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Four Portal ideas for your D&D campaign

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

For role play gamers, the concept of crossing boundaries between worlds is a common and exciting theme in fantasy RPGs. Whether it be portals, doorways, or rifts between dimensions, these gateways offer limitless potential for adventure, mystery, and even danger.

The idea of crossing between worlds is a powerful storytelling tool that can add depth to a campaign and encourage players to engage with their characters and the world around them. Yet, all too often, these portals are treated as little more than a means to an end, a way to get from one location to another without much thought given to their significance or potential impact on the game.

One of the key benefits of incorporating portals and gateways into a campaign is the sense of mystery and intrigue that they can create. The very concept of crossing between worlds can be a source of wonder and awe for players, encouraging them to explore the unknown and uncover the secrets of these strange and otherworldly places. By weaving a narrative around these gateways, players are given a reason to investigate and interact with the world around them, driving the story forward and providing a sense of purpose to their actions.

Portals and gateways can also offer unique opportunities for character development. Whether it be a new environment to explore, a different set of rules or physics to navigate, or even the introduction of new allies or enemies, crossing between worlds can challenge characters in ways that they have never experienced before.

This can be a powerful tool for character growth, allowing players to develop their skills, abilities, and personalities in new and exciting ways.

Incorporating portals and gateways into a campaign also allows for greater creativity and flexibility in storytelling. By allowing for multiple worlds to exist simultaneously, the game master can introduce a wide range of settings and scenarios without having to stick to a single, static environment. This can lead to a more dynamic and engaging game, with unexpected twists and turns that keep players engaged and invested in the story.

Overall, portals and gateways can be a powerful tool for role play gamers, offering opportunities for adventure, character development, and creative storytelling. By treating these gateways with the significance and respect that they deserve, game masters can unlock the full potential of these fantastical devices and create truly memorable and engaging campaigns.

Gates work both ways

Gates enable PCs to cross between realities, but they also allow beings from other worlds to cross through into the PCs home world. If that world is full of monsters and demons anyway, one more won't make much difference, but if the PCs adventure in a mid to low fantasy world, the arrival of an ancient evil is a major deal. If your adventure requires the heroes to close a portal before their world can be invaded by armies of evil, here are five potential hooks:

  1. The PCs hear rumours of a powerful wizard who has opened a portal to a dimension of pure chaos. As they investigate, they discover that the wizard is under the control of a demon lord who plans to use the portal to bring his army to the PCs' world. The PCs must find a way to close the portal before the demon lord's minions can cross through.

  2. A portal has been discovered in a remote wilderness area. It is said that a powerful relic lies on the other side, but the portal is guarded by a powerful demon. The PCs must navigate the treacherous wilderness, battle the demon, and close the portal before any other creatures can cross through.

  3. The PCs are called to investigate a series of disappearances in a small town. They soon discover that a portal to a world of shadow has been opened and that the missing townsfolk have been taken there by shadowy creatures. The PCs must enter the shadow realm, rescue the captives, and close the portal before the creatures can escape into the PCs' world.

  4. A group of cultists have opened a portal to a realm of fire and brimstone, intending to sacrifice their enemies to the demons that dwell there. The PCs must infiltrate the cult, discover the location of the portal, and close it before the demons can cross through and wreak havoc on the PCs' world.

  5. A powerful artefact has been stolen and taken through a portal to a world of eternal winter. The PCs must brave the icy wastes, battle fierce monsters, and recover the artefact before it falls into the hands of an ancient evil that seeks to use it to open a permanent portal between the two worlds.

Going to the other side

When it comes to getting players to a particular place in a table top RPG, the means of transportation can often be overlooked or undervalued. However, as a GM, it's important to consider the potential role play opportunities that can arise from the journey itself. This is especially true when it comes to gateways or portals that transport players from one location to another.

One way to make the gateway more significant is to add an element of challenge or risk to the journey. For example, the gateway might only appear at certain times or under specific conditions, such as during a full moon or when a specific ritual is performed. This could require players to plan and prepare for the journey, adding an extra layer of strategy to the game.

Another option is to have the gateway guarded by a powerful entity or group. This could mean that the players must negotiate or fight their way through the guardians in order to access the gateway. Alternatively, the guardians might have valuable information or items that the players need, adding a secondary objective to the journey.

Once the players have reached the gateway, there are still opportunities for role play and storytelling. For example, the gateway might require a specific sacrifice or offering in order to activate. This could lead to an interesting moral dilemma, as the players must decide whether to make the required sacrifice or try to find another way through.

