The D&D Multiverse
The D&D universe is vast! Not only is each setting an entire world with new creatures, lore and history to handle (and if you have a Spelljammer ship handy, other planets beyond that), but there’s also a load of different planes of existence to take into account as well. Fortunately, we’re here to explain exactly how all these planes work and how they interact with each other.
What are the Planes of Existence?
The planes of existence are D&D’s version of the multiverse. Each plane exists in its own pocket of reality with the borders of certain planes being closer than others allowing easier travel between those planes (though travelling between planes of existence generally isn’t easy even when the barriers are thin).
Each plane tends to embody a certain state or principle and will often have creatures and geography that reflects that state. For example, the Prime Material Plane (or the Mortal Plane) is where most mortals live such as humans, dwarves and elves and includes places like Toril (the planet upon which Faerun can be found) and Oerth (the main planet of the Greyhawk setting). Elemental planes are places of things like fire, earth and air and have landscapes and creatures that reflect those elements while places like Mount Celestia are the embodiment of good while the Abyss and Hell are planes that embody evil.
The Great Wheel Cosmology in D&D 5e
The Great Wheel Cosmology is the way in which the relationship between each plane is described. This is the cosmological model used in D&D 5e. This cosmology can be seen below:
At its core is the Material Plane which is surrounded on each side by the Feywild and the Shadowfell. The Material Plane has within it settings like the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Greyhawk, Dark Sun, Ravnica and even Spelljammer. The Feywild and Shadowfell act as shadows of the Material Plane; The Feywild being a wondrous mirror of the Material Plane and the Shadowfell a dark shadow of the Material Plane.
Beyond these mirror planes are the Elemental Planes of Earth, Air, Fire and Water surrounded by the Elemental Chaos. From these planes are drawn the elemental powers often used in spellcasting.
Beyond the Elemental Planes are the Outer Planes consisting of planes relating to different alignments including the good-aligned Upper Planes and the evil-aligned Lower Planes as well as the neutrality in between. Within these outerplanes are also embodied the principles of law and chaos.
Other Cosmological Models
Two other cosmologies have been used to describe the nature of the D&D multiverse, these are; the World Tree Cosmology and the World Axis Cosmology.
The World Tree Cosmology
For a time, the most popular explanation of the D&D multiverse was the World Tree Cosmology. It was based on the discovery of the Brobdingnagian tree, a sentient tree that connected all the planes of existence to one another. When the spell plague came, however, the world tree and the Ethereal Plane were both destroyed leaving the remaining outer planes to drift in the Astral Sea. This led to an updated understanding of the D&D multiverse known as the World Axis Cosmology.
The World Axis Cosmology
The World Axis Cosmology was the model used after the Spellplague to explain how the multiverse now operated following the catastrophic events of the spellplague. In this model, the Prime Material Plane exists at the centre of the multiverse with parallel planes (such as the Shadowfell and the Feywilds) existing to the left and right of this plane. Surrounding the Prime Material Plane are the Fundamental Planes of the Astral Sea and Elemental Chaos. Within the Astral Sea and Elemental Chaos are the Astral dominions and the Elemental Realms which comprise much of what is now understood as the Outer Planes.
The Planes of Existence
As you’ve no doubt noticed, there are a lot of planes in the D&D multiverse and you may be asking what they all are and what the nature of them is. They can be grouped into a few different categories:
- The Material Planes
- The Transitive Planes
- The Inner Planes (or Elemental Planes)
- The Outer Planes
- The Positive and Negative Energy Planes
The Material Planes
The Material Planes include the Mortal Plane as well as the mirror planes of the Feywild and the Shadowfell that almost mirror the Mortal (or Prime Material) Plane. It’s the material planes that combine the various attributes of all the other planes.
The Prime Material Plane
The Prime Material plane, or Mortal Plane, is the plane upon which most settings in D&D are found including the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Eberron, Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Ravnica, Theros and others. The worlds of these settings are separated by the large expanse of wild space meaning that traversal on a spelljammer ship means other planets in the Prime Material plane are accessible from one another. The Prime Material Plane is understood to be influenced by all the other planes, drawing in equal measure from the elements and the goodness, evilness, neutrality and other aspects of the other planes.
