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Bel was an archdevil of the Nine Hells who acted as the Archduke of Avernus until he was supplanted by Zariel. He was a military genius who specialized in misdirection and led with careful tactics, in contrast to his successor's berserker rage.
- 1 Description
- 2 Personality
- 3 Powers
- 4 Possessions
- 5 Realm
- 6 Activities
- 7 Relationships
- 8 Worshipers
- 9 Aspects
- 10 History
- 11 Rumors and Legends
- 12 Appendix
Unlike many other archdevils, Bel retained a resemblance to a pit fiend, appearing as a 12‑foot (3.7‑meter) tall, crimson-scaled colossus with massive, bat-like wings, clawed extremities, and fangs that dripped a green, smoking venom. His visage was brutal and bestial but nonetheless infernal, warped by innumerable years of willful wickedness and hatred.
Calculating and calm in his assessments, Bel was one of the greatest military minds in the Nine Hells, using every tactical advantage available and only engaging in battle on his own terms. His favored tactics involved ambushes, double-crosses, feints and counter-feints, and backstabbing his enemies while anticipating the treacherous moves of his rivals. While he occasionally erupted with anger upon being foiled, he was generally cool-headed—a far cry from the constant, fiery fury of Zariel.
Cunning, analytical and, above all, a realist, Bel was fully aware that demons were infinite in number, if not literally then effectively, and so depended on slow defensive advances to fend them off. He was a long-term logistician, and in his mind the most he could do was contain the endless hordes of the Abyss. Even if victory only lasted a day, he valued the assistance of anyone, mortal or otherwise, and gave fair hearings to those who offered. Though certainly evil and sadistic, his duties came before his amusements.
Almost impossible to surprise, difficult to deceive, and typically only attacking when attacked, at least directly, Bel could be a reliable ally if approached with respect rather than duplicity. He could provide riches, information, letters of safe passage, and other forms of aid, but he was a shrewd negotiator who, as one might expect, kept his promises to the letter and cared less about their spirit. Perhaps Bel's only psychological weakness was his disdain for and suspicion of magic, preferring martial rather than magical might.
Bel's powers were simply those of a physically and magically enhanced pit fiend. His sheer presence could be so overwhelming that weaker beings of virtue were left paralyzed with terror, while others were struck with awe.
As a general, he preferred to fight from afar and never went into battle without minions to command, always using variety when summoning aid. He used cornugons as aerial attackers and seemingly favored summoning gelugons, which he used to deal with the most hard-hitting opposition. Meanwhile, he let loose destructive spell-like abilities like walls of fire, rarely deigning to enter melee himself unless he held some advantage and even then rarely committing to it. When he did enter close-quarters combat he was incredibly dangerous, but saved his most potent weapon, his venomous bite, for arcane spellcasters.
Bel's personal weapon was his jagged +3 flaming greatsword, a strangely curved blade that radiated heat and was covered in flames. Bel's blade was effective against both demons and cold-based creatures. Demons everywhere knew of and feared the weapon, for it was used to slay thousands of their kind over the course of the Blood War. The weapon had also been used to neatly sever the heads of at least a dozen angels, their decapitation not preventing them from screaming while attached to his belt.
Before becoming Archduke of Avernus, Bel inhabited a fortress likely larger than any on the Prime Material Plane. Constructed from basalt, marble, granite, and iron, and configured with a description-defying sense of infernal logic, Bel's keep was incredibly well-fortified. It was surrounded by gigantic mountains, enclosed by a 30‑foot-tall (9.1‑meter) iron fence with screaming skulls at the top, and featured various thick gates, jagged fences, spiked walls, protruding towers, and sharp angles. Guarding it were hordes of lemures, abishai, barbazu, and other fiends, some of which could perceive invisible objects and individuals, and most of which would gleefully eviscerate intruders. The entire stronghold exuded a feeling of hate, suffering, and wicked delight, and seemed to guarantee harm to anyone that came too close.
After ascending and becoming the Lord of Avernus, Bel ruled its wastes from the impregnable city known as the Bronze Citadel. Formerly a fortress of actual bronze, the original structure merely served as Bel's personal quarters where he strategized with the Dark Eight and held meetings with his inner court. The city itself was always in a state of expansion, with work crews of lemures, soul shells, imps, and other slave laborers fortifying it and adding new defenses. The Citadel encompassed an over 600‑mile-long (970‑kilometer) territory encircled by fourteen concentric ring walls with barbazus, merregons, and spinagons, housed within the bulwark.
