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The Vortex of Madness and Other Planar Perils (2000)

The Vortex of Madness and Other Planar Perils (2000) is the last of the Planescape-esque sourcebooks under the generic D&D banner (itself about to be replaced by 3e). It’s a mixed bag.

The foundation, Chris Pramas’ planar locations, intended as a continuation of the Sites series of sourcebooks (City Sites, Country Sites, Castle Sites) is sound. There’s the titular vortex, the black prison of the Titans of Greek myth, the City of Glass in the Elemental Plane of Water, and the demiplane of invention and a Githyanki citadel in the Astral Plane. All of these are well-realized and interesting. But then there is this linked adventure thread involving the artifacts the Machine of Lum the Mad and the Mighty Servant of Leuk-o. Shannon Appelcline, over in the product listing on Drive-Thru, explains that this was a later addition at the behest of the powers that be, converting a generic location book into an adventure. It’s deeply tortured and even before reading Applecline’s explanation, I could see the pretty clear seems between the good stuff and the stuff I want to pitch in the trash — the adventure thread is mostly delineating in sidebar boxes.

The cover telegraphs it. Dana Knutson’s painting is strange, both evoking elements of Planescape while somehow seeming generic and a bit dull (or uninspired). The stair motif was used twice already (Tales of the Infinite Staircase and The Planewalker’s Handbook), both to better effect. This feels like one final attempt to squeeze the last juice from the planar fruit.

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