Summary Surrounding the Outer Sphere like the impossibly deep skin of an onion, the layered plane of the Abyss begins as gargantuan canyons and yawning chasms in the fabric of the other Outer Planes, bordered by the foul waters of the River Styx. Coterminous with all of the Outer Planes, the infinite layers of the Abyss connect to one another in constantly shifting pathways. There are no rules in the Abyss, nor laws, order, or hope. The Abyss is a perversion of freedom, a nightmare realm of unmitigated horror where desire and suffering are given demonic form, for the Abyss is the spawning ground of the innumerable races of demons, among the oldest beings in all the Great Beyond.
The Abyss has the following traits:
- Divinely Morphic and Sentient: Deities with domains in the Abyss can alter the plane at will, as can the Abyss itself.
- Strongly Chaos-Aligned and Strongly Evil-Aligned
- Enhanced Magic: Spells and spell-like abilities with the chaotic or evil descriptor are enhanced.
- Impeded Magic: Spells and spell-like abilities with the lawful or good descriptor are impeded.
A steaming canyon boiling with tormented souls. A gnashing cleft more akin to a hungry mouth than sane terrain. A glass-lined pit smeared with blood and shot through with the promise of pain. A simple gash bubbling with noxious ooze and poison air. The entrances are as legion as the realms they unveil, and none are safe to approach, for despite their variety, they share one thing in common—a link to what truth was before sanity infected it. One should not lightly approach these Outer Rifts, for to gaze within is to invite ruin. This is where sin goes to die. It is where reality is consumed. This is the Abyss.
The Abyss is a realm of infinite horror and unlimited danger. Its vast rifts wind throughout the surface of the Outer Sphere, dropping away into bottomless darkness without regard for the realms above which they violate. Known to many as the Outer Rifts, these vast chasms are more common amid the lower planes, but they certainly exist elsewhere as well. Where the Outer Rifts of the Abyss open onto realms like Elysium or even Heaven, they are the sites of eternal wars against the celestial races. Here, the armies of good maintain permanent encampments along the edges of Abyssal rifts and do their best to prevent the rifts’ spread.
The vast rifts of the Abyss are typically all that visitors to the Outer Planes see of this realm. This fact, combined with the common definition of the plane’s name, creates the false perception that the plane consists solely of these vast canyons and rents in the Outer Sphere. In fact, these rifts are merely the entrances to the true Abyss, for they plunge deep into the underlying solidity of the Outer Sphere and into the countless realms embedded deep below. Connected by impossibly long tunnels and impossibly deep pits, these regions are known as Abyssal “layers,” and each is a plane of existence unto itself. Some are relatively small, no larger than the smallest terrestrial continents, but most are the size of entire worlds, or multiple.
The majority of the Abyssal layers are uncharted and unexplored, with the most well known being relatively near the inner surface of the Outer Sphere. The deeper these realms go, the stranger and more removed from sane reality they grow, with rulership passing from demonic masters to older races—the deformed monsters known as the qlippoth. What lies below the realms held by the qlippoth remains one of reality’s greatest mysteries.
This book, however, focuses on the realms in relatively close proximity to the Outer Sphere. Here, the demons rule.
The layers of the Abyss are difficult beasts to codify, for the Abyss itself is an ever-changing realm. When a layer is claimed by a demon lord, god, or other powerful entity, it can remain stable forever, but the majority of Abyssal layers are unclaimed. These “wild realms” are unstable places, prone to being absorbed or remade by the Abyss itself according to an unknown agenda. Some of the more stable of the wild realms have remained so for the entire span of mortal existence, but others have collapsed on themselves or been born quite recently. This chapter thus focuses its attention on what are currently recognized by planar scholars as “anchored layers”: these include the Abyssal realms of four deities and dozens of demon lords, as well as several more layers that seem to have stabilized in the chaos of the plane without the influence of a god or lord—the wild realms.
The Abyss is a realm of change, and as such any attempt to fully catalog its realms is an experiment in frustration. Yet certain realms, particularly those ruled by deities or demon lords or those who serve a key role in Abyssal functions, have existed for eons. These are the anchored realms.
Demons are not the only denizens of the Abyss—they are merely the most fecund and notable race of this realm at this point in time. Long ago, the qlippoth were the most numerous inhabitants of the Abyss, and it is conceivable that in some strange age in the future, when mortals have either lost the capacity to sin or been replaced by an entirely new order of life, something could rise to replace demonkind as the dominant force in the Abyss.
