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Dragon Reflections #8 – A Whole New Multiverse

The Dragon Issue 8 was published in July 1977. It is 32 pages long, with a cover price of $1.50. In this issue, Gygax massively expands the world of Dungeons & Dragons.




Tim Kask's editorial is all about fiction, which is one aspect of the magazine he loved. He is pleased to present a lengthy story by Harry O. Fischer called "The Finzer Family." Fischer was a college friend of Fritz Leiber, and together they created the world of Nehwon, and the city of Lankhmar, as a backdrop for their war games.

Leiber, of course, went on to become one of the fathers of the sword and sorcery genre, writing a whole string of stories about Lankhmar featuring his characters Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Fischer was much less prolific, and "The Finzer Family" is one of only two stories he ever published.

James Ward returns this issue, with additional material for Metamorphosis Alpha. More importantly, he shares a one-page sneak preview of a new game called Gamma World. This post-apocalyptic science fantasy RPG would be published a few months later, and TSR would abandon Metamorphosis Alpha as a result.

This issue also has a comprehensive article about designing towns and villages in D&D, and Rob Kuntz describes a realistic method of valuing gems and jewellery. These articles are fun stuff for those who like a lot of detail in their campaigns.

By far the most important article is "Planes: The Concepts of Spatial, Temporal and Physical Relationships in D&D" by Gary Gygax. Here, Gygax defines the cosmology that has underpinned Dungeons & Dragons down to the present day.

The idea of planes (defined as different realities or alternate dimensions) has long been a trope in fantasy fiction, and Gygax's conception of them seems to have been heavily influenced by writer Michael Moorcock. The planes were briefly mentioned in the original D&D rules with a spell called "Contact Higher Planes." The planes were not named or described there, though, simply given a number. The first time a plane is named is in the Greyhawk supplement for OD&D, which mentions the "astral plane" in relation to the aptly named "Astral Spell."

Gygax hints at the planes again in The Strategic Review #6, in an article that lays out his two-axis alignment system (Good vs. Evil, Law vs. Chaos) for the first time. It includes a diagram that matches several metaphysical locations (Heaven, Paradise, Elysium, Limbo, the Abyss, Hades, Hell, and Nirvana) to a position on his alignment graph. But the article gives no further information about these places.

This brings us to the article in The Dragon #8, in which Gygax states:

"For game purposes the DM is to assume the existence of an infinite number of co-existing planes. The normal plane for human-type life forms is the Prime Material Plane. A number of planes actually touch this one and are reached with relative ease. These planes are the Negative and Positive Material Planes, the Elemental Planes (air, earth, fire, water), the Etherial Plane (which co-exists in exactly the same space as the Prime Material Plane), and the Astral Plane (which warps the dimension we know as length [distance]). Typical higher planes are the Seven Heavens, the Twin Paradises, and Elysium. The plane of ultimate Law is Nirvana, while the plane of ultimate Chaos (entropy) is Limbo. Typical lower planes are the Nine Hells, Hades’ three glooms, and the 666 layers of the Abyss."


It is striking to see how much of this cosmology has survived to the present day. The accompanying graphic is essentially the "great wheel" representation of the planes that has since become standard, with the prime material plane at the center surrounded by inner and outer planes. There is a co-existent ethereal plane and also an astral plane that ties the inner and outer planes together. There are sixteen outer planes, and most of their names are the same as the modern names (or are related).

The fact that we are still adventuring in essentially the same multiverse over forty years later shows me what an elegant, evocative, and clever piece of game design this is. It also speaks volumes about Gygax's design sensibilities and the greatness of his vision for the game. In my view, this is one of the most important articles ever published in the magazine.

Next issue sees the introduction of one of D&D's most beloved characters—and the strange story of the man who created him.

This article was contributed by M.T. Black as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program.M.T. Black is a game designer and DMs Guild Adept. Please follow him on Twitter @mtblack2567 and sign up to his mailing list. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
 
M.T. Black

Comments

Does anyone know why the Upper Planes (between the Seven Heavens and Gladsheim) were re-assigned between this article and Appendix IV of the PHB?
 

Warpiglet

Explorer
The more I see these throwback articles, the more I enjoy ENWorld. It is a fantastic view of the game's origins and philosophy. It is exciting in other ways as well.

These pieces never fail to blow my mind in highlighting the incredible amount Gygax knew and brought together. I am not concerned with any Gygax vs. Arneson stuff here but the mythology the disparate sources of inspiration Gygax brought together. So damn impressive...

It also gets back to appreciating the mystery and wonder of the fantasy world. What Gygax put together does not seem like a slung together hodge podge of make believe but a deadly serious, look into another real time and place. It is old stuff much of it only hinted at. Genius.
 

JDBausch

Villager
I just wanted to chime in and say how much I look forward to these recaps. And since I expect the usual comments of ‘don’t recap them in order’ I will proactively say I.like them being done in order of publication

Great job M.T. Black!
 

Nilonym

Villager
Agreed with the positive comments. These have become my most-anticipated regular posts on EN World.

M.T. -- Have you considered consolidating all of these into comprehensive book when you are done? "A History of Dragon Magazine" with analysis and art would be amazing.
 

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
Another enjoyable article on the direction the game was taking. (I also did not know Lankhmar's origins as a gaming world).

I also count these Dragon articles as my current favourites :) I have even take to the net and YouTube to follow several people that are going through them.

MT's are fantastic for the summary and direction of the game. And for the knowledge/research on contributors. I really like that part.

