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

Lyxen

Great Old One
Sanderson's Cosmology is pretty easy to understand. There's the Physical Realm, the Mental Realm, and the Spiritual Realm.

No, it's only "easy" to understand now if you read about it on coppermind, because it's:
  • Certainly not that explicitly that simple from reading the books, so actually from the perspective of the readers of the players.
  • Certainly not simple like that because the actual instances of these realms depend on the world you are in.
So rather than considering them "planes", which they are not, they are just wide categories of planes, actually, exactly like the prime, inner and outer planes in the Great Wheel.

It has 16 gods, all of them have at least one magic system, and things change over time.

Not really, actuall. There are 16 shards, but not necessarily as many gods, and yes, things change. Coincidentally, how many spokes in the wheel ?

The base world building of the Cosmere's cosmology is really simple. You can explain these concepts to practically anyone and have them understand it in a single conversation.

Exactly like you can explain the prime, inner and outer planes. It will still not give you anything like the complexity that you find in the books, especially from the perspective of the readers / players.

The characters and magic inside the setting? Not so much. That's what makes the Cosmere complicated, not the actual "planes of existence" present in it.

Because you are not looking at what a "plane" is, you are just looking at principles, which are exactly as complicated as the principles of the great wheel.

That is how to create a cosmology. Have it be as simple as you can possibly make it with what you're trying to have as the base assumptions of the setting so that it's easy for people to understand, but complicate things with how the magic works, the gods and characters in the setting, and the different planets/worlds of the main physical realm.

The 5e Great Wheel is kind of the opposite of the Cosmere in this aspect. There are 25+ different planes of existence (I don't know if you count the Far Realm, Positive and Negative Energy Planes, and the Elemental Chaos). There's also probably a dozen deities that lives on every single plane of existence in this complicated cosmology. The Cosmere has a just a few planes of existence, the 5e Great Wheel has literal dozens. The Cosmere has dozens of inhabitable planets on its "Material Plane," like how Spelljammer has a ton of different settings on the Material Plane. The Cosmere has over a dozen deities and a pretty complicated timeline to keep track of. The 5e Great Wheel has hundreds of deities to keep track of (not even counting the various archfiends, archfey, archomentals, dark powers/lords from the Shadowfell, and celestial paragons that are out there) and a very complicated timeline to keep track of, too (probably more complicated than the Cosmere's).

Is the Cosmere complex? Definitely. Is it because of its Cosmology? No. Is it because of the deities, timeline, and characters in the setting? Yes.

Is the Great Wheel complex? Absolutely. Is it because of its Cosmology? Yes, as well as a lot of other aspects of the setting.

And then, complexity is a good thing, because it creates possibilities, just as Sanderson is doing by combining his 3 principles with the 16 shards and the multiple worlds. Just as the Great Wheel is doing, by looking at the possibilities of 2 directions of alignment, 3 types of planes (Prime, Inner, Outer), and a list of pantheon that can vary from 1 to a few. The principles stay simple, the implementation of combining these principles is what creates the beauty of the setting.
 

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I mean I think both of you are right but the end result is that both the standard old-school D&D cosmology and the Cosmere are relatively painful to understand in any kind of depth, and that a shallow understanding of either, whilst easy to understand, tells you very little.

Personally I think 4E had the most comprehensible cosmology of any AD&D-derived edition of D&D.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I mean I think both of you are right but the end result is that both the standard old-school D&D cosmology and the Cosmere are relatively painful to understand in any kind of depth, and that a shallow understanding of either, whilst easy to understand, tells you very little.

On that we agree, just pointing out that it's part of the goal itself. :)

Personally I think 4E had the most comprehensible cosmology of any AD&D-derived edition of D&D.

Seeing that all the other editions had the great wheel, it's not like there is a lot of choice, and I've agreed from the start that it's indeed more simple to understand, and it has the added advantage of not relying on alignment, making it more universal.

After that, we are talking (as usual, although just as usually we are not saying it) preferences, I like my D&D really epic, which means cosmic conflict (at least at high level, which means that it needs to be introduced, with its consequences, at the start of the campaign), and there having a two-dimensional alignement and cosmology helps in varying the threat and creating more possibilities.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I think both Great Wheel and World Axis overly “physicalizes” their non-earthly realities too much for my liking, but it’s a matter of degree. In the Great Wheel I can still see something that vaguely resembles the central principles that underlie religions. Not just “x is god of y” Wikipedia entries, but the ideas and questions theologians and laypeople wrestle with.
Keeping in mind that the 4e World Axis was designed and fleshed-out by an ordained United Methodist minister, who likely drew upon their seminary education, which probably included discussion of the Chaoskampf motif in ancient mythologies (e.g., Biblical, Canaanite, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greek).

