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Thread: Planar Cosmology

  1. #1
    Ed Zachary Guest
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    Planar Cosmology

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    All players will eventually want to adventure on another plane. Chances are many DMs and players have had the same experiences that I did early on. The DM wasn't ready with all the rules, and didn't have ready answers for all the players' questions. Rules were vague, and changed often. Eventually we got together as a group and came to an agreement on a coherent and simplified set of rules (we alternated between four DMs).

    No two games are likely to interpret the vague rules in the same way, and I'd be willing to bet that no other DM interprets the planes as I do. After about 20 years of play and as DM I probably asked and got hit with 90% of the possible questions regarding what's there, and what can and can't be done. If a plane existed, as a group we went there. So that led me to limit the number of planes, and to well define those that did exist.

    I'm curious... how to other DM and players visualize the planes?

    What do like or dislike about what you've seen?

    What house rules have you adopted?
    Last edited by Ed Zachary; 03-12-2007 at 04:43 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Zachary View Post
    I'm curious... how to other DM and players visualize the planes?
    Demi-planes aside, I pretty much use the core 3rd edition D&D cosmology and extrapolate the missing pieces based on the environments presented. I've had a lot of fun running planar games. It definitely adds some spice. In fact, my current campaign is almost entirely set in the Nine Planes of Hell.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Zachary View Post
    I'm curious... how to other DM and players visualize the planes?
    Planes serve the story. If we are traveling off-plane there has to be a reason for it and my conceptualization and presentation of those strange realms depend on those reasons. Really, its as simple as that.

    Gary

  4. #4
    Ed Zachary Guest
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    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    Planes serve the story. If we are traveling off-plane there has to be a reason for it and my conceptualization and presentation of those strange realms depend on those reasons. Really, its as simple as that.
    I respectfully disagree.

    When a DM challenges their players with a tough situation, they need a strong familiarity with the rules so they can make the best decisions for their characters in real time, without the do-overs because they didn't understand the rules, or the constant barrage of questions.

    Some of the best role-playing happens when characters are placed under stress, and there are quick exchanges between the players and the DM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Zachary View Post
    I respectfully disagree.

    When a DM challenges their players with a tough situation, they need a strong familiarity with the rules so they can make the best decisions for their characters in real time, without the do-overs because they didn't understand the rules, or the constant barrage of questions.

    Some of the best role-playing happens when characters are placed under stress, and there are quick exchanges between the players and the DM.
    You know, I've read this three times now and I can't figure what it has to do with planar cosmology or what you are respectfully disagreeing about.

    Care to elaborate?

    Gary

  6. #6
    Ed Zachary Guest
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    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    Planes serve the story. If we are traveling off-plane there has to be a reason for it and my conceptualization and presentation of those strange realms depend on those reasons. Really, its as simple as that.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Zachary View Post
    I respectfully disagree.

    When a DM challenges their players with a tough situation, they need a strong familiarity with the rules so they can make the best decisions for their characters in real time, without the do-overs because they didn't understand the rules, or the constant barrage of questions.

    Some of the best role-playing happens when characters are placed under stress, and there are quick exchanges between the players and the DM.
    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    You know, I've read this three times now and I can't figure what it has to do with planar cosmology or what you are respectfully disagreeing about. Care to elaborate?
    Sure... If I read your first post correctly, you are saying that the details of planar cosmology rules are not very important. Do I have that part correct?

    My initial post made the claim that there were many details of running a campaign on the various planes were lacking in the core rule books (all editions), and that left each DM to fill in the blanks as they saw fit. And because of that I was asking those here what are some of the ways they filled in the blanks blanks, and what they liked and didn't like about campaigns that visit the planes.

    So that brought me to my response to what I believe you were saying (see above). My objection was based on my belief that consistent and established rules were important, because they helped the game flow along. And when the game flows smoother without constant rules interpretation sessions, that better role playing happens.

    Have I made myself clear?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Zachary View Post
    Sure... If I read your first post correctly, you are saying that the details of planar cosmology rules are not very important. Do I have that part correct?
    That's not my reading of his post, so we may have different conclusions here. I read his initial post as saying that the rules should be used to create dramatic situations for the characters rather than being used as ends unto themselves.
    I have a tendency to toss the rules a bit when they aren't producing the results I want for a game.

