Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The OD&D Planes

Serendipity seems to strike a lot in the blogging world, with lots of people riffing off the same basic themes and making many similar posts. Over at Demons & Dragons, Jarl Frå Oslo posted an image I'd just seen yesterday as I was re-reading early issues of The Strategic Review. It's from an article by Gary Gygax in issue 6 called "The Meaning of Law and Chaos in Dungeons & Dragons and their Relationships to Good and Evil." It's a very fascinating article, because it's a glimpse into Gary's mind as he's expanding the threefold alignment structure of OD&D into the fivefold structure we see in Holmes.

Even more interesting, from a historical point of view if no other, is the aforementioned image, which doubles as an alignment graph and a map of the planes as Gary then conceived of them.

Notice the names: Heaven (not "Seven Heavens"), Paradise (not "Twin Paradises"), Elysium, Limbo, the Abyss, Hades, Hell (not "Nine Hells"), and Nirvana. There is also no plane associated with Neutrality, which is telling, I think. Notice too the beings listed as exemplars of the four cardinal alignments: Saint, Godling, Demon, and Devil. (What exactly a "godling" is I do not know, but I have some guesses)

I hope I'm not alone in thinking that this simplified structure, reminiscent of the more convoluted version we get in AD&D, is just keen. Like many aspects of OD&D + Supplements, I find that the end result is a kind of proto-AD&D or "AD&D Lite," and that's exactly the vibe I want in my games. In looking at this illustration, I was reminded of the planar structure Paizo adopted for its Golarion setting, which is eerily similar. Knowing Erik Mona's love for the old school, I'd not be the least bit surprised if this article was an inspiration when he and his crew were designing Golarion, but I have no proof of that. Even if it wasn't, I'm tickled to see some commonality between a 30 year-old article and contemporary game design. That doesn't happen everyday, alas.

16 comments:

  1. This article (and many more later) is indeed great. When I look at this brilliant idea nowadays, twisted, ruined in 4E it's... Nah, I don't wanna swear at WotC - it's Xmas! :)

    I wonder when precisely Gygax decided to place in it Dante Alighieri's Nine Hells and Seven Heavens

    ReplyDelete
  2. I always liked the idea of the "main" outer planes being those of Order (law), Balance (neutral), and Chaos (chaotic).

    And then just an infinite number of "demi-planes" containing any old weird things I feel like.

    AD&D had too much plane inflation for me. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I wonder when precisely Gygax decided to place in it Dante Alighieri's Nine Hells and Seven Heavens

    My poorly informed guess would be that since Dante had developed the levels of Heaven and Hell into distinct landscapes, this would make an easy translation into different "dungeons". Plus, it gave a little more gravitas to base it off existing literary references that could be used as source material--rather than more abstract concepts.

    ReplyDelete
  4. When I look at this brilliant idea nowadays, twisted, ruined in 4E it's... Nah, I don't wanna swear at WotC - it's Xmas!

    Aw c'mon! I have to give credit to 4e for the idea of the astral sea. This idea that all of the planes are pockets of different realities bobbing in the endless seas of planar reality really appeals to me. It even works with the variable planar cosmology laid out on this post.

    That and I can see the Gith transformed into the pirates or vikings of the outer planes, roaming in giant ships looking for trouble, just like the PCs. :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. AD&D had too much plane inflation for me. :)

    I generally think so as well, mostly because some of the planes owe their existence solely to fill out a space on a schema and had little to no flavor of their own.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Dan Proctor of Labyrinth Lord fame published a really good PDF in his Scribe of Orcus series called "Demons and the Planes in Labyrinth Lord" that I think is a really excellent take on the subject for most any type of "three-alignment" D&D.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I never much cared for any of the D&D alignment schemes. And really loath their 2nd order contrivances. Such as alignment languages, alignment based planes, alignment based gods, detect/protect vs alignment magic, and silly character alignment requirements.

    Dead people go to the underworld, or Valhalla, or whatever. Gods live on Olympus, in the center of hollow earth, or on another planet. Elemental planes, yeah probably. Astral (aka Hyperspace btw) or the Ethereal don't need both.

    The "Demons and the Planes in Labyrinth Lord" link for the curious - http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=56347&filters=0_0_31807

    ReplyDelete
  8. I' figure the "godlings" could be low order demigods like Hercules.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Other great thing about this for me, is it fits in my "7+/-2" requirement. (People being able to comfortably consider only 5-9 items max mentally in any category).

    Here you have 5 alignments and 8 different planes, which is perfect.

    In AD&D you have 9 different alignments (itself borderline burdensome), and 17 outer planes (which is simply far too many).

    http://deltasdnd.blogspot.com/2007/04/magic-number-seven.html

    ReplyDelete
  10. jsemaj wrote: "I figure the 'godlings' could be low order demigods like Hercules."

