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

Let Your spirit lead me upon level ground.

        -- Psalm 143: 10

The only thing you can count on in life -- ain't nobody won't hurt you if it'll help them.

        -- Vin Diesel, "Knockaround Guys"

I'm a gentleman of style and taste.

        -- Mick Jagger, "Sympathy for the Devil"

Successful and fortunate crime is called virtue.

        -- Seneca

My father made him an offer he couldn't refuse... Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains, or his signature would be on the contract.

        -- Michael Corleone

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 Gehenna, the glamour of evil takes the forms of crime-syndicate elegance ("Nothing personal, just business"), and the pleasures of belonging to an effective gang. In our own world, some people think this is what they really want.

Medieval Europe, the culture on which much of AD&D is based, depicted the spiritual powers of evil 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.

Gary Gygax chose "Gehenna" as the name for the dimension in which Evil is predominant and there is a tendency to Law over Chaos.

The term "Gehenna" is a Hebrew word, supposedly adapted from "Hinnom", a valley outside Jerusalem that was variously a garbage dump and a place where unwanted babies were sacrificed by burning. (You can read about this in Jeremiah 7:31 -- the Bible's wonderful "Temple Sermon" against the worst aspects of organized religion, then and now). The word appears in the New Testament in connection with punishment after death. What it meant to the first Christians, and how its meaning may differ from the other New Testament Greek words for hell (Hades, Tartarus), may never be decided.

If the derivation of the word is correct, the ugly face of organized "religion" in the Hinnom infanticides reminds us of our own world's "Evil with Lawful Tendencies." Bad cults, gangs, crime-syndicates, petty dictators, and robber-barons are examples of the loosely-organized evil that is symbolized here. In our era as in Seneca's time, most pretend to virtue -- "promoting excellence and discipline", "building character", "promoting security", and "striving for what is best." They are enormously vain, though not so well-organized as their neighbors in Baator. Expect to find much ostentation and display of wealth and status.

Gehenna is worlds of slippery mountains, some glowing with lurid flames. All gravity is at 45 degree angles to the surface. (Bring your mountain-climbing equipment.)

These planes are the spiritual homes of organized robbers and tyrants, gangs of criminals, heartless warlords, and all who were corrupted by power.

Gehenna's gangster elegance exists side-by-side with incomprehensible, extreme cruelty. The locals never show charity of any kind. Many of the things that they enjoy most are probably better left undescribed. They are very fond of telling visitors that everybody who claims to be of good alignment is really some sort of hypocrite with a hidden, selfish agenda. 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. Here one can find the multiverse's most ostentatious displays of gangster-style wealth. The people of Gehenna are disgusted by the idea of unselfish love, and they believe that no creatures are genuinely good. Yet open-faced evil is poor politics. The locals will present themselves to outsiders as an "honored society", syndicates led by people of outstanding ability to provide stability under difficult conditions. The locals will talk about cruelty only as a way of "building character" or "promoting peace and development". There are many models for this in the non-ideological dictatorships of our own world. If this fits the adventurers, regardless of their professed alignments, the dwellers on Gehenna will argue that it is their true spiritual home. The spiritual powers here seek to corrupt souls through the quest for personal power and authority. Here power-grabbing is addictive, and those who sample it will find no simple joy in anything else. Other dark addictions are surely available as well. There is probably sexual slavery, but there is no real love here. All laughter and music are said to be forbidden except in the service of the rulers. Perhaps this means that you must simply laugh when, and only when, the boss says it's funny. Because this is a lawful-tending plane, there may be some fairly large civilizations, but none spanning worlds.

Primitives will find ongoing human sacrifices. Mottos are the slogans of gangs. Public portals between the layers and to remote planes are heavily-guarded fortresses.

During lawless eras, including some real-world "attempts to implement a new, democratic government", the local crime syndicate leaders and hoodlums have emerged as "the people's leaders". You'll have to decide where this has occurred. Our world's hoodlum governments are mirrored in Gehenna.

Magics that cause affection ("Friends", "Charm", "Emotion -- happiness", etc.) probably fail here, all enchantments are at least weakened, and evocation spells do an extra hit die of damage here.

The locals may know a great deal about visitors' un-repented crimes, and misbehavior may transform perpetrators. The barghests make their lairs here, and some orc and goblin heavens are here.

Even if you do not profess good alignment, please respect TSR's copyrights. It's not just what's right -- it's the law.

Khalas, "the gentle land", is a temperate universe inhabited by exiles from next door, and innumerable goblin caves. A city features people tattooed with their life stories. They want to buy your own most precious experiences, which become tattoos on their skin as you forget them. Waterfalls along the river Styx dominate the landscape. Maroon pools to the astral appear among the cave waters, and can be moved only within this water. Portals to the Outlands, Baator or the Gray Waste are often chasms with over-arching natural bridges. Chamada (Greek chamadis, on-the-ground), "the molten", is a universe of lava flows, where the atmosphere is a permanent stinking cloud. The air in the caves is more breathable, but the caves are prone to melt unexpectedly. Somewhere there is an entire city floating above the landscape. It is a mimic, which controls the locals. "The General of the Furnaces", an ultroloth, is the most powerful creature here, and service in his army is sought by many. The tower of the arcanaloths is full of records of evil deeds, recorded in the blood of the dead who suffer here. Mungoth, "the burning ice", is a universe of icy ash fields and corrosive snow. Avalanches and mudslides are constant perils, and the mountains still quake with volcanic activity. There is an ice-bound realm of carnivorous caribou, where cruelty is taught. In the town of Portent, those who resort to violence unwittingly do the damage to themselves, dying when they reach zero hit points. Krangath, "the dead furnace", is a burned out universe, with no heat or light. The most cold-hearted suffer here. In "The Night Below", the realm of the orcish undead, no light goes beyond five feet, and only those in charge can see in the dark.

