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Mage Duel Complete Arcane p176

Avernus is the first layer the Nine Hells. Its current ruler is the fallen angel Zariel.

Avernus is the only layer connected to the Astral Plane or with portals to other planes. As such, all invaders or visitors to the Nine Hells must first pass through this layer. Among devils, Avernus is nicknamed the "front parlor" of Hell.



Avernus is a rocky wasteland beneath a dark red sky. Rocky crags rise across the layer's landscape.[1] The mountains and rocky hills here are plentiful in sharp obsidian and quartz, which serve to injure climbers.[2] This sharp scree litters the ground, endlessly flat except for a slight one degree downward slant in the direction of Tiamat's Lair.[3]

There is no sun in the sky here, but the entire plane is suffused with a constant blood-red light.[2] The atmosphere is filled with pockets of glowing flammable gas which pose a threat to visitors.[1] Fireballs can be seen weaving through the sky, and unexpectedly strike visitors, causing the formation of pieces of obsidian.[4]

Little grows here, and the few plants which do survive are short and twisted.[1] The only local food source suitable for humanoids is fire fungus, a dull red moss which grows where the fireballs strike.[5] A scent of ozone and sulfur fills the air.[4]

Rivers of blood run throughout Avernus, said to be the blood of the plane's victims. Fireballs, striking seemingly at random, are a constant danger to non-devil visitors who do not possess resistance to fire.[2][3]

Avernus is largely too barren to support any significant civilization or trade.[6] One valuable export is Baatorian green steel.[7] It is occasionally chosen as a battleground for spell duels between powerful mages.


Despite being technically infinite in size,[5] Avernus is the broadest relative to the other layers of the Nine Hells. It is considered the "top" layer, though how it connects to the others is not clear until one travels down to the lower layers of Hell and observes the upper layers from that perspective.[8]

Planar traits[]

Like all of the Nine Hells, Avernus is infinite in size. It is divinely morphic, and can be altered by will of by lesser deities and above, though ordinary people can affect it as they would the material plane. It has no elemental or energ traits. It is mildly lawful and evil aligned.[9] Time, magic, and gravity behave normally here, although it is hard to tell time due to the lack of any day/night cycle.[10]

Notable locations[]

The ruler's fortress is known as the Bronze Citadel. Devils and masses of slaves work to reinforce its defenses, an ongoing and continuous process that started long ago. By now, the citadel covers an area of hundreds of square miles, and the original Bronze Citadel proper is protected with twelve concentric rings of walls.[2]

The ruined town of Darkspine was once a bustling gate-town in the Outlands until the devils pulled the settlement into Hell. Only a few scavengers remain in the town. Darkspine is not the first gate-town pulled into the plane, and it may not be the last.[2] The ruins of four such cities form a straight line between Darkspine and the river Styx.[5]

The Pillar of Skulls is a tower of living, disembodied, screaming heads. Most are humanoid, and constantly argue and bicker with each other. It is around twenty feet tall and 10 feet in circumference.[5]

The River of Blood is a slow, partially clotted flow which winds through Avernus, a hundred feet or more in width. It flows from the Lake of Blood in the Stigmaris mountains, and ultimately flows into the river Styx.[5]

The Garden is a rare oasis in Avernus. Far from the other major landmarks of the plane, it is a place of beautiful nature and wildlife whose origins and purpose are unknown. The devils keep well away from this place.[11]

Tiamat's Lair lies within a cave entrance in a sheer rock wall known as the Dragon Cliff, at the edge of the Maggot Pit, a crater a thousand feet wide filled with mind-numbing poisonous slime and maggots. Lemures and nupperibo are born from this pit, guarded by a red abishai named Arraka. Arraka has been known to accept bribes in exchange for safe passage.[2][12]

Draukari, underground lair of Kurtulmak; the Peaceable Lands, lair of Bargrivyek,[2] and Set's realm also occupy this plane.


