D&D Solar System Syncretism V: Second Pass

We’re taking a second pass on our solar system syncretism. Now that we’ve assigned planes to as many planets and moons as possible, it’s time to look at what’s left over and if we can fix it by adding any extra moons and planets. We’ve actually managed to assign most of the settings (except ones like Dragonstar, which were cut for being way too big to fit inside one solar system, and Stargate SG-1, which were cut for having nothing to do with D&D’s fantasy millieu to the point where it’s baffling they used D&D mechanics to make the tabletop RPG in the first place), and we’re also just about out of real estate, so we’ve really only got a few important considerations to make here in the second pass:

  1. We weren’t able to find room for Wheel of Time, Rokugan, Pathfinder, or Forgotten Realms. Those latter two are being held in reserve because one of them would make a good Earth, but we still need to figure out which one’s gonna get it and what to do with the other.
  2. We have no room at all left for new Magic: the Gathering planes. We’ve managed to get this far by sticking fairly close to analogies for the real world solar system which allows people to import their knowledge of real world science. If you know how many significantly large moons Saturn has in the real world, you automatically know how many significantly large moons Saturn has in the D&D solar system, which means you don’t have to memorize a new fact. Bonus points: If you memorize how many significantly large moons Saturn has in the D&D solar system, you have also memorized a real fact about actual science. The problem is, Magic is going to add new planes. If they don’t happen to fit onto an existing planet or moon that doesn’t already contain another Magic plane, we have nowhere in the system to put them. We can solve this by adding extra moons to Saturn, Neptune, or Uranus and thus intentionally break the consistency with the real world, and we can also keep the consistency with the real world and just hope that all of Magic’s new planes can be fit onto existing moons or planets. It’s also worth noting that Uranus and Neptune could either or both be used as ocean planets to host mostly-water settings like Theros, Ixalan, or the Council of Wyrms, freeing up some moons. The problem is, a major theme of the setting so far is that the moons of a gas (and water) giants have lots of interaction with moons of the same giant. We have to free up either all of a planet’s moons or none of them, because if only some of them are freed up, those blank moons can’t interact with the others.
  3. Krynn is in Pluto’s position. It has a cool thing where being past the reach of the gods explains why the Dragonlance gods keep falling in and out of contact with the plane, but the problem is that Krynn is not especially cold, and people expect Pluto to be cold. I think we can get away with the moons of Jupiter being temperate because, despite being quite a bit further from the sun than Earth, people don’t expect Jupiter to be cold. They do expect Pluto to be cold. Dragonlance, and especially other settings in the far system like Middle-Earth and Game of Thrones, really don’t want to be directly plugged into the greater solar community, though. Partly because having those settings included represents a level of gonzo that some people otherwise interested in the solar system syncretism will want to ignore, and partly because they’ll be changed unrecognizably by prolonged contact with the solar community, so the only way to meaningfully include settings like Middle-Earth is if players get to see the change as it happens.
  4. Mercury is still blank.

Let’s start in reverse order, with #3 and #4: We can put something on Mercury and get both Athas and Krynn within the Outer Ring if we do a little bit of shuffling. I’ve actually been doing stuff like this the entire time (Mercury was originally Phyrexia until I realized all the planes it was interacting with were halfway across the system, Mars was originally Athas until I realized Mars’ location and relatively fast orbit would make it a major trade destination no matter how desolate, the Jovian and Saturnine neighborhoods swapped a few planes a couple of times, and I have just now learned that ‘Saturnine’ is the official adjective for ‘stuff from Saturn’), and may not have properly edited all of the posts to reflect it.

To get Athas into the inner solar system while 1) keeping it desolate and hard to reach and 2) retaining its descent into apoaclyptic Hell from a Blue Age when everything was great to a Green Age when everything was normal to a Red Age when everything sucked, we are going to put it into Mercury’s orbit…sort of. We’re actually going to give it an artificial, extremely elliptical, comet-like orbit arranged by Nicol Bolas for the sake of getting his blood sacrifice laboratory isolated. This is drastically different from Mercury’s actual orbit, which is the same basic shape as Earth’s, just closer to the sun. When Nicol Bolas nudged Athas out of its original orbit, the Blue Age gave way to the Green Age. As it drew nearer to the blasting rays of the sun, it finally descended into the Red Age. The threshold between the Green and Red Age is, loosely, when the god-killing rays of the sun grew strong enough as to cut Athas off from the divine. This all happened centuries ago (Amunkhet’s actual backstory is that Nicol Bolas’ lackeys have been running the plane since time immemorial when the good guys show up, so this always needed to have been a long time ago) and Athas was entering its Red Age at around the same time as civilizations were first making contact with one another in the inner system using space galleons. Forsaken by the gods and barely inhabitable, Athas is largely overlooked by solar civilization in general.

