Jordel made his way out of the Great Bazaar, seeking a quieter place where he could hear the mimir’s tale in peace. The strange magical device floated a foot before with him, and at times he felt like it was the one doing the leading. Yet he had no complaints when he found himself on a small bench nestled between two impressively tall buildings lined with menacing thorns along their rooftops. The mimir paused its recitation for a moment, seemingly considering what it had next to say…
“A tad long winded that one, but you can find worse bashers to learn from. Of course, what’s most important to planewalkers is how to get from place to place. The profession doesn’t entail lounging in one area, after all. There’s too much to be seen, far more than can be squeezed into a single lifetime. Fortunately most of the multiverse, save perhaps the Prime Material Plane, is riddled with portals and other pathways to travel between the planes. For those powerful enough, magic simplifies planar traveling as well, and of course some creatures have the inherent ability to cross planes. Every method has its advantages and disadvantages; each can provide its own adventure. And the real excitement typically starts once you get to your destination, which is why it’s important to know what you’re getting into and to be properly prepared in advance. You don’t want to head into Pandemonium without being ready for the winds, and you don’t want to step onto Elysium without knowing a way out.”
[Editor's note: Hajzeek is a sad sight these days. You’ll be hard pressed to find a cutter who’s seen more nooks and crannies of the planes than that old bariaur. But everything passes with time, so they say. He certainly makes Sigil richer with the time he has left.]
Ah, was a time these hooves took me all across the planes. I saw the darkest, smelliest hole in the multiverse and the brightest, sweetest heights of ’em, too. And I loved ’em all. Pass me another mug o’ that bub there, and ol’ Gnarl-Hoof will tell ye all about it. I’ll lann ye the ins and outs o’ planehoppin’, I will. The first thing a planewalker needs knowin’ is how to get around. There’s lots o’ ways ye can get to where ye’re going.
The way most folks get around the planes is portals. There’s really three reasons for this. They usually take ye to the same spot every time, just about any sod can use ’em, and the things be as common as Dustmen at a mass burial. Portals connect two places through a permanent teleportation effect. This makes ’em quick and handy shortcuts, sometimes to a place on the same plane, but oftentimes to another plane altogether. Now, the portal itself can be up to about 15 feet in radius, and exists in two-dimensions. I got that from a Guvner. Most portals’re in doorways or gates that have the same sort o’ shape, but they can also be found in other sorts o’ bounded spaces like windows, holes, or natural opening.
Portals keep things movin’, allowin’ people to get to places they could never reach otherwise. Some of us use ’em just for the noble art of explorin’ the corners o’ the multiverse, but lots o’ folks use ’em to spread their jink around. Opportunistic traders can get rare goods from out-o’-the way spots and bring ’em to other out-o’-the way spots. Portals make Sigil the City o’ Doors; that city has more portals in and out of it than pointy bits on a bladeling, and so the city has a big sway on planar doin’s. Lucky for all of us that the Lady can’t be bought. She ignores all the posturin’s of the sycophants and cross-traders o’ the factions and guilds, and She’s the only one that can make portals that lead in or out o’ the city. Outside the Cage, it seems that portals are a natural part o’ the planes, sometimes crafted by deities but usually just appearin’ and disappearin’ of their own accord. But mortals who try to make ’em always fail. Now, I hear tell that some primes can make portals on the Prime Material Plane, but those spells only work on their out-o’-touch worlds.
Since planars can’t make their own portals, many groups and businesses make chartin’ the portals that do exist a big priority. Then they turn around an’ sell that knowledge to planewalkers. Good thing, since portals ain’t so easy to find. And they usually need a special key to open ’em. Mark ye well the Rule of Threes when usin’ portals: find the portal, then figure out its key, and then get ready for what’s on the other side.
Portals are invisible, but they give off a faint aura o’ transmutation magic, so bloods using detect magic an’ true sight can see ’em, and they give off a much stronger aura when they’re open. Planars can kind o’ sense portals, spottin’ traces of the aura around the portals. Usin’ witchery, or just sniffing it out yerself don’t give ye a clue on how the portal is opened, though. How hard a portal is to find or get to can give an idea of how out-o’-the-way its destination is. Thank the powers that most portals are medium-sized and stay in one place, but there be plenty of ’em that can be moved, like barrels, wardrobes, or mirrors, and others that change on their own
Just finding one portal usually doesn’t finish the job. They ain’t many portals that’re static, and lots o’ times they have conditions that make travelin’ back and forth more difficult. For starters, portals can be either one-way or two-way, which means ye may have to find another portal in order to find yer way back. Even portals that’re two-way oftentimes have different keys to open each side o’ the portal. And if that ain’t enough, portals are either temporary, permanent, or shiftin’. Most portals be temporary, appearin’ and disappearin’ at what seems like random times, or changin’ their keys every once in a while. Permanent portals are hard to find, and’re jealously guarded by those who want to keep ’em under their thumb. Lastly, some portals don’t disappear but just move about between locations. These shiftin’ portals move one or both o’ their ends to other locations based on some pattern, though a lot o’ them seem to shift in ways that make no sense. Shiftin’ portals can be pretty dicey if ye don’t know where ye’re goin’ to be comin’ out.