Another option is to have the gateway lead to an unexpected location or have unintended consequences. For example, the players might end up in a parallel dimension or time period, or their physical bodies might be altered in some way. This could lead to a whole new set of challenges and adventures for the players to navigate.

Overall, it's important for GMs to consider the role play opportunities that can arise from gateways and other means of transportation in table top RPGs. By adding challenges, risks, and unexpected consequences to the journey, GMs can create a more immersive and engaging experience for their players. So next time your players are focused on the interesting things happening on the other side of the gateway, don't underestimate the importance of the journey itself.

Finding the gate: The gate is very special after all and probably created by someone who was awesomely powerful. In our Arclands setting, gates are very valuable to those that create or control them, and by controlling the traffic through the gates these entities can acquire a lot of power)

Opening the gate: The gate needs a key of some description, perhaps it isn't a physical key, but an energy wielded by a player. Perhaps the gate is alive and hungry and needs to eat?

The Language of the Gate: Like the doorway into Moria, the gate's runes need to be understood and interpreted in order to awaken the gate and to make sure that it takes the PCs to the right place, there might be several different corresponding gates in different places (ala Stargate), so getting it right to start with is important,

  • The Gate's Guardians: Anyone that wants the gate to remain secret and thinks that it is precious will inevitably leave some manner of nasty creature there to guard it. Gates being what they are might also attract opportunistic nasties once they are activated.

  • The Maker: If some god or demon created the gateway, will it be alerted when a mere bug of a mortal opens it up and crosses through? Quite possibly. It might view this as no significant matter, after all, mortals aren't very important are they? It might be a different matter if the mortal in question turns up on the entity's radar later on. Alternately, they might be very particular about their portal, and see its use by an adventuring party as a terrible desecration. If the god or demon can't directly intervene to fry the pesky individuals who have sullied its greatest creation, it might send all manner of minions and followers after the PCs to exact its revenge. It might be a great universal organiser (think the Celestials in The Eternals), and simply believe that mortals are not ready for interdimensional travel yet.

  • Fellow Travellers: The PCs might have stumbled across a portal and learned how to work it, but for more sophisticated travellers, using a portal is rather like using the Tube. There might be creatures that are very familiar with how they work and know how to use them safely (and stay out of sight of wrathful creator gods), and they might help the PCs, trick the PCs or at least question why such insignificant creatures are using a system of interdimensional travel.

What does the gate look like?

A gateway or portal in a tabletop RPG can take on a variety of different forms depending on the game's setting and lore. The aesthetics and feel of a portal can play an important role in setting the tone and mood of the game, as well as immersing players in the game world.

One common visual element of a gateway is the use of light or energy. Portals might be surrounded by a shimmering aura or glowing runes, indicating that they are imbued with magical power. This can create a sense of otherworldliness and mystery, especially if the portal is located in a dark or foreboding environment.

The shape and size of a gateway can also vary greatly. It might be a simple archway or doorway, or it could take on a more complex shape such as a circle or pentagram. Some gateways might even be made up of multiple interconnected parts or layers, such as a series of floating platforms or a labyrinthine maze.

The materials used to construct the gateway can also have an impact on its appearance and feel. For example, a portal made of stone might suggest a sense of age and history, while a portal made of metal or circuitry might suggest a more futuristic or technological setting. Alternatively, a gateway made of living plant matter or organic materials might suggest a more natural or mystical environment.

Sound and motion can also be used to create a unique atmosphere around a gateway. The portal might emit a humming or buzzing sound, or it might shimmer and pulsate with energy. Players might feel a rush of wind or hear strange whispers or voices as they approach the portal, adding to the sense of foreboding or wonder.

In summary, the aesthetics and feel of a gateway or portal in a tabletop RPG can play an important role in immersing players in the game world. By using a combination of visual, auditory, and tactile elements, GMs can create a unique and memorable experience that sets the tone for the rest of the game.

Narrating to the players

When it comes to gateways or portals in a tabletop RPG, it's important to emphasize just how epic, powerful, dark, scary, and dramatic these devices can be. The GM should narrate the portal with a sense of awe, fear, wonder, and terror, in order to fully immerse players in the experience.

First and foremost, the GM should convey a sense of epicness and power surrounding the portal. This can be done through visual and auditory cues, such as describing the sheer size and scale of the portal or using thundering sound effects to indicate the raw energy and force emanating from it. This will create a sense of wonder and amazement among the players, reminding them that they are dealing with forces beyond their understanding.

