The Abyss in D&D

Out of the Abyss

The Abyss is the home of all demons in the D&D universe. it exists as one of the outer planes according to the Great Wheel Cosmology model of the D&D universe. It is often referred to as the infinite Abyss as although there are 666 “known” layers of the Abyss (depending on who’s account you believe, and is it even possible to properly chronicle all the layers of the Abyss in its chaotic and changing manner), it is widely believed that there are many more undiscovered layers of the Abyss. While the Abyss is considered infinite in depth, it is generally believed to be finite in width with actual borders to each layer.

The Abyss is a plane of chaotic evil and shouldn’t be confused with the Nine Hells which is the home plane of devils. While similar in their fiendish malevolence, devils are far more cunning and lawful than their chaotic, bloodthirsty cousins, the demons.

How was the Abyss formed?

Aeons ago, a mad god known as Tharizdun, who sought great power for himself, threw the elemental shard of evil into the element of chaos. This was an act that the gods had decreed should not happen, but Tharizdun did it anyway. This act created the Abyss, a place of chaos and evil and a plane of harsh environments that for many are near un-liveable. While this act was terrible, it was better than the original intentions for the shard of evil. The obyriths escaped into this universe from their own which was being destroyed, bringing the shard of evil with them. They originally intended to place the shard of evil in the astral plane which would have transformed the entire universe. At least Tharizdun’s plan kept the chaos and evil centred on a single plane.

Prior to the creation of Tanar’ri demons that primarily inhabit the Abyss now, were the obyrith; a more twisted and alien form of demon that spread their chaos throughout the Abyss, shaping it to the personal whims of whatever obyrith demon lord occupied that layer of the Abyss (the Abyss being comprised of many layers, each interlinked by portals). The obyrith eventually created tanar’ri demons from the forms of mortals. But the tanar’ri were not satisfied with being subservient to their obyrith overlords and eventually rose up and rebelled. The Abyss is now shaped mostly by tanar’ri demon lords and other powerful beings.

The shard of evil continues to be fought over as whoever controls this shard, can “control” (to an extent) the Abyss which comes with it, great power. Aspects of the blood war (the unending conflict between demons and devils) has even been centred on gaining control of this shard.

Geography of the Abyss

Layers of the Abyss
Map of the Abyss

It is difficult to map out the exact geography of the Abyss as it is believed to be infinite, yet, even that assumption is difficult to prove. While each layer of the Abyss is very different in its appearance and its hazards and even its inhabitants, they are similar in that each is a terrifying and grotesque environment, steeped in decay. Many layers of the Abyss are completely uninhabitable by mortals, making traversing them incredibly difficult. It’s a small miracle that even 666 layers have been discovered.

The first layer of the Abyss is known as the plane of Infinite Portals or Pazunia after the Demon Lord that rules this plane, Pazuzu. Understanding which layers come next is difficult as there are no natural routes through to the next layer down in the Abyss, only portals, so while each layer is numbered, it is numbered based on the order the layers have been accessed and found rather than the order they come in geographically.

Through the Abyss is a river known as the river of Styx which passes through many layers of the Abyss allowing brave souls passage to other layers (and potentially escape from the lower layers if you’re ever unlucky enough to be caught there. It also passes through the Nine Hells and can be a means of travelling to that plane.

List of all known layers of the Abyss

Below is a list of all the known layers of the Abyss though many are missing and there is disagreement over the numbering of planes and even how many there are, despite the fact that all 666 layers have not yet been documented, some claim there are more layers and even an infinite number of layers:

