D&D General DnD cosmology - Which Edition do you prefer?

Voadam

Legend
I think that's right. I also think it's inescapable, though, so I don't even bother to look for consistency in this stuff. They could have made it consistent right from the start by keeping the afterlife in the afterlife, but that would've precluded using the gods and planes in adventures, which I imagine was the whole point. My hunch is that inconsistency was the price for building out all this adventure-ready game-space.

It would've been a lot more logically coherent and consistent to keep the afterlife in the afterlife, but where's the fun and adventure in that? Orpheus isn't famous on account of a spelunking expedition, so they fudged the line between the afterlife and the mortal world.
You could still have the Great Wheel planes even if you scrapped the mortal souls going to them as an afterlife. It would be planar dimensions you could go to with gods and outsiders and weird planar alignment concepts and high fantasy setting concepts.

4e kept the afterlife in the unknown afterlife instead of in the adventuring planes. It still has lots of fun god and planar stuff in my opinion. The original 4e set of 1-30 modules culminates in planar adventures with Orcus trying to take over the Raven Queen's death portfolio and turn all of the afterlife into unending Undeath for everyone. Also the 4e planar books such as the 4e Manual of the Planes, the Planes Above and the Planes Below, and the Demonomicon are all generally highly regarded fun D&D sourcebooks.
 

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Staffan

Legend
No, it's you can have as many as you want ON TOP OF a cosmology that already supports a number of interesting principles, in particular the two most fundamental ones that are part of the genre (knowing that a lot can actually be linked to Law vs. Chaos, actually).
The problem I have with Law vs Chaos is that it is too vague. Are we talking primordial entropy vs stasis? Civilization vs wilderness? State (or other large-scale organization) vs individual? Rules vs whims? Those are all interesting conflicts (well, maybe not entropy vs stasis), but Law vs Chaos is not.

The way I see it, the only D&D setting that's ever done anything useful with the law/chaos axis was Jakandor.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
The problem I have with Law vs Chaos is that it is too vague. Are we talking primordial entropy vs stasis? Civilization vs wilderness? State (or other large-scale organization) vs individual? Rules vs whims?

Any and all of them, I think that I've explored most of them actually, D&D is large enough.

Those are all interesting conflicts (well, maybe not entropy vs stasis), but Law vs Chaos is not.

Entropy vs. Stasis is what Moorcock is about, ultimately. The end result is not that interesting, but realising that is what the conflict is about, actually is.

The way I see it, the only D&D setting that's ever done anything useful with the law/chaos axis was Jakandor.

The Blood War is exactly about that.
 

Fifinjir

Explorer
Tastes vary, but there is likely a lot of confirmation bias in that assessment that also likely reflects a more modern (and likely Christian) sense of "what concerns a peasant in such a world?" But would these concerns or answers necessarily reflect the polytheistic framework of other ancient/classical societies? Probably not.
Fair point I suppose, I don’t know what mindset and actual person in D&D universe would bring to that issue. But I could say that same thing about how they’d approach other parts of life. I guess it’s a s you say, tastes vary.

Thanks for some of the background information on 4e by the way.
I'm sorry, but I don't find "the abyss, but very noisy and possible to live in" a good idea for a plane of existence. The Abyss already has literal hundreds of layers. There could literally just be a single level or two that is inhabitable for mortal creatures and very, very windy. Pandemonium doesn't deserve to be its own plane of existence any more than any of the layers of the Abyss, IMO.
Maybe? At the very least it have to be one of the shallower layers, maybe even the first, or else there’d need to be some explanation why it’s only a little worse than normal-bad rather that the worst of everything turned up to eleven
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

Autistic DM (he/him)
Even if it is a "simple" as you are painting it (the only Brandon Sanderson I have read is his volumes of Wheel of Time, sadly, so I don't know whose characterisation is more accurate), you still have the complexity of explaining how the hell a 0-dimension plane works (or even exists).
It's just the in-universe explanation for the origin of magic. All magic (aka "Investiture") comes from this plane. You can't physically go there, because it's 0D. The only way to interact with it is either by pulling magic from it, or by looking into it (seeing the future or past, because the realm is timeless).

