The Inner Planes

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 57: The Inner Planes




The Inner Planes by Monte Cook “with William W. Connors”1 was the final full, official Planescape book ever released. That isn’t to say it was the end of the line for the setting, not quite. Not long afterward there would be Die Vecna Die! acting as a culmination of the setting and all of second edition, plus semi-revivals in the form of Beyond Countless Doorways and Expedition to the Demonweb Pits during third edition, and of course Planescape: Torment, which we’ll be arriving at surprisingly soon. But it’s not much of a stretch to say that this is really the final release for the setting, a last big hurrah for the source books that really made Planescape what it was. Fortunately, The Inner Planes is a huge success, a fascinating book that expands the setting radically, and the type of release that, like A Guide to the Ethereal Plane from a few months earlier, really makes you wish had been given much more space. This is a good book with dozens and dozens of plot hooks for interesting adventures, even as its 128-page count makes you constantly desire the sort of lavish treatment for the Inner Planes that we received for the Outer Planes when Planescape first began. 

After all, it’s hard not to remember that the last two planar source books were literally focused on a single plane, the Astral and Ethereal, while The Inner Planes needs to cover 18(!) in nearly the same amount of space. As with all of the full planes in the setting, each of these is infinite in scope, even though many will be given just four pages of focus in the entirety of Planescape. Which isn’t to say that they’re minor planes, either, as ultimately I’ve seen a lot more adventures inside of the theoretically unusable and unvisitable Negative Plane than in Bytopia, but because of its outer status Bytopia received much of a boxed set devoted to it. The fact is, this isn’t enough space to do full justice to these planes, but fortunately Cook with Williams (…it’s just so weird to write that, I’m going to pretend Cook is the only author mentioned henceforth because that’s what the byline seems to be implying) didn’t try to be encyclopedic. Their approach is instead focused on highlighting the basics of surviving on each of these planes and then telling us, in often just a paragraph or two for each world due to length constraints, what’s actually interesting to do there. It’s a great approach that leads to a highly readable and enjoyable book, even if a lot of the time the survivability sections only repeat the obvious. 


Unsurprisingly, the planes given the most detail are the big four elemental planes: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. They receive 10 pages each, which makes sense given that these are far and away the most likely places for a campaign to actually visit. This fact has only increased in time (more on this in a bit), and ultimately no one would’ve been disappointed to receive an entire 128-page book devoted to these planes alone2. Much of this content is revised, at times heavily, from the Secrets of the Lamp set for the Al-Qadim setting that came out in 1992, which is fine, especially because the genies do control or at least interact with a lot of the more interesting parts of these planes. Plus, the changes needed to transfer this material over to Planescape were relatively minor, and very few players would have both releases. Weirdly, the number of points of interest within these planes are about as many as those in the quasi- and para- elementals, which makes me think that Cook wasn’t that excited about these locations (nor am I, to be honest). These sections are usually given more detail than the points of interest we’ll see later in the book—including maps—but it’s not exactly revelatory material, and many of the locations are what we’d seen or read about in that previous release. 

Adam Rex’s art for the book is filled with images of these weird, hooded people holding poking sticks. Are they supposed to be dao slavers? I never figured out who they are or why they’re so ubiquitous.

Oddly, my favorite thing about the first half of the book is one small section in the Plane of Fire chapter. This plane has always bothered me because it seemed to have gravity, but, well, how? It’s not like you can just walk on fire; fire is like air, it doesn’t take up space, yet there are oceans of it on this plane? Huh? My brain always broke when trying to think about this conceptually, and this is the first book to ever really try to make sense of it.

The “surface” of this plane is composed of highly compressed fire. In appearance, it is rather like a brightly burning coal, although its consistency is about the same as that of water. It is therefore possible to swim through this sea of flame just as one would paddle through some distastefully cool mountain lake. Some enterprising souls have even created sailing ships that ply the flames as more common ships might sail atop water.

This layer of liquid flame is only about 15 feet deep. Beneath it lies a layer of even more highly condensed fire. This has the appearance of white-hot metal and is as smooth as glass to the touch. Beings heavy enough to sink beneath the layer of liquid fire may walk upon this surface.

Liquid flame and solid, condensed fire might be pure nonsense, but they’re still a lot less nonsense than we had before, which truly didn’t work or make a lick of sense. Cook also includes additional information that I weirdly hadn’t thought too much about, which is that the atmosphere of this plane is too thin to fly in and far too toxic to breathe, which makes sense but isn’t something I remember ever seeing before when the plane came up (for instance, the adventure in The Eternal Boundary just got a lot more difficult). That’s right, Cook somehow made the Elemental Plane of Fire an even worse place to visit. 

When visiting the most hostile places in the multiverse, it’s a good idea to only wear a miniscule leather bikini.

