Sneak Peak of Planescape: A Preview

Fans of Planescape, eager for a 5E version, as well as the Planescape curious, don't have much longer to wait.

Fans of Planescape, eager for a 5E version, as well as the Planescape curious, don't have much longer to wait. The Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse slipcases (one regular for general sale and one with alternate covers for game and hobby stores only) will be in stores on Tuesday, October 17. Still too impatient? Here's your sneak peak of both sets.

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The Adventure Begins​

Much like last year's Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, P:AitM is a slipcased, three-book set that also comes with a double-sided poster map, and a custom DM screen for the setting. However, P:AitM gets a page count boost compared to S:AiS, which is much appreciated because three 64-page S:AiS softcover books were insufficient to properly present the Wildspace adventure setting.

P:AitM instead has two 96-page books (the setting book, Sigil and the Outlands, and the introductory adventure, Turn of Fortune's Wheel). The bestiary, Morte's Planar Parade, is 64 pages, but that leads to a total of 256 pages compared to S:AiS's measly total page count of 192, divided evenly among the three books. I'm glad Wizards listened to that feedback.
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What’s Planescape?​

For those unfamiliar with the setting, during a press preview co-lead designer Wes Schneider said of Planescape, “It's only everything!” After a chuckle, Schneider continued, “Planescape is Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition’s return to the Planescape campaign setting. Planescape originally came out in 1994 for Dungeons & Dragon's Second Edition, and it was built to be everything. At that point, D&D had so many worlds—Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Spelljammer, so on and so forth—and there was all this cross pollination.”

“Planescape,” Schneider continued, “was part of a push to be like, we know about the outer planes, we know about the Great Wheel, we know about angels, demons, devils, so on and so forth, we have all this lore. Let's have adventures there. Let's see that. Let's explore all of that. So Planescape is the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse. It isn't just outer space. It's the planes. It's the elemental planes. It's the outlands, the homes of gods, it's where spirits go when they die. It's all of that—and now your players can adventure there, specifically at the heart of the outer planes, the outlands, the planes that are at the hub of all of the other outter planes and at the center of that, Sigil, the City of Doors, this incredible metropolis with gates all over the planes.”

Greg Tito, senior communications manager for Dungeons & Dragons, added that Planescape is the connective tissue in the D&D Multiverse.

As for how they're adapting Planescape for 5E, co-lead designer Justice Arman said, “I think a lot of what we've done in this edition is to say, 'Yes and...' to a lot of what came before. You know people adventure a little bit differently than they did in the early '90s and there are a lot of opportunities to treat the original material reverence and bring people things that they expect to see, like the Lady of Pain or some of the factions, but also some opportunities to add to what was there, such as with the gate towns, and offer something new, something great to explore because as Wes said, literally everything is on the table, which can be a little daunting when deciding, you know, with three books, what will we put in here? I think what we assembled here is a pretty magical package.”

“In the '90s, Planescape was very much ahead of its time,” said Schneider. “There were certainly a few movies out there where people were jumping between worlds, Sliders was out in the late '80s/early '90s, you know, that sort of concept, so the idea [of a multiverse] was very much out there in the zeitgeist.”

“But now, 30 years later,” Schneider continued, “movies like Everything Everywhere All At Once is winning Oscars, there's a whole multiverse saga for Marvel that's like this major media push. The concept of a multiverse and not just a universe but a multiverse like jumping between planes and realities and times, and everything being possible. As a culture, our imaginations have expanded into these places. So this makes it a fantastic time to bring back Planescape for a new audience.”

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The Lady Returns​

The Lady of Pain, legendary Planescape NPC and the absolute ruler of Sigil graces both covers of Sigil and the Outlands, with Tyler Jacobson providing the art for the standard cover. Iconic Planescape artist Tony DiTerlizzi returns to do the alternate cover art, and it's glorious.

