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In Forgotten Realms lore, what gods or deities make their home in one or more layers of the Nine Hells? (Asking for all editions of the D&D).

I get that each layer is ruled over by a "lord", which is a very powerful devil (like Mephistopheles for instance), but are there any gods that live in the Nine Hells? Surely there's a Lawful Evil deity that has a cottage in Avernus, along the shores of the River Styx?

PS - I'm aware that in 5e lore, Asmodeus is now a full-fledged god.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are interested in gods that currently live in the Nine Hells or that lived also in the past (past editions)? \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Apr 22 at 17:44

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There has actually been a lot of historical confusion about this!

  • The earliest write-up would be from the original Deities & Demigods (1980):

    Druaga, No Cha, Set, Hecate, Asmodeus, Baalzebul, Dispater, Geryon, Tiamat, Maglubiyet, Kurtulmak, Gruumsh, Sekolah, Inanna

    Note the presence of Asmodeus, Baalzebul, Dispater, and Geryon, who are or were Archdukes of Hell—Deities & Demigods refers to them as “lesser deities” but their deity-or-not status of the greatest devils would go back and forth a lot.

  • In Dragon vol. 64, discussing the world of Greyhawk, Gygax muses about moving some of the gods that D&DG puts in Hell to other planes:

    Maglubiyet’s plane is Gehenna; Kurtulmak’s plane is Acheron; Gruumsh’s plane is Gehenna.

  • In Dragon vol. 75, Ed Greenwood refers to the moves in Dragon vol. 64 and considers them incomplete, believing all gods were meant to be moved out of Hell (believing there was some narrative conflict between having both devils and evil gods there). He does not provide destinations for all of them, referring to it as something each DM must do.

  • Both of these moves seem to have been largely missed, and probably ignored by later publications. Gruumsh, notably, moves to Acheron, not Gehenna.

  • They might only refer to Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms, respectively, but that’s weird in the context of the multiverse. Both worlds were—and are—supposed to share the same Hell.

  • When the subject is the multiverse, the greatest source is Planescape, and the best source for Planescape deities is On Hallowed Ground (1996). Later authors seem to have treated this source seems as somewhat more authoritative than the very-old Deities & Demigods, or the ideas Gygax and Greenwood mulled over in Dragon. By my reckoning, there are these deities in Baator in that book:

    Bargrivyek, Druaga, Hecate, Inanna, Kriesha, Kurtulmak, Sekolah, Set, Takhisis, Tiamat

    It’s a long book with a lot of deities in it, though, so I may have missed some.

  • Many of the gods on these lists haven’t been mentioned in canon for decades, particularly those from real-world religions.

Today, the Forgotten Realms wiki lists 28 articles in both Category: Deities and Category: Inhabitants of the Nine Hells:

Asmodeus, Azharul, Baalzebul, Bargrivyek, Bel, Belial, Dispater, Fierna, Gargauth, Geryon, Glasya, Graz’zt, Hecate, Hutijin, Inanna, Kostchtchie, Kurtulmak, Levistus, Lilith, Mephistopheles, Moloch, P’kk, Sekolah, Set, Thasmudyan, Tiamat, Titivilus, Zargon

Unfortunately, this list is neither exhaustive—there are very likely other deities not important enough to warrant their own page—nor perfectly accurate for those who are there now. For example, Graz’zt and Kostchtchie are on the list—setting aside whether or not Demon Princes are deities, they’re certainly not in Hell. They’re on the list because Kostchtchie was imprisoned in Avernus for a while, and some of the lore claims Graz’zt is a former devil. Both are definitely in the Abyss now, at any rate.

The Forgotten Realms wiki also has a slightly different list on its page about the Nine Hells, just to add to the confusion. All of those listed on that page but not above have moved out of the Hells, though.

Also—with thanks to @afroakuma for noticing—Pisaethces, the Blood Queen, progenitor of the aboleths, isn’t on the list. That’s almost fair—she’s a weird case, she arguably is a god, but a god from the Far Realms, invading the multiverse (“invading” though it might be involuntary on her part). And maybe she’s not; she’s definitely different from the other gods. Lords of Madness (2005) names her an elder evil, as something separate and distinct from (and older than) that gods. But since the list also includes Zargon—who is also called an elder evil and not a god (Elder Evils, 2007), and Pisaethces is much closer to a god than Zargon is, I think we should include her. Also bear in mind that while she has her divine realm in Baator, but she’s not actually there—aboleths believe she “travels the currents of probability between infinite realities, spreading her seed almost as an afterthought as she moves from one world to another,” (Lords of Madness).

