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PathFinder Planes: Interview with Todd Stewart


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Clueless's picture

There've been a lot of questions floating around our forums about the planes in this new age of gaming we've found ourselves in. Which is to say, a lot of the folks around here have been looking at the Planes in 4th edition, and the Planes in Paizo's Pathfinder setting and wondering just where their own Planar adventures would fit best.

Well, the first step for any new campaign is to make an informed choice of setting. And with that in mind, I've hunted down the man behind the scenes of Paizo's planar cosmology: Todd Stewart. He may be better known around these parts as Shemeska the Marauder.

Todd is the 'expert of our time' on all things loth, and most things planar, so I jumped at a chance to grill him on the planes. This first half of the interview focuses on the Outer Planes, check back later for more on the Inner. Here's what I found out, so listen up, cutters - I have some darks for you!

Clueless: First off, let's give some credit where credit is due I suppose. Can you tell us who worked on the planes for Pathfinder?

Todd Stewart: Mike McArtor handed me a very brief outline of the rough structure of the cosmology, a bare bones guideline, with maybe 3/4 of the planes named, and only about half the races named. And James Jacobs was the guy to ask about the Abyss, mostly to pass ideas to for a yes or no, or ask for more details if they already had them in mind but really beyond the guidelines, it was me handed a blank canvas and a bottle of spray paint and told to tag. I'd say most of my stuff remained post edits, though they renamed one or two races

Clueless: What was the design philosophy behind Pathfinder's planes?

Todd Stewart: The overall design philosophy behind it was to be able to run a Planescape styled game in their cosmology. They had wanted compatibility or similar themes to the Great Wheel cosmology, and wanted to make it harken back to that. Given my likes and experience, it's very much a child of Planescape, and my experience with that setting.

Todd Stewart: They knew my influences, and my dislikes, and yet they didn't complain when I offered your kidneys on the black market to get that writing assignment.

Clueless: BAH.

Todd Stewart: No, I actually said that I think Eye-wink

Clueless: Is the concept of belief changing reality still a part of things?

Todd Stewart: Not stressed like in Planescape. But it operates that way, given how the Protians can melt reality back into a resemblance of the Maelstrom, impacting physical things as well as mental. Axis seeks to expand and push back and pacify the Maelstrom, etc. It's more subtle, and I didn't have the space or opportunity to touch on the idea. Trust me, if I do anything more on the planes (and I've begged) I'll get them to give me firm answers on how we'll approach that Planescape idea.

Clueless: So Planescape was definitely an influence? Even from high up?

Todd Stewart: Yes. Certain planes like Hell, the Inner Planes, Mount Celestia, etc were already snatched almost wholesale by Gygax or Grubb back in 1e weren't WotC IP for the most part, and so they appear much the same. Hell is a transparent copy of Dante, and similarly for much of Celestia.Names like Nirvana, Elysium, etc aren't WotC IP, though specific planar descriptions of them would be, so those would be different. The names of the Outer Planes vary to some extent. Lemme see if I remember them all without looking : Abyss (CE), Hell (LE), Nirvana (NG), Abbadon (NE), Maelstrom (CN), the Boneyard (TN), Elysium (CG), Heaven (LG), Axis (LN).

Todd Stewart: Golarion's planes aren't organized like the Wheel. They don't border one another in a neat fashion, and there's a lot of metaphysical "space" that's raw and unformed, constantly shifting and moving in between the distinct planes. That raw space is collectively called the Maelstrom.

Todd Stewart: The Abyss is very similar to the Wheel's version. It's described as something like massive cracks and rifts opening up in the Maelstrom or along the borders of other planes, constantly changing. Each rift never opens to the same layer twice.

Clueless: So there are layers in the planes?

Todd Stewart: Yes, though it varies from plane to plane if there are layers in the same sense as in Planescape, or just massive regions of discrete, bound terrain. Hell is layers for instance, all metaphysically stacked. Axis is one single, gigantic and ever growing distinct space with drifting golden wasp-nests like massive, floating formian cities.

Clueless: What sort of dominant arrangement describes the Golarion planes?

