Welcome to the Planes
Welcome, addle-cove! Welcome to the worlds beyond your world, the great wheel of the cosmos. This is a great place! Where else can a poor sod mingle with mighty minions of the great Powers, or sail the Astral ocean, or visit the flaming courts of the City of Brass, or even battle fiends on their home turf? Hey, welcome to the lands of the living and the dead!
So, where to begin? Sigil, of course – there ain’t no other place worth beginning. Sigil: the City of Doors. This town’s the gateway to everything and everywhere that matters. Step through one door and enter the halls of Ysgard, or turn down a particular alley and discover the Abyss. There are more gateways in Sigil than can be imagined; with all those doors Sigil’s a useful place – and then some.
Want to share a drink with a fiend, or maybe discuss philosophy with a deva? Here it can happen in the same day, the same afternoon, even at the same table – nothing’s too unlikely for Sigil. Strange folks abound here, and any one of them may prove ally or foe. Where else but in Sigil do humans, elves, dwarves, githzerai, bariaur, and tieflings form adventuring companies? Where but in Sigil can a well-heeled cutter hire a githyanki ship or a legion of yugoloth mercenaries? This is the place to live… or die.
No surprise every basher out there wants Sigil! The Cage’d be a pearl for any tanar’ri prince or baatezu lord. ‘Course, a few big shots have tried to storm the city, but Sigil’s not without her defenses. That birdcage’s got more ways to close her doors than folks know about. Then there’s the Mazes, nasty little places Sigil makes for would-be dictators. Those that get caught inside go barmy, poor berks – sometimes they scream so much a body can hardly stand it.
But there’s a lot more out there than just Sigil. Get outside the city and there’s the planes themselves: the throne of the gods, the battleground of the eternal Blood War, and home to more horrors and wonders than ever existed on any prime world. There’s enough crusades, exploits, treasures, and mysteries to keep a band of adventurers busy for centuries to come (though why a body’d want to go to some of those places is beyond reasoning). Anyway, all it takes is the right door, so step right through!
What’s What and What’s Where
Before stepping through any door, a body’d better have a quick lesson in cosmology – how else is a basher going to know where and what things are? First, it’s important to know just what a plane is. To the serious philosopher types, a plane’s a world, or a collection of worlds, that operates according to its own particular laws, including those affecting magic, gravity, and even the morals of the place. On some of these planes, the laws of “up” and “down” aren’t the same; on others, evocation magic yields different results; and elsewhere, behaving even slightly out of line with the powers of the place makes for grim results.
Planes are either immense and infinite, in which case they’re just called planes, or they’re limited by definite borders and are called demiplanes. The exact number of planes is unknown and probably infinite, and planar travelers know of only three main categories: the Prime Material Plane, the Inner Planes, and the Outer Planes. Still, those three have more than enough space for a flaming large number of different planes.
To get around in the planar multiverse, there are three basic rules to remember:
The Center of the Multiverse
It’s usually upsetting to Prime Material bashers when they hear that their little world isn’t the center of the universe, which is why they’re known to planars as the Clueless. Members of a faction called the Signers might argue otherwise, but smart folks say there’s no particular center to the planar multiverse. Rather, it all depends on where you stand. Folks in Sigil see the City of Doors as the center of the multiverse, folks on the Prime Material Plane say their own worlds are the center of the universe, and the efreet brag that the City of Brass is the center of all. The thing is, maybe they’re all right and maybe they’re all wrong.
Maybe they’re all right because – the multiverse being infinite by most standards – no matter where you stand, that’s the center of all things. The Signers have turned that idea into a whole philosophy: “I’m always at the center of the multiverse; therefore, I must be the center of all universes,” they say. ‘Course, the Signer’s aren’t quite right, because by that logic everyone stands at the center of the multiverse. (The Signers resolve this little paradox by ignoring it.)
In blunt words, the fact is there ain’t any place in the whole multiverse that’s more important than any other. For instance, Mystara on the Prime Material Plane is not the most powerful, influential, and important point in the multiverse; it’s not the sole reason all other planes and powers exist. Hey, the uncounted layers of the Abyss stink of Evil itself, but exactly zero of the other Outer Planes kowtow to them, regardless of what the fiends there claim! Some places – like Sigil – are more useful than others, though. Just because it’s not the center of the universe, don’t think it ain’t important, berk.
The Unity of Rings
A ring’s a thing without a beginning or end. Remember that, because rings are the second key to understanding the planes. Everything comes in rings. Sigil is a ring, the Outlands are many rings, the Outer Planes form a ring, the Elemental Planes form a ring – this is the way of the multiverse, understand?