So, yeah, it really is that simple. The only two "planes of existence" that really matter in his world are the Physical and Mental Realm. The Spiritual barely ever comes up, because there's not much going on with it. His cosmology literally only has 3 planes of existence. Sure, it has dozens of different planets and solar systems, but the base cosmology (i.e. different planes of existence) is much simpler than any cosmology in D&D.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
It's just the in-universe explanation for the origin of magic. All magic (aka "Investiture") comes from this plane. You can't physically go there, because it's 0D. The only way to interact with it is either by pulling magic from it, or by looking into it (seeing the future or past, because the realm is timeless).

So, yeah, it really is that simple. The only two "planes of existence" that really matter in his world are the Physical and Mental Realm. The Spiritual barely ever comes up, because there's not much going on with it. His cosmology literally only has 3 planes of existence. Sure, it has dozens of different planets and solar systems, but the base cosmology (i.e. different planes of existence) is much simpler than any cosmology in D&D.

The simple proof that this is not true is in the fact that the cognitive realm is completely different on the various planets, as different as a different planes are. As for the spiritual, the fact that it does not have a physical dimension does not mean that it's not extraordinarily complex with a number of properties that are not really understood anyway. The Coppemind pages on the Realms are already fairly long even though they are clearly still incomplete, and I'm pretty sure that you can already create a readable manual of the planes based on that.

It's also complicated by the fact that things exist simultaneously in all three realms. So no, it's far from simple.
 

Staffan

Legend
The Blood War is exactly about that.
Case in point. The Blood War is boring.

Jakandor, on the other hand, featured two different human nations on an island about the size of Great Britain. In the first book, the Knorrmen were described as a nation of barbarians, living in small clans scattered across the island. The Knorrmen primarily worship the War Mother but also various household gods, and often join totemic lodges. Think vikings + native Americans. The second book describes the Charonti, a nation prioritizing service to the state above all else. They are heavily invested in the use of magic, with most arcane magic being secret techniques guarded by their guilds (corresponding to the schools of magic). They use necromancy heavily, to the point where the special ability of their fighter kit is to be able to command undead forces rather than some variant of personal excellence, and where their dead are routinely reanimated to continue serving the state and their families.

That's a much more interesting way of showing Law vs Chaos. Neither side is particularly interested in cosmological entropy or stasis, but the overall alignment of the Knorrmen is definitely Chaotic in D&D terms, and that of the Charonti is definitely Lawful. That doesn't prevent Knorrmen from having very strong senses of honor and respect for their own laws and customs, or Charonti from having individual ambitions, but those are their overall alignments.
 

Voadam

Legend
Big cosmic opposed forces are rarely evident in D&D. You do not normally see examples of the forces of Cosmic Good against Evil the way Demons and Angels might be opposed in In Nomine or similar Heaven and Hell war cosmologies/stories. Similarly you do not expect to see stuff like the Moorcockian Courts of Chaos marching out to face the Lords of Law.

In core D&D we have the Blood War for some Chaos versus Law and a bit about the Lawful Vaati Wind Dukes versus the Chaostic Obyriths as Rod of Seven Parts lore. In Dragonlance there are the Good, Neutral, and Evil collections of gods in balance that clash as a central storyline while they are in the picture. Eberron has the Rakshasa Lords of Dust versus Coatls history war and to a lesser extent the three dragons alignment split and the Sovereign Host and Dark Six who are a bit opposed but not at cosmic war that I can tell, though I have not seen a lot of lore on their history and current machinations.

For Planescape we have the Blood War again. For the Great Wheel settings of Greyhawk and FR (for a lot of FR history) there is no big alignment cosmic clash among the gods.

4e had big cosmic clashes but they were mostly not along alignment poles. The Dawn War Elemental Primordials versus Astral Gods is pretty cosmic but not Good versus Evil. 4e has a big cosmic Evil with Tharizdun and the Shard of Evil and Demons and Asmodeus but it is not Good versus Evil cosmically, it is the gods of every alignment chaining Tharizdun and sending Asmodeus and the devils to fight the threat of the corrupted evil of the demons. So Blood War again but much less directly a clash of Chaos and Law.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Case in point. The Blood War is boring.

