Written by Jeremy Morgan, tabletop games editor, gamer, and software developer.
About | Planescape4E

Planescape 4E - The Plane's The Thing

16 September 2011

The Lady of Pain's Crest

We’re going to continue with our Planescape 4E revamp but start into a new series. I’ve covered races, and now I want to discuss how to handle the planes. Obviously this is the bulk of the Planescape setting, so we’re probably going to be camped out here for a while. Sit back and enjoy the show!

The Setting

In the original Planescape material, the planes had character. It was spelled-out - in black and white (or sepia and white) - that some of them were downright deadly. The Inner Planes were a good example of this, most of them were instantly deadly for an unprepared party. Even a prepared party was going to have trouble.

Fourth edition has largely removed this. The planes are now adventuring locales, with most of their teeth removed. Part of this series will be to restore some of the original bite using 4e mechanics.

The Character

Each plane will have a character or flavor to it. The basic approach is to have a set of three (a nice nod to the Rule of Three, if you ask me) characteristics that I’ll use for each of the planes. For this first pass, I’m not going to worry about specific hazards, terrain, or even monsters. I’m just going to focus on the character of the plane. We’ll add the flesh to the bones a little later.

The Stage

Each of the settings will have a planar effect, a horizon, and secondary effects. The planar effect will describe the overall “feel” of the plane and give a mechanical effect that is active over most, if not all, of the plane. The horizon is basically a timer/trigger mechanic that acts as a catalyst. The secondary effects will be complications that arise from the action of the horizon.

The Tone

In 4E, each plane is described with a set of characteristics. The first is planar type. For my purposes, a plane is a plane. I may attach some effects to all inner planes, but I’ll have to think about what advantages that would have. For now, I’m not going to worry about it.

The next characteristic is the planar structure and laws, i.e. the shape, the gravity, mutability, and whether there are layers or not. Here’s where I’ll spend some time. This is where I feel a lot of the planar effect comes into play. For example, the elemental plane of fire may cause all powers with a fire descriptor to do more damage, or maybe everyone is fire-vulnerable instead. There’s a lot of space to come up with some interesting effects.


The horizon mechanics are the invention of Quinn Murphy, @gamefiend on Twitter. He runs At-Will and is known for his analytic mind when it comes to game design. Go check out Don’t Rest Here: Menace and the Horizon to get the gist and then come back. Don’t worry, this post will be waiting when you get back.

Back? Good. Let’s continue. I’m going to use the horizon to set up a clock for when certain mechanical effects occur using a trigger mechanism. For example, something should happen in the Abyss if you invoke the name of a powerful demon lord.


The secondary effects are things that the horizon can cause: diseases, monster summons, and the like. Planes may have a few, and some planes may share the same secondary effects. It might make more sense once you’ve seen an example, but go with me. I think you’re gonna like it.

Hopefully, I’ve given enough of a preview that we have a foundation to build on. We’ll start next week with the Gray Wastes, but I’ll break each plane into multiple posts. Any planes you particularly want to see? I’m open to sequencing.


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