Excerpts Archive | 11/17/2008
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Excerpts: Types of Planes
Manual of the Planes

In today’s Manual of the Planes preview, we introduce various types of planes the book covers, as well as the planar law of mutability.

Most planes are much like the natural world. Mortal visitors find the air breathable, the climate endurable, and some amount of food and water accessible. However, each plane has its own unusual characteristics and embodies its own particular set of natural laws.

Types of Planes

A plane’s type describes its basic nature and place in the cosmos. The term “plane” applies to many different places. Sigil, City of Doors, is a plane, even though it’s no more than a few dozen miles in extent. It drifts in the multiverse unconnected to any other physical reality. The Abyss is also a plane. It is many thousands of miles in extent, large enough to swallow planets, but it’s only a finite region of the Elemental Chaos. A traveler can walk (or more likely fall) into the Abyss from the surrounding Elemental Chaos, but a different set of physical and metaphysical laws apply in the Abyss than in the Elemental Chaos. In that sense, the Abyss is a plane separate from the surrounding Elemental Chaos.

Planar Type

  • The world
  • Fundamental planes
  • Astral dominions
  • Elemental realms
  • Parallel planes
  • Demiplanes
  • Anomalous planes

The World

The first of the planes is the world in which humans and other mortals are born and have their existence. The world often is known only by its name. For example, the sages of Faerûn call their world Abeir-Toril. Those who study such matters in the city of Greyhawk know their world as Oerth, and the sages of Ansalon know their world as Krynn. In reference to the planes, the world is sometimes known as “the mortal world,” “the material world,” “the natural world,” or “the middle world,” to distinguish it from the supernatural realms surrounding it.

Fundamental Planes

The cosmos is composed largely of two infinite expanses from which all other planes formed: the Astral Sea and the Elemental Chaos. These planes are levels of reality in which countless specific locales exist like finite islands adrift in the infinite—the various astral dominions and elemental realms. The fundamental planes provide the substance linking all the dominions and realms of deities and elemental powers together. To reach these specific places, a traveler must trek across the Astral Sea or the Elemental Chaos. Fortunately, planar portals and conduits make it possible to span vast distances with a single step—if a traveler knows where to find the portal he or she needs.

Although the fundamental planes are infinite, the known astral dominions and elemental realms lie within a finite distance of each other. If a traveler journeys through a fundamental plane into the trackless reaches outside the known dominions and realms, sooner or later he or she comes to the divine dominions or elemental kingdoms of different mortal worlds. Such a journey would be unthinkably long, and it would undoubtedly be easier to find or create a portal to reach them.

Astral Dominions

The astral dominions are distinct planes that exist within the Astral Sea. Most are the creations of deities, and as such, each dominion reflects the aesthetics (or whims) of its creator. Dominions may have wildly different properties and characteristics. Some are the size of worlds, whereas others are solitary towers or small cities on the shores of the Astral Sea. In artwork and in literature, they are often depicted as majestic islands or floating shards of landscape surrounded by a gossamer sea as flat and smooth as mirrored glass.

Astral dominions are commonly regarded as the heavens and hells of the mortal world. The dominions are where most deities are enthroned. Deities claim some mortal spirits after death—those chosen for special reward, or trapped and tormented by devils or dark deities. However, most mortal spirits pass through the realm of the Raven Queen in the Shadowfell after death and then into the eternal beyond.

Elemental Realms

Within the Elemental Chaos lie countless elemental realms—domains where some powerful being has claimed a portion of the chaos and shaped it with will and purpose. Like astral dominions, elemental realms reflect the whims of those beings that create them. In artwork and literature, elemental realms are often portrayed as crude stone bergs and mighty structures floating in a churning sea of elements.

Although many elemental realms are the work of powerful elementals—for example, the efreet City of Brass—other realms are created by mighty mortals. Anyone of strong will and magical power can create anything he or she likes within the Elemental Chaos, and set a boundary around these creations in which the physical traits the creator prefers dominate. Scores of archmage towers, assassin strongholds, and mighty monuments lie scattered through the Elemental Chaos that were created by mortals centuries or millennia ago. Some still remain much as they were when they were made, whereas new masters have occupied others.

Parallel Planes

Close by the mortal world lie its echoes, the parallel planes: the Feywild and the Shadowfell. Parallel planes are strange copies of the material world. Where seas and mountains lie in the world, similar seas and mountains exist in these parallel planes. Yet they are not perfect copies. A thriving human city in the mortal world might be a forested vale in the Feywild and a haunted ruin in the Shadowfell. It seems that the Feywild’s version of a locale in the natural world is a pristine memory of what that place was like in the youth of the world, whereas the Shadowfell’s version shows a vision of how that same spot will look when its people pass away and it falls into ruin.

