Campaign of the Month: January 2015
Skies of Glass
Traveling the Planes
Traveling the Planes is rarely a simple affair. Magics that allow travel between the planes is rare and travel by foot requires either incredibly bad luck or exceptional skill.
Magic that allows for planar travel is incredibly rare, to the point that even many practiced mages do not know of its existence. Capable of being used only by those who can touch upon all five colors of magic, planar travel spells rely on unique magical items known as Planar Forks. Even with this guiding fork, all but the most powerful of planar magics are temperamental, randomly drawing the caster near one of a handful of polarizing locations on a plane – often known as Planar Touchstones.
Powerful Outsiders and their half-breeds children are capable of naturally producing the magic to travel the planes. Though most are only capable of drawing themselves back to their home plane, some are able to bring along allies and even travel to multiple different planes. Such beings do not require the assistance of a Planar Fork to travel to their home plane (though may require them to travel to different planes, if able), though most are still drawn to Planar Touchstones as any traveler is.
Planar paths are thin fractures between the planes that, once found, simply require a traveler to walk along them until they shift from one plane to another. This shift is often gradual, with pieces of the departure plane slowly being replaced with pieces of the destination plane, to the point that some travelers may not even be aware of the shift and may slip unaware across a planar path into a new dimension. Purposefully finding these paths is incredibly difficult and it requires extensive dedication and skill to learn how to do so, something few beyond the rare Planar Rangers are capable of. Some magical items that the draw upon the combined energies of planar magics and powerful divination are capable of finding them, but such items are often quite expensive.
Planar paths will shift between two adjacent planes (such as Creed and Limbo, or The Shadow Lands and The Lands of Light) or between a plane and an adjacent demiplane. A rare few planar paths pass through multiple adjacent plane, such as The River Styx, a planar path which travels from The Lands of Light, into the Shadow Lands, through Creed, back into the Shadow Lands, and then into The Dark Lands.
Traveling a planar path may take as little as a minute or as long as a month, though most take between three to six days. Interestingly, the time required to travel a planar path only rarely cares about the travelers’ speed, most path’s taking a set amount of time no matter how fast the traveler – a fact many plane traveling caravans often take advantage of. Scholars debate over why this unusual trait is so common among planar paths, though the most popular theory is that movement along the path usually is more akin to teleportation magics than proper movement.
Planar paths are often stable only for a period of time before eventually becoming unstable and ultimately mending, a process that may take just weeks or may take decades. Some rare planar paths are stable in the long-term, though many scholars agree that all planar paths will eventually destabilize. Traveling down an unstable planar path requires a Survival check and a Knowledge (the planes) check, with the difficulty depending on the degree of instability (base DC 10 for both, increasing rapidly as the path becomes less and less stable).
Stepping off a planar path mid-trip can be exceptionally dangerous. While the area surrounding the path may appear stable, stepping too far off the path can quickly sweep the traveler back to their departure plane, depositing them up to 100 miles in a random direction from where they first stepped onto the planar path. If the planar path passes through multiple planes, the travelers will be deposited on the most recent plane. Stepping off an unstable planar path can have particularly undesirable consequences the more unstable it is – the planar energies harming the traveler and potentially even dropping them on random plane. A Knowledge (the planes) check (usually DC 20, higher for less stable paths) can determine how far off the path it is safe to travel.
Some planes have a definite edge, a line that separates one reality from another. Borders allow movement between the planes in a smooth, almost uneventful manner. Travelers may not be aware of the boundary and slip unaware over a planar border into a new dimension. Such borders may be patches of darkness, banks of fog, or driving rainstorms. Sometimes one plane gives way to another plane so gradually that it’s impossible to tell where the border region starts and ends.
Vision across a border may be limited by the nature of the plane or the border (such as being caught in a fog bank), but it is not inherently impeded.Firm Borders
Firm borders have a set boundary between one plane and the next, such as a cliff in one plane hanging over a chasm in another plane, or farmland that suddenly gives way to jungle. Magic does not cross firm borders; nothing on the far side of the border can be targeted by a spell unless that spell specifically affects targets on other planes.Soft Borders
Soft borders have less determinate edges, and often exist where similar portions of each plane connect. This forms a buffer zone or “quasi-plane” that belongs to both planes yet has an identity and planar traits of its own. Magic crosses the buffer zone into each of the planes. Soft borders normally exist only when there is similar terrain on both sides, so a plane of continual darkness would only have a soft border in situations where the other plane is also under a dark shroud.Shifting Borders
Shifting borders are the most perilous to travelers because they move back and forth. Similar to the tidal zone of the seashore, sometimes the border area belongs to one plane, sometimes to the other. Magic treats a shifting border as a firm border, but there is a risk that the border will shift, stranding the traveler on the wrong side of the border and in a dangerous plane.Known Borders
The Elemental Planes all have such a border between them. The areas where this border is soft create mixes between the two elements, areas known as the quasi-elemental planes, though some areas of the border are firm – cliff faces, ocean edges, etc – and occasionally shifting. Limbo often has numerous “borders” (more like massive and incredibly obvious planar paths) stretching into one of the elemental or quasi-elemental planes – though these borders behave much like shifting borders, they will often appear in the wake of an elemental storm and disappear some time after. The Lands of Light and Dark Lands both have firm borders with The Shadow Lands.
