Bastion of Broken Souls

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 76: Bastion of Broken Souls




I almost wrote a joke review of Bastion of Broken Souls instead of this entry, which simply said, “Everything I said last week about Lord of the Iron Fortress, but the opposite.” And while there’s more here that I want to cover, so I regretfully chose to write a real review, my joke summary is still true. Interesting characters, themes, ideas, and locations abound in Bastion of Broken Souls, an impressive conclusion to the Sunless Citadel adventure path by Bruce Cordell published in February of 2002. Fortunately, while this was theoretically a direct follow-up to Andy Collins’ adventure, the entire adventure path was designed so that each module could be played on its own, and as such there’s no reason to pretend that the extremely peripheral links between these two stories matter. Hell, even getting from the end of that adventure to the beginning of this one is difficult to manage, and so I think it’s better to simply consider this one its own thing, a (largely) standalone super high level adventure that manages to both change the game’s fundamental cosmology and feel true to it at the same time. 

In Bastion, for one of a couple possible reasons players become involved in the mystery of why newborns of all species are being born without souls, and at the same time they’re also being hunted by an insanely powerful half-demon/half-devil woman named The Cathezar (we’re talking challenge rating 22 powerful). In discovering how these events link up, they investigate a druidic grove called the Church of the Elements, a strange monastery called the Guild of Sleep, and ultimately make their way into a vault on Pandemonium holding a disgraced and depowered god captive. From there, the makes their way to the Positive Energy Plane and ultimately fight against a CR 27 uber-dragon powered up with extra demonic goodness. Somehow, although this is the same length as the last adventure, there’s a whole hell of a lot more going on now and the story is filled with unique adversaries and strange, new locations. Basically, it’s all you could ask for from an actual Planescape adventure, the main difference between this and its second edition brethren being that this time the story is designed for characters from levels 18-20. 

She may look like a marilith (I mean, EXACTLY) like one, but this is actually the Cathezar.

Like with Fortress, Bastion has to work around high level divination spells ruining any attempt at a good mystery, but Cordell comes up with a unique solution. The mystery underfoot involves a topic that’s taboo even amongst gods, and we’re informed of a pact between Powers that predates the multiverse itself: the Ban of the Unborn.


By an edict as old as the multiverse, the deities are prohibited from influence, contact, or dealings with preincarnate souls in any fashion whatsoever. This is to prevent their meddling in the sanctity of the free will that all creatures possess at birth.

That being said, this does not mean that divination cannot be useful in this adventure. Contact with the Powers is still a good way to get information, and in one case can perhaps solve a very difficult encounter without resorting to fighting, but it must be used much more intelligently than normal. More than a page is devoted to dealing with different abilities typically used to gain hidden information, from scrying to bardic knowledge to everything in between. Aside from allowing Bastion to remain an investigation, this also really raises the stakes. These truly epic (in the good sense, not the Epic Level Handbook garbage sense) characters are dealing with a situation the gods themselves are unable to handle, and so it feels like a worthy situation a party of this level.

What’s more, the adventure results in a few odd confrontations that twist the game’s black-and-white treatment of alignment far more than typical adventures. The head of the Guild of Sleep is, perhaps naturally, a night hag, and finding the information required for moving forward may require dealing with her civilly (following a hilariously unnecessary fight). Conversely, the gateway to the depowered god who previously broke the Ban of the Unborn and was since stuck in the depths of Agathion is guarded by a pair of celestials. This solar and planetar refuse to allow the players entry, as this god’s entombment was supposed to be final, and while it’s possible to talk your way past this encounter, most likely this leads to a deadly fight that may cause serious alignment issues for paladins and clerics. 

Here we learn that Positive Energy Plane can be just as alien as the Far Realm, a development I absolutely love.

Assuming players make it this far, which is by no means a given, they’re led to a strange location on the Positive Energy Plane, which I believe makes this the first adventure in the game’s history to visit the plane. The entrance to the Bastion itself is, of course, surrounded by a bevy of high level demons. Once actually inside, though, players will have to deal with the faction who is warring with these demons, all of whom are high level half-dragons (e.g. one of whom is an advanced male dire bear/half-dragon with 486 hp because of course he is). The Bastion of Unborn Souls is itself a strange and alien location. In it, the fruit of crystal trees are harvested to become the souls of living beings. The people, if you want to call them that, who live in this area consist of strange crystal energons, who make up a weird ecosystem that seems to feed on many of these unborn souls. It’s a wonderful location that would feel right at home in Planescape, and also does a great deal to explain, at least in some small way, how this aspect of the game’s cosmology works. 


Although there’s just as much, if not more, fighting here than there was in Fortress, there’s also a bevy of memorable NPCs. The Cathezar is a wonderful adversary who continually hunts after the PCs and tries to kidnap one of them for her master. Working against her is Nurn, a death slaad, who is sidling up with the PCs for his own purposes. Hilariously, both of these individuals are working for Demogorgon, but not for the same head. In the Church of Elements, players converse with a druid channeling an ancient sapling (you read that right), and in the Guild of Sleep they have an equally interesting interaction with the night hag called Dreamer Prime. They also have to fight her, but whatever, that’s kind of how D&D goes sometimes, even though the logic here is fairly dumb. Even Desayeus, the ex-god, and his followers have a lot to say and can be dealt with at least partially through negotiations. While players will be fighting again and again, this is broken up with plenty of conversations and odd revelations about the shape of the universe. There is both a story and a logic to follow here, and it’s never as simple as running straightforward through a dungeon.

Todd Gamble returns as third edition’s primary cartographer and delivers more excellent work.

The Bastion itself is a difficult location to use outside of this particular adventure, as Bastion is very much designed around what’s happening here, but that’s fine. Cordell notes at many points that this is only one out of many founts for unborn souls, and so he opens up the possibility of further adventuring in equally alien landscapes elsewhere in the Positive Energy Plane. He uses the plane itself wonderfully, and I particularly love that all of the demons hanging around have wristbands that in other worlds would be torture devices but here keep them constantly injured in order to prevent the plane itself from exploding them with positive energy. 


Although there isn’t a ton of artwork (this is a dense book), David Roach does an excellent job with his additions, and Todd Gamble returns with more clear-but-unique maps that feel like a continuation of the sort of thing Rob Lazzeratti did in Planescape. The only part of the adventure I found pointless or wasteful was the half-page or so it devoted to characters above 20th level, as this just felt like an advertisement for the forthcoming Epic Level Handbook (a mess we’ll be touching on soon), which should’ve been excised in favor of more room for Cordell to play with.

While I still have difficulty imagining ever running a campaign with characters at this high a level, Bastion of Broken Souls is so good it almost makes me want to try. This is one of the better adventures we’ve covered for this series, whether Planescape or otherwise, and even people uninterested in running it will probably have a good time reading through its story. This is planar writing done right, and the fact that Bastion manages to make a high level adventure there seem fun and exciting is a testament to how strong this book really is. No, it’s not Planescape, as players will definitely have to fight there way out of problems, and some of these battles will likely take up most of a session on their own given how complex they are, but this feels like just as valid a way of exploring these locations as any that we’ve seen before. A complete tour de force, this is the first third edition work that’s a true successor to Planescape and a worthy addition to any player’s library interested in the planes. 

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