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Background: Character of approx 9th level is attempting to find something hidden in the Negative Plane. They will not have access to spells of 3rd level and higher, let alone 7th level and higher that allow for planar travel to escape the plane and so my main concern is the bag of holding effect created when placed inside an extradimensional space. However, I have included a partial description of the Astral Projection spell for two reasons, 1) because similar to the bag of holding effect it leads to the Astral Plane (albeit with the silver cord at first) and 2) to make the question more general to characters with access to higher level spells.


In MToF pg 216 included in the description of Nightwalkers is the following:

Mighty Spawn: One can reach the Negative Plane from the Shadowfell, much in the same way that it is possible to step from the Material Plane into the Shadowfell in a place where the barrier between planes is thin. Stepping into the Negative Plane is tantamount to suicide, since the plane sucks the life and soul from such audacious creatures and annihilates them at once. Those few who survive the effort do so by sheer luck or harnessing some rare form of magic that protects against the hostile atmosphere. They soon discover, however, that they can't leave as easily as they arrived. For each creature that enters the plane, a nightwalker is released to take its place. In order for a trapped creature to escape, the released nightwalker must be lured back to the Negative Plane by offerings of life for it to devour. If the nightwalker is destroyed, the trapped creature has no hope of escape.


The description of the Bag of Holding in DMG pg 154 includes the following:

Placing a bag of holding inside an extradimensional space created by a Heward's handy haversack, portable hole, or similar item instantly destroys both items and opens a gate to the Astral Plane. The gate originates where the one item was placed inside the other. Any creature within 10 feet of the gate is sucked through it to a random location on the Astral Plane. The gate then closes. The gate is one way and can't be reopened.


The Astral Projection spell in PHB pg 215 indicates the following:

You and up to eight creatures within range project your astral bodies into the Astral Plane (the spell fails and the casting is wasted if you are already on that plane).

later in the same description:

Your astral form can freely travel through the Astral Plane and can pass through portals there leading to any other plane. If you enter a new plane or return to the plane you were on when casting this spell, your body and possessions are transported along the silver cord, allowing you to re-enter your body as you enter the new plane.

(NB: I am ignoring that the Astral Plane does not have portals to any plane, rather just the Outer Planes, Material Plane, and Ethereal Plane as getting to the echo or inner planes is of secondary concern)


I understand that Gate and Planeshift spells can also be used to travel to other planes and would apply. I do not believe the Etherealness spell would apply, as while the Negative Plane clearly borders the Shadowfell and the Shadowfell borders the Ethereal, it is not clear to me that it can be concluded that the Negative Plane borders the Ethereal.


Accordingly, can a character/creature escape the Negative Plane without its Nightwalker being lured back to that plane?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you the DM here? And are you just looking for a RAW reading of all the various conflicting rules? \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Mar 2 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I am the DM in this case. I am not looking for a RAW reading of all the various conflicting rules, rather a RAW reading that addresses this particular conflict. Essentially, a lot of material on the planes is buried throughout the various 5e rule books in sidebars etc (eg Mother Luba and the Vistani in TCoE pg 131) and I wanted to know if there was other such snippets I had missed that might give more specific guidance on this particular conflict in the rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Weiramon Mar 2 at 18:45
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Alternate interpretation: The quoted text is discussing the implications of a specific method for entering the Negative Material Plane.

The entire block about Nightwalkers is in context of entering the Negative Material Plane from the Shadowfell. Let's look at that quote again, with a somewhat different set of bolding

Mighty Spawn: One can reach the Negative Plane from the Shadowfell, much in the same way that it is possible to step from the Material Plane into the Shadowfell in a place where the barrier between planes is thin. Stepping into the Negative Plane is tantamount to suicide, since the plane sucks the life and soul from such audacious creatures and annihilates them at once. Those few who survive the effort do so by sheer luck or harnessing some rare form of magic that protects against the hostile atmosphere. They soon discover, however, that they can't leave as easily as they arrived. For each creature that enters the plane, a nightwalker is released to take its place. In order for a trapped creature to escape, the released nightwalker must be lured back to the Negative Plane by offerings of life for it to devour. If the nightwalker is destroyed, the trapped creature has no hope of escape.

There is at least an entirely plausible reading where this is talking about the process and implications of entering the Negative Material Plane by this particular means (stepping in from the shadowfell) with all implications being in reference to that case. Whether entering the plane through other means that do not inherently involve stepping (like, say, Plane Shift) triggers the escape of a nightwalker and the associated issues is not clear, and is thus a matter that calls for DM adjudication.