Todd Stewart: Outer Planes -> Astral -> Elemental Planes -> Prime Material, coexistent with the Prime is both the Shadow and Ethereal along with the two energy planes. The Elemental Planes are the standard 4 elements, but nestled like matroishka dolls. Astral -> Fire -> Earth -> Water -> Air -> Prime Material. So from the Astral, the entirety of the "inner sphere" looks like a massive ball of flame.

Clueless: Why that choice of arrangement?

Todd Stewart: That was what I was told to write by Smiling

Clueless: Bah - I'll ask someone else then. (That's what you get when you bargain with kidneys!)

Todd Stewart: Hehe.

Clueless: The planes as a whole float within the surface of the Maelstrom, and the Abyss appears and disappears in cracks along it. Why the unusual behavior for those two and not others?

Todd Stewart: I'd bet money that Jacobs had the idea of order rising up from chaos, given some of his work on the Abyss in earlier stuff in Dragon or the Fiendish Codex. Perhaps the gods dredged up structured reality from the Maelstrom, though the gods may have arrived from elsewhere and given structure rather than having created the Golarion's universe themselves. Jacobs mentioned that last part at some point IIRC.

Clueless: Any of the old Planescapian plots showing up in any way? The ancient baatorians, or the yugoloths' Heart of Darkness?

Todd Stewart: Asmodeus is a full-blown god in Golarion's cosmology, and the 'loths don't exist as an ancient creator race per say. It's not detailed (yet) if the devils have a specific origin compared to the other fiends. The Abyss might predate them however, and it would be predated in my opinion by their Limbo analog called the Maelstrom. I was -heavily- influenced by the Hinterlands when I made the descriptions for the Maelstrom.

Clueless: Any other familiar names and faces allowed?

Todd Stewart: Orcus, Baphomet, Pazuzu, and the major mythological ones, though the forms may change. Pazuzu is a major one, the other major one is Lamashtu - the only abyssal lord to have achieved godhood.

Clueless: Which has bigger britches - Abyssal lords or gods?

Todd Stewart: Despite my objections, gods are the big players, though within their respective planes, the archfiends aren't ordered around by any means.

Clueless: What sort of critters can we expect to see in the Lower Planes?

Todd Stewart: The tanar'ri are there, but as a secondary race to the original demons. The tanar'ri (I don't recall what they're renamed as) are relatively recent creations, experiments by the daemons of Abbadon.

Todd Stewart: Demons represent physical pain and destruction. Devils are mental corruption and control. And the Daemons are apocalyptic soul devourers. Since we can't use the 'loths, we revert back to daemons as their name, and they've been redefined a bit.

Clueless: Given your personal expertise, can we hear a bit more about the daemons?

Todd Stewart: The daemons are the youngest of the fiendish races. They result from mortal souls interacting with raw evil, and unclaimed by either the Abyss or the Hells. Not all the daemons believe this however. Their 4 primary archdaemons are known as the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse in some mortal legends. I downplayed the overtly biblical reference there for authorial reasons. The four leaders are: Charon the archdaemon of death. Appolyon the archdaemon of disease. Szuriel the archdaemon of destruction. Trelmarixian the archdaemon of wasting. There is also a sidebar alluding to a potential General of Gehenna'esque figure behind those four, and their ranks aren't always stable, as lesser lords have overthrown one or more of the archdaemons and replaced them before.

Todd Stewart: Trelmarixian was a unique yugoloth lord in my home game, though with pretty low exposure. Trelmarixian can be summed up neatly as a shapeshifting jello arcanaloth - and by jello I mean congealed bile and mucus and all sorts of fun stuff. The astraloths were also direct ports from that campaign. There they were something similar to guardian yugoloths or 'loth constructs. Golarion's versions are true fiends, and they act like Astral predators, swimming amid the void and hunting down mortal souls - the only race to do so openly. In fact it's not unheard of to see devils and celestials cooperating to guard flocks of mortal souls migrating through the Astral, keeping them safe from that sort of predation

Clueless: So what sort of things do the three evil races like to do in their spare time?

