Need an infernal tavern, a meeting place for devils, or a place to have a diabolical time? Look no further than the Wells of Nessus. A devil bar with an intriguing (or disgusting) exterior and lots of room for interesting encounters. Either as a good place for infernal information gathering or as the site of a portal to take your group where they need to go (although not necessarily want to), the Wells of Nessus is the location you want to visit!
Where to find Wells of Nessus
The very nature of the Wells – an establishment for devils and their likes – requires that some kind of cosmic influx wherever you decide to include it. In other words, make sure that it is reasonable for devils to go there. In D&D lore, Sigil would be the ideal place, but other exotic locations like the brass citadel or – if you want to get creative – Zelatar might work. You can even place the Wells of Nessus in a metropolis on the material plane if you have one that is sufficiently evil or at least “don’t care” in attitude.
In our campaign, the Wells of Nessus was situated in a half-wrecked Sigil and provided a portal to Cania in the Nine Hells. The players had an easy time making their way through, since in the state Sigil was in (under constant attack by the Elder Elemental Eye with the Lady fighting back) only the more drunkard kind of devil remained. They will, however, have some fun with the patrons upon their return after they swindled their way through the first time.
The local Lore
This is probably the worst-kept secret inside the Wells of Nessus – there are no wells on Nessus. The name is a half-inspired play on the innermost of the nine hells and the wells of darkness in the Abyss, conceived by someone who did not know either that well. The owner of the establishment likes to make it out to be a story of secrets shrouded in mysteries. He is rather successful in getting new customers to pay for a couple of drinks to hear at least one version of the story.
Outside the Wells of Nessus
The Wells of Nessus resembles a step pyramid, although the building is rather tall compared to its base. It has four stories and is, at first glance, mostly black. The one feature that pops out is that there is no entrance at ground level. Instead, there is a steep staircase leading up to the second floor. Like most other surfaces the stairs are charred black.
The whole structure appears to be made out of burnt wood. There are decorative elements that only serve to make it look more bulky and majestic, mainly because details are hard to make out with that color scheme. Despite the general theme of charred timber, there is no soot rubbing off the material should anyone actually touch it.
Upon closer inspection, the outside of the Wells of Nessus is adorned with more than architecture. The walls, especially those above ground level, are adorned with a great many trophies taken from battles with Celestials and, less frequently, demons. There are wings of Solars and Planetars nailed to the wall, their sacred weapons defiled and unhallowed put on display, and the occasional heads of Devas and the like mounted on crude boards. Conversely, there are horns taken from various demons hammered into the wall.
There is another layer to the Wells’ exterior decorations that is hidden from casual eyes. In fact, you need either a spell to reveal otherwise invisible writing or a light source that emits the right kind of light to see what has been written on the walls.
It is customary for leaders in the eternal war with demons as well as celestial beings to leave some statistics on the walls, outlining how many of what they or their troops have slain in the latest skirmish. When made visible, notes about the blood war will appear in a different color than the ones regarding celestial skirmishes.
The 2nd Floor – Welcome
The second floor of the Wells of Nessus, which is also the first one that can be entered from the outside via the steep staircase, is a single room that, at first glance, looks to be black. On second glance, all surfaces resemble the same burnt wood look that the outside did, and the walls actually appear to be paneled in a rather intricate fashion.
This welcome room is about four by four squares (yes, that is what I am using here. Go metric or imperial at your own discretion). Along the wall, there is a long iron bar that sports coat hangers as well as meat hooks, and there is a wooden pedestal next to the door with a musky book on it.
During the busier hours of the night, an employee will greet guests there, check reservations (which hardly ever happen) and take coats and recent prey to put them on coat racks or meat hooks respectively. They also double as the bouncer, which given the steep stairs is not the hardest job to accomplish if you can manage to keep an eye on who is trying to come up.
In the center of the room, a spiral staircase of intricate yet mostly meaningless iron-wrought design winds its way down to the first floor. There are bumps and small pyramid-like structures on the railings that appear to be very flat spikes and an odd choice for an artistic element alike. Depending on how forcefully they are being touched, they tend to come off.
The 1st Floor – The Bar
The spiral staircase leads to the first floor, a room four times the size of the entrance room above. The wall design is similar, and so is the texture of almost every surface in the room. There is a long bar that spans almost the entire wall on the side of the Wells’ entrance. Behind it, blackened shelves hold a fine assortment of fiendish liquors and spirits, with a select number behind decorative bars.
