From Warcraft: Shadows & Light
(Blizzard Entertainment / Sword & Sorcery, 2004)

Early in their lives, there are those on Azeroth who sense they are part of a larger world. Not merely one that stretches beyond the horizon, but one beyond the physical world. The stories they tell say that the wind comes from this world, and that it is the next destination of wood consumed by a fire. The stories say that creatures live in that world who step from shadow to shadow as simply as a peasant goes from room to room. They say that it is a world that can only be truly understood by the wise and the insane.

Like all stories, they contain both truths and lies. There is something greater than the physical world of Azeroth. It lies infinitely far away, yet also infinitesimally close. It has places of brilliant purity and the darkest chaos. Creatures of air, fire, and shadow call these places their home, and those from Azeroth who dare to travel into these realms will find them unlike anything they have ever seen before.

They are the planes, and the physical world of Azeroth is but one of them.

Though the titans and eternals have known about the planes for longer than the recorded history of the world, the first time a mortal creatures on Azeroth suspected there was something other than the world around them was when the Kaldorei made their way out of the jungles to the shores of the Well of Eternity and stared deep into its waters. There they sensed a great power, and in a course of events that would change the world forever, dedicated themselves to its study. They hoped that they would discover the moon goddess Elune within its waters, but instead they plumbed the darkness and felt the cold touch of the Burning Legion waiting on another plane, the Twisting Nether.

Later, after the queen of the Kaldorei and her followers were corrupted by the Burning Legion and destroyed alongside them in the War of the Ancients, the ancient dragons of the world led the surviving elves to a safe haven where they planted the first of the titanic World Trees. The green dragon Ysera linked the tree to her home realm on another plane, the Emerald Dream, and in return for the eternal life granted to the elves and the magical healing of the world, the druids of the Kaldorei spent centuries asleep in the physical world while sending their spirits to wander the Dream.

By the time the elves returned from the Dream, sorcerers had discovered the means to command beings who had come to Azeroth from another world known as the Elemental Plane, and an invasion had begun from yet another world lknown as Draenor, which would eventually become to be known as Outland.

Today, though the peasants and commonfolk still tell their stories, the scholars and adventurers of many races know a great deal about the different planes and travel between them. The human mageocracies made great advances in their studies of the planar travel after the orc invasion, and copies of the archwizard Khadgar’s Contemplations on Many Worlds are found in manyseveral libraries in the eastern worldlands. The complex oral histories of the night elves have helped to preserve their hard-won knowledge of the Twistinged Nether, and many can relate personal experiences in the Emerald Dream. As the dwarves have searched for clues to their titan heritage, there are some who suspect that the titans played a role not only in the creation of Azeroth but also in opening the pathways between worlds. Orcs, following their own history and its relationship with the Burning Legion, believe it is the cross-world conquests of the Legion that first connected the planes. Among the elves, it is commonly believed that mortal planes such as Azeroth and Outland are the crudest reflections of planes of greater power such as the Twisting Nether and the Emerald Dream. Only the goblins with their short memory and focus on the present openly disbelieve the existence of other planes—though adventurers often joke that the trade princes will order their underlings to believe in the planes as soon as they can open a trading post in Outland and rent the people of Azeroth a means to get there.

Those of various professions and pursuits have their own way of considering and understanding the planes. Divine and arcane spellcasters interact with other planes on a regular basis as they cast their spells, and while most pragmatically accept what their magic allows them to perceive as the truth, there are some of a more philosophical bent who believe that the planes are a single holistic universe of magical forces and the divisions are merely the attempts of the mortal mind to understand the unknowable. Tinkers confronted with the reality of the Burning Legion and summoned elementals are forced to admit to the existence of other planes, but as the foreign worlds possess fundamental physical differences that interfere with the working of their devices and inventions, many tinkers typically try to avoid them as much as possible.

As did Khadgar, there are a few scholars on Azeroth who have dedicated their lives to considering the riddle of many planes of existence and the possibility of travel between them. Just months before it fell to the Scourge, an elven wizard named Valenia Silvermoon traveled to Dalaran to put forth the theory that just as Outland was once a place unknown to the people of Azeroth, so are there other worlds waiting to be discovered. She even claimed to have theories about how these places might be reached based on her studies of the Second War. Unfortunately, though stories of her presentation to the mage’s council survived bywith those who escaped the capture of Dalaran by the undead, Silvermoon’s notes and journals, if they still exist, are somewhere in the charred rubble of the Violet Citadel.

A World of Worlds

Though it sparks a great many debates, the common starting point for many discussions of the interrelationships between the planes is the cosmology laid out by Khadgar in Contemplations on Many Worlds as he studied the planes at Nethergarde. After he identified the Known Planes—physical worlds such as Azeroth and Draenor, the untamed realm of the Elemental Plane, the madness of the Twisting Nether, and the nothingness of the Great Dark Beyond—Khadgar spent two chapters speculating about their possible arrangement in “a larger world of worlds, a great cosmos.”

