A battle for Oerth has been waged among certain demon princes for millennia. Not a battle of physical conquest, it is a battle to corrupt and control. The recent conflicts styled the Greyhawk Wars that saw massed fiendish armies marshalled on Oerth are as nothing. The Greyhawk Wars have ended. The Oerth War continues.
D&Demons - The Oerth War
By: Glenn Vincent Dammerung, aka GVDammerung
Posted with permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
Oerth has attracted more than its fair share of interest from the lower planes. Of the principle demons of the Abyss, only Kostchtchie, Bahomet and Juiblex are not known to have active cults operating on Oerth. Even so, these demon princes are known to have been summoned to Oerth. Interest among the arch-devils has proven only slightly less pronounced.
Oerth as Multiversal Nexus
The reason for this attention is Oerth’s place in the multiverse. Oerth is a nexus point. It has five shadow selves - Oerth, Aerth, Yarth, Ureth and Earth. More than a dozen other worlds connect to one or more of these shadow selves. Among these connections, Oerth features most prominently, having the most direct and indirect connections to other spheres (FN1). As a consequence, control of Oerth would secure a strategic nexus point from which further gains might be more easily made. It is for this reason that Oerth, almost uniquely, attracts so much attention from the lower planes. This interest is, however, not chiefly concerned with physical conquest but spiritual corruption.
The Greyhawk Wars, the Bloodwar and the Flight of Fiends
The demonstration of lower planar interest in Oerth has never been more obviously demonstrated than in the recent Greyhawk Wars, which saw demonic forces mustered by Iuz, while diabolic forces were engaged by Ivid V, monarch of the Great Kingdom. While the fighting ostensibly reflected Oerthly interests, the subtext was that of the Bloodwar, the fight for supremacy between demon and devil. In a revealing microcosm, this battle was played out in Iuz’s attack upon and defeat of the Horned Society, during the opening phases of the Greyhawk Wars. The Horned Society, despite the significant patronage of the arch-devil Asmodeus, went down in defeat to the forces of Iuz, whose patron has been his father, the demon-prince Grazzt (FN2). In this single episode, the leading figure of the Nine Hells and the Abyss squared off by proxy.
This sort of large scale, open conflict upon a prime material world was, however, aberrational, if predictable once it began. Left to their own devices, the fiends of the lower planes prefer to conduct their affairs on the material plane more discretely, which is to say with more guile and cunning than brute force. It is well in this regard to understand that the denizens of the lower planes are not primarily concerned with physical conquest. The lower planes are infinite. Moral and spiritual conquest is far more important to an arch-devil or demon prince. These entities represent moral or ethical absolutes. They feed upon souls and battened, grow strong. Simply killing a good person does not render up the soul of the dead to the fiend who committed the murder. A good soul who dies at the hand of a demon or devil does not go to the Abyss or the Nine Hells but to a good aligned plane. Souls may be harvested by a demon or devil in only two ways: ritual killing or sacrifice or both, which are far different than a mere talon through the gut, or corruption of a living being who dies while in a corrupted state of being. Murder and mayhem may be enjoyable for fiends, but such self-indulgent slaughter does not feed them power in the way only a properly sacrificed or corrupted soul can.
Upon the lower planes, the Bloodwar is a matter of physical conquest. Each side seeks to physically conquer and eradicate the other. The prize is conquest and dominion. This is not true on the prime material plane. The prize there are the millions of souls of the inhabitants, but these cannot be harvested by simple slaughter. The souls must be prepared, either by first being corrupted or in the breach by being ritually sacrificed. The Greyhawk Wars were, thus, an aberration, set in motion not by Grazzt but by Iuz, not by Baalzephon but by Ivid. The troops these fiends supplied to their agents upon the prime material plane were not an end in themselves to see Oerth conquered but a means to the end of further empowering their agents, who would ostensibly serve the fiends’ needs with mass ritual sacrifices and the creation of circumstances conducive to spiritual corruption. That a Bloodwar in microcosm began upon Oerth is the incidental but predictable result of both demons and devils becoming involved in numbers. In the usual case of demonic or diabolic intervention alone, the physical destruction of a prime material world would be regarded as an abhorrent waste of resources - all those souls lost without being harvested (FN3).
