Path of the Planebreaker

A Walk Through the Planes – Sidestory: Path of the Planebreaker




Last time we checked in on what Monte Cook, former Planescape designer and co-author of D&D‘s third edition, he’d published Beyond Endless Doorways. That was with his first publishing endeavor, Malhavoc Press, which he founded in 2001 and informally ended around  2008-2009. The company’s dissolution coincided with both the rise of fourth edition D&D and the sale of Malhavoc’s publisher; given the amount of change and drama going on within the industry, I suspect that keeping Malhavoc going was simply more effort than it was worth. For the next few years, Cook focused on writing fiction, but in late 2011 Wizards of the Coast announced they’d hired him back to come work on the game’s next edition. At this point in time, Wizards was struggling by every standard, and the hope seemed to be that by bringing him in they could recapture some of third edition’s magic. However, he lasted there for less than a year (I suspect he wished to make more radical changes to the game, whereas Wizards ultimately released a product that was essentially a derivation on third edition) at the company, following which he co-founded a new roleplaying game company with Shanna Germain: Monte Cook Games.

The new company arrived with a huge fanfare due to its inaugural product line, Numenara, released with both a new roleplaying system and a video game adaptation in tow. The video game adaptation, Torment: Tides of Numenara, I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t yet played, despite backing it on kickstarter and the title’s self-conscious decision to hearken back to Planescape: Torment. It was directed by Kevin Saunders of Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer fame, designed by such luminaries as Adam Heine and George Ziets, and featured Colin McComb as lead writer with bits of assistance from Chris Avellone, Patrick Rothfuss, Ray Vallese, Brian Mitsoda, and yes, even Monte Cook. I should really play it, and so, probably, should you—maybe one day I’ll cover it in more depth for this site, though for now it will remain on the top of my pile of shame. In any case, Monte Cook Games seems to have developed into an even more successful entity than Malhavoc had been, largely through a series of Kickstarter (and more recently, Backerkit) crowdfunding projects such as The Strange, Invisible Sun, and a even a remake of Cook’s Ptolus books originally designed for Malhavoc. While the company remains small compared with Paizo or Wizards of the Coast, it, and the Cypher System it developed as a more open and creativity-driven roleplaying game alternative to systems like Dungeons & Dragons, have a large cult audience.


In October of 2021, the company announced a kickstarter for its next big project: Path of the Planebreaker, which brought Cook and his company back to the planes proper for the first time in decades… or perhaps ever. I say “proper” here to denote the surprising fact that not only would this book and its companion volumes be published using MCG’s Cypher System, it would also be available as a fifth edition resource. Not only that, the company would also be taking advantage of Wizards’ 5th Edition System Reference Document, which meant that although much of D&D‘s content remained under copyright, the Great Wheel and the rest of D&D‘s overarching cosmology could be used. Although no more official than any random fan release on the DMSGuild, it would see MCG playing in the Wizards of the Coast planar playground. Suffice to say, I backed the project immediately. 

The entrance of Timeborne sure is lovely. I wish artists were credited with their work, though, as this level of artistry definitely deserves attribution.

While the main release from the Path of the Planebreaker kickstarter was, of course, Path of the Planebreaker itself, the other two volumes I mentioned above were also funded and greatly expanded due to the level of funding, which ended up at more than $500,000—I can’t help but wonder if this release would do even better today given Planescape’s surprising return to Dungeons & Dragons, but then again the MCG audience isn’t exactly the same mainstream gamers who laps up every Wizards release regardless of quality. These secondary books consisted of the Planar Bestiary, a 160-page hardcover book, and Planar Character Options, which began its life as Planebreaker Player’s Guide but was expanded during the Kickstarter campaign to 96 pages and retitled as a result, though it remained softcover. We’ll be looking at these books with their own articles, but for the time being I want to return to the main event. 

Oh, and I should also note that while all three of these works are available for both Cypher System and fifth edition D&D, I’m going to be writing here about the fifth edition versions as they’re simply the ones that I own. My understanding is that all three books were written first in fifth edition and were then converted to Cypher System, as by now the MCG team knew that this was easier than writing both versions concurrently or moving from Cypher to D&D. In many respects, both editions of these books are the same, but in many others they’re quite different. As much as I would love to try the Cypher System, the fact is that my online group plays 5E and my in-person group plays… well, we’ve done a lot of systems in the past few years (currently we’re in the middle of an epic Delta Green campaign), but Cypher would be a hard sell simply because it would mean learning a new system instead of simply sticking with what we already know. However, the particular systems are more relevant for the later two books anyhow, as Path of the Planebreaker itself is, in the proper Planescape tradition, far more focused on ideas than it is on mechanics. 

