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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Own #DnDnext Cosmology - #5eplanes

So I've been writing a lot about a personal "remake" of mine of the whole typical D&D cosmology into something quite original, that still manages to feel "classic", at least to me, drawing a lot from real world mythology, with sprinkles of anthropology and geology notions here and there.

The problem is that I went a bit too far. Since I basically transformed the planes into various "Material Plane" places, not to mentions times, I basically was creating a campaign world along with the cosmology, and for the purpose of the "If I ruled The Multiverse" #dndnext Blog Carnival (#5eplanes on Twitter), it was a bit of an overkill, and I suspect it also made a lot of potential readers desist due to the amount of material, and the lack of clearness of my broad view.

So in this post I'll leave the most world/setting details aside and talk only about the classic planes and how they fit into my cosmology!

 Aims of my cosmology

Straight up, here are the objectives of my cosmology, because of course it tries to "fix" things, or at least change them a bit towards my linking, or it wouldn't have sense making it!
  1. Making the Planes some perfectly fine locations for adventuring.
  2. Making the Planes perfectly reachable by "normal" means of travel.
  3. Making the Planes not too easy to reach, but easier to grasp as concepts.
  4. Making the Planes all very near to each other so that they can mingle.
  5. Making the Planes rooted into the history and ecology of the "Prime Material" world.
  6. Giving the Planes some sort of temporal dimension, a notion of how old or new they are.
  7. Making the Planes dynamic places that haven't always been as they look and won't remain so.
Whoa, those are some objectives! Now, most of those who have read my first posts on World of Cthon already know how I tried to accomplish this, but I used lots and lots of words to say it, so now I'll try to summarize it all in one sentence:

In my cosmology, most of the planes are tangible pieces of the world as it was in very ancient times, which due to subsequent natural and magical cataclysms, went very deep underground stacking onto each other, forming an immense Underdark going towards the center of the world and containing basically all the Lower Outer and Inner Planes, while the Upper Outer planes are more commonly just on the surface of the world or its sky, but very far from inhabited lands.

It's a big ass sentence, but somehow it manages to be one sentence.

Structure of the world and its planes.

Now I'll also try to organize this cosmology in an easy to grasp way, citing basically all the most important known planes from the classic Great Wheel and World Axis cosmologies and what they become in my idea.

The order is both chronological and geographical: this is the peculiarity of my setting!
Numbers generally go from the deepest/farthest to the shallowest/nearer plane, unless noted, but here I follow a chronological order as a first priority, marking with an asterisk the planes that do not belong in the same "spaces" of their same-age sister planes.
Everything will be clearer later...

Planes of the "First Age World":
  1. Abyss
  2. Far Realm
  3. Positive/Negative Energy Planes
  4. Tarterus
  5. Pandemonium* (Touches other planes and is not as deep)
  6. Styx River* (Touches many other "planes)
  7. Gehenna
  8. Tytherion* (Not as deep, deeply linked to Shadowfell / Shadow Web)
  9. Shadowfell/Shadow Web* (Out of normal space and time, connects many other planes)
Planes of the "Second Age World"
  1. Limbo
  2. Elemental Planes / Elemental Chaos
  3. Acheron
  4. Hades (Defunct. Folded into Shadowfell/Shadow Web in the Third Age)
  5. Underdark
  6. Feywild/Faerie* (Out of normal space and time, links some of the same-age planes)
  7. Arvandor* (Very far from inhabited lands, into the Feywild)
  8. Olympus* (Very far from inhabited lands)
  9. Elysium* (Very far from inhabited lands)
  10. Nirvana* (Very far from inhabited lands, connected to Feywild)
  11. Arcadia* (Very far from inhabited lands, connected to Feywild)
  12. Gladsheim* (Very far from inhabited lands, connected to Feywild)
  13. Beastlands* (Not very far from inhabited lands, but "contained" by the Feywild)
Planes of the "Third Age World"
  1. Nine Hells
  2. Ethereal Plane* (Out of normal space and time, more of a state than a plane)
  3. Material World
  4. Twin Paradises* (Very far from inhabited lands, some of it only reachable in Ethereal state)
  5. Seven Heavens* (In the sky,  only reachable in Ethereal state)
  6. Astral Sea* (Beyond the sky)
So this is the chronological order. Between each Age there has been a world-wide and world-shattering cataclysm responsible for the various migrations under or above ground of the "planes", which as you can see are more like very tangible places in the same physical space, except the classic "parallel planes" (Shadow/Faerie/Ethereal).

