The Hell Chronicles and Alignment-less Templates

Dante and Virgil in Hell

Image via Wikipedia

Here we have an item from Editorial0…

I promised to put up some alignment-less templates, and they are rather fun. Thoth wanted some explanation of their origin, since these at least are all me, and he can’t take the blame this time.

The Hell Chronicles was a strange variant d20 setting with a strong hint of cyberpunk elements. Given the fantasy setting that may make it pre-steampunk. Or Blacksmithpunk. Satanpunk?

The short version is that it’s a d20 game set in Baator, the Nine Hells, or whatever you call your generic Lawful Evil afterlife in d20. Believe me – writing it without hitting any of Wizards’s trademarks was a *pain*. We couldn’t use the words Baator, Nine Hells, Abyss, Blood War, and many others.

In any case, the basic idea was that your hero was either born there, traveled there, got imprisoned there, or for whatever reason was working there. The Marketplace sub-dimension was intended to act as a major campaign hub, being filled with malicious plotters, armies of thugs and murderers, and ridiculous wealth.

Meanwhile, you were pretty well free to blow away any enemy you liked with any weapon you liked. People (demons) might complain and/or put bounties on your head and/or attack you outright for doing it… but the entire dimension was made of solid evil. You weren’t going to make it *worse*. This was helpful because new items ranged from heavy machine guns to cringing slaves bound forever into evil technology.

So there was no lack for adventure and crazy plans, and meanwhile there were all kinds of weird advantages to grab, ranging from insane PrC’s to diabolical cyberware to implanting magic items and spare body parts. It was creepy, insane, and a lot of fun. And I really liked the idea of genteel demonic horrors genially whistling and walking down the street in top hats, twirling canes as they walked by the rows of shrieking damned souls eternally working in the factories and the evil mines*.

*Where they mine for evil, of course.

And yes, a lot of the rules were very strange, and could only have worked in such an odd setting. For example, getting high-quality goods wasn’t a matter of finding the best craftsman. It was about finding the most miserable slaves, because ongoing hellacious agony was what made the best stuff. creating truly special items required equally rare and amazing heart-breaks. And it had to be inner pain. Mere torture was only good for cheap, mass produced articles.

The setting partly involved devils trying to conquer demonic barbarians and “civilize” them with colonies and exploit their resources, and evil corporations and governments competing for power and wealth. Meanwhile your characters could indeed get along rather well, provided they didn’t sign any contracts without reading them VERY closely…

I never finished it because we moved onto other projects, and because as it was shaping up, it just wasn’t going to be a very large book. I always hoped I could return to it, but obviously things just didn’t work out that way. I had to get another job, and well, it didn’t happen.

Now, the Transcendent and Unbound templates were options for characters. You see, everyone got to have one good unusual or exotic trait, which set them apart. It might include having one extremely high attribute or starting with a Prestige Class. The idea was that any starting character could take the Unbound template as their exotic trait, but you had to earn Transcendent status.

Transcendent

Transcendent beings present the Baatezu with something of a problem. The mere existence of these people threatens to undermine the very faith in the entire planar system. The devils are here in perfect agreement with demons, celestials, and most other major outer-planar races. A Transcendent creature or person no longer has a single alignment, but instead contains all of them within herself. Some whisper that these beings are nearing true enlightenment and leaving the universe, while some others just say they’re destroying the fabric of reality. Either way, Transcendence is a problem, albeit one which the devils are not inclined to fight at this time.

Becoming a Transcendent creature is difficult. The character must have held at least three widely divergent alignments and/or codes of conduct and must complete an arduous quest to comprehend her own inner nature, thus unifying all strands of herself into one. Nearly all Transcendent characters are well above 15th level by the time they complete their journey.

Effect

A Transcendent being may act any time as if she possessed whatever alignment or alignments would be most beneficial (at the payer’s choice), even multiple incompatible alignments at once. A Transcendent being can wield a holy sword and a murderously evil axe with no alignment-related trouble, can use any alignment-related magic without problems, and cannot change alignment under any circumstances. The character (and player) need not know the exact circumstances, and the fact that he or she had no alignment could be detected through failed Detect Alignment spells. If the character knew the spells were being cast, however, he or she could choose an alignment to emulate and fool the spell.