While I began this article by reflecting on Monte Cook’s odd career in the RPG industry, I should note that he was not the chief designer of this project or any of the books. But it was still a Planescape alum who took the helm, Bruce R. Cordell, who’s shown up many times before in this series, not only with A Guide to the Ethereal Plane but also with such iconic works as Return to the Tomb of Horrors, The Gates of Firestorm Peak, Die Vecna Die!, and the third edition Manual of the Planes and Planar Handbook. We haven’t hit fourth edition D&D yet (….I still dread it…), but Cordell continued working for Wizards throughout that era, and only left the company in July of 2013, and was hired by MCG shortly afterward. While he, Cook, and Sean K. Reynolds (the third of MCG’s designers, who left WotC a little after Cook did and is most notable for work he did on Pathfinder and the Ghostwalk campaign setting he co-designed with Monte Cook which I seemed to be the only person to really like, plus the wonderful 2001 Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting) all contributed, by all accounts this was his pet project, and he was the one who came up with the titular Planebreaker itself as a way of solving the problem of planar travel without use of Sigil. 

The entrance to the Mantis’s enclave. Alien yet still comprehensible, which is a vibe the book nails all the way through.

Path consists of six sections, which are in no way equal, and the first of these is “The Planebreaker’s Path,” which focuses on the key concept tying this book together. The Planebreaker, as might be suspected from that Planescape-palleted cover image, is a “cursed moon” hurtling through the multiverse, crashing through the planes for all time (or until a group of intrepid PCs puts a stop to it). On its journey through all planes/dimensions/universes, it leaves a path behind it that can be used by those in the know to travel, though this is a much more obscure method than Sigil’s portals. As such, the one city on the Planebreaker, Timeborne, is a ghost town of sorts, with far more buildings than inhabitants. It’s an alien, lonely location, which gives a very different tone to planar journeying than the typical one for D&D. In contrast with a metropolitan hub teeming with life, I find myself thinking of From Software’s games, which tend to feature a sterile world endlessly in decline, and this won’t be the last time I mention them in this article. 

Traveling the Path, as it’s called, is also quite different from the instantaneous journeys involved with Sigil. Players must literally travel a journey and search for the correct location, along the way viewing other possible worlds they might’ve chosen instead. I find the mechanics of this a little bit wishy-washy, but the concept itself is lovely and fantastical. The Path places its emphasis on the sites we see along the way rather than the destination, and the sheer grandness of the multiverse takes center stage. 

Planar travelers walking the path. It works a little bit wonkily, but well enough.

The Planebreaker itself and Timeborne within it are the most fleshed out locations of the entire book, as they should be, and they feel wonderfully planar in their mysteriousness. The ruler of Timeborne is a strange being known only as the Mantis, who may or may not be involved with mysteries related to the origins of the Planebreaker, or perhaps the very multiverse itself. There are conspiracies to unravel here, but more than anything else Timeborne and its nearby locales are about atmosphere. If you want a city-focused adventure I’d stick with Sigil, but if you want a base for planar travel that doesn’t overpower the awe of everywhere else, then what Cordell developed here is an excellent alternative for a quieter, more contemplative look at the infinite magnitude of existence. 

The Planebreaker is neat, but it’s by no means necessary for a planar campaign. After all, Beyond Countless Worlds focused on adding new planes without any such conceit, and it did so with aplomb. For those who love Planescape but are looking for more additions to the planes just as creative as what we saw in the 1990s, there’s the book’s second chapter, “Planar Locations,” which highlights 20(!) spots in the multiverse to visit, with levels of detail ranging from 3-8 pages depending upon what the authors felt was warranted.

