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4th Edition Planes: Interview with the Writers of the Manual of the Planes

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Continuing with our interview series on the planar options available nowadays to Planewalker...

There have been a lot of questions floating around our forums from our members on Planewalker about the planes in 4th edition, and a good bit of wondering just where their own Planescape adventures would fit best. So I wanted to get some insight from the authors of the 4th edition Manual of the Planes on their approach to the Planes, and how they feel the Planes may be best used in a game.

They were willing to sit down to a few questions over a steaming cup of razorvine tea and dish a little about what went into their version of the planes. Pretty enthusiastic about it too really! So, please take a moment to sit back and see what they have to say about their new book and how they would use it in a planar campaign.

ImageClueless: First off, let's give some credit where credit is due. Can you tell me who worked on the planes for 4th edition?

Rich Baker: Lots of people, really. The broad plan for the 4th Edition cosmology came out of discussions for the Forgotten Realms revision team: Myself, Bruce Cordell, and Phil Athans. Later on our World Design team, codename SCRAMJET, concepted many of the deities and sites in the planes. SCRAMJET consisted of myself, Chris Perkins, Stacy Longstreet, Matt Sernett, Michele Carter, James Wyatt, and Ed Stark. Finally you’ve got the team who actually worked on the 4th Edition Manual of the Planes: me, James Wyatt, Rob Schwalb, and John Rogers. James did the Elemental Chaos chapter, Rob did the Shadowfell, John worked on the Feywild, and I covered the Astral Sea.

Clueless: What was the design approach behind 4th edition's planes?

Rich Baker: *Maximum playability*. We wanted to make sure that every plane we described was accessible to player characters and loaded with adventure opportunities. For example, the planes of earlier editions included a number of good-aligned planes that very few DMs ever used in play, and elemental planes that were completely hostile to life. Those are the sort of things we reexamined in the new edition.

James Wyatt: Of course planes where good creatures and deities live have to exist in the cosmology, and our approach to those planes is similar to how we describe similar places in the world: They’re “points of light” in the larger darkness. Celestia or the Bright City of Hestavar are like the civilized regions of the Astral Sea, which you can use as launching points for your adventures into the depths of Hell or the ruins of Kalandurren. Of course, they can also serve as adventure locales in their own right, just like big cities in the world.

Clueless: What sort of dominant arrangement describes the 4th edition planes?

Rich Baker: I must have drawn this diagram a hundred times in concept meetings and discussions. The cosmos looks like a bobbin or wire spool, where the mortal world lies between two vast seas—the Elemental Chaos, which is the raw matter of creation from which the world was shaped, and the Astral Sea, which is the starry sea of thought and soul and conception. I call it the “World Axis” cosmology. The world also has “echoes” or parallel planes in the form of the Shadowfell and the Feywild. The Great Wheel of previous editions is gone; instead, the astral dominions and elemental domains of gods, devils, demons, etc., exist as islands (sometimes world-islands) in the Astral or Elemental planes.

Rob Schwalb: One of things I like best about the new planar cosmology is that there’s no “dead” space. Everything has a place, a purpose, and the ability to serve as an adventure site, a backdrop for several adventures, or even as a world for an entire campaign. You could, for example, run a campaign that never actually leaves the Feywild or might be confined to one of the dominions floating in the Astral Sea. This said, almost everything from the Great Wheel cosmology survives in some form or fashion, though recast to fit within the new planar structure, even if it’s not immediately apparent. The Domains of Dread now live in the Shadowfell and there are areas that can easily pass for the Negative Energy Plane. Even if there’s something absent, the new cosmology is inclusive, making it easy as heck to bolt on an “outer plane” with little trouble at all.

Clueless: What are the top adventuring stomping grounds or metropolises in the planes?

Rob Schwalb: As far as planar metropolises, Sigil and the City of Brass offer plenty of adventure opportunities, as they always have. We also created new places too. For example, I designed Gloomwrought for the Shadowfell. Inspired by the film Dark City, I created the place to be a living city, where buildings rise and fall, where streets change, gates move, where strange people maintain the city and keep it healthy, and where the populace lives in willful ignorance about the weirdness of their environs. While the city exudes an unsettling flavor, it is big enough and important enough for it to stand as a hub for Shadowfell exploration and to be a melting pot for the various peoples roaming the mortal world’s dark reflection.

