A Paladin in Hell (1998)

Some history of demons and devils in Dungeons & Dragons. First edition had them, and they freaked some people out, so TSR removed them from 2E (1989). Initially. They were brought back in the Outer Planes Monstrous Compendium Appendix (1991) as Tanar’ri (demons) and Baatezu (devils), with fantasy face-lifts that distanced them from real world religions. Planescape (1994) danced around the issue of the devils, occasionally referring to their realm as Hell and hinting at its dark princes (however, demon lords, few of which had real world equivalents, had already largely snuck back into the game).

Monte Cook’s adventure module A Paladin in Hell (1998) was the first direct attempt to restore something resembling the old version of the fiends to D&D. It is an extrapolation of an iconic  Dave Sutherland illustration from the 1E Players Handbook (second image). The mod fleshes out the story behind that illustration and sees the players harrow Hell to try to save the paladin (in a ship that is literally part of the Abyss, no less). An adventure for levels 15-20, there’s plenty of devils and demons (Cook dispenses with the silly fantasy names) and other terrors to contend with. Most interestingly, it provides in-game infernal politics to explain the disappearance of some of the devils from 2E.

This scenario is about as heavy metal as D&D gets. Every single one of Arnie Swekel’s interior illustrations looks like a treatment for an album cover for some thrash band. Which is to say: its glorious.

All told, this is an underappreciated classic in the old school mold, filled to brimming with monsters of staggering power. It is also, to my knowledge, the first time the name Asmodeus appeared in print in Second Edition D&D and, as we shall see, Monte Cook didn’t stop there…

Anyone out there friends with Monte? I would love to pick his brain about this module for a larger project on the history of D&D Hell…

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