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Author Topic: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting  (Read 18923 times)
Grimcleaver
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Posts: 23


« on: February 14, 2011, 10:39:43 AM »

I've been playing D&D over various editions pretty much since red box (though those were childhood memories, really). My fullest intereaction with the game has been since the black 2nd edition AD&D books. Back then it was easy. All the D&D settings, published and homebrew, existed together in an infinite shared world of crystal spheres and phlogiston (on the Prime Material end, see Spelljammer) and in a Great Wheel of connected elemental and heavenly realms (on the planar end, see Planescape). It was elegant and sparked the imagination, but it wreaked havok on tone and campaign themes--for example when the PCs in your Ravenloft campaign included a kender from Dragonlance, a thri-kreen from Dark Sun, and a goblinoid beastman from Mystara.

So third edition made a bold move: they separated the cosmologies and the planes, and pretty much decided that all the official books would deal with the Greyhawk setting, a much beloved but long neglected setting. Each other setting book, like Forgotten Realms or Eberron, would treat with their worlds as being complete self contained cosmologies cut off from the others spacially or cosmologically and devices like spelljamming ships were merely curiousities for getting from here to there within a certain setting's planes and prime material worlds, not for going from one to another. All fine, and very cool. But then things got weird. Books started showing up that had background information for races that had nothing to do with the core setting, gods and cities and organizations that didn't fit anywhere. Most of the adventures in fact, weren't set anywhere in the core setting with no ideas as to where they were intended to fit (because in fact, they weren't...you were just supposed to "stick them in wherever you want").

Cue 4e. One of its guiding principles was that it would have a Core World, but no set map or guideposts. It would be a vast pastiche of all that great material that had been created and orphaned back in 3rd edition, a jigsaw puzzle for each DM to put together as they saw fit, with a few shared vantage points--the lost empire of Nerath, the fallen kingdoms of Bael Terath and Arkhosia, but for the most part it was made of modules, classic, modern and homebrew. But once again there was a serpent in paradise. This time it was that this cool amorphous world began to forget its bounds, absorbing swaths of other settings into itself, duplicating places iconic to other settings--ones that did have maps--and led to some bizzarre duplications of people places and histories. So the Tomb of Horrors and Temple of Elemental Evil are in the 4e world? And Greyhawk? Is there even a Greyhawk anymore? Not only were those questions unanswered, but they came to be deemed invalid questions to be asking as the whole idea of static settings and cosmologies was starting to become passe.

Now the interesting thing here is that because 4e was so wildly different from earlier editions both in feel and in flavor, I found it played nicely alongside 3rd edition games--and in fact 2nd edition games, spawning for me a desire to finally go in and separate the various D&D, to put them each somewhere where they could be loved and be what they were meant to be. So that became my project--and as I update this post, my plan is to let you all in, piece by piece, on how my deconstructed, reconstituted D&D Metacosmology fits together. Hope you find it useful. Heck, maybe even useful enough to take out for a spin in your own games!

So I guess that's my mission statement anyway.
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Grimcleaver
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Posts: 23


« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2011, 10:43:38 AM »

Books started showing up that had background information for races that had nothing to do with the core setting...

Hmm...rereading this it seems misleading. I didn't mean new races like Goliaths, so much as new backgrounds for existing races that didn't fit what was known about them--mostly stuff from the "Races of" series that created whole new gods, cultures and societies for humans, elves, dwarves, whatever that felt like they were from a whole new setting and didn't fit what came before. I guess that was the real rub.
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Grimcleaver
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Posts: 23


« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2011, 11:01:30 AM »

Step One: 2nd Edition (and earlier)

So going back to second edition I discovered something kind of amazing. Gary Gygax actually had envisioned an entire multiverse of his own back when he was the power behind D&D. Now mind you this was way before Forgotten Realms, or Dragonlance or anything. Old school. In his vision of things, each world was a thematically related variation off of our own world, where some legend, fact and fancy all interplayed in different ways. Greyhawk (Oerth) shared planar borders with other worlds such as Yarth, Uerth, Aerth, etc. A few of these made it into print under other publishers after Gygax left D&D behind. Learth is detailed in the Lejendary Adventures (yep, with a j) series, and Aerth is described in the Dangerous Journeys series. There's also signs as to what the cosmology might have been like in the old Deities and Demigods and the Cyclopedia and what planar adventures might have been like going through wormholes to worlds of pure air or fire. Interesting stuff. So what I wanted to do with 2nd edition is make it a shrine to D&D as it might have been, to take the original ideas of Gary Gygax and to try to peice them together like an archeologist. All the stuff that was added later on or absorbed into other settings (like Planescape or the 4e Core setting) I either try to gently rename to something appropriate or else remove and put where it belongs. The gods of the 2e world tend to be gods from real world history and mythology as well as gods from classical fantasy--the kind of fare you get in the Deities and Demigods book. I tend to run these games using all the Skills and Powers, mostly because I really love that system in all it's cumbersome glory.
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Natespank
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Posts: 97

I usually use the male pronoun to mean either sex.