Only the Flight of Fiends, whereby the fiendish armies present on Oerth were put to flight by the use of the Crook of Rao, put an affirmative end to the waging of the Blood War in microcosm on Oerth. While a serious inconvenience, even disaster, to Iuz, chief among others, it was hardly as distressing to the arch-fiends and arch-devils. Their plots continue unabated. Those plots existed prior to the Greyhawk Wars and they continue, little disturbed. This is the Oerth War, sometimes called the Invisible War, that fiends have been waging for control of Oerth for eons. This internecine conflict continues unabated and as before, with perhaps one notable exception.
Grazzt’s long term plotting in the Flanaess is founded upon his extended family: his consorts and children (FN4). In this approach, Grazzt is unique among fiends. His independent cults are of secondary importance to his couplings. As a consequence, Grazzt is both more ahead of and behind his demonic rivals on Oerth. While his consorts and children are notable in their achievements, they are equally as quarrelsome, advancing their own interests as much if not more than Grazzt’s interests. Nonetheless, this is Grazzt’s preferred approach.
As a consequence, Grazzt’s influence on Oerth is chiefly confined to the north central Flanaess, particularly the abortive empire of his son, Iuz, and those regions of Iggwilv’s historic influence in the Yatils and surrounding lands. It is here that Grazzt has clashed with Asmodeus, besting the arch-devil but beginning a rivalry whose outcome none can predict (see generally FN2). If rumors are true, however, of a new city north of the Amedio Jungle constructed in the cauldron of a volcano, Grazzt may be widening his sphere of influence to include areas more typically associated with Demogorgon.
The presence of Demogorgon’s cults on Oerth predates the rise of mankind. It predates the rise of demi-humans and humanoids. While very old and entrenched, Demogorgon’s cults are handicapped by their over-reliance on monstrous cultists. Demogorgon’s chief aim, then, is to update the membership of his cults, while still preserving his power among his non-human adherents. It is in the Great Kingdom that Demogorgon has made the most strides toward this end, creating the death knights of that land (FN5). Elsewhere in the Flanaess, Demogorgon’s cults tend to appear more primitive or feral, reflecting the pre-human origins of many of his cults. Such cults may be found in the area of Irongate and in the Thanaclan archipelago, particularly the so-called Isle of Dread (FN6).
Because of Demogorgon’s need to establish his cult more strongly among the human nations that dominate the Flanaess, he has not come into direct conflict with Baalzephon, the diabolic patron of Ivid V, this despite both operating in the same area (FN7). Demogorgon has avoided making in Baalzephon the enemy Grazzt has made in Asmodeus. Of course, as Demogorgon bears Grazzt great enmity, he is only too pleased to see that demon prince pitted against the arch-devil. In any event, with the presumed destruction of Rauxes and Ivid V, Baalzephon has lost his greatest adherent. Demogorgon is then poised to be come the principle fiendish power in the old Great Kingdom, particularly in the south. If Grazzt’s cults enjoyed great prominence during the Greyhawk Wars, Demogorgon’s cults appear perhaps capable of winning the peace.
While long known on Oerth, Orcus is a latecomer to any significant power there. This is perhaps due to the influence of Nerull, whose role as lord of the undead occupies a field that might otherwise more naturally fall to Orcus. Whatever the prior reason, Orcus has now established cults in Sterich, in the mountainous regions of the western Flanaess (FN8). In so doing, he appears to be capitalizing on Lolth’s repeated failures in that area. Of course, Lolth remains a power among the drow but her influence upon the surface has waxed and waned precipitously through the years. Doubtless, Lolth appreciates not at all Orcus’ opportunism. Even while Lolth has seen her personal power rise to that of a deity among the drow, even a deity must account Orcus a terrible foe. Orcus’ cult is the most wide spread in the multiverse and he has himself achieved deity status and even come back from the dead (FN9).
Of note is Orcus’ possible role in the north central Flanaess. Traditionally dominated by Grazzt’s influence, either through the agency of Iggwilv or Iuz, ancient sources suggest a startling reason why Grazzt’s gains have not been greater. It is whispered that Orcus, not Grazzt, is Iuz’ true father (FN10). Iggwilv would then have cuckolded Grazzt, perhaps explaining the capture, imprisonment and mistreatment of one by the other at various points. Perhaps, Orcus is playing the deepest of games, allowing Grazzt to pave the way for Orcus’ eventual ascendence in the north. That Orcus only lately appears to be taking a more active role in creating cults in the Flanaess may be due to this secret: Grazzt's gains through Iggwilv and Iuz may, in fact, be Orcus’ for the taking.
