I’ve been thinking about planes again (Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes –> Blood War –> Why are demons & devils different?! –> planes). My current realization is that elementals and fey are not so very different at all, and that most of what I want out of the elemental chaos I could actually get out the plane of faerie.
Consider the relationship between the border ethereal plane and the deep ethereal plane (DMG 48). A creature on the border ethereal can see a few feet into the material, and travel in any direction and through walls, with space-warping effects. Major risks include cyclones, which waylay traffic, shunting one into another plane. So let it be with faerie: a mix of different “interdimensional weather/terrain effects”, rather than a single governing ruleset. Here’s a rough exploration of that:
At the innermost edges of the 5e elemental planes, they “resemble places in the Material Plane”. The four elements mingle together as they do in the Material Plane, forming land, sea, and sky. But the dominant element exerts a strong influence on the environment, reflecting its fundamental qualities” (DMG 52). This is pretty much a description of faerie (especially if we permit more exotic elemental planes — Song, Wine, Love, Honor and so forth).
Faerie is divided into “near”: a sequence of kingdoms each more fantastical than the last which lies just behind the material world… and “far”, the lands at the edge of the Maelstrom where the world gives away to the raw and destructive energies of creation.
The map matches that of DMG 57, that is, earth to the east, fire the south, air the west, and water the north. The great genie cities of Aaqa, the City of Jewels, The City of Brass and the Citadel of Ten Thousand Pearls lie at the center of each of their nations, and at the center lie the faerie nations of the Summer Court, Gloaming Court, Bytopia, Beastland, Arborea, Ysgard and Arcadia.
However, it isn’t literal; one can also walk to heaven and hell from certain locations. Read on.
Pervasive Good Will (alignment shifts); also, Abyssal Corruption
Intense Yearning (when leave, cha save DC 5+days, failure disadvantage on checks or return)
Hunter’s paradise (advantage on animal handling, perception & survival)
Beast Transformation (slaying a beast cha save or polymorph into slain form, repeat per long rest, fail 3 permanent)
Immortal Wrath (killed, restored each day at dawn)
Limbo Maelstrom (things turn into other things, lots of elemental damage) + Power of the Mind (various checks to create/alter elemental material). Githyanki are riders on these storms, and travel with them across the land, and back into the Maelstrom.
Planar Vitality (creatures immune to disease, poison, fear)
Shadow is always near; it is the dark land behind the campaign world. It is a place of desaturation and corruption, half-light and gloom. Its themes are entropy, ossification, and hostility; at its innermost edge, one reaches the Singularity: the negative plane.
This sucking void is always visible on the horizon, if not closer. The plane of shadow is cramped, and danger lies nearer than you wish.
The many lower planar adventuring locales dot this plane, often larger on the inside than the outside.
Pandemonium (mad winds, exhaustion and madness)
Vile Transformation (exhaustion, turn into grub)
Cruel hindrance (can’t help anyone)
Bloodlust (temp hitpoints on kill)
Prison Plane (difficult to leave)
The Ethereal and Astral
Each of the realms above are contiguous streams of matter, streaming from the positive and into the negative plane. However, there is also empty space, surrounding and containing this matter. The ethereal realm is created at the boundary between this state of being and unbeing. Explorers and mystics who travel between planes are exposed briefly to this interface when they use planar travel magics or “go ethereal”. Should they reach the Astral (also called the Deep Ethereal), they are effectively deep space explorers: they may geographically be in Faerie, Mundanity or Shadow, but they are physically in a liminal space.
It is a starry, new-agey type of space. It rejects travelers, providing them with planar portals to other destinations with increasing gravity and vigor. However, it does have native life of its own, deep sea creatures and alien aberrations. And, somehow, space pirates.
This space contains realms like Mechanus, the plane of Law; it contains the Graveyard of the Gods, and also
Heaven and Hell
Viewing the mundane world as the interface between Shadow and Faerie, Heaven and Hell respectively are a finger of law cast from the Maestrom through to the Singularity. There are several interesting facts this suggests. For instance, the campaign World is closer to creation than entropy (Avernus, the first layer of Hell, is “true neutral”, eight layers from both the positive and negative planes). Also, law is an aberration in this view, since chaos surrounds and created it, but also more stable than the rest of faerie, which is thought-provoking.
So anyway, the heavens and hells are reachable through faerie and shadow. Worse, hell was once within faerie and was cast into shadow — many roads and gates remain, and so even though hell is in shadow, it does retain fey neighbors!
This arrangement has many names — the Lathe of Heaven, the Great Wheel, Jacob’s Ladder.
There isn’t just one. Where ever you want a demon prince and particularly those previously published, simply have a sealed realm of faerie and shadow intermixed under the care of a godling. Poof; abyssal realm. I’ve commented before on the incongruity of D&D demons and their princes; this mostly resolves the problem, since these realms contain whatever sort of being the DM wishes.
The demons themselves are likely relegated to being plane of shadow foes or, indeed, members of their own realm.
It’s true that this loses the D&D image of the infinite stack of the abyss. But I frankly don’t need it: I have the finite stack of hell, and the infinite web of abyssal realms. Good enough.