Now a more geographical classification, which won't take chronological order in any consideration and is much more useful, since it's a scheme of where the planes are in the present time of the setting.
Again, the number tries to order the planes by depth or altitude, bottom-up. I present planes that I consider more or less at the same level separated by a slash.

Deep Planes:
  1. Abyss (access from Tarterus and Gehenna)
  2. Far Realm (isolated pockets) / Positive and Negative Energy Planes (isolated pockets)
  3. Tarterus / Gehenna / Styx River (Flows into many other upper and bottom planes, but more at this level)
Underdark Planes:
  1. Nine Hells (access from Acheron, leads to Tarterus and Abyss through Styx River)
  2. Elemental Planes or Elemental Chaos / Limbo / Acheron
  3. Tytherion  (Hard to find, deeply linked to Shadow Web / Shadowfell)
  4. Pandemonium (connected to Tarterus, Acheron, Gehenna) / Hades (ruined, folded into Shadowfell)
  5. Underdark
  6. Shadowfell or Shadow Web (actually not inside normal space, but never connected to places right on the surface, so this is its minimum depth)
[Here starts the surface of the word]

Middle/Far Planes (from farthest to nearest):

  1. Elysium 
  2. Olympus / Gladsheim
  3. Arvandor / Arcadia / Nirvana
  4. Beastlands / Feywild (the latter out of space, but still commonly accessed from "far places")
[Here be inhabited lands]

Upper/Ethereal Planes
  1. Seven Heavens
  2. Twin Paradises
  3. Ethereal Plane

Some explanations

So... I feel that until we're talking about underground places, all is clear: I basically put all the evil and dark places underground.

Only note to make is that the Nine Hells, as you may have noticed, are the most recent addition and still they're quite deep. This is the result of te second cataclysm, which saw the birth of the Celestial Gods and their Seven Heavens and also the casting into the earth of the Renegade Angel, Asmodeus if you wish, an thus the forming of the Nine Hells. 

This also "shifted" other planes/places far from the world, as high places on the other side of the world compared to Nine Hells and their entrance (which is instead directly under inhabited lands...) This wants to be a direct reference to Dante's Divina Commedia and its idea of Purgatorium being a mountain formed as a consequence of the "impact" that created the Hells, in the other side of the world. The equivalent of this Purgatorium should be in my vision the Twin Paradises, but only physically speaking: it's not a sad place. 

Some of the far places can also be fragmented, and they represent a perfect opportunity to introduce gravity-defying "floating earth motes", if they fit the style of the campaign.

The parallel planes (you can skip reading all of this safely!)

Here some explanations are in order too, but these are not at all needed for the comprehension of the whole cosmology, just details. You can skip all of this and maybe return to it later if you wish.
The fact is that I reorganized mainly the "functions" of these planes a bit.

The parallel plane mostly used for fast travel, is the Shadow Plane or Shadowfell, which for its function I prefer to call Shadow Web. It's like an infra-dimensional web that connects very far places. Teleportation, portals, and of course Shadow Walking function through this plane. 
It also contains some places in "pockets" or "folds", and they're not good places. Ravenloft figures among these, and all the Realms of Dread, like in 4th Edition. But also Tytherion, can be found (by accident, mostly, and it's a bad accident) inside the Shadow Web. And the Demonweb Pits of course. 
The Shadow Web itself is of course a pitch dark place you shouldn't want to travel into, if not to carefully using its shortcuts to material places. The shadowy undead and also some of the tormeted souls that were in Hades in the Second Age haunt the Shadow, and where and when the Shadow Web connects with the Material World due to some dark event or star alignment or simply because of profound darkness, these shadow creatures can spill into the world.
Note that since the Shadow Web was created in the First Age, probably also BY beings of the First Age, it is like a "highway to hell", or to the Abyss more appropriately. Shadow Demons in particular are the dangerous living proof of this link.
The origin of the Shadow Web is a mystery, but it is said that like all First Age planes, it "fell" after the first catastrophe. And since it's so much closer to the surface compared to other First Age planes, this would mean that originally, the Shadow Web was actually in the sky, or beyond... Who created it or why is one of the cool mysteries of this cosmology...