For those seeking further discussion on actual articles within the magazine, there was someone called "(un)reason" on the boards of RPGNet or some other boards (I can't access ATM) who went into a lot of detail for those.

I have also liked some YouTube walk throughs, though one is a bit too long and the other doesn't show enough of the actual magazine.

Has anyone else also noticed how Dragon Mag price has gone up significantly again? I almost parted with mine as bundles on ebay for cheap but did not as several other people were doing so. Glad I did not, I still grab them and read them from time to time. Now, i wish I could buy those bundles :p

Anyway, totally recant the chronological order change I requested. Took me a while, but I get that you are doing these different to others, which is good. Keep it up MT!
 

Celebrim

Hero
Heartily agree. This, along with the EnCyclopedia of monsters, is one of the few remaining good reasons to visit EnWorld.

If I had any complaint, is that the articles aren't longer and more in depth. I really didn't get into Dragon until the late 80's, and looking back I wish I'd had more exposure earlier.
 

kenmarable

Explorer
This is definitely an important issue! Thanks for doing this series.

As for why they shifted the Upper Planes, I never really heard, but it could simply be that he hadn't given them as much in depth thought until later. For one thing, the article only briefly mentions the arrangement of the planes and details none of them. Interestingly, the bulk of the article discusses a theory behind monsters that can only be injured with magical weapons.

The idea was that an ordinary sword and ordinary monster only exist on the Prime Material Plane. However, a monster that requires a +1 or better magic weapon to injury it exists on 2 planes simultaneously, so a weapon that is only on the Prime Material Plane cannot truly injury it. But a +1 weapon exists on 2 planes and is therefore able to strike at it fully. A +2 weapon is on 3 planes, and so on.

The implication of that is when you travel beyond the Prime Material Plane, the weapon is removed from it's plane of origin and is therefore existing on fewer planes - therefore, it's magical bonus decreases the further it is from it's plane of origin.

It's an interesting idea about multiplanar monsters that I don't recall seeing much of beyond this article. However, the weapons decreasing their bonuses continued on into Planescape. It's interesting that even then Gary Gygax was saying "it will mean tremendous additional work for these DMs" and "I think it best to do nothing more than offer the
idea for your careful consideration and thorough experimentation. This writer has used only parts of the system in a limited fashion. It should be tried and tested before adoption."

So even then he saw that it might be burdensome, but the tradition carried on for quite a while before falling by the wayside in 3e.

So the exact planar arrangement is barely mentioned in the article, even as important as it is to the history of D&D lore. (shameless plug) On Rule of 3, my Intro to Planescape fan blog, I tried to chart and explain the cosmology through the editions, including some of the various name changes (there's a collapsed section that has a full table). It's a fun throwback with 5e largely merging the various names from all editions.
 

(un)reason

Explorer
For those seeking further discussion on actual articles within the magazine, there was someone called "(un)reason" on the boards of RPGNet or some other boards (I can't access ATM) who went into a lot of detail for those.

I have also liked some YouTube walk throughs, though one is a bit too long and the other doesn't show enough of the actual magazine.

Has anyone else also noticed how Dragon Mag price has gone up significantly again? I almost parted with mine as bundles on ebay for cheap but did not as several other people were doing so. Glad I did not, I still grab them and read them from time to time. Now, i wish I could buy those bundles :p

Anyway, totally recant the chronological order change I requested. Took me a while, but I get that you are doing these different to others, which is good. Keep it up MT!
Yup. It took me six years, but I eventually finished the entire print run. http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?239789-Let-s-read-the-entire-run

It is interesting to see that two different people have recently started doing this in different formats, and as ever, I'm both enjoying seeing what different perspectives they offer, and wondering how far they'll get, since a fair few people have started it over the years, but I'm the only one that actually completed this trek as far as I know. (props also goes to bryce0lynch, who managed the same feat for Dungeon magazine. http://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/ )

I do eventually plan on doing the same for Polyhedron, but collecting all the issues of that is much harder, so I'm not sure when I'll be able to seriously start that project. But I am still around and reading the forums, even If I don't post that much these days.
 

R_Chance

Explorer
When Gamma World came out I just added things to my MA game. I liked the large, but limited, "world" presented by the starship Warden. Especially good with the Clone Bank Alpha starting set up from the earlier Dragon. Fun stuff.

I liked the multiverse / planes as EGG set them up. With some changes it's still my games planar arrangement. I use the Ethereal as my Spirit Plane.

Good job as always, it's fun looking back at the Dragon, seeing the influence it had on me and finding those extra bits I passed over. I'm re-reading my PDF copies in order with your articles. I have the Dragon Magazine Archive, including SR 1-6 and Dragon 1-250, which allows me to leave my mags bagged and boxed. Buying that when it came out was a great bargain...
 

Kobold Boots

Villager
Don't worry about the difference between "good" reasons and just having reasons. Takes 21 days to develop or eliminate a habit. Worry when you don't see the folks returning after 14. :)

Personally, this site is great and the products are really sound. Very, very few RPG sites last past 2 years let alone 20.

KB
 

M.T. Black

Explorer
(un)reason, thankyou for your hard work! I only discovered your posts a few weeks ago, but I now check them out whenever I do a review.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Don't worry about the difference between "good" reasons and just having reasons. Takes 21 days to develop or eliminate a habit. Worry when you don't see the folks returning after 14. :)

Personally, this site is great and the products are really sound. Very, very few RPG sites last past 2 years let alone 20.

KB
I wasn’t worried. I was more surprised by the social acumen on display... :)
 

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