Lost Empires of Faerun

A Walk Through the Planes – An Interview with Ed Bonny

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Despite never working for TSR or Wizards of the Coast, Ed Bonny was a repeated contributor to the Planescape series. His articles frequently focused on updating first edition AD&D to fit with Planescape’s setting, and was some of the best prose Dragon published during the era. Later, he went on to briefly contribute to third edition D&D with the Monster Manual II and Lost Empires of Faerûn. We interviewed him electronically about his history with the planes and how he came to be a well-regarded freelance writer for the setting.

When did you first begin playing D&D?


My introduction to D&D happened back around 1982. Over Thanksgiving at my cousin’s house, I read his 1e Monster Manual which fully grabbed my attention. Soon after I purchased whatever D&D materials I could get my hands on. D&D game sessions soon followed.

Were you immediately interested in planar content?  Was there something about the original Manual of the Planes that grabbed you?

From the start, planar creatures almost always caught my eye: the shade, daemons, and modrons from the Monster Manual 2; the slaad lords from Fiend Folio; and the unique devil articles from Dragon #75 and #76. There is something uniquely pure about a creature which is the realization… the actualization of its alignment that makes it oh-so-intriguing. You get unearthly motivations, purposeful politics, and a healthy dose of bizarre that may visit a Prime Material world, but did not come from there.

The Manual of the Planes made the “homelands” of these planar creatures very real and very exciting places. It was filled with new ideas like the notion of demiplanes as infinite mini-planes that were somehow contained within the Ethereal Plane. The MotP names just four of these demi-planes: Shadow; Time; Imprisonment; and Electro-Magnetism (but you knew there had to be more).

When did you first decide you wanted to contribute to Dragon magazine? What was that process like?

The first issue of Dragon that I owned was #71 (March 1983). There was an article containing new druid spells which inspired me to write my own game material. I set about designing a “dark druid” NPC class with a host of evil animals and evil nature spells. I sent it into Dragon who rejected it. I was a teenager then, and it would be another ten years before I felt I had the writing skills to submit to Dragon again. That said, 1983 was when the seed of contributing to Dragon took root.

The process was fairly simple. TSR had published basic guidelines on submitting pitches. They requested a small pitch of no more than one page in length. The pitch, being something I was passionate about, was usually an easy thing to write. In the early days, you had to include a self-addressed stamped envelope for them to send you a reply. Email communication with Dragon did not take place for another couple of years.

The art for Ed Bonny’s first Dragon article, “The Demiplane of Shadow.” Eventually, this plane would transition into today’s Shadowfell.

What sort of feedback did you tend to get from the editors? Were you paid?

TSR did pay for articles that were accepted. 

There was never much editorial feedback from Dragon.  For my first article, “The Demiplane of Shadow,” the only feedback was to cut the piece down to 5,000 words from 10,000. For a Greyhawk article on Rary the Wizard’s evil, sentient spellbook, the editors at Dragon asked that I revise the spellbook to have a few vulnerabilities so that it wouldn’t steamroll over a party who came into possession of it. But other than that, feedback on articles was typically rare and very minor. 

My campaign specific articles (Planescape, Dark Sun, Birthright) were provided to their respective TSR design teams for review. Sometimes a design team would provide me with an advance copy of setting material that could be incorporated into my article. On rare occasions, the design team would provide assistance. I was struggling with what to name the enhanced yugoloths from the “Pox of the Planes” article when Monte Cook suggested “altraloths.” It was a brilliant suggestion and became the name of those yugoloths..

All my articles were edited by Dragon in some fashion, something which I would not know the particulars of until the article saw print. These edits were usually very small. To use an example (appearing in Part 45 of your Walk Through the Planes), a published sentence from the “Pox of the Planes” article reads, “the grandest bazaar where baatezu and tanar’ri rub elbows with liches to purchase the finest larvae.” The sentence was originally written as, “the grandest bazaar where pit fiends and balor rub elbows with liches…”

You mentioned previously how long the lag time was between your writing about the Demiplane of Shadow and the magazine’s publication of that article—was that typical for them?

From what I recall, articles were generally accepted around nine months to a year before seeing print. “The Demiplane of Shadow” was an outlier in that regard by a few months, being accepted in late 1993 and seeing print in January of 1995.

Two of your later articles were illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi, the most well-known and well-regarded Planescape artist. Did you know this was going to happen beforehand? Did you have any contact or information regarding the illustration process?

Dragon did not inform me as to any art appearing in my articles. I would discover who the artist was only upon that issue’s publication. I never asked Dragon about art as I did not see it as my place to do so.

