Abyss (Dungeons & Dragons)
In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, the Abyss, or more fully, the Infinite Layers of the Abyss, is a chaotic evil-aligned plane of existence. It is one of a number of alignment-based Outer Planes that form part of the standard Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) cosmology, used in the Planescape and Greyhawk campaign settings. The Abyss is also the name of one of the faith-based outer planes that form part of the Forgotten Realms cosmology. While the published 3rd-Edition source books indicate that the Abyss of the standard D&D cosmology is not the same plane as the Abyss of the Forgotten Realms cosmology, they are for all practical purposes identical.
The plane known as the 666 layers of the Abyss was mentioned for the first time by name in the article "Planes: The Concepts of Spatial, Temporal and Physical Relationships in D&D", in The Dragon #8, released July 1977. In the article Gary Gygax describes the plane as one of the "Typical lower planes". The plane was mentioned again in an appendix of the known planes of existence in the original (1st edition) AD&D Players Handbook, published in June 1978, where it was described as "The 666 layers of the Abyss of absolute chaotic evil".
The description of the Abyss varies between different editions, campaign settings and even individual accessories. This can be viewed as the canonical status of the Abyss changing, or as an in-character explanation that the conflicting information is the result of misinformation spread by the demons themselves, and of misunderstandings by those who study them.
One description of the Abyss presents it as a region of intense, extreme, and unforgiving climates, with layers consisting of overwhelmingly fierce desert sandstorms; explosively unstable volcanic activity, boiling lava, and molten rock; blinding, sub-zero Arctic glaciers; bottomless oceans filled with enormous leviathans; nauseatingly putrid environments saturated with disease-causing fungi; and the endless, existential void of infinite space.
The Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss sourcebook suggests that the Abyss may be alive, and that it spawns demons out of its urge to spread chaos and destruction.
In a critical review of Planes of Chaos for White Wolf Inphobia magazine, Keith H. Eisenbeis described the danger of adventuring in planes such as the Abyss, especially for low- and mid-level characters: "Sure, it's possible to design a situation in which first-level characters can accomplish something important and survive in the Abyss, but the immensity and power of the planes is undermined. In addition, on planes such as the Abyss, negotiating with evil creatures is frequently necessary, possibly making these planes useful to only neutral and evil characters."
Ken Denmead of Wired described a number of aspects of the Abyss as psychedelic, calling the doors on one layer of the Abyss similar to the "loony corridor scene from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band."
The main race that inhabits the Abyss are the demons, chaotic evil beings. There are four kinds of demon: the classical, religion-inspired demons of evil and sin the Tanar'ri; the ancient, Lovecraftian Obyriths; the recently appeared Loumaras; and the other demons, which are simply demons that are not specified as belonging to any of the other three categories. Each of these categories contains numerous different species of demon. Of the four categories, the Tanar'ri are the most numerous and most influential and the true rulers of the plane.
The petitioners (souls of the dead who have been sent to the layer for the afterlife) of the Abyss are called manes, and they are the lowest caste of the Tanar'ri. They have pale white skin, sharp teeth and claws, and maggots are reported to crawl through their flesh. Manes that survive for many years may be promoted to greater forms of demon. Extremely clever, lucky ones that survive for millennia may even eventually become Demon Lords. The Demon Lord Orcus is one such demon lord who began as a mane.
The Demon Lords, also known as demon princes, are extremely powerful demons, mostly of the Tanar'ri category though a few Obyrith lords exist as well, who through sheer power and influence have come to rule over one of the layers of the Abyss. They are near god-like in power, each have unique forms, many have cult-followings upon the material plane, and they command scores of lesser demons. Known demon lords include Orcus, as well as Demogorgon, Graz'zt, Fraz-Urb'luu, Baphomet, Yeenoghu, Juiblex, Malcanthet, Pazuzu, Kostchtchie, Dagon, Pale Night, Obox-ob, Zuggtmoy, Sess'Innek, and numerous others.
Chaotic evil deities also inhabit the Abyss, including Vaprak, the god of ogres and trolls; Lolth, the demon queen of spiders and drow; and Great Mother, the goddess of beholders. These deities could also be considered demon lords however. The term "Demon Lord" is really more of a title than a category of beings, and deities such as those mentioned meet the criteria for bearing such a title of ruling over one of the Abyss' layers. Many of the formerly mentioned demon lords themselves have god-like traits; they sway the worship of entire races, have cult-followings, and sometimes even have portfolios attributed to them. Therefore they might be gods. The exact distinction between "demon lord" and "deity" is rather unclear.
