Manual of the Planes (3rd Edition)

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 72: Manual of the Planes (Third Edition)




This is the big one. Up until third edition D&D‘s Manual of the Planes, the game’s multiverse had only grown in one direction: bigger. More planes had been added, and with them more complexity. Each new plane required new locations, with new cultures and creatures to inhabit these locations, and by the end of Planescape we reached a point where it was quite possible to adventure anywhere from Elysium to the Paraelemental Plane of Vapor and everywhere in between. Every deity had a realm, and every world was linked. As would befit a multiverse, it felt at times almost infinite in scope. Whenever the game’s designers needed something, even something as silly as where dreams come from (instead of just saying, I don’t know, they’re from inside our brains?), they found a place in the Great Wheel cosmology and made the old model more-or-less work.

But one of the goals of the game’s third edition was paring things back. Making D&D accessible and easier to jump into. Making it a broadly popular pastime again. Most noticeably this came from drastically reducing the number of settings, but this desire for more simplicity affected quite a few aspects of both game design and publishing decisions. I’m reminded a bit of comic books, and DC/Marvel’s occasional need for resets due to the decades of storylines weighing down any random issue of superhero comics. The difference here, though, is that I don’t really think the history of the game’s continuity matters much because everyone’s sessions and campaigns are different anyhow (and yes, there are also countless tie-in books of differing levels of canonicity, but screwing with those continuities has only caused massive issues for very obvious reasons). In order to effect this simplification, the change between editions required a lot of messy retconing, and while these adjustments weren’t nearly as bad or drastic as what happened with the game’s fourth edition, the D&D multiverse has never fully returned to where it was pre-2000. Maybe Vecna was as powerful as he thought he was after all. 


Oddly, the primary architect of this new version of the planes was none other than Jeff Grubb, who authored 1987’s original, first edition Manual of the Planes that did so much to define the game’s multiverse during the intervening years. While he was assisted in this endeavor by Bruce Cordell and David Noonan, my understanding is that this revamp was largely the result of Grubb’s efforts. And while I have some frustration with what resulted, I’m also a big admirer of this book and consider it to be the finest of the three Manuals. It’s not quite what I want it to be, but despite its shortcomings this is still an extremely interesting and useful resource. Let’s just be clear from the get-go that despite its planar focus, this sure ain’t Planescape. This Manual is about generality, not specificity. It’s more here to give you training wheels for your own campaign than it is to explain what the politics of Acheron are like. In short, Planescape is a campaign setting, while this Manual is more a tool set for what the planes of any campaign might look like. 

Arnie Swekel’s sketches at the beginning of each chapter are wonderful, and I wish full versions existed anywhere. He’s probably my favorite artist for this edition, and his work on covers and sections like this are iconic.

The book is divided into nine main parts, plus an appendix, which due to the nature of what’s included there is really a tenth full part and in fact one of the better sections of the book. The first two of these chapters are less interesting for what they do to the planes than for illuminating how Grubb and the rest of WotC understand these places. Similar to what’s attempted in the third edition of Deities & Demigods, Manual tries to pare planes down to a series of regularized traits. This includes the physical traits of gravity, time, size, and shape, plus how “morphic” (alterable) a plane is by gods and mortals, as well as elemental and energy traits, magic traits, and alignment traits. Henceforth, every plane in the book is going to begin with a stat block outlining these details, which is both reductionary and useful at the same time. These stats are a kind of crib notes version of entire worlds, and while they add a lot more generalization to how what are supposed to be new and fantastic worlds are described, I do understand the appeal. 

Chapter 2, “Connecting the Planes,” continues in a similar vein by trying to describe the logic of how the D&D Great Wheel is (now) put together, as well as how DM’s might create their own cosmologies. I find this interesting in the abstract, but like with the first chapter it involves a lot of taking the magic and mystery out of the multiverse. Spells, gods, heaven, and hell seem to become traits that can fit on a spreadsheet. The theology and weirdness of the planes are being reduced here, and while this may be interesting for DMs trying to figure out how to design their own worlds, once again as far as the canonical multiverse is concerned it’s underwhelming. The tools here may be useful to some, but it can also lead to a less exciting world than a universe designed by Tolkien or Lewis, or really anyone else. Logic and magic are a mixture that just don’t fit together perfectly.

Another oddity of this book is that while it’s really for DM’s, whether they’re designing their own cosmologies or using the default D&D one, chapter three “Characters and Magic” is largely for players. Here, four prestige classes (I believe a fifth was cut and turned into last week’s Dragon article by Cordell) and a whole pile of new spells are included for players to use in their adventures. All of the new classes are quite worthwhile, even if I can’t imagine a cleric or priest ever using them (not getting a +1 to casting at each level is pretty killer in version 3.0/3.5/3.75/…5.0 of the game), I do love how they allow PCs to act as pseudo-proxies, planar mages, planar mercenary warriors, or my favorite, the Gatecrasher, who can scramble portals and juke around the planes like a thief with extra-dimensional powers. Of particular interest in the spells are Analyze Portal, which replaces Warp Sense from second edition by making a similar spell with a far more logical name, and Avoid Planar Effects, which is a must-have spell for any planar party (that also makes a couple of the other spells included here completely pointless because they have the same effect but more limited). 

