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Manual of the Planes (4e)

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Adventure beckons through planar portals...

Beyond the mortal world awaits great peril, power, and adventure. Welcome to the planes!

With this book, you can explore the magical realms of the Feywild, the haunted lands of the Shadowfell, the divine dominions of the Astral Sea, and the savage maelstrom of the Elemental Chaos and the Abyss.

Every plane offers unique adventuring locations filled with unparalleled dangers and fantastic features.

Product History

Manual of the Planes (2008) by Rich Baker with John Rogers, Robert J. Schwalb, and James Wyatt, is a core setting book for the D&D 4e game. It was published in December 2008.

About the Cover. The cover pays homage to the original Manual of the Planes (1987) with its depiction of an astral dreadnought.

Continuing the 4e Line. D&D 4e (2008) got its start in June 2008 with the standard three core books. Following that, Wizards debuted a series of lines that would define the first two years of 4e's life. The equipment books kicked off with Adventurer's Vault (2008) in September, the power books began with Martial Power (2008) in November, and the monster splat books got their start with Draconomicon: Chromatic Dragons (2008), also in November.

That brings us to Manual of the Planes. In ancient days, the planes had been a minor element of D&D lore, found in Dragon articles and rulebook appendices. When the original Manual of the Planes (1987) appeared, it was a very late release for AD&D 1e. Wizards dramatically increased the importance of the planar setting when they released a D&D 3e Manual of the Planes (2001) just a year after D&D 3e itself. Now, the 4e Manual of the Planes (2008) was trailing its core release by half-a-year … and like the other early 4e books, it was seen as the first in a series. Laters years would see the expansion of the Manual with the release of The Plane Below: Secrets of the Elemental Chaos (2009) and The Plane Above: Secrets of the Astral Sea (2010).

What a Difference an Edition Makes: World Views. D&D 4e massively changed D&D's worldview, and part of that was a revamped cosmology. The new World Axis had actually originated with the Forgotten Realms, which was planning a view of the heavens as early as 2005 or 2006. It was then co-opted by the SCRAMJET world design team for D&D 4e.

A new cosmology meant that D&D's classic Great Wheel was being thrown out. The main complaint? "Needless symmetry". The Great Wheel required planes for every alignment and every element … whether they were useful in games or not. The World Axis was instead built for "maximum playability", where there was "no 'dead' space". As the designers explained, the Great Wheel had contained good-aligned planes that were never used and elemental planes that were too deadly. Now there was the opportunity for adventure everywhere.

The World Axis also moved D&D's cosmology toward the "points of light" model that was at the heart of the new game. This was particularly obvious in Astral Sea, where goodly home bases were now points of light in a rugged, ruined environment … but the same model could be found in all the new planes of the D&D multiverse.

Exploring the World Axis. The World Axis debuted with the introduction of the eponymous Shadowfell in H1: "Keep on the Shadowfell" (2008). The whole cosmology then got two pages of explanation in Dungeon Master's Guide (2008). Now, Manual of the Planes was the book that put flesh on all those bones.

Richard Baker described the new World Axis as a "bobbin or wire spool", with the mortal world dwelling between two great seas: the Astral Sea above and the Elemental Chaos below. The mortal world also has two echoes: the fantastical Feywild and the deathly Shadowfell. Ironically, it's another very symmetric model, though the designers would probably argue that the symmetry wasn't "needless".

This cosmology is given a rich (and symmetrical) mythical background, where the Primordials (of the Elemental Chaos) long ago battled against the Gods (of the Astral Sea). This history links the entire World Axis cosmology, something that had been missing from the Great Wheel; it's also what gives the Astral Sea its post-apocalyptic, "points of light" feel.

Each of the main parts of the World Axis receives extensive details in the Manual of the Planes:

The Shadowfell, first of the worlds echoes, is a mashup of the old Negative Energy Plane and Plane of Shadow. The Negative Energy Plane had been a part of the Great Wheel since the start, while the Plane of Shadow originated in Greyhawk and should have been featured in an early adventure by Gary Gygax and Skip Williams. Instead, it appeared in different forms in the original Deities & Demigods (1980) and Manual of the Planes (1987) and later received more attention in the World Tree cosmology of the Forgotten Realms setting. The Shadowfell also has a few other aspects: it's a a stepping-off place (and sometimes a stopping-off place) for the dead and it incorporates the Domains of Dread from Ravenloft: Realm of Terror (1990).

