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In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying game, the Blood War is an eternal conflict between the fiends of the Lower planes. The Tanar'ri are the demonic forces of the Abyss, an evil plane of chaos. Representing the equally evil but lawful realm of Baator are the Baatezu, the dominant caste of devilkin. Neutral evil Yugoloths play both sides against the other. The Blood War has raged on since the Age Before Ages, a dark period when the Prime Material Plane had not fully developed. The conflict is massive, spanning entire planes of reality, and hosting an immeasurable number of fiends.
The Blood War concept was introduced as part of the new background for the outer planes in 1991's Monstrous Compendium Volume Outer Planes Appendix. The conflict is revealed as a bitter war of annihilation between the baatezu race and the tanar'ri; an absolute, all encompassing, and virtually eternal struggle.
The 4th edition of D&D's Manual of the Planes updated the Blood War into a smoldering cold war that was formerly an all-out war.
The Blood War is fought principally by the tanar'ri, who fight for chaos, and the baatezu, who champion law. The War is in part a genocide, devil against demon, in part an ideological conflict, evil law or evil chaos. The fiends, including the yugoloths (who function as mercenaries to help both sides), constitute the largest portion of combatants, but they are not alone. The boxed set Hellbound: The Blood War states that the modrons sometimes fight alongside the baatezu and the Slaadi sometimes fight with the tanar'ri, or sometimes against them, they are too chaotic to choose a side definitively. The gods also involve themselves in the war, supplying both sides with weapons while simultaneously killing them. In this they show restraint, but they feel that the Blood War is necessary to distract, and perhaps kill off, the fiends.
The War has been going on for as long as anyone can remember, and it shows no sign of slowing. It has gone on for so long, should it stop, entire races would lose their occupation, as soldiers, spies, messengers, weapon dealers, journalists, or any other job imaginable during a war.
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No one in the outer planes seems to have any real idea of what started the Blood War. The yugoloths like to entertain the notion that the War is their own personal experiment into the nature of evil, one which they created and will ultimately end on their own terms. Other fiends have their own theories about the war, colored by their particular alignments and racial propaganda. Some demons and devils seem to believe that their respective races could actually gain control over the other.
Many lesser fiends embrace the War because it staves away the cosmic boredom of being ageless. A few races survive on the carnage the Blood War produces; the armanites, centaur-like tanar'ri, must constantly battle with other creatures because otherwise they will turn on one another; the molydei are another race of demons who prowl the Abyss, searching for deserters or rogue demons, whom they press-gang into fighting. Certain creatures are bred by other fiends exclusively for the Blood War, including the Nessian war hounds and the milvorn. The yugoloths are given purpose by the Blood War; constantly shifting from one side to the other, they as a race gain much of their wealth and power from the spoils of war and the high price of their services, though some believe this is simply a facade over older and darker motivations.
The fiendish codex Hordes of the Abyss dictates that the Blood War is a simple offshoot of the primordial wars between law and chaos. The demons and devils (in keeping with their sadistic and violent natures) simply would not cease their fight, even after the rest of the multiverse had grown more tolerant.
However, the fiendish codex Tyrants of the Nine Hells claims a different perspective on the origins of the Blood war. The mythologies in the codex claim that the seeds of the Blood War lay in the cradle of the cosmos itself; "In the beginning- and even before- chaos was all that existed. Out of it came demons- the living manifestations of chaos...". It claims that the chaos was intolerable to the universe, and thus Law arose to fight it. Initially, the primordial lords of order battled the demons themselves, however after inventing numbers and time, they came to understand the demons were infinite in number. Knowing this, they grew weary of endless conflict, and yearned to build worlds and foster races. Thus, they created winged warriors dubbed (in later terms) 'angels' to fight the demons for them. The bravest, toughest and fiercest angels were headed by one named 'Asmodeus'. They were the champions of combat and killed far more demons than even their masters. However, as the eons wore on, to better combat the demons Asmodeus and his angels took on some of the fierce and terrible traits of the Demons. Soon they were ugly, monstrous, barbed, and armoured beings of combat, and the other angels and gods shunned them. Rightly pointing out that they were merely fulfilling their duties, indeed superbly, legally Asmodeus and his kindred could not be banished. In a series of events that eventually led to the pact primeval, Asmodeus and his angels, now dubbed 'Devils', were either granted (or exiled to, depending on perspective) a realm of their own to take the unpleasant combat of what was essentially the blood war away from the realms of pure Law which held no concept of Good or Evil. This realm was Baator, the nine hells, and thus formed the 'Blood War'.
The second Fiendish Codex suggests that this baatorian perspective may include a great deal of historical revisionism and propaganda. The devils' mythology conveniently omits that the plane of Baator was not an empty plane when they arrived there, and in fact they conquered its original inhabitants, the Ancient Baatorians.
Alternately to the Tyrants of the Nine Hells, the Guide to Hell claims a different origin for Asmodeus as hiding his identity as Ahriman. Ahriman, being one of two orderly creators of the universe who fought with the good creator of laws in the multiverse at its inception, is simply trying to divert attention from his scheme of bringing about universal unbelief in the divinity of the powers. Making creatures believe them to be nothing more than simply very powerful entities without any divine spark in a bid to allow unbelief to shift the existence of the outer planes from a set arranged & orderly system back into a primal chaos, so that Ahriman, because of his innate power as a creator of evil order, may fully introduce his system of dark law and regimentation across the entire span of the multiverse fully to his own liking, without any compromise of good and therefore without the conflict between good & evil which allowed pockets of chaos to subsist after his creation.
