A Walk Through the Planes – Part 32: Nemesis




Chris Perkins’ “Umbra,” despite its flaws, was one of the more novel Planescape adventures ever officially released. Its driving engine was the enthusiasm of fan-fiction, and while it stumbled with its actual prose and dialogue, that doesn’t take away from its energy. Given that “Nemesis” features a few of the same NPCs, I had high hopes for it, even though I knew it contained a journey to the Abyss, which is rarely a sign of fun.1 While “Umbra” works best when paired with the Sigil-based sourcebooks, “Nemesis” seems fitting to have come out soon after Hellbound, but unfortunately it lacks the ambition or excitement of that supplement’s fiend-on-fiend conflict. Unlike its predecessor, this adventure feels rather rote, less a look at the philosophies of the multiverse and more an excuse to bash in some demons. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but you certainly don’t need to visit Planescape to have this sort of middling adventure.

The module’s central conceit is that due to reasons largely irrelevant to the adventure-at-hand, a marilith wants to collect four magical swords from Sigil. The owners of these swords are far from thrilled with this, and the PCs, for one of a few reasons, decide to track the weapons down and figure out why they’re being stolen. This isn’t really a mystery, though, it’s a pure mcguffin quest, and while the “why” part of this story functioning behind-the-scenes is interesting enough, it’s also barely relevant. Players may never know the real cause of this sword swiping, and if so that hardly matters. They’re charging out there to fight evil people and do brave deeds, and that’s really the only impetus. Yawn. 

There’s no translation for these dabus rebuses in the issue, which is such a crazily bad decision I’m almost a fan of it.

This leads players into The Abyss, in particular a layer called Vudra which consists of a poisonous ocean named—don’t blame me for this—the Bloodsea and filled with islands ruled over by various mariliths. Although it doesn’t come into the adventure, this whole plane is under the control of  a giant marilith who, I don’t know, is just really into poison or something (weirdly, she’d pop up again in third edition). After going through some extremely basic and surprisingly dull investigatory work in Sigil, the players make their way to the Abyss and a conveniently nearby leg of the River Styx. After hopping on a raft with a marraenoloth, they soon arrive at Kaliva’s Island, so-named because the sword-stealing marilith is named Kaliva and that’s the best anyone could come up with I guess. 


Her island is nearly as poisonous as the seas surrounding it, with the exception being a central area called “The Taboolands,” which again I want to emphasize is not a name I made up. This is where a society of humans and demi-humans live, all having been kidnapped by the marilith’s rakshasa henchman (why she has a lawful evil lieutenant is never explained…). Every now and then they’re killed by the demon because, you know, demons. It’s likely the players ally with these captives, in which case they fall into a weird trap in which the rakshasa pretends to be their friend (having polymorphed into a gnome) up until they reach an opportune time for betrayal them and he reveals himself. Except that time isn’t particularly opportune if the DM follows the module’s advice, and it all feels pretty unmotivated. 

Rob Lazzeratti’s maps are too good for this adventure.

Following this, there’s a somewhat normal dungeon trawl until eventually the players face off against Kaliva herself. And while she seems incredibly powerful, given that her four magical blades are all fairly ridiculous (particularly one that grants her 90% magic resistance), by now the players likely have an arrow that will kill any demon instantly. They’ve also got to be pretty damn high level in order to even approach this location (Perkins recommends 4-7 PCs of levels 9-12, but these are second edition AD&D levels, which in modern fifth edition numbers would be the equivalent of more or less double that), so it’s likely they can pull some weird nonsense against just a single enemy without even any henchmen to make the fight interesting. 

Then again, his character artwork is just its level….

Ultimately, it wouldn’t be difficult for most DM’s to come up with an adventure of this same level of quality. “Nemesis” isn’t actively bad, but there’s nothing at all here to recommend using it. Its version of the Abyss features nothing unexpected, just a morass of misery with little else to see. And aside from this, nothing about what players visit will expand their vision of the planes, and that’s the biggest issue—it’s a planar adventure without surprise. The maps and art by Rob Lazzeratti are mostly excellent (well, the maps are anyway…), but really it feels like a lavish production arrayed around a very basic scenario. If your high-level players want to have a short run-up against a marilith, then fine, but I’d hope you could find more epic things for them to do by now. This sort of piddling, bring-home-the-weapon quest is just too boring and rote for either the setting or this level of character. I can see running this as a little diversion in the middle of an adventure, but I wouldn’t be excited to do so, rather it’d be the type of thing you pull out because you don’t have time to prepare something properly exciting.


1. The plane’s miserableness seems to suck the creativity out of most anything set there. 

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