The Gatecrasher looks like someone fun to meet, and also someone fun to roleplay as.

Then there’s one more boring chapter before we get to the real changes. “The Material Plane” is a few pages about how the Material Plane for a campaign is pretty much your run-of-the-mill fantasy world. A couple words are spent talking about alternate material planes and ideas for what they might entail, but again it’s just a few tools to play with in your own cosmology rather than something canonical. Even the most die-hard, obsessive DM will probably never look back at these pages again.

Up until chapter five, “The Transitive Planes,” there were references to how the new edition’s cosmology was altered from the previous Great Wheel, but it isn’t until here that things get fully spelled out. Most (though certainly not all) of the radical, overarching changes occur here, and for the most part they’re… good. I’ll have Jeff Grubb, the book’s primary designer, explain the logic of what’s going on here, per an interview he did with WotC about the Manual back in 2001:

The biggest changes are the most basic, and result from the nature of how spells work in the current D&D rules. For example, the Demiplane of Shadow is now considered a full plane, akin to Ethereal and Astral. Also, you can get anywhere you want through the Astral Plane.

The “promotion” of the Plane of Shadow has been a long time coming, particularly since shadow-manipulating spells are common in the D&D spellbook. Shadow really never fit the definition of a demiplane, and was slotted there because it did not fit anywhere in the old Great Wheel. Now it is much more important.

The Astral Plane comes from a result of how summoning spells work. Now the spell that summons a fire elemental is the same one as summons an archon. The old way of having the ethereal reaching the Inner Planes and the astral reaching the Outer Planes doesn’t work as well, so we made the call to let the Astral touch everywhere within a particular cosmology.

This also, by the way, changed the Ethereal Plane, which had previously existed as two separate planes, the Border Ethereal that was where you went when you went Ethereal to walk through walls, and the Deep Ethereal that connected to the Inner Planes. If the Astral went everywhere, then the Deep Ethereal wasn’t as needed, and we dropped that from the core cosmology (though we left it as an option, and explained how it would function if you kept it).

As Grubb notes, the primary change is that rather than the Ethereal Plane connecting the Prime with the inner planes, and the Astral Plane connecting with the outer planes, now the Astral connects with everything. This s both logical and makes for an easier understanding of what’s going on. Prior to now, the Astral was always a sort of no-place, the plane you end up in when you’re between planes, and so it makes sense that it functions this way regardless of where you’re at. In all, I’m a fan of this, and making there be one connective tissue between the multiverse in this manner just feels right. This is the type of simplicity that legitimately makes for a more thoughtful, useful multiverse.

However, this change also means that the Ethereal Plane needs to change as well, and what happens here is more awkward. Third edition removes the Deep Ethereal entirely, and instead the Ethereal is just a ghostly place that can be explored within the Prime. And when I say ghostly, I mean it—this is where ghosts reside and, uhh, yeah that’s mostly it. I suspect that were it not for them and other incorporeal creatures, the Ethereal would’ve disappeared entirely at this point, but in order to explain these interactions the designers needed something, and so the Ethereal is still sticking around in third edition, though just barely. Frankly, the Deep Ethereal was always ill-defined and strange. It didn’t make a ton of sense, and I never had players go there because I didn’t know exactly how to describe it or the journey to it. Even the book A Guide to the Ethereal Plane is forced to resort to metaphors. That its author is one of the co-authors of this book I think speaks to how, when a person spends more time dealing with this location, the less sense it really makes, and difficulty understanding for a DM is death for inclusion in a campaign. Relatedly, demiplanes can now be linked to anywhere, which also makes a great deal more sense than the awkwardness of their location before (not to mention the prior nonsense of items using extraplanar space like bags of holding). In a way, this is the removal of an entire plane, and as such the Ethereal is barely transitive anymore; it’s more just another layer or way of looking at the Prime. 

Todd Gamble’s maps and designs are also quite attractive and clean, but often there’s little point to them. This is a really cool way of illustrating something incredibly simple that in no way requires a diagram.

My main issue with this new conception of the Ethereal is that it doesn’t quite work with its primary purpose, which is to say that its explanation of incorporeal creatures is messy. Incorporeal creatures can still exist in the outer and inner planes (this is even mentioned within this book)… but this shouldn’t be possible given that their Ethereal nature can only work on the Prime. Oddly enough, a way of making this work is offered by the Manual in its sample cosmology, “The Omniverse.” In this cosmology, every “real” plane also has an Ethereal counterpart. Given that the Ethereal is, again, more a way of seeing and interacting with the Prime than it is a real place anymore (the meat of it was always the Deep Ethereal), this is something I would allow in my own campaigns, were it to ever come up. Had the designers just said that planes contain an Ethereal component to them things would’ve worked a lot more elegantly. 

