Ze Planes!

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 129: Ze Planes!




Once Wizards of the Coast reclaimed Dragon magazine from Paizo, they no longer kept naming each issue, a change that I don’t think mattered in the slightest to anyone in the world except for me. But I need to name these columns, and when there are a couple planar articles in an issue it was nice to have something to go with, even if the title was bland. In the particular case of issue #370 from December 2008, I went with the title for the issue’s opening editorial, particularly because it’s a strange juxtaposition against the rest of Fourth Edition. In it, editor-in-chief Chris Youngs reminisces about the third edition Manual of the Planes being more used than his Dungeon Master’s Guide, and talks about how great adventuring in the Elemental Plane of Water was… which he notes no longer even exists anymore. What’s more, it’s one of the planes that is described as impossible to adventure on later in the issue. It’s an odd way to kick off an issue focused on the then-current conceptions of the planes, and whether this was intentional or not it feels like Youngs is pining for a better time in the game. 

Which is not to say that the actual planar content at hand is bad, but it also seems a bit confused about why we’re moving into this new cosmology when there was so much good material already developed for the Great Wheel. Case in point, “Riven Justice: The Mercykillers” by Robert J. Schwalb is an excellent article, though this is largely because it pretends that the game’s continuity never changed. Faction War still exists in the past of this article, and the Mercykillers have now been split into three factions: the Sons of Mercy, the Sodkillers, and… the Mercykillers, which consists of a more loosely organized group who never broke up the way the main faction did on Sigil. It’s a strong idea to posit, and leads to worthwhile lore regarding the current relationship between these three competing groups. 

Nothing to write home about with the artwork, but the Mercykiller here looks suitably narcish.

Weirdly, the existence of the Sodkillers and Sons of Mercy within Sigil is never really explained. 


Interestingly, the Lady of Pain permitted the reconstituted Sons of Mercy to continue in their role of running Sigil’s Prison and even expanded their role to police the city streets. Meanwhile, the Sodkillers went underground. Many quit the city, furthering their agenda in the mortal world and elsewhere, but a few remain in Sigil still under the guise of the Minders’ Guild, a gang of ruthless killers and bounty hunters.

The issue, here and throughout Third Edition, was that no one wanted to conceptualize what Sigil without the factions actually looked like. That’s not surprising, as it really would’ve required a book-length work to really explicate, but as a result we have this type of hand waving that really doesn’t explain anything. I quite like the overall picture of how things developed, but why the Lady made this decision to let factions back in has never been addressed, and really needs to be for the continuity to actually make sense.

Aryl Swan’s Son, presumably? I appreciate the gallows in the background—just because he’s merciful doesn’t mean he’s not still a prick.

Even so, this is a good article, and I loved getting updates on Aryl Swan’s Son, plus profiles of the newly introduced heads of the other Mercykiller splinter groups. There’s a new location, the Tower of Law, where the old Red Death still rules, out in the Astral Sea—presumably because Carceri no longer exists in the multiverse. Even the adventure seeds at the end of the article are pretty solid, the main issue with all of this simply being the assumption that Planescape players are going to want to move into this new cosmology and edition despite it trashing so much of what they loved about the game before. There’s also a focus on the Mercykillers being solely about order rather than strictly laws (it’s a relevant distinction), which wasn’t their bag before, but given all of the splits this doesn’t seem like a huge issue. When it comes to updating Planescape material for Fourth Edition, I don’t think anyone could reasonably hope for something better than this article, and it made me hopeful about other factions somehow popping up in this edition in the future.

Thunder Temple, which looks like random fantasy nonsense here. Fitting, I suppose, for pretty much any location in Elemental Chaos.

The cover feature for this issue is also planar. The first in a (very short) series called “Lords of Chaos,” it focuses on a newly introduced primordial known as Mual-Tar. If you are keen on this cosmology, the article’s also pretty solid. Mual-tar isn’t a terribly interesting primordial—but then, are any of them?—but it’s pretty easy to see how to base a traditional adventure around dealing with this threat to the multiverse. The most interesting part of the article wasn’t even planar in nature, it was an explanation of how the many cults of primordials interact. Unlike the religions devoted to deities, primordial worshippers tend to not get along together, and their lack of unification means that at least these groups have more going for them than the entities they worship. The article ends with a new monster plus a page outlining how to center a campaign around Mual-Tar, but the good stuff here are the explanations of four sample cults, each of which seems like it could be fun to interact with. I find primordials themselves boring and basic, but James Wyatt at least gives the concept some potential.


The final planar article in “Ze Planes!” isn’t necessary reading, and in fact I recommend skipping it entirely. It’s three pages by James Wyatt and Rich Baker discussing the massive changes made to the planes for this edition. They largely reiterate what was said earlier in the Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters preview book, and with this state the same bad arguments as before (e.g. here’s where “The Elementals Planes were unusable” gets trotted out again). If you do want a fuller explanation of the behind-the-scenes thought process you should seek out the earlier book instead, and it’s hard to understand why that section wasn’t simply reprinted here given that no new information is added. After all, space isn’t a consideration since this was only ever a PDF.


Much to my surprise, for Planescape fans this is a good issue to take a look at. Hell, “Riven Justice” is the best work so far in the entire edition, and for all I know that might remain the case until the end. That doesn’t mean that planar material in general is going to suddenly improve in the future, but at the very least seeing how they tried to make pieces of Planescape still be part of the game is fascinating, and in some ways they did a better job of reconciling these changes than what we would later see with the Fifth Edition Planescape set. That’s right, while it’s increasingly a confusing mess, at least you still get the sense that the designers liked the original Planescape material, which I can’t say is always the case nowadays.

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