The Abyss is a plane of seemingly infinite layers controlled by an equally uncountable number of demon lords. It has all sorts of terrain, from steaming jungles to towering cities of evil. Acheron is in a constant state of warfare, with orcs, goblins, and living siege constructs fighting over just about every conceivable reason for battle. The Lower Planes are handily suited for extraplanar adventures and are all interesting places for your party to explore.
Not so much with the Upper Planes. As described in the Third Edition Manual of the Planes, the celestial realms seem to be lacking in comparison. This could be due to the idea of heaven being a “Utopia” and thus relatively free of conflict. Maybe it’s due to the conceit that most parties are non-evil and that the forces of Good don’t have much reason to fight each other like the various Evil factions. The purpose of this post is to find ways to create interesting adventures in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons (Explore dangerous places! Fight vicious monsters!) by adding ideas to the Upper Planes or extrapolating from existing ideas.
Bytopia’s one of the planes in need of the most work. What we get out of it from the Manual is an idyllic, pastoral landscape of sparsely populated villages in the region of Dothian, towering hill-cities home to the Gnomish Pantheon, and the wild, rugged region of Shurrock. Here's my redesign:
An Individualist Society
Bytopia is sort of a pseudo-Libertarian commune in the sense that the societies are organized by the ideal of “personal achievement working with social interdependence.” The agricultural industries are individually run, and shops located between habitats are beholden to no person or ideal except the “common good.” And Bytopia’s ideal of the Common Good is that individuals working towards their strengths and dreams results in a greater society for all. The idea is that individuals will form alliances and agreements with each other when in need of certain things, and the people who work the hardest and/or are the best at their trade will have the most potential to form alliances as long as their services are in demand.
This is a great deal for merchants, business owners, and people who love their job and wish to improve their craft or profession. As long as you're not of Evil alignment and don’t deprive the Plane’s inhabitants of their rights or destroy their property (no slave rings, no deliberately tainting the town’s water supply, etc), you’re pretty much left to your own devices. Of course, you won’t get free handouts, and any benefits of civilization you desire, such as supplies and security, are worked out in social contracts with the relevant parties. Many traders in planar goods and magic items have private retreats on Bytopia, doubling as a scenic landscape and tax-free haven.
This also resulted in a large influx of scientific and magical talent. The experiments of enterprising artificers and mages, unconstrained by regulation and oversight and combined with the seemingly boundless and unpredictable nature of gnomish science, often results in amazing breakthroughs as well as catastrophic lab accidents. Abandoned labs and company towns are usually located away from major population centers in the wild reaches of Shurrock, their scientific notes and untested devices scattered in the ruins and debris below flying swarms of mutated leeches and rogue war golems. Companies seeking to recover their losses or steal from the competition often pay bands of adventurers to scour these places for anything of value.
The Wilds of Shurrock
Inhabitants of Bytopia who don’t feel that the rural towns of Dothian are independent enough often retreat to the other layer of Shurrock. The region’s terrain is inhospitable and full of hostile predators, making it a poor choice for habitation. These factors, combined with the rugged mountain passages and hidden alpines make it a haven for all sorts of privacy-seekers. They majority of Shurrock’s inhabitants are hermits, scientists seeking an isolated environment, and explorers with a thing to prove. Most settlements are temporary and almost always heavily guarded (mostly to keep out wild predators, sometimes to keep dangerous experiments in).
The Machinations of Urdlen
Urdlen is the sole evil deity of the Gnomish pantheon. He’s a gluttonous, badger-like monster whose thirst for destruction is as great as his all-consuming hunger. He makes his home in the Abyss and doesn’t much care for worshipers; his clerics mostly hang around his tunnels and try to please their god, and sometimes he grants divine spells to evil gnomes so that they can cause death and destruction to their local communities. It’s for this reason that Urdlen doesn’t have a thriving priesthood, but the gnomes he does favor have more than proven themselves in their savagery and cunning.
Urdlen’s hill-city is all but abandoned now on Bytopia, although it’s still littered with traps, undead and construct guardians, and Abyssal portals. There’s no sizable community of followers on Bytopia or in any easily-reached locations, and that’s exactly how Urdlen prefers it. He’s the unseen threat, the lone voice that urges the misanthropic and bullied loner to plot vengeance; the voice that tells the furious husband to kill his unfaithful wife and her paramour. Urdlen’s the type of deity that can drive good folk into the depths of evil without the victim realizing it. A priesthood and holy symbol would give a face to the opposition, an easily-identifiable enemy for Glittergold and his followers to attack.
Urdlen’s followers live in Bytopia, their identities, life stories, and personalities all carefully forged to ingratiate themselves into the community. They may live as honorable and trustworthy citizens for decades before enacting some terrible deed and vanishing into the Abyss. They use Bytopia’s permissive attitude against itself, severing bonds of trust and abusing the freedom given to them to sow doubt about the gnomes’ way of life. If they can push even a small community or individual to the breaking point, they’ve done Urdlen’s work.
Adventure Hooks in Bytopia:
• A siege engineer working for an important war effort lost contact with the army/rebels. His last known location was in a science city located in the wild reaches of Shurrock. Enemy sabotage resulted in the settlement’s war golems going berserk. The PCs have a limited amount of time to retrieve the engineer and his valuable research notes before the golems and the saboteur kill him and destroy the research.
• A valuable contact the PCs need to reach went missing. In order to hide from his enemies, he fled to Shurrock. Unfortunately, the mountain territory proved too much for him to handle, and he’s now trapped in a ravine full of anti-magic. It’s a race against time as the PCs search for him before he becomes truly lost or the bad guys get to him.
• An assortment of rich merchants gathers at a scenic Bytopian villa to discuss business. A merchant known for his cutthroat policies is attending, and while the PCs have no solid evidence, it’s highly likely based on past events that he might try some dastardly scheme which will result in disastrous economic havoc and/or widespread suffering for many people (war profiteering, flooding the market and putting people out of business). How do the PCs act on this information? Do they have the right to attack, kidnap, or kill the merchant based on suspicion? Convince him to go after a worthier target (such as an Evil Empire or Yugoloth soul-traders) or appeal to his better nature? And there’s always the risk of he merchant having no evil plot, but decides to enact one out of spite for being inconvenienced by the PCs.
Arcadia’s portrayed as a realm of orderly perfection where every petitioner acts in accordance with “the greater good.” Many visitors have a lot of misconceptions about Arcadia, and are often surprised to note that the society isn’t as “cold” or emotionless as Mechanus.
Arcadia’s an Upper Plane, but it isn’t infused with the essence of Good. Arcadia’s ideal society is a collective unit of individuals working in perfect tandem for the betterment of the group. While the inhabitants of Mechanus obey the prime directives of exemplars of Law for the sake of it, the Arcadians use the order derived from Law and Good to minimize suffering and result in the highest standard of living for the most people possible. This puts them closer to the Upper Planes than the Lower because their ideals are not meant to benefit the few in power at the expense of others. In order to benefit from this society, everybody needs to be on board, and too many dissident elements add in way too many unpredictable factors to keep things together. People who rock the boat are punished through ostracism, demotion, and other forms of shaming to get them back in line. Law and Goodness are enforced through the fear of shame in eyes of one’s peers and superiors, and a lot of petitioners do the “right thing” due to this instead of true altruism. This is why the plane is not Good-aligned; it’s not genuine. It’s also why the petitioners tolerate Chaotic Good and Neutral Good individuals, yet ruthlessly attack Evil ones; an invasion from Baator, or even Mechanus, is a far greater threat than Arborea or the Beastlands.
Another myth is that the people of Arcadia are little more than mindless drones, living for the sake of powerful outsiders and deities of Law without question. High-ranking Arcadians don’t get to shirk their duties or benefit from luxurious privileges, nor do they benefit from supreme authority; if anything, their position of importance saddles them with increasingly numerous and greater responsibilities due to their position of authority. Incompetence and abuses of power get knocked down with extreme prejudice. Checks and balances exist to ensure that everyone’s accountable for their actions; there’s too much at stake to let the entire system fall apart due to the folly of one.
The Mechanus Invasion
If you thought that the inhabitants of Arcadia and Mechanus get along like peas in a pod due to their relative ideological proximity, you’d be dead wrong. Although not the primary inhabitants of Mechanus, the Formians are a major power on that plane, and their policies are an extension of it. The insects have a reputation for extreme imperialism. They colonize distant planes and worlds, building hive-cities and spreading their numbers so that they can remake as much of the multi-verse in their image as possible. The latent fears of many Arcadians turned into a reality when their third layer of Menausus got absolved into Mechanus.
The worst part about this was that the Arcadian leaders did not see the true extent of the threat, both out of arrogant denial and of fear of spreading panic. The layer and its inhabitants are still missing among the great cogs of Mechanus, seemingly gone from the Multiverse. Arcadia was especially blessed to have such a regimented society and managed to avoid war and social discord through the actions of its leaders. Remaining Formians were rounded up and forced to prove their loyalty to Arcadia or face imprisonment or deportation. Even though the Formians of Arcadia insist that they do not share their brethren’s expansionist tendencies, many Arcadians still do not trust them. If tensions continue, then the leaders will have to expel the Formians for the good of the whole.
The truth is that the Formians of Arcadia are indeed loyal to their home plane, and the Formians of Mechanus intend on absorbing the plane into Mechanus. If the second layer of Buxenus appears under the threat of absorption, Arcadia will have no choice but to defend itself. Celestia will intervene on Arcadia’s behalf, the Modrons and Inevitables on Mechanus’ behalf. And then the idyllic fields of Arcadia will run red with the blood of the exemplars of Law and Good.
Harmonium Prison Camps
The Harmonium is an extremely Lawful planar faction intent on achieving universal peace by converting the rest of the Multiverse to their ideology. For those who resist, they are not averse to kidnapping, coercion, and brainwashing to achieve their goals. The majority of such beings are held in “retraining camps” on the second layer of Buxenus.
The majority of people held in these facilities are of Chaotic alignment, including more than a few Outsiders. But Neutral and even Lawful-aligned beings who disagree with the Harmonium’s ends and means are also kept here. The success rate of “re-education” remains low and fraught with difficulties, yet the Harmonium’s staying the course despite their numerous failed attempts.
In addition to being highly unethical and giving Arcadia a bad name, the prisons are a major contributing factor towards the encroaching incursion of Mechanus. The threat of a prison break is also a major concern, as a horde of escaped Slaadi and Demons will do much to upset the layer’s balance. If solid evidence of the planar reaches the eyes and ears of Arcadia’s leaders, the Harmonium will be forcefully expelled. The faction will ally with Mechanus and declare Arcadia an enemy.
Adventure Hooks in Arcadia:
• An individual important to the PCs has been kidnapped by the Harmonium and tossed into one of their re-education camps. A petitioner skeptical about the faction’s methods can help the party conduct a raid against the facility, but it will be difficult and require precise planning. In addition to dimensional travel blocks, magical wards, and experienced guards, the PCs will also have to avoid the detection of passing patrols of Archons and Devas, who will prevent the PCs from carrying out their plan without solid proof of the Harmonium’s danger to Arcadia.
• A Formian spy loyal to Mechanus plans on killing the Arcadian hive-queen of Mandible and replacing her with an expansionist sympathizer. The PCs are tasked with uprooting the spy while taking care to avoid alerting other Formians of the situation. The tunnels are closed off to non-Formians, complicating matters greatly. And then there’s the matter protecting the Queen as well…
• An organized militia of petitioners found a strong lead on the whereabouts of the inhabitants of Menausus. The PCs are entrusted to help find the missing layer. Problem is that the Inevitables and Formians of Mechanus have no intention of letting the layer’s inhabitants back. If the PCs and the militia are going to get them back, it will be by fighting their way out!
Arborea’s known for being the homeland of the elven pantheon as well as a realm of hedonism and excess. The Manual informs us that the plane has regions of unspoiled wilderness and hints at a less than ideal scene with this line: “All three layers are places of mercurial weather, sudden attacks, and strong passions. Arborea is a plane of joy and sorrow.” Fey live here as well, and creatures infused with Chaos (the Anarchic template) can be wildly unpredictable and may strike out at travelers with little provocation. The Planescape description of Arborea tells us that it’s also home to the Greek pantheon, and that all sorts of creatures from Greek mythology live here. This interesting assortment of inhabitants gives us much potential. Here’s my re-design:
Arborea’s ideal of Good is that people should be able to do what they want if it reduces suffering and brings joy to themselves and others. Despite the preconceptions of mortal puritans, consent is of prime importance to the Plane’s inhabitants, as pleasure gained at the expense of others results in long-term harm and the spread of despair. The goal of most Arboreans is not just to spread positive emotions and encourage others to live life to the fullest, but to bring happiness and hope out of misery.
Even then, there are societal problems in Arborean society. The vast distances between habitats are so hard to traverse that most people use flight and teleportation magic to travel. These wide swaths of wilderness are home to many monsters from Greek mythology and beings borne of raw Chaos. Their idea of a good time doesn’t usually include mutual enjoyment of fun activities between strangers and good friends. There are also the wandering mobs of Bacchae, who mentally compel others to join in their revelry at the expense of personal safety; some of the more “Neutral” ones are known to violently lash out at people who attempt to put a stop to their hijinks or rescue a loved one from their parties.
Meddle Not in the Affairs of Gods
Arborea’s home to the Elven and Greek/Roman Pantheons. The Seldarine’s faithful live in treetop cities and wooden glades, while the followers of the Olympian deities live in cities styled after Hellenistic and Roman architecture. Although the more nationalistic towns keep to themselves and brutally enforce their “no immigration” policy, there is a fair bit of overlap between the two in terms of trade and cohabitation.
Although the faithful live together in relative peace, the Gods themselves are more dysfunctional. The Greek Gods and Goddesses alternatively love and fight each other like a dysfunctional family, while the more isolationist-minded of the Elven deities clash with their more moderate kin over the presence of non-elves on the plane. The deities regularly intervene in the affairs of petitioners and planar travelers, sending them on quests to retrieve some sacred relic that belongs to a rival god, or slay some vicious monster to help some unlucky mortal be rid of a divine grudge. Adventurers on a holy quest inevitably anger somebody on Arborea, but the rewards of a god can be great indeed…
Natonalists: The Warriors of Arborea
In addition to being a plane renowned for its ideals of art, festivals, and all the enjoyable things in life, Arborea’s also a plane of passion. And the passion of nationalism can be just as powerful as the passion of hedonism. Many entities of Evil and Law made the fatal error of mistaking Arborea for an easy conquest before meeting defeat at the hands of Elven and Olympian legions.
The Elves and Olympians both fight as hard as they play, owing much to their martial cultures. Despite not being of Good alignment, Shevarash of the Seldarine and Ares of the Olympians both have a highly militarized force of warriors both ready and willing to defend their homes from extraplanar attacks (and each other, if necessary). This is a spot of contention among the followers of Artemis and the Good-aligned deities, who aren’t fond of letting people driven by hate possessing such authority. The fact that a disproportionally high amount of evil souls among each deity’s faithful led to more than a few bitter feuds.
The petitioners of Shevarash and Ares have great loyalty to their respective peoples, and they’ll defend their homeland as zealously as any Eladrin. The two deities have a greater kinship to their own kind than the forces of the Abyss, and get to make their realms in Arborea due to the shared alliance of the pantheons. Their followers know that they’d be barred entry to the plane or living as petitioners in a more hostile plane, and as such owe a great debt to the Gods for their mercy. The great love of Arborea these petitioners have for their plane has led to others calling them “nationalists.”
Unfortunately, the people most willing to defend their plane are potentially its greatest oppressors. The nationalists are upset with status quo and want the Elves and Olympians to separate and live in their own enclaves. Elven worshipers of Olympian deities, and non-elven worshipers of the Seldarine, would be segregated from their fellow devotees. The nationalists prefer this separation to be voluntary with minimum bloodshed, but this appears unlikely. Some go even farther and advocate making Arborea an Elven-only plane, or making the plane the base of an interplanar Olympian empire. Shevarash and Ares publically make attempts to reign in their more radical followers, although they privately encourage their xenophobic sentiments.
The third layer of Arborea is a flat plain on white sand stretching in all directions. The sandstorms are fierce enough to rip the flesh off of one’s bones in mere minutes, while the ancient ruins and minarets contain numerous death traps and magical wards. Nobody really knows what civilization the ruins belonged to, or if Mithardir was always this desolate. Aside from the Egyptian Goddess Nepthys, the layer’s sole inhabitants are archeologists, tomb-raiding adventurers, and whatever guardian forces still lair in the ruins. Mithardir is a highly dangerous and inhospitable place, and Arborea’s petitioners strongly advise travelers to avoid the area for their own safety.
Adventure Hooks in Arborea:
• An elven artisan can craft a powerful magic item for the PCs, but the specifics of the creation require him to be in a rare glade untouched by civilization. Such a location can be found in a remote mountaintop forest in Arvandor, yet it’s full of dangerous beasts. The PCs will need to protect the artisan and his supplies from roaming monsters, freak weather, and wandering groups of Bacchae if they hope to get their magic item!
• The high war-priest of Ares has had it up to here with the rampant hedonism in a major city. While the PCs are staying or traveling through the city, he puts the settlement on lockdown and installs a military dictatorship as the ruling authority. If they hope to escape, they must overthrow the new regime!
• A patron wants to hire the PCs to retrieve a valuable artifact from the ruins of Mithardir. The patron is actually an evil Titan, and the artifact is a miniature prison his people created to use against the Gods. While exploring the treacherous dungeons, the PCs will have to deal with the powerful minions of the Olympian deities seeking to keep the artifact lost and buried, and the wrath of a Titan should they choose to turn against their patron.
Through Conflict, Strength, Through Strength, Valor
Ysgard is a realm of mighty warriors and flying landmasses suspended over a vast surface of thriving underground civilizations. Warriors from across the Great Wheel venture here to train their skills and prove their mettle for future battles. It’s also known for conflict and physical challenges in general, as though the very land itself was testing people.
Ysgard’s ideal of good is that peoples’ ideals are best proven through conflict. Hardship can give rise to cruelty and desperation, but can also result in people proving their worthiness to the cause of Good. Courage, compassion, and other positive traits are not gained within a vacuum; there has to be something at risk for the individual in order to display the worthiness of his or her convictions.
