"A mortal poet put these pretty words in Lucifer’s mouth: “it is better to rule in Hell than it is to serve in Heaven."
"He got it half right; I have never seen Heaven and not even the angels of the Pit know its true nature. But this much is true – it is better to rule in Hell."
Infernum is an RPG produced by Mongoose Publishing, using the "D20 system" created and poularized by the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. It is a game in which you do not fight the Legions of Hell... but, by default, play as them. Most heavily based on Dante's Inferno, its list of inspirations also includes Paradise Lost, the various comics of Alan Moore (most prominently Promethia, Swamp Thing, From Hell, and Hellblazer), Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Mike Carey's Lucifer, Dune, Conan the Barbarian, Slaine, Gormenghast, China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, Hellraiser, Event Horizon, and Doom.
The year is 766 After Fall, over seven and a half centuries since Lucifer and his rebellious angels were exiled after failing to conquer Heaven. Ploughing a gigantic crater 2400 miles deep into the surface of Hell, an empty world populated only by Spawn, the First Fallen burned for an age without reckoning until Lucifer, in an extreme act of will, cut open a rift between Hell and Earth, allowing Time to seep into Hell and, with it, the promise of Change. Resentful of what happened, the First Fallen proceed to couple with the Spawn, then reshape the resultant abominations over generations of incest, crossbreeding, surgery, sorcery, alchemy, and other ghastly experiments to create the nine breeds of demon.
Their intention was to use these creatures to conquer Heaven, but they failed to redict the intelligence and rebelliousness of their "children". Even laying upon them the Covenants, forcing demons to obey anybody to whom they swore loyalty or gave their word, did not prevent them from managing to seduce half of the surviving First Fallen into supporting their desire to remain in Hell and forget about Heaven. Lucifer's faction called for a confrontation, and each faction simultaneously ordered the demons to obey them. Knowing that they would either be destroyed once Heaven was claimed or remain slaves to their Abusive Precursors, the demons chose their own path and attacked both angelic factions while their Covenants were stretched to breaking point.
The vast majority of angels were slain and devoured, the survivors fleeing into the dying universe of the Broken Lands, leaving Hell forever after in the hands of the demons. Lucifer vanished, no one knows his fate, but managed to lay a spell upon Pandemonium, the City of Chaos, that would prevent any of the demons from seizing the Throne of Angels and claiming dominion over all of Hell. By the time that the spell wore off, the demons had uneasily settled into the violent, bloody, oft-broken 'peace' maintained by the Nine Houses of Hell, each headed by one of the most powerful demons in the Pit, each one a claimant for the title of Ruler of All Hell.
It is five hundred and sixty five years since the last of the First Fallen was slain, and Hell is in turmoil once again. The Tenth House, House Lictat, has arisen after three hundred and sixty seven years to claim the position held by the destroyed Ninth House, House Jelac. The Free City Hersey, a rebellion against the very laws of the Infernum, has arisen and claimed multiple cities across Hell, forcing the other eight Houses to accept House Lictat in order to focus their attention on this new threat. The Hellgouts are swallowing larger and larger groups of mortals. Fallen angels are plummetting into the Pit more frequently then ever before. This year marks ninety eight years since the Knights of the Harrowing plunged their mountain-fortress of Outremer into Hell to lead a crusade against demonkind. The possibilities for the brave, the cunning, and the lucky, are infinite.
The nine breeds of demon are Artificers, Beasts, Deceivers, Fiends, Hulks, Imps, Malcubi, Slavers and Stalkers.
The Nine Houses are Astyanath, Carthenay, Glabretch, Haimon, Lictat, Oblurott, Riethii, Sturrach and Zethu.
In addition to demons, players can also play humans and Fallen Angels, younger, less potent versions of the First Fallen.
- Abusive Precursors: you could make a serious argument that the First Fallen count. They created, through an act that could seriously be considered rape and/or bestiality, an entire sentient species solely for the purpose of being disposable weapons and tools, ruthlessly mutilating, mutating and exterminating them in the process of 'honing' them towards their desired purpose.
