y work these days doesn’t have a lot to do with monsters. Chris Perkins is spending a lot of time taking all the work we’ve done concepting monsters (including the feedback from the polls in this column) and turning it into actual monsters, while my time is spent doing a lot of other writing. So I’m going to continue exploring some other topics, generally revolving around the story of the D&D multiverse.
And that’s what I want to talk about this week: the multiverse.
The Default Setting
Pretty early on, we agreed that the core rules for D&D Next had to acknowledge the existence of all the worlds of D&D—not just the Forgotten Realms we’ve been talking a lot about, but also Greyhawk, Eberron, Krynn, Athas, Mystara, Ravenloft—and, most importantly, the thousands and thousands of worlds created by DMs for their own games. So we’re writing from that perspective, and you’ve seen snippets of it in the playtest materials—for example, the inclusion of the kender and the warforged in the last races document, with explicit mention of the worlds they come from. Another example appears in the playtest text of the cleric class:
Examples of the gods of this [Life] domain include Apollo, Demeter, and Hestia of the Olympian pantheon; Isis and Osiris of the Pharaonic pantheon; Frey, Freya, and Frigga of the Asgardian pantheon; Chauntea, Ilmater, and Lathander of the Forgotten Realms; and Ehlonna, Pelor, and Zodal of Greyhawk.
And reinforcing that idea, here’s a sneak peek at some (unedited) text that might or might not appear in some unspecified future rulebook:
All these worlds share characteristics, but each world is set apart by its own history and cultures, distinctive monsters and races, fantastic geography, ancient dungeons, and scheming villains. Some races have unusual traits in different worlds. The halflings of Athas, for example, are jungle-dwelling cannibals, and the elves are desert nomads. Some worlds feature races unknown in other worlds, such as Eberron’s warforged, soldiers created and imbued with life to fight in the Last War. Some worlds are heavily influenced by one great story, like the War of the Lance that plays a central role in the Dragonlance setting. But they’re all D&D worlds, and you can use the rules in this book to create a character and play in any one of them.
Your DM might set the campaign on one of these worlds or one that he or she created. Because there is so much diversity among the worlds of D&D, you should always check with your DM about any variant, additional, or prohibited classes, races, and other character options, or any house rules that will affect your play of the game. Ultimately, the Dungeon Master is the authority on the campaign and its setting, even if the setting is a published world.
The way I see it, this philosophy is an extension of the approach I’ve been trying to take with monsters throughout the life of this column: to make sure we come up with a story that includes every past expression of a monster in the game.
Connecting the Worlds
Over the history of D&D, the game has posited several different ways that all these various worlds might be connected.
The original Manual of the Planes (1987) placed each world in an alternate Prime Material Plane and discussed ways of traveling from one to another.
- Each Prime Material Plane has its own Ethereal Plane, but all those Ethereal Planes connect to the same Inner (Elemental) Planes—so it’s theoretically possible to go ethereal, go into the Elemental Plane of Air, travel some unspecified distance, enter a different Ethereal Plane, and end up in another Prime Material Plane.
- Potentially simpler, all the Prime Material Planes connect to the same Astral Plane, so if you go Astral and can find a connection to another Prime Material Plane, you can travel from world to world that way.
- The plane shift spell, an amulet of the planes, or the well of many worlds can also transport a character from one world to another.
- Free-standing gates exist that link worlds to one another.
In 2nd Edition, the Spelljammer setting (1989) linked the various worlds in a very different way. Each D&D world existed in its own crystal sphere suspended within the phlogiston, and magical flying ships (spelljammers) could leave those spheres and cross the phlogiston to reach other worlds.
The Planescape setting (1994) kept the same cosmology, explicitly outlining that there’s only one Prime Material Plane, full of separate worlds isolated in their own crystal spheres. But Planescape, naturally, put a lot more emphasis on travel from plane to plane than on spelljamming between worlds. Since there’s only one Prime Material Plane, though, it would be possible in the Planescape model to travel from world to world via the Ethereal Plane. But Planescape also put an increasing emphasis on portals leading directly from plane to plane, and presumably from world to world within the Prime Material Plane.
The 3rd Edition version of Manual of the Planes (2001) promoted the earlier-edition Demiplane of Shadow to a full-fledged plane in its own right, which served as another link between alternate Prime Material Planes. Because that book opened up the possibility that different Material Planes might have their own unique arrangements of surrounding planes, the Plane of Shadow and the Astral Plane were the only guaranteed connections—a particular Inner or Outer Plane might have no link at all to another world.
This is a truly expansive view of the multiverse, and it allowed us to create entirely new cosmologies for the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and the pantheons presented in Deities & Demigods. That approach had its pitfalls, and maybe I’ll talk more about that next week.