Well, it's not at all the point of view of my players, who are warlords on the front, shifting alliances, commanding Devil and Daemon armies (plus a few even more unsavory allies), betraying and being betrayed, all the time trying to increase their power, avoid traps, conduct sieges, run away through lava tubes trying to save their troops, trying to find Avernus nodes to conduct rituals while hiding that from everybody else, etc.

Jakandor, on the other hand, featured two different human nations on an island about the size of Great Britain. In the first book, the Knorrmen were described as a nation of barbarians, living in small clans scattered across the island. The Knorrmen primarily worship the War Mother but also various household gods, and often join totemic lodges. Think vikings + native Americans. The second book describes the Charonti, a nation prioritizing service to the state above all else. They are heavily invested in the use of magic, with most arcane magic being secret techniques guarded by their guilds (corresponding to the schools of magic). They use necromancy heavily, to the point where the special ability of their fighter kit is to be able to command undead forces rather than some variant of personal excellence, and where their dead are routinely reanimated to continue serving the state and their families.

Sounds quite a bit a copycat of Sartarites vs. Lunar, with lunar Chaos Magic being replaced by Necromancy, or actually Sartarites vs. Delecti's empire of necromancy.

That's a much more interesting way of showing Law vs Chaos. Neither side is particularly interested in cosmological entropy or stasis, but the overall alignment of the Knorrmen is definitely Chaotic in D&D terms, and that of the Charonti is definitely Lawful. That doesn't prevent Knorrmen from having very strong senses of honor and respect for their own laws and customs, or Charonti from having individual ambitions, but those are their overall alignments.

Good for you if you like it, we happen to like Planescape, the Blood War, and having an active participation in there, in particular leading armies.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Big cosmic opposed forces are rarely evident in D&D. You do not normally see examples of the forces of Cosmic Good against Evil the way Demons and Angels might be opposed in In Nomine or similar Heaven and Hell war cosmologies/stories. Similarly you do not expect to see stuff like the Moorcockian Courts of Chaos marching out to face the Lords of Law.

But we do. I think it all depends at what level you are playing. But not only are the players usually, towards the end of the campaigns, exactly on these battlefields, in some campaigns the heroes end up being the gods themselves on that battlefield, after ascending. This is for example what I'm pretty sure will happen in our Odyssey of the Dragonlords campaign, we are "only" lvl 8, but the prophecy says the gods will die and our only hope is probably to ascend to replace them and face the titans (at least some of them).

In core D&D we have the Blood War for some Chaos versus Law and a bit about the Lawful Vaati Wind Dukes versus the Chaostic Obyriths as Rod of Seven Parts lore. In Dragonlance there are the Good, Neutral, and Evil collections of gods in balance that clash as a central storyline while they are in the picture. Eberron has the Rakshasa Lords of Dust versus Coatls history war and to a lesser extent the three dragons alignment split and the Sovereign Host and Dark Six who are a bit opposed but not at cosmic war that I can tell, though I have not seen a lot of lore on their history and current machinations.

Eberron is far less manichean and meant to be played at lower level anyway.

For Planescape we have the Blood War again. For the Great Wheel settings of Greyhawk and FR (for a lot of FR history) there is no big alignment cosmic clash among the gods.

That's because the FR are diluted to the extreme and statu quo is maintained to avoid breaking everything the way Greyhawk went during the Greyhawk wars.

4e had big cosmic clashes but they were mostly not along alignment poles. The Dawn War Elemental Primordials versus Astral Gods is pretty cosmic but not Good versus Evil. 4e has a big cosmic Evil with Tharizdun and the Shard of Evil and Demons and Asmodeus but it is not Good versus Evil cosmically, it is the gods of every alignment chaining Tharizdun and sending Asmodeus and the devils to fight the threat of the corrupted evil of the demons. So Blood War again but much less directly a clash of Chaos and Law.

Just because published settings are a bit timid about such world-shaking events (and they are sometimes done in ways that the fans don't like, see the Greyhawk Wars or the Faction Wars) does not mean that it cannot be played that way, which is something that we have always done, either on published settings that we trashed (sometimes as designed, see Odyssey of the Dragonlords) or in homebrew.
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
Okay, so, you keep saying things like this. And I just don't get it.

