Thursday, July 25, 2013

In Retrospect: Planescape

I was 15 when I discovered the Planescape boxed set at my local B. Dalton. The Lady of Pain watched me from the logo on the cover with her uncaring and threatening visage. The artwork just looked cool--Tony DiTerlizzi's work was phenomenal, still is.

I soon purchased the boxed set, and devoured its contents within a week. But then I was like: "Okay, now what?"

I felt too dumb to run it. I felt like it was meant for people who'd been playing D&D for years or at least had a degree in Philosophy or Religion and Folklore.

Looking back now, I get it: Beliefs, arguments, and force shape your reality. The factions in the Planescape boxed each offer a different viewpoint on reality and how the multiverse works--got it. Back then, at least through the first read, I was "furrowing my brow in a vain effort to understand the situation."(to quote The Simpsons). And I thought I was pretty damn smart for my age.

Besides, I still had my Greyhawk Campaign to run. And they had already crossed into Ravenloft and back again. Why would they want to gallivant around the planes?

Furthermore, Planescape gave off a vibe that it needed to be ran properly, as if all the players had to understand the philosophies behind it.

The adventures weren't supposed to be about hack'n slash. Yeah, I got that. But if that's the case then what do the adventurers do? Debate their way across the multiverse? The campaign quickstarters in the back the booklet "Sigil and Beyond" really weren't that great in conveying how newbies should approach the game. (Oh, you're supposed to prevent somebody from stealing flowers? Yeah, what a yawner...).

Also, did anybody else get the notion your wer supposed to play New Age music for your Planescape sessions? Stuff like Pure Moods, or Gregorian Chant?

Well, something keep pulling at me, because I did eventually have my players cross over into Planescape and have adventures there. The played through adventures like Deva Spark, The Fires of Dis, and few short ones from The Well of Worlds. I grossed them out with "The Field of Nettles" from Hellbound: The Blood War. At times they complained Planescape was too complicated. Other times they enjoyed it. But after awhile they wanted to got back to Greyhawk. But after jaunting around in Greyhawk for an adventure or two, they wanted to go back to Planescape.

The really neat thing about the Planescape is that characters of low and mid-levels could survive. Before that, it was assumed that characters had to be of high level to survive the outer planes. Planescape changed that. The only hassle I experienced running Planescape was trying to keep track of how magic items and spells functioned on each plane.

Otherwise, I had a fun time, once I got passed all of the "ambiance" and just ran it. I only wrote a couple adventures for Planescape, usually short ones--it didn't bother all the background of what each faction thought (that's what kind annoyed me with each published stand-alone adventure--there was usually page or two describing what each faction would think about the adventure. Who cares? Let the player decide how his or her character reacts to an adventure).

TSR was jumping on the White Wolf bandwagon with the factions. I like the idea of factions, to a certain extent. But none of my players had their characters choose a faction--they didn't want to get tied down to an organization--even the Xaosects.

My ratings are based off the Planescape Boxed set, even though I realize I've mentioned other products here, and I'm kind of looking back on Planescape as a whole.

I'll do a couple reviews of the supplements and modules in the near future.

Presentation: 10 out of 10
Creativity: 9 out of 10
Utility: 4 out of 10

(I hardly ever used the Boxed Set, once I'd read through all of the booklets, and none of my players bothered reading the "Player's Guide". They did, however, like the Planeswalkers Handbook when that came out).

Get this if... you want to have cross planar adventure in the multiverse within the "Great Wheel" cosmology with lots of philsophical debates.

Don't this if... you're not interested in planar adventures or don't like campaign settings with lots and lots of "fluff."


  1. I could never quite get my head around dimension-jumping games and can't see myself actually running one. Planescape would be one of those games I buy to read for ideas.

    1. It does have A LOT of ideas, synthesized from mythology and philosophy. Lots of little nuggets here and there.


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