H is for Hell

Hell (or the Hells) have played a pretty regular part of the fantasy role playing experience. It’s those elements that often caused people to become concerned with the games as a whole, but much of the lore and imagery that comes to the roleplaying experience has it’s foundation in the literature of Dante’s Inferno, which has informed many of the popular culture ideas about hell. It’s interesting because there really isn’t much information in the Scriptures as it relates to hell. Even the language to name/describe hell is complicated. The grave, Sheol, Gehenna, hades, death, and hell are all words used to describe the fate of the dead. The implications behind what that looks like have very little concrete statements to describe it. The most comprehensive come from the book of Revelations at the end of the New Testament.

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:12-15 NIV)

Elements of death and hades are drawn into this statement of judgment and there is a certain finality to it all. It is very difficult to visualize just what this is talking about. Imagery of suffering, of burning, of weeping and gnashing of teeth, but that sounds more like depictions of an outer plane of madness than anything built up in the concepts of hell as I’ve seen it in an RPG. What Dante Alghieri describes in his allegorical tale while descending through the circles of Hell with their punishments tailored to the particular arrogance and pride of the occupants is much more like the concept behind depiction in most monster manuals. The idea of circles of hell, linked planes of the damned and their fiendish tormentors, is full of setting ideas and directions that you could use as antagonists to work against. Following Dante’s path and being a mortal venturing into the darkness also has merit as a possibility. Mythic heroes venturing into the pits of there earth and the dead to bring back a lost loved one is a classic story. And even working their way out of captivity and fighting their way through the dark trails of the underworld makes for an epic tale! Everyone loves a good prison break and what better jail to break from than the great pit itself.

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