Saturday, January 23, 2010

Planes as Planets

Having spent more time thinking about "outer space" in my Dwimmermount campaign, I've made a few tentative decisions on how I'm going to handle things. Chief among my decisions is to re-imagine most of "the planes" in D&D as planets elsewhere in the universe rather than as universes in their own right. In early D&D, planes are nebulous things and the term seems to be shorthand for "another world," without any codified notion of what does and does not constitute a plane. Generally, if it's somewhere other than the world in which the campaign is set, it's a plane. There are a few canonical exceptions to this -- such as Mars -- but, by and large, the term "plane" is used very loosely to describe somewhere else.

Much as I love AD&D's "Great Wheel" cosmology, its conception of the planes isn't one I want to import into Dwimmermount. I really like the esthetics of "other worlds" being, literally, other worlds. I've already established that, in the past, there was much greater communication and travel between the campaign world and Areon and Kythirea and portals to those places still exist -- and operate -- in ancient ruins and the like. Similarly, certain high level spells allow easy transit between worlds, but such magic is rare and little understood nowadays. In this set-up, summoning "extraplanar" beings like elementals is in fact summoning beings from another planet. Again, I like the esthetics of this, because it helps me to shake off the residue of other planar cosmologies by re-imagining extraplanar entities as "aliens" in the pulp sense of the term.

I think the planes-as-planets approach is useful because it doesn't (to me anyway) make the planes feel so abstract. One of the problems I've always had with AD&D's planes is that they were too closely tied to alignments and the gods. Now, there's nothing wrong with that and I think much can be done with that notion. But if what one has in mind is something more in line with The Dying Earth, for example, it's much easier to conceive of all these other worlds as, literally, other worlds. That makes it simpler for me to imagine them and (I hope) simpler for the players to do the same. As a younger person, I was always more intrigued by what AD&D called "Alternate Prime Material Planes" and, as a fan of the Harold Shea stories, I want to include more of that kind of thing in my campaign.

Ideas are still percolating but some of them are definitely starting to solidify.

36 comments:

  1. I agree!

    "One of the problems I've always had with AD&D's planes is that they were too closely tied to alignments and the gods."

    I tend to think that's one of the many examples of the Cleric class making world-building much more difficult than it had to be.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I concur as well on all points. Also agree with Delta regarding clerics and world-building.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dying Earth was the first thought that popped into my head when reading this post. My second was from demon web pits where the pcs are transported to another world overrun by undead with only a single dwarven colony left to fend them off from.

    Not to hijack your thread, Delta. I've never liked the cleric, but it occured to me that the philosophy text in mentzer basic portrays the cleric is really the prototype for the 4E warlord.

    If you nix the spells that are overtly biblical (sticks to snakes etc) and see the already abstract hit point system as an even more abstract "morale" system (0 hp means you've lost the stamina and will to fight) than a "martial cleric" is easily non-sectarian. It's just that his abilities are called spells because that's the only sub-system d&d has for abilities.

    ReplyDelete
  4. There is a nice discussion with mentzer in the d&d sub forum that, to my mind, highlights this aspect.

    ReplyDelete
  5. ...at dragonsfoot.

    I wish comments had an edit button :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. This also puts me in mind of Lewis' space trilogy, which treats space and planets using a medieval cosmology. I think the end result feels pretty planar. Outer space is kind of like the Astral Sea, and planets are locations within that Sea.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "1984 - Mentzer Basic - All mention of religion is dropped completely. Clerics are now mentioned as being "dedicated to serving a great and worthy cause. This cause is usually the cleric’s Alignment; for example, a cleric may be dedicated to spreading law and order." They are said to get their spells merely from the "strength of the cleric’s beliefs", and churches and gods are no longer mentioned. Clerics now simply belong to "orders" of likeminded individuals. In fact, the game goes out of its way to stress that there is no religion involved, saying "In D&D games, as in real life, people have ethical and theological beliefs. This game does not deal with those beliefs. All characters are assumed to have them, and they do not affect the game."

    ReplyDelete
  8. Vance's work was the first thing I thought of when I started reading this post, and UWS Guy beat me to the punch with the Demonweb reference. (There was a great Dragon article that expanded on those other worlds in Q1, btw. Anyone remember which issue?) I'll look forward to seeing how this develops.

