D&D General Manual of the Planes: The Switch to a Standard Multiverse, and Why it Matters (Part 2)

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
I originally wrote my ode to the Gygaxian multiverse here:


And in it, I made a passing reference to how the true Gygaxian multiverse, with a strong emphasis on the design space of the multiple worlds/realms/planes within the Prime Material Plane, ended, pointing to the time of the Manual of the Planes and Planescape.

Now I'm going to be more explicit as to when this change occurred, and why I think it matters. But first, a detour!


A. Timey wimey vs. Primer.

There is all sorts of time travel in fiction. I would say that, for the most part, there are two extremes of time travel when it comes to the type of fiction that we all know and love. On the one end, we have time travel as we see in Doctor Who. There's a lot of time travel in Doctor Who! And sure, sometimes issues like "paradoxes" and "fixed points in time" can matter a great deal. But .... most of the time, it's really all just a bunch of "timey wimey" stuff that lets the protagonists zip around in time and space and have some fun. The rules are kind of fuzzy and malleable and can change from season to season, episode to episode.

At the other extreme is a movie like Primer, where the mechanics of time travel are integral to the plot. The movie itself is an intricate puzzle ...um.... box.... that requires a strict application of that universe's application of its rules of time travel to function.

The reason I bring this up is not to continue my rant about how "Too much time emphasis on travel in Star Trek ruins the show" (although it does), but instead to say that these different approaches both have something to recommend them, but they result in very different experiences; they both have time travel, but function follows form. The nature of the fiction is very different due to the way that they are using time travel. It's much the same with the diminution of the Gygaxian Prime Material Plane.


B. Grubb's Folly, or how the Manual of the Planes Changed the Overton Window of D&D.

In the prior post, I said that the brilliance of the Gygaxian model was the emphasis it placed on the Prime Material Plane ("PMP"). References to the outer planes abound, from the Paladin in Hell in the PHB to a reference to a trip to the abyss in the DMG; but the thrust of the design space was in these strange alternate realities. In fact, it was assumed that all campaigns would invoke these alternate realities at some point! In the DMG, in a section called The Ongoing Campaign, Gygax specifically states that after a few months or a year, people will grow bored of castles and dungeons and fantasy wilderness, and that's when you should plug in something fun- alternate realities (Alice in Wonderland) or Gamma World, or Boot Hill, or whatever.

This was in accord with the general trend in the published material; it was not uncommon to have characters either "cross genres" (Barrier Peaks) or cross worlds (Amber, Demonweb, Alice, etc.). It was commonly acknowledged that the barriers between realms in the PMP could be, and would be, breached, both in the variously-named Gygaxian worlds (Oerth, Aerth, Earth, Uerth, Yarth, etc.) or when Elminster started pontificating in Dragon magazine.

But this changed with the Manual of the Planes. While the outer planes had been touched on previously in Dragon Magazine (see, for example, Dragon #67, November 1982, which provided for the framework for Astral Plane travel and encounters, or Dragon #73, which was .... well, confusing), the Manual of the Planes was the first core rulebook to really flesh out the planar structure; sure, Deities and Demigods had to address it a little, but this was going to the ur-source book moving forward.

.... and that was the problem. Look, Manual of the Planes had a cool cover. And there were bits and bobs that were pretty neat! But look at the structure- you have 116 pages, and then, finally, you get to page 117, Appendix 1, before it goes into any detail about the Prime Material Plane. And there are three, short pages. And in those three, short pages, the following is done:

1. It changes the established paradigm of what the PMP is. Prior to this book, the PMP was a singular plane encompassing infinite realms (worlds, planes). Now, there were infinite Prime Material Planes, each with their own Ethereal Plane, but the same inner planes and outer planes. This seems like a small distinction (one vessel containing infinite planes v. infinite separate planes) but it led to the next change, which is ....

2. It explicitly made traveling between alternate planes within the PMP more difficult. After all, if they are separate, then it would be more difficult, right! Of course, it stated that they all share the same inner and outer planes, and never fully explained how you'd travel to the inner plane and get back to your own PMP, but that's neither here nor there. And then ....

3. It created a system of arbitrary classifications (physical factor, magical factor, and temporal factor) that, as far I knew, were not used in future publications, to "classify" all alternate PMPs.

The net effect of these changes is what we see today; the loss of the use of the "alternate PMP" as a primary design space, and the codification of the use of the outer planes for "weird" or "kooky" design (memorably in settings such as Planescape). Moreover, it had the effect of the increased "silo-ing" of campaign worlds and the reification of a more static, less weird multiverse.


