Despite being an archdevil, Bel still closely resembled a pit fiend, appearing as a 12 ft (3.7 m) 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, 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 for a day, he valued the help of anyone who could aid him in his duties, mortal or otherwise, and gave fair hearings to those who offered. 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, providing riches, information, letters of safe passage and other forms of aid.
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 mixing up his summons. He used cornugons as aerial attackers and was especially adept at calling gelugons, which he used to deal with the most powerful foes. Meanwhile, he let loose destructive spell-like abilities like wall of fire rarely deigning to enter melee unless he held some advantage and even then rarely committing to it. When he did decide to go into 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 greatsword, a strangely curved blade that radiated with heat and was covered in flames. Bel's blade was not only effective against demons, as well as cold-based creatures, it was known and feared by demons everywhere for having been used to slay thousands of their own 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.
Avernus was the largest layer of Baator and one of the most traditionally infernal, a blasted hellscape in the most literal sense filled with rivers of lava, barren hills and low, rocky mountains as far as the eye could see. To scale the mountains or move to quickly was, at best, unwise, since obsidian, quartz and other crystals jutted from the jagged land, cutting clothes and slicing flesh. The acrid air was clouded with pumice and volcanic ash from the foul fumaroles and blighted with swarms of flies. Fireballs racing seemingly at random, but on closer inspection actively targeted motion, fell from the dark sky leaving smoking impact craters and burnt corpses in their wake.
Roiling clouds of red and black flickered with orange flames but the atmosphere had neither sun or stars, only a constant, blood-red light that suffused the air. Blood, as it would happen, was the leitmotif of Avernus; it was where the River of Blood ran through Baator, collecting rivulets from every gulch, stream and pool, from the victims of millions of battles. Practically all of the plane was bathed in a coat of blood and covered with bones and gore whether devilish, demonic or otherwise, a grim reminder of the regular bloodshed that marked an average day in Avernus.
Whether for the living or the dead, Avernus was the entry point to Baator and the most commonly visited of the Nine Hells, since Asmodeus forbade any portals opening to other regions. Because of this, damned souls had to come through Avernus before reaching other layers of the Nine Hells and so the layer was frequently inhabited by the servants of other archdevils, such as the barbazus that gathered the forsaken or imp and spinagon messengers. The primary reason for the magical restriction was that in order for a demonic invasion force to access the lower layers of Hell, they would be forced to conquer and claim the layer directly above it, and as a result of Bel's leadership they had never occupied the plane for over a day.
As the buffer between the Nine Hells and the Abyss, Avernus was incredibly dangerous even without its natural hazards as baatezu armies trained and devilish legions prepared for various future battles. While the layer was once bustling with cities and citadels, the centuries of fighting the Blood War ravaged it so that only perpetually rebuilt strongholds and fearsome fortresses remained dotting the plane. Despite having the influence to reconstruct Avernus, Bel lacked the time given the constant attention he spent warmongering in his destabilized domain, leaving behind only the debris of ruins and empty battlefields littered with weapons behind in the wake.
Bel ruled Avernus 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 conducted meetings with his inner court. The city itself was always in state of expansion, with work crews of soul shells, lemures, imps, and other slave laborers fortifying it and adding new defenses. The Citadel encompassed an over 600 mi (970 km) long territory encircled by fourteen concentric ring walls with spinagons, barbazus and merregons housed within the bulwark.
Each ring had several guard towers and a gate guarded by dangerous devils and was outfitted with an unstoppable array of ballistae, catapults, magical relicts and other war machines. It was a utilitarian structure with half of the wall support being bone scaffolding, and the rear of unimaginative city being 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 attempting to curry favor from his archdevil, either by scouring Avernus for demon invaders or taking his legions through planar portals to hunt down tanar'ri. Once he obtained his position however, he spent most of his time simply trying to secure it, advancing the infernal agenda against demonkind by personally supervising defense constructions and planning out new military campaigns. He did not have the time to concern himself with the diabolical politics of the Nine Hells and went out of his way to avoid getting into intrigues with the other Lords of the Nine. He oversaw the production of Blood War arms and armor while scheming to retake his throne after Zariel supplanted him.
