Prison of Dis

“To the left and right you see canals with steep walls, and along the walls, thousands of barred windows. Cages are hanging from chains, carried by cranes, flocks of imps cling to every handhold and dance around big braziers.”

Some names to help you improvise:

Player characters will be entering the prison at the very bottom where the hot iron foundations of Dis rise from the stygian waters. What nobody knows down here is that the prison has been disconnected from Dis itself. There is a long and meandering skull road. “Just follow the road until you reach the great stair!” But after five days of following the skull road you end up back at the starting point.

All inhabitants of Dis lead lives marked by maliciously pursuing injustice: barrators, false counsellors, falsifiers, flatterers, hypocrites, murderers, panderers, schismatics, seducers, sorcerers, thieves, traitors and usurpers. Most of the prisoners are punished for no apparant reason—down here, everybody deserves to be punished.

Wherever the party goes, they’ll be watched by little imps and devils. Whenever appropriate, they’ll offer to help—for a price (see the end of this section for suggested pacts, their price and the seals and curses to go along with them).

If a significant number of prisoners are set free, there will be a prison revolt. The new masters will probably be just as bad as the old ones since both prisoners and wardens are on Dis for the same reasons. Just announce the revolt if the party has been releasing prisoners and expressed an interest in freeing as many as possible. The result will be an incredible massacre as demons, devils, and humanoids of various factions battle it out.

Random encounters during a prisoner revolt

  1. marauding devils looting some corpses (HD 5; AC 5; Atk 1 pitchfork (1d6) or flaming oil (1d6 for two rounds if hit); MV 3 fly, MV 6 on foot; can only be hit by magic weapons); treasure: 50 platinum; 500 silver; ring with ruby worth 500 gold
  2. doom captain Bizacht (HD 12; AC 0; Atk 1 obsidian sword (2d6, two handed, disrupts one memorized spell per hit); MV 3; teleport at will, immune to spells of level 3 and lower) and his 12 doom guards (HD 3; AC 2, Atk 1 sword (1d6); MV 3) are trying to put down the insurrection and require help (disobedience to be punished by death)
  3. a mob of 50 crazy inmates (HD 1; AC 9; Atk 1 spear (1d6); MV 12) is running through the streets and tunnels, killing everything that doesn’t join them
  4. a lynching of 20 innocent prisoners (HD 1; AC 9; MV 1 while chained) by 7 false inquisitors (HD 6; AC 2; Atk 1 mace (1d6 + 1d6 unholy blight granted by their demon while it lives; they prefer killing held victims of their demon); MV 3) and their floating protector demon, a weightless nightmare worm (HD 9; AC 3; Atk 1 psychic blast of pain (6d6 area effect, save vs. spells for half) or hold person (at will, save vs. paralysis or be held helpless for one round); MV 6 fly)
  5. a dying man, asking for water and asking for a mercy killing; as he espies his next life he cries “not again! noooo!”; if asked to perform one last good deed before departing, he’ll whisper “the siren Viseraina is innocent; save her, I’m begging you!” (true, but she needs to be freed); if asked for a way to escape from this hell alive, he’ll whisper “Parallax has been imprisoned but years ago he claimed to know a way to hell’s gates through the forge fires” (true, but it doesn’t work while the Fortress Dam of Ix still stands)
  6. a crazy battle on the square up ahead between men and devils; from the melee emerges a beard devil surrounded by a swarm of flies; he approaches the party and asks for their help: will you slaughter fellow men or will you fight the devil? (HD 12; AC 0; Atk 2 flaming swords +2 (2d6+2); MV 3; teleport at will; prefers to kill magic users first; can only be hit by magic weapons; immune to fire; surrounded by an aura of disease: anybody who fought this devil in melee must save vs. poison or contract the wasting sickness and die in three days)