Also noteworthy about not just these four chapters, but in fact the entire book, is that every one of its 18 planes is described by a different narrator. Sometimes this works well, sometimes less so (in general I don’t think it’s nearly as effective as a similar concept that was used for Faces of Evil: The Fiends), but it always makes the book feel like Planescape. There are some weird bits to this where narrators are withholding information yet also talk an awful lot about dice rolls, but whatever. It’s mostly fun, and even leaves the book with the interesting mystery of who was the in-universe editor of this work. Best of all, a handful of the narrators are genuinely pleasurable to read from. Xanxost, our favorite slaad from Faces of Evil makes a return, and there’s a particularly grumpy dwarf who describes the Plane of Mineral and fills in the section about the plane’s spell keys by answering, “What in the Hell’s a spell key?” I’m guessing a lot of this fun came from the book’s two editors, Ray Vallese and Michele Carter, who fittingly worked together on this final work for the setting. The writing and attention to detail throughout the book is both wonderful and refreshing in contrast with all of the non-Planescape work we’ve been ducking into lately. 

Following the primary elemental planes, the book gives us four pages each on the Positive and Negative Energy Planes—which is really all they need—before it gets into the really good stuff. It’s the para- and quasi-elemental planes that the book really goes wild with, and every one of these locations is filled with strange new locations. Oddly, Cook and company chose to subdivide these already subdivided planes many more times, such that where one of these planes borders any other plane it becomes almost a quasi-quasi-elemental plane. For example, while the Paraelemental Plane of Magma’s center is, like all of its kindred, a core sphere of its element, magma, when you start heading toward the Elemental Plane of Earth you arrive at the Scorched Wastes, composed largely “of basalt cliffs and spires rising above lakes of molten lava.” But if you head towards the Elemental Plane of Fire, instead you arrive at the Searing Mists, where “the atmosphere is awash with a haze made wholly from searing droplets of molten stone.” But what if someone heads not towards the major elemental planes but towards, say, the quasi-planes of Mineral or Radiance? Well here they enter “what the sages call the Obsidian Forest” near Mineral, “infested by evil stone creatures,” or even worse they arrive at the Glowing Dunes, a radioactive wasteland whose radiation poisoning leads to illness and death that “no cure, not even a magical one, is known to help.” And this is just a few of these bits for one single plane. Every single one of these dozen quasi- and para-planes (except for Vacuum) is subdivided into seven parts, the cores and each of the locations it borders, which makes these places both fascinating and strange in ways not even Planescape had touched on prior. 

Just one of the 11 quasi- and para- planar diagrams. Who needs the Abyss—the Inner Planes feature every type of misery you can imagine.

Occasionally these subplanes are reused, such that the border between Lightning and Radiance is the Bright Lands (much like the rest of Lightning, but with storm clouds glowing brightly throughout) within either of these primary planes, but sometimes not. On the Plane of Ice near the Plane of Steam you’ll find the Fog of Unyielding Frost (“a place of churning, super-cold vapors”), while on the Plane of Steam near Ice you’ll instead find Hoarfrost (“where everything becomes coated in a thin layer of frozen mist”). In total, the book includes 54 (!!!!!!) of these subplanes, and while many of them hardly get more than a sentence of description, they’re all infinitely large in scope and easily transplantable to any planar campaign.


And because I’m a complete idiot, below I’ve included a full list of the subplanes I made for my own autistic purposes when I decided that I needed to know how many there were. Nearly all of them are beyond miserable to visit in their own, uniquely miserable ways. Enjoy!

  • Aurora
  • Bile Sea
  • Bright Land
  • Brighthome
  • Brightflame
  • Chalk Islands
  • Choking Gale
  • Cinder Wells
  • Consumption
  • Crystal Range
  • Dark Land
  • Embers
  • Empty Winter
  • Eternal Haze
  • Flats
  • Fog of Unyielding Frost
  • Frigid Void
  • Gemfields
  • Glistening Crystal
  • Glowing Dunes
  • Gray Way
  • Hoarfrost
  • Islands of Water
  • Misty Caverns
  • Muckmire
  • Natural Forge
  • Oasis of Filth
  • Obsidian Forest
  • Precipice
  • Raging Mists
  • Realm of Cloying Fear
  • Saline Sea
  • Sands
  • Scald
  • Sea of Frozen Lives
  • Sea of Frozen Flames
  • Sea of Stars
  • Searing Mists
  • Scorched Wastes
  • Shard Forest
  • Shimmering Drifts
  • Slag Marshes
  • Sparklemire
  • Sparkling Vast
  • Stagnant Sea
  • Stinging Storm
  • Storm of Annihilation
  • Subdued Cacophony
  • The Death Cloud
  • The Light
  • Tumbling Rocks
  • Unnamed Border
  • Wall of Energy
  • Wasting Place