    And, since you're going Vancian, James, if the party does travel to other planes/planets, make one of them Tschai. }:>

    ReplyDelete
  9. I dunno. Planes feel more fantasy to me. Having the other planes be other planets feels more sci-fi. That rubs me the wrong way in terms of creating a D&D setting. It is too mundane.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I always liked the original D&D planar cosmology. Contact Higher Plane [5th MU] specifies at least 10 higher planes inhabited by various creatures ("the referee"). The higher the plane you contacted, the more likely you would get a correct answer, but also more likely that experiencing a creature of that level of reality would send you insane.

    Interestingly these are numbered 3rd to 12th. One presumes that the astral plane, was the 2nd, and our world was the 1st.* [Although the spell Astral Spell does mention that at least two hells exist, since in cases of the magic user's body's death the astral form was sent to gibber and shriek on the lowest of them.]

    I found this much more satisfying in many ways than the later Outer Wheel Cosmology. You can imagine the magic user summoning these beings of great power into a pentacle to answer his questions.

    It also fits in particularly well with the Gate spell, which can only be used to summon a being (a god or even a hero of old or an adventurous Earthman) to your location, not as some form of extra-planar teleport or, even worse, a gateway.

    In fact there are interesting hints that there is a difference between plane and dimension which dropped out of use in later editions.

    Personally as a fan of the World of Tiers I've always had gateways to different dimensions (as well as to different points in the same dimension). But they are all part of the first and lowest plane in the old D&D cosmology scheme. Just different dimensional spaces.

    [*Interestingly, by extrapolation, a magic user using this spell to ask the local barkeep a single question would have a 10% chance of knowing the answer but a 90% chance of lying about it.]

    ReplyDelete
  11. Yog Sothoth:

    "Planes feel more fantasy to me. Having the other planes be other planets feels more sci-fi. That rubs me the wrong way in terms of creating a D&D setting. It is too mundane."

    More precisely, it's more science-fantasy and in line with the pulp/planetary stories James loves. I think it works fine as an alternate cosmology.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Never liked Mentzer's take on Clerics. If you're completely getting rid of religion, then get rid of priests, as well. The old NPC Healer class, could fill the medic role. Of course, then, all the demons, etc., become weird aliens and everything gets all Lovecraftian. Not that there's anything wrong, with that.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "If you nix the spells that are overtly biblical (sticks to snakes etc) and see the already abstract hit point system as an even more abstract "morale" system (0 hp means you've lost the stamina and will to fight) than a "martial cleric" is easily non-sectarian. It's just that his abilities are called spells because that's the only sub-system d&d has for abilities."

    I agree with James directly above. To me the cleaner surgery is to simply delete clerics, not to contaminate the concepts of hit points/ sectarian clerics/ spells-that-are-not-spells in order to make way for them.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I prefer the Maker of Universes approach to planes. Each (non-heavenly or diabolic) Plane is a pocket universe.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Yog Sothoth: your comment fairly ironic, considering that what James is describing is pretty similar to how Lovecraft handled things. Personally it brought Gene Wolfe to mind, but he's never been shy about his debts to Vance.

    ReplyDelete
  16. If it fits your campaign's flavor, go for it, I say. The question is what to do with angels and demons? Are they strange aliens whose true nature are warped by legend and folklore based upon past contact? Are they mere myth- a fantasy within the fantasy of the game? Or are there planets and planes- places like Yuggoth or Eryx and realms beyond like Hell or the Abyss. My campaign has both. With the Lower Planes, I made into one single Underworld, with each of the infamous planes as a layer in a manner very similar to Dante's Inferno. From Hades to the Abyss at the bottom- where are trapped the Titans, Typhon, and a few others.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Yes.

    Is like Norse mythology of midgard, alfheim, asgard etc. at least as potrayed in Hammer of Thor game. The game map consists of constellations of stars/planets and labeled for the various planets/planes of Norse Mythology.

