Dungeons & Dragons Online

Layer 10 of the Abyss: “That Hellhole” (yes, the quotation marks are part of the name)

"All it takes is a single action. A breath of air, the flapping of a butterfly's wings, a slight twitch of the eye and everything before you changes." – Eian Macomb


DISCOVERY

In the common tongue the phrase "That Hellhole" recalls a savage landscape; inhospitable and unforgiving. While the exact phrasing varies from tongue to tongue, the various intelligent races of the cosmos agree that the tenth layer of the abyss is a terrible corner of existence.

To properly describe the attitude and conditions of "That Hellhole" in a single word: chaos. The landscape and creatures native to this layer of the abyss are ever-changing. One might pop-in and find a parched landscape dotted with sand dunes taller than mountains, the next day the landscape would be replaced by a lush, warm forest filled with dangerous creatures hoping to claim you as an afternoon snack.

Every action one takes in this layer of the abyss has far-reaching consequences. A footprint you leave behind could become a lake teeming with life, and a deep breath can birth a raging typhoon. On this plane even small changes can have huge impacts.

A great curiosity is that the native creatures of this layer of the abyss appear to have some inherent understanding of how to avoid catastrophe and irreparably ruining their environment. Many a great mind has set out to study the rules governing "That Hellhole", all have been driven mad by the labyrinthian and arbitrary rules that govern this land.

To go back to a previous example, a footprint left in the sand can quickly deepen into a vast lake or ocean, however if you were blinking when your foot hit the ground the same footprint could produce a deep canyon, violently gouged from the land itself. But what if you used a different foot, had more hair on your left arm versus your right and were carrying 6 days of rations? The result could just as easily be that nothing noticeable happens.

To make sense of "That Hellhole" is a difficult task. Hidden behind the chaos is a set of rules too vast and complex to be understood. Even slight deviations between seemingly identical events can result in radical changes, or none at all depending on the day of the week. It is this constant chance of disaster that leads many travelers to describe this place as a hellhole.


SURVIVAL

For those hailing from the prime material plane this is a confusing and inhospitable place. The amount of edible food, potable water, and available light can vary wildly from day-to-day, so it is recommended that adventurers come prepared to be self sufficient.

If one finds it necessary to camp in "That Hellhole" be prepared for drastic changes to the scenery upon awakening, the land can easily morph barren desert to frigid tundra and back again over the course of a night's rest. (If the players agree to a long rest pick a random terrain type other than Urban and change the landscape around them to that terrain type) As one would expect moving through "That Hellhole" is arduous on a good day and impossible on a bad one and many travelers are forced to rest more often than they would on the prime material plane. (Players gain 1 level of exhaustion up to 3 levels for every 3 hours of travel)

Variations in temperature can be just as wild as the geography. "That Hellhole" has been observed with heat comparable to the Plane of Fire and cold like the Plane of Ice within a few miles of each other. A strange constant however is the air itself. As far as has been observed nothing one does can change the amount of breathable air. Even deep underground in a sealed off cavern one will find an abundance of air.

In addition to violent changes in temperature the weather changes at a moment's notice. Clear skies can give way to a massive blizzard letting loose razor-sharp hail which in turn becomes an incredibly heat wave that becomes a pleasant cloudy day.

One of the biggest threats to survival is the upheaval of the plane itself in response to one's actions. Magic appears to always produce a reaction of some sort and it is advised that one is judicious in their use of magic. (After using a spell or an active effect on a magical item the dm should roll a d10 and look to the magic table in the Toolkit section to see what happens. Magical items that give passive effects, e.g. Belt of Hill Giant Strength, raise the ire of "That Hellhole" twice a day, usually at moments most inopportune) Curiously the reaction of the plane appears to be proportional to the strength of the magic.

As one would expect in a constantly shifting world navigation is quite difficult, traditional compasses are worthless as any sort of magnetic reference point could disappear or move erratically. The only surefire way of navigation is through constant use of divination magic and risking the plane's reaction to such magic.

