Table of Contents
In the intellectual discussions among philosophers, a “plane” is not just a concept but a unique world or collection of worlds, each governed by its own specific laws. These laws dictate everything from physical forces like gravity to the subtleties of magic and morality. In some planes, the concepts of “up” and “down” are fluid; in others, the results of evocation magic may vary wildly; and in yet others, even a minor moral misstep can have severe consequences.
Planes come in two basic varieties: those that are boundless, often just referred to as planes, and those constrained by distinct borders, termed demiplanes. The exact number of these realms is unknown and perhaps limitless. However, explorers and scholars usually speak of three primary categories: the Prime Material Plane, the Inner Planes, and the Outer Planes.
This is your quick guide to getting up to speed with the Planescape campaign setting.
What is Planescape?
Step into the swirling maelstrom of Planescape, a realm where worlds collide and philosophies clash in an intricate dance of power and mystery. Born in 1994 but timeless in essence, Planescape is not merely another campaign setting—it’s a reality-bending labyrinth of cosmic layers. Forget the familiar terrains of a single Prime Material Plane; here you dive headlong into a complex web of existence that spans ethereal voids, astral dimensions, and elemental chaos.
In Planescape, philosophy isn’t a passive pursuit—it’s a weapon, an armor, a lifeline. Here, thought is currency, and belief is armor against the unknown. The inhabitants of these realms don’t merely contemplate existential dilemmas; they wield their convictions to sculpt the very fabric of reality. Yes, your beliefs—immaterial and often fleeting in other realms—take form and substance here, challenging or reinforcing the architecture of existence itself.
At the heart of this boundless cosmology lies Sigil, the City of Doors, an enigmatic metropolis swirling with as many secrets as there are portals within its maze-like corridors. Neither heaven nor hell, it’s a marketplace of ideas and a nexus of countless realities. Here, celestial beings haggle with demonic entities, and beings of pure thought share wisdom or deceit, all under the gaze of its inscrutable ruler, the Lady of Pain. Don’t even try to fathom her; those who do find their minds unraveling—or worse. She stands as a living enigma, her mere presence a silent banishment to any deity brazen enough to stake a claim on her territory.
Don’t expect a casual journey. Planescape promises narratives of mind-bending scope and heart-pounding action, journeys that will stretch the boundaries of your imagination and morality. Whether you’re embroiled in intellectual duels or dodging astral dreadnoughts, the world you weave will be uniquely your own. Yet always remember, the answers to the cosmos’ most haunting questions could be lurking around any corner or waiting through any portal.
If you’re ready to question everything you know, to probe the shadowy corners of existence, and to forge alliances as likely to elevate you as they are to damn you, then you’re ready for Planescape. In this reality, the ultimate revelation may be that the journey itself holds the keys to mysteries so profound, you’ll never look at existence the same way again.
The Prime Material Plane
The Prime Material Plane is unique in that it houses a multitude of individual worlds, each encapsulated in its own crystal sphere and suspended in a flowing medium known as the phlogiston. Travel between these spheres is possible through a method called spelljamming, but that’s a tale for another time. Well-known worlds within the Prime Material Plane include Oerth of the Grayhawk realm and Krynn from Dragonlance, each with its own celestial quirks and unique cultures. Despite their differences, these are all considered “worlds” within the expansive category of the Prime Material Plane. Each world represents a unique stage of cultural, scientific, magical, and evolutionary development, making the Prime Material a cornucopia of diverse existences.
The Inner Planes
Within the Inner Planes lie the elemental rings that serve as the bedrock for the entire structure of the Prime Material Plane. The Inner Planes divide themselves into three distinct categories: the Major Elementals, the Paraelementals, and the Quasielementals. Dominating this intricate cosmic architecture are the six Elemental Planes: Fire, Air, Earth, Water, Positive Energy, and Negative Energy.
It’s at the convergence points of these fundamental forms that the Paraelemental and Quasielemental Planes emerge. Paraelemental Planes are born where Earth, Air, Fire, and Water seamlessly meld into one another. On the other hand, the Quasielemental Planes arise at the boundaries between Positive and Negative Energy and the four primary elements.
