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The Many Worlds of D&D
Mike Mearls

During the holiday season, we're looking back at some of the most popular articles this year, within each column. Today's Legends & Lore originally ran back on July 1.

We look forward to seeing you again in the new year!

L ast week I wrote about adventure design and how it relates to game design. This week, I'd like to touch on how we're approaching the many worlds of D&D Next. This also relates to how your personal campaign world can fit into the greater D&D Next cosmology.

To begin with, we're making some tweaks to the cosmology to reconcile the differences between various editions and worlds. Our goal is to make it so that as much prior material as possible is still useful and relevant. In a sense, you can think of this approach as attempting to ensure as much story compatibility as possible when you convert an existing campaign over to D&D Next.

For instance, the elemental planes will be divided into three basic rings that surround the prime material plane. The innermost ring consists of the border elemental planes. These regions are like the regular world dominated by a specific element. The border plane of fire is a land of ash deserts, billowing volcanoes, and lakes of lava. The next ring out consists of the deep elemental planes, which are areas of pure, elemental energy much as the elemental planes were portrayed in the Planescape material. Finally, the outermost ring is the elemental chaos, a region of pure, fundamental elemental energy.

This approach came about based on a variety of sources, but it all began with the azer, everyone's favorite fiery dwarves. Their original description mentions that they dwell in towers of basalt. The azer's description prompted us to look at the plane of fire courtesy of the cover of the original AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. That image helped create the concept of the border elemental planes. Here was an iconic image of D&D that didn't actually match the lore as it developed. If we embraced an aspect of the elemental planes that was more like that cover, we could open up more vistas for adventure without overwriting or deleting prior material.

Going back to the azer, we can have azers dwelling in basalt towers along a great chain of volcanoes that marks the boundary between the border earth and border fire elemental planes. Meanwhile, in the deep elemental fire, you can find other azers who live as described in the Planescape supplement The Inner Planes.

By the same token, we're treating the Feywild as a similar border plane between the positive energy plane and the prime material. The dreaded domains of Ravenloft are its opposite number, between the negative energy plane and the prime. Elements of the Shadowfell can become domains within Ravenloft.

When it comes to the outer planes, we're treating Planescape as our default assumption. It's a much-beloved setting and one that's fairly easy (by design) to integrate into existing campaigns. That means the return of the Great Wheel, the Blood War, and other classic elements of the D&D cosmos. The same process for the inner planes applies to the outer planes, with our intent to add elements to the cosmos to increase storytelling opportunities and make the Wheel as flexible as possible for different settings and different DMs.

The biggest setting change we're looking at concerns Spelljammer. In the past, it incorporated all of D&D's settings as places you could visit. I'm not sure that's the strongest selling point of the setting. In my mind, Spelljammer was an interesting exercise in placing D&D in space. Adding in Faerûn, Oerth, and other worlds muddied its initial vision. It also says stuff about settings that might be fairly jarring given a world's flavor and feel. Not everyone wants the equivalent of spaceships in their campaign, so I think that when we talk about Spelljammer as it relates to other settings, we're going to focus on it as its own setting and downplay its role as the connecting tether between various D&D Next worlds.

Ideally, our approach allows Dragonlance, Eberron, Forgotten Realms, the world of the Nentir Vale, Greyhawk, Mystara, Dark Sun, and your own campaign setting to work with the basic assumptions we make about the planes.

Remember the Sundering?

Some of you might remember the Gen Con Keynote last year where we told you about the Sundering, a huge event that will change the Forgotten Realms forever. The time has come to revisit that topic briefly now so that you know this: Check out tomorrow and find out how you can participate in the various events tied to the Sundering and how you too can play a part in reshaping the future of the Realms.

Mike Mearls
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.
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