3 Ways a Home Base in D&D Will Improve Your Campaign

By RJ on 20 October 2020.

Tuesday night. The characters of the Caught in Galen campaign are all gathered at what they’ve dubbed “home base”, a structure on the western end of their community named the Faded Ember Inn. After almost every adventure, the characters return to this cozy inn to recuperate and discuss the calamity that seemed to be befalling Galen. Concurrently, they confer with many of the colorful characters they’ve met throughout their quests and convinced to come stay at the inn: Rea, an aasimar acolyte of Bahamut and love interest of Ignis; Unread Book, a tabaxi turned mad by the beholder-like expurgat Ixigana; Blast, a brief enemy and current ally forging iron defenders for the party; and those are but a few!

At this point, the inn is nearly at full capacity and has been the site of at least one major combat. After a quick discussion, the characters prepare to depart. Alas! The inn’s owner gasps and points out the window. Barreling through the sky is a great airship, heading directly toward the Faded Ember Inn. The symbol of the Eldritch Knights: a suit of animated armor with a blade in one hand a fireball in the other, illuminates as a flash of lightning arcs in front of the flying vessel. More visitors to home base.


The player characters are usually adventuring across the land in their pursuit of riches, power, and glory. They hunt green dragons in tepid bogs, delve into the ruins of frost giant warmongers, and save the world from the machinations of maniacal archmages.

In many of these situations, they might not have roots anywhere. The player characters simply squat in whatever town or settlement they are near: the joyous tavern near the river, the wizard’s tower overlooking the endless plains, the underground hideout kept secret by yuan-ti rogues.

They might already be deeply invested in the world and the campaign but there is an easy way to draw them in further. Sometimes, you might need to hint at it, others, they might jump at the opportunity without any nudging.

If you want to help your players and their characters care more about your Dungeons & Dragons game, prompt them to or help them construct a home base.

Art by Anna Stokes.

This act will invest them into your campaign and world, provide a plethora of plot hooks and quest ideas, and give everyone the chance to try out a new type of gameplay.

Improving Investment

When a place is your own, you care more for it. Compare an apartment to a house. With an apartment, you know someone else owns it. You call others to fix issues, are unable to make it your own, and are confined to a few rooms and a patio. With a house, you know its yours. You put time and effort into it, fixing what you can yourself and decorating it as you see fit.

The same goes for home bases in D&D.

If the player characters are hopping from camp to camp, to places they do not own, their care for each will be shallow and simple. Sure, they might enjoy verbally sparring with the sharp-witted kenku innkeep along the Eastern Way, or laugh hysterically at the cult of whispering trees that surround a druidic citadel in the Allgloom Forest, but their connections to those places are brief. You will be lucky if they last more than a session.

Once they own their own place, their care will rapidly ascend.

The player characters will ensure their home base looks interesting and resembles their adventures. They might decorate it with the rewards of their prior quests. They will also want to know who lives there besides them. They could invite a humble cleric or a reputable merchant to make it their own and start to build a following there. After adventures, they will have a place to travel back to. There, they might relax, recover, and recount their fantastic accomplishments and solemn missteps.

For these reasons and a few more to come, the players and there characters will become more invested in your campaign and world once they have a place of their own.
Here are a few ways you could encourage the characters to establish a home base.

  • The characters discover an abandoned keep in the middle of an ancient forest. With a bit of renovation, it could become a formidable citadel.
  • A wealthy patron offers the characters a plot of land and a blank writ of credit in exchange for the completion of a dangerous quest. They will be able to do what they want with the land, but it's set atop a hill and would make an excellent location for a massive tower.
  • Remind the characters that they're accumulating a lot of wealth...too much to carry around on adventures. Unless they want to open a bank account or hide the treasure somewhere "safe", they are going to need to set roots somewhere.

Art credit Wizards of the Coast (Hoard of the Dragon Queen).

Improving Story

A home base in D&D provides plenty of opportunity for Dungeon Masters to wrap the plot further around the player characters. In addition, it gives the player characters ample opportunity to pursue downtime activities unrelated to the main plot.

Let’s take a look at both concepts.

Improving Main Plots

My player characters currently station themselves at an establishment called the Faded Ember Inn. Many of their allies live in or around the building and almost everyone knows they’re staying there — including their enemies. Over the course of the campaign, this has given me a plethora of chances to entangle the inn with the main plot. I’ve achieved this in many ways.

