Out of This World

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 74: Out of This World




In addition to the newfangled web supplements we covered last week, Wizards of the Coast continued supporting its primary publications with thematically related issues of Dragon. For third edition’s Manual of the Planes, this meant the “Out of This World” issue (#287, September 2001) containing half a dozen planar-related articles. None of these were absolute must-read additions, but they’re for the most part also pretty decent, and what’s more, there’s even mention of Planescape—gasp!—within these pages. Sadly, mentions in Dragon are all we’re going to get for a long, long while, but for fans of the setting it still came as quite a surprise at the time.

But before we get to the Planescape stuff, there’s a couple stops along the way, the first being Jeff Grubb’s “Dreamlands: Variant Planes of Dreams” article for a few different takes on this non-canonical plane. If you recall, in the Manual‘s appendix there’s a listing for the Region of Dreams, which served to replace all of the really messy dreamscape stuff in the Ethereal/Astral from second edition by making a clean, new plane devoted just to dreams… which is also not actually part of the game’s official cosmology, just something you could add to your own campaigns if you’re so inclined. What was there wasn’t all that inspiring, either, though it did make good use of a location from A Guide to the Ethereal Plane. Perhaps Grubb agreed that this write-up wasn’t the best, so he went ahead and added four new ideas for the plane of dreams, each of which I actually prefer to the Manual‘s one, and nearly all of which receive more detail than what was included for the Region of Dreams. Space constraints can be funny that way.

The best pieces of art in this issue are the dream-drawings Scott Fischer did for each of these variants.

These variants on Dream include a transitive version, an inner plane version, an outer plane version, and a sort of separated demi-plane version. None of these feel half-baked—really, it’s the Manual‘s plane that feels sparse and boring in comparison—and although there’s no need for any plane of dreams, if I did want one in a campaign I’d be hard-pressed to say which is the best. Dreamtime, the transitive version, is probably the wonkiest, given that here it’s only coterminous with the Prime as if outsiders don’t also dream (and if you’re visiting there you also wouldn’t be able to access it). The Dream Energy Plane seems the easiest to implement into the third edition’s great wheel, and could be plunked right in without any changes. But my favorite of these planes is The Divine Dream, which is a full outer plane devoted to dreams ruled over by a new goddess of dreams and her children, all of whom are detailed. While it’s not necessarily a great addition to the Great Wheel (…at all, as in just don’t do it if you’re using that cosmology), for something like the weirdo Forgotten Realms third edition cosmology it seems like it fits great and has excellent potential for fun adventures—hell, there’s even an origin story for this plane included in a sidebar. And if you are wanting to use these ideas with the second edition Great Wheel, the Dream Demiplanes are the version that feels like it works the best with Planescape. 


While this is a strange planar article in that it’s entirely noncanonical, it was also a great read and in many ways clarifies how Grubb wished for the new Manual to be used. Almost despite myself I became a fan of it, perhaps because it included a level of detail and creativity that was often lacking in that book. I doubt any of these ideas were ever used or mentioned again in the future, but at least this offers a reasonable way to make Dream work as a plane, even moreso than what was originally proposed. 

Conversely, Greg Staples’ art for “When Celestials Attack” completely baffled me. Like, is that big demon dude supposed to be a celestial?

Also a surprisingly good read is “When Celestials Attack” by Todd Crapper. One surprise of the third edition Monster Manual was how much space was spent on celestials, as they’re rarely fought and also for the most part rather dull. However, Crapper does an excellent job of highlighting many ways PCs can come into conflict with celestials, even when everyone involved is good-aligned. As well as some general hints as to how celestial goals can be at cross-purposes to players, he goes through ten celestial races and details both their personalities and ideas for how to involve them in a campaign. What’s more, given how little lore there was in the Manual, for many players this greatly expands their idea of who these creatures are. While there’s nothing really new here for Planescape veterans, again this is a good read that also may help DMs in designing their stories and worlds.

This piece is also accompanied by a one-page article titled “Vs. Celestials” by Chris Thomasson that’s just some basic advice about what spells and weapons could be useful against angels in a fight. It’s, umm, well, it’s there I guess, and that’s about the best I have to say about that.

The biggest surprise in this issue is “Fractious Factions.” Remember those factions that were largely destroyed by the Lady of Pain but also defined Sigil? Well, uhh, what if each of them—by which I mean a random six out of the 15—had a prestige class their adherents could gain levels in? This article answers the question, and more than that it both acknowledges the existence of Planescape and that these factions are now in a post-Faction War multiverse. Don’t expect to see this stuff crop up much in the future.

Mike May’s version of a Sensate. I didn’t much care for his Planescape depictions, and her clothing level seems… oddly minimal for an adventurer.

I’m of two minds about this article. Probably the smarter part of me finds the idea of prestige classes for the factions pretty dumb. That’s not what the factions are about, and feels like an awkward way of combining systems. On the other hand: Sweet! Wizards has an article that mentions Doomguards and Sensates again! …Soooo I don’t know, at least it’s something, right? That’s how desperate Planescape fans were over the past 20 years, and you can’t blame me too much for being excited about new art and concepts for the setting.


However, the only actual addition to the game’s lore comes from the mechanics of these prestige classes, otherwise the article just recap basic information and is clearly written for new planar players in mind, not Planescape veterans. For instance, higher-level Athar characters can now cancel out or even reflect divine spells. Thematically, it’s kind of cool, and adds a little bit more emphasis to the idea that these beliefs have actual power to them. But it’s still weird to me that this comes through experience points, and also limits the meaning of these classes. To join the Athar prestige class, you must have the ability to cast divine spells… which feels just plain wrong. None of these prestige classes are something that would be universally interesting to all classes (which isn’t surprising, as that’s pretty impossible to do with D&D‘s class system as a foundation), but on the whole it doesn’t work for me in terms of correctly translating what these factions are about. Turning beliefs into a matter of advancement in this manner is off-putting and doesn’t fit well with the campaign setting’s focus.