What’s more, it at least pays lip service to the outer planes being incarnations of immaterial concepts, even if they don’t go nearly far enough with it.
This is basically what the Astral Sea represents in the 4e World Axis. Astral Sea (Concept) vs. Elemental Chaos (Material). So the whole "x is god of y" reflects the reality of that metaphysical framework in which gods are powerful astral embodiments of immaterial concepts.

All in all, if I was a peasant in the Material Plane and I asked a priest why the world was so scary and violent, I’d be more satisfied with the explanations the Greet Wheel gives than the World Axis.
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.
 

After that, we are talking (as usual, although just as usually we are not saying it) preferences, I like my D&D really epic, which means cosmic conflict (at least at high level, which means that it needs to be introduced, with its consequences, at the start of the campaign), and there having a two-dimensional alignement and cosmology helps in varying the threat and creating more possibilities.
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.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Not using alignment has as many dimensions as you want it to have.

And again, alignement is not rigid and does NOT preclude other associations. It's just that, out of the box, you get two dimensions for cosmic conflict, both of which are recognised directions in Heroic Fantasy, Good vs. Evil and Law vs. Chaos.

And yes, ON TOP OF THAT (if you don't want to use them, or if you want to have something more), then you can create whatever you want. But if you don't know where to start, or if you want to use classic conflicts, maybe with a twist, then you have them.

Law/Chaos vs Good/Evil gives you two, and only two

No, simply no. Once more, I have shown to you earlier in this thread that your rigid views of alignment are supported nowhere in the published material.

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

It's still one more than with World Axis, which has only one that you can start from, for any of the reasons above.
 

And again, alignement is not rigid and does NOT preclude other associations. It's just that, out of the box, you get two dimensions for cosmic conflict, both of which are recognised directions in Heroic Fantasy, Good vs. Evil and Law vs. Chaos.

And yes, ON TOP OF THAT (if you don't want to use them, or if you want to have something more), then you can create whatever you want. But if you don't know where to start, or if you want to use classic conflicts, maybe with a twist, then you have them.
How can you have anything "ON TOP OF" as many as you want?

If someone says, "You can have as many slices of cheese as you want," it makes no sense whatsoever to say, "I will instead have the number of slices of cheese that I want...and then two more!"
 

And again, alignement is not rigid and does NOT preclude other associations. It's just that, out of the box, you get two dimensions for cosmic conflict, both of which are recognised directions in Heroic Fantasy, Good vs. Evil and Law vs. Chaos.
I think there's an open question as to how many groups are even interested in any conflict that isn't Good vs Evil though.

I mean, I can't say if you're right or wrong re: how many directions you can get out of the Great Wheel, but I do think, based on the 30+ years I've spent playing and talking about RPGs that, when it comes to cosmic conflicts, people are really only interested in two of them:

1) Our team vs their team. Which doesn't require any alignments. You see this in a lot of RPGs, whether morally ambiguous or not. Team Camarilla vs Team Sabbat. Team Solar vs Team All The Other Ones (but particularly Dragonblooded). Team Wyld vs Team Weaver.

2) Good vs Evil. Hopefully self-explanatory. This can genuinely be a bit more than a "team" conflict and provoke some more real thought.

Law vs Chaos, for example, is very interesting in Moorcock's writing and it is a reoccuring theme in literature through the ages, whether Nomos and Physis in classical Greece (technically more "Nurture vs Nature" but often used in a de facto Law vs Chaos way), or the Lintons and the Earnshaws in Wuthering Heights, and hell, you could argue it's part of stuff like The Secret History. But in games? Are many players into that? My experience is "Definitely not". People will do "Team Law vs Team Chaos", but that's just team stuff, they're not actually engaging with the concepts or particularly thoughtful about it. And more esoteric concepts than those? Either it goes to team stuff or people get bored pretty quickly in my experience (as a player and DM).

So maybe it's actually just irrelevant to most groups? I mean, I think there's a reason Planescape created all the Factions, more concrete "teams" for people to be part of and cheer for, rather than focusing on what might have been more obvious - the alignments of the PCs involved. The Great Wheel offer a lot of cosmic conflict, but it's not terribly engaging/valuable.

