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Dark Roads & Golden Hells (PFRPG)

****½ (based on 2 ratings)
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"Dark Roads & Golden Hells is one hell of an achievement… or perhaps eleven of them. Every chapter offers a world of ideas, every paragraph a vision. Open this to any page, and see if it doesn't draw you in. Open Design has created a dazzlingly worthy successor to the Planescape legacy." —Colin McComb, Planescape designer

Open Design's sourcebook of planar adventure for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game delivers a glittering array of new options for GMs who want to take their PCs far from the known lands and into strange realms. This is where Good and Evil battle for souls, the fractal dance of Law and Chaos orders the universe, and the fates weave mortal destinies…

Dark Roads & Golden Hells, by Northlands author Dan Voyce, includes:

  • More than 80 new planes and planar locations including the Loom, the Eleven Hells, and the City of Vultures Beyond
  • 45 new feats and 41 new traits
  • 18 new spells including Combat Geometry, Ghostlock, and Quantum Uncertainty
  • 6 new planar monsters including the fate-eater, rust drake, and spinning hag
  • Infinite possibilities

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Product Reviews (2)

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****½ (based on 2 ratings)

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An RPG Resource Review

****( )

So you have grown weary of trampling around your campaign world (be it a published one or one of your own invention) and would like to take the party somewhere really different? Then perhaps a jaunt into another plane of existence might be in order...

Chapter 1: Lore of the Planes gets straight down to business, starting with philosophical musings about what the planes actually are (as much as you can imagine then a whole lot more, apparently!). To make it a bit more comprehensible, think of them as tangible representations of concepts and ideas. The main ones are based on the alignments - things like Good and Evil, Law and Chaos - but you might find ones for Art or Music, Beauty or Trade... only they come and go as people find different ideas of importance. You also find the souls of those who have finished their mortal existence here, perhaps making their way to the Underworld or onwards to some final destination with a few devout ones being gathered in by the deity they venerated. And then there are the denizens of the planes themselves. Independent living beings who find their homes in these strange places. Perhaps this is where the Gods are to be found, complete with the minions and companions that their faith holds that they should have. Living vessels for the power of an idea. I don't profess to understand, there again if I did maybe I'd be a deity too!

Next, Chapter 2: Cosmology tries to explain what is contained in a sample cosmology, the Midgard one. Use it as is (even if you don't run your games in Midgard), adapt it or use it as a template and guide as you devise your own. The whole book is designed as a 'plug and play' manual, take the bits you want, add in your own ideas and come up with a set of planes like no other - it's probably as close to being a god as any of us will get! Like any religion, it starts "In the beginning..." How did the universe in which your campaign is run come into existence in the first place? And who found out and started to create legends about it (which may or may not be accurate, of course)? Maybe different groups have different explanations for how everything came to be - these lead to contention, be it academic debate or all-out war. Examples from Migard are given. Was order given to chaos, or the other way around? It's never static, that's for sure, and there is always contention between various aspects of the planes themselves, never mind mortal squabbling below. The Material Plane, the place where your campaign world exists, is at the middle. Denizens of myriad planes squabble over it because they all draw their power from the very souls of those who live there... and often meddle through dreams and visions or outright intervention in what is going on there, too.

And then you - or at least the party - think of going there. Most use magical means (a spell or portal) but some slip through the cracks into some kind of 'sea of possibilities' - maybe it presents itself as a corridor with lots of doors, or it might be something far more exotic. Through those doors (or via whatever metaphor you pick) are all these planes... and each plane has its own characteristics and nature. A selection of the Midgard planes are described here, for inspiration or use as you please. There are loads of ideas here, and many useful sidebars which show you how to use these traits and characteristics to affect game mechanics. In a Good-aligned plane, perhaps 'evil' magic doesn't work, at least, nothing more than a nasty smell or a bit of smoke results from your casting, for example. Or perhaps any spell-casting results in a bright flash of light in addition to the intended effects.

If that wasn't enough, Chapter 3: Other Locations looks at what else is out there besides the planes. The cracks between them, if you will. The places you might end up if you botch that planar travel spell or open the wrong door. Called Between, this unspace has a whole geography and inhabitants of its own and, trust me, you don't want to go there. Neither will your characters, if they know about it. They might be more comfortable in another unspace called The Casino, but beware: it's generally more than mere money that rides on the games played here. You can play - or bet on - just about anything conceivable here, and there's even a 'game development' complex where games from all over the known universes and beyond are tested and honed to a high level. There are other locations as well, if these two do not take your fancy: the Evermaw, the Marketplace, the Plane of Spears, and more. The Marketplace is an intersection of all the markets that ever there were, a place when literally anything is available - for a price. A multitude of adventures await in all these places, and if reading about them doesn't give you enough ideas, plenty of suggestions for how to use them in your game are sprinkled throughout.