Rich Baker: Some of the best adventuring opportunities out there are what we call the ruined dominions—former godly domains in the Astral Sea that have been destroyed or abandoned. Some examples are Pandemonium, which once was the dominion of Tharizdun, the god of madness; Shom, a desert plane filled with mysterious monuments; or Pluton, which was once the realm of Nerull, god of the dead. You could have almost *anything* out there, and it’s a great challenge to throw at epic-level characters.

Clueless: Is the concept of 'belief affects reality' still a large part of the new planes?

Rich Baker: Not so much, really. This isn’t about revisiting the Planescape Campaign Setting; it’s about creating adventures in the planes for heroes who begin in the mortal world. That said, Sigil still boasts a number of factions, many organized around strange philosophies.

Clueless: What is the major conflict in the 4th edition planes about?

Rich Baker: The gods versus the primordials. The gods had their origins in mighty astral spirits back in the very beginning of things; the primordials are incarnations of elemental power. Gods and primordials together created the mortal world long ago, and then fought over it. Even though the gods came out on top, the primordials and their minions still represent a grave threat to the mortal world and the godly dominions. Most primordials are bound or hiding, but crazy bad guys are just always trying to let one out.

James Wyatt: There’s an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for a few years now, that you might have a campaign where you spend the first 20 levels of your career fighting evil, particularly devils or the servants of evil gods. When you get into epic levels, though, you suddenly find that you have to join forces with the evil guys you’ve been fighting in order to stave off a much more significant threat, which are the primordials. Good and evil want to rule the world, and they fight together over how to do it. The chaotic forces of the primordials, though, want to tear the world down and completely destroy it, which would leave good and evil nothing left to rule.

Clueless: What are the top planar races?

Rich Baker: You’ll still run into plenty of demons, devils, githyanki, and other such planar denizens. We’ve re-imagined some other races. For example, the eladrins—formerly the Chaotic Good equivalent of demons or devils—are the chief civilization of the Feywild, the Plane of Faerie, in the 4th Edition cosmology. Many eladrins are basically “high elves,” not all that different from people who live in the mortal world. But noble eladrin are often “archfey,” every bit as powerful in their own right as archdevils or demon lords.

James Wyatt: There are some new faces in the planes as well—I’m thinking particularly of the archons, a new race of elemental soldiers introduced (in fire and ice varieties) in the Monster Manual. Efreets are major power players in the Elemental Chaos now, with the City of Brass being the most significant (and stable) settlement there. And angels, of course, are the servants of the gods—all the gods, not just the good ones.

Clueless: Who are the top leaders of the planar races and what are they trying to accomplish?

James Wyatt: Gods, demon princes, primordials, archdevils—including Asmodeus, who is also a god, the archfey of the Feywild, the rulers of the efreets, the githyanki lich-queen . . . They all have their own agendas, to be sure. In general, the folks in the lower third of the cosmology would like to destroy the middle third and perhaps the upper third as well, if they can get to it. Primordials are at least potentially creators as well as destroyers—they’re not opposed to the existence of the world, just to it being such a calm and stable place. Folks in the upper third of the cosmology espouse ethical ideas and advance specific portfolios of interests, trying to spread their influence through the world or control it. Folks in the middle are a lot harder to characterize.

Clueless: What are the best sorts of plot that the 4th edition planes would be open to in a game?

Rich Baker: Well, first and foremost, we want the game experience of the planes to be more epic, more grand, but not necessarily a different game. So you don’t go to the planes because you’re tired of fighting monsters, stopping villainous plans, and recovering awesome magical treasures. Of course, being on the planes means that you can run into all sorts of things you couldn’t do in the mortal world. For example: Sail the Astral Sea in search of the dominion of a dead god; chart the termini of an ancient cosmos-spanning portal network guarded by maruts; battle a demon prince on an icy glacier-island in the maelstrom of the Abyss; or duel long-dead legendary heroes on the jasper stairs of Hestavar over affairs of honor.

Clueless: How would you - from an old Planescape point of view - use or adapt the new setting to get that Planescape feel in your home game?