    Also, were I was headed with the celestial bodies listed at end of Color of Magic post. Hel/Underworld/Black being the moon, Muspellheim/Fire/Red being Mars, and so on. Although, I hadn't made the leap to thinking of Mars as *the* plane of fire. Doing away with planes (as things separate from planets) wraps it all up nicely. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  18. The Arduin Grimoire has a brief listing of 'the 21 Planes of Hell' which are treated in this way.

    ReplyDelete
  19. James, thank you: these are planes I could actually use. I never liked the AD&D setup largely because of the schematic map: they looked neither like concentric Fludd/Dante type levels of being nor multiple alternate worlds, but something like a non-material continent full of eccentric countries. Starwarsian theme planets are quite a relief in comparison.

    I can't think why I never thought of it myself.

    veriword: bilif. What you gotta have for clerics.

    ReplyDelete
  20. There is a major difference between planes and planets. Planets are other worlds, which exist in our universe and are therefore subject to our (or AD&D physics). Different planes of reality can be based on different laws of physics and metaphysics. Because of that different planes would be perceived differently, not unlike drug enduced hallucinations, provided that the characters would survive, of course. Imagine life on the surface of a star in our universe. At present, we do not have any means whatsoever of visiting those folks, but we can assume that in the D&D universe, powerful magics and divine miracles would make such a visit possible. The story with other planes is even more radically different, because you are imagining not just impossible conditions, but something outside the scope of our reality and possibly perception. Voyage to Arcturus tackles this problem in fanatsy literature. Hence, you can have both, different planets, different worlds, and different planes (three separate animals). On my part, I ws never thrilled with the AD&D planes. For my own campaign I re-imagined the prime negative and prime material planes, to create some kind of a plausible mechanism to exoplain the energy drain, the undead and the turning of the undead by the life-affirming clerics. In addition to providing a more solid ground to game mechanics, I also came up with some strikingly different details for game setting and for the school of Necromancy in the game. So, I encourage to think about other planes and not to accept the AD&D canon version of it, or give up on them entirely.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Funny, the Planes as Planets framework is exactly what I disliked about the new 4E Manual of the Planes!

    Yeah Hell is a planet now. Which works great for many, but not so much for me.

    I went the other direction based on a post Mike Mearls made and something I have wanted to try since reading The Inferno, putting the planes underground.

    My post: http://timbrannan.blogspot.com/2010/01/going-up-to-hell-cosmology.html

    Mike Mearl's post:
    http://kotgl.blogspot.com/2010/01/kill-planes-abyss.html

    Some different ideas. But I like what you are trying to do here. I certainly like the idea for the different campaign worlds or other places the PCs can go.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Not to knock Jame's world building here but isn't this really just yet another reflection of the demystification of fantasy?

    "Lets drop the cleric class " may even be being extolled because of our secular society, when you scrape beneath the surface of the crunch.

    ReplyDelete
  23. well sure it's secularization, but fantasy always does reflect the society that produces it: Howard's fantasies were remarkably secular compared with, say, F. E. Younghusband's.

    Moving the planes underground is lovely in a "digging to China" way: reminds me of an Arabic saying: "no one should sail on the sea except for pilgrims, for under the sea there is a fire and under the fire there is a sea.”

    ReplyDelete
  24. Well, also Howard seems to have at least one planet, Yag, in his Hyborian Age "cosmology". So, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with the idea of other worlds.

    ReplyDelete
  25. There's definitely nothing wrong with it, especially if James envisages a time when his fire elementals stream out of a UFO and come at the party wielding laser guns - which is just as cool as them being summoned from another dimension by a secret, forbidden ritual by an evil magician and flowing along the ground like burning oil to incinerate the heroes.

    ReplyDelete
  26. @Recursion King

    Depending on how the planes as planets idea is executed, I would disagree, calling the a remystification of space based on a medieval cosmology of concentric spheres of existence. This is what Lewis did with the Space Trilogy, which James was good enough to review in todays post.

    There is certainly another way to execute it that would function the way you've described, but I don't think that's necessarily the case.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Planes as Planets... Unless, your universe is Star Wars or unmodified Traveller (as only in those games do you have the IcE Planet or the DeSERT Planet) rather than a complex ecology. Then that would be a mistake.