Many people would not associate Ysgard’s ideals as being in line with Good, but they’re among the Upper Planes because the petitioners and inhabitants are training themselves so that they can better fight the forces of evil and ready themselves for unexpected future disasters. Through this, their preparation can make the Multiverse a better place. Even the Upper Planes themselves can fall prey to the machinations of Evil; the Ysgardians see no need to rest on their laurels in the afterlife.
Ysgard has a unique feature among the Outer Planes: people who die there are resurrected in 24 hours, their wounds and illnesses gone from their bodies. This provides the inhabitants the perfect opportunity to experience the dangers of battle with minimal risk. A warrior or thrill-seeking explorer can learn from the mistakes which lead to their deaths and resolve to do better. By experiencing death firsthand they can eventually overcome their fear of it. The average Ysgardian has lived and died so many times the sensation eventually becomes normal to him.
Ysgardians organize themselves into confederations of tribes, who can alternatively ally and declare war against each other. When a tribe desires to prove itself in battle, a third party gathers the leaders of the belligerent groups to a neutral meeting ground. The third party explains to them the parameters and rules of war as well the conditions of victory and defeat. The tribal leaders are given a set amount of time to return to their tribes and inform their citizens of the declaration. Whoever can meet the conditions first is declared the winner. Wars can last anywhere from hours to decades, combatants numbering anywhere from several hundred strong to the millions.
Not all combat is conducted this way on Ysgard, however. Many groups have often attacked and raided villages unprovoked out of anger. Oftentimes warlords would call in experienced adventurers and sellswords to throw in a random element to their battles. Many Fensir giants (Fiend Folio) attack settlements with little regard to terms or conditions of battle agreements, while the Fire Giants of Muspelheim attack intruders on sight. The dwarves and gnomes of Nidavellir are hostile to their drow neighbors and attack out of suspicion of wrong-doing.
The Fire Giants of Muspelheim are a world apart from their fellow Ysgardians, or so they’d have you think. Like their Ysgardian counterparts, the Fire Giants train, feast and celebrate, participate in simulated warfare, and enjoy contests of sportsmanship, yet their primary end is to extend the glory of their deity and defeat their Dwarven and Frost Giant enemies. They are a much more rigid and Lawful society, with most tribal leaders paying homage to their deity Surtr. Surtr is considered lord of all Fire Giants, although his enforcement is only as strong as the influence of his priests and war chiefs on other planes and layers.
Most Fire Giants live in grand fortresses and citadels, and they have little tolerance for outside visitors with nothing to offer and regard unannounced travelers as enemy spies. This attitude has not earned them many friends in the plane, and Ysgardians often conduct “revenge raids” against their towns in retaliation for wrong-doings.
Below the floating islands of Ysgard and Muspelheim lies the rocky surface of Nidavellir. The underground caves are full of thriving ecosystems of underground forests and woodland creatures one might see on the surface of a Material Plane world. Glittering gemstones provide light for miles in a rainbow of colors and hues. Dozens of Dwarven and Gnomish kingdoms are scattered throughout the tunnels and caverns, while the dark elves of Svartalfheim keep to themselves and venerate their ancestors. Cave-ins, stale air, and other underground dangers are common in this realm, and a single earthquake is enough to cut off a community for months.
Nidavellir is unique in that most of its inhabitants aren’t petitioners, but mortals. The drow are mostly morally neutral, tending to their immediate families and communities; their allegiance to Lolth was lost long ago from an ideological schism. Most dwarves and gnomes do not believe them and assume the worst. These misunderstandings have led to many meaningless wars.
Adventure Hooks for Ysgard:
• A PC who needs to undergo training (such as for a feat or martially-inclined prestige class) travels to Ysgard as part of the test. There, he, along with his companions, must undertake a series of deathly dangerous obstacles. He might need to wrestle a giant, expose himself to the elements of Muspelheim, or bring down a floating island full of vicious dragons. Feel free to come up with your own tests of might and bravery.
• Party at Olidammara’s House! The PCs are invited to take part in the festivities at the Den of Olidammara, god of rogues and pranksters. The deity will be disguised as one of the patrons, and whoever can locate him first and convince the others will be rewarded with a grand prize.
• The PCs are entrusted with solving a dispute between a clan of dwarves and drow in Nidavellir. The drow live in close proximity to the dwarves, and have no intention of leaving their home. If the PCs can prove that the drow are of no threat, an extremist group will attempt to cause a cave-in to kill the drow, turning the skirmish into an all-out war.
You’ll Understand When You Join Us
Elysium is a low-key realm of satisfaction and contentment. The petitioners here are mostly happy with their lot in the afterlife and overall get along with each other. They also lack visible levels of anger, resentment, and many of the more negative qualities prevalent in sapient life across the Multiverse. These feelings still exist; they’re just so muted that they almost never come to the surface.
Elysium’s ideal of Good is not just the absence of Evil, but the absence of sorrow, vengeance, and other emotions which give rise to suffering and further acts of Evil. Additionally, the ideal includes the fostering of peace, love, and goodwill towards others on a universal level. But Elysium’s means of achieving this is altering the nature of petitioners and visitors to this mentality. Allowing people the choice to do Evil is a net loss for Good. Thus it is a moral imperative on the part of Elysium to reduce the numbers of people who do Evil and increase the numbers of people who do Good. Killing the minions of Evil is not enough; petitioners are eternal and can continue to do Evil or Good in the Multiverse. This is a major reason for the widespread transformation of visitors into Elysium petitioners.
Although the other Upper Planes have similar ends and encourage the proliferation of altruistic works, their means put them at odds with the Elysians: Arborea believes in individual choice (provided those choices don’t oppress others); Celestia believes that genuine Goodness comes through voluntary self-sacrifice; Ysgard believes that lack of conflict causes people’s skills and nature to atrophy. Elysium’s nature is a very controversial issue due to the issues it raises regarding free will and genuine Goodness on the part of the individual.
In addition to moral and philosophical arguments, the “entrapment” of visitors on the Plane has given rise to another controversy. The Elysium Trackers are a guild based in the city of Sigil, whose sole duty is to find entrapped people and remove them from the Plane. The organization disagrees with Elysium’s ideals, insisting that the heartache and sorrow caused by friends and loved ones of the entrapped outweighs any personal happiness engendered by the Plane’s nature. Many Trackers also object to the involuntary nature of the entrapment, arguing that it violates the rights of people to choose where they live and free control over their own minds. Since most entrapped people and petitioners regard forced removal as a form of kidnapping, the Trackers are treated as a criminal order on the Plane and attacked by angels and guardinals if their presence is discovered.
The Trackers possess a secret means of changing petitioners back into their former selves; it involves powerful planar magic akin to the Miracle spell, and the time and resources necessary cause the Trackers to carefully plan out their incursions into Elysium. The reception former petitioners have to the Trackers is mixed: many of them, especially those from unhappy backgrounds, resent the Trackers for “robbing” them of happiness. Others are grateful to the Trackers and try to go back to their old lives.
The third layer of Elysium is perhaps the most isolated and well-defended. The guardinals are on a constant war footing, and the layer’s not accessible to the general public or travelers. Even though it’s far away from the Lower Planes, many demons, devils, and yugoloths continually infiltrate the layer. They’re all searching for something, the specifics of which are unknown to them and the angelic guardians of the layer. Many people theorized that some evil entity or artifact of great power is imprisoned on the layer. Others theorize that the guardinals are building a magical ritual to spread their Plane’s influence across the entire Multiverse.
The fiends aren’t the only folks interested in the guardinal’s secret. Organizations and deities devoted to knowledge, secrets, and information have a vested interest in this layer and often hire adventurers to infiltrate the Plane and report back any unusual activity. Even other good-aligned factions, fearful of the possibility of the Plane’s entrapment spreading, have a stake in the espionage game.
The true nature of Belierin is deliberately left up to the Dungeon Master for the needs of his campaign. Regardless of the choice, it should be something that the guardinals don’t want others to know about and something the fiends are desperate to possess or destroy.
Adventure Hooks for Elysium:
• A famous Paladin got stranded on Eronia through a freak windstorm. He’s now transitioned into a petitioner and lost knowledge of most of his abilities and Paladin powers. An archon from Celestia is currently in Talisid’s Court, arguing for the return of the Paladin. The PCs need the Paladin to help stop a great evil on another plane, and the Guardinals are unwilling to return him. Even if they take him off the plane, they’ll need a Wish or Miracle spell or the help of the Trackers to restore the holy warrior to his former self.
• A Druid successfully grew a type of plant which can hold off the entrapment of Elysium. Grown in the soil of Hades and infused with negative emotions, the flora has the side-effect of causing nearby people to grow bitter and hateful. Many factions are now hunting the Druid and her herbal secrets: the fiends want to use it to spread the cause of Evil, the Elysians want to destroy the plants to maintain the status quo and minimize the damage they’ll cause, and planar merchants want to gain control of the herbal supply and make major inroads on Elysium.
• While in an open town on the layer of Belierin, a strike force of Devils pours through a portal and starts ravaging the town. While searching for the source, the PCs will find a red jewel in the boathouse of a local petitioner. It is an extraplanar scrying beacon in disguise, and the petitioner insists that he had no knowledge of the jewel’s true properties. The guardinals place the town under lockdown until they find out the cause of the problem. The process will take more than a week, and the PCs will become wanted fugitives if they try to escape. If they don’t want to become entrapped by the plane or live on the lam, the PCs will need to solve the mystery and find the spy.
An Abridged History of the Celestial Wilds
The Beastlands’ location in the Upper Planes is a subject of great debate. In their former lives, animals were morally neutral due to lack of reasoning and higher mental faculties. Barring magical interference, the vast majority of life on Material Plane worlds is non-sapient. So why do almost all animal spirits depart to a good-aligned plane instead of the Outlands?
The truth is that the Beastlands wasn’t always among the Upper Planes. It was originally a part of the Outlands, and Obad-hai directed the spirits to this realm. The Good and Evil deities of nature were unhappy with this plan, arguing that the animal companions linked to their Druids deserved to live on with their allies. Obad-hai could not send morally neutral creatures to the other planes, so he created a compromise. He split the Beastlands into three layers: Krigala, Brux, and Karasuthra. Krigala, the land of day, had portals to the Upper Planes, while Karasuthra, the land of night, had portals to the Lower Planes. The territory would be neutral ground, and no deity would use it as a battleground for their vendettas. All sides agreed that this was satisfactory.
The evil deities eventually grew unsatisfied with this bargain, and sought ways to bypass it. They used their druidic minions and their animal companions to create fiendish creatures to supply both sides of the Blood War in exchange for power and favors. After they had enough fiends indebted to them, the deities schemed to bring the entire Beastlands under their heel. Legions of demonic and diabolic forces poured into Karasuthra, laying waste to all in their path before turning on each other. Ehlonna, Skerrit, and Obad-hai managed to drive back the hordes and destroy the Lower Planes portals, but not before countless lives were lost. Filled with rage, these three deities banished the evil ones and their servants from the Beastlands. Obad-hai split the plane off from the Outlands and placed it within the Upper Planes, both to minimize future acts of retaliation and to reward Ehlonna and Skerrit, the deities who never abused their oath.
Even after countless ages had passed, the layer of Karasuthra is still home to dangerous areas scarred by fiendish magic and hidden traps for unwary explorers. Celestial animals and their angelic allies manage to keep the layer mostly safe, although surprise attacks still manage to overcome them. The numerous hiding places and shadowed regions means that the forces of Good have much work to do.
The Circle of Life
The Beastlands’ ideal of Good is in life with the more benevolent nature deities: have respect for your surroundings, for even minor actions have an impact on the surrounding life. Do not be wasteful or needless: overhunting, rapid industrialization, and over breeding all lead to increased rates of starvation, pollution, and near-irreversible long-term damage. Another aspect of the ideal is to not reach beyond your limits and recognize your strengths and weaknesses: some animals work better in packs, while others function best while solitary or in small groups.
But the most important aspect of the ideal is the nature of sustenance: living beings consume others in order to live. Many do not wish for death or to bring it upon others, but it is a part of life. The best option is to recognize this fact and be grateful to the spirits of animals and plants who gave their lives to nourish you. Eventually, you too will perish, and your body will provide sustenance to another.
Most petitioners are celestial animals, plants, and vermin capable of higher thinking. Almost every entity in the Beastlands is aware of this ideal to some extent, and as such worked out a mutually beneficial social contract. Petitioners which are old, sick, or weak voluntarily give themselves up for consumption. The consumed then merges with the consumer, becoming part of the land as excreted byproduct or forming into the offspring of the consumer. All but the newest petitioners had the opportunity to live as animal and plant, predator and prey, giving a greater understanding of life and empathy for others. Additionally, the Celestial conversion of life to sapience on the plane also diminishes the less pleasant behaviors among the animal kingdom: felines don’t toy with dying rodents; bear fathers don’t try to kill their offspring to induce the female into heat. The higher mental faculties and Good alignment of the animals results in greater respect for the dignity and welfare of others.
This results in a very collectivist society. The system works best in a closed loop: thrill-seeking hunters and industrialists looking to take away life from the Beastlands results in a united front against the invaders. The petitioners have a very good thing going on and they’re not fond of the thought of sitting in a cage in some dank apartment in Pandemonium for several dozen years. The thought of merging with an evil consumer or one departing for a foreign plane is intensely frightening, and the land itself often appears to be working against travelers by withholding food and game.
Merging With Nature
Despite this xenophobia, many travelers, Sensates seeking a new experience, and druids frequently travel to the plane to merge with nature and derive some deeper understanding of life, the Multiverse, or some other esoteric concept. Merging with the life of the Beastlands has the tendency to grant greater natural awareness to the enterprising pilgrim.
Consuming life on the Beastlands allows the souls of one or more petitioners to enter the consumer’s body. The consumer gains a +2 sacred bonus on Handle Animal and Survival checks as the consumed petitioner imparts knowledge. Additionally, the consumer has a constant speak with animals or speak with plants ability, but only in regards to the creatures he consumed. These benefits last for 8 hours, and can have no more than 3 additional souls in his body.
Being consumed is another affair entirely. If a character dies in the Beastlands and is consumed by the native animal or plant life, his soul merges with the petitioner’s body. The person is considered to be under the effects of Wild Shape, except that it lasts as long as his soul remains within the body, the soul can “speak through” the petitioner’s body, and that he can only have the form of the current petitioner.
If a person remains in this state long enough, he can gain incredible insight into the workings of the life of the Multiverse. If he remains in the Beastlands (either as a petitioner or as part of a petitioner) for a week, he can use Speak With Animals and Speak With Plants three times per day each as spell-like abilities. If he remains for a month, he can use these spell-like abilities at will. If a soul remains in the Beastlands for a year, he gains the Wild Shape ability as a 5th-level Druid (or one additional use of Wild Shape, if he’s already a Druid). A consumed creature regains his original form via a resurrection spell, and he can “hijack” control of a body with an opposed Charisma check (this is usually done when the petitioner and consumed have conflicting goals).
Particularly powerful beings riding along as souls are often called upon by Ehlonna, Obad-hai, or other powerful entities of Nature to do some task or undertake a quest that can only be accomplished with the minds of both men and beast. This is the perfect opportunity to send your PCs on adventures as talking animals for a fun change of pace, or for providing an interesting back-story for an awakened animal PC.
Adventure Hooks for the Beastlands:
• The PCs are entrusted with the task of patrolling a dangerous region of Karasuthra to investigate the disappearance of several petitioners. A gluttonous Hezrou demon is consuming the petitioners in a mad attempt to gain dominion over the layer. He’s located in a hidden fortress full of fiendish survivors and Blood War constructs. If the Hezrou’s stronghold is located, an army of animals will assault the base to give the PCs time to infiltrate its defenses, kill the Hezrou, and free the captured petitioners.
• While searching for ways to vanquish a powerful foe, the PCs are led to the Beastlands. There, they meet several powerful Beasts of Legend. The animals explain the cycle of life of the Beastlands, offering to merge together and use their combined might and tactics to win. While training as part of the beasts, a powerful Blighter assaults the region with a powerful army of undead animals. The PCs must defend the beasts’ home from this new threat, both to prove their worth and effectiveness together and to avoid enslavement at the hands of a powerful evil!
• A powerful magic item the PCs are looking for is located in a marsh-covered region of the layer of Brux. The item is in possession of the Lord of All Alligators, an entity who has no intention of freely parting with his new treasure: it will make him look weak to his servants and other Animal Lords. The PCs must either perform a task for the Lord, trade it for another powerful item, or steal it and risk battling the reptilian forces of his swampy domain.
Re: Planar Revision Project: Adventuring in the Upper Planes
Well done! Now that other half of the universe isn't so boring
They are a much more rigid and Lawful society, with most tribal leaders paying homage to their deity Surtr. Surtr is considered lord of all Fire Giants, although his enforcement is only as long as the influence of his priests and war chiefs on other planes and layers.
Celestia is a realm of holiness infused with order and mercy. Archons, lawfully-aligned angels, and exemplars of Law and Good formulate rules and encourage others to follow their path. Celestia’s ideal of Good is multi-faceted, yet has predominant views: society’s rules and conduct must promote a high standard of living for as many people as possible; self-sacrifice of the individual in order to benefit others and promote altruism; a restorative form of justice which focuses on the needs of the victims, offenders, and involved communities; and increased accountability and duties for those in power.
Celestia is a lot like Arcadia in the sense that it uses the influence of society and rules to promote their ideals, although they realize that not everyone can live up to such high standards. Thus the need for numerous tests and trials; the plane has seven layers, all but the lowest barred from the general public. In order to ascend, travelers must dedicate themselves to the virtues of Law and Good. They undergo numerous tests, oftentimes without their knowledge, which measure their willingness to live a life of altruism, restorative justice, self-sacrifice, and good works.
People who pass a test receive blessings from the Gods and Celestials, but these powers are not meant as a reward in and of itself: those who stray from the path are in danger of losing them, much like the Paladin and his duties. The more tests one completes, the greater the blessings and restrictions. Goodness is just as much a burden as it is a reward: this separates the true altruists from those who pursue Good for selfish reasons or out of fear of punishment. Ironically this means that most people in Multiverse cannot meet Celestia’s high standards, but it’s perfectly in line with the plane’s ideology of power through accountability and sacrifice.