Many travelers to "That Hellhole" believe that the power of flight will protect them from the plane's shifts in geography, they are foolish. The skies of this layer of the abyss are much more violent. A myriad of jet streams move randomly through the atmosphere blasting all those caught up in them with hurricane force winds that can easily break concentration. Even those with natural flight find it impossible to use flight as a means of traveling over long distances, often finding themselves forced to walk everywhere.


THE LOCALS

The environment of "That Hellhole" produces creatures capable of rapid adaptation to their environment and the threats they face. It is advised that one minimizes their interactions with the locals at all costs. A friendly creature that approaches you looking for food could transform into a violent behemoth capable of piercing even adamantine armor with its claws and fangs.

The natives of "That Hellhole" have the curious ability to minimize any impacts on the landscape they would produce. No being from this layer of the abyss has been observed causing significant changes to the landscape. Where someone from the prime material plane would produce a vast ocean by stepping on a rock, a being from "That Hellhole" would produce only a small puddle or maybe some damp ground. Attempts to mimic the motions and actions of the creatures found here have proven pointless.

An interesting facet of this layer of the abyss is lack of differentiation between types of being. What was a fruit tree minutes ago could become a monstrous abomination capable of breathing fire and spitting acid if the situation demands.

The rules for how creatures of this plane react to external stimuli are more straight forward than their surroundings. A beast exposed to cold will develop a resistance and eventually immunity to such effects quickly after exposure. If you are forced into a situation where you must defend yourself be cautious and mix up your attacks as your enemies will quickly develop the necessary traits to resist your attempt on its life. (Creatures native to "That Hellhole" quickly adapt to threats. When a denizen of "That Hellhole" takes damage it gains resistance to that damage type, if it takes damage of that type a second time it gains immunity. E.g. Being hit by a Fire Bolt cantrip will give the target resistance to fire damage, a second Fire Bolt will raise the resistance to immunity.)

Their resistance to attacks is further amplified by their ability to increase their physical abilities. A slow, lumbering creature can within seconds develop the ability to move with the grace of a summer breeze and a speed exceeding common sense. (Every time an attack is made against a creature native to "That Hellhole" increase that stat that it resists with by 1 once the attack resolves and damage or status effects are applied. E.g. A fighters great sword will raise the creatures AC by 1 and a wizard's fireball will increase its dexterity saving throw by 1. On going effects such as bestow curse will increase the resisting stat, wisdom saving throw, by 1 every round the creature is affected. These stat increases cannot exceed +20 for a saving throw and 22 for AC)

Despite the diverse forms of beings from their plane there do appear to be four general forms the lifeforms here prefer based on the prevailing conditions. Humnals when the plane is stable, Shovers when conditions are mildly chaotic, and a plant like organism known as The Crimson Fields when conditions are exceedingly chaotic. The final type of being commonly observed is called a Flailer and appears no matter the circumstances. In between these forms all manner of creatures fantastical and horrifying can appear as well.

The Humnals

The Humnals are bi-pedal creatures that are often seen when conditions in "That Hellhole" are stable. When there are few outsiders in this layer of the abyss the Humnals dominate the landscape. Congregating in large groups known as Hums, named for the sounds the produce when in large groups. A single hum can contain anywhere from a few dozen to several thousand individual Humnals.

Barring any adaptations to the environment the Humnals could be described as humanoid. Typical 4 to 5 feet tall, with 2 arms and a single head, albeit without any discernibly features aside from a large mouth. Their frame is covered in a bony exoskeleton that provides a strong resistance to attacks. Many abyssal scholars have noted their skeleton bears a remarkable resemblance to that of a Dretch.

If left alone for an extended period of time "That Hellhole" will experience a proliferation of the Humnals, this leads some scholars to believe that this is the natural state of the denizens of this plane and everything else is merely a defense mechanism of the Humnals in response to external stimuli.

Given their natural abilities and the chaotic of their homeland the Humnals have little propensity towards civilization despite displaying a high degree of intelligence. It is with this intelligence that the Humnals recognize the alien nature of visitors to this layer of the abyss and treat visitors with hostility if not violence.

