Vox Machina is determined to put an end to Hotis once and for all. To do that, they’ll need to make the dangerous trek through the Nine Hells. Did you start watching Critical Role at the Feywild arc and have no idea what’s going on? Forgotten the details of the Trial of the Take episodes? Curious about the Hells? We’ve got you covered. First, we have a link to our quote compendium about the Hells and Hotis. Second, below the cut we have a summary of the relevant information- spoilers abound! We’re going to largely steer clear of any speculation beyond the information that was laid out on Critical Role. Remember: the Nine Hells on Critical Role may have similarities and differences from the Nine Hells described in the DMG.
The Nine Hells
Like the Prime Material Plane, the Elemental Planes, and the Feywild, the Nine Hells- also known as the Nine Hells of Baator- is a plane of existence. Despite the name, it is a singular plane that is multi-layered. Think The Inferno by Dante, but largely filled with devils instead of the damned (though the damned are there, too). The entire plane is ruled by Asmodeus from his throne in the ninth layer of Nessus.
As discussed in Episode 90, the layered structure of the Hells mirrors the rigidly tiered society of its denizens, the devils. One does not simply walk into the ninth layer of the Hells. In large part, to traverse the Hells is to start in the first layer of Avernus and make one’s way through each layer, as there are no planar portals to the lower layers. Like in The Inferno, the River Styx serves as a quicker means of transportation between layers, but is no less horrifying or dangerous. Each layer has different, treacherous topography. The second layer is home to the massive Iron City, where extraplanar entities go to wheel and deal. It would be odd for a city in the second layer to become such a popular tourist destination if it couldn’t be accessed without traveling all the way through the first layer, so we suspect that it may be possible to Plane Shift directly there. Plane Shift, as a reminder, does not require the caster to have previously visited or seen the location. Tarrying in the Hells has its own potential dangers, though those are left to the DM’s discretion.
Hell is Other Devils
The societal hierarchy of the Hells is stringent and punishing. Asmodeus rules over all, the archdevils rule over the first eight layers, the greater devils enforce the rules, the lesser devils do as they’re told, and the lemures serve as slave labor. Long-term good service to a devil of higher standing, combined with the needs of the higher ranking devil may get a lower devil promoted. Failure or defiance would be punished by demotion to a lower ranking devil class. Those who are demoted to a class other than lemure retain their memories of their former self; those who are demoted to lemure do not.
As Keyleth and Percy learned, the first layer is ruled by Zariel, the Archduchess of Avernus and the second layer is ruled by Dispater, known as The Iron Duke of Dis. The archdevils that rule over the layers of the Hells do not necessarily resemble the other devils; the Monster Manual states, “Every archdevil is a unique being with an appearance that reflects its particular evil nature” (p67). There was a statue of Dispater in the underground chamber where the Trial of the Take team first fought Hotis. He was described as, “Humanoid. Male with slicked long hair that goes to about mid back. You see fine robes [...] The face is very chiseled and handsome, but atop top of the forehead you see these two hooked horns that continue upward. There is not two legs, but one singular cloven hoof at the bottom of its torso as it stands.” The DMG describes his other leg as humanoid (p64).
Vox Machina has faced two greater devils on-stream: Ghurrix the Pit Fiend and his summoned Erinyes. Ghurrix previously served as an ambassador between the Nine Hells and the City of Brass. His defeat was likely punished further with demotion to a lesser devil upon his return. His return to the Nine Hells after his ‘death’ on the Plane of Fire would have been immediate, unlike Hotis’ (as we’ll discuss later).
Let’s Make a Deal
As Highbearer Vord warned Vox Machina, the devils’ currency are souls. The only way to get a person’s soul back after a devil has gained control of it is through divine intervention. Devils love using contracts to bargain with people, and will often use them as a means to take someone’s soul. Hotis tried to bargain with the Trial of the Take team in Episode 21, but they turned that offer down. Make a contract with a devil and then break it? The cost is also… the person’s soul! Dispater, who lords over the Iron City, is obsessed with these deals, and takes a cut of all deals made on the second layer. All of this is to say: don't bargain with devils.
For a more detailed analysis of Vox Machina's past experience with Hotis, click here!
Rakshasas are devils… technically. A glance through the Monster Manual, however, will reveal that they are not listed in the Devil section. Those listed in the that section are classified as Fiend (Devil), whereas the Rakshasa is simply Fiend. Rakshasas are the result of, “...powerful devils creat[ing] a dark ritual to free their essence from their fiendish bodies in order to escape the Lower Planes” (p257). While devils, like Ghurrix, are immediately reformed in the Hells upon their destruction on the Material Plane, Rakshasas undergo an extremely painful reformation period in the Hells. Last time, it was 75 days between Hotis’ demise in Vasselheim and his reappearance in Whitestone, though he had clearly spent time hiring the assassins from the Clasp in Stillben. It has only been 38 in-game days since his second destruction at the hands of Pike. So, it stands to reason that Hotis is still in the Hells, obsessively ruminating on his revenge.
Good news: If he’s still reforming, it means he’s too weak to Plane Shift. So, should Vox Machina track him down, they won’t have to worry about that possibility.
Bad news: Vox Machina’s only clue to where in the Nine Hells he could be is from the information on the Iron City in the book Keyleth and Percy read. The Iron City, size-wise, is at least as big, if not bigger, than the City of Brass. At least when they went to the City of Brass, they had the clue of the androsphinx to go on as to where to find the Plate of the Dawnmartyr. This time, they have the hope that Hotis will be holed up somewhere within the Iron City, but there’s no guarantee. To get to him, they’ll have to potentially talk to some deal-happy devils while escaping the watch of Dispater in the Iron Tower.