Map of the plane of infinite portals
Map of the Plain of a Thousand Portals
  • 1st: Plain of Infinite Portals – The plane of infinite portals is the 1st layer of the Abyss and thankfully, a survivable one, though that’s only so far as the environment is concerned! The air is breathable and the climate is survivable, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t dangers in this plane. Fortresses dot the land, housing powerful demon lords and their faithful servants. It’s in these fortresses that the demon lords will leave their bodies protected while their spirits traverse other lands, corrupting mortals and spreading their evil. The main mark of this layer though is that it has many portals that lead through to other layers of the Abyss. These portals appear as pits, but are rarely marked so finding the right one is often just guess work. Usually, these portals lead to higher layers of the Abyss, though sometimes, they open into lower layers too, although, usually this is a sign that something has gone wrong. Perhaps a demon has found a way to reach the mortal plane or a summoner has forgotten to close their own portal, but accidental portals to lower planes tends to be bad news.
  • 2nd: Driller’s Hive
  • 3rd: The Forgotten Land
  • 4th: The Grand Abyss
  • 5th: Wormblood
  • 6th: Realm of a Million Eyes – The 6th layer of the Abyss is ruled over by the Great Mother who is the primary deity of the beholder pantheon. The entire layer is a twisting maze of corridors and tunnels through which the eyes of the Great Mother peer, protruding from the walls. Within the winding tunnels of this layer lurk all types of beholders. beholders are extremely aggressive and territorial and these beholders all constantly war against one another.
  • 7th: The Phantom Plane
  • 8th: The Skin-Shedder
  • 9th: Burningwater
  • 10th: That Hellhole
  • 11th: Molrat
  • 12th: Twelvetrees
  • 13th: Blood Tor – Blood Tor is a vast ocean of red water, with an appearance much like blood. Those who enter this layer report having bad luck inflicted upon them (though that might be said of any that wander into the Abyss). Blood Tor is also the realm of 2 deities; Umberlee, the Bitch Queen and goddesses of seas and storms and Beshaba, the Maid of Misfortune.
  • 14th: The Steaming Fen
  • 17th: Death’s Reward
  • 21st: The Sixth Pyre
  • 23rd: The Iron Wastes
  • 27th: Malignebula
  • 32nd: Sholo-Tovoth: The Fields of Consumption
  • 45th-47th: Azzagrat – Azzagrat is made up of 3 Abyssal layers; Rauwend, Shadowsky and Voorz’zt. These 3 layers make up of the realm of the Demon Lord Graz’zt, a place from which obscure magical knowledge can be discovered (if one survives long enough to find it).
  • 48th: Skeiqulac: The Ocean of Tears
  • 49th: Shaddonon
  • 52nd: Vorganund
  • 53rd: Phage Breeding Grounds
  • 57th: Torturous Truth
  • 65th: Court of the Spider Queen
  • 66th: The Demonweb Pits – The Demonweb Pits are the home of Lolth, the Spider Queen and goddess of the Drow. The layer is characterised by vast networks of webs which hold buildings and structures in their grasp, suspending them in the air. Portals created within the web network would also draw in random objects from the mortal plane that can be found in this layer. Lolth’s dungeons can be found deep within the web network and even further beneath these lie the bottomless pits where Lolth herself dwells. Lolth also rules over the 65th layer of the Abyss known as the Court of the Spider Queen.
  • 67th: The Heaving Hills
  • 68th: The Swallowed Void
  • 69th: Gibbering Hollow
  • 70th: The Ice Floe
  • 71st: Spirac
  • 72nd: Darklight
  • 73rd: The Wells of Darkness
  • 74th: Smaragd
  • 77th: The Gates of Heaven
  • 79th: The Emessu Tunnels
  • 81st: Blood Shallows
  • 88th: Gaping Maw – The Gaping Maw is the realm of Demogorgon, the Prince of Demons himself. It’s a vast continent surrounded by an endless ocean. Within this layer are the Screaming Jungle, inhabited by lizardfolk, yuan-ti, donsaurs and barlguras. The oceans are home to terrifying, aquatic creatures such as aboleths, krakens and ixitxachiti. Demogorgon’s lair can be found on the continent in a palace called Abysm. Abysm has 2 serpentine towers topped with skull minarets that reach deep into the ground, reaching networks of caverns that enter into the Shadowsea, the next layer of the Abyss.