However, it's also important to emphasize the darker, scarier aspects of the portal. The GM should describe the portal in a way that makes it clear that it is not to be trifled with, that it is a gateway to unknown and potentially dangerous places. This can be done through the use of dark, foreboding visuals, such as shadowy figures lurking in the corners or strange, twisted shapes writhing within the portal itself.

Throughout the narration, the GM should also emphasize the potential consequences of interacting with the portal. Players should feel a sense of terror and uncertainty when they approach the portal, wondering what dangers they might face or what unknown forces they might be unleashing.

This can be done through the use of tense, suspenseful music or sound effects, or through the use of vivid descriptions that evoke a sense of dread or impending doom.

Overall, the GM's narration of the portal should be designed to create a sense of awe, fear, wonder, and terror among the players. By emphasizing the epic, powerful nature of the portal while also highlighting its darker, more ominous aspects, GMs can create a truly memorable and immersive experience for their players.

I've often taken the view that portals or gateways between dimensions in role play games should be sites of titanic significance and role played as such. It's not a view shared by everyone and that's ok, but for me the excitement of game play comes from the drama and suspense of particular moments.

A selection of portals

Ulzarakand's Gate

This gate was created by Ulzarakand, an ancient and evil entity from Zaar, a flat, windswept icy plain that stretches into eternity. The gate was part of his empire that stretched through countless realities many millennia ago. Ulzarakand's wars of conquest saw his evil horde spread across the multiverse and it fell apart when an interdimensional army of super beings called the Furies destroyed his network and imprisoned Ulzarakand in a block of obsidian dangling in the void forever. Most of the gates were destroyed but a few enterprising mercenary immortals kept some of them open in order get between one reality and another. Crucially, one doorway leads back to Zaar and unwary PCs, trying to get somewhere else, might accidentally open the gateways to Ulzarakand's realm, where his servants await.

The Watchers of the Gate

High in the Windward Mountains, a gate has remained closed that was last open a thousand years ago. In that time the high priest Anakathus, desperate for power, abandoned his god Araland and made a deal with an entity that called itself Daazul. It presented itself as a benign entity, but of course it was not. When Anakathus realised he had been duped, he desperately struggled to contain the evil creature but was slain. His brother, the warrior Tamaikus, led an army to defeat the creature and its minions and managed to close the gate. Now the Order of Tamaikus guards the gate in secret, guiding unwary travellers away from the mountain pass it is hidden in. Daazul sometimes calls in dreams to those with psychic or magical ability to come and free it from the order.

The Astraygus Tear

This might work well in urban fantasy or superhero narratives. A meteor enters the earth's atmosphere and it is comprised of a metal that has never been seen before, in a last ditch attempt to prevent armageddon, the world's goverments fire nuclear missiles at it and destroy it. The irradiated fragments of the metal rip several holes in reality, creating doorways to other realities. The largest, is identified by the scientist Osman Astraygus and named after him, and through the tear strange visitors begin to arrive. These are thought to be scouts, curious about what lies beyond their own domain, mortals on the other side. How they interact with the PCs might mean the difference between peaceful coexistence and all out war.

Damerphereon's Gateway

This one comes directly from the Arcverse. One of the highest of the Athervannir, the celestial watchers created by The Keeper, Damerphereon, controlled a system of portals across the five dimensions. He used the power of his vision to see that the portals were orderly and perfect. However, as the Keeper descended into vanity and duplicitousness, so his creations the Athervannir were engulfed by madness. When this happened, Damerphereon's system fell apart. Instead of a perfected series of conduits and gates, anarchy reigned, and his lower servants, the Ithiavannir, fought to control the gates and to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Legion of Damnation. This battle has waged for countless millennia and rests in an uneasy stalemate, though it might only take some unwary PCs to tip the balance in the wrong direction by opening a doorway or two.

Two Portal Adventures

Adventure One: The Shifting Portal

Phase 1: Plot Hook and Introduction (30-45 minutes)

  • The players arrive in a small town where they meet the local mayor who informs them about a powerful evil priest named Mordekai who plans to open a portal to release the ancient evil known as Urdangh.

  • Mordekai has been using dark magic to sacrifice humans and animals to summon the portal, but he needs one last component to complete the ritual.

