We’ve discussed the inner planets of our syncretic solar system, and although Mercury and Earth aren’t getting filled in on our first pass, Eberron and Hyboria form the two pillars of the inner system’s trade routes alongside the Asteroid Belt, which contains innumerable city- and town-size asteroids which support dwarven citadels, giff mercenaries, neogi slavers, and all manner of other principally space-faring creatures pulled in from Spelljammer. We’ve discussed the outer gas giants, more self-contained as they’re further apart from one another and the inner system, especially the remote Uranus and Neptune, for whom regular trade to other planets is unknown, replaced instead by sporadic visitors who usually come for a specific purpose. Now we discuss the limits of the solar system, and dwarf planets that lie beyond them.
First, let’s talk about the Kuiper Belt. The Kuiper Belt is a collection of asteroids and dwarf planets that starts at around Neptunian orbit at about 30 astronomical units from the sun and goes to about 50 AU. That is, the Kuiper Belt alone is nearly as far across as the entire rest of the solar system. It contains at least twenty times as much total material between its asteroids as the Asteroid Belt, although it’s hard to say for certain because we haven’t catalogued all of its objects. We do have a rough estimate of how much mass is out in the Kuiper Belt total, and it’s not nearly enough. There is not enough stuff out in the Kuiper Belt for the dwarf planets there to possibly have formed, given how far from the sun they are and thus how big their orbits are.
We’re giving this scientific mystery the obvious answer: Literal angels and demons used the vast majority of the Kuiper Belt’s asteroids as raw materials to create an unconscionably large ringworld at the limits of the solar system. Presumably, in our real solar system, this ringworld was subsequently dismantled or destroyed and its debris either ejected from the solar system completely or launched into the sun. In the D&D solar system we’re making, however, the ringworld is still there, at the limits of the system, just past Neptune’s orbit. Its circumference is 8 billion miles, which means even at just 100 miles across – a little longer than Hadrian’s Wall across the north bit of England near the Scottish border – it is nearly a trillion square miles. It has the surface area of five thousand Earths. Each individual godly plane described in every D&D and D&D spin-off product ever made could have an entire Earth surface area and the ringworld would still have room to spare.
And it’s populated. Sure, there’s occasionally vast stretches of wasteland like the various Grey Wastes of Hades, almost completely empty but for occasional oases where the despair is less strong and the risk of madness slight enough that people will actually come to your markets to sell you stuff in exchange for whatever fiendish resource you’re extracting from the Lower Planes, or will man fortified outposts for the Blood War as Baator and the Abyss seek to gain the upper hand on one another, or whatever. Most of the outer planes, however, are like Stygia, full of frigid marshes and oceans but still home to plenty of ice devils, or Lunia, which has large stretches of shining (but mostly unihabited) sea, sure, but also has several densely populated cities dotting the landscape. And for every Oinos with settlements that are both few and small, there is a Dis, an ecumenopolis flattened out onto a huge length of the ring and jampacked with people in every room and corridor. The population density of the outer planes, in short, is comparable to that of any inhabited world, but with over a thousand times the surface area of all habitable worlds in the solar system put together (except for the elemental discworld inside the sun – and even that is only half as big as the outer plane ringworld), having similar population density means that if the outsiders ever decided to use the solar system as a battlefield, the clash of their armies would immediately drown out all mortal conflicts.
So why don’t they? Partly it’s because the ringworld is way more valuable. Unlike earlier worlds within the solar system, which were experimental and mainly created with the intention of figuring out how all this even works, the ringworld is the perfect domain for the gods. Each god’s personal demesne on the ringworld – which is typically at least half an Earth in surface area, often several – was made to their exact specifications to be their utopia. Some gods are jerks and their utopia is a screaming pit of evil, but it’s still the best thing they can imagine because after imagining the best thing they built that thing.
