The Descent into Avernus adventure provides more information about what happens to souls in the Nine Hells/Baator than was previously available - soul coins and their uses, in particular.

It's also made it clear that I really don't understand the paths that souls in the Hells can follow, and thus don't feel able to convey the moral / logistical implications of any particular action relating to souls to my players.

I'm looking for a complete picture of the soul lifecycle in the Hells (and I'm not expecting it to be linear). I could ask a bunch of smaller questions, but that wouldn't actually help me understand the lifecycle as a whole so I can reason about it in unusual situations.

Answers should probably include:

  • States such as: being a living lawful evil mortal who hasn't made a devilish pact, being a living mortal who has sold their soul, being a lemure, being in the River Styx, being tortured to draw out soul energy, being a higher rank devil, being trapped in a soul coin
  • Transitions such as: dying, being forged into a soul coin, being utterly annihilated, being freed from a soul coin, being promoted, being demoted
  • How the states and transitions relate to each other

5e materials & designer statements should take precedence, but materials from earlier editions are welcome in answers.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't read through Descent into Avernus, but do have access to a digital copy via file share for a campaign I'm in. Can you tell me which section this is mentioned. I can review and edit my answer to account for it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 8, 2020 at 11:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical Sure :) Soul energy outside the context of coins isn't mentioned in Descent - the best sources I have come from the linked answer. Soul coins are described both in Appendix C: Magic Items, and using them as fuel is discussed in Appendix B: Infernal War Machines. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vigil
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 18:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ apologies, I think when I wrote my answer, I forgot to look up DiA citations. Got a copy from my friend and updated my answer to incorporate how the soul coins should fit into the rest of the life cycle. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 20 at 14:54

4 Answers 4


Welcome to Hell!

Actual lore and citations below

I want to preface that everything here is what I learned from reading Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (MToF) and the Monster Manual (MM). I definitely recommend it as the story of the Blood War is absolutely fascinating plus you get to learn about how it could be extremely good or extremely bad for you if a True Neutral archmage like Mordenkainen just shows up one day. Everything here is what's canon for 5e, I can't speak to earlier editions.

tl;dr Every soul starts as a Lemure which is the only type of devil that can die in the Nine Hells and reform. Every other soul becomes a ranked devil of some sort, and with that increased power carries the threat of utter annihilation should they die in the Nine Hells.

Please keep your hands and legs inside the ride at all times! I'm hoping that's an easy rule to follow since you barely have any, because for your first form here in the Nine Hells is going to be a nearly worthless Lemure.

My name is Chad, I'm the horned devil tasked with collecting you. Come along, we're heading to Mammon's Emporium to see just how worthless you really are.

Chad pulls out a scale with a feather on one end and unceremoniously drops you on the other.

Let's see, seems you're about tree-fitty soul bits. That's good news for you! Were you less than three, we just toss you into that bag over there that turns you into a Nupperibo and trust me nobody's going to want to spend any time with you after that.

It seems that you're just on the threshold that none of the other Archdevils want to buy you, so I guess that means you default to Mammon. Say 'Yay Mammon', please!

You say, "Yay Mammon".

Perfect! With that unholy oath, you are damned to serve him for all eternity!

Now typically, most worthless souls like yourself have to earn yourself a reputation in the Blood War before you get promoted. However, I'm thinking to make an exception because I want to turn you into an Imp so that you can spy on the Erinyes, Julia, and see if she's any closer to taking me back.

Now you might think this sort of tactic is gross and weird, but trust me that I've been over the various restraining orders and they are very clear that I need to stay 500' away but there's a glaring omission regarding my spies.

Anyways, hold still this hurts a bunch.

Your form is ripped to pieces and reformed into an Imp.

After several hundred years of various stalkings and the like, you are promoted through the ranks from Imp all the way to Bone Devil as you continue to excel at stalking Julia. Following this promotion, you almost immediately find Julia. Almost like she wanted you to find her.

Finally, he's gone ahead and promoted you right under him. Such a simpleton he doesn't realize this was my plan all along. Listen, were you to make Mammon aware that Chad had inappropriately promoted you from Imp to Bearded Devil 377 years ago without ensuring an appropriate merit rating of 240.2 or greater, he would be subject to demotion. As you are his direct subordinate, the infernal code would obligate Mammon to promote you from a Lesser Devil to Greater Devil and you would take his role.

