Planescape (1994)

Ahhhh, Planescape. Released in 1994, the Planescape box set was a culmination of aesthetic-driven, high concept roleplaying, of a scope only rivaled, distantly, by 1989’s Spelljammer setting. In Planescape, designed by Zeb Cook, you explore the multiverse, the numerous planes of existence populated by elemental forces, the gods and the dead. It is a place where ideas and convictions carry as much power as swords and armor. And, perhaps most ambitious of all, it connected all the other campaign settings TSR produced.

The box set covers a lot of ground in a short space. The Player’s Guide rapidly runs down the planes of existence, the Outlands that connect them, the weird city of Sigil, that acts as a kind of crossroads and the 15 factions that live there – ideological groups seek to change existence with their beliefs. The DM’s Guide revamps material from Jeff Grubb’s Manual of the Planes, explaining what they’re like and how they change the game mechanically. Sigil and Beyond gives deeper detail to the Outlands and the city of Sigil, introducing the leaders of the factions and the mysterious Lady of Pain, the nominal ruler of the city and Planescape’s menacing logo. There’s also four detailed maps and a Monstrous Compendium supplement.

It is hard to convey how weird Planescape was. Nothing else looked like it, with its rusty metal and industrial fonts and weird marble squiggly things. The philosophy was thick. There were goths. The books were written in a canting slang that made fun of characters from other TSR campaign settings as clueless. And the art. Tony DiTerlizzi changed RPGs. No exaggeration. Here’s this guy leveraging influences from dozens of artists and illustrators, with loose watercolors washes over ink, managing to be both realistic and emotively cartoonish at the same time. And so many gargoyle faces, Jim Henson would’ve been jealous.

Argh, running out of space. I could write a book about Planescape. No joke.

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