But the gods aren’t at peace. They fight each other over the ringworld all the time. There’s a Blood War on and everything. If they want to take other gods’ territory – territory they didn’t design and which isn’t perfect for them – why only other gods’ and not the solar system? Because the solar system is defenseless and therefore protected by treaty. Not to say that evil gods signed that treaty because they had compassion for the mortals or because the good gods were somehow able to leverage them into abandoning the territory. Rather, fighting over the solar system would blow the solar system up so quickly that all that would really be accomplished is annihilating mementos of the past for a strategic advantage that would last, like, five minutes. Godly fleets fight each other near Sigil space all the time because that’s the center of the solar system and when Celestia launches an attack fleet towards the Abyss and the Abyss dispatches a counterattack at the same time, they’re gonna collide somewhere near the center of the solar system. But so what? There’s plenty of empty void of space to fight in and nothing special about Sigil to justify fighting over it. If the gods want a forward attack base the size of Sigil, they don’t need to capture Sigil, they can and do build a new Sigil, staff it entirely with their own outsiders, fly it as close to enemy territory as they can, and then when the battle is over they fly it somewhere else or else park it somewhere safe. Acheron has a bunch of these stations just floating around, and Hruggek has put so much material into them that his actual section of the ringworld is just an empty strip of recycled asteroid rock with whatever garbage falls down there from the stations floating above.
Gods do fight proxy wars over the solar system, but don’t usually deploy significant forces there, both because they have better things to worry about (their own section of the ringworld, for starters) and because if a war for a planet gets escalated far enough, it’s just gonna end up as rubble. These wars are small treaty violations conducted by gods who care about the planet’s symbolic value more than they care about the treaty, which means they don’t want to blow it up in the process of capturing it. Usually, what gods want to do is send small strike teams of just a few outsiders to serve as advisers or commandos to tilt the battle for a planet towards their favorite mortal faction. It’s entirely possible that at some point a battle for a planet will get escalated past the point of reason and end up reducing that planet – or even the entire solar system – to rubble, but it hasn’t happened yet and it would provide so little benefit that there’s no particular reason to believe it will any time soon.
So the outer planes are a giant ringworld near the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt.
That leaves the dwarf planets of the far solar system – the inky black void beyond the reach of the gods. The most famous of these planets is Pluto, but there’s three more we’re going to add in. Partly because we have do in fact have a total of three other dwarf planets we’ve discovered out there, partly because dividing the solar system into three sets of four makes it slightly easier to keep track of, and partly because I definitely want to have more than just a Pluto analogue. The far system is where other settings go. It has several advantages in this regard: Explorers infrequently visit the far system, and there’s a lot of uncharted territory out here. If you want to add in a setting, you can add an extra moon to Jupiter or Saturn and incorporate it into the backstory of those neighborhoods, or you could do less work and add it as a dwarf planet. A GM can stick their homebrew setting here, have an exploratory vessel touch down, and plug themselves into the solar system – mid-campaign, even – with no further explanation needed than that there is really a lot of space out here and it takes a while to find new planets.
The far system does have a theme, though, and that theme is that there are no gods here. The further you get from the ringworld, the less the gods’ presence is felt, even by comparison to the fairly distant contact they have with mortals further in the solar system. So what four settings are we actually sticking here?
First up, Pluto is Dragonlance. We’ve completely abandoned any notion that proximity to the sun has anything to do with temperature at this point, and instead we’re sticking Dragonlance’s Krynn in the middle of nowhere for two reasons: First, the gods aren’t absent from Krynn, but they can’t seem to keep track of the place, either. Every other plot arc the gods’ presence ceases to be felt (side note: I am aware that the gods claim that they were abandoned by Krynn, not the other way around, in the original Dragonlance trilogy – I counter that this makes no goddamn sense at all and isn’t even thematically consistent since the gods later on actually do abandon the world, so it’s a good retcon to make on its own merits on top of helping it mesh into the solar system), and then after a while they pop back in again. Krynn is outside the gods’ ringworld and past the territory where they can easily keep track of what’s going on, so if things heat up on the ringworld they’ll stop paying attention for a few centuries, and if Takhisis knocks the orbit off-kilter even slightly, she’ll be the only one who can keep track of where the planet is for a while, because the divine panopticon is facing the wrong direction to keep a constant eye on Krynn.
The first of the dwarf planets you’ve never heard of, Eris is Middle-Earth. Yup, we’re going there. Honestly, I haven’t completely given up on adding Judge Dredd in somehow, being very thorough yet totally gonzo is kind of the point here. Middle-Earth has a steadily receding divine influence, and arguably the valar are more like powerful angels than gods to begin with. By the end of the Third Age their influence is reduced to a couple of outsiders still kicking around, most notably Sauron, but also the five wizards (balrogs are actually native to Middle-Earth, although their similarity to balors makes it obvious that one is the prototype for the other). Middle-Earth is a world once watched over by the gods, but now left to fend for itself, not off and on like Dragonlance, but permanently. Now, Eris is not big enough to contain all of Arda, but luckily you don’t need it. All that really matters is Middle-Earth, a handful of immediate neighbors (Haradrim and Easterling homelands are barely depicted, so the map does need to be pushed out a bit) and Numenor (one island). When elves leave Lindon, they aren’t going to another continent. They’re sailing tangent to the curve of the planet until the sea falls out from under them and they land on the divine ringworld. Middle-Earth is a proper size continent, but it is very specifically about the size of Europe, and Eris has enough room for two of those.
