The original version of what follows was first posted to the
Greytalk list back in July of 2000, and expanded upon during the
discussion that followed. Posted later in 2000 to my website as the
text plus a transcript of the discussion as it happened, I have since
edited it for clarity and flow. While my home campaign is Greyhawk, and
this first was posted to the Greytalk list, this transcends all
campaign worlds, and in fact, there will only be the very briefest
mention of Greyhawk in this entire discourse.
The question that was originally asked in the discussion was "What came first, the prime material plane, and all its denizens, or the outer planes? Which begat which?" Some might say that the outer planes are a result of acts on the Prime. Others might say that the Prime was created as neutral ground for the denizens of the outer planes to play on. There is nothing in the game rules that proves either theory, yet there is great implications as to which part of the multiverse drives the other and therefore who is actually in control. The outer planes can likewise be considered as areas of association or as the sources of ideas/philosophies/theologies. Myself, I'm of the opinion that the outer planes are areas of association, partially defined/formed/altered by those who congregate there. That is, things are feeding into it. But the flow is also in the other direction. Ideas/philosophies/theologies that form on the outer planes feed back into the Prime (and other planes as well). Its all a complex system of feedback loops within a firm (but not rigid) framework.
What this all really boils down to is the DM's Ultimate Creation Myth. We've had innumerable posts over the years on the Greytalk list (and I'm sure on all the other lists as well... FR list, SJ, PS, DS, general D&D lists, etc.) on creation myths. Alas, even though in many ways "BigPicture(tm)" is my middle name, those posts have invariably been thoroughly uninteresting to me. They are usually small-minded, and follow the same pattern over and over again.
Anthropomorphic God A pops into existence out of the firmament. (Here I stop reading). God A gets lonely and creates God B, either by budding, or shaping out of clay, or "poof... God B", or some other tired cliche. God A pops God B, producing children Gods C, D, E and F. They fight amongst themselves, pop each other, divvy up spheres of influence, create planes for homes, create mortals, perhaps produce another generation of young gods. The End.
All these gods have names we recognize. All these gods are still
around. How convenient.
Until this original discussion, I had resisted inflicting upon people my own creation myth. I'm jumping ahead of myself here, but in my campaign, the Athar got it right. Powers (with a capital "P" = gods and god-like beings) are the top of the commonly recognizable foodchain, but are not the beginning and end of existence. And the ones that are around now are *certainly* not the first, certainly not responsible for creating the Multiverse, and certainly not the last.
Like the age old philosophical question; "Did God create man, or did man create God?"
In my campaign, the answer to that is no. And yes, I realize
it was worded as an either/or question. The Powers did not create
mortal beings, and mortal beings did not create the Powers. Now, it
*is* possible for an individual to transform from one group to another
(either direction), but one group of beings did not create the other
So, if the Powers did not create... well... anything, then the conclusion that looms over it all is that there must be something above all the Powers. People then want to invoke some sort of overPower running the show... passing judgement and determining the rules as he/she/it sees fit. I would argue that yes, there must be a pre-existing framework, but there is not the need of any sort of anthropomorphic (or otherwise) ubercreature with an agenda. Others have argued that having a "higher Power" makes the Gods utterly pointless, unless you take them as avatars of an aspect of that higher Power. Avatar implies a direct "appendage", however, which I strongly disagree with. There is no unity of existence or continuity of intelligence/awareness between the Powers and the penultimate rung on the Multiversal ladder. Powers are connected to the "greater existence" as I am connected to our universe by being composed of atoms of various types, but they are no more or less relevant then any other rung on the multiversal food chain. Microscopic plankton is as important as the 100 ton whale that feeds on it.
Using an overPower makes the case for a single, monotheistic
valid. Why not just skip the middle guys and go straight to the top?
Thus is born the "generic cleric", first used in the original AD&D
1st Edition rules, and now resurrected (so to speak) as the (not-so-)
"new" generic cleric/priest of 3rd Edition. This I don't agree with
either. For me, divine magic comes from the Powers. You need
someone/something funnelling that energy to the follower, otherwise its
just another flavor of arcane energy. Hence "specialty priests" are the
only kind of priests that exist in my campaign world. Every priest must
choose a god. Why not worship the guy at the top? Because the "top" is
not a physical being with normal existence or
Living beings require something real, something substantial, something
familiar, something physical and definable to wrap their feeble minds
Anything higher then a Power is incomprehensible. It would be like
worshiping the Universe, but not as a physical entity, rather like
worshipping the "framework" on which the universe is hung.