A mirror of the Prime Material Plane with geographical similarities but with a heavily fey and nature influence. The feywilds tends to exaggerate emotional states turning joy into ecstasy or anger into fury which affects all that live there. It is a beautiful place ruled over by the Archfey of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts.
A dark, Shadow of the Prime Material Plane that includes the Domains of Dread of Ravenloft. Emotions in the Shadowfell tend to be subdued leading to a more depressed state of mind. The Shadowfell is a hostile environment where creatures struggle to survive and often fight one another to do so.
The Transitive Planes
The Transitive Planes are made up of the Ethereal and Astral Planes which encompass the space between the inner and outer planes.
The Ethereal Plane
The Ethereal Plane is the expanse between the inner planes. Magic can be used to travel within the Ethereal Plane and those travelling within this plane can walk unseen while observing what happens within the inner planes as the Ethereal Plane almost coexists invisibly with the Material Plane. When someone enters the Ethereal Plane, they and all their belongings become ethereal themselves allowing those there to pass through what would normally be solid objects. They can then re-emerge in the Material Plane in the space they’d travelled to in the Ethereal Plane.
The Astral Plane
The Astral Plane (also known as the Astral Sea) encompasses the vast space that exists between the Outer Planes. While beings do exist within this plane, they are rare and tend to live somewhat timelessly. In the astral plane, a thousand years could feel like a single day and have a similar impact on aging. For this reason, mortal inhabitants of the Astral Plane often need to go to the Material Plane to raise their children to adulthood.
The Elemental Planes (The Inner Planes)
The elemental planes are 16 planes focused on a single (or 2 combined) elements. Earth, Air, Fire and Water are the core elements with the para and quasi-elemental planes being made up of combinations of elements. Each plane is embodied by landscapes and creatures that are similar in nature to the plane they are from. Mages and other spellcasters often draw their powers from the elemental planes, casting fireballs or lightning bolts that draw upon the powers here.
The Common Elemental Planes
These planes consist of the 4 core elemental planes of Fire, Air, Earth and Water. Not only is the landscape filled with the element of its type, even the creatures are affected by these planes. Such is the case for the genasi who take on different characteristics depending on the plane of their origin.
The Para-Elemental Planes
The Para-Elemental Planes consist of the 4 planes that border the Core Elemental Planes. These include the Planes of Ice (Air and Water), Dust (Fire and Air), Magma (Fire and Earth) and Ooze (Air and Water).
The Quasi-Elemental Planes
The Quasi-Elemental Planes are planes that blend the core elemental planes with the Positive and Negative Energy Planes. These include; Lightning, Radiance, Mineral, Steam, Ash, Dust, Salt and Vacuum.
The Outer Planes
The outer planes are more difficult to access than the material and inner planes (though no plane is ‘easy’ to access). The outer planes tend to require extra magical knowledge or understanding (or an unfortunate mistake) to access. Each outer plane embodies certain alignments and principles with the upper planes embodying goodness (such as Mount Celestia or Bytopia) and the lower planes embodying evil (such as the Abyss of the Nine Hells).
Arcadia is a peaceful plane filled with woodlands and woodland creatures. It is a place of lawful and neutral goodness and is the final resting place of good-aligned warriors. While much of the plane appears like beautiful woodland, many of the creatures there taken on a metallic appearance such as copper rabbits or golden foxes. It is easily accessible from Mount Celestia and Nirvana via ivory and black steel portals shaped like flower trellises.
Mount Celestia is the plane inhabited by Celestials and ruled over by Celestial Paragons. It is a place of lawful goodness and stands as a direct opposite of the Nine Hells (the home of devils and lawful evil creatures). Similar to the Nine Hells, Mount Celestia is also made up of layers known as the Seven Heavens of Mount Celestia, each ruled over by a different celestial paragon. Unlike the Nine Hells though, Mount Celestia’s layers travel upwards in importance rather than down. Chronias is the highest layer of Mount Celestia and is ruled over by Zaphkiel.
