Deep Dive - The Blood War
Imagine a war that has been raging for eons, long before the birth of the planes, and that will continue long after the death of the last mortal being. Picture battlefields littered with the bodies of the dead from a small skirmish of just over a million creatures and that these clashes stretch out across the entire lower planes. This is the Blood War, which has been fought with an intense fury for as long as the gods can recall, with no end in sight.
It wouldn’t be a ridiculous thought to think that war is between the forces of good and evil, but that would be wrong. Instead, this is a conflict between evil and evil and is more about philosophy than anything else. This conflict is between the lawful and chaotic fiends, Between Devil and Demon.
But how did this conflict start, and what all does it entail? Are the celestials actually just standing by and not helping mortals trapped in between these evil armies? Who are the other players in this war and which side are they hoping will win over the other? Or maybe, they are hoping this conflict lasts for eons more.
Before we jump into this bloody conflict, know that the history of the Blood War is chaotic and sometimes there are inconsistencies across the editions and even in the same edition. We will be sticking to official sources like the 2nd Edition Hellbound: The Blood War (1996), the Manual of the Planes from 3rd and 4th edition and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (2018).
Through the Editions
The Blood War was originally released in the Planescape Campaign Setting (1994) for 2nd edition. It was further detailed in Hellbound: The Blood War (1996) which outlined the beginning of the conflict and how players can take part in it. This conflict was a large focal point of the Planescape setting and was a massive conflict for high-level characters to wade into.
This war is about a difference of philosophy, as the lawful Devils can not stand the chaotic Demons and vice versa. While the Celestials do try to wipe both out, they realize that it was a huge mistake to get involved as they suffer massive casualties that they are still recovering from. Most are more than happy to let the fiends war with each other and many get rich off of selling weapons, souls, and information between the two sides.
The Blood War began after the fiends were created by the Yugoloth, and the Devils and Demons eventually found each other. Upon their first meeting, they immediately started killing each other and it only grew in size from there. Many claim that the Yugoloths are orchestrating the Blood War as their prophecy of the end time involves the Blood War and its conclusion, though no one has been able to prove anything.
Upon the 3rd edition being released, the Blood War was largely pushed to the side along with the rest of the Planescape setting. Detailed in the Manual of the Planes (2001) the conflict is described as a genocide of fiends. So long as Devils or Demons are still alive, they will still try to destroy each other. Depending on where you are in the planes, you may never realize there is a massive conflict… on the other hand, some planes are permanent battlefields home to towering siege engines that move across the land like mountains crawling across the landscape.
The Blood War has come to a type of stalemate where a cold war has formed between the two sides. Detailed in the Manual of the Planes (2008) the Blood War goes through hot and cold stages of conflict where massive battles of trillions of souls are destroyed over centuries until both sides are so weakened that they retreat to their home planes, regrouping and rebuilding before the next huge push. 4th edition assumes that the Blood War is currently in a cold stage of the war, and both sides are readying their armies for when the war begins anew.
Another new idea brought into 4th edition was the idea of how the Blood War started. At the beginning of creation, a primordial was looking for something to allow him to have ultimate power over all gods and creation. Finding the Heart of Darkness, an evil seed of destruction, the primordial planted it in the Elemental Chaos and from it spawned the Abyss. Here pure evil manifested and primordials, like Orcus, Baphomet and others were twisted by the evil. Asmodeus stole a shard of this seed, creating his Ruby Rod from it, and weakened the might of the Demons. The Demons have sworn revenge for this betrayal and vow to destroy Asmodeus. They hope to take back the Ruby Rod and by returning it to the Abyss, it will restore the might of the Demons.
The Blood War takes a backseat in 5th edition and is touched on only in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (2018). The conflict is largely confined to the Nine Hells and the Abyss, with occasional outbursts on the Material Plane between cultists and summoned fiends. The beginning of this conflict is unknown, though many attribute it to the fact that Devils wish to control everything and Demons wish to destroy everything. This puts each other at odds as the Demons have little to no interest in ruling over mortals and wish to destroy everything in the Multiverse… which makes it very hard for the Devils to rule over anything if there is nothing left.
The Events of the Blood War
The beginnings of the Blood War differ between the editions, though the most detailed version of the events is from 2nd edition's Hellbound: The Blood War (1996) as summarized below.