Leaving aside the theory that the Abyss itself is a living thing, and that every twisted tree, bleeding rock, and gasping fissure in this nightmare landscape is its own entity, the Abyss is a place where life grows in riotous abandon. Life in this realm is anything but calm and orderly—the very chaos and evil of the plane suffuses all things that dwell here, even those who come from realms beyond and linger too long. Few other realms in the Great Beyond rival the variety of life on the Abyss, yet as diverse as these denizens might be, they are singular in their approach to life. Cruelty and a destructive nature are evident in every single living creature native to this plane.
The endless flow of mortal souls into the Abyss from all the worlds of the universe manifests in a uniquely hideous manner. While in Hell, the damned souls retain their appearance from life, those doomed souls who descend into the Abyss manifest as squirming larvae. Individually, these souls resemble pallid, worm-like vermin from 1 to 3 feet in length, bearing vaguely humanoid faces that are often stretched hideously along their squirming maggot bodies. Larvae can manifest anywhere in the Abyss, but do so most often along the uppermost rims of the Outer Rifts, where their squirming undulations send them tumbling into the depths to scatter among any number of realms below. Left to their own devices, larvae eventually transform into full-fledged demons after a variable eternity spent crawling amid the gutters and filth, eating what the Abyss offers up and wallowing in their own noxious wastes, with the nature of each larva’s sins from its mortal life determining what manner of demon it eventually becomes. On fantastically rare occasions, a particularly sinful or powerful mortal soul can even retain memories of its life on the Material Plane after its transformations from soul to larva to demon, but most souls lose themselves in the process, and are reborn in mind as well as body.
Larvae are often captured or harvested by fiends or other creatures for use as components in vile magic. A discerning eye can determine what manner of sins a larva contains; a larva containing specific sins can be used as a component to hasten a soul’s transformation into a demon by those who know the vile rituals—such demons are often better disposed toward their creators for a short time. This method is often used by powerful demons seeking to bolster their own ranks of followers. More often, though, larvae are used by creatures like night hags or powerful spellcasters as components for potent magics—the fact that many evil creatures find the taste of larvae to be exquisite makes them valuable as a form of barter as well.
Before the Abyss was taught how to process and transform larvae into demons—indeed, before larvae existed and the idea of mortal life had even been conceived—the Abyss was rife with foul life. These creatures exist still, yet in drastically reduced numbers and often only in the deepest pits of the plane. Known as the qlippoth, these fiends may well be the oldest form of life in the Great Beyond—certainly, they were already in existence before the proteans discovered them. Some believe that the qlippoth come from an unknowable realm on what might be described as the “outside shell” of the Outer Sphere, but if the qlippoth are to be taken as indicative of what order of existence rules in such a realm, it is a good thing indeed that this outer realm is so impossibly distant.
The qlippoth do not possess in their form anything approximating the human shape except by cosmic fluke or sinister mockery. In their twitching, squirming visages, the mad might make comparisons to life’s most primeval shapes—spiders and squids, insects and worms, and even baser forms of life. What this might imply about these lower forms of life has disturbed philosophers for ages, and is not a train of thought that many enjoy lingering upon.
Other creatures dwell on the Abyss, but their natures and roles are simply too diverse to codify. Some, like the retrievers, are immense and strange constructs built of raw Abyssal matter by demon lords, while others, like bebiliths, are merely what pass for predators on this violent plane. Some demon lords have strange monstrous minions that serve their needs—these creatures, while not technically demons, often possess similar powers. In regions ruled by demon lords, the nature of life typically follows themes relating to the realm’s monstrous rulers, but in truly wild realms of the Abyss, anything and everything could be encountered.
Not all life on the Abyss is native, though—the strange resources, potent treasures, and unsolved mysteries often lure other creatures into the Outer Rifts. Beings like night hags, proteans, daemons, and even mortal spellcasters are not uncommon sights in any Abyssal region. Rumors even tell of particularly curious or adventurous azatas who sometimes venture into the Abyss to satisfy their own heretical urges, although only a fool would expect to find an honest ally among such visitors.
As horrific and ruinous as the Abyss and its demonic inhabitants might be, it is an easy matter for those who dwell so far away upon the Material Plane to dismiss these atrocities—to think of them as little more than horror stories to share on stormy nights. Even the periodic appearance of a demon cult or a solitary attack by a conjured demon that escapes a wizard’s control does little to drive home the true scope of the menace the Abyss represents.
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Lords of Chaos: Book of the Damned, Vol. 2. Copyright 2010, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Author: James Jacobs.