Future-Edition Brainstorming: A Simplified Cosmology (+)


5e Freelancer
I've made my dislike of the Great Wheel Cosmology and the planes that are contained in it pretty clear on this site, and one of my biggest gripes with it is that it's the base cosmology of D&D 5e, and is super over-complicated and not friendly to new players who want to learn about it. I've had this experience as someone that joined the hobby and started DMing (and worldbuilding) a few years after D&D 5e came out, and I've had the experience repeat as I've brought more people to the hobby that wanted to learn about the setting's cosmology. Even Eberron (which is probably my favorite official D&D 5e setting), whose cosmology is much simpler than the Great Wheel, has this issue, with thirteen non-Material planes of existence that players and DMs have to keep track of. One thing that I had a player tell me about the cosmologies in D&D worlds that really stuck was "wow, D&D's cosmology is, like, really complicated. In most fantasy or mythology stories that I've read, there's normally just one or two other worlds or planes of existence that the characters can travel to". And, yeah, they were right. The most complicated cosmology from a mythology that comes to mind is Norse Mythology, which had 9 worlds, less than basically all main D&D cosmologies (Great Wheel, Eberron, World Axis, and even D&D's World Tree cosmology). And that's not even counting the different layers for each of the planes of existence in each of these cosmologies.

D&D's main cosmologies aren't user-friendly, especially not for new/inexperienced players. And while I think that the more complicated cosmologies should exist for the people that do like them, I do think that having a more simplified cosmology for the game's "base" setting (or at least a new D&D setting that might assume the place of base setting in future editions) would greatly benefit the hobby.

Now, onto what I would include in a simplified cosmology.

First, I would condense most of the Upper Planes into one "Heaven" plane. It could be called basically anything, from just "Heaven", to "Mount Celestia", or "Elysium", but for now we'll just call it "Heaven". I don't like how the Great Wheel will separate the afterlives of even good creatures from each other (so family members will be split up if they're of different good alignments), and think that one heaven could just fit all. It could have different layers (possibly one for each type of good alignment; chaotic, neutral, and lawful, but I'd prefer if the sub-divisions of the plane were more like home-realms for Angels, Archons, and Couatls, or something like that, but perhaps both of those could be used in the same setting). The plane is pretty simple; it would be Heaven. A paradise. A place that you probably never want to leave if you come here, with amazing weather, endless food and drink (maybe Nectar and Ambrosia), friendly people, eternal celestial servants, and so on. The Gods might live here if this cosmology has explicitly real gods and they're stated to live in places that the setting's characters can access, but this isn't necessary (maybe take a note from Exandria and have the Gods be real and present, but they can't journey to or interfere with the mortal plane). Either way, Celestial Paragons (Archangels, super powerful Couatls, possibly called Quetzalcouatls, and Head Archons) would be in charge of running most of the business on the plane, and would be what Celestial-Patron Warlocks would make pacts with.

Second, I would also condense most of the Lower Planes into one "Hell" plane. Again, the name doesn't really matter, it could be "Hades", "Hel(l)", "the Abyss/Nine Hells/Acheron/Pandemonium", or something like that, but it would be Hell, the home plane of Fiends and where people who do evil get sent when they die. I personally would probably use my previous idea of it having 7 layers, each attached to one of the Seven Deadly Sins (with an Archfiend that embodies one of the sins ruling each level, like Mammon for Greed, Yeenoghu for Gluttony, Baphomet for Wrath, etc), and probably have the Blood War just take place on this single plane of existence, but that isn't necessary to this idea. Also like the Heaven plane in this same cosmology, the evil gods may or may not live here, it depends on the setting's deity situation, but the Archfiends definitely would, and would be what most Fiend Warlocks make pacts with.