To reiterate, Athar are divine spellcasters with a bunch of anti-divine spellcasting abilities. It’s a neat concept, at least, even if I dislike how this acts like an Athar rogue or fighter or line cook is in some way an outlier or lesser member of the faction. The Cipher class feels like a slightly adjusted monk, which I guess is fitting but also not that exciting. This entry also says that the Transcendent Order is popular with bards and sorcerers due to their spontaneous casting, but given that this prestige class has nothing to do with spells that certainly isn’t true of it. This applies equally with the Sensate’s popularity with wizards, given that their class also don’t gain spells, and for the most part feels like a weak alternative to rangers or perhaps bards. I do find Sinkers quite nifty, as their primary new ability involves finding information from the dead. As an investigative ability this is useful and thematic, even though this prestige class is so much weaker than the fighters or barbarians that lead into it that I can’t imagine many people choosing to play this class. Takers seem mostly like hilariously pompous bards and for once are a genuinely decent option, while Xaositects are a mess of random abilities that don’t fit great with any of the classes but that’s fine. Really, they’re everything they should be.

It’s weird to me that I was more disappointed with this pseudo-Planescape addition than many other articles, but that’s probably due to my expectations and preconceptions about what this campaign setting is about. Relatedly, my favorite article in the issue has nothing to do with anything that’s come before in the planes, which is James Jacobs’ “Creatures of the Chaos Spire.” 

Darrell Riche’s portrait of a bonespitter. All of his work is quite good here, and fittingly horrifying.

While this article is theoretically just a bestiary profile of some monsters to bash, Jacobs decided to create a strange new demiplane and tell us its history and how these creatures interact with its weirdo ecology. The plane was formed due to smashing a lawful artifact with huge swaths of chaos energies due to a conflict between the githzerai and the githyanki. “The interaction between Law and Chaos tore a hole in the boundary between the Astral Plane and Limbo … before the Astral Plane ejected the offending matter.” Then Limbo spit the same matter out for being too lawful, which created a demiplane that since then has endlessly journeyed through the multiverse causing destruction in its wake. 


The actual demiplane, The Chaos Spire, is roughly 50 miles diameter on the inside, though its borders only take up a thousand feet on the planes where it lands. Anyone who touches it is sucked inside, and unless they save against it they’re turned into terrifying monsters called bonespitters (more on them in a second). Half of the sphere is filled with a Chaos Sea, like the waters of a hurricane, while in the center of this sea is a strange island with the Spire itself at its center. Although most creatures the plane touches are bonespitter-ized, some manage to stay corporeal, and so it’s possible to encounter just about anyone from any plane inside the sphere, nearly all of whom are presumably hoping to get out.

Aside from the animosity of other unfortunate visitors, the main issue in getting out of the Spire is that the demiplane is also inhabited by numerous unique chaotic monstrosities. The bonespitters, for instance, are conglomerations of the creatures the demiplane’s sphere touches, all slammed together and now completely insane. Plus, “The Bones from a bonespitter are in constant flux, swimming through its body like fish and occasionally leaping from the body to fall back in with wet slaps.” Fun times all around.


But there’s also the chaoswyrds, who are tentacled creatures of madness made corporeal by the whims of the Chaos Spire, and teratamorphs, who are “shapeless horrors” the size of a cottage that inhabit the Chaos Sea and the area beneath the Spire—think a giant ooze the size of your house that eats everything it can sense. And just in case you were feeling safe because you’ve got your protection from chaos spells up, there’s the chaos eater, a lawful neutral creature who lives to munch on chaos despite being every bit as weird and nasty as its enemies. All of this makes for an extremely fun demiplane, and while it needs to be fleshed out a bit more as to why characters would end up journeying here, it’s still a fine addition to the multiverse and one of the more interesting demiplanes we’re yet to encounter.

And finally, we have Mark Zug’s fiend slayer. He’s more distinctive than anything in the article.

The final planar article is a quick two-page prestige class by the good Monte Cook, which when added to the ones in the Manual of the Planes, the ones earlier in this issue, and the ones in Dragon #281 brings us up to 13 planar prestige classes. That’s probably too many, but whatever. The Fiend Slayer is pretty much what the name implies, though they’re not so much paladins, more like Blade (from the comics) but for demons, as they learn about demons by consorting with evil and taking on fiendish aspects themselves. They get a bonus to attacks against fiends, and as such they’re pretty much an alteration on rangers, who the description says “make the best fiend slayers.” I find them pretty bland on the whole, though their ability to graft fiend skin onto themselves for armor at least differentiates them a bit. Cook really loves his skin grafts at this point in time, what can I say (more of this in the Book of Vile Darkness).

Although quite an enjoyable read altogether, there’s no single, killer article here that makes this issue a must-have. “Creatures of the Chaos Spire” was certainly my favorite, but as with most demiplane write-ups I doubt we’ll ever hear from it again, especially since this type of madness would later be largely confined to the Far Plane, i.e. Limbo 2.0. And while the faction prestige classes will certainly be of interest to some, at this point I think they’re more of a historical oddity than anything else; I’ve certainly seen better fan versions of the factions for fifth edition than any of what’s included here. In all, the issue is a bit like the Manual of the Planes that preceded it, in that it includes a little bit of everything, but nothing nearly as compelling as the Planescape work that came before. 

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