    Also here, I'm feeling unsure what you mean by rules exactly. For example, if you're talking about the relationships of various dimensions to each other, that's one thing because it's a story impacting cosmological facet of the setting. On the other hand if you're referring to some chart or another like "random encounters in the Outer Planes," that's among the very first things I would simply toss out. I NEVER have random encounters of any kind, every encounter is either story relevant or a game "diversion," that is fun for its own sake.

    So, what sort of rules do you mean?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Zachary View Post
    Sure... If I read your first post correctly, you are saying that the details of planar cosmology rules are not very important. Do I have that part correct?

    My initial post made the claim that there were many details of running a campaign on the various planes were lacking in the core rule books (all editions), and that left each DM to fill in the blanks as they saw fit. And because of that I was asking those here what are some of the ways they filled in the blanks blanks, and what they liked and didn't like about campaigns that visit the planes.

    So that brought me to my response to what I believe you were saying (see above). My objection was based on my belief that consistent and established rules were important, because they helped the game flow along. And when the game flows smoother without constant rules interpretation sessions, that better role playing happens.

    Have I made myself clear?
    Ah. First of all, your initial presented position is a straw man. I said no such thing. Details could be very important if they serve the story.

    Consistent and established rules for planar cosmology might very well help certain sort of campaigns. For example, if your campaign was the story of a group of plane-hopping justicars whose duty it was to protect cross-dimensional peace, then establishing how planes work is almost certainly a good idea. The story demands the PCs know.

    If on the other hand, your story is a tale about people trying to find their way home after a freak dimensional rift swallowed them up, then a strong sense of mystery about planar cosmology that slowly melts away as the PCs discover the true nature of the universe could be very cool indeed.

    More likely, a story will not focus on the planes and instead a cross-planar jaunt will be a side story. A complex cosmology that you spend a lot of time explaining will probably just be distracting, so the less said the better. We've come to Hell to retrieve the Thrice Cursed Star of Al-hambra called the Mad. It lies in the the iron fortress of Duke Dispater, contained within the treasure vault at the fortress's heart, said by sages to be impenetrable and inescapable. That's all we need to know!

    In my own games, I'll admit a preference for mystery. Hard and fast planar cosmology is often quite boring. Lengthy essays on the difference between the elemental plane of fire and the paraelemental plane of magma aren't exactly scintillating reading. Of the published D&D worlds, I actually think Eberron with its swinging spheres and countless conjuctions has the most intriguing cosmology.

    But hey all of these are just guidelines and opinion. Ultimately, any campaign you run is your story and you must make it your own. If your players enjoy complicated charts that explore the semi-quasi-demi-paraelemental plane of tossed salads without croutons, then you go.

    Gary

  9. #9
    Ed Zachary Guest
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhishStyx View Post
    That's not my reading of his post, so we may have different conclusions here. I read his initial post as saying that the rules should be used to create dramatic situations for the characters rather than being used as ends unto themselves.
    What I mean by the rules, is how things work on other planes. Left to our own imaginations, we will all envision a different way they work. That's why it's important that the DM state them clearly, and to take input from the players. What I'm talking about is moving in a plane, shifting back and forth, light, gravity, air, temperature, environment, how spells work, summoning, risks, etc.

    I remember a trip to the Elemental Plane of Air. Myself and two others had a means of flying, but one character didn't. He just floated in the air without being able to move. One character placed a Potion of Flying 20 feet away from him. He eventually achieved a movement rate of 1 by directionally inhaling and exhaling, then he finally arrived at the potion.

    But Air was simple, more thought had to go into Water, Earth and Fire, and the various Outer Planes.

    Quote Originally Posted by PhishStyx View Post
    I have a tendency to toss the rules a bit when they aren't producing the results I want for a game.
    Same here, the better DMs I know all made their own interpretations of some of the rules. Over my many years of playing, the worst DMs were those that insisted on rule purity as stated in the book, and left no room for player suggestion. About a year ago I left one campaign for that very reason.

    Quote Originally Posted by PhishStyx View Post
    Also here, I'm feeling unsure what you mean by rules exactly. For example, if you're talking about the relationships of various dimensions to each other, that's one thing because it's a story impacting cosmological facet of the setting.
    That is an important part too. Like Farcaster, I don't use the Para-Elemental planes. I use the Plane of Shadow as the boundary between the Prime and Ethereal planes. The six planes in the Ethereal family are Air, Water, Earth, Fire, Positive and Negative. That includes all I need, and it's manageable.