Third, onto the Plane of Law/Order. As much as I like Modrons, Inevitables, Primus, and Mechanus in the Great Wheel . . . I'm not sure if it would fit into this cosmology. They're a bit goofy, and don't really fit in with the other planes of existence in this cosmology. Instead, I would probably actually make the Shadowfell be the Plane of Law in this cosmology (you know, the inevitability of death, the order of the afterlife system, the oneness of shadows and darkness, as well as a smidge of the Gray Goo/Heat Death of the Universe and general entropy themes). Even the undead can often have themes of order in them, with necromancers creating undead minions, some of which can create their own undead minions (Wraiths can create Specters, Wights create Zombies, Vampires create Vampire Spawn and normal Vampires, etc). Another reason that I think this fits quite well is because the Feywild is the plane of emotions, which are inherently chaotic, and its opposite, the Shadowfell, is the plane of the lack of emotions, which would be inherently orderly (Shadar-Kai emotionlessly serve the Raven Queen, Undead serve their masters if they have any, the Dark Powers keep the Dark Lords of Ravenloft in eternal torment through never-ending cycles of reincarnation and repeating history in their Domains of Dread, etc).

Fourth, the Plane of Chaos. As I said in the previous paragraph, the Feywild is the plane of emotions, which are chaotic, and it's the opposite of the Shadowfell, which in this cosmology would be the Plane of Law/Order, making the Plane of Chaos in this cosmology be the Feywild. Sorry, but I just really do not like Limbo (it has no native extraplanar creatures, as the Slaad were inadvertently created by Primus, it just isn't a good place to go on adventures, and is very same-y in its chaos, which is very boring). The Feywild is just more interesting, and as a plane of emotions, it fits well into the "Chaotic Plane" of this cosmology. When people think of Fey, one of the first things they think of is the tricksy, chaotic behavior of them, and how easy it is for them to get on anyone's bad side because of their "lol, so random" behavior. They just scream Chaotic Neutral stereotypes, so I think they fit well in this cosmology as the Plane of Chaos (especially because the Feywild is actually a place you can adventure in, while Limbo just isn't).

Fifth, the Elemental Planes. I'd just keep them as is, but a bit more adventure-friendly and diverse in locations. Sure, the Elemental Plane of Fire is a plane of fire, but maybe there's a type of tree on this plane that has sap that makes you immune (or at least resistant) to fire damage for a certain amount of time, and this lets travelers venture to this plane (maybe with cities on Volcano-Islands in the sea of fire, with Fire-Newts, Azers/Salamanders, Efreeti/Fire Genasi, etc). Sure, the Plane of Earth is just endless dirt and rock in every direction, but there's dwarven (or maybe Azer, Stone Giants, or Earth Genasi/Dao) mines, and some type of food-source that naturally grows in the Plane of Earth (fungus, probably, but maybe a type of edible mineral that can be mined or domesticated bulettes/giant moles that people eat, or something like that). Sure, the Plane of Water is an endless ocean in all directions with giant sea creatures that would eat you if they had the chance, but there's Marid-built cities underwater, kind of like the Gungan cities from Naboo in Star Wars. Yes, the Plane of Air is just endless air, but there's floating earthmote-islands that people (Aarakocra, Djinn, Air Genasi) live on, using flying animals and vehicles (hot-air balloons, airships, spelljammers) to transport goods. There still will probably be the Elemental Chaos surrounding or in-between the Elemental Planes, which could basically be this cosmology's Limbo, but it wouldn't be that big of a part of the cosmology (maybe it's the home to Primordials/Archomentals).

Sixth and finally, the transitive planes; Ethereal and Astral. I would probably make the Astral Sea be what the worlds (maybe Crystal Spheres) of the Material Plane float in, with Spelljammers sailing between the worlds and planes through it, but I haven't made up my mind. The Ethereal Plane probably wouldn't change all that much (probably just explicitly stated to be the "fabric of reality", with Demiplanes being parts of it that are folded/cut-off to create "pocket-dimensions"), but might have more native creatures instead of just Phase Spiders. However, these planes would remain mostly the same, with just minor tweaks and lore changes to fit the cosmology and world.

