My kids have been playing campaign at home that has mostly taken them on a handful of interesting adventures across the Sword Coast of Faerun, but eventually the story kind of hit a plateau: how many more times would my kids want to pass through Baldur’s Gate?¹ With that, I decided it was time to mix things up a bit, and I contrived a little adventure where the kids would visit various Outer Planes instead.
As per the 5th-edition Dungeon Masters Guide, not to mention past editions, the world of Dungeons and Dragons is surrounded by 9-17 other dimensions or planes that each represent a moral alignment.² The Nine Hells, being a primary example, are purely lawful-evil in that they’re tyrannical and extremely regimented, while the plane of Arborea is supposed to represent a wilderness paradise that is purely chaotic-good and happens to be the home of many Elf deities.
Further, there are plans that are wedged in between particular alignments, in that they’re halfway between, say, lawful-good and lawful-neutral. These are the fun planes in my opinion since they better represent the moral ambiguities of life and what an idealized version might look like. Some interesting examples include:
- Arcadia – between lawful-good and lawful-neutral, this plane represents a kind of highly regimented paradise, where everything is in its perfect spot.
- Pandemonium – between chaotic-neutral and chaotic-evil, Pandemonium represents madness, hence it is beset by constant howling winds that drive even the heartiest warrior crazy.
- Tartarus (or Carceri) – between neutral-evil and chaotic-evil, this plane is a pure prison plane. Once you get in, it’s practically impossible to get out.
One optional, but important feature outlined in the Dungeon Masters Guide is the effect such planes have on visitors. Many planes include an optional rule where the planes exert a powerful, often mental influence, on players who fail a daily wisdom saving-throw. For example, in Hades, one is afflicted with despair, while Pandemonium inflicts insanity, and Bytopia inspires charity and goodwill. A secondary rule is that players who’s alignment is somehow in opposition to the plane experience further distress and fatigue.
For my kids adventure, they had to destroy an evil artifact called the Eye of Judgement (loosely based of the same artifact in Roger Zelazny’s Amber series) by taking it to Elysium, the neutral-good plane where the overwhelming sense of charity and good-will would simply fry the artifact.
That was all well and good, but the kids had forgotten to include a way to get back, and so they were trapped on a plane where everything is pleasant and peaceful. As adventurers, they quickly became bored of the place and sought a way out. Plus the pleasant effects of Elysium were definitely influencing some party members, so they opted to leave through another portal if they could find one. Elysium had no dangerous encounters, so they easily went from town to town until they came to one large enough that they found three gateways: two with unknown destinations and one with a known, but unwanted destination. When my kids opted to take one of the unknown portals, I secretly rolled to see which plane they would end up, and the result was Ysgard.
Ysgard is a chaotic-good/chaotic-neutral plane that exemplifies personal glory and effort, loosely based on the same realm in Norse mythology. My kids were excited because they knew they might meet characters like Loki and Thor, whom they knew from the Marvel comic universe. Leaning into this, I have been leading the kids along toward the Bifrost with an extra party-member who not surprisingly is Loki (the Marvel movie version) in disguise.
In any case, the Dungeon Masters Guide, in its explanation of the planes, is somewhat vague on the contents of each plane, especially compared to past editions like 3.5. I think this is somewhat intentional as it gives the DM room to expand and fill in the details as they see fit. My vision of Elysium won’t necessarily match what another DM will imagine, but that’s fine. The DMG even alludes to this in the following excerpt:
As with the Elemental Planes, one can imagine the perceptible part of the Outer Planes as a border region, while extensive spiritual regions lie beyond ordinary sensory experience. Even in perceptible regions, appearances can be deceptive. Initially, many of the Outer Planes appear hospitable and familiar….but the landscape can change at a whim of the powerful forces that dwell on these planes. (pg. 58)
So, the idea is that what the players see on the plane isn’t the true form of of the plane as seen by its own deities. This means that each adventuring group will experience something slightly different anyway due to their predisposition, background, etc.
This means that the planes can be an almost infinite field of opportunities for adventure, especially for a party that’s looking to shake things up a bit. 😉
¹ While the Descent into Avernus campaign guide is still a week or so away, my children’s party has been to the city of Baldur’s Gate a number of times since they needed a city campaign other than Waterdeep which they fled at one point. Before DiA, there aren’t much 5e resources to speak of, so I’ve been cobbling in details from older versions of D&D plus a bit of improv on my part.
² Why such odd numbers? Don’t forget the purely neutral plane of the Concordant Opposition. 😉