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Manual of the Planes (1987)

The Manual of the Planes (1987), by Jeff Grubb, is my favorite of the orange spine AD&D books, despite it reading a tiny bit like stereo instructions. Within is the foundation of D&D’s great wheel of the planes, one the game’s singular creations and the foundation upon which Planescape would eventually be built.

To be honest, I am not sure this book could have been written in a less technical way. Folks did, eventually, but when they did, they had the benefits of more space and not being first. As the initial attempt to construct a conceivable multiverse that contains all known worlds, energies and religions – a daunting task – I think Grubb acquitted himself very well. His background as a civil engineer probably helped.

It isn’t entirely an original work. Portions of the planes had been described in modules like Q1. Some material had previously shown up in Dragon Magazine – the great wheel was introduced in Dragon 8, Ed Greenwood tackled Hell in 75 and 76, while Roger Moore took on the Astral Plane in 82. Grubb had to reconcile all this material, while also establishing the planes as interesting places to visit, the feasible home of many monsters and the wellspring the delivers magic to the prime material. Again: no small feat.

In a way, I think the book’s inscrutability added to its mystique. After all, real world occult tomes explaining the secrets of existence aren’t exactly easy to read either.

The art plays a big role, too. Jeff Easley’s cover is a classic, made more so by the fact that book never gives details on what that terrifying monster is (we’d have to wait until Planescape’s Monstrous Compendium II in 1995 for that info). Inside is a bit more Easley, but the star of the show is Mr. Atmosphere, Stephen Fabian. You should know at this point how much I love his art, so I will spare you another rhapsody.

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