Such a being might slaughter a village full of pacifists, donate all their worldly goods to a holy order, and then go on a wild drinking spree, before settling in to write a new legal code. Most *don’t* do anything like that – tending toward hermitage and meditation in order to improve their understanding of the universe – but they would suffer no ill effects other than a probable hangover. Any being, including devils, may become Transcendent. Upon death, they probably leave the universe entirely, although they may remain in the form of dreams and visions to guide to living.

(While this is a template, I’m not listing the fact that it changes nothing else about the character. As originally envisioned, it would not have a level modifier: it’s a reward for a long, involved quest and may well see the charcater die, retire, or pass on into another world. In other games, where it might not hold the same meaning, it’s a +1 level modifier template.)

Unbound

Where Transcendent beings pose a threat, the Unbound are a disaster. They first became known when one of them wound up being tortured for information in Hell; her interrogators assumed they could not detect her alignment because of defensive magic, and were shocked to discover that the individual in question simply did not have any such tie. After studying her and executing her, they attempted to track her soul, but it seems to have simply vanished after entering the astral flow. The Baatezu highly doubt she spontaneously dissipated, and are most unhappy about their ignorance concerning the fates of these beings.

Devils are afraid of them because these creatures, much more so than the Transcended, threaten their entire system. While Transcendent beings must work long and hard to attain “enlightenment”, the Unbound simply exist from birth. If this becomes the predominant feature of the universe, the entire planar system will collapse. Research continues on every subject they can get their claws on, while hunting parties scour parts of the universe searching for answers. Some Devils keep Unbound under their protection, in order to watch them and see what happens.

Effects

Unbound have no alignment at all, including True Neutral. They may have similar ties to alien, extra-universal principles or simply run off of an internal moral code. They are simply unaffected at all by any item, spell, or affect that works by alignment. For example, an Unbound cannot not gain or lose experience by reading the artifact tomes for divine casters (such as the Book of Vile Darkness), and cannot be affected by a Cloak of Chaos spell – whether it was cast on her or being used to defend against her. Spells and effects intended to reveal their alignments simply indicate that there is nothing to detect.

Any other effects, such as magic items, tend to treat the character as True Neutral. Intelligent magic items may be confused by the situation, but can decide for themselves whether or not to work for an Unbound character, much as if they were judging the alignment of a normal character.

Unbound cannot be mystically sensed by deities (although any god in range of normal (though often extremely powerful and magically-enhanced) senses can detect them. Such a character cannot change alignment. Such individuals exit the universe after death, or perhaps may choose some other sort of afterlife (such as reincarnation, ascendance to a higher plane of existence, godhood, etc.) although they can be raised if their spirit is still hanging around within reach; unlike those who are linked to the outer planes, there’s nothing pulling them away from the material realm just because their body happens to be dead. Despite appearances, they actually may become clerics and other divine casters; they can have a link to a deity, emotion, or internal force, just not alignment forces per se.

Unbound usually work with an internal or alien code of morals (which need make no logical sense at all), and should develop one in conjunction with the GM. This code need not be consistent with alignment systems, though should be internally consistent; for example, the character might be peaceful, kind, and saint-like when dealing with citizens of one city and horrendously vicious when dealing with foreigners. Alternatively, a character may place great store by goods and resources, and attempt to accumulate them, whether than means honest bargaining or theft and murder.

There is no known way to become Unbound, though it *may* be possible to arrange it if one could permanently break all links to an individual from all the outer planes. Thus far, all Unbound have occurred naturally, if rarely, in various places and species. It is up to the GM whether an individual may start out as or become Unbound, and how common they are. This allows the GM to decide how important they are to the campaign.

(Like the Transcendent, the Unbound breaks the normal rules of the game, and there’s always going to be one strange spell or effect which I can’t anticipate. Still, there’s enough to go by and it should be fun to play one in a campaign. It opens some doors and closes others.

This is a +0 Template. It’s not as useful as the Transcendent and it comes with built-in problems. There are a lot of creatures hunting you. Even the “nicer” planar creatures may consider you a threat to existence and/or feel the need to keep you captive. Fortunately, it’s not easy to find you, either.)

Personally, I had some difficulty seeing quite how this would work. After all, in d20, alignments are detectable and the afterlife is a certainty. If the lower planes were really places of torment, it really didn’t seem like they’d find many  recruits… It seemed more likely – at least to me – that the lower planes were basically an ever-growing pyramid scheme, where the promise was that you had ever-more people below you and a fixed number of bosses above you – so your personal power, authority, and pleasure would always slowly increase, even if the bosses did get on your back occasionally. -Thoth

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