A Walk Through the Planes – Part 7: MC 8 Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix




With the release of AD&D‘s second edition, TSR made more than a handful of sweeping changes to the game. Rules updates were one of the more obvious of these, but just as immediately noticeable was the removal of the original Monster Manual format. While these would return by the time I started playing, for the next four years players were instead offered singular Monstrous Compendium “books,” which consisted of a binder and packet of loose-leaf pages into which new monsters could be added whenever players bought another supplement. The idea was both innovative and janky at the same time. I only ever knew one person who had one of these binders, and it was gunky and torn up and kind of a mess. While he had some neat monsters in there no one else did, we chose to use the books instead because they felt so much better to use. Professionalism and feel really do make a big difference for games, as any board gamer can tell you.

Statistics and books weren’t the only change the new edition brought to the game’s monsters, and  releasing them piecemeal also allowed the company time to figure out what the hell they wanted to do with the devils, demons, and daemons that had always been a part of the product’s identity but which Lorraine Williams, at the very least, seemed to think was bad business. Remember, there was that whole Mazes and Monsters made-for-tv movie starring Tom Hanks that said D&D was evil? And Jack Chick with his insane pamphlets? Well probably not, as those scares seem like ancient history by now, but during the 1980s D&D had replaced comic books (and had yet to be replaced by video games) as the media’s big scapegoat for teenage ne’er do-wells. Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons (B.A.D.D.) was a real thing and not just something I made up to make fun of Reagan-era reactionary christianity.


So just like that, all these creatures who a year before had been a heavy feature in the game instantly disappeared, and players waited to see what would come of them. It wouldn’t be until 1991, with the eighth appendix, that this would be addressed in a 96-page appendix largely filled with the angels, demons, and devils from before, only with new, difficult-to-pronounce and even more annoying-to-spell names. Say hello to your new demonic overlords, the tanar’ri and baatezu, plus greheleths and yugoloths for those of you who are into that sort of thing. Looks like the planes are back on the menu, boys. 

A Cornugon just chilling and doing a bad job convincing people he’s not a gargoyle.

MC8 Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix is notable as a proto-Planescape book not just because of its emphasis, but also because so much of it would be reused by the setting just a few years later. I’m now going to copy some of Jukka Särkijärvi‘s writing on the subject, because he does an excellent job breaking down just how much of this book would be reused in the Planescape: Monstrous Compendium Appendix

C8 has 91 monsters, while PSMC1 has 105. By a quick count, 71 of these were carried over. Of the remaining 20, most resurfaced in Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix II and Planes of Law (notably the archons). Only the air sentinel, the celestial lammasu, and the adamantite dragon didn’t make further appearances. The air sentinel is basically an off-brand djinn native to Bytopia (or the Twin Paradises as it’s still known at the time), and the other two are what it says on the tin. The adamantite dragon is also native to the Twin Paradises. Its breath weapons are the traditional cone of flame, and a time stop effect. Planescape didn’t really do dragons, which is probably why it made no further appearances.

While the book misses out on modrons and a handful of the more obscure groups of outsiders, this is in fact a fairly comprehensive book. At the same time, unlike most of these compendiums it was written by a single individual, J. Paul LaFountain (aka Jamie LaFountain). And while I feel pretty bad when complaining about RPG supplement writing, that’s not going to keep me from employing another quotation by Mr. Särkijärvi: “The fact remains that MC8’s writer J. Paul LaFountain was not a particularly good prosaist. The text is janky, which is thrown into sharper relief when it sits alongside material written specifically for [PSMC1].”

The Githzerai’s art would be colorized and reprinted in the Monster Manual. It’s ugly enough that I avoided using them at all for years.