The entire family of a noble house paid the tavern a visit, renting it out for the day and treating it as their own summit spot between them and the party. This meeting flung the Faded Ember Inn into the spotlight and highlighted the party’s relationship with this powerful faction.

A deadly thieves’ guild for hire working alongside the party’s primary foes attacked the inn. The encounter was quick and brutal, involving minotaurs attempting to steal away close friends and vicious halflings posing as jolly patrons.

Four high elves, heads tattooed with bulbous brains, drew the party into the street. Using their mind magics, they thickened the plot and revealed secrets about one of the player characters that might interfere directly with the troubles they were facing day-by-day.

Each of those encounters built on top of the main plot. They all used the party’s home base as a catalyst.

Improving Side Stories

Let’s continue to use the Faded Ember Inn as the example here.

One of the PCs works at the inn. He has forged bonds with the others who work there: the inn’s owner (Immi), her daughter (Nala), and a tabaxi cook (Unread Book). When the PC retreats to the inn to rest, he interacts with each of these characters. The owner, a fire genasi like the PC, has taken on a motherly role; the owner’s daughter has a crush on him; the tabaxi cook is his best friend. Since the campaign’s start, these relationships have grown and changed — all the characters have also had some hand in the primary plot. Immi provides safety and comfort for the entire group after an arduous battle. Nala adds a bit of bubbly positivity to the somber atmosphere of the story. Unread Book pops in to muddy the already mysterious plot.

Alongside improvements to the main story, this home base has provided room for the personal story of this character to grow. Without it, it’s unlikely this type of development would take place. Instead, the vast majority of time would be spent building on the main plot.

Improving Gameplay

Narratively, a home base provides numerous chances to build on a campaign. Concurrently, it allows players and Dungeon Masters to test and master new gameplay systems.

Here are a few gameplay systems you can play around with if your PCs hold a home base.

  • Strongholds and Followers by MCDM. This supplement creates a foundation for you and your players to build the greatest stronghold in the land, whether its a druid grove or a barbarian camp. It’s a super in-depth system with lots of room for customization, roleplay opportunities, and mechanical addition to gameplay.
  • Downtime activities. Many of these rules are outlined in the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Activities include running a shop, creating magic items, and constructing a following.
Both of these options provide depth to your game and, while being primarily mechanical additions, will definitely provide a framework for more narrative gameplay.

Art credit Wizards of the Coast (Volo's Guide to Monsters).

Skyreach Castle

Wizards of the Coast included an example of an awesome home base in the first hardcover module (Hoard of the Dragon Queen) for fifth edition D&D: Skyreach Castle. Discovered by the PCs near the end of the book, the flying castle could serve as a great first home base in D&D, as long as it survives the adventure.

When trying to hook your players on a home base, take inspiration from Skyreach Castle. It's a truly fantastic location and that's what we want our home bases to be.

  • It's the former stronghold of giants; that's rad.
  • It's the location of the adventure's climax, which should instantly fill it with fond and dark memories.
  • It's a flying castle!
  • It has an interesting navigation system.
  • It has a storied history.
  • It's wanted by other factions.
  • It has plenty of room for construction, storage of treasure, and housing for patrons and allies of the party.
Art credit Wizards of the Coast (Hoard of the Dragon Queen).

Lessons Learned

Encouraging your players to create a home base or iterating on the one they’ve already constructed is a stellar way to improve your D&D campaign. Remember what we discussed.

  • Home bases compound on your players’ investment in the game and world.
  • Plots that surround home bases can be personal and world-shaking.
  • A variety of gameplay systems revolve around home bases and downtime activities. If the player characters own one, this gives everyone the chance to play around relatively untouched or brand new systems in D&D.

Want More RPG Tips & Tales from RJD20?

As always, thanks for reading. Please send all inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

Caught in Galen Lessons: Sessions 13-15

We’re almost on track with the Caught in Galen campaign! Next week is session 19; this article reviews and explores the lessons learned and best moments of sessions 13-15. From explosive combats at a lovely little inn and player character robberies, to untimely death in a sewer pit and incredible revelations for major plot points, this stretch of Caught in Galen was extremely satisfying to run. Observing the players pit their characters against near impossible foes, overcome them, and then use the information they gleaned from those encounters is gratifying.