Still, if you did step in from the Shadowfell... yep. It's pretty clear. At least by the rules as they are written, the nightwalker must be lured back by offerings of life. There's no other way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That could also explain why the wording indicates "In order for a trapped creature to escape", rather than "In order for (any) creature to escape", implying a difference between a trapped creature (that "entered" into the plane via thin barrier) as opposed to an untrapped creature that "appeared" via other means such as gate or planeshift, which such spell descriptions avoid the use of "enter", unlike Astral Projection. I have to believe WotC is preparing rules wrt to the planes and will eventually release more details. \$\endgroup\$ – Weiramon Mar 2 at 20:33
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We're stepping out of rules and into worldbuilding.

When we study the cosmology of D&D, we find that some planes are more developed than others in terms of the relationship between lore and rules. The Astral Plane is one such plane that has a rather rich selection of lore and mechanics with which to interact. In particular, the spell Astral Projection gives us significant detail about how we may interact with the Astral Plane. The spell alone is nearly 400 words, and the DMG contains another 1000 words written about the Astral Plane. The work has been done for us in relating worldbuilding and mechanics in the Astral Plane.

This is not so with the Negative Plane. The DMG contains a brief one-sentence description of the Negative Plane, and the trivia from MToF totals less than 300 words. The spell description of Astral Projection is longer than the entire 5th Edition canonical material on the Negative Plane. Wizards of the Coast has simply not given enough attention to the Negative Plane in their publications to begin to tell you how various transplanar mechanics work in relation to the Negative Plane.

This is a matter of worldbuilding, not mechanics. That is, the answer to your question is something like, "the DM gets to decide how the players interact with this part of the world/universe/multi-verse."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll suggest replacing the term "the world" with "the multiverse" in your last sentence since the negative plane may, or may not, be a part of the game world per se. (Up to you, just an idea). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 2 at 18:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ For inspiration on potential resolution mechanics other versions of D&D (I'm looking at you 3.5e) have a glut of material on all the planes, including various forms of planar transport (both character actions and facets of the world) and the negative plane itself. \$\endgroup\$ – Joe Bloggs Mar 3 at 9:50
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RAW: you cannot escape

Specific beats general, and while there are various rules about planar travel, there is one distinct rule about the negative plane, which you have quoted:

In order for a trapped creature to escape, the released nightwalker must be lured back to the Negative Plane by offerings of life for it to devour. If the nightwalker is destroyed, the trapped creature has no hope of escape.

A specific reading of this means that even pushing the nightwalker through a planar portal isn't good enough, they must specifically follow a lure of 'offerings of life'. Luckily for the characters a Nightwalker has an INT of 6, so might actually believe that there is life to consume in the plane which specifically destroys life. Somehow.

All the other material about planar travel is general planar travel (despite how rare planar travel rules actually are), so rules on specific planes are more specific.

However:

As Thomas Markov points out, you are into worldbuilding here because the rule is so obscure and can effectively end a campaign (at least for one character), so it likely behoves a DM to come up with some sort of alternative.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ thank you, I was wondering about the specific vs the general. My understanding from what you wrote is that while in general the bag of holding effect or the spells like Astral Projection work in most places, they specifically would not work in the Negative Plane. As a DM I do have an alternative prepared involving high level assistance and spells (forcecage, darkness, true seeing, imprisonment, for confinement, sending for communication to end confinement) I just need to sort out the life lure. \$\endgroup\$ – Weiramon Mar 2 at 18:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Weiramon yes that is how I read it, and nice to hear you having an alternative, that is always where my imagination fails. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Mar 2 at 19:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ one thing that puzzles me is whether the specific vs general can be turned inside out. eg in this case, can one argue that the general case is that no one can escape the negative plane, but specific circumstances could allow for it, whether it be the bag of holding effect or a high level spell. I am probably overthinking things \$\endgroup\$ – Weiramon Mar 2 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Weiramon you could totally argue that lol. I'd personally say you'd loose the argument but its a very strong case \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok Mar 3 at 10:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hobbamok yeah, I think that argument would lose. But I understand now why the Nightwalker entry is written as it is - it can be "entered" from the Shadowfell (triggering the Nightwalker), however planeshift and gate are both clear that creatures are "transported" and "appear" in the plane, and accordingly would not trigger the Nightwalker. \$\endgroup\$ – Weiramon Mar 3 at 17:40

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