You do that.

Two days later, Chad receives a letter via courier informing him that you have reported his violation of infernal code 66.33.311.8, subsection 122-5, paragraph 88.333, sentence Jeremy Bearimy, word 5. Almost immediately thereafter comes a form that has been stamped in triplicate which are the forms to have Chad carried away because you are technically correct, the best kind of correct.

In the next minute, you receive your promotion paperwork and key to your new office. Right after, an Imp from HR comes in to explain things.

Mr. New Chad, by decree of Mammon you are hereby promoted to Horned Devil pursuant to infernal code 333.666.999, Standards of Promotion by Default. Congratulations. You are hereby tasked with securing Mammon no less than 3,455 soul bits per lunar cycle. Failure will not be tolerated. If you have any questions, too bad.

You end up rocking this position by shrewdly selling junk souls on the bonds market and bailing out right before they crash screwing over both Levistus and Mephistopheles.

You end up being promoted to an Amnizu serving Mammon directly. Due to your absurdly broad knowledge of the infernal laws and contracts, you become aware that Mammon cannot legally ask for aid if a black cat stands atop a ladder within 400 feet of a the Chili's on 3rd Street on the blood moon while it rains.

So you orchestrate an insanely absurd series of events under his nose to cause this series of events to happen exactly when he's choking on a croissant.

Hear my telepathic pleas for help loyal servant! A demonic croissant has lodged itself in my throat!

And you merely respond, feigning sad resignation:

A thousand pardons my lord, but the law is the law and you know the rules regarding the black cat on the ladder in front of Chili's the and so on.

He dies.

Asmodeus, impressed by your scheming promotes you to Archdevil of that layer.

Two months later, you slip in the tub and die. Your soul destroyed. Maybe next time around you don't run that layer like Mammon and actually spend some money on repairs and safety features. The lack of handrails is certainly ominous, but definitely an OSHA violation.

Because it cannot be definitively proven that you slipped on ice that was put there by Levistus as revenge from your junk soul scheme, he is cleared of all charges.

Actual lore and citations start here

From MToF, on page 17 there's an entire section on devil ranks and how creatures rise and fall. There's 13 ranks in all, so let's start at the bottom:

Unranked Devils

Lemures Sitting at the bottom, Lemures are created from the souls of evil mortals who more or less ooze out of the River Styx. Even in the Nine Hells, it's hard to kill a Lemure as it has the Hellish Rejuvenation feature which allows it reform after being killed. This is a big deal as it allows Lemures to regularly serve and die as shock troops within the Blood War without the Nine Hells losing too many resources.

In general, the Lemures are a commodity to be exchanged and the manner in which they are exchanges is determined by the Archdevil Mammon, whose forces patrol the River Styx to harvest the Lemures. Mammon then contracts the sale of the Lemures to other Archdevils per the terms of whatever other contracts apply.

Nupperibos Although more powerful than Lemures, these creatures are created from souls that are deemed absolutely worthless because their damnation stemmed from sloth. Thus, even if killed, the Nine Hells does not feel as though they've lost anything.

Soul Coins An alternate path for a soul isn't to become an unranked devil at all and instead just be turned into a soul coin by Mammon. Souls turned into soul coins have two paths; one is to be used as a magic item that provides some small buffs until such time that the magic item's charges are expended and the soul is released to return to River Styx; or a worse fate which is to end up fueling an infernal machine in which case the soul will be utterly annihilated as it's used for fuel by the machine's furnace.

Lesser Devils

First of all, past this point all devils described fall under the authority of an Archdevil. Meaning, that if an Imp (Rank 2) that serves under Mammon is given an order by a Bone Devil (Rank 7) that serves Levistus, the order will have no weight and be unenforceable. However, were Asmodeus (Rank 13) to give any devil an order, they'd be bound to follow it because Asmodeus commands all devils.

It should be noted that the promotion from a Lemure, presumably includes an oath of loyalty to the Archdevil that is enabling the promotion. Per the MM:

No devil can promote or demote another devil that has not sworn fealty to it, preventing rival archdevils from demoting each other's most powerful servants.

