Problem is that it is so cliched. Burning plains and lava pits and screaming people and hooks in the flesh and snakes and red men with pointy tales, or just red demons. We have all seen it before. Endless wastes of cliche, so boring, so yawn invoking that no GM should ever use them.
Sometimes it is icy wastes and frosty demons jutting on icicles, scanning the landscape, searching for victims. While this is certainly a better take on hell, this here codex is all about creating unique hells for use by Game Masters / Dungeon Masters.
These are the rules for hell creation:
1. Your hell shall not in any way resemble the archetypical Christian Hell with burning pits and red men with tridents.
2. Your hell must include the following sections: A) How to get there while still alive, B) A description and C) At least a hint at what kind of demonic beings can be found there and D) How to get outta there.
3. Your hell must be a place it is possible, even desirable (For the GM) to place an adventure (or several) in.
So, come on, let's give 'em Hell!
Additional Ideas (6)
Hell is really not some place of eternal torture. Hell is the place where the gods do not rule. It's a place the gods have forsaken, and if the gods have forsaken it, well, it's gotta be a nasty place right? But who is to say gods exist here, and does that mean the world as we know it is hell?
While all of us experience physical pain and thus have similar ideas of what hell might be like on that level, there is no way to alleviate emotional pain. Hell could easily be a state of mind, or a place where every emotional pain is brought to the surface. The people here would be twisted perceptions of themselves, and utterly insane.
I recently used an ever changing hell that had to be conquered on room at a time, so to speak. I used this as one of the 'rooms':
The PCs found themselves in a large courtyard in the middle of a fantastically big temple. The courtyard was a garden filled with beautiful fruit bearing trees, rock pews, fountains of pure water, delightful flowers etc. The courtyard also has a walk around balcony with two stairs leading up to the second level. On the second level balcony facing the stone pews below was a lectern for speaking to anyone who was seated. The only way out of the courtyard was through numerous doors that all enter the temple from various positions. The courtyard was filled with people who were confused and dazed. Also in the courtyard were priests and priestesses all in ceremonial robes talking to the people who stand there hesitating. (I will refer to them as priestesses from now on as I'm a guy but keep in mind I mean both genders are there, modify as needed). The priestesses are a beautiful women, simply gorgeous and extremely charismatic as well. One approaching each of the common folk and apparently in the act of persuading them to come with them somewhere. It usually does not take long for the confused souls to agree to go with the glamorous priestesses. Two by two (one confused person and one priestess) they enter a different door in the temple. While the door is open the PCs can see what appears to be some hedonistic ritual going on within. However it does not take long to notice that the people only go in and none come out. Also what is curious is the number of people in the courtyard never seems to shrink although it should be going down. The doors will not open for the PCs, but only for a priestess. If the PCs watch long enough they will realize that one door (opposite the lectern) isn't being used ever.
The PCs are each approached by a priestess. Flirting and coaxing, the priestess tries to convince the PC to come into the temple for some fun, whatever kind of fun they like best. If questioned about the location the priestess will insist that the PC has died and now has inherited his god(ess)'s paradise.
There are two ways to break the illusion, one is to go with the priestess, the other is to go to the second floor balcony and look at the people over the lectern. Everything is almost the opposite to what it appeared. The trees dead and rotted with disturbing worm covered fruit, black charred rock pews, fountains of disturbingly grey/yellow water, twisted black grass with wilted seeds on top. The priestesses are actually thorny, sappy, stunted black leafless treants. The people inside the blackened temple are actually being tortured in the way that best represents their greatest pleasures.
Once the illusion is broken the treant priestesses will attack any who see them as they truly are. When the illusion is broken if the PCs are vigilant they will notice that door no one enters has a second knob on the wrong side. This door can be opened with the second knob and is the only way out.
Hell? What makes Hell a hellish place? It's not the fire and brimstone, it's not the demons and devils: Hell is a place where you go because you are being punished. It should be completely unenjoyable to the person(s) being punished and should represent something they fear the most. Not "It's going to kill you!" fear, but rather pure core-shattering fright at being exposed to something you abhor for extended periods of time.