“Portal” is a general term for a stationary interplanar connection. Portals, which include such related items as vortices and gates, open at one location on the originating plane and at one location on the destination plane (or planes). Portals are created by many sources. Some of the more simple portals are simply large magic items, linking the two planes. Others exist naturally. The most complex are created by powerful supernatural entities, enigmatic beings (often outsiders) that often reside outside of Creed. Most portals, regardless of their nature and origin, share a number of properties. They provide instantaneous transportation from one location to another.What a Portal Looks Like
A portal may be transparent, translucent, or opaque. A transparent portal looks like a doorway or window looking into another plane. Translucent portals are misty and fog shrouded, but may allow the traveler to see a short distance into the plane on the other side, or may only reveal certain details (sounds, smells, etc). An opaque portal reveals nothing about the other side, though it may be a swirl of colors, a solid shade, a mirrored surface, or even a painting on an apparently solid wall.Interacting with a Portal
Magic portals generally require sentience to use; the natural hazards of a plane do not pass through portals. Temperature, air (whether toxic or not), dangerous substances, and energy emissions stay on their side of an open portal. A portal to the Elemental Plane of Fire, for example, poses no danger to those on the near side of the portal because the heat doesn’t pass through the portal. Likewise, one may open a portal to the Elemental Plane of Water without a flood suddenly rushing through into the other plane. Characters’ worn, held, or carried items pass through portals normally.
An exception to the sentience requirement is a naturally occurring portal between similar locations on different planes. Such a portal is called a vortex, and it usually connects to an elemental or energy plane. In such cases, the conditions are similar on both sides of the portal. A vortex to the Elemental Plane of Fire might be found at the edge of a volcano, while one to the Elemental Plane of Water could be found off the coast. The greatest dangers of such vortices are that native elemental life can cross over easily, and a traveler may suddenly find herself in another plane without intending to be there.
Unlike a mundane doorway, it is usually impossible to step halfway across or reach through a portal. You are either on one side or the other. Reaching through a portal has no effect on the other side until you pass most of your body through—and then you’re on the other plane. “Just sticking your head in” won’t help you determining what is on the other side of an opaque portal, but divination spells such as may prove useful.
Spells do not pass through portals. Divinations do not reveal anything about the other side of the portal unless specifically noted by the spell. Divinations that target the caster, such as See Invisibility, do work across a portal.
Portals often have a size limitation; a creature too big can’t fit through the physical aspect of the portal. A portal of a given size generally allows a creature up to one size larger to fit through, though it’s a tight squeeze.Complex Portals
Portals usually function in both directions – “usually” being the key word. If a traveler uses a portal to go from plane A to plane B, he may step through the other way and go from plane B back to plane A. But one-way portals exist that force travelers to find another way back to where they started.
Variable portals can send a traveler to a series of different locations, either within a particular plane or within different planes. A variable portal may send individuals to particular locations at particular times, or it might randomly send one group of travelers one place and group to someplace different. Variable portals occasionally use keys (see below) to reach particular locations.
Selective portals only allow particular objects or individuals through. Such a portal can limit passage based on identity, name, or alignment, but otherwise must have something clearly definable as its criteria. A portal that allows devils to pass through might be fooled by the right illusion spell, or a portal keyed only work for good travelers may be tricked by a clever individual who uses the Use Magic Device skill to emulate a good alignment. Powerful entities often use selective portals to limit access to their agents.
Some portals may be made both selective and variable, sending one group to one location and another group somewhere else – or even one type of object to one location and another type somewhere else.
Sometimes a portal has specific limitations on its use. These limitations are commonly called keys. There can be any number of keys on a portal, and the portal’s creators usually set the keys when they create the portal.Portal Keys
Portal keys are the particular situations, spells, items, or other circumstances required to “unlock” a portal so it functions. Portal keys can set almost any requirement, but here are some common examples:
- Time: The portal only functions at particular times – during a full moon on Creed, or every ten days, or when the stars are in a particular position, for example. A time-keyed portal only functions for a certain length of time. Such a portal might stay open for three days following the full moon, or for an hour, or for 1d4+1 rounds.
- Situation: The portal only functions if a particular condition is met. A situation-keyed portal might only open on a clear night, or when it rains, or when a wind blows out of the east.
- Random: A random portal functions for a random period of time, then shuts down for a similarly random duration. Typically, such a portal allows a random travelers to pass through, then shuts down for a similarly random number of days.
- Command: The portal only functions if a particular command word is spoken or command action is taken, similar to activating a magic item.
- Command Item: The portal functions if the traveler is holding a particular object; the item effectively acts as a key to a door. This command item may be a common object, or a particular key created for that portal.
If you can’t go to the planes, don’t worry; sometimes they come to you. The divisions between different planes of existence are usually unassailable. But in a world where magic daily wrenches reality into unnatural configurations, that which separates one space from the next can occasionally wear thin. That’s when the phenomenon known as planar breaching occurs.
Planar breaches are often considered to be a unique manifestation of Wild Magic, or at least a very similar mystical occurrence. The occurrence of a planar breach is accompanied by discharges of visible light, an atmospheric disturbance that can cause winds or even storms, and a deep rumbling in the earth (and occasionally even a small earthquake). Planar breaches can be minor, severe, or complete. Minor breaching is often overlooked because its effects are not immediately obvious, while at the other end of the spectrum, a complete breach opens a hole in reality, bleeding the laws of reality from one plane onto the other.
Fortunately, planar breaches are rare at all but the most mystically charged locations, and the worst of their effects exist only in the very short term (minor breaches rarely lasting more than a week, complete breaches sometimes lasting only a few minutes). It’s possible for the aftereffects of a breach to be felt for months or even years after the breach – occasionally even leaving a temporarily stable portal behind in their wake.