Plane Shift Your 5E D&D Game Into Magic: The Gathering — Kaladesh
In summer 2021 Wizards of the Coast releases Adventures in the Forgotten Realms — the first Dungeons & Dragons themed expansion for Magic: The Gathering. The set lands in place of what would typically be a Core Set and this D&D expansion for MTG represents a true collaboration between the two Hasbro teams. But did you know MTG crossed over into fifth edition D&D six times even before Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica and Mythic Odysseys of Theros? Amonkhet, Dominaria, Innistrad, Kaladesh, Zendikar and Ixalan all Plane Shift-ed over to 5E D&D through terrific titles available free from Dungeon Master’s Guild. Let’s get into it.
MTG chocolate in 5E D&D peanut butter
Crossing over the worlds of D&D with the planes of MTG thrills me as a card flopper and if I’m honest it’s equally exciting to see the crossover move in the opposite direction too. My favorite tabletop game by far (next to D&D) is MTG. My affection for the seminal CCG may even surpass the world’s greatest roleplaying game. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: In a recent WotC survey I identified MTG as my favorite game and D&D as a second favorite.] The official entry of MTG into 5E D&D came in the form of Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica and remains one of my favorite titles for this iteration of the game. Another MTG plane in the 5E D&D sphere comes through Mythic Odysseys of Theros and unsurprisingly it’s another favorite title.
In preparation for GGtR’s release back in 2016 and 2017 WotC game designer and writer James Wyatt put together several fantastic digital books as 5E D&D supplements to represent various MTG planes for gamers who love rolling those funny shaped dice. It’s been several years since those releases and with tremendous numbers of new players discovering 5E D&D along with the imminent Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set on the horizon (with an MTG revisit to Innistrad right behind!) it feels like a terrific opportunities to revisit 5E D&D Plane Shift ourselves and rediscover all the awesome material within.
“Kaladesh is a living work of art — a vibrant, beautiful plane where anything is possible.”— James Wyatt, Plane Shift: Kaladesh introduction
The World of Kaladesh
I don’t follow the lore of MTG much at all but I’m familiar with the various planes and their main themes through the cards. Kaladesh is not one of those planes though. Thankfully the Plane Shift booklets deliver wonderfully detailed and evocative information about these settings along with the usual gorgeous illustrations helping bring the worlds of MTG to life.
Invention and artifice are the cornerstones of life and culture on Kaladesh and in the video above the Nerdarchy crew very quickly comes to the same conclusion I did — this is very close in theme and flavor to perhaps the most beloved D&D setting ever, Eberron. You can call it magicpunk, arcanapunk or whatever descriptor you like to tack on with the -punk suffix but you won’t find any of that here (because I think that naming convention for things is dumb.) This personal quirk aside I adore high fantasy and Kaladesh delivers with flair. Eberron is often described as a low but broad magic setting where magic is prevalent but in basic ways very much akin to electricity in our own world. In contrast Kaladesh seems to be a high and wide magic setting where there is extraordinary magical phenomena and usage abundant everywhere.
Now that we’ve delved deeply into all these Plane Shift booklets one thing I’ve noticed is they’re not all structured the same or touch on all the same topics. Plane Shift: Kaladesh stands out with an introduction that does very little to explain or summarize the setting. Instead designer James Wyatt shares insights into the design process. There is a tremendously valuable statement here and I strongly believe all 5E D&D players ought to take note of this notion. Wyatt describes how the design for Plane Shift: Kaladesh was, “more along the lines of rearranging the building blocks and altering the appearance of existing [content] rather than creating a lot of new things.” Many times the Plane Shift booklets include notes on how to repurpose existing material to represent this new setting. We follow the same principles and incorporate these ideas into our own content so it’s super easy for anyone to use in their games.
Plane Shift: Kaladesh provides a great overview of this plane and the adventuresome possibilities. Broad details and accompanying illustrations give a great feel for the setting where clockwork automatons walk the streets, soaring airships provide transport and leisure and so much more. These marvels are powered by raw magical energy called Aether and in large part the metanarrative of the entire plane involves various factions and their interactions with the stuff. In general these Plane Shift documents are wonderful resources for developing a campaign setting. They’re easily digestible and contain so many great ideas without being a cumbersome source with too much information.
This Plane Shift booklet even includes tips and guidance for each of the backgrounds and classes for connecting them with Kaladesh. Wyatt even managed to sneak in a whole new subclass! I am almost certain none of the other Plane Shift booklets include this particular sort of option. Nestled in the corner of one page I almost missed the Pyromancer Sorcerous Origin, of which I’ll assume you can guess the gist.
As if that weren’t enough this section continues with a look at Aether-Powered Devices, rules for inventing and manufacturing new devices and even two new feats related to aether and invention. Wyatt must really dig this setting — none of the other Plane Shifts include this much character option content as I recall. It even ends with three amazing concepts for Kaladesh campaigns.
Races of Kaladesh
The planes of MTG are populated by all manner of creatures. Much like Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica and Mythic Odysses of Theros in 5E D&D context there’s curated options for playable character races. Sure, most people ignore these and play whatever they want but nevertheless the material does exist for those seeking to stay within the design parameters. In Kaladesh players can choose from the following race options for their 5E D&D characters:
- Aetherborn. Um…awesome? Never heard of these entities before but I already love ’em. Aetherborn as made of pure aether and kind of spring into being spontaneously during refinement of the magical stuff. Another great sidebar in this section describes a very special, powerful and dangerous ability of the Aetherborn to essentially drain others’ life force to extend their extremely short lifespans (they only live a few years).