At the beginning of time, the planes were first formed and the entities known as the Baernaloths staggered out of the mists of creation. Eventually, they spawned the Yugoloths as their children and used them to start implementing their plans. During this time, the River Styx is but a small stream that trickles its way through the Multiverse before the Baernaloths increased its flow and it became a raging torrent. The River will prove to be an important part of the Blood War and is incredibly dangerous to touch.
As the Yugoloths grow stronger, they wish to have the same neutrality that their creators, the Baernaloths, have and their most powerful general, known as the General of Gehenna, created a magical stone, the Heart of Darkness, that drives the impurities of Law and Chaos out of anyone who touches it. Summoning all of the Yugoloths, they touch the Heart and the General channels the expunged forces onto separate planes of existence - the forces of law became larvae on Baator and the forces of chaos became larvae on the Abyss.
After eons, the larva began growing and evolving on their respective planes and they began exploring not only their plane but the planes near them which include Gehenna and Carceri. These larvae grew into the Devils and Demons, though there were originally known as the Baatezu and the Tanar’ri respectively.
Now is when the Yugoloths are discovering the power of their neutrality and the Baernaloths, their creators, suddenly withdraw into the Gray Waste, leaving behind little evidence of their existence.
The Start of the Blood War
Once the Devils and Demons gained control of their planes, they each decided at the same time to begin investigating what else was out there. Scouts were sent by both sides and each found the Yugoloths in the adjacent planes. The Devil entourage saw the creatures as weak-willed and without any sort of ethical guidance, they then left the Yugoloths and continued eventually finding the Abyss. In the Abyss, they first meet the chaotic Demons and realize that they have such a different philosophical ideology that it manifests as violent hatred and the Devils begin slaughtering as many Demons as they can find before returning to Baator to report what they found.
During this time, the Demons have sent their patrols out. They find the Yugoloths and begin torturing and killing them for fun before heading deeper into the planes and eventually finding Baator. Here they first meet the Devils and begin murdering and destroying all they can find. Many decide to continue through Baator, vowing to destroy all Devils while others head back to the Abyss to tell of what they have found.
Now, each side has learned of the other and they begin amassing raiding parties to attack the other side. These parties soon grow into battalions and then swell into the size of armies and beyond. They begin slaughtering each other and it looks like no side will win against the other. The Demons have what feels like an infinite number in their armies, though they are too chaotic to make an effective fighting force. The Devils are more limited in their numbers, but due to their lawful nature can create effective armies capable of stopping the chaotic horde.
After centuries of conflict, the Yugoloths sent emissaries to both sides and offered their services as mercenaries, those most contracts benefitted them the most. Many point to this as the time that the Yugoloths began their plan of controlling the Blood War and in the first battle, they betrayed both sides and broke their contracts. Though this did nothing to stop either side from hiring them again and again after that, for when the Yugoloths held up their contracts they were the key to winning decisive battles.
Soon after, the Lords of the Nine appear in Baator and Demon Princes appear in the Abyss. Each plane suffers its own massive power struggles until the Lords and Princes put in a hierarchy that stops ambitious friends from unseating them. These leaders begin pushing their armies harder and the war continues to rage across Baator, Gehenna, the Gray Wastes, Carceri, and the Abyss with no side gaining the upper hand for very long.
The War Spreads Out
At this point, both sides realize they are in a stalemate and they decide to send out scouts to see what else is out there and if there is anything that can be used in the Blood War. This decision brings with it the discovery of the Multiverse and each side realizes that if they simply destroy the other side and end this conflict, they could have all the territory of the Multiverse and the battles are fought with an intensity beyond what was previously seen.
While the fiends are exploring the Multiverse, they attract the attention of the Celestials who abhor their evil and a massive army of Angels, Devas, Solars, and others are sent to the lower planes and begin massacring any fiend that gets in their way. The Blood War is now the fiends against each other and the Celestials against both sides. After a full year, the fiends realize they must work together to stop the Celestial onslaught and they turn their attention to the Celestial host. In less than a week, the Celestials are driven out of the lower planes with their white robes stained in the blood of their fallen kin. All told, it is said that of the massive host of Celestials that defies numbering, only 3000 are to survive this assault. The Celestials that wish to remain a part of the Blood War realize they must pick a side, but none can agree if they should join the Devils and Law or the Demons and Chaos as Celestials lay claim to both ideologies.
After this horrifying event, the gods have taken an interest in the Blood War and they begin adding their power to their ideological side. The Chaos gods add their strength to the Demons, and the Lawful gods add their strength to the Devils. It is only after a god of chaos finds their power withered away that the other gods stop being directly involved and they begin using proxies, though a few gods of wars still offer their power and full attention to the Blood War.