Introducing BARDCORE

Session thirteen started at the party’s home base, the Faded Ember Inn, as they waited for an important arrival. Sitting in the main room of the establishment, a popular band of their community ascended the newly-built stage to perform their greatest hits in front of an excited audience. You see, the Faded Ember Inn had been closed for almost a week and a half due to a fire beetle infestation and constant visits from iconic individuals; now was the time to jam out and make some profit for its fire genasi owners. The band introduced themselves and began their music as I, outside the game, started a playlist over the speakers we use during D&D. A few days before that session, I discovered bardcore, a genre of music that remixes today’s songs as performances by bards from medieval times. As song after song played, a battle raged in the inn, the party’s enjoyment of the music only deepened.

What can we learn? Unconventional music, even from our own era, can greatly enhance a D&D game, but truly, you should always use background music during your games! Use a speaker set or an iHome to play music during your sessions. It adds to the atmosphere, from lovely, relaxing music during overland travel, to rambunctious, discomforting music during intense action sequences. Be wary with your music management though; sweet & calm music can take away from exciting battles.

Turning Point

At the end of last session, the party discovered that one of their members, Flux, had been kidnapped and taken below the city. Finally, they were ready to head into the sewers. A plethora of sessions had passed between the first time they were going to delve below and the current. At first, they were too scared to go below. Then, others things popped into their heads that they thought they had to go and chase. All the while, the villain of the chapter continued to build their plans, piece by piece. Time was passing as they pursued these other ends through various means. Nonetheless, they all knew the true threat was buried beneath them, below the sewers and in the place known as the Jungle. No matter how I hinted toward these actions being taken or how I prodded them toward this place, they went after other quests; finally, when one of their own had been taken below, they decided to descend into the depths. Sometimes, that’s what you need to do to progress…

Is there a lesson here? I think so. Inaction can be a problem in D&D. The party may believe the path forward is too dangerous to pursue, so they go after other things in the world. That’s fine. I run my games like a sandbox: the party can do whatever they want, but the central tension continues to intensify and the villains they know about all too well continue to build on their plans and machinations. Sometimes, characters must be prodded into action gently; if that doesn’t work, force their hand. Alert them that if they do not act, there will be extreme consequences.

To Dust

After saving their party member in the last session, the party were faced with the opportunity to fight one of their primary antagonists, all of them against her and her alone. However, this pit the party against each other; some believed they should retreat to the surface, that they beholder-like being barreling toward them would be too strong for them to overcome. Others thought they should stand and fight, that this was their chance to eliminate a major opponent. After plenty of debate, they decided to battle this creature they fully knew was of extreme power. As they prepared the field of battle, they gained an ally — an old friend — and waited for the creature: Ixigana. The beholder-like expurgat blasted through the floor using her disintegration ray and fought the party. The battle was close and saw the disintegration of one of the party members. Alas, he was the main proponent to stay behind and fight; the battle was won and he was avenged, but he was dead. This traumatic death became the centerpiece the rest of the session. His leftovers — dust — scattered over an ally, party members enraged against the enemy, and people needed to be told of his demise (of import was a dear friend of the deceased, it was a touching moment). We need not explore the revelation that was made out of character because of his death: the trapping of all souls in the city.

This one is easy. Make death impactful in D&D. The demise of a character should be a memorable moment and it should deeply affect the campaign and the characters. Do not drag out the death, but reinforce the fact that the character was a part of the world and meant something to the creatures in it.

Up Next

The last few sessions of Caught in Galen were eventful. I am excited to explore them each with all of you as we continue to catch up to this D&D campaign of epic proportions.

Until next time, stay creative!

Related Articles

First time reading RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to my weekly newsletter, and join the discussion in the comments below.

Consider picking up my first supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I on the Dungeon Masters Guild. It helps fund D&D supplements of the future.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to @RJD20Writes on Twitter or rjd20writes@gmail.com via email.

Art credit, in order: Monster Manual (WOTC).

Caught in Galen Lessons: Sessions 9-12

We’re continuing to catch up with Caught in Galen today. As the party prepares to finally enter the legendary and mysterious Jungle of Pipes, we’ll be recounting and pondering over the lessons learned in sessions nine through twelve of this grand Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Plenty happened, from an eerie encounter with a kalashtar, to the to foiling of a major plot. I planned to expect the unexpected and, as always, was still surprised by my genius and unpredictable players.