Oh, by the way, the sun’s rays now weaken and ultimately kill gods at close range. That’s why Sigil is a safe zone from them. The gods have to rely on genies to supply them with their materials now that they’ve drained most of the Kuiper Belt, and their presence is felt significantly less on Eberron compared to most worlds because it’s close enough that the gods are uncomfortable but not so close they can’t grant Cleric spells at all.

Then there’s Dragonlance. Dragonlance goes through phases where the gods are more involved than most D&D settings, but also goes through long periods of time where they’re totally absent like it was Dark Sun. Putting them in Pluto’s orbit, outside the gods’ domain but just barely, was one explanation, but has the aforementioned “Pluto isn’t cold” problem. I have another explanation: Krynn is actually located in Triton’s position, as a moon of Neptune. It’s extremely far from other planets and there are no other habitable moons nearby, which isolates Krynn from other settings. Krynn has a specific and very limited pantheon of 21 gods (and half of those you could ditch if you wanted to), who all have domains near each other on the Ring. When the Dragonlance gods’ section of the Ring is near Krynn, they’re very active. When it’s far, they appear to be dormant, but are in truth just busy with other things halfway across the system.

Krynn is kept temperate by the Council of Wyrms down on Neptune below, because we’re transferring that setting down to the surface along with Theros. Plenty of room for them. The Council of Wyrms has periodic interaction with Krynn – that’s where all the dragons come from, including the super apocalypse dragons from when everything went to Hell – and also keeps the moon (and the water world below) temperate even though it’s getting pretty close to the icy depths of space (Jovian, Saturnine, and Uranian moons are temperate because I dunno, that’s just how the sun works in this setting, I guess, Pluto is less “unimaginably cold” and more “sub-arctic to arctic” anyway, so it’s not like we’re using real temperature ranges to begin with).

The four settings previously inhabiting Titania – Innistrad, Diablo, Ravenloft (sort of), and Ghostwalk – are being moved out to Pluto, where they now have a lot more space to work with (Pluto is smaller than a couple of moons, but Titania is definitely not one of them). A thermal vent that is also a Hellmouth sits near Lut Gholein and Kurast, the heat from the vent allowing deserts, jungles, and also demon invasions. The temperate zone just outside the vent is home to Tristram and, on a large-ish island to the south of Sanctuary, Innistrad. The frigid climates of Diablo II’s act 5 are more typical of the world’s climate, but because it is so inhospitable, few people live there. Ravenloft’s stable entrance lies in the temperate band a middling distance from the Hellmouth, where it swallowed up Barovia, and the Ghostwalk city of Manifest is likewise located in the temperate ring, nearing the sub-arctic edge.

This leaves Titania blank. Titania shares the Uranian neighborhood with Ixalan, Zendikar, and Birthright’s Cerilia. The latter means that there’s no more room for standard European medieval pastiche, while the two former set a tone of remote but not completely isolated adventure. It’s hard to get here, so it can take a surprisingly long time for people to stumble across ancient treasures that are just lying around, but you can do it, so it can’t be the sort of setting that’s had no outside contact until the plot begins. There’s not a whole lot of candidates (the requirement to not be a medieval European pastiche disqualifies most of what we’ve got left in reserve), so I’m trotting out Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed, which takes place on the Diamond Throne, a world ruled by giants which, according to Wikipedia, has a heavy focus on ritual and the magic properties of crystals. It’s still a medieval European pastiche because of course it is, but at least it’s “Giant World” and not just “Holy Roman Empire knock-off #286.”

For problem #2, I’m just going to cross my fingers and hope that the Magic devs don’t make all of this obsolete too quickly. There’s still several worlds with no Magic planes located on them, and many small moons of Jupiter and Saturn which, while more of a single country than a full-on continent, are nevertheless capable of supporting many of the Magic: the Gathering planes. Hopefully Magic won’t release any planes which are 1) clearly too large to fit into an asteroid-shaped moon the size of France and 2) can’t be fit onto worlds currently lacking a Magic setting, or if they do everyone will hate them and I can exclude them on those grounds (I’m not counting on that, though – Magic planes are way less hit and miss than they were back in the early 2000s). It’s also worth noting that with Theros moved off of the Council of Wyrms moon, I now have a water world that should be big enough to accept a Magic: the Gathering plane, even if that means giving half the moon a landmass where previously it was mostly pelagic.

