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Uncaged: Faces of Sigil (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/06/2005 00:00:00
While it's demonstrably not NECESSARY, being after all just a book of detailed NPC descriptions, Uncaged is a great tool for Planescape DMs. The NPCs here include common shopkeepers, lawyers, researchers, street performers, spies and turncoats, and criminal overlords.

LIKED: It's not so much that this is a vital book because you need to know about these characters; rather, the biographies, descriptions, and interlocking relationships give you a better idea of how Sigil works and how to create your own intrigues and conspiracies. If you do use the NPCs as written, their tricks and plots are a terrific source for adventures -- this is one of the first books I turn to when I get stuck for ideas.

DISLIKED: One or two of the NPCs are a bit too typical of their kind (the shator and the modron especially), though it's more than balanced out by some of the seriously out-there entries.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Uncaged: Faces of Sigil (2e)
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The Great Modron March (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/06/2005 00:00:00
The basic idea here is that, once every 300 years, the modrons march an army through all of the other planes for no apparent reason. Most get killed off but a few make it back to Mechanus; no one knows why they do it. This time, though, they're marching off schedule for no apparent reason, and behaving oddly to boot.

This is far from being an exceptional adventure pack -- in fact, it's close to unusable. The adventures involved are all tied together and occur in sequence, but with wide gaps of time between them; nevertheless, each one is consecutive in its level requirements. This is basically your campaign if you run it. The book's no good as a sourcebook; this Modron March is so weird that even what little general info you get isn't applicable unless you use the full background.

If you want a coherent campaign with more creativity and better writing, get Tales from the Infinite Staircase. If you want a combat-centered campaign that shakes the multiverse but actually makes sense, get Hellbound: The Blood War.

LIKED: The second scenario is completely playable and a lot of fun, although it makes the modrons into out-and-out villains. This is a problem, because most of the remaining scenarios are about helping them. It also actually gives (good-aligned) PCs reasons to participate in the story.

DISLIKED: In the rest of the scenarios are often blatantly coercive or just assume the PCs will accept missions with little motivation; there is no troubleshooting advice if they don't, just "if they don't take the job, there's no adventure." The scenarios repeatedly contradict each other about the basic way the March works and the conditions involved. Two scenarios are just nonstop combat; there are NPCs to talk to, but nothing to accomplish by doing so. Another scenario requires the PCs to seek vengeance for the death of an amazingly annoying NPC. The writing is poor and unusually gory, even for Planescape; only Hellbound was more bloody-minded, and it made SENSE there.

What's more, this is a metaplot adventure, which permanently changes the universe -- if you want to keep using later Planescape adventures, you have to either run this or assume that it happened in the background. In addition, this adventure never even tells the DUNGEON MASTER the reason for the premature March; you're expected to buy the next module in the series to find out!

QUALITY: Poor

VALUE: Disappointed


Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
The Great Modron March (2e)
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Tales from the Infinite Staircase (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/06/2005 00:00:00
Without a doubt, one of the top three best adventure products TSR ever put out. A great new threat to the multiverse as a whole has arisen, one that threatens life on the planes in a way the players have probably never considered. As the PCs see what's going on and try to figure out how to stop it, they find themselves at odds with panicked planars, opposing groups, an evil plot and several of the Big Secrets of the Planescape universe. It's an epochal adventure, with plenty of big fights, clever puzzles and desperate negotiations.

LIKED: All packaged adventures need tailoring, but this is the only TSR adventure I've ever seen that doesn't need huge sections reworked. There is some serious playing with the PCs' minds going on, too, and that touch of surreality that distinguishes Planescape from most of TSR's other settings.

DISLIKED: In order to even understand what's going on at all the players are going to have to have a deep familiarity with the Planescape cosmology. Despite the low party level required, this is an adventure for experienced parties ONLY.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tales from the Infinite Staircase (2e)
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Planes of Law (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/06/2005 00:00:00
Much better organized than the other two sets in this series (appropriately enough). Planes of Law details the five lawful planes, with the usual intense focus on the Lower. Enough additional detail is given on each plane to make four of them suitable for adventuring and three of them interesting. It's not as misconception-shattering as Planes of Conflict or as out-and-out whacked as Planes of Chaos, but if you have Guvner or Hardhead PCs, or just characters who like touring all around the whole multiverse, it's a good deal for $4.95.

LIKED: Arcadia and Mechanus both get a real facelift, both coming off less as generic TSR "non-Lower-plane-who-cares" environments but as eerie, unpleasant places full of secrets and mysteries. Baator didn't need any more help, but it gets it, and the section on the Garden is a masterpiece of creepiness.

DISLIKED: I think Mount Celestia is just about unsalvageable -- a boring place full of boring beings that's no fun to adventure in (not in the least because you can't even travel on the plane without acting according to its alignment, something not true of any other plane. Acheron is made playable, sure, but its original origin as a bad joke (the plane of battle being an endless void full of bouncing dice) still colors every reinterpretation of it.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Planes of Law (2e)
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Monstrous Compendium - Planescape Appendix
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/06/2005 00:00:00
It's theoretically possible to run Planescape without this book; you can get statistics for most of these monsters in the Monstrous Manual, and the information on their societies from Faces of Evil: The Fiends and the various boxed sets.