At the base of Khadgar’s cosmology lay the Elemental Plane, the “raw stuff of creation.”. Khadgar explained how he arranged the elements within the plane:

“Let us consider the elements of Fire and Water. A bucket of water will douse a spark, and a raging fire will boil away the water that will fit into a nutshell. On the Elemental Plane, these elements are at their purest and most potent, and in equal, enormous quantity. We must assume, therefore, assume that the two are separated by the only element with which both will intermingle, Earth. Earth and Air might coexist, but they may never comingle—even when a handful of dust is scattered to the winds, dust and wind never become one. Further considering that it Air lies above even the highest mountains, we place it in the highest layer of the Elemental Plane. Fire, Earth, Water, and Air in their most primal forms, with only a gossamer veil keeping them from entering the crude mix of our world.

Atop the Elemental Plane sat the mortal, material worlds. Khadgar described them as “matter-mounded plates resting on the foundational table of the Elemental Plane.” Azeroth lay on one part of the ‘“table’,” Draenor a distance away. When the Emerald Dream was later revealed, followers of Khadgar’s work added it to the metaphor as “a silken napkin placed over the plate of Azeroth, a perfect representation of the world’s form with none of its messy imperfections.” A few arcane scholars who also know Kaldorei history have theorized that Elune and the ancient dragons may have created the Emerald Dream as a protective barrier against the return of the Burning Legion, as there has yet been no evidence that other material worlds such as Draenor possess their own equivalent (though they also say that Draenor’s own spiritual plane may have been destroyed in the magical explosion that shattered the world and transformed it into Outland.). As the existence of the Emerald Dream failed to prevent the return of the Legion to Azeroth, many other scholars argue that these theories have no merit.

With his extensive studies of the planes and planar travel, Khadgar well understood well that the various planes were surrounded by another interstitial plane, the Twisting Nether. “The material worlds are the seat of rational thought, with the tides of madness ceaselessly crashing against them, threatening to tear them apart as the sea shatters the rocks on the shore,” wrote Khadgar, who as the guardian of Nethergarde was particularly attuned to the idea of invasions from the other planes.

Only in recent years, with the cataclysmic destruction of Draenor, has it been realized how fragile the planes may truly be. Arcane scholars now fear that excessively powerful planar magic might not merely pierce the planar barrier but destroy it altogether—which Draenor, whose remains now float in the Twisting Nether, demonstrated was of particular danger for material worlds.

The Greatest Journey

While there are many ways to travel between the planes, few are easy. The most simplest is the transition between Azeroth and the Emerald Dream, the barrier between the two often crossed by dreamers drawn to the spirit world. Even in the case of the two closely related worlds, it is much more difficult to makinge the transition in the flesh is much more difficult.

The study of magic first granted spellcasters the ability to communicate with beings from and on other planes using spells such as contact other plane. The first gateways between the planes allowing travel between them planes were opened by high-born Kaldorei sorcerers guided by the Burning Legion. Knowledge of planar travel was lost for millennia following the War of the Ancients, though the summoners of Quel’Thalas and the human mageocracies inadvertently opened momentary pinholes between Azeroth and the Elemental Plane as they called upon the power of the elementals. Finally, with the invasion of the Horde, the mages of Azeroth once again took up the study of planar magic and began to make journeys of their own.

Today, plane shift and other spells that allow planar travel are widely known, though spellcasters must study for years before they are skilled and powerful enough to employ them. Even those who are able to make such journeys rarely do so due to the danger involved—perhaps because of the influence of the chaotic Twisting Nether, selecting the place of arrival on another plane is difficult, with a large chance for error (as described in the spell descriptiona.) The spell gate was created to allow greater precision, but it requires magical ability limited to only the highest-ranked spellcasters. Powerful spellcasters who will hire their services to take adventurers on planar journeys can be found across Azeroth. However, the charge for their services is commensurate with the danger involved to the caster, and few will remain on a dangerous foreign plane waiting for adventurers to request a return trip to their home.

The invasion of the Horde came through a stable portal—the legendary Dark Portal—opened between the planes by Medivh, one of the most powerful wizards in the history of Azeroth. This portal was a gate spell made permanent by affixing it to a carved framework of enchanted stone, and it allowed thousands of orcs to simply to walk from Draenor to Azeroth. Even once the stonework of the portal was destroyed during the Second War, the planes had become so intertwined at that point that months later the magics of the Dark Portal coalesced once again to create a stable gateway used by the Alliance to mount a counterattack into Draenor. It is unknown if Medivh, the Horde, or the Burning Legion created more permanent gateways hidden somewhere on Azeroth, but it remains a possibility.