Rob Schwalb: I mentioned this earlier, but I think the degree of adaptation required to run a classic Planescape campaign is a lot less than it might appear. As a D&D grognard, I’m still a big fan of the Great Wheel cosmology. In my Greyhawk campaign, I still use it and I haven’t had to do much, if any work at all, to adapt it. Each of the outer planes live in the Astral Sea and each is a dominion. The Outlands/Concordant Opposition functions as a neutral ground, a place within the Astral Sea that touches all other Dominions.

The elemental planes also survive as regions in the Elemental Chaos. If you travel in a particular direction far enough, you might just enter a realm of pure fire, pure ash, pure ooze, etc.

I think the trickiest thing for me is the Ethereal Plane, but really, how hard does it have to be? If I need it, I can just say insubstantial creatures are all native to the Ethereal Plane. If the PCs travel to the Ethereal and encounter one of these critters, the monster just loses the phasing and insubstantial qualities.

Sure, there’s some adaptation, but much of it just examining the new cosmology through an older lens.

Rich Baker: You’d have to tinker with some monster origins, too. For example, we re-imagined demons as destructive creatures essentially elemental in nature, while devils are still fallen angels. To return demons to their 2nd or 3rd Edition place, you’d have to change them from elementals to immortals. (But we think they work pretty well as engines of elemental destruction, really!)

Clueless: What would be the race/species to feature in your ideal home game?

Rob Schwalb: Githyanki, githyanki, githyanki. I’m still kicking around a one-tier, all-githyanki campaign where the players are kicking around in Tu’Narath.

Rich Baker: I love the fomorians. They’re the big nemeses on (well, under) the Feywild. We’ve moved the fomorians much closer to their roots in Irish myth, so they’re not just big dumb beaters anymore—they’re beaters with horrible magical powers and cavern-kingdoms full of hapless slaves.

James Wyatt: Let’s not forget the Far Realm . . . In my Dungeoncraft column in Dungeon magazine, I’m building a campaign around the influence of the Far Realm in the world, using the 2nd edition adventure The Gates of Firestorm Peak as the paragon linchpin of the campaign.

Clueless: What in the planes holds 'the nifty' for you?

Rob Schwalb: I’m hot for the Astral Sea. Yes, not much goes in the Sea itself, but there’s so much room for design. You can easily add new dominions. You can resurrect old concepts. Heck, you can sail the Astral Sea and maybe find your way to another world… the Realms, Eberron, Oerth, wherever.

Rich Baker: Portal-hopping. I love setting up stories where the heroes look at the glowing gate and steel themselves to step through, not really knowing what’s on the other side. You can show off the incredible diversity of the cosmos in an adventure set around a portal network.

James Wyatt: What doesn’t? I’m particularly excited about the Elemental Chaos since I worked on that chapter of the book, but I want to do so much with the Feywild, with Hestavar, with abandoned dominions in the Astral . . .

Clueless: What’s the coolest location on the planes?

Rob Schwalb: Gloomwrought of course ?. Nine Hells are pretty sexy too, but then I’m partial.

Rich Baker: Ummm, I really dig Gloomwrought too. It’s a dark Venice on a shadowy sea. If you can’t get your emo on there, you can’t get it on anywhere.

James Wyatt: City of Brass. If it was cool enough for the cover of the 1st edition DMG, it’s cool enough for me.

Clueless: Is there anything in book that we haven't touched on yet, that you think we just shouldn't miss out on hearing about?

Rich Baker: We re-imagined many old staples of the D&D cosmology and came up with exciting new takes on them. For example, the Nine Hells aren’t nine infinite planes stacked up like pancakes on top of each other; they’re continent-sized caverns in a sullen, volcanic orb, each one deeper than the last. Hell works best as an underworld, but most of the layers of the Nine Hells in previous editions weren’t even caves. That’s the sort of reconcepting we applied throughout the new Manual of the Planes. And we added scores and scores of new, never-before-seen locales, planes, villains, and so on—even if you’re an old planar pro, you’ll find exciting new stuff in the 4th Edition book.

Clueless: What were your inspirations? What was the music you were listening to as you wrote, or any influences from literature?

Rob Schwalb: It’s not a secret that I’m a metal head. I designed most of the Shadowfell chapter in the MotP and I found my musical tastes were quite helpful in getting in the mood. My Dying Bride, Cannibal Corpse, Vader, Krisiun, and Dissection were all staples in my musical diet. I also drew a lot from Terry Gilliam’s films: Time Bandits and Baron Munchausen always come to mind when I run, write, and think about planar adventures.