Ranks 2-7 These ranks constitute Imps (2), Spined Devils (3), Bearded Devils and Merregons (4), Barbed Devils (5), Chain Devils (6), and Bone Devils (7).

Per the MM, promotion to any Lesser Devil requires the power of a Greater Devil or an Archdevil. Apparently there's a painful transformation to move the memories from the form of a Lemure into their new form. Promotions to Imps are typically performed based on need, while higher promotions are typically based upon merit. Per MToF, merit based promotions stem from the devils' performance in the Blood War under the scoring category of Glory. Failure and disobedience as a lesser devil can entail punishment via demotion back down to a Lemure, which causes the loss of all memories.

Greater Devils

Greater devils are created from lesser devils and can only be made by Archdevils. It should be noted that this promotion carries substantial risk, because should demotion be necessary down the line the demotion will not remove the Greater Devils memories. Therefore, it may seek revenge.

Ranks 8-11 These ranks consist of Horned Devils and Orthons (8), Erinyes (9), Ice Devils and Narzugons (10), and Aminizus and Pit Fiends (11).

Presumably, promotion to these ranks stems not just from merit as described in MToF under Glory, but likely also include the Souls and Treachery criteria. Devils are expected to harvest souls and the higher the value, the better. An example provided for Souls includes a devil that manages to make a powerful warrior pledge their soul and form as an Ice Devil within the Nine Hells; obviously this soul is of much greater value than any random evil commoner. Thus, the devil that secures it has greater standing an is more likely to be promoted.

Alternately, there's the Treachery option, whereby a devil learns the complex rules of the Nine Hells and the applicable contingencies and causes a situation whereby there's a vacancy above them and they are defaulted. This sort of a trickery is wholly accepted and part of the game. This doesn't necessarily mean that the devil directly kills their superior, thereby destroying their soul (this is likely forbidden by infernal law), but rather they may cause their failure and thus mandate their demotion. Indirectly killing is probably completely permissible.


Not surprisingly, only Asmodeus can promote a Greater Devil to an Archdevil. This is a pretty rare occurrence and only seems to occur when doing so would weaken another devil whom Asmodeus has started to become concerned about. To exemplify:

  • Zariel & Bel: After Zariel's fall and rise as an archdevil, she surplanted Bel on Avernus. As Zariel was aggressive and Bel more reserved, Asmodeus also required the Bel serve Zariel as an advisor. And now, Bel generally works to subtly undermine Zariel, but has no time for greater ambitions that might threaten Asmodeus.
  • Fierna & Belial: These two archdevils have equal rule over the layer of Phlegethos paired to essentially compete eternally with each other while also supporting each other whenever a threat rises to threaten Phlegethos as a whole.
  • Levistus & Geryon: The layer of Stygia is effectively locked in a civil war between these two archdevils. Levistus has been entombed in ice by Asmodeus thereby rendering him immortal, but also immobile; the exact reasons for this entombment isn't clear beyond a punishment from Asmodeus after Levistus' last victory over Geryon. Due to Levistus' lack of mobility coupled with his immortality, he is exceptionally skilled at brokering deals to collect souls for the Nine Hells. Perhaps part of Asmodeus' plan.
  • Glasya: Rulership of Malbolge was given to Asmodeus' daughter, Glasya. As devils go, she rides the line of bending the law, but not breaking it. A complex scheme on her part to counterfeit currency produced in the Nine Hells made her very wealthy by violating the traditions of the Nine Hells, but not the law. As punishment, Asmodeus compelled her to become an archdevil whose primary domain focuses on finding contract loopholes; even for mortals trying to figure out a way to avoid giving their souls to another devil.

Archdevils rule a layer of the Nine Hells and have a full chain of command beneath them. There's no specific lore I could find regarding how this promotion process occurs, presumably it is the same as that for a Greater Devil, however, an Archdevil's form is wholly unique to their personality.

Once promoted to this status, the soul must learn how to be paranoid very quickly because at this point every devil under their command and outside their command is looking for a promotion.

Additional lore from Descent into Avernus

The Descent into Avernus (DiA) book provides some additional paths that a soul might take once they're in the Nine Hells. These are primarily alternate paths for Unranked Devils as described above. DiA describes a magic item called a Soul Coin which states:

Souls coins are created by Mammon and his greater devils on Minauros, the third layer of the Nine Hells, in a vast chamber where the captures souls of evil mortals are bound into the coins. These coins are distributed throughout the Nine Hells to be used for good and services, infernal deals, dark bargains, and bribes.