Two-dimensional alignment has two dimensions along which cosmic conflict can occur: A-Z and 0-9, if you like.

Not using alignment has as many dimensions as you want it to have. You have groups or associations defined by history (e.g. "Bane was the general of the armies of the Astral Sea during the Dawn War"), or by situations (e..g allies of convenience, "the enemy of my enemy is my ally," etc.), or by philosophical principles that cannot be simplified down to any kind of axial anything (e.g. Bahamut or Ioun, where the former is a god of Justice who advocates mercy and vehemently opposes tyranny, while the latter is a goddess of knowledge as a pursuit of enlightenment with less but not zero concern about things like ethics), or pure personal relations with no material association required (e.g. my headcanon that Bahamut and Kord are lovers, which is why Kord is couch-surfing in Celestia despite it being the domain of two extremely straight-laced, by-the-book deities).

Law/Chaos vs Good/Evil gives you two, and only two, axes. Sure, that gives nine alignments, but honestly, the vast majority of the time only one axis is going to be particularly relevant.......and it's usually going to be Good vs Evil. You get some Blood War stuff, but 4e has the Blood War too, because "Evil can't get along even when it really should try" is a trope significantly older than the Great Wheel. Ultimately, the alleged huge diversity of the two-axis system boils down to one of four conflicts:
Pure Law vs pure Chaos (which most Good beings will sit out because their Good-ness will force them to seek reconciliation)
Pure Good vs pure Evil, sometimes with purely-aesthetic touches to make it look like LG-vs-CE (e.g. soaring white cities vs. leather-clad blood-crazed barbarians) or LE-vs-CG (spike-laden hyperindustrial cities vs forest elf hippies)
Evil vs Evil (which, as already noted, substantially predates two-axis alignment; it's a very old trope, e.g. Assyrian mythology)
Neutral vs Whatever (which is extremely boring because "neutral" is always either a non-alignment or batshit crazy)

So. You keep talking up all the directions you can go with L/G/C/E. But there's really not that many.

Even the Great Wheel encodes one conflict as higher than the others: the upper planes are Good, the lower planes are Evil...but there's no term for the opposite axis, is there? No "starboard" and "port" planes, or whatever one might call them. Ultimately Law and Chaos take a backseat to the good-vs-evil dichotomy even in the cosmology itself. It's just that Evil has faction issues, while Good can get along despite differences.

So I haven't read any of your other comments here on cosmology... but I will say this comment specifically doesn't seem to make a ton of sense.

It seems like your making an assumption that without alignment, your world can have as many dimensions in its cosmology that you want. Well, sure I guess that's true. Most cosmologies typically do have conflict, like the conflicts between the gods in Theros that are not binary (the gods have various portfolios that do not really line up on a singular axis).

The next part makes less sense... your pointing out that the Great Wheel has only two Axis. But you've kind of doubled down on there being four conflicts, only one of which PCs care about which is Good vs. Evil.

That's also technically true... but you know, it's always true? It's pretty hard to get any PCs to invest in a conflict unless one side is definitely more good than the other, or there is some personal benefit to the PCs (which means that the PCs don't actually care about the conflict, just how they get that gold).

It has less to do with "Law and Chaos" taking a backseat to "Good vs. Evil" and more to do with... most adventurers are going to be written with the assumption the PCs are fighting for good.

Like, some cosmologies don't really reflect Axis as much, like the Orrery in Eberron. But the Orrery still rolls around "Good vs Evil" whenever it becomes relevant in a game... whenever Dal Quor shows up, the Quori are usually evil dream-beings here to conquer the world. It's still "Good vs Evil," with a different flavor.

And the Great Wheel can be the same thing. The party can be recruited by Mordenkainen (true neutral) who is all "Guys, the Modrons March is way too big this year, and it's going to overwhelm Limbo and eventually cause the entire universe to change into one unceasing, perfect machine." Mordenkainen may be Neutral and the Modrons Lawful Neutral, but in the perspective of the PCs this is still "Good vs. Evil." The Good outcome is we keep things about the same, the bad one is everyone is subsumed into the Borg-like Modron machine.

