Manual of the Planes
Manual of the Planes Capsule Review by James Neal on 12/09/01
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 1 (I Wasted My Money)
A review from the perspective of a DM wanting to run a Planescape campaign with 3rd edition rules.
Product: Manual of the Planes
Author: Jeff Grubb (and others)
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by James Neal on 12/09/01
Genre tags: Fantasy
I am an avid fan of the discontinued Planescape setting. I also think the D&D 3rd edition game mechanics are for the most part a great improvement over their predecessor. I'm trying to start up a 3rd edition Planescape campaign right now, and I rushed out and bought the new Manual of the Planes hoping that it would provide me with the 3rd edition game mechanics I would need to run a Planescape campaign. Of course the background and setting descriptions would be worthless to me but I could use the old 2nd edition Planescape material for that.
The MotP was quite worthless for the purpose I bought it for, hence my low rating. A DM running a traditional fantasy campaign, who doesn't own any Planescape material, will probably find it a useful supplement. It gives a good overview of the planes of the D&D cosmology and someone who is running a campaign setting of their own will probably enjoy the care and attention given to presenting DMs with options and ideas for alternatives in their own campaigns' conceptions of the planes. But, as I said, this is not the perspective I bought the book from.
As a rules supplement to update Planescape to 3rd edition, the MotP fails. 3rd edition Planescape DMs should save their money and spend it buying more OOP Planescape material on ebay. You're going to have to do the rules conversions yourself; WOTC has no interest in supporting Planescape in even the most marginal way any more.
What would I have wanted the MotP to include? Stats for the planar races, rules for the factions, skills/feats related to the planes, and stats for equipment only found on the planes (eg Baatorian greensteel equipment).
The rules including for playing members of the planar races amount to "look at the entry in the monster manual and use that". Githzerai, tieflings and bauriar are all completely unbalanced. The 3rd edition rules give them powers they did not possess in 2nd edition (why do bauriar suddenly have that much magic resistance?) and then in a failed attempt to balance them further wreck their playability by slapping them with heavy XP penalties. Also, since all we are told is "use the monster manual, and they have this big of an XP penalty", we don't get any of the descriptive detail accompanying the races in the Player's Handbook (not a big deal to me, I guess, since I have that info elsewhere), we don't get attribute modifiers for them, and all of their racial abilities are unsubtle and combat oriented; ie you dont see things like cultural based modifiers to skills because that sort of thing does not (and does not need to) show up in a Monster Manual entry.
No rules for the factions are given. Now, I know everyone is going to tell me I should not be suprised at this. But - the existence of Sigil and the factions is acknowledged (in the Outlands section - the entry is actually not bad, and pretty much what I would have done if I had to sum up Sigil in a section of only that size). The two pages that were COMPLETELY WASTED on detailed stats for Tiamat and Bahamut could have been used to give a very brief summary of each faction and updated 3rd edition rules for their benefits (something laid out like the the short summaries in the Planewalker's Handbook). While I am on the subject of the factions I should mention the book shows a certain schizophrenia on their acknowledgement. The Sigil entry in the Outlands mentions them and their place in Sigil, so they are mentioned in the book - but everywhere a specific faction is mentioned (for instance, in description of locations on the Outer Planes that are their fortresses/refuges away from Sigil) the group is stated as being a group of humans from the Prime Material.
There are no writeups for feats or skills. To my considerable annoyance, chaos shaping in Limbo is not a skill, it is based off of your attribute only, and the Anarchs are no longer a guild of craftsman but rather individual people who are arbitrarily blessed with vast ability to shape the soup.
What would Dak'kon think? *sigh*
There are no stats for planar equipment but there are some new spells, a few of which are good and cool. There are four prestige classes included, and to give WOTC props, they're better than the kits that were in the Planewalker's Handbook. There's a few nits that could be picked with them but mostly they are nifty. But that doesn't change the fact that the book did not provide me with what I really wanted.
For those of you who care about the planar writeups (I didn't, I was expecting to use old PS material for reference on the planes themselves), they are astoundingly dull and lifeless compared to the Planescape material.
To sum up: the MotP does not contain 3rd edition rules for running your Planescape campaign. The rules for the planar races are exceedingly broken and the rules for the factions are not there at all. Planescape DMs will have to do their own 3rd edition conversions.