[Obsidian Isle, Belenoth] Planeswalker's Basic Primer to the Abyss - Volume 1: The Layers of the Abyss

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[Obsidian Isle, Belenoth] Planeswalker's Basic Primer to the Abyss - Volume 1: The Layers of the Abyss

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Planeswalker's Basic Primer to the Abyss, Volume 1: The Layers of the Abyss
Compiled by Laurelia Laeryleth

Note: Other than some information about Zanshibon, this is not my first-hand experience of the Abyss. Rather, it is a combination of my notes and annotations from other works, compiling them into something accessible for the common adventurer and scholar. The other scholars, from Faerun, Sigil, and abroad, have not left their names are are simply too numerous to credit. The work of Macros Darksun pertaining to Zanshibon has been credited. The first volume represents my most organized and well-formatted notes: Dissertations on the realms and layers themselves. Expect Tanar'ri/Abyssal Bestiaries and information on the deities that inhabit the Abyss to follow.
Some of this information may be dated: Take particular exception when regarding information about Thanatos and Naratyr.

Introduction & General Information
The Infinite Layers of the Abyss, usually simply called the Abyss, is an infinite realm of clutching horrors, the embodiment of everything ugly, everything evil, and everything chaotic is reflected in infinite variety. Yet, the Abyss is anything but stasis. Pockets of civilization, even protection, exist: And some realms are said to be blindingly beautiful to the mortal eyes.

The undisputed masters of the Abyss are the Demons themselves, particularly the class known as Tanar’ri. These creatures are largely embodiments of death, destruction, and otherwise wholly negative emotions. But to describe these creatures as such simple concepts does a major disservice to their undeniable ruthlessness and cunning. But as the Abyss is limitless, the Tanar’ri do not control every swathe of it. Renegade Baatezu and Undead of all sorts are spread throughout the Abyss, and certain Abyssal deities are tended in their abodes by creatures more easily recognizable from the Material Plane.

The Abyss is said to be cruel as death, and hungrier than the grave. Certainly, you may prepare a coffin for such a journey, but keep in mind: The Abyss seldom has any authority, any secret guards of an ordered state as in Baator, nor informers watching every move. The closest are the Molydei who round up deserters (read: anyone of inferior rank/power who crosses their path) to get back into fighting the Blood Wars. To survive the Abyss, you need to be cunning, and you need to be quick.
Caution must be exercised when dealing with the Abyss: This goes without saying. Most who find their way into this Plane of existence do so out of accident and other ignorance. Some are mad enough to think they can out-think or outfight the Tanar’ri. Wizards may be overjoyed to be granted Quasits as familiars, only to be made into Petitioners into the Woeful Escarand as their souls were sold to the Abyss as a result. Those who want to make deals or Pacts with Fiends out of vengeance should eat least make do with the Baatezu: Those bastards will cheat you honestly through the fine print of a contract, rather than disregarding it entirely on their own whim.
Local rulers, especially in disorderly chaotic wastes as in the Plains of Infinite Layers, have uses for visiting adventurers and outsiders, that temporary alliances may be forged. But these alliances may be thrown whichever way the wind blows. Newcomers to the Abyss will find themselves lost, and guides are just as likely to treat wandering newcomers as suitable servants, and should they lose their value, potential for coin once they hand these newcomers over to the Molydei.
Broken Reach in the Plains of Infinite Layers is the surest way out of the Abyss. Certainly, a boat into the River Styx can be arranged. But without a way through Mount Olympus or Yggdrassil in the Gray Wastes, the downflow of the Styx will at least make a bad journey much worse. A Tanar’ri serves only in the capacity they fear they will be caught, and there is always an ambition to advance themselves. Try bribing a Baatezu or Yugolothi guard to look the other way.
If you do wish to trust a Tanar’ri, their wrought iron ships sail through the sky. Of course, they’re supposed to by ferrying troops to fight against the Baatezu, but it can be an alternative means of travel. Just be wary if they pull a Molydei and corral you right into the front lines of the Blood Wars, or perhaps that they do keep your word and transport you through the Abyss, only for the very clouds they soar through to choke the life out of you.

Courtesy of a scholarly manual attempting to logically map the major layers of the Abyss. The depicted depth of the Abyss is but a pale shadow of its infinite reaches.

