Last week my first appearance ever on the Tome Show podcast was posted (on my Birthday, no less!) and the topic that I was very pleased to be invited in on was Planar Advice for 4th Edition. Thank you to Jeff for the invite, and if you haven’t listened to this episode or if the Tome Show in general then you should head over to his website and check it out!
For the Planar Uninitiated
While recording the show, Jeff brought up an interesting point that I hadn’t considered with regards to the 4th Edition D&D planes. If you’re not familiar with the 4E planes, allow me to give you a very brief introduction. The material world has two mirror planes, the Shadowfell that is a darker reflection focusing on death and the Feywild which is a brighter reflection and focuses on life. I greatly enjoy both of these planes because they both thrive on the abundance of either death or life and particularly the Feywild introduces the concept that the abundance of life (killer vegetation, tricksy faeries, etc) can be equally as dangerous as anything found in the other planes.
Below the material world and its reflections is a plane called the Elemental Chaos that represents unbridled creation and destruction and is the domain of primordial creatures, while above is the plane known as the Astral Sea that closely resembles the common conception of “heaven” and is the domain of divine entities. If the Shadowfell and Feywild are death and life, then the Elemental Chaos and Astral Sea are chaos and order, and you can practically guess what alignment creatures might be inclined towards depending on which plane they originated from (if 4E still used the classic D&D alignment scale, that is).
The Planes as Afterlife
Back to the interesting idea that I mentioned, while recording the episode Jeff summarized the 4E planes as the afterlife of living beings in D&D. The Shadowfell is where all souls pass on their journey after death, the Astral Sea is where divine servants ascend if they are worthy, and the Elemental Chaos (specifically the Abyss) is where souls might end up if they’re captured by demons or if they serve one of the gods that happens live outside of the Astral Sea. I was intrigued by this view of the planes, but I quickly jumped on the fact that the Feywild as written doesn’t entirely mesh with the overall idea.
That’s exactly why I suggested modifying the planes to fit into this greater concept. After all, if you have a big picture idea such as “the planes are the afterlife” then this is precisely the kind of creativity that can make campaigns memorable. Why not use the Feywild as the afterlife of elves, Eladrin, and other fey creatures in your game world? I’m sure that in some of the material for 4th Edition there are regions in the Feywild where elves can go after death, but I’m talking about making this concept a larger part of your game world.
Imagine if all Elves, Eladrin, and Drow in your game world experienced a completely different afterlife from other races that involved their passage directly into the Feywild. For starters you could use the religions from Eberron where elves worship elven heroes of legend, but then imagine if it were common practice to journey into the Fey plane to visit and consult your ancestors. Beyond that, what kinds of benefits or advantages would these races get from being outside of the Raven Queen’s dominion? Maybe Elves and Eladrin are largely immune to corruption from Devils and Demons and thus have less to fear from Orcus or Asmodeus. This could lead to armies of devils and demons invading the Feywild in search of souls and a way to circumvent this immunity.
Don’t be Afraid to Mess with the Planes
Just with the simple act of bringing the Feywild into line with the other planes with regards to the afterlife we can come up with a handful of compelling ideas that will set your game apart from others and distinguish your game world from what is presented in the 4E books. We could develop the idea further by adapting the Elemental Chaos to be more of an afterlife than just the Abyss, possibly even taking it to the point of introducing the Primordials as a bigger influence in the game world. Since 4th Edition launched I’ve been curious what a game world would look like where divine characters were evenly split between following the gods and following primordials. Perhaps the Dawn War ended in more of a stalemate than the divine victory that 4th Edition assumes. The ways this simple change to history might impact every aspect of the game world are astounding.
Along the same lines as the afterlife discussion, you could modify the planes so that they are all reflections of the material world. This would mean that locations on your map would have an impact on the Elemental Chaos and the Astral Sea as well, but it also changes some of the big picture concepts introduced in those two realms and would probably require some more in depth consideration while developing the idea.
Lastly I’ll suggest an idea that I’ve been dying to try out in a campaign, eliminating one or more of the planes altogether! Particularly if you’re not a fan of one plane or another, imagine what would happen to the cosmology if the Feywild or even the Astral Sea were destroyed in some catastrophic planar disaster. You could have a world where the gods are homeless and stranded in the material world! Many of these concepts may already exist in one of the plethora of published campaign settings out there, so if that’s the case please let me know because I’d love to check it out!
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