Tony DiTerlizzi illustrated Bonny’s article for Dragon “Planar Heroes,” which included rules for using the Skills and Powers supplement for Planescape. While we won’t be including that article in this series, the rest of the art for this interview is drawn from there.

Once Planescape was released, did you immediately run or play in campaigns set there? If so, could you give us a bit of information about what they were like?

I had the good fortune to play in an ingeniously creative and fun Planescape game back then that was run by my good friend, David Thomas. He allowed his players to play any race from any setting. I played a silver half-dragon cleric (Council of Wyrms), but most of the party were planar beings. We covered all alignments and each member belonged to a faction.

The campaign had its genesis in the manipulation of the party by an unholy alliance of lawful powers who persuaded the party to plant an unassuming seed in the soil of one of the planes of chaos. The party planted the seed which sprouted immediately and began spreading in all directions like wildfire. After being rewarded with a granted wish for their seemingly small task, the party proceeded to engage in other ventures. In short time, however, word began reaching Sigil that the Great Wheel was being slowly undone as the spread of this flowering “law bloom” was transitioning huge chunks from the various planes of chaos towards the planes of law. During the transit of these planar chunks, the law blooms then spread to the planes of conflict which would subsequently also begin transitioning to the planes of law. There was a doomsday-like atmosphere in the campaign near the end as it seemed law would triumph over all. It was all a lot of fun—high drama, high stakes, and an amazing time. Thanks David!

Were there any changes you wanted to make to the setting based upon your own experiences with campaigns in it?


I never saw Planescape as something that needed to be changed. Could it be added to? Yes, most definitely. As the melting pot of the entire D&D universe, there was a place for everything, every idea, everyone that ever existed in D&D. So it never seemed to need changing. 

Change did come to Planescape of course, but that was through the unfolding of regular events. Primus dies and is replaced in The Great Modron March. Factions fall and the politics of Sigil change in the Faction War

Did Dragon reach out to you in specific for any of your Planescape content?

Dragon never solicited me for any Planescape articles. I would submit a pitch and hope that it would be accepted. Sometimes there would be a rejection, as there was for a Demiplane of Time pitch. Dragon would kindly let me know (accompanying the rejection) that a chronomancy book was in the works. 

[Editor’s note: The book Ed mentions here is Chronomancer, which was not written by TSR but was published by the company, lending it a pseudo-canonical status in D&D‘s cosmology. It is also quite bad.]

What made you want to update the Slaad Lords for Planescape?

Planescape was the primary inspiration for updating the Slaad Lords and adding to their number. Here was this remarkable new setting bursting with possibility… and there were the original Slaad Lords, faves of mine since the original Fiend Folio. Planescape presented the opportunity to update the 1e Slaad Lords with full PS flavor in what I hoped would be a fun, novel way.

What did you think about seeing them return in later Planescape books authored by TSR’s staff?

There’s always a thrill in seeing something you had a hand in shaping or creating continue on. The Slaad Lords’ appearances in Tales of the Infinite Staircase and On Hallowed Ground make me smile.

Likewise, what made you want to update the daemon lords to Planescape?

The daemons in the Fiend Folio (1e) and the Monster Manual 2 (1e) were another source of fascination. The Oinodaemon (Anthraxus) and Charon were the only two unique daemons statted out, and that was too few given that the MM2 mentions other unique daemons, “Bubonis, Cholerix, Typhus, and Diptherius.” Coming on the heels of the “Lords of Chaos” article, these daemons were screaming at me to be updated for Planescape in a unique way deserving of the Planescape vibe.


It was a big step to tie the night hags to the daemons in the way the article does, but it felt proper that some explanation be given as to how night hags and daemons could co-exist on Hades. None of the planar material (PS or earlier) that had gone on before discussed any sort of interaction between the two, and that seemed unlikely. So what the article hoped to do was describe at least one way in which daemons and hags could work together to each’s mutual benefit.

Once the math of nights hags + yugoloth = altraloth was fleshed out, it was only a matter of which daemons would get statted. Sorry, Diptherius.

That article seems a bit like two articles combined by the editors into one—was there something interesting going on with the editorial process, or was that something you always planned on doing?

The article was originally designed as one piece. The approach was to provide a comprehensive article that covered the night hags and their ties to the unusual origin of the altraloths. Since altraloths could only come into existence through the design of night hags, it felt important that the resources and the motivations of the night hags also be explained. You have these night hags, powerful in their own right, who trade in larva. Their position as power players in the lower planes was not that developed in Planescape, and it seemed right to give the night hags a more prominent, defined role if they were to be the ones known for creating altered yugoloths.

