A plane is a realm of existence within the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse. Planes can be thought of as entire alternate dimensions where the laws of reality may differ considerably.
Most Dungeons & Dragons games take place primarily in a plane known as the Material Plane, where the laws of reality closely resemble the real world. D&D adventures can see player characters travel from one plane to another through portals, or using spells like plane shift.
- For a list of D&D planes, see Category:Planes.
- Main article: Great Wheel
The most widely used model to describe the planes and their inter-relationships is known as the Great Wheel. This layout was popularized by the Planescape campaign setting, and is also used by the World of Greyhawk setting. It forms the default planar cosmology for most editions of D&D, including AD&D 1st and 2nd edition, and D&D 3rd and 5th editions.
In brief, the Great Wheel consists of the Material World, where humans live; the Inner Planes, each made of one of the raw elements such as fire or air; the Outer Planes, the wondrous realms where the gods reside; and the Transitive Planes which connect them, which include the vast Astral Plane, the misty Ethereal Plane and the dark Shadowfell (called also the Plane of Shadow).
- For a list, see Category:Cosmologies.
Not every D&D world follows the Great Wheel cosmology. Notable alternatives include:
- The World Tree cosmology, used by the Forgotten Realms setting during D&D third edition. In AD&D 2nd edition, the Forgotten Realms previously used the standard Great Wheel, and in that setting the two are generally considered to be different abstract perceptions of the same multiverse. The Norse cosmology uses a similar World Tree.
- The World Axis cosmology, used as the core setting during D&D 4th edition. In this reboot of D&D lore, the multiverse is divided into the Astral Sea and an unddifferentiated Elemental Chaos, with the Material Plane located between them. The Forgotten Realms setting used this cosmology during D&D 4th edition.
- Eberron cosmology: In this campaign setting, the Material Plane is coexistent with the Astral, Ethereal and Shadow planes. Thirteen planes orbit the Material, and can have influence on the Material when their orbit brings them near. In D&D 5th edition's Dungeon Master's Guide, p.44, this type of cosmological model is referred to as The Orrery.
Other cosmologies are possible. Examples given in the D&D 5th edition Dungeon Master's Guide, p.44, include the One World cosmology, in which all planes are in fact located in the normal world and may be physically reached by normal travel; the Solar Barge, used by the Egyptian mythos; and the Otherworld, in which the supernatural resides in single spirit realm which can be visited intentionally or unintentionally in places where the border between that world and ours is weakest.
The original D&D White Box (1974) did not yet feature rules for planar exploration.
The earliest description of planar cosmology in D&D appears in the article Planes: The Concepts of Spacial, Temporal and Physical Relationships in D&D, Dragon #8 (Jul 1977), p.4-5,28, by Gary Gygax. Gygax writes:
- "As of this writing I forsee a number of important things arising from the adoption of this system. First, it will cause a careful rethinking of most of the justifications for the happenings in the majority of D&D campaigns. Second, it will vastly expand the potential of all campaigns which adopt the system — although it will mean tremendous additional work for these DMs."
The basic concepts of D&D cosmology are presented: the Prime Material Plane, Inner Planes, Outer Planes, Ethereal and Astral planes. The structure of the cosmos is defined, along with the methods of travel between the planes and the names of teh Outer Planes, many of which are still used.
AD&D 1st edition
Gygax's planar cosmology appeared in the Players Handbook (1e) (1978), p.120-121, The Known Planes of Existence. It closely resembles the familiar layout appearin in Dragon #8.
Jeff Grubb's Manual of the Planes (1e) (1987) explored the planes in more detail. It describes the color pools of the Astraal Plane, the quasi-elemental and para-elemental planes, the existence of demiplanes, the Concordant Opposition, and multiple alternate Prime Material Planes. The term "Power" is used to refer to deities.
AD&D 2nd edition
The same planar cosmology is described in the Dungeon Master Guide (2e) (1989), p.131-132. The multiple Prime Material Planes each have their own ethereal plane, some containing demiplanes. Some have new alternative names; for example, the Happy Hunting Grounds is given Beastlands. The planes are conceived of as more like spheres than a ring.
Changes made in the Dungeon Master Guide (2e revised) (1995), p.178-179 changed some plane names and removed references to old names; Gladsheim is now Ysgard, for example. Concordant Opposition is no longer mentioned.
D&D's planar cosmology formed the basis of the Planescape campaign setting, beginning with the Planescape Campaign Setting (1994). Numerous Planescape sourcebooks were published which expanded upon the lore of the setting. The computer roleplaying game Planescape: Torment (1999) was highly critically acclaimed and became a cult classic. A notable change made by Planescape is that there is only one Prime Material Plane, of which all material worlds are part.
D&D 3rd edition
While the traditional D&D planar cosmology is referenced in spells and items in the Player's Handbook (3.0) (2000) and Dungeon Master's Guide (3.0) (2000), the planes themselves would not be described in detail until Manual of the Planes (3e) (2001). The book's dedication credits the past works which inspired it:
- "This book is built from the bones of giants. From the initial planar visions of Gary Gygax and Dave Sutherland, through Jeff Grubb's original, almost-talmudic Manual of the Planes, with its contributions by Roger Moore and Ed Greenwood, to the vibrant Planescape work of David Cook, Colin McComb, Michele Carter, and Monte Cook, the planes have been an ever-evolving cosmology."
The name Great Wheel is first used in this book, with Oerth, the world of the Greyhawk setting, explicitly stated to be at its center. The Prime Material Plane from this point forward in D&D is simply known as the Material Plane, with each campaign setting or world considered to be a separate Material Plane. The Plane of Faerie is described in this book as a variant cosmology.
A broad selection of the information in Manual of the Planes was included in a 22-page section of the Dungeon Master's Guide (3.5) (2003), p.147-168. Further planar lore was detailed in Planar Handbook (2004), which largely contained player character customization options and new monsters.
D&D 4th edition
Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition effectively rebooted much of D&D's lore, and for the first time replaced the Great Wheel planar cosmology. The Dungeon Master's Guide (4e) (2008), p.160-161 devoted just two pages to a new, simplified planar system, which the Forgotten Realms product line would refer to as the World Axis.
D&D 5th edition
The Dungeon Master's Guide (5e) (2014) devoted a full chapter to the topic of planes. The Great Wheel is once again restored to the core rulebooks, and is referenced in the Player's Handbook (5e) (2014) as the default cosmology.
A few concessions are made to 4e lore, including the existence of the Feywild and Shadowfell, and an Elemental Chaos which resides at the far edges of the Elemental Planes. There is considered to be a single Material Plane which contains the material worlds of all settings.