Travel around Avernus is hazardous. The ground is littered with sharp obsidian and quartz, making it risky to travel at normal rate. The expanses of endless flat terrain make it difficult to determine the distance of settlements or landmarks accurately. Travel in this regard is difficult, even with a local guide. One known path known to guides is called the Road of Good Intent, and leads from the town of Darkspine through other ruined settlements, across the river Styx, and on to the Maggot Pit.[3]

The river Styx runs through Avernus and connects it to the other lower planes. It also connects Avernus to Stygia, the fifth layer of Hell.[1] Styx also connects to Nessus, the ninth layer, although this is rarely known as its pit fiend guards kill most unwanted visitors.[8]

Physical travel is possible from Avernus to the upper citadels of Dis, the second layer of Hell.[1] Only one portal between Avernus and Dis is known to exist, and it is guarded by Tiamat herself.[2]

Portals exist from this layer to the planes of Acheron, Gehenna, and the Outlands. All such portals resemble identical huge rings of reddish light. Several lie within Tiamat's domain, where they are guarded by abishai devils or protected with traps. Several portals also lead to the material plane.[13]

The gate-town Ribcage in the Outlands leads to Avernus.[2] A portal there leads to the ruins of Darkspine, a former gate town pulled into Hell by the devils. Passing through this portal requires a lit flame to be carried. The portal is guarded by the cornugon Montelado.[14]

Touching the last page of a spellbook called The Alcaister can transport the bearer to Avernus.[15] Major temples to Tiamat often contain portals to Avernus.[16] One such portal once existed in the ruins of Myth Drannor in Faerûn, created by priests of Bane,[17] with another in Dragonspear Castle.[18].

Avernus connects to the astral plane, and as such spells such as plane shift can allow travel here. However, given the sheer number of devils who inhabit this plane, such travel is potentially dangerous.[2]



The current archduke of this layer is the fallen angel Zariel.

In the past, Avernus was ruled by the pit fiend general Bel, who kept Zariel imprisoned within his capital. Tiamat, goddess of the evil chromatic true dragons, has significant power in Avernus, though she is not recognized as its ruler.

Notable individuals[]

Tiamat, queen of dragons, has her lair in Avernus. It is inhabited by abishai devils and evil dragons.[19]

Set, of the Egyptian pantheon, makes his home on this plane. His region is is a desert lit by a burning sun, where slaves build a grand pyramid to focus his power in an attempt to conquer Stygia.[19][20]

The kobold deity Kurtulmak holds his realm, Draukari, upon this layer, as does the deity Bargrivyek, whose realm is known as the Peacable Lands.[2]

Dagos of the Dark Eight commands a small legion known as The Few, based in Avernus. They are known for teleporting into a battle to attack from unexpected direction.[12]

Among Tiamat's former allies who once inhabited the plane are the green dragon Necrozyte, who formerly guarded one of her treasure hoards,[21] and Dragotha, the first dracolich and former lover of Tiamat.[22]

The mad witch Hexla has her home here.[23]

The hellcat Miarial previously inhabited the ragged slopes of Avernus, where she preyed upon petitioners.[24]


The souls of lawful evil mortals commonly arrive at this plane. They might find themselves streaking from the sky to leave craters in the ground, or deposited in the Lake of Despond.[25] Petitioners are soon taken to the Maggot Pit, where they await promotion to lemures.

Other inhabitants[]

Avernus is the most heavily guarded layer of the Nine Hells, and widely used by the baatezu to train for or carry out the Blood War. It is occupied by vast armies of lemures, often encountered in numbers of 10,000 or more led by a single nupperibo. The pit fiend Bel patrols with an army of 1,000 barbazu and deals with any invasion or rebellion.[26][2]

The most common devils in this layer are abishai, lemures, nupperibos, and spinagons. Imps can also be found here.[2] The xerfilstyx[27] and amnizu devils, who guard the river Styx, are commonly seen in this plane. The powerful pit fiends are comparatively rare here, generally seen on the lowest realm of Nessus.[26] Narzugon cavalry, riding atop wyverns, are known as the ash riders of Avernus.[28] Planar ships attempting to enter Avernus are readily attacked by burning devils.[29]

Avernus is home-in-exile to countless devils or beings who have fallen out of favor with their masters on other layers of the Nine Hells. Among them are Amon, Armaros, Azazel, Bist, Cahor, Caim, Dagon, Duskur, Herodias, Kochbiel, Malarea, Moloch, Nergal, Nisroch, and Rumjal.[1][30][31]