Each ring had several guard towers and a gate guarded by dangerous devils. These rings were outfitted with an unstoppable array of ballistae, catapults, magical relics, and other war machines. It was a utilitarian structure, with half of the wall support being bone scaffolding, and the rear of the unimaginative city was built on the foothills adjoining the Stigamaris Mountains. When captured adventurers came to plead their cases and travelers requested letters of safe passage, they would have to contend with either Bel's lieutenants or the Warlord of Avernus himself inside its walls.
After being deposed, Bel made his home in an iron fortress carved out of a volcano. The bastion acted as a forge for Blood War weapons and armor and was protected by infernal legions and dark magic that divined intruders.
Before Bel became archduke, he spent his time as a commander currying favor from his superiors,[note 1] either by scouring Avernus for demon invaders or taking his legions through planar portals to hunt down tanar'ri. He was known to sweep across Avernus with his hellish horde in a search for troops to marshal, cutting down anyone foolish enough to stand in their way.
Once he was archduke, however, he spent most of his time simply trying to secure his position and advance the infernal agenda against demonkind by personally supervising defense constructions and planning new military campaigns. He did not become the Lord of Avernus through reckless action or simple luck, and under his leadership, the demons of the Abyss never occupied the plane for over a day. He held Avernus tightly considering its size, and kept an eye on events within it through spinagon and imp spies.
Despite having the influence to reconstruct Avernus, Bel lacked the time, given the constant attention he spent warmongering in his destabilized domain, leaving only the debris of ruins and empty battlefields littered with weapons behind. He also lacked the time to concern himself with diabolical politics, and went out of his way to avoid intrigues with the other Lords of the Nine.
Bel oversaw the production of Blood War arms and armor while scheming to retake his throne after Zariel supplanted him.
Bel's bond with his fellow archdevils wasn't particularly strong, owing to the circumstances of his rise to power. He was often referred to as "The Pretender", since his rebellion against his original lord was public knowledge. Of course, they would've done the same, but his betrayal killed several of their hidden servants. Neither Mephistopheles, Baalzebul, or their respective faction leaders could look past his blatant treachery, but none cared enough to make a move against him.
Though Asmodeus had mandated that all archdevils were to pay Bel a portion of their soldiers, equipment, and souls for defending Hell, the fact that he kept the Abyss off their collective minds meant they could focus on the far more interesting acts of corruption and subterfuge. In a way, they appreciated his role as their defender and were happy to provide him with resources, so long as their lesser stayed out of their way. Even so, the ambitious archdevils weren't above betraying or spying on him. Belial had secretly inserted a cornugon spy into his ranks to keep an eye on him and one of Levistus's plans involved cutting off the flow of souls into Hell to make Bel seem incompetent so Levistus could slowly overtake all of Baator.
While the forces Bel had at his command could allow him to march against any of the others and succeed to some degree, he showed no desire to try. Some reports claimed this was due to a strange lack of ambition and that Bel was content to lead the forces of Hell forever, while others stated it was because managing the Blood War was so time-consuming he had no opportunity to scheme against the others.
With no allies among his peers, Bel was forced to find them among other beings. In certain infernal courts, Tiamat was mockingly referred to as Bel's "scaly watchdog" since she guarded, albeit poorly, the portal between Avernus and Dis, but the relationship between the two was more complex. Despite Tiamat being too prideful to acknowledge allies, the two had reached some sort of agreement, one that increased the number of abishai in Bel's armies.
Bel stayed loyal to his master Asmodeus in an attempt to curry his favor for further advancement. The efforts of his spy networks to leak information to the King of Hell, while generally unneeded, were appreciated. In terms of priorities, he was loyal first to Asmodeus, then to the Nine Hells in general, and third to himself.
Bel's relationship with Zariel was likely his worst, as the two hated each other with a burning passion. They could barely stand being near one another and both invented distractions to avoid each other, such as Zariel assigning him the busywork of weapons production. Despite Asmodeus decreeing that Zariel was to accept Bel as an advisor, Bel did not try to curb her reckless behavior, instead encouraging it. Believing that Asmodeus now favored Zariel, he tried using indirect tactics to tarnish Zariel's reputation, such as trying to compel her to overextend herself and face a humiliating defeat, or otherwise hindering her plans to make her appear inept. If possible, however, the treacherous warlord would prefer Zariel's outright removal from the hierarchy of the Nine Hells, even quietly hoping for her redemption.