And that's it. A more simple cosmology. There's one Good Plane, one Evil Plane, one Lawful Plane (of death/undead), one Chaotic Plane (or fey and emotions), the Four (or five) Elemental Planes, and two Transitive Planes. That's 10-11 non-material planes of existence, and some of them don't really count (the Transitive Planes, Elemental Chaos), and all of them would be possible to have adventures in (well, maybe not the Ethereal Plane, but its main role in D&D is just as a special form of movement). (Oh, and the Far Realm would still exist, but its whole deal is that it's extremely alien and going there will basically instantly kill you, so it doesn't really count. It's just a source of aberrations.) Most of the planes would be pretty easy to understand for new players, and it wouldn't have the issue of "what's the difference between Pandemonium and the Abyss? Or Mabar and Dolurrh? Ysgard and Acheron? Beastlands and the Feywild? Shadowfell, Negative Energy Plane, and Hades? Irian and Syrania?". IMHO, it would reduce confusion and redundancy, which would be a really good thing for a "base setting" or new "generic fantasy" setting to have.

Any thoughts or suggestions? Again, I'm fine with the other cosmologies existing, even if I'm not super fond of some of them (cough, the Great Wheel and World Tree, cough), but I just think that D&D should have a more user-friendly mythology for a new setting or the next edition's base setting. And take note of the (+) in the title. Feel free to give suggestions and opinions to build onto this idea, but please don't crap onto the base idea. If you don't like anything about this suggestion, this thread is not for you.

Have a good day, everyone!

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The High Aldwin
I don't think there is anything wrong with condensing the planes. I've used the wheel structure in AD&D for a long time, and really many of the similar planes could easily be "regions" of a singular plane, it would help with the redundancy, etc. as you mention.

Recently, in the cosmology of my world, I've taken a shift and removed the planes as they were and established "realms" in my world, where powerful forces (elemental, fiendish, fey, celestial, etc.) reside, transforming the region to reflect the power dwelling there. The "realms" are often considered dangerous regions, shunned by most, except in dire need (such as someone travelling to the realm of the dead to restore a loved one to life, etc.). I know it isn't a new idea, but I like it and it fits well with the rest of my world, more so than separate "planes" does.

I cordially hate the idea of D&D having 'a' one-size-fits-all-settings cosmology at all. Cosmology, like anything else, should fit the setting and campaign. Planescape you 100% want the Great Wheel. FR has its own variant of the Great Wheel with prominent deific domains and the overgod Ao overlooking it all, and that fits cos FR is a gonzo kitchen-sink setting so hell yeah, include ALL the weird subplanes. But the spare, limited cosmology of the Black and Grey fits Dark Sun far better, where you don't want easy travel to less-hostile otherworlds, and where things like upper planes stuffed full of benevolent celestials are thematically questionable. And in most Ravenloft games you probably don't want to talk about planar travel at all.

One of the creative mistakes that TSR made in the 2e era was, imho, shoehorning everything into one greater cosmology no matter how poorly it fit, and forcing crossovers. For every time it worked even partially (Ravenloft fans liked Soth in Ravenloft, though Dragonlance fans generally hated it) there were a bunch when it didn't. Kalidnay in Ravenloft, githyanki in Athas, Zakhara in FR, Krynn in Spelljammer.

Different settings exist to tell different types of stories. A Dragonlance story isn't the same as an Athasian story. Setting should exist and be designed to facilitate the telling of the stories, but if you design a cosmology that works for a planescape game (for example), it just isn't going to work for (for example) Ravenloft.


Funnily enough, this is pretty much precisely the Dragonlance cosmology as it was originally envisioned.

Good beings go to an afterlife in a "heaven" - although it's never really detailed more than that.
Evil goes to the Abyss.
There were, presumably, elemental planes although they don't really play much of a role. Chaos gets folded into the Abyss.

Heck, it's even simpler than @AcererakTriple6 describes really. Which makes sense in a setting where extra-planar stuff really isn't the focus. There aren't really demon cults, per se, in early Dragonlance. When you have armies of dragons, gods walking the world and various other goodies, you don't really need a whole lot of cosmology.