Realms and Greater Layers of Note
Ahh, the infinite wonders of the Abyss. If there’s anything you don’t like, you’ll find it here.
-Tanar’ri proverb
The following realms are to be considered the greater domains within the Abyss. These are the most likely to receive Planeswalking travelers, either through the inevitability of Planar traffic brought by the Plain of Infinite Portals, or due to these realms being the domains of the greatest of Demon Lords, who command vast amounts of power and legions of their own, and no small amount of followers and petitioners in turn.

Plain of Infinite Portals
An infinite wasteland, where minor, but reasonably powerful Tanar'ri princelings combat eachother in wrought iron fortresses. It is a primary area of traffic to and from the Abyss and other outlying Planes of Existence, such as Pandemonium, Carceri, the Outlands, and so on.
Broken Reach is a town of crumbling towers, and a place of gathering for Blood War Mercenaries, traders, and visitors brave or insane enough to enter the Abyss. Stewarded by a Succubus sorceress by the name of Red Shroud, its underground portion contains important precincts such as the portal to Plague-Mort in the Outlands.
Gallowsgate, home of Jaranda, a Marilith. It is a ramshackle town, with a Doomguard presence.
Syros is a barracks town, where the Molydei herd their troops to the Blood War battlefields.
Ferrug is an abandoned iron stronghold. Allegedly its lordling was slain whilst astrally transporting herself to Material Planes to wreak havoc. The Tanar’ri frequently inhabit the place both to strip it of its iron in the construction of other iron fortresses, and because of the local lakes of molten iron, marking it as a site for Baatezu attacks. Demogorgon charges local demons to defend the lakes from the Baatezu.
An abstract map representing the major gateways the Plain of Infinite Portals leads to. Note that in actuality, it has portals leading all over the Abyss, and other Planes of Existence.

The realm of the Demon Prince of the Hunt, Graz’zt, Azzagrat consists of the 45th, 46th, and 47th Layers of the Abyss. The 45th is a constantly gray, rainswept steppe: The 46th is illuminated by the ground, causing shadows to twist and contort into the sky above. They 47th layer is not accessible from the Plain of Infinite portals, and must be entered through its sister layers: Itis lighted by a blue sun, and where flames of purple and red burn people not with the flames themselves, but a deep, icy touch. Due to being stewarded by the same Abyssal Lord, all three layers share similar traits.
The trees are sentient serpents that will attempt to venomously bite, or otherwise strangle petitioners. It seems a solution that these trees fear fire. Unfortunately, Forest fires become uncontrollable and would threaten to consume any who used such a method to eliminate the threat of the viper trees, and the forests begin to regrow within an hour.
Green, fiery portals are a dangerous way out, as they tempt mortals into escaping the forests. The Tanar’ri sense of humor precludes that there are great circles of green-flame that appear, yet when walked through, simply set someone ablaze without rewarding them with escape.
A river of crystals is equally perilous. Graz’zts’ own domain has portals that lead out, but one must survive being hunted by Graz’zt. Interestingly for the usually callous, despicable attitudes among the residents of the Abyss, the Demon Prince of the Hunt rewards survivors.
Zelatar is the primary city in Azzagrat, and the seat of Graz’zt himself. The buildings occupied by these Tanar’ri, Cambion, and Tieflings may have interiors and exteriors in a different layer of Azzagrat, and though the locals know how to operate the shifting portals of the city, petitioners are seldom so lucky without a guide. Graz’zt’s Argent Palace dominates the city. 66 Ivory towers and 100 cold, mirror halls wind through the palace that leads to the audience chambers. Ravenous Bodaks consider visitors and petitioners to be sport.
A depiction of the perpetually grayish 45th Layer, the first of Azzagrat. Note the viper trees and the Tanar'ri huntsman if not the Demon Prince of the Hunt himself watching these intruders.