As an archdevil, Bel's bond with his fellows wasn't particularly strong due 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, not that any of them wouldn't have and hadn't planned to dethrone the former Lord of the First themselves, but his betrayal killed several of their hidden servants. Neither Mephistopheles, Baalzebul, or their respective faction leaders could look past his blatant treachery, but at the same time none cared enough to make a move against him. Though Asmodeus had mandated that they were each to pay Bel with a fraction of their soldiers, equipment and souls for defending Hell, the fact that he was occupied with keeping the Abyss off of 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.
With no allies among his peers, Bel was forced to curry the favor of 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, increasing the number of abishai in Bel's armies. In regards to his master, Asmodeus, he stayed loyal to him 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.
Perhaps Bel's most perplexing relationship was with his vassals, the Blood War generals and baatezu administrators known as the Dark Eight. Technically speaking, the Dark Eight were Bel's councilors and reported to him, but in truth, the situation was reversed. Bel was something of a puppet archduke, ruling Avernus only with the permission of the Dark Eight and having to constantly ensure that his actions would be approved by them. Theoretically he could crush all of them, but despite having households in his Bronze Citadel they spent a large amount of their time in Nessus, where Bel lacked any authority. Fortunately for Bel, his military brilliance meant that the Dark Eight were enthusiastically supportive of his continued reign so long as he continued to excel in the Blood War, their satisfaction with him warding off rivals and treasonous servants. Aside from the Dark Eight, Bel was protected by several pit fiend bodyguards even when not leading his armies and surrounded himself with warlike devils such as cornugons that led his legions.
Bel's relationship with Zariel was likely his worst, as the two adamantly hated each other with a burning passion. They could barely stand being near one another and mutually invented distractions in order 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 went out of his way to encourage her reckless behavior rather than try to stymie it. Believing that Asmodeus now favored Zariel, he tried using indirect tactics to tarnish Zariel's reputation, 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.
Bel lacked any kind of cult, his only worshipers being the occasional warriors. Zariel's already meager worshiper base was scattered upon her defeat and their devotion didn't transfer 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 confused as the true Lord of the First, keeping the Bellic worshiper base small. While he enjoyed cruelty and corruption, Bel didn't actively try to cause the fall of useful mortals under his employ, although being an entity of pure evil he had a tendency to corrupt them even without conscious effort.
Bel's avatar was that of a 10 ft (3 m) tall, 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. Normally Bel was too busy with matters concerning the Blood War to consider the complicated dealings of the Material Plane, but recognizing it as another battleground, 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 diabolical means of stopping demonic ends could prove just as, if differently, malevolent. Because of their fiendish methods they were rarely appreciated more than the demons in Faerun, but they were not above partnering with mortals, even if only temporarily, to defeat their targets, and sometimes carried items to entice service.
Occasionally, despite Bel's poor reputation, they were also used by Bel 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 then 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. He was formerly in command of three companies of cornugons under Dispater known as the Iron Guard, but rose to prominence after masterminding the assassination and supposition of his pit fiend commander and earning gory glory on the battlefield of the Blood War.
His most famous campaign was likely the legendary political maneuver known as the Four-Cross or 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 then 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 fed 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 master plan; 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, that served as cannon fodder, but he was eventually given control over practically all of Hell's armies.
The exact timeline between Zariel and Bel's individual ascendances was confusing. Some reports claimed that Bel was 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 that Zariel ruled Avernus before the Reckoning and that Bel became her right hand before guilefully betraying her millennia ago. The story typically went that Bel acted as Zariel's loyal vassal for several centuries and over time 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 other members of her 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 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 continued to fulfill his obligation to the Dark Eight and fight the demonic horde, he would be allowed control over Avernus, terms he happily accepted.
However, as Bel would soon discover, the cunning King of Hell, 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 orchestrating the Blood War was a full-time task, Asmodeus had allowed Bel's coup in order to capitalize on the treacherous pit fiend's military expertise while preventing him from plotting against the other archdevils, and more importantly, himself. It was even said that the Dark Eight, famous for their loyalty to Asmodeus during the Reckoning, had intentionally risen Bel in Zariel's place while she, meanwhile, had her energy parasitically siphoned by Bel beneath the Bronze Citadel. As abishai torturers carved off bits of her flesh and fed them to the pit fiend her struggles became weaker, her only means of resistance being the generation of the fireballs that streaked across Avernus.