- After the End: The Broken Lands are the dying remnants of a previous universe.
- Anatomy Arsenal: Most if not all of these tropes are present in the system, with the right mutations and sometimes a little reflavoring. Chain of the Carriage's final form is Beware My Stinger Tail incarnate (either crushing flail or actual stinger), one branch of the Chain of Living Weapons fits nicely into Swiss Army Appendage (hand, bio-gun, cutting implement, stabbing implement, crushing implement), and there's more. Chain of the Crawling Flesh culminates in the ability to make your skin peel itself off of your body and try to kill your enemies.
- Anti-Hero: the very best demons (in terms of morals) are likely to fit into this mold... or, more accurately, Nineties Anti-Hero. Many humans will also sink to this level in order to survive.
- Exclusively Evil: demons are more like ?Always Neutral Evil?.
- Asskicking Equals Authority: With very few exceptions, every holder of a noble fiefdom earned that fief by politics, assassination and brute force, and they only hold it until one of their subordinates becomes stronger than they are.
- Badass Normal: mortal player characters, especially if they choose to fight against demonic society rather then meld into it. Particularly noteworthy are members of the Early tribes (humans born and raised in Hell) and Knights of the Harrowing, who actually invaded Hell in an attempt to crusade against the demons. That said, nobody's quite Earth-normal in Hell, since mortals can generate iliaster by Heroic Willpower.
- Bizarre Alien Reproduction: demons are naturally asexual (though there is a mutation that lets them become truly male or female, as well as one that renders them sexually male or female), and reproduce through "Spawning Pits". No, not what you're thinking: these Pits are canyons or vats full of alchemical compounds and acids. A living demon is thrown into it, and dies a hideous death as, simultaneously, their flesh and bones dissolve into nothing and their organs change into fanged maggot-things (demon larvae) and chew their way out of the decomposing mess. Larvae swim in the Pits for about six months, then pupate and emerge as fully mature and functional demons. Malcubi can also breed like humans do, as can Deceivers that make the once-off choice to assume a gender instead of being asexual like the other breeds.
- Black and Gray Morality: the lightest way to handle things. There are good-guy mortals and angels, but they're few and far between.
- Black Magic: implied in the background, but not actually present in the game. There's only two spells that are outrightly offensive (one is a Voodoo doll-style curse, the other turns a nearby source of fire into, essentially, a stockpile of hellfire grenades), and two others that have the potential to be damaging (one manipulates the local elements -earth, air, water or fire- in accordance to the caster's will, allowing them to potentially do something like make a mass of fire crawl over someone, or cause spikes to erupt from the earth underfoot, while the other can cause violent weather/water—or calm storms and wild water).
- Body Horror: where to start? Asyanath's surgery, House Glabretch's... everything, all demons mutate as they grow stronger and more powerful, the tortures inflicted upon damned souls...
- Brain Bleach: the waters of the River Lethe can erase memories, from any duration from "only while exposed" (the mists that cling the river's surface) to "permanently" (submerged in the water). One of the oldest industries in Hell is boiling the Lethe and pumping its fumes up the sky above the crater, as the Mists cloak Hell from external scrying and wipe the memories from damned souls and fallen angels as they plunge into Hell.
- Can Not Tell a Lie: inverted. The mutation "What You Want To Be True" from the Chain of Lies, and likewise the mutation "All Secrets Revealed" from House Riethii's Chain of Whispers, cause the demon to be physically harmed if they say something that is not a lie.
- Charm Person: certain mutations basically have this effect. Most notably, Malcubi get Domination (basically Charm Person's Up to Eleven big brother) as a high-level racial ability.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: most, if not all, demons will betray others for their own advantage. House Astyanath, however, has such a reputation for this that other demons think they're kind of nuts. The rampant cruelty and sheer viciousness of Astyanath "society" has totally bred out any semblence of loyalty amongst them, and their willingness to let rivals be overwhelmed in battle so they can take their position, or to lead mutinees against "weak" leaders in mid-combat has cost them more then a few battles.