And so you have the first part of the article as a “what do night hags do” and a second part as a “here’s what night hags did (i.e., create altraloths) when they had a problem.”

Were there any other Planescape contributions you wished you could’ve done, whether updates or new information?

There were a quite a few, most of them minor concepts that wouldn’t have been article worthy. Back then, I was a fan of obscure planar stuff, especially 1e material that had only been touched upon. In no particular order, here are some ideas I would have loved to have Planescape’d for Dragon: the Demiplane of Time; wild magic on the planes of chaos; the demodands; alu-demon PC race; jann PC race (as an all-element genasi), and Mephistopheles’ stronghold on the 8th plane of Hell. Only pitches for the Demiplane of Time and the Wild Magic on the Planes of Chaos ideas were ever made to Dragon. Recently, I have been toying with a modronic template, for those times when Primus needs the use of a unique modron that lies outside the hierarchy which is tailored to perform a specific task.

Did you ever have any contact with TSR’s Planescape writers or editors about your content? For fans, at least, it was well-received and became as much canon as any of their books, so I’m curious if they felt the same way.

I was thrilled when my writing brought me into contact with some of the Planescape gods,  Monte Cook and Colin McComb to be precise. See above for one example with Monte who named the enhanced yugoloths in “Pox of the Planes.” And Colin was instrumental in being a sounding board for many a Planescape idea of mine—both good and bad. In the late 90s, Colin, on a visit to NYC, even introduced me to Tony DiTerlizzi. I was a fanboi in heaven! They were all fantastic and I am still in awe thinking how fortunate it was to have met the greats of Planescape. 

Several years later, you contributed to third edition D&D‘s Monster Manual II as one of its designers. This was particularly surprising, since as far as I’m aware you weren’t ever an employee of Wizards of the Coast. How did this come about?


You are correct. I was never an employee of Wizards of the Coast, and I believe I was the only freelancer on MM2. The other book I worked on, Lost Empires of Faerun, also had another freelancer on it, so it didn’t seem odd to me that books were a mix of staff and freelance writers. For both books, I was approached by Rich Baker to write for them. I did not have direct contact with Rich prior to this time, but he had said he was familiar with my work and wanted me to work on those projects.

What was the editorial process like on that book? How was it decided which monsters to include?

For the Monster Manual II, each designer was given a set group of monsters and templates to write up. What monsters/templates were picked to be in the book and which designer got what was decided before I came on board. I had no choice in what I was assigned. An internal guidebook on designing monsters/templates was provided to me which proved invaluable.. Many of the monsters were 1e and 2e versions to be updated to 3e. For other monsters/templates, the designer was provided a general description of a creature and was expected to design and name the monster/template.

Unfortunately, TSR/Wizards/Hasbro has never been great about crediting particular designers when their books have multiple authors. Do you remember any of the monsters you in particular designed? Did you have a hand in how many planar monsters were returned to the game there?

Here’s a list of what I can recall were mine in the MM2: abeil; clockwork horror; fiendwurm; flesh jelly; gambol; glimmerskin; grimalkin; durzagon (derro-devil hybrid); hellfire wyrm; hook horror; nimblewright; orcwort; planetouched (chaond; zenythri); spellstitched template; and tauric template. There were others I can’t remember. A few monsters I wrote for MM2 but which were not in that book appeared in the Fiend Folio. I do not recall what those were.

After years of occasional contributions to the game, as far as I’m aware that was your last work on D&D. At this point, did you lose interest in the game, or were there other reasons you moved on? Have you continued playing D&D or other RPG’s since then?

My last D&D work for Wizards was the Lost Empires of Faerun (2005). There was also one final article on the Faerunian Hordelands in Dragon #349 (Paizo/November 2006). I stopped writing back then because I was about to enter law school and began focusing on the big life changes that would bring. 

I did not lose interest in the game at all, and played 4e and 5e. I am still playing a 2e game.

Finally, what were your favorite parts of Planescape, whether books, ideas, etc.?  

The major boxset expansions (Chaos, Law, and Conflict) were perfection and each one was eagerly devoured upon its initial release. Also a huge fan of The Factol’s Manifesto (required player supplement at the table back in the day) and the Planewalker’s Handbook, if only for the new player races.

And then there is The Great Modron March, the definitive PS mega-adventure. First off, modrons. Secondly, where else can you find modronic threats like this, “We repel chaos. To speak otherwise is to invite disaster” and “Those who can move had best move. Those who cannot will be trampled.” Thirdly, modrons.

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