Hell could be: Standing on a slowly descending platform... As you creep towards the darkness below, you begin to notice nook and crannies in the walls, caves filled with people, people being tortured, people you know. As you go deeper and deeper, you can't help but stare and watch as everyone you ever knew, loved, suffers a miserable fate. How do you escape from a scenario such as this? The man who sacrificed so much for so many must now become the reaper. You must assault and murder a visage of the one you love the most. Then you're free to go.
Hell could be: Eternal drowning, stuck in a loop of waking up only to realize you were just dreaming, being baked in an oven by giant loafs of bread, an embassing fall from a chair and other events of humiliation in front of large audiences. I think you get the idea. Run with it. Make Hell the worst place the victims can imagine going. The idea of Adventurers in Hell isn't that the Hell will suit them, but possibly someone they need to find, or at the least everyone around them.
Heaven and Hell combined
An island full, but not overfull, of men and pretty, sexy, sweet women, the perfect wives. For those males who have done well and stayed honest in their lives, this is a kind of Heaven. But for those males who were criminals in life, paticularly those who harmed women, it is Hell. For they have been magically turned into women and left unable to control their own bodies, forced to serve men, be sweet to them, make love to them, unable to protest in any way or show who they really are, for the rest of eternity.
Whilst the good go to Heaven, the bad stay trapped within their dead bodies,unable to speak or move but able to think and feel. Those who are buried are left in the dark,stinking like homeless people as their bodies rot,with nothing to do but think about their lives and the families that they will never see again. Those who are cremated after death do not fare any better, their spirits burned with their bodies and condemmed to haunt the crematorium furnace in agony, burned again as each new body burns.
When a deeply evil halfling dies, he or she wakes up in a hell where they are forced at whip-point by demons that resemble Orcs to toil making...toys, and loading them into a massive sleigh,as well as feeding reindeer and mucking them out,for 363 days a year. Two days a year they get a rest, when the chief demon of that hell,whose shape is of a massive bearded human dressed from head to toe in red and white, flies out on the sleigh and reindeer to give the toys to the good children of the world.
CodexAvaricious ( Locations ) Area - Water
"Avaricious is a special sort of hell; it's the hell we created ourselves. It is the hell we deserve." - Smythe Voss, crewman of Siren's Laugh
Corpsefall ( Locations ) World - Desert
I did not think there was a crime heinous enough to deserve this place as a sentence..
Katumus ( Locations ) TransWorld - Other
A soul that feels no remorse for the sins it has committed in life is unfit for paradise in the afterlife. Only those who fully grasp the weight of the harm they have visited upon others and repent are offered a chance at atonement. Only those who atone for their sins are allowed to move on.
-- The Book of Reprieve, 11:36:01
Skillet ( Locations ) TransWorld - Other
The 5757h layer of the Infinite Abyss. A land of charred black metal and the stench of ever-burning flesh.
The Box ( Locations ) TransWorld - Other
The Box is a Hell of isolation, claustrophobia and imprisonment. Where you will find many who fear tight spaces.
The Hell of Dry Bones ( Locations ) Desert - Other
The earth is bleached white, and brittle underfoot. Ribs and vertebrae litter the ground like driftwood and in the distance, colossal bones of slain giants rise like hungry fingers clawing at the iron grey sky. The wind rises, howling through the empty eye sockets of hollow skulls. A rain of hail begins, pelting the ground with fingerbones and teeth.
Welcome, ye miserly sinners. Welcome to Hell.
The Hell of Half-Nothings ( Locations ) TransWorld - Any
The sky is drab and gray, almost completely covered in rainclouds. What gaps there are open up to show yet more gray. Much like mortal demesnes, the weather is unpredictable, but every so often the clouds unleash their burden of water on the residents of this boring land.
Welcome to the Hell of Half-Nothings. Your stay will be boring, we guarantee it.
The Non ( Locations ) Other - Other
Those cast out of eternal life by the Great God Juffo find themselves lost forever in the Non. Here, away from both His Holy Warmth and the cold, harsh vengance of His Adversary, Zeln, there is truly nothing.
The Penitent Sea ( Locations ) TransWorld - Water
The Vortex Well ( Locations ) Other - Other
A new take on hell that leaves you gasping on the edge of panic.