D&D General Alternate Prime Material Planes: Part 4, Odds and Ends

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Prior posts are in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I said that I was going to write a fourth part to the series, so I shall. Originally, this was going to wrap up the ideas in the first three parts. Specifically, I was going to address the following:

A. A full and final exploration of the use of alternate spaces and alternate "planes" in early D&D, and the common use as a trope beyond what I had already explored through play examples and modules (for example, additional uses from Gygax as reported by players, Barrier Peaks at Origins II and more published examples such as Beyond the Crystal Cave). I was also going to include one of the last examples from 1e- the "Grey Box" of Forgotten Realms, which states that players from other campaigns ("alternative material planes containing other AD&D campaigns" travel to the Realms "by devices, or free-standing portals, and begin adventures in the Realms." (DM Sourcebook 9).

B. Specific language in Spelljammer (the first specifically published for 2e) that discussed Greyspace, Realmspace, and Krynnspace and silo'd the settings by noting that, for the most part even in an interconected Spelljammer universe, they don't affect each other. (SJ 13, When Space Meets Ground ... "The gap between groundling and space is both a reality and a state of mind. The groundling campaigns can run smoothly and effectively without interference from space, and the spaceborn legions can fight among themselves without worrying the nations of the various planets."). Extrapolation from there into the general idea of silo'd settings in 2e as becoming more of the norm, with the concept of each setting being apart, and the gradual diminution of the alternate planes within the prime materal.

C. Tie into my personal opinion that this has to do with both a desire for increased brand identity and lore (aka, canon- it's easier to think of specific campaign settings and the lore specific to that setting if you're not worried about the effect other setting will have on it) as well as a codification of certain rules (you no longer just have a "shimmering portal," you have to have specific rules for how it works).

D. A quick detour into Dragon Magazine #160, Up, Away, and Beyond (Bruce Heard) (1990), explaining how this exemplifies the 90s/2e change into making what was unremarkable before (characters "shifting worlds" through the use of a random portal or device or just using materials from one system in another) into something much more difficult, and that can only be done by the Greater Gods! Contrast that with the publication just three years earlier of the FR box set (portals, devices, etc.), or the original DMG.

E. Finalize by noting that 5e can easily re-use the design space afforded by the original conception, and that could be good. Or, at the least kinda cool.

However, after observing the comments in the past two threads, I don't think it's really worth it? So instead, I will engage with prior pushback feedback to end the series.

1. I don't understand your thesis. What is it?

In the beginning, there was a formless void. Then, there came D&D. Starting in 1974, "official" D&D (in terms of reported play, rulebooks, and modules) featured a large amount of alternate worlds within the Prime Material Plane; this was considered unexceptional. While varying conceptions of the outer planes and inner planes were provided, and occasionally expanded upon, the outer planes was not usually a focus of adventure. Sometime around the Manual of Planes, and certainly by the 90s (2e), the usual paradigm of simple travel between alternate realms within the Prime Material Plane had changed, and the new focus tended to be on a "silo'd" campaign setting + the outer planes.

In my opinion (this is the opinion part), I think that bringing that original conception of an infinite variety alternate realms/worlds/planes within the Prime Material Plane back to the fore would allow for an increased diversity of intra- (as opposed to inter-) campaign experience in 5e, for those who want it.

2. If you aren't interested in arguing, why are your posting?

There is a difference between arguing and discussing. For example, imagine someone writes a long series of posts detailing the history of conspiracy theories, and includes an aside about flat-earthers and writes, "Well, it is hard when people can't agree that the earth orbits around the sun." And then someone writes, "HA! The earth doesn't orbit around the sun; the earth and the sun both orbit around a barycenter, and I demand that you engage with my point, which proves that you are a part of the conspiracy and that everything else you said is wrong!"

If you want to score points, feel free to! I will give you all the points right now. But it's very difficult to have a bona fide and interesting discussion if you're looking to win an argument. Maybe it's the platform and the nature of the internet?

I think that the history of D&D is fascinating, and I was genuinely curious to see the contrast between current conceptions of the Prime Material Plane and past conceptions, as evidences by comments in other threads and my own recent re-reading of Q1, and I think that there is a general dividing line in time as to when that change occurred as born out in the texts. I also think that there was a change in emphasis at TSR, with increased emphasis on specific settings (and consistency/canon within those settings) and the outer planes that continued after the purchase by WoTC. There will always be (some) counterexamples to a trend. I am more interested in good conversations about fun things than arguing; if you don't like my ideas, please feel free to rubbish them, but don't expect me to respond. If I am wrong, I guarantee that no puppies are being hurt! :)

3. None of this matters. People are going to do whatever they want to in their home campaign.

In the long run, we will all be dead, so none of this really matters. Look on my posts, ye mighty, and despair!

I would say that, to a certain extent, what people do in their home campaigns has some relation to the published rules. If you want, you can play D&D without dice in your home campaign. And yet, there tends to be a lot of D&D games that use a d20. Perhaps because the use of dice, and the d20, is in the rules. I think that the words used in the rules matter, at least a little, in influencing home campaigns. My anecdotal experience of one (1) is that I was hugely influenced by Gygax's section on alternate realities in the DMG.

