Eternally does the Lord of Nessus scheme, and his designs are for all eternity; In the pit of Hell do the devils teem round his throne, and his reign is unchallenged; By the eight Dark Ones is he held supreme, and his name (speak it not!) is Asmodeus. - From "The Canticle of Thumis," 142:15
To some, justice is more important than glory, duty is more important than desire, and goodness is more important than life. The great paladin Klysandral was such a man.
But even the sleep of death, at the end of a long lifetime spent battling evil, did not bring peace to Klysandral. During his funeral, the entire Temple of Neheod was dragged by terrible magic into the Nine Hells, along with the soul of Klysandral and scores of living mourners!
What unearthly motive could be behind this tragedy? Only the bravest, strongest, and most resolute heroes will have the mettle to find the answer. Along the way, they will meet the enigmatic wizard Emirikil the Chaotic, sail aboard the fiendish ship Demonwing, and finally face the horrific minions and overwhelming terrors of Hell itself.
Only the path of light can lead the bravest of the brave into perdition and safely out again. Step wisely, and walk in justice.
"A Paladin in Hell" (1998), by Monte Cook, is a planar adventure for AD&D 2e. It was published in September 1998.
About the Title. "A Paladin in Hell" draws its name from a picture on page 23 of the AD&D 1e Players Handbook (1978), which is clearly captioned "A Paladin in Hell".
About the Cover. The cover is also a homage to that picture. The original, by Dave Sutherland, showed a paladin on a cliff fighting an endless line of devils. The devils are those who populated the Monster Manual (1977). The paladin's late-era armor was drawn from Claude Blair's European Armour (1958).
This new cover, by Fred Fields, shows a closeup of just the paladin and his most immediate foe. It was one of a few homages to the original that appeared over the years. Another, published just a few years earlier, can be found on page 91 of the 2.5e Dungeon Master Guide (1995), though it's oriented differently than the others. In Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells (2006) the illustration on page 31 returns the paladin to his usual posture.
Origins (I): A Strike Against Bowdlerization. "A Paladin in Hell" was one of the first books to be developed by Wizards of the Coast in a purposeful move against the creative directions that TSR had focused on during their last decade of existence. It began with Wizards president Peter Adkison telling designer Monte Cook that they needed to get demons and devils back into the game — that they needed to put out a product now.
And Cook was very happy to bring demons and devils back. He felt that their removal had just been "lip service" to the people who had complained, that if they picked up a Monster Manual and saw a gargoyle, they'd still think that the game had demons. He said that "what solves that problem is not this kind of pandering … it's explaining to the people who have problems with D&D".
Though "A Paladin in Hell" brings back demons, devils, and Hell under their original names, this would not be the standard for D&D going forward. The Planescape line would continue to use (most of) its bowdlerized names for a few supplements more, and even after that the words Baatezu and Tanar'ri would stick around for some uses in the game — because after all, they'd now been a part of D&D mythology for almost a decade.
Origins (II): A Deviation from Planescape. Surprisingly, "A Paladin in Hell" is a planar D&D adventure that isn't a Planescape product, which put it in a pretty unique position in the AD&D 2e era (1989-2000). This may have been intended to avoid confusion, since it so thoroughly dispenses with the names commonly used in the Planescape line — or it might have been because Wizards was quickly bringing the Planescape line to an end, with just a few more supplements planned in its classic trade dress.
eOrigins (III): A Paladin in Hell. After he was given his assignment to bring demons and devils back to D&D, Monte Cook remembered the paladin artwork from the original Players Handbook, which he felt depicted "the end that every paladin secretly wants". However, "A Paladin in Hell" does more than just take its name and a central iconic image from that illustration. Cook also wanted "to capture the devotion of the truly honorable and good and the wonder and mystery of strange places".
Adventure Tropes: MacGuffins, Hacks, and Slashes. "A Paladin in Hell" is a macguffin quest for an entire temple that's been sucked into Hell. It's probably the biggest macguffin in D&D history!