Rich Baker: Well, the first inspiration was of course the earlier editions of Manual of the Planes. The first one rocked my world when I was about 17 or 18, and I wanted to make sure the new one didn’t lose that awesome.

And that concludes our interview with the writers for 4th ed Manual of the Planes - I want to thank Wizards, and Rich, James and Rob for giving us this opportunity to pick their brains on the new book! If you're curious about Wizards, the Manual of the Planes, or any of their other products - check out the links below!

Wizards of the Coast Website

Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition

The Manual of the Planes  (4th)

sciborg2's picture
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Thanks for getting this

Thanks for getting this interview Clueless.

Respectfully, I disagree that there was "dead space" before 4th edition, as well as the idea that D&D is better for a diminished focus on the Upper Planes.

Still, there seems to be a lot of good stuff though again gods vs. primordials isn't enough, imo, to base a whole cosmology over. I may get this and mine it for ideas, but right now I'm undecided.

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I like it that the City of

I like it that the City of Brass has regained its prominence.

Making all of the Planes more easily accessible makes sense from a design standpoint, but I'm still never sending my players to a realm of "pure ooze." Wink

 

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I can tell that I think on a

I can tell that I think on a much different level from Wyatt.  After reading his article on Mual-Tar, I came up with more interesting ways to deal with Primordials then he did in the span of that article.

It's nice to see Rob Schwalb contributed to MotP, I really liked his Mercykiller article, and I'm amused he has similiar tastes in music.  It's also interesting that he was most certainly thinking of "Dark City" with the Keepers.  It was a good movie and I felt it could have been something the Keepers needed back in 2e.

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Excellent interview! I

Excellent interview!

I still like "classic" Planescape better so far, but this doesn't seem too bad.

The main gripe I have with the setting is there're exemplary evil (devils) and chaotic (demons) and lawful (inevitables?) races, but there doesn't seem to be an exemplar good.  Angels work for all the gods, not just good ones.  I wonder why this is?

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Center of All wrote: The

Center of All wrote:

The main gripe I have with the setting is there're exemplary evil (devils) and chaotic (demons) and lawful (inevitables?) races, but there doesn't seem to be an exemplar good. Angels work for all the gods, not just good ones. I wonder why this is?

The idea, I believe, is to use "angel" in its original sense of "messenger" or "servant"; really powr astral beings (the gods) create lesser astral beings (the angels) to serve them.  Don't think "shining beacon of righteousness"; think "utterly devoted manifestation of divine power."  Of course, if you worship the god in question, the former is a connotation as well.

Heck, for those of us that play games entirely without alignment, this pushes the whole system in that direction somewhat. 

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Jem wrote:Center of All

Jem wrote:
Center of All wrote:

The main gripe I have with the setting is there're exemplary evil (devils) and chaotic (demons) and lawful (inevitables?) races, but there doesn't seem to be an exemplar good. Angels work for all the gods, not just good ones. I wonder why this is?

The idea, I believe, is to use "angel" in its original sense of "messenger" or "servant"; really powr astral beings (the gods) create lesser astral beings (the angels) to serve them.  Don't think "shining beacon of righteousness"; think "utterly devoted manifestation of divine power."  Of course, if you worship the god in question, the former is a connotation as well.

Heck, for those of us that play games entirely without alignment, this pushes the whole system in that direction somewhat. 

 Oh, no, no, I understand that aspect.  My issue is more that they have established exemplar races for every one of the three other alignment poles, as well as lawful evil and chaotic evil.  Why, then, do they completely remove any good-aligned exemplars?  To use a phrase rilmani are commonly known for, it seems rather, well, unbalanced.  My idea would be they should go all or nothing, really.

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I suspect the counter

I suspect the counter arguement would be 'Why must we include good guy exemplars just because we included bad ones?' Avoiding arbitrary parallelism (as personified by L vs C, E vs. G alignment) was apparently one of the design goals.

I will admit I find that arguement to lend towards a solution just as arbitrary in nature.

I would prefer the arguement for why one exists and the other doesn't to arise from the background story, even if on the meta-game level 'avoiding parallelism' was the design reason. The previous parallelist version of the planes made sure to include a story reason for it by basing the planar construction upon the alignments. Aka: If exemplars of evil are going to arise - it is just as likely for exemplars of good to arise - unless there is a coherant backstory reason otherwise.

