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- Join Date
- Jul 2012
- Sinus Concordiae, Selene
A collection of recommended name changes to make the Great Wheel more cohesive.
One of my favorite aspects of D&D is the Great Wheel cosmology, and the extraplanar creatures who inhabit it. I especially love the Outer Planes and the "exemplars" as a concept: Beings who embody the core concepts of Law, Chaos, Good, and Evil. I have done a fair amount of reading about the exemplars through the editions (how they were renamed during the Satanic Panic, and how 3rd Edition attempted to blend the original names with the "safe" names), and have formed some pretty strong opinions about them. One particular field that I am quite opinionated on is the names that we have for some of the extraplanar creatures. I personally make the following changes when discussing creatures in my campaigns. I recommend using these names if you are just getting into D&D and have a group who is not yet accustomed to the specific names D&D uses. If you are a long-time player, or part of a group that has grown accustomed to the old names, I can understand that you may not see a reason to use the changes below.
I absolutely love the choice to call the inhabitants of the Lower Planes "fiends", because it is a very broad word that is commonplace in modern language. It is most often used metaphorically, to talk about people who act cruelly. Plenty of movies and shows will have the hero cry "You fiend!" at the villains. But its original use was to talk about malevolent spirits, so it works perfectly in D&D. What doesn't is the opposite concept. Calling the inhabitants of the Upper Planes "celestials" is boring, and detached from normal speech. The only times people will use the word "celestial" are in fantasy games and when talking about space. I especially don't like that "celestial" is its own adjective. A wild animal touched by malevolent energy is "fiendish", but one touched by holy energy is also "celestial". And when you look at its original meaning, it referred to things in the sky (more appropriately the heavens), but in D&D not all of the Upper Planes are celestial in the sense of being in the sky. Lastly, it is awkward that not all celestials come from Celestia. Only "archons" come from there. Unfortunately, their is no perfect parallel to the word "fiend". No word originally meaning a good spirit, that has a metaphorical meaning, and is commonplace in modern English. Except for "angel", but that already has a good use (which I prefer stays the word for the servants of gods). The next best thing I could find was "saint", which is pretty close to what I'm looking for. It has the metaphorical meaning where a person can say "You're a saint." after another person goes out of their way to help. And it has an adjectival form in "saintly". It originally came from the Latin word for "holy/consecrated". The only sticking point is that it does have some heavy Christian ties, but so does the word "devil".
Speaking of "devils" as they relate to D&D, I appreciate that the baatezu, yugoloths, and tanar'ri also have more commonplace names. Well, two of them still do... The "devils" and the "demons" get useful and instantly recognizable names, but the yugoloths are somewhat snubbed here. They have the common name "daemons", which is bad for two reasons. The obvious reason is that it is almost indistinguishable from the vastly more popular "demons". The second is that the word "daemon" just means "spirit". Both good and bad spirits can be called "daemons". So in truth this would be a good replacement for the 3rd Edition "outsider" type, if it weren't for the problem that it sounds too much like demon. The next most recognizable modern English word for evil spirits would be "hellions", so it should be the third word in this group. Using this name however has hurdles of its own.
It would be pretty awkward to have creatures called "hellions" that don't live in "Hell", but the baatezu being "devils" is already firmly established, so you can't just replace their name with "hellion". The alternative however seems more reasonable. Simply move the name "Hell" from the Lawful Evil Outer Plane to the Neutral Evil Outer Plane. The current name of the Neutral Evil Outer Plane is "The 3 Glooms of Hades", which is a solid name, but it should be addressed that "Hades" should not be an Evil place at all. "Hades" was the Ancient Greek concept of the afterlife for all people (even gods). The important part here is that it wasn't just for evil people. In fact, the historical concept of Hades had multiple realms within it including "Tartarus" (where the most fearsome and reviled dead went) AND "Elysium" (where the best and brightest went). In short, the historical concept of Hades would not fit the cosmology of D&D. But simply changing it to "The 3 Glooms of Hell" solves this problem and allows us to call the yugoloths "hellions".
This leaves one last loose end, in that we would need to rename "The 9 Hells of Baator", so that there was no overlap. This is easily remedied by referring to the original work that inspired the structure of Baator to begin with. Dante's Divine Comedy was a highly influential work that catalogued a journey through the Christian afterlife, starting in Hell. In The Inferno, Dante describes Hell as being made of distinct regions called "circles". So there we have it, "The 9 Circles of Baator". And if you have a problem with separating the word "circles" from the word "Hell", then I would ask if you have the same problem with the separation of "demon" from "Hell"? What about the separation of "angel" from "Heaven"? D&D already spreads Christian elements across the whole cosmology, so this is just one more universe-specific distinction.
Speaking of "angels", the lowest class of them are called "devas". 4E introduced a completely different concept of a deva, namely an angel that sacrifices its immortality to become a mortal. This is a much more unique concept, and so I believe it deserves to be demarcated with the unique word "deva". Meanwhile, the lowest class of angel can be called a "stellar" to fit with the names "planetar" and "solar". These adds a more medieval flare, by making stars seem like the least important celestial objects relative to planets or the Sun. A ranking which more closely aligns with the geocentric understanding of the universe than the Heliocentric model that superseded it in the modern day.
Another quick change motivated by a post-4E understanding of the D&D cosmology relates to the Chaotic Good exemplars. Their original name was usurped by the eladrin, powerful elves from the Feywild. For this, I recommend simply taking a note from Pathfinder and calling them "yazatas". Yes, in Pathfinder they are called "azatas", but that is an intentional change to the real-world inspiration so that all of the saintly creatures have names beginning with the letter "a" (angels, archons, agathions, azatas). This pattern doesn't exist in D&D because it has "guardinals" instead of "agathions".
The Outer Planes are inhabited by creatures sometimes collectively called outsiders. The servants of the gods are the angels which have the following ranks: stellars, planetars, and solars. The Upper Planes are home to saints and include: the 7 Mounting Heavens of Celestia which house the archons, the 4 Blessed Fields of Elysium which house the guardinals, and the 3 Olympian Glades of Arborea which house the yazatas. The Lower Planes are home to fiends and include: the 9 Circles of Baator which house the baatezu (devils), the 3 Glooms of Hell which house the yugoloths (hellions), and the Infinite Layers of the Abyss which house the tanar'ri (demons).
Last edited by thoroughlyS; 2021-11-11 at 03:34 PM.Goblin in the Playground
Most 3.5 thing I've ever seen: RAW on RAW. Love you, Curmudgeon.