Thoughts on the City of Dis [Hellcrawl]

Dis presents a unique challenge for the Hellcrawl, as it is a city that dwarfs anything mankind has ever known. Mapping it would be impossible, and producing enough unique encounters to fill its streets would take more time than I can possibly devote to the task.

For that reason, Dis is going to lean more heavily on randomization than the other cities I’ve presented in NOD.

For geography, Dis will rely on a deck of playing cards. As players enter Dis, the Refeee will lay down a card in such a way that everyone can see it. The card’s suit determines the general activity of that “block” of the city, while the number will determine the level of that activity and thus the likelihood of adventurers being caught up in it. The common cards in the deck represent something akin to suburbs, while the “face” cards represent city cores, each governed by a different arch-devil or demon lord of Hell.

Clubs = Magic – illusions, alchemical experiments, magic storms, wizard wars

Diamonds = Commerce – con-men, slavers, thieves, doxies, hucksters, beggars, merchants selling indulgences and buying souls

Hearts = Religious Fervor – unholy preachers, sacrifices, religious processions, gruesome holidays and festivals

Spades = Violence – duelists, gladiators, angry mobs, gang wars, armies fighting street to street or besieging a small castle, etc.

Each hex of Dis is taken up by four cards, placed thus:

Dis is generally three hexes thick, so winning through the other side of Dis will involve, at a minimum, navigating through six cards. Naturally, this isn’t as easy as it sounds.

The streets of Hell are mazelike, so finding one’s way through is difficult. Unlocking each maze depends on the wisdom of the party members. The wisdom totals are added together and divided by two. This is the percentage chance that the party members can navigate through the maze. If they fail, they can remain where they are and try again tomorrow – though that means finding lodging and dealing with the possibility of frightening urban encounters. They can also go back the way they came.

Becoming lost in Dis is not just a matter of physically finding one’s way through the city – it also represents becoming spiritually lost. When a group becomes lost, the member with the current highest wisdom score loses 1d4 points of wisdom. If their wisdom score is reduced to a 9 or lower, they begin to question the value of virtue and become more attracted to vice. If their wisdom is reduced to 3 or lower, they become enmeshed in sin and take on the chaotic alignment. If their wisdom is reduced to 0, they become one of the undead citizens of Dis (those citizens will be given more detail in the actual article) and they cease attempting to escape.

If a group’s wisdom roll is successful, they find 1d3 exits from the current block they are in, allowing them to move in one of three directions to another card.

1 Exit – you can move right or left (50% chance of either)
2 Exits – you can move right or left
3 Exits – you can move right, left or forward

The higher the value of the card, the more difficult it is to find one’s way.

To finally escape Dis, one must win their way to the other side and hire transport to the next circle. In Dante’s Inferno, this transport is provided by Geryon. In Stater’s Inferno, it is provided by any number of contrivances, but whatever the method, one must show a silver key. These keys might rarely be found on random encounters (and there are many counterfeit keys), but they are most often won by providing services to one of the arch-devils or demon lords of the city. The only way to escape Dis is to become involved in the politics of the place – a tricky thing indeed, and sure to wear on one’s soul.

Among the lords of Dis (most are courtiers and bureaucrats) are Medusa, Titivilus, Adramalech, Astaroth, Behemoth, Buer, Leonard, Glasya-Labolas and, of course, Dispater, the grim king and final authority of the city (or so he thinks). Dis also holds the parliament of Hell, Pandaemonium.

The look of Dis will differ from block to block, from heaping ruins to the cobblestone streets of Dickensian London to Hell’s Kitchen to Babylon to the soulless blocks of buildings of Soviet-era Russia. There are streets of embers, canals of magma and more than enough horrors to keep a party of adventurers busy for a session or two.

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