I suspect that, like with Beyond Countless Doorways, each of these locations was authored by a different designer, though it’s impossible to tell which. All three work together at MCG in a way that wasn’t true for Malhavoc’s planar compilation, which really was assembled piecemeal, so perhaps that’s less important here anyhow. The other thing that distinguishes these locations compared with those earlier planar sites is that this time most of the locations mentioned are just that, interesting locations, and not planes in and of themselves (or if they are planes, they’re usually small demiplanes). The focus isn’t placed on setting an entire campaign in any of these sites, instead they’re neat places to visit for a campaign that is otherwise based on Timeborne, Sigil, or even the Prime. They are generally worth a couple sessions of exploration, but that is probably it. 

Damn is this a great piece. I would use this city just as an excuse to show players the art.

I’m not going to detail all 20 locations like I did for Beyond Countless Doorways, as there’s just too much here and if you’re that interested in finding out then you should just get yourself a copy. But I would like to highlight some of the more interesting ones, just so that you can get a sense of what the book does well. Erewhon, for instance, is a dimension that doesn’t exist for celestials or fiends. As such, it’s a refuge from those running away from these major planar forces, but it’s not as safe as it would seem, as “Dreams can escape from a sleeper in Erewhon, then wander for years before being captured or slain, or finding a new home in the mind of another visitor.” Plus, there are weird crystal nodes available that can enhance people’s psychic powers… if you’re up for the intense challenge of finding them. 

Etherguard has the privilege of featuring the best art in the entire book, which I suppose isn’t a huge surprise since it’s a city resting on the back of a colossal creature of some sort. The creature wanders the planes for one of several reasons, and can be slightly controlled by the coven of hag exiles who still live on its back. However, it’s also very much alive and has its own mind about things, and will happily plane shift to somewhere like the Elemental Plane of Fire or the Abyss in order to dispatch hop-ons it doesn’t like, or it can simply do a “wet dog” shake to dislodge unwanted visitors. It’s almost weird no one had written about this concept until now, but I’m glad to see it here.

Oh, and for longtime readers of the series, you might remember the city of Moil, which was a planar playground Cook and Cordell used back in second edition. Or you might recall it from last week, when Robert J. Schwalb plunked it back into the game with Exemplars of Evil. Anyhow, while Cordell was legally prevented from saying it outright, Moil, or rather “Something like Toil. Or was it Foil?” sneaks in here. I much prefer this ultimate fate for that cursed city, as it’s a lot more dramatic and interesting to see “Coil… or maybe it was Soil?” crop up again like this rather than as just another bland location on the Negative Energy Plane. It’s an Easter Egg for weirdo, obsessive fans like myself, and one I greatly appreciate.

Again, who drew this stunning work? C’mon, MCG, attribute artists on the pages, not just in the credits at the beginning of the book.

The Infinite Labyrinth isn’t the most creative idea per se, but it’s still a wonderful location for an adventure. In the depths of a largely destroyed Prime world, the will of a god-king created an infinite labyrinth filled with varying contents and countless  possible treasures or other reasons to explore it. What I like about it so much are the ideas about what this labyrinth contains, which are rooms and areas with a creepy, abandoned feeling not too distant from what we saw in Timeborne. The Infinite Labyrinth is inhabited, but only sparsely, and without purpose. Again, it feels like something from the Souls games, or perhaps like a somehow sadder version of the Chalice Dungeons from Bloodborne. Magical mazes aren’t exactly a novel part of the planes, but this is one I would enjoy inserting into an adventure because of its tonal disparity. 


Planes of Mirror and Shadow surprised me because they’re an offshoot of an obscure, probably no-longer-canonical (if it ever was?) location, the Plane of Mirrors. Here, MCG plays with the concept of parallel worlds, and with this the old idea that parallel selves want to kill each other. Essentially, instead of slipping into the usual Plane of Mirrors, PCs accidentally end up in the Plane of Mirror and Shadows, and with this they’re dumped into the Congruent Corridor, which leads to parallel realities. This can easily lead to disasters, and more than that has a ton of plot hooks. There’s also a fun chart at the end of the chapter with ideas for alternate worlds variations, including, “Singing is illegal, taboo, and punishable by death. Humming is grounds for a public lashing” (my sixth grade computer teacher apparently rules over this universe), “Colossal, kaiju-sized creatures periodically stomp through the scene, causing mayhem,” and best of all, “There is no humanoid species other than dwarves. Weirdly, everything is otherwise the same.”