  • 89th: The Shadowsea – The layer directly below the Gaping Maw is known as the Shadowsea and is the realm of the obyrith Dagon who is the Prince of the Darkened Depths. Dagon rules this watery realm in the amorphous palace inhabited by giant sea worms.
  • 90th: The Guttering Grove
  • 92nd: Ulgurshek
  • 100th: The Barrens
  • 111th: The Mind of Evil
  • 113th: Thanatos – Thanatos is the layer ruled by the Demon Lord Orcus who is not only a competitor for title of Prince of Demons, but is also a master of undeath and magic. Thanatos takes on much of the personality of Orcus with its black forests, desolate ruins and foreboding tombs. It’s also infested with undead legions that form much of Orcus’ army. Orcus rules Thanatos from Everlost Palace, a castle built of obsidian and bone set in a huge wasteland known as Oblivion’s End. For a few centuries, Orcus had been dethroned from Thanatos by the drow goddess, Kiaransalee, but Orcus was able to return and defeat her, sending her fleeing to the Demonweb.
  • 128th: Slugbed
  • 137th: Outcasts’ End
  • 142nd: Lifebane
  • 148th: Torrent
  • 176th: Hollow’s Heart – Hollow’s Heart is the realm of the Demon Lord Fraz-Urb’luu who is amaster of deception and illusions. Following Fraz-Urb’luu’s imprisonment on Oerth for 2 centuries, Hollow’s Heart became destabilised into a flat land of nothingness. It has taken him many centuries to rebuild the portion of the layer that he has already (which is the size of a large continent). This means though, that most of this layer remains featureless. At the centre of the layer though, is the lair of Fraz-Urb’luu; the city of Zoragmelok. It is a walled city of adamantine built in with architecture that would seem impossible.
  • 177th: Writhing Realm
  • 181st: The Rotting Plain
  • 191st: Fountain of Screams
  • 193rd: Vulgarea
  • 222nd: Shedaklah – Shedaklah is the realm of the Demon Lords Juiblex, the Prince of Slimes, and Zuggtmoy, the Queen of Fungi. Shedaklah is also known as the Slime Pits and is a putrid, swampy realm, covered in a murky, brown sky and prone to torrential rains of filth. Here, poisonous vapors are emitted from fissures in the ground making the land a perfect breeding ground for oozes, molds and slimes of all varieties.
  • 223rd: Offalmound
  • 230th: The Dreaming Gulf
  • 241st: Palpitatia
  • 245th: The Scalding Sea
  • 248th: The Hidden Layer
  • 274th: Durao
  • 277th: Belistor
  • 297th: The Sighing Cliffs
  • 300th: Feng-Tu
  • 303rd: The Sulfanorum
  • 313th: Gorrion’s Grasp
  • 333rd: The Broken Scale
  • 340th: The Black Blizzard
  • 348th: Indifference
  • 359th: The Arc of Eternity
  • 377th: Plains of Gallenshu
  • 380th: Hungry Tarns
  • 399th: Worm Realm
  • 400th: Woeful Escarand
  • 403rd: The Rainless Waste
  • 421st: The White Kingdom
  • 422nd: Death Dells – The Death Dells is the domain of Yeenoghu, a savage, jackal-headed demon lord and the creator of gnolls. His realm is a barren place of hills and ravines and few signs of civilisation other than the roving bands of gnolls, ghouls and hyenas that make their home here. This landscape constitutes what is for Yeenoghu and his minions, an endless hunting ground for them to prey on hapless victims.
  • 452nd: Ahriman-abad
  • 471st: Androlynne – Androlynne is the realm of an obyrith known as Pale Night who is also known as the Mother of Demons. It is here in this realm that she captured and imprisoned an army of eladrin to torture and kill at her pleasure. However, many creatures of virtue came to the rescue of the eladrin and protect them from Pale Night. Because of this, Androlynne became a place mixed with the influence of both Pale Night and these good creatures. While it is an alien looking land of purple skies and unusual plants, it is also beautiful with lush vegetation and wondrous looking creatures.
  • 480th: Guttlevetch
  • 487th: Lair of the Beast and Mansion of the Rake
  • 489th: Noisome Vale
  • 493rd: The Steeping Isle
  • 499th: Carroristo
