Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Finer Elements of Inner Planar Adventuring

It's not an uncommon complaint on the internet that the Elemental Planes are boring because they're featureless expanses of the same thingm, which is sort of like saying dungeons are boring because thy're just empty spaces underground, or wilderness adventures are dullsville because it's just a whole bunch of trees. Most environments are probably not in and of themselves terribly interesting. They're interesting because of (a) what you can put in them and (b) the additional challenges their nature presents to PCs. I would also say that the Elemental Planes can be an interesting cosmological element in a setting even if not viewed as a place to go adventuring, but it's "place for adventuring" I'm going to focus on here.

First off, the Elemental Planes as typically described are for the most part pretty hostile to human life. I don't think that's a bad thing, necessarily. High level adventurers have access to a lot of great technology (i.e. magic) to protect themselves. Guarding against equipment failure and avoiding changing conditions certainly creates a lot of tension in science fiction books and movies; there's no reason it can't be put to similar effect in gaming. It's resource management that's more than just counting.

Here are some brief ideas and inspirations for Elemental Plane adventures:


Air
This one's probably the easiest, with flying creatures, cities on clouds and the like. I would draw some inspiration from sci-fi imaginings of life in the atmosphere of gas giants. The plane of air should only be featureless like space is featureless: there should be pieces of stuff falling/tumbling through it. There should be air-dwelling Portuguese man o' war type things and air-whales like living zeppelins that one can travel or even live on. Reliance on the strongest air streams for travel would ensure that there were certain air caravan routes.
Inspirations: the Cloud City of Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back, the Star Trek episode "The Cloud-Miners," The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello, Castle in the Sky (1986), Last Exile.


Fire
Fire is like a really big star, though it's surface is much cool. There would be islands of rock (and by islands, I mean things bigger that continents) floating across it, or great metal craft drifting through it's smoke-choked corona. It would, of course, be populated (though perhaps not exclusively) by beings (jinn?) composed of Fire who did very similar stuff to Prime Material humans but were fiery while doing it.
Inspirations: Any Adventure Time episode dealing with the Fire Kingdom, the neutron star life of Forward's Dragon's Egg, parts of Sunshine (2007), Secrets of the Fire Sea by Stephen Hunt.


Earth
This plane is a huge sphere (or block or tesseract, or whatever) of rock, riddled with tunnels and chambers. In other words, it's a dungeon in three dimensions. It's sci-fi asteroid mining and molerat sapients, too.
Inspirations: Dig Dug, the Star Trek episode "Devil in the Dark," Derinkuyu.


Water
Like Air, it's fairly easy to see what to put into the Plane of Water, but maybe difficult to see why you wouldn't just do that stuff on a Prime Material ocean. I would say it's like an extraterrestrial ocean planet: You can make it far more exotic than you would the oceans of your main campaign world. Societies would have vertical and horizontal borders. Different depth layers would be like different levels of a dungeon, except (depending on how science fictional you got) adventurers might need increasing pressure protection to descend to the next level.
Inspirations: Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross, The Abyss (1989), Finding Nemo, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Blue Submarine No. 6, Sub-Mariner, Aquaman, and Abe Sapien comics.

9 comments:

Michael Desing said...

Fantastic stuff! Thanks for the inspiration.

Tim Shorts said...

Very cool interpretations and inspirations. Although using Dig Dug is my favorite. Loved that game.

I believe I only ran one adventure in an elemental plane (fire). The players were terrified to do much of anything. I don't think I made it very interesting though. I need to watch some Adventure Time to get a few ideas.

Brett Slocum said...

ILove this. I've been heading in similar directions in my imaginative jaunts while brainstorming my evolving campaign world.

Brett Slocum said...

ILove this. I've been heading in similar directions in my imaginative jaunts while brainstorming my evolving campaign world.

Trey said...

@Michael - Thanks1
@Tim - The Adventure Time episodes in the Fire Kingdom are pretty good.
@Brett - Great minds think alike. :)

Canageek said...

I'd love to hear your opinion on the Elemental Chaos from 4th edition. While I don't like most of the changes 4e made, I thought that one was a great improvement.

Charles Ferguson said...

Trey, great stuff. Thanks.

Jay Exonauts said...

Trey, everyone here has said it all already--inspirational and totally applicable. I always appreciate your willingness to share the depth and breadth of your source knowledge!

Trey said...

Thanks, Jay.