Li Po's Guide to Baator
Living the Lawful Evil Alignment

[Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly]

The prince of darkness is a gentleman.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

        -- Ephesians 6:12
Devil with devil damned, firm concord holds.
        -- Milton, Paradise Lost

Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility. I admire its purity, a survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusion of morality.

        -- Ian Holm, Alien

Men are not in hell because God is angry with them. They are in wrath and darkness because they have done to the light, which infinitely flows forth from God, as that man does to the light of the sun who puts out his own eyes.

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

In some liturgies, worshippers renounce, or reaffirm their renunciation of, "the glamour of evil." On Baator, the glamour of evil is membership in a "superior" group that deserves to have the best. In our own world, some people think this is what they really want.

Think of civilization at its most cruel. Think of cruelty at its most civilized. Think of all of technology, natural science, law, creativity, philosophy, and even religion... in the service of greed, hatred, and preposterous egomania.

Medieval Europe, the culture on which much of AD&D is based, depicted hell and the devils as ugly and dangerous, like human misbehavior, but also vulnerable and ignorant.

Li Po and I believe that this mirrors real life. When we see how repulsive evil is, most people will make the right choices most of the time. So long as we live, we can try to find the grace to live better.

Dante's Inferno is the source, via Ed Greenwood's articles and "The Manual of the Planes", for what became the pits of Lawful Evil -- renamed "Baator", the home of the most organized of supremely wicked beings. Planescape's Lawful Evil alignment planes (Baator), like Mount Celestia, can take their spiritual design from Dante. Virgil guided Dante through hell. Li Po, a gentle (if preachy) cleric, is your guide to this version of Baator, somewhat revised to mirror Dante's high-middle-ages worldview. Dante's sequence of levels, and their symbolism, has been restored.

"Baator", "Planescape", and the like names belong to TSR hobbies. We must respect them -- it's not just the law, it's what's right. This section is presented in the hopes of promoting interest in the entire "Planescape" milieu and its rich re-creation of our own conflicting ideals and ideologies.

Baator reflects of all of our world's most effective organizations and highest artistic and scientific accomplishments. And in Baator, everyone considers love to be a weakness and a sham. It seems wrong to portray the lawful fiends as hideous monsters. The suave, comely, and capable tempters of medieval lore seem much more true to my own experience of Lawful Evil. And I've encountered it often. The Baatorian terrain is probably regular and often geometric. Because this is a lawful plane, there may be some very large civilizations. The cities should be clean and orderly, filled with monuments to the achievements of conquerors. The architecture is magnificent, and the goods and services are of extraordinary quality. In fact, the finest luxury goods in the multiverse are produced here -- and the most effective advertising campaigns. The locals are elegant, perfectly polite, charming, calm, and proud of their honor. Probably they are good-looking (with only little horns to reveal their "special excellence"), and have a strict dress code. They possess a dark integrity, and while there are intrigues and politics, playing by the rules is expected and maintains safety and prosperity for everyone. And they keep their word -- both in letter and in spirit. (This is much more interesting for game purposes. Cheating by twisting language isn't law, but the stuff of chaos.)

The locals are enormously vain, and status symbols are of overwhelming importance to them. Many of the things that they enjoy most are probably better left undescribed. And expect to hear a lot of rhetoric identical to what you have already heard from our own world's Far Right (including, sadly, much of the "Religious Right"). Faith communities emphasize their own superiority, and how right it is that their group should finally overcome everyone else. Centers of worship are designed to impress the faithful and unbelievers alike with the group's power and competence. Individuals are valued only insofar as they contribute to the group's goals, and of course there are no "rights of the individual" here. But however badly the ordinary members of the community are oppressed, they are well-protected from outside dangers. Competition for power and responsibility is done according to rules that ensure the overall safety and prosperity of Baator. Nowhere else in the multiverse is there such a strong emphasis on "conformity". And probably the locals will tell you that the value of a corporation, the strength of a nation, and the quality of goods produced all vary directly with how harshly the ordinary people are treated. Perhaps even the harsh environments of these planes result from abuse of the environment for corporate gain.

Role-players may find additional models for Lawful Evil in C.S. Lewis's brilliant Screwtape Letters, from a senior to a junior devil. Lewis's hell is a police state, superficially polite, subtly treacherous, and accepting no excuses for failure. The senior devil was rewarded for good service (he had been Karl Marx's personal tempter) by being made "under-secretary of the Department of Temptation", and the junior devil is charged to "bring back food, or become food yourself". Professor Lewis found that writing a book from a devil's perspective gave him a "spiritual cramp", but acknowledged that the other option (advice from one guardian angel to another) would be beyond human wisdom.

