This one took me a while. I couldn’t map it, couldn’t treat it just like any other city (it was too large to do it justice with a few shops and such) and needed to find a reason for characters to wander around a bit. I think (or hope) I finally cracked it.
Dis is like a collection of cities, which will still be represented on cards, that connect with one another – kinda like they predict the great eastern megalopolis of Boston – New York – Philadephia will be one day. Each of these cities/blocks/quarters is ruled by a separate demon or devil lord, and each is like a prison with heavily guarded gates. The only way to get through a gate besides fighting through it is to gain a brass seal from the lord of the place, and that means doing a favor (rolled randomly). This creates a reason to move about and explore – finding the other demon lord that has to be parlayed with / killed / paid tribute to etc.
Escape from one block to another is one thing. How about escape from Dis. The city of Dis just sprawls – it has no beginning and no end. Nobody can simply walk through it and get to the next circle of Hell. To escape, one must summon Geryon for a lift, and to do that, they need a silver seal from one of the more powerful lords of Hell, represented by the Jacks, Queens and Kings of the deck. Getting in to see them requires seals from at least three of the demon lords under them (i.e. of the same suit). The whole point is to draw players into the politics of Hell and, hopefully, produce a fun experience.
With that said, here’s a sample of some of the quarters in the suit of Clubs, the suit of toil and despair.
ACE OF CLUBS
The buildings in this block are tall and irregular, and covered in a greasy sheen that stinks of rotting flesh. Those who enter the block must save as though facing the noxious stink of troglodytes. The streets are narrow and twisted, and every so often empty into vast, circular courts. These courts are flurries of activity, as manes demons scurry about, tossing writhing mortals and shades into a pit, about 30 feet in diameter, of boiling liquid. Bearded devils armed with iron staves push these poor souls back into the pit when they try to escape. Other bearded devils are in charge of ladling off the greasy slime that these people are rendered into, scooping it into large black barrels carried on the backs of manes demons. These barrels are loaded on carts when they are full and delivered to other blocks for processing.
The gates of Borbazu’s block are composed of a vast weave of skeletons. Above the gates, bearded devils man great pots of boiling oil to pour through murder holes that send a great spray down before the gates (all within 30 feet of a gate must pass a saving throw or suffer 3d6 points of damage from the boiling oil). In towers that flank the gates there are 40 manes demons armed with heavy crossbows ready to send a volley of bolts down on invaders. Each gate is under the command of a barbed devil armed with a chain that ends in a three-pronged meat hook. If an attack with a chain beats an opponent’s AC by 5 or more, it hooks into their flesh and holds them until removed with a successful bend bars check (which inflicts an additional 1d6 points of damage). The skeletons of the gates can deliver 1d6 attacks to any within reach, trying to grab and hold intruders rather than kill them.
Borbazu, a minor lord of Dis, rules this block. He takes the form of a towering serpent of pallid flesh (not scales) that dwells beneath the block. He can emerge from any of the flesh pits scattered through the city. Borbazu can also assume the form of a ruddy-skinned, boyish warrior, handsome, but with vestigial horns and a lenonine mane. This form has aquamarine eyes and wears white robes. In this form, Borbazu can form metal objects of up to man-sized with the merest thought.
FOUR OF CLUBS
This block consists of crooked buildings made of pale, sweaty stone. The buildings hang over the streets, making the air close and stifling, though at odd intervals blazing hot winds whip through these corridors. The walls are spiked, and the doors are all clad in green copper. The streets sometimes empty into pit-like courts with ophidian designs carved into the sides, and winding ramps that lead down into the courts.
The gates of Caila’s block are all at the end of cramped streets, and consist of circular doors. The doors are coated in deadly poison, and touching the doors causes the spikes in the nearby buildings to fire (1d6 poisoned dart attacks, 1d6 points of damage from each). The buildings on either side of the street hold a company each of bearded devils. Behind each door, a purple worm lurks, waiting to lurch out and swallow people whole.
One of the courts is entered via a bronze arch hung with crystal beads that cut one’s flesh like razors and whisper portents of doom into their ears. The court’s walls are set with dozens of little windows covered by shutters painted with images of demons or devils, others with shocking scenes of hopelessness and despair. Behind each of these windows is an oracle who can give one piece of information, provided the questioner passes their palm with an equally valuable piece of information written on a parcel of their own flesh. The oracle reaches their hand through the shutter (as in incorporeally) to retrieve their payment and then reaches back out with a tiny scroll containing the desired information.
Within sight of this alley is the jagged red tower of Caila the Judge. The upper portions of the 10-story tower are circled by a guard of young red dragons. The tower’s interior is as red as the exterior, with ornaments of carnelian, ruby and bloodstone. Movement from one level to the other is via teleporting cabinets, though some of the cabinets in the tower instead fill with poison gas or spears that leap up from the floor.
Caila is a short, leggy demoness with blue-black skin that bristles into barbed scales when she is excited. She has almond-shaped eyes of azure. She surrounds herself with artists, who she can inspire with her gaze, replacing a portion of their soul with her own. Caila can summon 1d6 fiendish giant scorpions three times per day and can assume the form of a giant scorpion once per day.
JACK OF CLUBS
Malphas is both a prince of Hell and a grand president, and he is the patron of architects and masons. As one might imaging, his sprawling block is composed entirely of stone buildings, and everyone a piece of art. Cathedrals, strongholds, towers, all ornamented with flying buttresses, fanciful water spouts, bridges, tunnels, fountains, statuary, veritable skyscrapers; amazing and very difficult to navigate, as it is so crowded and the streets so narrow. Construction is constant here, with bits of masonry sent falling to the ground at random intervals (1 in 6 random encounters forces adventurers to pass a saving throw or suffer 4d6 points of damage).
The gates of Malphas’ quarter are great strongholds, ten stories tall, with perfectly straight and smooth walls. They are patrolled by his gargoyles (three companies are assigned to each gate) and barred by wooden portcullises that instantly rust any metal that touches them. Within each gatehouse tunnel, Malphas’ soldiers can pour green slime on invaders and deliver fusillades of poisoned darts.
Malphas occupies the grandest cathedral in his domain, a veritable demon-made mountain of stone, all of it rare and expensive, with spires that defy gravity. Within this monument he houses the remainder of his infernal army and keeps a population of slaves, artisans (he has bargained for the soul of many great artists and can summon them at will) and priests. He sits at the center of a maze of passages, all trapped and well-guarded, for Malphas is paranoid in the extreme.
Malphas appears as a crow, but can be induced sometimes to take the form of a handsome humanoid with blue-black skin and curved, golden horns. In either form, he carries a mason’s trowel, which attacks as a +2 battleaxe, can cleave through any stone, cast disintegrate and earthquake once per day and can, at will, transmute rock to mud and mud to rock. Malphas is always at war with one demon lord or another, and is always in the market for spies.