So with just that there’s an additional 54 infinite locations for your players to visit and explore. However, that’s only the start. Each plane’s entry then highlights a few particular locations for adventures to hit up, and while often it’s only one or two per plane (particularly in the quasi-planes), that still makes for an absolute shit-ton of new material. Even better, each plane also includes a couple paragraphs in a section called “Planewalkers in [name of plane],” which is basically just a bunch of good plot hooks for why a campaign might end up in one of these hellholes. The Plane of Dust may sound completely miserable—sounds isn’t even the right word, it is completely miserable—but players still may need to visit there in order to seek magic dust, or visit an ancient city located in The Wasting Place, where “rumors tell of strange flying vehicles within the ruins.” The book asks a lot from DMs because it doesn’t have the space to flesh out almost any of its ideas, but given the constraints this is all for the best.

It would be easy to knock this book down a bit because its later half lacks depth, but keep in mind that the creators needed to work within some very tight constraints. Like so much of Planescape, it requires a lot of imagination from all of the players, including DMs, but for those willing to do the work there are plentiful riches to be found. Given that this is the most many of these planes would ever be covered in the entirety of D&D, I’m happy that they received this much love here in a release that I’m sure everyone involved knew was destined for obscurity.

The book’s version of the City of Brass. This is one of the few Inner Planar locations that would see much coverage in later D&D releases.

Rob Lazzaretti makes a final return to the setting as cartographer, working with Dennis Kauth to provide more maps than might be expected for a book of this sort. That includes the many, many diagrams of the planar layouts, which do a good job of being evocative but not distracting. Unfortunately, the Planescape reunion wasn’t entirely complete, as the interior art was done once again by Hannibal King and Adam Rex (mostly Rex, thank the Powers) rather than Tony DiTerlizzi. As a result, the drawings are mostly fine, but nothing too special. The artwork was so forgettable overall that I didn’t have anything in particular in mind for inclusion here and had to skim back through the book to even remember what art was included. 


My real complaint about the book doesn’t concern the work itself, but rather its place in the cosmology of D&D. Not only was this slim volume almost immediately forgotten, as of the game’s third edition it was largely retconned out of existence. The para- and quasi-elemental planes were removed entirely, and as a result nearly all of this bountiful cornucopia of locations and ideas was excised from the game’s multiverse, or at most was jammed with extreme awkwardness into the new Inner Planes cosmology. Fifth edition’s version of the Inner Planes could’ve easily incorporated some of the ideas from this book, given its slightly different conception of how things work… but it didn’t. As a result, the book is almost apocryphal in nature, existing within the game’s canon for just over a year of time. None of which is to say that you can’t include its material in your own campaign, but we’ll rarely see any of this material grown in the future by other D&D products, let alone mentioned, and when we do it tends to feel a bit off. 

My only other quibble with the book is that it fails to mention the Five Citadels of Surrender from Zeb Cook’s “Analects of Sigil” story, but I suspect that no one involved even remembered that it existed. Still, they would’ve been an interesting addition considering that Monte Cook includes a series of new, positive energy citadels that feel like a matched pair. 

None of this is to take away from the book itself, though, which is a wonderful achievement and a fitting capstone to the setting. It has a thousand ideas that could’ve easily been expanded by future Planescape books, and succeeds at its unstated goal of making the Inner Planes just as fun and interesting to visit as the Outer Planes. It’s unfortunate that adventures within this newly exciting series of worlds would never come to pass within the setting itself, but the seeds for doing so in your own campaign are sprinkled so voluminously throughout the book that it still feels like these planes, forgotten as they have been by even hardcore D&D nerds, are still ripe for exploration.

  1. This is perhaps the strangest authorial byline I’ve ever seen on a book, regardless of genre. It makes me wonder if Connors was also the mysterious other author of the Monstrous Compendium Planescape Appendix III who Cook was left doing triage for? It’s super weird for Connors to be given theoretically full credit, but in a way that intentionally lessens his contribution. As I said, it’s just plain strange.

    For a tad bit more information about him, Connors was a full-time TSR employee best known for his work on the Ravenloft campaign setting (where Cook also contributed in 1998 with the Vecna Reborn adventure). What he was doing contributing to a Planescape book is anyone’s guess, but perhaps he was given this project to help with when that line was, like Planescape, winding down at the end of 1998? In any case, this is all just speculation, but it’s almost difficult not to wonder a bit about this credit considering how strange it is.  
  1. Imagine if we’d received a full book—or hell, boxed set!—on the elemental planes, the para-elemental planes, and quasi-elemental planes. Ludicrous from a profit perspective, I know, but damn I wish we lived in that alternate reality.

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