There were still a handful of features the Deep Ethereal had that are difficult to move elsewhere into the planes, chiefly The Semblance as a weirdo handmade demiplane, the phenomenon of ether gaps and with them Leicester’s Gap as an outpost, and some locations involving the Believers of the Source… but all things considered it’s not that much. The Deep Ethereal could also easily still be part of the multiverse, just not as a transitive plane in the same manner as it was before, or perhaps as simply another option to traveling through the Astral. In any case, it’s the first casualty of third edition’s changes to the multiverse, though given how peripheral the Deep Ethereal’s status always was I never got the sense it was much missed (or even noticed).

Conversely, the Plane of Shadows has now gone from being a demiplane listed along with the rest in the Guide to the Ethereal Plane to a full-fledged transitive plane of its own. As with the other transitive changes, this mostly makes sense, as shadow magic has long been a part of the game without a great deal of logic as to how it worked. Likewise, making Shadow a sort of dark version of the Prime is simply more interesting than what it was before. In addition to these changes—including one that tries to make sense of shadow movement and does a piss-poor job of things—there’s also the implication that the Plane of Shadow is how PCs move from one Prime world to another. Any hint of the ptolemaic geography of Spelljammer is completely gone at this point, and this shadow method and maybe Sigil now seem to be the only ways to get from, say, Oerth to Krynn. While this might make for an intriguing plot point in a particular campaign, as far as the conception of the multiverse goes this is also a rather radical change, and feels limiting. While mentions of alternate Prime planes abound in the Manual, they’re always treated as something of an oddity or peripheral option and not a normal part of the game like they were in Spelljammer or Planescape during second edition. 

I may not like the planar changes, but I do still love Swekel’s art. It really is crazy to me it’s nowhere online or for purchase in a book. I’ll shut up about that soon, but come on, give us the full versions.

That’s not the biggest change to the game’s cosmology, though. Just three years after the publication of The Inner Planes, all of those quasi- and paraelemental planes are suddenly gone. Poof. Never to be seen again. A few sentences mention the idea of having the elemental planes overlap as they did before, saying:

One variant is to allow your Inner Planes to meld into each other, so a traveler can physically move between the Elemental Planes of Fire and Earth. These “paraplanes” of mixed elements along the border have the traits of both adjacent planes, and natives of both planes live there…. Similarly, the Elemental Planes can merge with the Energy Planes in border areas. These “quasi-planes” would have traits of both the Elemental Plane and the Energy Plane.

But this is just an option, as with so, so many other options, and as far as the game’s real cosmology is concerned they don’t exist.1 Just like that, 12 planes have disappeared, and with them the majority of the quite recent book focused on these locations, not to mention some key parts of the Planescape universe (the Doomguards’ fortresses are located where, exactly, now?). 

The half dozen inner planes that survived this culling are quite similar to what we’ve seen before, though their lack of borders does radically change them and remove quite a few of their locations. Somewhat relatedly, what we are left with is also easier to survive in than in previous editions, and I don’t just mean from the decreased conflict involved with separating the inner planes from each other. For instance, while the Plane of Earth still has the possibility of suffocation, at the same time areas that aren’t solid rock or stone are now implicitly assumed to be filled with air. While it’s noted that “a traveler who suddenly manifests randomly on the plane runs the risk of suffocation and speedy burial,” this is due to them being submerged. Otherwise, this problem isn’t mentioned. Likewise, the Plane of Fire now consists mostly of solid ground, “akin to walking across flaming coals,” and has a breathable atmosphere somehow, even though this makes even less sense given the relationship between fire and oxygen. This isn’t to say that the atmosphere isn’t something considered by the book, either, as it’s noted that “flying creatures find the atmosphere above this surface to be thin but usable,” but the logic of this seems to be far more about making these places for adventuring rather than “realistic” locations. In this case, the changes fundamentally alter the nature of these planes in a way that just doesn’t seem right for how hostile and otherworldly they’re supposed to be. Fortunately, as with many other changes, it’s easy enough to stick with the older conception of the inner planes and pretend that final Planescape book is still canon.

All complaints aside, major locations such as the City of Brass and the City of Glass remain largely unchanged (though the City of Brass is now completely habitable rather than just or nearly as hot as the rest of the plane like it was before). The only additions I noticed are The Avenger, a strange manta ray-shaped vehicle in the Plane of Water and, uhh, yeah that’s really it. Why there’s this one random addition (similar to the never-again-mentioned Shining Citadel in the Plane of Shadows last chapter) is unexplained, though my guess would be that there was extra space so the designers and editors figured they might as well fill it. 

The diagram makes sense… but also since these planes are completely disconnected what’s the point? Swenkel’s hands juggling the inner planes actually does a better job of illustrating what’s going on.

The vast majority of changes between editions occurred in the prior two chapters, but that doesn’t mean that the Outer Planes are quite the same as they were before. For one thing, it’s now possible to walk the great ring without using gatetowns. At all:

The first layer of each Outer Plane shares a border with one Outer Plane on each side. In this way, all the Outer Planes are connected. Travelers who know the proper paths can find places where the borders are thin enough that a simple walk is sufficient to transfer the traveler from one Outer Plane to another.

