This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Fifty One on 3 February 2021.
ROSTRO: Please state the nature of the mathematical inquiry.
Killer DM (fondly): I was wondering if you were going to start humming and bring a smile to my face. How are you?
ROSTRO: Operational efficiency is at 120%. It appears that Ostron was interrupted in recent exploratory efforts.
Killer DM: Yes, well, he was fiddling with the hat and I just got suspicious so I figured knocking him out was a good first step and then I rounded up the usual suspect to figure out what’s going on. Now, be a good limey and tell me what’s going on here.
Lennon (muffled response): Mmmph mrrfle mnng.
ROSTRO: There appears to be a foreign object interfering with the operation of his maxillofacial musculature.
Killer DM: Hm? Oh the gag, right, that would probably make this easier. There we go. Okay, now, how are you?
Lennon: You have me tied up in the Gnomish Workshop with you and ROSTRO. I don’t know if this is the worst day of my life but it’s definitely in the bottom five.
Killer DM: Well I needed to ask you some questions about what Ostron was doing with the hat.
Lennon: And you thought I was going to run away?
Killer DM: Oh, no, but this is an interrogation, I needed to set the tone. Plus I just think everything’s more fun when at least one person is tied up. Now, why was Ostron fiddling with the hat?
Lennon: Do you see all the artifacts hanging on the wall in here? It’s what he does. It’s where we found the hat, in fact, if you don’t recall.
Killer DM: Right, but you know how the hat works already, why was he fiddling?
ROSTRO: In the interests of expediency, perhaps an examination of his physical notes will yield an explanation. Please place them on the analysis tablet.
Lennon: When did Ostron have a runic stone installed on that thing?
Killer DM: Didn’t you just get done telling me Ostron’s job is to mess around with magic machines in here?
ROSTRO: I believe I have a working theory as to the reason for Ostron’s examination of the enchanted headgear. Some background information is required. Please observe the output crystals.
Mephistopheles is the undisputed master of the eighth level of Hell, Cania. From that location the archdevil has maintained and expanded his influence, mostly in the areas of arcane ability and magical research, but also in spreading his own mythos. However, the archdevil’s existence is marked by duality; Mephistopheles is nearly the physical embodiment of contradiction in many facets of his being.
Let’s get the dating profile stuff out of the way first. If you’re looking for tall, dark and handsome you’re getting one out of three. Mephistopheles is a true devil, specifically a Baatezu, but over the eons he’s made an effort to shape his body after the form of the stereotypical devil; red skin, red bat wings, pointed tail, ram’s horns, etc. If that’s your thing, I guess you’ve got handsome. But he also tends to have flames perpetually ringing his body unless he works to shut them off, so dark is not happening. Oh and if you haven’t figured it out by now, Mephistopheles goes with the male pronouns, along with most of the archdevils. I guess the majority of the ultimate evils in the multiverse calling themselves male is a win for feminism?
Lennon (mostly to himself): I…no, fine, I’m already tied up, in a room with these two. Pick your battles.
Killer DM: Are you going to start reading or have you actually gone insane now and the muttering to yourself is part of it?
Lennon: I’m getting there.
When you examine Mephistopheles’ behavior the instability and the duality start to become more obvious. He likes to present himself as a sophisticated, witty conversationalist and is widely regarded as the most brilliant wizard in the Hells, coming up with magical solutions and devices that are nothing short of genius.
That is until he has a bad day. Mephistopheles is also known for having random bursts of extreme temper, rampant paranoia, and a lack of consistent focus. Servants of Mephistopheles have been summarily disintegrated by the archdevil for things like distracting him when he’s working, bothering him, or possibly being about to bother him. He’s also been known to tear at his own flesh and light his workshop on fire when his temper really gets the better of him.
The duality persists into his research endeavors and magical pursuits. Cania is the coldest level of the nine hells, with an ambient temperature that will kill most non-ice based beings in a matter of minutes without protection. Mephistopheles focused much of his research and being on arctic subjects, until his examination of the frozen ruins on Cania resulted in the discovery of Hellfire.
Hellfire is a thaumaturgical phenomenon that was, for a time, uniquely the purview of the archdevil and he is still considered the being with the most understanding and mastery of it. The fire in question burns white and is known to overwhelm and bypass any known resistance to fire or magic, something that obviously presents a risk to devils, as many of them count those resistances as primary advantages. Since his focus has shifted to hellfire research, nearly all of his other magical efforts now involve combustion in some form, to the point where his domicile in Cania, a fortress of iron and ice known as Mephistar, has become uncomfortably warm for many of the ice-based devils. The frozen elements in its construction have also begun to regularly vaporize, creating a thick cloud of atmospheric fog around the structure and introducing structural instability.
That’s also the reason for the “always on fire” look that I mentioned earlier. Controlling hellfire obviously gave old Mephy-boy another advantage over other archdevils and now the whole split personality thing comes into play again. Mephistopheles has outright told Asmodeus that he’s coming for him and wants to take over. Bold move, but rumor is that the hellfire and his magical prowess are theoretically enough to give him a real shot at the top job. That’s if he can ever focus long enough to get his plans together. We’ve discussed the Reckoning of Hell before, where his and the other rebellious archdevil generals were all under Asmodeus’ thumb and betrayed him. Despite being in charge of one of the rebellious factions, Mephistopheles managed to escape any sort of punishment, as far as anyone can tell. It could be that Asmodeus respected his guts for just outright announcing his intention to take over long before the actual revolt. Or Asmodeus could just be enjoying watching him chase his own tail.