C. What does it mean, though, really? More fundamentally, who cares? And what was up with that timey wimey stuff?

Let's use an easy example. In the Gygaxian multiverse, Ravenloft is released as a module in 1983. Fog rolls in and traps the adventurers in Barovia? Sure, it can just be an alternate place. Probably seen it before. After all, by that time, who wasn't familiar with portals to Averoigne, or portals to Dungeonland, or the many portals that Lolth was using to invade other Prime Material Planes.

Post-Gygax, of course, there has to be an outer plane, a Dread plane, in order to have that type of adventure of campaign. On the one hand, you could say that this doesn't change anything; what is the difference between an alternate prime material plane and a demiplane? But on the other hand, it is different. Because function follows form; the easy standard that we once had (as seen in the other article, with the linked-to example from Jim Ward in 1974, having three doors!) for quickly and easily changing genres, rules, and tone are now calcified and hardened into stronger rules.

Which can always be changed in the home campaign, but the focus leads to a dearth of excellent published material because, in my opinion, they no longer use the design space that they have with the PMP. To go back- I love Primer. Primer is wonderful. But there are a lot of times when I'd rather just sit back and have a good time, and go between horror, and comedy, and the past, and the future, and have a good time without worrying too much about the underlying mechanics. Re-opening the full design space a la the Gygaxian multiverse for the Prime Material Plane would still preserve everything people love about the outer planes, and still allow people to run gritty fantasy, while re-opening the game to a degree of weirdness.
 

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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
What you go over is all well and good, but it doesn't really change anything. Because there's literally no reason why someone who wanted to do something weird couldn't do so regardless of whatever planar structure D&D has. It doesn't matter if it was original Gygax multiverse, new and improved multiverse, or whatever. If someone wants to write a Boot Hill-style / D&D crossover, they can do so. They don't need a certain multiverse configuration to do it. And plus., no one is going to re-write any books to go backwards to the old style anyway. The books are what they are and what we have is what we have.

If people want to say another way was better... that's cool, that's their prerogative... but it doesn't matter. You can't retroactively change something that is already written.
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
This is a good well-researched post, but I think you are boxing yourself into a false choice here... it's pretty well established in 5E that although the Great Wheel, and the planar classification in general, is the default assumption for the multiverse, it is just an assumption.

I'll quote the 5E PHB:

SIGIL AND THE 0UTLANDS
The Outlands is the plane between the Outer Planes, a plane of neutrality, but not the neutrality of nothingness. Instead it incorporates a little of everything, keeping it all in a paradoxical balance-simultaneously concordant and in opposition. It is a broad region of varied terrain, with open prairies, towering mountains, and twisting, shallow rivers, strongly resembling an ordinary world of the Material Plane. The Outlands is circular, like a great wheel-in fact, those who envision the Outer Planes as a wheel point to the Outlands as proof, calling it a microcosm of the planes. That argument might be circular, however, for it is possible that the arrangement of the Outlands inspired the idea of the Great Wheel in the first place.

Page 43 and 44 of the DMG go into much more detail about alternative ways of organizing the multiverse, including the World Tree and the World Axis. The provide an additional eight(!) different ideas for how to organize the multiverse.

Meaning, you don't really have to follow these "rules" at all. The multiverse can be whatever you deem it to look like, and the Great Wheel is just a philosophical misunderstanding of the multiverse, much like how Ptolemy misunderstood how the Sun doesn't orbit the Earth in ancient times in real life.

At the end of the day, a lot of players like how the multiverse is organized for them because it allows for "plug and play." That doesn't mean that's actually "canon" D&D, as there is no canon multiversal system; the core 5E books admit no one can prove definitely how the multiverse actually is organized, if it is at all.

Anyway, the point is, if you don't like how the planes are organized in the Great Wheel, don't use it. The DMG literally says that's just one suggestion out of many, and even contains a box explaining how to create your own planes.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
What you go over is all well and good, but it doesn't really change anything. Because there's literally no reason why someone who wanted to do something weird couldn't do so regardless of whatever planar structure D&D has. It doesn't matter if it was original Gygax multiverse, new and improved multiverse, or whatever. If someone wants to write a Boot Hill-style / D&D crossover, they can do so. They don't need a certain multiverse configuration to do it. And plus., no one is going to re-write any books to go backwards to the old style anyway. The books are what they are and what we have is what we have.

If people want to say another way was better... that's cool, that's their prerogative... but it doesn't matter. You can't retroactively change something that is already written.

I think I tried to preemptively address this:

"Which can always be changed in the home campaign, but the focus leads to a dearth of excellent published material because, in my opinion, they no longer use the design space that they have with the PMP."

