this month's exclusive interview, lead designer Jeff Grubb shares a detailed
look at the new Manual of the
Planes, how it differs from the original, and the tools
it offers DMs.
of the Coast: So what is the Manual
of the Planes?
Grubb: Here's the quick version: Manual of the Planes is a
hardbound supplement that describes the various Planes of Existence and
the rules that govern them.
Planes of Existence?
The Planes of Existence are the layers of reality that exist beyond the
borders of typical campaigns. The heavens and hells, the sources of elemental
powers, the homes of the gods and the eternal resting place of dead spirits,
as well as those planes that are accessed by spells such as the Ethereal
Jaunt or Astral Projection. These are places where the very basic rules
of the universe operate differently than in your standard fantasy setting.
A group of these planes, including the connections between them, are called
You did a manual of the planes before, right?
Back in 1987, at the dawn of time. That one was also Manual of the
Planes. (Call it the original Manual of the Planes.)
How is this one different from the original version?
The original was a gathering and codification of a wide variety of articles
and adventures that had come before; it also filled out a large number
of previously blank spaces. The Planes had pretty much been a dumping
ground for any odd creatures or unearthly locations. The original sketch
for the "Great Wheel" had been published in an early Dragon
Magazine ( and it was more of "Great Rectangle" back then).
A plethora of monsters have shown up since that time -- devils, demons,
archons, devas, slaadi, and elementals. We sent adventurers to Lloth's
layer of the Abyss and detailed the politics of Hell. I described it at
the time as "Fibber Magee's Closet" -- a cascade of wonderful
information with very little consistency between the parts. The original
Manual pulled all these sources together and codified them for
the first time, looking for commonalities and universal rules.
And the new Manual?
The new Manual of the Planes goes far beyond that. It is both toy
box and tool box. It breaks down the nature of the planes into basic defining
units, called traits, and lets the DM use those traits to build individual
planes and cosmologies. These traits are as simple and as complex as how
gravity works on the plane, how static or chaotic the location is, how
influenced by various elemental forces or alignment the plane is, and
how magic works within its borders. It lets you define your own planes
according to the needs of your campaign.
Is the original Great Wheel still there?
It's still there in all its glory, but only as an example. The Great Wheel
functions as the core cosmology in much the same way as Greyhawk
functions as the core campaign setting for D&D and Greyhawk's
gods as a core pantheon. It's there as a handy piece that the DM can pick
up and use immediately. Should DMs wish to create their own versions of
the Planes, they have the tools to do so.
Why would DMs want to build their own cosmologies?
Their ethical sensibilities for their campaigns may be different than
that of the core campaign. They may want to think of the great conflicts
as being Good versus Evil (or Law and Chaos), without shades of gray.
In such a cosmology the varied shades of the Great Wheel are not as applicable.
you may want to have a universe where there are five elements as opposed
to four, or one without the Ethereal Plane, or one where the gods live
on the Material Plane. This lets you set it up.
for building your own cosmology is that it gives your campaign its own
unique outlook and sense of wonder. You can let your players discover
how your universe works on their own. Now D&D campaigns can
have different planar arrangements. A good example of this is in the new
Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, which breaks away radically
from the old Great Wheel.
Were you involved in that?
I helped out a little. The new Realms team showed me the planar arrangement
as they wanted it. I pointed out a few more connections they needed to
make, and how to present it. The first draft looked like a spider. The
revised version looks more like a bush, with the Inner Planes providing
the building blocks for the Material Planes and the various Outer Planes
existing solely as godly domains for the various gods.
the limitations of the Great Wheel is that it set down the cosmology for
the various campaign settings. You could not suddenly discover a new plane
-- it just wouldn't fit. The Realms layout creates the chances of new
planes (and yes, new gods) showing up.
other end, by the way, is the Krynnish cosmology, which has a very direct
cosmology of Overheaven and Abyss. It doesn't require all the extra Outer
Planes of the Great Wheel, and so these additional planes can be dispensed
with. Mind you, neither the Realms' nor Krynn's cosmologies are defined
as such in the new Manual -- that would belong to their particular
campaign supports. But I still provided a way for you to get from Oerth
to Krynn to Toril -- it's just a further walk now.
So Manual of the Planes provides new planes as well?
A lot. We came up with the tools and started building planes to see how
they would be affected. We have a plane of Faerie, Elemental Planes of
Wood and Cold, a Plane of Temporal Energy, a Plane of Dreams, among others.
These are not part of the Great Wheel, but are available both as examples
and options for the DMs.
What planar cosmologies are presented?
A baseline, extremely simple cosmology is provided -- the absolute minimum
for you to be able to summon all the outsiders and elementals. We did
a "dopple cosmology" that allows you to create your evil twin
Material Plane. A clockwork cosmology where different planes have direct
effect on your campaigns. With a nod to The Primal Order, I did
a planar arrangement called The Winding Road, which strings all the planes
together along a ribbon. We've also included what Bruce calls the "Myriad
Planes" and I call the "Cordell-overse," which he has been
using as a basis for some of his designs.
