Dragon 414 - Dragon Editorial: De Planes, De Planes!

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Dragon 414
Dragon Editorial: De Planes, De Planes!
by Christopher Perkins

It's a dangerous multiverse out there! In this month's editorial, Chris Perkins looks both into the past of D&D's cosmology, and ahead into its future. In case that wasn't ambitious enough already, he also gives the inside scoop on August's planar-themed articles.

Talk about this editorial here.

astralArchivist.com - 4e D&D house rules, homebrew, and story hours - now featuring ENWorld's Zeitgeist adventure path! Will Thibault is a winged, feathered serpent rarely found anywhere except in warm, jungle-like regions or flying through the ether. Due to his intelligence and powers he is regarded with awe by the inhabitants of his homelands and is considered to be divine.

The Outer Planes were originally tied to myriad alignments of the early additions.  Each alignment had its own Outer Plane (16 of them) and all radiated out from the prime material plane centered in the Astral Plane.  The Astral Plane held the Prime Material, Inner (Elemental) Planes (including the Positive/Negative Planes) and Ethereal Plane.  Neutral filled gaps between other alignments such as the “Happy Hunting Grounds” for neutral-good-chaotic Creatures.

When the 1E “Manual of the Planes” updated the Outer Planes to include the Plane of Concordant Opposition (True Neutral #17) and became the “hub” for the outer plane; and being truly neutral, it was possible to meet any alignment type here and every time it was visited it would reveal a new vista.  The Inner Planes grew from 6 to 12 as the para-elemental and quasi- elemental planes were included.  The closer into the center of the “hub” a person traveled they lost a portion of their spell casting abilities.  At its center was the “axle”, which was often described as a great tower, column, mountain, waterspout, tornado or tree; which could not be climbed, entered, or damaged.

With 2E the Great Wheel was at its height with the development of the “Planescape” product-line.  The planes became more detailed (with a few given new names) and the denizens of them took on a life of their own.  On the edge of the Plane of Concordant Opposition, commonly known as the Outlands, were the final outposts of neutrality called Gate-towns.  These somewhat consistent communities lead to the adjoining plane and feel some of the effects of neighboring planes due to their proximity.  The central “axle” became known as the Spire and high above floated Sigil, the City of Doors.  Sigil maintained its neutrality and is ruled by the enigmatic Lady of Pain.  This town became the main safe haven for a lot of planar adventurers and the main crossing point to any plane due to its unique properties.  3E remained reasonably unchanged from the 2E version.

4th Edition cosmology was a complete make-over, the Great Wheel was gone and its relation to the alignments, with the Astral Sea taking on the realm of deities, angels and devils and the Elemental Chaos receiving the primordials, demons and elementals; plus an ever changing inner planes aspect.  The Feywild and the Shadowfell were also added.  With the loss of the Plane of Concordant Opposition/Outlands, Sigil became an anachronism, having no place within the new cosmology, but still a cool enough location to be included.

  • IMHC I treat it more like Moorcock’s City of Tanelorn.

Speaking of the planes and alignment; the 17 planes were due to ‘all variations and shades of tendencies within each alignment’, hence the neutral-good-chaotic.  Loss of class abilities (if not the class itself) and involuntary alignment change was also more common for transgression than it is in 4E; as I discussed in my previous post on the DM's alignment responsibility.