Going Separate Ways

There is a famous line in many circles across D&D players: “Never split the party.” Well, this session saw the party diverge for its entirety. Normally, I’d abhor this sort of play, as would my players. However, in the campaign we’re running, there are countless side objectives and stories that can be pursued due to the setting. Galen is a city, an enclosed space. Danger exists, but it doesn’t lurk around every corner. There are pockets of safety everywhere; there are NPCs important to the PCs everywhere; there are stories developing everywhere. So, when the party decided to go three different ways, I embraced it, as did the other players. Despite the split, everyone enjoyed the session. Multiple stories leaped forward and, eventually, everyone reconverged to prepare for their next adventure.

What can we glean from this? Splitting the party isn’t always a terrible mistake, especially if they’re in a setting that’s safe and always for separate travel. However, you need to ensure everyone remains engaged: don’t stick to one PC’s story for an extended period of time, leaving another PC to watch from the darkness.

The Villain One-Shot

In a break from the main campaign, session ten saw four of the five players take on villainous personas and serve the side of the enemy their main characters were battling. Each player portrayed a monstrous PC and leader of a dastardly faction. One played a troll Gloom Stalker, a truly deadly combination. Another mixed a hobgoblin with the Way of the Samurai. Each of the characters was distinct, memorable, and would become villains in the primary campaign. The players went into this one-shot knowing that (if the villainous PC’s survived, of course). They were designing the foes their main characters would one day fight.

How does this help you? Although I explained how one-shots can enhance your primary campaign in-depth in a past article, I’ll summarize here. If you want to explore a different side of D&D, whether it’s allowing the players to become wicked beasties, exploring your world’s past, or fleshing out the villains of your campaign, one-shots act as excellent mediums. In addition, they can segment a campaign extremely well, giving your players a break from playing the same character week after week.

A Change of Plans

At the end of session nine, the party cemented their next moves. I always try to glean what my players and their characters plan on doing so I can prepare my page of notes on the correct topics, encounters, and NPCs. At the beginning of session eleven, the party was set to descend into the infamous Jungle of Pipes, where their primary enemy hid and prepared for his faction’s next attack. However, in this session’s opening moments, the plan rapidly changed; they wouldn’t be heading into the Jungle, they’d be splitting up to act against this enemy without needing to step foot into the dangerous sewers, caverns, and ruins below the city. I was floored but completely prepared for this unexpected event. Why? Always be prepared to improvise when playing D&D.

What’s the primary lesson?
No matter how solid your party’s plans might be at the end of one session, be ready to throw away all your notes and react to a brand new course of action. Don’t railroad your group. Don’t force them into the situations, NPCs, and pathways you thought up; maybe you’ll be able to use them all later. Instead, always be prepared to improvise.

Flashforward, Flashback

Session twelve of Caught in Galen marked the first time I’ve ever dabbled with time travel in my D&D campaigns and setting. After a heroic victory and a new alliance, I skipped forward two weeks, shocking my players. I asked them each to describe an important moment that occurred in those two weeks and went around the table. After everyone recounted or played through that moment, I described a two-week flashback and had them all make an Intelligence Saving Throw. Those who succeeded remembered their important event and knew they’d experienced some sort of look into the future, those that failed knew something was awry but couldn’t remember their key moment. My entire table had no idea what was going on — they were mind boggled. Speculation occurred and they became more and more invested into the story. I know what happened, some of their speculation was correct, but I cannot reveal the exact details here...my players read my articles.

Can you use this? Time travel is a tricky subject. There are lots of variations of it out there for a plethora of worlds. If you want to incorporate it into your games, you need to think carefully. The ramifications of inserting it into your setting is massive and it opens up countless opportunities for villains and PC’s to affect your world in unthinkable ways. Use time travel at your own risk!

Up Next

As the Caught in Galen campaign builds, I’ll still be reflecting on what I’ve learned from it so that all of you may profit from my mistakes and successes. Remember, if you want to check out what’s going on in the campaign, check out the Caught in Galen Campaign Compendium and try out making one for your own D&D campaign.

Until next time, stay creative!

First time reading RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to my weekly newsletter, and join the discussion in the comments below.

Consider picking up my first supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I on the Dungeon Masters Guild. It helps fund D&D supplements of the future.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to @RJD20Writes on Twitter or rjd20writes@gmail.com via email. 

Art credit: Rising From the Last War (WOTC).

