Welcome to the second installment of my lazy blog. BecauseI blog better when I’m on a roll, but I can’t get on a roll when I haven’t been blogging. Also because I never seem to answer forum questions without a huge multi-paragraph explanation, so why not make that work for me?
Here’s a pretty open-ended question from Demzer on Candlekeep forum. This was posted in my scroll in the Chamber of Sages, where you too can get long rambling answers to your questions about the Brimstone Angels Saga!
Originally posted by Demzer
Originally posted by ErinMEvans
… the Blood War … (which I can ramble on about a lot, but I will hold back until someone actually notes they want to talk about that) …
And don’t worry if it’s 0.1% “canon” and 99.9% Erin-M-Evans-Awesomeness, i just care for your opinion as a knowledgeable author. I wrecked the Lower Planes in my campaign and hearing/reading what others (who know what they’re talking about) have in mind regarding demons, devils, their planar homes and the Blood War is always useful and fascinating.
So please, go ahead.
With the following enormous caveats:
1. This is how I make the Blood War work for me, because I don’t like the Blood War. I don’t get it on the level that makes it compelling. In fact, most of the designer-types I’ve discussed Blood War things with feel that way. It’s compelling in a meta-sense—two kinds of evil that are diametrically opposed is interesting!—and in a mythological sense, but D&D has a tendency to make things very real and explicit in the execution. If you already love the Blood War, this might annoy you.
2. I’m not a scholar of Planescape. I’ve certainly read a lot, but usually for the purposes of writing a book so there’s not a lot of leisurely study so much as “Where is this sentence?!” I’ve also always gotten conflicting answers about how much of Planescape is canonical for the Realms anyway. But there’s a chance there’s an incompatible error in this, and I know that.
3. All of this is predicated on the assumption that the 4E lore changes happened and have reasons. So if that gives you a rage stroke, go read something else. Life is too short, dear readers.
An unending war without a goal or a victory condition is interesting as a backdrop, but when you start to put characters into it, put situations together that focus on it as a war not a sort of cosmic reality, it loses it’s shine. Wars are major resource drains. Why are they doing this still? What are they trying to acheive? And when you look at the versions where there’s a particular battlefield-plane this happens on, why are they doing it there? The reality is that while ideology is used as an excuse for war, there are always resources at play and you tend to fight as near to those resources as you can. Even the Crusades boils down to territorial control. While demons would throw themselves against a devilish army for eternity, but devils are planners, calculators, risk-reward analysts. They’re going to need a reason eventually.
Access to souls is a pretty decent reason, actually. This is a resource both want and want in different ways. They can’t really share safely, and the ideological difference between their methods and uses becomes an easy way to make it ideological, right? Whatever started it, this is a solid potential core, and feeding that competition with hatred is easy. We have to stop them, or we lose what sustains us.
So look at the sides: Demons corrupt to cause chaos, right, which ultimately means destruction, entropy. Break it all down to it’s component molecules and move on. Slow or speedy, most demons follow this pattern. Which makes sense–they’re predators, devourers. They are the wolves and mortals are the sheep. They’ll tear through a flock and move on to the next (let’s call these fairy tale wolves for the sake of not making biologists twitch).
Devils, on the other hand, work when playing off the status quo. What do you want? What do you yearn for? What has the world kept from you? Who can you exploit and rule over? If society doesn’t create things for you to crave, create structures that keep you from grabbing what you want, then none of that can happen. They need dead souls but really they need the living too, where the demons don’t. So if the demons are the wolves, the devils are the shepherds. They want the flock to persist, so they can get their wool and lamb and mutton without too much work.
Which sounds all gentle and nice…but if you’re a sheep, the end of this story is fresh mutton whether the wolves get you or the shepherds do. The devils have the better party line, but if you think about it for a minute it’s not exactly better.
So instead of this:
that I think a lot of people depict the Blood War as, it would look more like:
Demons—>Devils | PMP
They become the kind of protectors you don’t really want, but maybe can’t afford to get rid of entirely. They’re the tyranny that’s holding the lunatics with guns running around the wilderness at bay, while squeezing you the people dry.
And that’s why I think it makes sense for Asmodeus to seek out and claim divinity. He needs societies of mortals to corrupt and then claim souls—why not make that pull power too? Power from worshippers, power from the dead. Feed the sort of structures that make it easier to claim souls. That’s why it also makes sense for one of his first god acts is to hurl the Abyss away. That’s not going to end the Blood War, and I think he’d know that, but it buys him time to build up. (See also, snatching tiefling bloodlines. Graz’zt is going to be pissed.)
But I do think the way his worship’s been depicted doesn’t work great for this. He needs to cast a wider net than “those of you interested in human sacrifice” to get going. Fortunately, that ought to be a devil’s wheelhouse. And so I would depict the wider worship of Asmodeus as being kind of apotropaic. “Save us from the worse things.” Or even something along the lines of “absolve or absorb this transgression I made so the good gods don’t notice.” Or even “Hey man, do what you want. The gods are asking a lot from you and all Asmodeus wants is for you to be happy.”
I had an idea once for a Asmodean paladin whose schtick was basically being a bounty hunter for the Nine Hells. People request them and they track down whatever horrible threat or criminal Asmodeus sets them after, sacrifice the puppy kicker and claim his or her soul for the Nine Hells. Much gold and many prayers later, everyone’s happy. Good gods frowning from the heavens aside.
To me, this also makes a clearer distinction between the two. (It makes me crazy how much people conflate devils and demons. Partly because I spent the better part of two years breaking myself of the habit.) And it leaves room for the yugoloths (and now the succubi) of course. (I love the new succubi vision)