Hell, courtesy of Dante.
Last time I kept mentioning someone that I decided to call the Most Powerful Devil (MPD), without ever going any further into who or what that was. But I’ve come up with more background for them since then, and in so doing I’ve also come up with more details for the game-world as a whole.
So, today I have a stupidly simple calendar (though I haven’t yet bothered to give the months names), I have a better idea of what the afterlife looks like (I’ve totally tossed out the basic alignment-based fare in favor of something a bit more complex), and I have a name and backstory for the Most Powerful Devil. I think you’ll like this stuff.
First off, the calendar. I may decide to change this in the future, but for now I’m assuming that the world of For The King!, as it exists on the Prime Material Plane, is a very Earth-like planet. This means that there are roughly 365 & 1/4 days in a year, days are of varying length but have a 24 hour cycle, etc. The calendar which is used in the Kingdom of Duval and its immediate environs was originally devised by the Dwarves, and is made up of 360 days in 12 months of thirty days each, with five feast / holy days that aren’t part of any month. Every so often (assume every four years) there is an additional feast / holy day, linked to some to-be-determined astronomical phenomenon. The feast days occur fairly evenly throughout the year, with one between the 3rd and 4th months, one between the 6th and 7th months, one between the 9th and 10th months, and two between the 12th and 1st months.
Now, of course, not everyone uses this calendar. Duval and Meius certainly do, as did the ancient people of Kraskya and New Kraskya, but other people have their own way of measuring the passage of time. The sea-folk generally follow a lunar calendar, and who knows what the elves use for measuring the passage of time. I mean, the elves probably know about solar, lunar, and lunisolar calendars, and can use them, but they almost certainly have their own preferred methods for tracking time.
Now then, about the afterlife…
I don’t like the implications of the standard 5e (or classic D&D, for that matter) interpretation of the afterlife, or at least not what comes up from looking at the entries for devils in the Monster Manual. I don’t like the idea that everyone is judged more or less according to some single moral compass, and sorted based on their local faith’s understanding of that single moral compass as it maps onto the simplistic alignment system. I’d much rather have things be more complex than that. And besides, I have a whole bunch of gods that I’ve come up with for this setting, including a psychopomp, and what good is a psychopomp if they can’t get some mileage out of transporting you to the afterlife?
I won’t claim that I already know what all the various parts of the afterlife look like in For The King!, but I did come up with a name for the Hells which were taken over by the Most Powerful Demon, who from here on out shall be referred to as Ermusin. The name I came up with for the fragmented Planes ruled by Ermusin is The Hells of Errant Souls… which in turn gave me some of my ideas about how the afterlife should work.
A bit of quick background: Pelicas, the Goddess of Safe Passage, is worshipped nearly universally. She is a psychopomp, and her role involves protecting and guiding those who have died as they journey to their appropriate afterlife. Though she has no centralized church, she does have clerics and paladins who are dedicated to ensuring that others travel safely (guiding and guarding travelers for a modest fee is a sacrament) and ensuring that others do not die before their time. How any given follower defines “before their time” may vary, but some followers of Pelicas will refuse to use lethal force if possible, or even at all. Worshippers of Pelicas may fall anywhere on the spectrum of violence from a member of a militant holy order to something more like a Jain. As the goddess tasked with making sure that souls go where they’re supposed to, Pelicas has problems with the undead, even bigger problems with ensouled undead, and is totally against resurrection (though reincarnation may be okay). As far as Pelicas is concerned, souls are supposed to go one way, and one way only, and they’re definitely not supposed to stick around on the Prime Material Plane without some damn good reasons.
Once a soul is freed of its body and leaves its connection to the Prime Material Plane, it soon finds itself in The Passage, a lush but rough and broken land through which the soul must travel before it can reach the Final Gates and pass into its appropriate resting place. Barring some strange circumstance, any new soul in The Passage will appear stripped bare, with no gear or equipment to protect themselves. Souls in The Passage (and anywhere else in the afterlife, prior to reaching their resting place) will slowly weaken over time unless sustained by the prayers of the living or sustenance found in the afterlife. Funnily enough, those who were capable survivors in real life are often capable survivors in The Passage as well, though if they do not know their destination they may eventually become warped by spending too long there without a concrete self, or the protection of their final resting place. Souls too weak to carry on are easier prey for the Eaters of Souls and other scavengers which roam The Passage, and some desperate, hungry, or vicious souls will attack and consume other souls in order to feed and strengthen themselves. Some Eaters of Souls are no doubt simply old and experienced souls themselves, transformed by their long predation.