“You can't have Sigil without the Lady of Pain,” said Arman, “this iconic enigmatic ruler of the city of Sigil, the city of doors, the place at the center everything in the multiverse. She is very mysterious. She is very, very powerful. As people who are already a little familiar with the setting will remember, there are no gods in Sigil. They are not allowed, and, in fact, the Lady of Pain has the power to bar them from the city. She can, at a whim, activate or turn off basically every portal in the city to much mayhem. And she can also do terrifying things like banish you to the mazes with a simple gaze, sending you to these inescapable, terrifying demi planes of her own making.”

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A Step Beyond​

“Planescape is asking you to step beyond,” said Schneider. “[In D&D] there's a planet and there's a country, and in that country there's a dungeon with heroes like so much of Dungeons & Dragons relies on just these basic, familiar elements. Planescape, like I said, is the multiverse. It's all these infinite planes. All of these planes have decades of Dungeons & Dragons history behind them. Like Sigil is this magical floating city at the center of all. Like Greg said, it's on the interior of a doughnut. We often refer to it as a ring or a torus, but a doughnut is no less accurate.”

The potential problem with a campaign setting that is “everything” is that you can end up doing giant information dumps for your players, and no matter how captivating the story, that can get in the players' way. “That's not fun,” said Schneider. Luckily, Arman and Schneider have Morte and the Mimirs to help within Planescape.

“Something that has always been in the Planescape setting,“ said Schneider, “are these magical devices called 'mimirs,’ floating skulls that are not sapient. They're magical devices that follow you around, and they're recordings of explorers and travelers and scholars' research and of experiences upon the plane so as you're adventuring and you find yourself stepping through a portal to the prison realm of Carceri, you can turn to your mimir and be like, tell me about Carceri or where are we now, and your mimir will queue up the facts about what Carceri is and tell you, 'you don't want to be here. You want to get out of here as soon as possible'. Here's some data that we have on that.”

The sample art of the mimirs, by Couple of Kooks, also showcases Morte in the upper left corner. He is not a mimir, but rather a wisecracking skull and your guide for the bestiary Morte's Planar Parade.

The mimirs are also the device by which comments are left throughout the entire Planescape boxed set by planar explorers, residents of the planes, gods, fiends, celestials, and even clueless people from the material plane, just as Tasha's Cauldron of Everything had her commentary notes and so forth.

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The Factions​

Another piece of preview art was Lady's Ward by Robson Michel, depicting one of Sigil's six wards, specifically one of the city courts of Sigil. It's also the home of one of its factions.

“The Fraternity of Order,” said Arman, “this group of basically people who love law and are obsessed with the laws of the multiverse and who believe that law holds some fundamental truth about the way that things operate [and] by solving these, by learning, uncovering these loopholes, you can essentially master the multiverse and all sorts of fun, powerful things like that.”

And Arman pointed out that since the city is ring shaped, you can see the city “winding up in the background and crawling on top of itself” in much of the art. He also added that, “you can imagine that a courthouse at the center of the multiverse would be home for some very interesting trials.”

And if you want something fresh beyond the typical factions of the Harpers, Emerald Enclave, etc., Sigil has you covered with Planescape-specific factions, some old and new. For example, the Mercy Killers are a faction associated with hunting down and imprisoning law breakers, and they run their faction out of the prison. The factions basically embody a particular philosophy or way of looking at the multiverse. The factions, especially the ascended factions, control some aspect of the city's functions.

Factions are always changing with some rising and others falling. So some factions that longtime Planescape players may recognize are still around, but may have less power than they used to while some new ones have arisen as philosophies and attitudes have changed. Much of how Planescape operates is on how belief shapes reality, and factions are at the heart of that. Yes, players can be members of these factions.

One of the new factions is The Hands of Havoc, which believes in tearing down the old and building back something new. They've risen to a place of prominence. Other factions might have merged or receded, but that doesn't mean it isn't around and active. So even old, obscure factions from past iterations of Planescape absolutely have a place in the new edition.

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Gate Towns​

Gate towns provide a connection to D&D cosmology. Sixteen gate towns are spaced equidistant from the spire. Each is built around a gate to the outer planes, as shown on one side of the poster map.

