In retrospect, Planescape was a solid 30 years ahead of its time.
In 2023, every big nerd franchise from Spider-Man to Mortal Kombat is built on the concept of a multiverse, and Planescape did that for Dungeons & Dragons in 1994. It was the last great campaign setting from D&D‘s original publisher, which led to the development of the cult-classic PC game Planescape: Torment, and has had a big influence on D&D ever since.
After 25 years, Renton, Wash.-based Wizards of the Coast is finally revisiting Planescape with a 3-book boxed set Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse ($79.99), by Justice Ramin Arman, Dan Dillon, and F. Wesley Schneider, with cover art by Tyler Jacobson and Tony DiTerlizzi.
Adventures in the Multiverse (AitM) includes one of the most imaginative adventures that Wizards has ever published, as well as a manual for taking your players back to Sigil, one of the great cities of D&D lore. At the same time, however, AitM feels like it leaves a lot out, especially if you’re at all familiar with the original books.
Planescape is what happens when people use magic to colonize the afterlife.
Most of D&D‘s campaign settings, like Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance, draw on many of the same inspirations, primarily J.R.R. Tolkien, Conan the Barbarian, and Jack Vance. It’s a high fantasy pastiche.
In the deeper lore of Dungeons & Dragons, there are multiple alternate planes of existence. Many of these are set up along the spokes on a Great Wheel, and at the center of that wheel, there’s a city named Sigil that’s become the crossroads of the multiverse. Sigil, and all the infinite points beyond, serves as the primary setting for Planescape: the city where anything can happen.
I was a big fan of Planescape back in the day, and spent hours poring over the 1994 boxed set. I’ve been excited to see Wizards’ new take on the setting, which is also the first new Planescape material in 25 years, since it was announced back in May.
My first takeaway from reading AitM, though, is that Planescape never really left. It’s had a strong influence on the last 25 years of D&D, ever since Wizards bought the property, and especially on recent material like Monsters of the Multiverse or Larian Studios’ Baldur’s Gate 3. Many of the concepts that Planescape introduced, like tieflings, have gone on to become signature elements of Wizards of the Coast’s D&D.
The big draw, then, of AitM, is that it reintroduces Sigil to a new audience. Sigil has always been one of the greatest cities in D&D, and Wizards has reimagined it here as the melting pot of the universe. In Sigil, philosophical arguments are deadly serious, both demons and angels can simply opt to quit or retire, anything can be found for sale, and the street-food culture has to be seen to be believed.
Just flipping through the first book in the set, Sigil and the Outlands, offers enough ideas to run a hundred games of D&D, from traditional monster-bashing to heist capers to full-contact philosophy. This is the sort of setting where someone might hire a party of adventurers, entirely in good faith, to go steal an idea. If you’re tired of D&D‘s business as usual and want to get really weird with it, Sigil is the setting to do that.
Glitches in the system
AitM is effectively built around its third book, Turn of Fortune’s Wheel. In Turn, a pre-written adventure for level 3 characters, you wake up in a morgue drawer in Sigil with no memories, before getting drawn into a quest to save the multiverse.
Turn takes its initial inspiration from Planescape: Torment, but it’s primarily a D&D-flavored adaptation of Everything Everywhere All at Once.
The core mechanic in Turn involves “glitched” alternate-universe versions of the players’ characters. These extra versions of your character currently coexist due to an unknown bug in the fabric of reality, and that bug’s getting worse. In order to find and fix it, you’ll have to team up with yourself.
It’s a great overall hook, which also embodies the core spirit of Wizards’ take on Planescape: not only can anything happen, but it’s all happening right now.
As an adventure, Turn can be vague on its finer details, particularly in its first two chapters, but there’s more than enough material here to run an entire Planescape campaign, start to finish, with plot twists to spare.
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The primary issue I’ve got with AitM is that, for a book that’s primarily about infinite possibilities, it doesn’t have nearly enough information.
AitM is primarily built around Turn of Fortune’s Wheel. The other two books in the set are there to give you enough details to run Turn, without much else beyond that. You get a great writeup on Sigil, a slightly faster run through the Outlands at the center of the Wheel, and nothing else.
There’s nothing in here about anything else a player or DM might be curious about, and a lot’s been omitted from the original 1994 version of Planescape. To be fair, a lot of this information is in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, one of D&D‘s core manuals, but it’s a relatively brief dossier.
Even so, AitM still ends up throwing a lot of new and returning terminology at you, and none of the books feature a decent index or glossary. I was able to soldier through with my black belt in D&D lore — that’s right, I know what an erinyes is without having to look it up; jealous? — but there’s still a lot in AitM that seems to be written on the assumption that the reader is already familiar with most of the material. I’d imagine it’d make AitM virtually impenetrable for new players.
As an introduction to the setting, then, AitM falls short, and also highlights that it’d be nice if we could get a new Manual of the Planes one of these days. Its writeup on Sigil is a solid update to one of D&D’s great cities, and Turn of Fortune’s Wheel is another solid adventure from Wizards. Adventures in the Multiverse is distinctly missing a few things that would make it great, but it’s a decent read for anyone who’s looking to bring some high weirdness to their tabletop game.
Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse is scheduled for release in both physical and digital editions on Oct. 17.
Editor’s note: Wizards of the Coast provided both an advance physical copy of Planescape and a D&D Beyond download code for the purposes of this article.