A few daring visitors to "That Hellhole" have reported that if, through sheer luck, one has had minimal impact on "That Hellhole" the Humnals can be neutral to your presence. This has allowed detailed observations of the only known cultural practice of "That Hellhole". The Humnals appear to have a ritual where several hums will gather and compete in what could be only described as competitions of song. With the winning Hum devouring the worst performing Hum with no resistance from the loser.

Humnals are the weakest denizens of "That Hellhole" however they have a propensity to work together that overcomes their individual weakness. Humnals have never been reported appearing in groups smaller than 3 and are quite fond of using Pack Tactics when in combat, grouping together to give themselves an advantage.

The greatest natural weapon of the Humnals is their exceedingly loud hum. It takes a strong constitution to resist bleeding from the ears and falling over when exposed to it. (DC 22 Constitution Saving Throw, taking 2d10+5 force damage and being knocked prone due to loss of balance in addition to being deafened for two rounds. On a successful save you resist being knocked prone and being deafened.)

Shovers

Shovers are the epitome of persistence. Bulky bodies capable of enduring any weather. Strong muscles to dig through or destroy any barriers, and the ability to eat literally anything. Many an adventurer has lost their weapon to a Shover looking for metal to supplement its diet.

Shovers and variations on their form are the most common being one will encounter. Flying through the sky with wings, rooted to the ground with tree-like trunks, or, as their name denotes, pushing their way through the underground of "That Hellhole" shoving rocks and minerals into their mouths for sustenance.

Shovers are quite passive and will not attack unless provoked. Given the sheer number of variations on the Shover form, the boulder you're climbing or the tree you are resting under could easily be a Shover. When provoked they use their massive size to their advantage preferring to tackle enemies before devouring them whole. Even plant like Shovers that have lost their mouth will grow a new mouth to devour their enemies.

Shovers generally act alone although Shovers that have adapted more towards planthood can be found in what could loosely be described as 'forests' populated by more animalistic Shovers. Shovers will also engage in cannibalism eating smaller or less adapted Shovers and even Humnals.

Humnals have been observed evolving and devolving from Shovers but the population estimates do not line up between the two groups for there to simply be a one-to-one relationship.

The Crimson Fields

When conditions are incredibly erratic, violent changes in geography and climate on the order of seconds, all life endemic to "That Hellhole" seems to turn into a colonial plant like organism known as The Crimson Field.

Standing roughly 2-3 inches tall, with a single spiky left capable of piercing through even the toughest of armor. The Crimson Fields are recognized by their deep-crimson colored leaves. Whether each individual leaf is a separate entity or multiple leaves make up a single organism is unknown as the root systems are entangled, intersecting and constantly merging together.

Encountering the Crimson Fields is usually a sign that one has overstayed their welcome in "That Hellhole". The plane itself is roiling violently and if the environmental hazards do not threaten your life, then the Crimson Fields will. If one finds themselves caught within the Crimson Fields, it is recommended that any risk be taken to quickly leave.

Trying to navigate through endless fields of piercing daggers while mountain ranges grow under your feet and then quickly disappear to form giant canyons is suicidal at best. (See Mysteries for how to run an encounter with the Crimson Fields)

Flailers

Flailers are what happens when evolution goes wrong. Masses of limbs attached to a spherical form. Bird wings, human-like arms, the claws of a bear, all can be found attached to a rampaging Flailer. Flailers are constantly growing, losing, and regrowing limbs; all of which flail about incessantly as if the creature is in pain.

Flailers appear no matter the prevailing conditions and are believed to be the result of disease as all other species will avoid Flailers at any cost. Natives of "That Hellhole" that are caught by a Flailer quickly turn into one themselves and spread the sickness further.

The only saving grace for denizens of this layer of the abyss is that Flailers do not live long, with a lifespan measured in days on the Prime Material Plane. The density of Flailers appears to increase with proximity to the Turrimaxius (See Mysteries section), however so does the population of "That Hellhole" in general so such a correlation may be moot.

Flailers attack the nearest living with an uncanny ability to locate their prey. Invisibility combined with flight appears to be the only way to avoid detection by a Flailer.