Races and Subraces
One of the appealing things about a meta-setting like Planescape or Spelljammer is that it allows players to create pretty much any character they want, drawing on material from any setting, published or unpublished. Planescape’s great metropolis of Sigil is the most cosmopolitan place imaginable, where githyanki and bariaurs rub shoulders with demons, kender, shield dwarves, and (at least theoretically) warforged.
Which raises an interesting question: What’s a shield dwarf?
The original Monster Manual (1977) presented two kinds of dwarf (hill and mountain), three kinds of halfling (hairfoot, tallfellow, and stout), and six kinds of elf (high, aquatic, drow, grey, half-, and wood). The only differences between hill dwarves and mountain dwarves as presented there are preferred habitat, size (mountain dwarves are a little taller), Hit Dice (1+1 versus just 1 for the hill dwarf), coloration (mountain dwarves are lighter in skin and hair), and maximum level advancement. The different kinds of elves and halflings were more different from each other, in terms of rules.
In the original Forgotten Realms setting products, the mountain dwarves of the world were called shield dwarves, and the hill dwarves were gold dwarves. They live in different parts of the world and have different cultures, but again, the rules differences between them were minimal until the 3rd Edition campaign setting.
That book, for the first time, presented shield dwarves and hill dwarves as something different from the hill dwarves and mountain dwarves presented in that edition’s Monster Manual. Well, sort of. Shield dwarves were equated with the default dwarves in the Player’s Handbook (except for the languages available to them), which is to say hill dwarves. And gold dwarves were presented as a unique subrace, with different rules: a penalty to Dexterity instead of Charisma, and a bonus to attack rolls against aberrations instead of orcs and goblins. Suddenly, gold dwarves weren’t just hill dwarves by another name, they were a distinct kind of dwarf that existed only in the Forgotten Realms.
Part of our attempt to focus on the whole multiverse in the new rules affects the way we look at subraces like this. Here’s another excerpt of unedited text that might or might not appear, in some form, in some unspecified future rulebook.
As a hill dwarf, you’re strong and hardy, accustomed to a difficult life in rugged terrain. The gold dwarves of Faerûn in their mighty southern kingdom are hill dwarves, as are the exiled Neidar and the debased Klar of Ansalon. . . .
As a mountain dwarf, you have keen senses, deep intuition, and a mastery of armor made from the metals mined in the mountains. You’re probably on the tall side (for a dwarf), and tend toward lighter coloration. The shield dwarves of northern Faerûn, as well as the ruling Hylar clan and the noble Daewar clan of Ansalon, are mountain dwarves.
I think this approach is important, because it stresses the idea that dwarves are dwarves, across the multiverse, and more specifically, that mountain dwarves are mountain dwarves, whether they’re called shield dwarves, Hylar, Daewar, or something else entirely. Mountain dwarves are a part of D&D, and all the worlds of the multiverse are a part of D&D. Not all those worlds have mountain dwarves, but where they do appear, they’re the same mountain dwarves as you’ll find on any other world.
That said, I think there’s plenty of room for differentiating the shield dwarves of Faerûn from the Hylar and Daewar of Dragonlance—and, for that matter, distinguishing the Hylar and Daewar from each other. But I think that differentiation needs to occur on a cultural level, not a subrace level. In other words, just like humans from Calimshan and humans from Solamnia are differentiated by their culture (and not by subrace), shield dwarves and Hylar should be distinguished in the same way.
What Do You Think?
What’s your take on this approach to the multiverse, the “default setting” of D&D, and the ties that bind the worlds together?
Previous Poll Results
What scale do you use for the starting area of a campaign?
| I don’t draw maps to scale for the starting area.
|Province scale (approximately 1 hex = 1 mile)
| Kingdom scale (approximately 1 hex = 10 miles)
|Continent scale (approximately 1 hex = 50 miles)
About how much area do you map out at the start of a campaign?
| A dungeon.
| A town.
|An area about 10 miles across.
|An area about 50 miles across.
| An area about 500 miles across.
| A continent.
| A world.
| I always use published settings.
How many settlements would you put in a starting area about 50 miles across?
|One—it’s important for a home base to be sort of isolated.
|Two to four.
|Five to seven.
|Eight to twelve—like Ten-Towns (or the Puget Sound).
|More than twelve—I like the home base to be busy.
How many dungeons or similar adventure locales would you put in a starting area about 50 miles across?
| Just one—I want the adventurers moving out of the area pretty quickly.
| Just one—a really big one the adventurers can explore for a good long time.
| Two to four.
|Five to seven.
|Eight to twelve.
|More than twelve—the adventurers should never be at a loss for something to do.
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.