Book of Hell



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Book of Hell

Author: Adrian Bott
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Publish Date: 2004
ISBN: 1-904854-05-2
Pages: 256
Rating: 5 out of 10
Retail Price: $34.95

 

As an adventurer, you will be used to hardship. You can wade up to the neck through leech-infested swamps; you can shiver on an arctic plain with nothing to eat but the stiff body of your companion, who was lucky enough to die first; you can struggle through seemingly endless desert, blinded by the sun and dried crisp as a mummy by the heat, while scorpions and venomous reptiles lurk in wait and vultures circle overhead. In all of these terrible straits, one thought may serve to comfort you: no matter how bad this is, it could be worse.

This introductory paragraph is what first attracted me to this book (well, after the image of a particularly gruesome cenobite-like creature on the cover, that is). The extremely gritty and horrifying content promised by such an opening seems much closer to what I would expect from the lower planes than the core view, which seems to be little more than “demons live here.” While the book couldn’t exactly live up to my hopes due to the limits of good taste, it did a much better job than most sources of putting the horror into Hell.

One of the larger topics in Book of Hell is the blood war between demons and devils. Instead of expending energy into describing how the armies of demons and devils get from one plane to another, the book simply created a new plane, which it refers to as “The Infernum” or simply, “Hell,” which is the plane the book actually focuses on. This plane connects to both the Abyss and the Nine Hells and acts as a sort of battleground for the blood war. While this isn’t exactly in line with the core listings for the outer planes, it does simplify matters quite a bit and I imagine this would be a great boon to any DM that wanted to run a singular Heaven and Hell in his own game.

Where the book really shines, though, is in its explanation of why demons and devils torment the souls of evil mortals. In short, it’s done to increase their corruption, which may eventually allow them to mutate into higher forms of fiendish life. Corruption is measured in a new system, which applies to anything evil, including mortals. While a new system may seem like more work to add to a DM’s already-overloaded palette, this system mirrors that used by the core rules to measure experience points, so it’s a system that every DM is already familiar with.

Another great feature the book brings to light is infernal transfiguration. This is the process by which fiends shed their previous state and (hopefully) become more powerful fiends that are higher on the fiendish food chain. This is where the new corruption system really comes into play, since the higher one’s corruption level, the better chance one has of achieving the desired state, as opposed to becoming a dretch or lemure. This is apparently how the demonic and diabolic armies keep themselves in cannon fodder... by forcing thousands of damned souls into the process and arranging it so they only become these lowly forms of fiendish life. The existence of infernal transfiguration gives a plausible reason for demonologists and their devil-worshiping counterparts to exist, since those with a high enough corruption rating might successfully petition to become fiends themselves.

Despite these very good things, the book is certainly not without issue. For the most part, the new types of demons and devils listed were very sub-par and uninteresting. I was also extremely unimpressed with the chapter that attempted to blend core D&D with Steampunk to create demonic biker gangs. Additionally, the book favored devils over demons, making the assumption that all demons were likely to do anything at any time, and thus couldn’t be accurately documented (which is probably correct to a point, but seems like a cop out to me). Something else that I figure might bother many readers is that the author decided to use Judeo-Christian sources for some of the notable devils, such as Satan and Lucifer. While I personally have little problem with this, it seems quite unnecessary when he simply could have made up new names without the need to startle or even offend some readers.

Despite these things, the book does manage to introduce some fairly interesting ideas. The organization of Hell is a nice section, as are many of the deadlier terrain features found in the Infernum. I was actually pretty impressed with the book’s take on damned souls, as well as portals to the Prime Material plane.

All in all, this was a pretty average book. There’s enough good in the book to justify wading through the useless, I think. I wouldn’t recommend paying retail price, but if you can find the book at a discount, it would make a fair addition to the collection of any DM looking to focus his campaign almost entirely on the lower planes.