Only Grazzt can rival Lolth’s obvious influence in the Flanaess. Though now raised up as a deity among the drow, Lolth is inherently of the Abyss and a demon princess of the first rank (FN11). Through the drow and thereafter the giants of the mountains of the western Flanaess, Lolth has made and lost as many gains as Grazzt. Id. She has, however, always retained her power among the drow of Oerth. These remain her primary cultists, along with the driders, those drow who fail Lolth’s testing but serve her nonetheless. Much like Demogorgon, however, Lolth lacks sufficient human followers to better advance her aims. Unlike Demogorgon, she appears less concerned with addressing this apparent deficiency. This may, however, be misleading as Lolth’s worship as a goddess among the drow is not an inconsiderable advantage.
Where Lolth is less advantaged is in her hostile relations with Grazzt and Orcus. Lolth’s truck with Grazzt, through the embassies of her sometimes priestess Eclavdra, is a thin veneer that has too readily revealed the rivalry that exists between the too (FN12). Orcus’ recent move into what had been Lolth’s almost personal preserve in the Flanaess must, again, be accounted as troubling to her aims. Both rivalries are the more troubling for being both aimless in the grand scheme of things and, perhaps, more motivated by Lolth’s failures than anything else. Again, however, Lolth’s worship as a goddess among the drow may be the offsetting factor. Perhaps, Lolth now plays a different game for higher stakes in the realm of the divine.
Zuggtmoy, demoness queen of fungi, would under most circumstances have few worshipers on Oerth (FN13). Fungi do not inspire much in the way of devotion, save perhaps among the dwellers of the Underdark. But there, others, notably Lolth, already hold sway. Id. Zuggtmoy has, however, devised an effective means around such issues. She is the consort of Iuz, Oerth’s self-styled tyrant of tyrants. However, so linked, as go his fortunes, so go hers. No better example may be provided than her involvement with the Temple of Elemental Evil (FN14). While Zuggtomy has attempted to broaden her cults, notably in the Wild Coast region, such efforts have not proven wholly successful (FN15). Yet, Zuggtomy even if only through her association with Iuz and Iggwilv, remains a force on Oerth.
Of note, Zuggtomy’s relationship with Iuz puts her at some odds with Grazzt, who also attempts to influence his son, but who has not acted openly against Zuggtomy. However, where Zuggtomy’s influence appears more direct, Grazzt’s appears the more pervasive. The Temple of Elemental Evil affair in the Kron Hills and the expansion of Iuz’s realm during the Greyhawk Wars illustrate these respective and contrasting approaches. It may be speculated, however, that Iuz may be less of a success, in part, because of the meddling in his affairs by his mother Iggwilv, his father Grazzt and his consort Zuggtomy, each inveigling toward their own ends as much as in concert with Iuz’s aims.
Yeenoghu, demon prince of gnolls, acts almost exclusively through his gnoll followers. Immediate thoughts that he might be disadvantaged by such a strictly prescribed group of followers may be quickly dismissed for gnolls make outstanding servitors in the service of many masters and Yeenghu’s influence follows in their track. Among what remains of the Maure in the Duchy of Urnst, Yeenoghu has seen his influence grow (FN16). To date, this is Yeenoghu’s most advantageous and immediately apparent activity in the Flanaess. A closer look, however, makes clear that Yeenoghu has designs upon the entirety of the Duchy of Urnst, one of the most strategically situated realms in the Flanaess, as well as one of the most wealthy.
On the opposite side of the Duchy from Maure Castle lies the vast Celadon Forest. This forest is ruled by a council of druids, The Council of the Thorn, among whose leading members are more than a few gnolls of evil disposition (FN17). It takes no imagination to anticipate Yeenoghu’s likely plan. Yeenoghu is poised to be able to envelope the Duchy of Urnst with his evil, and yet appear to outside observers to be seemingly uninvolved. Ironically, for a demon prince many see as limited, Yeenoghu’s activities on Oerth are remarkably focused, being neither too grand nor too obscure. Indeed, Yeenoghu may emerge from his own relative obscurity if he succeeds in growing in strength in the Duchy of Urnst, in the very heartland of the Flanaess. His only potential rival is not Bahomet, with whom he is often at odds but who has yet to make a concerted effort to establish his cults in the Flanaess, but Fraz-Urb’luu.