Ascending Celestia’s layers is not only a matter of physical and extraplanar travel, it’s a spiritual one as well. People who wish to travel upwards are pointed to winding mountain pathways, the doors of holy citadels, monasteries of ascetics, and other areas associated with enlightenment and self-improvement. The reality is that the petitioners and inhabitants of the plane direct the travelers to the testing areas, with archon and angel observers posing in more subtle forms. From here on out, the travelers will confront numerous obstacles to test their moral character, inconvenient hurdles to test their patience, and sometimes the announcement that all their efforts were in vain! This last part is a vital part of tests in the upper layers, for it determines if the seeker’s intent was truly focused on moral self-improvement and not on more selfish motives.
The tests are both high in number and varied in application to prevent easy ascertainment for seekers to know when they’re tested. Sometimes the tests carry on outside of Celestia or when the travelers complete their duties, or are even administered to unwitting people who’ve never visited the plane at all! This last part is especially common when it comes to potential Paladins on Material Plane worlds.
Tests can be either a short series of encounters or adventures in and of themselves. Adventurers in need of Celestial assistance, a sacred artifact, or entry into a vaunted Prestige Class may need to pass these tests in order to receive their object of desire. The tests should also have the appearance of danger and conflict, even if located within the Plane itself: the illusions are so expertly crafted that they can fool mortal forms of divination and detection magic, and summoned creatures are actually in on it (creatures with the form of chaotic/evil creatures are specially-trained archons in disguise, and their “dark magic” only has the illusion of Evil). This is the perfect opportunity to introduce rampaging demons, vicious warlords, and other enemies in a Celestial adventure.
The Power of Redemption
Celestia’s emphasis on restorative justice means that the Archons do everything in their power to ensure that as many people seeking to abandon a life of Evil are successful in their efforts and become better people as a result (Castle Mahlhevik is a good example of this in the Manual). Doubting and guilt-ridden evil creatures (and reluctant supporters of evil powers) who come to Celestia are brought to a citadel in Lunia known as the Restoration Center (informally known as the “Gray Light”). Evil creatures that are sincere in their attempts to improve go through a series of programs, the end result hopefully being conversion to the side of Good healing the wounds of past atrocities.
Patients of the Restoration Center receive magical treatment intended to wean them off of any supernatural influence encouraging or compelling them to do evil. Those dependent on Evil sources of power for survival receive gold bracelets which provide an alternate source of sustenance. People such as Ogres and Drow who were raised in evil societies and know no other way of life undergo therapeutic procedures akin to “exit counseling” in our own world for people leaving cults and similar groups.
The Restoration Center’s most notable program involves the procedure of evil beings to repair the harm they’ve done to specific individuals and communities, usually through apologies, financial restitution of crimes committed, and good works. The being is encouraged to communicate with his victims and help minimize their suffering; an archon usually accompanies the being and provides guidance on how he or she can do the most good to the people wronged. Even if the being doesn’t receive forgiveness, he’s still encouraged to lend a helping hand if asked.
The Center receives a lot of controversy from outside Celestia; more paranoid elements of the Upper Planes insist that the program is open to abuse and treachery, while fiendish lords and evil deities hate the thought of losing their number to the enemy. Despite numerous attacks and sabotage efforts, the Restoration Center stays open and continues to redeem evil entities with a surprisingly high rate of success.
Loopholes in the System
There are ways of ascending the layers without getting through the tests. Bahamut’s Palace can travel freely between the first four layers, although only trusted allies of his can make use of this privilege. The other way is much more dangerous and requires traversing a network of shady go-betweens, mazes of planar portals in the back allies of Sigil, and cash paid upfront to the guides. The people most interested in bypassing the tests are usually arrogant mortals who failed the tests and feel denied, greedy merchants hoping to steal rare objects of value for the black market, and Lower Planes spies. The reliable guides go on a reputation-based system, and many newcomers fall prey to charlatans and thieves posing as the genuine article. Ideally, passage to Celestia is quicker this way, but the chances of getting trapped in a dimensional soul prison or ambushed by planar highwaymen is much higher.
Adventure Hooks in Celestia:
• The PCs need to reach the fifth layer of Celestia in order to gain access to the healing fountains of Empyrea City. In order to ascend the layer, they must either pass a multitude of tests or find an alternate path through guides in Sigil. Either way, the adventurer’s skills are put to the test against numerous enemies and unreliable passageways.
• Bahamut’s practice of decorating his interior palace with the bones of would-be thieves and spies earns lots of condemnation. Family members of the deceased and people against corpse desecration endlessly petition the Archons to take action, but Bahamut’s word is law in his domain. The PCs are given the task of retrieving the bones of Bahamut’s victims for a proper burial. They can either appeal to the Platinum Dragon’s worshipers, or risk their own lives and steal the remains.
• Due to a common exception in the pantheon system, Abbathor, an evil deity of avarice, is headquartered in the dwarven heaven of Erackinor. Although Moradin and the other deities do their best to keep tabs on his behavior and worshipers, there’s a rumor going around that one his clerics plans on selling the location of Celestia’s hidden planar portals to the highest bidder. The PCs must verify the rumors, locate the secret auction, and block/destroy the portals before a Lower Planes invasion force learns of them.
I plan on doing Limbo now that I've finished all the Upper Planes. In the meantime, I'll tie up some loose ends:
The Pantheon Exemption Clause
An astute reader of divine pantheons may notice that the ones located on the Celestial planes have members of Neutral or even Evil alignment. This is particularly strange, considering the fact that evil creatures are usually attacked on sight in most Upper Planes. So why the exception?
It has to do with the natures of the deities. The Gods and Goddesses of the pantheons have self-governing territories in many planes. The divinely morphic nature of the planes gives most deities easy access to land and resources to carve out a splendid domain for their followers. It's commonly assumed that the deities of a pantheon police the affairs of their fellows, and the pantheon needs a common meeting ground to discuss matters relating their created people. In most cases, the deities of Good alignment outnumber the Evil ones, and an Upper Plane is chosen as the headquarters through majority rule. In the case of a Good head deity, the decision may be entirely up to the leader of the pantheon.
The phrase "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" is the primary incentive for this arrangement. People located on the same plane have an easier time of scrying upon and communicating with each other through magical means. Sure, having the Dwarven God of Greed in Celestia may put the Archons and other Gods on edge, but they can easily find out what he's up to than if he were located in the Nine Hells. This also grants the advantage by cutting off Lower Planes contact with the Evil deities and forcing them to rely on less convenient means of communication or cooperation with the rest of the pantheon. Some of the Evil deities find this a satisfactory arrangement (less competition in the Upper Planes, a less dangerous region, higher standard of living for worshipers, etc). Sometimes an evil deity may defy this arrangement and cut off all ties with the pantheon and relocate (such as in the case of Urdlen).
The River Oceanus
There's plenty of underwater civilizations in Oceanus, from Merfolk kingdoms in Elysium to Bronze Dragon coves in Arcadia and Celestia. Planar tradesmen use the River to ply trade, and it's less dangerous than Styx. However, certain planar layers are "cut off" from the river via artificial dams. A good example is Elysium's third layer of Belierin.
The river on Arcadia is oddly artificial, flowing in straight lines and curving at right angles. Harbor towns have regular patrols of inevitables and archons, and inter-planar tariffs on trade discourage all but the most affluent merchants.
The river in Celestia empties out into an ocean surrounding the mountain. The water takes on holy properties, making the plane a prime location for people seeking this valuable water. Celestia allows the water to be taken freely by all, due to its high supply. Many people make a living journeying to Celestia, taking holy water, then selling it at a premium elsewhere. Many celestials disapprove of this practice, and rely upon their free supply and trustworthy nature to encourage people to seek them out instead.
The river in Bytopia goes through the layer of Dothion. The rivers on Shurrock are rapid mountain streams and thus seldom used. The enterprising petitioners often claim ownership of land the river passes through, often charging rates for others to "use" their property. Passage through Bytopia often becomes a puzzling course of avoiding cutthroat tollkeepers and plotting out the cheapest routes.
Oceanus pours through all four layers of Elysium before exiting into the oceans of Thalasia. Trade thrives on the fourth layer, and many devout pilgrims of Pelor travel en masse on ships to visit the Citadel of the Sun. Many people sail between the islands of Thalasia on longboats and sea-going vessels; more than a few ships are capable of submerging beneath the waves with unique magic.
The rivers of the Beastlands appears one of the least-traveled byways of Oceanus, second beneath Ysgard. The place is scarcely traveled, with almost no docks or harbor towns. The fact that the river turns into rapids upon transition to a nearby planar portal does make it a frequent passage for riverboats. In reality, the rivers are highly congested, as many aquatic petitioners use Oceanus as their primary means of maneuvering the plane.
Due to numerous floating islands in Ysgard, the river is more of a massive series of waterfalls. Tradesmen use floating airships as the most common means of travels. The more settled islands often have massive gates at the head of the waterfalls to catch any wayward ships, but most towns cannot afford these structures.
The Beastlands: Strength in Numbers
The Beastlands is unique among the Upper Planes is that it has more petitioners than all the others combined. They’re literally everywhere; every flower in the field, every ant in the colony has its own soul. The Beastlands contains the souls of every non-sapient animal, plant, and vermin that has ever lived on the Material Plane.
To get a sense of scale, imagine a number of the total number of life forms on your own world. Now imagine the number of humans living today: around six billion. In regards to species of animals, there are over 10 million different kinds still alive (and we didn’t even get to the plants). Now stretch that number you have in your head over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. And imagine that amount all living in one plane, all of them with the Celestial template and a bare minimum Intelligence score of 3.
This is why the laws of consumption exist in the Beastlands: valuable space is saved by having multiple souls share a single body in a kind of hive-mind state. It’s also why Elysium has not made any inroads over assimilating its neighbors: any significant form of aggression would be met with endless waves of animal petitioners crashing over the Guardinals like a stormy sea. Add some Eladrin reinforcements, unicorns, magical beasts, and druids, and you’ve literally got an unconquerable plane.
The management of such a vast number of souls is incredibly taxing, even for the nature deities. This is where the Animal Lords come in. A Lord is responsible for the task of managing the affairs of petitioners of his species. The Lords have geographic boundaries and common residences, although this can vary in the case of animals known to migrate. The style and system of governance is as varied as the forms of government in the Material Plane, ranging from autocratic rulers to “do your own thing” societal minimalism. There are Plant Lords, and even Ooze Lords, but the name “Animal Lord” is most common because they’re the leaders most visitors meet.
Political maneuvering between the Lords is fierce, as the leaders barter, trick, threaten, and ally with each other over territory, food, and power. Lords of more violent species often have to prove their “Alpha” status by fighting off challengers and not appearing weak to their subordinates. Many Lords have much in the ways of magic items and nature magic, and enterprising adventurers can benefit from this by doing quests and tasks on behalf of the Lord’s species.
Re: Planar Revision Project: Adventuring in the Upper Planes
No aspect of Dungeons & Dragons is more prone to argument than the alignment system, especially the Law-Chaos axis. Many people have explained it and debated it more than I have, but the personality traits associated with one particular alignment can also be applied to another: Lawful Good characters “speak out against social injustice,” yet Chaotic Good characters “hate it when people try to intimidate others and tell them what to do.” A Chaotic Neutral character can “be free from a society’s restrictions,” while a Lawful Neutral character can be directed by a “personal code” defined by one’s self. Basically the common personality traits of opposing Law-Chaos alignments are not mutually exclusive, meaning that behavior by an individual can be logically argued to be either lawful or chaotic.
If one were to look over the decades of D&D history, Chaotic alignment has been associated with unpredictability, randomness, anarchism, mental instability, social progressivism, and individualism. Since a lot of these things don’t go well together, I’m going to keep the terrain of Limbo mostly the same, yet have the petitioners and Slaadi be Chaotic in the sense of individualism over collectivism.
Despite the highly morphic and volatile nature of the Plane, a large amount of people are drawn to Limbo to create their own societies. The average person can alter the area’s elemental nature to his own personal whims. Stronger-willed individuals, or those with Planar Replicators, can accomplish greater feats of change. Many enterprising souls rightly view this as an amazing planar trait, full of potential for the creation of worlds. All sorts of people come to Limbo to escape from the flawed societies of other planes to start anew in an isolated environment. Just about any kind of community can be found on Limbo, from sheltered cultist compounds surrounded by a shield of boiling water, to a floating ball of earth inhabited by an order of druids. The Githzerai hold the longest record of continuously inhabited visitors to the plane, and their settlements are both the largest and most prominent. Githzerai cities differ from the isolated monasteries of their more contemplative peers in that they’re highly militarized and ruled by a single authority figure or a council of martial spellcasters known as Gish.
Travel between the habitats is usually accomplished by travel in spherical objects known as “Globes.” Globes are powered by small Planar Replicators and typically made of transparent solid or liquid material. All globes contain all four elements: the typical Globe made for humanoid habitation looks like a circular rock with windows at the piloting seat. It uses air for locomotion and breathing space, fire for heating and self-defense, earth for a solid framework, and water for sanitation and sustenance. Combat between enemy globes is usually accomplished by using the Replicator as a weapon, throwing elemental energy at the enemy Globe to cancel out its elements and disable the vehicle. Pirates and raiders hunker down in remote outposts between major settlements and attack passing vessels this way.
Traditional stabilization and world-building is too slow, dangerous, and limited for all but the smallest of micro-environments. The secret to successful creation on a large scale involves the use of Planar Replicators. Made of rare materials and Raw Chaos found only on Limbo, a Planar Replicator draws upon the elemental traits of multiple nearby sections of Limbo and stores them as energy. The energy can then be altered to another elemental trait or used in the process of matter creation.
Planar Replicators take the shape of small metal rods suspending a glowing ball of multi-colored energy above itself. Neither solid, liquid, or gas, the energy has a unique state of matter analogous to plasma. The Replicator can store only a finite amount of elemental energy, although this limit is dependent upon the caster level of the creator and the amount of resources used to create the item. The possibility of an overload is unlikely except in cases of negligence or abandonment. The Replicator can be altered to only store energy instead of collecting it, and most communities use the continuing energy supply to create and sustain magical auras, food, water, and raw materials. The average Planar Replicator can create enough land and resources for a self-sustaining community of 100 humans, while the largest and most powerful Replicators can provide for nearly a million people.
Since a person can use a Replicator to essentially produce materials with minimum loss in profit, the items are never sold for raw gold pieces or non-magical trade materials in legitimate markets. The black market and Lower Plane bazaars sell them, but only the lower-powered ones and only to travelers who appear totally unprepared to handle Limbo (most of these dealers get rid of used and broken Replicators this way for a quick profit). They’re specially attuned to the energies of Limbo and cannot work on other planes (they can work in a dimensional breach, although their power is significantly reduced).
The Slaadi are the oldest known inhabitants of Limbo and the “face” of Chaos. Tales of their societies, capabilities, and behavior are numerous, yet most are full of misconceptions and few people truly understand them. Almost all Slaadi are individualists in the sense of placing the self higher than that of the group, but even this is a broad generalization. Many Slaadi have competing ideas of “freedom” and “individualism,” often resulting in more confusion to outsiders.
Chaotic Neutral Slaadi often live solitary lives. When they deign to be among others of their kind, they gather in groups that are organized in a non-hierarchal, voluntary association. Every Slaad is considered to have autonomy over its own body and soul, and forced coercion of others is viewed as the domain of oppression and Law. It is considered acceptable to use force in the case of self-defense, although the line between “self-defense” and “violating another’s freedom” is quite blurry and arbitrary even to the Slaadi. Additionally, the individual power of a Slaadi is not seen as a privilege; a green Slaad may be capable of out-thinking and out-fighting a red Slaad, but this does not give it the “right” to enslave and oppress weaker Slaadi. Such Slaadi are also opposed to the use of imposing mind-affecting magic on the unwilling; to them it’s one of the worst violations of individual autonomy.
Chaotic Evil Slaadi follow a mindset closest to that of Egoist Anarchism. Basically, such a Slaad believes that it has the right to live out its own existence as it wishes, with no regard to the rights or dignity of others, Slaadi and non-Slaadi alike. They care only for their own freedoms and nobody else’s. These Slaadi are far more likely to be solitary and the more powerful among their kind; weaker Slaadi of this mentality usually get destroyed by more powerful ones or live a life of banditry, attacking those too weak to defend themselves.
Chaotic Good Slaadi share much in common with their Neutral counterparts, except that they are more proactive in extraplanar affairs and take a “threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” mentality. They spend the most time off-plane, railing against the soul trade of Lower Planes fiends and the forced assimilation policies of Elysium. These Slaadi believe that no law, organization, or individual has the right to deprive others of freedom, the pursuit of happiness, or dignity. To them, the “right” to own and abuse slaves or bully others into obedience is no right at all. They also continuously engage in battle against the Chaotic Evil Slaadi as both groups’ ideologies are at extreme ends.
Ssendam and Ygorl
The term “Slaad Lord” is a misnomer in that the Slaadi do not have a proper societal hierarchy and are not beholden to any member of their species beyond “hey, let’s work together for a short while.” Since most visitors associate power with authority, and Ssendam and Ygorl are the two most powerful known Slaadi, they became known on the other Planes as the “Lords of Slaadi.”
Ssendam doesn’t really much care for the affairs of his people beyond how it personally affects him, but Ygorl’s a bully who views all other Slaadi as pawns to be used for his own leisure. This has led Ygorl to have a more prominent presence on other planes and in the affairs of others, even coming into conflict with other Slaadi. He was the one who altered the Spawning Stone and put limits on the mutability of his own race. He hoped that no Slaadi can eclipse his power through accident of birth so that he remains among the strongest.
This action earned Ygorl a lot of enemies who want to see him dead or stripped of all influence. Many Slaadi have even accused him of being a Slaad in name only, an agent of Law sent to bring destruction to Limbo. But Ygorl didn’t get to where he was by being stupid; he’s got a lot of favors and magical protection, and his citadel’s full of traps, planar bound entities, controlled undead, and contingency spells for all manner of doomsday scenarios. Adventurers who go against him can expect to contend with Slaadi promised power by Ygorl, minions of a demonic prince who owes him favors, and sympathetic Xaositects (Chaotic Planescape faction).
Adventure Hooks in Limbo:
• A monk, spellcaster, or martial adept character has to undergo a trial on the plane of Limbo in order to attain a higher state of being/master a magical discipline/progress among the Sublime Way. They must seek out the Monastery of Zerth’Ad’Iun and enter into a strict training regimen under the head Sensei. They will be exposed to the elements of the plane, tasked with creating life out of controlling the planar essence, and through ritualized combat against superior opponents. Is your PC ready for the Training Regimen from Hell?