Combining the lists, removing the archdevils and those who have moved elsewhere, I therefore come up with this list:

  • Druaga (claimed to be Babylonian but see below)
  • Hecate (Greek)
  • Inanna (Babylonian)
  • Kriesha (Birthright campaign setting)
  • Kurtulmak (kobolds)
  • No Cha (claimed to be Chinese but see below; also might be in Gehenna)
  • P’kk (neogi, may not actually exist due to Lords of Madness ret-con)
  • Pisaethces (aboleths, her divine realm is in Baator but she is absent)
  • Sekolah (sahuagin)
  • Set (Egyptian)
  • Thasmudyan (necromancers—also might be an archdevil?)
  • Tiamat (chromatic dragons)

Even this list has problems, though:

  • In general, D&D’s takes on real-world deities have not been well regarded by just about anyone from their respective cultures. In particular, two here are especially heinous:

    • Druaga is just a complete fabrication. It appears to be a misspelling of “drauga,” a Zoroastrian concept meaning something like “deception”—but Zoroastrianism is Persian, not Babylonian.

    • It’s unclear who “No Cha” is supposed to be. The name might be an alternative transliteration of Nezha, but Nezha is not in any way related to thieves or thievery. On Hallowed Ground doesn’t include “No Cha” at all, but its description of “Sung Chiang” is almost identical—and again, not remotely similar to the actual Song Jiang. Anyway, On Hallowed Ground lists Sung Chiang as having his realm in Gehenna, not Baator.

  • Kriesha, P’kk, and Thasmudyan are extremely obscure—each is mentioned in only a single publication, and all three of those publications are from 1995.

    • A 2005 publication, Lords of Madness, also describes neogi faith without any mention of the deities from the 1995 article, so that’s arguably a ret-con and P’kk may not actually be a part of D&D at all any more.

So you might want to go with just Kurtulmak, Pisaethces, Sekolah, and Tiamat. And Set, I guess; that’s real-world but for better or worse the Egyptian pantheon plays a fairly large role in the Realms thanks to Mulhorand.

Final List

  • Kurtulmak, the Horned Sorcerer, the Watcher, the Devourer, Steelscale, Stingtail, Gnomesmasher, lawful evil patron and creator of kobolds, whose realm Draukari is in Avernus.

  • Pisaethces, the Blood Queen, whose blood fell and spawned the aboleths, who “travels the currents of probability between infinite realities, spreading her seed almost as an afterthought as she moves from one world to another,” has an empty realm on Minauros.

  • Sekolah, the Great Shark, the Shark-Father, the Joyful Hunter, the Caller from the Depths, patron and adoptive father of sahuagin, whose realm Sheyruushk is in Stygia.

  • Set, Lord of Evil, Lord of Carrion, Defiler of the Dead, King of Malice, Father of Jackals, Brother of Serpents, Outcast of the Gods, God of Darkness, God of Desert Storms, the great evil of the Mulhorandi pantheon, has the realm Ankhwugaht on Stygia.

  • Tiamat, whose many titles forced me to actually copy-and-paste, the Avaricious, Bane of Bahamut, Creator of Evil Dragonkind, the Chromatic Dragon, the Dragon Queen, the Dark Lady, the Many-Mawed, Nemesis of the Gods, Queen of Chaos, Queen of Evil Dragonkind, who really doesn’t need more introduction, has her Lair on Avernus.

About Archdukes and Asmodeus

D&D sometimes says archdukes—and others among the most powerful exemplars, such as Demon Princes, Slaad Lords, Primus, the Court of Stars, etc.—are deities, and sometimes says they are not. Sometimes some-but-not-all of them are. (Lolth, for one, always is, even when that’s supposed to be impossible and she’s literally the only one.)

The archdukes can definitely sponsor clerics and grant “divine” power. They certainly are worshiped by many mortals. In this sense—which is the sense used by many D&D products—they are gods. However, D&D also has another, more specific definition of deity—one who controls a divine portfolio. In this sense, archdukes are not gods, aside from Lolth and—maybe—Asmodeus. This distinction is what causes most of the confusion, because some products say “they are gods [in the sense that they are very powerful, are worshiped, and grant blessings and magic to their followers],” while others say “they are not gods [in the sense that they don’t control a divine portfolio],” but often without explicitly saying which sense is meant. So for the most part, they are what they are, powerful, worshiped, with clerics, but without divine portfolios. Apply the word “god” to that, or don’t, as you see fit.

