Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse Review

After years of fan requests, Planescape is finally back and updated for 5E!

After years of fan requests, Planescape is finally back and updated for 5E. Instead of a single hardcover, the iconic multiverse setting has gotten the fancy treatment that Spelljammer: Adventures in Space received last year, as well as a similar name.
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Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse contains:
  • Sigil and the Outlands, a 96-page source book for players and DMs,
  • Morte's Planar Parade, 64-page bestiary
  • Turn of Fortune's Wheel ,a 96-page adventure
  • A double-sided poster map with Sigil and the outer planes
  • A four-panel DM screen
As you can see from that summary, P:AitM is already ahead of S:AiS in terms of page count. S:AiS felt skimpy, with each book being a measly 64 pages. Those page limitations were especially felt in its adventure, which felt like it was missing a chapter or more, and the setting information, especially for the Rock of Bral. By contrast, P:AitM makes it clear that the D&D team learned from its mistakes in S:AiS.

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Planescape Is EVERYTHING​

That was co-lead designer F. Wesley Schneider's oft-repeated statement about what makes Planescape different from other D&D settings. Another way of saying it would be that “Planescape is the backstage of reality” (another quote the boxed set and the Planescape preview) or the connective tissue in D&D’s multiverse, and Sigil the City of Doors is at the heart of Planescape.

For comic book fans, think of Sigil as being loosely akin to Cynosure in John Ostrander’s Grimjack—the nexus of all realities. Planescape literally unites every D&D campaign setting, including all homebrew settings.

While the D&D Multiverse was featured in the 2014 core rule books, according to the press preview, it's even more center stage in the coming 2024 rule books because the D&D team was working on them simultaneously and are leaning into D&D as a multiverse. That's why I'm surprised they didn't do Planescape sooner since the D&D team has been talking about how important the D&D multiverse is since they announced Fifth Edition. While I understand the reasoning for why Curse of Strahd and the new riff on Elemental Evil came early in the 5E adventure release schedule, I would have expected Planescape to be next to act as that bridge between the various settings. That said, I can't complain too much. Project leads Schneider and Justice Ramin Arman did a very good job updating Planescape for 5E. It's not perfect, but it was worth the wait.

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The Lady and Her Domain​

Sigil (pronounced with a hard G, according to Schneider) the City of Doors is the ultimate in cosmopolitan cities with denizens and visitors that include gods, fiends, planar creatures, and more. It's the city at the center of great wheel of D&D cosmology. Sigil is also called “the great cage” because the only way out is through its planar gates. No sun, moon or stars rise above Sigil, giving it an alien feel. Over it all floats the Lady of Pain.

The enigmatic Lady of Pain has complete and utter control over all aspects of Sigil, even able to bar or punish gods who offend her, yet she herself has no worshipers and those who try to worship her regret it quickly. The Lady of Pain doesn't get a stat block or even much information because the mystery keeps it interesting. Define her with stats, and she can be killed, whereas the ominous, silent figure floating through Sigil allows for countless possibilities. Schneider's role-playing tip for the Lady of Pain is to be silently menacing. Generally though, she should just be a figure seen rarely or in the distance.

While Sigil is shaped like a disc or torus, around it are 16 evenly spaced portals to the outer planes and each portal is within a gate town. The energies of the planes on the other side of the portal influences the appearance and geography of each of these gate towns from lovely, idyllic Excelsior, reflecting its connection to Mount Celestia, to Torch, the apocalyptic, bloody marsh with volcanic spires belching fire connected to Gehenna. That leads to interesting combinations such as a unicorn from the area around Torch looking more monstrous than beautiful.

During the press preview co-lead designers Schneider and Arman talked about how the original Planescape was ahead of its time in terms of talking about multiverses (though not the first multiverse, contrary to some fan claims) and alternate realities whereas today not only does the Marvel Cinematic Universe heavily feature its multiverse (and season two of Loki is airing now with multiverse shenanigans), but Everything Everywhere All At Once swept the Oscars.