• The PCs need to deliver a new Planar Replicator to a settlement before the ball of earth collapses under an elemental onslaught. A raiding party of evil Slaadi assault the habitat, intent on destroying both Replicators. The PCs must drive them off or kill the Slaadi, otherwise they’ll be stranded on a crumbling rock and exposed to the churning chaos of the plane.
• Ygorl has gone too far; his latest necromantic experiment involved the imprisonment of an entire community of Slaadi souls, and he’s building a portal to the Negative Energy Plane to overflow Limbo! If he’s not stopped, countless more Slaadi, petitioners, and colonists will turn into undead creations under his control. The PCs must break into his citadel and destroy the portal before it’s too late!
Re: Planar Revision Project: Adventuring in the Upper Planes
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
~Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
“I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hmmm? You know... You know what I've noticed? Nobody panics when things go "according to plan." Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all "part of the plan". But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”
~The Joker, The Dark Knight
Mechanus is the exemplar plane of Law in Dungeons & Dragons. As I discussed in my write-up of Limbo, people have differing accounts as to what behavior constitutes for Lawful alignment. Over the decades of D&D history, Lawful alignments have been associated with social conservatism, collectivism, authoritarianism, civilization over nature, sanity, and repetition. For the purposes of this section, I’ve decided to use this distinction for Mechanus:
Extreme collectivism: collectivism in regards to societal organization is the idea that multiple groups of people are at their best when working in coordination with each other. Personal flaws and inexperience matters less when a worthier candidate can supplement for the weakness of another individual. Collectivist societies on Mechanus encourage unwavering devotion to the group (be it a species, organization, or religion). A group working in perfect unison is the ideal, accomplishing great feats of ingenuity that no individual can do alone.
Even so, a non-hierarchal "everybody's equal" society also has a place on Mechanus. Delon-Estin Oti is a walled commune on Mechanus where everybody is equal and there are no leaders. The streets are orderly, people perform repetitive tasks every day, and there are no visible levels of intra-societal strife. Even without a clear designation of mayor or administrator, the city is still strongly collectivist and encourages the welfare of the many over the few. However, most societies on Mechanus are hierarchal in nature, as a top-down level of administration by a qualified individual has a better chance of coordinating people towards a common pursuit of Law.
The Conflict of Law: Modrons, Inevitables, and Formians
Just because the societies of Mechanus run with sublime precision doesn’t mean that it’s a squeaky-clean Utopia. The plane’s three noteworthy inhabitants all have very different ideas of the maintenance and influence of Law in the Multiverse.
Modrons: What the Modrons want really boils down to what Primus wants. With the exceptions of “rogue units,” they’re little better than computer programs executing commands. They can act without direct oversight and alter tactics based on circumstance, but they need Primus’ input to pursue new tasks and do things not in their “programming.”
Primus differs from the Formians and the Inevitables is that it’s not as belligerent: it does send Modrons all over the Multiverse every 17 years, but mostly for the purposes of gathering information. Its current plans are more defensive-minded: after Tenebrous nearly killed it with the Last Word and took its identity to control all Modrons, Primus bides its time, rebuilding its numbers and destroying “rogue Modrons” and those tainted by demonic influence.
Inevitables: The Inevitables were created long ago as a sort of interplanetary regulation force. The fate of their maker is unknown, but now the Inevitables can produce more of their own in giant crèche-forges scattered across the cogs of Mechanus. The Inevitables are sapient and capable of learning, although the code of conduct and personal duties are so hard-wired into their mind-set that conflicting actions of thoughts of self-doubt are immediately expunged.
What can be gleaned from the primary goals of the Inevitables is that their specialization is keeping others from exceeding the boundaries and limits of magic. With magic, one can transcend mortal limits, create and destroy life, alter the space-time continuum, and even become a deity. Without restraint, and individual can recursively use magic to alter himself and his surrounding environment until the entire Multiverse is reshaped in his image. How else does one explain the majority of Inevitables? Only two kinds are modified to chase down fugitives and oath breakers, while the rest have various forms of anti-magic specializations. Magic is power, and the Inevitables are the chains which bind it.
The Inevitables are not “mage-hunters” in the traditional sense of the word, attacking every spellcasting creature on sight and ridding the land of magic. They want magic to be regulated so that it can progress at reasonable levels for easy observation. They’re theoretically neutral in the affairs of deities, although conflicts with the gods of Magic and certain ideals of Freedom occur regularly.
Inevitables are in conflict with the Formians due to the influence of their expansionist Queens. The Scion Queen Mother already has the effective powers of an Intermediate Deity. The spread of Mechanus Formians across the Multiverse, combined with the Hive-Mind nature, can lead to a near-instantaneous spread of magical knowledge on a multi-planar scale. If the Formians got tainted from some dark magic, like what happened with Primus, such a doomsday scenario may be too much for even the Inevitables to contain. They’re in conflict with Primus due to its inscrutable nature and possible fears of lingering demonic taint.
Formians: The Formians are a lot like the Inevitables in that they live to serve their leader. The Scion Queen Mother of Mechanus is the greatest of all Formians, with enough combined power to rival minor gods. The Scions sends out orders and inspiration to Queens elsewhere, much like a deity in contact with someone via magic. Barring a lack of contact or willful defiance (rare except on Arcadia), all Formian Queens are instructed to spread their people across the Multiverse and take over as much territory as possible.
The ideal society to the Formians is one where all of their members work in unison for the welfare of the community. There is no room for non-Formians in this system, who must either be forcefully assimilated or destroyed. The Inevitables and Formians are dissident elements which stand in the way of their ideal society (the former due to their opposition to the Scions’ reach, the latter due to their unswerving loyalty to Primus).
The three major factions regularly go to war with other, declare ceasefires, join with another against the third, and claim and give up territorial cogs. Currently no faction has the upper hand, although a victory by any one group has far-reaching consequences for the Multiverse. Without the Inevitables or the Modrons, the Formians will expand rapidly to nearby planes. Without the Modrons or Formians, the Inevitables would have more soldiers to enforce their laws on other planes and extend their reach. Without the Formians or Inevitables, Primus would send out more Modrons across the planes and amass a huge knowledge base of the other planes’ weaknesses for future invasion.
Many outside groups use agents to keep the balance of power relatively equal on Mechanus, and adventurers of a more mercenary bent can make a lot of money through sabotage.
Every so often, a Modron is affected by external sources and loses its connection to Primus. Whether it’s via a lingering demonic taint or powerful magic, these “rogue Modrons” quickly develop a sense of self-identity and have no desire to return to their brethren. The regular Modrons do everything in their power to hunt down and destroy the rogues before they can influence others.
A sizable number of rogue Modrons still live on Mechanus, hidden in underground cities on the giant cogs and on floating habitats out in the void. A lot of them have no desire except survival, but a lot of them still pledge loyalty to the demon lord Tenebrous and scheme against the inhabitants of Mechanus. The fact that these rogue Modrons are a frequent source of raids and violence in nearby cities gives Primus all the evidence he needs against self-determination; the Inevitables and Formians often confuse these rogue agents with ones acting under the will of Primus, thus prolonging the three-sided war.
Many visitors to Mechanus often comment upon how the giant landmasses are shaped like the interior gears of a clock. In reality, the first clockmakers took inspiration from the worlds of Mechanus to design their machines. The landmasses have just about every conceivable biome from the Material Plane, from blazing-hot desert cogs to tropical archipelagos surrounded by water which spills off the side. Interestingly, most cogs’ biomes can reach around to the other side, resulting in a “mirrored effect” to the outside observer. Sufficiently large cogs can even have opposing biomes on each side.
Lots of colonists from other planes travel to Mechanus, using the abundant natural resources of the cogs to create settlements, profit off of natural resources, and even setting up their own nation-states. The vast majority of colonies are home to mortal petitioners and Lawful outsiders. Unlike Limbo, habitats suitable for living on are already formed; the only thing necessary is for the conventional creation of settlements. Cogs already claimed by the Inevitables, Modrons, or Formians are less welcoming and do not tolerate visitors until they’ve proven that they’re worthy to be residents of Mechanus.
Off-planar settlements contain the largest amount of non-lawful people, trying the patients of natives. Many settlers are too impatient to wait for permission and set up towns in Mechanus anyway. This usually doesn’t end well, as the towns eventually get quarantined or overrun by one of the three factions.
Adventure Hooks for Mechanus:
• The PCs are staying in a colonized world-cog when a Formian army surrounds the settlement. The messenger announces that the Scion Queen Mother has claimed the territory for the Formians, and that all residents must submit to the new authority or be crushed.
• The PCs gain a letter of marquee from a powerful nation/extraplanar organization to settle several world-cogs on Mechanus. Vast riches and unexplored lands await, as well as hostile competing factions, expansionist Formians, and Inevitables suspicious of the colonies.
• A rogue modron under demonic influence plans on opening a portal to the Abyss in a sparsely defended settlement on a lush world-cog. The rogue modrons enacts a dimensional anchor shield around the colony, preventing reinforcements from arriving (he’ll drop it upon completion of the portal). The PCs are the only ones who can stop him!
The Outlands is the center of the Multiverse, haven of cross-planar travel and trade. It’s the home of Sigil, the fabled City of Doors. It is home to the Spire, a place so powerful that it can rob even the deities of their powers. No trait or faction on the Outlands is dominant, not even Neutrality; it is all the Planes, and none of them.
Arranged in a rough circle 1,000 miles away from the Spire are 17 towns of varying sizes. Each of them has a portal to an Outer Plane, with limited dimensional influence. Xaos, the gatetown to Limbo, has a highly morphic nature, while the Elysium gatetown of Ecstasy has a limited Entrapment trait.
If a gatetown becomes too “close” to its connecting Plane, or a dimensional breach occurs, the settlement runs the risk of being “absorbed” into the Plane and taken out of the Outlands. The inhabitants are aware of this, and power struggles between community leaders occur between those who want to move to the new Plane and others who prefer the setting of the Outlands. Planes with more expansionist power groups (such as Mechanus and Elysium) are poised to overtake the gatetowns and everyone within them.
A Storehouse of Knowledge
The Outlands is home to a disproportionately high amount of libraries, mausoleums, museums, and other places containing the ancient memories of the past. Deities representing concepts of knowledge reside on the plane, making the Outlands a safe haven for people with forbidden texts, censored works, and various pieces of information others might want to restrict or destroy.
One might assume that this would make the Outlands an easy target for would-be tomb raiders and thieves, but this is hardly the case. A rare spellbook may be under the guard of divine minions, treacherous traps, and secluded among the shelves of tens of thousands of other books of a similar nature. A person might know that the Book of Vile Darkness was last seen in Boccob’s Library of Lore, but that doesn’t mean that anybody can just waltz in and find it easily.
Boccob’s Library of Lore is a giant building full of scholarly texts, almost an entire city in and of itself. Most areas are well-patrolled and home to sages and wizards of all stripes, but the Restricted Areas are home to the more dangerous tomes. Full of malevolently sapient books, ethereal living magical symbols of death and worse, these sections of the Library are rarely traveled and given over to decay and ruin. Boccob’s more fiendish and eccentric petitioners live here, jealously guarding their hidden knowledge from “the unworthy.”
The Cavern of Thought is home to Illsensine, deity of the Illithids. It is said that the God knows of primordial, forgotten secrets and of cataclysmic disasters yet to come. His lair is an underground cavern, its walls, ceilings, and floors fleshy and pulsating to the rhythm of a heartbeat. Illsensine and his petitioners tolerate no visitors, but anybody who manages to make it to the largest chamber can come into contact with the god himself. Illsensine can bestow knowledge upon the person strong enough to make it here, yet in exchange they must give him one of their own memories. Such a memory must be of value to Illsensine and hard to obtain, otherwise he’ll slay the intruder for wasting his time.
Khaasta and Rilmani
The Rilmani are Outland natives committed to the balance of powers between the Outer Planes. They believe that the Multiverse is ideal as it is and reject any attempts of expansion by any of the forces of Good, Evil, Law, or Chaos. Rilmani believe that their home plane’s diversity is the ideal, and the Multiversal dominance of any one group of planes on the Great Wheel will result in the destruction of a large swath of their homeland. Many Rilmani seek Neutrality for the sake of Balance, but many more seek it out of fear of destruction.
Since they frequently intervene in the affairs of many powerful planar factions, the Rilmani’s policies earn them a lot of ill-will throughout the Planes. Were it not for their bases near the Spire, it is probable that multiple forces would have destroyed their people long ago. Rilmani also have a presence beyond the Spire and adamantly champion the right of gatetowns to stay on the Outlands; they argue that planar absorption, even of a voluntary nature, is an invasion of their land.
Adventurers in the Outlands (and possibly the rest of the Great Wheel) inevitably get entangled in the Rilmani’s affairs. They might be hired to prevent an incursion of Formian expansionists into the gatetown of Automata, or might need to protect an Archon, Eladrin, or other Outsider from a Rilmani assassin.
The Khaasta are the other well-known natives of the Outlands. They mostly live in the region closest to the chaotic-aligned gatetowns, roaming the land as tribes. Khaasta are violent and hostile to others outside their tribe and survive by plundering and attacking other settlements. They have a well-deserved reputation as bandits, slavers, and thieves. Most inhabitants view them as a scourge upon the land.
Sigil, the City of Doors
Sigil is the crown jewel of the Outer Planes, a multicultural haven of inhabitants from all over the Multiverse. Constructed along the inside band of a giant floating ring, the city has no true sky, and its architecture adheres to grim, foreboding towers and citadels. Sigil is home to the largest amount of portals per square inch of all planar metropolises. The portals are usually subtle: a portal to Pandemonium might take the form of an echoing sewer hole in the slums, while a portal to the Abyss might take the form or a dark alleyway covered with demonic graffiti.
Some of the most powerful people and organizations gather in Sigil, and the city’s factions plan events on an interplanar scale. Whether it’s searching for a portal to a wondrous location or sabotaging the plot of a faction conspiracy, there’s more than enough quests for adventurers in the City of Doors!
Adventure Hooks in the Outlands:
• The PCs are caught in an unconventional dilemma. The Elysium gatetown of Ecstasy just got absorbed into the Upper Plane. It won’t be long before the town’s petitioners and inhabitants get assimilated by the Plane. A village of Rilmani living close to Ecstasy is enraged, and demands the return of their family, friends, and fellow citizens. The Guardinals understand their plight, but argue that the inhabitants will be happy and provided for once they’re assimilated. Whether it’s due to influence or experience, the PCs are called in to provide some sort of solution. Even Good-aligned PCs might feel uncomfortable with Elysium’s policies, and Clerics of like-minded deities and Paladins who choose to side with the Rilmani might even be threatened by the Guardinals “for siding against Good.”
• A group of archeologists is planning an expedition to a long-abandoned ruin in the Outlands. Once the site of a deity of knowledge, the scholars believe that the ruins might contain hints of ancient secrets of long-dead civilizations. The PCs are hired to provide safety and security to the team of archeologists. Unfortunately, it turns out that the ruins once belonged to Vecna, Evil deity of secrets and magic! The PCs and archeologists are now marked for death by the Whispered One’s servants, and they’ll need to fight their way out if they hope to survive!
• While performing research at Boccob’s Library of Lore, the PCs come upon a tome of powerful illusion magic. The book’s spell activates unexpectedly, and the PCs find themselves in an imaginary world full of ancient myths and legends! The spell will end once the PCs finish the saga. Feel free to borrow inspiration from real-world epics and myths, but with a D&D twist!
“With all our boasted reforms, our great social changes, and our far-reaching discoveries, human beings continue to be sent to the worst of hells, wherein they are outraged, degraded, and tortured, that society may be "protected" from the phantoms of its own making.”
“Prison, a social protection? What monstrous mind ever conceived such an idea? Just as well say that health can be promoted by a widespread contagion.”
~Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays
The Multiverse is full of extradimensional pocket realms cut off from planar travel, magically-warded buildings containing fell monsters, and gems of great necromantic power brimming with hordes of mortal souls. That an entire plane is dedicated to the imprisonment of evil souls should be no surprise to those learned in the history of the Great Wheel.
Carceri is the kind of place that most people don’t choose to live in. The higher-ranking Demodands and Nerull’s favored minions get rewarded with power, privilege, and creature comforts, but the vast majority of inhabitants and petitioners live a terrible existence: the average settlement is a walled frontier town surrounded by inhospitable terrain, where a loaf of bread is seen as a luxury and one meal a day is fine dining. Even the Demodands don’t get much beyond a glorified “prison guard” status: the lower-ranking ones don’t get much in the way of equipment, and betrayal and treachery from one’s peers is a huge problem. Despite this wretched existence, there is not much desire for most petitioners to willingly leave the plane. Upon entry into Carceri, prisoners (both petitioners and people given over to the Demodands) have memories of their life erased and altered. They believe that the entire Multiverse is a hellish, desolate landscape full of famine, war, and crime, while the propaganda tells them that other Planes are much worse. Without knowledge of the outside world, less people are inclined to leave if they believe that Carceri is the king of the crap pile.
And when the propaganda fails and prisoners strive for better treatment, they’re encouraged to become part of the system and work with the Demodands for choice privileges. When you’re starving, naked, and isolated from human contact, becoming a prison snitch doesn’t seem so bad if you get to live in a posh cell.
The Dark Shield Project
One simply doesn’t Plane Shift into Carceri, or pass through it via the Styx. Despite its position and alignment on the Great Wheel, travel is strictly regulated and monitored. The Demodands can’t have spellcasters, fiendish soldiers in the Blood War, and saboteurs entering and exiting the plane at their leisure. Such permissiveness would throw the entire security of Carceri into ruin and compromise its reputation as a planar prison. Enter the Dark Shield Project.
The Dark Shield Project is an amazing endeavor of magical power and knowledge on a Planes-wide scale. It’s capable of detecting all but the most dedicated of intruders, and can neutralize their planar travel abilities once they get in. The Project requires a massive amount of resources to maintain, although it has more than enough due to unanimous support from the council of Demodand leaders and the deity Nerull. Carceri’s movers and shakers are aware that many people are as interested as breaking into their plane as they are of breaking out of it.
The Effects: Anybody who attempts to enter or leave Carceri without the proper authorization from a high-ranking Demodand is blocked. Casting a spell of planar travel must succeed on a Caster Level check (DC 30) in order to work, while unauthorized passengers on the River Styx are redirected to a random tributary on their current plane. Even if an unauthorized person gains access to Carceri or is on the verge of leaving, several Contingency spells go off: first the person is hit with a Dimensional Lock spell, then a Greater Scrying Spell is cast upon them (the scryer is a crystal ball construct located in a Demodand watchtower). All magical effects function at Caster Level 20. If the scrying is successful, the attendant Demodands at the watchtower will be able to discern the intruder’s location in regards to region and layer, possible magical effects active on their person, and their plane of origin from which they went into Carceri in 1d4 rounds. 2d6 rounds after that, a strike force of Demodand will converge on the area to capture or kill the intruders or escapees.
