The City of Glasya-Labolas

Honestly, if Geoff Dale had called it quits after Inferno, I’d have no complaints. The nine circles provide more than enough to keep a campaign in Hell going for months, even years, and those Dantean punishing grounds are some of the best adventure areas ever designed — the Garden of Lust, Glutton’s Hall, the Temple of Greed, the Styx River, the City of Burning Tombs, the River of Boiling Blood, the Wood of the Suicides, the Desert of Fire, the Swamp of Shit, and then at frozen bottom the Ice of Cocytus. And yet for all the Inferno’s immense detail, there’s not an actual city where one imagines the devils of Hell residing. (There’s the “city” of burning tombs on Circle Six, but that’s a torture ground for the heretics.) Where is the base of the devils’ civilization? Logically, such a place would be outside the Inferno proper, and not on any circle devoted to punishing certain sins.

The answer is Glasya-Labolas. Situated about 400 miles west of the Inferno (if “west” is even a direction in Hell; it looks like “west” on the map), across mountains, wastelands, and moors, it’s a 95-degree and 100% humid metropolis populated by devils and also mortals who are willing to sweat it out under the devils’ baleful eye. The city has been around for well over 30,000 years, was sacked a few times in the ancient Devil-Demon Wars, and the current population is 12,000 devils and 9,500 mortals. Most mortals are of the lawful evil alignment compatible with Hell, though the devils tolerate chaotic and good mortals too, so long as they know their place and obey the laws.

Those laws aren’t trivial. Mortals can’t carry weapons in the city. Nor can they lie. If they lie for any reason at all, the city atmosphere knows it and causes the liar any number of afflictions — headaches, fevers, stomach cramps, puss-oozing rashes, nausea, or even blindness or muteness or paralysis in the case of serious lies. There is a black market in charms that ward against the results of lying, but they’re expensive, and if you’re caught with one, you go straight to jail. Oaths are taken seriously, and breaking an oath will result in even worse afflictions; to renounce an oath involves a rather torturous and expensive ceremony at one of the city’s temples. The devils have no tolerance for homelessness and vagrancy, and food smuggling is also a major crime, though a lucrative one, since eating the native food keeps a mortal bound to the plane of Hell. Slavery is of course perfectly legal, and assisting a runaway slave a serious offense. The summoning of creatures hostile to Hell (especially demons) is a capital offense warranting execution. Any disputes between parties are settled either by lawsuits (though mortals cannot sue devils save for a breach of contract) or by duels, which are highly esteemed and strongly regulated; to refuse a duel over a legitimate grievance results in a loss of status points.

The status point system is basically an honor or reputation rating that goes a long way in determining how successful a PC will be in Glasya-Labolas. Every mortal has a status between 1-10 (1 being the highest, 10 the lowest), and the score is assigned by the DM on the basis of many factors — level and alignment, how the character acts in public and private, the ability to work with others, skills and accomplishments, how long the character has been in the city, how well known (and well liked) the character is in the city, the ability to command or influence others, personal wealth, number of followers, size of audiences, etc. As on all planes, honor/reputation is subject to rise and fall, and of course it’s much easier to lose reputation (and fast) in the eyes of others, than to gain it.

The highly regimented nature of Hell is one thing that distinguishes Glasya-Labolas sharply from D&D city classics like The Lost City (1982) and Erelhei-Cinlu (1978). Unlike the chaotic-leaning Cynidiceans and the innately chaotic Drow, the devils are lawful to the core, and more reminiscent of authorities from the City State of the Invincible Overlord (1976) — though even here notably different. In the city state, the laws are designed solely to protect the interests of an Overlord who operates through assassins and dirty tricks, overrules his Senate on a whim, and funnels all the law and order into the cause of commerce. The laws of Glasya-Labolas seem designed for the sake of the city community more than its ruling devil prince (Pithius), and they are enforced with a consistency that’s generally fair if also often brutal and sadistic (as evil is). If one had to imagine the environment of a “pure” lawful evil city, Glasya-Labolas is it.

The layout of the city is divided into six districts (see the above map), which are zoomed in on greater detail throughout the bulk of the module. Prince’s Heights contains the administrative areas and homes of the elite devils; Korioff Bluff has cultural attractions like concert halls, art galleries, theaters, gourmet restaurants, and homes of important devils; in Telchine are the laboratories and craft halls of the Telchine devils, who are the source of most enchanted items in Hell and supply other devils throughout the plane; Mortal is mortal haven and the most sleazy district by far; Muck Runner has the business areas for hunting and harvesting from the nearby marsh, and it’s also where most of the city temples are found; and Underhill, where working class mortals eke out a living, is invisible on the map because it’s under the bluff of Prince’s Heights. Mortals are only allowed in Mortal, Muck Runner, and Underhill, though characters with enough balls will surely find ways to get in the other districts and sneak around. The Telchine District is a particular lure, as the magic items churned out there are famous throughout Hell and almost never made available to mortals. That opens endless gaming scenarios right there.

There are also plenty of adventuring opportunities around the city for which the module supplies maps and structural layouts. The most imposing site is Skull Knob, a hilltop where public executions take place to the sadistic thrill of audiences accommodated in a huge grandstand. Some executions you have to buy tickets for, while others are free, and the methods of execution range from drowning buckets (water tanks), fire poles (for burning victims tied to them), gladiator pits, guillotines, and gallows. The wilderness areas of the Orobus Marsh and Apophis Mountains are heavily detailed, as well as the village of Graulmwich and many of the swamp islands. You could get months of campaigning in these regions before even setting out for the Inferno.

The City of Glasya-Labolas is a suitable swan song for Hell, and Geoff Dale should be proud. I find his vision of Hell superior to the one I grew up with (Ed Greenwood’s Dragon magazine articles in the ’80s), and it continues the legacy of the old school and what I consider the essential gaming elements. Judges Guild in particular did a lot for wilderness adventuring and urban play, and like the circles of Inferno, Glasya-Labolas harks back to those rigorous sandbox standards. Players can go through any part of the city without the DM having to worry about creating things from scratch, and yet the details are open-ended enough so that everything can be tailored to the DM’s plotting needs. I already have a plot hatching. It didn’t take long for this thing to inspire me.

Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5.

(Order the module here and the denizen supplement here.)

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