Saturday, June 8, 2024

The Planes, Boss, The Planes!

I've got the draft of the TS&R Game Master Guidebook edited and formatted. I've sent a segment to a friend who's never run a game to review. If he says the initial advice on how to run a game is good and easy to understand, I'll release the book. If he says it's confusing, I'll spend a bit more time revising. 

Today, I'd like to share an excerpt here. I've taken a different approach to the Outer Planes than Gygax. No Great Wheel in my games. My conception is a lot closer to Mentzer's in the Masters and Immortals sets, which is probably no surprise, but unlike Frank, I really don't care how many square miles or how many planets are in an Outer Plane. I'm not trying to quantify things for Immortals level play. Outer Planes in my conception have always been a mix of mythological afterlife realms and dreamscapes. The ones I've listed here are primarily from myths and legends, a few from more recent fictional works, and a few just from my own imagination. Of course, even the ones from myths and legends have my own takes on what those places might be like. 

Example Outer Planes

The following are examples drawn from myths, fiction, and the author’s imagination. These are not fully fleshed out ideas, merely springboards for each GM to get started creating their own Outer Planes.

Avalon: This plane appears to be a mist-shrouded island, or island chain, with plentiful apple trees. It may be a small plane, or one that is recursive; explorers are not yet sure. Time flows 100 times more slowly on Avalon than on the Prime. It is ruled over by a trio of Enchantress Powers, and they seek to gather great heroes from the Prime, and send them back later when they are needed to deal with a great threat.

Battle World: This plane consists of a single planet in a vast empty void. The planet is made up of a patchwork of bits and pieces from various Prime and Alternate Prime worlds. It is a place of constant battle, with creatures from the various worlds that make up the Battle World, and planar creatures from all over the multiverse constantly engaged in conflict. It is ruled over by a distant and mysterious Power known only as One Beyond All Others. Legends claim that if one faction ever gains complete victory, the faction’s leader will be able to overthrow One Beyond All Others.

Dawn Lands: This plane consists of a variety of planets, each mirroring a prehistoric era. Some planets may contain an anachronistic mix of prehistoric eras. Pre-Cambrian sea creatures, dinosaurs, and Pleistocene beasts roam the various worlds, along with neanderthals and other primitive humanoids. A pantheon of Powers called the Lords of Time rule.

Divine Path: The Divine Path consists of three interconnected planes. Each is an afterlife realm, where spirits of the dead gather, and planar beings serve the Powers of each plane. From the Astral, travelers must first enter Inferno, then travel through Purgatorio, before begin allowed access to Paradiso, if worthy.

Inferno: This lower plane is a huge subterranean cavern of eight concentric rings descending to the central circle. On each circle, the souls of those who failed to live up to their religious obligations are punished by devils. It is ruled over by the Chaotic Power Luferno, who is frozen in the bottom circle.

Purgatorio: This gray and dismal plane is a series of seven mountains, each taller than the last. On each mountain, souls of those who were indifferent to their religious duties toil and struggle to purify themselves, lorded over by yugoloths. The plane is ruled by the Neutral Power Beatria, who washes away memories of the souls after their penance is served.

Paradiso: This bright, cloud-skirted mountain rises high to a glowing sun-like light at its peak, and is divided into seven levels. On each level, angels tend to the souls of those who performed religious duties faithfully. The upper plane is ruled by the Lawful Power Trinity, who resides atop the mountain.

Dragon Mountain: In the midst of a vast, endless sea, a great mountain rises up so high, it can be seen from anywhere within the sea. In fact, boats that turn toward the mountain always find it within a day’s sail, no matter how many days they have sailed away from it. The mountain consists of a variety of biomes, each corresponding to those preferred by various dragons. Gold and bronze dragons live along the coast, blue and brass in the dry plains that slope up from the coast, green and black in the forests and swamps on the far side of the arid slopes, copper and silver on the lower slopes, and white and red on the highest peaks. The planar dragons are the Powers, with Tiamat (Chromatic) and Bahamut (Platinum) ruling over the mountain, while Demodragon rules over caves deep within the great mountain.