Encounters near the harbor

  1. weary looking merman Betran rises from the fetid waters and throws some food to a prisoner nearby, blows his horn of fog before any guards can target him and disappears; he can be befriended; he knows that the Styx whale will let them pass if calmed by the sound of a magical horn—and he will blow it for them if they will help him rescue the siren Viseraina from the vampire octopus Khalapol
  2. the vampire octopus Khalapol reigns in a steaming cave (HD 17; AC 7; Atk 8 scythe-tipped tentacles (2d6); MV 3 swim; every hit drains two levels and heals the octopus for 5 hp; on a natural 20 the target needs to save vs. death or loose the shield arm to the hellish blades; immune to spells of level 3 and lower); the octopus can summon 1d4 giant eels (HD 8; AC 8; Atk 1 bite (3d6); MV 6 because the water is not deep enough); visibility is reduced to 10 ft.; the water is only knee deep in large parts of the cave (move at half speed when on foot); the siren Viseraina is chained to the wall at the back of the cave; when rescued, the merman Betran will help the party to bypass the Styx whale; treasure: 10 000 platinum, 20 000 gold, the jale crown of dreams (grants the wearer the ability to enter the dreams of one target per night; the wearer must own a lock of the target’s hair; the dreamer can be talked to and the dream can be influenced; if desired the dreamer must save vs. death or suffer terrible nightmares; mechanical effects can include penalties to the morale of the victim’s followers)
  3. getting into the prison is not a problem—getting out is the problem: the nameless Styx whale is a shadow sorcerer and guards the main exit (HD 24; AC 3; MV 3; his transdimensional entanglement makes sure than any form of teleportation, jumping or beaming will dump users in an air bubble at the bottom of the prison’s harbor in utter darkness 200 ft. below the surface; his ethereal web will detect any passage by mundane means; his hellstorm at will can fill the air above the water with high winds (save vs. dragon breath every round or crash into the water) and lightning (save vs. spells or be hit for 6d6 every round) and the water itself turns into a maelstrom pulling characters into its depth (save vs. death every round while resisting or drown; if not resisting, end up in the air bubble at the bottom); individuals can be targeted by shadow tentacles (save vs. death every round or start suffocating and die the next round); the whale will accept surrender; prisoners will eventually be picked up by aquatic devils, stripped and imprisoned individually; repeated offenders will be maimed: loose a hand); when fighting under water, only stabbing weapons like daggers, short swords or spears may be used; the whale’s powers are legendary and asking around will uncover many failed escape attempts; only very few know that blowing a magic horn will pacify the whale and allow passage (eg. the horn of frog birth by Onbog, the horn of fog by Betran, the horn of the mountain cedar by Kurmatesha, the horn of pressure by Belchion)

If the party is unable to secure a magic horn in order to escape, consider the appearance of a panzer ship (see Bone Crusher) and have the captain buy slaves and recruits for an attack on the Spider City or against an invasion of swan ships from the Eternal Swamp.

Encounters while exploring the prison maze

  1. twelve screeching bird demons (HD 5; AC 5; Atk 1 two handed sword (2d6), 2 claws (1d6 each) and 1 beak (1d6); MV 15 fly; can only be hit by magic weapons) carry an iron cage with bloated, blue woman in distress led by the pompous vulture guardian Iarrackus (HD 11; AC 5; Atk:2 claws (1d6 each) and 1 beak (1d6); MV 15 fly; blight storm at will surrounds it with a 60 ft. aura of shadow death causing 1d6 per round to all mortals; can only be hit by magic weapons); if the bird demons fight they will drop the woman into the canal below where she will drown in four rounds; if freed she can tell the party that the Styx whale will let them pass if calmed by a song
  2. a red glow has been filling the canal; before you is a round hall, hundreds of feet across, the ceiling invisible above, the canal flows in a circle around an elevated center where iron is molten, poured and cast by hundreds of creatures; the noise makes it hard to hear yourself speak; the horned lord of hell Enisatum appears in the middle of the workspace and receives a new flaming sword; this distraction enables you to slip by unnoticed, if you so choose (HD 15; AC 0; Atk 1 flaming whip (no damage but on a hit it grants +4 on the hit with the sword in the same round and on a 20 it disarms the opponent), 1 flaming sword (3d6); MV 3; flaming aura deals an extra 1d6 to everybody nearby; can only be hit by magic weapons; immune to fire; teleport at will)
  3. behind iron bars in a dark hole knee deep with water you find Parallax, a flame stalker (HD 5; AC 7; Atk 1 flame touch (1d6); MV 6; anybody attacking with a melee weapon will suffer automatic 1d6 fire damage); “Release me and lead me to a forge fire and I can take you to Avernus, the gates of hell!” What he doesn’t know is that the Fortress Dam of Ix has disabled all planar travel away from this plane; his plan will fail; attempting it will provide a clue: “Great energies are bending space and preventing our escape!” Should the adventurers take this route—after having disabled the fortress dam—they will note that Parallax deserts them in Tiamat’s Cave filled with noxious gas; Tiamat itself is a dragon god, a power, the mother of all monsters, a mass of sleeping serpentine bodies 200 ft. high, currently asleep; anybody who disturbs her sleep will be burnt to dust—no save; escaping from Avernus back to the characters’ plane of origin involves meeting the bone devil Carcatrax (HD 7; AC 3; Atk 1 scythe (1d6); on a natural 20 the target needs to save vs. death or loose the shield arm to the hellish blade; can only be hit by magic weapons) and helping him evade a group of flying twelve bird demons (HD 5; AC 5; Atk 1 two handed sword (2d6), 2 claws (1d6 each) and 1 beak (1d6); MV 15 fly; can only be hit by magic weapons); once this is done, he will lead the characters to the dust witch Chiramatra who will plane shift them in exchange for something of value to the party (a magic weapon, a magic horn, treasure equivalent to 10 000 gold); she can also be forced to do this if defeated (HD 11; AC 9; MV 3; can turn into a dust devil at will when outside; this causes automatic 1d6 sand damage to anybody within 10 ft. and she can no longer be hit by weapons; the sand devil form cannot be maintained inside a building; Atk 1 lightning bolt (6d6); MV 15 as a dust devil)

