So today I’ll talk a bit about some of the lore I’ve recently learned from Blizzard’s Diablo video game series, and how it has an interesting twist compared to most fantasy cosmologies. We’ll allow that it’s a video game series without a steady set of developers, and that both the specific cosmology and details change a bit from game to game; these aren’t the points that are particularly interesting.
In the standard fantasy cosmology, it typically goes that there was a creator deity, or a set of them, who crafted the world; either one of them was secretly evil/turned evil out of jealousy or an evil force arrived from Elsewhere and a war in the heavens happened, and eventually the evil settled in the darker planes while the good set in watch over the world and the mortals that had either been deliberately or accidentally created to populate it.
The details will vary from setting to setting, but that’s usually the gist of it. It’s easy to understand why – we tend to model our game mythologies on the mythologies we’re familiar with. It’s the same reason so much fantasy is generically western European in base concept – it’s what we’re all steeped in, and thus familiar. (This is also why we tend to do so very badly with attempts to represent cultures outside that sphere of influence, but that’s a long rant for another day.)
Where the Diablo setting differs from this is that the beginning of everything started with a fight. Specifically, a fight between the high god of law and the seven-headed god of chaos. They both died in this fight without making anything themselves; instead, the god of law fell apart, with the remains of the god of law forming the High Heavens and the remains of the god of chaos forming the Burning Hells. From their consciousnesses came the archangels with their divine roles and the seven rulers of the Hells – one of them being Diablo, of course.
Humanity didn’t come about until after the angels (who might well be the now-self-aware parasites and cells of the god of law) and the demons (the same, but for the god of chaos) had members who grew tired of their eternal war and sought to create a place to hide away from the fight – the world of Sanctuary. Mortals were born of their union, literally half-angel and half-demon, able to wield power well beyond anything their progenitors could.
Nascent humanity might have been wiped out, had a few angels still in the High Heavens not seen the heroism and nobility they were capable of; instead, humanity had their potential power stripped from them by an artifact tuned to that purpose by one of the archangels.
Why does this matter? It’s because, in this setting, humans are less than an afterthought. Gods, angels, demons, all of them? They had no idea or plan for humanity. They didn’t expect the world of Sanctuary to exist, they had no idea that half-breeds could come into existence, and they have nothing but frantic scrambling as a method of trying to deal with the existence of these creatures. As the events of the games show so far, humanity – both pre-Worldstone and post-Worldstone – is a force that may well be able to cast down both angels and demons from the positions, defying a Fate that is otherwise hard-coded into the cosmos.
It’s incredibly more freeing and encouraging than humanity being the creations of the gods or otherwise somehow the favored children. Humanity scared the powers that be so badly that, had they not exhibited the ability to have incredible virtue, they’d have been exterminated after having their power stripped. The nature of humanity is a threat to the status quo – and that means you, as a player, can be the one to tip that balance.
Consider that for a campaign seed: the PCs are the first to emerge who have the full potential of the species available, making them able to tip the balance the way they want it to go. Favor the angels, who hold law and order sacred? Favor the demons, who at least understand freedom in their wild chaos? Or kick the fulcrum over in favor of humanity itself over the powers that it was accidentally born from?
Of such stuff are truly epic campaigns forged; consider how you’d play this out. I might revisit it sometime in the future with specific ideas.
For now, though, roll some dice and have some fun!