Planescape and dimensional travel in Zhontaar
I was in college when the Planescape and Dark Sun AD&D settings came out. There was an inner struggle to decide which of the settings I would buy with my meager library-student-assistant earnings. Planescape eventually won out, so I I picked up the campaign box set and a couple supplement books and devoured the strangeness of Sigil and the planes. It wasn’t perfect — the ever-present cant was a real nuisance, and I was more interested in straight-up adventure than planar philosophical angst– but it was loaded with strangeness and adventure possibilities. I never actually ran the campaign setting, but I’ve since stolen bits and pieces from the setting for homebrew games.
One of the aspects of Planescape that I thought was really cool was the idea that normal portals and doorways were actually gateways to other planes, but were only accessible if a person had a specific object (“key”) and/or password that activated the gate. If one didn’t have the required bits, the doorway only led into the privy; if they did, it led to the Ethereal Plane. Now, I don’t know that I want to port this idea into my Zhontaar games on a wide scale, but I’m thinking that a handful of ruins and decadent, decaying cities — long-dimmed beacons of the Golden Age of Zhontaari dimensionalism but still dotted with active gates — could make for some entertaining adventure…
The vast majority of interplanetary space travel in Zhontaar is controlled by the Voidfarer’s League. “Jumpkeys” — navigational codes and formulae used to steer the ships safely through D-space and emerge in real space unharmed — are closely guarded guild secrets; the guild would like to control all knowledge of D-space navigation, but the widespread dissemination of manuscripts in the 18th Aeon’s Golden Age of Dimensionalism has made this difficult. (Even now, League operatives have been known to steal jumpkeys and other navigational information from uncooperative libraries and private collections; they also have been known to pay handsomely for such information, oftentimes with no questions asked.)
During the Golden Age, powerful wizards (such as Komilar Many-Fingered, Magentain the Seeress, and Aluruz the Velvet Voyager) developed an alternate method of dimensional travel, the use of portals or gateways. Most of these D-gates were temporary; others, whether intentionally or not, were given permanence. All that was required to pass through these gates was a password and/or a key, which could refer to just about any physical object — a specific flower, a gemstone of certain value, and so on. Many of these gateways are still active, although using them can be extremely dangerous. The Dimensionalist’s Catalog of Ludo Orenskis (Archivists Guild Press, 11th ed., 72 vol., 38.3^21593~19) lists around twenty thousand, although most scholars believe there to be at least ten times that number in existence whose details are obscured.