Reading the Planescape Product Line

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sciborg2
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Reading the Planescape Product Line

For our next trick, going to start a re-read of the Planescape product line. Ideal goal is to provide some commentary on the products as well as refresh my memory. Also might add some suggestions of variants and such.

This is inspired by Noism's Reading the Monstrous Manual which can be found here:

https://ia902508.us.archive.org/21/items/ReadMonstrousManual/Read_Monstrous_Manual.PDF

sciborg2
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Anyone can participate. I do

Anyone can participate. I do want to figure out a good pace, going to start with 12 pages every 3 days? (4 Major Elements * Rule of 3)

We'll start with the first box, and then go from there.

sciborg2
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So the first six or so pages

So the first six or so pages of The DM's Guide to the Planes that come before the Tone part.

We have the illustration of the Lady of Pain, though for a first time comer it's probably just some lady (queen? enchantress?) with an interesting headdress. We see some of the Big Names - Dave "Zeb" Cook, Robh Ruppel, and of course Tony DiTerlizzi. Some of the names seem important to the style of the setting as well, makes me curious if any are around for an interview.

So starting off we get a few points about how Planescape is meant to encompass every D&D setting ever made. Which is an interesting assertion since this would imply there's a way to get to every alternate cosmology as well. We can see some of the seeds of push back against the setting waiting to germinate - The vastness of the cosmos diminishes (to some) the point of their favorite planetary world. Additionally we see a bit of the Cant, and the idea of the plane-savy blood, which led to at least a little of the complaints that us PS fans were snobbish.

That said, I remember the feeling of awe seeing the cover of the Manual of Planes as a kid and my favorite book was the Outer Planes MC Appendix. Suffice to say I was ready for Planescape and it's promise to enliven the D&D Wheel cosmology.

The Guide suggests treating the planes as analogous to a more terrestrial D&D campaign, expanding out with portals leading to particular locations. I get sense there was some leaning toward railroading in the spectrum at the time, as nowadays you'd see more people wanting a sandbox possibly in the "OSR" style where a 1st level "clueless" could end up in Asmodeus' palace.

We also see the caution of making Sigil little more than a transition point, sort of amusing because I recall at least one or two TSR adventures doing this? The other option is to open a permanent portal to Sigil from the home world of a current campaign. I think this calls back to the major question of a planar campaign versus a planetary setting - what is the role of the planes? Are they an afterlife and alchemical foundation for the home world, or is the home world just one marble in the ocean of planar cosmology? I think you see potential for a both-and solution if we consider worlds like Toril and Oerth as magical real estate that makes them desirous to the varied planar forces. (Oerth also had the Artifact of Evil that releases Tharizdun right?)

One line I like refers to Sigil as the PCs village, the Outlands as the settled lands around it, and the rest of the planes as the wilderness. It makes me think of Gatecrashers from Eclipse Phase running through gates into wondrous and disturbing worlds. Makes sense here that the Upper Planes are not Heavens as mortals' rewards but rather mysterious dimensions in which contingents of celestials have managed to build a life. Beyond that I've increasingly leaned away from the Wheel and more toward an infinite, unknowable-in-entirety set of planar realities and the planes as wilderness seems to fit that more than 17 planes on the Outer Wheel?

sciborg2
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Okay, second 6 pages to get

Okay, second 6 pages to get us to first 12 pages. If someone wants to post commentary on the next set of 12 pages before me be my guest but let's not do so until 3 days from now so everyone has a chance to get through the first 12 -thanks!

The Tone section talks about settings work better with some kind of tone. The tone of the PS setting is described as a combo of ennui, cynicism, and disdain for Primes. Again we can see where some of the accusations of PS fans being snobbish comes from, but looking back to the original placement of the setting I think this presentation makes at least some sense?

You're trying to make a setting where planars like angels and demons can somewhat interact peacefully, where alignment and elemental oppositions don't overwhelm the entire interaction between PCs & NPCs. You also want to make the setting appealing for existing players, and being in the know and part of the "real" game of reality is part of that.

That said, I do think some of this is a bit overwrought (but hey it was the 90s and White Wolf was gaining steam #is_a_WW_fan). Are the denizens of Oerth, Athas, or Toril really going to be that shocked by the cosmopolitan life of Sigil? Even Krynn has its Towers of High Sorcery where alignments co-mingle. The idea that planar life hardens a person...well maybe those who came from the Lower Planes or the harsher Elemental Planes but it seems plausible an Arcadian or Elysian can be far, far softer than a denizen of Oerth or Athas.

After this intro we get into magic spell alterations. Not sure how people ever kept track of this, I know I didn't though I didn't much chance to be play. What I liked about this is it brought some actual structure & metaphysics to reality. The Astral was the Plane of Thought, Ether the Plane of Proto-Matter. What gets hinted at here,but possibly not explicitly expounded on until the Inner Planes book, is that metaphysics of the planes - and thus of D&D worlds in general - is not just our expected Laws of Physics with magic tacked on. Quasi-Elemental Salt is not some combination of minerals but rather the fundamental result of Negative Energy and Elemental Water.

For some great expounding on Elemental Fundamental Metaphysics check out Scrap Princesses' posts on Elementals:

http://monstermanualsewnfrompants.blogspot.com/2013/01/elementals.html

http://monstermanualsewnfrompants.blogspot.com/2017/02/more-on-elementals.html

sciborg2
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Sorry for the delay, real

Sorry for the delay, real life - especially laptop death - kept me busy!