- Circles of Hell: the Pit is a 2400 mile deep crater basically divided into nine bands of terrain that roughly equate to countries. We start with Emptiness, the rim of barren ash wastes around the mouth of the crater. Next comes the eternally storm-wracked mountains of Tempest. The mudflats and swamps of Tears comes between Tempest and the volcanic badlands and slagheaps of Toil. After that, one passes through the battlefields of Slaughter to the urbanized nightmare of Industry. For the final stretch, you go down through the demonic "paradise" of Delight, through passes in the volcanic mountains of Malebolge, and finish in Pandemonium, the city of chaos on the crater's floor. Yes, you are walking on the walls of a roughly conical crater for the seven intermediate Circles between the outside and the crater floor. Gravity works differently in the Pit.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: everywhere in Hell. Demons need to torture souls to extract iliaster from them; the more pain they induce, the more iliaster a soul generates.
- Crapsack World: it's blisteringly hot and dry (except where it's freezing cold and dry), rivers are more likely to be full of magma or molten metal then water, there's no sun (though there's a reasonable facsimile), it's several types of barren wasteland, it's crawling with inhuman creatures that literally need to rip your soul apart in order to both feed themselves and sustain their society... how much worse can you get?
- Dark Is Not Evil: averted. There can be relatively good natured and honorable demons, but they're still monstrous and most of the race is, indeed, evil.
- Deal with the Devil: Deceivers are basically embodiments of the sort of suave, charismatic demons/devils associated with this trope. Also played straight with the Chain of Gifts, powers that allow a demon to give "boons" of various sorts to those willing to trust its benevolence. The "exact payment for what was promised" is played up more with the Chain of Usury.
- Demonic Possession: racial ability of the Deceivers (who do it psionically/spiritually) and the Imps (who do it physically by shrinking down so small they can squeeze in through your ear and turn your brain into a control panel). Also, any creature who takes the Chain of the Possessor gets this ability—this includes not only other breeds of demon, but also fallen angels and even corrupted mortals.
- Demon Lords and Archdevils: the rulership of Hell comes in a distinctly feudal fashion, authority being handed down from the nine Heads of Houses through a system of Grand Dukes, Dukes, Earls, Viscounts, Barons and Captains. There's no actual difference between "demon" and "devil" (racially; devil is a higher social rank, below daemon). The overall authority of/law in Hell is a selection of three councils, primarily the Assembly of Grand Hierarchs of the Infernum, a council comprised of one representative for each House and a number of other representatives of various powers, such as the Independent Demons, the lords of Pandemonium, and the Faustians. It's sort of like the UN... only disputes are much more violent. It's an uneventful meeting if only two or three members are vaporised in mid-speech.
- Devil but No God: one possible interpretation of the setting is this. Lucifer and a number of other Fallen Angels named by Christianity were exiled from a place called ?Heaven?, but there?s no evidence that Heaven is anything like the Christian depiction of the place (even the Fallen Angels player race don?t remember anything about it, and of course the demons and humans haven?t ever seen it), and there?s nothing that implies there?s some kind of supreme entity running the place.
- Duel to the Death: One of the three lynchpins of Infernal society is the Law of the Duel.
- Dumb Muscle: Hulks. Taken to the extreme, too - Hulks get a Chain that lets the turn into literal living castles.
- Subversions of this tend to be extremely scary.
- Dungeon Punk: Steampunk grade Industrial Revolution technology mixed with magic, resulting in things like biomechanical Golems, chainsaws powered by soul-stuff, and demon-possessed missiles.
