Back Pocket Encounter Idea: Planar Rifts

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1086

Here’s an idea for your fantasy campaign that’s a great back pocket encounter you can drop into a session for any reason.

Open up planar rifts for the characters to encounter.

Below is a table pasted straight out of my Demonplague Campaign book to get us started.

As part of the hexcrawl portion of the Demonplague campaign, characters can encounter many strange and wondrous things.

One such situation involves a rift to another plane or dimension opening up, causing great danger to the party:

Planar Rift

A 1-foot square planar rift opens near the characters. While not large enough to enter, the characters can see into another plane. To determine the plane viewed and its effect, choose or roll:

  1. Abyss. Characters that can see the horrors within this planar rift must succeed on a saving throw or gain a form of indefinite madness.
  2. Hells. Characters that can see the torture within this planar rift must succeed on a saving throw or gain a level of exhaustion. Creatures who fail this save by 5 or more gain two levels of exhaustion.
  3. Plane of Air. Creatures that can see into this plane are offered a gamble by a passing djinni. If they can link their mind with his, he will aid them, but they must be able to withstand his mental might. A creature can willingly make a saving throw. If the creature fails, it takes 3d10 psychic damage and is blinded for 1 hour. If it succeeds, that creature can cast gaseous form and invisibility once per day each without using any material components for 2d6 days.
  4. Plane of Earth. Creatures that can see this plane are blessed with the gift of earth. Each creature gains the ability to cast stone skin once without expending any material components.
  5. Plane of Fire. A great burst of fire erupts from the rift. Each creature within 120 feet of the rift must make a saving throw. Creatures who fail take 10d10 fire damage. Creatures who succeed take half.
  6. Plane of Water. Creatures that can see into this plane are blessed with the gift of water. Each creature gains the ability to cast meld into stone once per day for the next 2d4 days. When a creature casts the spell this way, it appears to be in a more liquid state.

Make Your Own Back Pocket Encounter

You can see several ideas embedded in the Demonplague planar rifts encounter table.

Use these ideas as a menu to build an encounter that best fits your campaign.


Rifts make a great combat hazard. Foes can push each other into or near a rift to trigger its effects.

Rifts also make great hazards as the basis of adventure hooks.

For example, a rift opens up inside a town. Citizens are harmed. The PCs are quested to find a way to close the rift.


The djinni in result #3 offers a good example of using rifts for roleplay.

Put NPCs on the other side with a goal or motive.

Alternatively, perhaps the rift allows one-way or two-way travel. NPCs encountered are lost, bent on pillage, or have an important mission.


Rifts allow you to break your game world for awhile. They can have whatever effect you choose.

For example:

  • Magic stops working
  • Spells have unexpected results
  • Gravity changes
  • Creatures in contact with the rift transform

In my Murder Hobos campaign, for example, a rift to the plane of water has created a new river flowing out of the desert. The rift does not throttle flow, however, and the volume of water output grows.

I like this situation because the rift poses a great future dilemma.

Do the characters shut the rift off? That would mean the plants, animals, and peoples who have established roots along the banks will lose their precious fresh water supply.

Or do the characters leave the rift alone? As water volume increases, downstream flooding closer to the coast causes death and suffering.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Use rifts as a simple hack to trigger any kind of adventure you wish.

A rift could transport characters to a different realm, or bring the realm to the characters.

Monsters and other dangers might exit the rift, gleeful at a fresh world to savage.

People of the characters’ world might enter the rift and not return, or return transformed.

Your villain might benefit from a rift appearing. Or the forces of good might have a terrible new problem on their hands.

I like this rifts idea because it has no dependencies or constraints. You don’t have to dance to make it fit into an existing campaign or world. You don’t need justification or story logic.

For this reason, rifts also make awesome Story Overlays and Kingdom Background Events.

If this idea appeals to you, take five minutes to create a planar rift for your campaign today. You can drop it into your game whenever you like. A perfect back pocket encounter.