The Revolutionary League
One might find it odd that an anarchist faction has a major presence in Carceri (and an unofficial headquarters, even!). It actually makes perfect sense if you’re an anarchist. Basically, the system of Carceri is an oppressive and corrupt form of hierarchal government. Whether the anarchist is Good, Evil, or Neutral, Carceri represents the logical extremes of tyranny run amok, taking away one’s right to self-determination and liberty. “What happens in the Lower Planes can one day happen to all of us,” is a favorite cautionary saying of the League.
The faction’s efforts in Carceri relate to freeing unjustly held prisoners, encouraging petitioners and vindictive Demodands to turn on their superiors, and finding a permanent solution to dismantling the Dark Shield Project. The League doesn’t want to just destroy the system: they want to thoroughly ravage it so that no other powerful group can reclaim it for themselves.
PCs interested in traveling to Carceri are encouraged to contact the Revolutionary League. They know of several backdoors which bypass the Dark Shield Project, but such opportunities are temporary as the Demodands maneuver to close up any gaps in their security. The journey itself is still fraught with risk, as groups loyal to Carceri’s leaders infiltrate the League and pose as members to set traps for people trying to break into their plane.
The Revolutionary League’s cells in Carceri are spread out among the frontier towns and markets, working to earn the reputation and support of communities to help the upcoming insurrection. They also have sympathetic allies among the Upper Planes Celestials and the Slaadi, all of whom have their own reasons for subverting the existing power structure of Carceri.
Injustice in the System: The Innocents of Carceri
A lot of times somebody needs someone to disappear from the face of the Great Wheel, or be put somewhere where almost nobody can reach them. Sometimes an anti-magic prison cell located in an extradimensional space is not enough. Sometimes a person needs a staff of highly-trained, unscrupulous guards and a jail so dire and feared that none of his opponents will move against him once the offending party is made an example of. The Demodands don’t care much for guilt and justice, and accept princely sums of money in exchange for adding extra souls to the plane. Carceri may be well-known and notorious, but the place is so big that actually trying to find specific prisoners is incredibly difficult. The trafficking of souls is a major source of income for the Demodands and their Dark Shield Project, making Carceri a for-profit prison in every sense of the word.
This is the primary reason so many people try to break into Carceri. Lots of these “vanished” people were important figures on their home planes, or where at the verge of completing some important task before they got captured. It’s also one of the most common adventure hooks for PCs. Carceri isn’t ordered like a typical cell block with a top-down administration. It’s got several territories and layers, each ruled over by different council members of the Demodands and a legion of sadistic wardens. The Sand Tombs of Payratheon are used for “preserving” prisoners in a corpse-like near-death state. The citadel of Nerull has rows of alters carved out of onyx gems, each holding thousands of souls. Frontier towns on the layer of Colothys may serve as prisons in among themselves, located on top of mesas with all airborne travel controlled by winged throngs of Demodands. Whenever you plan adventures in Carceri, keep in mind that the entire land is a prison and get creative in designing inhospitable terrain!
Adventure Hooks in Carceri:
• The PCs all wake up in tombs. They’re being held in the dank depths of a ship. They still have their equipment and possessions, but the locals are hostile and believe them to be harbingers of the apocalypse. Once they reach the ship’s surface, they’ll find themselves in a large ocean. The water is acidic and contains the memory-stealing properties of Styx, while an army of Demodand by the shore has orders to destroy anybody who tries to escape the ship. The PCs find extraplanar travel nearly impossible. If they hope to escape, a fellow prisoner on the ship tells them that they must find a hidden cache of magical items believed to be planted by a Revolutionary League member. The PCs must act quickly, for the ship is moving of its own accord to land and certain doom.
• A powerful planar faction has pulled some strings and called in favors for the release of a Titan in Carceri for their own use. The PCs are entrusted with the task of traveling to the plane to oversee the prisoner exchange. Unfortunately, the Demodands are aware of the power of the Titan and have no plans on releasing him (or allowing the PCs to leave). The PCs can fight their way out, but they’ll be wanted men as the warden promises a month off of hard labor to any prisoner that catches or kills them.
• Nerull promised to create a legion of undead minions for a major villain in your campaign. The PCs must sneak into his lair on the innermost layer of Carceri and sabotage the production of undead. In addition to their own destructive capabilities, the PCs receive several scrolls of disintegrate to use on the black onyx towers containing the most powerful undead souls. Through creative use of metamagic and positive energy, the scrolls will utterly destroy the structural integrity of the towers and the undead beings inside. This is the perfect excuse to introduce the Load-Bearing Boss or Collapsing Lair tropes to your action-packed adventure of mayhem and destruction!
“My theory has always been, that if we are to dream, the flatteries of hope are as cheap, and pleasanter, than the gloom of despair.”
Although it does not have the infinite variety of horrors of the Abyss or the eternal warfare of Acheron, Hades is quite possibly the most dangerous of the Lower Planes. Its unique trait robs all hope and willpower from visitors, mortal and outsider alike. Those who fall victim to this insidious entrapment lose their memories and powers and turn into large, wormlike petitioners known as larvae. Since the souls of larvae are the most common ingredient in magical enhancement among fiends and evil spellcasters, this makes Hades a prime location and economic powerhouse.
The Yugoloths and Night Hags, being natives of the plane, are immune to Hades’ entrapment and thus control the most territory and therefore the most souls and larvae. Even then, Hades does not have the creature comforts of the cities of Gehenna, so most Yugoloths who live here tend to be extra-paranoid about their larvae stock, starry-eyed idealists seeking to live on their ancestral homeland, or using the plane’s features as a form of protection from interlopers.
Hades is also a massive conflict zone and the primary battlefield of the Blood War. The Yugoloths of Gehenna pull in favors from both Demons and Devils to maintain their Plane’s “neutral” status; Carceri’s Dark Shield Project prevents most armies from occupying the plane; and Acheron and Limbo are full of multiple factions hostile to demons and devils, meaning that neither side has yet to claim them as tactical advantages. This pretty much leaves Hades as the only place where both factions can easily occupy large swaths of the same plane. The war is just as much about economic dominance as it is about eradication of the opposing side. Destroying the enemy’s larva supply, or claiming territory containing larva strengthens the army’s home plane and weakens the other. More larva equals more potential fiends, more souls to be used for the creation of magic items and undead, and less for the other guys. The Yugoloths sell larva and land titles to both sides as well as security and protection for an extra fee. The prices are high and the Demons and Devils know that they’re getting screwed, but Yugoloth merchants are easily capable of imposing trade sanctions on offending Demon Lords and Archdevils. Grossly inflated prices are seen as the “lesser evil” in comparison to losing a major source of power.
The Siege Malicious and the Oinoloth
In theory, the Oinoloth is the ruler of the entire Yugoloth race and his word is law. In reality, he’s merely the absolute ruler of the Yugoloth communities of Hades. He’s got representatives in Gehenna, but they’re more of an ambassadorial nature. He’s headquartered in the Wasting Tower of Khin-Oin, where he sits on his throne The Siege Malicious.
The Oinoloth is merely a title, with each succession of ruler the assassin of his or her forebear. The Oinoloth has the power to alter the landscape of Hades as though he were an Intermediate deity, and can create new forms of life. Most Oinoloths use the latter power to create insidious diseases, which they then sell to the highest bidder.
Many Yugoloths desire the Siege Malicious for themselves and engage in cloak and dagger warfare to narrow the field of potential candidates. However, the Demon Princes and Archdevils are aware of the throne’s power and occasionally maneuver armies to take the tower. The Yugoloths would rather be ruled and oppressed by their own kind than another species of fiend, meaning that this scenario’s the closest thing the Yugoloths have to unity. The last time a Demon Prince did this (Orcus), Yugoloth merchants across the Multiverse blocked off the larva trade to his layer and hired legions of mercenary demons and devils (not together, of course) to destroy his holdings. This show of force sent a powerful message to the power players of the Lower Planes: “Do what thou wilt on Hades, but never try to claim dominion over us.”
Even then, fiendish lords aren’t known for giving up. If the Yugoloths ever show weakness or lose their powerful status over the soul trade, then even the Oinoloth and all the Yugoloths of Gehenna may not be enough to defend the Wasting Tower.
In addition to Mount Olympus on Arborea, the Greek God Hades also has a primary home on the plane of the same name. He claims dominion over the Underworld on the third layer, but his power and reach extend across the entire plane. A lot of planar travelers refer to the plane as Hades’ realm, but such things should not be said around the Yugoloths, who will tell you that the Oinoloth’s the true ruler and the plane’s proper name is the Gray Wastes.
Hades’ secret weapon and reason for his dominance is due a unique trait of his realm: soul replication. Since souls not of Neutral Evil alignment go to other planes, Hades’ status as the God of Death is not so absolute. But, as part of his portfolio, he knows of the circumstances of the deaths of all mortal creatures. If desired, he can create a copy of a mortal’s soul upon their death to materialize in the Underworld. The replicated soul has the same alignment, knowledge, personality traits, and shape of the original. The copy is, for all intents and purposes, a clone.
In addition to a huge legion of potential followers and larva conversion, Hades also has a gigantic network of information. Anything known by any dead mortal can be found, but for a price. Hades doesn’t part with this knowledge for raw gold or no-name adventurers; individuals must prove their worth to him by passing all manner of tests; he’s got a reputation to protect, after all.
It’s a common saying in Sigil that only three kinds of people visit Hades: Blood War soldiers, soul merchants, and Celestial spies. From Angels to Formians to Slaadi, any faction with a stake in the Blood War or an axe to grind against the fiends keeps an eye on events in this plane. Trying to find out what the Archduke Bel is planning is almost impossible to do while he’s sitting in his impenetrable tower in Baator; but when he’s leading a detachment of troops on Hades, leaving the security of his home plane and fortress behind, that’s just prime opportunity for espionage. Hades is full of neutral ground, multiple warring factions, and a cosmopolitan gathering of fiendish individuals. With the Yugoloths as the “mediators,” it’s easier to blend in or gain a safe haven when you can sell your valuable intelligence in exchange for protection and safe passage out of the Plane.
Spies and saboteurs who don’t want to help the Yugoloths can still find plenty of work here. The Celestials need to know what the Fiends are planning and the current situation in the Blood War; non-evil Slaadi will pay generously for adventurers who can disrupt the soul trade; Primus is always willing to expand his knowledge base; and the Formians will be happy to know if there’s any safe havens or areas prime for colonization (their rarity on Hades makes the information all the more valuable).
Adventure Hooks on Hades:
• It’s an open secret outside of Hades that there are extraplanar portals to the Upper Planes in the 2nd and 3rd layers (to Ysgard and Arborea, respectively). Many Yugoloths and Night Hags have been using these portals to kidnap souls from these realms to turn into larvae. The adventurers are tasked with rescuing the souls and returning them to the Upper Planes. Complicating matters is the disagreement among Celestials of the portals’ maintenance. Some argue for the portals to be closed for safety reasons, while others argue that the portals can be used as easy passage into the Lower Planes to free more innocent souls in the Lower Planes. If the PCs take too long in their rescue operation, the former faction will close the portals and strand the PCs on the other side.
• A PC who died and got resurrected has a copy of his soul in the Underworld. An enemy faction or individual plans on visiting the Underworld to learn of any valuable information the soul might have. The PCs will need to convince the representatives of the deity Hades to destroy the soul, give the copy to them, or not give it to the villain.
• A patron wishes to hire the PCs to assassinate a fiendish general in the Blood War. The general’s nearly untouchable on his home plane, but the lack of safety and presence of enemy armies on Hades means that he’ll be weaker in the next engagement. The PCs must travel to Hades, fight their way across a desolate battlefield, and kill the general. Unless the PCs have something valuable to give them or otherwise convince them it’s in their self-interest, it’s unlikely that the opposing force will help them (non-fiends and non-petitioners are treated as enemy spies from other Planes).
I don't think that the rest of the Lower Planes need much fleshing out. For now, I'll do the Elemental Planes.
Elemental Plane of Air
“Aim for the sky and you'll reach the ceiling. Aim for the ceiling and you'll stay on the floor.”
The Elemental Plane of Air is the safest of the Inner Planes to visitors from the Material; it’s not dominated by the crushing pressure of earth or the scorching heat of fire, but by breathable air upon an infinite expanse of sky. All creatures, visitors and natives alike, are capable of limited flight simply by willing their bodies to “fall” in one direction. Such a method of transportation is clumsy and awkward in comparison to true flight (which all of the natives possess), but this ability makes the Elemental Plane of Air the most traveled of all Inner Planes.
Lots of travelers from the Material Plane are uncomfortable with the “open” void of sky and feel relatively unprotected and overwhelmed. For an easy frame of reference, many visitors construct airborne vehicles shaped like sea bound ships for travel. In addition to providing living space, cargo storage, and limited protection from attackers, these “skyships” are specially designed to use the Plane’s unique nature by manipulating and changing the air currents around itself. Skyships can generate powerful gales for transportation, windstorms for combat and self-defense, and “buffer currents” to slow down incoming projectiles. It generally takes more wind power to move heavier ships, but ships with large mass can move surprisingly fast due to subjective directional gravity.
Many raiders make their lairs on the Elemental Plane of Air, using such ships to attack passing ships. Some of the wealthier “sky pirates” have mechanisms which allow them to Plane Shift. More than a few pieces of floating earth on the Plane are actually havens for these cutthroats, and have more than enough people and ships to attack small fleets.
The Djinn are some of the more well-known inhabitants of the Elemental Plane of Air. Borne of the element of air as humans are borne of flesh and blood, the Djinn’s solid form is actually a “lower-powered” state; the ability to become gaseous or a living whirlwind is regarded by these proud beings as their true majesty, although they are cursed to remain solid for 23 hours of the day.
Djinn live in territories ruled by a king, noble family, or a council of the most powerful of their kind. The territories can be as small as a single city-state on a floating island, or as large as a nation with dominion over a hundred thousand subjects. Almost all rulers of Djinni-kind (known as Noble Djinni) are capable of granting Wishes to people who perform some great service to them. To prevent abuses of power, the Nobles can only grant Wishes to those not of their kind (non-Genies). Despite this limitation, Noble Djinn are overall more powerful than their “lowborn” counterparts and many even have class levels. The average Noble is well aware of their status among the Planes, and most live in fortified citadels enchanted with anti-planar travel spells to prevent summoners from calling and enslaving them.
Most Djinn on the Plane live on floating islands full of life and vegetation, both for the aesthetic value and easy point of reference for travel. Even the smaller settlements with no Nobles are richly decorated; shining stones pave the streets and colorful flowers grow in household gardens. Clothes, curtains, and carpets are made of fine fabrics from across the Great Wheel, and the local marketplace is always brimming with fantastic and rare objects. Capital cities and the homes of nobles are truly the stuff of legends: feel free to go wild with the most magnificent examples of fantasy cities. Throw in a giant clock tower attended by gear-driven golems or a statue made of living, moving stone as an example of the splendid magnificence of the Djinn.
Djinn cities are very cosmopolitan and accepting of visitors (with the exception of their mortal foes, the Efreet). The City of Jewels, the greatest known city of Genie-kind, rivals the City of Brass as a planar metropolis and has portals all over the Multiverse to facilitate travel and trade. Scheming nobles, saboteurs for the Efreet, lowborn gangs in the slums, and adventurers on all manner of dangerous quests provide plenty of action and suspense in the City of Jewels!
More than a few clouds are solid enough to hold heavy objects in the Plane. Originally designed by Cloud Giant settlers, these huge objects make use of powerful magic to exist in a state of varying density. A central orb of frozen water serves as the “control panel” for the cloudscape, with which a person can alter its density, shape, and speed and direction. Cloudscapes charged with lightning can be truly deadly instruments of war, and are prized by Djinn and visitors alike for their destructive powers.
Many cloudscapes are used as conventional “dungeons,” used by powerful people to store treasure, imprison people, and a form of mobile living space. Air and Storm Elementals can gain great power by fusing with a cloudscape’s central orb and extending its consciousness to the entire structure. Some of the most legendary Elementals are actually giant, sentient cloudscapes.
Adventure Hooks in the Elemental Plane of Air:
• A particularly sadistic Storm Elemental has gained control over a cloudscape and uses it to terrorize floating island villages. He’s absorbed many buildings and incorporated them into the structure, often with entire families trapped inside. The Elemental suffers from a giant ego, and boasts that nobody is capable of seizing control of the cloudscape. He offers the PCs to come into the cloudscape and best his trials. If they win, they get a mobile cloudscape fortress. If they lose, well the Storm Elemental kills them. PCs venturing into the cloudscape (whether to rescue the families or show up the Elemental) will have to deal with shifting rooms, limited visibility, rogue electrical attacks, and lesser Air and Storm brethren of the Elemental. Are the adventurers up to the task? Can they conquer this confusing dungeon? Tune in next time on Dungeons & Dragons!
• A floating island, long torn away from the Material Plane, floats among others of its kind in a flying archipelago on the Elemental Plane of Air. It contains ancient ruins from a long-forgotten civilization of the Wind Dukes of Aaqa, and may possess knowledge critical to the PCs (blueprints for a powerful artifact, hieroglyphs that are the final part of a prophecy, etc). The PCs are hired by a patron to visit the ruins. Unfortuantely, the patron works for the Queen of Chaos, a Demon lord who fought against the Wind Dukes long ago and wishes to rid the Multiverse of their influence. The Queen’s agents will wait until the PCs cleared the ruins of its guardians and traps. Then they’ll move in for the kill and find whatever secret lies in the temple’s catacombs.
• Hot on the trail of a fugitive with something important, the PCs track his location to a floating island in the Elemental Plane of Air. Unfortunately for them, the island’s home to a gang of sky pirates who now “own” the fugitive. The pirates’ captain is aware that the fugitive has something of great value, and won’t accept any coin the PCs have in exchange (and flashing gold around is a sure way to get attacked in this place). Instead, he’ll auction off the fugitive to the highest bidder. The enemy factions in your campaign also want whatever the fugitive has and can pool more wealth than the PCs’ collective pockets. The PCs must break the fugitive out and fend off a horde of pirates, sabotage the auction and/or eliminate rival bidders, or somehow get the information/object of value before he’s taken out of their grasp.