Building a town on a permanent portal to a plane builds a bridge between the two and suffuses the town with that plane's energy. That can lead to a lot of unusual effects.

All of the gate towns have their own regional influences. For example, in Automata, the town that borders Mechanus, home of the Modrons, there is a metronome effect. Hammer a nail there and everything will synchronize to the beat with a haunting hum. A walking pace matches the rhythm and so forth. Some are fun and others are inhospitable.

Gate towns function as anchor points for the planes. Most have a ruler and many have districts or notable sites, as well as their own distinct character.

The gate town Torch is named after its three volcanic spires, belching fire and smoke arising from a blooded marsh. It connects to Gehanna, and like it, there's no place of comfort or rest in Torch between terrible floods and falling rocks, some of which are burning.

Even getting to the gates can be a challenge. The gate to Gehanna in Torch floats above the volcanic spires like a gem in space.

Excelsior is a gate town quite different from Torch. Connected to Mount Celestia, where good and lawful gods reside. Excelsior is wonderful because it's at the foot of heaven, but that makes everything else look terribly by comparison so residents of Excelsior are loathe to leave—but can still be a bit nosy about what is going on nearby. If you climb the tall tower known as the god strand you can ascend to Mount Celestia because the tower's apex is on another plane.

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This Sounds Familiar…​

If this starts to sounds a bit like Journeys through the Radiant Citadel you aren't imagining it even though Planescape is its own unique setting. It is, however, very easy to connect the two. Schneider, who was co-lead designer on JTtRC, said that at one point they were working back-to-back on Radiant Citadel and Planescape, which he called a fantastic experience. But the two settings are also different. With Sigil and Planescape “everything is on the table” Schneider again emphasized. “It literally goes everywhere in the multiverse.”

But while that has amazing adventure potential, it can also be rather daunting. Radiant Citadel, by contrast, is a hub setting that lets you curate your experience. The titular citadel only connects to about a dozen worlds on the prime material plane, giving DMs a lot of flexibility without the potential overwhelm of Planescape. Radiant Citadel also allows player to build community between the locations the citadel connects whereas in Planescape, do something in a gate town or Sigil itself and you might have unintended consequences form another gate town or faction.

And, of course, Planescape has its own portals to the Radiant Citadel because everything in D&D is connected to Sigil. That includes every homebrew campaign by every DM who has ever run a D&D campaign.

“That's one of the fascinating things about this is that there's always been sort of the idea that every game, every table, every story, every adventure, every personal DM campaign setting is all part of the multiverse,” said Schneider. “That's part of what makes the D&D multiverse so wondrous is that if you want to hop from the campaign setting you've been creating and playing in for decades to your buddy's setting to a published campaign setting to something else entirely, it's all out there. It all connects.”

And in case you ever wondered or got into an argument about it at your local game store, the Planescape city of Sigil is pronounced with a hard G (“SIGH-ul”). Yes, “sigil” is a homonym, meaning two words that are spelled the same but have two different pronunciations, like record the noun versions record the verb. The city in the center of the multiverse is pronounced with a hard G but a symbol is a sigil with a soft G. The hard G pronunciation is in deference to the original creators of Planescape, plus it was said that way in the game Planescape Torment, even though dictionaries may argue otherwise.

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The Adventure​

The adventure in the slipcase set is Turn of Fortune's Wheel. Instead of just doing a general introduction to the planes, Schneider and Arman decided to embrace the weirdness of Planescape. ToFW is a three-part adventure that takes characters from level 3 to level 10 and then catapults them to level 17 instead of the typical linear progression of D&D adventures.

A multiplanar glitch disrupts death, so when characters, instead of going on to their normal afterlife, they come back after a few beats as a different incarnation of themselves. So if you start as a human fighter, you might come back as a different class or maybe an elf, or even something as simple has a change of facial hair. The adventure provides guidance to DMs and players as to how to handle these transitions so it's fun for everyone. So you can shift between these versions of yourself that might be largely the same with just cosmetic differences or maybe entirely new character sheets. The mystery of why this is happening will be slowly revealed as you discover pieces of yourself as you play your way to 10th level. Once you figure out your true self, you catapult to your true potential and finish the adventure at level 17.