Another vision of Baator is presented by the heartless corporation. Whatever big business is like in real life, fiction is filled with corporations that actively and cynically work against the public interest for their own aggrandizement, and where the backbiting and politics are vicious but completely internal.

Although right-living and the question of the afterlife are of far greater importance than any game, it seems to me that a good "Planescape" campaign, with its college-bull-session focus on the mysteries of life, is not irreverent or trivial. The denizens of Baator will tempt visiting adventurers with the chance of taking part in an effective organization dedicated to universal conquest and the satisfaction of personal and group superiority. They are very articulate. They will state clearly that all apparent kindness is really stupid or fake. Superior folk band together to ensure personal and group security, to create wealth and opportunity, and to get what they're entitled to. They will talk at length about the supposed insincerity and hypocrisy of people professing good alignment. Because evil is so powerful here, the locals lack even the ordinary loves of our world -- family, friendship, romance. These instead become ways in which a stronger being preys on a weaker being. The locals will talk a lot about cruelty as a way of "building character." The idea of altruism and unselfish love disgusts the people of Baator. Yet I would expect that they tell the truth and keep their promises, and when they visit our world in peacetime, always obey the law of the land. Open-faced evil is poor politics. The locals will present themselves to outsiders as a cohesive, efficient, hard-working, highly disciplined group dedicated to having and providing the very best. Perhaps evil deeds, or any use of death magic or necromancer's spells will tend to transform the character progressively.

Here one can find the multiverse's most ostentatious displays of corporate wealth, and the most sophisticated temptations to wrongdoing. The "Fiendish Codex II" actually describes a beautiful, free resort where creatures are tempted, in the most gracious and gentle ways, to adopt the lawful evil alignment -- and become permanent residents of the plane. (Those adopting this content must decide whether those giving in to temptation might regret it, and whether escape is possible.) Public portals into the layers of Baator are heavily guarded, but visitors may be welcomed if they seem to be good candidates for successful temptation. Leaving may be more problematic.

Again, I believe that when the issues are presented clearly, most people (those who believe in an afterlife, and those who simply want to live well in this world) will make the right choices, and resist both the temptations of Baator and the other dark visions of cruel people.

Avernus is the spiritual home of people -- living and dead -- who organized to exploit others, cruelly but thoughtlessly. Probably most misbehavior, even the best-planned, begins with indifference to others. The name comes from the lake in Virgil's "Aenead" that provided an entry to the underworld. Avernus is a wasteland, as empty as the minds of unthinking slave-lords. Fireballs erupt just as unexpectedly as the consequences of mindless evil. A swirling in the air is the only warning. The locals like to talk about "No time for academic exercises", "Why should we care?", "We know our slaves are happy, we don't need to ask them", and so forth. They may be surprisingly well-informed about the player characters' past thoughtless acts that hurt others. Tiamat, an enormous five-headed dragon, brilliantly conceived by Gary Gygax, governs the plane. Reptiles are cold-blooded and probably not much given to reflective thought. This lack of humanity is both guardian and gateway to all deeper evils. Perhaps Tiamat rules from the Caverns of Right Thinking (ignorance and apathy). Escape from this layer may be possible by passing a test in which the player characters must realize how their choices have affected others.

How do you role-play an evil cleric?

During the 1980's, an essay in Dragon described a player's experience with a group that decided to play evil-aligned characters.

After several months of campaigning, someone read a list of the things they had done.

Suddenly, everybody in the group was horrified and ashamed.

Each of us has an awakening like this, at some time, during real life as well. "I just didn't think."

Nessus, named for the lusty centaur, is the spiritual home of vicious sensualists, and also of domestic tyrants who exploited and abused the families they should have truly loved, turning "family values" into cruel tyranny. It is a windswept wasteland ("a waste of shame" -- Shakespeare) under a dull-green sky filled with lightning. The winds may seem to whisper unspeakable things. The locals -- living and dead -- suffer in the storm, or in the bestial dungeons below the plane. They are fond of talking about how all love reduces to animal instinct, how "superior individuals" have a "duty to choose the finest breeders", how "interpersonal gratification" is the "right of those who have won power", and so forth. They may be suprisingly well-informed about any situations in which the player characters have played with the feelings of others. Many cults of sensuality, incest, and depravity have their headquarters here. They offer addictive pleasures, for which one may finally pay the ultimate price. At the center is the Palace of True Love (lust). Escape from this layer may be possible by passing a test of the player characters' ability to show genuine love without expecting anything in return.