To describe the Elemental Planes as “single-minded” would be an understatement. Each of these realms epitomizes its respective element almost to the point of exclusion. The Plane of Fire, for instance, is a swirling inferno inhabited by beings of flame, while the Plane of Earth is a vast expanse of rock and mineral, populated by creatures that mirror its substance. For most beings, whether native to the Prime Material or seasoned planar travelers, navigating and surviving within these Elemental Planes present formidable challenges.
The Outer Planes
The Outer Planes are often considered the pinnacle of cosmic architecture, at least in the eyes of those who reside there. While beings from the Prime Material and Elemental Planes might argue, their objections often stem from an unwillingness to recognize the magnificence of these realms. These planes serve as the celestial abodes for divine entities—gods, demigods, fiends, and a wide array of other powerful beings who take a peculiar interest in mortal affairs.
Configured as a monumental ring, each Outer Plane is essentially a universe unto itself. While some have definitive boundaries, others stretch into infinity. A series of fixed gates connect adjacent planes, creating what is known as the Great Road. With the right map and a fair bit of luck, one can journey through these gates across the full circle of the Outer Planes—provided, of course, that one can avoid the perilous attention of fiends.
Unlike the Prime Material worlds, which differ in levels of technological, natural, and magical development, or the Elemental Planes, defined by their unique substances, the Outer Planes are realms of moral and ethical variance. Each plane resonates with a particular alignment, a moral and ethical compass that subtly or glaringly manifests in its landscape and inhabitants. Gods choose to dwell in planes that align with their own moral codes—Limbo with its swirling chaos, Mechanus with its clockwork precision, Mount Celestia with its serene landscapes, and the Abyss with its unrelenting cruelty.
The hierarchy of the Outer Planes further divides into three broad classifications: the Upper Planes, realms of altruism and goodness; the Lower Planes, dark domains of malevolence; and the Boundary Planes, spheres of complex neutrality. A word of caution for the intrepid or naive traveler: The Lower Planes are the backdrop for the Blood War, a ceaseless and anarchic battle waged between the malevolent forces of the tanar’ri and the baatezu. One does not simply traverse these planes and emerge unscathed.
Paths of Planes and the Ethereal Plane
The intricate weave of planes doesn’t exist in isolation; they’re connected by metaphysical pathways—roads and rivers that serve as cosmic sinews, loosely knitting the multiverse together. After all, traversing such an expansive and complex web of realities requires routes, doesn’t it? Excluding the peculiar doorways of Sigil, which offer almost instantaneous travel to nearly any destination, there are essentially three primary means to navigate these planes. Each mode of travel has its unique merits, mainly because not all methods are universally applicable.
The Ethereal Plane serves as an elusive conduit, linking the Prime Material Plane with the Inner Planes. It permeates the very fabric of both realms, much like an unseen mist or an intangible lattice. However, its presence alone is insufficient for travel; one needs spells or magical artifacts to penetrate the barriers between the planes. Alternatively, vortices—rare junctions where elements from the Inner Planes seep into the Prime Material—can provide an immediate passage. For instance, the molten core of a volcano might serve as a vortex to the Plane of Fire.
Contrary to the misconception that the Ethereal is an empty, misty void, it’s a realm bustling with activity. Although it’s a paradox—an infinite plane that somehow also has edges—it allows glimpses into adjacent realities. Venture beyond the boundary of your native plane into what’s known as the Deep Ethereal, and the experience is akin to swimming in an enigmatic ocean.
You could traverse endless distances through an ethereal mist, only to encounter unexpected islands—these are demiplanes, pocket universes with their own sets of laws and physics. Some of these are crafted by wizards, others are spat out by Sigil at the whims of the Lady of Pain as special prison realms known as Mazes. While most demiplanes are innocuous, there are whispers of one that embodies sheer terror—few dare venture there, and fewer still return.
The Astral Plane serves as the elusive bridge from the Prime Material Plane to the Outer Planes. While it seems to permeate all locations in the Prime Material, just like the Ethereal, the Astral and Ethereal planes paradoxically never intersect. The Astral realm is a gateway to every Outer Plane—if one knows how to locate the corresponding portal.
