Whether it is a reprise in the shadow of the Wonderland and or a magic button opening up a series world jumping tales, the allure of the magical portals to other worlds is a old as fantasy itself. Not surprisingly portals are an element many GMs seek to incorporate into games, but the fantasy world within a fantasy world execution is often troubling to execute…
GMing Portals & Magical Doorways
Establishing the alien in an already fantastic world can be tricky. Most pre-published adventures and campaigns involving portals will give some level of guidance. Reviewing some basic facts about the portal (pre-published or homebrew) will help define it as a wonder and point of transition. Consider:
- Who Made the Portal? – Most player character’s rarely reach the heights needed to create a planar portal. The spells and costs involved are far from casual but it is likely that in a magically-active world’s history a society benefited from creating portals at one time or another. Understanding who those people were and why they created the portal is key to both enhancing the reality of and building mystery around a portal.
- Where does the Portal Go? – Where a portal leads to often informs its construction and description. Some portals will be clearly labeled to people of the correct society or training, and often times generations later an adventurer might have a chance at piecing together that information. It also helps to add foreshadowing elements to stories as that creature from the other side may plague the land or radiation of planar energies effects the world around the portal in some way (nightmares, spoiled crops, etc.).
- How does the Portal Work? – Knowing how the portal works, if it requires a key or activated command for instance, helps further render its reality. If you don’t want a rogue or similar character to just walk up to the portal and blind activate it, you probably need a reason why. Absent keystones or keys that are missing parts of the portal are safe bets, granting the portal the broken condition until restored. If a rogue or other UMD focused character can blind activate it, be prepared for the portal to open the moment it is seen.
- Does the Portal Work? – Specifically, we mean here how WELL the portal works. An ancient portal may bleed energies into the world around it for the world beyond. It might only have the energy for a single shift and its use might strand a party in the far Beyond for an untold period of time. Maybe a celestial even or alignment needs to be in effect. Maybe the portal is 100% functional providing a controlled, insulated access every time, which also informs our story.
- What does the portal look like? – If you have worked through the above list then you have a good idea of the nature of the portal and describing it should support its basic facts. Most 100% functional portals show less age and wear and societal remnant portals often share design and material elements. If the Awoyri always used basalt to make their portals, it won’t matter quite as much where they lead or go but directs the players to connect it to other experiences with that society.
GMing Planar Shifts
So if we have a portal we are clearly getting ready to send our story straight at or through it. When the moment comes to utilize a portal consider a few key elements about the event, particularly if it is the first time it is activated:
- Describe the “Homeworld” Near the Portal – Layout out the seen in the current “known” environment in ways that draw the attention of the characters to the environment. Note the current construction around the portal, the smells and feeling of the air. The sounds their boots make or texture of the ground. Make them feel where the were so that the moment of arrival is instantly comparable to the old location.
- Illustrate the Moment of Breach – The planar transition can take on many varied forms from liquid silver pools to destructive blooms of planar matter, sharp edged tears to instantaneous transition. What does it feel like moving across the threshold? Frame the language and description in the context of the portal so that it makes sense.
- Immerse the PCs on Arrival – Shifting to a new world, plane or location (even on the same world) is going to be barrage of new sensory information:
- Humidity & Temperature – Shifts in humidity or temperature are rarely noticeable daily, but would be immediately obvious to transitioning instantly to another distant location. Imagine the jarring moment of stepping from an arid, chill mountain top portal in to a steaming jungle.
- Smells & Sounds – Again instant awareness of adjusted scents or sudden absences or changes in background noises should be distinct and sudden. Chittering fields of crickets and birds switching to whistling empty wind for instance.
- Lighting & Darkness– Particularly on same world portals, shifts and changes in daylight will be obvious and provide information on relative distances. Planar portals might even have stranger lighting conditions like phosphorescent spore “suns” or rock structures lit by lightning inside the crystal matrices of the canyon walls.
- Spiritual Forces – Some planes have ideological realities. This can exhibit is discomfort, euphoria, dizziness or any number of other conditions. Dream and thought planes may manifest sizable alterations to physical things including a characters own body.
Regardless of their usage and commonality, portals should be significant magical elements in a game world given the power, time and resources needed to create them. For game masters wanting players to have some more utility in portal using games we present a handy (and wand friendly!) Book of Beyond teaser spell:
School conjuration (teleportation); Level cleric 4, inquisitor 3, medium 3, occultist 3, psychic 4, sorcerer/wizard 3, spiritualist 4, summoner 3, witch 4
Casting Time 1 minute
Components S, V, M, F (chalk, paint or marking substance; ribbon or metal band of rune marks)
Target One portal touched.
Duration 1 hour/level (D)
Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); SR yes (harmless)
Using chalk, paint or another substance to mark a series of runes on an existing portal you can bend its magic toward a prepared loop of fabric or metal temporarily. As a full-round action after this spell is cast you can force the marked side of portal to open connected to the focal loop. For 1 round after this activation, the portal may be exited by stepping through the focal loop which expands to match the . A portal must be interplanar for this spell to function on another plane. The markings on the portal are visible and may be targeted by a dispel magic if their nature is recognized.