Re: Law I actually think one of the most interesting conflicts is "The Rule of Law vs. Natural Justice" (essentially LN vs NG), but it's one difficult to do well in an RPG, or to get a lot of player buy-in for.
 

cbwjm

Legend
That still doesn't explain the many redundant planes, or why we're suddenly trying to cram real-world ideas of afterlives into a very rigid and judgmental alignment chart. You don't need both Acheron and Ysgard, just make one plane of war. You can include the different ideas of war in that single plane (glorious wars of righteousness versus endless pointless wars that cause a lot more harm than good). You don't need Pandemonium, we already have a very chaotic plane of evil that the idea would fit nicely into (the Abyss). We don't need Gnome/Halfling Heaven and Elf Heaven, just combine the two things, they're pretty similar. Hades doesn't need to be a completely separate plane from Tartarus/Carceri, in the mythology they were both a part of the Underworld. A ton of planes of existence have multiple layers with different names, Tartarus can just be a layer of Hades.

I could go on. There's just a ton of redundant ideas and planes in the Great Wheel.
Probably every edition has redundant planes, problem is, what you or I might consider redundant, others might consider required. The underworld in Greek myth also included Elysium. In a fantasy Greece game, those could easily be the same plane. You could probably make every single plane a different layer/location if you wanted. The creators of dnd didn't, doesn't mean they're redundant or wrong. That's the thing, just because someone doesn't like an something, doesn't mean it shouldn't exist.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
How can you have anything "ON TOP OF" as many as you want?

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).

If someone says, "You can have as many slices of cheese as you want," it makes no sense whatsoever to say, "I will instead have the number of slices of cheese that I want...and then two more!"

Because most people don't want more than two anyway, see the next post, and we are talking about the standard setting of the world, one that supports the games of DMs who are happy with published settings.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I think there's an open question as to how many groups are even interested in any conflict that isn't Good vs Evil though.

It's a good question, but actually I think that a lot of the more mature players are bored with good vs. evil.

I mean, I can't say if you're right or wrong re: how many directions you can get out of the Great Wheel, but I do think, based on the 30+ years I've spent playing and talking about RPGs that, when it comes to cosmic conflicts, people are really only interested in two of them:

1) Our team vs their team. Which doesn't require any alignments. You see this in a lot of RPGs, whether morally ambiguous or not. Team Camarilla vs Team Sabbat. Team Solar vs Team All The Other Ones (but particularly Dragonblooded). Team Wyld vs Team Weaver.

Of course it all depends on the theme of the TTRPG. Most of them are not concerned with epic, cosmic conflict.

2) Good vs Evil. Hopefully self-explanatory. This can genuinely be a bit more than a "team" conflict and provoke some more real thought.

Not my experience, actually. Our groups are a bit bored with the Good vs. Evil, which has been done time and time again.

Law vs Chaos, for example, is very interesting in Moorcock's writing and it is a reoccuring theme in literature through the ages, whether Nomos and Physis in classical Greece (technically more "Nurture vs Nature" but often used in a de facto Law vs Chaos way), or the Lintons and the Earnshaws in Wuthering Heights, and hell, you could argue it's part of stuff like The Secret History. But in games? Are many players into that? My experience is "Definitely not". People will do "Team Law vs Team Chaos", but that's just team stuff, they're not actually engaging with the concepts or particularly thoughtful about it. And more esoteric concepts than those? Either it goes to team stuff or people get bored pretty quickly in my experience (as a player and DM).

Again, no my experience, we have hearty discussion of Law vs. Chaos and what it means, or about the derivations of that, because most of our campaigns drift in the Planescape view at mid+ level and it's as fundamental as Good vs. Evil.

So maybe it's actually just irrelevant to most groups? I mean, I think there's a reason Planescape created all the Factions, more concrete "teams" for people to be part of and cheer for, rather than focusing on what might have been more obvious - the alignments of the PCs involved. The Great Wheel offer a lot of cosmic conflict, but it's not terribly engaging/valuable.

I think it's a bit different there. Planescape is also meant to be played including at low levels, and having patrons more "earthy" than cosmic principles helped. Moreover, most of the factions certainly have a strong alignment bias.

Re: Law I actually think one of the most interesting conflicts is "The Rule of Law vs. Natural Justice" (essentially LN vs NG), but it's one difficult to do well in an RPG, or to get a lot of player buy-in for.

Again, I suppose it depends on your groups, but we've always found that Law vs. Chaos resonated very strongly for us, and allowed some moral ambiguity (Good / Evil) about the means employed by the factions.
 

