Saturday, February 7, 2009

Planar Cosmology of D&D Part I

Images have power.They stay with us for years and influence how we see and understand things. Images from the early days of D&D still hold sway over how certain monsters are envisioned. This image from Issue 6 of Strategic Review certainly has influenced D&D, both in the way it's played and in the way its rules have been written. It, and other attempts to map the planes, have contributed to the systemization of polytheism into the D&D ruleset.

On the surface, this map poses a serious conundrum to a monotheistic world view. How can there be a one God, when there exists all of these planes, each representing/encompassing a particular world view/alignment? If the traditional Christian God can be understood as Lawful Good, how do explain the planes of Chaotic Good, Chaotic Neutral, etc.? How can there be one God and multiple Prime Material Planes?

In this first installment of a meditation on the Planes in D&D, I will begin to try and answer these questions from a monotheistic and Christian point of view. My goal is to demonstrate that the Planes, even as envisioned by Gygax in Issue 6 of Strategic Review, do not require a polytheistic point of view. Let me begin with a very key Christian dogma.

Creation from Nothing

The idea that God created everything from nothing is implied in the first chapter of Genesis, “In the beginning God made heaven and earth,” with the phrase “In the beginning” also implying that time is part of creation. The dogma is explicitly stated in 2 Macabees 7:28 “I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind made likewise.”

This is in marked contrast to pagan thinking, where gods create the world from something that was already in existance. Whereas pagan gods are limited and part of creation, the Christian God is radically free and radically different than His creation.

God exists outside of time, without beginning. Time is part of creation, which has a beginning and therefore must have an end. All of creation will move towards its end — a return to nothing — save for the will of God.

In terms of the Planar Cosmology of D&D, God is not limited to His corner of creation because the entire multi-verse is part of creation. From a Christian point of view, every plane in existence was created by God, not just our version of the Prime Material Plane. All of creation — every plane in every diagram of the planar map — is hurtling towards its own end — a return to nothing. However, in His benevolence, God is willing it all to continue to exist.

One of the logical conclusions to this dogma is that God created the Devil (and in the D&D multiverse all the various planes of evil and chaos) and continues to allow them to exist. God remains a good and loving God despite this because the existence of the Devil (and the planes of evil and chaos) guarantees human freedom. Without choice of good or evil, law or chaos, humanity would not be free and God would destroy His image in us.

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