TLDR: Cosmology doesn't matter much, PCs almost always need explicit Good vs. Evil to care about any conflict.
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
The problem I have with Law vs Chaos is that it is too vague. Are we talking primordial entropy vs stasis? Civilization vs wilderness? State (or other large-scale organization) vs individual? Rules vs whims? Those are all interesting conflicts (well, maybe not entropy vs stasis), but Law vs Chaos is not.

The way I see it, the only D&D setting that's ever done anything useful with the law/chaos axis was Jakandor.

I mean, Good and Evil are also pretty vague concepts too and we don't have to explain them much.


I mean, even the most evil of beings like Asmodeus and Orcus think their actions are "Good" in that they work to create a world that they would prefer. Orcus thinks a world filled only with undead with him ruling is literally the best outcome; from his perspective he's the good guy and everyone else is "evil." There are various gradations of good and evil. Robin Hood is good, so is Abraham Lincoln, but they're not that similar!
 

Voadam

Legend
But we do. I think it all depends at what level you are playing. But not only are the players usually, towards the end of the campaigns, exactly on these battlefields, in some campaigns the heroes end up being the gods themselves on that battlefield, after ascending. This is for example what I'm pretty sure will happen in our Odyssey of the Dragonlords campaign, we are "only" lvl 8, but the prophecy says the gods will die and our only hope is probably to ascend to replace them and face the titans (at least some of them).
Whatever individuals do in their individual campaigns or whatever 3rd party publishers put in their adventures, big cosmic force clashes are rare in D&D materials. The Great Wheel does not have the forces of cosmic Good in a clash with Evil as part of its cosmic history. The closest I can think of is the 2e Guide to Hell's version of Asmodeus and Jazirian. Maybe a little bit of Heironeus versus Hextor in Greyhawk but that is an individual champion of good's clash with his champion of evil half brother god, which might be viewed more as an individual thing than a cosmic forces thing.

I am not sure how a gods versus titans conflict is closer to a Great Wheel two axis nine point planescape cosmic forces view of things than a 4e gods versus primordials template.
Eberron is far less manichean and meant to be played at lower level anyway.
Right, not really a cosmic forces thing.
That's because the FR are diluted to the extreme and statu quo is maintained to avoid breaking everything the way Greyhawk went during the Greyhawk wars.
Greyhawk pre-Greyhawk Wars was also not really about cosmic forces conflict. The biggest divine stories are things like neutral Zagyg imprisoning demigods and demon lords to power his arcane ascenscion or the Iggwilv and Grazz't storylines. A little with the Heironeous Hextor clash.

FR even in its divine cosmological history seems more about individual god stories than cosmic forces clashes. There is a little bit of Evil versus Good with backstories for Shar and Selune and a bit of clash with the Orc gods versus the interloper pantheon (Babylonian? Egyptian? I forget the specific details) but mostly it is individual god stories.
Just because published settings are a bit timid about such world-shaking events (and they are sometimes done in ways that the fans don't like, see the Greyhawk Wars or the Faction Wars) does not mean that it cannot be played that way, which is something that we have always done, either on published settings that we trashed (sometimes as designed, see Odyssey of the Dragonlords) or in homebrew.
D&D offers a ton of variety in how it can be played. You could make up a pantheon and cosmology whole cloth that focuses on Cosmic clashes of Alignment forces. Published D&D stuff however has fairly little actual cosmic clashes, which is kind of surprising for a game that for a number of editions had indecipherable secret alignment languages hard coded into all sapient beings to match their alignment to the point the alignment language they know would switch if the individual's alignment switched.
 

I mean, even the most evil of beings like Asmodeus and Orcus think their actions are "Good" in that they work to create a world that they would prefer. Orcus thinks a world filled only with undead with him ruling is literally the best outcome; from his perspective he's the good guy and everyone else is "evil."
I'm not sure that's necessarily true - as others pointed out up thread, D&D essentially presents a Manichaean or Gnostic world, where concepts like Good and Evil have physical existence - you can totally punch an angel and have coffee with a demon. Just because something would be pleasing to Orcus doesn't mean he regards it as a capital G Good. We've had the idea of moral incontinence - apprehending the Good but failing to elect it - going back to Aristotle.
 

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