Caught in Galen Lessons: Sessions 5-8

The Caught in Galen campaign has been going strong. Next week is its eighteenth session; I last spoke about it after session four! We have a lot to catch up on and a plethora of topics to discuss. Over the past few months, there has been battles in warehouses slicked with oil, interrogations of blathering white dragonborn, realizations about traitorous dwarves and scheming nobles, deadly combats inside shattered temples, brief excursions into the sewers beneath Galen, and much, much more. Let’s discuss and dissect the best parts of sessions five through eight, and see what we can learn.

Beggaton is Forged

An awesome moment of collaboration between me and the player of Jason Urso resulted in the creation of Beggaton. Once called the Beggar’s Town, now shortened to Beggaton, this slum in the community of Vorici’s Rest is where the impoverished and somewhat kooky magewrights gather to live as one and try to survive the madness surrounding them. Jason’s character has a history in the city, and knows its streets quite well, so when he needed a fast way to a certain location, we forged Beggaton. What ensued was a quick romp through a cast of colorful characters, only one of which was developed. Nonetheless, now this region exists in Galen and can be visited and built upon for many sessions to come!

What's the lesson? Collaborate with your players. The best time to do this isn't before the campaign begins or before a certain session: it's during gameplay! While everyone is wild around the table, minds turning, is when the greatest spurts of creativity leap from us. Don't let them go to waste.

Crates, Oil, and Combat

The first large combat of the campaign was set in the basement of a warehouse held by a corrupted gang. It started on a ramp slicked with oil and ended in a large room filled with stacked crates that formed barricades and small towers. The enclosed, trap-laden area forced the party to innovate and led to a few hijinks. Luna tried to clear the oil with prestidigitation, but much of the party ended up sliding down the oiled ramp to rush into the fray. Jason Urso used his whip to catch a torch flung at the oil, stopping it from being lit on fire. Ignis maneuvered onto the crate stacks with his wings and flung halflings and elves to the ground. I think the mix of barrels, oil, and chance for flame made the encounter exciting, and had my players critically thinking until their victory.

What should be learned from this? Always give your combats multiple parts. Sure, when you first begin running D&D, basic encounters with 6 goblins, an open field, and the party may suffice; soon after, though, you'll want to incorporate more elements. Add environmental factors. Give your enemies character. Pepper the encounter with secondary objectives.

A Warforged Ally

Deep in that same warehouse, the party made an ally out of an enemy. Instead of killing the poor warforged, they incapacitated and spoke to him calmly. He explained he was only here because of the coin, and wasn’t actually involved in the death of anyone. He simply made killers; he was an artificer who forged iron defenders. The party decided to convince him to come with them to their home base, the Faded Ember Inn, and start making a few iron defenders to protect the things they treasure. In addition, the warforged (named Blast) helped Luna learn a special type of sleep spell: it only worked on constructs!

What can be gleaned from this? Not all enemies need to be evil; in fact, they can become allies.

The Traitor Discovered

In a session that centered around meeting the entirety of one of the noble houses in Galen, House Coresaw, the party discovered a traitor in the family. I knew he was a traitor the entire time and while a few hints had flown their way, I never expected the reveal to occur in front of his entire family and to materialize so rapidly. Really, it was a flurry of events and an act of pure genius by the players and their characters. Using a combination of clever roleplaying, spectacular insight, touching the traitor’s buttons in the right way, and a perfect usage of zone of truth, they routed this traitor and sent him into the custody of Galen’s elite guard: the Eldritch Knights. Every moment their case built and built, with and without my help. They did a great job. The full scene was so beloved by me I gave the entire party inspiration after it.

How can you use this in your games? Go with the flow. Even if you planned for a key piece of information to be revealed far later in your campaign, let it escape early. If the characters are clever enough to figure it out, reward them.

Next Up with Caught in Galen

Soon, I’ll return and recount the remainder of the sessions so that we can catch up to the live campaign. Until then, check out the Caught in Galen Campaign Compendium. It’s a living document that recounts every session and every NPC in the campaign.

Until next time, stay creative!

First time reading RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to my weekly newsletter, and join the discussion in the comments below.

Consider picking up my first supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I on the Dungeon Masters Guild. It helps fund D&D supplements of the future.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to @RJD20Writes on Twitter or rjd20writes@gmail.com via email. 