Next is Chapter 4: Heroes of the Planes. So far, we have heard about assorted denizens of every plane discussed, but here you get the low-down on new races native to the planes along with new feats, traits, incantations and spells that may be learned here, may be useful here... or may be used against unwary visitors. Then on to the real heart of the matter with Chapter 5: Gamemastering Infinity. After reading thus far, you may be thinking that you have bitten off more than you can chew. Don't worry, there's plenty of helpful advice here. Start small. Add the odd twist to an otherwise-normal adventure. Remember that the planes never stay the same. Then there's an introduction to planar roads, the routes seasoned planes-wanderers use to get from one place to another. Even seasoned travellers find them tricky to navigate and often end up someplace other than they intended. Here also are the strange economics of the planes, the commodities valued here are different from the gold pieces that are useful back home on the mortal plane. This chapter ends with some magical items unique to the planes, and it is followed by the last chapter, Chapter 6: Bestiary. As you can imagine, some mighty strange beasties are to be found here.

This is a book of ideas, of inspiration and of concepts. Even if you stick to the exemplars pulled from the multiverse around Midgard, there is still much to be done before you can actually run much in the way of planar adventures... but this is a starting point to help you think about what you want and how to make it happen. It digs at the fundamental underpinnings of what makes a fantasy campaign world work, and what may lie beyond... but may be a bit philosophical for some tastes. An interesting read, nevertheless.

One of the best planar sourcebooks ever made


This pdf is 111 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 106 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Disclaimer: I was a patron of this project, but didn’t contribute due to time-concerns.

All right cutter, I see you’re rather clueless about them’s roads, so here’s the chant:

The pdf kicks off with a rather interesting treatise on the nature of planes, making the outer planes essentially a foundation spawned from the soul essence of beings, entwined with an ever-swelling tide of interlapping ideas that continuously touch, change and expand each other, giving birth to countless, even infinite multitudes of ideas – to the point where infinity itself is just another idea betwixt an uncountable legion of concepts and their ever-soaring inhabitants, seeking for meaning – be it gods, outsiders or mortals. If one were to say so, even the phenomenon of quantum entanglements could be explained in the magical context of a planar game and fit within the themes that determine one’s after life – for as like draws to like, proximity destinies and karmic resonance are not just abstract concepts here and while numbers are present in many mystic traditions, it is in the planes that they exhibit their full potential and significance, just like abstractions and allegories may actually become truth and quite literal in the planar realms of countless possibilities. Even better, outsiders, those strange beings (and strange they should be due to their very nature) in service to a cause or concept, are also given a rather brilliant introduction, returning the concept of distinct foreignness that soften escapes DMs to these beings – immortal souls, player in the grandest game, these beings are different from mortals, even if they once were ones themselves.

In a total of 10 sample entries, we get a selection of outsider personalities, ideologies and character traits (not mechanical ones, mind you) that serve as a stellar gateway for any DM (or a brilliant primer for those characters with Knowledge(Religion) or (The Planes)) to outsider psychology (lacking a better term): From immortal chessmasters to cynics and elementals and whisperers, these write-ups immediately spell out evident truths and serve in a way that has largely been absent from many products – in just a paltry 2.5 pages, this pdf returns the “out-“to outsider: They are not us, they do not belong to us mortals. Granted, Paizo also does a great job regarding their outsiders, but seeing such an inspiring introduction to basic concepts is nevertheless awesome. And that was, as mentioned the introduction.

In chapter 2, we are introduced to the variant cosmology that serves as the default for the highly anticipated Midgard campaign setting, but with the general design-goal of remaining modular to the extreme and easy to plug and play into just about every kind of cosmology – from Planescape to the Great Beyond. Central concepts of the cosmology presented in these pages is a sense of an end to a cycle –just as once the primal gods were vanquished and banished from the worlds and planes, so is the fate of the new gods already woven, spinning towards Ragnarök in the ever-changing eternal game that fate and chance may play – or not. Generally, the addition of fortune and destiny to the cosmic forces at play as a dominant construct and concept feel like a very smart move indeed. The two dominant struggles in the planes Psycohmachia, the feud between good and evil for mortal souls as well as the eternal fractal dance of law and chaos are concepts introduced in lovingly unique detail and care. Of course, conceptual planes those touching upon the prime material plane are also a part of this chapter, as is an extensive discussion of how alignment traits of respective planar locations, be they overlaps or planes in their own right. The conceptual planes deserve special mention: From overlaps like mercy street, the lane of disguised celestials, to a city in which everything is mad of glyphs, both inhabitants and everything beyond to the palace where all things lost and broken go – these locations ooze imagination and creative sparks and may, very well, spark their own multiverses, campaigns and concepts, as befitting of the uncounted possibilities inherent in the planes. Better yet, the planes adhering to the order of elemental indwellings also are featured and come with a rather staggering array of sample locations – from 999 Luftballoons, inhabited by intelligent wasps to the forests of valor, where burning, fire-clad celestials stoke the fires of courage in mortal souls.