The Feywild, second of the world echoes, is a fey realm most similar to the Plane of Faerie from the 3e Manual of the Planes (2001). It also incorporates some aspects of Arborea, the Chaotic Good outer plane of the Great Wheel that started out as Olympus — though Arborea still exists in the World Axis too, as Arvandor. The Feywild includes a great variety of locales — the most surprising of which is the Isle of Dread. This adventure setting from X1: "The Isle of Dread" (1981) now sometimes "worldfalls" to various planes, but also travels to more mysterious places.

The Elemental Chaos, which was called "Primordial Chaos" in early drafts, is a conglomeration of the elemental planes of previous editions. The new blended plane is intended to be more accessible (and less deadly) for adventuring than the stark, undifferentiated elemental planes of old. Surprisingly, the classic plane of the Abyss is now connected to the Elemental Chaos. A few classic layers get detailed here, including Lolth's Demonweb, Baphomet's Endless Maze, and Orcus' Thanatos — all of which had appeared in adventures in days past.

The Astral Sea is what had once been the Outer Planes, home to all the gods. Like the Elemental Chaos, it's now more accessible to adventurers. In fact, it now pays homage to the Spelljammer (1989) setting, because magical ships can sail the Astral Sea, traveling from one island domain to another. The Nine Hells gets special attention as one of the Sea's domains. They've been totally revamped. Rather than being a stack of layers — the common model for planes in the Great Wheel — the Nine Hells is now a mighty planet, with all of the layers except Avernus being underground caverns. Epic dungeon crawls can follow!

A few other realms get some attention in Manual of the Planes, including two classics: the Far Realm, which debuted in The Gates of Firestorm Peak (1996); and Sigil from Planescape Campaign Setting (1996).

Monsters of Note. Manual of the Planes reveals how many classic planar monsters were revamped for D&D 4e, among them angels, demons, devils, and eladrin; it also introduces the primordials.

Angels, which had only appeared under that name since D&D 3.5e (2003), are now the servants of all the gods. They're no longer good by definition.

Demons and devils are widely differentiated, and that starts with the revelation that Demons are now corrupted elementals — explaining the placement of the Abyss in the Elemental Chaos. Beyond that, the designers envision demons as "merciless, savage, hateful destroyers", disorganized and self-destructive, but eager to "destroy the creations of the gods.

Devils are the rebellious servants of the gods. They're organized instead of chaotic; subversive instead of murderous; and slippery instead of tough.

The Eladrin perhaps underwent the largest changes. The race dated back to Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix II (1998), where they were strange fey native to Arborea. They moved to the Feywild in the new cosmology, but more importantly, the eldarin of previous books were just the powerful lords of the Feywild; the race now also included less powerful entities who were available as player characters — essentially turning them into the "high elves" or previous D&D games.

Finally the Primordials were a new race of mythic beings, as powerful as the gods. They would be extensively featured throughout D&D 4e's run and would be enumerated in some later volumes.

Many more races appear in Manual of the Planes — some of them classic planar races and others standard D&D monsters now granted a more mythical status. These other races include: firbolgs, fomorians, and goblins in the Feywild; death giants and shadar-kai in the Shadowfell; archons, efreet, elementals, genasi, githzerai, slaads, and titans in the Elemental Chaos; and githyanki and maruts in the Astral Sea.

NPCs of Note. Two demon lords, Baphomet and Graz'zt, make their return here, as well as a devil, Dispater.

Future History. After The Plane Below: Secrets of the Elemental Chaos (2009) and The Plane Above: Astral Sea (2010), the standard Manual of the Plane line disappeared. However, the Shadowfell got attention in a somewhat differently-focused release called The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond (2011). Only the Feywild didn't get a full setting book, though Heroes of the Feywild (2011) provided some additional details. Meanwhile, Sigil reappeared in Dungeon Master's Guide 2 (2009).

About the Creators. Baker, who was the lead designer of this book, also wrote the chapter on the Astral Sea. Rogers was the author of the Feywild, Schwalb scribed about the Shadowfell, and Wyatt made order from Elemental Chaos.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to

We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

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Timothy B September 15, 2017 6:59 pm UTC
This PDF is usually $7.99 on DM's Guild. The September Settings sale has actually increased the price to 33% off of the printed book's cover price, which is higher than the typical PDF price. Is there any way to get this corrected? Thank you.
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