As mentioned a few times, Lolth is an exception. She has a divine portfolio, and is in all senses a goddess. She just cheats like that. Tiamat is also a goddess, and always has been, but her stint at being an Archduke of Hell was a weird situation where she was kind of trapped there more than she wanted to be there, and in any event, despite having the role of Archduke, she is not and has never been a devil.

As of 5e, at least in the Forgotten Realms, Asmodeus is now a god, too. He stole the divine portfolio of Azuth during the Spellplague. This... badly contradicts prior lore on Asmodeus, and for what it’s worth, I don’t recommend it. The Spellplague itself, really, makes limited sense if you’re not already playing in the Forgotten Realms (which is a big part of why many fans understood the Realms to be 5e’s “default” setting, despite WotC denying this). It’s too much to get into here, but the short, short version of why I don’t think Asmodeus’s deification is a good idea is because divine portfolios come with far too many strings attached. While he would be personally empowered by having one, it would also limit and control Asmodeus in ways that he had previously rejected strenuously. The Spellplague was hardly his first opportunity to claim one, so it’s weird that he did so now.

About Zargon

This is probably tangential here, but I can’t help but notice that the FR wiki’s list ends with Zargon. This refers to the Elder Evils supplement for the “v.3.5 revised edition” of D&D, where Zargon is one of the titular elder evils. The wiki accurately reports what that book says, but... this seems to have been a case where an author took a few random obscure words from D&D lore, and slapped them together to give a character some sense of history. To wit, Elder Evils claims that Zargon is one of the ancient baatorians, a mysterious race of devils who lived in the Nine Hells—aka Baator—and then mysteriously vanished, all long before Asmodeus et al. showed up. It’s hinted here and there that a few of the original baatorians still persist, and Elder Evils claims that Zargon is one. The problems with this are many: one, Elder Evils also connects Zargon to the Zargon from The Lost City, a 1982 adventure where Zargon was a chaotic evil, not a devil of any stripe. Also, The Lost City Zargon had clerics and granted them divine power; Elder Evils Zargon categorically and explicitly cannot do that. And ultimately, nothing Zargon does in either The Lost City or Elder Evils is remotely consistent with what (little) we know about ancient baatorians.

Basically, an author tried to take some deep cuts from the lore, but without really knowing the lore. It didn’t work out very well. It’s best ignored. All of which is kind of incidental to this question, since The Lost City doesn’t call Zargon a god, and Elder Evils says explicitly that he isn’t.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So much good info! I don't understand this phrase: "which is the sense used by many D&D produces". Should it be "products"? Or maybe "producers", or "productions"? Staring at it I think "products" is probably what you meant. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Apr 22 at 19:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jack Products, yes, sorry; fixed. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 22 at 19:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great summary. (1) Tales of the Outer Planes (1988/1e) has a chapter set in the Hells in which Sekkolah and followers of Set are present. My vague recollection is that Set is having a huge step-pyramid constructed with the idea that it will eventually give him a permanent presence in the Hells or even break away and form its own outer plane. (2) Kostchie is definitely a demon - his presence in the Hells may be because 5e BG:DiA has him as a prisoner in Avernus. (3) Lost City Zargon is not a demon - and I don't think 1984 Basic ever used that term in a literal sense. Later BECMI... \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 22 at 22:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NoName Tiamat is a goddess, but despite her stint as Archduke, I don’t think she’s ever been described as a devil, so she’s not actually an exception there I don’t think. Certainly not like Lolth, anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 23 at 18:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt Unfortunately, I’m not buying that—the way 5e conflated types really limits them in terms of how they can describe characters. In previous editions, gods were “outsiders,” which covered devils and demons and angels and all kinds of other things as well as the gods themselves. In 5e, “outsider” is no more, and we have “celestial” or “fiend” or... well, for everything else, we have a nice fat question mark. So yeah, “fiend” is probably the best you’re gonna get in 5e, it’s that or dragon but fiend is closer to what Tiamat really is. But I don’t think that changed anything about her. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 23 at 19:40

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