But, yeah, I would totally love to see a much more simplified cosmology. Then again, I'd love to see each setting get a very setting specific cosmology and then Planescape being it's own thing that is not part of baseline D&D. So a Nalfeshnee in Greyhawk is different from one in Forgotten Realms and different again from what you'd find in Sigil.

I've never understood this imperative to force all planar stuff to be identical across the settings. Why is a Greyhawk Earth Elemental the exact same as a Forgotten Realms Earth Elemental and so on?

A home and some sample gods for cleric domains.
A home and some sample for Warlock patrons.
2 pages, Including pictures.

Ex : A brief description of the nine hells and Asmodeus for the fiend Patron.
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I find the strangeness and complexity of the great wheel interesting. There are lots of dud planes, but lots of philosophically intriguing ones too. The plane of limbo really comes alive in Planescape Torment with Dakkon's backstory--his unbroken circle of zerthimon bit is, in my opinion, the best D&D fiction ever written.

This topic, though, turns heavily on how much importance the official/assumed setting has. The DMG is pretty coy about it "As described in the Player's Handbook, the assumed D&D cosmology includes more than two dozen planes. For your campaign, you decide what planes to include..." It has just A BUTTLOAD of different options on p. 44. One of them is, more or less, what you have suggested here minus the shadowfell & feywild:
"The Omniverse. This simple cosmology covers the bare minimum: a Material Plane; the Transitive Planes; a single Elemental Chaos; an Overheaven, where good aligned deities and celestials live; and the Underworld, where evil deities and fiends live."​

I think they probably shouldn't have printed ANY cosmology in the PHB--especially given that the DMG completely undercuts it--or left the cosmology at the vaguest general level, i.e. in D&D there are many dimensions PCs can travel to, from the echoes of the material world, to the elemental chaos, to the underworld, the realms of the gods, and the astral and ethereal planes; your DM will know the specifics. They could also have just listed the planes with brief descriptions for ones that are more important. Tbh, the brief PHB description of, say, "Carceri, the Tarterian Depths of--NE, CE" in Appendix C without any further elaboration or mention anywhere else in the PHB is actually pretty brilliant. It stirs the imagination without nailing anything down. The DM's just gotta prevent players from feeling like they're supposed to look it up on the internet to be playing the game properly, or that there are correct descriptions that can be found online at all.

--edit--your suggestion sounds fine to me too.
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5e Freelancer
One of them is, more or less, what you have suggested here minus the shadowfell & feywild:
"The Omniverse. This simple cosmology covers the bare minimum: a Material Plane; the Transitive Planes; a single Elemental Chaos; an Overheaven, where good aligned deities and celestials live; and the Underworld, where evil deities and fiends live."
Interesting. I don't remember that, and I've read the DMG quite a few times. It is pretty similar to what I recommended. Did any official D&D world ever use this cosmology, or is it something they came up with solely to put in the 5e DMG?

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
I think in the feature I'll go with a stupidly basic idea that we had on this board a few weeks ago:

Planes will based on the monster types that inhabits it, each having their own god/s and ''underdark''. The Dragon Eyries, The Oozing Delves, the Abyss, The Hunting Ground, The Feywild, The Shadowfell, The Far Realm, The Celestial Archives, The Forge, Giant's Reach etc .....and the Prime, of course, land of humanoids and beasts. Once in a while, the Planes ''shed a tear'' that falls on the prime and spread native creatures of that planes on the Prime.

One of the ironies of Planescape is that the more it described the smaller the multiverse became. They were theoretically infinite, but uniform in their infinity. In many cases, the detail they added was fairly mundane: towns and taverns with stuff to sell, but with a twist of a weird geography or cosmopolitan variety of inhabitants. I love planescape, but when I run the setting I try to emphasize the weirdness and infiniteness of the planes, and part of that means resisting the urge to map everything out and put every deity in the right place.

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