Guide to Hell (1999)

If A Paladin in Hell was the crack in the dam, Chris Pramas’ Guide to Hell (1999) was the flood. This sourcebook for second edition D&D (weirdly printed using the generic AD&D trade dress) dispenses with Planescape’s coyness about Hell. Within is an elaborate examination of Hell’s history (or, at least, one version of it), its hierarchy and, at last, details on the Lords of the Nine themselves. This basic format would be used, to varying degrees, at least three more times in sourcebooks dealing with fiends in future editions.

As with A Paladin in Hell, the Guide seems to recognize Hell’s diminished role in D&D and explain it with an elaborate infernal civil war. A meta-plot for Hell (as well as the Abyss and the endless war between the two) had been formulating for years, but Guide to Hell is the first attempt to collect and reconcile all the different takes on D&D’s infernal regions throughout its history.

Thus, we have a narrative justification to remove some of the (admittedly interchangeable) archdevils of 1E (Geryon, Moloch and, to an extent, Belial) and explain why they were replaced. Now we have Belial’s daughter running things on the fourth, a prince trapped in ice somehow ruling the fifth and a powerful hag on the sixth. (Colin McComb laid out this new set of nine in Dragon Magazine 223, in 1995, but in that bashful Planescape way that tried to pretend that most of them weren’t the archdevils from 1E).

There is some good material here and Guide makes an admirable attempt to return Hell to something resembling the status quo established by Ed Greenwood in his series of classic articles on the Nine Hells (Dragon 75, 76 and 91). It doesn’t entirely work for me, but I truly love Pramas for trying.

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