But if nothing else, maybe someone will read these posts and go, "Hey, alternate realities in the Prime Material Plane are cool. Maybe I'll try that in my next 5e game."

4. D&D has been around forever. Who can really say anything, ever?

Okay! If we can't talk about D&D (which is a much smaller topic than most things), it's very hard to talk about anything, isn't it? Most topics have been around longer, and have a lot more material, than D&D! We can go all "Nothing is true, everything is permitted," or see if there is some larger point or observation that we want to make. Even if the point is as banal as, "Hey, D&D used to do more with alternate stuff on the prime material plane, and it would be cool if they did that again."

5. Something something editions, something something you are saying this is better!

To be clear, I am making a focused observation on a transition that I think occurred in the late 80s (post 87) and early 90s. I think that there are substantial benefits that occurred with the shift; many people enjoy the fleshed-out outer planes cosmology, and it also caused the greatest flowering of campaign settings in D&D history (the 2e boom, although they have been pumping out quite a few recently!). Moreover, I have repeatedly analogized this to the difference between "episodic" TV and "prestige" TV, with the idea that the earlier model was more similar to episodic tv (something I was going to expand upon, but after the feedback, why bother?). I didn't think that was a flattering comparison, but maybe I'm addressing the unified convention of "Barney Miller Lovers, Sopranos Haters." Who knew?

Anyway, I think it's interesting history, and I think it's one of those things that gets lost in current debates; like when (some) people say that wuxia isn't D&D, forgetting that the monk was an OD&D class (Blackmoor Supplement) and that Oriental Adventures is an original 1e hardcover.

Reminding people that, if the table so chooses, the borders between worlds, genres, and rules can be very porous ... I think that's a good thing!
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Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
Since you want an actual discussion, I'll oblige. What kind of 5E product would you want released that actually meets your Gygaxian vision of what you describe?

Feel free to detail an adventure that follows the Gygaxian multiverse rules as you see them, or another book that details how Gygaxian multiverse functions.

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Since you want an actual discussion, I'll oblige. What kind of 5E product would you want released that actually meets your Gygaxian vision of what you describe?

Most of the changes I would make are fairly subtle; they would largely deal with making changes to materials (such as TfYP or Saltmarsh or other APs) to be more specific in that they can take place in an alternate PMP. Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, as well.

Editing page 68 (Known Worlds of the Material Plane) to make the ability to travel between the known worlds more explicit.

To be clear, I think that 5e has already returned to the Gygaxian model and there are a few references to that re: the Prime Material Plane; I just think it isn't very explicit yet and they haven't really used it. Besides, it seems like almost no one reads the DMG. :)

Feel free to detail an adventure that follows the Gygaxian multiverse rules as you see them, or another book that details how Gygaxian multiverse functions.

Other than making the subtle cues a little more explicit, I would:
A. Look for the publication of a radically different genre (GW, SF, BH, etc.) with encouragement that characters be allowed to move between them.

B. Occasional use of the old "alternate realms" within published material, whether as small as the Crystal Caves, as expansive (if undetailed) as the Caer Sidi, or as much a part of the module as Averoigne in X2.

For me, there is a tension between an open Material Plane and the definiteness of other planes.

If you have a wide open Material Plane full of endless realms and genres, does it make sense to have the same Outer Planes, or even the same Inner (Elemental, Energy) Planes? Maybe a pulpy Buck Rogers visiting Sigil makes sense, but there are a whole lot of other settings where it just doesn't make sense to have the same Outer Planes and Inner Planes (or even the Ethereal and Astral Plane) exist. The further you get from standard fantasy D&D the less those planes fit. I mean, it doesn't even make sense that completely different realities would all for some reason share the same Elemental Plane of Fire.

While in general I'm not a fan of most 3e cosmology stuff, I think a wide open Material Plane requires taking a page out of it. In 3e, every setting was its own multiverse, so all of the planes could be completely different. They had the Plane of Shadow as a potential way of traveling between different multiverses.

I'm not entirely certain from the articles what your preference is regarding how you do those planes or how you envisioned them being done in the early days. Manual of the Planes was at least pretty specific in making them concrete places with definite locations that you could presumably visit from any campaign setting, and I think you indicated that was the book where you started seeing the changes you don't like, so perhaps you just kept the other planes as more vaguely defined. But what level of definition of planes really works for an open and unlimited set of alternate realms in the Material World? I'd think you'd almost need to go 3e style for it to work.

So I guess one thing I'm trying to get at is that I don't think you can just open up the Material Plane without treating the rest of the planes in a similar manner--ie, going back to the 3e model of every setting is its own unique multiverse.

What it seems like they have been doing in 5e is taking the baseline of the 2e Multiverse, and doing the following:
1) Cosmological models are models, and it's difficult to say which, if any is objectively true. The Great Wheel is a popular way of viewing things, but there are other ways also.
2) Some crystal spheres have "planes" within them. (I'm not sure how the Eberron book actually phrases it.)
3) They are trying to allow for any setting they publish to fit within the multiverse somewhere.

