Planar Character Options

A Walk Through the Planes – Sidestory: Planar Character Options




Before reading through the book, I’d kinda assumed that Planar Character Options, the third and so far final part of Monte Cook Games’ quas-campaign setting Planebreaker, was going to be my least favorite of the three. If you’re a veteran of this now-insanely-long series about Dungeons & Dragons‘ other planes of existence, then you’re well aware that most of the time game mechanics bore me. They’re important, and they can tell stories in and of themselves when done well, but at the same time they’re also the part of roleplaying games where our imaginations go to die. I also knew, following the Planar Bestiary, that much of the book would be a repetition of parts from the main Path of the Planebreaker setting book, which is particularly relevant considering that this third volume is only 96-pages long (it’s also the only softcover volume, which is the right choice considering that at this length hardcover would’ve been ridiculous). Much to my surprise, though, it’s a lean, mean 96 pages, and one just as filled with ideas as its companions. While far less useful if you’re not playing a Fifth Edition or Cypher System game—like the other books in this set, it’s available for both systems—Planar Character Options completely succeeds at its goal of offering dozens of wild new ways for PCs to explore the planes. 

This time out the book is just designed by Bruce R. Cordell, such that each book in the series lost one main designer until he was the only one standing, and is divided into two main parts: Creating Your Character and Rounding out Your Character, each of which is then composed of three chapters. I’m going to focus on the new material rather than what carried over from the setting book; there may be a few tweeks between the two sources, but I was unable to notice any major ones. Anyhow, the first chapter kicks things off with a “Species” chapter, including three new ones, lava elves, surks, and vlatons, two of which are pretty good. 

I dig that lava elves have more heft than their brethren.

While the world hardly needs new elf species, in this case it’s one that hails from one of the noteworthy locations from Path, Laghris. As such, it has a well-developed history and odd ecology, making it a wonderful fit for anyone using that book. Really, it would’ve made more sense to include it there, but I’m guessing it didn’t make the cut because it’s less flashy than the original three. I’m also a fan of surks, who are a different take on constructs from the Eberron warforged in that while they’re fully living beings made of metal, they’re magical in nature rather than pseudo-scientific. They’re not super unique, but I appreciate going a different route from modrons or warforged—they could use more fleshing out, but there’s a good start here. My one demerit for this chapter is going for the vlatons, who are the dumb cube-people of the dumb cube-world Unithon. To essentially repeat my thoughts from earlier about their world, the vlatons annoy me and feel like a bad video game concept. The two pages of coverage they receive are my least favorite in the entire book. 


Path included a haphazard collection of new subclasses (one for fighters, clerics, rogues, and wizards), though really the decision to include these and no other ones felt off, as if we were being given a sample rather than a full book. Fortunately, Character Options fills this out crazily well, with one new subclass for every one in the game, which in this case means that those four who had a subclass before have two included. What’s more, these new ones are almost all better than the slightly basic originals. Some highlights include the amethyst fist monks who use tellectite crystals from Erewhon, the order of chance wizards who try to cheat fate and destiny with fixed dice, and the annihilation warlock who pledges allegiance with entropy and nothingness, i.e. a subclass tailor-made for a Planescape Doomguard. It’s a great chapter and many of these subclasses are useful beyond just a planar campaign. This may be the best part of the entire book.


Chapter three, backgrounds, isn’t as exciting as either of the first two, but I’m actually a big fan of Fifth Edition’s backgrounds as a concept because of how important they are for roleplaying (mechanically they tend to do very little). Of the three, my favorite is definitely the crossplane refugee, who is the survivor or escapee from a home dimension under duress. The possibilities here are grand, and it’s not something I’ve ever seen anyone use before in a planar campaign. Some people will probably prefer the reformed fiend, though, as it’s a truly unique concept, in that one way or another you are what that name implies. I can see players doing dumb stuff with this, which is my main reservation, but then again they already do that sort of thing now with tieflings, and some of the possible reasons for the transformation are extremely entertaining. Cosmic rambler, the third option, is much more basic, but that’s fine, having a basic planewalker background is something the game should have, so I’m still glad of the addition. 

Rounding out Your Character begins with feats, which are interesting to read through almost despite themselves. Some aren’t good but are entertaining, like Pandemonium pupil, while others like thoughtcrafter seem poised with a ton of possibilities, both mechanical and roleplaying. Like so much else in the book, this chapter delivers what it promises, such that if you want new feats then you’ll probably like it, if not then let’s move along.

Crystallize spacetime doing its thing.

With spells, Cordell doesn’t just repeat normal ones with a little bit of planar fluff, instead there’s an attempt at adding new effects to the game that have something perhaps tangentially to do with the planes. Want to banish someone to the Congruent Corridor? Now you can. Want to grow a devilish tail and smack people around with it? You can do that too. Some favorites of mine include Step In-Between, which allows quick escape to a temporary demiplane; Crystallize Spacetime, which alters the fabric of reality in a way that “causes it to change state in a destructive manner”; and Impose Demonic Possession, which does exactly what it says.


The final chapter is given to magic items. I was a bit underwhelmed by these in Path, but fortunately there are many new, more interesting ones than what was shown before. These often have less to do with the planes than anything else in the book, with items like the Effigy of Reincarnation just being a cool concept, but I hardly cared. My favorite was, unsurprisingly, the Tuning Fork of Mechanus, which causes a gang of quadrones to suddenly appear and then build a structure for you. I love a powerful magic item with a focus that isn’t just on raining down the most damage, and more than this I love the typically modron-esque weirdness on display. 

Unlike Path of the Planebreaker, I don’t think Planar Character Options will blow you away. But then, it’s really not supposed to. Instead it’s a concise and clear volume filled with exactly what would be hoped for, no more and no less, and I ended up surprised with how happy I was with the product. Simply put, I will be using it in the future when I run a fifth edition planar campaign, which God-willing will happen again in the near future. Some might be annoyed that its art is mostly reused from the earlier volumes, and admittedly its copy editing is slightly spottier in that for once I noticed a couple errors, but these quibbles are minor and don’t really affect the product as a whole. My main frustration is that I feel that the entire volume should’ve been part of the Path of the Planebreaker book, but oh well, it’s not a big deal, even if I can see people who only bought that feeling a bit cheated out of the content here, which is just as polished and relevant as anything in its big sibling. 

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