Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix II

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 26: Monstrous Compendium Planescape Appendix II




I’m of two minds about the unwieldy-named Monstrous Compendium Planescape Appendix II, a somewhat foundational book for the setting that nonetheless remains a bit neglected, or perhaps maligned. The first Appendix, as I noted before, was largely a revision of the Outer Planes Appendix. The resulting product was excellent, but at the same time hardly revolutionary, and some of the biggest changes were a result of the original Appendix’s author. The Planescape wrapping was certainly delightful, but other than this it featured a surprisingly small amount of new material. Added to this fact is that many of the more integral inhabitants of the setting come from its many box sets, each of which has a nice supplement of monsters, some of which are quite core (for instance, without the base box, you’d have no modrons). At this point, there were quite a few “monsters” who’d been added to the planes, but at the same time they’re supposed to be infinite and limitless. There’s a push-pull between populating things in a reasonable way and also keeping the scope limited enough for players (and DM’s) to get a sense of this world. 

As a result, Appendix II has far fewer iconic monsters, and with this a fair amount of “filler” entries, by which I mean basic wildlife encounters that aren’t terribly interesting. They’re important for giving a sense of the vastness of this world, but other than perhaps a random wilderness encounter while characters move from place to place, they hardly warrant the lavish amount of care devoted to every entry in this book. Would anyone really care if the Ironmaw or Leomarh had been left out of the book? Hell, does anyone but me, having just finished rereading the book, remember what the Quill or Hook Spider even is? My guess is no, not really, but at the same time every entry that adds some diversity to the planes is of at least some interest. Differentiating Arborea from Elysium is worthwhile, so I appreciate populating planes with new creatures, even if many of them are pretty skippable.  


For all of those entries your eyes just kind of glaze over, there are also plenty of quite interesting new creatures and sects, and this is what I want to actually spend time on. Perhaps the most noteworthy addition is the very first one in the book: Aasimar, which became more and more prominent as the editions continued to the point that it eventually became more or less a core race for D&D. Planescape introduced Tieflings with its original boxed set, people who weren’t half-fiend but did have a bit of fiendish blood in them from the past, maybe a few generations back. This led to the quite obvious question: well what if this was the case, but for celestials (which, as of this point, were not yet known as this)? One valid criticism of Planescape is that the setting is too obsessed with “grid-filling,” which is to say adding things in for the sake of symmetry. Aasimar, though, don’t really fall into this category as far as I’m concerned, because all the many humanoids in D&D do, well, fuck quite a bit (at least in some campaigns I’ve played), so it seems reasonable to answer the question of what comes from this. I like Aasimar, have played as Aasimar characters and allowed them into campaigns in the past, and am also quite happy that there aren’t axiomatic/chaotic counterparts. It’s a good addition to this universe that feels natural, and permanently changed the game in a positive way. 

The Demarax is just here to chill and snack on a few crystals. Anyone who doesn’t like his little backpack can go to hell.

The book actually begins quite strong, with Arcanes and Astral Dreadnaughts both being interesting, worthwhile additions that we’ve seen before but needed to have implemented into Planescape. Likewise, I think that Demarax is pretty wonderful and helps to explain why there aren’t more spell crystals out there, and the Dhour adds a nice bit of Lovecraftian-ness to the planes that would never really be explored, even saying, “The chant is the dhours’re new to the Planes,” and that “Dhours aren’t native to any known universe and likely came to the planes from some distant, alien, prime-material world.” The Far Realms aren’t here yet, but you can see its concepts being played with here. 

Then we come to the Eladrin, which is a weird addition I don’t really love. I should note, I don’t absolutely hate the idea of them as a race. Arborea had to do some mental gymnastics in order to explain that this plane contains the fairy realm, and the elf realm, but these are separate. It’s one of those instances where the desire to contain all of fantasy and mythology rubs together awkwardly, with classic faeries and Tolkien-style elves not meshing particularly well. The Eladrin try to solve this by being a very elf-ish fairy race of outsiders who are… fine, I guess. Like most of the celestials they’re not terribly interesting, but there’s nothing wrong with them. My issue is more with their sudden addition here. Planes of Chaos came out more than a year before this, and given that it’s supposed to include the big write-up of Arborea the sudden addition of the plane’s major race a year later, without even a mention there, feels pretty bad. Planes of Chaos was already the weakest of the outer planes boxed sets (the Outlands one doesn’t count), but here it feels like a big chunk of it is shown to be missing. “Eladrins are the native race of Arborea, just as the baatezu are associated with Baator and the tanar’ri with the Abyss.” Now imagine if the write-ups of those planes never even mentioned the baatezu or tanar’ri, and the problem with adding this race as an afterthought here becomes obvious. 

You see, he’s an Eladrin, not an elf, how could you have possibly been confused?