Discovering the Key
Almost all portals need some sort o’ key to open ’em up. This key can be just about anythin’ a cutter can think of: a word or sayin’, a gesture (like waving your hands), a thought or emotion, a musical note, the castin’ of a particular spell (which is then sucked up by the portal without any harm), or the channelin’ of divine energy. Many portal keys are part of a general group such as a flower, a bottle, or a broken sword. Others may be more specific such as a particular amulet, or an object the wielder considers to be junk. A few rare portals may be set to open only at certain times during the day or year, or only to someone wit’ a particular name or alignment. The kind o’ portal key is oftentimes related to the portal’s destination, but that ain’t always the way o’ things.
The most obvious way to figure out a portal key is the ol’ “trial and error” method, but it’s not the best way to go about things. This only has a chance to work if ye got some idea about where the portal goes and think the key’s connected to that. Spellslingers, on the other hand, are oftentimes given the job of learnin’ portal keys by castin’ divination spells like analyze portal or legend lore. These bloods can make a good livin’ sellin’ their skills and knowledge to planewalkers or catalogers. Most planars, ’specially in Sigil, learn portal keys through word o’ mouth or exchanges of information. The cost of a portal key can vary wildly. How much does the physical key itself cost? How few’re portals to the place in question? How much does the operator of the portal want to keep traffic down? How much is it worth to ye, berk? For portals that see common use, a portal key (whether ’tis an object, action, or mental concept) will generally cost from 5 to 100 gold pieces.
Once you have the right key, turning the portal on is normally pretty simple. Usually the person wit’ the key just walks through the portal, and it activates when the key passes through. Sometimes the key’s gotta be used a certain way, though, like holding it in the air or tapping it against the portal itself. It don’t matter whether the portal is bein’ activated on purpose or not; if someone happens to carry a portal key on ‘em, or otherwise triggers the portal, it opens, oftentimes catching the person ’fore they realize it.
The Other Side
When it opens, a portal crackles wit’ energy and sometimes lets out a burst of air or other effects. Sometimes the portal’s destination can be seen as a dim outline once the portal is on. Unless something special opened it up, the portal stays open for a full six seconds ’fore it shuts down. Usually, all ye have to do is put any part o’ yer body into the portal, and ye’ll get sucked through. But if the portal’s two-way and ye have the key for both sides then ye can move freely in and out o’ the portal. So ye can poke yer head through and peer around, for instance. If there’s something solid blockin’ the other side o’ the portal, it won’t open.
Any planewalker’ll tell ye that knowin’ what’s on the other side o’ the portal is the most important knowledge ye can hold. No point in going through it if ye don’t know where it goes, unless ye’re just burnin’ up wit’ curiousity. Usually ye know somethin’ o’ where the portal leads ’fore ye pass through it, either by using analyze portal or by lannin’ it from whoever gave ye the portal key. Some planewalkers have developed the ability to sense where a portal goes to and even if there’s a natural danger on the other side. The best way to handle planar hazards is wit’ spells, but some devices have been made to use on specific planes.
Well, this is the multiverse we’re speakin’ of, and there’s always somethin’ that breaks the rules. There be portals that don’t need keys, that’re always open, or don’t even need to be in bounded spaces. The easiest examples to point to be the portals along the Great Road, the World Ash, or Mount Olympus. And o’ course the ways portals work may be completely different on certain prime worlds or other obscure regions o’ the multiverse.
Using the City of Doors
Sigil hangs above the Spire like an apple just out o’ reach from those who want to grab it. Many have lusted to control the city and its portals, but it knows only one mistress. Luckily, She makes sure no one gains too much control o’er her doors. I’ve spent a lot o’ time in this city. In the old days, I stayed just long enough to get to where I was going next. Now, it makes a better place than most to rest these creaking bones and talk wit’ travelers by a warm fire.
Adventurers and traders could hardly find a better place to set up shop than the Cage. Nowhere else in all the known planes gives as much access to the rest of existence. Though Sigil’s portals may not always drop a cutter off in the exact spot that body wants, they can get close enough. Even parties that don’t call kip in the city oftentimes pass through, finding that the shortest path between two points goes through the Cage. In fact, there ain’t many planar explorers that don’t make use o’ the City of Doors in some way.