As much a realm of the Undead as it is the Tanar’ri, Thanatos is a frigid layer of ice, uncomfortably thin air, and lit only by the pale moonlight above. The place is marked for an extreme amount of corruption by Negative Energy, and every kind of grave imaginable dots the landscape.
The major seat of power in Thanatos is Naratyr, the City of the Dead. It is a frozen necropolis carved into a frozen ocean, said to consist of towering funereal obelisks, crypt parapets, and carpets woven from the hair of the very dead of the city. The primary population consists of zombies, ghouls, wights, and other sorts of reanimated corpses, whilst the legions include retrievers, vampiric giants, and liches of any variety. Local Tanar’ri have themselves followed by small hordes of undead servants to try and impress wayward mortals, leaving some to offer such great, useless hordes to visitors and petitioners. The prices go for only coppers a day. The Upper Reaches of Naratyr are unvariably filled with dreadful undead, whereas the lower reaches of Thanatos are uncared for. Scavengers rob the graves and crypts of the lower reaches, and Scavenger’s Luck is a tavern that scratches a living out of the oppressive realm.
The Realm is traditionally the domain of Orcus, the once-gluttonous Demon Prince of the Undead. A Dhaerow goddess of vengeance and undead by the name of Kiaransalee temporarily usurped Orcus of the realm, installing herself as Mistress of Thanatos. Recently, it has become undeniable that Orcus has returned to power, now embodying vengeance much like the Dhaerow goddess herself, and word has it that Kiaransalee has fled the realm. It is interesting to note that though she was Divinely inspired compared to the Demon Princes, she was still begrudgingly made to send Undead legions to fight in the Blood Wars. It should be noted that so long as Kiaransalee remains in the Dhaerow Pantheon, then if driven from Thanatos, she would presumably peripherally remain in the Abyss through the Demonweb pits.
An abstract depiction of Naratyr, illustrating its upper reaches and lower reaches. This depiction dates to its stewardship under Kiaransalee.

Catalogue of Documented Layers
Alternatively, catalogue of survivable layers
The Abyss itself is considered infinite. Common insight alleges that there are 666 layers of the Abyss. The Planeswalkers from Sigil contend there are actually 679 layers. This is largely irrelevant as even individual layers are vast in their size, though whether more layers exist or not will no doubt be answered by those who brave enough to confront this question in the future.
Note that this is in no way a complete list. The following are documented from Scholars of Faerun as well as Planeswalkers from abroad the material planes. There are no doubt more layers to be discovered, and just as well there are layers which likely warp, disconnect, and reconnect from other layers that can never truly be described and mapped. Each layer itself is different, featuring Tanar’ri barracks plains, inhospitably acidic jungles that house sleeping gods of the lizardfolk, the horrendous realms of the Beholders, and so on. Remember that the Tanar’ri are immune to electricity, flames, poison, and so on. Things that are of relative comfort to them will simply choke you to death. Such may even lead in fact to the issue of there being many more Layers that mortals, visitors, and petitioners have entered on accident or otherwise, and never lived to tell the tale.

Courtesy of Sigil, an abstract representing major layers of the Abyss.

Layer 1: Plain of Infinite Portals
Layers once accessible from the Plain of Infinite Portals are closed off, making them loop back unto themselves. That sounds potentially abysmal.
It is the most charted and well-known layer.
Covered more thoroughly in the previous realms section.

Layer 6: Realm of a Million Eyes
This is a realm of the Great Mother of the Beholders. One of the worst realms.

Layer 7: The Phantom Plane, Kaerackinen
The Phantom Plane is sealed from intruders. Sess’inek, jaded of the Blood War, remains in quiet solace, worshipped by the lizardfolk.

Layer 12: Twelvtrees
This has been abandoned once several Devas were sacrificed here. Their haunted cries are used to enchant amulets and power machines capable of combating the Baatezu.
The Ships of Chaos are fuelled at the site of the Deva sacrifices. Necromancy and hundreds of larvae are necessary to manufature the frames of the Ships of Chaos, a type of engine of war the Tanar'ri use against Baator, and are said to be of use against the Upper Planes.

Layer 13: Blood Tor
One of the most significant sites of Baatezu incursions in the Abyss in the early Blood War. It is now the realm of Beshaba, Maid of Misrule, where her black stags grant bad luck to haunt visitors. The red-blooded waters are home to Umberlee, the Sea Bitch.

Layer 23: The Iron Wastes/Ice Wastes
This bitterly cold, icey waste is home to the giants in service of the demon lord Kostchtchie. It is devoid of life, and is lit by a single distant light no brighter than a moon. Frost Mages were first trained in his glacier citadel, and most life is underground.
Frost Giant Magi dwell within Lord Kostchtchie’s Glacier Citadel, carved between the creaking ice of two towering peaks in the layer.