Dukes and Outcasts
Bel employed the services of various dukes throughout the Hells, such as Beleth, the Prince of Imps, who would inform the newer archduke what his older and stronger peers were planning. He was also a close ally, or at least a common employer, of Alloces, the Butcher of Nessus. Alloces kept herds of monsters for him (as he did with other archdevils) and Bel frequently made use of Alloces' experiments and breeding programs to outfit his armies with new mounts and living weapons.
Various "rabble of devilkin"—powerful outcast devils who lurked in Avernus waiting for a chance to return to power—fought in Bel's armies during his reign. One was Moloch, former Grand Duke of Malbolge, who had managed to insinuate himself back into the Hells. While the wolf-headed Amon didn't trust Bel given his past betrayal of his master, Bel's loyalty to Asmodeus, and the fact that Bel's former master sided with Baalzebul during the Reckoning, meant Bel was spared Amon's attempts to avenge his own master, Geryon. Bel gave him covert aid when Amon was working against their shared enemies, and instructed his legions to let him pass through Avernus unharmed, although this support would end if Amon's activities threatened him, the Dark Eight, or Asmodeus.
Perhaps Bel's most perplexing relationship was with his vassals, the Blood War generals and baatezu administrators known as the Dark Eight. Nominally, the Dark Eight were Bel's councilors and reported to him, but in truth, it was the reverse. Bel was something of a puppet archduke, ruling Avernus only with the Dark Eight's permission, and had to constantly ensure they would approve of his actions. Although he could theoretically crush all of them, and they had households in his Bronze Citadel, they spent most of their time in Nessus, where Bel lacked any authority. Fortunately for Bel, the Dark Eight remained enthusiastically supportive of his continued reign while he excelled in the Blood War, with their satisfaction warding off rivals and treasonous servants. If Bel were to show any sign of serious weakness, however, their extreme loyalty over the centuries would likely come to an end.
Bel was protected by several pit fiend bodyguards even when not leading his armies. He also surrounded himself with warlike devils, such as cornugons, that led his legions. Even if ostensibly under the leadership of a specific devil, an army under Bel's command would have his representatives within its structure to influence its direction.
Bel owed his success in becoming leader of Avernus in part to the assistance of the Sign of One, a Sigilian faction that believed their thoughts influenced the world around them. Their methods worked to some degree, and Bel was secretly sworn to repay them with a favor of equal magnitude when their faction leader requested him to do so.
Zariel's already-meager worshiper base scattered upon her defeat and didn't transfer their devotion to Bel, with many mortals simply not realizing there was ever a change in management. Worse yet, Tiamat's ever-present nature in Avernus led to her being mistaken as the true Lord of the First, keeping the Bellic worshiper base small.
While Bel enjoyed cruelty and corruption, he wouldn't actively try to cause the fall of useful mortals in his employ, although as an entity of pure evil, he had a tendency to corrupt them even without conscious effort. He lacked any kind of cult; he was only occasionally worshiped by warriors, although he attempted to recruit close-range combatants to help him defend his domain. Some of the most extreme paladins sworn to an Oath of Conquest went so far in their quest for order that they dealt with the infernal forces of Hell, and many of these "hell knights" were the most ardent supporters of the Warlord of Avernus.
It was important to Bel that those pledged to him succeeded in battle for as long as they lived, and unfailing allegiance to him could give one genius tactics and unique insights into how to best their foes. Those in Bel's service could call upon his power to manifest accursed green flames, which would dance across their weapons and overpower resistance to fire. His brand, the mark of one's service to him, was a cold iron longsword or greatsword that glistened with green hellfire, which was particularly effective against good-aligned beings and even more so against demons.
Bel's avatar was a 10‑foot-tall (3‑meter) muscular humanoid with red-tinged skin whose fearsome scowl and imposing form frightened off most that might bother it. Bel's aspects, meanwhile, appeared more like himself, and wielded flaming greatswords.
Though Bel was normally too busy waging the Blood War to consider the complicated dealings of the Material Plane, he did recognize it—including Faerun—as another one of its battlegrounds. He sent his aspects, typically with devilish followers, to oppose demonic cults of particular importance or power. While this could be seen as a benefit, a devil's means of stopping demons could prove, in a different way, equally malevolent. Because of their fiendish methods, aspects of Bel were rarely appreciated more than the demons. However, they weren't above partnering with mortals, even if only temporarily, to defeat their targets, and sometimes carried items to entice service from them.
Occasionally, despite his poor reputation, Bel used his aspects as ambassadors and subversives in the courts of other archdevils.
Bel's story was one of the greatest inspirational tales in the Nine Hells and every devil wanted to do what he did, kill him, and take his place. Originally a mindless lemure, he climbed the ranks of the diabolical hierarchy, earning his place through strength, skill, and skullduggery until he became a full-fledged pit fiend.