Though Sigil is full o’ portals to the other planes, getting to use ’em is another matter. Whilst even the Guvners can’t keep track o’ just how many portals exist at any one time, ’tis the opinion o’ most bloods that nearly all portals in the Cage are under someone’s control, be it a guild, faction, or random basher. Usually, such portals be on property owned by the controller. But sometimes, the portal ain’t under direct ownership, but the location and portal key needed be such a closely kept secret no one else is goin’ to be able to use it, at least ’til someone finds a way to make it worth tellin’. If a cutter’s a member of the controllin’ group, they might have easy access to the portal, or at least for some small cost. If not, the cutter will probably need to provide a garnish of some sort (jink, favors, what-have-ye). That being said, if there’s one thing that’ll get ye flayed, ’tis tryin’ to tax the use o’ the Lady’s portals. That business has been punished so harshly by Her Serenity that only the barmiest ever try it anymore.
Not all Sigil’s portals’re controlled, though. New portals appear oftentimes enough; maybe they’re products o’ the Lady’s whim or some cosmic fluke. Some o’ these vanish just as quickly, though others stick around. Shiftin’ portals are also really hard t’keep track of, though the Guvners still log what details they can in their tomes.
Of course, before getting’ access to a portal, ye have to find one that suits yer needs. Luckily, that’s normally the easiest part, as there be more than enough bashers makin’ a livin’ off findin’ portals and tradin’ chant on ’em. Askin’ around in any o’ Sigil’s pubs will get ye a few recommendations to those in the know, who will likely be just as willing to point ye in the right direction; for a minor fee, o’ course. This can be ’specially handy if ye’re looking for a little-known portal, or mayhap one less public. On the other hand, it ain’t guaranteed that what ye pay for is legit. There be plenty out there looking to bob would-be planewalkers. If’n ye’re looking for something’ more reliable, there be a number o’ businesses that sell portal information that live by their reputation, with the Guild of Doorsnoops bein’ one o’ the biggest.
In the wake o’ the Faction War, the Lady of Pain shut the portals down completely, then scrambled ’em, a time we speak of nowadays as the Tempest o’ Doors. Not all portals reopened, and those that did oftentimes had new destinations or new keys. Over the last five years, things have gotten more regular, but many bashers are now leery of usin’ Sigil’s portals. ’Tis a sad thing when the planewalkers can’t rely on the City o’ Doors. An era has passed us by, but all sweet grass turns brown in the end, I suppose. Now most cutters put more stock in the planar pathways and other forms o’ travel, which means Sigil is a bit less crowded and no longer guaranteed to have access to every bit o’ planar merchandise. But even yet, travel through the Cage is still very high, and the lessened demand for portals has forced businesses to provide cheaper rates for their services.
Sigil’s not the only anthill that has important portals. Around the “edges” o’ the Outlands lay the gate-towns, one for each o’ the Outer Planes. These burgs are shadows o’ the planes they are connected to, culturally an’ philosophically. The land within and around each gate-town takes on the features o’ the plane ’tis linked to, making them a good way for a basher to get a handle on what to expect on the plane itself. Even more important, each gate-town has a gate to the Outer Plane ’tis coupled wit’, usually large enough for caravans to cross, making ’em the main road for merchants. The destinations of most of these gates be well known (though they have been known to move), and guides can be hired in most o’ the gate-towns, which is especially handy for some o’ the less welcomin’ planes, ye’d best believe me. Don’t trust ’em, but so long as they be willin’ to go through a portal first, ye’re probably safe on the other end.
Gaining access to the gates ain’t as easy as ye might expect. Whilst they’re always open and don’t need portal keys, in some o’ the gate-towns, the folks that live there keep a tight grip on passage. The bureaucrats of Automata make all potential gate users fill out forms, whilst Tradegate’s gate is actually owned by a fine and worthy bariaur named the Master Trader, who must be found and negotiated with for passage. Some o’ the other burgs, like Glorium, Sylvania, or Torch have gates that are a little more difficult to find or physically get to, though no one stops a body from trying. But most of the gate-towns don’t have any rules or physical barriers keeping others from using their gate. So long as sods don’t make trouble, they can use the gates all they want.
O’ course, when traveling through the gate-towns, any canny blood is goin’ to be mindful o’ that burg’s own personal quest. Y’see, the petitioners o’ the gate-towns are made up o’ sods who held a particular philosophy but didn’t quite measure up, and didn’t end up on their proper plane. From then on the petitioners o’ that town are devoted to overcomin’ their own stumbling blocks and getting’ their burg to become more and more like the nearby plane until the entire gate-town up and moves there. This is good for the petitioners so they can set about trying to merge with their plane proper, and ’tis good for the plane’s original inhabitants ’cause it means more territory and followers. O’ course, this means that it’ll be a while ’fore folks find where the gate has moved and a new town is built, but ’tis not a recurrin’ problem ’cause these shifts take a long while, what with opposin’ forces interferin’ all the time and most o’ the burg’s mortal residents preferrin’ their homes where they are. Since there tain’t too many petitioners to begin wit’, their desires are normally ignored by more influential bloods. The most recent crossin’ was when the gate-town of the Abyss, Plague-Mort, crossed and was replaced by a burg known as Blight just two years ago.