The passage is not a sudden shift but rather a gradual change. As the traveler approaches the border, the area becomes more and more like the neighboring Outer Plane, while the features of the current plane become less and less noticeable. Eventually, the traveler has passed wholly onto the new plane, though it is almost impossible to pin down the exact moment of passage.

This is a major ontological shift, and not one I’m particularly fond of. Now, for instance, you can just take a hike out of Carceri if you’re sick of being stuck there. Fortunately, I don’t believe this aspect of the planes is ever mentioned again, either in this book or in the rest of D&D, so it’s also easily ignored.

A more frustrating change is the complete removal of two of the Great Paths that used to unite the planes: Yggdrasil and Olympus. Their removal stems, I suspect, from a weird and failed attempt at generalizing the planes even more by denuding them from their mythic origins. Both of these paths originated from non-WotC owned mythologies, and given how much easier it is to travel between the outer planes now they’re also much less necessary. That being said, there is a weird pick-and-choose thing going on regarding mythologies, as of course the Styx is still here, as are names like Hades and Hell. Essentially, this attempt to remove mythology from the outer planes simply doesn’t work. Admittedly, Olympus was rarely used even in Planescape, but Yggdrasil played a major role in Dead Gods and had become a rather important part of the setting. Strangely enough, the Infinite Staircase is still mentioned, so that’s still there even if the more important and well-known methods of transportation have disappeared. I don’t know, maybe they were considered too confusing? Whatever, it’s still a frustrating removal.


Another result of such generalization and erasure is that some of the more noteworthy locations of the planes are stripped of their original specificity. I’ll touch on this more in a bit, but for instance Winter’s Hall is no longer the realm of Loki, rather it’s the abode of “the Trickster.” Similarly, the Teardrop Palace is still around, but Sun Chiang goes completely unmentioned. However, other individuals, for instance Cronus of the titans, are still named, so there’s inconsistency and no real logic as to this choice. It’s not a good change, feeling both needless and awkward, but fortunately it’s extremely easy to ignore the lack of any but the core third edition D&D pantheon lurking around (except, as I mentioned, in the cases where that’s not even true). 

A perhaps less relevant or noticeable change with the outer planes regards how they deal with Powers’ realms. Realms are a big part of Planescape’s idea of the outer planes, but now they’re seen as less special and more just a result of these planes’ “divinely morphic” traits. With these new changes, it seems like it would be easy for one god to pop over to another’s place and mess with it just because, especially if they’re higher ranked (third edition gets so granular with the statistics for these entities that each one is given a power number from one to twenty, which removes the awe part of their identities really fast). Realms are now just another location in the planes without anything particularly special to them, which is certainly an option I suppose, but not how they worked in the Planescape era and not a good way to keep deities special.

Apparently, Limbo is just a really awesome place, at least if this piece of art is anything to judge it by.

Ok, those are the big changes, but there’s also plenty of smaller ones. Less for anyone reading this, and more for my own obsessive compulsive interest, I’m going to go plane by plane documenting what I see as relevant alterations from previous editions. I’m certain to miss some, or get some wrong, but whatever. I’ll also be noting any new locations or ideas of interest, because it’s not all just reductions here.

Formerly: Ysgard (and even more formerly Gladsheim)
Now: Heroic Domains of Ysgard – Because it needed more wordiness, I guess.
Surprisingly, this plane is very similar to its Planescape version, though with all of the Asgardians now exiled, thereby removing like 90% of its locations as well as the logic as to why it functions like this. Their removal also makes the title and theming particularly weird, but no matter. A few “realms” are given for Kord and Olidammara, though neither is terribly interesting. The plane is also minorly positive, which basically just gives everyone quick healing in addition to the whole resurrection business, the logic of which is no longer really explained since Norse mythology is no longer allowed in. All in all, it’s still kind of dull, but now with less Vikings.

Formerly: Limbo
Now: Ever-Changing Chaos of Limbo – Again, it seems like they just wanted to make things wordier. 
Limbo also sticks quite well with what was revealed about it earlier. Even the information about it possibly having layers that are just too difficult to separate from each other remains in the text. Petitioners are now essentially the stereotype that Planescape made fun of the clueless for thinking about the plane’s petitioners, but oh well. A bit of information about the monastery of Zerth’Ad’lun is included, but it’s less than we received in the previous issue of Dragon. I do appreciate the inclusion of lore about Ssendam and Ygorl and how they control the Spawning Stone’s output. Plus, nothing from before couldn’t easily fit into this version of Limbo as well. Sweet.

