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Planescape Adventures in the Multiverse Review

Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse Review

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Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse Review

Great Wheel or Flat Tire?

D&D isn’t just the Forgotten Realms, those ironically well-remembered lands are just one version of the material plane which is just one component of the great wheel, the cosmic dance of realms who turn according to the universal constants of Good, Evil, Law, and Chaos. Planescape as a setting goes all the way back to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons back in 1994, and we’re returning to Sigil and the Outlands once again with 5e’s new collection. Did they traverse the planes safely? Is this another flop like Spelljammer? Grab your portal key and don’t upset the Lady of Pain as we go through everything you need to know.


A Package Deal?

Once again, we’re doing a package of 3 smaller books just like we had in Spelljammer and Planescape is split into a setting book, a new bestiary, and an adventure path. I am happy to report that both the setting book and the adventure path both clock in at 96 pages, and when combined with the 64-page bestiary Planescape finally beats the current WotC trend of “fewer pages and higher price” we’ve seen steadily getting worse over the last few years. Collectively Planescape totals 256 pages, beating the similar Spelljammer product which only had a combined 192 pages. Sadly, we are still stuck paying more though. There’s no MSRP but the 3-book set seems to be selling for about $85 physically and $50 digitally, compared to Spelljammer’s $69 physical price and $50 digital price.


All told, the Planescape collection includes the following:



  • Sigil and the Outlands (Setting Guide)
  • Turn of Fortune’s Wheel (Adventure Path)
  • Morte’s Planar Parade (Bestiary)
  • Sigil and Outlands Poster Map
  • DM Screen

  • Let’s go through and evaluate each book on its own before coming back around and evaluating it all as a set.

    Planescape Adventures in the Multiverse Review

    What’s in Sigil and the Outlands?

    This is your setting guide with a little bit of player content on the side.

    All together this booklet contains:

  • 2 New Backgrounds
  • 7 New Feats
  • 2 New Spells
  • 3 New Magic Items
  • Sigil and Outlands Maps and Lore

  • 2 New Backgrounds

    Included are the new Gate Warden and Planar Philosopher backgrounds, both meant to accommodate players who’ve spent all or most of their lives exploring sigil or the multiverse. Both backgrounds grant you a feat, which I’m now 100% convinced will be a standard rule once we hit 5.5. 

    7 New Feats

    Speaking of feats, we get 7 new ones mostly reflecting the extreme alignments, giving you the opportunity to make your evil character more evil or your lawful character more lawful. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get feats representing the factions of Sigil, like we did with the schools of Strixhaven. Still always nice to get more options though.


    2 New Spells

    We gain 2 new spells here that are unsurprisingly portal themed, gate seal and warp sense. Gate seal is a 4th level spell that essentially shuts down portals and stops them from opening for a while. Warp sense is a 2nd level spell that lets you detect nearby closed portals, which is handy for spotting the well-hidden gates throughout Sigil. I highly doubt either of these spells will find a home outside of a Planescape adventure, but they’re welcome additions, nonetheless.


    3 New Magic Items

    Here we gain the mimir, which are basically servo-skulls filled with useful planar information (and are very plot relevant to the campaign). The portal compass which conveniently directs you to the last portal you traveled through. And the sensory stone which can replay feelings and sensations and I’m already dreading the NSFW applications my players are going to use it for.


    Sigil and the Outlands Lore

    Firstly, I want to say I’m sympathetic to the writers here. They only had 96 pages to fully reintroduce players to a setting that originally took up over 200 pages back in the day. And for what they had to do I think they did a fantastic job. But the way they did that was by narrowing the scope. “Sigil and the Outlands” is an apt title as the lore only covers Sigil and the Outlands. There’s nothing on the plane of fire, the depths of the abyss, or the lofty peaks of mount Celestia here; you're expected to do your own research from some other supplement if your players step out of the Cage and off into the multiverse somewhere.

    Again, I sympathize with the writers here. Sigil itself is such a complicated setting it’s nearly impossible to do it justice in such a small space while also spending word count on the other planes. We do get a taste of some of that flavor though through the gate towns. The edges of the outlands are dotted with cities surrounding the main portals to all the planes that border it in the great wheel. Each one gives us a little slice of their connected plane, and each of the gate towns is fleshed out enough that you shouldn’t have a problem adventuring in them.

    That sort of shaved down feeling is true for the Sigil factions as well. Each of the factions of Sigil has a deep and intricate lore, or at least they did in earlier editions. Here we get some solid bullet points, a map of their important building in Sigil, and generally enough to get the flavor and use them in a campaign. 