Portals ain’t the only way to get around, though. One of the other ways is usin’ an elemental vortex, though planars rarely make use of ’em. See, a vortex usually appears on the Prime connectin’ to an Inner Plane, though sometimes vortices connect one Inner plane wit’ another. Near as anyone can tell, vortices are natural holes in the fabric between the planes. These vortices usually last forever and stay nice an’ stable. They don’t need a key neither, but most smart cutters try to find another way to get where they need to go. Why go to all the trouble of finding another way, when these vortices seem so handy? Well, the Prime ends of most vortices tend to form in places where there’s lots an’ lots of the elemental stuff that the vortex leads to. So, a vortex to the Elemental Plane of Fire could be locked deep in the heart of a volcano, while one that leads to the Elemental Plane of Water may be in the deepest reaches of an ocean. But in spite of all these dangers, elemental vortices are many times the safest ways (if ye’ve got the right elemental protections) to get from the Prime to the Inner Planes and back.
Findin’ the vortex ain’t hard, they show up through detect magic and the like, and skilled folk can sense ‘em. So, first things first: find a way to survive the element itself. Use a spell, magic item, or some other sort of adaptin’, and then away ye go. Easy as gallopin’. Ye just get yerself down into the elemental matter, deeper an’ deeper until ye’re all the way under it. The only thing around ye now is that one element. At that moment, ye leave the Prime behind and find yerself in the Inner Plane. There the vortex can’t really be made out from the surroundings, though its elemental properties are actually a bit less strong than the rest of the plane.
The most common an’ stable elemental vortices connect to the four main Elemental Planes. Vortices that get a body to the Para- an’ Quasielemental Planes are much harder to come by and ain’t as reliable. Temporary vortices to Lightning may open up durin’ really violent thunderstorms, and vortices to Ice may appear at the snowbound poles o’ prime worlds on occasion. I’ve even seen Para- an’ Quasielemental vortices muscle their way in and take over other permanent elemental vortices. This one time, I was headin’ for Fire and next thing I know I’m treadin’ through the stiflin’ Plane of Dust. I was prepared for bein’ singed, not chokin’ on all that dust. Use a vortex if ye need to, cutter, but be warned.
The Astral Plane offers up many ways to go to and fro. The Astral is a sort o’ bridge between the Material Plane and the Outer Planes. Sure, there are strange beasts, horrible astral thought storms and the inhospitable githyanki to make any trip through the Silver Void hazardous, but it still sees lots o’ traffic. Spells like astral projection or powers such as astral caravan allow a body to get onto the plane while spells like dimension door and teleport use the astral to travel without actually physically moving between two spots. Those are just some of the most common methods of using the Astral.
A lesser known route is by usin’ astral conduits, which’ll take you from the Astral to ‘bout anywhere on the Planes. They’re strange things; they twist an’ turn throughout the Silvery Void like wormholes in a piece o’ fruit. Now, their ends are invisible, but they don’t need keys, so all a body has to do is go inside and then away ye go, faster than a Taker grabbin’ for the last piece of pie. Travelin’ down one o’ these things feels like goin’ through a portal, but really, that’s not how it is. Ye’re actually movin’ down the tube, but so quick it seems the trip takes no time at all.
So, easy to use, but a cutter needs to know it’s there first, and for that they’ll need to be able to see it, with a spell like true seeing, p’rhaps. Now, where does it lead? Well, unless ye want to take yer chances, divination magic will give ye an idea. So, ye’re smart, you can guess what’s comin’ next, right? Hard to find but useful? Can ye hear the jink changin’ hands? Most spivs in Sigil have it “in with a basher, who’s in with a cutter” who can give the chant about astral conduits. Also, those bookish Guvners have all sorts o’ notes written down that’ll help find conduits. There’s more conduits than there’s pages, though, and more turn up all the time. They tend to roam about too, so make sure yer source is up to date.
Why do they exist? Why do planars need one more way to get around? Well, seems the conduits may really be there for another reason altogether. They’ve got plenty of other uses. Firstly, astral conduits are how the planes of belief and the Prime Material Plane talk to each other. Prayers and devotions from mortal bashers go from the Prime to the Outer Planes through the conduit network and all the spell energy that deities hand out to their faithful comes back that way. When a sod dies, the spirit goes through the astral conduit network to whatever afterlife they’ve earned. ’Cause of all this, many cutters speculate that the conduits were put there on purpose, and that new conduits come about the same way. Only makes sense. And seeing as conduits mature with time, some berks go so far as to say that the conduits themselves are alive. The life stages are broken down to young, when it drifts about and only works one way; then mature, where it tends to stay in one place, moving about every few centuries, and works both ways; and old an’ dodderin’. Then ’tis really dangerous, as it moves around from plane to plane without any way of tellin’ where ’twill end up. And finally, they just die.
