The Multiverse: everywhere, all at once
Sundered Worlds are appearing around every corner. Where are they coming from and more importantly, why?
“…Renark could never be lonely, for the galaxy was his omnipresent friend and he was aware of its movements. Even the peculiar control exercised on it by forces which he could not sense was as comforting as its presence. He moved about it and contained awareness of it in his long, thin-boned skull. He wandered purposely through the teeming galaxy for two swift years and the, when ready, journeyed again towards the Rim”
The Blood Red Game aka The Sundered Worlds, Micheal Moorcock (1965)
“I’d like to congratulate Mr Moorcock for his well earned Oscar,” quipped a post on a Facebook group dedicated to the works of the original cartographer of the Multiverse, Michael Moorcock. The triumphant run of awards given to Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (Kwan, Scheinet, US, 2022) was seen by Moorcock’s fans as an endorsement of his original fictional concept. He has adopted intersecting realities in his fiction as a means of “loosening” up his stories to detach them from the real world to create ‘the fabulous’ (Clute, 2014).
The protagonists exist as an Everyman. The Eternal Champion wandering through many worlds, restoring the balance for benefit of humanity in different times and worlds across his prolific output. The same characters appearing again and again in different contexts.
Of course, Everything Everywhere, All at Once is a more cinematic version of the Multiverse. The visual interlaying of the mundane with the spectacular owes more to Michel Gondry’s wonderful video for Let Forever Be by the Chemical Brothers than it does to the bard of Ladbroke Grove. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has also been turning up the multiverse madness in its second phase of movies following the climatic Infinity Wars. Layering the comic book crossovers over and over again.
Is it me, but is the multiverse turning up everywhere?
ROLL FOR … DOORS OF PERCEPTION
Call it synchronicity, call it déja vu but the Million Spheres appear to be aligning in the world of gaming as well as at the movies over the past few months.
I’ve written here previously about my personal current run of Moorcockian gaming: the Moorcock weekender, running The Rogue Mistress Stormbringer campaign, virtual GROGMEET has a couple of Moorcock inspired games on offer and I’m offering Stormbringer at UK Games Expo in June.
The gaming multiverse is appearing in other unlikely locations. For the book club this month we studied Planescape, the 2nd edition AD&D collectable series of box-sets and books creating a hub for adventures in many worlds. Released in 1994 by TSR the setting expanded ideas from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Manual of the Planes, to a whole new level. It offered a distinctive form of role-playing characters where it was possible for them to pass into different realms from the central hub of Sigil, a fabulous city of doorways to the different planes of adventure. It was enhanced by vivid writing by ‘Zeb’ Cook with exotic illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi, Robh Ruppel and Dana Knutson. It works as a unified setting which joins the worlds of D&D in a great cosmic wheel.
Talking about it during the book club has fired my imagination. I’ve been captivated by the way the worlds are presented and the potential of the setting. I’ve been preparing to run The Great Modron March (1997). It’s a anthology of eleven adventures based around the strange automatons from Mechanus. The Modrons have commenced a ritual march through the planes, over a century too soon. The campaign is packed with bizarre encounters, intriguing plots and unusual fights. One of the authors is Monte Cook and its possible to see the origins of Numenera and The Strange in his contributions.
A huge hit with the fans and its remembered fondly to this day, so its no surprise that Wizards of the Coast are currently developing a new edition.
UNPACKING THE MULTI-PACK
One of the most memorable scenarios that I have run was based on the multiverse exploits of Luther Arkwright (mentioned in the latest GROGPOD) and I have had loads of fun with Barney’s as-yet-unreleased League of Eternal Guardians (the best game, that isn’t a game, yet) where you play characters fixing problems across time and the multiverse.
Why are multiverses so appealing?
The Smart Party Podcast are right when they say that one of the central pillars of Dungeons and Dragons is the idea of exploration. It is the least appreciated aspect of the game, but the desire to create multiverse settings is an indication of how significant it is in the creation of adventure: skipping from one plane of reality to another, discovering the intricacies of the world and interacting with weird cultures. It creates the same sense of discovery inherent in space opera RPGs that feature interplanetary travel (Star Trek, Traveller) but within a fantasy setting.
Using the multiple planes also offer the chance to look at the same world through a different lens. The familiar becomes the unfamiliar when it doesn’t work in the same way that you expect. Spells may work differently, monsters can be renamed and reskinned and enemies that were defeated can come back stronger in another guise.
Maybe the best aspect of the multiverse is the opportunity to destroy worlds. To move from one cosmically significant event to another.
Cause the ultimate catastrophe? Don’t worry, there’s another plane around the corner.
When Moorcock invented his Multiverse, he said it was a response to the Big Bang and the sense that catastrophe was built into the system. That’s the appeal for gaming too. The stakes are high when the fabric of the Universe may break.
However, it is the continuity of character across different time and space that provides the best RPG experience. The idea of developing a character as they move through multiple worlds is what is really at the heart of multiverse adventures. In Moorcock’s world it is about hitting the moments when the players think, “haven’t we faced this before, but under different circumstances?”
The ultimate character, moving from plane to plane, from one weird situation to another, that’s an Oscar winning experience. That’s why you’ll always find me in the multiverse.
There’s an old Diana Wynne Jones book called “the Homeward Bounders” which I always thought was perfect for running in Everway (arguably one of the other early multiverse like games).
you are spot on re exploration when Matt ran his much more hard SF D-hopping campaign the joy was making characters from different dimensions and exploring them But that was where each dimension had the discipline of being alternate history rather than bingy bongy pingy pongy which appealed to our harder SF, historian snobbery