Secret worlds and invisible domains surround the world of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Godly dominions, elemental chaos, shadow kingdoms, and faerie realms are all part of the world. Most mortals know little of these things, but heroes are a different matter. Heroes often find that adventure calls them to distant and strange dimensions indeed.

The Feywild

The closest of these alternate worlds is the Feywild, or the realm of faerie. It is an “echo” of the mortal world, a parallel dimension in which the natural features of the lands and seas are arranged in much the same configuration. If a mountain stands in a given place in the mortal world, a similar mountain stands in a corresponding place in the Feywild. However, the Feywild is not an exact reproduction. Built structures and terrains are not copied in the faerie realm, so a valley dotted with farm fields and towns in the mortal world would simply exist as untouched, unsettled woodland in the Feywild.

The Feywild’s many vistas can catch your breath with beauty, but the Feywild is far from safe. Heroes visiting to Feywild might encounter:

A mossy forest glade where evil druids spill the blood of hapless travelers over the roots of the thirsting trees;
The tower of an eladrin enchanter;
A fomorian king’s castle in the dim, splendid caverns of the faerie Underdark; or
A maze of thorns in which dryad briarwitches guard an evil relic.
The Shadowfell
Just as the Feywild is an echo of the natural world, so is the Shadowfell. However, the Shadowfell mimics the mortal world in a different manner. The Shadowfell is the land of the dead, where the spirits of the deceased linger for a time in a dark reflection of their previous lives before silently fading beyond all ken. Some undead creatures are born in the Shadowfell, and other undead are bound to it, but some living beings dwell in this benighted realm.

Like the Feywild, the Shadowfell also reflects the mortal world imperfectly. Towns, castles, roads, and other objects built by mortal kind exist in the Shadowfell about where they should be, but they are twisted, ruined caricatures. The shadowy echo of a thriving seaport in the mortal world might be a dilapidated, desolate port whose harbor is cluttered with the rotting hulks of shipwrecks and whose busy wharves are empty except for a few silent and furtive passersby. In the Shadowfell, heroes might venture into:

A necromancer’s tower;
The sinister castle of a shadar-kai lord, surrounded by a forest of black thorns;
A ruined city swept by long-ago plague and madness; or
The mist-shrouded winter realm of Letherna, where the fearsome Raven Queen rules over a kingdom of ghosts.

The Elemental Chaos

All of the cosmos is not tied to the mortal world as closely as the Feywild or Shadowfell. The natural world was created from the infinite expanse of the Elemental Chaos (or Tempest, or Maelstrom), a place where all fundamental matter and energy seethes. Floating continents of earth, rivers of fire, ice-choked oceans, and vast cyclones of churning clouds and lightning collide in the elemental plane.

Powerful beings tame vast portions of the chaos and shape it to their own desires. Here the efreeti City of Brass stands amid a desert of burning sand illuminated by searing rivers of fire falling through the sky. In other places in the Elemental Chaos, mighty mortal wizards or would-be demigods have erected secret refuges or tamed the living elements to build their domains.

Elemental creatures of all kinds live and move through the Elemental Chaos: ice archons, magma hurlers, thunderbirds, and salamanders. The most dangerous inhabitants are the demons. In the nadir of this realm lies the foul Abyss, the font of evil and corruption from which demonkind springs. The Abyss is unthinkably vast—thousands of miles in extent—and in its maw swirl hundreds of demonic domains, elemental islands, or continents sculpted to suit the tastes of one demon lord or another. Within the Elemental Chaos, heroes might explore:

The crystalline tower of a long-dead archmage;
A grim fortress monastery of githzerai adepts;
The diseased Abyssal continent where Demogorgon rules amid ruined temples and bloodthirsty jungle beasts; or
A vast polar sea lit only by the cold glitter of icebergs and flickering auroras, in which the frozen stronghold of a frost giant warlock lies hidden.
The Astral Sea
One final extradimensional realm touches on the mortal world: the Astral Sea. If the Elemental Chaos is the manifestation of physicality, the Astral Sea is a domain of the soul and mind. The divine realms, the dominions of the gods, drift within Astral Sea’s unlimited silver deeps. Some of these are realms of glory and splendor—the golden peak of Mount Celestia, the verdant forests of Arvandor…. Others belong to dark powers, such as the Nine Hells where Asmodeus governs his infernal kingdom. A few astral dominions lie abandoned, the ruined heavens and hells of gods and powers that have fallen.