Even the stable ones can be treacherous, though. Sometimes, a group traveling t’gether down a conduit gets split up, ending up in different places. And some say this can happen to the spirits of the dead, too, and the poor sods end up in the wrong afterlife. Then there’s some critters that prey on the conduits. See, while the ends of a conduit are invisible, that’s not the way ’tis in the Astral. The conduit tubes can be seen twistin’ through the Silvery Void, and a cutter can tell when a body’s travelin’ down ’em. The githyanki know some spells that can tear open conduits, spilling the contents out into the Astral Plane, and these spells have made their way into other hands. Then there’s the astral vampire (h’rak’va in the githyanki tongue) which can pierce a conduit with its long proboscis and suck out the life force of hapless travelers. Some berks figure these dangers ain’t enough, and tell tales of another beastie called a conduit cleaver, which has hundreds of arms ending in cleavers, and chops through conduits with its bladed limbs just for fun. Me, I’m too old for bogey stories.
Handier than conduits are color pools, as long as a cutter can get to the Astral in the first place. Color pools are holes in the fabric of the Astral. Yep, that’s right, more holes in reality. Startin’ to sound like there are more holes in existence than there be in a halfling’s socks, don’t it? Anyways, color pools are like doorways that go from the Astral to any of the planes it connects to. They look like colored disks that can only be seen from one side. Even though they can’t be seen from one side, both sides work, so astral travelers who ain’t paying attention can tumble right through a color pool ’fore they even know it. Color pools work a lot like the colored disks that are all over Mount Olympus and Yggdrassil. Graybeards wag their bone-boxes about what color pools are, but most planewalkers are just happy to get off a plane infested with githyanki. They don’t care that the exit is a blendin’ of “liquid reality” and “astral ectoplasm”.
Color pools are everywhere in the Silvery Void and even the greenest rube can find one. Just think about going to a color pool that’ll take ye to the plane ye want, and ye’ll start driftin’ in that direction. Now, ye can’t choose where the pool is goin’ to take ye on the plane in question, so ye have to take yer chances. And keep this in mind: despite what some knight o’ the post in the Hive Ward may tell ye, there is no set code to the colors of the pools. One portal to Celestia may be bright blue whilst another is blood red. ’Tis much better to follow yer mind than yer eyes whilst searching for color pools.
Most color pools are one-way portals, so’s ye can get off the Astral, but ye can’t get back that way. A cutter that steps into one is swallowed by the pool and appears, as if from nowhere, on the other side. The color pool’s exit on the plane is invisible. Now, just so there’ll be an exception I wager, every great once in a while, two-way pools come into being. These color pools allow a body to go onto and off o’ the Astral. The entrance back to the Astral is still invisible, though, so mark ye well where ye came out.
Now, the planar pathways, they see much more travel than about anything else. Why? ’Cause they’re pretty easy to walk or ride down. They got well-mapped routes and trails and lots o’ connections to different planes. They ain’t the quickest, but they’re great if a body likes the scenic route. See, unlike the instant travel offered by portals and the like, the great planar paths are roads, staircases, waterways or such that a basher needs to actually travel to get from plane to plane. On some of ’em, the change from plane to plane is so gradual ye might not even notice, while on others, there be portals an’ doorways that connect the path to other planes. ’Cause the pathways are actual physical locations, they each have their own hazards, inhabitants, and special laws required for traversal. There’s six generally recognized planar paths, and these be the Great Road, the River Styx, the River Oceanus, Mount Olympus, Yggdrassil, and the Infinite Staircase.
The Great Road
The Great Road is so great, it’s moved beyond bein’ a real road into what a graybeard would call the ‘archetype’, and what most of us unlearned sods would call the ‘idea’, of a road. As most anyone knows, the Outer Planes form a ring. You’ve got yer Upper Planes, and yer Lower, and then you got those ones in between. Now, if a body is of a mind to, he or she can go from plane to plane, following the ring. This is known as walkin’ the Great Road, and every planewalker should do it at least once. At least part o’ the way, ’cause walking through every plane would take ye a few centuries. Even the modrons take shortcuts when they’re on their march. On each plane, there’s an archway at either end. Yeah, I know planes don’t have ends, and that they go on forever. I still have a workin’ brainbox! Just keep up with me here, aye? Imagine there’s an end to the planes, otherwise ye’ll never get anywheres. These archways are a lot like the doorways in Sigil, and they hook the plane up with the two planes on either side of it. If a basher looks through the arch, the other plane can be seen on the other side. Just step through that arch to get to the other plane. There’s usually some kind of town or fort around the portal. If ye’re in the Upper Planes, ye can buy some wares or have a mug and a rest. In the Lower Planes, you might find yerself the newest spear holder in a Blood War regiment. The fiends make sure an’ secure their portals, both to guard against their foes and to spring their own attacks.
