Li Po's Guide to Acheron
Living the Lawful, Evil-Tending Alignment

Help yourself to my Planescape Character Generator for MS-DOS.

For every war, a motive of safety or revenge, of honor or zeal, of right or convenience, may be readily found in the jurisprudence of conquerors.

        -- Edward Gibbon

Justice is incidental to law and order.

        -- J. Edgar Hoover
He who lives must fight. He who does not wish to fight in this world where permanent struggle is the law of life has not the right to exist.

        -- Hitler
In the AD&D universe, Acheron is the realm where Law is predominant and there is a tendency to Evil.

In some liturgies, worshippers renounce, or reaffirm their renunciation of, "the glamour of evil." On Acheron, the glamour of evil includes team membership, militarism, identity-group anger, and the dark sides of "stability" and "security". In our own world, some people think this is what they really want.

Acheron is a group of harsh universes where giant blocks drift together and apart. Since this is a lawful plane, it seems unlikely that there are unexpected collisions. These might happen on Carceri instead; maybe there is a gate from Acheron to Carceri through which Mercykillers send their prisoners. According to the published material, most of the blocks are tunnelled with wormholes, where the inhabitants may live in safety, eating nasty fungi. Again, since this is a realm of law, it seems more likely that the blocks contain self-sustaining communities. Some may be sustained by high technology, while others contain unfamiliar but fully-evolved ecosystems. Science-fiction readers may be reminded of communities surviving for generations on gigantic spaceships. Life in such communities is harsh and likely to depend on strict obedience. The sky is filled with other blocks, which move rapidly. Between all is an atmosphere, yet though the blocks move relative to one another, there is never any wind.

In Acheron, the living mingle with the spirits of the dead who fought willingly in bad wars, or for whom war became an end in itself. The locals -- living and dead -- have forgotten whatever good causes led them to fight, and now battle just from habit, or for glory, or out of old animosities. Indeed, in the myth that begins the "Fiendish Codex II", on lawful evil, evil itself has its beginning in the fact that war is always a dirty business, and its cruelty, destruction and deceit "necessary evils".

The locals will often know about episodes in which the player characters have organized against creatures for selfish reasons, and they'll say that this means the adventurers are really aligned like Acheron's people.

Acheron is also the spiritual home of those who controlled the law to keep the common folk oppressed. This aspect awaits development.

Anger, hate, and jealousy are widespread, but the strongest emotions are probably team spirit and the passions that bind warriors together. There is a certain nobility here. But don't expect love, kindness, or warmth from the locals. Contrary to rumor, armies of undead, golems, and so forth are rare.

The spiritual powers of Acheron seek to corrupt souls by making obedience to "the cause" or "the community" (or even "the true faith") an end in itself. This takes precedence over love, kindness, or humility. A key is "conformity". I was a kid during the 1950's, and I remember vividly how cruel and stupid this often was. In place of love, there is grudging respect for superior warriors, and an acceptance of harsh discipline. And the locals will tell the truth, respect tradition, and expect others to do the same. Because this is a lawful plane, there may be some very large civilizations.

The most popular motto is "Winning is everything." Another is, "Don't think, just obey." Primitives will find perpetual, savage warfare. Paths are teleportals from block to block. Public portals between the layers and to remote planes are at the centers of military installations. For the locals, even the ordinary loves of our world -- family, friendship, and romance -- are muted. Perhaps evil deeds, or any use of death magic or necromancer's spells will tend to transform the character progressively.

Even if you do not profess good alignment, please respect TSR's copyrights. To fight good laws that make the world safe for creativity is to fight for a bad cause.

