War in Hell – GenCon 2004 Demo

There is unrest in heaven.  In the midst of this distraction, souls of the dead have been misjudged.  The Innocent and the faithful have been sentenced to hell.  The Archangel Michael has led an invasion of hell to get them back.  His forces have carved out a beach head, a bastion of safety in the heart of the abyss.  But the invasion has foundered.

A high level betrayal led to an entire battalion of angels being captured and imprisoned.  The unrest in heaven has grown worse and now Michael and his forces are cut off.  They have lost contact with heaven.  They are isolated.  An age of man has passed and they are alone in Hell.  The tenuous terms of a ceasefire have allowed the weakened angels to hold on to their beach head, but something major is brewing.
Scene one opens with the camera high above the sphere of Earth.  We zoom in closer, through the atmosphere, towards the surface.  We hear the buzz of human speech and thoughts.  They are full of doubt, questions, and unanswered prayers.  We continue down far beneath the surface; down into hell.  It is the hell of the Inferno.  Erupting volcanoes and rivers of lava light the scene with a red glare.  Giant, mile long, segmented, many legged worms burst up through the surface before arcing back down again.  Spouts of fire and clouds of smoke fill the air.

In the distance we see an enormous city of brass and bronze climbing from the cracked surface like a many tiered mountain.  It is a city of demons and devils.  The camera shifts to a much grubbier place.  A ramshackle settlement barely more than a camp, fortified with piles of rubble, craters, and the bones of fallen enemies.  This is the beach head.  The only place in hell where the demon’s don’t hold sway.  The angels have dubbed it Purgatory.  But for the lost souls gathered here it is the closest to heaven they’ve been and their last chance for salvation.

In a dark  alley of Purgatory we see Michael the Archangel, general of heaven’s troops.  He is tired and almost broken.  He is wingless; his wings having been torn off by a greater fiend in a pointless battle centuries ago.  He is meeting with one of his angelic scouts.  We see the scout change shape into a form without wings out of respect for his commander.  The scout reports that the legions of hell are massing, but not for an attack on Purgatory.

Whatever the unrest is in heaven, its made the demons bold.  They plan to invade the surface and enslave the world of men.  Lucifer would never have been so reckless, but the lords of hell overthrew him long ago and now hell is ruled by an oligarchy of loosely aligned and constantly jockeying princes.  Someone is looking to claim the throne of hell by winning the throne of earth.
We cut to an enormous edifice of grim stone and heavy iron far beyond Purgatory.  We come through many walls, locked doors, and barred gates.  It is the Brimstone Prison where the captured angels are held.  Deep within a winged angel sits behind a desk doing paperwork.  It is Furion the Betrayer, or so he is called by the inmates he oversees in the prison.

Furion made a deal with hell.  When his battalion was cut off and surrounded he bargained for their safety.  That is why they are here in prison instead of laying slaughtered on the battle field.  Hell’s price was that he would serve them and that he could never speak of the terms of the contract.  Hell is run on contracts, and once signed they cannot be broken.  Now Hell can never kill the angels of Brimstone Prison and Furion can never tell them that it was not he who betrayed them but rather he who saved them from certain death.  No one is more hated by the angels of Brimstone then Furion whose been assigned as their overseer for the centuries since their capture.

Into Furion’s office comes Xanphar the demonic warden of Brimstone Prison.  Xanphar has discovered that Furion has been smuggling water to the prisoners above their meager allotment.  The angels who curse Furion for allowing them so little water have no idea how much less they were supposed to have.  Xanphar accuses Furion of violating his contract and so he is being reassigned.

Furion will be assigned to the front ranks of suicide shock troops when the legion of hell invades the surface.  He will fight his own kind, angels who defend the earth, and if he falls, all of the prisoners in Brimstone will be tortured for eternity with the most horrific punishments the torturers of hell can devise.

Before Furion leaves the prison he stops by the cell of Josiah.  Josiah has been  his comrade and best friend since before the universe was formed.  Josiah believes Furion betrayed them.  He hates and despises him with unconcealed fury.  Furion can not tell him the truth.  The best he can do is apologize that they would no longer be receiving the extra water he’d been smuggling to them.

Josiah is enraged.  He takes up his remaining water ration and hurls it at Furion who can only walk sadly away.  Behind him, gaunt angels throw themselves down on their bellies to lick the spilled water off of the steaming stone floor.

In the next scene we see Michael preparing his remaining angelic forces for battle.  The invasion preparations have left them with an opportunity to strike at Brimstone Prison and free their comrades.

This is where we had to end the demo
Featured Effect, Group Discussion:
This demo was run for a group of friends who’ve gamed together for some time.  It was their habit in their campaigns to stop play from time to time and discuss, out of character, where each of them thought the story needed to go and what they’d like to see happen in the future.  They did this multiple times during the above session and so fluidly did Universalis accommodate this that to an observer it would have been difficult to tell where the line between actual game play and brainstorming sessions was.  It was during one of these sessions that we learned that angels curse by taking the Lord’s name in vain.  The Commandments of man do not apply to them.

Being a demo we could not play through to the end, but the last of these brainstorming sessions revealed the likely direction for the story.  An epic battle for Brimstone Prison would be fought.  Furion would be revealed as the source of much of Michael’s intelligence and scouting reports on the enemy, and he would have provided information on hell’s invasion plans before departing for the front.  The prisoners would have been set free and, filled with the repressed passions of the ages, the inspired force of angels would have engaged hell’s legions and thwarted the invasion.  During this battle, Josiah would have encountered Furion, and not knowing the truth of the betrayal would have cut him down.  After the battle, Michael would have revealed Furion’s secret and out of shame and regret and love Josiah would have dedicated himself to service in Furion’s memory.  We didn’t know what direction the War in Hell would have gone after that, but we knew that Josiah would be the main protagonist of it.

At one point one of the players stopped and asked me if it was ok that they actually had these out of character discussions about what each of them wanted to get out of play.  I just smiled and said “of course”.

—Ralph Mazza


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