Encounters while exploring the skull road

  1. a huge platform on stone wheels is being pulled by two hundred slaves, slave driver devils with whips are standing by and lashing the slaves mercilessly; as they stumble and fall, they are slowly crushed by the wheels and become one with the road; the whip masters will use their whips to pluck replacements from bystanders (save vs. paralysis to move away from the road; once targeted by a devil, save vs. death or be hit and join the slaves as your soul is driven from your body); when a fight breaks out, up to eight slavers will join the fight (HD 4; AC 4; Atk 1 pitch fork (1d6); MV 6 fly); on the platform is a anthracite ziggurat with a tent at the top; if the slavers are vanquished, a martyr prince of pain will appear and attack unless appeased by death and torture of half the party (HD 15; AC 7; Atk 1 harpoon pistol (save vs. death or suffer 3d6 damage and be pulled to the prince) and 5 impaling fingernails (1d6 each); MV 6; may drop the harpoon pistol and use a total of 10 impaling fingernails; can only be hit by magic weapons; immune to fire); treasure: 1 000 platinum; 20 000 gold; 20 silken carpets worth 500 gold each; jewelry worth 20 000 gold
  2. an iron bridge arches over the bone road; it is ornamented with spikes, demonic faces, gargoyles and black murder holes; right above the road passing underneath it hangs a golden lion helmet; this is in fact the roaring helmet of Lior the Lion, golden paladin of the most holy order of Marduk (when roaring like a lion, opponents must save vs. paralysis to avoid suffering a -4 penalty on all their attack rolls for the next hour due to their fear); it is protected by the infernal magic; removing it will raise an alarm and summon 1d6 infernal minotaurs (HD 8; AC 3; Atk 1 horns (1d6) and 1 two handed hammer (2d6); MV 3) followed by the horned troll lord of Dispater a round later, patron of this bridge (HD 15; AC 3; Atk 1 horns (3d6) and 2 two steel tipped claws (2d6 each); MV 6; regenerates 5/round); if asked about the rest of the lion armor, the troll lord will admit that he took it from a competitor who had lost the rest (it is currently in possession of nixies; see Shroom Lord; with appropriate spells it might be possible to locate a member of said failed expedition)

Whenever player characters cannot make up their mind or whenever they are in danger, have imps and devils come up and offer to help – for a price. They will enter a pact with player characters. Once the details have been hashed out, a pact requires a simple act to seal it. When a pact is broken by a player character, the character will suffer a curse.

d6Pact Price Seal Curse
1I will lead you to somebody who can help.In return, you will fight for me when I summon you.To seal this pact, you will wear this amulet with the copulating monkeys. Atempting to take it off will strangulate you.If you don’t give your utmost to win the fight, these monkeys will animate and grow and do their utmost to wreck your neighbours, your family and your friends.
2I will lead you to somebody who will help.In return, you will wear this hell sigil in your face for a year and a day, invisible to all except for those that can detect evil.To seal this pact, I brand you with this painful hell iron.If you fail to do this for me, you will have sown the seed of evil in the hearts those near you, triggering an alignment change, if appropriate.
3I will summon somebody who can help you.In return, you will forswear fighting all demons and devils for a year and a day.We will drink each other’s blood in order to seal this pact.Should you break this pact, your muscles will wither and shrink. You will loose 4 Strength.
4I will summon somebody who will help you.In return, you will donate one tenth of any treasure found (not just your share of the treasure!) to evil deeds for a year and a day.To seal this pact, you shall wear this ring of mine.If the pact is not kept, this ring will poison you and you shall die. You can never take it off, obviously.
5I will help you.In return, you will suffer for seven long weeks in hell when you die. You cannot be resurrected in that time.To seal this pact, I will take a lock of your hair and keep it safe.Even if you are rescued before you served your time, I shall keep your mind locked up. Your body will be but an ordinary, 0-level mortal until your time is up.
6I will solve this issue for you.In return, your soul belongs to me and you can never be resurrected.To seal this pact, I shall cut off your hand and replace it with this bejeweled gauntlet.Anybody attempting to rescue you will have to face treachery and greed every step of the way.

The above table only makes sense if there is temptation. The party must /want/ the help being offered. Some ideas:

Also note that the devils will have tried to prevent the simple removal of curses and the simple circumvention of poisoning. They can be outwitted, but it shouldn’t be easy. Make players work for a release from the curse!