    I've also made the family of Astral planes much simpler. There is the base Astral plane (infinite) of Concordia, Celestia (infinite) with seven progressive layers, and the Abysmal planes. The 'abysmal planes' are an infinite number (666?) of pocket (finite) planes, some with multiple layers like the Nine Hells. Mechanus and Limbo are pocket planes, as are Hades, Gehanna, Tarterus, etc. That has worked well for me (simple, functional, complete), and was adopted by a few other DMs.

    Quote Originally Posted by PhishStyx View Post
    On the other hand if you're referring to some chart or another like "random encounters in the Outer Planes," that's among the very first things I would simply toss out. I NEVER have random encounters of any kind, every encounter is either story relevant or a game "diversion," that is fun for its own sake.
    The random encounter tables are just the start of a suggestion list for planned encounters.
    Last edited by Ed Zachary; 03-14-2007 at 02:58 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Zachary View Post
    What I'm talking about is moving in a plane, shifting back and forth, light, gravity, air, temperature, environment, how spells work, summoning, risks, etc.
    The Manual of the Planes gives a pretty decent summary look at all of the planes and provides a frameset for how magic, gravity and time work in each of the planes. As to the topology and detailed ecology of the plane itself, you are largely on your own. If you can get your hands on it, I also highly recommend the 2nd edition Planescape material.

    The random encounter tables are just the start of a suggestion list for planned encounters.
    I'm with you. I abandoned the notion of random encounters in my games a long time ago. I follow the same principles that you find in writing fiction--if it does not advance the story in some way, it doesn't belong.
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  11. #11
    Ed Zachary Guest
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    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    Ah. First of all, your initial presented position is a straw man. I said no such thing. Details could be very important if they serve the story.
    I apologize if I misunderstood your point. Survival has always been one detail that should never be overlooked.

    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    Consistent and established rules for planar cosmology might very well help certain sort of campaigns. For example, if your campaign was the story of a group of plane-hopping justicars whose duty it was to protect cross-dimensional peace, then establishing how planes work is almost certainly a good idea. The story demands the PCs know.
    Astral, Ethereal and Elemental cities seem to have always played some role in most of my campaigns. We have also sided with many a Demon or Devil in their battles with others of their kind.

    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    If on the other hand, your story is a tale about people trying to find their way home after a freak dimensional rift swallowed them up, then a strong sense of mystery about planar cosmology that slowly melts away as the PCs discover the true nature of the universe could be very cool indeed.
    That did happen once on the Ethereal plane, only because our spell casters had died and we had no other means back. We eventually found a high level Priest (Necromancer) in a large city. He raised our two spell casters for a modest fee, then offered to open a Gate for us if we agreed to deliver a message for him. The two raised players kept the secret that their characters were possessed by Ghosts, and we were being led into a trap. Later on we were imprisoned, and compelled to help the minions of that evil Necromancer take over a city for our freedom. On character had a forced alignment change from N-Good to true Neutral.

    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    More likely, a story will not focus on the planes and instead a cross-planar jaunt will be a side story. A complex cosmology that you spend a lot of time explaining will probably just be distracting, so the less said the better. We've come to Hell to retrieve the Thrice Cursed Star of Al-hambra called the Mad. It lies in the the iron fortress of Duke Dispater, contained within the treasure vault at the fortress's heart, said by sages to be impenetrable and inescapable. That's all we need to know!
    Unless of course the party gets its butt kicked (a likely outcome), and they need to make a hasty retreat back home under duress. In my experiences the players didn't alway win, so a good retreat plan was always a necessity! As a player, our characters had to be able to plan for this. Just ass-u-ming that we got back safely would leave us trapped or worse.

    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    In my own games, I'll admit a preference for mystery. Hard and fast planar cosmology is often quite boring. Lengthy essays on the difference between the elemental plane of fire and the paraelemental plane of magma aren't exactly scintillating reading. Of the published D&D worlds, I actually think Eberron with its swinging spheres and countless conjuctions has the most intriguing cosmology.
    I haven't read Eberron, but I don't believe that I will like the addition of technology to the game. I am an engineer by degree and work in manufacturing. A big part of the attraction of D&D for me is the avoidance of machines and technobabble.

    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    But hey all of these are just guidelines and opinion. Ultimately, any campaign you run is your story and you must make it your own. If your players enjoy complicated charts that explore the semi-quasi-demi-paraelemental plane of tossed salads without croutons, then you go.
    "complicated charts" and "semi-quasi-demi-paraelemental plane" ?????