Like other outer planes, the Abyss is spatially infinite.
In the standard third edition D&D cosmology, the first layer shares its borders with the neighboring planes of the Windswept Depths of Pandemonium and the Tarterian Depths of Carceri; travel is possible between the Abyss and these planes at certain locations. The River Styx flows through the Abyss to many other lower planes, and as such can be used to gain access to those planes.
In fourth edition D&D, the Abyss lies at the bottom of the Elemental Chaos.
The Abyss is said to consist of an infinite number of layers, though the total number is also quoted as 666 (with an in-game explanation of the number having general numerological import). Layers are numbered based upon order of discovery by various personalities in the background details of the game, sometimes considered documented by the Fraternity of Order faction of the Planescape setting. Discrepancies in layer numbers between supplements and sources can be explained as catalogues that have been compiled by different sources.
It is impossible to know with any certainty whether layers are actually arranged in this precise order, in contrast to the known ordering of layers within all the other planes of the D&D cosmology. A useful metaphor is a deck of playing cards shuffled and then tossed down so they are piled together loosely, randomly, and sometimes not at all.
A list of layers named so far in D&D supplements includes:
- 1 - Pazunia (also known as The Plane of Infinite Portals or The Palace of 1001 Closets) has been described as an infinite plane with only three types of distinct features:
- The river Styx flowing through it (as it does through the top layers of other evil planes).
- Large sinkholes which connect to other layers of the Abyss, some were drilled intentionally by ancient demons during the Abyss' original exploration. The largest of these holes is the Grand Abyss.
- Iron Fortresses which guard the physical bodies of Demon Princes when they leave the Abyss to travel astrally.
- 2 - Driller's Hives, realm of Tharzax the Chattering Prince.
- 3 - The Forgotten Land, realm of Zzyczesiya the Ungrasped.
- 4 - The Grand Abyss, a bottomless, nigh-infinite canyon that contains portals to virtually every other layer in the Abyss.
- 5 - Wormblood
- 8 - The Skin-shedder, realm of Volisupula the Flensed Marquesse.
- 9 - Burningwater
- 10 - "That Hellhole"
- 11 - Molrat
- 12 - Twelvetrees
- 13 - Blood Tor, realm of the goddesses Beshaba and Umberlee from the Forgotten Realms setting. (2nd edition AD&D)
- 14 - The Steaming Fen, realm of the Queen of Chaos.
- 17 - Death's Reward, realm of Abraxas the Unfathomable.
- 21 - The Sixth Pyre, realm of Kardum, Lord of Balors.
- 32 - Sholo-Tovoth: The Fields of Consumption, realm of Turaglas the Ebon Maw.
- 45 to 47 - these three layers make up Azzagrat, the realm of the demon prince Graz'zt, the rival of Demogorgon. Other sources list these as layers 42 to 44. In First Edition D&D, Graz'zt's layer is an infinite palace which filled his entire layer.
- 52 - Vorganund
- 66 - The Demonweb Pits, home of Lolth, queen of spiders and principal deity of evil drow, particularly in Menzoberranzan. In the Third Edition D&D Forgotten Realms cosmology, the Demonweb Pits is a separate plane. In First Edition D&D, Lolth's Demonweb is located on the 65th layer, from there access is possible to the 66th layer, where her realm and spider-ship is located.
- 67 - The Heaving Hills (Verrangoin Realm)
- 68 - The Swallowed Void
- 69 - The Crushing Plain
- 70 - The Ice Floe
- 71 - Spirac, hunting grounds of the demon lords.
- 72 - Darklight, realm of Nocticula the Undeniable.
- 73 - The Wells of Darkness, currently serve as the prison of several demon lords such as Shami-Amorae, Ansitif and Ebulon.
- 74 - Smargard, home to Merrshaulk the yuan-ti deity and Ramenos the bullywug deity. Also contains The Viper Pit (Sseth's realm; Powers & Pantheons), and the Silent Temple (Planar Handbook).
- 79 - The Emessu Tunnels, realm of Anarazel the Daring Darkness.
- 81 - The Blood Shallows, one of Obox-ob's former realms.
- 88 - The Gaping Maw (or Brine Flats or Abysm), home to Demogorgon, Prince of Demons, one of the highest-ranking demons in the abyss.
- 90 - The Guttering Cove, realm of Ilsidahur the Howling King.
- 92 - Ulgurshek, the massive ancient Draeden
- 99 - Unnamed contested layer consisting of several distinctive realms (from First edition D&D module Tales of the Outer Planes); one is where demons are spawned, another is a lightning realm, in another can be found portals leading to Juiblex and Kali's layers.