But yes, it is a truism that you can do what you want in your home campaign. But that is no different than saying, "If you don't like the use of dice in D&D, you can always just insert a diceless system. After all, Mike Mearls isn't going to come jam a bunch of d20s into your unwilling hands." Or, for that matter, if someone traces the history of the negative AC and tables -> THAC0 -> ascending armor class, it's neither here nor there to observe that I can just change the rules.

That's not really very interesting to me; what's interesting is the way in which this seemingly small change that I do not believe has been commented on very much - or if it has, I haven't seen it before and will be happy to credit it - has resulted in a change in design emphasis in published materials.

So, while I appreciate that people can, and do, choose whatever they want to in their home campaigns, that's not really what I've been looking at. Instead, I've been curious as to how this one small change has effected the official published output.

That is interesting. Maybe I'm right, maybe I'm wrong (always possible, the history is correct, but the thesis is new AFAIK), but "Just change your homegame" isn't really interesting to me. :)
 

dave2008

Legend
Let's use an easy example. In the Gygaxian multiverse, Ravenloft is released as a module in 1983. Fog rolls in and traps the adventurers in Barovia? Sure, it can just be an alternate place. Probably seen it before. After all, by that time, who wasn't familiar with portals to Averoigne, or portals to Dungeonland, or the many portals that Lolth was using to invade other Prime Material Planes.

Post-Gygax, of course, there has to be an outer plane, a Dread plane, in order to have that type of adventure of campaign.
In 4e I believe the Domain of Dread was in the Shadowfell which is specifically a parallel Material plane. So I see no reason this couldn't be the same in 5e or any other version. I am pretty sure in 5e it is officially a demi-plane again, but there is nothing with the current cosmology that requires that.
 

dave2008

Legend
OK, I will admit I only skimmed this post, but after a quick look at it don't think you have addressed the part in the title: "Why it Matters." Can you clarify what you think any of this matters?

EDIT: I find the discussion interesting regardless of whether or not it actually matters, so thank you for the post.
 
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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
So, while I appreciate that people can, and do, choose whatever they want to in their home campaigns, that's not really what I've been looking at. Instead, I've been curious as to how this one small change has effected the official published output.
I dunno... we have 30+ years of publishing to look at. I highly doubt anyone can look at the entirety of D&D and make any declarations about it. Now does your supposition have any merit? Maybe. But then, who can really tell? For every thing someone could point at and say "Yeah, see? It's because they changed the Gygaxian Multiverse model that we got X, Y, & Z..." we would be able to find a dozen other things across the editions that would counter it.

If all you were looking for was to point out something that you noticed from the books way-back-when, then that's cool... it's indeed an interesting historical tidbit. But if it's meant to make some sort of greater point about D&D's design and production through the 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s? I don't think anything can really be gleaned from it personally, or that one way was better than any other.
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
So, while I appreciate that people can, and do, choose whatever they want to in their home campaigns, that's not really what I've been looking at. Instead, I've been curious as to how this one small change has effected the official published output.

This seems like a pretty big stretch... I honestly don't think this impacts their output at all, and instead relies on a host of different competing factors that are very unrelated to the Manual of the Planes.

To illustrate my point... you mentioned how in the original 1983 Ravenloft module, fog rolls in and transports the PCs to Barovia. Then you mention how the multiversal rules change this because it calcifies how the multiverse works into strict rules.

And yet... the 5E Curse of Strahd book begins exactly the same way... fog rolls in and the players are in Barovia. There's literally no difference at all, and it also doesn't contradict anything from Manual of the Planes either.

Saying 5E has a dearth of excellent material is a fair complaint (I personally disagree, but I've heard it before), but I think you may be attributing it to the multiversal rules... something that really doesn't have much of a limiter at all on what is published and what is not.
 

Hoffmand

Explorer
Great post. I absolutely love Gygaxian cosmology and the world of Jeff Grubb. I didn’t see grubb really contradicting Gygax as much as just not expanding as much information as he could have on alternate material planes. In fact the Aztec pantheon was clearly stated to be from an alternate material plane. But very good post. I use the same system as you pretty much. But i don’t see how it is all a big deal. These things are just suggestions. Gygax, Greenwood, and all those guys encouraged people to make each setting their own and customize. And they said they wrote that over and over and over again. And plane structure is such a minor detail that it is only of concern to less than 1 percent, and the changes mean absolutely nothing of significance to anyone but a rare few. I have DMed so many people over the years like many others here. Only one has ever shared an interest in cosmology even when we were plane hopping all over creation.
 
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