Only the mightiest of heroes dare venture into the dominions of the gods themselves. In the Astral Sea, heroes may find:

The iron city of Dis, where the devil Dispater rules over a domain of misery and punishment in the second of the Nine Hells;
An artifact guarded by race of cursed warriors whose castle of adamantine overlooks the war-torn plains of Acheron;
The black tower of Vecna, hidden in the depths of Pandemonium; or
A dragon-guarded githyanki fortress, drifting through the silver sea.
No one is knows how many astral dominions there are. Some dominions, such as the Nine Hells, are the size of worlds. Others are no larger than cities, rising like shining islets from the Astral Sea. Several dominions have been ruined or abandoned, usually because the gods who made them were destroyed or forgotten. What sorts of treasures—or perils—might slumber in such places, only learned sages could say.


Dividing Demons and Devils

In the real world, "demon" is synonymous with "devil." "Abyss" and "hell" have a similar relationship. D&D designers have struggled with these facts since 1977 when the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game depicted demons and devils, the Abyss and the Nine Hells. The original basis for the division was alignment. Aligned planes existed to provide a meaningful afterlife for similarly aligned characters, and a need to fill those planes with natives resulted in demons being distinct from devils. As the game evolved, the original division remained, but too many similarities persisted. The advent of 4th Edition lets us accentuate the differences between the two primary species of fiends.

Throughout demons' and devils' existence in the D&D game, resemblances between them have been stronger and more numerous than differences. Both species are extraplanar forces of evil that seek souls to supplement their numbers. Each breed has wretched and implike creatures at the bottom of the hierarchy and godlike archfiends at the top. Each member of both species has a wide array of similar (and often superfluous) supernatural powers. Most demons and devils are superior to members of typical PC races in every way, including incredible intelligence. Their purposes in the material world have always been similar.

In the original AD&D Monster Manual, Gary Gygax admitted that devils “somewhat resemble the demons both in their characteristics and abilities.” AD&D 2nd Edition kept the planar structure of the original game. Demons and devils became tanar’ri and baatezu, respectively, but little made them distinct other than their categorical names. Only a conflict called the Blood War kept them from overrunning the material world. However, this evil-on-evil fight didn’t expand the possibilities for typical D&D play. On the contrary, the Blood War brought the motivations and hierarchy of demons and devils closer together. The 3rd Edition of D&D retained so many of 2nd Edition’s concepts that it did little to clarify the situation until the release of Fiendish Codex I. 4th Edition changes all that.

In 4th Edition, the Nine Hells are an astral dominion among other deific abodes in the Astral Sea (more on that in an upcoming Design & Development column). The resident deity is Asmodeus, who as an angel in primeval times, led an army of his fellows against his celestial master and murdered that god. Although Asmodeus gained divine might from his foul deed, he and his followers also suffered their victim’s dying curse. Under the power of that malediction, all the rebellious angels twisted in form and became devils. Worse still, the murdered god’s words transformed Asmodeus's dominion into a nightmarish place and bound the newborn devils to it. To this day, devils plot to escape their prison, weaving lies and corruption to ensure their eventual freedom and to seize even greater power.

Asmodeus rules Hell with despotic pride, and all devils conform to his strict hierarchy or face destruction. Within the chain of command, lesser devils use whatever power they have to mimic their ultimate leader. Devils work to gain influence in the cosmos, especially among mortals in the world. They eagerly respond to any summons and readily form cleverly worded pacts. They plan and build to meet their needs, making and using all sorts of devices, tools, and weapons. A devil might be supernaturally potent, and it might possess incredible magic items, but its greatest assets are its shrewdly calculating mind and eternal patience. Devils want to impose a sort of order -- specifically theirs -- on the cosmos.

Not so with demons.

