Another Dimension! Adventuring in Planescape 5Eand Planar Campaigns
You’ve stepped through a doorway into another plane of existence. These doorways could lead anywhere, will the next one take you home? To someplace wonderful? Maybe just a world where everything is on fire? By following just a few of these tips you can traverse the multiverse with ease instead of getting lost in space and time.
What is a Planar Campaign?
If you’ve played any D&D adventures the chances are you played them in what’s called “The Prime Material Plane”. You can generally think of the material plane as “earth” or “reality”, it’s where all that material sort of stuff exists and is generally where all that classical adventuring happens.
Planar campaigns take place either in some other plane of existence (getting to those in a second) or hopping between them. Absolute insanity exists in some of these planes, so how your adventure proceeds really depends on where you end up. Now, D&D has gone through a bunch of revisions throughout its long history, but we’ll focus on how it looks right now, and right now the planes are arranged in a cosmology called “The Great Wheel”.
The Great Wheel
If you’ve been scratching your head about “planes” in general, this will all be new to you. If however, you’re a veteran player who knows all about the great wheel, there are a few minor changes that got made as the editions passed on.
What’s the Great Wheel?
The great wheel is the overarching cosmology of the forgotten realms universe, it encompasses all those “planes” you keep hearing about. Each one of these planes is a whole incredible setting in and of themselves, but let's do a quick rundown just to get us all on the same page.
At the very center of the great wheel is the prime material plane. That’s your standard adventuring setting that you’ve likely played all your games in so far.
Then you’ve got your two Transitive Planes, the Ethereal Plane and the Astral Plane. The ethereal plane is kind of like the nothingness that connects everything and some common spells even allow you to go into the ethereal plane. Then you have the astral plane, which you can kind of think of as space, or an infinite void. The astral plane got combined with the dream realm a while back, so it’s also technically where your dreams happen! Generally both of the transitive planes are empty though, the ethereal plane usually only has things stepping temporarily through it, and the astral plane only has the rare chunk of something from another plane floating in it.
Then we have the Parallel Planes, the Feywild and the Shadowfell. These two are more reflections of the material plane, infused with some positive and negative energy, respectfully. They’re not THAT different from the material plane, but only in a cosmological sense.
Outside of those we have the Inner Planes, which includes the four prime elements (Earth, Water, Fire, and Air) the Positive and Negative Energy planes, and an absolute ton of para and quasi planes that exist where these planes meet (so like where the fire and water planes meet, you get the plane of steam).
Finally you get to the edge of the great wheel, the Outer Planes, one for each alignment and a few variations within those. These are all potential afterlives, so you get a few variations of heaven and hell, plus a whole slew of intriguing afterlifes that are just as rich and complex as the material plane.
Now that you understand at least a bit about how all these planes are supposed to work, let’s get down to actually adventuring in them.
Three Kinds of Planar
So with an entire multiverse to play around in, there are functionally infinite types of planar adventures. You could fight smoke beasts in the plane of fire, rescue a damsel from mad pixies in the feywild, or brave one of the layers of hell to stop an archdevil’s plot. Most of this is just relegated to what kind of story your DM is trying to tell. When it comes to how you need to prepare and approach the game, planar adventures roughly fall into three different categories.
Some planar campaigns are really just a change of setting, and will depend entirely on what setting your DM decided to play around in. These are adventures where you’re catapulted into a strange new land and your adventure takes place almost exclusively there. There’s a ton of amazing adventures to have in this style, but functionally they’re not all that different from an adventure on the material plane. You’ll have different types of challenges for sure, but other than a setting change they play out like most other adventures.
These are the planar campaigns in which you make at least semi-regular trips back and forth between two or more planes. Oftentimes one plane serves as a sort of “home base” and has all the downtime and shopping, while the main quest lies deep in some of the more dangerous planar locales. Or you get those adventures spent chasing the bad guy between a few realities. What sets these apart from other planar campaigns is largely the limit of WHICH planes you can visit, while allowing you as a player full or at least partial freedom deciding which plane you travel to. If your DM goes with some of the more classical Planescape adventures, you’ll likely be playing this style of planar adventure.
Full Planar Freedom
This kind of campaign is spooky, and decidedly exciting. Through magical convenience, your adventuring party has the ability to freely travel between the planes. More often than not, I see this style used for pick-up or 1-shot style adventures, as building a real plot or narrative is hard when your players can just zip off to another universe at a moment’s notice. This style is sure to get the craziest, and sadly is also the least stable.
Be Kind to Your DM
From experience I can tell you, planar campaigns are HARD to run properly. The more freedom you have as a player to travel the planes, the harder it can be to keep a narrative together or keep any kind of good pacing. Be kind to your DM if they’re taking on the daunting task of planar freedom. Don’t suddenly warp to a completely different plane in the middle of an adventure. Give your DM some time to plan, and if they really give you free reign then just do them the courtesy of telling them your adventuring trajectory ahead of time so they have at least some opportunity to plan ahead.
Be Prepared for Anything!
If you know ahead of time what plane you’ll be travelling to, you can take some appropriate precautions and preparations (some water breathing potions for the plane of water for example). If you’re going to be thrown every-which way through the multiverse, there are a few standard tools you’ll want to have or at least make sure one of your party members has.
Common isn’t the standard everywhere and you’re quite likely to run into some situations where having this 1st level spell available can come in handy. It’s available to bards, sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards. And as a 1st level spell, it’s not a huge commitment to have this at the ready.
It may be difficult to find a good lunch in the abyss, or the plane of fire. Many DMs take the opportunity to play with exhaustion and dwindling supplies on planar adventures and if your mode of planar travel gets cut off you might get stuck in a donner party situation. Invest a few coins in some extra travel rations before making that jump to another world, it might save your character’s life. If you have access to it, the spellGoodberry can also solve this issue.
See the above issues with rations. Obviously less of an issue on the plane of water, but you’ll really appreciate some extras if you end up on say, the plane of fire. DM’s often like to use planar adventures to explore survival scenarios and it’s best to take an extra pinch of precaution. Make sure you have your hydration issues figured out one way or another, though the ability to cast Create Water is also a great way to deal with this.
Protection from Energy
This 3rd level spell available to clerics, druids, rangers, sorcerers, and wizards won’t completely protect you but is a decidedly useful tool to keep on hand during a planar adventure. Besides the obvious use of resisting fire in the fire plane Etc. It also has the secret tech of allowing you to ignore extreme hot and cold weather. If you look at those rules, creatures with fire resistance ignore extreme hot weather, and creatures with cold resistance ignore extreme cold weather. Supremely useful when traveling the particularly inhospitable planes.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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