Layer 45: Starts Azzagrat, Realm
Continues through to layer 47.
Covered more thoroughly in the previous realms section.

Layer 66: The Demonweb Pits
This convoluted plane belongs to Lolth, the Spider Queen, and the most powerful deity to the Dhaerow. It is said to be a mobile iron fortress that moves around the Abyss, an amalgamation of impervious webs strung from layered pearls.

Layer 74: Smaragd
This layer is an ever-shifting plane of Merrshaulk of the Yuan-Ti, and Ramenos of the bullywugs, sleeping in snake infested pits and an enormous hollow tree, respectively. Merrshaulk only wakens to devour direct threats, whereas Tanar’ri sacrifice to Ramenos by having sacrifices swallow themselves into the sleeping god’s constantly open maw.
It is nominally comparable to a tropical jungle, where blinding lights of magnificent colors, poison clouds, and acid rain constantly weigh down upon any unlucky enough to be inside.

Layer 88: Gaping Maw, or Abysm
This layer is marked by briny water and stone spires where flying tanar’ri roost as a rookery. Ixixachitl is a kraken in service of Demogorgon, whose home is protected by servants of each of his servile races. Water lords, or wastrilith make the layer their home. Most of the area is underwater, under chilled portions that never see the light.

Rather than worry about the Blood wars, Demogorgon was jealous of Sekolah for his reptilian servants, the Sahuagin, and regularly butchered them, else otherwise hoarding his strength.

Layer 113: Thanatos, The Belly of Death
The icy, deathly realm of Abyssal Undaed.
Covered more thoroughly in the previous realms section.

Layer 181: The Rotting Plane
This inhospitably hot savanna and shallow swampland is home of Laogzed, god of the troglodytes, after being banished by his progenitor, Panzuriel.
This is a Planar dumping ground, for Laogzed is a carrion eater of the highest degree.

Layer 222: Shekdaklah, The Slime Pits
The Slime Pits are a bubbling morass of ooze under the whim of Juiblex, marked by unintelligent slime.
The rest of it is ruled by Zubbtmoy, the Abyssal Lady of Fungi, a dread and fell ruler of the Abyss. With Iuz, they constructed the Temple of Elemental Evil, until they were defeated and bound. Her realm slowly rots, where basidironds, ascomids, black pudding, brown mold, brown pudding, dun pudding (...) intellect devourers, ochre jelly, phycomids, ustilagor, and zygom dwell.

Layer 274: Durao
Durao is an open layer that serves for the Tanar’ri hordes en route to Gehanna. It is marked by rustling iron wharves and barrackses built into the swamps, and the sluggish waters of the river Styx. The Tanar’ri marches reverberate across the layer, and they pay the Marraenolothi to maneuver their iron barges down the river styx.
There are only a few deformed swamp creatures that are native to this layer.

Layer 303: Sulfanorum
This layer is where the Tanar'ri relax, and smoke pipes. The foul smog clogs the air, causing asphyxiation or at least wheezing to each breath, and the unbearable stenches drive planers and pilgrims away. Fire constantly pours smoke into the skies, but are weak: They only light a pipe, or incense.

Layer 348: Fortress of Indifference
Ruled by a Nelfashnee named Tapheon, this layer houses the outcasts of the traditional abyss: Demons exhausted from the Blood War, Cambion, and Tieflings. Tapheon apparently has a sceptre capable of transforming visiting petitioners into all manners of things available to a Tanar’ri imagination.
The fortress is marked by a blasted plain of rocks, jagged stalagmite, and freezing winds that lash from underneath the crimson clouds above. The Fortress of Indifference is a a black iron citadel, in which the dead (and wailing undead) are woven into the metal itself.

Layer 363: Zanshibon
Some information courtesy of Macros Darksun.
The main landmark of this layer is the former Prime city of Zanshibon. The area is ruled by a Demon known as Paush, a god-king in his city, whose love is enforced throughout, and where he draws adventurers into his service. Macros Darksun contends that the Demon Lord is weakening due to his withdrawal from the Blood Wars. I contend that this may be a certain jading view of the Blood Wars, documented among other Tanar’ri and Demon Princes. Perpetuity is stasis, including war: The Abyss is anything but stasis.