Encounters with a Flailer are quite dangerous. Those hit by a Flailer have a chance of being inflicted with the same mysterious disease, although to a much lesser degree. (DC 26 Constitution Saving Throw, on fail grow two extra arms that consume the players bonus action to strike them. This condition ends after 1-minute or under the effect of a greater restoration spell.)


MYSTERIES

The greatest mystery of "That Hellhole" beyond why a layer of the abyss follows such orderly, albeit exceedingly arbitrary, rules is the Turrimaxius: a large tower that serves as the only permanent landmark in this layer of the abyss.

Any attempts to reach the Turrimaxius via magic are futile. Teleportation simply results in the tower moving further away than it was originally. Magical flight and enhanced speed simply make the Turrimaxius appear to stay in the same spot on the distant horizon.

The only known way to approach the Turrimaxius is on foot, braving the myriad dangers of "That Hellhole". Several known, and most likely unknown, expeditions have been attempted to reach the Turrimaxius. Few have returned and of the few that have only one has drawn close enough to the Turrimaxius to report any significant detail about it. (See Journal section for more information on this failed expedition to the Turrimaxius).

There are many rumors about the Turrimaxius, although given that no one has managed to reach it little stock is given to them. For the sake of completeness some of the rumors include but are not limited to: the remains of a lost civilization, a magical artifact capable of transfiguring matter at will, the mad demon that rules over this layer of the abyss, the collected treasure of every adventurer who has ever died visiting "That Hellhole", and the complete set of rules that govern this plane.

Encounter Chart

  • The ground beneath the players gives way to form a large circular arena. A pack of 5-10 Humnals come spillint out from the walls surrounding the party. Humnals are intelligent and use Pack Tactics preferring to swarm a single target using their numerical advantage. (Each time a Humnal is the target of an attack or a spell modify its stats as described in the Locals sections or the Toolkit section. The idea is that encounters should get progressively difficult as they progress.)
  • Players find themselves suddenly trapped underground in a pitch-black cave system. The players need to navigate roughly a 1000 feet of underground tunnel before escaping. Every 300-400 feet have either a group of 3 humnals appear, a single shover, or have the environment directly attack the party e.g. floor giving way like a pitfall trap, or the ceiling shrinking to strike a player in the head. For both types of environmental hazard do 13 (1d6+Player Level) bludgeoning damage. Once players have made their way to the surface the landscape is less prone to violent changes for 24 hours.
  • An unassuming large boulder near an idyllic lake is actually an enraged and hungry shover looking for its next meal. It will attempt a sneak attack on the party when players are most vulnerable. A DC 20 Perception check will notice that the boulder seems off compared to the landscape.
  • The ground shakes as a group of 4 flailers appear from over a ridgeline, making a beeline towards the party. Leaving a trail of desiccated limbs in their wake. They will attack the players with no regards for their safety. Always focusing on the closest creature that isn't infected with their vile sickness. If all the players become infected they will roll off into the distance in search of new prey.
  • A rival party containing 5 people has made their way into "That Hellhole" and is causing the landscape to erupt violently. Players must convince them to leave, deal with the hazards they're causing or fight them. If greatly injured they will try to ask for mercy. If the players continue with their killing one of them will escape and return with reinforcements or make trouble for them on the prime material plane.
  • A Humnal with the power of mimicry will begin to peacefully follow the party. It will pick one member of the party and repeat everything they way in a mocking rendition of their voice. While with the party environmental hazards are greatly reduced. (A level of exhaustion is only accrued after 6 hours of travel.) If threatened away or killed the environmental hazards will ramp up preventing a long rest for 48 hours.
  • An incredibly powerful earthquake combined with a hurricane knocks the players prone (DC 28 Dex save to stay standing). This is immediately followed with a layer of razor sharp crimson leaves erupting from the ground (The Crimson Fields). The leading edge will move towards the players with a speed of 70 feet. If the players can evade for 5 rounds the encounter ends. If caught, the players are trapped in a 100 foot circle of sharp spikes. Leaving will accrue 30(4d12+4) Piercing damage. Fire, Ice, and anything that leaves a hole in the ground can temporarily disrupt the chasing Crimson Field. Although the same thing will not work twice. If disrupted it will instead move at a speed of 20 feet. For pure melee characters who might not have access to magic they can use their action to attack the ground, if they beat an "AC" of 18 the impacted ground will form a natural barricade.


