Plane Shift Your 5E D&D Game Into Magic: The Gathering — Dominaria
Wizards of the Coast is doing it. They’re finally doing it! After crossing over Innistrad, Amonkhet, Ixalan, Zendikar, Kaladesh and Dominaria, Wizards of the Coast is finally crossing Dungeons & Dragons into Magic: the Gathering with Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. It’s a bit like when Eggo made syrup… though this already sounds worlds more epic! To celebrate this momentous occasion I would like to explore one of the aforementioned crossovers today. Get ready to deep dive into some history and lore because we’re going to Dominaria with Plane Shift: Dominaria for 5E D&D from the Dungeon Masters Guild!
MTG’s Plane Shift in 5E D&D
Dominaria comes to life in Plane Shift: Dominaria for 5E D&D in a free supplement on the DMs Guild, which allows your D&D players to plane shift directly into Dominaria or you can use Dominaria as the base setting where your D&D adventures take place.
If you’re like me dipping your toe into this setting quickly clues you in that you’re about to plunge into the deep end. Dominaria is so rich in lore and steeped in MTG mythos. Unless you’re already an avid player of the card game it’s a bit overwhelming at first glance. At least, it was for me. When I first dipped my toes into the MTG waters, Kaladesh Aether revolt was in full swing and Amonkhet was on the horizon. My FLGS owner gave me a crash course on a character named Nicol Bolas who was apparently intent on destroying everything.
Well, guess what plane dude hails from? If you guessed Dominaria, congratulations! You get ten points (the points don’t matter). Nicol Bolas was an elder dragon from the elder dragon wars on Dominaria. This is all before the Eberron-eque arcanapunk age (don’t worry — we’ll get there).
“…Dominaria is as close as Magic comes to the classic fantasy that D&D draws from. Feel free to make extensive use of class options, monsters, and other parts of the fifth edition D&D rules.”— James Wyatt, Plane Shift: Dominaria introduction
Seven Pillars of Benalia
Benalia is the head of trade and culture in Dominaria. Also the most powerful military force, the land is a sprawl of dense forests, rolling mountains and a huge coast. Rotating spires float over its landscape offering a degree of mystic beauty to an otherwise verdant mountain scape. This realm is probably most similar to your bread and butter fantasy land and the artwork for this section does not disappoint!
Benalia’s port capital is a beautiful and auspicious place with glorious halls of stained glass. Decorating the city’s center are the Seven Pillars of Benalia, which mark the peaceful ruling agreement among the seven noble houses of the land.
Humans and aven (more on them later) are most common in this realm. The suggested classes paint the picture of a religion-fueled land of developed city-states populating vast wildlands primed for adventure. The villains of this realm are most often zealots who believe themselves to be the heroes of their tales. Intrigue and politics offer espionage within cities and the conflict of morality is paramount in Benalia, as law and chaos vie for the hearts of loyal devotees of the church of Serra. All in all this realm gave me some major vibes like Toussaint from the Witcher series or possibly Orlais from the Dragon Age franchise.
Church of Serra
The Church of Serra is home primarily to monks, paladins and clerics. The church strives to act as a force of good and a beacon of hope in Benalia — a mission it succeeds at to a degree. Despite the many factions populating the church the organization works well on the whole.
It is the spiraling towers of the Church of Serra that float overhead across the landscape of Benalia. These gilded beacons in the sky house loyal followers of their goddess, painting the potentially mundane beauty of the land with ethereal, surreal glory.
What fascinates me about the Church of Serra is the noted lack of hypocrisy within the church. This conflicts with our real world understandings of religion. Without getting too political or preaching I can speak from experience that many of the religions of the world inherently breed hypocrisy, at least most I have encountered. This marked lack of it within the Church of Serra reads as a bit Stepford to me, a sort of curated ideal that immediately leads me to ask, “How are the Church of Serra so effective at rooting out corruption and false religion?” Could it be the church has a darker side or possibly strips dissenters of free thought? These are left unasked and enigmatic within the supplement yet it got me thinking about what this organization could be hiding and how they would do this.