Soul coins themselves can be readily carried by evil creatures to gain buffs in the form of temporary hit points, but there is a notable difference that when all charges are expended, the soul within the coin is released and the soul journeys to the realm of their appropriate deity. However, if the soul is for a lawful evil creature, they will end up back in the River Styx to emerge as a lemure.

It is unclear if once a soul emerges from Styx as a lemure if a devil can still turn their soul into a soul coin, but given the broad latitude devils seem to have over souls in the Nine Hells, presumably they can.

This first path of being turned into a soul coin and used as a commodity is probably preferable than the second alternative path. The second path for soul coins to be used as a fuel source for infernal war machines, which states:

An infernal war machine's furnace consumes a soul coin instantly, expending all the coin's remaining charges at once and destroying the coin in the process. The soul trapped in the coin becomes trapped in the furnace instead, powering the infernal war machine for a duration determined by how many charges the soul coin had...If [the soul] is still trapped in the furnace when the duration ends, the soul is destroyed. Not even divine intervention can restore a soul destroyed in this manner.

This second path results in utter annihilation for the soul. Apparently this path is excruciating (which syncs with the real world's experience of being in a furnace) as the infernal war machine's description specifically states that the sounds of the souls' anguish inside it are audible to 60'.


Since you mentioned that your are ok with information from earlier editions, I can briefly describe how the cycle was in 2e, using information from Planescape boxed set Planes of Law. From page 10 of the book Baator, we can say there are several kinds of paths that a soul can take in the Nine Hells:

  • The most common are lemures. The most evil mortals achieve this status, irrespective of who they worshipped in life.
  • Mortals who were selfish, proud, and ambitious, but not evil enough to make the initial cut as lemures, become mindless larvae. Larvae can later turn into lemures or imps.
  • Souls dedicated to lawful evil deities can find themselves as spirits in the realms of those deities, formed into whatever shape the deity deems appropriate; crocodiles, hyenas, etc. for Set, sahaugin for Sekolah, etc.

Lucky lemures can be promoted to the least form of intelligent baatezu: the spinagons. From that point on, based on how well they perform at various stations, the baatezu might be promoted to higher forms or demoted to lesser forms. This process is detailed in Faces of Evil: the Fiends (pages 13-19). An image search on the web for "Hierarchy of the Baatezu" can yield you a chart of these forms.

Since the 2e, various details of this process have been modified/retconned, yet I hope this description provides you a starting point.


The current 5e lore here is largely supported by the 3.5 content.

The best source of this topic is chapter 1 of the D&D 3e sourcebook Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells, currently available to buy in PDF form at Dungeon Masters Guild and DriveThruRPG. I won't summarize the entire chapter, but here is the life cycle of souls in Hell primarily as represented through that sourcebook, which is mostly compatible with the Descent into Avernus narrative on the topic.


All mortal creatures have souls. According to the D&D 3e adventure Bastion of Broken Souls, souls are created from fonts in the Positive Energy Plane. By ancient pledge, gods are forbidden from interfering with souls before they are born, but may claim the souls of their followers once deceased. Souls of those without a specific deity go to the plane of their alignment, which for Lawful Evil individuals is the Nine Hells.

By ancient pact, devils have the right to claim, torture, and draw energy from the souls of deceased Lawful Evil mortals. Naturally, they exploit this by manipulating mortals to commit evil acts in order to damn their souls, or just outright pledging their souls to a devil in exchange for wealth or power. The discarded soul husks are then reconstituted into the lowest rank of devils.


