Warriors of Heaven

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 64: Warriors of Heaven




The response that surprised me most in my interview with Monte Cook, Ray Vallese, and Colin McComb was when Cook claimed that the three 1999-2000 TSR releases Warriors of Heaven, Guide to Hell, and Vortex of Madness were never intended as Planescape books. “None of those products started life as Planescape products that were then generalized,” said Cook. Which… well, I’m not so sure about this statement. Although none of them were authored by the (seemingly informal?) Planescape group, the fact is that Warriors at the very least feels intended as an addition to the campaign setting, and according to the author as well as its editor, Vallese, in a pair of much more of-the-time interviews conducted by the old fansite Mimir.net, this was in fact the case. I don’t believe that this is true for the other two books, which we’ll address in due course, but when it comes to Warriors I’m going to say that Cook misremembered things.

So then, how Planescape-y is it? While yes, the release’s prose is straightforward and generic, much of Planescape’s cant was dialed back for its last few releases anyhow. The fact is, one of the book’s editors was Vallese, its art direction was by Dawn Murin who handled most of the setting’s releases, and the actual interior art itself was by Hannibal King, who as much as I don’t care for his work was undeniably one of the setting’s primary artists during its final years. That this was shifted over into a generic release mid-production seems pretty obvious if you’re paying attention, and I suspect that it’s also at this point where the book gained its second editor.


This Planescape feeling is especially true for the first third of the oddly formatted book. Warriors begins with more general information about D&D‘s celestials, then it profiles each of the angelic races in greater length, and then it ends. Abruptly. There’s no real transition between sections, not even a page break, and as a result the entire book reads as one long chunk of prose. Going through it straight reminds me more than a bit of a rant-filled zine. As such, Warriors feels far less official and professional than Planescape releases, with their tight formatting and impeccable design, and almost seems incomplete or at least rushed. Warriors was also Christopher Perkins’ first actual book for TSR/WotC, and my understanding is that he massively overwrote his original assignment, which is also borne out by Shannon Appelcline’s history of the book

Appelcline also claims that this book began as a true Planescape release, contrary to what Cook said to me many years later, though I’m not sure if his source regarding this was those same interviews from earlier or other insider information. “Warriors of Heaven was originally intended to be a companion product to Planescape’s Faces of Evil: The Fiends (1997). It would have been called Servants of Light: The Celestials.”  I’ve often quoted Appelcline at extreme length before, and almost did so now as well, but ultimately I realized that in this particular case I’d just end up quoting his entire article. The entire thing is worth reading, and I’m going to assume that before you move onward with me you’re familiar with what he said, as there isn’t much use repeating it all here. 

Hannibal King is the only artist for Warriors of Heaven, and I still find his work as unmemorable as ever. It’s rarely bad, just dull.

Done with Appelcline’s article? Ok, good, that should give you at least his take on the context of this release. Now let’s carry on with a bit of analysis as to what we actually have here. 

As I said, the beginning of Warriors feels Planescape-y, and unsurprisingly is also the best part of the book. That’s largely because it focuses on the concept of the celestials and the roles they play in a campaign. This includes a section on celestial oaths, and an important addition regarding the “Celestial Tribunal” as a form of heavenly governance that tries to make sense of the politics between these conflicting angelic races. Perkins also adds a handful of new locations to the upper planes that would’ve fit right at home with the original Planescape boxed sets (which, I should also note, are referenced in Warriors about a thousand times). These additions include Nilis-Thur, which continues the story of the Quesars from Planes of Conflict; The Tower of the War Triumphant, which actually makes use of the largely forgotten Muspelheim layer of Ysgard and offers a sort of fortress for staging attacks against the lower planes; and The Empyreal Citadel, which functions as a gateway for celestials helping out on the Prime Material Plane. All three locations have excellent adventure hooks, and grow our understanding of the celestials’ role in the planes  in exciting new ways. At this point in the book I excitedly felt like I’d stumbled upon a work just as good as the Planescape tomes that preceded it. 

Unfortunately, Warriors peaks early, and most of its pages henceforth are far less interesting or revelatory. While the book claims to focus on shedding “new light on the powerful and majestic celestials,” its actual focus is on making them all playable races. This means offering new celestial spells and items, sure, but also stating out all five planar races, plus a reiteration about aasimar (though they’re not included on the table of contents). Including celestials as PC races is, frankly, a terrible idea, and only barely works within AD&D second edition’s systems. For instance, the archons never, ever leave Mount Celestia, which seriously limits their adventuring possibilities. Yet despite the fact that this makes them a terrible idea for PCs, they’re given 11 pages of material focused on statistics and crunch, including explanations for how every single one of their odd transformations works for players. 

I don’t even have any jokes to add. Looks, it’s angels. Woo.