Formerly: Pandemonium 
Now: Windswept Depths of Pandemonium – I mean, I assume the full names are what’s canon now, and not just a weird way of describing these places? Right? That’s weirdly unclear.
Pandemonium’s petitioners are no longer invisible to infravision, and lack some of their spell-like abilities, but otherwise are largely the same. The Madhouse and Winter’s Hall remain on Pandesmos, even though the Bleak Cabal is a faction and Winter’s Hall should belong to Loki, who is now known as “the Trickster.” Lame. The Unseelie Court also presumably no longer exists here, as those faerie kingdoms are now largely gone from the Great Wheel, which is something we’ll get to much later. Additionally, the deity Erythnul’s Citadel of Slaughter realm is detailed a bit, though it’s mostly pretty basic. Otherwise, another quite direct planar translation, even if the Norse mythology’s disappearance remains stupid.

Formerly: The Abyss
Now: Infinite Layers of the Abyss
Not much has changed, though all petitioners are now manes. Which makes sense if you want to simplify things, so sure, why not. Otherwise, details are largely the same, including a sidebar about the Ships of Chaos from Planescape and some details about Broken Reach, Azzagrat, and other typical layers. More noteworthy is a sidebar explaining that yes, Orcus is back, despite the fact that “Heroes from the Material Plane seemingly disrupted this ceremony at the eleventh hour.” Ugh. So to those who played Dead Gods, looks like you wasted your time, suckers. The only new detail is about one particular stronghold on the Plane of Infinite Portals, named Ferrug. Oh, and because this and most other outer plane entries were written by Bruce Cordell, he saw fit to bring his Noisome Vale layer of the Abyss back, i.e. the balor-ruled world with a river of worms.
And while Gruumsh is now listed here, he’s also given more information in Acheron, where he should be, so I think this was just a weird error. 

A typcal prison on Carceri. Looks like their justice system’s a lot like America’s.

Formerly: Carceri (and before that Tartarus)
Now: Tarterian Depths of Carceri – A name that splits the difference, though Tartarus is Grecian and that’s a non-Greyhawk mythology. Hmm…
The main issue with this revamp is that the gehreleths, i.e. demodands, have been removed entirely. No mention of them appears, and though they’ll be back in third edition’s Fiend Folio, that already makes this plane’s write-up feel off. Hilariously, Cronus and the titans are still hanging about on Mount Orthrys, though, which is particularly weird given the multiverse’s removal of the Grecian/Roman pantheon. One additional location, the Apothecary of Sin, is added to Cathrys, and although he’s just a glorified poisonmaker, at least that’s something. Likewise, Minethys now has the “Sand Tombs of Payratheon,” which makes the place a little bit too similar to Pelion/Mithardir on Arborea for my liking, but admittedly Carceri was a bit lacking before, especially without the gehreleths lurking about. The Garden of Malice on Colothys consists of hanging, animate gardens, and Porphatys now has a weird ship traveling it that seems like a nice hook for adventures. Overall, Cordell has added the most to this plane so far, including a surprisingly detailed description of Nerull’s realm. The final layer, Agathys, is now only a single orb, but honestly this is kind of a cool change, and doesn’t really affect anything except for tone.

Formerly: The Gray Waste
Now: Gray Waste of HadesAnother combination of first and second edition names that ends up awkward due to the whole mythological basis issue. 
Petitioners here are so similar to the ones in Planescape that some of the prose is literally copy and pasted. However, mention is also made that many petitioners also become larvae, which before was a step up or sort of promotion? That was always kind of unclear to me. The stats are now just for the larvae, but they’re not complete, and it’s all still kind of messy. I don’t think larvae ever got stated in third edition? Prove me wrong, endless swath monster manual books.
Unfortunately, the rather awesome conception of how Hades’ planes fit together in Planescape is gone, and now it’s another boring three-level place with nothing special going on. A lot of time is also spent explaining how the Siege Malicious works, i.e. the throne at the top of Khin-Oin, which as far as I’m concerned is wasted space given that players should never be able to become the oinoloth (I feel the same way about the write-ups of Bahamut and Tiamat later in the chapter). Surprisingly, it’s still ruled by Mydianchlarus, while Anthraxus goes unmentioned despite having a far better name. Really, the main issue is the lack of Hel and Pluto/Hades, which leads to a realm called Underworld that is dumbly not ruled over by Hades, even though his name is in the goddamn title of the plane. Like Ysgard before it, the place not only loses a lot of its charm without its mythological roots, it also makes very little sense, though I was entertained that there’s a note saying how few deities like to chill here given that this is quite obviously not the case. 

Formerly: Gehenna
Now: Bleak Eternity of Gehenna – Bleak is more a Hades, thing, though, so this feels off
Yet again, we run into a weirdly denuded location, with Sung Chiang’s Teardrop Palace missing its god. The Tower of the Arcanaloths is renamed the Tower Arcane, which doesn’t really matter I guess, and surprisingly Nimicri is still given an entry, perhaps because it was always such a cool location. A new place, Valley of the Outcast, has been added to Mungoth, which is inhabited by a fire giant wizard, though there isn’t much else of note going on there. Likewise, Krangath now has a stronghold named Hopelorn, inhabited by a lich, which is mostly basic fantasy nonsense that isn’t so interesting. Apparently this lich is just a Forgotten Realms deity by a different name, too, and his realm is usually on Mungoth (and named Death’s Embrace)? I’m a bit unclear on this, though fortunately I don’t think any of it was ever mentioned again, so whatever.


