Planar adventures are fantasy tropes that build on a rich tradition: religion, myths, medieval sources like Dante’s The Divine Comedy, celestial spheres, and modern sources like Moorcock’s Elric or Marvel’s Doctor Strange. Everything was poured into fantasy roleplaying in the 1970’s and remain part of the genre.
These sources build on the idea that the cosmology is a multiverse, meaning the universe is part of a larger multiverse of multiple planes and parallel universes.
Planes of Existence
You can construct your multiverse founded on real-world sources. Consider the following Wikipedia articles:
- Astral Plane, a misty dimension of spirits overlapping our own.
- Heaven, the Highest Place, a place of rest and peace.
- Elysium, a place of wild nature and plenty.
- Mount Olympus, the bright mountain home of the gods.
- The Underworld, the land of the dead.
- Asgard, the home of the gods.
- Álfheimr, the Shining Lands of the Fey, the home of the faeries.
- Nirvana, place of peace and perfection.
- Purgatory, a transition place for cleansing dead souls.
- Abaddon, a bottomless pit of destruction, home of the angel of death.
- Limbo, the border to hell.
- Hell, a place of torment and punishment.
- The Abyss, a bottomless pit.
You may want stick to the basics and deal with heaven and hell. Alternatively, if you’re going to play with a more substantial canvas, you can create a more extensive system of planes, like Dungeons and Dragons’ Great Wheel, Pathfinder’s Great Beyond or the Norse Yggdrasil.
Deities and Planar Creatures
“The owls are not what they seem.”
– Twin Peaks, first episode, season two (1990)
The outer planes are typically the home of the gods if they have home at all. Hades lives in the Underworld, and the Norse gods live in Valhalla.
Greek mythology deals with three generations of gods and is an example worth considering.
- Primordial Deities, the first gods.
- Titans, the second gods.
- The god or gods, the current pantheon.
All have homes and possibly servants and followers to inhabit your multiverse.
Your choice of planes with says something about what kinds or divine or supernatural creatures to include in your multiverse. Only the classics – angels, demon, and devil? What about elementals? Daemons? Archons? Weird clockwork critters? Things man is not meant to know? Dwarves doing odd dances and talking backward?
Consider the following races for your multiverse:
- Animism Spirits, the spirits of objects, places, and creatures.
- Angels, benevolent spirits of the higher planes.
- Demons, destructive spirits from the lower planes.
- Elementals, creatures of the five elements.
- Erinyes, or Furies, female spirits of vengeance.
- Fairies, spirits of enchantment.
- Nephilim, the children of the gods.
- Valkyries, spirits choosing the fallen heroes.
Planar Adventures in Three Acts
How do you create planar adventures? Enjoying planar adventures in three acts is simple:
- Setup: Take the plunge through the gate.
- Confrontation: Enjoy some tales in the vast multiverse.
- Resolution: Kill the Big Bad and return home.
Through the Gate
If you could take the plunge into the unknown, would you jump?
- The fabric of the universe collapse and the gate opens. The only way to stop the invasion is to close the gate from the other side.
- Scholars have learned that the servants of darkness have detected the Great Weapon of the Enemy. The world will face an age of despair is the weapon fall into the wrong hands.
- You have found a strange and intriguing puzzle box, and cannot get it out of your head It haunts your dreams with mechanical birds’ singing and shifting gears. You want to solve the puzzle. Your life depends on it.
- The paths of the woods have many winding roads and sometimes the light shifts in eerie ways. Animals seem to study your, and the woods call you when you close your eyes.
- The souls of the departed lose their way to the afterlife. The Stealer of Souls must the tracked down and destroyed, or the thief may become the sole god and the multiverse will collapse.
- The archmage is missing, and royal investigators find arcane residue and forbidden tomes in the archmage’s summoning chamber. The disappearance is foreboding, as the archmage is key to the realm’s defenses, and may have private relations to the adventures. Studying the texts will surely give more clues on what has happened.
Tales of The Infinite Portals
The Realms Beyond have unlimited potential and possibilities. Why would anyone want to return to the Prime World? Can you go back?
- The Black Orb stirs to life as you approach. It pulses, and it’s tendrils grasp at you. Something dark and forgotten live again.
- Floating deep in the astral plane are corpses of dead gods. Beliefs are paramount, and if only one person truly believes, the god may come to life again.
- The demon lords fight over the Soulstone Portal. The Prime will be the next battleground should one of the demon lords gain supremacy and unite the demons.
- The death of the Sun Prophet created a black void in Heaven where his soul should be and angels despair. It is a sign of the End unless a mortal enter the void and release the lost soul.
- A fleet of Astral Brigs has appeared in the Deep Astral, and the Rotting Queen has returned, surely to avenge her death and reclaim the throne of the of the City of Nine Mists.
- The Followers of the Imprisoned God are gathering, and a climactic battle is imminent. Can anyone stay neutral in this conflict?
The Long Road Home
Only a final task remain until the adventurers can return home, but the prospects are dire. Surely there is no walking away from this.
- The gates have closed. The Dark Lord does not want to back in the Prime World, and the key is locked away in the Dark Lord’s Fortress. The world needs you more than ever, claim the Key or lose everything.
- The Gates of Hell is breached, and the angels have invaded hell. The final struggle may be at hand, and the factions call all allies to arms. The secrets of hell is there for the taking, although only briefly: lost souls, imprisoned gods, tormented prophets and lost relics. An eternity of peace and prosperity may be at hand.
- The demons have invaded heaven, and the final struggle may be at hand, and both factions rally their allies. The battle promises great rewards, regardless of allegiance: redemption, great weapons, secret knowledge or ascension. The multiverse will inevitably fall into darkness and destruction unless great heroes answer the call.
- You have found the location of the Tomb of the Fallen God, and it is time to end the War of Ages. You will never be more ready than this.
- Your First Dungeons and Dragons Game
- Create Roleplaying Game Campaigns
- Write Fantasy Religions
- Religions for Roleplaying Games
- The Secrets of the Demon Hunter
The Reading List
There are plenty of reading material if you want to read up on planar adventures. You can spend days on Wikipedia alone, and you should consider donating if you do. Information may appear free, but it is not.
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Older literary references include Dante’s The Divine Comedy in the 14th century, and of course folktales like the Greek and Norse myths.
Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer (1965) is a must-read for anyone who wants to dig into the Dungeons and Dragons cosmology. Stormbringer is the last chronological book about Elric of Melnibone and includes summonings, parallel planes, demons, elementals – it is all there. Sure, the Dungeon Master’s Guide explains all this, but Stormbringer shows you how this work.
Planar adventures have been part of fantasy roleplaying games right from the beginning. Anyone preparing their planar game should first check out the Pathfinder Reference Document for the Gamemastery Guide for an excellent survey of planes. If this is not enough, consider buying the book.
There are many quality gaming books out there covering planar adventures. The AD&D rulebooks have plenty of references to outer planes, including gate spells, angels and demons, and the planes themselves. Jeff Grubb’s Manual of the Planes (1987) was the crowning achievement for that iteration of Dungeons and Dragons, and heralded the Planescape setting a few years later. The Planescape Setting (2e) is where the old TSR kicked the planar adventures into high gear.
Consider looking at the Incursion event from Dragon #309, Dragon #100 and the Tunarath City Guide if you are looking for a full-blown gith githyanki invasion.