In an excellently written blog, TenEyedMan identified a problem with the current Points of Light cosmology with which I have also been struggling. Hell simply does not feel hellish. Hell is located in the heavens as a round orb of a planetoid. It does not convey the feeling of angels having fallen outside of heaven’s grace.
The article proposes an interesting and well-considered alternate cosmology in hell is located deep within the World. In this alternate history, Asmodeus attempts to take over the World and is defeated by the Primal Spirits. I think this is a good base from which to build an alternate hell, but I feel it can be tied even more closely to the established 4e cosmology.
In the original cosmology, Asmodeus is the primary angel of the nameless patron god of humans. As the Dawn War comes to an end, Asmodeus kills his patron and leads a rebellion of angels. They slay every angel loyal to their dead patron. But when Asmodeus tries to take the seat of his former patron, the other gods rise up and stop him, transforming the angels into devils and imprisoning him in his own astral domain – which he then remakes as hell, in his own fallen image.
I propose a merger of the two stories as follows:
Treachery In the Heavens
As the tide turned in the gods’ favor against the Primordials, one soldier – Asmodeus – began to plan for immortality after the war. Asmodeus had been one of the chief angels of the nameless patron deity of humanity. This god was a tolerant god, and allowed his servitors great freedom during the Dawn War, reasoning that this independence would serve the divinities. And he was right. The nameless god’s angels were present and contributing to almost every major victory of the gods over the Primordials. But, this deity also made clear that when the war ended, he expected that his angels would return to a life of obedient service.
Many angels did not want to go back. They regretted binding themselves to this god and wanted to maintain the exhilarating freedom they experienced in the Dawn War. Chief among these was Asmodeus, the most accomplished of angels. Asmodeus organized the rebellious angels and hatched a daring plan.
While the gods were still embroiled in the war with the Primordials, Asmodeus betrayed his patron and slew him after he had been weakened in battle. Simultaneously, Asmodeus’ allies engaged in a masterful coordinated attack against those angels that Asmodeus could not trust. The gods were still too preoccupied in the war with the Primordials (now emboldened by the death of Asmodeus’ patron) to do anything to the rebels, who retreated to their dead patron’s Astral Domain while leading assassinations against any loyal angels remaining.
As the last of the loyal angels were eliminated, Asmodeus realized that eventually, when the gods had imprisoned the last Primordials, they would turn their attention to him and his rebels. He had tried to reach out to other gods he thought would recognize his accession to his patron’s domains. But his patron had been well-regarded by gods of every alignment. Even Bane, Vecna, and Tiamat refused to condone Asmodeus’ deicide. Even the Raven Queen, who had herself become a goddess by killing her patron, would not support him!
Asmodeus' Desperate Gambit
Asmodeus concocted a desperate plan to preserve his newfound independence. He saw how Pelor, Ioun, and Bahamut had merged their astral domains to form Hestavar, making their domains stronger together than they had been merged. He saw how the Raven Queen had strengthened her position by moving her residence to the Shadowfell. Inspired by these maneuvers, he sought to merge his newly conquered Astral Domain… with the World. He felt he had a small window of time within which to accomplish this. The gods and primordials were too weak and preoccupied to stop him, leaving the World unprotected.
What Asmodeus did not anticipate was the appearance of the Primal Spirits. As Asmodeus’ dominion touched the World, the World itself awoke, its thoughts and concepts coalescing as powerful Primal Spirits. The ensuing war between fallen angel and spirit was as hard-fought as any battle of the Dawn War. In the end, it appeared to be a stalemate. Asmodeus could not attain a true merger with the World, but neither could the Primal Spirits fully oust the fallen angels from the world.
The Divine Compromise
This stalemate was broken when the Dawn War finally ended. The gods, wounded but victorious, negotiated a new peace with the Primal Spirits. The Primal Spirits would stop trying to eject the devils. Instead, they would imprison the devils deep within the bowels of the World. The gods cursed the fallen angels, transforming them into devils, and bound them irrevocably to the Pit that had once been their heavenly domain. In return for serving as the devils’ gaolers, the Primal Spirits exacted a commitment from the gods that no god would directly interfere with the mortals of the World. Only Avandra was allowed passage in the world to monitor that the Spirits abided by their part of the bargain.
Ironically, the devils are imprisoned in the very domain over which the gods and primordials so fiercely fought -- the World. And because of the taint these fallen divinities leech into the world, the gods reluctantly were denied physical possession of the very thing they fought so hard to conquer.
And so Asmodeus sits in the center layer of the prison that was once a heavenly domain. Certainly, the Spirits’ prison is not entirely impermeable. Devils can escape for a time, and they use their corrupting influence to widen the cracks between Hell (as his domain is now known) and the World. Asmodeus has had some small victories over the millennia. He corrupted the entire Empire of Bael Turath and created the tiefling race.
But in some ways, his prison is also a fortress. In Hell, he has escaped the influence of the gods. And he is ever-closer to his goal of merging his domain fully with the world. He thought his greatest obstacle would be the gods, but now he knows he must also defeat the primal spirits. But he is patient and he is very clever. One day, he will unleash Hell upon the World, and when that day comes, his Astral Dominion will exceed the stature of all the other so-called gods combined, as he presides over Hell on Earth!