How can you role-play an evil cleric?

Once I knew a medical student who had just joined an ultraconservative church. He asked me about "creation science" and I was frank with him. I congratulated him on his commitment to a life in Christ, but warned him that in such congregations, he would meet some very good people, and also some very bad people.

A few weeks later, he approached me, very shook up.

He'd found out. I'll spare you the details.

Minauros is the spiritual home of all those who grew fat and lazy on the labor of slaves. It is a universe of freezing rain and stinking, frozen mud. The ground is marshy and wet, under continual rains, hail, and sleet. All solid ground is frozen mud, which undulates, snakelike across the realm. The marshes are full of bones and decaying bodies. At the same time, keyed locations and personalities will be luxurious. The sky is the color of lead. The locals -- living and dead -- are fond of talking about "luxury as the right of superior persons", "we are people of excellent style and taste", "you need thus-and-such a luxury to be really you", and so forth. These "needs" are never satisfied, and those who stay addicted will pay the ultimate price. The locals may be surprisingly well-informed about the needless luxuries enjoyed by the player characters. This is a common location for the headquarters of sects devoted to snobbery and luxury. At the center is the Palace of Good Taste (self-indulgence and conspicuous consumption). Escape from this layer may be possible by passing a test of the player characters' ability to live simply, so that others may simply live.

Maladomini is the spiritual home of the most greedy tyrants and crime-lords. The name probably comes from the truism that money is a good servant but a bad ("mal") master ("domini"). It is a realm of city-sized rocks on a sea of lava, emblematic of the instability of economies. The locals -- living and dead -- are fond of talking about "money as the true measure of a person's worth", "good for business", etc. Here the pursuit of wealth for its own sake is addictive, destroying the visitor's capacity to be happy in any other way. The locals may be surprisingly well-informed about how greedy the player characters have been. The landscape has been ruined by corporate greed, with pollution and ugly mining. This is a common location for the headquarters of sects devoted to the organized pursuit of status-symbols, and wealth. At the center is the Palace of Fulfillment (material greed). Escape from this layer may be possible by passing a test of generosity, or recognizing that the best things in life cannot be bought for money.

Let none admire [be surprised] that riches grow in hell. That soil may well deserve the precious bane.

        -- Paradise Lost

Stygia is the spiritual home of all hate-mongers, those who manipulated groups of people by exhorting them to hate their neighbors. It is an enormous, cold swamp, full of enraged creatures. A few lichens grow on the ice, and there are floating islands. The locals -- living and dead -- are fond of talking about the wickedness of other races and religions and lifestyles, and how it is their duty to "purge the scum" and "promote excellence". Their "reward" (as in Dante's vision) is to carry on their battles with greater intensity. Probably they do not fight one another, but muster to make war on the rest of creation. The locals may be surprisingly well-informed about any needless violence that the player characters may have carried out. This is a common location for the headquarters of sects focused on hatred, especially identity-groups. At the center is the Palace of Righteous Indignation (hate), full of ice and seaweed. Escape from this layer may be possible by passing a test of the player characters' ability to reach out in kindness across the barriers of race, religion, prejudice, and custom.

How do you role-play an evil cleric?

A sect that is noted for certain prohibitions, and the extremely harsh ways in which it deals with members who break these, also expressly forbids its members to perform community service that might benefit non-members. Although the sect is large and wealthy, it makes a point of doing no public philanthropy whatsoever, even for the needy.

The reason is that non-members are considered evil, and secular society with all its institutions is regarded as "satanic". There are websites operated by members who oppose certain of the sect's policies (especially on blood transfusion), but the identities of the critics are kept in complete secrecy. Were they to be revealed, their own family members would not be allowed to speak to them.

The mentality is not unique to this sect, and is found among some ultra-right-wing and ultra-left-wing "ministries".

I find it impossible to admire anyone who is "too holy" to help another person in need. I consider this to be lawful evil at its most insidious. Of course you are free to disagree.

Dis is the spiritual home of pseudo-intellectuals and ideologues who incited evil, and all who used religion to peddle hate. It is a realm of burning-hot stones and iron, worked constantly into new forms "to express the true faith." The many cities are built of iron and are full of idols. The sky is filed with blood-red steam, the ground is burning hot, and stinking vapors hiss up from below. The University of Dogma has its headquarters here, although it has branches throughout the lower planes. The locals -- living and dead -- are fond of talking about "ours is the only true religion", "you must believe as we do, rather than trusting your commmon sense or common decency", and so forth. They are certain to know if the player characters have shown disrespect for genuine, decent religion and morality. Open graves symbolize each sect's assurance of its priviliged position in the afterlife or an imagined secular future. Here the legions of Baator devise the ideologies that bind people together, making even good-intentioned people do terrible evil. (Roads to this level are built from bricks marked with the logo "Good Intentions.") This is a common location for the headquarters of sects devoted to organized bigotry and stupid social engineering. At the center is the Temple of Zeal (religious and ideological bigotry), where the Lord of Flies and Lies reigns. Escape from this layer may be possible by passing a test of the player characters' ability to understand and find common ground with someone of another faith.