In the Abyss, which gapes like a festering wound in the landscape of the Elemental Tempest, demons teem, eternally divided among themselves simply by their insatiable lust for ruin. Legend says that the Chained God, Tharizdun, found a seed of evil in the young cosmos, and during the gods’ war with the primordials, he threw that seed into the Elemental Tempest. There, the evil seed despoiled all that came into contact with it (some say it tainted Tharizdun himself) and created the Abyss as it burned a hole in the very structure of the plane. Elemental beings that came too close to the Abyss became trapped and warped. Any desire they have turns to the longing to obliterate the gods, creation, and even one another. They became demons.

Most demons are savage and fearless engines of annihilation. Although sometimes driven by unspeakable yearning or by horrifying demon lords to gather in groups, demons have no real organization and no singular aim. Demons don’t negotiate, and they build nothing lasting. Most use tooth and claw rather than artificial weapons. They care little or nothing for souls. Even the mightiest demon lords manipulate other demons by using threats, direct violence, or the promise of more destruction through affiliation. Although the lords of the Abyss that veteran D&D players know and love to hate still exist, no monolithic hierarchy supports any demon’s influence. Although a demon might want to destroy another creature and take that creature’s power, success only results in the winning demon using and squandering what it has seized. Demons have no regard for the responsibilities of authority, and they care little for keeping what they acquire. They’re forces of unmaking, and a universe under them would reflect the horror that is the Abyss, if that universe survived at all.

What does a clearer distinction between the two major species of fiends mean for your game? If you need a devious fiend that cares about souls and works on long-term schemes, use a devil. However, wholesale slaughter, pointless suffering, and terrifying devastation call for a demon. A villain or even a player character might bargain with devils, but those who conjure demons do so only to wreak havoc on their enemies. In short, the unambiguous division of the fiends is another way 4th Edition makes the game easier to design for and to play.

by Chris Sims / Art by David Griffith and Wayne England


Encounter Design in 4th Edition

The encounter serves as the basic building block of a D&D adventure. In the old days, DMs used their experience, judgment, and sense of drama to build encounters. The 3rd Edition of D&D gave us challenge ratings and encounter levels. They were great tools, but they assumed that the party fought only one monster. In 4th Edition, we’re doing things a bit different. We’re shifting to a system that assumes a number of monsters equal to the number of characters. This change has a few major implications for encounter design:

1. Superior Accuracy: Before we can talk about encounter design, it’s important to note that while 3rd Edition’s CR system is a useful measuring tool, it isn’t always an accurate one. A monster’s AC, hit points, special attacks, and damage all combine to determine its level. In the old days, we relied on a designer’s best guess to match a creature to a CR. While designating a creature’s level is still an art, designating a creature’s level now has more science behind it. By creating robust progressions of attack bonus, damage, and AC, level has become a much more accurate measure of a monster’s power. This step is critically important, as it now allows us a lot more accuracy in determining the threat an encounter presents.

2. More Monsters: Rather than pick one monster, you now select a group of critters. The interplay between monsters is a little more important in design. In 3rd Edition, you had to turn to significantly weaker monsters to put a pair or more creatures into a fight. Unless these monsters had significant advantages when working together, an individual character easily outclassed an individual monster in such a group. In 4th Edition, an individual creature (of a level comparable to the PC) has the AC, attack bonus, and hit points to remain a threat during a fight.

3. Monster Roles: Monsters have roles that define the basics of how they fight. The role functions in only the broadest terms. It dictates a few basic measures of a monster but describes, rather than proscribes, how its abilities work. The real strength of a role is that it gives designers a few basic targets to shoot at it in design, ensuring that every monster we make fits in with the rest of the creatures in the whole game. For instance, monsters that are good at ranged attacks love to have a beefy wall of brutes in front of them to hold back the adventurers. Roles allow you to focus in on the right monster for the encounter and spot obvious combinations.

