I love planar adventures in Dungeons & Dragons. And I’m not alone, based on the huge number of people out there with affection for the Planescape campaign setting first introduced in second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Typically, travel and adventure in planes of existence beyond the prime material plane of D&D is the purview of higher-level adventurers. Getting to these planes is often a challenge by itself, and surviving the dangerous environments found there can be very difficult. The laws of physics and magic are often different, and simply being there at all can be a hazard to a character’s life. But you can forget all that, and take adventures across the multiverse of dimensions and create planar campaigns right from the get-go if you want.
D&D planar adventures and planar campaigns
D&D is all about imagination, which gives you everything you need to create planar campaigns for your adventurers to explore. Imagination was all Zeb Cook needed back in 1994 when the Planescape campaign setting was published. Inspired by content in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Jeff Grubb’s Manual of the Planes, Cook was tasked with developing “a complete campaign world (not just a place to visit), survivable by low-level characters, as compatible with the old Manual of the Planes as possible, filled with a feeling of vastness without overwhelming the referee, distinct from all other TSR campaigns, free of the words ‘demon’ and ‘devil’ and explainable to Marketing in 25 words or less,” according to the Feature Review: Planescape article in White Wolf Magazine No. 43. It’s an insightful article, and if you’re interested you can get a PDF copy of the magazine from DriveThruRPG to read it yourself.
Fortunately for Dungeon Masters, you don’t need to develop a complete boxed set of material to run planar adventures for players at your own gaming table. If the notion of planar campaigns set in and around the City of Doors sounds cool to you, you could do a lot worse than getting some of the original Planescape content from the DM’s Guild for your collection. The campaign setting is $10 and there’s a whole bunch of adventures and plenty of other material to provide countless hours of fun. Holly Conrad, herself a huge fan of the Planescape campaign setting, has been running a live stream fifth edition D&D campaign called Trapped in the Bird Cage that draws on the original material over on the D&D YouTube channel if you’re looking for inspiration.
The point is, the easiest way to incorporate planar adventures in your D&D games is just start the campaign with characters already living in some other plane. What’s stopping you? Even a notoriously dangerous dimension like the elemental plane of fire doesn’t need to be a death sentence for standard D&D adventurers. Maybe in your multiverse, it’s just really hot there and everything has a fiery theme to it.
Let’s go plane hopping
Sure, having access to the 7th-level spell plane shift makes planar adventures a lot more accessible from the players’ perspective, but D&D worlds are places of vast and mysterious power. Who’s to say there aren’t portals leading off to other planes all over the place, waiting to be explored? Or maybe your planar campaigns are predicated on the party having an amulet of the planes from the very beginning, coming into possession of this very rare artifact in their first adventure.
In the live stream Ingest Quest campaign I ran on the Nerdarchy YouTube channel, the characters traveled to all sorts of planes over the course of their quest to discover the culinary secrets of the crystal sphereverse. One of the characters, a Horizon Walker ranger, inspired me to include lots of planar travel in their adventures. They visited a demiplane beneath the Sea of Fallen Stars, a confectionary plane of sugar, and a dream dimension before their gastronomical quest was complete.
The important thing to remember for planar adventures is you’re not limited to only what you find in the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide to define the limits of your own multiverse. You’re free to create anything you want for your games, and getting the adventurers there certainly doesn’t need to be a chore — but it could be the goal of a quest at the same time.
Characters could be walking a road through a lush forest to their next destination and find themselves transported unwittingly to the Feywild. Gloomy energies from the Shadowfell could creep over the landscape, bleeding into the prime material plane where adventurers cross over to that bleak place. You could take a cue from one of the Flavour Shots articles here on the website and discover your simple druidcraft spell or Lay on Hands ability activates portals to other realms. A party could drift off to sleep in their makeshift camp and wake up anywhere in the multiverse.
In the Nerdarchy Patreon reward package for September, the theme centers around a planar zoo, complete with a humanoid exhibit designed to replicate adventurers’ natural habitat — a dungeon. The content suggests several adventure hooks suitable for planar adventures, whether they involve this unusual dungeon setting or something else entirely.
The point here is, if you’re running a standard campaign set in the prime material plane, unlike above where the party begins in another plane from the start, there’s a million ways to get characters from one place to another. You’re the DM — you can do that kind of stuff. Be careful though, you don’t want to steal the players’ agency willy nilly and have them careening all over the Great Wheel with no consistency. If you’re unsure how the players in your campaign feel about plane hopping, there’s an easy way to find out — just ask them.