Ok, so far I've deftly avoided actually answering the "Great
Question" for my campaign
(if I may shamelessly steal from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy),
but will now punish you all by
upon the world the most Unspeakably Villainous Heresy ever to spring
(past, present or future!!). What follows is my Grand Unified Theory,
affectionately refered to as "Maldin's GUT" in the Greytalk Discussion
group. I cannot emphasize enough that what
is "in my campaign". Again.... in my campaign!
A few specialized terms that, by capitalization, I try to use as
very specific descriptors. "The Rules" is the set of immutable laws for
any Multiverse that governs the structure and interaction of everything
within it - including physical laws, laws of magic (including if there
is any!), the number and characteristics of dimensions possible
(including distance and time), the presence (and nature) of life and
sentience, etc. "The Rules" are set at the creation of the
Universe/Multiverse, and cannot be altered. A "Variable" (as a
mathematical term) is a building block of the fabric of the Multiverse.
Matter is an easy example of a "Variable", in that all matter is
related, but there is a wide spectrum of different types of matter that
exist. The types of "Variables" (such as matter, time, dimension,
energy) and the flavors of each "Variable" possible (such as, in the
example of matter, the
types of matter that exist) and how the "Variables" interact is
controlled by "The Rules" of any particular Uni-/Multiverse. A
"Sentient" is a self-aware "being" (for lack of a better word), that
could be "composed" of (or more properly, "merged with") anything, not
just matter but any "Variable". Space (or rather, "dimension", to stay
away from the idea
of "outer space"), time, energy,
matter... anything could have self-awareness and thought if "The Rules"
of that universe allow it. Indeed, a "Sentient" could even be nothing
but raw sentience without any other component.
A thank-you to Jamie ("Philos Sophia") on the
Greytalk list during the original discussion of my theory for the
appropriate conversation between a sage and their student.
"If the universe were like a goat's
bladder, then all that is, was,
and shall be is the goat's bladder," said the sage to her burgeoning
"What's outside the bladder?" he asked. "Nothing?"
The sage frowned a bit and pedanticly said, "No, not even nothing. There is no 'outside the bladder.'"
"Ah," said the boy, "So its empty! Just lots of space!" He was happy he was catching on.
"No no," the sage retorted. "There simply is no such thing as 'outside the bladder.'"
The apprentice slumped in his seat. This was going to be a long excercise.
From Nothingness springs All. The Big Bang (not our RealWorld Big Bang, of course, but another) produced the existence that would eventually evolve into the D&D Multiverse as we now understand it. It's been stated by RealWorld physicists that there is no reason for The Rules (physical and otherwise) created at that time of a Big Bang to be the same as The Rules we see in our RealWorld Universe. The (future) D&D Universe (and it was Uni-) that formed could not have been more alien.
Picture the chaos of Limbo - a constantly changing plane of two Variables... Matter (earth, air, fire and water) and Physical Energy (cold, heat, light). Now multiply the complexity by many orders of magnitude. This ProtoUniverse was a seething soup of matter and physical energy, yes, but also of many other Variables. And these Variables could interact, merge, change. Not only within the field of the Variable, but also between Variables. For example, the merging of Heat (Physical Energy) and Earth (Matter) produced magma. The merging of other Variables are perhaps not comprehensible to our limited minds. What may be incomprehensible to mortals is the very real nature of these Variables... an existence as real and tangible as a chunk of matter in our own universe (hence my capitalization of them in the text that follows). Some of these Variables are (but not necessarily limited to)...
1. Matter and 2. Physical Energy.... everybody understands these clearly enough, I think.
3. Magical Energy - not magicially produced energy like magical fire, but the actual intangible magical energy that wizards and priests tap into to produce those effects.
