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Planescape-style - How do you run a planar adventure?

Isida Kep'Tukari

Adventurer
Supporter
I really love the idea of plane-hopping characters. I have the 2nd edition AD&D Planescape box set, the 3.0 Manual of the Planes, and the 3.5 Planar Handbook. (Also Malhavoc Press' Beyond Countless Doorways.) I adore the descriptions of the various planes, the interesting racial and class options, even the factions for Sigil. But... how do you play a planar adventure? What sort of things do you do, particularly at low levels?

Is it even possible to do a Planescape-style adventure at low levels at all? If you're low-level, you lack the strength to survive being on some planes at all, just due to certain planar environments. I know you could avoid sending the PCs to, say, the Elemental Plane of Fire until they were tough enough to handle that, but even without such blatantly destructive planar destinations, there are quite some doozies. You also have no options of independent plane-hopping - you would sort of have to hope you have a patron that would taxi you about, unless I missed something.

Are there certain types of plots you can do in Planescape that you can't do elsewhere? What kinds of unique adventures do you have plane-hopping that you couldn't have on the Prime Material? If it primarily the exoticness of the various settings that's used to energize your usual plots? (Because I could see a typical Quest For the Magical McGuffins being more interesting if you're crossing into different planar domains.)

What other considerations do I as a DM have to think about for adventuring across the planes?
 

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Southern Oracle

First Post
I have run a Planescape campaign for the last 10 years, and every peripheral campaign I've run in that time has also been a planar campaign (even if the players never realized it). I like the planar sandbox, because I can explore concepts, try out new settings, and "test" new rules without a waste of time and investment.

Over the years, I have found two adventures that are the perfect launching point for a planar campaign, depending on the scope and focus of said campaign. Because the planes are so vast and you have so many choices, you do need to think ahead and determine a clear trajectory for the campaign. This isn't railroading; it's picking a theme or concept or goal and working toward developing that to its full potential. And if players lose interest, or things don't go the way you thought, you can shift to another focus.

If I want a light-hearted campaign that gives the players a whirlwind tour of the multiverse and introduces them to the awesome scope and majesty of the planes, I hearken all the way back to Tales of the Outer Planes from AD&D and its first adventure, "A Simple Deed, Well Rewarded." That adventure lets the characters visit exotic locales across the planes and interact with gods, all while stressing that brains are more important than brawn. If the players seem to enjoy that style of adventure, you can continue with the others in the book, as they make a good adventure path. You can also use the World Serpent Inn and Mitchifer, its proprietor, to introduce the characters to any other setting you wish. I used the World Serpent Inn as a T.A.R.D.I.S. -- every time the heroes exited the front door at lower levels, they were in a different setting.

The other introductory adventure I like to start with is The Eternal Boundary for the Planescape campaign setting. The adventure has a more serious bent, but it also stresses brains over brawn...the heroes see first hand that they cannot hope to take on every challenge the planes has to offer. Once again, if the players like the adventure and crave more, I'd segue into The Great Modron March, then Dead Gods (and then Faction War, if you're not squeamish).*

For my longest running campaign, I used Mitchifer and the World Serpent Inn in conjunction with The Eternal Boundary. The theme for my campaign is "Choose a side." Over the course of 10 years game play and 17 character levels, the heroes have come to realize that every action they take (and every action they don't take) has a consequence, and they must come to terms with those consequences. People die, cities crumble, and worlds are forever changed because of the decisions they make. On the flip side, beauty is preserved, life is celebrated, and whole new worlds are birthed by those same choices. My players joke that I've made everything good and everything bad in the multiverse their characters' fault, and it's kinda true.

If you've got any more questions (or if you want more exposition), feel free to ask.

*Say what you will about the adventure, but it gives you the tools to make Sigil and the factions exactly what you want, without feeling like you're violating canon.
 

ThirdWizard

First Post
Is it even possible to do a Planescape-style adventure at low levels at all?

There are lots of places to go that aren't going to kill you outright. The good planes, for one. Adventures in Elysium, Bytopia, of Mount Celestia. The Outlands is another good place, as you can pretty much do "normal" adventuring there. If you want something a bit more deadly, you could have a quick visit to the Beastlands or The Gray Wastes in a location that isn't too deadly. There are lots and lots of options.

One of my favorite early adventuring spot is Sigil itself. I love urban adventuring.

Try to keep low level Planescape adventures away from killing slogfests. They should be more about knowledge and building experience dealing with various disparate groups who make the planes their home. Perhaps the PCs must deliver a parcel to a githyanki stronghold in the Astral, but the portal to get there is deep in the Hall of Records. What do they do?

Are there certain types of plots you can do in Planescape that you can't do elsewhere?

Planar locations definitely lend themselves to some settings you can't emulate in a non-planar world. For example, Acheron's cubes can give rise to adventures with cube jumping, cubes ramming into each other, armies readying themselves for when their cubes touch, etc. I always had great times with Mechanus, moving gears and modrons make for lots of possibilities. And, there's that feeling of being in the Abyss, Mount Celestia, the Plane of Fire, or wherever, that you can't get in your normal setting. When you find yourself in an ancient temple, flames licking around the sides, the sky on fire, and three orbs floating about protecting you from all that, your enemy in the middle of a ritual to destroy one of those orbs, it is going to be hard to replicate that kind of scenario anywhere else. The same with running a green steel black market under the nose of a baatezu general, freeing a rakshasa slave mining operation on a floating island in the plane of air, uncovering a plot to sneak a god into Sigil, or killing a demon general in his own stronghold. All of which are examples from my own games.
 

Zhaleskra

Adventurer
I really love the idea of plane-hopping characters. I have the 2nd edition AD&D Planescape box set, the 3.0 Manual of the Planes, and the 3.5 Planar Handbook. (Also Malhavoc Press' Beyond Countless Doorways.) I adore the descriptions of the various planes, the interesting racial and class options, even the factions for Sigil. But... how do you play a planar adventure? What sort of things do you do, particularly at low levels?

Is it even possible to do a Planescape-style adventure at low levels at all?

Saving the planes for high level is to miss the point of Planescape. Planescape is not a hack and slash setting: if you set out to just kill everything, you will die . . . or worse. It is a more political style setting, even without the factions. Sometimes you actually have to work with devils to get something done. The planes are very grey, or perhaps even blue and orange. Mostly it is about beliefs, yours, your party's, the community's, and how that affects reality.
 

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