Planescape Campaign Setting

David Zeb Cook

Book cover

I’m a fan of the computer game “Planescape: Torment,” which is a Dungeons & Dragons-based game in the Planescape setting. I play D&D with friends and recently got the idea that I’d like to run a Planescape campaign. But we play 5th edition D&D, and there’s not really Planescape stuff published for 5e (yet?)–there is a lot of relevant stuff scattered throughout the published books, but nothing focused. That might be OK, though, as Planescape is much more about the lore and feel of the setting–particularly the city of Sigil–than about mechanics that would change between editions. Thus, I decided to buy the original Planescape box set published for 2nd edition.

I think this was a good decision. There is a lot of good non-edition-specific content here, and a lot of really awesome art by Tony diTerlizzi. I also love that you can get old-edition D&D stuff in PDF format–Wizards doesn’t release 5e stuff in PDF, I think partly to discourage piracy and partly to encourage patronizing local game stores (unless you use their special walled garden online portal, which, no thank you). The box set contains a few different mini-books, which varied in relevance/interest for me. The best one was “Sigil and Beyond,” and actually I’m now planning to read a couple of the other old supplements focused on the city of Sigil.

So what is Planescape and why do I like it so much? The general idea is that the “normal fantasy realm” of existence is on the Prime Material Plane, which is just one of many planes that make up the multiverse. There are also “inner” planes that are elementally-based, and “outer” planes that are alignment-based (good, evil, law, chaos, in various combinations). At the metaphorical center of it all is Sigil, the City of Doors, which has countless portals leading to the different planes. For me, the atmosphere of Sigil is similar to that of the space station Deep Space Nine on the eponymous show–a sort of galactic crossroads of weirdness where a basic peace is kept even between entities that might otherwise be at each other’s throats. Planescape also has a very philosophical bent. In Sigil, power is contested by several Factions, each of which is based on a different philosophical outlook on the meaning and goals of life. And there’s a strong emphasis on the power of belief–sufficiently strong belief can cause a city to shift between planes, or reverse gravity in a place where “up” and “down” aren’t clearly defined. Finally, I love Planescape because it has very little traditional “elves and dwarves” fantasy content (#NoOrcs), which it eschews in favor of weird and original stuff such as the gith, cranium rats, and the dabus.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars