Planar Adventure

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 96: Planar Adventure




I knew something was up with the “Planar Adventure” issue of Dragon (#321, July 2004) from its first page of actual content. Editor-in-chief Matthew Sernett’s editorial “Pass the Ketchup” focuses on his love-hate relationship with the planes, and ultimately decides “the cosmology needs to be wholly redesigned. Sure, we should keep the sacred cows, but the rest should find their way to the chopping block. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry for hamburger.” This demolition of the cosmology would happen just a few years later with the game’s fourth edition, and we all know how well that went over. Whatever your own view of the game’s planar cosmology, which are probably quite positive given that you’re reading this series, you can assume that there probably isn’t the greatest content in store for you when the product’s own editor dislikes the topic so much. Unfortunately, the rest of the work really bears this out, despite this issue being intended as a tie-in to Wizards’ Planar Handbook

The first planar-ish article is “The Infused” by Chris Tanner, and for the most part its planar content is somewhat incidental. Tanner introduces the idea of adventurers becoming infused with the souls of various celestials, and through this gaining various weird powers, i.e. a prestige class. “In answer to fiendish corruptions, the celestials have empowered their most devout servants, creating a new breed of holy warriors.” What I like best about this idea is that these powers are dependent upon the particular type of Celestial who infuses you, and as such this isn’t so much a single prestige class as it is 10 relatively similar prestige classes tailored around your particular needs. It’s a good idea, and takes up quite a few pages as a result, but at the same time it’s still just another type of prestige class related to celestials. Yawn.

Marc Sasso’s art for the planar dragons is some of the best stuff we’ve seen since second edition. I wish we could glimpse his versions of all the original planar dragons.

I’ve complained repeteadly in the past about planar dragons in general, to the point that I said I didn’t plan on covering them again in the future. That being said, Ed Bonny’s “Planar Dragons” article is weirdly the best piece of planar content in this issue, and the only one I could see returning to. Remember how the Draconomicon was weirdly missing a smattering of dragon types for its planar dragons entry? Bonny rectifies this by adding dragons from Bytopia, Arborea, Mechanus, The Beastlands, and The Outlands. That may sound underwhelming, and in a sense it is (this isn’t exactly the world’s most creative idea), but Bonny’s actual write-ups for these dragons are superior to the Draconomicon ones in most every respect, and tend to feel more linked with their home planes than their predecessors did. For instance, the axial dragon from Mechanus has no half-breed offspring—unlike every other type of dragon—because of their fascistic obsession with purity and perfection. Conversely, the concordant dragons from The Outlands are interested enough in working with others to achieve their goals that they’re considered a part of the rilmani hierarchy, known by the other rilmani as the “Uranach.” Bonny’s planar dragons are more distinctive than most of the types we’ve seen before, and I would genuinely be happy to use any of them in a campaign. And best of all, Bonny’s adamantine dragon matches up with the Planescape one from Planes of Conflict (except for the updated spelling) instead of contradicting it, which was what we saw happen with Acheron’s rust dragon when it cropped up earlier. 


Unfortunately, this left the issue’s big disappointment for soon afterward, with “The Limitless Night: A Tour of the Plane of Radiance.” From the title, I’d assumed that this article somehow brought the quasi-elemental plane back from second edition and into third. I even purchased a hard copy of this issue out of anticipation! After all, if you’re going to feature a Plane of Radiance, it seems insane not to use one that had been featured in the game for decades before suddenly disappearing, especially when it’s one of the more noteworthy Inner Planes given its Heart of Light tower and links with Spelljammer. Right? Right?!

Nope. Instead, we’re given a whole new Plane of Radiance, which is made to clumsily pair with the Plane of Shadows, even though that’s not a plane focused on darkness but rather on contrast, making even the theming here extremely suspect. Bennet Marks’ new Plane of Radiance is a dull land of sunshine and rainbows. Literally. Its primary feature is the Rainbow Bridge, which connects a series of idyllic land-based islands. Aside from the bridge and islands, its only feature is the occasional chromatic tornado, and, well, that’s it. Somehow, this new plane seems like one of the more tedious places in the multiverse, and I could see no reason why anyone would want to visit it except for as a retirement home. I’m going to sound overly grumpy, but I would rather these four pages of the magazine had been left blank than this half-assed revision of a previously worthwhile plane. 

It’s rainbows and islands in the sky. Think Skyward Sword, but much much much more boring.

This article is followed by Bennet Marks’ write-up of new inhabitants for his plane, “Creatures of Brilliance,” which includes yet another pseudo-elflike planar being, glimmerfolk, who are kinda like elves/humans but with sparkly eyes. No I’m serious, that’s the only difference. Oh, plus they have faerie lights they can control and are a bit xenophobic, so I guess they’ve got that going for them as well. In addition, there’s a radiant template, plus “rainbow dweller” extraplanar creatures, who are translucent humanoids and, umm, yeah. That’s their whole deal. 


And somehow, that’s it. Those three-and-a-half articles are all the planar content we get here, none of which ties in well with the Planar Handbook. Before now, I’d considered Paizo’s versions of Dragon and Dungeon superior to when they were under Wizards’ stewardship, but after this issue I feel the need to take that back. Bonny’s planar dragons are legitimately a good read, and everything about these pages, from their art and layout to descriptions, is excellent, but it’s hardly enough to make this a worthwhile issue to hunt down and read (though the Dragon page on is always an easy way to check it out if you are still interested). Now I find myself hoping that there’s no Plane of Vacuum in the next issue that’s just a big hoover in the sky or a Plane of Steam that’s just the backroom of a bathhouse. Fortunately, Sernett was in charge of Dragon for less than a year, and I have to assume that his successor is less antagonistic towards the planes than he was, both openly and tacitly, because it would be difficult to be moreso. Less fortunately, Sernett was part of the fourth edition design team, which might explain a bit of why it threw the game’s cosmology into the toilet and gave it a swirly. 

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