Feh, I’d rather go floppin’ about the Ditchwater than row a boat down the Styx again. Dangerous, smelly, and I can’t remember my first love’s name no more. But sometimes, a planewalker might see the need to travel down its chaotic, meanderin’ course through the Lower Planes, so I’ll tell ye what I know of it. The River Styx connects to the top layer of every Lower Plane and its tributaries connect to lower layers. Its putrid, blood-colored waters steal away a body’s memories if ye so much as stick the tip of yer littlest finger in the sludge. If ye’re so unlucky as to fall in completely, ye’ll find yer very sense of self slippin’ away like smoke in the Foundry. Walkin’ along its banks ain’t much better, ’cause there’s corpses and pointy rocks every which way, and the banks don’t take much to collapse and spill a sod into the waters. And I told ye to stay out o’ the water, aye? Right, ’cause not only will ye lose all yer memories, but there’s horrors in the deeps that keep their wits just fine, and will happily munch on ye.
The river’s path can change at a moment's notice, sending travelers over dangerous rapids, impossibly high waterfalls, or directly into the hands o’ their enemies. Now, most o’ the time, we picture the Outer Planes as a ring, with a Great Road goin’ between ’em. Well, the Styx don’t make sense that way. Accordin’ to it, the planes ain’t sittin’ cozy side by side. A traveler can go from Acheron to Pandemonium with no in-between stops, or they can travel through every lawful evil plane in their travel from Carceri to the Abyss. Movin’ from plane to plane is so gradual that a body’ll look about and realize of a sudden that the planes have changed.
Best way to go down the river is to get a ferrymen. Some of ’em are fiends, others are the spirits of the dead, and a rare few are livin’ beings putting their sailin’ skills to use. Without a ferryman who knows the way around, yer’e liable to get very lost indeed. But just remember this: on the Lower Planes, ye can trust nobody, even if ye’ve paid cold, hard jink. They’ll peel ye and give ye over to an archfiend given the chance. But in spite of that, the Styx sees constant travel. Since it connects all o’ the Lower Planes, the Styx is used as the main method of movin’ troops about for the Blood War. Other travelers make use o’ it, too, ’specially merchants, since portals on the Lower Planes are even more treacherous than the Styx at times. And it never takes a body more than a day to get somewheres.
Several different bein’s make kip on or in the Styx. The best known are the silent marraenoloths. These fiends call the yugoloth lord Charon (or Cerlic, depending on which graybeard ye ask) their high-up, and they look like skeletal boatmen shrouded in black cloaks. They sell their services, but they charge a steep price, and they may turn stag if some other cutter has given them a bigger garnish. Besides the marraenoloths, the waters of the Styx are home to all sorts o’ fiendish creatures that are unaffected by the Styx water. They either play some part in the Blood War or feed on the tainted memories lost to the churnin’ waters.
The River Oceanus
The bright, cheery mirror o’ the foul, depressin’ Styx, the River Oceanus winds through the Upper Planes of Elysium, the Beastlands, and Arborea. Its waters are fragrant an’ sweet, always carryin’ the tranquil nature of its headwaters in Elysium. Oceanus is a well-used trade route between the layers of those planes; ports have been set up all along its banks and trader’s boats are always going up an’ down it, and travelers can usually find safe passage if they wave around a little jink.
Even though the river goes through the Upper Planes, it can still be dangerous. In a lot o’ ways, travelin’ down Oceanus is like travelin’ down the Styx, just with better scenery and water ye can drink. If berks ain’t careful, they might find their selves plunging o’er a big waterfall, crashing o’er white-water rapids, or being made the food of some mammoth sea creature. The river meanders and can’t be charted; its course vanishes from time to time only to reappear on a different plane. One moment a body can be lookin’ out on the fields of Elysium and then the next see the shores of Arborea and have no idea when the change happened.
The Oceanus is deeper than any cutter can figure, and within it, strange and fantastic creatures live. There’s all manner of beasts like ye’d see on the Prime, like dolphins, fish, and turtles, but it’s also home to all kinds of intelligent beasts. And hidden deep in that dark deep there are creatures never seen on any Prime Material world, huge monstrosities that rarely rise to the surface, which suits the bashers livin’ and sailin’ on the river just fine.
Chant says that the Oceanus has been expanding into the first layer of Ysgard, forming a connection to the homes of the Asgardian pantheon and their followers. Mayhap. There are less likely things, like the Styx flowing into Nessus, the lowest layer o’ Baator, but if ’tis happenin’, it ain’t a stable path yet.
On prime worlds where the powers of the Olympian pantheon are worshipped, the mortals tell tales of a massive mountain their gods call kip. Well, like a few clueless tales, this story’s pretty much true. On the Outer Planes there really does exist a towering mountain that links the cases of the Olympian deities, a mountain that makes a safe route for planar travel if’n a blood knows the way of its paths. Mount Olympus connects to Arborea, the Gray Waste, Carceri, Gehenna, and every prime world where the Olympians are worshipped. But most of the gateways can only be used by worshippers of the Olympian pantheon, and unbelievers find their selves stranded on the Gray Waste. But the Olympian powers are some of the most popular out there, so the mountain still sees lots o’ hikers.
