Brad J. Murray (halfjack) wrote in roleplayers,
Brad J. Murray

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Review: Manual of the Planes

Manual of the Planes

I was actually forced to buy the Manual of the Planes. Well not forced in the traditional sense---no one held red hot irons to my feet or anything---but I have been developing a game world with strong extra-planar influences and I really needed a good source book to help out. I was not disappointed.

Now, talking about the planes is a tall order. Basically you need to talk about 20 or more different universes and their inhabitants. Well, when we consider that there are already a half a dozen books around that cover only one universe, we can see that this is never going to be adequate detail. Obviously we need separate books for each plane! Given that this is not very realistic, the Manual of the Planes is a superb compromise.

As with all of the WotC offerings so far, the Manual of the Planes starts by defining terms, and then uses those terms consistently throughout. So when a plane is described as having "heavy gravity" or "wild magic", we know exactly what this means including how it affects player mobility, survival, spell casting, and everything else interesting. This is a breath of fresh air from first and second edition texts where terms come and go as needed and introduce only colour and ambiguity. This is not specific to the Manual of the Planes though---this seems to be the hallmark of 3rd Edition in general.

The cosmology presented in MotP is the traditional one of the D&D universe. Prime Material plane, ethereal connecting elemental planes, and astral connecting divine planes. A lot of energy is spent on the practical aspects of travel in astral and ethereal domains, which is a treat as in previous works this was mostly hand waving and not game mechanics.

Also presented are several alternate cosmologies and ideas for constructing more.

In addition to a substantial overview of each plane (a page at least for each, and in most cases more), MotP includes some special planes that are wonderfully close to copyright infringement without quite going over. Even the Lovecraft mythos are covered in a very nice and butt-covering way. Also here are some Neil Gaiman constructs (Plane of Dreams and the Plane of Mirrors) with a gloss of change to keep the copyright lawyers at bay.

All in all this is a nice addition for any referee that is thinking about extra planar activity. Even if all you ever use it for is the new monsters and a grounding cosmology that may never be explored, it's worth your silver. My only gripe is that the Modrons are omitted, but they are covered by WotC in a free download, so that's a pretty minor complaint.

The artwork is very nice in MotP. Better than some (like Oriental Adventures which, while occasionally excellent, is all too often mediocre) at any rate. But I don't actually care a whole lot about the artwork: I'm interested in how it affects my game, and on that scale the Manual of the Planes rates very highly. Recommend, recommend, recommend.

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