I've not heard one, but then I haven't gone looking.

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Perhaps because its a lot

Perhaps because its a lot easier for people to agree on what evil is than on what good is. "They spend eternity in Ysgard in endless combats and getting roaring drunk?  ...so, what do they do in your people's Hell?"  "Let me see if I get this: your 'Twin Paradises' involve me beating an anvil, tilling a field, or mining gems for all eternity?  When I die, I'm laying these burdens down, friend!"  I seem to recall that there are some fairly nasty groups using "radiant" energy for nefarious purposes in the web enhancements; that's the new Positive, so it's definitely not all sweetness and light.

There's also the fact that fear and hatred are much stronger motivators than contentment or brotherhood. More juice to build devils than cherubim.

Shom sounds interesting, and the Carceri-like rearrangement of the Nine Hells is certainly reasonable.  Pity Pluton is no longer, well, Pluto's... and they killed off Tharizdun, eh?  Hmm.  Well, Pandemonium was never very inhabited anyway, except for the prison layer at the bottom...  No more Elder Elemental Eye.  Wonder what's happened with the whole Wind Dukes/Queen of Chaos/Mishka/Rod of Seven Parts storyline from early creation.

Hey!  I just realized.  Is there any room for the Princes of Elemental Good in this setup?  The primordials are pretty raw CE here.  Are any of them really friends of the mortal races? 

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Wow, this makes 4.0 look

Wow, this makes 4.0 look worse than it previously did to me.

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"and the Carceri-like

"and the Carceri-like rearrangement of the Nine Hells is certainly reasonable."

There's something amusing about the new and exciting design being a mere rearrangement of what plane has what geography. Mind you when I first finally grokked what Carceri was about that was pretty original.



I really wish they could actually debate some of the old hats, or maybe Rip or Shemmy, about the supposed flaws in the old cosmology.

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Though if you think about

Though if you think about it, it's more Dante than Dante!  The "Inferno" had Hell as a descending set of nine rings, narrowing as they descended the walls of a funnel-like pit.  Here we have nested spheres, which are 3D circles, each level existing on its own.

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Jem wrote:and they killed

Jem wrote:
and they killed off Tharizdun, eh? Hmm. Well, Pandemonium was never very inhabited anyway, except for the prison layer at the bottom... No more Elder Elemental Eye. Wonder what's happened with the whole Wind Dukes/Queen of Chaos/Mishka/Rod of Seven Parts storyline from early creation.

Hey! I just realized. Is there any room for the Princes of Elemental Good in this setup? The primordials are pretty raw CE here. Are any of them really friends of the mortal races?

Tharizdun seems to still be alive, imprisoned, and for some known as the Elder Elemental Eye, going by the DMG, p163.

With regards to primordial alignment, the Motp notes: "Most are unaligned, a few are Evil or Chaotic Evil" (p70). If I were to use them with alignment, I would certainly not exclude the possibility of primordials of every kind (using the original 9 alignments setup). I don't think any of them are fond of the mortal races, though, since those were the work of the gods (as I understand it) - they probably generally disfavor creatures with the natural and immortal origins.

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Thing that bothers me is we

Thing that bothers me is we have moved from "belief can change the planes" to a "POW POW POW planes are dungeon grounds"... :/

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I think the idea in the

I think the idea in the World Axis cosmology is that there are no exemplars either of Good or Evil; instead, the major players are the gods and the primordials, and the other major groups are only derivatives from them. The angels are servants of the gods, the devils are corrupt angels, Tharizdun is a corrupt god, and the demons are primordials corrupted by Tharizdun. So we have the gods, primordials, and gods and primordials who aren't working "properly." Rather than Evil as a force in itself, Evil is defined more as a flaw in the natural unaligned nature of the cosmos. Good, then, has no cosmic significance at all; it is not the opposite of evil, since the primordials and angels would, as a whole, be merely unaligned if Evil didn't exist. It didn't arise in reaction to evil; there seem to have been good creatures before Tharizdun's or Asmodeus's fall. While Evil is a flaw in the cosmos - the Abyss is literally a festering wound in creation - good doesn't really make the cosmos better on an equivalently dramatic scale. Evil is a terrible betrayal that overturned the cosmic order, while good is merely a point of view, part of the natural variation in the unaligned spectrum.

