Here’s one way to map the planes (2E)…
Here’s another (4E)…
Here’s a third (3E)…
Here’s an attempt from the real world to describe the higher and lower planes of existence. Here’s another. Here’s an interpretation by JDJarvis at Aeons & Augauries.
What’s our point?
Your compaign world should not be limited to one map of the planes. These are not literal maps. They do not show places. They do not represent borders or nations or peoples. There are no mountains or rivers or grasslands in these maps. They are a representation of the relationship that exists between the Prime Material and the Planes of Existence. As such, there are can be more than one interpretation. All that matters is that the interpretation contains some accurate information. (The quest for accurate information is a task that your party can take on for itself. The rewards should be self-evident.)
Delta D&D started a conversation about the spell Contact Other Plane. It has other bloggers talking about the arrangement of the planes. It has me thinking about how to structure the spell for my own game.
This is where the “map” of the planes is so critical: This spell (and others like it, such as Gate, Etherealness or Summon Monster) is dependent upon the arrangement of the ‘verse. How we map the planes, and the relationship we define between the planes, will impact how we structure this spell.
Roughly speaking, this is my map for the planes: the Inner Planes (the Elemental Chaos) is the “center” of the ‘verse. It’s the seed where all physical matter begins. It has no permanent internal borders. We may loosely describe how water and fire are opposed to each other, and thus they do not “share borders;” and for the most part this is correct. But not always.
From there we have the Prime Material. This is the universe as we know it. There are billions of galaxies. In each galaxy there are billions of worlds. On each world there are billions of people. They live, they die and their souls depart for the Outer Planes.
The Outer Planes are arranged (roughly) according to the Great Wheel map. Limbo does not share a border with Mechanus. However, there are pathways that connect the Outer Planes in ways that are not immediately obvious. The World Tree, for example, links Ysgard directly to Pandemonium, though the two planes do not share a border.
The Astral and Ethereal represent the realms of the mind and the soul. They are the primary conduit for travel through the planes. They connect the Prime to the Outer Planes. They are largely uninhabited, though the Ethereal is home to most non-corporeal undead.
Now we come to the point: how does a spell like Contact Other Plane work?
I understand the intent of this spell is to reach out to an intelligent being on another plane and probe its mind for answers to specific questions. As such, I’m not sure how well it should work with regard to elemental creatures. The Inner Planes are not connected to the Ethereal or Astral. Elementals do not have souls and their “minds” are only rudimentary at best. I realize that, according to D&D and the Planescape setting, there are intelligent elementals and there are mortal denizens of the Inner Planes; this is a conundrum that I must solve for my game. In the meantime, however, I think it best to accept that Contact Other Plane cannot reach to the Elemental Chaos. Another way to explain this is that Contact uses the Astral plane to make the connection. If the Astral doesn’t reach the Elemental, then the spell can’t work that way.
Then we have the Outer Planes, which are arranged in a circle or wheel shape around the Prime Material. There is no distance involved here. Reaching to Celestia is the same as Carceri or the Grey Wastes. Instead, the deciding factor should be the power of the creature contacted. There are four power levels for the Planes: petitioner, planar, proxy and power. (I’d like to add a fifth, though I’m not sure where it would go and what it would represent. Again, we have to work with what we’ve got for the moment.) Naturally, petitioners should be the easiest to contact and should carry the least risk (such as insanity). They also are the least likely to know the answer.
Let’s break down the possibilities for the petitioner. How can we know if a given, random soul knows the answer to a question? (Random because I’m assuming that the caster does not know the name of the being she is trying to contact. That’s an element we can add to the spell after we’ve established some base parameters). I use a demographics table (very similar to Tao of D&D) that I think can be re-purposed here. The basic principle is that the individuals in a population are not equal. Some are clearly superior to others. In the context of Contact Other Plane, the inequality lies in the knowledge of the subject. Some people will know the answers we’re seeking. Some will not. At the petitioner level, given how many of them there are (2.5e+33 for the whole of the Outer Planes), I think it’s fair to assume that the chance you’re going to get a known answer every time is not very good.
Let’s assume that the NPCs of the world who have 3d6 for their attributes are the most likely to actually know anything about anything. About 2% of the total population have stats that are almost that good. (I would post my version of the demographics table, but I think I deleted it from my cloud storage.) That seems like it might be a decent baseline; let’s assume a 1.5% chance (per level of the caster) that the petitioner knows the answer to a given question (this requires a roll for every individual question).
Planars represent mortals that live on and travel through the planes, thus they might have more knowledge than a petitioner. The same applies to proxies and powers, and since there’s only four categories…
|Chance to Know Answer
I think the other components to the spell depend on other factors. The chance for insanity depends on how powerful the contacted being is. Proxies (such as angels and demons) are certainly ‘otherworldly’ and, combined with their immortality and different concepts of morality, logic, ethics, etc, should pose a chance of rendering the caster temporarily insane. (The precise reasoning behind this, however, should be explored in a later post.) The chance that the subject tries to mislead or lie to the caster should be based on its moral inclinations. Good creatures are more likely to empathize with the caster and thus less likely to lie to her. However, I’m not certain that I have a solid methodology for determining the chances of these components. I want to avoid compounding the issue (for example, by rendering a known answer useless when the caster becomes insane for a long period of time) but I don’t have a solid answer just yet.
The bottom line, therefore, is this: careful thought should go into the design of your world. In the case of Planescape, it’s possible to create spells that are dynamic, rich and distinctly unique to your world if you are aware of the details of that world.