Contrary to what some may believe, traversing the Astral Plane is not straightforward. For those originating from the Prime Material, silver cords tether them back to their corporeal forms, complicating the journey. Planars, on the other hand, don’t face this issue. Still, accessing the Astral Plane demands power and expertise. Spells from celestial beings can grant access, and wizards often rely on arcane instruments. Conduits and color pools serve as the most direct pathways, potentially whisking a traveler from the Prime Material Plane directly to any of the Outer Planes.
Deceptively empty at first glance, the Astral Plane teems with activity and peril. Dominating the silver expanse are the githyanki, who have built floating citadels throughout the void. Their ships navigate the Astral’s silvery streams, but they’re not the only inhabitants. Creatures far more formidable, such as astral dreadnoughts and astral whales, roam freely, and islands composed of the remnants of ancient, decaying deities float eerily. Most voyagers view the Astral Plane as a realm best transited quickly, for its inhabitants and mysteries are not to be trifled with.
What are the Outlands?
Anchored by the enigmatic Sigil, the Outlands are the cosmic crossroads, the ultimate gateway to the realms that make up the Outer Planes. Unlike its ring-shaped neighbors, the Outlands are the axis upon which all other Outer Planes spin—a nucleus, not a spoke. Roam its sprawling landscapes and you’ll discover that the Outlands are a chameleon realm, ever-changing yet eternal.
Traverse through its ever-shifting terrain and find yourself not just in a different part of the Outlands but on the precipice of entirely new dimensions. Here, geography is fluid, bending and morphing as you approach the gateway to another plane. Move closer to a plane on the great ring and watch as the Outlands subtly transmute into a mirror of that realm, until, at last, you arrive at a gateway—a portal between this realm and the next.
In this transitory domain, gates are the lifeblood, as solid and unchanging as the flux surrounding them. Knowledge is power; if you know the pathways, you can always locate the door you seek. Portal towns spring up like oases in a desert—each a hub of trade, intrigue, and danger. You’ll find settlements like Glorium, hovering on the edge of Ysgard, Plague-Mort, a somber haven adjacent to the Abyss, and Ribcage, a gateway to the infernal plane of Baator. Each town is a universe unto itself—some offer sanctuary, others peril, but all are crucial waypoints on a journey between realms.
So, dare to walk the Outlands, where each step could alter your destiny and every horizon beckons with the call of another reality. This is the land of endless possibilities and inescapable consequences, a place where the only constant is the unknown.
Ah, Sigil—the City of Doors, the impossibility in the heart of the multiverse. Make no mistake, there is nowhere else like it in all of creation. Doors? Sigil has them in abundance, each one a passage to realms unimaginable: the fabled worlds of the Prime Material, the volatile Para- and Quasielemental planes, the haunting ethereal mists and their enigmatic demiplanes, the endless silver sea of the Astral, and of course, every layer of the Outer Planes—each no more than a doorway away.
But take heed: knowing these doors exist is one thing; actually finding them, a task of altogether different magnitude. Doors in Sigil are capricious entities. They vanish, they move, they disguise themselves. They might be jealously guarded by unseen powers or cleverly concealed from prying eyes. And yet, as every faction in Sigil will tell you, knowledge is the purest form of power.
However, mastery over doorways isn’t the crown jewel of power in this city. The real might, the unspoken terror and respect, belong solely to the enigmatic Lady of Pain. She glides silently through the city’s labyrinthine streets, her form outlined by a halo of shimmering, deadly blades. She is the reason Sigil remains a sanctuary. She is why even gods tread lightly here. She is why the eternal Blood War hasn’t razed Sigil to the ground. This inscrutable entity converses with no one—and those foolish enough to engage her invariably descend into madness.
So, enter Sigil if you dare, but remember, this city is more than it appears. It’s not just a hub; it’s a living, breathing enigma where even a simple doorway can alter your destiny. Here, in the shadow of the Lady of Pain, every step you take echoes through the vast corridors of the multiverse.