In addition to the spindly stools in front of that bar, there are about fourteen tables in the room, each with at least four chairs, some up to eight. There is not much space to move about as such, and it appears that the arrangement is meant to be adapted to the current guests. Devils and their friends will gather, and room will be made wherever necessary to allow for service.
This service is being provided by entities that are made of smoke. They can pass through solid matter, including their guests, but since they are transporting physically sound beverages – and passing through living things is not fun as such – they prefer serving like traditional bar folk would.
In order to get into the heart of the Wells of Nessus, what you might consider the VIP section, one has to be known by the bartender – more often than not a minotaur with infernal sigils carved into his horns and sometimes skin – or be able to convince him otherwise. There is a mechanism underneath the bar, next to a selection of armaments designed to deal with both fiends and celestials should the need arise.
This mechanism triggers a staircase to open up akin to a maw near the wall opposite the bar, The railings on this straight path down sport longer spikes than the previous one, which tend to break rather easily despite the fact that they are also quite pointy. Devils who know the procedure tend to avoid tables set up on or near the stairs – while they all dream of one day being welcome downstairs.
Ground Floor – VIP Lounge
Down on the ground level, the room is about 2 squares wider than the one above. It is also black but lit by more arcane sources of light that give the common black wall a more red and almost lava-like quality. The tables down here are more adorned and the seating arrangements more lavish than in the bar above. There is a long bench running along the wall, complete with cushions encased in dark leather.
Drinks are being served down here by the same smoke-like specters as above since they can pass through walls. For the drinks, there is a hole in the floor of the first floor underneath the bar and well-hidden from view through where the servants funnel the orders.
On one side of the room, a pedestal has been set up, slightly less blackened than the rest of the wall panels. It is commonly used for performances by entertainers or bards. At the back, though, and commonly covered with thick, black velvet. sits what looks like an oval dressing mirror.
This mirror is a portal to one of the nine hells, and while it is considered already well guarded through the VIP lounge and all the devils an interloper would have to pass to get here, there is always, at all times, a horned devil on duty guarding it. Given the relative safety of his position, guarding duty comes down to asking stern questions. And since drinks are on the house for him, he is pretty drunk most of the time.
The spikes, flat on the entrance floor, sharp and pointy in the VIP lounge, are not actually design elements as one would like to believe. Instead, they are an infection with a weird kind of disease that does latch on to buildings. The spikes spread in weird ways and are very hard to observe doing it. They grow pointier over time, taking months to turn into a point that can be considered sharp.
The infection of the Wells of Nessus has been carried in by a chain devil who got caught in a trap in a derelict house and could only escape after a few weeks. Since it spreads slowly, with a new spike every few weeks. and the pointy ones can be crushed easily by armored hands, the owners do not see the point of getting rid of it.
There is actually a slight chance for mortals to get infected with this disease upon impact with the spikes in any way. Cases have been few and far between, and nothing is known whether the disease will have additional effects on top of forming a spiked shell all over the victim’s skin. It has been proposed that there are darker forces involved and that the affliction is a remnant of an old and powerful spell. Others have theorized that it is more akin to a method of remote controlling, but there is no evidence for that, either.
The 3rd Floor – No Way In
There is, in fact, another story to the Wells of Nessus, and literally so. Clearly visible from the outside, there is a third floor sitting smack on top of the one where the stairs lead to. There is no discernible way to enter it from the outside, nor is there any way to get to it from the entrance room. There are no hatches in the ceiling, nor does the spiral staircase go anywhere but down.
Talkative as the owner may be, he will never even acknowledge the existence of the third floor. Whenever a group of devils decides to investigate on their own, they either fall their way to serious injuries or are never heard from again.
So, what is there really?
I don’t know. My players never investigated, and there was no need to make something up. If you need a hiding place for a fiendish artefact, this would be the place. Always protected by a large number of devil patrons as well as being a easily defendable structure, this third floor would be a prime choice for that.
Or, turning this reasoning on its head, it is actually a severely enchanted hiding place for a celestial beeing seeking refuge after a hellish battle. Skilled in subterfuge and piggy-backing with the devils that almost defeated it, this entity managed to get to the roof of the Wells and created a third floor with what remained of its divine spark.
In a much more sinister alternative, it is just a storage room holding chairs, tables and a couple of items that are of no significance whatsoever.
Or are they…
I hope you can make use of the ideas presented here, and maybe even put the Wells of Nessus into one of your campaigns. Let me know what you think, I would greatly appreciate your feedback. And if you want more content like this, check out my other Roleplaying Inspiration. And have a look at my Papercraft, too.
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