« Reply #3 on: February 14, 2011, 09:33:37 PM »

Hey, cool idea

Can you clarify the mission statement though? Are you forging an edition-non-specific multiverse, or one for use with a specific edition? Is this similar to an encyclopedia or will it be in the form of a playable product? Or is it more of a history?

It seems a little sketchy to me to attempt to combine them all since they had such various unrelated creators. Gygax disliked 4e a lot, so his "vision" of what the world of D&D ought to be must strongly conflict with the current WotC group. The changed mechanics alters the nature of the worlds as well- no more 1 hit kills against level 1-3 characters (well, mostly none).

I'm not sure there's a need to neatly combine the settings like you suggest- except maybe as an interesting scholarly work :D That's something I'd like to go through. Gygax intrigues me.
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Grimcleaver
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Posts: 23


« Reply #4 on: February 15, 2011, 08:45:15 AM »

Hey, cool idea

Can you clarify the mission statement though? Are you forging an edition-non-specific multiverse, or one for use with a specific edition? Is this similar to an encyclopedia or will it be in the form of a playable product? Or is it more of a history?

It seems a little sketchy to me to attempt to combine them all since they had such various unrelated creators. Gygax disliked 4e a lot, so his "vision" of what the world of D&D ought to be must strongly conflict with the current WotC group. The changed mechanics alters the nature of the worlds as well- no more 1 hit kills against level 1-3 characters (well, mostly none).

I'm not sure there's a need to neatly combine the settings like you suggest- except maybe as an interesting scholarly work :D That's something I'd like to go through. Gygax intrigues me.

Quite the opposite. I found 4e so different from previous editions that I want to try and make each edition totally its own thing, to separate out all the IP between the various editions so each of them can be their own thing. The puzzle is what stuff to give to which edition. My hope is to have 2nd edition be the home for the original Gygaxian cosmology.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: February 15, 2011, 08:47:31 AM »

Hey guys,

This thread needs to include accounts of actual play in order to continue.

Also, people might be interested in my article "A hard look at Dungeons & Dragons" which you can find via the link at the top right of the webpage.

Best, Ron
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Grimcleaver
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Posts: 23


« Reply #6 on: February 15, 2011, 09:05:48 AM »

Step 2: Third Edition (s)

So to try and stay as loyal as possible to third edition's goal of having each setting have its own entirely separate cosmology I've tried to take all the settings I've given to third edition and break them as far away from each other as possible. Spelljammer got written up nicely by the crew at Polyhedron magazine as a mini-setting with its own worlds and gods and I really like to hold to that version of the game as a template for all the 3e games I'm restructuring. Planescape, for example, I have always felt was more harmed than helped by being attached to different game settings. Being attached to every setting left you having to shoehorn gods into one of the prefab planes whether or not they really felt like they belonged there, including a lot of gods from real world mythologies which always seemed a bit weird to me. Where do you put mythical egypt? Shouldn't its cosmology be its own thing (if it even belongs in D&D in the first place--which is a contentious affair anyway)? Third edition made things weirder--because the Prime of Planescape became Greyhawk and now suddenly there weren't nearly enough gods to flesh out their varied and interesting planes--like Mechanus, there just are no Greyhawk gods who fit in Mechanus at all. What I've tried to do is make Planescape it's own setting. What Primes are there? Well like everything in Planescape you know there are infinite primes but that they probably adhere to the cardinal rules of Planescape cosmography--there's always three of everything (and a hidden fourth) etc.

Likewise Forgotten Realms has always felt distinctly third edition to me. So I've taken the setting advances of 4e and kept those, 100 years in the future, vast cataclysms, magic turned on its head, new draconic and elemental races. Rather than just having all these interesting evolutions to the setting all dump into Faerun turning into the 4e core cosmology, I've instead dipped into many of the lost books of 3e lore that never got used. Races of the Dragon for the immigrant Abeiran races, Incarnum and Tome of Magic for the changed nature of magic. In utilizing some of this rules material which never seemed to see much use before 4e, Faerun in its modern form feels much more rich and interesting and loyal to its world shaking events.