The twin paradises of Bytopia are places of lawful and neutral good with each paradise running upside-down to each other. On one layer of Bytopia is Dothian, a land of meadows, forests and mild seasons, while upside down and above this land is the layer of Shurrock, a similar land with much harsher weather systems. Between these 2 layers is air, meaning that a creature could fly upwards from one layer and arrive in the other, which would also cause that creature to experience the gravity of the other layer as well.
Elysium is a plane of ultimate goodness and such great joy that those arriving there may never want to leave. It does not matter if the inhabitant is more chaotic or neutral in their goodness, as long as their goodness is pure, then Elysium is for them. In fact, only those that are good are able to successfully traverse the land and find their way through Elysium and its 4 layers of; Amoria, Eronia, Belierin and Thalasia.
A plane of neutral and chaotic goodness filled with animal life the Beastlands is primarily made up of animal life. Those sentient creatures that do live here, tend not to build settlements but rather, work to live with nature instead of against it. It’s home to all sorts of ecosystems from towering forests to parched deserts allowing all sorts of fauna to thrive here
Arborea often referred to as Olympus and is a place of strong emotions, whether that be fierce passion, burning rage, or anything in between. Most of those that make Arborea their home are as wild as the beasts that inhabit the land. Arborea has 3 layers to it, though most stick to the more habitable portion known as Arvandor. There is also the oceanic layer of Aquallor and the desert layer of Mithardir. Much like its people, the land of Arborea is wild and its weather is unpredictable giving way to incredible sunshine and violent storms and many other weather patterns in between.
Ysgard (or Asgard as it’s more popularly known) is the plane of the Norse pantheon and a place of chaotic good and chaotic neutral. It is often also referred to as Gladsheim. While much of the Norse pantheon never imposed themselves on the Material Planes, the one exception to this is Tyr, god of war, law and justice. Ysgard is also made up of 3 layers known as; Ysgard, Muspelheim and Nidavellir.
A place of supreme chaos in which the landscape does not take on a conventional or organised form but is instead, constantly shifting. Because of the chaotic nature of the place, most of Limbo is unsuitable for normal travel across it. Even the gods tend to find the place too chaotic with only a few gods calling limbo their home such as Tempus, Shaundakul and Fenmarel. It is the home of the slaadi and the githzerai and a few other beings of chaotic neutral alignment.
A place of chaotic neutral and chaotic evil where the laws of physics appear to have been torn apart. Pandemonium is also known as the Howling Land for its constant blowing wind that can drive creatures insane. It’s characterised by endless windswept tunnels and a barrenness on the surface. Despite this barrenness and the sparseness of mortal or godly presence, Pandemonium is actually home to many treasures and magical items hidden throughout the plane. Below the surface, you will find monsters and creatures of great power such as dragons and demons. Such creatures are rarely in Pandemonium by choice, usually, they are hiding or banished, but they do tend to guard the treasures hidden within the plane’s depths.
The home plane of the demons and a place of chaotic evil ruled over by the Demon Lords. The Abyss is often known as the Infinite Abyss due to its seemingly endless number of layers (though some believe there are 666 layers to the Abyss, others believe there could be more). The Abyss is an ever-changing and terrifying place with many layers that are completely inhospitable. Each layer is connected by portals that take you to different layers, but these tend not to take you geographically down or up a layer, but instead seem to be interwoven chaotically. While each layer has a Demon Lord ruling over it, the greatest of these Demon Lords is Demogorgon, the Prince of Demons.
Also known as Tarterus, Carceri is a place of evil without joy, happiness or hope, and is filled with nightmares. Carceri is the prison of the multiverse, a place where creatures are sentenced to spend the rest of their afterlife in misery and pain. Six layers make up Carceri, each spiraling downwards to the plane’s depths. Much of the landscape is treacherous, like its inhabitants with jungles filled with acidic plants that spew acid rather than sap when cut into.
