Interview: Jeff Grubb (Part 1)

Ashy's picture

General Questions
Planewalker Network: What was your involvement in this project? What is your opinion of the result?

Jeff Grubb: I was the lead designer of the project, did the basic design and new mechanics, and wrote the bulk of the book. Dave Noonan (who is also lead editor) wrote the monsters, and Bruce Cordell rode to the rescue at the 11th hour, blitzing through the lower planes for descriptions and added some of the cool variant planes as well.

P: What was it like working on another Manual of the Planes after all this time?

J: That déjà vu all over again, and I found myself solving the same challenges I faced the first time, but with a better set of tools. The original Manual was an attempt to codify and explain everything that had adhered to the system up to that point. The new Manual was an attempt to start fresh, but still had to account for and explain the 3e rules as they now stand.

P: How much did the new 3e rule set impact the writing of this book? Was it easier to write the planar rules for the third edition rules - more difficult - about the same - or just 'different'?

J: The new rules set affected the design deeply. Many of the basic changes to planar cosmology come out of the way spells function in 3e. In the old system, there were one set of spells to summon elementals, and a different set of spells to summon other creatures. This worked well with the idea of the Ethereal reaching the Inner Planes, while the Astral reached the Outer Planes. In Third Edition, the same spell can bring in Elementals as well as Outsiders. That indicates that the Astral can reach everywhere. That's a fundamental change to the way the system works, and is reflected in the new MotP.

P: Is it assumed that the different cosmologies are isolated from each other, or do they interact? Can one travel from one multiverse to another (like, through portals) or are they limited?

J: Yes, Yes, and Yes. Under D&D, each campaign's cosmology can be unique (see the FRCS for their take on the Outer Planes - I put that together with Sean Reynolds). Of course, I've also included the means by which you can go from one cosmology to other. Think of the cosmologies as universes on a string, and you can allow your heroes to travel along the string.

P: How, if at all, will the Manual of the Planes impact the other settings, including the now fan-supported ones?

J: Minimal as far as change to the past, maximal as far as new opportunities. One of the gripes I've heard from fans is that their campaign has to fit into the Great Wheel, and that their supreme deities have to share space with Odin, Zeus, and a bunch of beings that are not part of their campaign's pantheon. By letting the cosmologies go free, that means that Krynn can have a cosmology that does not need to take into account Realms gods, and the Realms does not need to deal with the Norse Pantheon (well, except for Tyr).

P: Is there any changes in the MotP that you think will irk a significant number of people? Or are you bound to espouse the gospel of 'It's All Good, Baby'?

J: I think its this fundamental difference, of unique cosmologies, that will be most disturbing, particularly to those that like an organized cosmology where everything fits into one big box (or one Great Wheel). I have already read online postings from a Planescape fan about how all Realmsers are dumb because everyone knows the Great Wheel is the way the universe works. Well, the Realmsers are not dumb - they're right - that's the way their universe DOES work.

P: What, if anything, is in the works in the manner of web enhancements for the Manual of the Planes?

J: I've done an article for Julia Martin laying out our design philosophy on this project, and in addition have written up the old World Serpent Inn, which you can use along with (or instead of) the Astral Plane in your adventures. These should show up in September when the book ships. She also just asked me if she could have someone work up the mighty mechanic minions of Mechanus.

P: Just what does the cover depict, anyway? A planar orrery? The modron cathedral? What?

J: It's a dimensional sextant, a navigational device for use in the planes. We pitched the idea, artist Arnie Swekel added to it, and we redesigned to fit what he came up with (I dug through my old surveying texts to come up with all the terms to identify the gizmos on it). There are examples of how it works on one of the chapter heading pages. Interesting you mention an Orrery. We have one of those, too.

P: What is your favorite part of the new Manual?

J: Of mine? The Plane of Faerie. Of someone else's? Dave Noonan's Inevitables, a new type of Lawful outsider, and Bruce Cordell's Region of Dreams.

P: Which of your products have you enjoyed doing the most?

J: Who's your favorite child? I have a lot of them. It usually takes me about 8 months after finishing a project to convince myself its any good, and about a year before I can read it and say "Yeah, that's not bad at all". I've been blessed with good co-workers and great editors over the years, so often when I think about various projects, I think of the people I was working with at the time.OK. Most enjoyable. The first two Forgotten Realms Campaign Boxes. The original Manual of the Planes. Al-Qadim. Spelljammer. The Lord Toede novel for Dragonlance. The Brothers' War for Magic: The Gathering. A project I just finished for Star Wars featuring a large hermaphroditic race of gastropods.

P: Which is your favorite D&D (or AD&D) product?

J: Al-Qadim. That was the one showed that we could do a non-Western, non-historical culture and pull it off. It was also a beautiful book, in no small part due to editor Andria Heydey, who went mad to make it all fit.