4. "Life" Energy - or Vitae for lack of a better word. Not life in
biologic sense, but think Positive-Negative material planes (which
exist yet). It is not related to sentience or psychic energy, but think
of the energy that is drained by certain undead.
5. Dimension - imagine space-time itself (and gravity as an Einsteinian warping of space-time) as much in motion as everything else, constantly folding upon itself, distorting, breaking apart, rejoining, slowing, speeding up, being created and destroyed. Distance and time (both flavors of dimension) both unmeasurable and unknowable.
6. Ethos - law, chaos, good and evil as real and palpable as matter and energy, and mixtures/gradients as much in motion as matter and energy is in Limbo.
Scariest of all....
7. Sentience - not physical individuals, but as a force unto itself. As it changed and merged with the above list, parts of the many Variables (and combinations of Variables) were sentient in an unimaginably alien way. Yes, regions could become sentient (parts of the Dimension variable) and portions of Matter could become sentient (something that is easily understood, perhaps), and of course because everything was in constant change, the sentience was spontaneously appearing, growing, combining with others, fading, and disappearing again. But also other Variables could interact with Sentience. Parts of Ethos could become sentient. Parts of Magic. Parts of the "Life" energy. Even space or time. And combinations of elements of different Variables. Thus explaining how biological beings as well as electrical clouds of energy, abyssal planes and magical swords can all be sentient according to The Rules of this Multiverse.
Side note: Some philosophers would group 1. Matter and 2. Physical Energy, 3. Magical Energy and 4. "Life" Energy, and 6. Ethos and 7. Sentience as natural pairs, related to one in other in some way, much as subatomic particles are paired in the RealWorld Rules. These 3 pairs also happen to fit in with the planar philosophical theory of the Rule of Threes.
Can you picture the shear scope of this alien, chaotic universe yet?
An everchanging soup of time, matter, sentience, life-force,
magical and physical energy, dimension and ethos.
Nobody/nothing knows how long this phase lasted. For one thing, Time
(as part of the Dimension Variable) was a constantly, unevenly changing
element throughout the ProtoUniverse, so you couldn't measure it
It was forever and it was no time at all.
One can imagine that nothing could progress for long (again,
your gravitation towards any fixed-time references) without being
or changed by the constantly changing environment. Note that as all
these Variables changed and merged, Sentients would spontaneously form
as the Sentience Variable would merge with other Variables, and
spontaneously disassociate as well as the Universe roiled and frothed
in every possible sense.
There came the meeting of several Sentients. Described in a later
discussion as a "perfect chord" by Marc Tizoc Gonzalez. These three
could not exist for long in the present state of things, and besides,
was damn uncomfortable (for reasons to become clear). No doubt they
had other incomprehensible motivations. Working together, a plan was
to bring stability to their Universe by pulling apart some of the
aspects of the Variables.
Of course, the composition of the Sentients determined their
for the existence they were about to shape. They would shape the
Universe into an environment that they could exist in indefinitely.
Sentient 1 was mostly composed of Ethos, with just enough Dimension to stabilize it.
Sentient 2 was a composite of Matter, Physical Energy, and Life Energy, also with a stable nature because its 3 variables just happened to be in equal, balanced parts.
Sentient 3 was mostly composed of Dimension, with a large helping of Magic Energy and a small portion of (homogeneous) Ethos .
Part of their motivation for creating stability in the Universe was because they themselves had more elements of stability then most other Sentients forming/changing around them. Instability was uncomfortable to them. Thusly set apart from most other Sentients, they wanted to shape their environment to their own end, a philosophy that would be inherited by organisms that would evolve here millions of years later. The other Sentients were either happy with the chaos (and didn't want to change it), couldn't imagine any other situation (so didn't think to change it), or couldn't co-operate with enough of the others (so didn't have the power to change it).
In the ProtoUniverse, Sentients were continually forming and fading away. As the 3 began to alter their environment to suit their own specific existence, fewer and fewer new Sentients formed, and more and more of the existing Sentients faded away (because the environment was becoming increasingly hostile to anything but the 3). Eventually there were only the 3 left. Again, satisfying the Rule of Threes.