Art credit: Volo's Guide to Monsters (WOTC).

Why the Material Plane is Important

Most Dungeons & Dragons one-shots, adventures, and campaigns occur on the Material Plane. Also known as the mortal world, the Material Plane is where low-to-medium-level characters quest, smite down evil warlords, and plot against maniacal archmages. The majority of its population is mortal; they are dwarves and elves, humans and halflings, dragonborn and goblins, orcs and giants. Usually, adventures don’t leave the mortal world until higher levels, when conflicts between planar creatures like devils and celestials fling important characters to the Nine Hells, Mount Celestia, the Abyss, or other planes of existence. Even then, the plot might center around the Material Plane.

This begs the question: why is the Material Plane important?

A Place of Neutral Perfection

It’s often stated that the Material Plane is where the elements and alignments of the multiverse converge.

The Plane of Fire is a realm of raw, fiery energy: flames blaze across the sky and rivers of lava flow into molten seas. Its opposite, the Plane of Water is an unending ocean, peppered with ships lost at sea and thrust into the maelstrom of this elemental body. In the trenches of the Inner Planes is the Plane of Earth, a limitless cavern with a crystalline sky and boulders that tumble perpetually across the land. High above is the Plane of Air, a cloudy realm littered with flying fortresses and hazy winds. Layered outside these areas of pure elemental energy are the various planes of alignment. Realms like the Abyss and the Hells harbor the forces of evil, Celestia protects the creatures of good, Mechanus tinkers with the tools of absolute law, and Limbo manipulates all that is chaotic.

All of these planes of existence surround the world where mortals live: the Material Plane. They coalesce and form a space inhabitable by creatures not bound to a single facet of the universe. In the mortal world, efreeti can thrive, aboleths can plot for eternity, devils can tempt dull mortals, angels can attempt to lighten dark hearts, and creatures such as dwarves can live amongst them all. No matter the origins of a creature, it can survive in the mortal world with little to no issues. Compare this with a water elemental trying to move across the Plane of Fire, a devil attempting to connive their way into Celestia, or a slaadi sneaking past the sleepless modrons of Mechanus. All of those scenarios are possible, of course, but they are unlikely and absolutely maddening!

This is one reason why the Material Plane is important: all of the creatures we know and love in D&D can coexist there, even though this often leads to deadly encounters and terrifying schemes. Without the Material Plane, D&D adventures would have no middle ground for interesting entities to meet.

The Material Plane is a place of neutral perfection that’s necessary for almost all D&D games because it’s where all the entities of the multiverse converse, combat, and create. However, this is far from the only reason it’s vital to our D&D worlds…

The Prime Material Plane

In the most prominent cosmology in D&D, the Great Wheel, the Material Plane is usually referred to as the Prime Material Plane.

The Prime collects every single D&D world in existence, from the published setting of Toril and the slightly variant replicas of Toril used in thousands of D&D campaigns to every other world not split out into a separate cosmology. Altogether, these worlds are simply referred to as the Prime; they are the nexus for all other planes. They exist separate from each other in glass-like domes, unique.

Usually, there are no other ways to travel between planes of existence without passing through the Prime in some manner. For example, the Astral and Ethereal are not connected to each other. Likewise, the Inner and Outer Planes usually require passing through the Prime to reach each other. Thusly, in key planar locales such as Sigil, the Prime is used as the focal point for all planar travel. When talking about the Plane of Fire in relation to the Abyss, creatures direct from the Prime, not from one location or the other. Again, this is only in the standard Great Wheel cosmology — it might be completely different in your own world, as it is in mine.

Nonetheless, the Prime is a necessary conduit between the many worlds of D&D in a majority of campaign settings.

The early cosmology of my world, Eldar.

Souls for Harvesting

Malicious beings like devils need the mortal world to thrive and exist because it provides the fuel for infernal hordes, but that’s not the only type of harvesting that occurs in the multiverse.

Fleshy bodies on the mortal world are filled with rich souls. These souls contain the personality and consciousness of the body, defining what makes one human or dwarf different from another. Without them, all creatures would simply look different but act similarly, like automatons. This is in direct conflict with planar creatures like devils. Mostly, they’re seen to be embodiments of a certain belief or ideal that then takes shape. A barbed devil has a soul that appears to be a barbed devil, but that appearance is malleable while, in many cases, the soul itself is defined. While this is how souls are viewed by many, others across the multiverse see these souls as opportunities.