3e has also become the home to games like Ghostwalk that got created as little side projects and never really got the love they deserved. Likewise throughout a lot of the sourcebooks there's all these little mini-settings they kept coming up with and then never mentioning again (like the Winding Road Cosmology from the Manual of the Planes--just cool and totally abandoned). All of these cool and conceptually independant worlds have become the basis for my various 3e games.
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Grimcleaver
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Posts: 23


« Reply #7 on: February 15, 2011, 09:08:50 AM »

[Really? Wow. I'm two for two. I seriously thought Actual Play was for your experiences with games and the theory you've developed from them. Is it really just logs of games you've run? That just seems way less interesting. Anyway I submit to the forum admin...that's it for this thread too.] *End of Line*
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2011, 09:41:33 AM »

Please consider that: 

1. I did not close the thread.

2. No one said a thread topic had to be confined to play logs, nor that discussing play needed to be a "log." Just include some examples from genuine experience to illustrate your points, here and there.

I would like to see this thread continue, which is why I moderated it rather than shutting it down. The Forge isn't like other places. Being moderated is not a social signal to shut up.

Best, Ron
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Natespank
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Posts: 97

I usually use the male pronoun to mean either sex.


« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2011, 12:13:26 PM »

Quote
My hope is to have 2nd edition be the home for the original Gygaxian cosmology.

Gygax wasn't actually involved in 2nd Ed, was he? I think the last edition he participated in was advanced 1e. I'm nitpicking though- I don't actually object.

Where's your source material for this idea of Gygax's? I wouldn't mind reading it :D

Quote
"A hard look at Dungeons & Dragons"

Will do, thanks. The history of RPGs always intrigues me!
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #10 on: February 16, 2011, 02:14:20 AM »

Hey Grim, this separation makes a lot of sense to me too, largely because I found different bits appealing from different editions, and would like to use each edition for the one thing it did best.  What did you enjoy most about the cosmologies in play?  I think that'd nicely clarify the value of the categories you're drawing, plus meet the AP requirement! 

Personally, my 2e games were very much about discovering a world and plots and factions, where cosmology mattered, especially as characters advanced quickly and came to matter on a large scale.  My 1e games were isolated dungeon crawls, but even there, cleric players got really into their relationships with their deities.  Verbal and material components got roleplayed and everything.  Sacrifices and prayers galore.  This went out the window in my 3e games; I don't remember any gods at all.  I don't know whether any of this was owed to the actual published material or just who I was playing with at the time, but I'm curious to hear your own experience on this front (if it's relevant to your mission here, that is).
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here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development
Grimcleaver
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Posts: 23


« Reply #11 on: February 16, 2011, 10:50:16 AM »

I think in view of some of the feedback I've gotten on my Site Discussion post "Help me Ron Edwards, You're my only hope" I'm going to take a step back and maybe ground some of my experiences of "what D&D is" for me and mine with some of our experiences with it.

I have two good friends (who actually were the same guys who told me about the Forge in the first place) who hated D&D. They'd read things like Order of the Stick, or Munchkin's Guide to Powergaming and laugh and laugh. To them D&D was just a bunch of irrational dungeon cells filled with orcs standing in front of treasure chests patrolled by wandering monsters of a table. I finally threw down the gauntlet. I would run a Dungeons & Dragons game for them and they would love it. Their stipulation, I couldn't use any house rules--it had to be 100% played the way it is in the books, and it had to be epic level. If the game could survive both of those things and still manage to be a good game, I'd win. Nearly a year later we ended probably our most fondly regarded, certainly most often referenced games we ever played. We set it in the Forgotten Realms. One of the two guys played Thorin, a paladin of Torm--the crusader god against evil: but instead of spending as much time as I think his player thought he'd be spending riding forth to slay evil, he spent a lot of time sorting out the life wreckage of the years that had brought him to epic level, dealing with the consequence of the backstory he'd come up with. The baby he'd rescued from his former wife and her poisonous Loviatar worshipping religion was now a 16 year old young woman who was tired of all her dad's bravado and the trauma it had caused her seeing him fly into rages and slay people he saw as evil. She just wanted to settle down and embrace a life where she just tried to accept everyone. But slowing down and settling in the city of Teziir meant that his ex would eventually track them down--and that would mean a reckoning. Meanwhile the other guy played the archmage Rondel, an ooze merchant who spent most of his retiring years engaged in the pleasant hobby of meeting and greeting the wealthy strata of society and teaching them the wonders of ooze-keeping for security or just as a liesure activity. But he had his own issues. He'd promised his wife--a homespun, but still frightening archmage in her own right, that he would stop adventuring to pay attention to his family. He has a son who he believes is off in magic school, but who actually has run away to become a bard. Most of all he has to square with the past he has run away from--as General Talthea, the Scourge of the North, the merciless and relentless Icewind warlord who devoted most of his adult life to murdering barbarians and orcs for increasingly dark reasons. He locked away the paraphinalia of that life in a demiplane to dispose of that part of himself years ago--but its still there, and as the world once again is threatened by great evil he will have to choose to face it as either the eccentric and easygoing Rondel, or give in to the dread general that lurks within his soul.