Well-known across Azeroth, however, are the many permanent gateways that allow travelers to jump to distant parts of the world instantly. However, the spells used to create these gateways are of the same flavor of teleportation magic as contact other plane, and whenever an ancient portal is unearthed, unused since the time of Queen Azshara, there remains the possibility that what lies beyond its shimmering surface isn’t Kalimdor or Booty Bay but instead another plane. Though the discovery of a new portal can mean increased prosperity for nearby settlements, the local inhabitants must often first pay adventurers to venture into the portal and find what lies on the far side.

Spellcasting and the Planes

For basic information on how specific spells from the core rulebooks interact with the planes of the Warcraft universe, see the opening part of the Spells section in Chapter 4 of Warcraft: The Roleplaying Game. In general, the planes described in Chapter 5 of the DMG and elsewhere in the core rulebooks map over to the Warcraft universe as follows:

The Material Plane: Spells and effects related to the Material Plane refer in the Warcraft universe to mortal, material worlds such as Azeroth and, in the past, Draenor. Each of these worlds, though they share most of the same planar traits, is treated as its own separate plane—spells such as teleport that allow for transport within the Material Plane do not allow for transport between isolated material pockets as another plane, the Twisting Nether, must be traversed to journey from one to another.

While the existence of other material worlds remains a possibility within the Warcraft cosmology, none other than Azeroth and Draenor (whose remains now float in the Twisting Nether as Outland) have yet been reported—though the orc shaman Ner’zhul attempted to open portals to other material worlds from a dying Draenor in the aftermath of the Second War. If they do exist, all material worlds would be made from the same planar material as the known material worlds, though that they might possess different basic planar traits (from basic physical traits to magic traits—see Planar Traits under “Adventuring on Other Planes” in Chapter 5 of the DMG.)

The Ethereal Plane: No equivalent of the Ethereal Plane exists in the Warcraft universe. Only the Emerald Dream can be clearly mapped to another plane, that of the physical world of Azeroth, yet they remain distinct places in the cosmos and grow more disparate with each change made in the mortal realm. Spells from the core rulebooks that would normally employ the Ethereal Plane, such as ethereal secret chest and etherealness, instead result in the target becoming invisible and intangible to all creatures and effects on the Material Plane. Creatures and objects in this state, still known as ethereal, are visible and tangible only to creatures and objects in a similar state.

Elemental Planes: The Warcraft universe possesses only a single elemental plane, and thus spells such as elemental swarm that refer to “an elemental plane” are drawing on the realm of the Elemental Plane specific to the spell, whether it be Air, Water, Earth, or Fire or Water.

The Astral Plane: The Astral Plane, called upon in many core rulebook spells as a transitive plane, is replaced in the Warcraft universe by the Twisting Nether. Spells that project characters’ spirits into the Astral Plane instead sends their spirit forms into the Nether.

Positive Energy Planes, Negative Energy Planes, and Shadow Planes: These forces are not limited to any single plane; they are instead a integral part of every aspect of the Warcraft universe, woven into every plane. Thus, spells that call upon these energies such as harm, heal, and shadow conjuration instead draw upon the local sources rather than reaching to another plane.

As in the core rulebooks, positive energy remains associated with the energies possessed by living beings, and negative energy with the motive forces of death and the undead. Thus, spells that aid the living with positive energy will harm the undead, and spells that would injure the living using negative energy will heal the undead.

Magical weapons that have effects wielding these energies draw upon that positive or negative energy bound into their own material, freed by enchantment.

Inner and Outer Planes: The demons of the Warcraft universe belong to the Burning Legion, and originate in the chaotic depths of the Twisting Nether. The eternals and even goddesses such as Elune share residence on the Material Plane of Azeroth with mortal beings. Only the titans remain as creatures who may originate from a place beyond the known planes, and the dwarves have yet to discover the answer to their mystery.

The final destination of the spirits of the deceased remains a mystery to the priests and philosophers of Azeroth. However, as spells such as resurrection can reunite a dead body with its spirit and a majority of living creatures from the tauren to the troll shadow hunters claim they can communicate with and call upon the power of the spirits, a widely held belief is that the spirits of the dead remain on the Material Plane—in an immaterial state that can only be altered or contacted through the use of magic.

Other Planes: Other planes and locations described in the core rulebooks do not exist in the Warcraft universe unless specifically described.

The Great Dark Beyond

When debates on cosmology began on Azeroth, scholars quickly tumbled to an obvious question: where does it end? If Azeroth is surrounded by the Emerald Dream, and separated from other material worlds by the Twisting Nether, what lies beyond the boundaries of the Nether? The result eventually agreed upon, as much a philosophical placeholder as an answer, is the Great Dark Beyond. Neither black nor white, hot nor cold, living nor dead, with a beginning hard to define on the chaotic fringe of the Nether and an end impossible to define end,: the Beyond is all that is unknowable about the cosmos. Were part of it to be journeyed to or defined, it would become its own plane—leaving the Beyond on its horizon, eternal and all encompassing.