Reimagining the Blood War

Posted on October 22, 2010

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I was never a huge fan of Planescape or the “Great Wheel” cosmology. A large part of that was the fact that all the places the game wanted you to go to, such as Sigil, the Gate Towns and the first layers of Outer Planes, seemed boring and forced to me. The places I always wanted to check out were the ones PCs would never really go to, either for lack of motivation or the simple lack of ability, such as deeper levels of the Lower Planes or some of the weirder Quasi- and Para-Elemental Planes.

On top of that, I couldn’t stand the Factions. None of them appealed to me in the slightest way, as they were all built around the setting’s framework, and the setting’s framework was forced to mold around AD&D in large part, distorting what could have been interesting philosophical concepts. Since Factionalism seemed to be important to the setting, that meant I wasn’t interested in a key part of what made Planescape what it was, and that hampered my ability to use it.

Recently, however, I started approaching the Great Wheel as a toybox for my Immortals game. Using the Classic D&D cosmology as a base meant that I had an easy tool for yanking out the portions of the Great Wheel that I did like. The power level of the PCs meant that I could gleefully approach the more esoteric and dangerous Outer Planar (in the AD&D sense) layers as source material for Outer Planes of their own (in the classic D&D sense).

I also inadvertently tripped over a wonderful idea for background information to help me shape the campaign. The goals of the Spheres of Power make a lot more sense to me and interest me much more than the anything the Factions believe or have to say. They are at least partly elemental, and elementalism has always fascinated me as a concept. The setup of the Spheres also provides not only built-in tensions, but also a reason for godlike beings to work together and interact outside of direct conflict. However, entities belonging to the same Sphere can regard each other with as much antipathy as, or even more than, entities of opposed Spheres. This brings me to my point.

The Sphere of Entropy is opposed to all the others (Matter, Energy, Time and Thought). While its members are part of the Immortal society and will work with members of other Spheres, they are working on goals antithetical to every other Immortal (and the society as a whole). While this makes them obvious villains and scapegoats for anything going wrong, it does not mean they are a happy family of cackling fiends, liars and jerks who will always back each other up. Every servant of Entropy must, almost by definition, have different views of how to achieve the Sphere’s goals, and when those views conflict, violence of all kinds will happen.

Enter the Blood War. In the Great Wheel, evil fights evil as Law and Chaos clash over philosophical differences, and immortal beings slay each other by the uncounted thousands. Entire planes ring with battle as evil turns on itself. Demons battle devils (and each other) while the yugoloths cheerfully encourage the process, selling their services to the highest bidder while advancing their own schemes.

In the classic D&D cosmology, the only fiends presented are demons — specifically adaptations of the Chaotic Evil entities from the Abyss in the Great Wheel cosmology. They are all Chaotic in alignment, even though Entropy does not favor any given alignment. The fiends (demons, in the gold box) are said to be former servants of Entropy given an unending existence. They are true Immortals in the gold box, but became Exalted creatures in Wrath of the Immortals. Thus, they are made by design by powerful Immortals of Entropy.

Remember what I said about Immortals not agreeing on how to achieve Sphere goals? Why should all fiends be Chaotic, then? Why are there no Lawful or Neutral fiends, all equally evil but differing in how to implement that evil? That’s when it hit me — there’s no reason. Why not convert devils and yugoloths, make them servants of Immortals of Entropy with different methodologies, and unleash them on each other as well as the other Spheres?

Thus, I imported the Blood War. The story runs like this:

Entropy, by its very nature, tends to disorganization. Not Chaos, which in the cosmological sense also encourages creativity, but breakdown. Things fall apart. Perhaps at one time Entropy was unified, but for ages untold it has worked at cross-purposes with itself as well as the other Spheres.

No one remembers exactly when it happened, but agents of Entropy, driven by their fundamental differences, splintered the Sphere into three different camps. Each camp, using the titans and angels as a model, created its own nigh-Immortal servants. Thus were the Exalted beings called demons, devils and yugoloths formed. These creatures of Entropy are children of their creators’ desires, thoughts and fears, and will fall upon each other as readily as they will agents of other Spheres.

In time the skirmishes became an unending cycle of war and revenge as each impulse strives for mastery within the Sphere of Entropy. This conflict, which rages across the infinite planes, has become known as the Blood War.

Because of the attrition factors of the Blood War, Entropy has been ravenous for mortal servants to replace the lost numbers. The Sphere regularly breaks the accords preventing interference with the Prime (aka Prime Material) Plane. Agents of all three impulses, as well as Immortals themselves, seek to seduce mortals to Entropy’s service, encouraging them to desire it so that they may enter the Sphere willingly. Those who succumb are often made into more demons, yugoloths and devils. These agents are fed back into the War, and the cycle continues, feeding upon itself.

Naturally the other Spheres are unhappy about this, but because Entropy has effectively become three Spheres unto itself, it is unlikely that a crusade against it would cause anything but an apocalypse, and because Entropy is a regrettably necessary component of the cosmos, even if such a crusade were successful the end result would be disaster. All that can be done is to try to mitigate the effects and hope that in time Entropy will fall in upon itself. Thus, the agents of Energy, Matter, Time and Thought watch, wait and act when they can. Meanwhile, the Blood War continues.

I find this to be a compelling backdrop. It gives plot hooks for stories and background hooks for characters that would otherwise be focused mostly on the Prime Plane, even though they aren’t supposed to interfere there. It offers seeds for plots and projects that likewise do not have to be focused on the Prime. I think my players will enjoy it; I know I’m enjoying it already.

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Posted in: Classic D&D