It is possible, however, that a few others escaped to other
return now impossible. It is also possible that fragments of one or
early sentients still exist in some dark, remote, protected corner of
Multiverse - think along the lines of the "fragment" of Kosh that
in Sheridan in the Babylon 5 plotline. Except, of course, a mere mortal
creature could never hold even a tiny fragment of an early Sentient...
but maybe a remote demiplane could. Perhaps the Demiplane of Dread? I
understand that they are more powerful then conventional gods, but I
don't know enough about the concept of the Dark Powers of Ravenloft
whats behind them) to consider something as huge as a Primordial
Fragment as responsible, but who knows. That's for Ravenloft DMs to
So, what pattern did the 3 Sentients use for the new shape of the Multiverse? From the starting point (lets call it the ProtoUniverse) parts were segregated off to help stabilize the whole, yet still anchored to a fixed point embedded in the ProtoUniverse.
A stable 6-point (non-uniform) matrix of Matter, Physical Energy and Life Energy was spun off (the proto-Elemental Planes). Over time, border zones (the quasi and para-elemental planes) formed on their own.
A region of uniform Ethos and Dimension (with bits of everything else) was created (the first Prime Material Plane - singular).
From the remains of the ProtoUniverse, the extremes of Ethos were spun off as carefully balanced subplanes (Chaos, Law, Evil, and Good). Over time, these extremes interacted with themselves, eventually fragmenting into the regions of CE, NE, LE, LN, LG, NG, CG and CN. With more passage of time, buffer zones spontaneously formed between these also (much as what happened to the Elemental planes), forming the ring of Outer Planes as we know it today.
All that was left behind of the original ProtoUniverse was a region of non-uniform Magic, that lacked extreme Ethos, and still contained the "anchor" for the whole of the (now) Multiverse. This region is now called Concordant Opposition (or the Outlands)... and the anchor? Often seen differently by different beings, it is most often called the Spire. Only the 3 Primordial Sentients can exist within the Spire. (Side Note.. Is the Lady of Pain one of the original Sentients? Absolutely not. She's more of a "pet", hence some of the special privileges she seems to enjoy.)
Buffer zones (the Astral and Ethereal) were created between the
segments both to prevent them from rejoining, and from flying apart and
separating permanently. Time was stabilized across the whole by
it, and fixing it at different rates in different segments (preventing
it from fusing again into an everchanging, malleable spectrum).
Breaking time into different pieces at different rates was like
nails into a vibrating rope to stop it from moving around. Hence
we have differential rates of time on the Prime, the Astral, the
Ethereal, and the Inner and Outer Planes. Yet, as a separate Variable,
time can also be temporarily removed and "swapped out", hence allowing
time travel in the D&D Multiverse Rules (something that is not
technically possible according to the RealWorld Rules).
Thus became the Multiverse as we now understand it. The work of the Sentients was so incomprehensibly brilliant, that the framework has been stable for 100's of millions of years (now that time is stable in most places, we can actually measure it). Part of the reason for its stability is a plasticity of the parts that prevent planar tension. Studies have shown, for example, that the boundaries between the Outer Planes are not fixed, but can move and change under a variety of conditions (an example being changes in the local Ethos Variable). Also, spot-eruptions or unstable concentrations of any Variable Fragments can be released from the Multiversal Framework as safety-valve-like bubbles. These get deposited as demi-planes tethered to the Ethereal (thus explaining the truly bizarre nature of many of those demiplanes). Even though the source of the original "irregularity" could literally be anywhere in the Multiverse, the sudden appearance or formation of the demiplane in the Ethereal (the safety-valve-bubble) gives the false impression that its point of origin is the Ethereal. Having said that, some of these bubbles could also be legitimately due directly to natural processes ("irregularities") occurring within the Ethereal.
Just as The Rules of the RealWorld define what is possible in our universe, so does The Rules (the interactions of the Variables) define the D&D Multiverse. Magic, time travel, interdimensional and extradimensional space, elementalist theory, non-biologic sentience, all exist within that multiverse because of these Variables and the original Rules set at the creation of the D&D ProtoUniverse.