Ah, Primes—the cosmic wayfarers hailing from the myriad worlds of the Prime Material Plane. Typically, you might spot humans, elves, or dwarves among their ranks, but don’t be too hasty to slap a label on anyone. You’d regret mistaking a githzerai for a mere Prime, that’s for sure. Now, most Primes are temporary sojourners, stepping into the planes with a specific mission at hand, be it arcane, divine, or something less easily defined.
Yet, a brave—or perhaps foolhardy—few decide to make the planes their permanent residence, and where better than the bustling, enigmatic streets of Sigil? True, you might encounter a scattering of Primes dwelling in the higher reaches of the Outer Planes, those sanctuaries where celestial energies pulse. And let’s not forget those wizardly Primes, rare as they are, who delve into the complex art of demiplane-crafting within the Ethereal mist.
Still, their presence beyond the Prime Material Plane is a rarity. The multiverse is a capricious beast, and to tread its paths requires more than mere curiosity; it requires a soul forged in the fires of tenacity and wonder. So if you meet a Prime on your travels, know that they’re more than just visitors—they’re pioneers on the edge of reality, daring to explore what lies beyond their homely realms.
Planars—those enigmatic souls sculpted by the very stuff of the cosmos, whose essence is a fragment of the eternal planes themselves. Don’t make the rookie mistake of picturing them all as grotesque monstrosities; that’s a greenhorn Prime’s faux pas. No, the Planar realm is a vibrant one, teeming with diverse lives: humans, half-elves, githzerai, and a host of others with less familiar visages.
You see, despite Prime myths that declare humans and half-elves as exclusive to the Prime Material Plane, many of these so-called ‘mortal’ races have been flourishing in the multiverse for ages. Millennia ago, perhaps they were alien to these realms, but over the eons, the lost and the curious, the exiles and the damned have woven themselves into the interplanar fabric. They’ve built cities, founded dynasties, and made the planes their irrevocable home.
On the surface, you’d think it’s a cinch to differentiate a Prime from a Planar—well, it’s not. The human visage betrays nothing of its cosmic origin; you have to dig deeper, converse, scrutinize. Some are dead giveaways: a githzerai, a bariaur, a tiefling, their otherworldly features are telltale signs. But remember, respect is the universal currency, regardless of one’s plane of birth.
Planars boast abilities that set them apart from their Prime counterparts. Their extra-dimensional lineage grants them innate powers; unlike Primes, they lack the silver cord that tethers a soul back to the Prime Material. Moreover, Planars possess an uncanny ability to perceive the hidden gates that link the myriad planes together. These portals shimmer before them, outlines glowing as if etched by the hands of the gods.
But ah, even the Planars have their Achilles’ heel. They are vulnerable to celestial and infernal incantations—protection from evil, holy words, and the like. And in the game of cosmic roulette, they are susceptible to being unceremoniously yanked into the Prime Material Plane through spells of summoning. So you see, in the grand realm of the multiverse, being a Planar is both a blessing and a curse.
In the grand architecture of the multiverse, Petitioners are the cornerstone—ethereal echoes of Primes and Planars who’ve met their end, only to be reborn in dimensions harmonizing with their former convictions and moral compasses. Imagine it: these souls retain their unique characteristics, accents, and habits from their past lives, but their memories? Wiped clean. A mere shadow of their past might linger, but these fleeting glimpses offer nothing substantial.
Driven by an insatiable quest for ultimate union with the cosmic powers that govern their realm, each Petitioner navigates the journey differently: through acts of valor, contemplative serenity, unyielding faith, or even dark villainy, all depending on the alignment that guided them here.
Now, don’t expect to see a Petitioner wander off its native plane; the mere thought of dying away from home and spiraling into the abyss of nothingness chills them to their core. They can’t be resurrected even on their home turf; their essence merely fuses with the plane itself—a fate they consider preferable to annihilation.
Summoned by the whims of celestial or demonic powers, Petitioners might sometimes be dragged into cosmic conflicts, filling the ranks in celestial or infernal armies. But they do this under strict orders from their ruling powers. Life for them is a constant test of character, a crucible in which their essence is continuously refined. For instance, a Petitioner warrior from the battlefields of Ysgard would hurl himself into combat with fearless abandon, viewing the clash of swords as his divine purpose.