The Elemental Plane of Water is tied with Air for the most traveled and heavily settled of the Inner Planes. It’s got a vast connection network to Material Plane oceans, its habitat provides suitable living conditions for many aquatic species, and its primary method of travel (swimming) is one of the most commonly understood methods of locomotion. From bronze dragons to marid genies, from merfolk to sahuagin, the Elemental Plane of Water is full of settlements and nations populated by all manner of interesting folk in need of planar-hopping adventurers.
The Plane isn’t just a big mass of water stretching in all directions, bereft of land and solid objects. Even the natives need a common point of reference for travel, and many aquatic life forms need earth to survive; small prey animals need tiny tunnels to escape from larger predators, while coral and kelp need to anchor on a solid surface. Due to close proximity to the Plane of Earth, floating masses of rock and similar materials drift through the Plane of Water. These “islands” drift on the currents of the Plane at varying speeds; the largest masses are the size of small countries and move so little that they may as well be still, while the smallest masses are little more than scattered pieces of human-sized boulders. The latter can cause great devastation to settlements they come into contact with, and many natives use existing landmasses or artificial habitats as shelter against these “rock storms.”
Another common danger on the older rocks is limited visibility. Erosion of earth causes the particles to form into large underwater “clouds” of a brownish hue. Many creatures with blindsense and blindsight live in these clouds, using the terrain to their advantage to catch prey and hide from predators.
Aside from the rock islands, Zaratan fleets and airtight glass structures are two other popular forms of settlement for both colonists and natives alike. The Zaratan (see Arms and Equipment Guide) are colossal turtles easily the size of small islands. Using a combination of mussel glue, hooks, and other such means, small buildings can be affixed to their shells. Such homes are usually small and take the form of smooth bumps (to minimally impact the Zaratan’s mobility and not break off in close corners and narrow passages), but the more grandiose fleets have glittering palaces and spires rising up from the turtles’ shells.
Glass structures are the primary habitat of choice for visitors who cannot breathe in water. The fabled City of Glass is the most famous example. Glass structures are usually spherical and have alterable levels of transparency to ensure the occupants’ privacy. The structure is capable of travel, and contains a floating orb which serves as the pilot’s control panel. Although magically designed, the controls can be manipulated by non-casters and are often sold with instructions. The subjective dimensional gravity on the plane means that many glass cities are built in a circular ring on the inside of the sphere, although more imaginative architectural designs are possible.
The merfolk, aquatic elves, locathah, ixitxachitl, and sahuagin are the most prolific aquatic races on the Material Plane in terms of population and territory. The marid and triton are some of the oldest residents on the Plane of Water, and the oldest cities and civilizations on the Plane have their influence.
The sahuagin are the most vicious and militarized of the colonists, and they are in frequent conflict with the other groups. The marids’ magical expertise and economic dominance prevents the sahuagin from being the most powerful faction, although the genies’ individualism and frequent power struggles among the nobility result in sudden setbacks and loss of territory from hostile groups. The sahuagin show no signs of slowing down the war effort, and even the marids’ are barely keeping them at bay.
The merfolk are next most industrialized society on the Plane. Like humans, their culture and ways of life vary greatly. Some of them live in great citadels carved from rock, while others live as nomads with little in the ways of wealth or possessions. Their main advantage is their adaptability to new traditions. They have little qualms about adopting the worship of other deities or incorporating new forms of magic and technology. Many merfolk even live among the locathah, and vice versa. Both races commonly pay homage to Eadro, and there’s evidence to believe that the two share a common ancestral bond.
The locathah are nomadic and live simple lives. Most families move from island to island, using up and gathering resources before traveling again. The wealthier and more organized tribes can afford a Zaratan to provide protection and transport. Given the myriad dangers of travel, locathah fleets are usually heavily armed, and their more powerful Druids have altered their Zaratan to assist them in times of war. It’s not uncommon to see a giant turtle decked out with giant crossbows and javelin launchers on common locathah trade routes.
The Marid Kingdoms
The so-called “Marid Empire” is actually a collection of semi-independent city-states; in theory, the Great Padishah claims absolute dominion over his people, but the marid inclination for independence and their huge egos means that a lot of them prefer to do their own thing. Almost all marid view themselves as “royalty” and have the right to rule others, meaning that slavery and indentured servitude of non-marid is a common practice in their communities. Espionage and assassinations occur with a frequency that would shock outsiders, as the lust for political power is often all-consuming among the upper class.
Aside from vicious marid nobles and warmongering sahuagin, there are other common dangers for PCs to face:
Ixitxachitl: These creatures look like manta rays and live in the deep caverns of Material Plane oceans. Capable of mentally enslaving others and evolving into more advanced “vampiric” forms, ixitxachitl are one of the most maligned aquatic civilizations (think of them as the orcish equivalent of underwater folk).
Ixitxachitl on the Plane of Water usually lair in abandoned ruins and island caverns, regularly making raids on nearby settlements for slaves and wiping out entire habitats and ecologies of all life forms, sapient and non-intelligent alike. This policy of total warfare and ecological devastation has earned them a particular enmity which eclipses the sahuagin (who are more than willing to accept terms of surrender in exchange for servitude). The other aquatic civilizations temporarily put aside their differences to push back the ixitxachitl into isolated and remote regions. But these creatures can hold a grudge like no other, and still regularly attack settlements. It’s said that they’re mobilizing their forces in hidden pyramids and rebuilding their numbers with necromantic magic; it may not be long before another war breaks out…
Krakens: The Krakens used to be the dominant aquatic power on the Material Plane before the forces of good (and more than a few evil civilizations) drove them to the darkest corners of the ocean. Many Kraken fled into the Elemental Plane of Water, and from there they built a new civilization.
There are no Kraken settlements per se: most of them are solitary or with one mate, ruling over a settlement of weaker creatures. Most of them are trapped in caverns or otherwise isolated from the outside world, knowing of no other life than that of servitude. They’ve also got a stake in the Lower Planes soul trade, breeding and raising slaves in cult-like conditions and entrusting their souls to a powerful fiend. Many Krakens often have the backing of fiendish entities, and it’s not uncommon for them to have demon or devil bodyguards.
The vast majority of aquatic life on the Material Plane (and in the real world) lives close to the ocean’s surface (10-600 feet). The subjective directional gravity and clear lighting of the majority of the known Elemental Plane is unsuitable for sea life accustomed to living deeper and in the trenches. Fortunately, there’s a place for them on the Plane as well. Their habitats are known as “Dark Zones.”
From the outside, Dark Zones appear as a massive expanse of blackness; even nearby light sources get dimmer as they approach. The pressure of the area increases as well, making the regions highly dangerous to those without magical protection or environmental adaption. The regions are a favored spot for deep sea fish, krakens, undead, aberrations, and alien forms of life unknown to even the most learned of sages.
The Dark Zones have a sinister reputation among the aquatic civilizations. People capable of seeing the environment reported sightings of strange rock formations and creatures that look bizarre at best, the stuff of nightmares at worst. Incredibly brave adventurers have also reported finding strange civilizations deep inside these areas, made of identical square blocks strangely resistant to the pressure and decorated with runic carvings impervious to divination spells. No visible entrances or exits were present on the buildings, but strange rumblings could be heard from within.
Adventure Hooks on the Elemental Plane of Water:
• A demon lord or archdevil is in need of mortal worshipers to bolster his ranks for an upcoming Blood War siege. He’s entrusted one of his agents to open a portal on the River Styx into the middle of a major metropolis on the Elemental Plane of Water. Such a plan would create mass amnesia among the populace, and the fiend’s minions will use that opportunity to replace their historical and religious records with something more befitting the lord’s agenda.
• A nearby Dark Zone experienced a massive growth surge. Several nearby merfolk settlements got engulfed in the darkness, and all methods of contact and incursion into the zone have been met with hostility from the area’s strange inhabitants. The PCs are hired and outfitted with magical protection to explore the zone and discover the fate of the merfolk.
• A traitorous marid noble has committed the unthinkable: he’s brokered a deal with the sahuagin and a powerful kraken to help him seize the throne! The sahuagin army and the kraken’s minions of brainwashed slaves assault the City of Glass while the PCs are there. Planar travel has been blocked, and the surrounding army has several methods of detection (blindsight, divination magic) to know if anybody’s trying to break through the blockade. If the party hopes to win against this mighty force, they have to prevent breaches in the glass, safeguard civilians, and assist the city’s defenders. Otherwise, future battles may prove to be overwhelming as the sahuagin and kraken seize key areas and powerful magical items.
The Elemental Plane of Fire is the most inhospitable of the Inner Planes. The Plane of Earth has many empty pockets of caves, while burrowing creatures can move through the earth, but the extreme heat of the Plane of Fire can eradicate life at the microscopic level. Despite its reputation, the Plane still has a large number of prominent and powerful inhabitants with a stake in the political games of the extraplanar factions.
The most well-known inhabitants of the Plane of Fire include the fire elementals, Azer, Salamanders, and Efreet. Dragons immune to the negative effects of heat and fire giants often make settlements and lairs on the plane as well, although the landscape’s flammable nature makes it a poor location for storing treasure and most objects. With the exception of the elementals and dragons, all of these people live in highly militaristic societies on a constant war footing.
The Efreet rule the most significant cities on the Plane, carved out of perlite, various types of volcanic glass, and other fire-retardant materials. The genies are also known for their mercantile aptitude, and their largest communities are full of powerful elemental magic, unique items and materials, and slaves from all over the Multiverse. The Efreet allow traders and outsiders into their walled havens, but the inhabitants keep a close watch on the visitors and have no tolerance for disrespectful behavior or argument. The sympathizers of the Djinn, anti-slavery groups, and various Chaotic and Good aligned factions routinely send spies and saboteurs into these fortress cities to strike a blow against the Efreet.
The Azer are less powerful and smaller in number, but their goods and services are in high demand due to their skill in metalworking and fire magic. Many people who don’t want to give the Efreet money often visit Azer communities instead. The Efreet are aware of this, and they’re making attempts to enslave as many Azer as possible to corner the market and gain knowledge of the Azer’s unique craftsmanship. The Azer and Dwarven communities across the planes will have none of it, and provide significant protection and resources to freeing their enslaved brethren.
Holy Shrine of the Fire Lords
Fire holds a special place in societies and cultures across the Multiverse. It is a powerful element: it is a tool which can be used to cleanse impurities, to destroy one’s enemies, to create and build powerful weapons and tools, and to provide warmth and succor against the cold elements of night.
The Holy Shrine of the Fire Lords is a fabled location that only the faithful can see. Built in cooperation between the Elemental Lords and Deities of Fire, the temple is visited by wandering pilgrims looking to pay their respects. The various statues and chambers honor the different aspects of fire: the Creator, the Destroyer, the Purifier, and the Bringer of Light. Those who prove themselves worthy are blessed with miraculous abilities which deepen their connection to the Lords and Gods of Fire. The tests center around a theme related to a certain aspect: one wishing to honor the Destroyer may be required to burn the corpse of a sworn enemy and toss its ashes into the Central Flames, while one wishing the honor the Purifier may need to embark on a quest to stop and cure a quickly spreading plague. Those who pass the test are marked as a “Harbinger of Flames” and receive respect from the servants of all Fire Lords and Deities. This doesn’t mean that worshipers of a rival deity or sect will aid him, only that they’ll recognize him as a worthy adversary.
Fields of Blue Flames
There are some places in the Plane of Fire where even the natives fear to tread. Certain sections of the land are wreathed in blue flames, stretching for miles in all directions and hundreds of feet into the air. It is said that these fires burn so hot they melt away one’s body and soul. Efreet and Salamander alike tell their children to “fear the Curtain of Blue.”
In reality, the blue flames are as hot as the rest of the Plane, but anything they come into physical contact with is torn apart as though affected by the Disintegrate spell (DC 25 Fort Save negates, once per round, Caster Level 20th). Living creatures and outsiders reduced to 0 hit points turn into blue flames with their visage, living souls trapped within and howling in agony (treat this as a Trap the Soul spell, except that the “gem” is a blue flame).
The only known form of protection from the blue flames is the holy symbol of a God of Death, which causes the flames to shrink back and the souls to scream in terror of the wearer. Undead are also immune to the flame’s effects. Clerics with the Death domain can turn the soul-entrapped flames into unique undead creations of fire and negative energy. Anybody who manages to brave the soul-hungry flames will find a floating, mobile citadel at the land’s center. The place is a fortified temple of Nerull, and crawling with necromancers and their undead minions (all immune to fire, of course).
The minions of Nerull (or some other evil God of Death in your campaign) are responsible for the creation of the fields of blue flames. Nobody else is certain of what they’re planning, or why Nerull places so much stake in the Elemental Plane of Fire, but whatever dark goals the deity has in mind cannot be good for the decent folk of the Multiverse.
Adventure Hooks for the Elemental Plane of Fire:
• An important person the PCs care about got kidnapped by Efreet. He or she is now a slave in the City of Brass. Normally this would be a straightforward rescue mission, except that the Grand Sultan of All Efreet has claimed ownership of the person, and the price he’s asking in return for freedom is outrageous (a bunch of rare and hard to find magic artifacts). The PCs need to infiltrate the most heavily defended area of the Plane of Fire. Breaking in is a feat in and of itself, but breaking out is just as hard; the Sultan will seal up the entire city to prevent the PCs from escaping, and he’ll want to kill them himself for this transgression.
• A mass of blue flames is approaching an Azer community, and undead scouts are wreaking havoc on the outlying settlements. The PCs will need to head into the mass and destroy the citadel in the center, but in order to do that they’ll need to claim enough holy symbols from the scouts to protect the whole party. It’s a race against time as the PCs find the way to destroy the citadel and dispel the flames.
• Several Baatezu engineers are using the Elemental Plane of Fire as a testing ground for their new Hellfire Juggernauts. The PCs are hired to find out what the Baatezu are up to and how many Juggernauts are in production. The Devil’s research outpost is heavily defended by legions of infernal creatures and Salamander mercenaries. PCs prudent in their investigation will find out that Baator has many more Juggernauts in production, but are not meant to be used in the Blood War. Instead, they plan on launching an attack on the Material Plane! Their first target is one of the PC’s home town!
Re: Planar Revision Project: Forgotten Secrets of Earth
Elemental Plane of Earth
Due to limited visibility and miles of solid rock in all directions, the Elemental Plane of Earth is the least traveled of the Inner Planes (as for Fire, a lot of creatures have fire resistance/immunity). The only creatures which can easily navigate the place need a burrow speed and certain forms of blindsense, blindsight, or tremorsense. Colonists and planar travelers stick to the few pockets of natural caverns and excavated areas near extra-dimensional portals. Given that most of these portals are located deep within the Material Plane Underdark, lots of dwarves, drow, illithid, and other such folk have built large “portal cities” around major trade routes.
The Great Dismal Delve
One of the most powerful inhabitants on the Plane of Earth is the Dao, a civilization of wicked genies who seek to dominate and enslave all other civilizations. Thanks to the efforts of xorn, earth elemental, and delver servants, the Dao created a continent-wide network of cities, mines, palaces, and territory on the Plane. The most well-traveled extra-dimensional portals are located within the Delve, meaning that the Dao have effectively cornered the market on a lot of gems and precious metals (the Plane of Earth is theoretically infinite, but most places outside of Dao control are nowhere near as large of wealthy).
The Dao nobles are imperialistic jerks who love “collecting” rare objects and people from all across the Planes, meaning that they have lots of enemies. This is the perfect opportunity for adventurers to visit the Plane. The Delve is large and varied enough to have entire adventures in, and palaces the size of small cities can make for an interesting sort of dungeon. Fortunately for the PCs, the Dao are far from unified, and a rival family is more than willing to provide assistance to adventurers if they’re going up against a hated foe.
Tombs of the Primordials
The Material Plane is a very old world, full of long-forgotten empires and the ancestral legacies of sorcerous bloodlines. In our world, the skeletons of cavemen, dinosaurs, and other ancient beings are buried beneath layers of soil and rock. In the world of Dungeons & Dragons, the presence of underground civilizations and portals means that the corpses of prehistoric beings ended up in the museums of Underdark capitals and the Elemental Plane of Earth.
What does this mean? Well, for starters, the Plane is home to the fossils of creatures too old to be remembered and located near the top layers of the Material Plane’s surface. Many Plane of Earth natives revere these fossils with near-religious significance, believing them to be the legacies of powerful deities. The Dao don’t care for the most part about their origins, and see the fossils as tools to be exploited. The genies’ recent attempts at animating the fossils were disastrous. Nobody knows what happened to the city in which they lived, but all traces of civilization vanished down to the last piece of dust. Attempts at divination on the fossils (such as Speak With Dead) are unsuccessful as well, as the corpses prove surprisingly resilient to magic. However, Detect Evil spells register an overwhelming aura.
The fossils take on weird, aberrant shapes. They’re not “primordial” in the sense of dinosaurs. Think of Lovecraft monsters, or the solidified forms of fungi and slime molds.
The Forlorn Path
Most maps and routes through the Plane of Earth are portal-based, more so than the other three planes. There is a widely-connected series of portals which runs through the Plane and connects to almost all other locations on the Great Wheel. The network is located outside of the Great Dismal Delve, making it an effective means of avoiding Dao taxation, yet most people don’t use it. The network became known as the Forlorn path due to the huge amount of lost travelers and failed attempts at colonization.
Adventurers know they’re on the Forlorn Path by the distinctive markings. Tunnel ceilings, walls, and floors are covered in a web of interconnected runes. Mundane and magical attempts at translation reveal that the runes are, without exception, cryptic warnings and prophecies of vague concepts. “Beware those beyond the Wheel,” “The hungry pit grows,” and similar sayings are the most commonly encountered. Circular doors are spaced along the tunnel at exact 20 mile intervals, and lead into vast caverns of abandoned cities. The buildings are grey stone spirals arranged in perfect rows and columns of 500 by 500. Furniture and tools designed for Medium-sized humanoid figures are present, but all of them are decayed and crumble at the slightest touch.