The area is otherwise remarkable for resembling a vast desert with deep crevasses, rising pillars of flame reaching into the sky, and red clouds of looming doom from above. The area was once a great site of battle in the Blood Wars. Since then, roving bands of Tanar’ri, mostly veterans from these blood wars, act as sport for seasoned adventurers wishing to plunder the area for its treasures: And they quickly annihilate unprepared intruders.

Layer 377: Plains of Gallenshu.
An infinite plainsland marked by herds of Armanites. Though the Armanites tend towards the lower end of the Tanar’ri totem pole in terms of rank and power, this realm is independent, and the Armanites, though they tend toward the worship of Baphomet, mostly worship the Warlords they serve within Gallenshu. The towns tend towards fortified stables.
Visitors and petitioners can best imagine this as a twisted realm of centaurs, where the centaurs are horrific and rotting in their forms, and the savannah chokes with rotting dust.

Layer 399: Worm Realm
This set of endlessly twisting tunnels is dug from the constantly collapsing clay, earth, and stone. It is the burrow of Urdlen, the mole-god of evil Gnomes. It grinds up most visitors, and suffocates the rest. Expect deep creatures: Svirfneblin, Umber Hulks, purple worms, etc.
Cancerous growths mark many of the inhabitants.

Layer 400: Woeful Escarand
This Layer is marked for following a pattern and order. Petitioners and new arrivals are herded from the entrances to the layer, over treacherous terrain that leads to a single visible mountain. The gates that leave the plane are within the central Mountain of Woe, but are guarded by Nalfeshnee, who sit on mighty thrones of flame, or herd creatures to judgement. They cast judgement on the mortal lives that enter the existence, of which the Pits of Despair are said to be the most terrible.

Layer 422: Yeenoghu’s Realm
This fetid land is home to the infinite yellow forests and savannahs where the usurper of Gorellik, Yeenoghu, calls home. The grasses are markedly sharp, and dangerous plants are common. The Gnoll god reigns from an enormous pile of cracked bones that resemble a mountain, which is added to at regular intervals.

Layer 432: Realm of Archemodeus
This realm is apparently the former domain of Archemodeus, who is now imprisoned. His Trident of Power is of mythical renown, and visitors to this layer, longing to wield it, only strengthen it in turn.

Layer 489: Noisome Vale
Some information courtesy of Macros Darksun.
Once ruled by a now-missing Balor named Tarnheim, the Vale is always beset by a mist of acidic gas from volcanic ravines. Writhing worms, some massive, fill up the massive cracks in the earth: Apparently they breath in the gas, and breath out air we mortals can breathe.

Tarnheim’s manor is kept hospitable (relatively speaking) by the noisy (said to be maddening) writhing of the worms below it. The Tanar’ri staff keep the manor in order, and take unkindly to unannounced visitors.

Layer 503: Plane of Pillars, Realm: Torremor
This realm of Pazrael starts in the 503rd Layer of the Abyss. The Abyssal Lord Pazrael calls no great hall or temple his home: He instead pursues power elsewhere. His jealous neglect is tended by proxies, and Tieflings survive on this realm by relaying messages through the use of enormous drums that echo through the pillars, ramps, and bridges that make up this puzzle-like layer.

This realm is inhabited by nabassu, vrock, chasme, succubi, perytons, harpies, gargoyles, and varrangoin. The realm resembles a bottomless pit, connected by staircases, and various bridging pillars. Should one fall, they are likely to hit a pillar on the way down: Waterfalls flow until they dissipate into a mist, creating beautiful rainbows to considerable derision and ridicule from Tanar’ri inhabiting other, comparatively unsightly Layers.

Layer 586: Prison of the Mad God
This layer is the prison of Diinkarazan, once a god of the Duergar. It is a swirling vortex of gas and air, with whirling rocks flying about a central point. It distorts space around it. Diinkarazan was banished by the God of Illithids, Ilsenine. In rare moments of sanity, Diinkarazan still slays visitors who step inside. It is the balance of prison and madness that keeps the prison from slipping into Carceri or Pandemonium.

Layer 643: Caverns of the Skull
The Caverns of the Skull are ruled by Kali. It is a land of perpetual blood sacrifice and agony, where four-armed xorn, eyewings, fetch, fireshadows, and fanatic petitioners constantly slaughter one another, only to be reborn again to rejoin the bloodbath.

Next we meet shall be on the topic of the denizens of the Abyss themselves.
Last edited by waswar on Mon Jun 28, 2021 5:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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