TRAVEL

"That Hellhole" is one of the easiest layers of the abyss to travel to, although few will willingly do so. Simply casting the Plane Shift spell without an item attuned to a particular plane will teleport you there.

Unlike most portals to the abyss there is little to no risk of the creatures dwelling here trying to claw their way onto the material plane. Any being from "That Hellhole" sent to the Prime Material Plane will die in a matter of minutes. Setting up a permanent portal to "That Hellhole" is possible although it would be considered unwise by many to invest any amount of wealth for such a purpose.

Leaving "That Hellhole" is another matter altogether. Trying to cast Plane Shift or a similar teleportation spell will result in the plane reacting, often breaking the circle and risking some of the party being left behind. Attempting to place a permanent portal back to one's home plane will result in the portal moving around erratically until it runs out of energy.


JOURNAL

"Aye I remember when I went to 'That Hellhole'. What was a flat plain one second was a mountain the next and if ye weren't ready y'ud be liable for a tumble. The damnedest thing though were the beasts, aggressive as all git. They took Brandur and me right eye before I finally made me way home." -Marla Goldhandle

"When we set eye on the Turrimaxius is was a perfect representation of the hell we had gone through. Endlessly shifting with no apparent pattern but if you stared long enough you'd get the sense there was some reasoning behind it. Despite our best efforts approach was impossible. Earthquakes, typhoons, hordes of Humnals and even packs of Flailers blocked our path. Whatever is in there they don't want anyone getting at." -Ghesh "Proudscale" Vuldhall


TOOLKIT

Magic Table

  • Roll on this table after every spell is cast or a magic item is activated

D10Effect
1If not flying the ground beneath the caster's feet shakes violently. The caster must make a DC 22 Dexterity check to avoid falling prone for 2 rounds.
2Thick vines grow around the target's feet restraining them. DC 18 Strength Check to free themselves
3A massive windstorm picks up around the caster, deafening all within 10 feet for 4 rounds
4A thick quagmire forms in a 40-foot diameter circle centered on the caster. Creatures moving through this will having their movement speed reduced by half.
5The land shrinks halving the distance between target and caster. If the distance if 5-feet or less then the target and caster collide and fall prone. If the target is self nothing happens.
6The surrounding ground in a 5-mile radius glows brightly illuminating the surroundings with strange light that reveals invisible and hidden creatures
7The air bends and refracts light in strange ways, for the next round all creatures within 50-feet of the caster attack with disadvantage.
8The nearest creature to the target is shoved 5-feet away from the target. If multiple creatures tie for closest all of them are shoved away.
9A light breeze picks up from the direction caster is facing and lasts for (Spell level) hours, if the spell was a cantrip it only lasts for half an hour
10Boulders come flying from over the horizon targeting all creatures within a 30-foot radius of the caster. Dealing 1d8 bludgeoning damage for a cantrip and (Spell Level + 2)d8 bludgeoning for higher level spells. On a DC 18 Dexterity Check creatures take half damage from the boulders

When running an encounter against the natives of "That Hellhole" their ability to rapidly evolve and adapt will come into play. Creatures from "That Hellhole" gain resistance to a damage type after being hit by it once, if they already have resistance they will instead gain immunity. When hit by an attack or the target of a spell the stat that resists the attack or the spells effect is increased by 1. (A fighter's great sword would increase a Humnal's AC by 1 and give it resistance to slashing damage, while a wizards fireball would increase its Dexterity Saving Throw by 1 and give it resistance to fire.)

For added flavor while running encounters in "That Hellhole" and to hint to your players that there is a change in stats describe armor growing for an increase in AC or a change in coloration to show increased resistance to a damage type.