No monsters, not even undead or constructs, have been sighted in the Path’s entire history. The primary danger is the environment itself. A few reported effects from survivors include the changing of gravity without reason, partners collapsing into gibbering wrecks of insanity shortly after exiting, and the painful sensation of a swarm of insects tearing off one’s skin. Despite these horrors, there is a lucrative trade of objects originating from the abandoned cities. Every so often, an adventurer finds an artifact or wondrous item containing great magical power. Such items are always unique and have effects unlike any other form of magic. Even then, the items have the same “taint” as the Path’s environment, and their passage into planar markets usually ends in the death or insanity of the current and former owners.
The Dungeon Master should use this as an opportunity to introduce new magic items into the game, preferably of a cursed or macabre nature. It also gives PCs an interesting dilemma; the magic items they might find are powerful, unique, and in high demand. But there effects can be disastrous, and selling them in a city will inevitably result in the deaths of innocents. If they keep the items, they’ll eventually suffer negative effects. Such items are usually too dangerous to just throw away, as they somehow find their way into the hands of evil folk. Finding the way to destroy these cursed items can be an adventure in and of itself, from returning them to their resting place or braving the most inhospitable areas of the Great Wheel to find a suitable prison for them.
Adventure Hooks for the Elemental Plane of Earth:
• It’s happened. A Dao necromancer uncovered the means of animating the primordial fossils, and now he’s leading an army of undead alien monstrosities across the Inner Planes. The creatures are mutable in shape and type, adapting to new terrain with frightening regularity. He’s managed to conquer vast territories of the Great Dismal Delve, and is expanding into the other Inner Planes as well. The PCs need to unite the disparate planar factions and genie-kind if they hope to contain the threat. Destroying the threat is an even taller order, and may not be possible if the PCs dally for too long. As for the Dao heading the forces… he might be a powerful spellcaster, but’s he still just a genie. It won’t be long before the creatures gain enough power to break free of his control and incorporate him as a slave into the collective.
• A tunneling expedition of dwarves accidentally opened up a portal into the Forlorn Path. Thanks to legends and hearth lore, they had the good sense to leave the area alone and seal up the area. But this did not work; the Path’s runes are now spontaneously appearing in their city, and the laws of reality are unraveling. The military and religious leaders can barely contain social stability as the number of insane dwarves rise and entire sections of town are quarantined from the spread of runes. The PCs are hired to find a solution and safeguard as much of the population as possible. To make matters worse, a raiding party of nearby derro believe that the runes speak to them and attack the settlement!
• A huge portal below a Material Plane city becomes active, sucking massive sections of town into a sinkhole leading to the Elemental Plane of Earth. A band of Dao slavers triggered the collapse, and claim that the inhabitants are now officially within the territory of the Great Dismal Delve. Attempts to free the citizens are repelled by an organized military force of Dao spellcasters and their enthralled minions. The PCs, be they within the collapsed or safe section of town, are pulled into the battle as the Dao target the heavily-armored party as “potential aggressive and/or subversive elements.”
The Positive Energy Plane is the birthplace of all life, of all souls. It is the extropy to the Negative Energy Plane’s entropy, the beginning to the afterlife’s end. Like the brilliance of the sun, its raw power is so great that few can hope to stand against it unprotected. It is pure, unrestrained creation.
The Birthplace of Everyone’s Souls
You know how undead are sustained by the essence of the Negative Energy Plane? Well, the reverse is true for living creatures (the exceptions are outsiders and elementals, who spring forth from their respective planes). The souls of those yet to live are formed in special citadels and gardens on the Positive Energy Plane, and then depart for the Material Plane and other worlds to inhabit potential vessels. These “pre-born” beings are incorporeal, mindless, microscopic entities. They belong to no species; a soul can just as easily become a lizardfolk or human depending on the vessel it enters.
These places are known as “soul gardens” to the few planar travelers aware of their existence. Such places usually take the form of massive orbs of stone, metal, glass, or other non-living material. The places appear bereft of life and contain no living spaces or visitor’s quarters, although divination magic and abilities which detect souls picks up the presence of quadrillions of invisible souls moving all over the place. The sensation is overwhelming, and the caster must succeed on a Will Save (DC 25) or fall unconscious for 1 minute. Even on a success, he is dazed for 1d6 rounds.
Due to a non-aggression pact between the major deities and planar powers, nobody save the truly mad attempt to control or halt this process. Even undead creatures originate from living beings. This doesn’t stop Lower Planes fiends from venturing to the Plane to snatch up some souls, but the Positive Energy Plane has a very powerful trump card: Spiritovere Energons (see Bastion of Broken Souls).
In addition to a legion of Contingency spells, magical traps, and Lumi volunteers, the souls gardens have Spiritovore Energons serving as guardians. These large entities have inscrutable motives, but appear to be tasked with safeguarding souls. They are supremely powerful, where even the least of their number can give a pit fiend a run for his money. Even if a would-be southief manages to avoid detection and infiltrates the complex, he must succeed on a DC 35 Spellcraft check to cast a spell which involves the manipulation, transportation, destruction, or imprisonment of souls. Regardless of whether the spell is successful, 1d4+1 Spiritover Energons are teleported right next to the soulthief and attack.
Great Cities of the Lumi
The Lumi (see Monster Manual 3) are humanoid beings who radiate a magical white light. Their floating heads are separated from their bodies, giving them a distinctive appearance among the Great Wheel’s inhabitants. Their brilliant spiral cities of crystal are terrific works of beauty, incorporating colorful hues and giving their buildings a prismatic flair.
The Lumi are stand-offish, unafraid to speak their mind, and any form of illusion or falsehood is punishable by death. They’d just be another group of extremists avoided by right-thinking folk, were it not for their aggressive foreign policy. They’re particularly insistent on forcing this worldview on others, and they believe that any damage or suffering caused by their crusades will be outweighed by the long-term gain of knowledge and truth.
The Lumi used to be the slaves of an ancient empire ruled by Illusionists and Enchanters; reality was mutable, as the magicians could simulate facsimiles of reality, engender love and hate, and otherwise shape the minds and perception of the populace to do whatever they want. A particularly strong-willed Lumi managed to break free of this magical hold, and he could not go back to this false world. He brought the Light of Truth to his brethren and overthrew the mages; from then on, the Lumi swore to never deny reality or engage in any form of self-deception so that they can never be enslaved again. Without propaganda, ignorance, and universal access to knowledge and truth, people can truly think for themselves and achieve freedom. This is the Lumi’s ideal society.
Lumi cities are not located near any major planar crossroads, but they do have several valuable commodities for traders: divination magic, knowledge, and information. Lumi libraries are truly impressive, and they steadfastly seek to preserve all forms of works produced. The Lumi do not even destroy propaganda and factually incorrect texts, as even these works can help people learn from the mistakes of the past (“those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it”); however, such books are labeled as “factually incorrect” in appropriate passages and contain editor’s footnotes refuting the offending passages. They also sell produce of the most powerful magic items related to divination and dispelling illusion and enchantment magic; minor magic items and magical services of a relatively low Caster Level (10 or less) are sold to travelers at 120% market price, but more expensive ones require that the purchaser prove his trustworthiness to the city. As part of the agreement, purchasers need permission to sell the more powerful items anywhere else without their consent (the Lumi aren’t fond of pure self-interest).
The Lumi serve two major purposes in games: as allies who provide the PCs with service in exchange for quests and the pursuit of knowledge, and as single-minded fanatics eager to enforce their will on the Multiverse. A party might procure heretical texts and banned books to sell to the Lumi city, and then help fend off an invasion force from that very same city. It might be a possibility that the Lumi have fooled themselves into thinking that their way is the correct way of living; if one of them were to ever accept this, he would commit suicide for betraying his own tenets.
The Living City
One of the more interesting inhabitants of the Positive Energy Plane is the Ravid. These serpentine creatures are capable of granting the spark of life in non-living material. Their very touch is enough to animate an object, and they don’t suppress this ability when on other planes (they often don’t comprehend the destruction their actions can cause). The Ravids are a constant nuisance to the Lumi, as the devastation wrought by the creature can take years to rebuild.
A group of traveling Clerics of a God of Light established a colony on the Positive Energy Plane. Dubbed Morning’s Gaze, the colony served as a haven for fellow believers and all who sought enlightenment. They incorporated powerful magic into their buildings to shield themselves from the Plane’s harmful effects, but such abjurations were useless against the touch of the Ravid. All it took was a colony of the creatures to send the city into chaos.
Buildings lurched off their foundations and moved of their own accord; furniture broke through walls and dashed down the streets; the clock tower’s arrows spun erratically; the constant ringing of the church bells deafened the local clerics. Through some unknown magical disaster or the unique energies of the Plane, the Ravid’s spells did not wear off. Most of the inhabitants either fled or perished, and the city to this day remains a riotous sea of ever-shifting buildings and landmarks moving without rhyme or reason.
How do adventurers factor into this? Well, a lot of items of religious significance remain in Morning’s Gaze, most of them now animated. The city’s too dangerous for most travelers, and navigating the place is almost impossible without magical aid. PCs sent on a quest to this city must be wary, for every piece of treasure and magic item they find is animated and potentially hostile.
Adventure Hooks for the Positive Energy Plane:
• An influential ally of the PCs has been found guilty of a Lumi court of being intellectually dishonest. He was found in a Lumi city trying to sell an item by downplaying its flaws; the PCs are sent to the city to represent the ally. They must either prove his innocence or help him escape, both of which are fraught with risks and potentially earn the undying enmity of the Lumi.
• War has come to the Positive Energy Plane! A minion of Orcus managed to obtain one of the unborn souls from the spiritovore citadels. The soul is brimming with amazing power, and the other demon lords learned of Orcus’ capture. Ambition for power has overwhelmed the fiends’ common sense, and now every demon lord, night hag, and Lower Planes soul trader of note are amassing legions of minions and mercenaries to take over the citadels. Every major faction and deity is now amassing troops in the Positive Energy Plane to fight them off and guard the citadels. The more treacherous deities are planning on seizing control of the citadels for their own purposes; if even one faction lays claim to even a single soul garden, they’ll have unimaginable power over countless life-forms-to-be. The PCs may be hired hands, emissaries or champions of a deity, or just looking for an excuse to fight fiends.
• The animated objects of the Living City have found an escape portal back to the Material Plane. Nearby towns and villages are afflicted with the animation curse of Morning’s Gaze, and household tools and buildings start creating more duplicates to expand their reach as reinforcements from the Positive Energy Plane arrive to provide assistance. The objects are being directed a very old and powerful Ravid, who seeks to expand the city’s influence to other Planes.
The Negative Energy is much like the vacuum of space: a giant void of black nothingness with an environment hostile to all life. However, the overall temperature and atmospheric pressure is equivalent to a Material Plane environment, meaning that your body won’t tear itself apart or freeze to death here. Even so, the utter lack of features and solid ground in 99.99999% of the Plane means that an infinitesimally small portion is inhabited by any sort of non-Energon beings.
For most people, the Negative Energy Plane is actually a hollow spherical city of gothic spires and citadels populated by the undead. The black sea of anti-life surrounding it is more of an afterthought. The vast majority of extraplanar travel goes through the realm of Death’s Heart, and it’s wide assortment of necromantic equipment and trade items means that most necromancers and undead are content with sticking to this one area of the Plane.
Undead creatures of all kinds populate this city. Death’s Heart is surprisingly open to the presence of living beings, as most undead creatures still have some form of connection to their "old lives." In addition to vampires, liches, and wraiths, there’s a small community of still-living necromancers, priests of deities of death, and people seeking to pass of their mortal coil “to a more powerful state of being.” Even then, they’re only tolerated by the city at large and the city’s more xenophobic political factions are advocating for additional restrictions on travel.
Death’s Heart is just recovering from a brutal civil war, and is currently unified under the administration of the vampire minotaur Kavchor. Knowing that hostilities still linger below the surface of society, Kavchor’s slowly rebuilding the shattered economy through trade and connections to other planar realms. He’s also seeking an outside enemy to turn the city against so that they’ll spend more time unifying for the oncoming threat instead of scheming against each other. To this end, he’s currying favor among the expansionist elements of Death’s Heart who want to spread their rule to Material Plane worlds, but just enough to stop short of full-scale invasions.
Kavchor’s playing a dangerous game; since he doesn’t plan on living up to most of his high-minded promises, it won’t be long before some powerful faction drums up enough hatred and resentment to start another civil war. He also has powerful enemies within the city as well: opposing him are isolationist groups who fear of foreign influence in their Plane, and the demon lord Orcus who seeks to absorb the city into his Abyssal layer. Whether from infighting or being forced to spearhead an extraplanar invasion, war will soon come again to Death’s Heart.
In addition to the necropolis of Death’s Heart, the Negative Energy Plane is also known for its large number of prisons, commonly known as “castles perilous.” These gulags come in all shapes and sizes, but the most well-known of them are hewn from magically-enhanced stone and share architectural similarities with Material Plane fortresses. A lot of evil factions use these buildings to hold captured forces of good, usually ones too powerful and well-known to be guarded in more conventional planes. Kill a Paladin or Cleric, and his spirit goes to the Upper Planes to join the Celestial forces. Keep them indefinitely imprisoned, and their souls never escape. Since the Negative Energy Plane has no dominant planar faction, these prisons don’t run the risk of falling into enemy hands due to some geo-political shift in territory.
The castles have entirely undead staff and guards, with a singular two-way portal to serve as a strategic choke-point in the event of a prison break or riot. The Portal usually leads to whoever currently owns or helped build the prison. The warden is skilled in soul-related necromantic spells such as Magic Jar, and the “cells” consist of rooms studded with thousands of onyx gems. Unwitting adventurers can easily mistake these areas for treasure hordes, confusing the building’s high security and secrecy with a vault.
The Doomguard is a planar faction dedicated to the spread of destruction, entropy, and oblivion. The Doomguard believes that the Multiverse is flawed, and that a newer, perfect world will arise out of the ashes of the old. To this end, they seek to hasten the end of its existence by any means necessary. They see great potential in the Negative Energy Plane, and their headquarters is located in a crumbling citadel in its black void.
It would be a mistake to say that the Doomguard relishes death or undeath; on the contrary, they are fundamentally against the extension of one’s existence solely for the means of avoiding destruction. A significant portion of the faction’s members are living creatures, and thus build their outposts and fortresses in the pockets bereft of negative energy (Doldrums) on the Plane.
In recent years, the Doomguard has spent significant resources in the creation of huge planar portals located around key areas along the Great Wheel (national capitals, sites of historical/religious significance, etc). When activated, these massive portals will shift a great chunk of the land into the Negative Energy Plane. Sometimes the inhabitants will immediately die as the entropic essence of the Plane overwhelms their bodies, but other times they’ll safely land in a Doldrum. A messenger for the Doomguard will tell the survivors that the dead did not give their lives in vain, and that their deaths were but one part of a great plan for the birth of a perfect Multiverse. Before leaving, the Doomguard will accept any willing recruits who do not wish to perish when the Doldrum’s barrier fails.
This has deservedly earned the Doomguard the reputation of dangerous terrorists and genocidal madmen. The faction has responded by hastening their plans by building more portals. It’s only a matter of time before the next catastrophe strikes…
Adventure Hooks for the Negative Energy Plane:
• An ally important to the PCs has passed on, their soul nowhere to be found. Investigation reveals that powerful necromantic magic has placed the soul far beyond planar boundaries. It is said that the Curator, a powerful undead Elder Brain, can locate the soul by reaching into the “consciousness of the afterlife.” The Curator is located in the city of Death’s Heart, and he doesn’t part with his information freely. He’s also a thorn in the side of Mayor Kavchor, who fears that anyone capable of such great knowledge can learn his many secrets. The PCs will have to deal with finding the Curator while outsmarting Kavchor’s thugs.
• The Doomguard has forcefully shifted a Material Plane city containing a holy site of Pelor. Massive extraplanar armies are stationed around the planar rift and preparing for an invasion, but there’s no way such a large amount of troops can move through the Plane and survive. The PCs are called upon to strike into the portal and somehow manage to return the city to the Material Plane. The Doomguard will violently react to any attempts at rescue and do their best to stall the PCs until they can move the city out of the Doldrum.
• A shadowy patron hires the PCs for the greatest heist of all: a castle perilous belonging to Nerull, the God of Death! First, the PCs will need to sneak into the innermost layer of Carceri into the deities’ realm. Then, they must locate the portal leading into the castle perilous. Next, they must instigate a prison takeover and keep it out of Nerull’s forces long enough for reinforcements to arrive and shift the castle to the patron’s home plane. The patron’s cagey as to why exactly he wants access to Nerull’s coveted prison, and how exactly he’ll avoid the deity’s retribution. Could it all be a trap?
The Plane of Shadow is the Transitive Plane with the most sinister reputation. The terrain is forlorn and foreboding, full of dangerous creatures and hazards, and is home to all matter of evil entities from Shar to the Unseelie Fey. But it would be a mistake to assume that the Plane of Shadow’s tainted with malic or intrinsically evil like the Lower Planes; the land is no more evil than a swamp full of undead creatures or a town run by a crooked government. There are more evil-aligned creatures than good ones on the Plane, but the vast majority of terrain is uninhabited and claimed by no one.
Unlike the other Transitive Planes, the Plane of Shadow has precious few colonists and non-indigenous inhabitants. The Plane has an effect on long-term visitors, who gradually change in body and mind to become something different; most of the times, inhabitants gain darkness-related abilities and an aversion of sunlight. Many fey creatures tried to colonize the Plane, hoping that their mutable natures would stave off the worst transformative effects of the land. Some expeditions were successful, such as the Gloaming (see Underdark), and enhanced their own abilities with planar power. More unfortunate folk, like the Shadar-Kai, ended up bound to the Plane’s energies, unable to survive elsewhere long-term without the use of powerful magic.
Faerie towns are few and far between on the Plane, and they vary in appearance and temperament as the individual personalities of the fey. Shadow-shaping spells allow for a startling variety of dwellings and terrain; due to the lightless environment, faeries opted for forms of visual beauty independent of colors, from flowing calligraphy adorning structures to castles in the shape of beasts of legend and famous historical figures.
Travelers should be wary when entering an unknown faerie town. Even the neutral and good-aligned fey have abstract legal and social norms, and most rulers do not see ignorance of the laws as a legitimate excuse. Unseelie Fey are particularly vicious, and often make up laws and rulings on the spot in hopes that most people will be unable to call them out on it. Despite these risks, faerie towns are full of rare magical items and trade goods; a common story tells of a team of adventurers sampling some fey ale in the city of Noresbal. They were shocked to find the bartender using a scroll of haste as a dishwashing rag; when asked why he treated the precious artifact with such disrespect, he responded “we fey are timeless in every way. There’s no need for us to hurry.”
