Friday, September 27, 2013

Times, Not Planes (A Notion for Campaign Cosmos Building)

This morning, I spent a few moments reading THIS POST. Go on. Click it. Don't be afraid.

This is the multiverse. It's a straight line and the Prime Material is Now. Have fun!

It's a nice little exploration into time, and it got me thinking.

In the traditional D&D cosmos, we have a Material Plane (both Prime and Alternate, of course), Elemental Planes, Astral Planes, etc. While reading the above linked post, the bit about the hell hole Earth used to be - asteroids, volcanoes, magma and such - got me thinking about the Elemental Plane of Fire. I guess really it sounds more like the Para-Elemental (or is it Quasi-Elemental? Dang you Gygax!) Plane of Magma. Either way, it made me think about a system whereby there are no alternate planes, just alternate times.

Plane shifting is actually time shifting, and everyone who is anyone throughout the history of the cosmos wants to get in on the here and now (i.e. the current campaign you're running) because it's super bitchin' and has stuff like assassins, manticores, coffee, magic swords and polymorph self.

So those fire (and magma, and lava and whatever) elementals do not come from the Plane of Fire, they come from many millions of years ago, representing the dominant life forms on Planet X (or whatever you choose to call the place where fighters slay dragons and thieves remove traps in your campaign) when it was just a ball of hot rock beset by asteroids and volcanoes. Water elementals and their ilk come from a more recent past, when the planet was covered by oceans and the only annoying material lifeforms they had to contend with were microbes (ah, the good old days).  When a magic-user conjures them, he is plucking them from their own time and dropping them against their will into the here and now.

Metron or Planetar?
With this system, you replace the idea of demons/devils/angels/demodands/daemons (need I go on) with weird alien creatures from the distant past and distant future. Entities of Pure Chaos (i.e. the slaad) hail from that rainbow period before the Big Bang. The entities of Pure Law dwell at the end of the universe, when heat is gone and there is no change or movement. What dwells in the periods between is up to you. Maybe demons come from the period just after the Big Bang. Maybe solars/planetars/devas are the enlightened future of humanity, their powers derived from genetic manipulation and nanobots rather than magic as magic-users understand it. Just dress them up like the super-advanced aliens from Star Trek and go to town ("Ah, you primitive humans are so violent. To show our enlightened superiority to you, we will pit you against each other in a fight to the death rather than sit down and explain things to you because we're so amazingly advanced." Never made sense to me. The whole "humans are ultra-violent and deadly" thing seems a little off as well, when you consider our species has gone from a population of 2 to 7,000,000,000 ...). Heck, just gating in a mecha to fight an air elemental (that hails from the time of the gas cloud that precedes the creation of the Solar System, of course) could make the whole concept worth while.

It could make for an interesting variation for your campaign. If you keep the secret of the universe from your players (and they don't read this post) it might be enjoyable for them to slowly piece it all together and, if they become high enough level, to try to bend the system to their advantage. It also gives entities from the recent future/past a reason to be messing with their recent past/future, as they seek to bend the system to their own advantage, with the hapless PC's caught in the middle.

Something to consider.


  1. This is a marvelous idea theoretically which I really ought to steal, but I feel like your example of implementation is backwards -- at least if the intent is to conceal advanced futuristic technology behind the appearance of magic, a la Clarke's Third Law.

    In modern physics, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics guarantees that entropy increases as a function of time. Since entropy is associated more with chaos than with law, that would put chaotic beings in the distant future and lawful beings in the past. That also suggests a grimmer destiny for the universe, with chaos ultimately triumphant. Granted, "universal heat death" isn't exactly what most fantasy writers would depict as a victory for the forces of chaos.

    In fact, now that I reflect on it, the idea that what science calls "order" looks so much like what popular imagination would regard as "disorder" (and vice versa) that it's curious that the same vocabulary is used for both.

    1. Maybe have it be an arc? The universe begins in Chaos, slowly becomes more ordered (and Lawful) and then decays into Chaos again. So you have Chaotic entities from both the distant past and distant future, and Lawful entities from the "middle" period.


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