Todd Stewart: The Abyss tends to fight amongst itself, and occasionally boil over from those rifts. There's no overt Blood War. And the demon lords are also insanely keen on cultivating mortal worship.

Clueless: So they can get big boy pants?

Todd Stewart: Yeps. Only one of them has done this so far, but even having done so, Pazuzu is still her major rival despite not having become a deity himself, so the distinction may be somewhat academic. Paizo does make a distinction here in stats terms (true gods have no stats for instance, but I forget the rest).

Todd Stewart: Asmodeus has Hell as a gigantic deific domain in many ways. And in many ways the other archdevils are like scheming cardinals in my view, serving his interests are plotting to increase his (and their) might, while combating his deific rivals. Asmodeus and the archdevils are major players on the Prime Material, with one of the major nations in the setting, Cheliax, being controlled by a devil-worshipping political elite.

Todd Stewart: The daemons have a shaky truce among their 4 lords, but they're all plotting for the obliteration of reality itself (for perhaps differing reasons, and via different routes). Some of the daemons hate mortality itself, blaming it for their own existence. Others think that by destroying the universe they'll somehow prove themselves to mythical protofiends lurking behind reality. Others think that the last mortal to die will vault them into another phase of existence, letting them transcend their current form. There are a number of different ideological camps behind their perhaps suicidal nihilism. Lots of the daemon detail isn't in the final draft, so take it with a grain of salt.

Clueless: Then it's fair to say for most of the Lower Planers, their prime concern is getting more mortal souls - for what purpose?

Todd Stewart: Good question. The precise interaction between gods and the souls of mortals isn't as defined as in Planescape, so that's still open.

Clueless: No slaadi I assume - but do we have a replacement for the lovable froggy face eaters?

Todd Stewart: No slaadi. They're replaced by a serpentine race of rather enigmatic beings known as Proteans. Slaadi on Crack, that's my opinion of them. The Proteans are organized (perhaps) by color - eye color is the only constant and by subtype, Keketar, Naunet, and Imentesh. These were named after the serpentine beings of the perhaps obscure Egyptian creation mythology of the Ogdoad of Hermopolis. They abhor what they see as stagnant, static, solid reality. Rather than acting goofy or crazy themselves, their presence, especially when in groups, actually warps and twists the fabric of the Outer Planes.

Clueless: In what sort of ways - are there numbers for this?

Todd Stewart: I didn't write a single number.

Clueless: Do they have any plans worked up?

Todd Stewart: Potentially to dissolve the Outer Planes back into a constantly evolving, constantly changing wonderland of formlessness. They want to bring the Outer Planes back into the Maelstrom, but they view it as a merciful act, or even liberation in a way.

Clueless: Any organization or leaders there? You mentioned the three classes and eyeballs...

Todd Stewart: Unknown. They refer to something or somethings called the Speakers in the Depths. I see the Proteans as creative, philosophical, and dangerous. But not random or crazy or insane by any means.

Clueless: How about the other side of the 'wheel' - Axis was it?

Todd Stewart: A single, gigantic city, ever expanding outwards, seeking to push back the Maelstrom as much as possible. No single exemplar race controls it, but Axis includes inevitables, formians, and one race known as the axiomites. They are similar to nanobite equations - clouds of gold dust that move in mathematical patterns. They were inspired by SG-1's replicators and Planescape's moignos Smiling

Clueless: And the good guys?

Todd Stewart: The archons represent Lawful Good. The names of unique archons have changed a bit, and the summit is defined. Sorta. It doesn't always manifest the same way to different people, and those going there tend to be called, for lack of a better term. Nuetral good has two races, or two sides of the same coin. The angels, much the same as the aasimon of Planescape, are servitors of universal good beyond the boundary of Nirvana, and the Agathions, guardinals - now with vulpinals, who guard the plane itself, contemplate its mysteries, and delay their own transcendence to shepherd the plane's souls. Chaotic Good also has two races, the azatas (eladrin) and lillendi. Azatas are more fey-like and reclusive, usually appearing in alternate forms. The lillends wander the plane in small groups, known as the bards of Elysium.

Clueless: Any particular plans or motives either of the groups have?