On the Outer Planes, the Great Road is the band of the ring, and all the planes are its gemstones. Following the Great Road, Mechanus leads to Acheron, Acheron leads to Baator, Baator leads to Gehenna, and so on. By following the road, the order never changes.
On the side, the powers think in rings, too – circles upon circles of logic that go nowhere. A body’s always got to watch out for their endless snares.
The Rule of Threes
“Good things come in threes,” they say. Well, so do bad things. Either way, the number 3’s important – some say it’s got power. Things out here tend to happen in threes, like Prime Material, Inner, and Outer Planes; Good, Evil, and Neutrality; Law, Chaos, and Neutrality; even prime, planar, and petitioner. See two things and ask, “Where’s the third?”
These truths pretty well describe the structure of all the universes, so learn them well!
The Grand Design
Okay, enough philosophy. The next question is, “How does the whole multiverse fit together?” Well, that depends on who gets asked. A Bleaker will say there ain’t no scheme, while a Godsman will go on about innate celestial glory and the like. None of them will answer the question straight. Maybe the best thing to do is to get a hold of the Guvners and ask them. (Fact is, their answer’s no better than anyone else’s, but they like to put things into nicely defined categories, and at least that’ll give a clear picture.) Their answer would go something like this: There’s three (remember the Rule of Threes?) basic divisions of the multiverse: the Prime Material Plane, the Inner Planes, and the Outer Planes. Although they’re all connected to each other in a variety of ways, it’s easiest to picture each as separate from the others.
The Prime Material is just one plane, but it contains lots of individual worlds. A world may be only a single planet or it may be a complete system with planets, moons, asteroids, comets, stars, and more. Each world is sealed like a bubble in its own crystal sphere, and that sphere is suspended within an amber stream called the phlogiston. (Those that know can travel from sphere to sphere through the phlogiston by a process known as spelljamming, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Some of the better-known worlds on the Prime Material Plane are Toril with its Tears of Selune and Krynn with its three moons and vanishing stars. Those and all the others are unique places with vastly different cultures and celestial topographies, but they’re all plainly called “worlds,” just the same. Indeed, any world that isn’t planar can be found somewhere on the Prime Material Plane, provided you know where to look. The worlds and occupants of the Prime Material contrast based on the current development of culture, science, magic, and natural evolution.
These are the rings of the elements, the building matter of the Prime Material Plane. There are – you guessed it – three categories within the Inner Planes: the major elementals, the paraelementals, and the quasielementals.
The Elemental Planes consist of six dominant universes: Fire, Air, Earth, Water, Positive Energy, and Negative Energy. Where these forms meet are the Paraelemental and Quasielemental Planes. The Paraelemental Planes exist where Earth, Air, Fire, and Water merge into each other. The Quasielemental Planes are created at the borders of the Positive and Negative Planes, between the basic elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.
It’s best to describe the Elemental Planes as extremely “single-minded.” Each plane is based around its particular element, to the near exclusion of all else – the plane of Fire is filled with fire and creatures of flame, the plane of Earth is filled with earth and rock-like beings, and so on. For most primes and planars, travel and survival on the Elemental Planes ain’t easy.
The Outer Planes comprise the greatest of all the rings, at least according to most planars. Primes and elementals tend to disagree, but they just don’t want to acknowledge the glory of this realm. The Outer Planes are the home of the powers, deities who for some reason take interest in the lives of mortals. Out here can be found gods, demigods, and fiends, along with petitioners, planars, and a host of other creatures.
As mentioned, the Outer Planes are arranged in an immense ring, and each plane is its own universe. Some have limits, others are infinite. Each plane is linked to those adjacent to it by fixed gates – folks call the path between them the Great Road. With a map to the gates, a body can travel the entire circumference of the Outer Planes. ‘Course, that’s provided the fiends don’t get him first….
Where the prime-material worlds vary by natural, technical, and magical development, and the Elemental Planes contrast by substance, the Outer Planes differ by morality. Each one is attuned to a particular alignment, and the berks and terrain within it subtly or overtly reflect that alignment. The powers choose their homes within the planes of their own alignments, too. Limbo is chaotic and ever-changing, Mechanus rigid and organized, Mount Celestia is peaceful, and the Abyss is brutal and deadly.
The Outer Planes are divided into (of course) three main groups: the Upper Planes of Good, the Lower Planes of Evil, and the Boundary Planes of Neutrality. Here’s a good piece of advice: The Lower Planes are the site of the ever-raging Blood War, the lawless conflict that’s raged for eternity between the tanar’ri and the baatezu. They’re not places the foolish can pass through and live.