A gray wasteland that balances between the evils of law and chaos. It is also the homeland of daemons. Such is the morbid and dismal nature of Hades, that it brings in individuals of morbid evil, causing all who enter to descend into such depression that they can’t even muster the will to leave. Hades is made up of 3 layers known as the Three Glooms of Hades; Olnos, Pluton and Niflheim
A place of lawful and neutral evil where gravity is always at a 45 degree angle making it easy for travellers to lose their footing and fall. 4 layers make up Gehenna, each being a volcano floating in a void of nothingness. These layers are Khalas, Chamada, Mungoth and Krangath. Other than Krangath, each of these volcanoes is active and spews magma and other dangerous elements. Because of the heat generated in Ghenna, many an unprepared visitor has simply burst into flames upon arrival. Because of Ghenna’s proximity to the Nine Hells, it is primarily controlled by devils, and sees a lot of attention in the Blood War between demons and devils.
The Nine Hells are the home of the Devils and a place of lawful evil, ruled over by Archdevils. There 9 layers to the Nine Hells. Each of these layers is ruled over by a different Archdevil with Asmodeus ruling over all other Archdevils from his layer of Nessus. The Nine Hells is considered a direct opposite of the 7 Heavens of Mount Celestia and the devils of Hell are often in conflict with the angelic beings of Mount Celestia.
Acheron is a bridge between the order of Nirvana and the evil of the Nine Hells. It is a less evil place than Hell and more lawful too. It is primarily home to individuals that committed evil acts due to circumstances rather than because they were inherently evil. Often this was a case of upholding the law (no matter how unreasonable that law was). This means that Archeron is often a home for soldiers and law enforcers that committed evil acts. For this reason, Archeron is a place of endless wars fought between soldiers that love to fight.
The clockwork plane of Mechanus (also known as Nirvana) is the home place of the modrons and a place of order. It’s a place of lawful neutral. The plane itself is made up of huge numbers of cogs, many the size of large islands, that each interconnect, some at vertical points with one another. The gravity of the plane operates so that walking from one cog to another, causes you to view gravity as down towards that cog. Cogs ruled by powerful beings such as deities and mages, might fashion their cog after their own desires meaning many cogs hold forests and farms providing sufficient resources for mortals to survive on.
The Positive and Negative Energy Planes
The Positive and Negative Planes are less well defined than the other planes of existence being more conceptual than physical in nature. They are the building blocks upon which life and death is built, surrounding the entirety of the cosmos.
Demiplanes are often poorly defined due to the differing nature of different demiplanes, but tend to be smaller planes that either exist within one of the main planes detailed above, or outside of the model of planes above. While standard planes can be infinite in size (imagine the prime material plane with its infinite expanse of space), demiplanes are finite in size. Some demiplanes can be very small like the House of Lament, which is one of the Domains of Dread of Ravenloft which exists as a demiplane the size of a large house within the Shadowfell.
How many planes of existence are there?
There are 39 planes of existence in the D&D cosmology. These are the 3 material planes (the Prime Material Plane and the 2 mirror planes), 2 transitive planes, 16 elemental planes, 16 outer planes and the positive and negative planes. This number doesn’t include demi-planes of which there are many.
What is the main plane of existence?
The main plane of existence is the Prime Material plane (also known as the mortal plane). It exists at the centre of the great wheel cosmology and is where much of the D&D lore is focused. This is the plane upon which exists most of the settings of D&D from the Forgotten Realms (Faerun) to Dragonlance, Eberron, Greyhawk and Spelljammer.
Not all settings are based on the Prime Material Plane. Ravenloft is set in demi-planes of the Shadowfell while the Feywilds are another mirror plane of the mortal plane. Planescape is also separate being set primarily in the outer planes.
Do all the settings of D&D occur on different planes?
No. Most settings occur on the Prime Material Plane. This is the case for the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Eberron, Greyhawk and Spelljammer. Rather than occurring on different planes, these settings occur on different planets like Toril for the Forgotten Realms, Oerth for Greyhawk and Krynn for Dragonlance. Spelljammer is a little unique in that it is set in Realm Space and connects each of these settings with one another.
There are some settings that occur on different planes however. This is the case for Ravenloft which is set on demi-planes of the Shadowfell, the Feywilds and Planescape which is set in the outer planes.