They’re everywhere. They persist in existing when logic and reason insist they shouldn’t. They entice us with wonders and haunt us with dangers. They are worlds beyond our own, worlds beyond even the basic strictures of the fantasies we create. Other worlds, other planes, other universes – and we’re at the crossroads.
Take for example the different campaigns of Dungeons & Dragons. The lovely lady above is a witch from Dark Sun, a desolate world that subscribes to many of the same strictures and conventions as the ‘default’ D&D worlds such as Greyhawk and Mystara, but sets itself apart with its intelligent bug-people and malevolent sorcerer-kings. Ravenloft got a bit of the World of Darkness treatment around the time of version 3.5 but remains a dark, corrupted reflection of more heroic (if somewhat forgotten) realms. All of them are tied together by Sigil, the City of Doors, an environment so rich and deep it got its own campaign setting for a while. The prevelance of these different worlds grew to such a degree, however, that Sigil became folded into the ‘default’ setting. While shaving down the distinction between a ‘default’ D&D campaign and a Planescape campaign causes Sigil to lose some of its lustre, it also opens many doors for DMs to take their campaigns beyound the setting they’ve chosen and into brave new worlds. Except for Ravenloft, of course. You do NOT want to go to Ravenloft if you weren’t born there. Paladins especially. I get chills just thinking about it.
Magic: the Gathering is a similar setting. Each player is a planeswalker, a wizard or other arcanist gifted with a ‘spark’ that allows them to channel their powers into travelling between different planes of existence. There is the ‘default’ plane of Dominaria, which has been expanded upon, invaded and nearly destroyed more than once. Some are lush places where planeswalkers are practically on vacation, such as Lorwyn, while others like Zendikar might as well hang a big ‘Keep Out’ sign on the front which planeswalkers are sure to ignore because, hey, there’s loot there. I personally happen to be a fan of Mirrodin, the plane of metal, because that’s where all the best equipment comes from, and those myr are just too damn cute.
These are both fantastical and somewhat clean examples of this sort of multilateral storytelling. For a messer but more popular example, look no further than DC Comics. I won’t go into laborious detail over DC’s multiverse – MovieBob’s already done that – but it’s taken almost two decades for things to shake themselves out since the Crisis on Infinite Earths. And they’re not done yet.
If you have a favorite multi-faceted universe, what would it be?