Lower-case evil is probably also part of that natural variation - there would still be evil gods, primordials, and races without Tharizdun or Asmodeus - but Evil with a capital E is something that doesn't seem to have any opposite reaction.

It's as if the unaligned status quo is a porcelin plate, and Evil is a crack in it. There's no opposite of that crack - the plate is either broken or it isn't. That which would heal the crack might include "good," but unaligned and small-e evil beings can do the same thing.  Good creatures might wish their plate was made of a finer material, but generally speaking all it can do is help make it a regular plate again.

 That's what it seems to me that they're getting at, anyway.

 

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Wow Rip, you made me think

Wow Rip, you made me think 4e was cool.

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4th edition D&D wants to

4th edition D&D wants to lure WoW palyers into the fold.The new planar design's also reminescent of Michael Moorcock's setting.

The designers cornerstone reason for redesign (to eliminate places a campaign couldn't take place in) is then eliminated w/"could reach somewhere that's a plane of ash". In no way does this redesign seem an improvement. How's this redesign an improvement over Planescape? Before Rich's Dark City knick-off there was Limbo. 

Eberron deals w/its' planes in the most interesting way yet: treating them cosmologically, as bodies that orbit each other, influence waxing and waning like stars'n planets are thought to influence humans by some. 

Eberron's my favorite D&D setting. The other's seem to approximate medieval days w/monsters on the borders of civilization but Eberron takes magic and monsters to their logical conclusion: becoming national standards. 

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I find that the biggest

I find that the biggest flaw in the new cosmology is that most of us go into it expecting to find all of what we remember and when we don't there's a great cry of both shock and outrage. I think what needs to be said here is that this is not Planescape, it's the new "standard" of planes for fourth edition's "canon" setting. While they intend to uphold it as the end all be all for settings (even slamming Ebberon's cosmology into it, which I view as a mistake but heh, we'll see), that doesn't mean that third party products can't use the old cosmology. All it means is that we'll have to do the work updating the planes ourselves, yeah?

 

Anyway, there's afew things I found especially helpful from this interview, namely James Wyatt's restatement of what the real conflict is supposed to be, and one I've held forth on before. Somewhere...Anyway, also interesting, entertaining, or helpful are Baker's statement about "getting your emo on", the section on the reimagination of the Nine Hells, which from my look at the Manual looks pretty nifty for certain and the small section on turning it back into Planescape, which I find a little...sketchy. 

 

My main difference between the established "party line" seems to be that the Primordials desire chaos while the gods want order. I don't think that that's right at all. I think the struggle should rather be one in which the battle is between pure existence in an elemental state or metaphyiscal/philosophical existence with meaning. This means neither side is totally right or wrong. If the gods had their way everything would be reduced to a state of pure ideal thought while if the primordials had there way everything would interact without meaning or motivating thought. There's a subtle irony in that for either side to win, they had to take on or be tainted by the other.

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Avin wrote:Thing that

Avin wrote:
Thing that bothers me is we have moved from "belief can change the planes" to a "POW POW POW planes are dungeon grounds"... :/

It should have been expected, as there is a significant change of focus in the 4th ed. D&D. It is neither good, nor bad. It is simply different for me. I have made the decision not to upgrade, as I find the new focus unable to cater to my gaming needs.  

Sincerely,

Kriegstanz

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I gotta say I'm not a 4e

I gotta say I'm not a 4e fan. but the new Manual of the planes looks pretty sexy. The differences in The nine hels are actually sorta minor when you think about it. and I'm sure I can run any thing I want out of 4e regardless what the books say. On the OTHER hand!

 

Planewalker might have to start all over again...CRY

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richardb's picture
Re: 4th Edition Planes: Interview with the Writers of the ...

I know its old but great interview series. I loved the fact that there was no real good or evil. At least that's what I think. Could do with some updated interviews.

richardb (not verified)
richardb's picture
Re: 4th Edition Planes: Interview with the Writers of the ...

I know its old but great interview series. I loved the fact that there was no real good or evil. At least that's what I think. Could do with some updated interviews.

Emperor Xan's picture
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Joined: 2004-06-29
Now I know...

which people not to give my hard earned money to on any future products, regardless of what they do or for whom.

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