Fraz-Urb’luu’s history in the Flanaess is brief. He was made prisoner beneath Castle Greyhawk for centuries and has only recently managed to escape, much weakened for his captivity (FN18). Enraged by his treatment, he now seeks revenge against all of humanity. Id. Foremost among those upon whom Fraz-Urb’luu would vent his spleen are the human populations of Oerth, particularly those in and around the City of Greyhawk, nearby where Fraz-Urb’luu was only lately held captive. That he has not already attempted to lay waste the area may only be attributed to his relative weakness and his efforts to reestablish his dominion of his abyssal layer. In the fulness of time, however, Oerth shall doubtless feel the wrath of the demon prince of lies.
The physical proximity of the City of Greyhawk and the Duchy of Urnst, where Yeenoghu’s strength quietly grows, has the potential to see Yeenoghu and Fraz-Urb’luu’ interests come into conflict. This is, however, no certainty. It would doubtless be altogether worse, of course, should there develop any cooperation between the two. For the moment, each one's involvement in the area is sufficiently constrained that neither scenario is more likely than the other and, indeed, the cults of the two demon princes seem presently unaware of each other’s actions. This could, however, change at any time.
Among the greatest of the demon princes, Pazuzu has perhaps the least presence on Oerth among his demonic near equals. As Pazrael, Pazuzu was a patron of Duke Szeffrin during the Greyhawk Wars. He has since all but vanished, merely being rumored to have appeared on sea islands off the coast of Nyrond or Keoland, depending on the telling of the tale. No reliable information is at hand. Yet, it seems hard to imagine Pazuzu would so greatly commit himself, only to then quit the field so easily.
Once, it was almost possible to speak of fiendish cults active on Oerth strictly in terms of demons. While never strictly true, diabolic influence was largely confined to the precincts of the Horned Society. With the destruction of that realm, however, the dread heirarchs, those that survive, are now spread to the four winds. In their passing wakes arise diabolic cults sponsored by one diabolic patron or another. The greatest of arch-devils, Asmodeus, has lately shown his hand with a cult active in the area surrounding Hardby (FN19). While of limited threat, the very thought of Asmodeus actively at work on Oerth must be terrifying. What was confined to the Horned Society is now freed to menace all of the Flanaess (FN20).
No prospect, however, can be as frightening than the thought of Asmodeus and Grazzt having begun a personal antagonism upon Oerth. It was Iuz, under Grazzt’s patronage, who routed the Horned Society, under Asmodeus’ patronage. Grazzt has embarrassed Asmodeus. He has, arguably, dealt him a defeat or at least a stiff blow. It is incomprehensible that Asmodeus will not, in the fulness of time, seek an accounting. The greatest of the demon princes and the greatest of the arch-devils now have personal issue with each other. While another eruption of the Bloodwar on Oerth as a consequence is a possibility, it is unlikely. Asmodeus is not particularly interested in the prosecution of the Bloodwar and Grazzt views it as a waste of time and resources. No, it is more likely that Grazzt and Asmodeus’ feud will be entirely personal and carried out as such. Oerth will be the chessboard. Asmodeus' and Grazzt’s cults the respective playing pieces.
The pit fiend Baalzephon served as a patron for Ivid V before and during the Greyhawk Wars (FN21). Not merely an ambitious example of his kind, Baalzephon numbers second among the Dark Eight, those who prosecute the Bloodwar for the Nine Hells, and is in fact chief of supply. Why he would choose to exert himself on Ivid’s behalf remains something of a mystery. That he did so is not in doubt but his fate after the Greyhawk Wars and the disappearance of both Ivid and Rauxes is very much in doubt. The best surmise is that Baalzephon patronized not Ivid V but House Naelax. In such case, his cultists are doubtless found in Eastfair, as they were in Rauxes. There is, however, no solid proof of this. Such would, however, explain why Baalzephon and Demogorgon may appear to coexist. They are ensconced at opposite ends of the former Great Kingdom.