While emphasizing the multiverse, the 5E version of the Planescape setting has a slightly different focus than the original. The AD&D Planescape heavily featured the cosmology of the alignments, as expressed through factions and planes with dedicated alignments and the conflicts between them. Alignment still exists in 5E, of course, but conflict generally comes from philosophies and beliefs, not just alignments (or, perhaps it's more accurate to say that the focus is more on the philosophies and beliefs behind alignments than just the alignment label). So P:AitM focuses more on Sigil and the Outlands than D&D's “Great Wheel” or direct alignment conflicts, while also featuring the various factions rising and descending.

While combat certainly can happen within a Planescape adventure, it doesn't focus on combat like, say, Dragonlance, D&D's war setting, does. Sigil and The Outlands states, “Planescape adventures often pit philosophies against one another and highlight subjective views.” So ethical dilemmas and competing factions, which, in some cases, could have players sympathizing with both, are common.

And when answering the question, “What Is Planescape” the book notes that “What you do defines you, not what others assume about you” and talks about “multiversal scale” of “power and possibility” and “yet the smallest things make a difference” so even lowly adventurers can impact a realm where gods, celestials, and other great powers reside.

Yet it also notes that “Infinite possibility doesn’t mean infinite complexity” and P:AitM works hard to make the gigantic scope and possibility of Planescape manageable for DMs and players. One way it does that is through mimirs.

One of only three planar-specific magic items in P:AitM, mimirs are basically magical talking heads that can provide basic information about the planes, gate towns, and more. So instead of having to read a ton of background material before playing for forcing a DM to do an entire session of exposition, players can easily end up with a mimir that will answer questions. If a piece of information needed is more than basic, a mimir can cast the Legend Lore spell once a day to glean more. This along with other touches and pieces of DM advice strive hard to make a setting as expansive as Planescape more manageable.

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Sigil and the Outlands​

The book Sigil and The Outlands has 3 sections: one for player options, one for Sigil The City of Doors, and lastly, a section on The Outlands. The SatO focuses on its title locations rather than the width and breadth of the planes. It doesn't have a lot about the Great Wheel cosmology other than some plot hooks. Clearly for this set, planar material from the Dungeon Masters Guide is expected to fill in the gaps, but that leaves room for future Planescape supplements to explore.

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Player Options​

First, Schneider and Arman noted that technically any D&D player option is available for a Planescape adventure because Planescape is everything and touches everywhere. That said, they also advised players to check with their DMs first

P:AitM doesn't have any new species or subclasses. The latter doesn't surprise me because few 5E settings do. S:AiS seemed more likely to have new subclasses and didn't so I can't hold it against P:AitM for not having any. I am a bit disappointed that P:AitM doesn't have any new playable races since Planescape introduced tieflings and githzerai as playable races so I was hoping for something new.

Player options include:
  • 2 new backgrounds
  • 7 new feats
  • 3 new magic items
  • 2 new spells
  • 12 factions
Mimer is one of the new magic items. Portal Compass shows you the direction of the last portal you used. A Sensory Stone records one sensation to be replayed later. That's useful for the Society of Sensations. The two new spells are Sense portals, which is fairly obvious, and Gate Seal, which blocks planar travel spells.

The two new backgrounds for Planescape-specific characters—Gate Warden and Planar Philosopher —both grant a feat. If you take a background that doesn't provide a feat, you can select one.

As far as Planescape feats go, it's basically set up for everyone to take Scion of the Outer planes. You get that feat for free if you select a Planescape background. You then choose the plane your character would feel an alignment for and, according to the chart, receive a matching damage resistance and cantrip to cast. The other six feats each grant a +1 to an ability score and other benefits, such as adding necrotic damage to some attacks, learning Misty Step and Tongues as well as the ability to cast them without a spell slot, etc. I'm a weirdo who isn't terribly fond of feats (blame it on bad experiences with feat trees that hinder unexpected character growth), but these are respectable.

Experienced Planescape players will recognize some of the faction names while others are new. Factions are constantly gaining and losing influence in Sigil so they might be somewhat changed since their last appearance. They're basically just mentioned in the Player Options chapter with more info in the Sigil chapter, but don't expect a lot even there. You get enough for a foundation the DM can then flesh out. DMs can also make their own factions.