Avalas is the battleplains universe, where armies from all eras and all planes dominate societies that are always at war. The blocks are hard metal. The orcs and the goblins fight eternally on one of these blocks. The urbane rakshasas control much territory on other blocks, where the laws are tedious. The "Mercykillers" philosophic sect, which believes in the enforcement of absolute justice without regard to collateral damage, has its headquarters here. ("You broke the law, now you're gonna pay.") Their home city is Vorkeham ("the City of Fumes"), made of titanium with acid fountains. Check vs. constitution each day or remain in bed with the dry heaves. Mercykillers are immune. The Blue Cube is the home of a blue dragon who forgets everything each morning. Land here, and you will die of the electric shock. Avalas is the spiritual home of the most dedicated race-supremacists, and all who wilfully forgot their good causes in the excitement of battle. The Army of Purity has its headquarters here. This is a common location for the headquarters of sects devoted to vengeance and war. The most lawful orcs and goblins have their heavens here. Resounding Thunder is a Chinese-style warlord's domain, a haven for vengeance-seekers. Ruby-red pools appear at designated sites, and cannot be moved. Portals to the Outlands, Mechanus or Baator are often the rims of the gravity wells that the blocks orbit. The unholy River Styx has a source here, on the block called Wreychtmirk, and every visitor sees it differently. The cube's six sides each contain a gate to a different lower plane, and its life forms mirror the destination. The only town on Wreychtmirk is Mesk, in a rusting valley. The thousand-or-so inhabitants fish the Styx for metal-scaled fishes. All crimes are punished by death, and the mayor's decisions are final. Thuldanin is the universal junkyard of battle, where all the garbage of war finds its way and turns to stone. Each block is hollow, a shell a few miles thick. Inside is junk. There is a small chance (one in a thousand per day) of finding a useful item, and it may be repaired using "stone to flesh" followed by "restoration". Hideously powerful monsters abound here, and will attack visitors on sight. Check vs. constitution daily or turn to stone, and there is also a 1% chance per day for each carried item to turn to useless stone. Rumor has it that the spirits of dead warmongers are transformed into stones, too, yet remain conscious and aware of their helplessness. The mines of Marsellin are the richest source of treasure, and they are guarded by a huge rust dragon who has joined the Mercykillers. The gray dwarves ("duergar") have a heaven here, the realm of Hammergrim, and are immune to petrification. Tintibulus is a universe of basalt hexagons, with no life except visiting magic-users. This is an excellent place to do magical research. One gains a point of intelligence daily, and loses a point from every other ability, the usual penalty resulting when any drops to zero. On leaving, intelligence drops immediately to the original level, and the other points are regained by rest at the rate of one point in one ability every day. Ocanthus is a universe of flying razors (damage 8d8/round if unprotected). Here is Zoronor, the City of Shadows, where the Bladelings live. It is surrounded by a spherical wooden shell, filled with shards. The Bladelings impale people on shards of black ice, trying to create more of their kind. Perhaps "clockwork horrors" were designed on Acheron, although they are not outsiders.

Spell alterations in Acheron: For every spell, an opposite effect flies off in the form of a crystal. Except for deaths, the effects can be reversed by the touch of this crystal. The crystal lasts one hour per level of the spell, then discharges. Conjured and summoned creatures must obey the letter of any command, but cannot disobey, and a hostage person must be provided in exchange to trade places. The hostage is entitled to a saving throw to avoid the effect, and if this succeeds, the caster must save or become the hostage. If both save, the spell fails. Divination cannot spy on an enemy army. A bad omen, if obtained, will extend the bad luck to the questioner's entire group or army. Spell keys might be able to avoid this. Necromancy used against a stronger target rebounds, and drains two points per spell level from the caster. A spell key might prevent this. Wild mages lose two levels, and no surge is possible. Earth magic cannot affect the iron bricks, fire heats them, and water rusts them.

Wizardly spell keys are rigidly-defined but otherwise meaningless words, motions, and substances. Power keys for clergy are rare.

Third edition "Manual of the Planes" focuses primarily on simplifying and encouraging individual campaign creativity. Ideas include:

  • The suggested color for pools from the astral is flame. Ethereal curtains might be metallic red.
  • The dead are immune to electricity and sound, and as an additional ability have various morale bonuses against charm and fear and +1 on attack and damage when in the military.
  • The plane is "mildly lawful-aligned". Chaotic creatures have -2 on charisma checks.
  • I respectfully suggest that Acheron be regarded as evil-tending and thoroughly lawful. These effects are additive

      -1 on all charimsa checks for all good creatures
      -1 on all intelligence, wisdom, and charisma checks for all non-lawful, non-chaotic creatures
      -2 on all intelligence, wisdom, and charisma checks for all chaotic creatures
      Good-based spells (non-chaotic) require a Spellcraft check (DC 15) for success.
      Evil-based spells (non-chaotic) work as if caster were 2 levels higher.
      Law-based spells work as if caster were 4 levels higher.
      Chaos-based spells simply fail.

    The Fourth Edition, the classic Acheron survives as Chernoggar, the iron fortress world of ongoing war. Those who enter the red-orange veil find a barren, war-torn wasteland. Bane, patron of cruel war and now of goblinkind, maintains "rigorous order". Their enemies, the cruel, destructive, and organized orcish pantheon dwell here as well. Perhaps visitors would get bonuses or penalties to intelligence, wisdom, and charisma-based skill checks depending on how much their behavior has been in keeping with the ideals of the locals.

    In keeping with the flexibility of the third and fourth editions and the backgrounds of many players, perhaps Acheron is essentially a world where like-minded spirits meet. It looks and works like our own world, except that it is on a permanent war footing with identity-group politics even nastier than in our world. NPC attitudes are typically "unfriendly" unless the visitors are likely recruits or allies. If there is a spiritual race native to Acheron, it is devoted to promoting the community's ideals among the living by encouragement and subtlety, rather than by force. The dead find communities matching their own ideals and interests, and continue to live much as they did on earth, though no longer able to visit the Prime Plane.