I have no such issue with the Guardinals, whose great sin isn’t that they should’ve been written about much earlier, it’s just that they’re dull even by celestial standards. However, when the Rilmani pop up later as the Outlands’ race of natives, we have the same problem again. They received not a single mention in the boxed set devoted entirely to this plane, and while yes it’s a pretty poor boxed set, you’d think they’d have at least merited an appearance. The Rilmani also bother me because they center around the idea of balancing the multiverse, which leads to talk about chaos vs. law in concrete terms. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think this is something that should be emphasized because it takes away from the setting’s reality, and I feel this strongly here. If I were to use the Rilmani in my own campaign (which has never happened), I’d instead emphasize that they feel the world should remain how it is. That they fight against great change, which has the same effect in terms of protecting the balance, but leads to a lot less talk about concepts like lawfulness. As soon as one individual describes another one as lawful, as far as I’m concerned your world has disavowed any ounce of its believability.


My favorite additions to the book aren’t any of these major races at all, but the sects and pseudo-sects it adds. The Incantifers, Merkhants, Prolongers, and Ragers are all new philosophies about the multiverse that make at least as much sense as the belief-systems we’ve seen before. None of them are large enough to be full-on factions, and neither are they centered around specific planes, but they add a lot more life to the setting. Sometimes it can feel like the factions are too concerned with the politics of Sigil and not enough with their philosophies, but this problem never crops up with the sects. What’s more, these outlooks all feel natural, strong fits to the setting that also reflect both roleplaying styles and real world beliefs. Of course there are people obsessed with not dying, or put their faith in capitalism, or believe in beating up everything they see (I think we’ve all played RPG’s with people who inadvertently roleplay as Ragers…). The Incantifers even received a starring role in an adventure, though given its legendary, lost status we’ll have to return to them more in the future.

Merkhants are pretty much Reaganomics capitalism personified. This one is no different, with the distinguishing feature that he wants to a-sell-you a-pizza-pie.

My single favorite new creature from the book are the Keepers, a strange race of beings possibly willed into existence through belief. 


A long time ago, a high-up Guvner learned something about the multiverse that no one should ever know. It doesn’t really matter what the dark of his knowledge was—depending on who’s telling this story, it could’ve been just about anything, but most versions claim that the Guvner learned about how to find entire new universes just by thinking about them. It was something dangerous and accessible to anyone who had the dark of it, so this Guvner decided to make sure that he was the only blood who ever knew how to pull off the trick. So he found a universe where the keepers existed and brought them back to set them after his enemies and rivals.

At first, the keepers did just what he wanted them to. After all, the Guvner’d just about invented these cutters out of whole cloth, and they were grateful in their own way. But this Guvner got careless with his orders. “Make sure no one ever discovers how you got to be here,” he told them, and the keepers obliged by killing it. 

The keepers are fittingly creepy, being kind of rubbery facades of humans with alien purposes impossible to understand. This is the kind of weirdness I’m all for, whether in Planescape or elsewhere, and it makes for perhaps the most interesting society of beings in the multiverse. Thematically, this is rich, and I can see a whole loop of plot threads dangling off of their two pages. What I love most of all about the keepers and a handful of other beings in this book is that they make Planescape weird again. It’s quite possible that by now players have become familiar with this setting, and like anywhere else eventually they feel like they know the place. Sure, it’s infinite, but they no longer find that sort of thing surprising. The keepers, though, bring back the unexpected and call into question what’s possible in this version of reality. This sort of creature is a far cry from the guardinals or the abrian, and while I’m fine with those more-ordinary creatures getting a few pages, I’m thrilled that the setting is still pushing against its own boundaries. 

Keeper-ing it real.

The book’s production is as lovely as ever, and while I noticed more than a few typos, I’m also a weirdo who rarely goes through any book without being irritated at several, especially when it comes to this type of corporately-published product made on a tight deadline. Tony DiTerlizzi provides every single illustration for the book, which I especially appreciate because it wasn’t long after this that his work began winding down on the setting, such that in the final monstrous appendix he’s only one of the contributors. The actual write-ups are perhaps less creative than those we’ve seen before (and will have later), but that’s fine by me—there are still plenty of stories here, and in some ways that makes this a more useful supplement. My only pet peeve with the packaging is that there’s no table of contents, which is really something every appendix should have. 


And that’s pretty much it. Somehow, it’s difficult not to wish this book was a little bit stronger, and at this point we’re at two books, three 16-page monstrous supplements, and growing;  it’d sure be wonderful if it were possible to get a full collection of everything at once, but that was never to be. You can see the flaws of the multi-authored approach to this world coming to the forefront here, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t still a lovely book that should be part of any Planescape collection. It’s definitely worth a purchase, even if it isn’t quite as good of a straight-through read as its predecessor. 

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