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Dungeons & Dragons: Cosmology

Published by Deer Lord in the blog Deer Lord's blog. Views: 287

In this entry I'll talk about the cosmology of D&D, which is somewhat of a weird issue
like before, I'll leave a tl;dr at the end for the lazy folk.
Okay, a few basic term that I should get out of the way before doing this:

Planes of Existence= a self contained space-time construct. Usually of infinite size. Basically a universe.

Demiplanes= work like normal Planes but are typically of finite size and often contained within other planes.

Divine Domain/Realm= a plane, or a demiplane under the absolute control of a deity. For weaker deities they often have realms within larger planes. But the strongest deities can have entire planes as their realms.

now, standard D&D cosmology often has these components in it:

The Prime Material Plane: This is the world of the living, where "Earth" (however its called within the setting) is located. Its equivalent to our universe essentially.

Transitive Planes: Planes that run in parallel to the material plane and can be accessed through magic. Such are the Plane of Shadows, the Astral plane, the Etheral plane and as of 4e the Feywild.

Inner planes: also known as the Elemental planes, each one dominated by a certain element.
Typically these were the planes of Water, Fire, Earth, Air and Positive/Negative energy.
Creatures from these planes are dubbed Elementals.

Outer Planes: Various otherworldly domains that, in classic D&D represented various alignments such as good/evil and law/chaos. Heaven, Hell, the Abyss and many others count among them.
Creatures from these planes are dubbed Outsiders.

The Far Realm: a place outside the multiverse, hypothesized to possibly be another multiverse with its own laws of nature. This is where eldritch abominations dwell.

These terms are mainly taken from Great Wheel module of the cosmos (on that later)
there are other models and of course the mess that is 4th edition.

But the main issue I want to bring up is the question: "Just how big is D&D verse?"
and this is were we run into contradictions.

The 5th edition sourcebooks paint the same picture that the Spelljammer setting is based on.
According to those, all the various worlds in D&D like Toril (Forgotten Realms), Oerth (Greyhawk), Krynn (Dragonlance), etc. are all part of the same Prime Material plane with the other planes of existence surrounding it. Suggesting that D&D is one multiverse.

This is actually immediately contradicted in the very same book where the following is stated:
- Player's Handbook (5e)

This, and other sources suggests that there are countless alternate Material planes in which various settings take place, surrounded by the other planes of realty as established.

The problem with this explanation is that we run into a lot of contradictions.
If there is one multiverse containing a single or infinite material planes then surely the outer planar beings are the same across all setting due to being just one of them, right? no.
Characters such as Asmodeus or Lolth have different backstories from different settings, in the case of the latter authors have outright said Core and FR versions of her are separate.

And of course, the most glaring contradiction. If D&D is a single multiverse, then why does each setting has its own cosmology, often with different plains and gods to rule them?

I'll expand on this now by giving examples.

Let's start by reviewing the core setting and then compare it to other settings.

Up to 3rd edition, as I mentioned in my previous blog, core setting was basically the Greyhawk setting and it used the "Great Wheel" model for cosmology:

- from 3.5e DM Guide

As you can see, in the center we have the prime and transitive planes, around them the elemental planes and on the outer rim of the wheel the outer planes.

In 4th edition, core (AKA the points of light setting) adopted a new model, the World Axis:

- from 4e Manual of the planes

In this model, we have the material and its parallel planes. above is the astral sea and its dominions (a replacement to the outer planes) and below the elemental chaos (the elemental planes+limbo).

And finally, 5th edition reverts back and gives us the Great Wheel 2.0

- from 5e Player's Handbook

How about specific settings, hmm?
Well greyhawk hasn't changed from the great wheel model like Core did.

Let's look at Forgotten Realms.
Prior to 3rd edition, forgotten realms used the great wheel standard model.
However, they made their own model of the multiverse in 3rd edition called 'The World Tree'

- from the 'Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting' for 3e

Here we see the material and transitive plains for the trunk of the world tree, with the elemental planes at its roots and outer planes as its branches. Note that most of these planes are different/absent from previous models.

Following the transit to 4th edition, Forgotten Realms changed to the World Axis model

Not an official map, but it illustrates the locations of various domains that exist within the Forgotten Realms (From the 4e Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide) and not within the core setting (as the Manual of the Planes describes).

Following the Second Sundering, Abier and Toril are once again separate and the Cosmos was re-arranged into the new Great Wheel, thus making FR multiverse similar to Core 5e's multiverse.

Now looking at Eberron.
This is the model for 3rd edition:

As you can see, very different then the other 3rd edition models.

In 4th edition, they adopted something similar to the World Axis, but as you can see, it is still pretty different than core, with a different number of planes and such:

Like FR, this is the latest official model for Eberron.

Finally, let's have a look at the world of Krynn from the Dragonlance setting (and we'll end it at that since I can only go over so many settings...)
The last official one is the 3rd edition model, which is quite different than what we've seen thus far

- from the Dragonlance Campaign setting for 3e

This is reminiscent of the great wheel, but more like a sphere of overlapping planes.
And of course the number and names of the planes is different.

By now I'm sure you've noticed that no two settings look the same, not even in the same edition.
So with all these discrepancies how can D&D be a single multiverse? well, it can't.

The best explanation I can give you is that each setting is its own local multiverse within the larger and infinite multiverse of D&D (or megaverse, if you will) having its own structure, planes and deities, with there existing multiple parallel versions of certain characters between settings.
All of these settings are however, still connected (likely all material planes are connected in some way) and travel between them is possible through certain means.

Each campaign setting in D&D is its own self contained multiverse with its own continuity. All of which exist within the larger world of D&D, but are still connected as to allow travel between them.

In the next blog I'll talk about the great powers of the multiverse.
  • Zeromaru X
  • Deer Lord
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