Interview: Jeff Grubb (Part 2)

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Planewalker Network: How much, if any, did the old Wizards of the Coast publication, "The Primal Order: Chessboards – the Planes of Possibility" affect the new Manual?

Jeff Grubb: I love the Primal Order, though it primarily dealt with the dealings of gods than the physical makeup of comologies. I used the various cosmologies presented there as in-house "tests" to see how the system worked. Indeed, the Winding Road cosmology finds its roots in the Fuervir Continuum, though without the mist walls.

This has been announced elsewhere, but original Primal Order designer (and my former boss) Peter Adkison has acquired Primal Order from WotC (woohoo!).

P: It seems that the Mercane are basically the Arcane of old with a new name – why the change?

J: It is a name change. In the new edition, Arcane has a specific meaning regarding a type of magic (the other being Divine). Hence spells like Arcane Eye and Arcane Lock. Keeping the old name for the creatures could create confusion, which avoided with a name change. It was Dave Noonan that came up with the replacement, combining the old name with the merchant nature of the beings to create the Mercane.

P: How much, if any, of this new Manual will be released under the OGL? If this occurs, are there any projections as to when it might happen?

J: Under the OGL, only sections of the core three rule books are currently released for use (these are known as the System Reference Document or SRD). We are currently discussing in-house what additional projects should be released, and what parts of those projects. I am strongly encouraging that the non-proprietary sections of Manual of the Planes be released, but we have no set date (and a few other things in the queue ahead of it).

P: The concepts of alternative cosmologies in the Manual could prove to be extremely powerful tools in the hands of D20 publishers. Are there any plans to release this particular concept under the OGL?

J: Future hazy, ask again later. I don’t know what will be OGLed for MotP. We’ll probably have to go into a room with fungo bats and the last one standing will make the decision.

P: Are there any plans to release any "alternative cosmology" adventures or supplements in Wizard’s future? I smell a Far Realm adventure or three. Eye-wink

J: No plans (gosh, we’ve got our hands full with the Great Wheel as it is!). If such things happen, it will likely be web enhancements and articles in Dragon and Dungeon.

P: You mentioned in the last interview that the change in monster summoning was a factor in changing the nature of the Astral plane. Are there other instances where a facet of the new rules influenced a change in the planes beyond mechanics?

J: Death of the Deep Ethereal. With a better definition of spells like Ethereal Jaunt, it became clear that the Ethereal overlaid the Material and there was less need for a fogbound Deep Ethereal. Also, since the Astral reached the Elemental Planes now, we didn’t need the Ethereal to reach there.

Simultaneously, Shadow with its spells picked up a lot of the language we had excised from the Ethereal, which laid the groundwork for it as a potential linking plane between Materials.

P: Any more word on the web enhancements you eluded to last time?

J: I contacted Julia Martin over in Web Publishing, and she sent me this list:

P: What is the top thing you wish you could have included in this Manual that you were not able to (due to design decisions, space, etc.)?

J: More. More monsters. More detail. In particular more variant planes (they are the part that breaks down preconceived notions the most). As it was, time was our biggest enemy, and when I got mired, Dave Noonan and Bruce Cordell were champions in digging me and the project out. In the end, we overdid a bit, and had to shoot the leading (the space between the lines) down a nudge in order to make it all fit, and sent the World Serpent Inn (a relic of 1E) over to the Web.

P: How did you go about designing the "planar traits" system? Was it pretty easy to determine just what is a trait and what should just be a special characteristic of the plane (i.e. Gray Wasting) or was it more difficult making that sort of distinction?

J: I was looking for shared commonalties - traits that are present in more than one plane. The divine planes all seem to share the concept that gods can redecorate as suits their purpose, so the morphic trait went in as a standard. From there I looked at different types of morphability to apply to other planes and ended up with that "family" of traits.

P: Last time, you alluded to a new product dealing with denizens of the lower planes. Are there any more juicy tidbits on that product (who is writing it, when might we see it, what is it’s main focus, etc)? Also, are there any other planned planar products (that even deal remotely with the planes) in the works that you might be able to sneak us a rumor about?

J: No future juicy info there (sorry). But we do have coming out, Lords of the Iron Fortress, by Andy Collins, which takes a plunge in Acheron.

P: For the "joined" plane names (i.e. Nine Hells of Baator), were the names pretty self-evident once you decided to combine the old school with the older school names or was there some tweaking to get them right? We are glad we did not see "The Happy Hunting Grounds of the Beastlands".

J: They were pretty much self evident. I couldn’t pull of the "Gladshiemian Turf of Ysgard". I think names reflect one of my goals in this product - to create a synthesis between the old (original MotP and Planescape) and new (the new rule set). For old-time fans, there’s stuff you recognize. For newcomers, there’s stuff you understand.

P: This is the first D&D 3e non-adventure we’ve seen without a bunch of new feats. Was that intentional or just how it ended up?

J: I evaluated new feats early on, and found the ones I came up with were effective in only one or two planes, or could be subsumed by abilities within the prestige classes. So I chose not to add more feats to the ever-growing list.

P: When was it decided to make this more a book of options and "how to’s" than a book of "how things are"?

J: Pretty much from the get-go. The new edition of D&D is very much about empowering the DMs to take the game in their own direction. The DMG is full of this sort of stuff. The challenge was to set the balance between solid material that the DMs can take and run with, and the mechanics that will allow them to build their own unique cosmologies.

P: In your own personal games, do you/are you going to pretty much use the Great Wheel as presented? Modify it slightly? Modify it a great deal? Create a completely new cosmology?

J: Were I starting again, I would build a new cosmology (my first cosmology, pre-Great Wheel, was a hexgrid). As it is, I’m using the Great Wheel as it currently exists, since it’s a common, shared knowledge with my players. When I’m in the Realms, I go with the cosmology presented there.

P: Is there any feature of the Great Wheel that you would like to have changed but was worried it would differ too greatly from the older versions?

J: Not really. While the new edition encourages expanded potential (as evidenced by the various Variant Planes), I am very comfortable with what has gone before. There is a great foundation there.

P: It is mentioned several times that Oerth is the center of the "standard" Great Wheel cosmology. Is this a Harmonium plot? Eye-wink

J: You’d have to ask the Lady of Pain about that.

The folks at the Planewalker Network would like to graciously thank both Jeff Grubb and all of the folks at Wizards of the Coast for permitting us this interview. We look forward to many more in the future!

By: Brannon HollingsworthImported from a previous version of

  • Manual of the Planes excerpt, live 9/7
  • Manual of the Planes web enhancement, live 9/14. May be coming out in two parts at different dates (one for World Dragon Inn and one for Modrons) to accommodate editing needs.
  • Manual of the Planes wallpaper, live 9/14
  • Manual of the Planes art gallery, live 9/7 or 9/14
  • Personality Spotlight: Jeff Grubb, live 9/7
She notes that all go live dates are approximate, and may change due to various circumstances. In most cases, if a date is given as 9/7, the piece would appear 9/7, 9/8, or 9/10; and if given as 9/14, would appear 9/14, 9/15, or 9/16.

Planescape, Dungeons & Dragons, their logos, Wizards of the Coast, and the Wizards of the Coast logo are ©2008, Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro Inc. and used with permission.