I don’t remember precisely when I first obtained my copy of D&D 3rd edition’s Manual of the Planes. It was probably among the first supplements I ever owned. It’s almost certainly the first RPG book I read cover-to-cover. I spent much of my early life exploring fantastical worlds through books and video games, so I was no stranger to the idea of otherworldly dimensions where the laws of reality work differently. What was completely new to me was to see those worlds explained and quantified. In a narrative, it’s important to maintain an aura of mystique about such locals. But this book had diagrams, explanations of different types of gravity, even pseudoscience about how the planes interacted with one another. The volume of concepts the book presented set my imagination aflame. The possibilities of running a planar adventure are always wafting about in my mind, but in all this time, I’ve never got around to actually doing it.
In our most recent session I presented my players with four different hooks. The elves needed help in their war against the orcs to the south, and there were three different adventures the players would need to undertake to obtain the three different materials they would need to transform their sorceress into an Arachnohominid. So what happens?
Gibbous The Cleric “What about all those gnomes that were turned to stone in the dungeon?”
GM “Well, Pumofe [The party’s new gnome barbarian] was one of them. The rest are still in there.”
Gibbous “We can’t just leave them down there. We should help them first.”
Poker the Rogue “I see no profit in that.”
Rosco The Ranger “Well, we could at least tell the gnomes that they’re in there.”
Pumofe “But they can’t get them out, can they? There’s the magical barrier thing that keeps gnomes out.”
Poker “Oh! Since we’re the only ones who can go in there, we can charge the village per statue we carry out!”
Gibbous “Guys, we have gotta help these gnomes! I wasn’t here last session, how did we rescue Pumofe?”
Rosco “We used Demon’s blood.”
Gibbous “I have some of that!”
GM “No you don’t, that’s the blood they used.”
Gibbous “Cuthbert damn it! We need to find some demons then. Come on guys!”
A few hours of gameplay later, the party had tracked down their wizard friend Mahudar Kosopske, and convinced him to make them a Gem of Plane Shift with 2 charges. One to get them to the Abyss, and one to bring them home. (a scene which I recently posted an illustration of, in fact). Assuming they stick to their present adventure path, it looks like I’ll be running my first Planar adventure pretty soon. I’m excited, and brimming with ideas.
The gem the wizard is making for them will teleport them to a relatively unpopulated area, ostensibly for safety’s sake, since they are still low level adventurers. But since the purpose of their trip is to harvest blood from demons, a remote location serves the double purpose of making their task more difficult. I’ve been trying to come up with challenges they’ll need to face which will test their mettle without giving them what they need too easily. So far I’ve com up with the following:
- Field of Chains an area of ground covered in barbed chains and dead bodies. At first these chains will appear to be set dressing, but once all players are standing on the chains, they will begin to make grapple attempts against the players. Once grappled by at least two chains, they will attempt to pull the player apart. Each chain is AC: 12, Hardness: 4, HP: 6, with a CMB of +6. Each round a character is successfully grappled, they will take 1 damage from the barbs on each chain, as they shift and twist. Once there are two chains on a player, they will make a combat maneuver check at a -4 penalty to pin the character. This penalty is reduced by 1 for each chain on the player. Once a player is pinned, the chains deal 1d6 damage per round as they attempt to pull the player apart.
- Suicide Forest An extremely dense forest of dead trees, with a body hanging by a noose from each tree. The branches of these trees are extremely brittle, and whenever one breaks, the tree screams in agony from an unseen mouth. It is impossible to move through this forest without breaking branches every few feet. And every scream has a chance to attract a hellhound–or worse. (Thank you, Dante Alighieri!)
- Acid Lake A titanic creature died here–violently. Only its top half is anywhere to be seen, and it towers above the players like a castle. It appears to have died some time ago, because it has rotted away enough that many bones are visible. Its stomach is completely gone, and from the rotted cavity a wash of green, bubbling acid flowed out to form a lake which deals 1d8+2 damage per round.
- The Gods are Not Welcome Anytime a player attempts to cast any good aligned clerical magic (such as Gibbous’ healing spells) demons nearby will sense the intrusion into their realm, and a random encounter will be rolled to appear 1d6 rounds later.
- Field of Razorgrass Field of waist-high grass. Any character not wearing armor takes 1d4 damage per square they move through. Characters wearing armor on their legs still take 1d4 damage, but only once per movement.
If anyone has any more environment ideas, I’m eager to hear them.
I think the best way to run this little planar excursion will be to style it like an outdoor dungeon. Instead of using 6 mile hexes, I’ll use 5ft hexes, and the players will need to solve problems in 10 minute turns. I’ll also need to figure out just how much blood they can get from each demon–and how big and bad the demons will get. If they’re not careful, they will probably encounter something severely out of their league, such as a Marileth.