Filling the Nine Hells of Baator, the baatezu (BAY-a-teh-zu) are the exemplar race standing for Law and Evil. Known throughout the multiverse for their tyranny, this race of fiends is one of the major forces behind the eternal Blood War, responsible for untold levels of repression and destruction.
While there are tales of a primordial race of inhabitants of Baator, the modern day baatezu have their origins in the ancient days of the primordial war between Law and Chaos, before the planes fully formed. In those days, it is said that Asmodeus was the champion of Law, leader of a horde of celestials from the peaks of Celestia against the obyrith. Over the centuries of battle, though, it is said that the nature of their foes (or, according to some, the intervention of the baernaloths, though some people see 'loths behind every curtain) contaminated Asmodeus and his legion, twisting them, making them darker in both look and deed, and pulling them away from the light. The many and varied deities of Celestia wished to banish Asmodeus, but could find no means to do so within the Law; he was still a great fighter in the name of Order, despite the perversion of his nature, and he knew the tangles of Law better than any deity.
The deities instead turned their attention to the mortal world, crafting and forming the landscapes and the races that filled them. The obyrith and their tanar'ri minions soon began to strike against these realms, learning the power that belief held. And though the deities sought to protect their children, hiding and blocking the means by which the fiends entered these worlds, the mortals never ceased to defy them, letting the demons in time and again. The deities had no choice but to allow them this, for Law means nothing without free will. But Asmodeus proposed a way of helping to ensure obedience; and thus the concept of Punishment was born. The ideals of Good and Evil made themselves apparent to the deities of Law for the first time.
And so it was that those that transgressed were punished in their afterlife. Throughout the halls of Celestia, sinners were flayed, tormented, tortured. The deities could not let this stand, and sought to try Asmodeus for his deeds; they could do naught, though, as he was merely executing their desire. He offered a deal, though. A pact, known today as the Pact Primeval, signed by Asmodeus and all the deities of Law, that would agree to send those to be punished to the realm of Baator, claimed by Asmodeus and his legion. The wicked were removed from Celestia, and sent Asmodeus on his way.
Centuries continued to pass before the deities of Celestia noticed far fewer souls arriving than they once did. Investigating, they found the true nature of Asmodeus's scheme, for he had not merely taken in those that chose the ways of tyranny of their own accord, but sent his legion out into the Material to seduce them there, taking power from their torment and growing ever near the heights of divinity himself. The deities of Law once more called Asmodeus before them. And yet, he had abode by the Pact precisely. Nothing could be done. Still, in anger, they struck at him with their great power. While as per the Pact they could not slay him, they wounded him greatly, sending him crashing back to Baator, falling through the Nine Hells until finally landing in the deepest pit of Nessus, where even today he still recovers from his wounds, each drop of blood manifesting as a new pit fiend.
It was this legion that formed the first baatezu, and it was with their establishment in Baator that the ancient and primordial battle between Law and Chaos can first be said to have transitioned into the Blood War. The Lower Planes were a sight of great upheaval in those first millennia, with entire realms, and even layers, being taken by the baatezu or tanar'ri in kind before falling back in another strike. Such change of ground slowed as each side learned more about the other, until nowadays a successful battle is marked by the mere defeat of a single legion, and transfers of land from one plane to another are rare indeed.
The baatezu race is a very striated one, almost as much so as the modrons, if in a far more tangled way. All baatezu are formed from the shells of petitioners claimed under the Pact Primeval and collected on the Shelves of Despond. Unlike most petitioners, those claimed and seduced by the baatezu keep their memories under the terms of the Pact — the erstwhile justification at the time was that punishment is only successful if the one punished understands why it is being performed, but the facade of Baator being a punishment has long since been dropped. The true reason has since been revealed; apparently, one can extract far greater energies from a petitioner's soul essence if the memory core is maintained alongside it. Though this extraction is of course quite painful for the petitioner.
On very, very rare occasion, a petitioner is allowed by one of the Lords of the Nine a direct transformation into a baatific form. But for the vast majority, the spiritual essence is tortured and twisted over time, usually a matter of years. Eventually, when the last bit of energies have been extracted, the remaining essence is dumped in the Maggot Pit or one of the other, less well-known breeding grounds until it crawls free as a new lemure. From here, the new baatezu must move ever onwards, purging the last bits of chaos and light from their essence in order to prove themselves worthy of their continued life.
Existing as a baatezu is about keeping a careful balance of usefulness and subservience. The ultimate goal of any baatezu is, of course, ascending as far along the ranks as they can. But just as they are always watchful for those that would seek to replace them from below in order to move further along, so too are they aware that those above them see them as a potential threat. Only those most deserving are allowed to move to a greater rank, but if a superior thinks an inferior is too skilled, they will often act to waylay that baatezu's advancement, either keeping them where they are, digging into their affairs to find a justification for their demotion, or diverting them into a dead-end advancement path that keeps them from becoming a threat.
