Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A Square Wheel

Where are you?
Cut out and keep!
When the Players Handbook finally came out it contained some information which had previously only been available in the impossible-to-find Dragon magazine: the Outer Planes. A slightly odd thing to include in the PHB, but it did follow on from the previous right hand page which was filled with the almost-never-used Alignment Graph, so there was at least a slight visual linkage there.

This visual linkage was analogous of the linkage between alignment and the afterlife and it had two important differences with the illustration that would appear a few years later in Deities and Demigods: 1) it was square, and 2) the middle was not occupied by an outer plane of existence. The so-called "Great Wheel" of later times was not a wheel at all in the beginning and for very good reason.

The major problem with the circular image is that it conflates the axes which are cleanly separated in the original diagram, leading to the belief among some that the intent is for Neutral Good to be more Good than Lawful Good or Chaotic Good. Similarly, Lawful Neutral seems to be more Lawful than Lawful Evil is. Indeed, if one superimposes the Alignment Graph on the circular map of the outer planes, this is an almost inescapable conclusion.

But the most subtle issue is the addition of the extra plane—called the plane of Concordant Opposition. This served the function of being where the neutral deities resided but it had the side effect of changing the fundamental relationship of the druids to the outer and inner planes.

In the PHB version of the planes there was a clearly defined path for the souls of dead characters who were not neutral: they simply went to the plane most appropriate to their alignment. For neutral characters—the great bulk of human kind—there was no such place, but there was the druids and their doctrine of reincarnation. The implications are many but the one I picked up on was that the "natural" order of things is for the human soul to reincarnate and the goal of whatever it is behind the alignments is to gather souls out of that circular current and recruit them to some other purpose. From this it is obvious that the druids would hate and oppose all such deities with a passion, Good and Evil, Lawful or Chaotic alike.

But the cycle need not be immediate. Perhaps the souls of the dead have other options than returning directly to the Prime Material Plane. That central spot in the diagram was not occupied by Concordant Opposition, but it was occupied by a space representing the Inner Planes where the elemental energies of D&D were to be found; another link to druidism.

There's a lot of interesting possibilities there, albeit perhaps ones which are too specific for some campaigns. But no more specific than the whole idea of Outer Planes linked to one's alignment, surely?

In any case, Deities and Demigods put paid to this scheme by plugging the gap with its new neutrally-aligned outer plane (and four slightly questionable "spokes" too, in the diagram). And while I can see the desire for a residence for neutral gods, I think I'd rather that such a place was a little different from the other planes and perhaps based in the Astral or even Ethereal Planes; or such deities could be wanderers or restricted to the PMP.

It is interesting, perhaps, to note that Gygax's most famous hero, Gord, becomes steadfastly neutral and as a result ends up opposing all the deities, much as Elric does when he decides to support The Balance between Law and Chaos. I also feel that there is some inherent incompatibility between gods and neutrality as such, although Boccob the Uncaring (or Crom, if you prefer) do have an attraction as well.

Be that as it may, I no longer use the DDG system and stick with the PHB one which seems to be to offer more dramatic metaphysical options than the more simplistic and neat Great Wheel rolling through its multi-dimensional ætherspace.

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