The first goal of devils is the corruption of souls to Lawful Evil, to ensure they go to the Nine Hells. The key points are as follows:

  • Merely being Lawful Evil is not enough. One must also commit evil acts. Fiendish Codex II p.30 asserts that one need acquire nine points worth of evil, where for example casting an evil spell is worth 1 point and murder is worth 5. It is suggested that people cannot be held liable for acts committed before reaching the age of reason. It is also possible to redeem oneself by penitent acts. Of course, one must also be Lawful in alignment.
  • Devils may offer Faustian pacts, also called diabolical deals. In Fiendish Codex II these are two types. The Pact Certain, which is the sort also described in Descent into Avernus, offers wealth or power in exchange for the individual's soul; once made, it is irreversible, except by legal trickery at Hell's court of appeal. The Pact Insidious instead gradually tricks the individual into committing evil acts which damn their soul in the usual way. According to Descent into Avernus, Lemures and Nupperibo cannot make pacts.
  • Devils operate cults both to corrupt cult members and spread evil in society. The AD&D 2e book Guide to Hell suggests that Asmodeus operates cults specifically to undermine the worship of deities, since he may personally claim souls which actively reject deities.
  • You do not need to even meet a devil in person to be claimed. Devils often divide mortal realms into regions, and a devil oversees each region. They may claim all Lawful Evil souls in the area, except perhaps those who followed evil gods, which takes precedence.
  • If you worship an evil deity and that deity claims your soul, it may be that the devils are unable to claim it even if you are Lawful Evil.


Souls of the Lawful Evil deceased travel to Avernus, first layer of the Nine Hells, where they appear at the Shelves of Despond, rocky outcroppings in the River Styx. The souls are marked with a symbol identifying the devil who corrupted them and that devil's Lord at the time. Bearded devils periodically row out in boats and collect these soul shells for delivery to torture stations, where paperwork is filed by amnizu devils to make sure appropriate credit is received.

The soul shells are then tortured to release energy which is accumulated by the relevant Lord of Hell. The remaining soul husks, depleted of all personality and memory, are cast into a pit where they are reconstituted into lemures, the lowest rank of devil.

Souls which were not credited to any specific devil are fair game for anyone to claim, and are traded as a valuable commodity in Hell.


Devils can be promoted by their superiors, a painful ritual lasting several hours which transforms them into more powerful devils, and consumes soul energy. Devils are promoted as a reward for success and loyalty, and fear nothing more than demotion to a lower rank.

The rank structure varies by source:

Rank Fiendish Codex II Descent into Avernus
1 Lemure Lemure
2 Nupperibo Nupperibo
3 Spined devil Imp
4 Bearded Devil Spined devil
5 Imp Bearded Devil
6 Steel devil Merregon
7 Chain devil Barbed devil
8 Harvester devil, pain devil, erinyes Chain devil
9 Amnizu Bone devil
10 Bone devil, orthon, malebranche Orthon
11 Barbed devil Horned devil
12 Ice devil, xerfilstyx Erinyes
13 Horned devil, pleasure devil Narzugon
14 Assassin devil Ice devil
15 Paeliryon Amnizu
16 Pit fiend Pit fiend
17 Unique devils Duke or duchess
18 Lord of Hell Archduke or archduchess

Additional rules of promotion:

  • Erinyes are descended from fallen angels instead of made from souls, and other devils cannot be promoted to one. Only erinyes can be promoted to pleasure devils.
  • Per Fiendish Codex II, the nupperibo, malebranche, and xerfilstyx occur by demotion only.
  • Promotion of more than one stage at a time is possible, but rare.
  • Devils are divided into Least, Lesser, Greater, and Archdevils. Promotions must be approved by a superior in the category above. The exact hierarchy differs between Fiendish Codex II and Descent into Avernus, but Greater Devil ranges from rank 10 to rank 16, and Lesser Devil begins at rank 3 (FCII) or 4 (DiA).
  • Even if a devil is promoted by their boss, it can be countermanded by their boss' boss, who may freely demote any of his subordinates or his subordinates' subordinates as he sees fit. Devils cannot promote or demote devils outside of their chain of command.

Killing devils or destroying souls

According to Fiendish Codex II, a devil slain outside of the Nine Hells re-appears in the Nine Hells 99 years later. A devil slain in the Nine Hells stays dead. This is consistent with the 5e Monster Manual, which says that slain devils return to the Nine Hells after an unspecified amount of time, and stay dead if slain in the Nine Hells.

According to the D&D 5e Monster Manual, lemures can be slain permanently in the Nine Hells if killed with a blessed weapon or splashed with holy water.

Notably, 3e Book of Vile Darkness asserts that using a soul for any reason except trade destroys it, which is the most evil of evil acts.