But where are the gods? Nowhere. Yet. Before the ProtoUniverse could be stabilized into the Multiverse, nothing could evolve, nor even exist for long. Now that things had stabilized, things could evolve on the wide variety of planes now in existence. With the strong element of Magic (and in many regions, Chaos) permeating the Multiverse, evolution could occur much faster then it did in the RealWorld. As different classes of organisms and beings evolved, so did the physical nature of many of the individual planes. Accidents and leakages sometimes spontaneously created subplanes - including the pinching off of new Prime Material planes, demiplanes, etc.
Creatures that evolved were normally composed of the common elements
available in their plane of formation, plus a fragment of Sentience.
of the beings that evolved were composed of Matter (such as the Prime
some were composed of Matter and Physical Energy (Elemental creatures),
and some were Matter tainted by Ethos (Outer Planar creatures). Under
conditions (such as death, in the case of Prime Material Plane
the fragment of Sentience can be freed. This can sometimes be called
the Soul or
Spirit - the latter perhaps containing a very small component of
matter. Undead spirits would represent this type of situation where the
fragment of Sentience is combined with a tiny amount of matter ( which
may or may not be shifted dimensionally, as in ethereal spirits). When
a (PlaneScape) petitioner forms on the outer planes, the
fragment merges with matter from that particular outer plane.
As a RealWorld paleontologist, I'm intimately familiar with the very long course of our own evolution. However, this theory assumes that the uni/multiverse contained elements important for biologic life from the beginning (Sentience and "Life" Energy Variables), therefore it doesn't take billions of years to develop it from scratch, as on our world. Also, I've always been of the mind that the magic (and not to mention Chaos) of the fantasy multiverse would serve as the ultimate mutagen. Species would then evolve much faster then the RealWorld. In addition, there is the mucking about of the Powers over all this time! All in all, I think this would greatly compress the length of time necessary to get the D&D multiverse where it is today.
While most life that evolved would have been mortal, and composed of
sentience and a large helping of matter, some beings
had large components of Life Energy, Magical Energy,
Ethos, or even Dimension. This class of organisms were the Powers...
Gods. Evolving simultaneously and independently from the non-Powers.
though, it is possible for a Power, or other source, to imbue a Prime
with fragments of non-Matter Variables, thus creating a new Power, and
for a Power to lose that component and become mortal. The difference
between greater gods and lesser gods is the amount of non-matter
Variables invested within the being. Depending on its
composition, a Power can exert some control over its "sphere of
one imbued, for example, with Light (a flavor of physical energy), or
Negative "Life" Energy, or
or Time, has some control over those elements. While they have
lifespans much longer then non-Powers, they still have lifespans. The
present Powers are merely the most recent in a long line of gods, the
names of the previous generation wiped out by the propaganda of the
I consider that their energy for sustenance can come from a variety
of sources. Powers, though they
on their own, can be parasitic on other forms of creatures (such
"followers") in a variety of ways, feeding off aspects of their
existence. Some derive energy from their followers like divine
parasites, an easy way to gain power, yet it comes with a disadvantage.
When those gods lose their worshipers, they starve and may eventually
die (their husks banished to the Astral). Other gods derive their
energies from other sources. For example, Boccob derives energy from
the flow of magic itself, hence as long as wizards are casting spells
and creating magic items, he will live on and hence seems "uncaring" of
any direct worshippers. Others may exist by merging with or feeding off
I hadn't actually given much thought to any individual Powers, as
are relatively insignificant in this Grand Unified Theory. One may be
worthy of note, however. I mentioned earlier that there could be pieces
of some the original Primordial Sentients (or "Shards") from the
protouniverse soup that survived the transformation of the multiverse
by the 3 Primary Sentients. While even a small Shard of a Primordial
Sentient would be too much to be contained within (or merged with) a
mortal being, a greater elder Power of sufficient strength might be
able to. In the distant past when one of these ultimate "ancients"
(ancient even to the oldest gods) was discovered by the early gods to
still exist, they came to realize just how dangerous this was. They had
to try and contain it for fear of losing all that they knew. The very
fabric of the multiverse, including their precious realms, was at risk.