Formerly: Baator
Now: Nine Hells of Baator – I’m actually a fan of this combo-platter name. For once, it just works.
Rather than most petitioners being lemures, now they largely consist of “ghost-white shades.” Where lemures come from isn’t included, let alone nupperibos. Otherwise, this Hell is quite similar to what we saw at the end of second edition, from the names of the archdevils to what they rule over and even their appearances. Even Mephistopheles’ weird name issues are explained away, with a sidebar saying that, “Mephistopheles once engineered his own coup, when he was replaced by Baron Molikroth. However, Molikroth was secretly Mephistopheles, and that duplicity has now ended.” Likewise, Fierna rules over Phlegethos in title, though “really the two [Belial and Fierna] rule the layer of Phlegethos together.” Don’t worry, we’ll see more shake ups in Hell before the end of this edition, but for now I don’t even need to whip out my whole archdevil roundup chart again.

Formerly: Acheron
Now: Infernal Battlefield of Acheron
Most petitioners are just generic warriors and no longer orcs or goblins. More importantly, the Battlecube previously inhabited by the warring armies of orcs and goblins has now been split in two, as “the opposing deities of each realm finally managed to separate their realms.” Wow, if it was that easy, I guess they should’ve just done that sooner. Bladelings are also completely missing, but like the gehreleths they’d return soon enough, and their popularity would only grow so I’m not even annoyed at their absence. Even petrification on Thuldanin remains, which is something I do appreciate, especially when the rest of the plane is given so little detail. 

Matt Cavota’s art for Mechanus is almost exactly how I picture the plane in my head, so it remains a favorite from this book.

Formerly: Mechanus
Now: Clockwork Nirvana of Mechanus – Combines first and second edition names and also adds in the word clockwork. Not creative, but kind of functional, I guess, so the plane’s inhabitants would probably approve.
One of the other primary changes of the multiverse, aside from the removal of most of the inner planes and the radical reworking of the transitive planes, is the demotion of the modrons. Anyone familiar with Planescape is probably also familiar with modrons, and though some loathe the weird critters, like most longtime fans I’m very fond of them. Instead, Mechanus has been overtaken by formians, a previously minor race of giant insects largely associated until now with Arcadia (to the point that an image of them is literally on the Arcadia book in Planes of Law). The given explanation is that when the third layer of Arcadia drifted down to Mechanus, it was infested by an expansionist group of formians who since then have taken over the rest of the plane. Modrons are still mentioned, and feature in the plane’s map, but are largely peripheral and their statistics only made it into a web supplement. Nemausus has meanwhile become Neumannus (I mean, presumably), which is ruled over by another new race of beings, the inevitables, who go out there and punish lawbreakers because they’re just narcs like that. As much as I’m generally a fan of things moving forward in the planes, such that adventures have real consequences, in this case I’m disappointed. Jeff Grubb explained this in an interview on the old site by saying, ” I think it’s a bit odd that the creatures of ultimate Law should look the most nonhuman.” And I guess insects are more human? Like the yugoloths, modrons haven’t been much of a player in planar events since Planescape ended, and here’s where that begins. Prior to now, Regulus was 64 cogs in and of itself, and that was just a single modron realm. Now, those 64 cogs are the entirety of the modron empire. How the mighty (or rather, mightily strange) have fallen.

Formerly: Arcadia
Now: Peaceable Kingdoms of Arcadias
The proxies are now all einheriars because I guess things needed to be more confusing. That was much more of a Ysgard thing until now, but at least it’s easily ignored. Otherwise, Arcadia remains much the same as before, though it has almost as little detail now as it did in the original Manual of the Planes (in which the layers weren’t even named) because it lacks the main drama of the Harmonium. Which isn’t to say that they’re not mentioned, but their reeducation camps are no longer listed as the primary reason for the loss of the plane’s third layer, with the retcon now saying:

The third layer of Arcadia actually no longer exists (and has not, for millennia). Its planar essence has joined with Mechanus. This cataclysm is attributed to overcolonization by formians, and their overriding, unmerciful lawful mindset. No one can now guess which particular portion of Mechanus is actually Menausus, but a good bet is that a large portion of the formian hive-cogs were once hivecities in Menausus.

This not only removes one of the main storylines from early Planescape adventures from the multiverse (much like Orcus’ return does to later ones…), it also seems to condone the Harmonium’s activities more than Planescape ever did. Perhaps more surprisingly, the Storm Kings are still kicking around, even though they were always a sorta dumb conceit. Good for them, I guess.