Just because Acheron has orcs and goblins doesn’t mean it can’t be just as horrifying as anywhere else in the lower planes. The Prison of Eternal Torment is a good reminder of this fact.

The Prison of Eternal Torment is a new location in Acheron, and is one of the more fucked up places in the multiverse by any standard. Here, a being known as Dodgsen the Judge (it’s undefined what sort of creature he actually is) made a prison in the Outer Planes that would be impenetrable even to fiends and celestials, in a location “not so devil- or demon-ridden that corruption would eventually allow a prisoner to escape, nor so righteous and good-intentioned that some angel or paladin would come along and stage a prison break.” While being in an obscure part of Thuldanin helped with his cause, the real gimmick of his prison is that he transforms all prisoners into pain-feeling statues, thereby preventing any possible escape. “What actually made the new prison so impregnable was a corruption that Dodgsen introduced, a corruption powered by the natural petrification quality of Thuldanin. Called the Iron Curse, every inmate contracted a sickness that ate flesh, leaving living iron behind. What had once been inmates—and their guards—were transformed into buzzing, screaming shapes of iron with only the façade of creatures, unable to ever leave.” Damn. Oh, and most of his prisoners were probably framed anyhow. The obvious plot here is a jailbreak, which is going to require a mighty group to accomplish without falling victim to the same curse. 

Ramiah, the Star Blade uses a concept reminiscent of what you see in the Disgaea series with its item worlds, in that its alternate dimension is in fact a weapon. Ramiah is a curled up, self-contained demiplane, a bit like the possible dimensions from superstring theory. What’s more, the main method of visiting it comes from being killed by the weapon, which then traps your soul within this strange realm. It even contains one of the most fascinating societies of the book, as these souls are left without bodies, and find it very odd when a living person comes to visit their prison/homeland. 

Yes, this is an entire demiplane set on the blade of a knife. If you don’t find that sweet, then I don’t know why you play RPG’s.

Sanguine is a new transitive plane, a dimension of blood that connects all living things. It’s extremely difficult to find passage there, to the point that it may have only come into existence due to the fervent belief of its first visitor that it must exist. If you are able to find it, though, the power that it can grant is enormous, as it’s possible to use this plane to not only transport yourself through the multiverse using beings’ blood as a medium, but also to destroy their blood “tree” of sorts within the realm and with this kill the being it’s connected with.

I keep mentioning From Software’s games, but I can’t help it that that’s what I think of more than anything else with Splintered Reach, a plane at the end of all planes, which hearkens back to my favorite section of Dark Souls 3, “The Ringed City” DLC. Splintered Reach is likewise an end of worlds, a gathering place for the detritus of the multiverse. Or, as the book puts it, “Splintered Reach is a demiplane lost in the Deep Ethereal consisting of the scraps of millions of mostly disintegrated dead worlds and planes.” It’s a wonderful concept, and lends itself readily to all manner of plot hooks. Also: speaking of the Deep Ethereal… is that half-a-plane back in fifth edition, or just in Planebreaker? I can’t help but be curious, as its removal from third edition’s cosmology never seemed like much of a problem, but then again Cordell did write an awful lot about it for Planescape. It even seems possible that Wizards never put it back into the multiverse but Cordell forgot they dropped it. Guess we’ll have to find out what really happens when I get to fifth edition proper, which admittedly won’t be anytime soon.


I do want to give one slight demerit, though others will probably greatly disagree with me on this point. “Unithon, the Geometrical” is a Prime world where everyone who lives there, or even visits, becomes cubes and spheres. But mostly cubes. Essentially, it’s a Minecraft world, and if you break something apart it becomes a set of identical, smaller cubes. I don’t know, some people will probably delight in how different this location is from other fantasy universes, but I just found it irritatingly video game-influenced and quirky for the sake of quirkiness. I don’t like it and will pretend it doesn’t exist from here on. 

Still can’t help but find it weird that there isn’t a definite location for Uraian’s Stair. My feeling is that if you’re going to use the Great Wheel, you should go all out.