- Evil Is Deathly Cold: the Circles of Tempest and Pandemonium, as well as anyplace ruled by a demon lord following the Glacier Lord branch of the Chain of the Screaming Sky. The DM's book mentions the possibly existence of a "Tenth Circle" below Pandemonium, composed of grinding ice and darkness.
- Evil Versus Evil: often what a given Infernum game boils down to.
- Fallen Angel: a playable character race. Between their exile and their passage through the Mists of Lethe that cloak Hell, they don't remember the slightest thing about Heaven, or even why they Fell in the first place.
- Fantastic Racism: About the only hard rule is that the damned are less than anyone else, and this is true across all factions except (in theory) for the Free Cities (where it's just true in fact), even the Knights of the Harrowing (who are led by a damned ghost). Other than that, demons look down on nondemons, free humans hate demons, the various breeds have different stereotypes associated with them, and views regarding angels get complicated. (An angel in the Infernum is legally a demon, but a newfallen is seen mostly as lunch.)
- Fisher King: any demon who follows the Chain of the Screaming Sky can determine the general weather patterns and terrain of their land, eventually causing it to become a frozen tundra, volcanic wasteland, misty swamps, or shrouded under eternal night. In spirit, at least, the Chain of the Burning Land, which binds a demon closely to their territory, also fits.
- The French Revolution: The Free Cities are an Expy of Revolutionary France.
- Genius Bruiser: Fairly uncommon among demons, due to Crippling Overspecialization, but outright terrifying when it happens. The most notable example of this was Sturrach, the mightiest demon in history, who was also the Infernum's greatest general.
- God Is Evil: Heavily implied, at least from the perspective of those in Hell. At the very best, he's a Neglectful Precursor.
- Greed: the "Avarice" version is the defining trait of the demons of House Carthenay, to the point where one of their powers is the ability to have Solid Gold Poop.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Gendered demons can breed with humans and create half-demons. Demons can also breed with demons and create half-demons who are identical to those with human blood.
- Hell: where the game is set.
- Hellfire: an energy type native to the setting, alongside the "traditional" D20 energies of Acid, Cold, Electric, Fire and Sonic. Described as greenish-black flames that are fuelled by hate, rage and misery, explicitly called the "anti-iliaster".
- Hermetic Magic: the default magic system of the game closely follows this idea, which really stands out compared to the typical D20 setting.
- Heroic Willpower: Humans can use this to power their limited magical abilities.
- Horny Devils: Malcubi and, really, any demon with the Chain of Lust mutation. Also see Planet of Hats below.
- Humans Are Special: Mortals are capable of generating iliaster by force of will and using it to boost themselves or alter fate, traits that are the only reason they can survive in an environment as unforgiving as Hell.
- I Gave My Word: The principle of the Covenant is the closest thing to law that exists in the Infernum. Of course, this being the Infernum, a Covenant imposed by force or even Mind Rape is just as valid (both magically and legally) as a Covenant sworn voluntarily.
- Inherent in the System: Several mechanics in the system exist to help the amoral and wicked gain power over the more scrupulous, as the nature of Hell rewards conquest and brutality. Also, even demons who try to be honorable and good-natured are still creatures who survive by feeding on the pain of damned souls.
- Noble Demon: About as nice as a demon can realistically get.
- Kill It with Fire: the Chain of the Inferno gives the character fiery powers, including launching blasts of flame, turning into living flame, cloaking themselves in auras of fire, and causing victims to spontaneously combust with a touch? though those last two options have the drawback that, eventually, the demon will burst into flames themselves when they try to use it. Also somewhat subverted, as all demons are naturally resistant to fire and the same Chain can make them even more resistant to it.
- Large and In Charge: The Chain of the Demon King, a chain of mutations exclusive to House Lictat nobility (formerly held by the fallen House Jelac), begins by giving the demon who takes it one level of Size Increase.
- Legions of Hell: The default player characters.