Trade in souls

Souls are the primary currency in the Nine Hells. Collecting souls is how devil lords become more powerful and how other devils earn advancement. Other treasure is mainly valued as a way to bribe mortals.

Unclaimed souls, or those who manage to escape the barges, are routinely claimed by bearded devils in bartering sessions or fights, and held imprisoned to use in trade.

Per Descent into Avernus, soul coins are infernal iron coins with souls bound to them, potentially multiple souls per coin, presumably for ease of transport. They are forged by Mammon on the third layer of the Nine Hells, Minauros. Freeing a soul from a coin is a good act.

I believe soul coins are a new invention of Descent into Avernus; FCII says "coin" is a slang term for souls in the Nine Hells, but doesn't specify that they can be minted into actual coins. 3e Book of Vile Darkness p.33 asserts that souls are generally transferred in larval form, but it does feature the 7th level cleric spell imprison soul, which allows a soul to be trapped in a small object like a gem or a ring (presumably, a coin would work here too).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Have some internet points, this is both useful and written in a way that I find easy to read and use as reference. It has also taught me some stuff, which is pretty cool \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented May 23 at 11:09

Although much less fun to read than @Pyrotechnicals brilliant answer, here is a nuts-and-bolts description of the main paths that souls take in hell.

Stage 1. A soul goes to hell

This can happen when to the souls of evil mortals, in particular when a devil strikes a contract with a mortal being that has a soul, and the mortal breaks the contract, dies naturally or conditions in the contract for it are fulfilled (p. 66 MM - what a fitting page number):

Any mortal creature that breaks such a contract instantly forfeits its soul, which is spirited away to the Nine Hells. [...] A soul is usually forfeited when a mortal dies naturally, for devils are immortal and can wait years for a contract to play out. If a contract allows a devil to claim a mortal's soul before death, it can instantly return to the Nine Hells with the soul in its possession.

Alternatively, a soul may just be from a lawful evil creature, not bound by a contract. Those souls emerge as lemures from the river Styx:

While those who pledge their souls are claimed by the devil they bargained with, lawful evil creatures that aren't bound by any contract emerge from the River Styx as lemures.

Stage 2. Lemure

When the soul of an evil mortal sinks into the Nine Hells, it takes on the physical form of a wretched lemure.

Other than any other devils in the infernal hierarchy, lemures do not usually die if destroyed, not even in hell. That means you might suffer as a lemure for eternities.

A lemure killed in the Nine Hells is only permanently destroyed if it is killed with a blessed weapon or if its shapeless corpse is splashed with holy water before it can return to life.

The lemure is also a devil of the rank of "Least Devil"1, and as such, like many other devils part of the infernal hierarchy, which means it can be promoted to become a more powerful type of devil.

Also among the Least Devils is the Nupperibo. [MTF, p. 168]

No soul is turned away from the Nine Hells, but the truly worthless - those whose evil acts in life arose from carelessness and sloth more than anything else- are suitable only to become nupperibos.

One wonders if these should not be the most plentiful devils of all. In any case, they are created from lemures, too:

A lemure emerges from the Styx wiped of memory, yet the patterns of evil it performed in life remain indelibly inscribed upon its soul. Those who lacked ambition cannot climb the hierarchiecal ladder of the Hells. They instead step down, becoming nupperibos.

Stage 3. Promotion

Devils are of four tiers of power and rank, from lowest to highest, Least Devils, Lesser Devils, Greater Devils and Archdevils.

Archdevils and greater devils have the power to promote lemures to lesser devils. Archdevils can promote lesser devils to greater devils, and Asmodeus alone can promote a greater devil to archdevil status.

This diabolic promotion invokes a brief, painful transformation, with the devil's memories passing intact from one form to the next.

A devil is seldom promoted more than one step at a time in the hierarchy of infernal forms.

No devil can promote or demote another devil that has not sworn fealty to it, preventing rival arch devils from demoting each other's most powerful servants. Since all devils swear fealty to Asmodeus, he can freely demote any other devil, transforming it into whatever infernal form he desires.