The Torlarian Academies are said to be populated almost exclusively by wizards. As institutions for learning the science of magic alongside other disciplines this faction reminds me strongly of many magical science schools from things like Harry Potter and Fullmetal Alchemist.
For me the most interesting part of this section of the supplement lies in what is not said. Just because the academies are conspicuously populated by wizards this doesn’t mean there are no sorcerers among them. Perhaps secret factions of bards fudge their way through magic or incorporate other mystic disciplines into their studies. I wouldn’t put it past a struggling student to forge a warlock’s pact with an Otherworldly Patron in exchange for the power or skill to pass a certain test.
While the section on villain ideas feels quite vanilla with its emphasis on destructive wizards, perhaps these wizards possess motivations that paint them paragons of learning, willing to question why certain magics are forbidden or practicing dark arts and combining them with taboo sciences to make new breakthroughs in their fields.
Merfolk of Vodalia
The Merfolk of Vodalia charge other cultures for safe passage through their waters, as most of the planet is covered in water. They remain neutral in conflicts on the surface, and while reading this (not gonna lie), I was a bit disappointed the merfolk weren’t made into a playable race for this supplement. While I’m sure you could adapt something like the Triton from Volo’s Guide to Monsters I would have loved to see WotC take the plunge and give us a fully aquatic race.
They had a second opportunity with the homarid, which would have made for a fascinating race for players. These amphibious crustacean people would have made a fascinating player race but alas, no such luck. I feel like there’s potential to homebrew them out of a tortle base but that’s neither here nor there. The conflict between the homarid and merfolk could be a truly fascinating concept to explore for a seafaring campaign in Dominaria.
Need a universal, cultish villain for your Dominaria campaign? Look no further than Belzenlok’s Cabal. This demon worshipping cult seeks to dominate the whole of Dominaria. Playing a character allied with them would most likely be evil of some variety and after reading this I could see why the setting opted to make the Church of Serra so universally wholesome, acting as a foil to these nasty cultists. Still, the storyteller within me asks how to tell a more interesting story with this lore and immediately I came up with someone who left the cult. Possibly a warlock who once forged a pact under the cult has seen the error of their ways.
The signature spells for cabalist characters offer some interesting insight into the organization and how they fight. It’s mentioned as well these cultists can be found all over the world of Dominaria, used as stock bad guy fodder when you need to give characters a good scare or a much needed combat session among the political intrigue.
Warhosts of Keld
Home to barbarians, fighters, bards and clerics the Warhosts of Keld give me some major Viking vibes though many other conqueror cultures. The giants of this land strike me with heavy Nord vibes from the Elder Scrolls or the Norn from Guild Wars 2.
We even get a race out of these! While Keldon are technically humans I would like to see more variant human options like this as it lends a huge degree of flavor to what many would consider a default race in many settings. Keld is brimming with flavor for adventurers. I would lean heavily into the skaald motif for bards, a more creepy and pagan feel for clerics and probably focus on the culture’s glorification of fighting massive monsters and the honor of the hunt.
The villain description here feels a bit like the grunting, roaring barbarian villains though I would love to see a story where a skaald possibly impeded their companions or orchestrated a monster fight for sake of a better story. Perhaps that cleric fortune teller is on the side of the enemy? Betrayal feels like the ultimate plot twist for this otherwise fairly straightforward region of the world. Another option might be a bloodthirsty “hero” who seeks glory and death without honor or without knowing what or why they fight.
Elves of Llanowar
The reclusive Elves of Llanowar are described as being xenophobic and their suggested classes revolve around wilderness. These elves feel like quintessential wood elves and their culture evokes notes reminiscent of the Dalish from Dragon Age, the wood elves of Tamriel and the tropes of many elves drawn from Tolkein’s elven lore.
Supremely magical, one of the coolest nonstandard traits of these elves is their bond with a reptilian beast called a Kavu. These creatures are tied to the elves’ religion and reflect their goddess’s blessing on their protecting her wildlands as wardens of nature. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: There’s stat blocks for two new creatures included in Plane Shift: Dominaria. Kavu Predator and Steel Leaf Kavu excellent for mounts, beast companions or Wild Shape forms.]