Some greater devils hide their bodies within the mountains of Avernus while using astral projection to send their spirit across the planes.[1]

Netherbirds are believed to originate in Avernus.[32] The gathra beasts roam the plane and are occasionally used as mounts.[33]

The most common non-devils who reside here include goblins, kobolds, and dragons. This may be due to the presence of deities of those races (Bargrivyek, Kurtulmak, and Tiamat, respectively).[2]



Avernus was created by Asmodeus as a vast and beautiful garden, intended to lure petitioners with pleasure and delights. After the river Styx made its way to the Nine Hells, Avernus became a battlefield in the Blood War, and the plane gradually fell into ruin.[34]

The Reckoning[]

Avernus is the site of the infamous first battle in the Reckoning of Hell, a critical civil war in the history of the Nine Hells when Zariel led an army to besiege the city of Dis.[35]

Following the Reckoning, the pit fiend general Bel rose in status through a series of schemes and betrayals, eventually becoming lieutanant to Zariel, Lord of the First. After centuries of service, Bel led a coup against Zariel and imprisoned her beneath the Brass Citadel, successfully replacing her as the archduke of Avernus.[2]

Blood War[]

The Blood War, and endless battle between the baatezu devils and tanar'ri demons, has been fought on this plane since before the recorded history of men. The plane is littered with ancient fragments of bone and horn from past battles.[36]

A legendary mounted warband once sallied forth from the Forgotten Realms to attack Avernus. A group of mounted troups known as the Hellriders is named for this group.[37] In the year 1347 DR, the storm giant Urdalshone likewise attempted an attack against the plane.[38]

Publication history[]

Original D&D[]

The nine layers of Hell are first defined in Gary Gygax's article Planes: The Concepts of Spatial, Temporal and Physical Relationships in D&D, Dragon #8 (Jul 1977), p.4. However, the planes were not named or individually described yet.

Basic D&D[]

Avernus does not appear in the cosmology of the basic D&D product line. However, a lake by that name, the Lake of Avernus, appears in the adventure module M5 Talons of Night (1987).

AD&D 1st edition[]

Avernus was first named and described in the Manual of the Planes (1e) (1987). It was detailed in Ed Greenwood's The Nine Hells, Part I: From Avernus through Stygia, Dragon #75 (Jul 1983), p.16.

It is mentioned in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1e) (1987) in relation to the Hellriders of Elturel, and OP1 Tales of the Outer Planes (1988) as the home of the deity Set.

Avernus is also mentioned in Spells in the Hells, Dragon #76 (Aug 1983), p.39 and Nine Hells revisited, Dragon #91 (Nov 1984).

AD&D 2nd edition[]

Avernus is described in Guide to Hell (1999).

Avernus appears often in AD&D Planescape sourcebooks, including the Planescape Campaign Setting (1994), Faces of Evil: The Fiends (1997), Fires of Dis (1995), Hellbound: The Blood War (1996), In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil (1995), MC8 Monstrous Compendium: Outer Planes Appendix (1991). Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix (1994). On Hallowed Ground (1996), Planes of Law (1995), The Factol's Manifesto (1995), and Well of Worlds (1994).

Avernus is briefly mentioned in Forgotten Realms products, including the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (2e) (1993) and PG2 Player's Guide to the Forgotten Realms Campaign (1993) in relation to the Hellriders, Cloak & Dagger (2000). Cult of the Dragon (1998) and Powers & Pantheons (1997) as Tiamat's home, FOR8 Pages from the Mages (1995), FRE1 Shadowdale (2e) (1989), FRQ2 Hordes of Dragonspear (1992), Volo's Guide to the Sword Coast (1994), and The Ruins of Myth Drannor (1993).

D&D 3rd edition[]

Avernus first appears in this edition in the Manual of the Planes (3e) (2001), and later appears in the Dungeon Master's Guide (3.5) (2003). It is described in the most detail in Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells (2006).