- Light Is Not Good: The average Fallen Angel who survives in Hell quickly becomes even more evil and corrupt than most demons. Even Fallen who follow the Paths of the Divine Will (attempting to adhere to their celestial purpose) and Mortal (attempting to become like humans) can be Complete Monsters, or at least Jerk Asses. (Not too badly, however; commit too many sins and you'll be corrupted.)
- Mind Rape: let's see... tortures designed to break your will, malcubi can physically enter your dreams, House Riethii's Noble Chain of the Harlot, the Chains of Charisma, Lies, Lust and Weeping all let you manipulate the minds and/or emotions of others in some fashion, the Chain of Possession lets you steal the bodies of others or become a voice in their head goading them to do what you want, the Chain of the Hungry Mind culminates in the ability to psychically "eat" someone's brain, the Nightmare Aspect Chain turns you into living horror... yeah, this is a popular trope.
- Planet of Hats: The Houses, which function as a second splat alongside a demon's Breed.
- Barbarian Tribe: The Early Tribes, especially the Bori.
- Blood Knight: Basically House Sturrach's schtick; the most militant and warlike of all the Houses, their explicit goal is to conquer Hell, then invade and conquer Earth, then crush Heaven, then sweep out into The Multiverse to find an infinite array of worlds to conquer. War without end, an eternal battle, is their idea of paradise. Naturally, full of Sociopathic Soldiers and Colonel Kilgores.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Carthenay's hat.
- Fat Bastard: Oblurott's hat. Demons of House Oblurott invariably are massively obese, partially because of their eating habits, partially because their House Chain actually revolves around them mutating into being so fleshy it's hard for them to move, but also hard for them to be hurt. Oblurotts consider this a sign of dignity and respect, however; as they know they were created to be warrior-slaves, being as unfit for that duty as possible is considered a sign of good breeding. Laziness is also highly admired; an admired Oblurott will have a hundred slaves to do something rather then lift a finger itself. When they do bestir themselves, they are notoriously direct and can be surprisingly energetic and effective, but that's only because they want to get it over with so they can go back to feasting and lazing around.
- For Science!: mixed with some elements of Machine Worship, the basic hat of House Zethu, though they apply it to both actual science and to sorcery. Progress and development are the closest thing they have to a personal religion, to the extent that they are defined as embodiments of "The Sin Against The Holy Ghost".
- Horny Devils: The Riethii hat. Astyanath qualifies too, but they take it in a somewhat more specialized direction.
- The Knights Templar: The Knights of the Harrowing. Invaded Hell on purpose with the intention of killing all demons.
- Necromancer: The House Haimon hat.
- Plaguemaster: The House Glabretch hat.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Bori. Not House Sturrach, who seek neither glory nor honor in battle.
- Royal Blood/Lower Class Lout: House Lictat's hat is in claiming both of these simultaneously, and seeing no contradiction whatsoever between them.
- Slave Liberation: The Branded are an Early Tribe descended from escaped slaves.
- Torture Technician: The racial Hat of Slavers (though they lean more towards the "lowbrow, brutish, sadistic thug" version then the "self-professed artiste of pain" version), and the Hat of House Astyanath as a whole (who lean towards the latter). In a culture where torture is vital to everything from the economy to industry, there's plenty of these to go around, though.
- Red Right Hand: Deceivers have a single distinguishing mark to set them aside from humans. (Aside from anything their personal mutations may give.
- Religion of Evil: played with in the form of the Church of the Morningstar. On one hand, their religious trappings are intended more as mockery then anything else (to the point the average priest thinks someone who genuinely believes in their "faith" is either dead stupid or out of their mind), they're no more evil then any other demon, and they're really more of a social organization who are basically responsible for ensuring that the sun of Hell rises and sets regularly and doesn't explode or snuff out in the wind or anything like. On the other hand, the secret heart of the Church is that it's a Lucifer Cult, awaiting the return of the leader of the First Fallen and planning to fight at his side, betraying all demonkind, in the belief that he will make them his right-hand-minions after re-enslaving all other demons.
