The Isle of the Dead

Out on the lake furthest from civilisation, there is a perpetual fog, and squatting in the centre of it is the Isle of the Dead. They say that the spirits of the departed haunt the fog and they are only partially wrong. Many of the dead transition to the underworld here, but they all must pass the Gatesman.

The approach is quiet like thunder isn't.

He lurks at the mouth of the tunnel, passed the trees, passed the other side doors down. Like a statue, draped in stone cloths, he stands in constant vigil, shepherding the souls of the dead down the tunnel. The living however, he stops, and tells that; "THE PRICE OF ENTRY, IS TWO OBOLS." If questioned about this, all he will elaborate on is that "THE LIVING ARE NOT PERMITTED TO TRULY SEE THE CITY OF THE DEAD".

If the price is paid, the Gatesman will place the coins on the eyes of the entrants, and they will affix there, the eyes on the coin opening, and they will be permitted to pass. From this point on, the entrant can see as if through a thick, misty rain; all desaturated, grainy, and colourless. When they leave, the Obols will melt into mist from their eyes, and their sight shall be restored.

If they ever remove the Obols while they remain within the threshold of the Gatesman's door, their own eyes will melt from their head, as the Obol's eyes burst into sepia flame and scream.

And how do you get Obols you may ask?
In the dungeon of course.

The Dungeon

Long ago, the King of the Dead built his town and took his queen, who took umbrage at her imprisonment over a few pomegranate seeds. She sent beast after beast to take their life of her husband, but Kerberos, the Hound of Many Heads, denied her many times. Each beast was taken above, and then below again to be left in the Dungeons under the Isle of the Dead.

Dungeon Levels

There are nine levels of the dungeon. They begin civilised enough, covered in frescoes and ornate architecture. As you get deeper the carvings become rougher, the artwork daubed by hand, and older things crawl up from the darkness.
Each level is the prison of one specific demon-beast that sort to slay the Lord of Hadestown, though various other creatures and beings have crawled into its darkness or have been imprisoned down there with them.

Its a good thing they never made another one of these.
But also this is what the dungeon looks like. Like this movie.

1 - The Labyrinth 
Form: Twisting and Writhing Halls, they never seem to stay the same for long. Prisoner: Minos, the Man-Bull
2 - The Cathedral of Bones
Form: A great holy city under one great vaulted roof. All the walls are covered and ornamented by bones. Prisoner: Tiresias, the Necromancer-Oracle
3 - The Forest of Roots
Form: A classic dungeon, only roots grow through many of the walls and choke many of the tunnels. Prisoner: The Hekatonkhieres  
4 - Scrambletown
Form: A simple, mud-brick town, but the floor is covered in shattered stone statues. Prisoner: The Gorgon. 
5 - Pandaemonium
Form: A great, many-ringed city with many gates of horn and ivory. Many things that are not real wander here. Prisoner: The Oneiroi, the Demons of Dream.
6 - The Pit
Form: A Shaft, dropping far, far away into the darkness. Worm-tunnels riddle its sides. Prisoner: Artemis, cursed to fall down the shaft over and over forever and ever.
7 - The Helix Fortress
Form: A curling, ribbed tunnel, twining deeper and deeper. Prisoner: Nautilus, the Murderer-Mariner.
8 - The Bleakling Sea
Form: A vast calcite cavern, dominated by a huge and eternally still under-sea. Prisoner: Typhon, father of Serpents. [Kerberos' loyalty extends even deeper than family it seems.]
9 - The Darkest Prison
Form: Only a black and lightless hole in the world. Prisoner: the Treacherous Queen of Hadestown. [Even the patience of the Lord of the Dead is not infinite.]

On each level, a few scant Obols can be covered, enough for your party I'm sure. Each time they return, they must venture deeper.

The Descent

Once you have paid your price and covered your eyes with the currency of the dead, you can begin your journey down into the darkness. Follow the tunnel for 3 days, eat nothing, drink nothing, ignore the scratches at your belly, they are only your body unsure about where it is. Grope through the shadows until finally you emerge in the great cavern beneath. Step onto the boat, pay as little attention to the boatman as you can, and wait for the journey to be over. Look up, step up onto the dock, and gaze upon Hadestown.


It is built upon a great sphere of stone, supposedly a mile in diameter, though only a thousand feet or so poke above the water, a cold dome upon which a mad jigsaw, mish-mash, building-block city constructed upon the dome.
Soft candle-light illuminates parts of the town gently, like a soft luminous mist. The buildings grow both in luxury and repair as you rise up the dome. A cancerous mass of ruined building clings ungratefully to the edge of the dome, partially eaten by the deep black sea. It is all topped with a palace, measured well with spleandour and melancholy.