    Instead of the "gods" of polytheism, each living lawful, evil-tending divine spellcaster is sponsored (and monitored) by a prayer fellowship with similar interests based on Acheron. For the fourth edition, I suggest no penalties for divine spellcasters from elsewhere. For earlier editions, I respectfully suggest that the only penalty for such a cleric on a differently-aligned outer plane is the loss of one spell of the highest available level for each plane removed, with the Outlands two planes from Mechanus, Elysium, Limbo, and the Gray Waste. When one level is depleted, spells of the next highest level are lost. Thus a cleric sponsored from Acheron would lose one spell on Mechanus or Baator, six spells on the Beastlands or Ysgard, and seven spells on Arborea. Moving to the Outlands loses three spells.

    A world of eternal, efficient, disciplined warfare would be as dangerous and grim as any rules-intensive world ever visited by adventurers.

Referees might not want players to realize that they have entered Acheron. Depending on the site of arrival, visitors might simply recognize a harsh police state, a grim military camp, or a theocracy that sees "hating all infidels" as an essential of spirituality.

[Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly]

Look for entries to Acheron:

  • When people choose to go to war for a bad reason;
  • When people are caught up in military glamor and forget the ugliness and cruelty of war;
  • When people start taking pride in racial animosities or religious intolerance;
  • When people say, "My country, right or wrong";
  • When winning at sports is more important than fun;
  • When "multiculturalism", "diversity", and identity-group politics turn nasty;
  • When scientific research, always competitive and tough, shows its mean side.

On Acheron, expect to find more of the same. Escape may be difficult. Perhaps good sportsmanship -- in victory or defeat -- is the gate key.

While on Acheron, you can talk with the locals, and with other members of your group, about any of the following:

  • Sometimes you need to fight. Can we enjoy military culture for its own sake?
  • People like to belong. Membership in identity groups is strengthened by finding enemies. What has this done to our own world?
    • How can you role-play a non-good cleric?

      In 1975, I talked with a fellow medical student. He told me about how important his religion was in his life.

      "The hardest thing about being a _____", he told me, "is keeping track of the ritual law. There are many things you cannot do at all, and other things you cannot do at certain times."

      I said, "The hardest thing about being a _____ is loving your enemies and returning good for evil."

      He answered, "That is something that no _____ could ever say. From the time we are very little, we are told exactly who our enemies are, and that we must always hate them, and that we must never forgive them."

      I didn't have much else to say, but my own experience tells me that the vast majority of _____s are not like that. What's even stranger is that my colleague was a generally decent guy.

      And of course I was (and still am) glad to be who I am. It's surprising how often it is possible to return good for evil, and have things work out well for everyone.

  • Does criminal law aim for retribution and deterrence, for rehabilitation, or simply for keeping bad people off the streets?
  • In our world, there's little reason to think that capital punishment actually deters crime, but executing criminals gives the public a sense of justice, closure, and satisfaction. Does this make it right?

The Mines of Acheron -- AD&D site
The Plane of Hell -- full of abusive egomaniacs. "With a feeling of sick familiarity, I recognized here my own thinking."
Near Death Experiences -- including accounts of hell.
Hell's Dominion -- a near-death experience

Ancient Sparta was a society in which an austere race of full-time warriors dominated the free artisans (who had no voice in government) and a much larger pool of slave labor. For all this, the town was extremely lawful and well-behaved, and much admired; the society endured for centuries.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, from a PBS commentator who is not ashamed to state the obvious. For me as well, the documents speak for themselves. They prevent an all-too-familiar picture of a cult where concerns with "purity" have replaced common sense and even ordinary love. It was even cooties for a senior member to be touched by a junior member -- the senior member would have to take a bath.

Final Note

Unity of the Rings -- comic book art

Gamers for Christ -- news group

The Alignment Planes

The Abyss -- Chaotic Evil
Acheron -- Lawful, Evil Tendencies
Arborea -- Chaotic Good
Arcadia -- Lawful, Good Tendencies
Baator -- Lawful Evil
The Beastlands -- Good, Chaotic Tendencies
Bytopia -- Good, Lawful Tendencies
Carceri -- Evil, Chaotic Tendencies
Elysium -- Neutral Good
Gehenna -- Evil, Lawful Tendencies
The Gray Waste -- Neutral Evil
Limbo -- Chaotic Neutral
Mechanus -- Lawful Neutral
Mount Celestia -- Lawful Good
The Outlands -- True Neutral
Pandemonium -- Chaotic, Evil Tendencies
Ysgard -- Chaotic, Good Tendencies
The Inner Planes
What "Planescape" could be
AD&D and the Religious Right
Li Po's Hermitage (character generators, more)

Less good

Less extreme

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Ed says, "This world would be a sorry place if people like me who call ourselves Christians didn't try to act as good as other good people ."

Does anyone know the source of this nice metal-plates background?