Formerly: Mount Celestia
Now: Seven Mounting Heavens of Celestia – Mounting? Really, mounting? Not The Seven Heavens of Mount Celestia? I’d forgotten this until now, probably from repression, and ugh, what the hell were they thinking?
Very little has changed between this and Planescape’s Celestia (I mean, why bother, it’s a boring place regardless…). Even weird aspects such as Bahamut’s traveling realm remain made it into the new edition, and while I think a few of the locations here may have been added, my mind really glazed over when trying to pay much attention to the area. It was dull before, and is essentially the same dull now. The  main thing I noted is that the idea that everyone visiting has to be dunked in the Silver Sea’s holy waters now no longer really works, as the Astral Plane now reaches onto every layer of every plane, not just the first layers. This also causes quite an issue with, say, making locations like the bottom of Hell inaccessible. And while in some ways the logic of the Astral working everywhere makes more sense, you can see why this is a problem that was avoided before now.

Formerly: Bytopia
Now: Twin Paradises of Bytopia – Now this is how you slam together first and second generation names. No mounting going on here.
Everything I said about the previous entry is true here, too, and even moreso. After all, why change a plane virtually no one ever visits because it’s so boring. The balloons go unmentioned, as does the adamantite dragon and the ridiculous tower, but you know what, I doubt anyone noticed. While I miss the inner planes that disappeared, if maps suddenly forgot about Bytopia I doubt anyone in the multiverse would even notice. Maybe a few gnomes might complain, but then who cares what they think anyhow?

Formerly: Elysium
Now: Blessed Fields of Elysium – Sure, why not?
As with most other upper planes, Elysium has had few changes. Even the prison-plane of Belierin is still there. There’s only one new, Greyhawk-deity realm here, and otherwise almost no details about the plane, which is unfortunate as unlike some of its brethren this is a pretty neat place. Aside from giving the plane short shrift, I have no notes. 

Todd Gamble’s spire is one thick boy compared with Rob Lazzaretti’s from Planescape.

Formerly: The Beastlands (and prior to that, the Happy Hunting Grounds)
Now: Wilderness of the Beastlands – Ok, looks like we’re back to lazily adding words for no reason.
Many petitioners now are not full animals but only people with animal traits. But that’s fine, as eventually they still go full Animorphs, and given the time scales we’re talking about that still makes enough sense. Not really any locations here, either, and I think I should mention that there’s a radical shift in quality between the planes Jeff Grubb wrote and the ones Bruce Cordell covered. According to Grubb, “[Cordell] did a champion job blitzing through most of the Outer Plane descriptions of the Great Wheel. He started at Ysgard and went clockwise, I started at Arborea and went counterclockwise. I think I met him in the Seven Heavens. He did about three-quarters of the wheel himself.” Too bad Cordell didn’t do all of them. Additional demerits to Jeff here for not mentioning anything about the animal lord demi-deities.


Formerly: Arborea (and before that Olympus/Arvandor)
Now: Olympian Glades of Arborea
As with a few other planes, it’s pretty weird to put Olympian in the title when you have a description that goes out of its way to strip the Grecian mythology out of the plane. Relatedly, this is I believe the only of the outer planes whose layers were renamed, as now instead of Olympus, Ossa, and Pelion we’re left with Arvandor, Aquallor, and Mithardir, respectively. As a result of these changes, the plane is now all about the elves, when before it used to have other things going on as well. Aside from stripping out much of what made the place interesting (i.e. Grecian mythology), nothing really changes here, and even the petitioners are largely the same, though with a bit less variety.

Formerly: The Outlands
Now: Concordant Doman of the Outlands – Well, it’s better than the Plane of Concordant Opposition, at least. So there’s that.
Gatetowns are now called Portal Towns, because consistency sucks or something. At least their names remain the same. Surprisingly, Sigil is still up there above the spire. Aside from a couple of new realms (which are in no way as interesting as the ones featured in second edition), the biggest deletion concerns the Hinterlands past the normal area of the Outlands. Now, it seems to be just a boring nothingness rather than the intriguing mystery we were left with by Planescape.

I still dig the energons, and find these ones more alien than second editon’s.

Whew, we’re done. I thought that might be more interesting to go through than it actually ended up being, largely because (especially with Grubb’s planes) there aren’t all that many changes. The primary issue is simply the removal of all but the intentionally dull Greyhawk deities from this multiverse… which as a result also makes the entirety of the planes feel a lot less like a multiverse and more like a continuation of Greyhawk. Which I suppose is part of the point, but this still removes many of the more exciting and wondrous locations. They still can exist in this new Great Wheel, but, well, as far as the game is concerned they don’t (probably? It’s a bit unclear what non-Greyhawk material is still canon). I’m honestly unsure whether we’ll ever see the interactions of these non-WotC-owned pantheons again in the game, and while they were certainly misused just as frequently as they led to something intriguing, it’s still a loss. The cosmopolitan mixture of races and cultures that defined Planescape’s reality is now a thing of the past.

And even after all of that, we still have a few chapters to go in the Manual. “Demiplanes” focuses on, well, demiplanes, though it mostly just explains the idea and includes a random demiplane generator. And because Cordell is a designer, there’s also a new write-up of Neth that matches quite closely with what he did before in Ethereal. Only two other unique demiplane are included, The Observatorium, which is a sort of viewing spot possibly outside of the Great Wheel that allows transportation to locations within it, and Common Ground, which is a meeting place between deities, I guess because they no longer want to chill at the base of the Outland’s spire. Of the two, the Observatorium has many campaign possibilities, the main one being trying to figure out the lore of the strange location.