However, this character variation mechanic does not necessarily mean that characters die more often. They didn't want to make an adventure where dying didn't matter, so they provide a lot of guidance on how to use this mechanic effectively and make it feel like this adventure has stakes. You can choose to engage with this mechanic less or more. It's all about levers and dials to customize the adventure to your party's taste. It's completely in the DM and players' hands.

The multiverse is not just about specific physical locations. It's about belief. It's about time. It's about potential. So all of these variations, all the weirdness, all these strange places—it's all on the table, all at once,” said Schneider.

Fans of the video game Planescape Torment might remember that that adventure began with the players waking up in the mortuary in Sigil. ToFW begins the same way with Morte, the wisecracking skull but he's looking for someone else so he doesn't stick around long.

The players end up at the casino Fortune's Wheel, owned by the information broker Shemeshka. The fox-headed Shemeshka is looking for someone in the outlands, cutting a deal with the players to handle it. En route, players will discover a walking castle which provides an easy way to travel without some of the typical headaches. Eventually the players will discover their quarry's broken mimir so they have to retrace the steps they can discern. The adventure also includes mechanics for casino games your characters can play while at Fortune's Wheel.

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The Planar Guide​

The third book in the slipcase is Morte's Planar Parade. It has a host of creatures that can be encountered in the outlands or Sigil.

It also provides methods for a DM to make any creature into a planar creature. For example, the regional effects of the gate towns could gradually warp a creature into something unique. For example, what would a unicorn look like if it grazed near the gate to Limbo?

Equinal are a type of Guardinals, goodly animal folks, making their return in MPP. Sunflies are the bees of the outlands and have planar stingers. On the flip side, Demodand shator are a new, prison keeper fiend from Carceri. Chronepsis the Time Dragon of Fate has hourglasses for every dragon in the multiverse. Their breath weapon ages you.

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The Setting Book​

Sigil and the Outlands is the setting book, and it includes information on the factions, such as Society of Sensation a.k.a. Sensates, which believe in experiencing everything. They're the thrill seekers and the hedonists. The Transcendent Order have martial disciplines and believe acting without thinking is how you transcend the universe.

That’s all for now. Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse will be in stores on October 17. We’ll have an early review soon.

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

But if they all die there is another group of PCs ready to go, because the players presumably want to keep playing.
Then new PCs appear, or existing NPCs transition to PCs, but they are not PCs when they are not being controlled by a player.
This raises an interesting question to which I do not have an answer: for groups that run WotC's adventures, specifically the ones set in the FR, do they generally "reset" the setting at the start of each subsequent campaign, or do they assume the previous campaign happened and incorporate fallout from it into the new campaign?
It's not usually relevant for me. When I start a new campaign it will generally have a new setting, premise, and sub-genre. Doing the same thing twice is boring.

But so far as WotC and the rest of the world are concerned, everything your players did never happened.

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They always were. They just used to be really bad at it. Which turned out a few accidental gems, sure, but who else remembers when TSR went all in on Dragon Dice and not one but TWO terrible CCGs? (Spellfire and Blood War, yes I bought a starter pack of both at the time.) They wanted to make M:tG money but had no idea how.

People give WotC a bit of naughty word for all the surveys they run these days, but it really does make a big positive difference.
I feel seen, having my Dragon Dice on shelves below and my Blood Wars game. I had Spellfire but sold those.

As for the rest, this is the first thing from WotC that I'm interested in for 5E. I didn't start playing 5E until 2018 and now play Level Up instead. I never ran Planescape back in the day, but had them all (I was a collector of nearly all things TSR) because I couldn't grok how to make it work. When my current LU campaign turned into a planescape campaign, it forced me to figure it out and I'm glad I did. I'm having fun with it.

For me, it's about making each of the planes feel different. I want them to remember Limbo and how it functioned differently from Gehenna. If I can do that, I will call it successful.

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