Next up, Haumea is Game of Thrones. No, not the 2009 one that you’ve actually heard of, the 2005 d20 adaptation that folded after like two years. But it does exist, so Game of Thrones is technically a D&D setting! This setting (and Middle-Earth, for that matter) showcase the strength of the far planets: Unlike the gas giant neighborhoods or the inner system neighborhood, far planets have no neighborhood. Not with each other, not with any moons, nothing. Game of Thrones’ complex politics would be difficult to reconcile with the sudden introduction of multiple new off-world factions, and the setting would be barely recognizable after even just a few years of exposure. But there haven’t been any exposure, so watching the setting be warped by the sudden arrival of space aliens isn’t backstory, it’s the plot. Sure, it’s still ridiculous, but that’s the point.
Now, Haumea is small. About half the size of Pluto and barely capable of containing just the one Europe. You might think it is therefore too small to hold all three of Westeros, Essos, and Sothyantos. If so, however, you’d be wrong, because Westeros is not Europe, Westeros is Britain. King’s Landing could be any of London, Paris, or Rome, but Winterfell is not Moscow or Stockholm, it’s Edinburgh. Actually, that’s kind of selling Edinburgh short, since Winterfell appears to mostly just be a castle, but maybe that’s just because of the narrative’s focus on the nobles what live in that castle. Now, right across the channel from not!Britain is a place that is nothing at all like France, but it’s not because Westeros is a continent, it’s because Game of Thrones is missing a whole lot of countries. It’s not a big world, it’s just a world that’s pulled cultures from all across the world and jampacked them into a small space. Given Westeros roughly equals Britain and is like one-fifth of the setting’s total landmass, calling Game of Thrones the size of Europe is being generous.
Finally, Makemake is Dark Sun and Amonkhet. They’re both desert worlds whose gods are dead and replaced by sorcerer kings and where magic is slowly dying off, and Athas in particular needs to be a place past the reach of the gods and hard (though not impossible) to get to. Amunkhet should also be inaccessible not to gods but to planeswalkers. A moon of a remote world like Uranus could’ve served that purpose, but it fits much better with Athas on close examination than it appeared to at first, so hey, let’s stick it here. Amonkhet’s gods are technically subdued rather than destroyed, but they behave very similar to Athasian sorcerer kings so, eh, close enough.
Once a verdant pelagic world, Nicol Bolas devastated it to twist it to his own ends, shattering it from its idyllic Blue Age to the Green Age with his initial assault. The Green Age ended in terrible war as Bolas sought more corpses for his undead armies, but upon discovering that the ultimate end of Bolas’ plan was total annihilation of civilization as they knew it rather than the triumph of any one over the others, many of the dragon’s former champions rebelled. The rebel champions poured their power into the disappointingly plainly named Borys to transform him into a true dragon to slay Nicol Bolas, but he went mad, going on a devouring rampage that sucked nearly all the remaining magic and life out of the world, leading to the modern Red Age.
In Amonkhet, Bolas’ champions maintain the rituals for which he corrupted the world, an endless ritual slaughter designed to create the most potent undead imaginable and stock them for Nicol’s later use as an army. In the Tablelands and its surrounding region, the renegade champions of Bolas, their attempted coup having failed, have divided up the world into city-states ruled with an iron fist.
As you’ll recall, we still have Terra and Mercury passed over, Mercury because I could think of nothing to put there and Terra because I wanted to clear out as many contenders for that spot as I could on the way. I’ve managed to strip the Terra candidates down to just two: Forgotten Realms and Pathfinder. They’re both big, multi-continent settings that are hard to place on moons or dwarf planets, they both have a wide variety of different climates that makes them hard to place on other inner planets, and they’re both so incredibly similar that to put them on the same world as one another would make their redundancy obvious. In fact, putting them in the same system as one another threatens to make their redundancy obvious. We’ll talk about it more in the next post, which will probably be the last.