- Dwarves. I dig how dwarves translate into the magical technology setting of Kaladesh. The world seems much brighter and aspirational than a standard D&D setting and this is reflected in their dwarves who incorporate qualities often found in gnomes of those other D&D worlds.
- Elves. Like dwarves the elves of Kaladesh embody the perspectives seen in standard settings and maintain a deep connection to nature. But since the Aether is a physical part of the world flowing around through the land these elves embrace the technology derived from it as well.
- Humans. The 5E D&D race we can all relate to because we’re human too, those from Kaladesh are unsurprisingly curious and ambitious. I suppose this perspective often finds its way into settings to illustrate how despite humans’ relatively short lifespans compared to creatures like dwarves and elves they nevertheless impact the world in powerful ways. But now that I think about it this is a pretty weird outlook. It’s little wonder human is the least interesting race choice no matter what 5E D&D setting I play in.
- Vedalken. Since this race appears for 5E D&D in Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica I’m curious to see how they were presented in Kaladesh. Pretty much the same is the answer to this. I’m no MTG lore expert so perhaps the vedalken of Ravnica are semi-aquatic? Tireless Precision is much more versatile than Aether Lore too. If I’m honest this race never seemed very interesting to me. They’re basically blue elves developed in settings with more artifice than spellcasting and their culture reflects this but otherwise they seem kinda boring.
A Kaladesh Bestiary
I really appreciate how these Plane Shift documents not only include new monsters for 5E D&D with both stat blocks and the evocative lore we’ve all come to expect but also how they include guidance for using existing monsters for these special campaign settings.
I’m of a mind it’s a super useful idea for a Dungeon Master to create their own curated list of monsters for a campaign setting. It’s kinda ridiculous to assume all the creatures from the Monster Manual exist on the same world. It’s an incredibly fun and rewarding exercise to comb through your favorite monster books and make a list of the creatures featuring most prominently for your setting and adventures. This lends a lot of flavor and serves as a helpful guide.
- Gremlins. Before now I’d never heard of gremlins in MTG and I’ve already come to like these small beasts quite a lot. It makes perfect sense for creatures who muck with technology to exist in a setting like Kaladesh and I love the stat block! A CR 1/2 creature with a wonderful trait to siphon magical energy from objects (like adventurers’ magic items!) means gremlins can remain relevant challenges throughout an adventurer’s career.
- Angels. A big part of the lore in every MTG setting I can think of angels in Kaladesh are represented by the deva creature except in this world they’ve got four arms and accompanying sword attacks. It says the sight of an angel in Kaladesh is thought to be a good omen but after all the freakin’ angel decks I’ve seen in Magic Arena lately if I never see another one it’ll be too soon.
- Demons. Let’s face it — demons are demons. There’s some associated lore but for the most part it’s universal. Demons are grotesque and exist to bring pain and misery.
- Whales and Leviathans. If they’re anything like my beloved Lochmere Serpent I’m all in. Remember how I mentioned the Aether flows throughout Kaladesh? These aquatic beasts navigate these magical rivers and become transformed by it into amazing beasts. I’ve got to say though, pairing up the stunningly gorgeous illustration by Sam Burley with a lackluster stat block does not do these creatures justice. All they get is a Bite action? Come on, that’s weaksauce.
- Drakes. Basically predatory flying reptiles there’s not much going on here of note.
- Dragons. Like the other Plane Shift bestiaries this reinforces once again how the dragons of MTG are all red dragons so nothing too exciting. There is some cool visual information though describing the dragons of Kaladesh as tigerlike with feline bodies and faces with draconic wings and other features. A simply tweak like this adds layers to the titular creatures of this game and I really enjoy this detail.
- Giants. None of those shorty giants of 5E D&D in Kaladesh! In this setting they tower 30 feet tall or more the way giants ought to and they’re represented here by the stone giant stat block. For extra fun though I highly encourage checking out the optional combat rules we shared in another post, particularly the part about climbing onto larger creatures.
- Hydras. I really appreciate how MTG treats hydras. They seem to have evolved into a major part of many planes and there’s individual ones like Polukranos in the lore to really bring these awesome mythological creatures to the forefront. One of the most popular 5E D&D homebrew creatures around in a hydra as a matter of fact, which we discovered when curating the Top 10 Homebrew Monsters here.
- Wurms. Kaladesh has ’em. They’re enormous, they’re gross and they’ve got lots of teeth and spiny protuberances. The classic purple worm represents the wurms of Kaladesh, which tells you how dangerous they can be.
- Hellions. Similar to wurms enough so I wonder what even is the distinction. I guess they’re a bit weaker since the remorhaz is the stand in creature. The illustration looks like a forgotten length of cable with graffiti on it too so I’m kind of at a loss to have any sort of opinion at all.
- Artifact Creatures. Constructs and creatures of artifice abound in Kaladesh of course. There is one new stat block for a creature called a Servo, which can also serve as a familiar.
You can check out our other delves into the Plane Shift documents for 5E D&D through the Plane Shift category. If you’re interested in Kaladesh, any of the other Plane Shift documents or MTG in 5E D&D in general here’s where to find such things. Remember — every Plane Shift document is 100% free at DM’s Guild, which you’ll find here:
- Plane Shift: Amonkhet
- Plane Shift: Dominaria
- Plane Shift: Innistrad
- Plane Shift: Ixalan and X Marks the Spot — A Plane Shift: Ixalan Adventure
- Plane Shift: Kaladesh
- Plane Shift: Zendikar
*Featured image — Kaladesh is a plane where aether manifests more than on other planes, being present in the atmosphere. [Art by Adam Paquette]