I’ll end this on a more positive note by mentioning that Uraian’s Stair is one of the absolute joys of the book, and not just for the location itself but also its lore. A celestial built it after realizing, following a deadly conflict with other celestials, that it was—*gasp*—wrong. He constructed the stairs as a location for atonement, and though it’s weirdly not linked with a specific place in the Upper Planes, I can see it fitting in very well with Elysium or perhaps Bytopia. It has some interesting mechanics and ideas in place here that felt completely of a part with Planescape, though I found myself wondering if it originated with Sean K. Reynolds, given his past book Anger of Angels, an extremely obscure work he wrote for Malhavoc in 2003 that spent 128 pages on celestials and considered some of their more typically glossed over ethical quandaries. It’s a book I’ll probably come back to one day when this series is properly finished and I’m diving into more related-yet-unofficial planar releases… or if I need a break from fourth edition for reasons of sanity. Anyhow, Uraian’s Stair absolutely begs to be used in a planar campaign and may be my favorite location in the book.

I didn’t mention half of the new locations in this book, some of which are planes, some of which are planar oddities, and one of which is simply a planar-ish phenomenon that hits the Prime on occasion (the Storm of the Styx). But those aren’t the only planar locations, which should come as little surprise to anyone who read the next chapter’s title: “Additional Planar Locations.” 20 more locations receive roughly half a page of detail each, and some of these are if anything better than the more fleshed-out earlier locations. The Palace of Reflections, Andressaval, and Uur-Ghan, Prison of the Hollow-Eyed Titans, for instance, are easily as interesting as anywhere else in the book. While it’s unfortunate they receive less space than the earlier locations, there’s enough here to figure out how to fill things in if you want to use one in a campaign. Even shorter than these descriptions are eight “Microplanes and Planar Concepts” that end this chapter, though even these are sometimes given a couple of paragraphs, making this as fleshed out as many of the locations from Planescape. On the whole they’re not as good as what came earlier, but at least the Hell of Grinding Worms reminded me of how many of Cordell’s 90s planar releases mentioned worms (it was a weird motif he had at the time). The guy just really likes including endless amounts of worms in other planes of existence for some reason.

The next section of the book features 21 new monsters, written in a manner akin to that of the fifth edition Monster Manual, plus a few new NPC statblocks (one of my main hopes for whatever the hell the next edition of D&D is called is for roughly a bajillion more of these). Many of the new monsters are pulled from the planes earlier in the book, though there are also several who are just neat ideas. Doom, for instance, is a strange entity summoned from a spell, and makes me think of a far more unhinged version of Planescape’s Aleax. For the most part, the monsters really exist to flesh out what we saw from earlier, and they do a good job of this. I can’t help but wish that the write-ups were remotely as fascinating as the ones in Planescape, even though that’s not really fifth edition’s style and would probably be aggressively off-putting to most players who only started D&D in the last few years, i.e. the vast majority of the audience. The decision to keep these monsters firmly entrenched in the rest of the book’s lore should also free up the Planar Bestiary to go more wild, but we’ll have to see if that’s actually the case. 

The Avernus observer is just a little cutie, isn’t he?

The section of Path I found least interesting was “Character Options,” though it definitely needed to be included and is likely the most useful part for the vast majority of players—as with the monsters, I fully understand why this material takes up a big chunk of the book, I just wish it didn’t and that instead it was all relegated to Planar Character Options. Three new species for PCs are included: travelers, chimerans, and inkarnates. Travelers are the most boring, as they’re pretty much just humans born with a weird birthmark, i.e. plot hook. Meh. Chimerans, on the other hand, are quite unique in that they give players the ability to transform between different species. How this comes about is up to players and DMs (recommendations are included), but the simple rules for this race seem fun regardless of possible issues with balance. I’m also partial to inkarnates, who embody concepts and find themselves exploring what exactly this means in the multiverse. They fit perfectly into a Planescape campaign, and I only wish there was more about them elsewhere in the book. 

I found the new subclasses, feats, and spells largely forgettable, which isn’t so much a strike against the book as it is a comment about what I find interesting about D&D. I just don’t care much about these things except for when they become relevant for a character I’m playing—I’m that guy who cares about lore and roleplaying first, and never gave a crap about splatbooks focused on developing battle skills. Even the magic items didn’t really do much for me and seemed pretty standard, with the exception of the wonderful Hood of Tentacles that allows you to cosplay as a mind flayer and the Enigmalith that locks prisoners into a tiny extradimensional cell where they’re left to starve to death. 

