To celebrate the Hell’s Rebels adventure path, this week is all about the Hellbred, a race from the Fiend Folio II that I’ve never seen anyone talk about, much less play. They’re well-suited for an AP about waging war against the forces of hell, though. Also, I think they’re pretty nifty.
When a mortal makes a deal with a devil, there is nothing that can save them. Even before their soul arrives in the afterlife, their fate is determined. Likewise, some deeds are so evil that, once they are committed, no amount of good can balance the scales. No amount of good deeds or repentance can cause a god of good to intervene in such matters. If a mortal makes the right appeal, at the right time, however, a group of Empyreal Lords may intervene, using powerful magic to give the repentant soul a chance at redemption.
Repentance and Redemption
Once a creature has died, it is too late to any power to intercede on its behalf. The laws of the afterlife, and enforced by the gods of death and balance, forbid post-mortem repentance or redemption. Good souls are delivered to their paradises, and evil souls are claimed by various devils and demons. Before death comes, however, many creatures realize their folly and try to atone for their choices. It is these souls that can, under the right circumstances, become hellbred. If a creature committed an act so terrible that it was immediately damned, genuine repentance might cause one of the Empyreal Lords to intercede in the moment before death, redirecting the soul into a new form. A soul condemned by an infernal contract takes a little more finesse. If the damned creature truly deserves salvation (for example, a creature who entered into an infernal contract with good intentions, as opposed to a desire for power), then an Empyreal Lord might risk conflict with a devil in an effort to save the soul.
A Second Chance – With a Price
When a soul is truly damned, or has been committed by contract to a demon, simply resurrecting it with a spell is not enough. The new body still houses the same soul, and when the new body dies, that soul, too, will be claimed. Instead, a group of Empyreal Lords must agree on the worthiness of the soul for redemption, and together they enact a powerful ritual to split the soul in two, carving the tainted pieces away. Those pieces are used to create the hellbred’s new body. As such, the body is an unsightly, twisted creature, with dark red skin, horns, and shining red eyes. In some cases, hellbred are even more demonic-looking, with cloven feet, forked tongues, useless wings, or pig-like snouts on their faces. It is a body that few could believe acts in the service of good. That, too, is part of the test: if the hellbred can perform truly heroic acts of goodness, despite their physical form and the mistrust of those around them, they will be worthy of salvation. To achieve repentance, however, the hellbred must perform acts of goodness both great and small. As the hellbred performs good acts (saving a town, defeating a serial killer, and so on), their physical features may soften, becoming less frighteningly demonic, although never full human. The hellbred’s true acts of redemption, however, all share one quality: they must put the hellbred in mortal danger for the sake of others’ lives. Often, the people the hellbred saves will not react with gratitude, but fear and revulsion, and that, too, is part of the test. If the soul can endure the thanklessness of the people it saves, then it may deserve to be saved.
Unending Pain, Uncertain Reward
Hellbred remember little of their former life, and they can never control those memories. Their past returns to them in flashes: a little girl with a stuff animal, the color of a man’s coat, the sound of a dog, flashes of images and feelings that provide painful reminders of the wretch that the hellbred had been. More often than not, the hellbred’s past reveals itself through emotional connections: an inexplicable sense of guilt on meeting the children of a past victim, or uncontrollable rage at the sight of a former lackey grown powerful. Because of the unpredictability of their memories, hellbred are defined by their mission – do good, save lives, whatever the cost. The reality is that few hellbred will complete their redemption. Most will die before their souls are cleansed, and they will be devoured. For most, the opportunity to address past misdeeds is with the risk. The actions of a hellbred are watched closely by both the Empyreal Lords who have gambled on their ability to reform and the devils who await their failure. Knowing this, and knowing how much rests on their mission, hellbred tend to be stoic, serious individuals who gravitate towards others, particularly other social outcasts, who share a similar unity of purpose. They are methodical and single-minded in their pursuit of justice. They know full well what they stand to lose if they waver from their course.
Hellbred keep the given name they used in life, but change their surname to something more in keeping with their situation. Some hellbred abandon a surname altogether, opting for an epithet that announces their mission. Still others take their name from one of their patron Empyreal Lords, despite the fact that those patrons are likely to let the hellbred fend for themselves for some time before ever returning.
Hellbred names: Aloysius the Unyielding, Constance Devilslayer, Macklin the Fist of Heaven, Rory Hellbound, Samuel the Shield of Ragathiel.