Anyway more on that later--suffice it to say I won the bet, and learned a lot about good storytelling--that the best story tends to come from delving deep into a setting, it's gods, its history and its cosmology--but most of all good storytelling comes from abandoning the idea as a DM that you're there to tell "your" story. The most interesting stories almost always belong to the characters, and really it's their story after all.
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Erik Weissengruber
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Designing "In this Sign, Conquer:


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« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2011, 12:35:56 PM »

I am liking what you are saying about game setting and table outcomes.

The only RPG setting that I ever fell in love with was Stafford's Glorantha (with M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel a   d i   s  s ... t  a  n  t   2nd).  It was, however, Stafford's creation before it was game fodder.

To further your Actual Play discussion:

Can you recall any moments where the results of a roll or the outcome of a spell really made people around the table say "yeah, that's it, that is how we roll here in the Forgotten Realms"?

Any moments where a rule from the edition you were using made you stop and say "nuh unh, that just doesn't sound like the kind of things that happen in the Forgotten Realms"?

And character death: one time when a character bought it, did you say "suck it up, that's how you die -- FR style" or "wow, that was a really lame way for a Realms hero to go out"?
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Grimcleaver
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Posts: 23


« Reply #13 on: February 16, 2011, 12:45:04 PM »

Gygax wasn't actually involved in 2nd Ed, was he? I think the last edition he participated in was advanced 1e. I'm nitpicking though- I don't actually object. Where's your source material for this idea of Gygax's? I wouldn't mind reading it :D

Researching it, yeah it looks like he left the company four years before 2nd edition came out, but really this is how I look at it. Second edition, with skills and powers, really is the mechanical summation of all the stuff in it that speaks to me of "old school" D&D gaming: Thac0, Non Weapon Proficiencies, Kits, The Man-at-arms/Magic User/Priest/Rogue breakdown. From looking at other older editions it feels like some of it is there, but it really isn't until 2nd ed. that all of that stuff is under one roof. So chronologically I guess Gary Gygax's D&D isn't 2nd edition at all--but it feels the most like his.

I actually did quite a bit of digging to find out what his ideas were, including finding a forum on EN World where you could actually talk to the man himself and ask him questions. His family still own the rights to his work and have forums at a place called garygygaxgames.com. I took a lot of it from the cosmology sections in the Cyclopedia and the old Deities and Demigods as well as from the cosmology sections in The Hall of Many Panes, and Epic of Ayrth. Some chunks were in articles and interviews in Dragon Magazine. But I guess I've been mining around for all the information I could get for a while now and pinning down a single source is hard--because I really couldn't find one single source myself.
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Caldis
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Posts: 392


« Reply #14 on: February 16, 2011, 03:00:30 PM »


That's a pretty cool set up for a game.  I wonder though how much of it really had to do with the rules of D&D any edition?  I mean you've added issues that concern each of these characters that are not mentioned in any D&D book, children? hidden tragic pasts?  life as an ooze merchant?  I dont see any mention of hit points or armor class or challenge ratings or even experience points.   You've got a lot of cool play that sounds like it only barely touches on the rules of the game.  It looks like the character issues are what is really driving the play, and that you may have loosely tied them to the cosmology of the game world/used setting info to give a feel of a real place/inspire ideas for opposition.

IME all the editions of D&D are too clunky for what I'm after and I cant be bothered with the hassle of levels and spells and all that mechanical jazz but there settings have often been interesting and tieing those to character issues could be amazing.  2nd edition had a lot of their best setting work with Planescape and Dark Sun even Al-Qadim had interesting bits. 
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