See, one of the other reasons Mephistopheles hasn’t gotten far with his takeovers is self-sabotage. First of all, if he’s working on a project, leaves the room, and comes back, there’s only a 50/50 chance he’ll return to work on the same project. Next, he is cripplingly paranoid and convinced that everyone is scheming against him. It got so bad at one point that he created an alter-ego for himself, Baron Molikroth. In that form he’s 7 feet or two and a bit meters tall, but he weighs something like 800 pounds or 365 kilograms.
Killer DM (impatiently): Okay, he’s a fatty, we get it.
Lennon: I’m just reading what’s on the crystals.
Killer DM: I restricted blood flow to your hands, not your brain. Summarize! Do you really think ROSTRO put “Mephy-boy” in the text?
Anyway, “Mephy-boy”, as Molikroth, started working with the other devils in Cania to see who would work to overthrow…well, him. He organized the coup, got everyone set, then had them all killed and resumed being Mephistopheles. He tries to keep the alter-ego under wraps so he can do more loyalty tests when he wants.
A side note on Molikroth; that persona is known for extensive and extreme sadism, even for a devil. A common hobby of Molikroth was apparently to find attackers or spies in Cania and then trap them in glaciers cold enough to partially, but not completely freeze them, meaning he and any other devils who wanted could watch the intruders die slowly over the course of several years.
With the various psychological issues it is valid to question how the archdevil achieves anything beyond furthering his own paranoia. Most sources credit one of his dukes, a being named Hutijin, for maintaining mundane operations of Cania and for implementing any of Mephistopheles’s machinations that reach a conclusive state. Despite being a powerful devil in his own right, Hutijin is fiercely loyal, though the nature and reason for said loyalty is unclear. Blackmail material or obsession are common theories.
In addition to Hutijin, Mephistopheles is able to draw on familial resources, as he is one of the more prolific breeders of the archdevil cadre. Two of his more useful offspring are a being known as the Burning Soul, a winged fire entity formed when he united with a denizen of the Plane of Fire and often manifests for his cultists, and a half-elf, half fiend female named Antilia. Antilia’s parentage is a closely guarded secret as she currently serves Baalzebul while working as a double agent for her father.
Mephistopheles gets around, and I don’t just mean because he’s got a bunch of children that are half-something that doesn’t live in the hells. As part of his efforts to promote himself to the top job, he clued into what most mortals think of when they hear “chief devil” and did some body sculpting. Since then he’s made an effort to show up in as many places as possible doing self-promotion.
Unfortunately like a bad romance movie, he worked so hard at conforming to what people thought the ruler of hell looks like, when he shows up in the red wings and horns getup people think he’s actually Asmodeus. He could just impersonate the big guy, but since he’s trying to get souls and that very much depends on people getting the name on the contract or incantation right, the confusion is seriously cramping his style. Asmodeus mostly just laughs about it; he doesn’t want people knowing his true form anyway and it makes Mephistopheles work twice as hard keeping up his soul quota.
Unfortunately for him, his cults don’t provide much help there either. As we mentioned Mephistopheles is neither a reliable nor a pleasant boss to have, and that extends to his cult. Promises from him are still contingent on him remembering them and not deciding suddenly that you’re working against him. However, very dedicated magic users, particularly those who want access to hellfire, think it’s worth it. While other devils have managed to gain some control over hellfire, being a member of Mephistopheles’s cult is still the only guaranteed way for most mortals to have a chance of using hellfire at all.
Hellfire is also powered by energy directly from the nine hells. Mortals acquiring that power have to get it from a devil, and archdevils obviously have more power to spare on average than your garden vareity citizen of hell. So while it’s a small, secretive, and risky club to belong to, Mephistopheles’s cults are the pinnacle of infernal magic power for those who accept the risks.
Killer DM: All right so he’s a bipolar megalomaniac with no impulse control and a lot of fire.
Lennon: No, bipolar is something different-
Killer DM: If I want your opinion I’ll give it to you. ROSTRO, baby, you don’t usually leave me wanting like this. What does this have to do with Ostron and the hat?
ROSTRO: I posit that Ostron was attempting to establish a correlation between the archdevil’s dual nature and the effect of the headgear. Donning the artifact does produce a drastic change in personality that often runs contrary to the initial intentions of the user, much as Mephistopheles’ bouts of rage and paranoia sabotage his own intentions. It is possible he or another archdevil created the artifact in an effort to impose the archdevil’s condition on another individual.
Killer DM (satisfied): Okay then, that clears it up. I mean, he’s wrong, I’m the best thing that ever happened to Ryu, obviously, but I see why he thought that.
Lennon: I’m sorry, we need all that background just for it to spit out a quick paragraph!?
Killer DM: Honey, if you don’t know the upside of a long slow build up before everything’s resolved I’m certainly not going to explain it to you. ROSTRO’s approach is just fine for me.
Lennon: Speaking of help?
Killer DM: Oh you’ll be fine; Ostron will be up in a bit I’m sure and he can untie you. Meanwhile I’m going to have a nice bath.
(walks off, door closes)
Lennon: Oh no, the Scrying Pool. Come on…let’s…little help here?
(struggling with ropes)
ROSTRO: Lacking mechanical manipulative apparatus, what help do you imagine I would provide?
Lennon: You could, you know, shut yourself off so Ostron wakes up?
ROSTRO: That is within my operational capabilities.
Lennon: I really hate you two.