Even better – from the elflands, home to inscrutable beings like the Ljósalfar and similar mysterious fey to the loom – the planar fabric that connects the grand tapestry to the far beyond at the edge of conception – both planar frontier, edge of infinity, liaison to unimaginable things and distortions to the 7 heavens of the cardinal virtues to the eleven hells as well as the shadow realms, home to the courts of enigmatic shadow fey and other things strange and unimaginable, the compelling cosmology of Midgard is concise, expertly presented, stellar in imaginative quality and missing in no virtue to be expected from such a sourcebook. Add to that the Underworld, a dark prison of Carcerian dimensions in which liches and yama-kings decide on reincarnation all sorts of bleakness and desolate things abound and suffuse that with the staggering amount of sample locations, each of which could spring-board one, if not a vast array of campaigns, and we’re in for one of the coolest cosmologies I’ve read since taking in the original conception of the great wheel and all the derivative systems that spawned from it. Suffice to say, I consider this cosmology on par with, depending on your tastes perhaps even better, than Paizo’s and their version of the great wheel and Golarion’s tradition-infused, yet fresh take on the old tropes has been so far my favorite one since the inception of Planescape in second edition. And yes, that does include just about all 3pps and books like “Beyond countless Doorways” for 3.X.

Oh, but that’s not all! There also is a chapter that begins, quite titillating with: “Between”. After the grand overview, we thus delve into the samples for the strange places that can be found beyond the boundaries of mortal perception and the first location we’re introduced thusly is quite literally “Between” - the place where all those teleportation mishaps and plane shifting accidents alongside all the lost things, broken and abandoned, end up to form a plane coalesced and defined by a sense of not-belonging, by a sense of unbelonging and hybridity and the malevolent intellect of the intangible form that acts as master, creator and abductor – the Limnus. It should be noted that not only are the mechanical repercussions of such a plane are covered, but that magical peculiarities, denizens and adventure seeds are a part of this and all the entries that follow. Second is the Casino – another place between extremes, this place could be seen as the nexus between fate and chance, between law and chaos and is thus also headed dual thrones of law and chaos, this is the place where kingdoms and yes, even worlds and souls can be won, where fortunes are squandered and gained and where pachinko and signal noise games await alongside the options to gamble with the best the planes have to offer – but remember the ultimate truism of gambling – in the end, the house always wins…

After a trip to the dangerously joyful casino, we delve into the depths beyond and visit a particular corner of hell: Evermaw, where all things starve and thirst and Mordiggian the Hunger God rules beneath jaundiced clouds and even the mighty Ever River is but a mere trickle: Here, Mordiggian’s spawn, the ghouls and vampires rule and it is here the erstwhile lieutenant of Orcus has retreated for now, content with his living ghoul servitors and plotting towards inscrutable goals, the grand city (though grand may be a misleading moniker) “Beyond Vultures” offering multiple hooks and a disturbing peculiarity: The lottery. Worse than in Panem, the lottery brands each person with a 4-digit number once it has interacted and bought something from a resident – subsequently, each day means that the number may be drawn. If it is, the city demands a toll that is to be paid in flesh…
Now, if you’re looking to buy something truly out of the ordinary, there’s no place but one –marketplace. Literally THE marketplace among the vast planes, it is here that just about anything conceivable can be bought and sold – from hope to classics like Angel’s Tears or even the broken hearts of demons, this city can probably best be described as the planar consequence of mercantilism beyond moral boundaries, somewhat akin to a bigger brother to Katapesh and all who have visited that town in Golarion can probably depict how an escalation of this concept may look like. Better yet, the creatures provided as sample denizens include far-out characters like a suave mimic-master spy/sheriff that serve to add a plethora of style to a given rendition of this trade-hub among trade-hubs.

Now, the Plane of Spears is something different altogether – remember that concept of Valhalla, fighting only to be renewed and fight again? The Plane of Spears is essentially that, minus the feasting and anything resembling a respite from a battle neverending. Now, If you think that the place remains in static conflict, you’d be wrong, though – the battles fought and lost, the places conquered and sacked actually change the plane towards some inscrutable destination in the eternal game between destiny and fate. Beyond the bloodshed and the violence, though, glory, riches and prowess beckon and worst (or best) of all: Newcomers may easily be doomed by dying to remain here – for all eternity to wage wars and challenge the armies of gods, demons and things beyond mortal ken.