Travelin’ Olympus is like travelin’ any other mountain, really; get where ye want by climbin’. Some places, the slope o’ the mount is gentle and the climb easy, at others the slopes become rocky cliff faces that can spill berks o’er infinite drops, drop showers of boulders on ’em, or slap ’em about with bitin’ winds. The gateways to the other planes look like colorful, freestanding disks, hidden behind rocks an’ woods or in deep caverns. A body can’t see through ’em, so a basher has to step through to find out where they go. They’re usually two-way, so a basher can get back out if ’tis not a plane they’re lookin’ for. Well, unless they end up in Carceri; that plane’s never been one to let berks leave easy. Areas that see lots o’ travel have paths carved into them by merchants and caravans to make the trek easier. Great monuments and temples built by mortal and immortal beings alike also dot the landscape, providing a welcome restin’ spot for weary travelers, though just like the disks, only the faithful get any hospitality there. These great marble palaces are covered with statues of deities and mortal heroes, and have endless courtyards filled with pretty marble statues, and lovely gardens and orchards. It’s all a bit on the showy side, but ’tis nice enough. ’Sides the flocks o’ sheep, temples, vineyards and orchards, Olympus has many glades and forests, where fey bashers like satyrs and nymphs are said to cavort around. The path is also guarded by hounds, mountain spirits, and other mystical beasts. Again, it’s a nice way to travel around if ye follow the Olympian gods.
Yggdrassil, the Great Tree
Yggdrassil’s a lot like Mount Olympus; ’tis really, really big and connects up wit’ all the places important to a particular pantheon, the Asgardians this time. And the World Tree is spoken of on many prime worlds, where followers of the Asgardian pantheon say that the different realms and worlds of existence are cradled in the great ash tree. Mayhap their belief in such a thing made the tree grow, or mayhap they heard stories about it. Either way, Yggdrassil is one of the main planar pathways. It looks like a massive tree with branches that can be miles around, its bark be silver and flaky, like gray clay, and its leaves’re shimmering blue-black ovals.
Ysgard has many connections to the World Tree, as does Hel’s realm in the Gray Waste. Loki’s realm in Pandemonium has a connection to the World Ash, an’ so do scattered points in the Outlands. The site called Pinwheel in Limbo also has a connection to one of the World Tree’s routes, though why this be so is dark, ’cause it don’t seem to have anythin’ to do wit’ the Asgardian pantheon.
To get where ye’re goin’, just walk along the tree and find the right colorful, disk-shaped portals. Lots o’ merchants an’ planewalkers climb the branches, and ’tis also home to the squirrel-like ratatosk, friendly cutters who can be hired as guides. ’Tis also guarded by eagles, aasimon, yugoloths, and even the legendary dragon Nidhogg who lies at the tree’s roots (though he doesn’t so much guard as vent his frustration on any poor sod who comes by). Gravity on Yggdrassil goes towards the center of the branch that a basher is standin’ on and moving from branch to branch can be unsettlin’ when gravity moves over to the new branch almost instantly. Any poor sod who falls off a limb ends up in the Astral Plane, and’ll have to find another way. The portals on the tree move around a bit as the tree sways in the Astral winds, but trips across Yggdrassil almost never take more than a week.
The Infinite Staircase
There’s one last important planar pathway — the Infinite Staircase. The Infinite Staircase is what it sounds like: a set of stairs that stretches beyond all horizons, takin’ a cutter to the depths o’ the Hells or to the heights o’ the Heavens. ’Tis a spiralin’ silver staircase with ivy hangin’ from it here an’ there. No support can be seen for the Staircase, which is twenty feet wide, and is inside a silver tower shaft. Along the Staircase are platforms o’ wood or marble, some straight, some curvin’, and each one leadin’ to doors or even more stairways. The platforms are of many makes, from small doorsteps with a wooden door to large platforms that stretch out o’ sight wit’ yawnin’ archways.
Openin’ one o’ these doors, it opens into a quiet, out-o’-the-way area somewhere on the planes, coming out a door that the locals pay no mind. It could be in an abandoned building, or in the corner of a dusty basement, though usually the door takes a planewalker to an inhabited burg o’ some sort. So, what kinds of planes are these? Any kind. The Staircase connects to any place in the multiverse where creativity and imagination springs up. ’Tain’t as pleasant as it first sounds, rube. This could mean a trip to a pain garden in Baator or a potter’s shed on the Prime. Bloods can usually get a feel for the type of place a door goes to by the surroundin’s and the materials ’tis made of. I once stumbled across a door of stretched, humanoid skin painted with bloody symbols, on a shadowy landing wit’ the soft sound o’ moans comin’ from somewhere just beyond knowin’. I was sure that weren’t what I was lookin’ for. Hoofed it up another staircase right quick. Most doors ain’t so obvious, but there’s always some clue.