P: What about your favorite setting?

J: In D&D it would be Toril. The original Toril, my homebuilt campaign (the name of the planet when to FR, and the gods to Krynn, and one of my player characters runs the World Serpent, but that's the way I work creatively -pulling apart stuff and putting it together in new shapes.)In other RPGs, I'm a fan of Call of Cthulhu, and like running in the1920's versions. I just finished a HUGE campaign of Beyond the Mountains of Madness, with players who were ALL present or former TSR/WotC Editors. That was a LOT of fun.

P: What's the most interesting or fun character you've ever had?

J: I tend to DM more than play. Two characters right now I'm running are Whappamanga, my Wookie force adept in Bill Slavicsek's Star Wars campaign, and Moondog, a werewolf biker for a modern fantasy campaign we're dinking around with.For DMing, I would say the original Volo, who developed into the Volo that we know from the Realms. He was cut of the same cloth - egotistical, ingratiating, opinionated, and in my campaign being pursued by a demon that did not like Volo writing about him. He was another piece that came over into the Forgotten Realms. (And the name came from a small town just south of Lake Geneva, if you're interested).

Planes-specific Questions:
P: What names will be used for the planes? Will the Outlands remain as such, or will we see a reversion back to the old ways of 'the Plane of Concordant Opposition'?

J: I blended where possible - "The Nine Hells of Baator" - I recognize both old and new. I think the Outlands is officially the Concordant Domains of the Outlands, so if you're Planescape or Old School D&D you'll know what's up. I go with a mix of old and new names for the short versions - Nine Hells and Outlands.

P: Are the quasi and para-elemental planes mentioned? If so, how much information should we expect to see about them?

J: No Para-elemental and Quasi-elemental planes in 3E - they are out of the Core Cosmology (but if you want to put them in, more power to you - we show you how). One of the reasons is that the Elemental Planes don't need to touch each other any more. No borders, no Paras, no Qasis.We DID keep the Paraelementals, which were the neatest part. So they're in the monster section. Like the Thoqqua in the MM, they can survive in both planes.

P: The plane of shadow is now a 'true' plane instead of a demiplane. Can we expect any other changes of this magnitude and will there be any other new planes?

J: The Plane of Shadow should always have been a major plane - the only reason it didn't was that there was not room for it in the Great Wheel (hence one limitation of such a structure). Other major changes? Astral goes everywhere. No Paras or Quasis. Isn't that enough to make people excited?

P: Does the Manual of the Planes preserve any of the more interesting demiplanes, such as Neth, the Plane of Worms, or The Plane of Time?

J: Having made the building blocks of the Planes we have included a variety of alternate and variant planes that you can plug into your own cosmology as you see fit. Bruce Cordell brought up what I call his "Cordelloverse" - a collection of planes and cosmologies that he has quietly been developing in projects over the years. Neth is there, along with the Far Realms.No on the Plane of Worms (hmmm possible article there). Yes to a Plane of Temporal Energy, which is new to the product.

Race-specific Questions:
P: We have heard that gith and yugoloths will be included, but what about other Planescape PC races such as bariaur and rogue modrons, as well as other native planar races like guardinals, eladrins, and rilmani?

J: Githyanki and Githzerai, yes. Yes to 'loths, Bariaur, guardinals, eladrins. No to rilmani and modrons. That last one caused the greatest in-house discussion, but in the end I went back to the core discussion - Modrons were absent from the MM, and Formians used as the lawful outsider. I'm supporting the new system, so no modrons. (Of course, one slips in on one of the illus., 'cause they're pesky little things...)

P: Will there be any further explanation for the current slaad caste configuration or will the explanation remain "oh they're chaos creatures anyway"?

J: If you mean why there are castes within a chaotic system (as well as chaotic mutations beyond those castes), yes, a tale involving the Spawning Stone is included.

P: In traditional D&D cosmology there was a rationale that evil was more numerous and, thus, good creatures were fewer and stronger. In Planescape, law-based creatures were always less numerous. The 3e Monster Manual seems to correct this particular view and attempts to correct the balance. What's your take on this subject?

J: We tried for balance, though from the standpoint of "cool things to fight" Evil and Chaos are always more interesting than Good and Law. Where possible, we balanced - there's a new Lawful outsider template in the set, to balance a new Chaotic outsider. (I made the ultimate lawful landshark as an example).

Rules & Conversions Questions:
P: Will the Manual focus on converting old material, or is the focus on new places, concepts and things?

J: Both. All the old planes that are part of our core cosmology are upgraded to our new definitions, and high points of those planes (often from Planescape) are included. In addition we talk about variant planes you can add to your cosmology, new spells, a few new items, and new planar prestige classes.

P: Will the new planar alteration rules for spell and item usage be intuitive enough for anyone to understand, or will you still need a PhD in Planar Mechanics and the Planescape boxed sets to understand them?