    My guess is it's more likely proto-deities of primordial chaos, mainly the Titans (or Gigantes) who appear as CG in AD&D.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'm inclined to suggest that, if this was coming out at a time that EGG's vision of D&D was expanding to encompass what would come in Deities & Demigods, then 'godlings' might be his term for the powerful, but not "truly divine" entities who are referred to as gods by mortals. Again, rank speculation: it may be that he intended to retain the overall monotheistic church, as discussed in the previous post, but with the pagan deities present and venerated, only classified as godlings to distinguish them from the 'true' godhead. It may be that he originally intended to use such terminology consistently and only came to change his mind later.

    Part of what leads me to this is the parallel case of Jack Kirby's work on the super-hero Thor. An article I read long ago (no recollection of where I found it now, sorry) claimed that Kirby took his Jewish faith fairly seriously, much as EGG seems to have taken his own faith, but that he considered creating fantasy stories about pagan gods in a modern world to be perfectly okay. Part of the reason for this, it was argued, was that even in the original Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. the Old Testament) the references made to foreign gods don't present them as empty lies or as demons claiming divinity, but rather as actual gods - but gods with no real power compared to the God of Abraham, god who did not themselves fashion the heavens and the earth - in short, godlings.

    The first version of D&D I played was the black box version (also referred to sometimes as the "Challenger edition"). In this version, the cleric is described as being dedicated to a great cause, usually his or her alignment. I believe it was the Rules Cyclopedia that expanded this description to include venerating Immortals, which were described as powerful beings, like superheroes, who were themselves the greatest champions of the alignments. Naturally, this is all very late entry into D&D, but it has always informed the way I approach the class. In my world-building, I have experimented with both atheistic worlds where immortal super-heroes are not so much worshipped as revered, and also with worlds where clerics and faiths don't necessarily intersect. My current project draws a lot on the ideas discussed in this blog as well as older sword & sorcery stories, not to mention the comic books that were so popular in the 70s. Thus, various cults may worship various "gods," which may have no reality whatsoever, or may be alien demons or giant spiders or immortal sorcerers - or actual godlings that fall somewhere between BECMI's Immortals and 1e's Deities & Demigods.

    On a related note: Inspired by the discussion of the 'pulp cleric' in this blog, I've revised the class into what I refer to as "the Adept," which I present as a kind of mystic who casts spells by attuning himself with the forces of the cosmos. These Adepts are often members of priesthoods or other such organizations - my intent being that they could be traditional Clerics, druids, dervishes, fakirs, lamas, or sinister mystics akin to those in RE Howard's "People of the Black Circle." I find it a broader class, more equal to the exceptionally broad categories of "Fighting Man" and "Magic User" than the original cleric ever was - and really, I've changed nothing but flavor text to achieve the effect.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I' figure the "godlings" could be low order demigods like Hercules.

    That was my take on it as well, especially given their association with a plane called Elysium.

    ReplyDelete
  13. My guess is it's more likely proto-deities of primordial chaos, mainly the Titans (or Gigantes) who appear as CG in AD&D.

    That's also a possibility. Hmm.

    ReplyDelete
  14. On a related note: Inspired by the discussion of the 'pulp cleric' in this blog, I've revised the class into what I refer to as "the Adept," which I present as a kind of mystic who casts spells by attuning himself with the forces of the cosmos. These Adepts are often members of priesthoods or other such organizations - my intent being that they could be traditional Clerics, druids, dervishes, fakirs, lamas, or sinister mystics akin to those in RE Howard's "People of the Black Circle." I find it a broader class, more equal to the exceptionally broad categories of "Fighting Man" and "Magic User" than the original cleric ever was - and really, I've changed nothing but flavor text to achieve the effect.

    That sounds terrific. I'd love to see what you did.

    ReplyDelete
  15. That sounds terrific. I'd love to see what you did.
    Honestly, not much. I wrote some new flavor text and monkeyed around a little with the Experience Required chart in my S&W document, so that I can run adepts either as martial mystics as per the original class, or as mystical mystics using roughly the advancement chart you posted for your own armor-less clerics.

    I think the only other mechanical tinkering I did was just a change to the 'turn undead' ability to an "aura" ability. By default, an adept attuned with cosmic harmony can repel such entropic specimens as undead; however, other traditions in the setting might develop other ways to focus their auras. The druids might mesmerize animals, for example, while the vile Seers of Mount Yimsha might similarly mesmerize humans. (For the time being, these variants are being reserved for NPCs, but they should be suitably balanced for players to use 'em.)

    I observed that the undead listed on the turning table are in order of hit dice + special abilities (called out by asterisks in later editions like B/X and BECMI; i don't know about Holmes), so I changed the chart to reflect this, with the monsters listed as Class I, Class II, etc.

    That's really the majority of it. The rest is flavor - rewritten flavor text in the class description, and some brief notes on example traditions within my campaign.

    Oh, and while I'm at it: Merry Christmas to you, James, and to everyone here.

    ReplyDelete
  16. OdRook,

    Did you write this up somewhere? I have to admit that this approach is a very good one and I'd love to see it in written form, so I can add it to my growing collection of house rules and variants.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.