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Valkyrie Magazine and RPGnet are happy to provide this review.


Planescape
AD&D® Boxed Campaign Set
TSR Inc.
[sterling]21.99 - Boxed Set

<Body Text>Behind the drab, washed out purple mess of the box lurks a startlingly designed and truly innovative new AD&D campaign world. The old Manual of the Planes was designed to allow existing AD&D campaigns to travel the many planes; Planescape is, rather, a new campaign setting. For the hefty price you get a 32 page Player's Guide, a 64 page DM's Guide to the mechanics of the many planes, a 96 page guide to the city of Sigil slap bang in the middle of it all, plus new monsters and poster maps. A hefty package, featuring some occasionally stunning art from Tony DeTerlizzi and fine, fine design work. Al-Qadim looked great. This, if anything, is even better.

You can bring your existing characters into Planescape as "Primes," "Planars," however, are player characters native to planes other than the Prime Material. Planars have the usual options for race and class, plus new ones; here's your chance to be a Beastlands centaur-like creature or even one of the Githzerai. The player's book, having briefed you on these options and given a good potted tour of the of the basics, then invites you to have your character join one of the many competing and plotting factions, groups of creatures united by common philosophies and goals. There are oodles of these, and they all seem pivotal in TSR's adventures-to-come, so sign up now. They're excellently designed, and they vary from the Chaos-Idiots (Xaositects) to people who think we're all dead but most of us haven't realised it yet (my favourite), the Fraternity of the Order, the Transcendent Order (the best choice, because they have the fewest enemies), and plenty more.

The factions give this campaign world a distinctive character and a strong, well-characterised structure. They make the alignment system superior by really bringing home the common goals, beliefs and principles of AD&D characters and creatures.

Unfortunately, having designed your character and opted for your faction you are then required to speak a bastardised version of antiquated English underworld-speak, for some arbitrary reason. Berks, cutters, bashers, barmies and the like litter the pages of the books. There is a glossary for this drivel, but you'll spend most of your time trying to figure out what the text actually means behind this screen of verbiage. It's dumb, affected, tedious, time-consuming and just plain silly. Why on earth the designers decided to have the many creatures of the multiverse all speak like pre-Victorian low life is beyond me. This is the one major blunder of the Planescape design. Note that even Rick Swan, Dragon magazines generous (and very good) reviewer, balked at this nonsense.

Campaigns are likely to be centred around the city of Sigil, ruled - or rather stabilised - by the enigmatic Lady of Pain (the magnificent Aztec-like mask icon on the box and book covers). Sigil has portals to almost everywhere else across the planes, and the book devoted to it details many key locations on those planes and how to get to them as well as detailing Sigil itself. This is the nitty-gritty reference book for the DM, and it's excellent. This book allows the DM to run campaigns with the information he needs, and the notes on scene setting and role playing are thankfully both brief and very much to the point. They're an abject lesson to self-indulgent and pretentious writers everywhere. The DM gets more briefing on the factions and what they're usually up to (their key schemes), and enough meat on the Outlands (the planes beyond Sigil). This is a fine, splendidly written book.

The DM Guide to the Planes does what the Manual of Planes did, in providing rules for how magic works on other planes, travel across and between them, hazards of surviving them, and suchlike. This is the context book, if you will, and it also gives general notes on the planes as opposed to specific detail about locations within them (in the Sigil book). This could easily have been a bare-bones book, dry and dull, but it's livened by the design, art and side chatter from a variety of jaundiced sources (this is a common feature in the books, not unlike Shadowrun in someone else's game).

To top this all off , the extra are a curate's egg. The monsters are fine, but you'll need the Monstrous Compendium for most of the devils and demons (whoops, er, you know what I mean). The four panel DM Screen is so-so, with summary tables on how spells from various schools (and magical item function) are altered on the various planes mixed in with bog-standard AD&D tables on THAC0s and turning undead - in general, stuff that has nothing to do with Planescape specifically. The maps are, however, poor. They look like the drawings of a 10 year old and the colouring could be described as coming from the art school of Vivid Unpleasantness. The city map is very weak, most of it being taken up by crudely drawn hovels and huts, and it's a mess. It is very surprising, given the fine design and art elsewhere, that the maps were allowed to let this product down rather badly.

Overall: Excellent, with a couple of severe flaws (the dumb language and the maps). If you actually enjoy the archaic and silly language here, you should love Planescape. If you find it as tedious as I do it means you'll need longer to get in to it. The books of this box have a depth and richness of character, and they work; they give the DM what is needed to run a campaign here. There are imaginative and appealing ideas littered everywhere; if an AD&D Prime Material campaign has run out of steam, Planescape is a joyful new infusion of imagination and wonder. It is also great to look at, once you've burned the maps. It's a shame that the photo-repro didn't render the box cover properly (the original artwork is great, many of its subtleties are wholly lost in the box version). There are sigils and glyphs so subtle in the background you have to look twice to notice them. Twenty two pounds is a lot to pay, but this one is definitely worth it. This is TSR's best selling product this year, and deservedly so.

Review by Carl Sargent

Product supplied by: Carl

Planescape Supplement
AD&D Monstrous Compendium
TSR Inc.
[sterling]10.99 - 128pp

Ouch! Eleven quid is a lot to pay for a 128 page softback book of monsters, isn't it? At least the wretched ring-folder page format has been abandoned in favour of perfect bound, so the thing will have a decent lifetime. The price looks even more excessive in view of the fact that the monsters here are almost all just retreads of previously detailed creatures from the ranks of baatezu (d*vils) and tanar'ri (d*mons) predominating. Lots of old favourites from 1st edition Monster Manual II are here too - Grues, the Shadow Fiend, Mephits, and the like. Good news, too, to have Imps and Quasits back as familiars for those of us with priests and wizards of dubious alignments. The rewriting is pretty minimal and, frankly, if you have 1st edition material or the old Outer Planes MC appendix you may well like to think twice before buying this. The text that tries to give the featured creatures more of an eccentric flavour of the Planescape setting is a bit hit and miss, with some of the colour text and anecdotes being rather lame (whoever wrote the story about the Marut was taken with the theme of the Masque of the Red Death, but couldn't render anything of the horror of the original tale, for example), and the writing isn't anything to justify the price tag.

Having thought twice, buy it. Buy it for Tony DeTerlizzi's art, which is simply stunning. His Molydeus (guardian) Tanar'ri and Shadow Fiend are truly frightening to look upon, and his Cat-
lord shows how to rend a captivating, attractive female portrait with no hint of cheesecake (you want cheesecake, but still tasteful, head for the Alu-fiend or the Succubus). Character, flashes of dark humour and occasional real beauty illuminate this exceptional art. It's full colour throughout, and there's an illo on virtually every page. Even allowing for the subjectivity of personal taste, I doubt there has ever been a better illustrated RPG product than this. The standard even puts his work on the Planescape box in the shade. All the artwork in this product is DeTerlizzi's, which is just as well, for any other artist - no matter how good - would surely have suffered by comparison.

Overall: For Planescape DMs, this is an essential purchase if you do not have the old MC8 Outer Planes appendix nor the 1st edition Monster Manuals. Since Fiends make great enemies, this is probably true for any DM who wants to use them in AD&D without actually going plane hopping. But this package is worth considering by anyone who can afford the price of some of the very best art the RPG field has to offer. Even FASA, who have the highest average quality of art in the industry, must be jealous of this one.

Review by Carl Sargent

Product supplied by TSR Inc.

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