- 111 - The Mind of Evil, realm of Sch’theraqpasstt the Serpent Reborn.
- 113 - Thanatos, the realm of Orcus, demon prince of the Undead. Some sources quote this as layer #333 or #133.
- 137 - Outcasts' End, realm of Azazel, Prince of Scapegoats.
- 148 - Torrent
- 174 - Home of Maelstrom, Great Wyrm Red Dragon who stopped sleeping and became so powerful he was banished to the Abyss by both Chromatic and Metallic Dragons.
- 176 - Hollow's Heart, realm of the demon lord Fraz-Urb'luu, which, due to his magical illusions, appears to be flat, colorless, and featureless to the human eye.
- 177 - The Writhing Realm, realm of Ugudenk the Squirming King.
- 222 - Shedaklah (aka The Slime Pits), home to Juiblex demon Prince of Slimes, and Zuggtmoy, Demon Queen of Fungi.
- 223 - Offalmound, former realm of the dead god Moander from the Forgotten Realms setting. (2nd edition AD&D)
- 230 - The Dreaming Gulf, a windy realm home to the dreams of dead gods.
- 245 - The Scalding Sea
- 248 - The Hidden Layer, realm of Eltab.
- 274 - Durao (gateway layer), mustering ground for the armies of the Abyss as they prepare for battle in the Blood War.
- 300 - Feng-Tu, realm of the Chinese gods Tou Mu and Lu Yueh.
- 303 - The Sulfanorum
- 313 - Gorrison's Grasp, site of Illssender's Tower
- 333 - The Broken Scale, realm of the god Hiddukel from the Dragonlance setting. (2nd edition AD&D)
- 340 - The Black Blizzard
- 348 - Fortress of Indifference, ruled by Tapheon, the nalfeshnee; former realm of the demon lord Thralhavoc.
- 357 - The Arc of Eternity, realm of Eldanoth the Bloodless Scion.
- 377 - Plains of Gallenshu
- 400 - Woeful Escarand (Nalfeshnee Realm), a court at which newly arrived larvae and sometimes other demons are judged
- 403 - The Rainless Waste, site of Mal Arundak, the City of Confusion (Fallen archon realm)
- 421 - White Kingdom, ruled by the King of Ghouls, once a vassal to Orcus and Yeenoghu, but is now a free agent.
- 422 - The Seeping Woods, ruled by Yeenoghu, Demon Prince of Gnolls. Called "Yeenoghu's Realm" in Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss.
- 423 - Galun-Khur
- 452 - Ahriman-abad, realm of Ahrimanes, Chief of the Cacodaemons.
- 471 - Androlynne, realm of Pale Night.
- 489 - Noisome Vale, ruled by the balor Tarnhem.
- 493 - The Steeping Isle, realm of Siragle the Ineffable.
- 499 - Carroristo
- 518 - Melantholep possible name of the nesting grounds of the chole dragons, or perhaps an unknown demon prince who rules the layer.
- 523 - Rocky desert that houses the Lakes of Fire (see Planescape adventure 'Rapture').
- 528 - Juiblex's layer in First Edition D&D, an infinite layer of slimes and oozes feeding off each other. Juiblex's palace is said to resemble the biggest pile of garbage in the multiverse.
- 558 - Fleshforges, realm of Dwiergus the Chrysalis Prince.
- 566 - Soulfreeze, realm of Aseroth the Winter Warlock.
- 597 - Goranthis, realm of Socothbenoth the Persuader.
- 600 - Endless Maze, the realm of Baphomet, demon Prince of Minotaurs. The demoness Pale Night resides here as well.
- 628 - Vallashan, a layer designed to allow temporary victory to conquering armies of good alignment, only to then corrupt the conquerors and turn them against themselves
- 643 - Caverns of the Skull, realm of the Black Earth Mother Kali, the goddess of destruction. In First Edition D&D, Kali's layer was #500 and was a jungle of blood-red vegetation bordering a sea of blood.
- 651 - Nethuria, realm of Vucarik, Consort of Chains.
- 652 - The Rift of Corrosion
- 666 - ???
In the third edition version of the Forgotten Realms cosmology the Abyss links via the Astral Plane, to Toril, the Material Plane. A number of portals directly connect it with the Barrens of Doom and Despair, Clangor, and on occasion, with, Deep Caverns and The Fated Depths. The River of Blood originates in the Abyss and flows through the lower planes, allowing travellers access to those planes by navigating the river.
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