Those odd transformations are the other reason why celestials make for terrible planar races. Aasimon don’t level up, they literally become new creatures, much like devils/demons do in the lower planes. As a result, the way PC assimon advance is wonky and ill-fitting. Players are going to suddenly jump in power, then plateau there without any advancement at all for ages. Matching this up to balance in a remotely fair way with class-based characters seems, frankly, impossible. This makes it so that even your all-celestial party isn’t going to work well, as some members will be leveling normally while others will be transforming at intervals that aren’t made to match up terribly well with the rest of the party. 


And while maybe your group of players would be fine with that, always putting roleplaying first and considering advancement a peripheral part of the game, the actual options for roleplaying are also extremely limited. Perkins includes very harsh rules about what should happen if many of these celestial races slips out of their strictly-defined alignment or role. The results are not pretty, and while in some cases this may just mean banishment, in others it means that your powers and abilities are completely stripped from you, making your PC pretty much useless. Like all rules for D&D this could be ignored, but assuming you play the book as it’s intended PC options are going to be radically limited. 

As a result of celestials being a terrible idea for PCs, the majority of the book is kind of useless. What’s more, it also adds very little non-crunch information. With the exception of the Eladrins, all of these races have been given roughly as much detail before in the boxed sets, and even the Eladrin information is barely more than what was covered in the Monstrous Compendium Planescape Appendix II. For each race, one particular celestial is profiled, but these aren’t up to Planescape standards and really just serve to give us more angelic NPCs. Which is fine, but also counter to what the rest of the book is about. As a result, two thirds of the book is only useful for running celestial PCs in second edition AD&D (which would end only a year or so after this book was published), and even if that’s something you’re interested in it’s not something I’d in any way recommend. 

Zora Sebirati, a proxy of Ra

As one final demerit, Warriors also includes information about the celestial equars from that “Desteriers of the Planes” article in Dragon from a year earlier, which is something I’d much prefer the game entirely forgot about. Everything about these horses remains lame and uninspired, and Perkins does nothing to elevate this material. 


While that covers the original 96 pages of Warriors of Heaven, this book also has the odd distinction of being the first D&D release with a web supplement. Originally hosted on TSR.com, unfortunately these PDF documents are no longer available from Wizards of the Coast, which made hunting down copies a bit difficult. Fortunately, TSRArchive.com has kept these from completely disappearing from the universe, and hosts both Perkins’ write-up of the Quesar and a tie-in adventure titled “Devil’s Deal.” 

Of these supplements, the Quesar one is far less interesting. I appreciate that it continues including this obscure-yet-fascinating celestial race within D&D‘s cosmology and makes them another optional player race, but like the other celestial races actually playing as one seems like a poor idea for most campaigns (though they’re marginally more interesting than, for instance, the archons in that regard). But as far as new information about the Quesars outside of crunch is concerned, there’s almost nothing here. Even the information on notable Quesars is lacking, and as such while I’m glad that we still have access to this PDF, it’s also pretty skippable for most readers. 

My favorite celestials are the guardinals, anthropomorphic animal-angels who don’t put up with anyone else’s shit, including that of other celestials.

“Devil’s Deal” is more interesting. After all, Perkins was at this point mostly an adventure designer, not a game designer, and this is really where his strengths still lie. In it, players work to rescue an asuras from a devil’s lair on Phlegethos, ideally without relinquishing a pit fiend’s enchanted mace as ransom. This adventure includes the involvement of multiple NPCs Perkins introduced in the Warriors book proper, and also makes use of some of the political difficulties he hinted at that restrict the actions of celestials. In essence, he’s attempting to show how a DM could create an adventure despite the difficulties of running celestial PCs, though notably in this case it means that the entire party consists of celestials.


For the most part, it’s a fine adventure in that it can be approached in multiple ways, including through just talking or as a dungeon stomp, the main difficulty being that it’s “designed for 4-6 good-aligned celestial PCs of levels 3-4.” If players of those levels do try to fight their way out of this situation, which will likely happen at one point or another due to failed negotiations, they’re going to feel pretty confident… up until the point when they get absolutely stomped by the pit fiend’s gelugon lieutenant and his many henchmen. A party wipe from a fight with these foes is essentially inevitable.

While I appreciate that “Devil’s Deal” is in fact an interesting-enough story that makes use of quite a bit of the material in Warriors, it still feels like little more than a sample. As such, the web supplements, while up to roughly the same level of quality as the rest of the book, certainly aren’t enough to save the volume from more or less irrelevance. I do enjoy the introduction of a handful of planar sites and ideas included in Warriors, but overall my advice is to skip this book and certainly never to try running these celestials as player races. If anything, Warriors really illustrates why Planescape’s books are worth returning to while so many other D&D accessories aren’t, as pages and pages of ideas trump pages and pages of statistics and rules any day of the week.

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