How can you role-play an evil cleric?

In 1998, I listened to a physician speaking as a representative of one of the major world-faiths. He was asked, "What is the position of your religion on organ transplantation?"

He answered, "We _____s are not allowed to donate our organs, because they might go to somebody who is not of our religion. That would defile them."

Asked, "Suppose it might save the life of somebody of your own religion?"

He replied, "I cannot risk my organ being defiled, even if the donation might instead save the life a fellow-believer."

He was then asked, "Would you accept an organ from somebody not of your religion?"

He replied, "Yes, because that would make the organ holy."

I am not making this up. In my experience, only fake religion can make people so mean and stupid.

Phlegethos is the spiritual home of those who exhorted their nations to evil violence, and those who incited wars to make a profit. Loan sharks and other crime lords also suffer here. The name comes from the Greek for "fire", and was given to an underground burning river. It is a realm of volcanos and plains of burning sand, under a screaming rain of magical fire flakes. The rivers here are boiling blood. The locals -- living and dead -- are fond of talking about war as a human's greatest glory, how nobody likes a loser, how winning is everything, and so forth. They are certain to know if the player characters have ever held such attitudes, and they will remind them of any unnecessary hurts they have caused people. Here the legions of Baator train for outright war. This is a common location for the headquarters of sects devoted to organized tyranny and war. At the center is the Palace of Glory (war-mongering). Escape from this layer may be possible by passing a test in which the party makes peace between enemies.

Malbolgia is the spiritual home of corrupt politicians, abusive police, and all those who used the human law and natural science for bad purposes. Here also are those who abused religion for bad purposes, and wizards who banded together for foul purposes. Again, the term is Dante's, and means "bad pockets". It is a sequence of cliffs, variably hot or cold. All natural things have been altered to fit the corporate ideals. The locals -- living and dead -- are fond of talking about how smart, superior people organize to deceive the public. They will remind the player characters of all their studied lies and deceptions. Here the legions of Baator plot and scheme to corrupt the institutions of society itself. This is a common location for the headquarters of highly-organized sects devoted to disease, addiction, magic, or theft. At the center is the Palace of Insight (utter cynicism). Escape from this layer may be possible by passing a test of the party's commitment to goodness, even when it seems only to be fantasy and make-believe.

How can you role-play an evil cleric?

Conservative religion seems to me to make good people better, and bad people worse.

To make a long and disturbing story short, I once spent ninety minutes on the phone with the chief pastor of a highly successful ultraconservative church in a large US city.

The pastor believed the Gospel wholeheartedly. But he had concerns about some of the other things that he was expected to teach and that he knew were untrue. His "____-based counselling" always made individuals' problems worse. And he had a secret obsession (and a permanent motel room in another city) that made his talk about "family values" total hypocrisy.

When he shared all this at a special meeting of his denominational leaders, he was merely told, "Why do you care? You're where the big money is."

He was hysterical. I advised him to obtain a physician's help about some mental health issues, and congratulated him on being faithful to the Gospel even when others were not. I don't know what happened to him.

Caina was named by Dante for the first traitor, Cain. (The misspelling "Cania" has been perpetuated in "Planescape". It was finally corrected in "Pathfinder.") It is the spiritual home of all those who in choosing hate betrayed those closest to them through natural or social law. That this is the deepest level of Lawful Evil is most fitting -- the final rejection of love itself, clearly reasoned and coldly thought-out. According to Christian lore, the first evil being betrayed supreme Goodness and is to be found at the center of this realm. Contrary to rumor, the routes to this place are clearly-marked and easy to follow. Leaving will probably be more difficult. It is a realm of heartless cold and darksome beauty. Huge glaciers, avalanches, and eternal ice storms dominate the region. The locals -- living and dead -- are incredibly proud, and they talk incessantly about how they have made the "right choice", and that ideas of "kindness", "humility", and "forgiveness" are degrading stupidity. They will remind the player characters of all their well-thought-out misdeeds, trying to prove that they are really lawful-evil aligned and should drop the pretense of goodness and love. Here the legions of Baator embrace the darkest spirituality. This is a common location for the headquarters of sects devoted to vanity and "the quest for excellence". All roads lead to the center, Malsheem, Palace of Supreme Excellence (satanic pride), where the full glamor of evil is displayed, and the glittering decorations are the dead who betrayed their lords and benefactors. The floor and walls smoke if they are even touched by a being not of Lawful Evil alignment. At the bottom level of Malsheem is a branch of the River Jordan, offering travel directly to Mount Celestia. This stream arises from melting ice, and utterly destroys any evil creature that touches it. Escape from this layer may also be possible by passing a test of loyalty to goodness, and willingness to put kindness and love before vanity and achievement.