    What’s Good About Sigil and the Outlands? 

    Appropriate to its name, the book provides you with everything you’ll need to run your own adventures in Sigil and the surrounding Outlands. While it doesn’t detail the other planes, it takes the opportunity to detail Sigil instead, and is filled with quirks, mysteries, and adventure hooks to take the players all throughout the bizarre streets of Sigil. Putting the emphasis on the gate towns as well lets us essentially sample the major planes with their border towns, all of which with their own hooks and content worthy of their own adventures.

     

    What’s Bad About Sigil and the Outlands?  

    I am perhaps spoiled by the indulgent lore books, but what we get seems like it has been trimmed down to the bare essentials, then spiced up with a few quirky stand outs. You’ll get exactly enough to run a game in Sigil, but there isn’t much depth beyond bullet points and highlights. And fundamentally, a Planescape game is meant to include traveling between the planes and you’re really on your own for DM support once you step through a gate. I get that including sections on all the major planes would be a much bigger project, but I feel like such a project was warranted. 


    Sigil and the Outlands Conclusions

    Sigil and the Outlands gives you exactly what it says on the tin, Sigil and the Outlands. My criticism of the book is less about what was included, which is great, and more about what’s missing. This isn’t a “Planescape” lore book, it is exclusively a Sigil and the Outlands lore book, and with that in mind the book delivers on its promise.

    My other criticism is the tone. The original Planescape is gritty and dark, and this new incarnation can be downright goofy. I happen to be a DM that loves a bit of goofy fun in my adventures but for veterans looking to capture that dark otherworldly vibe of the original will find it significantly more colorful and played for laughs. 

    I think overall this book will be a welcome addition to players who’ve never experienced Planescape, but a bit disappointing to veterans who were expecting a return to old form.


    Final Score: 7.5 out of 10 


    What’s in Morte’s Planar Parade?

    The planescape bestiary of Morte’s Planar Parade has 54 new monsters and NPC statblocks, along with some rules for modifying creatures according to the plane they’re on. We also get some encounter tables, but they’re based on simple alignment rather than the individual planes.

  • Planar Influence Rules
  • Planar Encounter Tables
  • 54 New Monsters and NPCs

  • Planar Influence Rules

    For each of the alignment planes we get a set of rules that work like a creature template to represent that plane’s influence. That’s not just a bear, it’s now an abyssal bear. For some of the planes this is really all we get, which to me also harkens back to the “space templates” we got back in Spelljammer. Templates are nice, but I wish we’d gotten some more unique monsters.


    Planar Encounter Tables

    We get 5 d100 encounter tables to encompass all the planes across all 4 tiers. Instead of making a table for each plane we get a table for the major alignments, meaning we get a Good, Evil, Lawful, Chaotic, and Neutral plane encounter table. While the planes have a ton of influence from alignment, it feels really weird to use a single Lawful table for both The Nine Hells and Mechanus, or a single Good table for both Arboria and Mount Celestia. I really dislike this and feel like they could’ve at least sprung for a few extra pages to fit a table for each plane.


    54 New Monsters and NPCs 

    54 is a substantial drop from the most comparable bestiary in Boo’s Astral Menagerie, which sported over 70 new critters. What we get though is well designed but dominated by creatures needed for the accompanying adventure path rather than a good sampling of the planes. We get NPCs representing the Sigil faction rank and file, which are incredibly useful. We get the specific and peculiar oddities that you’ll run into during Turn of Fortune’s Wheel, but not much else. There are a few fun headliners like the time dragons, but I’d have expected more.


    What’s Good About Morte’s Planar Parade? 

    Interesting monster designs and some useful templates will get you through a lot of planescape encounters, and the inclusion of all the Sigil faction NPCs will make navigating Sigil encounters much easier.

    What’s Bad About Morte’s Planar Parade?  

    It’s pretty evident that this bestiary’s goal was supplying the needs of the adventure path, and not acting as a “planescape bestiary”. Whole major planes simply don’t have a single inclusion. Not a single creature from any of the elemental planes? Nothing for Arcadia? Nothing for Gehenna? The encounter tables are practically unusable, unless you’re fine with modrons showing up randomly in hell, or angels appearing in random encounters for Mechanus. What monsters we got are great, but it simply doesn’t serve as an adequate bestiary for running a Planescape adventure of your own. 


    Morte’s Planar Parade Conclusions

    I feel like Morte’s Planar Parade is the weakest book of the collection. I can’t shake the feeling that it’s really just an attachment to the adventure path. Yes, it serves fine for said adventure path, but I can’t really use this effectively to run my own Planescape adventures. When the best I can get for an entire plane is a standard monster with a template applied, the book has failed as a bestiary. The encounter tables feel especially insulting, and largely useless. Some great creatures to use here, but it could’ve been so much better.