The other thing that really sets this book apart from Planescape’s version of largely the same monsters is the art. I will write more about Tony DiTerlizzi’s art in the future—probably in the next write-up or two, as that’s when he arrives—and the general aesthetic that art director Dana Knutson came up with for the setting, but suffice to say it’s much better than Thomas Baxa’s art here, which is much better than what was generally used in the 80s, but that’s not a high bar to cross. Oddly enough, DiTerlizzi would actually draw a decent amount of the single-book Monster Manual that would be released in 1993, but not for many of the planar monsters, as Planescape was yet to be created1. Instead, it was these significantly less interesting drawings by Baxa that first introduced me to most of these creatures, and I would assume that this is true for many other players of my age as well. 


None of which is to say that LaFountain wasn’t filled with interesting ideas, it’s just that he wasn’t the best at conveying them. Aside from the influence he made in deciding how to focus the supplement, he also made one other huge edition to the D&D mythology: the Blood War. This is a never-ending conflict between the lawful evil devils and the chaotic evil demons waged across all the lower planes. While not as defining to Planescape  as Sigil, the Blood War is still an important part of the setting and would eventually have an entire boxed set dedicated to it. Here’s how it’s introduced:

The entire span of history of mankind is but a heartbeat when compared to eternity. It is smaller still when compared to the mighty Blood War that is fought between the baatezu and tanar’ri. For as long as there has been time, these mighty races have clashed with each other in a war of ultimate genocide and wholesale destruction. There can be no compromise in this war. Only total destruction of the enemy will end the Blood War. Such has it been since the creation of time.

Actually, the Blood War may be regarded as the salvation of goodness. Were the two greatest teams of evil to quit their eternal struggle, joining forces in a wanton spread of their corruption, the champions of goodness would be hard pressed to stop them. 

Whatever its origins, mankind plays but a small role in the great war. As far as either the baatezu or the tanar’ri are concerned, mankind merely exists to be dominated in order to provide a foothold in the endless war. It is possible that the Prime Material plane itself holds some sort of energy that would be valuable in the waging of the Blood War—mankind may be merely the innocent bystander in the efforts of the fiends. 

While I complain about the art, some pieces, like this one of the Babau, are actually pretty decent.

As I said earlier, the prose here is… it’s prose, I’ll give it that much, which is also to say that it sure ain’t poetry. Still, the basic idea of the Blood War is powerful and memorable. It manages to tie in to many of the descriptions in the book, deliver some possible adventure threads for DMS, and set up a possible meta-plot for AD&D to explore more fully in the future. LaFountain’s prose may just be workmanlike, but the book is infused with ideas like this, and with it comes the spirit of Planescape-to-come. The outer planes feel alive here, and concerned with their own matters in a way that sets this book apart from the generally prime material plane-focus of everything else published for D&D


LaFontaine had a lot to draw on, be it from earlier Monster Manuals, articles in Dragon, and of course the Manual of the Planes, but this was totally new territory to haphazardly design. In this, the book greatly expanded the game’s meta-plot and overall mythos. Likewise, there are smaller details, such as the larva economy of the night hags and the idea of even the good-aligned Powers warring with each other through agathinon warriors “in seemingly endless cycles of ‘holy’ wars” that go beyond the simple needs of describing stat blocks for DMs to throw up against players. There’s a sense of quite a bit happening in the background of the universe beyond the ken of what players can understand, even if much of it is still opaque, and as such this supplement is still an interesting read. The only thing that keeps me from recommending it is that it is in so many ways supplanted by the works that built off from it that, like the original Manual of the Planes, there’s little reason to return to it besides historical interest.

As a final note, though it feels like this is a more obscure volume than PSMC1, this supplement is easily available for sale as a pdf online, whereas the Planescape appendices, for whatever unclear reason, aren’t. So if you are in the weird circumstances of running an AD&D planar adventure yet don’t have the money to buy one of the Planescape books or the willingness to spend the five minutes it would take to pirate a PDF of them, this book still manages to fill that role quite nicely. 

 1. I recall also reading that he was originally asked to do all of the illustrations for the book, but this was too much work for him to take on at the time. I can’t recall my source on this, though, which I believe may have been an interview I read with him from more than a decade ago.

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