Spell alterations in Baator: Conjurations and summonings require elaborate bindings, which must be perfectly performed, or the summoned creature need not obey, though it cannot leave. Divinations are always presented as bad news. Necromancy that heals requires a check vs. intelligence or it fails, while necromancy that does harm is performed as if the caster were one level higher. Wild mages are reduced in level by one per layer, no surge is possible, and spells above fourth level simply fail. Elemental magic is stronger or weaker depending on the local climate. Spell keys might be useful, especially for those intending to heal or protect using the wizardly arts.

Wizardly spell keys: On the first layer, obsidian from the river of blood. On each successive layer, there are 3^(layer-1) keys, and below the third layer, they keep changing. Power keys are unholy symbols, or perhaps bits of a dead sinner's bone or spirit.

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 ruby. Ethereal curtains might be red and black.
  • The dead are immune to fire and poison, and as an additional ability have cold resistance 20 and acid resistance 20 and may be allowed to visit other planes.
  • The plane is "mildly law-aligned" and "mildly evil-aligned". Good and chaotic creatures have -2 (adding as necessary) on charisma checks.
  • I respectfully suggest that Baator be regarded as thoroughly evil and thoroughly lawful. These effects would be cumulative

      -1 on all intelligence, wisdom, and charisma checks for all non-good, non-evil creatures
      -2 on all intelligence, wisdom, and charisma 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 simply fail.
      Evil-based (non-chaotic) spells work as if caster were 4 levels higher.
      Law-based (non-good) spells work as if caster were 4 levels higher.
      Chaos-based spells simply fail.

    The Fourth Edition has dropped the name "Baator" in favor of "the nine hells". Visitors who pass "the roiling cloud of red smoke" will find a planet with concentric layers instead of a pit like Dante's. Amidst the cruelty, there is still elegance, quality, harsh justice, and efficiency. The archdevils seem polite, urbane, and reasonable. And as in Dante, a river from the coldest region offers the route of escape. 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 Baator is essentially a world where like-minded spirits meet. It looks and works like our own world, except that it is far better-organized, far more efficient, and far more cruel. NPC attitudes are typically "hostile" unless the locals see visitors as possible allies or business associates. The devils of Baator are a non-human (or formerly human) race 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 divine spellcaster is sponsored (and monitored) by a prayer fellowship with similar interests based on Baator. 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 Baator would lose one spell on Acheron or Gehenna, and eight spells in Arborea. Moving to the Outlands loses four spells.

    A world that presents evey kind of achievement and excellence and is utterly without love or kindness would be as darkly memorable as any rules-intensive world ever visited by adventurers.

Referees might not want players to realize that they have entered Baator. Depending on the site of arrival, visitors might simply recognize a highly effective militaristic state, a community dominated by a heartless corporation, or a slave state that nevertheless has produced spectacular cultural achievements. The local clergy see this "realism in the pursuit of excellence" as the most exalted spirituality. It might take a very long time for the players to realize where they are.

Mongoose Publishing has a guide to an alternate upper layer of this plane.

I will let you find the pseudo-Christian, pseudo-Jewish, and pseudo-Islamic hate-based cults on your own. These tend to be involved with right-wing politics, to identify strongly with Law, and never to tell their own faithful to be kind to others.

The Plane of Hell -- full of abusive egomaniacs. "With a feeling of sick familiarity, I recognized here my own thinking."
Don Brubaker -- "You'll first experience hell", God said evenly, with a tone of complete control, "to prove to you the reality of evil. You've only believed that there was goodness. You must see for yourself that hell is real."
Near Death Experiences -- including accounts of hell.
Hell's Dominion -- a near-death experience

The devil's light, on the contrary, brings with it a feeling of revolting disquiet. It fills a person with a sense of superiority and promises of knowledge, but it has no love -- it is a cold light.

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)
Background by Ed

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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 ."