Beyond that, "A Paladin in Hell" looks like a classic hack and slash, where the monsters are so monstrous that there's obviously no opportunity for anything but fighting. However, if the characters just dive in, rather than carefully thinking through their obstacles, they'll likely make their last stand in Hell.
Adventure Tropes: The Profit Squeeze Monster. Cook admits that Hell is full of powerful magic items, but he goes out of his way to walk back excessive items he gives out. Obviously, Abyssal magic items get weaker as they move away from their point of origin (the standard rule for AD&D was that plussed magic items lost one plus per plane that it moved away from its home). However, Cook also suggests that characters will not want to carry around items that have a "dark, unpleasant, fiendish look" and that some might "even hold demons or devils bound inside them".
It all feels very in tune with the dark, tricky feel of Hell, making it one of the more elegant invocations of the profit squeeze monster in D&D's history.
Metaplotting Away. Hellbound: The Blood War (1996) included a major metaplot event, where demons and devils lost their gating ability … and that's pretty much ignored here (again, demonstrating how "A Paladin in Hell" wanted nothing to do with the Planescape setting). A few paragraphs retcon the event away by explaining how each of the demons and devils in the adventure somehow has had their power restored by their unique circumstances.
Exploring the Great Wheel. The early parts of the adventure offer the most unique exploration of the Great Wheel because they detail the Demonwing, a sailing ship that was literally made out of a layer of the Abyss by Demogorgon.
The adventure then moves to The Nine Hells where Stygia (layer 5) gets the majority of the attention, though most of it is focused on the Coldsteel dungeon. Malboge (layer 6) makes a brief appearance at the end, but with no real details.
Monsters of Note. By using a demon ship to get to the Nine Hells, Cook manages to include both demons and devils, just as Adkison requested.
NPCs of Note. The first part of the adventure focuses on a rather surprising NPC, Emirikol the Chaotic. This character was also drawn from an titled illustration in the original AD&D books: Emirikol appears on page 193 of the original Dungeon Masters Guide (1979) in a beautifully textured picture by Dave Trampier.
There's been considerable disagreement on where Emirikol originated. Various people have said that he was a Dave Trampier PC, a Gary Gygax convention character, and a character that killed a Dave Trampier PC. With Trampier now gone, we may never know the truth. The location of the illustration is better defined: it's the Street of the Knights in Rhodes, Greece.
A sequel to the picture can be found on page 138 of the AD&D 2.5e Player's Handbook (1995). Emirikol also has made the rounds of other FRPGs. The Hackmaster's GameMaster's Guide (2001) shows a mob in pursuit of him on page 153, while Goodman Games has produced a full adventure about the mage, Dungeon Crawl Classics #73: Emirikol Was Framed! (2012).
"A Paladin in Hell" also features plenty of notable demons. Amon, a Duke of Hell and vassal of Geryon, was introduced by Gary Gygax in Dragon #75 (July 1983) as a preview of the Monster Manual II (1983). He reappears here. That same issue introduced Cozbi, a princess of Hell, in "The Nine Hells, Part I" by Ed Greenwood. Her name here has been changed to Cozbinaer to avoid connections to a nefarious Hollywood figure.
However, the most interesting inclusion in "Paladin in Hell" is Geryon himself. He debuted in the original Monster Manual (1977) as an arch-duke and the ruler of Stygia. However, Planes of Law (1995) rather offhandedly mentioned that Levistus now ruled that layer. "A Paladin in Hell" puts those puzzle pieces together, revealing how the rulership of Stygia changed.
About the Creators. Monte Cook was one of Planescape's core authors in its later days. He got his start on the line with his contributions to Planes of Chaos (1995) and wrote for the three big metaplot books of Planescape's finale: The Great Modron March (1997), Dead Gods (1997), and Faction War (1998).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to email@example.com.