Later official materials claim that a piece of the pure elemental chaos which Tharizdun used to create the Abyss out of the energy of the inner planes was stolen by Asmodeus and fitted as the tip of his ruby rod. The nature of it being that the demons, spawned as they are by the Abyss (much as how it is claimed in the Ahriman theory that the race of devils were spawned by the blood of Ahriman during his fall (the ground-zero impact of which created Hell in its nine segments) at the climax of his battle with the good creator of the multiverse's laws) to reclaim this as its essence is intrinsically tied to them and they are drawn to it.
Despite all these theories, there is no consensus on the causes of the War.
Despite millennia after millennia of constant strife, no side has yet been able to gain a definitive, permanent advantage over the other. Despite their vast differences, the tanar'ri and the baatezu are surprisingly balanced combatants on the fields of the Blood War. The chaotic denizens of the Abyss, while far more numerous than the devils, are, true to their alignment, constantly warring amongst themselves. They can contest the might of the Nine Hells only through sheer individual power, and their seemingly limitless, if unorganized and uncoordinated supply of warriors. The baatezu, on the other hand, deploy smaller numbers onto the field, but their warriors are regimented, well-trained and well-disciplined, all the while making incredible use of their generals' ruthless strategies. This violent balance could keep the Blood War fueled for an indefinite period of time.
One thing, however, is certain: were one side able to eliminate all opposition, and thus gain control over the entirety of the Lower Planes, the multiverse as a whole would be in great danger. With no enemies left in the Lower Planes, the fiendish rulers could then turn their attentions towards other worlds and planes, and it is likely that no force could hope to stop them. Even the celestial beings of the Upper Planes, formidable as they are, could face destruction at the hands of the tanar'ri or the baatezu, weighed down as their alignments demand by the needs of good and justice—the fiends, having no such compunctions or scruples, could easily use the celestials' morality against them. In the past, agents of the heavenly races have even planted powerful weapons or artifacts among the ranks of the demons or the devils. This appears to be a reliable indicator that even the beings of the Upper Planes do not want the war to end.
There is a prophecy that says that the Blood War will end when the Crawling City, a city on the plane of Gehenna that is home to millions of Yugoloths, directly enters the Blood War.
4th Edition's Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide states that Asmodeus killed the power Azuth and consumed his divine essence. He then proceeded to use this power to push the Abyss to the bottom of the Elemental Chaos, thus ending the Blood War with the victory of the Devils (Law). Some question this, though, saying that Asmodeus didn't win the war, but rather ran from it, since the Demons weren't destroyed or enslaved, just "pushed out of the way". Regardless, this explanation only applies to the Forgotten Realms setting; the default 4th edition books are vague as to the Blood War's status, and as a Forgotten Realms deity, Azuth was not present in these.
The Dark Eight are a coven of pit fiend generals who reside on the Ninth Layer of Hell, Nessus. They plot and strategize the movements of Hell's armies. Bel, Lord of the First Layer, was once a mighty leader on the battlefields of the War, and now uses his influence with the Dark Eight to retain control of Avernus.
Baltazo, a grotesque minor demon lord, was also a mighty general in the Blood War, but has since retired to the Plane of Infinite Portals, while the female demon lord J'zzalshrak, called The Errant General, has Blood War campaigns as her portfolio.
Interestingly, the greatest powers of the Nine Hells and the Abyss do not take an active role in the Blood War. The sole exception from Baator is Bel, Lord of Avernus. The mighty pit fiend has strong ties to the Dark Eight, the pit fiend generals who oversee all of Hell's involvement in the War; this relationship keeps the relatively weak Bel safe from the other archdukes. The mightiest demon princes, such as Orcus, Graz'zt, and Demogorgon, constantly war with each other within the Abyss, and have little concern for the Nine Hells. Asmodeus himself builds a mighty force of devils within his fortress of Malsheem in wait of a cataclysmic battle he claims will dwarf the Blood War.
Trenton Webb of Arcane magazine described the Blood War: "A war has raged across the planes since the dawn of time. Fought with unparalleled savagery between two of the most powerful races of the multiverse, the baatezu and tanar'ri, it has cost billions of lives. And although this Blood War is fought on the Lower Planes between the forces of evil, the fate of all the planes hangs on its outcome."
- Brown, Timothy B. (January 1991). "The Game Wizards". Dragon (165): 89.
- Jacobs, James, Erik Mona, and Ed Stark. Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss (Wizards of the Coast, 2006)
- Laws, Robin D., and Robert J. Schwalb. Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells (Wizards of the Coast, 2006).
- Pramas, Chris. Guide to Hell (TSR, 1999)
- Grubb, Jeff, David Noonan, and Bruce Cordell. Manual of the Planes (Wizards of the Coast, 2001)
- Webb, Trenton (October 1996). "Games Reviews". Arcane. Future Publishing (11): 71.
- Pramas, Chris. Guide to Hell (TSR, 1999).