LIKED: On the other hand, isn't it much more convenient to have it all in one place, with great illustrations and a smattering of other useful monsters? While these monsters aren't as brain-twisting or unique as those in the later Compendiums, you're likely to get more use out of them.

DISLIKED: Unlike the other two Compendiums, most of this information IS ultimately duplicated or re-explained in other books, and some of it changed. Also, some of these monsters (like foo creatures) could have waited for later books to make room for more of the big, important planar races (guardinals, eladrin, rilmani).

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Monstrous Compendium - Planescape Appendix
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In the Cage - A Guide to Sigil
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/06/2005 00:00:00
A complete guide to the city of Sigil, including a USABLE map, descriptions of dozens of alehouses, businesses, charities, government offices and vital services, plus a beginner's guide to the city written for new visitors. A picture is painted of a Dickensian nightmare of workhouses and poverty just a few doors down from the taverns where the wealthy feast on exotic dishes. There are plenty of flavorful handouts, including menus for some of the taverns, various official proclamations, and a handful of documents you could get in a LOT of trouble for possessing.

LIKED: This is exactly what a citybook should be; it's loaded with useful places to go and NPCs to talk to (interfaced well with the ones introduced in Uncaged: Faces of Sigil). You learn what you need to know, and room is given for DMs to take Sigil and its inhabitants in any of a wide variety of directions. White Wolf REALLY needs to take some lessons from these old Planescape books about how to have signature characters that are fascinating in their own right but don't take over the spotlight from the PCs.

DISLIKED: Some elements of Sigil as described here are a bit too modern. It's kind of hard to see how a city could get this advanced without, say, interchangeable parts, or have this much of a gap between rich and poor without triggering a real reform movement (the Revolutionary League doesn't count).

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In the Cage - A Guide to Sigil
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The Factol's Manifesto
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/06/2005 00:00:00
Basically, this is the splatbook for <I>Planescape</I> -- the only TSR setting really complicated enough to need them. It has chapters on each of the main factions, detailing their factols, explaining their philosophies, describing their headquarters and giving some adventure seeds. The writing is the usual for Planescape (cynical and sparkly, and it still sounds WEIRD hearing educated people like Factol Terrance speaking the stupid cant).

LIKED: If you run factioneer PCs, you're going to need this book. The descriptions in the Player's Guide to the Planes are wholly inadequate, but the Manifesto explains what these philosophies are really ABOUT and why they're worthy of faction status. It's close to mandatory.

DISLIKED: As with all Planescape books, the constant inappropriate use of slang is ANNOYING. Also, while most other factions' philosophies are made to seem cogent, if not actually attractive, there's still not much to recommend Dustmen as PCs. There's also a bit much metaplot -- I'm sorely tempted to replace Pentar and Nilesia with new NPCs of my own creation to make it easier to take the story in new directions.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Factol's Manifesto
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The Planewalker's Handbook (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/11/2004 00:00:00
The Planescape setting is an incredibly complicated one, and yet the average character living in it would know quite a bit about how it works. Some kind of Player's Guide to Planescape was necessary to give starting PCs an idea of what their world was like -- to fill the role in this setting that a player's own experiences fill in games set in modern-day Earth.

The Planewalker's Handbook is intended to cover basic questions about the planes, almost like a FAQ in narrative form. It describes the planes in a general sort of way (though it does a better job than that silly players' pamphlet that came in the boxed set). It gives you the mechanics of portals and planar spellcasting. It talks a bit about the factions and major NPC races. It provides some kits for the DM to throw out. It outlines, once again, how belief works.

Once you get past the @#!$@$# cant and actually start to read, the book is friendly and conversational, and seems to realize exactly how huge an infodump is required to get new players into the planes. It still feels like a textbook at times (the Priest Level Loss by Plane and Magical Item Bonus Loss by Plane charts at the back are painful to look at) but it's still a good resource.

The question is whether an infodump is the best way to get this information across, or if the Planescape DM might not be better served by requiring all players to start their first characters as primes and teaching them this information gradually. That's something each DM will have to decide for herself.

(Side note: it has nothing to do with this book per se, but am I the only one who finds the "Acheron, plane of combat, is a giant void full of bouncing dice" joke idiotic?)

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Planewalker's Handbook (2e)
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AD&D Planescape The Inner Planes
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/11/2004 00:00:00
Well it's ABOUT TIME.

Until Planescape came around, about the only places lively enough to be adventured in were the Prime Material and the Lower Planes. The quick-and-dirty descriptions in the Manual of the Planes were enough to pique your interest, but that's about it.

It took them a long time to get around to the Elemental Planes, and longer still to make them what they should be -- wholly alien environments where adventurers are in constant peril and can't trust their own experience. The Inner Planes does a good job of pulling this off, expanding on previous material to make these planes live.

I will also say that this is the first time that certain planes (notably Fire and Magma) have been described accurately enough for me to have an answer when a player says "I step through the portal, now what do I see?"

