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The Next Cosmology

The “Many Worlds of DnD” article by Mike Mearls came out today and unlike many responses I’ve seen I’m not particularly happy with the article.

Mearls opens the meat of the article with the sentance “To begin with, we’re making some tweaks to the cosmology to reconcile the differences between various editions and worlds.” He then goes on to explain how what that means is they are returning to the Great Wheel and making some tweaks to the Inner Planes to keep the Shadowfell, Feywild and Elemental Chaos from 4E. The article then wraps up by saying “Ideally, our approach allows Eberron, Forgotten Realms, the world of the Nentir Vale, Greyhawk, Mystara, and your own campaign setting to work with the basic assumptions we make about the planes.”

There are several issues with this, the most important of which is that “one size fits all” has always been a bad design approach and one that TSR and later WotC has been poor at using. Krynn and Athas are two classic settings that had their own cosmology that was wedged poorly into the Great Wheel. During 3E Eberron’s cosmology was wedged into the Great Wheel and of course in 4E the default setting was married strongly to the 4E cosmology with no allowance for the Great Wheel. Then there are Mystara, Spelljammer, and others that have limited, poor or no connection to the Great Wheel.

I would suggest that the best solution for WotC would be for each setting to have its own cosmology and to abandon the “one size fits all” approach. The important thing about having unique cosmology for each setting is that creates greater design freedom for each setting and through that allows greater setting consistency. Then in material intended to connect settings, such as Planescape and Spelljammer include advice for DMs on how to incorporate the individual settings into those larger settings. This could be done through Dragon articles or other downloadable content as well.

4 comments

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  1. richgreen01

    Don’t disagree with you about specific D&D worlds like Eberron and Dark Sun needing their own cosmology – Eberron’s cosmology was one of the cool things about it. I also like the “tree cosmology” in 3.x FR, although that was a retcon from having the FR gods live on the Great Wheel. The whole thing has become such a tangle that it’s going to be hard to please everyone.

    Very excited to hear Spelljammer mentioned though!

  2. ObsidianCrane

    Even the settings that use the Great Wall have been affected by the way the Great Wheel has been tweaked over the years. I love Planescape, its such an evocative setting and only Dark Sun really matches it in that regard, but I also find it an impossible setting with its “9 infinitely large planes around a set of infinitely large planes”.

    Truth is I’m pleased by the idea of Planescape support, but I loathe the Great Wheel.

  3. ragnboneshopper

    The classic Great Wheel is… classic. Use it where it fits, and not where it doesn’t. I totally agree with this post that the one-size track WotC seems to be on with things like cosmology and legendary creatures and class design does not bode well. It feels like we’ve turned a corner and someone higher up has laid down the corporate law: “you will make all DnD products the same so that the brand has coherence, etc, etc, etc,” which is completely antithetical to the idea of an infinitely variable pen and paper rpg…

  4. ObsidianCrane

    Mechanics like classes and legendary creatures I have no problems with having cohesive systems for, that’s how game balance is achieved in a reproducable way so new stuff (that is balanced) can be designed by the community as well. Its one of my favourite things about 4E.

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