I really think they want or are already planning some sort of Planescape follow-up. Whether that's a full-blown BIG Planescape adventure or something akin to Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft (Morte's Guide to Planescape's Outlands?), only time will tell, but I suspect when the next Planescape product drops, it'll have more character options.

I actually don't mind that since P:AitM was developed and created roughly simultaneously with the 2024 10th anniversary editions of Fifth Edition. While I've said all along that the 2024 books are not a 6E (and both Chris Perkins and Jeremy Crawford have said the same), and will actually be more of a 5.1 or 5.25 than even a 5.5, it makes sense to be a bit cautious about player options until after the 2024 books arrive. I can wait.

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The Setting​

Unlike the Rock of Bral in S:AiS, which only received five pages, P:AitM gives about 46 pages to the City of Doors. It can still be expanded in the future, but it feels like a decent amount of information to start. Portals, which can take characters from one location in Sigil to another or to another plane, are explained as well as how create portals.

Factions get a bit more attention here, though that's only three pages. Still, a lot of key information is packed into each column, such as the faction's leader, symbol, philosophy, etc.

Similarly, each gate town only gets a small amount of information—a page and a half of text with a half page piece of art to set the tone. Again, this can easily be expanded in the future but it's a good starting point.

And to be fair, the original AD&D Planescape boxed set probably had less information that you might remember. It contained four books with a total page count of 224 pages. The three books in this slipcase edition have a total page count of 256 pages,

Now page count totals aren't an apples-to-apples comparison. Art can fill pages and set a tone without adding to the written content. I think it's more a case of memory being a touch fuzzy because the original Planescape had a lot of material, including several boxed sets, a dozen adventures, about 14 supplements, and even a card game and video game. When looking back, it's easy to assume more of that information was in the original set than actually was.

That said, this version of Planescape is practically begging for an expanded treatment, not because P:AitM is bad (far from it) but because there is so much you can do with Planescape that no single book or box set will fully encompass it.

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Turn of Fortune's Wheel​

The adventure book starts with a situation that will be familiar to anyone who played Planescape: Torment—the players wake up in a mortuary. Hey, there's nothing wrong with reusing a really good hook.

Once the PCs awake, they'll meet Morte, the curmudgeonly, wise-cracking, floating, undead skull. Morte's waiting to meet someone, but he suggests they leave before the Heralds of Dust find them, which starts the players moving. Along the way they'll end up in Undersigil, meet a spy, and travel to Fortune's Wheel, a casino owned by the information broker and arcanaloth Shemeshka.

Increasing the P:AitM adventure page count to 96, compared to the 64 pages Light of Xaryxis got in S:AiS makes a world of difference. It's an increase of almost a third and the extra space allows the adventure more room, plus I think Turn of Fortune's Wheel was just constructed better than Light of Xaryxis was. LoX felt like it literally ran out of pages.

ToFW also has an interesting premise. The characters wake up in the mortuary because a cosmic magical mishap has occurred. Players begin at 3rd level because they've had prior lives, died by suspicious means, and then “were reborn untethered from their true pasts.” The characters have faulty memories and are “a singularity of existential uncertainty.” This creates a few effects but the most pertinent one for the adventure is that when one of the characters dies, a variant of them takes their place.

The variant might be the same class but a different species or same appearance but different class or subclass. Or maybe the change is more subtle.

A session zero is recommended for ToFW so the DM can instruct the players to make at least three versions of their characters. Or the DM could hint at this aspect of the adventure and let them make the replacement character later.

It makes for an adventure where death doesn't matter, but ToFW tries to ensure there are still stakes for the players and characters, while encouraging the characters to put themselves in dangerous situations. It also serves as a good overview of Sigil and the Outerlands so it does its job.

The three-part adventure that takes characters from level 3 to level 10 and then catapults them to level 17 to reflect when their variant selves reintegrate. At that time players get to choose which version of themselves they want to continue as in the adventure. It's also nice to see some higher-level play in 5E. Planescape, while working fine for low-level characters, can really thrive at high levels.