4. Hazards: Traps, hazards, dangerous terrain, and other complications have a clearer place in the battlefield. The 3rd Edition of D&D gave us one “monster unit” to play with. In other words, the game assumed that the encounter consisted of four PCs against one monster. If you had five PCs, you had to figure out how to get 1.25 “monsters” into the encounter. Even worse, that system had to express traps, hazards, and other dangers as full monster units. It was difficult at best to mechanically represent something that was never meant to stand alone. In 4th Edition, each monster represents only a portion of the encounter. That makes it much easier to design green slime, pit traps, whirling blades, fountains that spray acid, and crumbling stone walls. One such hazard can simply take the place of one monster, leaving you with three or four monsters in the encounter. Since monster level is a more rigorous measure of power, we can turn those measures and scales around and use them to create environmental hazards, traps, set pieces, and other interesting tactical twists.

Putting it All Together

What does all this mean for encounter design in 4th Edition? When you build an encounter, you can begin from several different premises. You can start with a cool monster, find creatures that make good “teammates” for it, and run with that. For instance, you’ve always wanted to throw a medusa at the party. Looking at her stats, abilities, and role, you can then pick out other creatures that make her a tougher nut to crack. Of course, you could always throw a couple medusas at the characters and have a little sculpture party.

Alternatively, you can start with a basic idea of how you want the encounter to proceed, pick out monsters based on level and role, and throw that at the party. Let’s say that the party wizard hasn’t had sufficient trouble thrown his way recently. Ranged attackers always make life difficult for spellslingers, so you can pick out a few of them based on role. To keep the fight busy, a monster with a lot of abilities to hinder and slow down PCs fits the bill. As a cherry on top of this anti-wizard sundae, you can finish the encounter with a lurker who hides from the party, sneaks past the fighter, and springs from the shadows to chop down the caster. The key here is that, without knowing exactly which monsters to use, you have an idea of which types of critters you want.

How you fit hazards into an encounter is perhaps the most important aspect of encounter design in 4th Edition, and it brings us to the third way you can build encounters. You can now more easily add dynamic elements to an encounter and account for cool special effects, hazards, and traps. Those elements are, in mechanics terms, equal to a monster. They fit seamlessly into the encounter design and XP rules by taking up one creature’s slot. If you want to throw in more hazards, simply reduce the monster count and increase the number of hazards present in the encounter.

If you’re like me, and you read too many comics and watch too many movies for your own good, you like to pull out set pieces and crazy terrain to throw at the party. A swaying rope bridge battered by howling air elementals fits under the encounter building system. A burning building that collapses around the PCs as they fight the evil hobgoblin wizard fills a similar role, as does a bizarre altar to Vecna that randomly teleports characters around the room. Hazards, traps, and other dangers simply fill in for one or more creatures in a fight.

By expanding the tools and making them work well together, 4th Edition presents a more robust, flexible, extensible, and exciting set of encounter tools. If the 3rd Edition’s presentation of CR was the first step to taking some of the mystery out of encounter design, the 4th Edition builds on that core to produce a more accurate tool, along with additional uses for that tool.

by Mike Mearls


Wizards and Wizard Implements

Magic saturates the world and all the extraordinary realms beyond the world, an intrinsic force present in literally all things. Magic transforms and alters the natural world, sometimes actively and with sudden effect, other times subtly and over long centuries.

This arcane energy source is difficult to understand and even tougher to master. Wizards do so through years of study, practice, and apprenticeship to accomplished masters.

Wizards wield arcane magic, and they recognize reality for what it is: a thin veneer of structure supported and energized by a force that is ultimately malleable, to those who know its secrets. Though research and study, wizards learn esoteric rituals that allow them to alter time and space, hurl balls of fire that incinerate massed foes, and wield spells like warriors brandish swords. They call upon lesser and greater spells to unleash raging torrents of cold, fire, or lightning, confuse and enthrall the weak-minded, or even turn invisible or walk through walls.

What sets wizards apart from others who wield arcane magic are wizards’ unique implements. Most people recognize the three most common tools associated with wizardcraft: the orb, staff, and wand.

Any wizard can use an implement to increase the effectiveness of his spells. Just as a warrior gains a benefit when attacking an enemy with a magic sword, so does a wizard benefit from using a magic orb, staff, or wand with his spellcasting. In addition, each implement focuses magic of a particular discipline or tradition more effectively than the wizard would be able to accomplish otherwise. As a result, wizards are rarely without at least one of these tools.

