Nilflheim, the Domain of Hel
All the way to the North stands the world of mists and darkness, the Kingdom of Hel, daughter of the giantess Angrboda and Loki, and therefore sister to Fenris and Jörmungand, the World Serpent.
Niflheim is half frozen. A once poisonous river, one of the Elivagar, flowing from the void of Ginnungagap, has frozen solid into glaciers and mountains of ice that have only partially melted during the collision with Muspelheim during the creation of the universe. From droplets of this water sprung Ymir the frost giant, the ancestor of his race.
Most of Niflheim is covered with everlasting snow and ice. The sky is always cloudy, hence the nickname of the World of Mist. Blizzards and snowstorms are almost ceaseless, interrupted only to replace or mix with the fog, and the temperature rarely rises above freezing. There seem to be no seasons here and travelers might think they have ventured beyond the Arctic Circle.
Hel, Modgud, Garm, and the Dead
The Hall of Hel
It takes nine days travel by horse to reach Eljudnir from Asgard. It is necessary to cross the crystal bridge called Gjallabru (‘Resounding One’) spanning the Gjoll River, which hangs from a single hair and is paved with gold.
When one comes from Midgard, the path is called Helve (the path of the dead). A bloodstained giant dog, Garm, is chained at the entrance of the cavern leading to the domain of Hel. It is said that only a piece of cake baked by a dokkalfar witch can calm him. The dark and emaciated virgin Modgud asks for a toll of blood from any spirit of the deceased that wishes to pass. If the request is denied, she will not attack but will release Garm upon the careless spirit, then disappear.
Hel’s manor is called Eljudnir (‘rain soaked’) and is surrounded by a very high fence; Nagrind (the corpse fence) and its doors are guarded by fearsome warriors. Raised in Jotunheim due to her parentage as well as the Ragnarök prophecies, Hel was thrown by Odin himself into this frozen land to reign over those sent to her: those souls who die from old age or sickness, who did not die a heroic death, or were not judged worthy of the Valholl by Odin nor worthy of Folkvang, Freya’s hall.
The goddess sits on her throne of skulls, surrounded by snakes. Dressed in luxurious finery, she can appear as beautiful or as hideous as she chooses. Her skin is black on one side, and pallid blue on the other, a symbol of death. Hel is feared and seen as sinister no matter what aspect she displays. This place remains terribly cold to the living.
The dead try to attend to activities that are similar to the ones they undertook when they were alive. However, this place is not a prison, it is simply the home of the dead. For instance, Balder, the murdered god, and his wife Nanna reign there because the deceased keep their rank and their privileges. There is no torture, no punishment, with the exception of Nastrond (see below). They stay there because they are dead and have nowhere else to go. However, regardless of the guests’ rank, Hel remains sovereign and has power over all her dominion. Even Odin is unable to undo her decisions.
Nastrond, the Corpse Shore
Perjurers (those who have broken oaths) are considered to be the worst criminals in Nordic society, on a par with murderers. This is why they, and they only, are banished to the kingdom of Hel. Murderers who have not been able to provide compensation or those who have committed a murder too horrible to be compensated find a home here. Nidhogg, the serpent that constantly gnaws Yggdrasill’s roots, comes down here to feed on the corpses of the deceased.
The everlasting cold and frozen winds are a true test for the player characters. They may suffer from chilblains, superficial then deep frostbite and mild, moderate then severe hypothermia which will lead to a loss of feeling, then eventually to cardiac and pulmonary deficiency and finally death.