Avernus is also mentioned in Planar Handbook (2004). Various inhabitants of Avernus are described in the Fiend Folio (3e) (2003). A hazardous spell duel on Avernus is depicted on page 177 of Complete Arcane (2004). The plane is mentioned as part of the Savage Tidings adventure path in Dragon #358 (Aug 2007), p.69, in the context of Tiamat's home in Dragon #359 (Sep 2007), p.68, and as Moloch's exiled home in [39].

Avernus is mentioned in Player's Guide to Faerûn (2004) as the first layer of the Nine Hells, where it is still part of that setting's cosmology, and Volo's Guide: Myth Drannor, City of Song, Dragon #359 (Sep 2007), p.102-105.

D&D 4th edition[]

Avernus is described in the Monster Manual (4e) (2008), p.61. It is later mentioned in the Demonomicon (2010), Manual of the Planes (4e) (2008) and The Plane Above (2010). The Legion of Avernus is mentioned in Dungeon Master's Guide 2 (4e) (2009), p.112-113.

Avernus is described in The Nine Hells Parts 1 & 2, Dragon #400 (Jun 2011). It is mentioned in Levistus, Dragon #427 (Sep 2013), and Amon the Wolf, Dragon #428 (Oct 2013). History of Avernus is described in Codex of Betrayal: Glasya, Princess of the Nine Hells, Dungeon #197 (Dec 2011).

The warlock power gift to Avernus appears in Dragon #386 (Apr 2010), as does the rod of Avernus.

D&D 5th edition[]

Avernus is described in the Dungeon Master's Guide (5e) (2014), p.54. It is most detailed in this edition in the adventure module Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus (2019).

Avernus also appears in The Rise of Tiamat (2014) and Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (2018).

Creative origins[]

Avernus is the name of a volcanic crater in Italy, believed to be the entrance to the underworld.

Reception and influence[]

In Dragon #400 (Jun 2011), Rich Baker asserted that the nine layers of Hell are the best known all of the outer planes.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Manual of the Planes (1e) (1987), p.109.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 Guide to Hell (1999), p.28-30.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Fires of Dis (1995), p.25.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Well of Worlds (1994), p.15.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Fires of Dis (1995), p.26.
  6. Fires of Dis (1995), p.19.
  7. In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil (1995), p.97.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Guide to Hell (1999), p.26.
  9. Dungeon Master's Guide (3.5) (2003), p.162-163.
  10. Manual of the Planes (3e) (2001), p.115-117.
  11. Planes of Law, A Player's Guide to Law (1995), p.22.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells (2006), p.38.
  13. Manual of the Planes (1e) (1987), p.110.
  14. Fires of Dis (1995), p.22.
  15. Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1e) (1987), p.83-85.
  16. Powers & Pantheons (1997), p.135.
  17. The Ruins of Myth Drannor, Campaign Guide to Myth Drannor (1993), p.15.
  18. Volo's Guide to the Sword Coast (1994), p.73.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Manual of the Planes (1e) (1987), p.111.
  20. OP1 Tales of the Outer Planes (1988), p.74.
  21. Kings of the Rift, Dragon #133 (May 1988), p.61.
  22. Top 10 Most Wanted Dragons in D&D, Dragon #356 (Jun 2007), p.21.
  23. Well of Worlds (1994), p.17.
  24. Chambers of Antiquities, Dungeon #124 (Jul 2005), p.82.
  25. The Plane Above (2010), p.68.
  26. 26.0 26.1 MC8 Monstrous Compendium: Outer Planes Appendix (1991).
  27. Fiend Folio (3e) (2003), p.59.
  28. Monster Manual 3 (4e) (2010), p.57.
  29. The Plane Above (2010), p.136-137.
  30. Manual of the Planes (1e) (1987), p.112.
  31. Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells (2006), p.36.
  32. FRE1 Shadowdale (2e) (1989), p.48.
  33. Fiend Folio (3e) (2003), p.80.
  34. Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus (2019), p.75.
  35. Guide to Hell (1999), p.37.
  36. Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells (2006), p.35.
  37. Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1e) (1987), p.41.
  38. Cloak & Dagger (2000), p.121.
  39. Infernal Aristocracy: The Dukes of Hell, Dragon #360 (Oct 2007).