The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Planes of morality

I was always a fan of Dungeons & Dragons (as you can tell from the homepage). I still have a lot of that stuff lying about the house. One of the more intriguing concepts from that game was that of the Outer Plane.

An Outer Plane is a pocket universe, linked to other universes - including the Earth-analogue in any given game - but intrinsically home to a morality. Morality is ternary, squared, and along two axes: Law and Good. This yields the nine canonical moralities - "alignments" - such as Lawful Good, Chaotic Neutral, Neutral Evil and such.

In the original form of the game, by Gary Gygax, the alignment-planes ran in a Great Wheel around a central Plane of Concordant Opposition, True Neutral. To add some diversity, Gygax threw in some in-between planes for All-Lawful-and-a-bit-Evil, A-bit-Chaotic-and-all-Evil. The "Planescape" line brought that philosophical-planar idea to its fullest expression during the 1990s.

One editor of Planescape, Monte Cook, later founded his own company and dismissed this idea of organising the planes, even the Outer planes. In Beyond Countless Doorways he had the planes disconnected from the Wheel, instead connecting one to another by way of shared characteristics. A plane could still be - for instance - a hell with an Evil character, but never the only possible hell for that morality. There could be other hells with the same alignment, and they needn't have anything to do with one another.

I think that both Gygax and Cook did not take the moralities seriously enough. Gygax takes a side between Lawful Evil and Chaotic Good: that they're equivalent, in the "balance". (And he assumes that there is such a thing as Chaotic Good.) This fails particularly for the Chaotic Neutral plane, which logically should be the plane of entropy and thus the limitless chaos between and outside all possible ordered planes. Monte Cook's method is better but, still, has no theory of Outer Chaos.

To improve on the planar structure of D&D, I would propose modelling the planes based on how moralities likely developed.

It strikes me that Chaos is the default. There is no plane of Chaos; Chaos is the absence of plane. Not even Time applies here. This is whence the "Countless" of Beyond Countless Doorways.

The first attempts to carve out a space within chaos would be Despotism. We are not yet at "good" or "evil" here... but. Short-term despotism is by far the easiest way to carve out a livable space in Chaos. So I expect that the vast majority of planes would have the Evil character. This is also about where we first see the male principle; mais c'est aussi, malheureusement, pas Bon. The original D&D did well by allotting to the Abyss, 666 layers and more. Viewed from here, the nullity of Chaos is become a quantum-foam, mostly venomous.

The original D&D also had a Tarterus right next to the Abyss, basically its suburb; it wasn't well thought out. I expect that several of these planes would shift back to Chaos when the despot loses his touch. For decadent Evil sliding back to Chaos: D&D gave us Pandemonium, the multiverse madhouse.

The next step will correspond to the Earth strongman who sets up laws and arranges things for his successor. I can't understand this impulse otherwise than as Lawful Good. I also can't see two Lawful Good planes existing as rivals. At first they are out of communication with each other. And zones of attempted good can still fail in the end; some may allow Lewis's Charn as one. But on a mythic level, Law is intrinsically countable. In the great foam "Chaotic" - rather, insufficiently-Lawful - Good might indeed exist: adrift, alone, and doomed. In the end there is only one Heaven.

Now I think of it- less than one Heaven. That First Strongman isn't "God" in an Earth sense. The "One Heaven" isn't a true plane, but an asymptotic limit to which other beings - and planes - eternally aspire. This model implies other, less perfect planes along this path. So there we have our almost-Good planes; some falling short on Law, some just falling short. Again on a mythic level, planes sufficiently progressed to the Asymptote should naturally conjoin one another.

It is now my unpleasant duty to report upon that Lawful Evil plane, "Hell". The next stage in these planar arrangements will be those beings who, having accepted Law, grew selfish and perverted it. Since Law was founded for Good purposes, I must follow Milton, the Qur'an, and Enoch; these Evil beings must be the rebels against Heaven (in my model, some plane far along the Heavenly Path). I also agree with D&D canon that a nonAbyssal Hell is a plane which, having lost sight of Good, still insists upon Law. Unlike the Good planes, I can't see the rebels remaining united in one cause; Lawful Evil just doesn't work like Lawful Good.

Thus my multiverse, if I had to design one: dimensional chaos interspersed with hells, and a cluster of heavens with good gods working toward a Heavenly Asymptote with no One God.

Our universe exists as a creation of one of these transcosmic deities. Given that it follows known physical laws pretty consistently, the deity would have to be one of the Lawful ones. But whether this god was one of the good ones, or a devil, I won't presume to speculate.

UPDATE 3/4/2018 - apparently the Fourth Edition, which I never bought, agreed that the Wheel meta-cosmology was dumb and... made something dumber. The "world axis". Yeah, let's all just pretend that didn't happen.

UPDATE 3/11/2018 - clarifying what "no chaotic good" means at the multiverse's level.


posted by Zimri on 23:01 | link | 0 comments

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