The orb is favored by the Iron Sigil and Serpent Eye traditions. Serpent Eye cabalists use orbs to focus powers of enchantment, beguiling, and ensnaring. The mages of the Iron Sigil, on the other hand, employ orbs to guard themselves with potent defenses when invoking spells of thunder or force.

The staff is best suited to the disciplines of the Hidden Flame and the Golden Wyvern. Servants of the Hidden Flame wield fierce powers of fire and radiance through their staves. Golden Wyvern initiates are battle-mages who use their staves to shape and sculpt the spells they cast.

The wand is a perennial favorite for wizards who favor accurate, damaging attacks. Emerald Frost adepts use wands to help channel powers of cold and deadly acidic magic, while Stormwalker theurges channel spells of lightning and force through their wands.

A wizard without an implement is like a slightly near-sighted man with glasses: The man can still see, but without his glasses, he can’t read the road sign across the way. Likewise, while wizard traditions are associated with a particular implement, a wizard need not possess or hold a given implement to use a power belonging to that tradition. For instance, a wizard belonging to the Hidden Flame order can cast the fire spell cinder storm even if he doesn’t own, has lost, or is not holding a magic staff. But if he does have a magic staff, it aids the accuracy of his attack, and his mastery of the Hidden Flame technique allows him to deal more damage with the spell.

by Bruce Cordell / Art by William O'Conner



A thousand birdsongs resound through the cool depths of the primeval forest. These ancient, virgin, and primary woodlands have never felt the metallic sting of axe or the unnatural heat of fire stoked so hot it burns more than detritus and undergrowth. Living, bark-wrapped pillars hold aloft layers upon layers of mounting canopy that filters the high sunlight through more hues of emerald and gold that could ever be imagined.

The secrets of the deep, old woods are closely guarded, and few know of the many wild things that walk amid the shadowed boles. Silver stags, wise hares, unicorns, butterflies the size of hawks, and tree owls who’ve survived a hundred or more winters shelter in the forgiving hollow of a grandfather pine.

Few indeed, but for the elves.

Most elves are wild, free forest-dwellers, guarding their lands with stealth and deadly arrows from high boughs. Though fey in origin, elves have lived so long in the world that they have become almost inured to its difficulties. Hardened by the unruly savagery of nature and seasoned by the hard lessons that orcs, humans, and other creatures of the world are only too happy to teach, elves have gone a different route than their cousins, the eladrin. Elves rely on hard-won intuition and senses tuned to an arrow’s point instead of reason, intellect, or debate as eladrin are more wont to do. However, like eladrins, they possess a pure hate for their shared distant drow relatives.

Elves are people of deeply felt but short-lived passions. They are easily moved to delighted laughter, blinding wrath, or even mournful tears. Elves possess a profound, intuitive connection to the natural world they inhabit, and often perceive things others have not the skill or aptitude to notice. They are inclined to impulsive behavior in preference to long deliberation, though they would say they prefer to act in the moment.

Elves, sometimes also called wood elves, wild elves, or sylvan elves, usually gather in tribes or bands composed of three or more families. These tribes are less concerned with relationships or lineages than with proven forestcraft and hunting prowess, and usually choose the wisest and most perceptive member of a tribe to lead. In very large tribes, this “elf chieftain” is instead described as an “elf king” or “elf queen.” However, in most tribes, even the lowliest member doesn’t feel beyond his station in speaking his mind to any other elf, regardless of station, up to and including the tribe’s leader.

Most elves revere the natural world, but they love forests most of all. They never cut living trees, and when they create permanent villages, they do so by carefully growing or weaving arbors, treehouses, and catwalks from living branches. They prefer the magic of the natural world to arcane magic. Elves are drawn to the worship of both the fey god Corellon and Obad-Hai, the god of the wild. Both spiritual and practical, elves embody the most peaceful and the most violent aspects of the natural world.

by Bruce Cordell / Art by Lee Mayer