Halls of the Ancestors: This is the afterlife realm of a shamanistic religion. It appears as a land of wild forests and hills, rocky coasts and narrow seas. The world contains scattered settlements of primitive design, populated by the spirits of deceased ancestors living in harmony with various celestial animals and spirit creatures. Around one in one hundred settlements contains a pyramid, temple complex, or great feast hall made of stone. The Neutral Power that rules the plane is the Great Spirit, a being that is an amalgam of ancestral spirits from long ago. Each spirit residing on the plane hopes to one day join with the Great Spirit.

Heavenly Palace of the Jade Emperor: Numerous rounded mountain peaks arise from a sea of cloud on this upper plane, which may stretch on to infinity. Those that fall into the cloud ocean may end up in a lower plane. The highest, “central” peak contains the Palace, where the Power August Jade Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi rules over the workings of the universe. A host of celestials, immortals, and powerful spirits serve as the emperor’s bureaucrats and army. Each lesser peak hosts a bureau or division of the Celestial Bureaucracy, overseeing some facet of nature or civilization on the Prime. Messenger spirits constantly flit form peak to peak on cloud chariots. This Lawful plane is highly organized, and efficiency is prized.

Land of Milk and Honey: Within a landscape of arid hills and plains, a large, lush, fertile valley containing a huge lake sits surrounded by rugged cliffs. Natural springs, both hot and cold, feed the lake. The water is always pure and sweet, and each dawn bread appears on the ground and can be collected by the residents. The trees and plants are always bearing ripe fruit, and the bees that flit constantly here and there never sting. This ideal land of plenty is ruled over by a Lawful Power residing in a nearby volcano named Iam. Iam does not allow any spells that cause damage to function on the plane, and all weapons brought to the plane are transformed into innocuous tools or other items until they are taken away from the plane. Time does not pass on this plane in comparison to the Prime or other planes, no matter how long one stays.

Lands of Nowhere and All: This Chaotic plane is constantly in flux, and no two regions are the same. In fact, no region stays the same for very long. Some mortals on the Prime believe that this plane is just a dream, as the sensation of impermanence on the plane mirrors that of many dreams. The Power that rules this plane is often called Dream Master, but the real name and real form of the Power is a mystery. Demons and other lower planar creatures abound on this plane, but there are other creatures, even some upper planar ones, to be found amid the eternal flux.

Mt. Sumeru: This great world-mountain is made up of ninety-nine levels, rising to an upper planar paradise of oneness with the multiverse known as Nirvana. It is unknown whether Nirvana is sentient or not, but it seems to be the Power of the level, or else the hidden Power resides as part of Nirvana. Each level is populated by an assortment of angels, devas, immortals, and sacred spirits. The levels all have various characteristics that are intended to reward the just, but also to prepare souls for reincarnation and rebirth. It is a fantastic land, gaining in oddness and beauty as one ascends the levels of the mountain.

Naraka: Known as the Ten-Thousand Hells, this lower planar region is a place of torment and suffering, but one that is designed to purify souls of the deceased so that they may be reincarnated and live again. Whether or not there are actually 10,000 levels to this plane is left to each GM, but it is vast, with each level devoted to a different type of punishment for different types of sins or crimes. Souls of different races have their own levels of punishment within Naraka. Each level has its own Power, with each known as a Yama (Hell King).

Olympia: Three outer plane levels form an afterlife realm ruled by a pantheon of Powers called the Olympians. Their palace sits atop the great mountain Olympos, on a continent of cloud above the levels.

Elysium: Residing “above” the other levels, this idyllic grassland is the Lawful realm where great heroes’ spirits reside after their death. While none of the natives of Elysium are hostile, creatures from the other realms appear from time to time, and the hero spirits dust off their arms and face them, or allow visiting mortals to take care of the deeds so they may rest.