  • The mayor asks the adventurers to find the portal and stop Mordekai before it's too late. He provides them with a list of potential locations where the portal could be, including a nearby dungeon, an abandoned temple, and a haunted mansion.

Phase 2: Finding the Portal and Battling Mordekai (1-2 hours)

  • The players investigate the three locations and eventually find the shifting portal in the haunted mansion.

  • They confront Mordekai and his minions in a dungeon crawl through the mansion, using magical items and teamwork to overcome various obstacles and traps.

  • During the final battle with Mordekai, he reveals that he has already obtained the last component and the portal is almost complete. The players have a limited time to stop the ritual and close the portal before Urdangh is released.

Phase 3: Closing the Portal and Conclusion (30-45 minutes)

  • The players enter the shifting portal and travel through various dimensions before finally arriving at the main chamber where Mordekai is completing the ritual.

  • They have to fight off Mordekai and his followers while also trying to figure out how to close the portal using ancient texts and magical items they've collected throughout the adventure.

  • With some hard work and strategic planning, the adventurers successfully close the portal and prevent Urdangh from being unleashed into the world.

  • The mayor rewards the players with great magics and offers them a chance to stay in the town and help with future adventures or continue on their own campaign.

Additional elements:

  • The adventure is designed for first-level characters and can serve as a great way to introduce new players to the game or as a short adventure for experienced players who are looking for a break from their current campaign.

  • The adventure incorporates social interactions with non-player characters in the local village and surrounding area, providing players with opportunities to make new friends or gather information.

  • The shifting portal can serve as a plot point for future adventures, such as a longer campaign where the players have to investigate why the portal keeps appearing in different locations or a murder mystery where the players have to figure out who's behind the portal's appearance.

  • The adventure incorporates elements from popular D&D campaigns like Candlekeep Mysteries, Ghosts of Saltmarsh, and Dragon Heist, as

Adventure Two: Gateways in the Dark

Plot Hook: The small town of Oakhaven has been plagued by mysterious tremors that have caused buildings to crumble and roads to collapse. The cause of these tremors has been traced to a portal that has been opened deep beneath the earth. The local mayor has put out a call for adventurers to investigate and put an end to the danger.

Starting Point: The party is a group of adventurers who have recently arrived in Oakhaven. They have heard of the portal and have been hired by the local lord to close it. The lord has provided them with some magical items and equipment to help them on their quest.

Plot Points:

  • The party must first venture into the ancient mines to locate the shifting portal.

  • Along the way, they will encounter various traps and obstacles, such as collapsing tunnels and poisonous gases.

  • They will also have to fight off various creatures that have been drawn to the portal, such as goblins, trolls, and giant spiders.

  • Once they reach the portal, they must figure out how to close it. The portal is powered by ancient magics and requires the use of specific magical items to shut it down.

  • The party must also deal with the bad guy who is behind the opening of the portal. He has been performing human sacrifices in order to power the portal and summon an ancient dragon to do his bidding.

  • If the party fails to close the portal, the entire city of Oakhaven will be destroyed by the great evil that will emerge.

Party Size: This adventure is designed for a party of first-level characters, but can be adjusted for higher levels. It is suitable for a group of four to six adventurers.

Gameplay: This adventure is a dungeon crawl, with lots of combat and exploration. There are opportunities for social interactions with non-player characters in Oakhurst and the surrounding area. The adventure can be completed in a single one-shot session or can be expanded into a full campaign by incorporating the surrounding urban areas and other adventures in the Forgotten Realms.

Equipment List: The party will be provided with a set of magical items by the local lord, including healing potions, magical weapons, and protective gear.

Short Adventure: This adventure can be completed in a four-hour session.

Next Adventure: The party can move on to other kinds of adventures, such as a murder mystery in Candlekeep Mysteries or a sea-faring adventure in Ghosts of Saltmarsh.

Full Campaign: This adventure can be expanded into a full campaign by incorporating other adventures in the Forgotten Realms, such as Dragon Heist and the Lost Mines of Phandelver.

New DMs: This adventure is a great way for new DMs to get started with D&D. It is easy to run and provides a lot of fun for the players.

Experienced Players: This adventure is also suitable for experienced players who are looking for a new challenge.

Group Members: This adventure is designed for a group of adventurers who are working together to close the shifting portal.

End of the Day: At the end of the day, the party will have saved Oakhaven from destruction and earned the gratitude of the local mayor and the surrounding villages. They will have gained new friends and a powerful ally in the lord who hired them.