Shar’s Academy of the Dark Arts
Shar is an evil goddess of darkness, the night, secrets, and loss. She’s one of Faerun’s oldest deities, and like any divine entity worth her salt, she has big ambitions. Shar also holds the title of being the sole deity with a permanent headquarters of the Plane of Shadow, and that makes her the closest thing to a major power on the Plane.
Shar’s greatest project is the Shadow Weave. It’s intended to be an alternative power source for magic; by forsaking traditional forms of arcane and divine aid, a Shadow Weave Adept can operate in an anti-magic field, ignore common restrictions on magical limits, and avoid more common means of detection and divination magic. By devastating the traditional Weave in Faerun through the creation of “dead magic zones,” Shar hopes to become the sole magical power on that Material world. And when she conquers Faerun, she will expand to other Material worlds and cosmologies through portals in the Plane of Shadow.
But none of this will matter if people can access the Shadow Weave without giving her allegiance. Her most devoted and powerful cultists kidnapped children of all races across the Planes who show promising magical potential. Raised in the Plane of Shadow by the faithful, they will know of no other life than service to Shar. Her Academy of the Dark Arts is the first and greatest step of this plan.
The school is designed like a traditional boarding school, except much larger and with enough facilities and resources to sustain a large town. Teachers serve as instructors, parents, and law enforcement to keep students and underlings in line. Religious devotion is just as important a quality as academic instruction, and just as many classes are thinly-disguised propaganda courses as typical educational programs.
Adventurers are most likely to come across the Academy by seeking out missing and lost children. The faithful are well aware of this possibility, and the school’s security and defenses are as sophisticated as the best magical prisons (excepting perhaps Carceri). Students too young to fight are kept safely away from combat and teleported to a vault-like building; the best way to free these children is to obtain the keys from the Headmaster and the Head of Security, both powerful spellcasters in their own right.
The Shining Citadel
The Plane of Shadow has a lot of links to alternate Material Planes in its deepest regions, more so than other Planes. Like the Ethereal Plane, it matches the terrain of many Prime Material worlds in its own way. Most planar scholars identify the Plane of Shadow as Transitive, although a popular theory insists that the Plane of Shadow’s actually an Alternate Material Plane. Their prime supporting evidence is the large amount of portals to other Material Planes in Shadow, and the existence of ancient and forlorn structures and cities known as Dark Mirages in mirroring Material areas. Who’s to say that the Plane of Shadow is nothing more than an alternate Oerth or Toril which befell some dark disaster?
The strongest, and most elusive, piece of evidence supporting this theory lies in the Shining Citadel. A remote bastion of light secluded by the most powerful illusions, few facts are known about this place. The actual Citadel is inhabited by humans, dwarves, elves, and other humanoids prominent on Material Plane worlds. The community’s controlled and maintained by a conclave of spellcasters who power the magical structures and items with light and portals to the Positive Energy Plane. The people of the Citadel pay homage to the Lord of Light, who they credit with the continued safety and survival of what remains of the world. They view the outside as a post-apocalyptic wasteland containing fell beasts hostile to all life. The Citadel’s mages are tasked with holding off the extraplanar traits of Shadow; spells with the light descriptor are enhanced and maximized within, while spells with the shadow descriptor are impeded.
It’s possible that the Citadel’s properties are responsible for the Plane of Shadow’s current state of affairs, and that shutting down the power source may cause the Plane to recover to its previous state. But such a task will be met with resistance from many sides: the people of the Citadel are unwilling to give up their homeland and security for a plan which might not work, while the beings accustomed to the Plane’s current environment will be threatened by this change.
Adventure Hooks for the Plane of Shadow:
• A rare object or vital piece of classified information is being held in the mansion of an Unseelie fey on the Plane of Shadow. The owner is paranoid and rarely accepts visitors, and the building’s defenses are based off of the unique land-shaping powers of shadow; actual guards and inhabitants aside from the owner are nowhere to be seen in this forlorn manor, giving the place an eerie aura of dread.
• An enemy on the run from the PCs takes up refuge in the genie city of Onyx, a region of Shadow known for its inhabitants’ duplicitous dealings and non-Euclidean architecture. Simply maneuvering through the city is a feat in and of itself, and every local seems to want something from the PCs and refuses to even part with basic information freely. Can the adventurers cut through the double-speak and maze-like environment and find their quarry, or is he permanently lost to the City of Onyx?
• In a cross between Harry Potter and Prison Break, the adventurers disguise themselves as magically-gifted teenagers in order to break into Shar’s Academy of the Dark Arts; if the entire party fits this profile, their job’s that much easier. They could be staging a rescue operation, or maybe they’re scouting out the complex for a coordinated tactical assault. Regardless of their reasons, blending into the Academy will be a feat in and of itself. Between outsmarting Shar’s best-picked teachers, sneaking into restricted areas, and posing as normal students, the adventurers will have to deal with all the hang-ups and drama of living in confined quarters and the monumental task of fooling everyone long enough to get their mission done.
A cloudy sea between all other Planes, astral travel is the most common form of extraplanar travel. In addition to being utilized for all forms of teleportation magic, the Astral Plane’s “timeless” quality of inhabitants and materials is ripe for exploitation. Spellcasters fearful of death or seeking to preserve decaying artifacts build floating citadels to store their lives and treasures for all eternity (or until some hostile force claims them).
A mighty civilization that broke free of Illithid dominance, the Githyanki are some of the most inhabitants in the entire Multiverse. Adolescent members of their species join a unit of soldiers to raid an Illithid stronghold as a sign of undertaking adult responsibilities and a rite of passage. Almost every Githyanki knows how to wield a sword, and many of them are capable of casting an assortment of low-level arcane spells, utilize psionics, and possess fanatic devotion to their nation.
Tu’narath, the nation with a capital city of the same name, is a multi-planar empire stretching across the Great Wheel and beyond. They prefer the Prime Material Planes for colonization, due to the variety of terrain and relative lack of divine interference. Interactions with other nations usually end with violence or suppression of the natives; it’s been rare that the Githyanki had to retreat from a superior military force. A precursor to invasion is the sight fleets of airborne ships materializing above the horizon. Known as Astral Skiffs, these vehicles are lightweight and designed for quick skirmishes instead of prolonged siege warfare.
Despite their warlike reputation, the sheer power and scope of the Githyanki empire means that a lot of nations make deals with them to avoid all-out war. As such, their capital city sees a large influx of visitors and tradesmen. The Githyanki of Tu’narath are more tolerant of visitors as a result, but there are some important things for adventurers to keep in mind: one, it’s a military dictatorship. Anybody with authority or is high-ranking has the martial and magical power to back up their title (no dainty nobles here). Second, they’re extremely anti-religious, and Clerics are forbidden from converting others to their religion or casting spells upon others upon pain of death.
So why would somebody venture into Githyanki territory? Well for starters, a lot of powerful figures are wary of Tu’narath’s increasing might and prominence. Troop movements, military secrets, and invasion plans are in high demand among planar governments. The Illithid and Genies in particular have a vested interest in hiring adventurers for this work. Secondly, the Githyanki are some of the most talented crafters of magic arms and armor. The truly sublime pieces combine arcane spells and psionic power for effects unseen anywhere else on the Great Wheel. Predictably, the secrets of these items’ creation are trade secrets and known only to the artisans of imperial state arsenals. What you can’t make, steal!
The Astral Plane is full of giant petrified bodies, the largest as big as continents. A large amount of them are vaguely humanoid in shape, but the forms of animals, aberrations, and stranger things have been spotted and documented as well. Most people assume that these bodies are dead deities, but nobody’s really sure about this. Other popular theories posit that the petrified creatures are the sculptures of a long-forgotten civilization or the fossils of extinct creatures.
What is known for certain is that all the bodies give off lingering traces of divine magic, and that strange quakes emanate from deep below the surface. Many colonists, adventurers, and natives alike mine and excavate them in search of magic power, treasure, or living space. Most of these attempts end in failure, as the omnipresent magic energies seem to have a mind of their own and replicate dangerous spells and monsters to safeguard the terrain.
The Tomb of Coridus
The Illithid-Gith War was a long and brutal fight for freedom, spanning across the Great Wheel. Many Githyanki endured the onslaught on the Astral Plane. The Mind Flayers became ever more desperate in their struggle for dominance, resorting to powers and entities even they did not understand.
One being in particular is prominent in Githyanki legends: the Tomb of Coridus. Coridus was said to be a cruel and bloodthirsty god from beyond space and time. His power was so great, his deeds so terrible, that pantheons from across the Multiverse banded together to seal him inside the shell of a legendary beast. After travelling to strange realms beyond the known confines of the Multiverse, the Illithids found what they believed to be Coridus’ Tomb. They summoned it to the Astral Plane in the middle of a battlefield. The last thing the Githyanki and Illithid soldiers saw was a titanic black shell, decorated with spines and black as night, floating across the Astral Sea. There were no survivors.
Today, the shell aimlessly floats through the Plane. The object is home to strange and alien forms of life, sometimes spontaneously created from deep within the shell. Those who lair upon it for too long become obsessed and seek to free whatever fell being resides within the layers. The trapped souls of Githyanki and Illithid cry out for freedom, promising great boons and rewards to any adventurers brave enough to overcome the perils inside this living Tomb.
It’s very rare for the Githyanki to rebel against the Lich-Queen and survive, but it does occur. The Pirate-King Shorkoza is the most legendary and hated outlaw within the Tu’narath Empire. He assaults the Empire’s fringes, attacking military vessels and extraplanar merchant caravans alike for their riches. With 2,000 astral skiffs and 100,000 able-bodied raiders, Shorkoza’s a prominent political power in the Astral Plane all his own. Githyanki criminals and slaves fleeing the Empire are incorporated or press-ganged into his fleet; they only need to denounce their oath to the Lich-Queen and swear a new oath to Shorkoza. The promise of wealth and glory also attracts many adventurers into service, particularly of the bloodthirsty and evil variety.
Shorkoza’s Fleet is large enough to function as a metropolis, although about 1/3rd of his ships are off and away plundering distant lands and planes. There’s a thriving black market on the ship, and unscrupulous merchants and employers alike regularly visit the Fleet to buy rare treasures or pay for protection or services. Despite being a haven for pirates, Shorkoza keeps the peace with an iron-fisted rule. Floggings are common for acts of disobedience, and rude visitors are often stranded in inhospitable planes or thrown into the mouth of Grumpy, the Fleet’s pet astral dreadnought.
Adventures on the Astral Plane:
• A monastic order of Clerics claims that they have the power to resurrect dead gods. They’re located on one of the bodies of the Astral Sea, and every significant planar faction has their eyes on them. Many want to stop them, fearing the return of a dangerous deity. The anti-theist Athar seek to eliminate them, believing that anything which can empower the Gods to be bad for the Multiverse. And the Archdevil Asmodeus wants to learn their secrets for themselves, hoping that he can resurrect and enslave the reborn Gods for his own purposes!
• Vraakith offers a great reward to whoever can bring her the head of Shorkoza. Those who succeed at this task will be allowed into the Imperial Palace of Tu’narath to meet the Lich-Queen herself and receive great magical power. In addition to the material benefits, PCs can use this as an opportunity for spy work, to infiltrate the palace and rob its vault, or even assassinate Vraakith. Regardless of their motivation, the adventurers will need to not only kill Shorkoza, but find a way to slip past or fight off thousands of battle-hardened Githyanki pirates and their warships.
The immaterial counterpart to the Prime, the Ethereal Plane is home to ghosts, spirits, and terrain with resonance to the Material. The presence of spirits and incorporeal entities cause many cultures to assume that the Ethereal’s the afterlife, but nothing could be further from the truth: it’s its own world, complete with living societies and a vibrant ecology.
Shades of Memory
A significant portion of the Ethereal Plane is “copied” from the Material Plane: when a living creature perishes with strong ties to the Material Plane, its soul is fixed to an area in the Ethereal and Material. We know these beings as ghosts. Objects, buildings, and terrain with significant historical, religious, and emotional symbolism leave imprints in the Ethereal as well, shaped by the hopes, dreams, and memories of people. It is not uncommon for planar travelers to find a fabled lost city from Material civilizations standing tall and proud in the Ethereal.
Some of the most notable bastions of civilizations in the Ethereal Plane were created through the sudden and violent destruction of a Material Plane city. Whether through war or a natural disaster, the souls and memories of the inhabitants are reborn as ghosts and resonance in the Ethereal Plane. These “Spirit Cities” are unwilling to face reality, and insist that their civilization still thrives, and many of these ghosts often take umbrage when Material inhabitants settle or excavate “their land.” Such places often become known as haunted and desolate locales where few living souls feel welcome.
The Ethergaunt Invasion
Long ago, a race of magical beings known as the Ken-Zai lived upon the Material Plane. For reasons known only to them, a mass exodus of their people fled into the Ethereal Plane, building massive pyramids and menhirs to house their bodies in stasis. After countless centuries, the Ethergaunts are finally awakening, and they want to reclaim the Material Plane.
The Ethergaunt have no love for the Material world’s current inhabitants, viewing them as little more than beasts. However, they’re very aware that their numbers are very low, and a conventional invasion will not work. To this end, Ethergaunts rely upon ancient magics to create natural disasters, mind-controlling influential political and religious figures, and black ops-style assassinations and guerilla tactics to foment strife and chaos among the nations. They do this all to progress towards an ideal state which they refer to as The Great Work. In order to achieve this goal, the culling of “irrational emotions” and dedication to the survival of the Ken-Zai are paramount. Most Material Plane creatures stand in contrast to this, and thus must be eradicated to maximize the Ken-Zai’s chances of survival and attaining “rational purity.”
Thanks to powerful magic, intelligence, and technological knowledge, the Ethergaunts are rapidly spreading across key areas of the Ethereal Plane, building fortresses and laboratories to further the Great Work. Their cities, known as enclaves, are small and bland; there are no expressions of art, entertainment, or leisurely activity to get in the way of labor and research. Several “splinter cells” of independent enclaves are positioned near important Material Plane dungeons and locations of magical power. This has the double-edged deal of accumulating locations of strategic importance for their invasion, but also increases their chances of running into conflict with traveling bands of adventurers.
The Deep Ethereal
There are areas of the Ethereal Plane which go “beyond” the Material world, where the planar coexistence fades until the terrain is replaced with a stretch of thick grayish-white fog forms a wall stretching as far as the eye can see. The realms beyond are known as the Deep Ethereal. Much like the Astral, the Deep Ethereal is a space of free-floating objects drifting along the planar currents and winds. Despite being an empty and forlorn terrain, the region is famous for a highly sought-after material: protomatter.
Protomatter is a tangible form of ethereal mist which can a solid, liquid, or gas. Protomatter is highly malleable, and can take on all shapes, sizes, colors, and densities. With a significant expenditure of magical power or exposure to certain planar elements, protomatter can be used to create objects, living matter, and even whole new demiplanes! The hard limits of protomatter are that it cannot replicate or create divinity, and it needs exposure to appropriate traits to mimic certain planes. If you wanted to create a holy citadel, opening up a portal to an upper plane might be necessary. Additionally, the size of the replicated object and the magical power it gives off is proportional to the volume of protomatter on hand. Creating a minor potion of healing should is trivial, while creating an artifact while be an intensive labor of time and effort.
Adventurers going into the Deep Ethereal in search of easy wealth and power will be disappointed: nobody can easily predict how protomatter comes into being, or when and where the next site will arise. The largest protomatter clusters within easy distance of planar portals have already been claimed by powerful entities with legions of minions to defend them. The two easiest ways to get a big score are 1: taking it by force of arms from another faction; 2: years of painstaking travel on the Ethereal Plane; or 3: Getting hired by a patron to act as security for a cluster and keep it safe from bandits, monsters, and Ether Cyclones. It’s like the US Gold Rush: a lot of desperate fortune-hunters with high risks and a slim chance of reward.
Adventures within the Ethereal Plane:
• The ghosts of a war long past are materializing near a village, thinking that the battle continues. They view the villagers as enemy soldiers and relentlessly torment the inhabitants with non-stop hauntings. The party has to travel to the Ethereal Plane, brave the otherworldly battlefield, and convince or defeat the general in order to get the ghosts to “retreat” and lay them to rest.
• Ethergaunt spies are making raids into a holy temple: they suddenly materialize in the church, grab people, and transition back to the Ethereal to place them in prisons. The kidnapped people are important religious figures and leaders; without them, the populace is cut off from a vital supply of divine magic, defense, and healing. If the adventurers don’t take action, the Ethergaunts will overrun the town and kill everyone!
• A mad archwizard recently overtook a protomatter cluster by force, and he’s using his legions of undead forces to funnel all it all into building a massive portal to the Negative Energy Plane. The adventurers must sabotage the project before the necromancer can use it to inflict untold devastation on the Ethereal and Material realms!
And now the Planar Revision Project is finally complete! Originally starting out as a way to “spice up” the Celestial Realms, the Project turned into a Multiverse-wide endeavor to make the Great Wheel a fun and exciting place for adventurers of all levels! I hope that my writing provides years’ worth of ideas and inspiration for Dungeons & Dragons players of all Editions!
Great stuff. Are you going to compile it all into a single document? Google Docs would work well for this purpose.
Are you going to offer any rules for protomatter and methods for PCs to craft things with it? Is it easy to manipulate, or does it require magical rituals and expertise?
__________________ "...I worry that modern gaming is gradually shrinking the wide spectrum of gameplay mechanics into a single narrow red bar with "KILL" written on it sideways. Exploration, navigation, puzzles, platforming, all gradually shrinking away until only one thing remains, being taken by the hand from room to room, moving on only when nothing remains alive in each one." - Yhatzee Crosshaw
Great stuff. Are you going to compile it all into a single document? Google Docs would work well for this purpose.
Are you going to offer any rules for protomatter and methods for PCs to craft things with it? Is it easy to manipulate, or does it require magical rituals and expertise?
The protomatter idea is from the 2nd Edition Planescape book Guide to the Ethereal Plane.
For the purposes of this document I want to keep things as rules-lite as possible, and I'm not very good at making rules whole-cloth, especially when it comes to reality-shaping planar essence.
It's rather easy to manipulate and store, like clay, but more complicated projects require significant expertise.
As for the single document proposal, I really like this idea, but I've never used Google Docs, and I want to be able to upload the product without giving up any personal information of my own (I believe you need a Google account to make a Doc).