    I always took the planes to be higher forms of magic being the stuff that binds the universe together. Once you make them planets, then they lose some of that magic and must subscribe to more normative rules of physics (however you break the rules) things cannot be so radically different on "B" than on "A" otherwise planets lose their integrity as being part of a unified whole.

    Therefore, maybe, view planes as totalities spun away and the magic rich "planets" such as Dwimmermount can tap into just as we channel the elements in the worlds dominated by technology.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Some fairly good points in the comments here. Let me distinguish between "Planes as Planets" and "Planes replaced by Planets". If you're including literal Hell, Heaven, Asgard, Demonweb, etc., then I would want those to be mystical unearthly dimensions -- not planets. But if your campaign is focused on Mars, Yuggoth, Carcosa, etc., then it's better to be focused on planets and not planes.

    Personally, I'd rather NOT have a literal Hell, etc., in my game these days, and hence would prefer disposing of planes, particularly the great wheel cosmology. Another possibility (not one I'd use, but defensible) would be a Hellish planet that through small amounts of contact gave rise to our confused myth of Hell (see Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End").

    ReplyDelete
  29. Anarchist beat me to it - Arduin's 21 Hells comes to mind. I always dug the idea of far flung alien planets as planes.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Interesting post, but I tend to agree with The Recursion King that "planes as planets" loses the idea of a plane having an alternate physics/metaphysics. For example, in his Water Margin game, Paul Mason riffed on the traditional Chinese belief that ghosts are not capable of moving except in straight lines. When mortal PCs in Mason's game passed through a gate into the Otherworld inhabited by ghosts, they found that just as spirits can only move in straight lines in the Mortal world, mortals can only move in arcs, and will move faster if they deliberately do so. Light also operated differently there, and distances were hard to judge. Another component of a "plane" is the idea that it actually permeates and coexists with our own world, and can be "glimpsed" or "accessed" by special people, gates, spells, etc. (not unlike the way the wizarding world in the Harry Potter novels exists alongside the Muggles's world, unbeknownst to, and unsuspected by, them). As much as I love John Carter's low-gravity leap-frogging on Mars, it doesn't have the same weird vibe as an actual alternate plane of reality permeating our own.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I really don't understand people's hang up about having to follow same physics and "metaphysics" just because two planets share the same "plane".

    I don't even have the same physics within one dungeon. Let alone some other planet that can only be reached by via physics bending, FTL portal!

    Sure, if you want to make up "Hard" Fantasy rules and follow them, go for it. But don't project them onto others.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Norman, one of the reasons for it is because planets are completely grounded in scientific, provable reality. Even the best multidimensional theory in science is completely unprovable (e.g. string, parallel universes) and exists in theory only. This lets you do pretty much what you want with planes as dimensions, whereas players have a whole host of built in expectations around planets.. which if you don't mind meeting then you'll have no problems with. It's probably a taste thing... do you like your fantasy realistic, with explanations for everything that occurs, or wild and unknowable? Neither preference is 'correct', just different.

    ReplyDelete
  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  34. players have a whole host of built in expectations around planets
    The physics argument here is easily refuted: every game occurs in a fantasy world that mixes the rules of our own experience with some unfamiliar rules. The expectations point makes sense, but it really depends on the genres you're running or mashing up, and there are plenty of familiar conventions to hang onto with planets, while with something as vague as a "plane" you have to do a lot more work up front to establish the rules. What I like about planets is that they immediately get you away from the more abstract/trippy conceptions of planes, and they offer finite, explorable environments (no matter how large). After a long history of trying to run trippy games I've come to prefer the physical and concrete over the disorientating and abstract, because it winds up giving the players a larger tactical field (more options) for play; you spend your time focusing on what the characters are going to do, rather than coaching the players about what's appropriate or possible.

    ReplyDelete
  35. > Neither preference is 'correct', just different.

    Yes, that is the point I was trying to get across.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Hmm, I thought AD&D already had other planets, specifically those that resided on the prim material plane.

    Making the planes=planets, then all that is required to travel to them would be a teleport spell.

    Also, this would introduce some problems with spells like Astral Spell. Spell caster casts it, he & whomever travel through the Astral Planet to get to Happy Hunting Grounds Planet?

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.