Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Plane as the Nose on Your Face

There are two models for the Inner Planes. Let's call them the purity model and the playability model.

The purity model is the one adopted by Monte Cook et al for 2nd edition Planescape. Here, each inner plane is comprised of the pure essence of whatever the core element is. The Plane of Earth is an infinite expanse of earth. The Plane of Air is an infinite expanse of air. The Quasielemental Plane of Salt is an infinite expanse of salt. And so on. There is no "up" or "down" - just endless [Element X] in all directions. In the Plane of Air, or Water, this means you are able to float up and down and side to side more or less freely, but in, say, the Quasielemental Plane of Salt you would have to burrow in those directions through solid crystals of salt in order to get anywhere.

Some concession to making those planes accessible to PCs came in the notion that there could be a bit of "bleed" from one into another, so you might get floating islands of earth in the plane of air, or bubbles of air in the plane of water, and so on. But otherwise most of the Inner Planes would be entirely hostile to PCs up to the very highest level, without cheats like Rings of [Element X] Resistance and whatnot. As soon as you appear in Salt you dehydrate and die; as soon as you appear in Radiance you go blind and insane and your face melts (something like that anyway), etc.

The playability model is the one adopted most memorably in my mind by Weis and Hickman in their lesser-known series, the Death Gate Cycle. Here, the world was divided into different elemental planes, but they were still livable to human beings: Air was a big void of air but it had islands floating in it which you could fly between on dragons; Earth was a big volcanic rocky place with tunnels in it but also a surface; Fire was a massive jungle with vegetation so thick you couldn't get to the ground; Water was a big globe of water which (if I recall correctly) you could breathe and which had floating Zaratan-like beast-islands in it. Here, while the different planes had different elemental characters, you could still, if you wanted to set an RPG there, have 1st level PCs adventuring quite happily.

The purity model is superficially the more interesting of the two in the sense that it's quite cool to try to imagine what kinds of things would exist on the Quasielemental Plane of Such-and-Such, but I wonder whether in fact this is true: it's probably more of a tricky, challenging and rewarding imaginative task to try to create a Plane of Salt/Ooze/Radiance/Earth/Mineral/Whatever which human beings could readily live in. What would a habitable plane of salt be like? How could you make such a place enough like a "real world" that it could plausibly be the home of human civilizations while still retaining the essence of a plane of salt? This seems to me to the interesting task, but the designers of Planescape sadly avoided it.

15 comments:

  1. Been working on an idea lately about taking Planescape and making them colonized, similiar to what the elves do in Hot Springs Island. I like the idea of these quintessential planes being changed and terramorphed (planemorphed?) to create something to live in.

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    1. That's a nice idea - I like it.

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  2. The first edition MoP had the elemental planes littered with pockets from other inner planes. Of course some didn't survive very long (Ice in Fire, Water in Fire, anything in Vacuum, etc.) but overall there was a decent possibility of discovering an elemental creature stuck outside its home plane as well as places that are more hospitable to the characters.

    I guess they changed that in 2e.

    But I do like some of the ideas from 1e, esp those relating to Mineral in Dragon 174, and wish they had been included in 5e's cosmology.

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    1. What were the ideas relating to Mineral in Dragon 174?

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    2. There are two articles in it on Mineral. One describes the plane and how it is the origin of Ioun stones. The other is the bestiary and adds a decent, if small, ecology to the plane.

      I really wish there had been more articles like those for the para and quasi elements and demiplanes.

      As for the ideas I wish had been incorporated, the alien nature of the natives (who still can be hired to act as guides); the diversity of minerals in Mineral (I envisioned it as veins and crystals as landmarks for the natives); and the savageness of the biospheres (something for rangers and druids to have fun with).

      And that reminds me, one of the other things from the Manual of the Planes I thought was awesome is the effect the Inner Planes have on Reincarnate and Reincarnation- the result are elemental versions of the creature rolled. Want to play an Air badger, that is possible. Pity it is doubtful that will be a part of 5e.

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  3. It seems ok to make the elemental plane of fire as inaccessible as the inside of a volcano. You could bring the bleed-through to the players' home instead. That is, the volcano is a gate to the plane of fire. The desert that surrounds it is hot, not because of axial tilt and the coriolis effect, but because of fire influx. Maybe the home world is a titanic air sphere inside an earth substrate. There could be navigable globule-seas that rise up from the land.

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    1. That could explain why in a lot of fantasy worlds, like e.g. the Known World, the geography is all over the place, with deserts right next to jungles or icy areas and whatnot.

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  4. I've always been a fan of what 4E did for the Elemental Planes: turned them into one big 'Elemental Chaos' where any permutation can exist, possibly with more stable (but still weird) locale.

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    1. If nothing else, the cosmology of 4E is definitely worth checking out.

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  5. Man, why not both? Have a Pure elemental plane and then have like, the cross-over plane between the Plane of Salt and the Prime Material Plane? Call it Salty Material or whatever.

    Have everything. Go insane.

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  6. My personal definition for a good plane is "one you can have some 1st level adventures in," which skews heavily towards playability and to viewing planes as alternate worlds/dimensions rather than pure elemental essences.

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    1. Yes, Planes as alternate worlds is what I'd like them to have explored.

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    2. That is another thing I wish had been used in Planescape more- the appendix from the Manual of the Planes that described alternate realities. So much potential in so few pages.

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  7. One of the most interesting planar cosmologies I've read in RPGs is Exalted. The map extends toward planar purity points and they get more intense as you get closer to that extreme.

    So approaching the plane of fire you would cross into tropical climate turning to scorching desert and eventually into lava flows beneath and fire burning in the air itself.

    http://hd42.de/images/exalted/Creation_Map_v7.1a.jpg

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  8. "What would a habitable plane of salt be like? How could you make such a place enough like a "real world" that it could plausibly be the home of human civilizations while still retaining the essence of a plane of salt? "

    I think this reddit user posted a pretty usable depiction of such a plane of salt:

    The White Wastes

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