On the flip side, players might ask you if they can explore the planes more. If that’s the case, first off congratulations. You’ve got players who give you direct feedback on what they’d like to do. If the party gets an itch to see what else is out there, you can create all sorts of scenarios for them to learn about the find the tools and resources they’d need to reach these other realms.
D&D 5E planar adventures
If pouring through classic Planescape material and updating or converting it for fifth edition D&D, or developing your own planar cosmology isn’t your cup of tea, you’re in luck! There’s no small amount of resources out there for you to run planar campaigns with current edition content ready to go.
First off, there’s the good ol’ DM’s Guild again. Using the filters there you can find planar adventures and other material specifically created for 5E D&D. I’ve gone ahead and narrowed it down for you already with this handy link. In the community section you’ll find adventures based around the Feywild, Shadowfell, Abyss, inner planes, transitive planes and more.
Then there’s the various Planeshift packages shared from Wizards of the Coast. You can find those at the DM’s Guild too. Inspired by the multitude of planes from Magic: The Gathering, these slick PDFs are all free and open up new planar worlds like Innistrad, Amonkhet, Kaladesh and others. New playable races, background, subclasses, spells, monsters and most importantly campaign settings are all presented in full-color glory.
Coming up in November, there will be even more M:TG-inspired D&D content in Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, a new campaign setting for 5E D&D. I’m really excited about this for a couple of reasons. First off, as a M:TG player from way back, the Ravnica stuff are my favorite sets. (I liked The Dark a lot too from the early days.) Ravnica is an urban plane, essentially a vast city that fills the entire plane. Ravnica is ruled by a bunch of guilds, and from what I heard the book will have interesting new concepts for character creation tied to these guilds. Characters will have unique ways to engage with the guilds and with fellow party members determined by the guilds they’re aligned with.
The point here is, lots of creative folks have already done the work for you when it comes to 5E D&D planar adventures and campaigns. No need to adapt or convert earlier edition content or create your own whole cloth. And that’s just stuff from the DM’s Guild, and both official and playtest content from WotC. If you search online and look around enough, I’m certain you’ll discover lots of unique content, much of it offered for free on blogs and other websites. Here’s something from right here on the Nerdarchy site to get you started.
Inspiration from existing D&D lore
Did you add Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes to your collection of 5E D&D books? Whether you unlocked it through D&D Beyond, or got yourself a standard or special edition copy of MToF (or both) the book is filled with all sorts of ideas you can use to create planar campaigns. Most notably is the Blood War, the eternal battle between demons and devils that rages across the multiverse. With all the fiends and cultists detailed in MToF and other D&D books, a DM can very easily embroil characters in this cosmic war from 1st level onward.
My favorite planar conflict in MToF though is the one between githyanki and githzerai. From their respective strongholds in the Astral Plane and Limbo, these kindred species carry on an endless war based on principle. In a video I did with Comic Book University’s Professor Bill where we D&D-ized my favorite comic book characters Mister Miracle and Big Barda, we drew heavily on the gith conflict. Their war is very much like the cosmic battle between the forces of Apokolips and New Genesis in the comics. Planar campaigns focused on the gith’s endless war and borrowing elements from the awesome Fourth World comic books would be a ton of fun. Life in the githyanki world would be cruel and harsh, constrasting with the relatively peaceful life among githzerai, with characters traveling back and forth between those two planes and the prime material plane as they work to find resolution to this dangerous conflict would be great.
To infinity and beyond
Have I inspired you to entertain the idea of planar campaigns yourself? Exploring different planes and dimensions, and the opportunity for strange energies, physics and magic folded into these concepts has been a love of mine since I was a kid playing D&D from the boxed sets. When the Immortals Set came out, my friends and I loved taking our characters to this cosmic level and traveling throughout the multiverse. Planar adventures give me an opportunity to blend the fantasy and science fiction genres I enjoy into my favorite game in so many unusual ways.
I hope you’ve gotten a few ideas to create your own planar adventures here. In the video below, Nerdarchist Dave and Nate the Nerdarch share a few more ideas, inspired by Nerdarchy Patreon rewards that will be sent out in a few days. If you are a Patreon supporter, let us know what you think and if you use any of the material in your own games. Please share your thoughts and ideas for planar adventures in D&D down in the comments too. I’d love to hear stories from your own amazing games (and maybe steal some of them for my gonzo Spelljammer home game too)!
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Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, world building, or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy or his own blog The Long Shot, he’s a newspaper designer, copy editor and journalist. He loves advocating the RPG hobby and connecting with other nerds and gamers on social media and his site thelongshotist.com.