Finally, I'm heartened to see that the Planescape writing team seems to have gotten over its self-congratulatory use of 1900s gutter slang. There's still some cant here, but it's controlled, and it's not put into the mouths of those who shouldn't be using it. This book is a pleasure to read.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
AD&D Planescape The Inner Planes
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D&D Immortals Set
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/11/2004 00:00:00
This was a repurchase for me -- I got this when it was new, but it disappeared some time ago.

This was the closest that TSR would come to a real cosmology until Planescape (which would end up going in almost the exact opposite direction). The physics of the Immortals is finely detailed, full of head-spinning concepts and opening great vistas of exploration for newly Immortal PCs. The monster listings are wonderful, and the new combat system for Immortal duels is a refreshing change from swing-roll-thwack-dead.

The system for handling Immortal powers is complex, but that's to be expected ... after all, you're not even supposed to open this book until reaching L30-36, with years of experience under your belt. Still, I wouldn't recommend starting from scratch with an Immortal campaign, as these power rules make Champions look like Toon.

The down side? There's not enough information on Immortal society, what they do from day to day, and what it means to serve a concept like Time or Matter. It's established that all Immortals accept that Entropy is necessary for the universe to survive, but Entropy's Immortals are still painted as evil psychopaths.

There was also some ridiculous nonsense about how PCs can "win the game" by reaching Hierarch status, starting over as a 1st level mortal, reaching Hierarch status again, and joining the Old Ones. Interesting concept -- if you've only got one player. Adventures might start to look a little odd if you have four Eternal Immortals and one second-level thief.

Putting that couple of paragraphs aside, the Immortals Set is a great toolkit for DMs to create a fascinating campaign where the PCs walk among their gods as equals. It's a lot of work, but it can be a lot of fun.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Immortals Set
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Planescape Faces of Evil: The Fiends
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/11/2004 00:00:00
We're walking some seriously well-trod ground here; it almost seems a rite of passage for every Planescape designer to write at least one book on demon psychology. This time, multiple perspectives are used to give samples of how different characters might view the fiends.

Faces of Evil: The Fiends is a bit better than most. There's not much here about baatezu that we haven't already seen, and the bit on gehreleths just underlines how much of an afterthought they are.

The section on tanar'ri makes that evil race much more believable, however, and the yugoloths get a breath of life that they've been missing for a while, too.

All in all, a mixed bag. The writing's entertaining, and this book is a must-have for GMs making heavy use of tanar'ri and yugoloth. Those whose taste in evil runs more to the fascist can safely skip it.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Planescape Faces of Evil: The Fiends
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BESM Fantasy Bestiary
Publisher: White Wolf
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/11/2004 00:00:00
The BESM Fantasy Bestiary isn't just a monster manual. Each entry is presented as a template, with two examples given for how you can customize that template to produce a variety of characters.

In addition to giving you fine control over the strength of monsters, it lets you use any of the monsters as a potential PC race. Templates can also be stacked, and several of these are begging for it (like vampire and werewolf).

The only flaw the book has is a tacked-on magical items list at the end. It wasn't necessary, and it's not very useful.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
BESM Fantasy Bestiary
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Toy War
Publisher: Team Frog
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/27/2003 00:00:00
This one's cute: rules for miniatures wargaming using the kinds of toys you'd generally find in a standard toybox. While you can use action figures, the rules are more geared to generic type toys like trains and "100 for a dollar" bagged army men.

The basic rules are simple, without giving much of a nod to balance -- you'll have to use some optional rules if you want things like accurate line-of-sight and sensible point costs. For what they're intended to do, though, they're serviceable, and you can learn them quickly.

This game seems to be intended more as an introduction to wargaming for children (probably 9 and 10 year olds) than as a game for adults. While it's fun, there's not much room for growth. Team Frog makes another game, Critter Commandos, that is similarly kid-friendly but has much more meat (err.. polystyrene) to it.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Toy War
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Critter Commandos (3rd Ed.)
Publisher: Team Frog
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/27/2003 00:00:00
What we've got here is a fairly basic miniatures game, specifically intended for wild, cartoonish battles.

The rules aren't as simple as they make themselves out to be, and the book's organization could use a little work. But the system's solid and it comes with some creative scenario ideas.

Basically, it's a lot like Warhammer 40k, but the rules are cleaner and, believe it or not, the setting makes much more sense.

While no miniatures are included with this product, there IS a series of miniatures intended for use with it. I purchased one set, the Ratzi Commandos, on impulse some time ago, and they were completely satisfactory. Considering you'll never find miniatures anywhere else for most of these characters, I'm glad the official series is of good quality.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Critter Commandos (3rd Ed.)
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Crushed: The Doomed Kitty Adventures!
Publisher: Team Frog
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/27/2003 00:00:00
I hate to say it, but there's really just not all that much here.

Basically, this is a typical d20 quickie, with one new race, four NPCs, a couple of new spells, many new magical items, a short adventure based on a doodled map, and terrible spelling and grammar. There's nothing that really makes this a Crushed sourcebook other than the artwork and the NPCs, and nothing here that really makes it worth the money.

There IS a new Crushed strip, and a fairly long one at that. That's really the only unique thing here.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Crushed: The Doomed Kitty Adventures!
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