Devils, in particular, covet souls greatly. They are used as currency in the Hells. Powerful devils wager souls on risky wagers, pay their infernal masters with souls, and use souls to bolster their ranks. Every soul promised to the Hells is another member in the massive society of devils.

Souls are also harvested from the mortal world for other planes of existence. In many worlds, the souls of a pious believer of a certain god travel to that deity when they die and become one with them, bolstering the god’s strength. In other worlds, souls travel to a particular afterlife to live the rest of eternity in the multiverse. Some souls promised to the Hells swoop there and become lemures. Other souls destined for the war-torn fields of Asgard join the deathless combatants there.

When a mortal dies, their soul is harvested for a particular destination. Whether its the Hells or an idyllic plane like Mount Celestia, souls departing the Material Plane and joining the limitless planes of existence is a natural part of many D&D settings. The Material Plane is the field in which the soul is harvested; it serves as a home where the soul can grow and flourish.

This provides a plethora of plot hooks for adventures. Here are a few.
  • The soul of the party's patron is bound to a prominent devil. The patron needs them to wrestle it free from the devil.
  • Thousands of souls arrive at the wrong destination in the afterlife, leading to a mass haunting of a particular plane like Mechanus or Limbo. If the souls are not brought to the correct plane of existence, there might be extreme fallout.
  • The god whose domain is the speedy and safe travel of souls from the Material Plane to the afterlife is killed, leading to the pollution of souls in the Material Plane. Various factions across the multiverse break into it to compete for the free souls.
Art from Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus.

Material Plane Examples

Across the editions of D&D, there are multiple prominent examples of the Material Plane. Here is a brief selection of them.
  • Toril. Often called the Forgotten Realms, Toril is the primary setting of D&D. It's high fantasy and home to a plethora of famous heroes and adventures.
  • Eberron. The folk of this Material Plane are sectioned off from the rest of the regular D&D multiverse. As a result, the entities here have evolved separately from the common canon.
  • Athas. The gods are absent in the Material Plane attached to the Dark Sun campaign setting. Many species are extinct and the world is steadily dying.
  • Oerth. Greyhawk and all its adventures originate on the Material Plane of Oerth, Gary Gygax's own campaign setting. 
  • Aebrynis. The homeworld of the Birthright campaign setting. This Material Plane revolves around the bloodlines of key adventurers across the land and the growth of their lineages.
  • Krynn. The epic saga Dragonlance occurs in this Material Plane that pits good versus evil in a clear way.

Making Your World’s Material Plane Unique

The Material Plane is important in almost every D&D setting, yes, but how is it important and unique in your setting?

Start by meandering over special traits of the Material Plane common across the vast worlds of D&D. For example, when a devil dies on the Material Plane, it’s not truly dead. Instead, its being is transferred back to the Hells where it must be killed; to die on the Material Plane is a major inconvenience for a devil, but not a total defeat. Here are a few suggestions to add some flavor to your Material Plane.
  • Death is unique to the Material Plane. Creatures cannot die while on other planes of existence. When they would be killed, they are thrust back to the mortal world.
  • The only realm where creatures can age is the Material Plane. Elsewhere, they are timeless.
  • The other planes of existence are interwoven with the Material Plane. For example, the Hells are actually on the planet, as are the Heavens and the forests of the Feywild.
  • The gods live and breathe on the Material Plane.
  • Spells of neutrality have greater effect on the Material Plane.
  • There is only one Material Plane, no others. This is similar to Eberron’s cosmology, wherein the world of Eberron and all its planes of existence appear separately from other Material Planes (Toril, Athas, Oerth, etc).

Lessons Learned

The Material Plane is vital to our D&D adventures. Remember what we cemented about it.
  • The Material Plane is a place of neutral perfection. All the elements and alignments of the multiverse converge in it, allowing creatures of all origins to live and thrive there. This makes it the perfect ground for adventure!
  • The combination of all the Material Planes across the multiverse is called the Prime Material Plane or the Prime. It serves as a conduit between all the planes of existence, a nexus of sorts.
  • The Material Plane is a grand field where the souls of mortals can grow and flourish. Eventually, they are harvested when mortals die and swept to one of the planes of existence.
  • It’s easy to spice up your Material Plane. Don’t be afraid to break free from the basic and add awesome elements to it.

Related Articles

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