  • 503rd: Torremor – Torremor is a realm characterised by its broken masonry and structures that hang suspended in the air by ropes and beams in the cavernous layer. These parts of buildings form the structure of Torremor. It was also once the realm of the demon lord Pazuzu who imprisoned Lamashtu, the Demon Queen of Monstrous Births, here. Lamashtu, however, was able to plot and scheme her escape, and despite being impaled by the building that was her prison, she was able to take control of the realm and rules it to this day.
  • 507th: Occipitus – Occipitus was once a part of Mount Celestia, but it was invaded by the demon forces led by the fallen planetar, Adimarchus, a mad demon lord with a thirst for revenge. Rather than allow more of Celestia become corrupted by the demon forces, the angels of Celestia detached a portion of the plane and cast it into the Abyss where it merged with Occipitus. Here, Adimarchus ruled until he was imprisoned by Graz’zt. The portion of Occipitus that came from Celestia remains infused with the power of Celestials and is considered cursed land by the demons and fiends of the Abyss and few stray there. In fact, since Adimarchus was imprisoned, the realm has been left mostly uninhabited.
  • 518th: Melantholep
  • 519th: March of the Pierced Men
  • 524th: Shatterstone
  • 528th: Molor
  • 531st: Vudra
  • 548th: Garavond
  • 550th: Forest of Living Tongues
  • 558th: Fleshforges
  • 566th: Soulfreeze
  • 570th: Shendilavri – Shendilavri is home to many succubi and is ruled by Malcanthet, the Queen of the Succubi. The realm was once a mass of living flesh, but has since been shaped into a place of luscious beauty by Malcanthet. It has grassy hills, sandy beaches and is constantly lit by a beautiful sunset. Cities of white buildings have are scattered throughout the land with Rivenheart, the realms capital, also being Malcanthet’s seat of power. Here, it is said, all possible pleasures and desires can be obtained to tempt visitors into relaxing and letting down their guard. Malcanthet is protected here by her own, personal guard, the Radiant Sisters who protect her from potential threats.
  • 586th: Prison of the Mad God – This layer has little physical presence but is instead a vortex of wind and rock. It was once the realm of the demigod Diinkarazan, but since he was cursed with insanity, he has been imprisoned here by Ilsensine, a powerful elder brain and deity of the illithid.
  • 597th: Goranthis
  • 600th: Endless Maze – The Demon Lord, Baphomet, rules the Endless Maze. It’s an infinite and ever changing labyrinth filled with terrifying creatures including minotaurs, ogres and goristros. Pale night, the Obyrith demon lord also rules a portion of the Endless Maze from her Bone Castle.
  • 601st: Conflagratum
  • 628th: Vallashan
  • 643rd: Caverns of the Skull
  • 651st: Nethuria
  • 652nd: The Rift of Corrosion
  • 663rd: Zionyn
  • 665th: The Void – The final known layer of the Abyss is known simply as the Void. Those that enter here find themselves falling eternally, either dying, eventually, of dehydration, or from the wicked winds that are powerful enough to flay the very skin from your bones. Much magic is dampened here too meaning that spells that might be useful in such circumstances, are ineffective in the Void; these include spells like levitate and feather fall. Although some portals do lead into the Void, no portals lead out of it.

Demon Lords of the Abyss

Demogorgon, Prince of Demons

Some demons rise to incredible power and ability, gaining large followings of minions that form armies behind them. These demons become known as demon lords and while some others do crave the title, the following are the Demon Lords of the Tanar’ri as detailed in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse. We haven’t included obyrith demon lords in this list as even those that survived the tanar’ri uprising have faded in power and influence:

  • Demogorgon
  • Orcus
  • Graz’zt
  • Baphomet
  • Yeenoghu
  • Juiblex
  • Fraz-Urb’luu
  • Zuggtmoy

Published by DM Ben

Ben is an experienced dungeon master and player who's been immersed in the D&D universe since he was a teenager over 20 years ago. When he's not writing for Dungeon Mister, Ben loves creating fiendish puzzles and devious dungeons for his players. He's an especially big fan of the Ravenloft and Dragonlance settings.