Because The Passage is a rough and uneven land of hills, rills, rivers and gorges, characterized by dense and inhospitable growths and rocky cliffs, it is easy to become lost or hurt. But Pelicas and her servitors will guide and protect those who have received appropriate funeral rites, making it far more likely that the soul will safely reach their destination beyond the Final Gates, wherever that may be. Though some adventurous mages and spiritualists have attempted to map The Passage, the landscape also appears to be mutable, making the guidance of Pelicas all the more important.
Those unfortunates who fall prey to the Eaters of Souls, who fall prey to the landscape, who are injured or consumed by their fellow souls, or who simply wander too far and become lost, all end up in The Hells of Errant Souls. Reaching the Hells doesn’t stop a soul from needing some form of sustenance, and the injuries often done to a soul before it reaches the Hells will more likely than not leave them almost unrecognizable to those who knew them before. Wounding a soul may destroy its memories, alter its personality, its drives and motivations, or anything else about it. The wounded often scrabble to find something to fill their gaping inconsistencies, adopting new behaviors in an effort to fill the lacks that they can sense. Those who have fed on other souls may find themselves changing as well, sometimes incorporating the things that they have accidentally stripped from others in their quest for sustenance.
Many who reach the strange lands of the Hells are found by the followers of Ermusin, and are offered a chance to join something greater and gain protection and food, in exchange for their obedience. Not every soul is found, and not every found soul is offered this choice, but those that are often accept the promise of stability in exchange for their fealty. Those that don’t, or that aren’t offered the choice, are most often culled for the power of their souls, to be used as food, fuel, or magical power elsewhere in the Hells, though their fate depends on the inclinations of the devil that finds them. Since the hierarchy of devils is more about appropriate fealty to one’s superiors and careful observance of bargains and agreements, and less about specific rulings on what one should do with one’s power, there’s a great deal of room for variation.
So, about Ermusin, also called The Broken King, the Usurper, and the Thief in the Night, previously referred to here as the Most Powerful Devil, and the one who took over the Hells of Errant Souls…
Long ago, according to Ermusin and maybe a few other sources, Ermusin was a powerful god of order, obedience, and agreements, and he ruled several of the Upper Planes as a widely respected arbitrator. Though the reasons are unclear, he was deposed and replaced by a coalition of gods who envied or distrusted his power. Ermusin lost that fight and broke in the process, scattering shards of himself of varying power across a number of Planes before he finally retreated from the forces of his opponents. He reconsolidated his forces in the Hells of Errant Souls, bargaining off another sliver of himself to the demonic godling which presided there, in exchange for safety and a chance to heal and rebuild his power. When he found that he was unable to reabsorb the other shards (angels, more or less) which he had called back to himself after his flight to the Lower Planes, Ermusin realized that his nature had been altered or crippled by his battle, defeat, and the loss of his position.
At this point, as I mentioned in my previous post, Ermusin altered his strategy; instead of trying to reincorporate his fragments, Ermusin recruited more followers and created an army, using his previous mantle as the god of order, obedience and agreements to solidify his leadership. But with the shift in his nature, he found it more difficult to enforce his control as he had envisioned it. His new followers were more bound to follow rules to the letter rather than the spirit, and often interpreted them more or less as they saw fit. Ermusin tried to use this to his advantage, and suckered the demonic godling who was his host into swearing fealty to him, thereby taking control of the Hells outright.
Once he established his rule there, and established the systems of recruitment and soul collection, he began to travel the Planes; while he was in the Hells, he was vulnerable to being destroyed outright, possibly by his untrustworthy servants. But if he died elsewhere he would re-corporeate back in the Hells, making him somewhat less vulnerable to sudden attack. As such, he now roams the world, letting his servants’ power accumulate while he searches for something that he can use to gain a decisive advantage over those who expelled him, so that he may achieve his revenge and regain his power.