Tips for Hombrewing Creatures Native to "That Hellhole": If you would prefer different creatures of an easier or harder difficulty simply use the statblock of any creature you wish and give them the adaptability property for creatures native to "That Hellhole". Don't be afraid to describe horrifying changes to the monster's anatomy as a result of its evolution.


Statblocks

Humnal

Medium Humanoid, Chaotic Neutral

AC: 16

HP: 105 (10d10+50)

CR: 8

Speed: 40 feet, Flying up to 40 feet if there are flying enemies

STR: 18 DEX: 18 CON: 22 INT: 12 WIS: 10 CHA: 6

Saving Throws: Str +8, Con +8, Dex +5

Skills: Perception +6

Senses: Blindsight 120 feet

Adaptability: After being the target of a spell or an attack increase the resisting stat by +1. After taking damage gain resistance to damage of that type, if this creature already has resistance to that damage type give it immunity instead.

Pack Tactics: The humnal has advantage on an attack roll against a creature if at least one of the humnal's allies is within 5 feet of the creature and the ally isn't incapacitated.

Alien Hearing: Due to their strange biology humnals are considered deafened for the purpose of spells and abilities.

On it's turn the humnal makes two claw attacks or a single hum attack

Claw: +7 to hit, reach 5 feet, one target, Hit 14 (2d8+5) slashing damage.

Hum: A non-deafened creature within 5 feet must make a DC 22 Con Saving Throw or be deafened, knocked prone, and take 16 (2d10+5) Force damage. On a successful save a creature takes full damage but is not deafened or knocked prone.

Shover

Large Aberration, Chaotic Neutral

AC: 20

HP: 180 (20d12+50)

CR: 12

Speed: 40 feet, flying up to 60 feet, climbing up to 40 feet.

STR: 24 DEX: 12 CON: 25 INT: 8 CHA: 8

Saving Throws: Str +10, Con +10

Skills: Perception +6, Stealth +7

Senses: Darkvision 200 feet

Adaptability: After being the target of a spell or an attack increase the resisting stat by +1. After taking damage gain resistance to damage of that type, if this creature already has resistance to that damage type give it immunity instead.

On its turn the shover makes 1 bite and 1 crush attack, 1 bite and 1 tail-swipe attack, or a single tackle attack.

Bite: +9 to hit, reach 5 feet, one target, Hit 31 (4d12+5) piercing damage

Crush: +9 to hit, reach 5 feet, one target, Hit 47 (6d12+8) bludgeoning damage.

Tail Swipe: +6 to hit, reach 10 feet, one target, Hit 60 (8d12+8 bludgeoning damage.

Tackle: +10 to hit, reach 5 feet, one target, Hit 76 (8d12+11) bludgeoning damage. On hit target must make a DC 24 strength check or be knocked prone

Flailer

Large Aberration, Chaotic Neutral

AC: 14

HP: 94 (9d10+50)

CR: 12

Speed: 80 feet

STR: 18 DEX: 24 CON: 12 INT: 12 WIS: 12 CHA: 2

Saving Throws: Str+6, Dex+10

Senses: Blindsight 180 feet

Adaptability: After being the target of a spell or an attack increase the resisting stat by +1. After taking damage gain resistance to damage of that type, if this creature already has resistance to that damage type give it immunity instead.

Bulldoze: +10 to hit, one target, Hit 42 (6d12+3) bludgeoning damage. Rolls towards the nearest creature not afflicted with crescembrum. On hit target must make a DC 25 Dex save or be knocked prone.

Infect: A creature that touches a flailer or is hit with Bulldoze must make a DC 26 Constitution Saving Throw or be infected with crescembrum. Creatures with crescembrum will sprout limbs from exposed skin for 1 minute. These extra limbs will pummel the target for 15 (2d10+4) bludgeoning damage on each of their turns consuming their bonus action. After 1 minute or a greater restoration spell the limbs will fall off and rapidly mummify leaving behind no scar in the affected areas.

___

This is part of the Atlas of the Planes project 2021 reboot. Special thanks to the people of this subreddit that are participating in this and to everyone who submits the amazing content I read here on a daily basis.

The announcement post can be found here

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