Climbers of the Infinite Staircase may have a trip ahead o’ them. No graybeard knows how many doors there be, though many have tried to find out. If they have a specific door they’re heading for, it may be days away. That’s a lot of walking up or down, and the Staircase ain’t kind to berks who cheat with magic. Fliers who stay close to the stairs do all right, but if they try to take a shortcut to another set o’ stairs or landing, they’re likely to get sucked into a fold in space and spit out onto the planes somewhere. Teleporters risk the same danger, as does anyone who jumps, dives, or is pushed off the stairs.
Those walking the Staircase may meet the occasional fellow traveler or see no one for days. The Planewalker’s Guild has taken over a massive landing as their kip high up on the Staircase, and I can tell ye that a body can do worse than joinin’ up with those bloods. A fine bunch, interested in nothin’ so much as learnin’ the paths o’ the planes. Travelers might also run into the lillends, servants o’ Selûne, the moon goddess. The Staircase starts in the goddess’s palace, and she takes an interest in who’s usin’ it. If’n the planewalkers have a close relationship to creativity, chaos, and good, they may get help from the lillends, mostly by getting directions or warnings o’ dangers. If the lillends feel the planewalkers themselves are one o’ those dangers, they won’t be shy about nickin’ the “intruders”.
The Staircase is one o’ the most useful of all planar pathways, but planar travelers often choose other routes. I’ve always found it a great way to get about, like the City o’ Doors with all the different kinds o’ portals, but for many berks, ’tis real lonely. It can be mighty tiring to travel the Staircase, and caravans are right out. The other planar pathways don’t provide as many destinations, but the ones they do are mapped out much better. But the truly adventurous, or the just plain lost, can be found walkin’ up and down the silver steps, openin’ doors that lead to worlds beyond the ones they know.
Canny bloods don’t trek around the Great Ring without some form of protection to help them out against all the dangers the planes are host to. Planewalkers usually get chummy with a spellcaster or two, if their own talents don’t go that way, if only because such cutters tend to have ways to survive new environments. Of course, most bashers also use potions and other enchanted items made to give their bearers protection. After all, creatures have made their homes in just about every dank corner of the planes, buildin’ communities in every bizarre and hazardous situation ye can think of. While some creatures’re naturally able to exist in those spots, many planars do so only with the help of magic. And though many o’ us have other talents, the canny blood learns to respect what magic can offer. If not, ye’d best stay home.
On the other hand, a lot of the Clueless come to think that magic is the end-all-be-all o’ planewalking, and that ’tis all a basher needs to get around. But if everythin’ were that simple, we’d all put away our weapons and pull out some dusty tome, wouldn’t we? Truth is, magic ain’t nearly as reliable as it is on most prime worlds. Spellslingers have to keep in mind planar cosmology so they don’t try castin’ spells that rely on the Astral Plane in the Inner Planes. That arrogant look won’t stay on their faces long when that important spell fizzles. What’s worse, some parts o’ the multiverse make certain type of spells more difficult or impossible to cast, meaning survival depends on old-fashioned, sweaty methods.
Variant: Planar Environments Affecting Spells
Some DMs may feel that magic trivializes certain aspects of planewalking. Climbing the frigid peaks of Ysgard isn’t as much of an adventure when using endure elements, nor is reaching a distant realm difficult when using a teleport spell. There are a variety of ways the DM can choose to have the planes respond to these spells, though the spells themselves become a bit more unreliable in doing so. Teleport and similar spells may not be as accurate on more morphic (i.e. chaotic planes), and may fail altogether when attempting to enter some realms or sacred areas as the powers there might wish to prevent outsiders from finding them. When in regions of the multiverse that have particularly nasty environments as part of the plane’s overall philosophy, spellcasters may find spells such as endure elements and attune form gradually being eroded, their duration shortened or even requiring concentration to maintain after a certain point. Players should eventually be able to overcome these restrictions or be able to find specialized spells that work properly on the particular plane. In addition, spellcasters should always detect the latter complications when casting a spell and magical items shouldn’t be affected, as there’s no cause for invalidating hard-earned gold. The three most important things to keep in mind are not to drown players in tediousness, don’t make them feel like their powers are useless, and be consistent. With that in mind, eventually players will reach a point where hopping from plane to plane is a simple task, and it should be, if only to allow them to deal with more interesting matters.
With that in mind, some places should never be accessible by normal spellcraft, including mysterious places such as the seventh layer of Mount Celestia or the ninth layer of Baator. Whatever forces hold sway there make sure no one can barge in uninvited (or leave without permission). Nor can one plane shift to the Ordial Plane, if it truly exists. Some destinations simply require journeys more taxing than magic.
But properly prepared magic often makes the difference between a dead party and a live one. Spellcasters worth their scrolls will allow for the basics. Have some spells to make light with, since not all planes have much in the way of their own sources of illuminatin’. Tongues is real handy when talking to the weird bashers most planewalkers run into. Lastly, avoid planar effects (or better yet, attune form) is a handy all-around spell to keep casters and their friends alive.