Though you’ll never step into the shoes of a Petitioner in your adventures, you’ll undoubtedly cross paths with them. They’re the farmers, spies, landlords, and everyday folk of planar society—stuck in an eternal cycle, yet each playing a critical role in the grand design of cosmic existence.
In the labyrinthine corridors of power and dominion across the multiverse, not every celestial or infernal being holds the esteemed title of Proxy. These are the chosen ones—be they primes, planars, or even humble petitioners—handpicked to be the divine agents of celestial or malevolent entities. Imagine being transformed by the very deity you serve, metamorphosed into a radiant deva if you’re aligned with the forces of good, or a sinister rutterkin if your allegiance is to darker powers.
Don’t expect them to be mere lackeys. Proxies are the epitome of servitude, embodying the true essence of their deity’s alignment. Those in service to benevolent gods are paragons of loyalty and obedience. On the flip side, if they serve malevolent entities, they’re diabolical masterminds—tricky, cunning, and downright treacherous even to their own masters.
Their aspirations diverge based on their cosmic zip code. In the Upper Planes, a Proxy lives for the dream of ascending further through a flawless track record of service. But descend into the Lower Planes, and you’ll find that advancement comes not from dedication, but from a twisted ability to outmaneuver and undermine, to create opportunities through subterfuge and malevolence.
Never will you find a Proxy among your fellow adventurers, unless by some divine intervention a deity specifically wills it. Normally, they are the enigmatic nonplayer characters, the emissaries and saboteurs of celestial and demonic realms. Their abilities are tailor-made gifts from their patrons, each designed for a unique mission. They could be allies or foes, but in every interaction, they serve as a formidable reminder of the intricate and complex chessboard that is the Planar System.
When it comes to the cosmic titans—the deities ruling the planes—take heed. These beings wield more power in their proverbial thumbs than any mortal could ever fathom. Offending them is a risk few can afford; they can render unimaginable punishments, from turning you inside out while still alive to stranding you in the nightmarish depths of the Abyss.
Oddly enough, these almighty entities are more invested in the Prime Material Plane than they are in their own dominions in the Outer Planes. Why? Their life force is primarily drawn from the devotion and prayers of worshippers in the Prime Material worlds. Deprived of this sustenance, even an immortal can meet a form of death. Eliminating every last believer on every prime-material world is a Herculean task, but if accomplished, the weakened deity would be expelled to drift aimlessly in the Astral Plane, where it faces the possibility of eternal decline or an unceremonious departure to an ultimate deity’s domain—a fate none of them are eager to embrace.
However, don’t assume these deities are aloof to their followers in the Outer Planes. They have vested interests there as well, primarily to guard against the machinations of rival gods. Clerics who serve them are gifted with spells and unique abilities, and some are even summoned for special quests—like a daring raid on Baator to retrieve a rare flower. Refusing such an “honor” usually comes with repercussions severe enough to make compliance the wiser option.
Planescape can be considered an evolution or expansion of the concepts introduced in “The Manual of the Planes.” The original “Manual of the Planes” was first published by TSR for Dungeons & Dragons in 1987 and provided a general framework for what the different planes of existence were like. It was a sort of guidebook for the cosmology of the D&D multiverse, laying out the rules and properties of various planes, as well as the relationships between them.
Planescape, which debuted in 1994, took those basic ideas and expanded them into a full campaign setting. Instead of just being a “field guide” to the planes, Planescape aimed to make them accessible and intriguing locations for storytelling and adventuring. It introduced the city of Sigil, the “City of Doors,” as a hub for planar travel and a diverse range of characters. Planescape also delved more deeply into the philosophy and metaphysics of the planes, creating a rich world of ideas and conflicts that could fuel countless adventures.
While “The Manual of the Planes” is more of a toolkit for DMs to create their own planar adventures, Planescape is a comprehensive setting that provides not just the locations but also the context, the characters, and the narrative threads that make those locations come alive.
This is the beginning of the Planescape campaign setting: there are many, many elements that make up these setting, including monsters, cities, gods, and much more.
Read more about The Outer Planes of Dungeons & Dragons