Soon the fiends discover a use for the souls from the Material Plane as before the fiends had no idea what these souls were or where they came from, they had just made good food. Once they discovered the Multiverse, they also discovered the Material Plane and where the souls came from. They quickly realized that they could shape these souls into lesser Devils and Demons. It was then that they began developing plans to overtake the Material Plane and bolster their armies with even more of these tormented souls.
The conflict is still raging on between the forces of Chaos and Law, though powerful magical artifacts, Ships of Chaos, valiant warriors and so much more has been dumped onto the battlefields of Devils and Demons. Celestials, Slaad, and even Modrons have all joined in on the fighting in different ways, and nothing has changed for the two warring factions. Some blame the Yugoloths, that their scheming has kept the Blood War raging on so that they can benefit from it, and others worry that there might be a day when the fighting stops. If that were to happen, then it means one side has won and the rest of the Multiverse is now in trouble.
There are more sides to the war than just Devils and Demons, though no other side has lost as many as they have. Many whisper that there is a force behind all of the events of the Blood War to ensure that it lasts forever, for an end to the bloodshed may be the first step to the end of time.
The Devils, also known as the Baatezu, hail from the Nine Hells and are lawful fiends. Their philosophical differences with the Demons helped facilitate this massive conflict, and their main desire in all of this is to have ultimate control over the Multiverse.
Because of their lawful nature, they are quick to make deals and sign contracts, though whatever deal they make typically benefits them the most. They form their entire life around laws and rules and have a hierarchical structure because of it. They rely on gaining power via promotions from their higher-ups and work hard to ensure they are noticed. The structure of society is one of the most important things for Devils as, without it, they would be no better than the anarchist Demons they so despise.
The Dark Eight are the eight pit fiend generals in charge of running the Blood War for the Lords of the Nine. They are incredibly powerful creatures, but their power is not comparable to that of the Lords. Four times a year they meet with the Lords to give reports on the Blood War, and each general is in charge of specific parts of the Blood War like equipment supplies, the morale of the troops and research into weapons better equipped to kill demons.
The Demons, also known as the Tanar’ri, hail from the infinite layers of the Abyss. It is said that there are an infinite number of Demons and an infinite number of planes in the Abyss. This puts the Devils at a big disadvantage, though the Demons can rarely ever stick to a plan or follow orders. This gives their lawful opponents a fighting chance and can stop many of the Demons from getting a foothold on Baator.
The Demons, whilst chaotic, follow a very strict hierarchy where the powerful subjugate the weak. Because the Demons don’t believe in anything but destruction, they have no interest in upholding their contracts and while promotions do happen in the Abyss, more often than not Demons are promoted not because of their deeds but because their superior needs them to be something else. All Demons, regardless of their rank, see themselves becoming the most powerful Demon and who will be the one to destroy all of the planes. Though none of them give thought as to what they will do once they destroy everything.
Created by the Baernaloths, the Yugoloths are neutral and take no sides in the Blood War conflict. They offer their mercenary services to the highest bidder and will often betray whichever side they are on if they are offered more treasures or a better contract.
It is thought that the Yugoloths created the Devils and Demons when they stripped the forces of Law and Chaos from themselves using a powerful artifact known as the Heart of Darkness. This Heart of Darkness was created by their leader, the General of Gehenna who wished to become more like their creators, the Baernaloths.
Many distrust the involvement of the Yugoloths in the Blood War and swear that the Yugoloths are purposefully extending the war for their own benefit. If the war were to end, the Yugoloths wouldn’t be able to profiteer in the same way that they currently are. Thankfully for the Yugoloths, the Devils and Demons don’t seem to have noticed this duplicity as they are too busy killing each other.
Not all who take part in the Blood War are the evil fiends of the lower planes. Mortals are often drawn into the conflict, either through poor decision-making skills or being on the front lines of a Demonic invasion. Beyond the Material Plane though, others have taken an interest in the affairs of the Blood War and work to contain it or end it completely.
The Balance is a small group who monitor the Blood War and do everything in their power to ensure that one side doesn’t grow stronger than the other. They wish to avoid a future where Devils are the overlords of all, or Demons have destroyed everything. They work tirelessly to stop either outcome from happening.