The final proper chapter, monsters, includes very little new information and mostly just restating of a few core planar creatures for third edition, including the githyanki, githzerai, bariaur, and a handful of demons, devils, daemons, and celestials. The only truly new creatures are the ephemera from the Plane of Shadows, who are uninteresting and rote, alongside the Inevitables from Mechanus. Also worth noting is that for seemingly no reason the arcane have been renamed the mercane (and in general seem a lot less mysterious than they did before), and that despite the removal of the para- and quasi-elemental planes several pages are still devoted to paraelemental statistics. 

Far more interesting is the book’s appendix, which includes variant planes and cosmologies. The Region of Dreams, for instance, is basically what you’d think it is, but still feels like a better inclusion than the strange dream-y nonsense of second edition’s cosmology (which involves both the Astral and the Ethereal, and gets real confusing and dumb). The odd dreamscape of Anavaree from Ethereal is even included as a location here, which links the place up well with Planescape and what came before. Equally interesting is the Plane of Mirrors, a transitive plane that allows individuals to move through mirrors to new locations. This is even explored further with new creatures in the third edition Fiend Folio. I would happily include both of these planes, as well as their accompanying spells and ideas, into any planar adventure, Planescape or otherwise.

Less worthwhile are the Elemental Plane of Cold, the Elemental Plane of Wood, and the Temporal Energy Plane, though at least this moves the plane of time outside of the game’s primary canon for good. Suck on that, Chronomancer. However, two additional planes here would come to play a much bigger part in the game as time passed: the Plane of Faerie and the Far Realm. While both of these places are non-canonical here (I mean, sort of?), they would soon become the Feywild and the, well, Far Realm, and in fourth edition and beyond are canon for D&D. With the Far Realm it’s not hard to see why, as the entire location has always been a wonderful idea. Third edition really ran with it, too, given its Alienist class for mages, which is something we won’t really be covering in this series (it already popped up for the first time in Tome and Blood from July 2001 and would be revised for 3.5 in Complete Arcana) but is still a neat addition to the game. Essentially, I’m not the only one who thought the Far Realm was a cool place, and it kind of gradually became canon just through osmosis, even before fourth edition made it “official.” This is the first time it would get more than a handful of details, though, and future conceptions of the plane built heavily from here. The Plane of Faerie, on the other hand, is truly unnecessary in the Planescape version of the Great Wheel. The Seelie and Unseelie Courts are like any other realm, and they and other faerie doings fit in easily much the way any other mythology does. Why this plane caught on (although, I mean did it, aside from with the game’s designers?) is beyond me. 

Wayne Reynold’s art for the Far Plane is also quite iconic, and did a great job defining what this place looks like beyond just a Lovecraftian mess.

Finally, there’s options for the myriad planes cosmology, the doppel cosmology, the orrery cosmology, and the winding road cosmology, which was apparently a nod to the game The Primal Order, which is a bit ironic given the game’s history with Wizards of the Coast and Peter Adkison. The orrery cosmology makes the world into a sort of pseudo-Spelljammer/planar universe, while the others are more or less self-explanatory. The final pages are devoted to some other ideas such as planar bleed, planar rips, time loops, and time wrinkles, in case DMs want to get really funky with their campaigns. I don’t think any of these have ever seen much mention since, but I’m glad for the inclusion.

Ultimately, the main issue with the new Manual is that it needs to do so, so very much. It’s a shallow book with a lot of ideas, yet it’s also afraid to prod anyone into playing the game in any particular manner. That’s both admirable, and a little bit foolhardy, as it’s specificity that makes any form of creativity exciting, and now all of that is left up to DMs to invent. By combining the toolbox side of creating a cosmology with the basics of D&D‘s cosmology the authors are slamming two books into one, and both books feel like they could’ve used more pages. Which isn’t to say that this isn’t an exciting book at times, and well worth the read, just that its refusal to give definite answers (which was one of its main goals, in contrast with, for instance, the previous Manual) is also what makes it at times disappointing.

Nonetheless, I was still quite obsessed with this book in high school, to the point that I wrote up an Elemental Plane of Sound using the book’s template and posted it on the old Wizards of the Coast forums. The ease with which the book made that type of homebrewing work is wonderful, and at any point you’re only a few minutes away from a half-baked plane of your own once you’ve read through this tome. That being said, after covering the fascinating stories and ideas of Planescape for the past years, filled with specifics and characters ideas, reading this Manual can’t help but be a letdown. By making the planes more accessible, giving them definite taxonomies and easy-to-plugin traits, the book also makes them far less magical and exciting. 

1. At a certain point you do get tired of hearing the book say “You can create a cosmology that does _____.” I know that, I can do whatever I want, so stop implying that it’s only the book’s kindness that allows me to customize my own cosmology. Sheesh.

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