Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Elementally, my dear adventurer --

I'm stepping away from strictly low-level things for a moment to mull over one of my favorite subjects -- the Elemental Planes.

(Don't worry, the cavalcade of odd little critters will resume anon ;) )

Since the day I started playing D&D, elemental things have fascinated me. I love the elementals, elemental effects, spells using elements, you name it; and I like my dragons with a bit of an elemental touch, when I can fit it in there somewhere. And I love the Elemental Planes, wonderful sources of the primal stuff, in both D&D and AD&D.

Now, I've been and am an avid Planescape fan. (Put down those pitchforks!) Predictably enough, I picked up the setting because of the elemental goodness it could give me -- the rest was a nifty side-benefit -- and the complex interactions of the 2e Inner Planes in all their variations make me a happy hamster indeed. Plane of Fire? Check. Plane of Ooze? We have one! Plane of Killer Death RainbowsRadiance? Drop on by, bring the kids!

But one of the most interesting bits of Planescape elemental goodness were the hints that things were not always as we currently saw them. Not only was there still the pre-PS djinn-efreet war -- something which makes little sense in a game where fire is opposed by water -- but in the PS elemental supplements they dropped in little suggestions that the Elemental Planes, just maybe, once had a different configuration. And I ate it up.

That different configuration, of course, comes from D&D.

I love the D&D Elemental Planes, stripped to their basics -- only four -- as they are. Not only do we have a different scheme of opposition (Fire opposes and is opposed by Air -- there's our djinn-efreet conflict! -- and Earth opposes and is opposed by Water), but there's also the idea of dominance, flowing in a circle:

Air -> Water -> Fire -> Earth -> Air etc etc ~

And these factor into both damage in combat and social interactions between elemental creatures. I love it.

Naturally, the D&D schema is lacking both the extended "sphere" of Para- and Quasi-Elemental Planes and it also lacks the two Energy Planes. While I can do without the extras, I think for my campaigns I'll restore the Positive and Negative Planes; I rather like them, and will probably slip them in as an unusual opposing pair of elements. (Since I'm tinkering with a six-element system already, it should work nicely ...)

Of course the trick with the Elemental Planes -- traditionally speaking -- is getting there and surviving. AD&D has the odd vortex (and, of course, Sigilian portals if you happen to be using PS) and ethereal travel, but you had best be well-protected when you arrive or expect a swift and terrible death upon arrival in the vast majority of the Inner Planes. D&D makes the travel both simpler (wormholes seem considerably more common than AD&D vortexes, with ethereal travel still an option) and less potentially fatal.

There's a good reason why I say that. While directly travelling to a D&D Elemental Plane still requires one to use magic to survive the environment (or at least to breathe, except on Air), there seems to be a convenient loophole on p. 263 of the Rules Cyclopedia:

"Creatures and things in a wormhole are magically changed into the "proper" element when they reach the elemental plane, unless protected by powerful magic."

Excellent! Fit in with the natives, enjoy yourself, have a good time. Just make sure you take a wormhole back to the Prime again, or you may wind up with some interesting problems ... A pedantic DM might rule that the trip back won't reverse the process, but bah! to that says I.

All and all, I'm quite in love with the D&D situation. My desire for the Positive and Negative Planes I think I shall fill with a lovely Dragon article from Issue 42, wherein Len Lakofka wrote up an interesting take on the Inner Planes comprising just the core four and the Positive and Negative. I have to admit, though, the drawing-point for the article isn't the pages and pages of (frankly soul-numbing) tables, but the descriptions of the planes that make up the end.

Differently-coloured and translucent soils on Earth, with pebbles that can be passed through but large rock and mineral formations cannot? A Plane of Fire where heat doesn't harm a traveller and lava flows might be sentient, even psionic? Positive and Negative Planes filled with crystals, some of which are also sentient? Solid cloud islands filled with dungeons in the Plane of Air?

Time to start filling out planar passposts, methinks!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Solid cloud islands filled with dungeons in the Plane of Air?