Todd Stewart: The archons plan to spread their ordered salvation, perhaps at the direction of something atop the summit. The azatas are for promotion of freedom and the creative spirit. And the nuetral good races are looking to encourage enlightenment and potentially after the destruction of Evil. The lillends are like the physical manifestions of muses. Smiling

Clueless: Do the three good guy species get along?

Todd Stewart: They have their own goals, but for the most part they do get along.

Clueless: Okies last and best - the Boneyard? Do we have any rilmani?

Todd Stewart: At the moment there's no distinct True Nuetral exemplar race, or if there is, it's not well known. Most of the True Nuetral plane is known for the deific domain of Pharasma, the goddess who watches over the dispersal of mortal souls to the proper planes and/or deity. Her courts have representatives of each deity and outsider race who accept those souls, or potentially in many cases get to argue their cases for souls divided between two or more potential final resting places. The daemons are explicitly banned from entrance. Pharasma herself only gets involved when there are conflicts of contract. Also, agnostics and atheists are a special case. The former go on by default by alignment without comment or punishment. The latter impact the solidity of their own souls in a way, and some never make it to Pharasma, lingering as ghosts or free-willed wandering souls. Others face a rather harsh imprisonment within the necropolis beyond her courts and palace, awaiting an uncertain fate. Beyond that necropolis is the rest of the plane itself, where True Nuetral people live much as in life, though idealized in a cycle of reincarnation, with the potential of being reborn back on the Prime Material by their choice, unique among the planes.

Clueless: Do we have active mortal populations on these planes as well as the outsiders?

Todd Stewart: Not as much on the Outer Planes. Some being openly hostile, others being either benevolent or way too eager to take you in (*coughhellcough*). I didn't have the opportunity to expand on that. The Inner Planes have some populations of mortals, or their halfbreed descendants. There's a large water genasi population in Water, and a massive sahuagin empire that were originally non-natives transplants. Though genasi is WotC IP, I don't recall what the name was changed to. There are lots of dragons in the Inner Planes, and a gigantic one in the Nuetral Good plane. And that concludes part one of our two part interview of this week. I want to thank Piazo, and Todd for this opportunity to peek under the hood of their planar cosmology. It's certainly proving to be a fun discussion. If you're curious about Paizo, Pathfinder, or any of the other Paizo products coming out - check out these websites:

Paizo Website

Pathfinder Products

Pathfinder Chronicles: Campaign Setting

Let us know what you think in the comments! Part two of this series is over here!

(And all for the price of a kidney, the sacrifices I make for you cutters...)

sciborg2's picture
Joined: 2005-07-26
"I didn't write a single

"I didn't write a single number." Smiling

Congrats Shemmy. I'm definitely impressed to hear you wrote the majority of the planes for the Campaign Setting. Looking forward to part two.

The daemons are my new favorite fiends, and might have to be put into the Great Wheel as a strain of deviant 'loths...


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Clueless's picture
Joined: 2008-06-30
He's been quietly babbling

He's been quietly babbling about the Proteans around the house too - so I'm pretty fond of those buggers myself now. Smiling

Krypter's picture
Joined: 2004-05-11
That's great, our own

That's great, our own private infiltrator into the new 3.Paizo edition of the Planes! Nice work, but don't make it too much of an analogue or it'll look funny.

 "around the house" ...oh my, I have been gone a while.

Clueless's picture
Joined: 2008-06-30
LOL no no no - nothing like

LOL no no no - nothing like *that*. He's my roomie. Eye-wink

You see I found this stray DM/biologist/loth out in the rain looking all sad, and then he followed me home - and you know, once you feed them, you can't get rid of them. Eye-wink

Jerwillander's picture
Joined: 2013-09-24
Re: PathFinder Planes: Interview with Todd Stewart

Good to hear that Todd Stewart answered all the question that was thrown to him. However, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for having me here. -get youtube hits

Ellentrinidad's picture
Joined: 2014-03-05
Re: PathFinder Planes: Interview with Todd Stewart

I am impressed with his interview I hope you taped it during interview so that yo could share a video. Anyway, thanks for sharing.
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