The first four ranks of baatezu advancement are largely devoted to training and compulsory military service. It is during these early ranks that most of the remaining chaotic taint is purged, and the essential knowledge and skills of the baatezu are given. For these first four ranks, not much is expected, though some do manage to stand out. As one reaches higher levels, though, even the slightest sign of chaotic tendencies can ruin an otherwise-outstanding career of torment. Even such a basic enjoyment as alcohol (or the closest fiendish equivalents, at least) is heavily restricted, allowed only on rare occasion as a reward for the most accomplished fiends. It is only through the most steadfast adherence to the principles of the baatezu (and the proper connections) that one can reach the heights. That and exemplary performance at their duties, of which two are chief: fighting the demonic hordes in the Blood War, and seducing mortals to Baator.
Directing the Blood War are the Dark Eight, the eight pit fiends that are said to have been, alongside the long-since-assassinated Cantrus, the nine original lieutenants of Asmodeus, and have survived over the eons to continue directing the war today. The Dark Eight answers only to Asmodeus, and are considered to be outside the normal baatezu hierarchy, officially bowing not even to the remaining Lords of the Nine. Their purview is the Blood War, and the Blood War alone; they bother with nothing else, but they have total autonomy when it comes to directing the forces of the baatezu and their allies in the fight. Under the Dark Eight, unlike everywhere else within baatezu society, politicking is rarely approved of, and advancement is purely by achievement and ability.
Below the Dark Eight are Three Commands, the major divisions of the baatezu army each led by three lesser generals. First Command is devoted to aerial forces and the elite, and is usually responsible for making the first beachhead on a new front. Second Command encompasses the aquatic forces; they handle most cross-planar transportation needs, given the major importance of the Styx to the Blood War. Finally, Third Command consists of the ground forces and infantry; largely considered cannon fodder by most baatezu, though it is still a key part of all baatezu actions. Each Command spans the nine layers of Baator, with each individual layer having its own legion mustered in the endless wars.
Beyond the Blood War, though, the most common means by which a baatezu can prove themselves is on the Material Plane, through the seduction of mortals to their cause. No mortal, under the terms of the Pact Primeval, can be forced or coerced into the dark side of Law, it must always involve a freely-made choice on the part of the mortal But this is rarely an obstacle for the denizens of the Hells. While yes, some few mortals have managed to undergo baatezu arbitration demonstrating they were forced into an arrangement, drawing a mortal to the side of the Hells is so easy that few baatezu would need even bother. There are three chief methods of pulling mortals to the ways of Baator: the way of the erinyes, the way of the falxugon, and the way of the cult, they are commonly called.
The way of the erinyes is a process of ingratiation, often involving posing as a mortal and forging a relationship with a mortal. In this position, the baatezu slowly twists the mortal bit by bit over the years. Changing them in so subtle a way that it seems to have been wholly their own decision all along. It can take quite a bit of time, but it results in a far deeper transformation; of those few tempted individuals allowed to directly ascend to the ranks of the baatezu after death, the vast majority were turned this way.
The way of the falxugon is that of the contract, exchanging power for service. There are chiefly two boilerplate varieties of contract offered to mortals. The first of these, the Pact Certain, is by far the preferred means for its ease. Offered to those that simply don't care about their fate after death, it consists of nothing but a straightforward agreement; gain some boon, and exchange act according to the ways of Baator. To the more wary mortals are presented the Pact Insidious. This agreement offers merely favors for favors. Such contracts are tiered, offering the first favors and abilities, those not quite sufficient enough for a person's goals, in exchange for minor requests that seem on the surface completely benign, and greater favors for darker deeds.
Finally, the way of the cult is the most blatant; outright worship of one of the Lords of the Nine, filling the void in a person's life that other religions haven't and playing much the same role. In some nations and cities, both Prime and planar, diabolic worship is legitimate, prevalent, and even public, but for the most part such worship is secret, illegal, and dangerous for the cultists and communities alike. Such cults promise power, good fortune, and perhaps even eternity as a baatezu after death. These cults are often populated by those with no one else to turn, in those regions where more benevolent faiths haven't touched. The revealed cults, however, just as often have the upper crust of society in the top ranks, where role in the church serves as a status symbol.
Six of the Lords of the Nine have a great number of cults to their name — Bel, being so new, has none yet to his name, and no apparent desires to found any, the Hag Countess simply doesn't care, and Mephistopheles serves purely as vassal to Asmodeus in this sense — as well as some since-ousted lords. But most common by far are the cults to Asmodeus and Mammon, for they promise the greatest power and riches respectively.
- Faces of Evil: the Fiends
- Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells
- Hellbound - The Blood War