Personally, I'm fan of the Spelljammer/Planescape Multiverse and the explicitly D&D IP. I just have no use for D&D outside of its own IP--there are so many other RPGs out there to play with that I'd rather D&D be about something and do that one thing (even when that thing is as wide as a Multiverse), rather than try to be an Ur-Game to cover all RPGing needs, which it isn't very good at. A lot of people want something completely different from their D&D though.

the Jester

I, too, have been enjoying this series, though I have been kind of looking for an argument that you're making. I see now that you aren't making one at all- and I'm glad you clarified that.

To throw in my two cents, I still use AMP (alternate material planes) and always have. One thread in my game (that nobody has followed up on yet) involves a quest for the Crown, Orb, and Scepter of Good Might, which are scattered across a super-low-magic AMP, a Gamma World AMP, and a "trek through the stars" AMP. I've always had portals around that allow easy access to other planes, be them AMPs, Outer Planes, Inner Planes, etc. However, I've usually had access to the portals themselves be tricky to gain- either they're deep in dungeons, guarded by a sphinx' riddle, or what have you.

I also really appreciate the Gygaxian approach, and I really like old adventures like City Beyond the Gate (Dragon #100- spoiler: It's London of the mid-80s), Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, etc. I've run Expedition to the Barrier Peaks in 5e already. My setting isn't a planet and doesn't support Spelljammer as it was in 2e because of its physical nature, but does support it as it was in 4e- basically, planejamming. I love all that stuff.

The key thing to me is that later cosmologies really don't seem to cut off access to those other material worlds, but they definitely shifted the emphasis away from it. I never liked SJ's attempt to shoehorn e.g. Greyhawk and the FR into the same plane but different crystal shells. I want characters to be able to plane shift from one world to another (even if I'll never use, for instance, the Realms, due to personal dislike of it)- and the SJ set up makes that an inconsistent proposition.

Anyway, I don't have a real point to make or anything, just chiming in.

And I do agree with several others- let's see that final installment of this series, please! I don't always agree with your posts, but I do find them interesting and worth reading. And this series has been very cool and enjoyable.


Count me as another who is enjoying your series and hope to see that 5th part. It is partially because of that, that your ongoing insistence on "people are arguing, and I'm just trying to discuss" is a bit off-putting. You seem to equate any kind of disagreement with arguing. I can only speak for myself, but I was never arguing with you. I just didn't totally agree with your take . I have no interest in "scoring points," but I do prefer engaging in discussion that allows for some variance of opinion and even disagreement. It is all in good fun, no?

By way of discussion, I'll explore some of these ideas a bit more. I think a lot of this boils down to one's relationship with the rules-as-written, including the underlying assumption of the rules and, specifically, to what degree one adheres to them in a home campaign. You touch upon this in your second point, and even acknowledge that the assumptions of 5E are more open-ended than in 2-3-4Es, but I think it should be highlighted further.

5E has returned to and magnified the root assumption that individual DMs and groups should make the game their own, from gentle head-nods in the direction of a variety of settings, to the loose and comparatively simple rules set, to advocacy of Rule Zero, etc. Part of this is a more open-ended and less defined model of the multiverse, as @Sword of Spirit mentioned in their 1st point.

In other words, it is almost as if WotC is actively encouraging people not to rigidly adhere to RAW, or "CAW" (canon as written; or "TAW" if you prefer: tropes as written). I think this "new" approach is illustrated in their product line, but especially the Magic setting books, which seem secondarily to be detailed and fully realized settings, but more primarily to be sourcebooks that provide a specific combination of style, flavor and theme in the context of a Magic plane.

Take Theros as an example. One could use it to run a campaign in Theros, but one can just as easily use it to incorporate "Therosian" elements in one's home campaign.

Now of course this has always been the case. In 1995, one could take bits and pieces from the Forgotten Realms, Raveloft, Dark Sun, Planescape, Birthright and other settings, mixing and matching to one's heart's desire. But there was an implication that "this is the way you use this product." That has changed. The implication now seems to be "here's some cool stuff, make of it what you will."

Maybe what you are asking for is something a bit more specific than simply WotC advocating for this open-ended approach. You seem to want them to explicitly not only acknowledge, but employ the Gygaxian model in at least some forthcoming products. The reason I don't see this happening--at least beyond one variant among many described in a hypothetical planar book--is that the 5E approach can include the Gygaxian model as an option, while focusing too much on the Gygaxian model runs the risk of returning to a more strictly canonical approach.

What I think may happen is that they publish a planar book that isn't centralized on any specific cosmological approach to the planes, but is more of a sourcebook of variants: Grubbian Great Wheel, Gygaxian multiverse, Planescape, Spelljammer, the World Tree, planeswalking, fully isolated settings, etc*. This, in my view, would be the best of both (all?!) worlds and fit the 5E design approach of satisfying as many people as possible while offering something slightly new, even if it leaves those faithful to a specific setting or approach feeling a bit of lack.

(*I personally would love to see such an approach to the planes, perhaps centered on Sigil, with different 'factions' following different cosmological models. But even if they didn't take this approach, I'd probably run it that way.)

EDIT: Or pretty much what @DEFCON 1 says here, but didn't read until after I posted the above.
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