This is Hadestown.

There are few views to the sky in the streets of Hadestown.
They have forgotten the Stars.
The streets are claustrophobic and layered like string, few places are open to the sky, save the forums where the diviners search endlessly and desperately for stars. Fires provide a soft light, though it is muted by the Obol-Eyes you must wear.
The water laps softly against the edges of the island, and the few edges that aren't built up are blistered with fisherman dangling fruitless lines into the black waters.

The Town is split into three districts, built one atop the others, dependant on their altitude. Some try to bring themselves into higher districts by building their houses taller and taller to breach into more prestigious heights and construct bridges to connect them to their new neighbours. Rarely are these towers not torn down.

The Three Districts are Tartarus, Asphodel, and Elysium.


The lowest of the Districts and the closest to the water. Here are the dead who arrived with their two Obols and little else. Sometimes inhuman things uncoil from the waters are pluck them from the wharfs and streets and pull them soundlessly under the surface. No-one cares, not even Tartarans. 

The streets are slow and dark, they reek of damp and dust. They say the cobbles were cut from the bones of titans. 

Very little of interest happens in Tartarus, which is exactly why the few illicit activities that do happen in Hadestown happen here. There are a few gangs of itinerant souls once led by five particularly sinister Souls, who now languish in the Phlegethon.
The other point of note in Tartarus is Cocytus, the purgatory slum.

Of the four great houses of Hadestown, Phlegethon is the most dreaded by its people. Consisting of a wide and flat main body, much of its structure lies below the surface of the dome (more so than most buildings in Hadestown. These under-levels eventually constrict and separate into 5 anti-spires, delving deeper and deeper before terminating in the 5 prisons of the Conspirators, who led the people of Tartarus against the Lord of the Dead in the Traitor Queen's name. They are suspended by the neck in vats of boiling, burning blood. 
Their names have been forgotten, but this much is remembered:

The Prisoners
One had an eye that could see the past, and one that could see the future. [They have been plucked out and are kept pointed back at themselves, all they can see is the eternal suffering they will experience, past and future.]
One had a voice whose commands had to be obeyed. [They are gagged, but in truth, any command given must be given, no matter how it is relayed. This face has been hidden well.] 
One had hands that could not be resisted or restrained. [This one stumped the Judges of Hadestown for some time, until they created a pool whose edges could not be gripped and threw them in, so that they could never pull themselves free of the pool.]
One had feet who could carry them quicker than the wind. [They were hung by the hands in a wide pool whose edges could not be reached from the centre, but they needn't have worried. The power lies in their sandals, which are hidden in their old home on the waterfront.]
And one had much knowledge of the three Great Arts. [It is said that they have been left in their pool to suffer; but the Judges of Hadestown cut a deal with them. They can live secretly in peace in Elysium with the Judges if they copy all their knowledge into three great tomes. They accepted without hesitation.]

The Jailor of the Phlegethon is a fractal being forged from many, many overlapping souls of great commanders and expert archers, forced into one multi-faceted thing. It stalks through the hallways, thundering steps echoing from its single pair of feet, many ears listening through its single set. When intruders are discovered (which only happens rarely) many arms draw back many bowstrings, though only one arrow is loosed.

But with that many experts aiming and firing it, it never misses.
And with as many minds formulating and concocting strategies, it is all but impossible to outsmart it to.

It can out act you in almost every way, but there is only one of it.

And it still dies like a man does.


A festering scab of hovels and fire-pits clinging desperately onto the dome, here lurk the few that Charon didn't take across the waters. Once it was a great house of the dome, but it slid, slowly and achingly into the water, and its ancient hallways still make up the foundation of this water-logged despond. It is partially submerged into the black sea, like its inhabitants, for they are not permitted to walk upon the dome. They did not pay their price.

Everything is wet, and cold, and miserable. No-one wanted to be here, many did not deserve to, but they had no obols. If you could give them a pair, they could pay the ferryman and step upon the dry ground again.

But who of any actual worth would end up here?

In fact, a few important people do end up in Cocytus for various reasons, especially adventurers and warriors. It takes a good deal of effort to find any of them. Shades in Hadestown generally keep to themselves, or their social circles if they ever form them. They also look a lot alike, especially when you're wearing your obols, but they really don't like it being brought up.

In particular, there are three places in Cocytus that shades tend to congregate; the Dive, the Crush, and the Vice.

The Dive is about as miserable a bar as you could ever find. Even more dissolute that normal spirits stretch themselves thin beyond thin, and no-one is even drunk, just depressed and  pretending. Its quite obnoxious. It is run by an especially spiteful shade by the name of Ixion. He can tell you the names and sins of each of his patrons, and has a book of grudges that any particular patron has built up against him.