So one characteristic of the Shadowfell that I don't put in it is the actual "parallel" nature of it, the "dark mirror of the world", that makes you see a "fell" version of the material world. This is something I transfer to the Ethereal Plane. It is the realm of passage of dead souls in the Third Age (in the Second Age they passed through Hades which was actually the form that the Shadow Web had in that age, restricted to an underground place). And being the realm of souls, time is what changes here, more than space. Through the Ethereal plane, you can see (not always without magical means) the "fell" version of the material world. Its dead version. We could call it "Etherfell"...
For this and other strange properties, some things done in the Ethereal plane affect the Material World in strange ways, and vice versa. These are nearly always magical/mystical links, more than physical, but it's a cool thing to add to the game, that maybe, for example, some objects in a room could only be seen in the Ethereal Plane/State, but they could also be brought back into the Material, with some kind of clever trick or magic. It makes for interesting puzzles.
Note that in some way, and in particular for some destinations, the Ethereal Plane/State is also the way to go for travelling. The realms of the Celestial Gods can only be accessed from Ethereal, but word says that the actual portals one must cross wile Ethereal, to reach these realms, lie very deep into or beyond the Nine Hells. This is to add more of the Dante's voyage feeling. In general, the Ethereal State is also the best to travel into those deep places if one wants to be a little more safe from physical dangers. Although physical dangers are only a very small part of the dangers.
The origin of the Ethereal Plane is another mystery, but it's surely connected with the birth of the new, abstract, Celestial Gods, and the big impact that this had on the world. These gods are themselves ethereal, althgouh not in a way mortals could reach or understand. However, it's like the current state of evolution of Souls themselves. In the First Age there was no resting place for the souls, and undeath was commonplace. In the Second Age, they went to the Shadow, which had a stable place called Hades, ruled by the Primordial God of Death, although it is said that some where then allowed to reach Elysium. In the Third Age World, souls go ethereal, and travel then towards the Heavens or Hells.

The Feywild is the one I leave mostly unchanged, strengthening only its link with Primal Magic, and the Gods of Nature, which are Second Age gods as you'll see below.
Just as the Shadow Web was born in the First Age, and the Ethereal Plane in the Third Age, the Feywild is a product of the Second Age, and is commonly referred to as "The Dream of the Forest Gods".
The gods of the Second Age were mostly elemental, and those that were mostly "elementals of life", were commonly referred to as "Forest Gods". These gods are the "most alive of all beings", so their dreams are like second realities, which mortals that are connected to them can access freely, while others can access mostly by accident. Needless to say, elves and fairies are at home here. And links to the domains of other Second Age gods are here, with Arvandor being directly inside and hosting the actual Forest Gods (Eladrin, Court of Stars and so on).
A place that is not inside the Feywild, but actually "conatined" and "screened" by it is tthe Beastlands. I picture this plane as simply the most savage place of the world, containing the most dangerous beasts, robably due to a collateral effect of the Feywild. Think of it as the Feywild spilling into the world, and then trying to save the world from its effects. It's like an island of Material Plane inside a sea of Feywild (could even physically be like that in the case of the Isle of Dread..!), and of course the Feywild doesn't always conatin it, and/or not everywhere.
Final notes, the Feywild is basically the same but deprived of some functions, mainly the "fast lane to get to other planes", which is now a domain of the Shadowfell / Shadow Web, for every place but those directly linked with the Feywild. Arcane Magic is also not directly connected to it. It's simply "Wild Magic" when inside the Feywild, becomes more unpredictable. After all, you're casting magic inside the dreams of some god...

The Gods

The catastrophe between the Second and Third age that also created Hells and Heavens is also what makes places such as Nirvana and the other "Middle" planes so far. That is, they were nearer in the Second Age, and that's why it was a "golden age" for mortals: deities mingled with them much more. Now those are pantheons of old, and the distant Celestial Gods largely took their place and spawned the most widespread religions and organized churches. 