Again, I suppose it depends on your groups, but we've always found that Law vs. Chaos resonated very strongly for us, and allowed some moral ambiguity (Good / Evil) about the means employed by the factions.
That's interesting, but I suspect it's rather unusual. Lot of Moorcock fans in the group? As for bored of "Good vs Evil", sure, but my experience is that most more mature/aged players tend to be bored of "cosmic conflicts" in general and more interested in just playing fun characters and/or more specific conflicts which don't have cosmic resonance. As you say, most RPGs aren't concerned with said conflicts, and even most "epic" conflicts tend to be of a more straightforward nature.
 

glass

(he, him)
Is the Cosmere complex? Definitely. Is it because of its Cosmology? No.
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).
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.
You don't find it a good idea, but not everybody is you. Some people have different preferences. See my comment above about de gustibus.
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?
Yeas, of course they are - Planes of Law on the left, Planes of Chaos on the right, Planes of Conflict in the middle.

_
glass.
 
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Lyxen

Great Old One
That's interesting, but I suspect it's rather unusual.

Honestly, I've gamed on many places on the planet, but not in the US, so I would not know what is usual there, for example. But based on France and the UK (not to mention more exotic places, but in terms of population the players were actually more FR/UK than locals), I would consider it quite usual.

Lot of Moorcock fans in the group?

Yes, but also lots of old gamers, I think Moorcock is no longer that well-known amongst younger generations of players.

But we are also huge fans of Amber (played at least 3 multi-years campaign of Amber Diceless RPG), where the philosophical aspects of Amber and the Court of Chaos were explored in detail, and where Good and Evil are absolutely non-existent in terms of concept (although of course some acts clearly are so and can make an imprint, especially if evil).

As for bored of "Good vs Evil", sure, but my experience is that most more mature/aged players tend to be bored of "cosmic conflicts" in general and more interested in just playing fun characters and/or more specific conflicts which don't have cosmic resonance. As you say, most RPGs aren't concerned with said conflicts, and even most "epic" conflicts tend to be of a more straightforward nature.

Again, everything in this discussion is about preferences, and since BECMI/AD&D we have always played at fairly high level, almost all our campaigns finish at the max level for an edition if not beyond. If all of these were Good vs. Evil, it would be boring, so having other sources of conflict is really a bonus.

When we are playing other RPGs, of course, we don't have epic conflicts in most cases, although we have them in Runequest, where we usually went into Hero Wars / Hero Quest and where the conflict against Chaos (but also potentially its acceptance) is central to most of the threads. And even there, it's really interesting to see the difference between the very individualistic but chaos-hating Sartarites and the very civilised and organised but chaos-accepting Lunars. Again, a setting with Law/Chaos epic conflict (at a level in a sense far more fundamental than D&D) but where Good and Evil really are secondary considerations.
 

Voadam

Legend
The Great Wheel has a lot of incarnations from the early Dragon Magazine article to the 1e PH and Deities and Demigods to 1e Manual of the Planes to 2e Planescape and then 3e and 5e.

It has been a little vague and contradictory on the afterlives, some indications are that alignment determines it, some indications are that pantheon and/or god indicate what happens in the afterlife. Orcs and Goblins in the Great Wheel go to the same plane with their pantheon head gods for their eternal battles even though what planes they are shift and do not necessarily match the base alignment of the races in AD&D or 3e.

D&D has usually been vague and contradictory on the afterlife, sometimes coming up with in-depth petitioner to outsider to different outsider afterlives, sometimes things are based on alignment (evil souls become larvae) sometimes it is god based, sometimes it is vague. In 1e Deities and Demigods whether the afterlife is eternal or temporary resting spot waiting for reincarnation depends on whether you have a soul like a human or gnome or a spirit like an elf or orc.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
D&D has usually been vague and contradictory on the afterlife, sometimes coming up with in-depth petitioner to outsider to different outsider afterlives, sometimes things are based on alignment (evil souls become larvae) sometimes it is god based, sometimes it is vague. In 1e Deities and Demigods whether the afterlife is eternal or temporary resting spot waiting for reincarnation depends on whether you have a soul like a human or gnome or a spirit like an elf or orc.
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.
 

Bytopia and Arboria are incredibly different. Bytopia is quite and peaceful, a place were people can live relatively ordinary lives without anxiety. Arboria is emotional, ever-changing, and loud, like an eternal party that even nature is participating in.
The move away from the real world inspirations somewhat obscures what Bytopia is supposed to be. It's original name, the Twin Paradises, was a reference to Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. It's the world before and after the reign of iniquity.
 
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