Although some natural features vary between these planes, the biggest differences between them are the structures of sentient creatures. The kingdoms and castles of the eladrin are not replicated in the mortal world or the Shadowfell. Similarly, the city of Gloomwrought exists only in the Shadowfell, and no city stands in the corresponding spot in either the mortal world or the Feywild.


The last regular type of plane is a demiplane—a unique place where anything might be encountered. Like astral dominions or elemental realms, demiplanes are things created by some power or agency after the formation of the world. They are not part of either the Astral Sea or the Elemental Chaos, but instead exist as bubbles of existence beyond the normal bounds of the cosmos.

Most demiplanes are small and secret. They’re created to be refuges, vaults, or more rarely tombs or prisons. It takes extremely powerful magic to create something out of nothing. It’s much easier to build a sanctuary in the Elemental Chaos than to create a secret plane of your own outside the bounds of the universe.

The most well known demiplane is Sigil, City of Doors. No one knows who created it or how, but Sigil holds portals uncounted that lead to every other plane of existence. Veteran planar explorers soon learn that Sigil is the first place to look when a door to somewhere else is needed.

Anomalous Planes

The cosmology includes some planes whose exact nature is not clear. These include the Far Realm, the Plane of Dreams, the Plane of Mirrors, and other mortal worlds. Anomalous planes stretch the boundaries of an already fantastic cosmology. They are the weirdest of the weird. They are conceived of as beyond the normal cosmology of planes (even more “outside” than demiplanes), being created from the dreams of all mortals, existing on the other side of mirrors, or built on other mind-straining concepts.

Adventures rarely present themselves in these locations, as anomalous planes are genuinely inhospitable to most outsiders. However, denizens of anomalous planes often find their way into the world.

Planar Structure and Laws

  • Layers
  • Bounded or recursive shape
  • Gravity
  • Mutability


One of the fundamental laws of nature in the mortal world is that things remain where they are and how they are unless some force works on them. Boulders don’t spontaneously change to sand or melt into water unless something causes them to. Some planes are not so reliable.

Divinely mutable planes assume the form willed by deities (or other powerful beings) who own the plane. The deity of the plane can cause great palaces to appear from nowhere, create or replace terrain, change the form of creatures native to the plane, or alter the weather with a mere thought. Normal mutability (defined as mortal inertia and constancy) applies otherwise. Most astral dominions are divinely mutable, although in cases where several deities share the same dominion, they exercise control over only their specific realms within the plane.

Unstable planes feature terrain and elements that change continuously and randomly. The Elemental Chaos is the prime example. Although vast stretches are relatively calm for long periods of time, change is inevitable. A great frozen sea might remain that way for centuries, only to shatter when an outburst of magma comes into being in its center and begins to grow into a range of volcanic mountains.

Influence Unstable Plane (Intelligence)

Someone with a powerful will or armed with the right ritual can stabilize a portion of an unstable plane and hold it in the desired shape. The only questions are how long it takes to impose stability and how long the stability lasts once the being creating the stability stops concentrating. It’s easy to freeze existing conditions in place, but much harder to impose entirely different conditions in an area.

Move Object: Standard action.

  • DC: The DC is based on the object’s size—Tiny or smaller, DC 5; Small or Medium, DC 10; Large, DC 15; Huge, DC 20; Gargantuan, DC 25.
  • Success: You move an unattended object. You move the object 1 square, +1 square for every 5 points by which you beat the DC.
  • Failure: You can’t try to move the same object until after a short rest.

Alter Object: Standard action.

  • DC: The DC is based on the object’s size—Tiny or smaller, DC 20; Small or Medium, DC 25; Large, DC 30; Huge, DC 35; Gargantuan, DC 40.
  • Success: You change an unattended natural object into a different element or energy of the same size. For example, change a boulder into a ball of fire.
  • Failure: You can’t try to alter the same object until after a short rest.

Stabilize Area: 1 minute.

  • DC: The DC is 5 + 1 per square affected.
  • Success: You lock an area into its current form for 24 hours. Double the area or the duration for every 5 points you beat the DC by.
  • Failure: You can’t try to stabilize an area until after an extended rest.

Alter Area: 1 minute.

  • DC: The DC is 20 + 1 per square affected. Add +10 to the DC if the area has been stabilized (see above). Double the area or the duration for every 5 points by which you beat the DC.
  • Success: You change the terrain of an area for 24 hours. For example, change a bare rocky plain into a forest.
  • Failure: You can’t try to alter an area until after an extended rest.

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