Each portal town was a mimic of the plane to which its gate led. A gate-town bordering an evil plane would likely have inhabitants hostile to good visitors, and a town bordering a lawful plane was likely to be very organized and orderly. This "mimicry" applied to the region around the gate-town as well, so that the landscape for miles around the town of Xaos might be a mess of tangled bushes and overgrown grass.
The gate-towns were equally spaced from each other and sat about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from the spire at the center of the Outlands. While one would think to be able to use simple geometry to calculate their distance from each other, the strange and mutable nature of the Outlands meant that the nearest gate-town took between 40 miles (64 kilometers) and 320 miles (510 kilometers) of travel to reach, no matter where one had actually started relative to the spire. Such a journey usually took between three and eighteen days, and it did not seem to matter whether the trip were made on foot or on horseback.
Thus, while the Outlands were said to be infinite, it was effectively impossible to travel in a meaningful way more than 1,320 miles (2,120 kilometers) from the spire, and the ring of portal towns thus acted as a sort of border of the Outlands.
Moving clockwise around the spire, the sixteen gate-towns were Automata (portal to Mechanus), Fortitude (portal to Arcadia), Excelsior (portal to Mount Celestia), Tradegate (portal to Bytopia), Ecstasy (portal to Elysium), Faunel (portal to the Beastlands, Sylvania (portal to Arborea), Glorium (portal to Ysgard), Xaos (portal to Limbo), Bedlam (portal to Pandemonium), Plague-Mort (portal to the Abyss), Curst (portal to Carceri), Hopeless (portal to Hades), Torch (portal to Gehenna), Ribcage (portal to Baator), and Rigus (portal to Acheron). Passage through one of the gates always led to the first layer of the destination plane.
Outsiders, natives of the Outer Planes, often spent time in the portal towns, since they had convenient access to their native homes. The towns were also home to many petitioners from the bordering planes. Because of the neutral ground of the Outlands, it was not uncommon to find a celestial arguing with a fiend in a bar in one of the towns.
Originally, the sixteen natural portals leading from the Outlands to the other planes were simple white disks on the ground and could lead to any of the Outer Planes. The destination was determined by the will of the majority of the persons attempting to use them. Over time, however, the regular flow of traffic through the portals led to the formation of communities built around the portals.
The gate-towns were only semipermanent. Sometimes they would vanish from the Outlands altogether, as if the entire settlement had been absorbed by the bordering plane. Some sages believed that the cause of this was the balance of moral and ethical outlooks of its residents. Too many lawful neutral citizens of Automata, for example, might cause the town to join with the orderly plane of Mechanus. Some citizens of the gate-towns strongly desired this to happen; other were more likely to act in a way opposed to the majority alignment as a means of keeping the town fixed in the Outlands.
When a town disappeared like this, sometimes another one appeared, copied and fully formed, in its place; other times, a new town would have to be built from scratch. At still other times, a town or part of a town might slide back to the Outlands from the other plane.
During the reign of King Azoun Obarskyr IV, a half-elven paladin of Oghma from Cormyr was dispatched on a mission to explore the planes of existence beyond Toril. The paladin's name was Ambran the Seeker, and excerpts from his journal still survive to this day. In volume 7, Ambran described how he hired a bariaur guide to take him from Sigil to the Outlands. The lost volume 8 would have described his time spent in the town of Ribcage. Volume 9 tells of a journey from Ribcage to Automata. Once at Automata, he was able to witness the Modron Parade before continuing on to the River Ma'at. For reasons unknown, he abandoned his mission and remained on the Outlands. His final journal describes his journey from the Mausoleum of Chronepsis to the gate town of Bedlam, where he finally left the Outlands by traveling to Pandemonium.
- Jeff Grubb, Bruce R. Cordell, David Noonan (September 2001). Manual of the Planes 3rd edition. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 147–151. ISBN 0-7869-1850-8.
- Jeff Grubb (May 1995). A Player's Primer to the Outlands. Edited by Ray Vallese. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 4–6. ISBN 0-7869-0121-7.
- Monte Cook (1996). The Planewalker's Handbook. Edited by Michele Carter. (TSR), p. 10. ISBN 978-0786904600.
- Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford, Christopher Perkins, James Wyatt (2014). Dungeon Master's Guide 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 67. ISBN 978-0786965622.
- Jeff Grubb (July 1987). Manual of the Planes 1st edition. (TSR), p. 115. ISBN 0880383992.
- David "Zeb" Cook (April 1994). “The Plane Truth Part II: A Journey to the Outlands”. In Kim Mohan ed. Dragon #204 (TSR, Inc.), pp. 28–30.
- David "Zeb" Cook (May 1994). “The Plane Truth Part III: The Transformation”. In Kim Mohan ed. Dragon #205 (TSR, Inc.), pp. 51–53.
Caverns of Thought • Court of Light • Dwarvish Mountain (Deepshaft Hall • Soot Hall • Strongale Hall) • Flowering Hill • Gzemnid's Realm • Hidden Realm • Labyrinth of Life • Marketplace Eternal • Mausoleum of Chronepsis • Palace of Judgement • Semuanya's Bog • Sigil • Sleeping Lands • Tir na Og (Deep Forest • the Great Smithy • House of Knowledge • the Pinnacle • Tir fo Thuinn) • Thoth's Estate • Wonderhome
Automata • Bedlam • Curst • Ecstasy • Excelsior • Faunel • Fortitude • Glorium • Hopeless • Plague-Mort • Ribcage • Rigus • Sylvania • Torch • Tradegate • Xaos