The Balance likes to remind everyone that they are true Neutral and are just looking to keep one side from gaining too much of a foothold. This means that they may thwart a paladin from destroying a Demon Prince or help a cleric find information on how to weaken the Nine Hells. Because their ways are largely mysterious to outsiders, no one trusts them and it doesn’t help that many of their members profit off of the war.
Modrons abhor all chaos and have been ordered by Primus to put a stop to any seed of chaos they find. To that effect, they made a million-strong army known as The Army of the Blood War. They are very creative with their names.
The purpose of this million-modron strong army is to find Abyssal strongholds and destroy them from Gehenna, Baator and anywhere else they can be found. They will often lend their numbers to the Devils and are constantly looking for ways to destroy the Demonic scourge, for if the Demons were to ever win, chaos would reign and they can’t have that.
Another part of their mission is to clear out paths for the Great Modron March that marches through the lower planes, this helps ensure that Modrons can safely navigate the planes and make it back to Mechanus.
The Celestials have long sat by and watched the forces of evil clashing with each other, their philosophy is why should they get involved when evil seems more than willing to kill itself. Some Celestials though are unwilling to sit idly by while there is a war to be had, and many that follow deities of war find themselves descending into the War striking down evil where they find it.
Zariel, the archdevil of Avernus - the first layer of Baator - is one of the most important and influential of the Celestials, though not anymore. Before she became an archdevil she was a powerful angel that grew impatient with the Celestials as she believed that if Mt. Celestia’s forces would descend on the lower planes, they could wipe out the threat of the fiends. Eventually, she grew exasperated with the rest of her kind and led an army of mortals across Avernus, destroying the fiendish scourge where ever they were to be found... that is until they were overwhelmed by the massive army of Devils. Asmodeus was so impressed by her skills that he made her the archdevil of Avernus, replacing Bel who once held that spot.
The River Styx
At the beginning of time, the River Styx was merely a small stream of water that ran through the lower planes. Eventually, it became a roaring torrent that cuts it’s way through the planes. It is constantly morphing and changing, which makes it incredibly hard to navigate or map it.
The waters of the Styx are especially dangerous to all but a few creatures that come in contact with it. When a creature is exposed to the River, they begin losing their memories and identities, which for the Devils is a horrible thing to happen. No Devil wants to explain to their superiors they lost because they forgot what the battle plan was.
The fact that the River Styx flows across the lower planes makes it of great strategic importance and allows the Devils and Demons to both use it to bring their armies to bear against each other, the only problem is that only a few creatures fully understand how to navigate the treacherous waters and they are typically mercenaries for hire. It isn’t unheard of for a Yugoloth-captain of a boat to suddenly drown a squad of Devils when the Demons offer them a greater price.
Baator, or as it is better known as the Nine Hells, is a lower plane home to the Devils. There are nine distinct layers in Baator with Avernus being the top layer and Nessus, where Asmodeus makes his home, the bottom layer. Each layer of the Nine Hells is governed by an Archdevil and they are largely left alone to their own devices so long as they continue to follow Asmodeus and keep up with their quota of souls.
Avernus, as it is the first layer of the Nine Hells, is now a large battlefield. It once was a beautiful location filled with forests and wildlife, though the war and demonic presence have destroyed any remains of that. The only thing that remains across Avernus are the fortresses set up along the Styx to stop Demonic invasions and as staging areas for the Devil army to make attacks into the Abyss.
Massive ruins of cities sucked into the Hells can be found throughout the plane and the promise of magical items draw many would-be adventurers into its depths. Many never make it out of Avernus, and the ones who do are forever changed by their experience.
The Abyss is a plane of entropy and chaos. While over 600 layers of the Abyss have been documented, it is theorized that there are an infinite number of layers and an infinite number of demons occupying the levels of the Abyss. This is a staggering amount of Demons for any army to fight against, but luckily they are ill-organized and are often fighting among themselves just as much as they are fighting the Devils.
The first layer of the Abyss is known as the Plain of Infinite Portals or Pazunia. It is a wasteland with a burning red sun high overhead and blistering winds that never end. Here the massive forces of the Abyss board ships to sail across the River Styx to put an end to the Devils, and eventually to the rest of the planes. The deeper you go down the Abyss, the more maddening it gets as powerful Demon Princes have made their lairs across many of the levels, with more Demon Princes rising from its infinite layers.
There are a variety of magic items that have helped the Blood War continue on. The Scythes of Plane Opening allowed Demons to cut through the planes and open on portals, the Glaives of the Barbazu have bleed out many Demons and there are several others.