Claiming that Bel's tactics were inadequate in defending Avernus from demonic incursions, Asmodeus later reinstated Zariel as ruler of Avernus and relegated Bel to a supporting, advisory role where he once again played the part of the obedient servitor, waiting for any opportunity to permanently dispose of the fallen angel.
Because Zariel was at the mercy of Tiamat during her demotion, she looked forward to get rid of her presence in Avernus. For that reason, Zariel helped encourage 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.
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- ↑ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 Chris Pramas (1999). Guide to Hell. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 28–30, 39–40, 58. ISBN 978-0786914319.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Robin D. Laws, Robert J. Schwalb (December 2006). Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 15–16, 28. ISBN 0-7869-3940-0.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Colin McComb and Monte Cook (July 1996). “The Dark of the War”. Hellbound: The Blood War (TSR, Inc), pp. 13, 20–21. ISBN 0-7869-0407-0.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Adam Lee, Christopher Perkins (September 17, 2019). Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 113–116. ISBN 0786966769.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (May 29, 2018). Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes. Edited by Kim Mohan, Michele Carter. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-0786966240.
- ↑ Bruce R. Cordell, Ed Greenwood, Chris Sims (August 2008). Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 81. ISBN 978-0-7869-4924-3.
- ↑ 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 Richard Baker, John Rogers, Robert J. Schwalb, James Wyatt (December 2008). Manual of the Planes 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 99. ISBN 978-0-7869-5002-7.
- ↑ 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 Monte Cook (Oct 2002). Book of Vile Darkness. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 143–144. ISBN 0-7869-0672-3.
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 Colin McComb (November 1995). “The Lords of the Nine”. In Pierce Watters ed. Dragon #223 (TSR, Inc.), p. 14.
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 Colin McComb (February 1995). “Baator”. In Michele Carter ed. Planes of Law (TSR, Inc), pp. 13, 16, 26. ISBN 0-7869-0093-8.
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 Wizards RPG Team (2014). The Rise of Tiamat. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 10. ISBN 978-0786965657.
- ↑ 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 12.11 12.12 12.13 12.14 12.15 12.16 12.17 12.18 12.19 12.20 12.21 12.22 12.23 12.24 12.25 12.26 12.27 12.28 12.29 12.30 12.31 12.32 12.33 12.34 12.35 12.36 12.37 12.38 Robin D. Laws, Robert J. Schwalb (December 2006). Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 35–37, 142–143. ISBN 0-7869-3940-0.
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 13.2 Robert Wiese (2007-02-16). Fiendish Codex II Fiendish Aspects. Wizards of the Coast. Retrieved on 2020-05-26}.
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford, Christopher Perkins, James Wyatt (2014). Dungeon Master's Guide 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 64. ISBN 978-0786965622.
- ↑ 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Jeff Grubb, Bruce R. Cordell, David Noonan (September 2001). Manual of the Planes 3rd edition. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 116–117. ISBN 0-7869-1850-8.
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 Jason Bulmahn, James Jacobs, Mike McArtor, Erik Mona, E.Wesley Schneider, Todd Stewart, Jeremy Walker (September 2007). “1d20 Villains: D&D's Most Wanted; Preferably Dead”. In Erik Mona ed. Dragon #359 (Paizo Publishing, LLC), p. 68.
- ↑ 17.0 17.1 17.2 Robert J. Schwalb (December 2011). “Codex of Betrayal: Glasya”. In Steve Winter ed. Dungeon #197 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 4.
- ↑ Colin McComb (September 1997). Faces of Evil: The Fiends. Edited by Ray Vallese. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 30. ISBN 0-7869-3430-1.
- ↑ Ed Greenwood (July 1983). “The Nine Hells, Part I”. In Kim Mohan ed. Dragon #75 (TSR, Inc.), p. 21.