    Final Score: 4 out of 10 


    What’s in Turn of Fortune’s Wheel?

    Turn of Fortune’s Wheel is a complete planescape adventure that runs from 3rd level to 10th level, and perplexingly also 17th level. It makes sense but be prepared for a wild ride. The players are “multiversal glitches”, a plot contrivance that neatly solves the issue of running a lower-level adventure in Sigil while creating a truly unique experience.

    This glitch gimmick has each player create 3 versions of their character, representing different versions of themselves from alternate realities. Whenever a character dies (and they’ll die often) their corpse glitches out and a different version appears after the encounter is over. Death is cheap in Fortune’s Wheel, which means that while Sigil and the Outlands are as dangerous as ever, it doesn’t really matter if you turn down the wrong alleyway or spill the wrong omnipotent being’s drink.

    The flip side of this is that players will need to track and advance three separate character sheets simultaneously. Probably welcome to more experienced players, but I’d hesitate to throw this adventure at newbies.

    The adventure itself is kooky, lighthearted, and takes the players through a substantial portion of Sigil and a half dozen Outland gate towns. The conclusion (the jump to 17th level) is a bizarre and intriguing moment where the players can reabsorb their missing memories and “true selves”, creating the fantastic moment of telling your party to “level up 7 times”.

    “Kooky” and “lighthearted” are probably not what old school players of Planescape were hoping to hear though. I really like this plot, but I can definitely sense a jarring shift in tone when I compare it to the original books. Much in the same way that Spelljammer did, this version is silly at times, and that’s a tonal taste that some will love, and some will hate. 


    What’s Good About Turn of Fortune’s Wheel? 

    Turn of Fortune’s Wheel is essentially a sight-seeing tour of Sigil and the Outlands in a walking castle, where your impressions of the locales play a surprisingly strong role in the ending. Functionally unique, Fortune’s Wheel gives your players permission to throw caution to the wind and just try stuff for the sake of trying. Mechanically fascinating, the 3 characters-in-one gimmick is a brilliant solution to the high level of Sigil, and the final level jump provides a powerful ending chapter without the grind.

    What’s Bad About Turn of Fortune’s Wheel?  

    The light tone and cheap deaths are probably not what veteran players are looking for in a Planescape adventure. Coupled with the extra bookwork of maintaining 3-character sheets means it’s also probably not right for newbies. This gives it the awkward intended audience of experienced players, but not so experienced as to remember earlier versions of Planescape. If you’re in this window it’s fantastic, but it has issues for everyone else.


    Turn of Fortune’s Wheel Conclusions

    Similar to my take on Spelljammer, the adventure here is the highlight of the set. But that’s for me. I also recognize that this tone is very off-model if you were hoping for a return to the old Planescape. Turn of Fortune’s Wheel is goofy, encourages you to do stupid and life-threatening things since death is cheap, and gives you the ability to run 3 characters in one. A lot of the plot is a bit contrived, but the result is an excuse to essentially sample everything Sigil and the Outlands has to offer as you track down a missing modron. The adventure is a unique experience, a fun time, and will be genuinely memorable, even if formerly serious settings are taken for a laugh. If you’re looking for something crazy and exciting for a playgroup who’ll be excited to make multiple characters, this is the adventure for you.


    Final Score: 9 out of 10 


    Should I Buy Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse?

    Firstly, let me say that WotC jacking up the price of their products every release should not be tolerated or rewarded, but I’ll analyze the product on its own merit.

    I think this is a worthy buy, but as with other WotC books, I’d advise waiting a couple months for the price to cool off. The similar Spelljammer product that was released last year is barely half its original price on amazon now, and just waiting a bit can ease up the price tag.

    The biggest issue here is expectations. If you’re expecting a return to the form of the original Planescape then don’t bother, this is a new and much lighter beast. Are you expecting a full guide and bestiary for all the planes? Then move along, this covers Sigil, the Outlands, and enough monsters for that and one adventure path.

    Ditch those expectations though, and what you have on offer is a fantastic adventure, a bestiary to support it, and enough lore and content to stage your own campaigns using Sigil and the Outlands as a hub. You’ll have to do your own research and dig up your own monsters for when the players step through any of those Sigil portals, but you're set for any shenanigans that happen within the Cage itself. Give it a shot if planar travel holds any allure, definitely take this over Spelljammer, and tell the Lady of Pain I said hi. 


    Final Score: 7 out of 10 

     

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