What were Bruce Cordell's contributions to the design?
Bruce provided his "Far Realm" for the book, along with the
Plane of Dreams. He also did a champion job blitzing through most of the
Outer Plane descriptions of the Great Wheel. He started at Ysgard and
went clockwise, I started at Arborea and went counterclockwise. I think
I met him in the Seven Heavens. He did about three-quarters of the wheel
And David Noonan?
In addition to being the primary editor on this beast, he also was responsible
for the monsters, both new and familiar, that are in the book. A lot of
planar favorites appear here, such as the Marid, the Dao, and the Astral
Dreadnought, along with new creatures created specifically for the new
planes. I am partial to his new ultimate Lawful creations: the Inevitables,
which evolved out of my Maruts from the original Manual of the Planes.
And I should note that Jennifer Clarke-Wilkes edited his sections.
Did you create any monsters?
Some of the templates that had not appeared before -- Element creatures,
petitioners, and Axiomatic and Ararchic creatures, the Law and Chaos versions
of the Celestial and Infernal templates. We picked up Sean Reynolds's
shadow creature template from Into the Dragon's Lair, and Monte
Cook's half-elementals from Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil.
Speaking of monsters, what about modrons?
No modrons, even though I had a hand in their creation way back in Monster
Manual II. I think it's a bit odd that the creatures of ultimate Law
should look the most nonhuman. There was also a practical reason -- to
do the modrons justice, we should do all of them, and that's a
fair chunk of pages. I'm not saying modrons don't exist anymore (in fact,
we snuck a picture of one into the book), just that we aren't talking
about them in this book. They might make part of a good adventure, someday.
Or a good article for the web.
Ack! [Fakes cardiac arrest]. I've always liked modrons, and in particular
what was done with them in Planescape. That mechanical nature carried
over into Dave's Inevitables and my Axiomatic template.
How does Planescape mesh with Manual of the Planes?
I really like Planescape, and tried to minimize any damage from
the changeover to third edition to the setting. I'd rather absorb than
overturn previous creative work, and build on it rather than reject it
wholesale. But Planescape and Manual of the Planes (both
versions) are different animals. Planescape is first and foremost
a campaign setting, while Manual of the Planes is a DM's tool to
build cosmologies and planes. Planescape had the space to detail
the various planes individually while exploring the Faction Wars in Sigil
itself. We cover Sigil in passing but cannot go into anything resembling
the detail that Planescape went into. Manual of the Planes is by
necessity briefer on the subjects, but gives you the tools to make the
Planes your own.
What big changes are there between the original Manual of the Planes
cosmology and the current one?
The biggest changes are the most basic, and result from the nature of
how spells work in the current D&D rules. For example, the
Demiplane of Shadow is now considered a full plane, akin to Ethereal and
Astral. Also, you can get anywhere you want through the Astral Plane.
of the Plane of Shadow has been a long time coming, particularly since
shadow-manipulating spells are common in the D&D spellbook.
Shadow really never fit the definition of a demiplane, and was slotted
there because it did not fit anywhere in the old Great Wheel. Now it is
much more important.
Plane comes from a result of how summoning spells work. Now the spell
that summons a fire elemental is the same one as summons an archon. The
old way of having the ethereal reaching the Inner Planes and the astral
reaching the Outer Planes doesn't work as well, so we made the call to
let the Astral touch everywhere within a particular cosmology.
also, by the way, changed the Ethereal Plane, which had previously existed
as two separate planes, the Border Ethereal that was where you went when
you went Ethereal to walk through walls, and the Deep Ethereal that connected
to the Inner Planes. If the Astral went everywhere, then the Deep Ethereal
wasn't as needed, and we dropped that from the core cosmology (though
we left it as an option, and explained how it would function if you kept
more. The Ethereal is a lot more hostile than it used to be. One
of the big reasons is because ghosts hang out there, per the Monster
Manual, and the ghost template makes it really nasty.
way, we also include what happens if you want to build a cosmology without
the Astral, Ethereal, or Plane of Shadow. Again, we're giving you the
tools, and letting you build according to your needs. When I was first
playing D&D, back before the Great Wheel was published, my
cosmology was just a hexgrid:. Material Plane in the center, a Good Plane
on one side, an Evil Plane opposite it, and the four elemental planes
What about toys for the players?
Five new prestige classes, each tailored to make it easier for players
to move between the planes (and take others with you). Divine agent, gatecrasher,
planar champion, planeshifter, and zerth cenobite. And of course new spells,
both updated from Planescape as well as brand new ones. And the
And that is?
That's the device on the cover of the book. It's a cosmic compass that
lets you find portal entrances nearby. Don't leave the Material Plane
to the D&D
main news page for more articles and news about the new D&D
or check out the D&D
boards for a lively discussion of all aspects of the D&D