    If you read what I have written, it's all about simplifying the rules and making sure that the DM and all players are on the same page. In many all of my campaigns my characters have been severely challenged, and I did the same thing as a DM. When a party didn't understand what it was doing, the likely outcome was often character capture or death.
    Last edited by Ed Zachary; 03-14-2007 at 03:08 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Zachary View Post
    What I mean by the rules, is how things work on other planes. Left to our own imaginations, we will all envision a different way they work. That's why it's important that the DM state them clearly, and to take input from the players. What I'm talking about is moving in a plane, shifting back and forth, light, gravity, air, temperature, environment, how spells work, summoning, risks, etc.
    Well yes, the GM should definitely plan that kind of thing out prior to the game, but if I, as a GM, can't do that, I need to find another hobby or not GM.


    I remember a trip to the Elemental Plane of Air. Myself and two others had a means of flying, but one character didn't. He just floated in the air without being able to move. One character placed a Potion of Flying 20 feet away from him. He eventually achieved a movement rate of 1 by directionally inhaling and exhaling, then he finally arrived at the potion.
    I would strongly consider walking away from that game, not because I think the players shouldn't encounter problems, but because the problems should be interesting and worthwhile rather than take up game time with inhale/exhale locomotion issues. Of course, that problem is just a puzzle, but it needs to be a vaguely interesting puzzle and have some relevance to the larger situation.

    The random encounter tables are just the start of a suggestion list for planned encounters.
    I mentioned in another thread that I was in an awful RPGA game where the DM insisted that 3 wolves were going to attack a party of 9 clanking metal covered humans because it said so in his random encounter chart, and my incredible irritation when I asked him why, he responded with "because it says so in my chart." I have no desire to play with a group that creates that kind of atmosphere about its game play style.
    Last edited by PhishStyx; 03-14-2007 at 07:30 PM. Reason: a little clarity, a little bit of forgotten text. My apologies to readers

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    I mentioned in another thread that I was in an awful RPGA game where the DM insisted that 3 wolves were going to attack a clanking part of 9 humans because it said so in his random encounter chart, and my incredible irritation when I asked him why, he responded with "because it says so in my chart." I have no desire to play with a group that creates that kind of atmosphere about its game play style.
    See, my feeling on that is that if you are going to use the encounter chart, it doesn't necessarily need to be synonymous with combat. Perhaps the party happens upon the area where the three wolves prowl, but other than hearing howls or perhaps catching a glimpse of them in the woods, nothing else happens. Or, perhaps the party stumbles upon the wolves in the midst of attacking a small child and they must rescue the child quickly by running the wolves off before they tear the child apart.

    A number of possibilities come to mind. But, having the wolves mindlessly attack a large group of people, unless the wolves are starved out of their mind, makes little sense. It would make more sense to me that they would hang back and wait for an opportunity to take out the apparent weakest, most injured, etc.
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    Parallel Material Planes

    Bringing the discussion back to multiple planes, I'm thinking of a campaign that involves multiple parallel prime material planes, sort of a cross between Moorcock's multiverse, H. P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands, and maybe a smidge of GURPS "Infinite Worlds". (Less "what if Queen Victoria died in childbirth", more "what if dinosaurs became the dominant sapients" or "what would a faerie realm look like".)

    I'm looking for some weird physics to throw into the mix, for some of the more exotic worlds. Does the Manual of Planes cover constructing new planes, or is it all about the standard D&D planes?
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Farcaster View Post
    See, my feeling on that is that if you are going to use the encounter chart, it doesn't necessarily need to be synonymous with combat. Perhaps the party happens upon the area where the three wolves prowl, but other than hearing howls or perhaps catching a glimpse of them in the woods, nothing else happens. Or, perhaps the party stumbles upon the wolves in the midst of attacking a small child and they must rescue the child quickly by running the wolves off before they tear the child apart.

    A number of possibilities come to mind. But, having the wolves mindlessly attack a large group of people, unless the wolves are starved out of their mind, makes little sense. It would make more sense to me that they would hang back and wait for an opportunity to take out the apparent weakest, most injured, etc.
    EXACTLY!!

    There could be lots of different ways to use a wolf pack encounter, many of which create game enhancing story line to work into the game. His was, "3 wolves see you and charge!" It's the kind of thing that makes me want to go find a different game to play.

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