Early in his career, the pit fiend led a response force of a thousand barbazus (around three companies worth) throughout Avernus, quashing rebellions and invasions while receiving accolades with every token tanar'ri attack thwarted. Eventually he took command of three companies of cornugons under Dispater known as the Iron Guard, but rose to further prominence after masterminding the assassination and replacement of his pit fiend commander and earning more gory glory on the Blood War's battlefields.
His most famous campaign was likely the legendary political maneuver known as the Four-Cross (or the double double-cross). In an intense battle, Bel suddenly ordered his troops to turn on their baatezu comrades before approaching the wary tanar'ri with their secret battle plans. He offered to pretend to rejoin the forces of Hell before betraying them on the battlefield yet again, but unbeknownst to the demons, he had secretly leaked their plans and troop sizes to the devils. Afterwards, just as planned, he turned against the baatezu in the middle of the fighting and continued to fight for chaos for over a year before revealing his true masterplan—leading the tanar'ri into an ambush that would cripple them for over a decade. Beforehand, Bel's legions consisted primarily of millions of lemures and nupperibos, as well as a few spinagons, abishai and barbazus, which served as cannon fodder, but he was eventually given control over practically all of Hell's armies.
The exact timeline between Zariel's and Bel's respective ascendancies is unclear. Some reports had Bel as already the Warlord of Avernus before Zariel's fall and that she was offered the position by Asmodeus after failing to best his forces. Others claimed Zariel ruled Avernus before the Reckoning, and that Bel became her right hand before guilefully betraying her millennia ago. The usual story went that Bel acted as Zariel's loyal vassal for several centuries, until she made one crucial mistake that led to her undoing—she trusted a devil.
Some time after the Reckoning, Bel, the Dark Eight and several members of Zariel's forces turned against her, hunted her down and—perhaps using magic Bel learned from the tanar'ri—imprisoned her. Afterwards, the newly self-titled Lord of Avernus prepared for an assault, only to be met by Martinet, Asmodeus's constable, who claimed the Lord of Nessus was impressed and had decided not to "make him burn in the Pit of Flame for all eternity." So long as Bel kept fulfilling his obligation to the Dark Eight and fought the demonic hordes, he would be allowed control over Avernus; he happily accepted.
However, as Bel would soon discover, Asmodeus had ulterior motives behind his support that only became evident after accepting. Knowing that no other Lord of Hell would trust the upstart rebel and that fighting the Blood War was a full-time job, Asmodeus had allowed Bel's coup to capitalize on Bel's military expertise while preventing him from plotting against other archdevils, and more importantly, himself.
It was even said that the Dark Eight (famously loyal to Asmodeus during the Reckoning) had intentionally raised Bel in Zariel's place, while she had her energy parasitically drained by Bel beneath the Bronze Citadel. Abishai torturers carved off bits of her flesh and fed them to Bel, and as her struggles became weaker, her only means of resistance was the causing the fireballs that streaked across Avernus.
With Bel standing high in his favor, in the Year of the Bright Blade, 1347 DR, Asmodeus sent Sfena, the daughter of Glasya, to Toril to assassinate the daughter of a storm giant noble named Urdalshone. Urdalshone and a wizard of the surface world had been plotting to attack Avernus, and the assassination presumably would disrupt this for Bel's benefit. Although the assassination attempt failed, the overall results of the attack were unknown.
However, Asmodeus eventually claimed that Bel's tactics were inadequate in defending Avernus from demonic incursions, reinstating Zariel as its archduke and relegating Bel to a supporting, advisory role. He once again played the part of the obedient servitor, waiting for any opportunity to permanently dispose of the fallen angel.
Because Zariel had been at the mercy of Tiamat during her demotion, she looked forward to ridding Avernus of her presence. Thus, she encouraged the reformed Cult of the Dragon and the Red Wizards of Thay to summon Tiamat to Toril. Bel and his supporters, however, opposed that decision.
Rumors and Legends
One of the Tale Teeth of Dahlver-Nar, a magical collection of teeth each associated with a different legend, was called the "Daughters of Bel". It was a green steel pit fiend fang that allowed the wielder to summon a pit fiend or, if implanted in the user's own mouth, cast dominate monster once per day at the cost of constantly reeking of sulfur.
- During 2nd edition, the identities of the archdukes were kept secret and had changed from the previous edition. Given recent contradictions regarding the order of Bel's and Zariel's ascents, and Bel's own subservience to the Dark Eight, "superiors" is used in favor of a specific name or group.
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