I felt a smidge disappointed by the simple (paraphrasing) “xenophobic elves make good villains” argument. While I understand these elves are meant to evoke notes of dryads from things like The Witcher I have to say a more interesting elven villain would be one who has betrayed their people to outsiders, further reinforcing their reasoning for such actions in a land populated with magic and danger.
Nicol Bolas — the scourge of Dominaria
While studying Dominaria I fell into one of my research rabbit holes, this time about a character from the realm of Dominaria. The character was a major player in the MTG lore as I came to find out, and he was also a planeswalker. And also an elder dragon?
Nicol Bolas was born in Dominaria, spawn of the Ur-Dragon who is basically like the god and father of all dragons. Interestingly Nicol Bolas and his brother Ugin were the only twin elder dragons. Kind of gives a whole new perspective to the good/evil twin trope. At any rate Nicol Bolas won the Elder Dragon War. When he did he became a planeswalker.
Using his planeswalker powers he invaded many realms, causing general mayhem as the lurking villain behind a great many evils. His invasion of Amonkhet was one of the most epic and the artwork for his cards in positively breathtaking. However, while I would definitely be tempted to let Nicol Bolas conquer this post I must persevere! Just know if you ever want to deep dive into some evil dragon story goodness Nicol Bolas has a whole history surrounding him.
Did we plane shift to Eberron? Forgotten Realms? Nope, still in Dominaria.
Dominaria had a super advanced society called Thran Empire. With arcane power stones fueling hovering vehicles and even floating cities Dominaria starts sounding a lot like a science fantasy even exceeding Eberron’s technology.
Honestly I would love to try incorporating Eberron supplements and rules into Dominaria as a means of exploring the many wonders the Thran Empire offers. However, as is so often the case all good things must come to an end and all of this at the hands of a kaiju — wait, hold on. Not a kaiju. A villain. But with a name like Yawgmoth can you blame me for assuming?
In all seriousness Yawgmoth was a majorly bad dude. Essentially a proponent for eugenics, Yawgmoth took over much of the Thran Empire, became a godlike being and raised an army of monsters. The nation crumbled with civil war and technology development slowed to a veritable crawl. With the following ages, magic lessened, technology all but died out and the world evolved into what would most closely resemble a standard high fantasy setting with an ancient lost civilization of advanced tech. With this history in mind I immediately think of settings like the Shannara Chronicles or Numenera.
Domains of Dominaria
With Dominaria being the closest bleedover from D&D fantasy for MTG, Plane Shift: Dominaria actually feels like the most accessible of all of these settings on the DMs Guild. While the supplement itself is fairly sparse on new races and class options, it possesses all of the core ingredients to getting you started in the world itself, with several plot hooks available and quick explanations of backgrounds and bonds.
However, the real gem in this supplement is the variant option for aaracokra called the aven.
The aven does a better version of aaracokra in basically every way. My favorite part about the race is the feature granting an “eagle eye” for ranged weapons and also removes disadvantage for firing a ranged weapon at long range. This feature makes sense on a fundamental level to me. Also the aven artwork in this is breathtaking and I will probably make that character in D&D Beyond after writing this.
I also really enjoyed the brief flavor explanations of preferred classes, races and the like for each nation. It felt like an efficient shorthand for incorporating some quick flavor into your setting and getting off to an easy startup. The replacement or additional background characteristics for each nationality also felt especially flavorful. I wish more setting books did things like this for D&D in general, as this supplement really shines with making it feel easy to adapt the PHB and other races more specifically into a setting that makes each choice feel more special.
For being as close to D&D fantasy as MTG gets this supplement does a fantastic job at distinguishing itself from other D&D fantasy settings. It makes it feel especially flavorful with its evocative artwork and streamlined, accessible explanations. What started out to be an overwhelmingly rich fantasy world came out to be an accessible and unique fantasy setting, thanks to Plane Shift: Dominaria on the DMs Guild.
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 Dominaria, 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 — Dominaria is referred to as “The Wheel” because what happens there affects many other planes and it is the setting for the majority of Magic storylines. [Art by Sam Burley]