Oceanus: Residing “between” the other levels, this vast ocean is a Chaotic realm of deep seas and small islands. Most of the plane’s residents are found beneath the surface, in great palaces and cities. Monsters abound on this level, both beneath the waves and on the islands.

Hades: Residing “below” the other levels, this great cavernous realm is a Neutral realm of the dead. Those who were wicked in life are punished with poetic justice, while those who simply lived their lives exist as shades with only faint memories of their former lives. The realm is a vast storehouse of treasure, but monsters and lower planar creatures abound.

Pits of Tartarus: The cosmic prison, a truly bottomless pit where overthrown Powers are chained and bound, or forced into eternal slumber, is a colossal tunnel digging deep down a twisting path into jagged rock faces. Ledges and caves dot the walls of the endless drop. This dark lower plane is ruled by the Lawful Power Cronus, who manipulates time itself to keep other Powers incarcerated in the Pits. Because of Cronus’ temporal powers, visitors may find time passing extremely slowly or quickly compared to time on the Prime. This makes visits to Tartarus risky affairs.

Realm of the Thirteenth Night: This lower plane is an endless void of howling winds and dark storm clouds pierced with pinkish-purple lightning. There is no ground, and those without flying or levitation ability will be tossed about at random by the winds. Winged demons, shadow creatures, and other horrors stalk this vast plane, which is ruled over by a Chaotic Power known as The Witch of Storms.

Sheol: This afterlife lower plane is the location where all souls without another place to go end up after death. It is a dark and hopeless domain, and nothing can break the constant silence. While most souls that end up in Sheol are simply bound here for eternity, the Neutral Power Tan-Golath who rules the plane will punish those that were particularly evil or who try to escape by throwing them into the Lake of Fire.

The Bottomless Dungeon: This entire plane is a seemingly endless dungeon. Some sections are worked dungeon, others seem to be natural caverns, but there is no exit and no bottom. Within the dungeon are settlements and shops, lairs and tombs, and everything else one might expect from the ultimate mega-dungeon. There are creatures, traps, oddities, and of course treasures strewn throughout the depths, but often no rhyme or reason for the contents of this bizarre plane. A Neutral Power known only as the Master rules over the expansive dungeon universe. GMs wanting to use this plane should develop many random tables to fill sections of the plane as it is explored. Standard dungeon stocking takes too long.

The Cosmic Ocean: This plane is a hollow sphere consisting of an ocean surrounding a crystal that glows like the sun for 12 hours then like the moon for 12 hours each day. The plane is 10,000 miles in diameter, with gravity pushing outward from the central crystal. Weather varies from region to region, with “sunny” weather in one area and raging typhoons in another. The ocean surface has many small islands, floating raft towns, and the like, as well as many vessels of all ages and descriptions sailing it. The undersea realm is also active, with multiple nations of mermen, sahuagin, and other undersea beings. Creatures from the Prime oceans as well as the Plane of Water and upper planar creatures of aquatic type can be encountered on this plane. The Chaotic Power Nautolus rules this maritime upper plane, and Nautolus can be vengeful if angered or not given due respect from residents and visitors.

The Cyclopean Forests: Everything native to this endless primeval forest plane is scaled twelve times larger than on the Prime, so visitors to the plane act as if under the effects of a potion of diminution. This also includes astral projections that visit the plane. The GM should populate the plane with gargantuan versions of normal creatures, but with normal numbers appearing for the creature type. A trio of Powers rule this land: Arda, Lawful ruler of the land, Urda, Chaotic ruler of the waters, and Erda, Neutral ruler of the skies.

The Grey Wastes: This Chaotic lower plane is a dull, sterile, dusty wasteland, where only sparse, wilted plants and twisted dead trees occasionally dot the landscape. Jagged slivers of rock protrude from the broken ground, and dust constantly blows through the gray skies. Demons and devils of all sorts may be found here, ruled over by the Power Agransh the Witch-Queen, a powerful demon lord.

