than what we received in Planes of Law, and unsurprisingly less detailed. The few pieces of “new” information not contained there are largely drawn from the other books mentioned above, or the adventure Fires of Dis. To anyone who’s been following along with Planescape, there’s practically nothing here for you, and what is included occasionally contradicts previous information in small ways. 

Hannibal King makes yet another return to the series. It’s better than last time, but I’m still looking forward to third edition for its art now that Tony DiTerlizzi is truly gone from the planes. Brom’s cover is pretty great though, right? My artifact-riddled scan notwithstanding…

Far more worthwhile are its profiles of the archdevils, along with two nobles, a whole one of whom is entirely new and still not all that interesting. More importantly, Pramas does excellent work in reconciling the archdevils’ identities, as well as lampshading their changing names in a suitable and logical way (devils have a lot of names, it’s as simple as that).

With that in mind, let’s stop in for our final archdevil rundown for second edition AD&D:

  1. Bel – He’s back to being confirmed in charge, and is still a pit fiend. Good for him.
  2. Dispater – The single most consistent archfiend, to the point that the book makes a sly reference to him being the oldest of the bunch. 
  3. Mammon – Confirmed to be the same person as Minauros. Pramas also explains why his appearance changed from a more traditional pit fiend-ish look to a weirdo snake-thing. Also goes to great length in explaining why he’s no longer together with Asmodeus’ daughter, Glasya, as he was in first edition. 
  4. Fierna & Belial – They’re now fully equals with no mystery to it, and like many changes this is explained through The Reckoning. 
  5. Levistus – Full statistics are included, I guess in case players get him out of his unbreakable ice tomb? 
  6. Malagard – Back to being a night hag. She won’t be seen for much longer, which makes it curious how powerful her stats are. The actual archfiends are generally weaker than her and Bel’s just an altered pit fiend.
  7. Baalzebub – Retconned to being the same person as Triel. Not a big stretch, though, considering that Triel was still “the lord of flies.” This keeps the fallen archon part of his identity, as well as his slug form rather than the vaguely embarrassing bug-eyed version from first edition.
  8. Mephistopheles – Confirmed to be the same dude as Molikroth. Whether or not he’s a “grossly huge” man in form is unconfirmed. 
  9. Asmodeus – Now a greater god/snake lord, and ready to kick some ass.

As far as I’m concerned, Pramas’ profiles of these archdevils, alongside an introduction offering more details on the Reckoning first introduced in A Paladin in Hell, is the highlight of the whole book. After years of Planescape’s uncertainty, it’s refreshing to read authoritative writing about these individuals. Kudos to Pramas and Wizards of the Coast for making these fiends far less ridiculous.

Rob Lazzaretti takes another crack at D&D‘s version of Hell.

Following this is a section for DMs about running diabolic campaigns, which again isn’t particularly useful information for Planescape fans but is still appreciated following the weird mess of Warriors of Heaven. The book then ends with an appendix filled with information about the devils pulled from Planescape, including brief statistics and uncredited black-and-white reprints of Tony DiTerlizzi’s art. I would say that this section is entirely useless, but Pramas does slip in one new devil, the mezzikim, who are “the tortured souls of devils in Hell, sent to the Prime Material Plane to cause pain and suffering among mortals.” Essentially, it’s another way for Prime campaigns to include a bit of devilish flavor, but as far as I’m aware this fiend would never pop up again in D&D. I’m guessing most people never even noticed its insertion.


Guide to Hell is a weird, short book that’s more useful than its counterpart, yet still easily skippable for planar fans. Once you read through its information about Asmodeus, you’ve pretty much stumbled upon all of the new material you’re ever going to use. That being said, it’s also not a bad book. Its 64 pages are filled with ideas, and Pramas does everything he can to make a campaign involving devils not just easy to run but also fun. Pramas’ version of Asmodeus is apocalyptic and truly epic, and frankly I wish something the game had stuck with over the intervening decades. But aside from this one aspect, Guide remains quite skippable, and it’s hard to recommend considering how good all of the actual Planescape books on the same topic have been. 

Guide ends up with a strange place in the game’s history, not quite Planescape but also not quite ready for third edition, and I have some real fondness for it considering how well it solves some of the inconsistencies that cropped up between previous game editions. But it remains inessential, lacking the depth of what we’d seen before in second edition or the updates and changes that would keep the planes and the fiends in particular vital in third. It’s well worth buying the pdf online for a couple bucks and checking in on the full Asmodeus story and how this interacts with the rest of the multiverse, but beyond this is likely never to come off the shelf. 

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest Exposition Break articles sent to your inbox.