That leaves problem #1. Let’s start with Wheel of Time and Rokugan. Part of the shuffling to get Krynn off Pluto and Athas onto Mercury has left Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones in a weird position of being even colder than Innistrad despite not actually being all that cold. You could explain Westeros’ weird weather patterns through an elliptical orbit…except that it seems like only Westeros and not Essos or Sothyantos are affected by the winter that keeps on coming but never actually arrives. In any case, these two settings were always kind of in the category of being so ridiculous that I expect even most people who are otherwise interested in this madness don’t want to include them, so it’s not a huge loss if we ditch them entirely. Wheel of Time falls into the same bin (and would probably have just been an extra dwarf planet otherwise).

Rokugan only got left out because I forgot that 3e’s Oriental Adventures splatbook used Rokugan as its assumed setting. It can fit onto Tarkir, no problem, and the lands outside of the empire become significantly more interesting as a result, so good things all around.

This leaves Terra, and its two remaining potential settings, the Forgotten Realms and Pathfinder. I haven’t intentionally saved the flagship settings of D&D 5e and Pathfinder for the final rumble. They’re just near-completely redundant to one another. They aren’t just both in the same sub-genre of high fantasy medieval European pastiche, they actually have a nearly identical political and geographic landscape as one another on a realm-by-realm basis. They both have a pretty solid and distinct library of APs associated with them, but you can set pretty much 100% of the stories from one in the setting of the other with so little difficulty that I assume this was intentional, that Paizo made it easier to convert campaigns by having almost all Faerun locations that saw any actual use have an obvious analogue in Golarion and to keep those locations in roughly the same geographic position relevant to one another.

Maybe you think I’m exaggerating. Here’s Faerun:

Faerun

In the northwest, we have the Sword Coast, a dominated by mostly-benevolent major city states with vague spheres of influence rather than firm territorial boundaries, full of adventurers. On its east is the blasted land of Anauroch that was formerly home to the ancient empire of Netheril, while further to the south are an assortment of evil empires like Amn and Calimshan. East of Anauroch, we have the Moonsea region, a politically unstable land full of evil dictators and fiercely independent freedom fighters trying to preserve their lands against domination. South of Amn and Calimshan is Chult, a vaguely African jungle full of snake people and dinosaurs, and near Chult we have assorted pirate-y islands. South of the Moonsea is Cormyr, an ancient and powerful empire that is less prone to open conflict with monsters and more full of intrigue. Up north we have some frosty viking and mammoth-type places like Icewind Dale and Vaasa, and in the southeast-ish region we have an analogue to Egypt called Chessenta or Mulhorand or something, I forget which, that was originally written as actual ancient Egyptians being teleported into a fantasy land because that kind of thing seemed like a good idea in the 70s, I guess, or maybe someone just watched Stargate and thought “this concept would translate from sci-fi to fantasy without any alterations being necessary whatsoever.”

Here’s Golarion:

Inner Sea

In the northwest we’ve got Varisia, a region dominated by mostly-benevolent city states with vague spheres of influence rather than firmly defined territories and which is full of adventurers. On the east the Storval Plateau is a blasted wasteland home to ruins of the ancient empire of the Runelords, while to the south is the evil empire of Cheliax. East of Storval Plateau is the Lake Encarthan region, which is divided even more explicitly between heroic freedom fighters and evil dictators, while south of Cheliax is the Mwangi Expanse, a vaguely African jungle that is full of snake people and dinosaurs, with the pirates now gathered into a specifically defined pirate region of the Shackles rather than being scattered throughout lots of nearby islands. South of Lake Encarthan is Taldor, which is full of intrigue, while up north you have all the vikings and mammoths and southeast-ish is Osirion, the Egypt knock-off.

Some of these can be explained as simply being a Europe analogue, like Egypt being in a southeast-ish position, the vaguely African jungle being towards the south, and the vikings and mammoths being up north. The similarities in both depiction and geography between Varisia/the Sword Coast, and Amn/Cheliax, and the Moonsea/Lake Encarthan are much harder to explain away as anything except intentional simulacra allowing people to easily port campaigns from D&D 3 in Faerun (the dominant setting despite efforts to establish Greyhawk as the official setting of 3e) to PF1 in Golarion.