Spell alterations in Gehenna: Summonings can only bring something native to the plane, even a "gate". A spellcraft check, or intelligence check at -4, is required or the summoned creature is free-willed and will probably attack. All divinations require an act of cruelty to be effective. No enchantment above level 4 works, and those that do are cast at one level lower; as per older information, spells that produce happiness or affection usually fail (referee's option). Invocations-evocations function as if cast one level higher, and saves are at -1. Necromantic spells producing pain or injury get +1 per die, while those that heal get -1 per die and probably require a key to work at all. Undead are turned as if the cleric were one level lower. Fire and earth spells are cast at two levels higher in most places. Water spells fail completely on the second and third layers. Fire spells fail totally on the fourth layer. Water and air only work as freezing ice crystal jets on the fourth layer. Spell keys might help overcome some or all of these.

Wizardly spell keys are variable but logical. Obsidian for fire, a skull of someone slain in anger for necromancy. Power keys are bones and muscle of some animal, charred in a furnace. Rarely given.

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 russet. Ethereal curtains might be bright red.
  • The dead are immune to poison and acid, and as an additional ability have +10 on climb checks.
  • The plane is "mildly evil-aligned". Good creatures have -2 on charisma checks.
  • I respectfully suggest that Gehenna be regarded as lawful-tending and thoroughly evil. These effects are additive

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

    The Fourth Edition retains the architecture and Gehenna is recognizable in "Tytherion, the endless night", a "canyon complex" with "volcanic depths" surrounded by a black or indigo fog in the astral sea. The Chromatic Dragon now lives here, as does Zehir, patron of snakes and poison. Souls who have pleased these powers may survive as "darksworn", who tyrannize each other as they are able. 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 Gehenna is essentially a world where like-minded spirits meet. It looks and works like our own world, except there is no love or kindness, and it is dominated by sophisticated, capable gangs. NPC attitudes are typically "hostile" unless visitors seem to be likely allies. If there is a spiritual race native to Gehenna, 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 evil, lawful-tending divine spellcaster is sponsored (and monitored) by a prayer fellowship with similar interests based on Gehenna. 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 Gehenna would lose one spell on Baator or the Gray Waste, six spells on the Beastlands or Ysgard, and seven spells on Arborea. Moving to the Outlands loses three spells.

    A gangster world without love would be as troubling as any rules-intensive world ever visited by adventurers.

Referees might not want players to realize that they have entered Gehenna. Depending on the site of arrival, visitors might simply recognize a community dominated by a crime syndicate or cruel feudal lord. The local clergy will probably have a lot to say about "hating our enemies and keeping our community strong", and that this grim life is the essence of spirituality.

[Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly]

In Gehenna, you can talk to the locals and your own friends about some of these ideas:

  • In our own world, many countries are still governed by dictators who loot their own people and the "aid" provided by outsiders. These people are good at justifying their practices, citing the "need for stability", protecting their countries from ideological movements, and the fact that if they were to behave otherwise, their counterparts in the next country would simply take over. The continued existence of "kleptocracy" (government by thieves) is the main obstacle to the economic development of their countries. Has your own life experience brought you into contact with these people, or the effects they have on others?
  • In some communities, especially where there is a culture of poverty dominated by losers, kindness is perceived as weakness and will make you vulnerable to the cruelty of others. What does a good person do in such a situation?
  • Gangs in poor communities may begin as people uniting for protection. The urban gang members of the "West Side Story" era protected one another and their ethnic communities, and actually kept order. Today's poor urban public schools and the easy money to be made from drug money have changed urban gangs, at least in the United States. What is your assessment of past and present street gang cultures?
  • Organized crime protects providers of illegal goods and services in exchange for a large share of the profits. It then branches out to trouble legitimate businesses. What government policies are wisest to deal with this problem?
  • Thieves who rob corporations or government often say they are only robbing other thieves. What do you make of this?
  • Especially when there is widespread poverty, warlords provide stability that they maintain through cruelty. How much of this is acceptable? Could a warlord also be a good person?

Li Po thinks that we are not supposed to focus much on the geography of the afterlife, but try to live as well as we can and show others how to do the same. I've been told that hell actually begins in this life, when we decide to focus on hate, greed, and/or vanity. Even if we decide to work together for this, we will never find a secure footing.

The Bible on the Afterlife -- including Gehenna. From the Religious Tolerance site. Highly recommended.
Shakespeare's Macbeth -- down the slippery slope to evil
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

Final Note

Gamers for Christ -- news group

Unity of the Rings -- comic book art

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 law

Less extreme

More law
Ed's character generators:


New visitors to
reset Jan. 30, 2005:

Ed's home page

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."