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Product Spotlight
Jeff Grubb

In 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.

Wizards of the Coast: So what is the Manual of the Planes?

Jeff 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.

Wizards: Planes of Existence?

Jeff: 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 a cosmology.

Wizards: You did a manual of the planes before, right?

Jeff: Back in 1987, at the dawn of time. That one was also Manual of the Planes. (Call it the original Manual of the Planes.)

Wizards: How is this one different from the original version?

Jeff: 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.

Wizards: And the new Manual?

Jeff: 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.

Wizards: Is the original Great Wheel still there?

Jeff: 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.

Wizards: Why would DMs want to build their own cosmologies?

Jeff: 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.

Similarly, 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.

One reason 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.

Wizards: Were you involved in that?

Jeff: 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.

One of 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.

At the 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.

Wizards: So Manual of the Planes provides new planes as well?

Jeff: 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.

Wizards: What planar cosmologies are presented?

Jeff: 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.

Wizards: What were Bruce Cordell's contributions to the design?

Jeff: 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 himself.

Wizards: And David Noonan?

Jeff: 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.

Wizards: Did you create any monsters?

Jeff: 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.

Wizards: Speaking of monsters, what about modrons?

Jeff: 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.

Wizards: Or a good article for the web.

Jeff: 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.

Wizards: How does Planescape mesh with Manual of the Planes?

Jeff: 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.

Wizards: What big changes are there between the original Manual of the Planes cosmology and the current one?

Jeff: 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.

The "promotion" 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.

The Astral 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.

This 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 it).

OK, one 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.

By the 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 around it.

Wizards: What about toys for the players?

Jeff: 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 Dimensional Sextant.

Wizards: And that is?

Jeff: 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 without it!

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