Tir-na-nOg: The Land of Youth is an upper plane paradise, a land of eternal youth, vigor, and plenty. It is a land of low, rolling hills, vast forests, and flowery meadows ruled over by a pantheon of Powers known as the Tuatha De Danann. The number three is sacred in this plane, and things often appear in trios. Visits to this plane invariably last three hours, three days, three years, or three centuries, although time here is not connected to time on the Prime. Travelers here may face many adventures. While this is an upper plane, it is one where many monsters may roam. Druidic magic works normally on this plane, but clerical magic may not function or may misfire when spells are cast.

This plane may be divided into levels if the GM likes, but the borders are hazy and it is easy to slip from one to another. Some of the regions that may be considered levels include Tir fo Thuinn (the Land Under the Wave), the Island of Lir, Mag Mel (the Plains of Delight), and Idathach (the Place of Colors). Each region or level will have its own alignment, but Tir-na-nOg overall has a Neutral, bordering on Chaotic, alignment. The magical horses of Manannan Mac Lir allow mortals to cross physically into this plane.

Yggdrasil: The cosmic World Tree of Yggdrasil is a set of ten interconnected outer planes. The cosmic tree itself forms the initial level of the planar group, with other planes accessed from its roots, trunk, or branches. The Norns, three sisters of fate, are the Powers of Yggdrasil. The Tree is the home of many monsters and several unique creatures, and residents of the other levels traverse it often.

The roots of Yggdrasil connect to:

Niflheim: The cold, misty abode of the Power Hel. This is the land of the dead who die from disease or old age, and Hel’s fortress is said to hold vast treasures. Demonic giants called thurs and goblinoids are common in this realm.

Svartalfheim: This is the cosmic underground realm of dwarves and goblins, ruled over by the Power Ivaldi. It is also known as Nidavellir. The residents of the plane are famous as craftsmen of magic items, but fierce dragons also inhabit the realm.

Ginnungagap: A great void, a plane of dark nothingness from which magic springs. The Power that rules over this realm is unknown.

The middle branches of Yggdrasil connect to:

Jotunheim: The cold, mountainous plane of frost giants, ruled over by the Power Mimir, a secretive being of vast knowledge.

Midgard: A realm similar to the Prime in appearance, with many fjord-carved islands, dark forest, and rugged mountains. It is ruled over by the Powers Jord (goddess of the land), Sol (goddess of the sun), and Mani (god of the moon).

Muspelheim: A fiery realm of fire giants and red dragons, ruled over by the Power Surt. This is the home of many monsters and giants who want to conquer and destroy the other realms of Yggdrasil.

The upper branches of Yggdrasil connect to:

Asgard: A realm of gold and beauty, ruled over by a pantheon of Powers known as the Aesir. This realm includes the Hall of Valhalla, where those slain in battle await the final conflict with the giants of Muspelheim and Jotunheim, and the monsters of Niflheim.

Ljosalfheim: The cosmic forested realm of the elves is ruled over by the Powers Erlking and Erlqueen. The elves of this realm are magical craftsmen, and rivals to the dwarves of Svartalfheim.

Vanaheim: A land of wild, untamed nature, ruled over by the pantheon of Powers known as the Vanir. This lush land appears as an idealized counterpart to the Prime, and many wild creatures live there.


  1. When I wrote my "planar" section of the B/X Companion, I decided, too, that every DM should simply create their own cosmology. Planes are weird enough that (one would assume) there's no way they should be ordered in a fashion that is comprehensible to the human mind...certainly not in some nicely aligned "wheel of planes" balanced on the spokes of alignment.

    But aside from any philosophical considerations, for PRACTICAL purposes, planes are the ultimate bastion of exploration for DMs: all bets are off when it comes to non-Earth dimensions, and the DM has free reign to craft whatever strange and odd physical laws apply to such places. Why tie them down in any particular way?

    This is a nice swath/list, by the way.
    ; )