The Shard could even merge with a plane itself (or part there of). So
the best of them, the most powerful god of Goodness, Light, and Self
Sacrifice volunteered to sacrifice himself by containing the Shard
within him. Still, the Shard was so powerful that it overwelms the
elder Power's goodness and the result is the being now recognized as
Tharizdun in the way we know him today. Still, its power was greater
then any god could ever be, yet it was diminished enough so that it
could then be imprisoned by the other gods. Even then, Tharizdun still
manages to periodically reach out from his prison and effect the
planes. What is the Great Dark Secret that Tharizdun knows that all of
existence has fought to keep silent for all of eternity, at such
incredible cost? If the Spire
were ever destroyed, the Multiverse would collapse into its primordial
state! It would take the power equivalent to a Primordial Sentient to
accomplish, a power that Tharizdun just might have if he was freed from
his prison and free from his "host". A novel theory for DMs to mull
The First Powers existed 10's or 100's of millions of years ago and are all long gone, just as surely as the first mortals. Although their lifespans tend to be incredibly longer then other classes of beings, there have been countless generations of them. Many (particularly ones imbued with Dimension) altered the Multiverse in small ways, such as the modification or creation of demiplanes or Prime Material Planes. For example, a group of early Powers, working in concert, would split off a new Prime Plane. Over the millions of years, many such groups of Powers came and went, and an unknown number of these Primes were created. Primes could also be spontaneously created out of the framework of the Multiverse. Somewhere out there in the Multiverse, however, still exists THE original Prime Material Plane. What secrets it still holds is anybody's guess. Some of the Powers of prehistory have, along the way, also manipulated the evolution of lesser beings, giving rise to many "creation" myths throughout the planes, none of which are true, all of which being steeped in the propoganda of whatever Power is doing the talking.
At some point, in a matter for another discussion, a certain new Prime Material Plane was created millions of years ago, consisting of a large crystal sphere containing a planetary system (the First Crystal Sphere described in the Spelljammer novel series) floating in a material known as the phlogiston. The Powers of the time (again, those are all gone now) pooled their abilities and created many more crystal spheres, then created a tool that was used to help fill this newly created space with matter. After it was used, that tool was later shattered to prevent its potentially destructive abuse, and the parts hidden in various remote places on that Prime using powerful magics. That tool was called the Earth Stone (seeWGR1 Greyhawk Ruins pg. 56). One of these new crystal spheres was what we now call Greyspace. (Told you it would be a brief mention!) Most of the Powers of Greyhawk have come into existence since the time of the sphere's creation.
I can hear you all shouting.... "But where is the
You MUST mention the CODEX!!!!" Well... umm.... ok. I'd hate to
Sentient 1 is perhaps the only one that has been named. It is often refered to as simply "The Balance".
Sentient 2? Some scholars postulate that it exists simultaneously with all the Elemental Planes, making those planes almost alive. Others credit it as the conduit through which elemental energy can travel to the other planes. It may be the uberPower that elementalists unknowingly tap into.
Finally, can you imagine the 3 dimensional shadow of a 4 dimensional
tesseract? Better yet, could a two-dimensional being ever hope to
the shadow of a simple cube as a 3-dimensional object? A 5-dimensional
object? A 15-dimensional object? No. Similarly, Sentient 3 casts a sort
of "shadow" into the few dimensions we can experience. What do you
we see in our paltry, simplistic existence? For now.... a
Weighty matters indeed.
By application of my "Grand Unified Theory", one can collect together all the seemingly disparate, arbitrary and often contradictory elements of the D&D game and various campaign worlds and tie them up in a neat, internally consistent bundle. The physical structure of the planes (their organization, as well as specific features such as the Outlands' "Spire"), the origins of mortals and immortals and their relationships as well as their sources of power, the different natures of planes (such as the varying effects of magic and time) and how those planes change and interact, the imbuing of sentience without the need for complex brains (as in simple organisms like puddings; objects such as intelligent swords, elementals and intelligent clouds of electricity; even entire planes with awareness), the palpable nature of good, evil, law and chaos on so many levels, the twisting of time and dimension impossible with our own RealWorld physical laws (such as portable holes, teleportation, and time travel), the very source of magic and its laws... ALL can be explained. My Grand Unified Theory of Life, the Multiverse and Everything explains with elegance what otherwise seems arbitrary or a matter for the learned theologian.
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