- + - + -

So from 12-24 we have more on Magic Spell/Item Alterations, the introduction to traveling the planes, and a bit about some of the planes as well.

It occurs to me a lot of the book keeping hassle could made a LOT easier with some apps nowadays, probably something like that out there already. So with the actual hassle removable, is it worth it? I can see a beginner group getting easily frustrated by the continual adjustments but I might balance that out with more bonuses. Perhaps all weapons are enhanced on Ysgard, weapons made with good intentions might be enhanced on Elysium, etc. This adds to book keeping, of course, so maybe these are only true in realms/locations germane to that particular adventure.

The traveling section goes into Elemental Vortices, Astral Conduits, and Portals. Portals are perhaps the most interesting, given the fun of a unique portal key for narrative purposes.

One nugget I liked was the idea of finding the weapons of a fallen proxy while seeking to fulfill the mission you then discover they failed at. Might try to use that if I get the chance. (None of the games I'm in right now are Planescape so...)

The intro to the traversal section mentions the vastness of the planes and how trying to have a completely open sandbox is difficult to impossible. It reminds me of trying to do a Sci Fi or Science Fantasy RPG that has a galaxy of star systems.

I like the possibility that the portals are alive, and derive sustenance from travelers and Sigil. It specifically mentions feeding off "energies" but I could also see the portals being sustained in more symbiotic & less parasitic manner.

Gatetowns - I'm not sure what it was but Gatetowns just seemed so cool to me when I first got into PS. I think it was because of the fact that they represented the liminal edge between two planes, and that you could get some taste of a plane without having to worry as much about the balors, pitfiends, Mediators of Mechanus, etc. Each town could also be a way station to a plane that is much more alien than what we're given. I recall Rip mentioning the idea that the Upper Planes are much more inimical to Prime Material life than usually described - more of the environs are electrum and lightning if I recall his suggestion properly.

As a bit of setting history I like the idea of the "Demi" Plane of Shadow, given that eventually the Shadow was seen as the linkage between not just places of the Wheel but also a means of traveling to other cosmologies (IIRC that was 3.5e right? Or was it 4e?)

VikingLegion
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My players traditionally had

My players traditionally had some troubles/frustrations remembering how spells were altered on the various planes. I won't lie and say *I* remembered to apply said alterations every single time, but yes, that was a lot of tracking. Our campaign featured the Inner Planes heavily, with only 1 or 2 trips to an Outer Plane, so we didn't have to deal too much with the changes to weapon bonuses and so on. As for the clerical level adjustment based on distance from deity's home plane - I ignored that completely, as I don't like one class getting singled out and vastly reduced in power for what might turn into a lengthy, multi-session portion of the overall arc.

Jem
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When my last game went to

When my last game went to different planes, we did end up usually ignoring magic item level loss (and probably clerical level loss, although we didn't have a cleric). Spell alterations were kept as flavor, however -- I love the tourism part of the game, and Carceri demanding a pint of blood for divinations is a great thrill.

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Oh absolutely! Our party

Oh absolutely! Our party wizard was a conjuration/summoning specialist. It was very interesting to watch him attempt to call in a minion, but what shows up at the doorstep is not quite what he had in mind. I definitely agree with tampering with spell effects based on school/plane. But the weapon +1, +2, +3 stuff was easily left behind with no detriment to the game, IMO.

sciborg2
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I can't fault anyone for

I can't fault anyone for ignore level losses, it feels like tedious book keeping. I would be curious if automating it via an app might make things interesting though I'd probably throw in a work around for most items/weapons.

sciborg2
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So pages 25-36 gets into the

So pages 25-36 gets into the Astral, Elemental, Para, and Positive Quasi-Elemental Planes.

Astral - IIRC the idea that color pools aren't color coded for particular planes is a retcon of prior info on the plane in Pre-Planescape D&D? I also recall there being something where liquids form into spheres, but if you touch such a sphere the liquid wraps around you and you can suffocate?

We do get mention of conduits and githyanki, and the mention of the god-corpses. I think one of the most standout ideas - and again it might be before PS, can't remember - in the D&D cosmos is these dead gods floating in the Silver Void.

Also remember thinking it was cool that your Int & Wis gave you physical prowess on this plane.

Inner Planes - One thing I liked here is the relationship between the different planes that plays out in the physical setting. For example the Plane of Ice becomes icebergs in water the closer you get to the Plane of Water, and from the other side you have these icicles that eventually taper off as you approach Air. My favorite of these is the Plane of Lightning that goes from being a rumbling storm on the Air-ward side to being a sheet of lightning as one goes moves toward the Positive Material Plane.

I know there were complaints post-PS (and IMO unfairly blamed the setting itself) for how uninhabitable the Inner Planes are but that actually makes them feel like alternate realities to me.

Also the way movement is determined subjectively on these planes with "up" and "down" being user-based. The book says the Plane of Fire has a definite up & down due to the direction of a flame but I prefer to think of the plane as a roiling ocean of flames varied in color and temperature. (Recall dark flame & cold flame from - IIRC - the 2e Tome of Magic).

Another thing I really like about the Inner planar area is the 4 mysterious Towers that sit between the Positive Quasi-Elemental Planes and the Positive Material Plane. There was a Dragon article about a mage who'd visited the Tower of Storms, I think that was where I first heard of the Towers and they seemed so wondrous in my mind.

Really loved the Inner Planes book, which we'll get to...eventually...hopefully...in this thread. Eager to see these planes fleshed out in that tome, one of my favorite PS supplements.