Particularly interesting in its implementation of the concept of the fractal dance would the be the domain of Rusty Gears – set in Rava’s realm, the perfectly grinding gears and clockwork-realms work in perfect precision, inevitable roam – but where’s law, there’s also chaos – fields of rusts, towns constructed on moving gears and vast junkyards of broken cogs await those eager to find fate’s destination for them or an opportunity to jam a wrench into at least a part of the grand machine. Since it’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Mechanus and its mechanical inhabitants, you can imagine my delight when reading this particular section. And finally, there’s the Well spring of Life and Radiance: Here, Potential, essences and minds spring forth is blazing glory and sefirots to enlightenment await – if you brave their dangers, these literal and metaphysical paths enable you to gain a unique power (temporarily or permanently) and gain access to certain planes. Beware, though: For many have found truths that burnt them and destroyed them. I love this plane for its clever links to mysticism and metaphorical concepts as well as the dominant idea of radiance as something amoral and generally considered “good” that can nevertheless destroy the imperfect mortal as any kind of similarly pure cosmic revelation, thus somewhat further diluting the bland diametric oppositions that make gaming often so predictable.

Of course, there also are some major new pieces of crunch here for your perusal, starting with 3 new races: From Devas, born of the stuff of raw creation by echoes of personalities in the plane of radiance, these beings can come with wings, multiple arms or even bestial or elemental essences. They also are the only race that could lead to some abuse – I am not and probably will never be comfortable with playable races that (can) have more than 2 arms and not off some kind of inherent drawback. The Maxims and Warptouched are two sides of the same coin – the one touched by law, the other by chaos, with fitting racial abilities for both – I didn’t have anything to complain about either. Unless I’ve miscounted, we also get 45 new feats, which is slightly more than I would have wanted, seeing the potential for feat-inflation. However, even in this section can we find some rather interesting ones – from a feat that makes you immune to the modification of memory (think about it – no one but you remembers: What a great plot-device!) to the new concept of patronage feats that require you to be in service of a concept, god, deity etc. and clearly marks you, but also provides some nifty benefit, the section can be called well-made indeed. More than 40 new traits also draw on the new planes and planar concepts expounded in the beginning and some of them actually are fun: You could e.g. take “Lucky number”. Roll 1d20 at the campaign’s beginning – that’s your lucky number and every time you roll it on a skill-check or atk-roll, you gain a bonus of +1. Neat idea!

Now, it’s no secret that I LOVE the concept of Incantations (and if you haven’t bought the Zombie Sky Books yet, go do so now…) and thus, I was rather happy to see 2 new incantations herein – one to stand on the dead man’s bridge and bargain yourself into the underworld (but not necessarily out…) and oneto pass from the prime material to the elflands (or the shadowplane, depending on cosmology, I guess), but only by utilizing a site of tragedy and death. I LOVE these and I honestly would love for a whole book (100+ pages) of incantations of a similar quality. And then there are the 18 new spells and oh boy, they are…AWESOME. Again. Yeah, I know, broken record… But seriously – with the spell “Slipstream”, you can tag on to other creature’s teleports and come out close to their destinations. And then there’s “Defensive Paradox”, which is a stellar spell to negate devastating attacks, but which may change you forever and replace you with an alternate version, essentially allowing you to change afflicted character’s personality, Dr.Who-style. Alternately, you could use your magically enhanced sense of combat geometry to make truly devastating ricochets and similar supra-genius attacks. Hell yes!

Chapter 5 then deals with advice on gamemastering the infinite planes and if you expect tried and boring truisms, you’ll be disappointed: Instead you get poignant, sound advice on how to do it as well as ANOTHER selection of awesome locations – gateways to the planes, from the feyroads to the 9 Stairways, the house of infinite doors and the ever river to the road of gateways, we get a neat selection of traveling ways beyond boring spells that should satisfy all tastes. Better yet, planar settlements and settlement-modifiers (including disadvantages), sample fully stated planar settlements, again, with excellent fluff (and statblocks) are fully detailed. However, in the planar economies-section, the book once again amps up the coolness: From buying and selling (or loaning) your body, the purchase of destiny, names, youth and voices and similar esoteric goods are covered. And there are rules for the archetypical sword, the flesh of fate-eaters and remnant pearls, remains of squashed planes – all artifacts, mind you.

Part II of my review in the product discussion, post 21.

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