A more interesting rumor is that Baalzephon has departed the Flanaess in all but name and is replaced by Baalzebul - Lord of the Seventh Layer of the Nine Hells, formerly lord of both the sixth and seventh layers, formerly second only to Lucifer himself in the time before Asmodeus, and formerly a ruler of the Nine Hells after Lucifer (FN22). More interesting still is the rumor that "Baalzy," as he was sometimes known in Ivid V’s Great Kingdom, was never Baalzephon, who was fully occupied with his duties in the Bloodwar as one of the Dark Eight, but is and always has been Baalzebul! Of course, in such case, it would not be the first time Baalzebul was known by other than his proper name for he was once Beelzebub, until Asmodeus forced him to adopt the name Baalzebul. Id. If true, Oerth plays host to arguably the two most powerful arch-devils. It is not impossible that Baalzebul’s aim is nothing less than to draw forth Asmodeus that he might be revenged upon him, with Grazzt as a stalking horse. The implications of such would be staggering.
Separate from any Oerthly alliances or conflicts, the demon princes and arch-devils have their own rivalries. These predate the Greyhawk Wars and Oerth itself. Such are at most animated by recent events. The only exception is the nascent conflict between Asmodeus and Grazzt which owes its genesis entirely to the Greyhawk Wars.
It is then with this single exception that the Oerth War fought between fiends needed nor needs neither the pretext nor context of the Greyhawk Wars and the pitiful summonings of Iuz and Ivid, so easily foiled by the pacific followers of Rao wielding that god’s crook. Indeed, the history of Oerth more than amply demonstrates how easily fiendish invasions are foiled and thus how correspondingly foolish (FN23).
The Oerth War is fought not for land but for influence that can be used to corrupt the souls of the weak and bend the will of the strong. It is no less vicious for all that but fought by very different means than marauding bands of demons or devils with billhooks or spiked chains. Smaller. Quieter. Very much more subtle. The Oerth War is predominantly a shadow war, an invisible war to all but those immediately caught up in it. Of course, the heroism of those who fight to prevent the rise of the diabolic or demonic is no less heroic. It is moreso for the hero may go without recognition or wide acclaim after engaging the darkest forces of the multiverse.
- FN1: A forthcoming topical submission will "map" these interconnections. By way of brief and well known example, Oerth connects to the world of Blackmoor via gates in the archbarony of the same name located in the northwestern Flanaess.
- FN2: See Dungeon 111 (affirming Asmodeus’ involvement with the Horned Society) and Iuz the Evil (discussing Grazzt’s role in the establishment of Iuz’s ill-fated "empire.").
- FN3: Grazzt’s aim of dragging material worlds into the Abyss to form new layers under his control, should, in its very statement, be seen as more than slaughter on a grand scale but rather as an elaborate ritual exercise of almost unimaginable scope. The ritual sacrifice on an entire world at once. See For Duty and Deity.
- FN4: See S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and WGR5 Iuz the Evil.
- FN5: See Fiend Folio (1st Edition), Dragon 290 and Dragon 291.
- FN6: See Dungeon 114 and Dungeon 120.
- FN7: See Ivid the Undying.
- FN8: See Dungeon 89.
- FN9: See Dead Gods.
- FN10: See Dragon 67.
- FN11: See GDQ Series and Fiend Folio (1st Edition).
- FN12: See Gord the Rogue series, WGR5 Iuz the Evil and the Epic Level Handbook.
- FN13: See Dragon 337.
- FN14: See T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil.
- FN15: See Dungeon 85 and Dragon 337.
- FN16: See Dungeon 112.
- FN17: See Dungeon 85.
- FN18: See S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and Dragon 333.
- FN19: See Dungeon 111.
- FN20 See From the Ashes, The Marklands and Living Greyhawk Gazeteer.
- FN21: See Ivid the Undying.
- FN22: See Dragon 28.
- FN23: Iggwilv has twice been thwarted in attempts to invade Oerth with extraplanar armies (see Isle of the Ape and Return of the Eight). Iuz and Ivid’s failures are just more of the same. More successful, but with the same result, ignoble failure. Fiendish invasions of Oerth at the behest of temporal would-be masters of Oerth are tiresome exercises in futility for want of any better plan.