Planescape is a created crossroads of alignment and afterlife destinations in the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse. The Second Edition setting won the 1992 Origin’s Award Dungeon. Now, the new boxed set, “Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse” is being reimagined for Fifth Edition. It comes with three books, one poster map and one DM’s screen. This is in a beautiful collector’s case with a striking illustration by Tyler Jacobson. Lead Designers Justice Ramen Arman and F. Wesley Schneider waded into the wild waters of this surreal setting and armed themselves with the best art and a backlog of material and deliver a product that you can use quickly at the table.
The stage for this setting is the Outlands; what used to be called Concordant Opposition in the old “Manual of the Planes.” The well-crafted quote in the setting book that rectifies this name change reads, “The Outlands are a plane of concordant opposition – a disk shaped plane of perfect neutrality at the center of the Outer Planes.”
In the middle of the Outlands rises a mountain like spire that has no defined height where a stone torus floats. Imagine an inner tube for a relativistic tire or a hollow non-Euclidean donut. Inside that torus is Sigil, the City of Doors. It is a setting that offers portals to anywhere for almost anyone. Only gods or godlike beings cannot enter. This place exists under the accountability of an enigmatic being called the Lady of Pain, a tall humanoid that wears a mask like face surrounded by a mantle of blades. This being has no stat block, and in the words of this edition she is “beyond the ability of the characters to defeat by ordinary means.”
This setting needs such a being because if you’re at what Wizards of the Coast calls the “backstage of the multiverse,” then something needs to be the guardrails. In the first of the three books “Sigil and the Outlands,” it describes the city as where, “Celestials and Fiends share drinks in genie-owned taverns, agents of evil gods trot through the streets astride nightmares, and hags stable faerie steeds alongside pegasi and beasts of solid stone.”
How can such a city survive without constant wars and fights? The Lady of Pain can shut down all portals if there is any attempt to invade or if any battles erupt. She will also personally intervene to keep the peace for large threats with her personal prison spell where the recipient must wander in an inescapable maze or be reduced to one hit point by her blades.
This first book goes over the many different factions that exist in this city, three of which act as a law enforcement; those who arrest, those who judge and those who incarcerate. They are called, in the argot of the city Guvnors, Hardheads and Jailers. They also have their own names for themselves that reflect their function and their philosophy. Interestingly, they don’t work for the Lady of Pain but instead on their own.
If a player wants to have a Planescape origin, along with some special feats, ancestries and access to spells and knowledge, this book has that. The original Planescape gave rise to many accepted parts of 5e like Tieflings. If you wish to know more about it, there is an interview that talks to the first makers of the setting.
I do wish the book had a glossary for the Sigil slang used in the book, which is called, “The Cant.” Luckily there are many online resources for this.
A tongue-in-cheek warning at the beginning of this book states the factions of Sigil are not responsible for symptoms that arise from visiting their city such as, “upset stomach, nausea, existential dread, cleithrophobia, or an irresistible urge to wax poetic about the philosophies relating to the multiverse.”
It is a good warning. This setting is not for those who dislike the philosophical, the outlandish or ridiculous. The book warns that, “Planescape adventures often pit philosophies against each other and highlight subjective views.” This collection has more than enough monsters, NPCs and magic, but it brings with it a certain flavor that a DM and their players need to invest in to have fun. There is a new Planar Philosopher background for players and a location for the Hall of Speakers where characters can debate about the nature of reality or practically anything else.
The adventure book in this collection, “Turn of Fortune’s Wheel,” is filled with these philosophies in a callback to the 1999 videogame Planescape: Torment, which GiN reviewed many years ago. It uses a character from the video game, the floating skull Morte, to give commentary throughout the books. It also uses one the greatest Planescape NPCs ever, Shemeshka, a fox-faced humanoid supernatural spymaster and crime boss that is by turns charming, deadly and raging. In this book, Shemeshka has a cosmic gambling casino. Chris Perkins played this character well in Dice, Camera, Action, and I hope to see him do it again soon in the new Acquisitions Inc. Interestingly in the same show, Holly Conrad plays Strix, a character who has her origins in Sigil.
Fans of Marvel’s Doctor Strange or DC’s Swamp Thing may enjoy the last book in the collection “Morte’s Planar Parade.” This has so many weird creatures that follow the flavor of Sigil, but they can also be used in any campaign. The writers did an amazing job of also making generic (if you can call anything from Planescape generic) templates for certain citizens of Sigil so that a DM can make more NPCs and encounters. The Petitioners (souls stuck between their world and the afterlife) and Faction Agents are just two of these. The stat blocks are easy to read for both combat and crafting an encounter.
The art must be more than mentioned here. First, I would like to know who made the cranium rat making a tiny nest inside some scrap of sheet music that is dripping water on its nearest edge. It is in the inside of “Morte’s Planar Parade,” and it’s great. It encapsulates what is so cozy and quirky about this setting and also all of the small things surviving inside this cosmic chaos of a crossroads.
Some of the more stand out illustrations are the mechanical dinosaurs, modrons and the towns of Outland. There are various spreads of the smoggy, overpopulated and polluted streets of Sigil.
When Planescape won its 1992 award, it was with the art of Tony DiTerlizzi and Dana Knutson who initially worked on the setting. DiTerlizzi provides lots of art for these books, and it shows but there are lots of new artists. One example of this is the cover for “Turn of Fortune’s Wheel.” French artist Magali Villeneuve has a Modron March, Shemeshka and a walking castle with the Spire and Sigil in the background. Art Director Emi Tanji and the studio that supports the art did well, and the layout is easy on the eye.
With the fiftieth anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons coming up and the continuous teasing for the promised backward compatible One D and D, Jeremy Crawford gave an interview where he stated much of it will be linked to Planescape.
Wizards of the Coast provided Game Industry News with a review copy of the box set, and it is impressive. It definitely offers more mechanically-wise than Spelljammer did, and invokes Dungeons and Dragons past while also hinting at its future. If you are a player who loves art and esoteric Dungeons and Dragons lore, this is the book for you. If you want more than this, you can help yourself to the extensive backlog of material that is published on the DM’s Guild. Planescape is a setting like Alice in Wonderland with a rabbit hole where you can take a very long, but also fun, fall down deep into its depths.