J: One of the big requirements for the new planar system was to get more people out into the planes. Major alteration of the way your spells and magical items work has been an impediment (Who wants to go to a plane where their swords are LESS powerful?) Therefore such limitations have been reduced and in many cases eliminated. Where there are limitations to magic, they are set down in simple planar traits.By the same token, we've moved over to the gods the choice of nixing specific spells from their domains. Therefore, if you are wandering around in Hextor's dire realm, he may have a few surprises for you that have nothing to do with planar properties itself.

P: Will a saner, more workable petitioner explanation (or even a template) be provided?

J: There will be a petitioner template.

P: Will there be tips to aid in separating outsiders from magical beasts and/or aberration creatures in a planar campaign? Some people tend to get them confused.

J: In determining types of monsters, the original designers went for looking at them as descriptors more than file folders. As a result, we have outsiders and elementals and magical beasts all occupying parts of the outer planes. There is no rule that says, "If you are from the Seven Heavens of Celestia, you ARE an outsider".

P: Will there be support and information provided for psionic planar characters as well as how to handle psionics on the planes?

J: No (Though again, that's a good article). With Bruce on board we were aware of Psionic sensibilities, but we cannot assume that people buying the MotP have the Psionic handbook. Indeed, our Giths have their stats altered to fit a non-psionic planar campaign.

P: What about more information or tips on using planar ally, pacts and true names?

J: No, though there is a book currently in the works for dealing with creatures from the lower planes (insert maniacal laugh here).

Planescape-specific Questions
P: If faction rules are included, how are they presented? Will they be presented as feats, prestige classes, templates, or something else entirely?

J: No mention of Factions.

P: Is Sigil, the Lady of Pain, or Faction War mentioned or addressed at all?

J: There is only a brief mention of Sigil in the Outlands. It wasn't my purpose to upend or rewrite Planescape, but rather to provide the tools for the DMs to build their own cosmologies and lay out the new Cosmologies. The original MotP was 128 pages. This one is 224 pages, and we would have to have done twice that to do full justice to Sigil.

P: How much was this project informed/impacted by the products released under the Planescape setting? Or is it largely independent of that?

J: It has grown out of Planescape as Planescape has grown out of the original MotP. It approaches the Planes from a 3E sensibility, which is very different from the campaign-setting basis of Planescape. We're more worried about how it fits into a nuts-and-bolts sense of getting players into the plane as opposed to laying out a specific location in the planes for them to play. The original MotP was very much about running down the halls and opening doors to see what was behind them. There is very much the same spirit in the new MotP.Early in Planescape's release (way back when), there was a discussion on the message boards about which was better, Planescape or Manual. My take at the time is that they were both excellent products that did different things. That's my opinion on the new stuff. I respect Planescape and do not feel the need to negate Sigil just because we have a new set of rules installed.Planescape, in my opinion, has always been TWO campaign settings. One was Sigil, a city full of "Philosophers with Clubs" (Zeb's original quote on the matter). The other were the planes themselves, adventuring territories beyond the bounds of the city.

P: There has been much hubbub and speculation about the new Manual of the Planes burying Planescape once and for all. Will there be any major changes in the cosmology we know from Planescape?

J: I'd say no, but it's a tentative no, since at any moment we may decide to go back to Planescape, or turn it loose to the fans or license it out. I left Sigil intact because in part I don't know what others will do with it.The most interesting change to Planescape could be that Sigil itself no longer needs to be tied to the Great Wheel. No, we're not doing that - its still there atop the spire in the Outlands in our Core Cosmology. But you could take Sigil and put it into your own unique cosmology. That would be very, very interesting.The new MotP is about freedom and choice. We have the old dependable Core Cosmology, which we're going to use, but I'm real interested to see in a year unique individual cosmologies cropping up. Just as every dungeon is different, so should every afterlife. We've ripped the top off the box. We've run down the hall, opening doors to see what comes out. It's going to be a fun time.

P: Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule, Jeff! We look forward with trembling anticipation at both the release of the Manual, as well as our second, post-release interview with you. Maybe we can pry some chant out of your hands about that "creatures from the lower planes" book in the meantime...

J: I fear I cannot say more, and in reality should not have mentioned it in the first place (as it is still under design and many things change before a product finally shows up on the shelves). All will be made clear in time. Smiling And you have enough cool ammo in the interview to keep the 'boards going for a while.Thanks for the chance to chat - I look forward to the potential follow up.

Jeff G.

Our heartfelt thanks and gratitude to Jeff Grubb for talking time to do this interview, Wizards of the Coast for allowing it, and to the top-shelf staff of for coming up with these (and many more) tarmy questions!- Ashy

By: Brannon HollingsworthImported from a previous version of

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