Pox of the Planes

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 45: Pox of the Planes




Already we’re back at Dragon Magazine‘s annual issue (missing half a year of releases due to bankruptcy will do that), with another contribution by Ed Bonny, one of the more obscure Planescape authors but also one who any fans of this obscure series of essays/criques/whatever should recognize by now. This time, Bonny really brought the goods, and contributed a strange article to the setting called “Pox of the Planes,” which is really two articles duct-taped together, though fortunately both of them are good. I have no explanation for why he used this approach, but you know what, it still works as a sort of continuation of Faces of Evil: The Fiends, even if it really felt like there were some strange editorial choices going on behind-the-scenes.

The first half of “Pox” focuses on night hags, which are one of the stranger races in D&D. Like all hags, night hags are a full race of people with their own society and history and all of that, even though they’re all basically just evil witches. The article even begins by saying, “Ask most planar folk what they think about night hags, and you’ll hear pretty much the same answer: ‘A crafty bunch of evil crones.’” Frankly, that analysis is pretty spot on, but doesn’t do much to answer the question of how they became so influential in the lower planes given the existence of the far more powerful fiends as their neighbors. As hinted at by Colin McComb previously, this is due to their work in the larva trade, taking the petitioners from Hades and selling them to both sides of the Blood War. Bonny does an excellent job making sense of how all of this works, including paragraphs about why devils and demons prefer not to use their own planes’ larva, and detailing The Emporium, “the grandest bazaar where baatezu and tanar’ri rub elbows with liches to purchase the finest larvae in all of the planes.”

Larvae for sale, come here and get your larvae. The moustache’ll cost you extra, though.

I’m a fan of the whole larvae business, as it’s entertainingly dark and grotesque. Unfortunately, none of this really answered my main question about the night hags, which is how exactly do they come to be, but oh well. The focus here is really on how this larvae trade touches everything in the lower planes, working as its own strange economy, and offers multiple plot hooks for why players might become involved with this, whether it means protecting the hags or disrupting their business. This half of the article is brief, but a worthy addition to planar lore, and makes the hags far more compelling than they were before, even if it still feels like they need more details in the future in order to make complete sense of them.  


All of this larvae business then segues, with surprising smoothness, into information about the altraloths, who are yugoloths augmented by the night hags to help in their defense. Altraloths make a deal with the hags in exchange for this power, and following its completion they’re free to wreak havoc amongst the planes doing whatever they want. This serves to explain the existence of the radically more powerful and unique yugoloths seen in first edition AD&D, and also makes the whole race a good deal more interesting. It’s a bit like McComb’s work in adding unique devils back into the mix, both enriching our sense of who these creatures are and making their entire society more real. 

I never did figure out which two altraloths these are supposed to be. Bubonix and Xengahara? Maybe?

Two of the seven altraloths had actually been featured in the Monster Manual II previously, when daemons (i.e. yugoloths) were first introduced. Anthraxus was at the time the oinodaemon (i.e. oinoloth… whatever), and Cerlic was at the time known as Charon, though he’s now renamed because… uhh… if you haven’t noticed yet, Planescape liked renaming things a whole lot. However, the other altraloths are all new, or at least the details on them are (Bubonix was mentioned in the entry for Anthraxus in MMII but only by name). The write-ups of Xengahra, Typhus, and Taba are all entertaining and strange in a way that’s quite reminiscent of Bonny’s previous write-up of the Slaad Lords a few years back. Like me, he clearly enjoyed updating first edition AD&D and making it into true Planescape lore, and I would’ve loved it if he’d had more of a hand in doing this than just these short articles. His version of Bubonix, for instance, notes that his primary goal is the completion of the Tower of Incarnate Pain that was detailed in Faces of Evil. This type of detail elegantly helps AD&D‘s haphazard mythology make sense, and as much as I enjoyed the information about larva trading and night hags, the altraloth half of the essay is even better.


The article ends with a page focused on how altraloths are created, which isn’t something I’d ever actually use but I appreciate the inclusion. This ties things back to the night hags and makes the essay feel cohesive almost in spite of itself. That the altraloth creation process involves literally boiling the daemons in a huge cauldron filled with Styx water and larva is an excellent way of capping off the whole ridiculous affair. 

Here’s a hag I’d definitely invite to a party. She just looks like a lot of fun.

What’s more, after an unfortunately lengthy absence from the setting, the article includes all new art from Tony DiTerlizzi. Some of what it’s depicting I’m slightly unclear on, particularly the lead image (is that beautiful woman with the squid hat a night hag???), but all of it is lovely and tonally perfect. What can I say about it except that, if anything, he’s only been using his time away from Planescape to improve as an artist, which makes his haphazard presence hurt even more. The resulting package is one of the best articles we’ve covered, and absolutely worth hunting down for any fans of the setting. Really, it makes you wish Ed Bonny were allowed to write more for Planescape. Bonny’s interest in the planes did seem to remain steady following this release, but unfortunately we won’t see anything from him again until well into D&D‘s third edition. 


Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest Exposition Break articles sent to your inbox.