- Sacred Hospitality: one of the three Laws (the others being the Law of the Covenant and the Law of the Duel) that hold the Infernum together as a functional society (for certain values of functional).
- Satan: averted, more or less. Lucifer was the leader of the First Fallen, and did more or less mastermind the creation of Hell, but he has played no part in the course of demonic history since the first rebellion by the demons. The book is ambigous as to whether he escaped from Hell somehow, fled to the Brokenlands with the other First Fallen survivors, or was killed and eaten by his own creations.
- Scarily Competent Tracker: this is the racial motif of the Stalkers, who look something like demonic humanoid jackals and have a personality somewhere between a rabid wolf and a shark. Their racial abilities include being able to meddle with their quarry's dreams, cursing them with the knowledge that the Stalker is coming and there's nothing they can do to shake them off, and the ability to see through their prey's eyes and know exactly what they're feeling, both of these at will.
- Scary Scorpions: One type of weapon in Hell is a mutant scorpion bred to serve as a living, poisonous whip. The actual body clings to the back of your hand/arm and the tail lashes out to sting your victims.
- Seven Deadly Sins: most of the Houses embody at least one of these, and sometimes more. Zethu is Pride, Riethii is blatantly Lust, Sturrach obviously has strong ties to Wrath, Lictat is implied to be Envy, and Oblurott is predominantly Gluttony, with a side-order of Sloth.
- Also referenced in the history. In the Good Old Days, souls were given to the various Houses of the Infernum based on their sins. After the industrial revolution kicked into high gear in the wake of Sturrach's War, this went by the wayside as every House started grabbing for every soul they could get their claws on.
- Shining City: Pandemonium, a shining symbol of all of demonkind's aspirations, hopes and dreams. From the demonic perspective, the trope is played completely straight here.
- From everyone else's, of course, it's a horrible black disaster of a city, build on and ringed by black, grinding, soul-sucking ice, full of twisted, winding streets that change when you're not looking at them, and dominated by those palaces and temples of the First Fallen that still stand.
- Too Kinky to Torture: the elite House military of House Astyanath is known as the "Joyous Legion", composed entirely of demons who, thanks to a unique House Noble Chain, feel only pleasure when wounded, and learn to harness their pleasure to drive them on to even greater efforts. While numerically inferior to many Houses, the Joyous Legion is still feared by all of Hell. Which is really no surprise; would you want to pick a fight with an army of highly combat-trained sadists who just get tougher (and more turned on) the more you fight back?
- Turned Against Their Masters: The Demons slaughtered the Fallen Angels.
- Unstoppable Rage: An ability available to certain mutation chains, and the racial ability of Hulks. On a larger scale, Sturrach's War began when the most powerful demon in Infernal history was pushed beyond his limits and proceeded to tear down the leaders of several other Houses.
- Villainous Glutton: House Oblurott—even the other demons consider them disgusting, to the point their official nickname is "The Gross". Many of them are, indeed, Fat Bastards (emphasis on fat), but relatively few of them have Jabba Table Manners—they're far too hungry to waste food by spilling it on themselves. They actually need to have surgery to avoid killing themselves through being like this, as demons are only supposed to live off of iliaster and, consquently, have rudimentary stomachs and no excretory organs, and extra digestive organs are frequently implanted to help them eat even more. And it still doesn't keep one of the two main causes of death amongst the Oblurott being exploding from eating too much. The other main cause, for the curious, is being eaten by a rival or a superior.
- We ARE Struggling Together!: Part of why Sturrach's War was so successful was because the Houses didn't even think to cut the squabbling and team up to take down Sturrach, and while all the Houses together could beat Sturrach's army, while he was in command, no House could do it alone. In addition, the War started because Sturrach couldn't get everyone to agree to his plan to unite the Infernum, so he decided to make them listen.
- Winged Humanoid: Fallen Angels, Malcubi and Fiends.