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Morte's Planar Parade​

This bestiary is the smallest book of the trio—64 pages. I don't think a DM can ever have too many monsters/creatures/NPCs, but MPP didn't feel skimpy to me. Sure there's room for expansion in the future, but it has more than 50 monsters and many of them are fun. It also has sample stat blocks for faction agents.

For example, cranial rats. These intriguing creatures get smarter as their numbers increase. That provides a lot of interesting prospects for DMs. And yes, we get an image of a cranial rat swarm in a sort of trench-coat.

The guardinals will probably inspire some players to petition their DMs for permission to play one. The musteval guardinal will especially appeal to fans of The Tale of Despereaux.

DMs are given guidance on how to create new creature variants using planar influences. Monster traits don't affect CR but still provide much variety. The most intriguing creature is probably the time dragon. These draconic creatures can manipulate time, and ancient time dragons can open portals to specific times.

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Summing It Up​

The D&D team definitely learned from the mistakes of S:AiS and course corrected. No, P:AitM doesn't contain everything but that's typical for a setting as sprawling as a multiverse. The length works. It's much better than S:AiS but still a bit compact, serving more as an introduction to Planescape than a deep dive, but as I noted above, the original box set took a similar approach and built on it. P:AitM leaves room for more, either in a future release or for DMs to fill out.

Compared to S:AiS, Arman and Schneider provided a solid framework that DMs can expand until we get more official products. I'm confident we will. Schneider and Arman are too passionate and from a business standpoint, it makes sense as a connection point between universes.

The art is fantastic. Neither Arman nor Schneider bragged about the art budget for Planescape like Chris Perkins did for Spelljammer, but it looks just as fresh and expansive. Art director Emi Tanji put together a terrific team whose styles varied while still feeling cohesive for the setting. And seeing Tony DiTerlizzi create Planescape art again is a joy. Using it for the alt cover editions makes perfect sense.

Yes, the set could have had more player options, but for the reason cited above, I'm not holding that against P:AitM. I'm sure we'll get more in the future.

P:AitM has a ton of adventure hooks, which I love. That said, some feel a bit more like encounter hooks, but string a few of those together, and it can still work.

I'd like to see a supplement book where each gate town gets its own chapter, among other things. I also want a BIG multiverse spanning Planescape adventure that doesn't just involve some of the Outlands but would also have players travel from Barovia to the Feywild, then Oerth, Toril, Eberron, and Krynn.

Planescape can be daunting because it's the “everything” setting, but Schneider and Arman did a good job of making it manageable for a DM without stifling its creative scope.

Because Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse did several smart things and laid solid groundwork for more to come. It sets out with clear goals and achieves them, and while it can never exhaustively catalogue the multiverse, it doesn’t feel skimpy. I'm giving this set an A.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels



Von Ether

Legend
I think it's more a case of memory being a touch fuzzy because the original Planescape had a lot of material, including several boxed sets, a dozen adventures, about 14 supplements, and even a card game and video game. When looking back, it's easy to assume more of that information was in the original set than actually was.

As I've watched a couple of 20-year old gaming IPs get relaunches, it's very much a thing for fuzzy nostalgia to make gamers insist the old starter box has X number of things in it. Then they take original boxed set out of the storage shed to learn those old sets were not as stuffed as they though they were.

I also think lots of gamers want 20 pounds of supplements squeezed into a 3 pound intro box so they walk down memory lane fully encumbered.

And just a heads up on a typo: "Factions are constantly gaining and lowing/losing influence in Sigil so they might be somewhat changed since their last appearance."
 


Since folks keep comparing it to OG Planescape box set, how much did OG planescape cost?

Although truth be told we should actually be comparing it to more current 3rd party products like Southland Setting Books.
 



Parmandur

Book-Friend, he/him
Since folks keep comparing it to OG Planescape box set, how much did OG planescape cost?

Although truth be told we should actually be comparing it to more current 3rd party products like Southland Setting Books.
Adjusted for inflation, the original box set cost ~$52 USD. Currently $59 USD on Amazon, and considering that the original box set notoriously was accidentally sold below TSR cost, seems fair enough.
 


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