You can set Tomb of Annihilation in the Mwangi Expanse and War for the Crown in Cormyr with minimal edits. Condensing these two settings together doesn’t mean placing them on the same planet. It means combining them directly together. Golarion is more focused, but smaller. It excludes a lot of Faerun’s lands that never really saw any use anyway, places like Halruaa and Aglarond. It also introduces some new concepts at the edges, most notably the River Kingdoms, where Kingmaker takes place. It has basically no area that hasn’t been explored by at least one AP, which means that all territories are extremely well-defined. GMs have very little room to expand the setting, but also have existing work to draw upon no matter where the party goes.

If this were a commercial product, this would be the central question to the entire setting: Do I align myself with D&D or Pathfinder? Artistically, it’s pretty much a wash. The setting works equally well with either option. They aren’t identical, but they are very similar and the differences are incomparable. So the question would be purely one of audience and licensing agreements.

But this isn’t a commercial product, it’s free blog posts written on a whim, so I’m actually not gonna give an answer. If you want to actually use this setting, plug in whichever setting you prefer, because they’re so similar that exchanging one for another has almost no impact on how Terra interacts with the rest of the setting. So pick whichever. Here’s a few more bits of multiple choice:

-You can swap the position of the Outer Planes and the Spelljammer imported space debris and it doesn’t really make a difference. If you want all the fiends and celestials camped out right in the middle of the solar system to really draw attention to the constantly raging war between them that periodically threatens to spill out and consume all mortal domains, you can just swap the neogi and giff into the Kuiper Belt and it’s done. This does muck up the explanation for why Dragonlance has sporadic contact with its gods a bit, but “the Dragonlance gods are flaky assholes” is still a valid explanation for that, and the Kuiper Belt is a good place to stick Things Which Should Not Be.

-Sword and Sorcery’s biggest original setting was Scarred Lands, which was Greek themed. You could dump that onto Theros if you wanted. The extent of my familiarity with that setting extended to its Wikipedia page, I already had a Greek world, and it wasn’t popular enough to demand inclusion, so I erred on the side of caution by leaving it out rather than dropping it onto Theros and hoping it was compatible, but if you’re a fan and want to throw it in there, it fits.

-I restrained myself to only using pocket dimensions to explain the one setting that behaves like a pocket dimension as originally depicted (Ravenloft), but if you want to toss Middle-Earth and Westeros and wherever in as other pocket dimensions, you could. You could have little wormholes that you can sail your space galleon into and on the other side there’s a self-contained world whose climate and terrain are totally unrelated to their position in the solar system. You could also use this to import your own setting into this one. One thing I do really dislike about getting cold Pluto working is that it means that temperate settings – probably including your homebrew campaign – can’t exist out in the far system.

Using the default options, at the end of our second pass, we’ve got:

Sun: Elemental Planes, Sigil
Mercury: Dark Sun, Amonkhet
Venus: DragonMech, Iron Kingdoms, Eberron, Kaladesh
Terra: Schroedinger’s Fantasy Land
Luna: Feywild, Shadowfell, Lorwyn/Shadowmoor
Mars: Hyboria, DragonLords of Melnibone

Ganymede: Ravnica
Callisto: Azeroth
Io: Draenor
Europa: Greyhawk, Lost Lands, Midgard

Titan: Mystara, EverQuest
Rhea: Tarkir, Rokugan
Iapetus: Dominaria
Dione: Mirrodin
Tethys: Phyrexia

Titania: Arcana Unearthed
Oberon: Birthright
Umbriel: Zendikar
Ariel: Ixalan

Neptune: Council of Wyrms, Theros
Triton: Dragonlance

Pluto: Diablo, Ghostwalk, Ravenloft, Innistrad

What exactly constitutes a “pass” is not exactly precisely defined, so you could argue that this is the end of the second pass, and it’s the third pass where we start taking a careful look at how these settings impact one another, and sort out things like whether or not Mystara and Norrath can actually be combined at all (the answer is usually yes – with a bit of creativity it is surprisingly easy to find events from one timeline that can plug into events from the other as either cause or effect). The thing is, I’m probably not gonna bother. This little side project has already consumed five times as many blog posts as it had any right to.

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