The book’s final section consists of two planar adventures that focus on the new locations from earlier. The first of these, “Tyrant’s Key,” is the better of the two. It consists of a cross-planar scavenger hunt to track down a Hellish flying battleship of immense power, that’s also cursed and possibly haunted. It’s quite basic, but shows an easy way to fit these locations together, and has some fun interactions despite its brief, somewhat sketchy outline. It reminds me of a shorter, less ridiculous version of the Rod of Seven Parts questline, and features a couple of memorable NPCs and a conversation with the Mantis herself along the way. Plus, it’s about as easy-to-run as an adventure using Planebreaker as a basis could be, and would be painless to fill out with sidequests and other stories depending on the actions of PCs. Nothing about this adventure blew me away, but at the same time I would definitely be happy to run it, and sometimes having a very standard macguffin (or series of them) like this is the best way to allow players the freedom to really have a good time roleplaying.


The second adventure, “Sword, Sphere, and Cube,” is also a macguffin chase, just not nearly as good of one. It essentially concerns a cubic gate gone wrong, which characters need to fix because that’s how these stories work. Instead of visiting a series of the more well-fleshed out locations like the last adventure, this time the cubic gate leads players to some of the shorter ones, plus Unithon, the plane I hate and refuse to use in any game. Players stabilize the cube and, well, that’s that. Cool, I guess. Whatever. 

Edravel, Eyes of All Worlds is just one of the more fascinating planar locations offered about half a page of detail. Like so much else in this book, I’d love to run an adventure there.

The rest of the book is filled with appendices, an index, and the requisite OGL license page. The appendices are actually pretty fun, filled with random planar landscapes, encounters, and items salvaged on the Planebreaker. The index is, conversely, not terribly good, but *shrug*, does it really matter? And that’s it. Maybe the Cypher System version of this book is a page longer because it doesn’t require the OGL license… or maybe not, as using the Great Wheel probably means it still needs that even without using fifth edition D&D‘s rules. I will probably never find out the answer to this moronic question.

It would be foolish to try and review Path of the Planebreaker within a vacuum, as that’s not our world nor what it was designed for. It is meant as an expansion for planar campaigns that stretches the limits of the Great Wheel without completely breaking them. In this, it’s not as radical as what we saw from Beyond Countless Doorways, or at least not as constantly so. At the same time, it is bubbling with new ideas on nearly every page, and is imminently usable. The new worlds and landscapes included here don’t require radically revamping how you play the game, but that’s also what makes the book so strong.

Conversely though, what Planebreaker lacks is unfortunately the attitude and off-kilter viewpoint of Planescape. In this, it feels like, well, fifth edition, the deracinated version of D&D that plays it safe, and so it will probably make many people happy. But once you leave the Planebreaker and Timeborne behind, the attempt at making these planes fit any campaign makes me miss Planescape as a setting. This decision to make this fantasy multiverse accessible to everyone was probably the correct one (reminder: Planescape books sold terribly), but this also means that there’s a certain generic-ness here that you won’t find from Planescape during its heyday. The attitude and feeling of this multiverse is left to the DM to decide upon, which leaves the book less distinctive than I would like.

We always want to give respect to wonderful cartography, and while it’s a bit computer-y for my taste elsewhere in the book, I quite like this depiction of Timeborne.

I should also mention before I conclude that the production side of Path was stellar. I noticed far fewer typos and errors than I do in actual Wizards of the Coast products (excellent work from editor/proofreader Ray Vallese, no notes), and what’s more the cartography and artwork was universally excellent. I have no nothing to say about the physical product except for praise, and it’s an attractive, well-organized volume all the way through. 

So for those of you looking for more planar, fifth edition content, I suggest giving Path of the Planebreaker a look. What’s here is on the whole more creative, and certainly more daring, than what’s available from fifth edition’s version of Planescape, while also meshing perfectly with the Great Wheel. Not every location is spectacular, but that’s only to be expected, and it offers up a fun variant on multiversal adventuring that I hope to see eventually fleshed out more by Monte Cook Games  in the future. No, it’s not Planescape, but it’s also not trying to be, and even so in some respects it’s closer to that original line’s spirit than the officially released Planescape set that came out less than a year after its release. 

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest Exposition Break articles sent to your inbox.