The gods of old remain though. and I envision each Age as having its generation of Gods and spawns of the gods. Primordials/Titans/Natural Spirits are all names for different gods of the Second Age, and the terrible "Elder Gods" are a broad group including all the demonic, aberrant, and utterly chaotic deities of the First Age.

So a last chart of classification is in order, to understand which gods are tied to what Age, what beings qualify as gods, and what creatures are connected to these beings.
Now the first list of planes that followed chronological order becomes more useful, because you can refer to that to know where these beings take residence, or at least where they hail from. Elder Gods more than any other type are likely to have moved from their original homes, since their sole objective is the destruction of the surface world... Note that I don't want to list ALL the possible deities, nor I'd enforce all the dieties I list with this comologies. They're basically examples: deities not listed here, you'll probably figure out yourself when/where they belong, by looking at these examples.

First Age Deities: the Elder Gods
  • Dagon
  • Demogorgon
  • Orcus
  • Blibdoolpoolp
  • Sekolah
  • Yeenoghu
  • Miska, the Wolf-Spider
  • Tiamat
  • Zehir
  • The World Serpent / The Night Serpent
  • Shaar
  • Zuggtmoy
  • Pazuzu
  • Obox-ob
Note - Demons, aberrations, and all kinds of chaotic messy creatures are directly or not spawns of these Elder Gods. The classic races worshiping most of them are the only dominant intelligent races of the First Age, surviving into later ages only as pale and ruined shadows of what they once were: all the reptilian and aquatic humanoids like Lizardfolk, Yuan-Ti, Troglodytes, Kuo-Toa, Locatah and then some other evil ones like Gnolls, aberrants like Mind Flayers and Beholders, and then insectoid and fungal humanoids and not. All of these are the peoples of the First Age, and of the Underworld of the later ages of course. I never wanted to establish if they are creations of the Elder Gods, or if they created them in some obscure way, or if they simply became associated. Those are mysteries, and up to the specific setting and DM's decisions.

Second Age Deities: the Titan/Primordial Gods
  • Moradin
  • Kord
  • Corellon / Seldarine / Fey pantheon (Forest Gods)
  • Obad-hai / Melora (also Forest Gods)
  • Selune
  • Baphomet-Bacchus-Dionysus (an experiment: I'd like a kind of trickster and "orgiastic god", that also has a bestial side. Creator of minotaurs, satyrs, beastmen. Could be a First Age god that "switched sides")
  • Hades / Nerull / Raven Queen
  • Io / Bahamut
  • (classical Greek pantheon)
  • (classical Norse pantheon)
  • (elemental titans/primordials)
  • Gruumsh / orcish deities
Note - In their time, they were simply "the gods". "Primordials" is a term invented later to distinguish them from the Celestial Gods deemed "true gods", and "Titan Gods" was again a later invention, because of the association between Titans and Giants and these gods (they were spawns of these gods just like demons and aberrations were spawns of the Elder Gods).
Eladrin and Archons (both the elemental ones and the celestial-animalesque ones) are also spawns of this generation of deities.

Third Age Deities: the Celestial/Ethereal Gods
  • Heironeus
  • St. Cuthbert
  • Wee Jas
  • Boccob
  • Pelor
  • Tymora
  • Bane / Hextor
  • Olidammara
  • (Asmodeus)
  • Helm
  • Torm
  • (most greater deities either once having been mortals, or too abstract in nature or domains)
Note - Angels and devils of course are the spawns here.

So believe it or not, here ends my "summarized" dissertations on my version of the #5eplanes, also called World of Cthon. You can read details in my posts tagged Cthon, that only go up to the Second Age as of now, with the First Age being the only one fully detailed.

I hope I wasn't too boring, and I hope you can see the utility of this strange cosmology: it allows to play campaigns of the "infinite dungeon style", in which the deeper you go underground  the most dangerous and truly "planar" places you visit. It also allows things like travelling on flying mounts towards the domains of the ancient gods, and doing Dante-like ethereal voyages of descent into hell and then ascent into paradise, all without leaving the comfort of a single planet/plane, in standard D&D terms.

I called World of Cthon like this, using the greek word for earth/underground, for this reason: it puts an entire cosmology all in the insides and surface of the Earth.