The Paths Between the Planes
There’s more out there than just the three plane groups, though. They aren’t all butted up against each other, nice and tight. There’s roads and rivers between them, loosely linking the multiverse together. After all, how’s a body to get around without paths? Fact is, there’s three ways to move around the planes (not including walking through the doors of Sigil, which can instantly get you just about anywhere you want to go). All three methods of travel have their uses, because not all three ways are always there.
The Ethereal Plane
The Ethereal is the conduit between the Prime Material Plane and the Inner Planes. Every place on the Prime is touched by the Ethereal’s vapors, and every point of the Inner Planes is part of the ghostly web, too. Just knowing it’s there won’t do much good,though – it takes power to break the wall between the planes. Spells and magical items can do it, if a berk’s got them. Then again, vortices – rare places where the Elemental Planes bleed right into the Prime Material – can short-cut the whole journey, carrying a sod straight from the Prime to one of the Inner Planes, or maybe even back again. (A volcano’s a typical spot to look for a vortex to the plane of Fire, for instance.)
Some folks say the Ethereal Plane’s a big, misty place with nothing in it. That’s one way to tell the liars, because the Ethereal’s really a busy place. Along its edges (it’s infinite and touches everything, but it still has edges, so go figure), a fellow can see into neighboring planes. Move off the edge of your plane, into the Deep Ethereal, and it’s like an ocean. A body can swim for leagues without touching anything and then, all of a sudden like, there’s an island floating in the mist. These are demiplanes, little pocket worlds with rules and realities all their own. Sometimes Sigil spits one of these out at the command of the Lady of Pain – special prisons called Mazes, for her would-be conquerors – and some demiplanes are “grown” by wizards. Most of them are safe enough, but there’s rumors of one that’s a place of absolute terror – few folks ever come back from that one.
The Astral Plane
The Astral is what’s needed to get from the Prime Material to the Outer Planes. On the Prime it touches every place, just like the Ethereal Plane, yet those two planes – Astral and Ethereal – never meet. The Astral Plane also connects to each of the Outer Planes, provided a body knows where to find the door.
Some folks say traveling the Astral Plane’s the hardest of all. Most of these folks are primes, who have to deal with silver cords that tether them to their bodies back on the Prime. Planars don’t have that problem, of course, but it still isn’t that easy to cross the boundary into the Astral realm. The best way’s by the astral spell, granted by the powers to their special servants. Wizards favor magical devices. The most direct routes are through conduits and color pools, which can sweep a body straight from the Prime Material to any of the Outer Planes.
Although it looks empty, the Astral Plane’s a pretty busy place. Travelers there better be ready to deal with the githyanki, because the silvery void’s their home. Huge fortresses filled with their kind drift through the silver stream, and githyanki ships have been sighted sailing the Astral Plane. The githyanki aren’t alone, either. There’s other stuff bigger and meaner than them, like astral dreadnoughts, astral whales, and islands formed from the decaying corpses of ancient powers. Most travelers treat this plane as a good place to leave quickly.
With Sigil at the center, the Outlands are the last pathway to the Outer Planes. Sure the Outlands are one of the Outer Planes, but this one’s different from the others. It’s not part of the ring – it’s the center of the ring. Journey across the Outlands (or the Land, as some call it) and eventually a body gets elsewhere – not just elsewhere on the plane, but into another plane entirely. The farther a body goes toward a plane on the ring, the more the Land looks like that plane, until at last he (or she, or it) comes to a gate between here and there.
Out on the Land the gates are fixed. If a body knows the way around, then he can always find the door. A lot of portals have little towns next to them, where traders and mercenaries who’ve got business with denizens beyond the gates meet – towns like Glorium (near Ysgard), Plague-Mort (near the Abyss), and Ribcage (near Baator). Some of them are actually quiet and safe little burgs, while others are almost as horrible as the planes they watch.
It’s worth repeating: Sigil’s like no other place, anywhere! In this town there are doors to every blamin’ place in the multiverse: the worlds of the Prime Material; the Para- and Quasielemental Planes and their Elemental counterparts; the mists of the Ethereal and its demiplanes; the silver void of the Astral; and every plane and layer of the Outer Planes. Here’s the big catch: knowing the doors exist is one thing, and finding them is another. Sometimes they move, sometimes they’re guarded, and sometimes they’re just plain hidden. But as every faction knows, knowledge is power.
Knowing just where to find a dozen doors and what lies on the other side of them doesn’t make a cutter a high-up man in Sigil, though. A berk hasn’t seen the real power on the Outlands until he’s seen the Lady of Pain floating through the streets, all ensconced in glittering, keen blades. She’s why Sigil stays safe, why even the most powerful bashers stay respectful in town, why the Blood War doesn’t come crashing through the city gates. She talks to nobody, and nobody talks to her, because those that do end up going barmy….