The Crush is what passes for a market here. Shades with nets hook and snatch up the scraps that tumble off the dome and peddle them, shouting to swap and barter for other things, like tickets to be spent in the Dive or the Vice. No-one has anything of worth, they just trade shit round and round.

The Vice is as close to a brothel as incorporeal, miserable beings can manage, mashing ghosts and writhing spectres. They are all deluded, and its the only thing that stops many of them fading away completely, such is their desperation. 

You could also descend under the water into the ruins of the old house, where it is said that many treasures still lie. You don't need to ask about much to hear many more tales of the dangers that lurk in the black sea.


The largest and most mediocre district of Hadestown. Grey and cold, but not so much so as Tartarus of course. The streets are not quite ruined, but they are certainly close to it. Fabrics even survive here a time, and craftsman make objects that do not succumb to the weight of years after a matter of hours. Shades wander the streets, make small talk, and even eat together. Life is somewhat normal here. Somewhat.

Here are the great houses of Lethe, and Acheron


This is the house of forgetting, a bar of some notoriety in Hadestown. Here, many, many souls come to be even more dissolute than normal, sometimes to the point of fading away entirely. Its like the Dive, but classier, and set in the dusty shell, refurbished many times over the millenia, of an old and noble house. Ancient Frescoes peel away from the wall as drinks cups are manufactured from ancient jars and flower pots.

Occasionally, balls are hosted by the proprietor, Mighty Lord Eschataloc, who claims to be the best friend you will ever meet, insist on becoming the first person you meet, and is far too comfortable grabbing strangers by the shoulder as her pushes dead drinks on them. He desires to be everyone's friend and have as many links to the world as he can, so that he can delay his fading away. All his friendships are shallow and artificial, and he can't for the death of him figure out why.


The fighting pits of Acheron are some of the best entertainment in Hadestown, if simply for the reason that here the shades which frequent it can genuinely be said to be having a good time.

There are 7 pits in all; three are for shade versus shade bouts, three for shade versus beast bouts, and one basically always empty pit. The beasts are generally abducted from the dungeon above, and the living can (sometimes) be paid handsomely for catches that will put on a good show in the pits.

The pay is in relics of older ages, so value is not always consistent, let alone guaranteed.

The final pit is almost always empty because your opponent in the final pit is the owner of the Acheron, Axis. Axis is bad news.

He stands about 12 feet tall, and is wreathed in terrible flames, and crowned with many horns, and has many arms ringed about him, at least, when he doesn't want to be civil about things. His head is also a skull most of the time. Axis organises the fights, and occasionally asks favours of those who do particularly well. Very few are not friendly with Axis (not to his face at least) and his connections make Mighty Lord Eschataloc of House Lethe quite, quite jealous. 


As good as it gets in Hadestown. The buildings are actually cared for (often by souls from Tartarus who are bullied into doing it), and the streets are clear of rubble, even the back streets. The tea houses have comforting candle glows, and here, you might almost forget you're dead.


In Elysium is the last of the great houses, Styx.


The final great house, it is something of a temple, something of a gathering place. One thing about it in particular stands out, while within its walls, no harm can befall you, of any kind. Knives will not cut, fires will not burn you, and even hurtful remarks gutter and die in the throat of those that would say them (if the saying would actually cause any offence to any that would hear it). It is a neutral meeting place for the dead and those that would visit them.
It is all presided over by The Dour Dowager, a woman of some startling age, beauty (considering her advancement at least) and cunning. She has little stake in the schemes and politics of her fellow dead, but she does so enjoy knowing about all about it, and is more than happy to trade secrets with those who offer. It is also she that controls the schedule of who can make use of each of the Styx's private rooms, the price often being a piece of juicy, fresh gossip.

The Lord's Palace
There are no records of it, but the Lord of the Dead was overthrown, and his corpse thrown into the black sea. In his place, 3 Judges sit in counsel of Hadestown, and continue the charade of the Lord's rule. His throne sits empty. This is very much secret.

The Three Judges
Mila - A general in life, she is stern, tactical, and imperious. This is also all a facade to ensure that none try to get too close to her. She is haunted by her old comrades.
Rhadaman - A king in life of a small but prosperous realm, brought to ruin in a single night because of a single mistake. Deeply disturbed by his past failings.
Aedriad - A mere beggar in life, long suffering and deeply empathetic, and yet also capable of startling acts of pragmatism in the name of Hadestown.

Together the three run the settlement fairly, if tersely and occasionally brutally. They are not above throwing shades into the lake and not looking back. They would do anything to continue the town's legacy, and their own standing.

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