The Lesser Devils

In increasing power and rank [Baldurs Gate: Descent into Avernus, p. 212.]2

  1. imp
  2. spined devil
  3. bearded devil
  4. merrengon +
  5. barbed devil
  6. chain devil
  7. bone devil

Low-level promotions are typically based on need

All devils are required to fight in the Blood War. Every low-ranking devil spends at least some time on the front lines as part of a legion [Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, p. 18]

The Greater devils

  1. orthon +
  2. horned devil
  3. erynies
  4. narzugon +
  5. ice devil
  6. amnizu +
  7. pit fiend

High-level promotions are almost always based on merit

The Archdevils

  1. duke or duchess
  2. archduke or archduchess (rules a layer of hell)

Every archdevil is a unique being with an appearance that reflects its particular evil nature.

Because also archdevils can die in hell, or can be demoted by Asmodeus, the rulers of the nine layers of hell can change, and have done so over time. There are also devils that exist outside of the standard infernal hierarchy, for example the Abishai devils that serve Tiamat (although they were classified as lesser devils in earlier editions).

(Optional) Stage 4. Demotion

Once a devil has been promoted to a rank higher than lemure, it also can be demoted (and then again promoted, etc., in an endless treadmill of suffering)

Demotion is the customary punishment for failure or disobedience among the devils. Archdevils or greater devils can demote a lesser devil to a lemure, which loses all memory of its prior existence. An archdevil can demote a greater devil to lesser devil status, but the demoted devil retains its memories-and might seek vengeance if the severity of the demotion is excessive.

Stage 5. Permanent Death

If it dies outside the Nine Hells, a devil disappears in a cloud of sulfurous smoke or dissolves into a pool of ichor, instantly returning to its home layer, where it reforms at full strength. Devils that die in the Nine Hells are destroyed forever - a fate that even Asmodeus fears.

Alternate Fate: Soul coins and infernal war machines

Instead of becoming a devil, some souls also can be trapped in soul coins, a major currency in the hells.

Soul coins are created by Mammon and his greater devils on Minauros, the third layer of the Nine Hells, in a vast chamber where the captured souls of evil mortals are bound into the coins. These coins are then distributed throughout the Nine Hells to be used for goods and services, infernal deals, dark bargains, and bribes. [BG:DIA, p. 225]

Because each soul coin has a unique soul trapped within it, each has a story. A creature might have been imprisoned as a result of defaulting on a deal, while another might be the victim of a night hag's curse.

Because these souls have not been turned into lemures, they are not technically part of the infernal hierarchy, but still play a role in the soul lifecycle of hell: souls can be freed from a soul coin by destroying the coin, buy expending all its charges to drain life (restoring temporary hit points), or by casting a spell on it that removes a curse. When that happnes, they can be an alternate source of Lemures:

A freed soul travels to the realm of the god it served or the outer plane most closely tied to its alignment (DM's choice). The souls of lawful evil creatures released from soul coins typically emerge from the River Styx as lemure devils.

They can also be used to power infernal war machines, at which point the soul transfers to the machines furnase and is consumed within 24 hours for each charge that the coin still had at that point.

If it's still trapped in the furnace when this duration ends, the soul is destroyed. Not even divine intervention can restore a soul destroyed in this manner.

This is an alternate path to Stage 5, permanent death.

P.S. In 5e, Larvae have nothing to do with the Hells per se, they are created by souls going to Hades. DMG, p. 63:

Hades is crawling with larvae. Night hags, liches, and rakshasas harvest them for use in vile rituals. Other fiends like to feed on them.

Because they act as a delicacy snack they also have some trade value and can be found in the Hells. For example, in BG:DIA (p. 130), the hobgolin warlord Z'neth in Avernus

procures larvae from yugoloths and sells them at marked-up prices to hags and other interested buyers

1 The term 'Least Devils' comes from BG:DiA and it not used in the MM or MToF. It however is consistent with earlier editions.

2 The ranking is from BG:DiA, and differs from that in the MM or MToF. BG:DiA Is the later publication and in general, later publications trump earlier ones when there are contradictions, and MToF also has been deprecated for MP:MotM, so I am using the order from BG:DiA. The order is the same as given in the MM but with additional entries. Those are marked with a "+".

  • \$\begingroup\$ You may want to clarify that the term 'Least Devils' comes from DiA as it is absent from MToF. Also, it may be worth noting that the list of devil ranks you provided from DiA contradicts the info in MToF. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 22 at 20:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical Thanks for the suggestion, done. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 23 at 5:05

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