An Indepth Commentary On The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes

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An Indepth Commentary On The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes

Post by Big Mac » Thu Jul 11, 2019 8:16 pm

The Swords & Stitchery blog has an article up called: An Indepth Commentary On The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes By Jeff Grubb.

Needles says why he prefers Manual of the Planes to Planescape and gives an example of ten ways he uses the book.

What do you think of the article?

I've always thought of the MotP and Planescape as different editions of the same setting

Do any of you use MotP instead of Planescape (instead of as well as Planescape)?

Does anyone convert any of the Planescape material back towards the MotP way of doing things?
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Re: An Indepth Commentary On The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes

Post by Tim Baker » Thu Jul 11, 2019 8:30 pm

Big Mac wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 8:16 pm
I've always thought of the MotP and Planescape as different editions of the same setting.
It's been ages since I last read MotP, but I don't think of MotP as being incompatible with Planescape, so much as Planescape codifying things that were left (likely intentionally) fuzzy in MotP. It's a bit like the difference between the early Greyhawk Folio vs. the information available about the setting after years of supplements and adventures. There's nothing wrong with wanting to go back to the earliest skeleton of a setting provided in the Folio and fleshing it out for yourself. If you view the later additions as just one possible version of Greyhawk, it's still (largely?) compatible with what's in the Folio.

So I believe it comes down to preference more than the two products being fundamentally incompatible. Planescape intentionally sought to create the borderlands so that PCs could "taste" the planes without having the risks of actually traveling there, early on. So that reinforces MotP's assertion that the planes can be quite dangerous. I believe a few of the planes were renamed or rearranged by 2e, but perhaps the planes are amorphous and change over time, or these were different scholars' views on the planes, which are hard to pin down and codify when you're a mortal.

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Re: An Indepth Commentary On The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes

Post by Digitalelf » Fri Jul 12, 2019 1:24 am

Interesting article, but the points that the author makes also work for Planescape.
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Re: An Indepth Commentary On The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes

Post by Seethyr » Fri Jul 12, 2019 4:02 am

6. There is a sense of deadliness in the Manual of the Planes that represents a degree of respect that the player's PC's must have for the planes over all.
There are certain aspects of Planescape I adored and parts I wasn’t so keen on. But this point in the article struck home in one of the reasons I liked the MotP a bit better.

The book made me scared of the planes. All the towns just floating around in hell(!) of all things with bars and inns made it lose some of its oomph in my eyes. I felt like Planescape tried to make the planes too similar to the Prime sometimes.
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Re: An Indepth Commentary On The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes

Post by Cromstar » Fri Jul 12, 2019 7:37 am

Seethyr wrote:
Fri Jul 12, 2019 4:02 am
6. There is a sense of deadliness in the Manual of the Planes that represents a degree of respect that the player's PC's must have for the planes over all.
There are certain aspects of Planescape I adored and parts I wasn’t so keen on. But this point in the article struck home in one of the reasons I liked the MotP a bit better.

The book made me scared of the planes. All the towns just floating around in hell(!) of all things with bars and inns made it lose some of its oomph in my eyes. I felt like Planescape tried to make the planes too similar to the Prime sometimes.
I view this the opposite way. Those bars in hell are just another form of trap...they aren't safe. They're literal hellish bars. It makes the dangers more diverse within each plane; it doesn't diminish those dangers.

One of the 'safest' places in Baator is Jangling Hiter...home to the kytons. If you don't think the bars there are dangerous...well, that's how a clueless berk ends up in the dead book.

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Re: An Indepth Commentary On The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes

Post by Seethyr » Fri Jul 12, 2019 2:20 pm

Cromstar wrote:
Fri Jul 12, 2019 7:37 am
Seethyr wrote:
Fri Jul 12, 2019 4:02 am
6. There is a sense of deadliness in the Manual of the Planes that represents a degree of respect that the player's PC's must have for the planes over all.
There are certain aspects of Planescape I adored and parts I wasn’t so keen on. But this point in the article struck home in one of the reasons I liked the MotP a bit better.

The book made me scared of the planes. All the towns just floating around in hell(!) of all things with bars and inns made it lose some of its oomph in my eyes. I felt like Planescape tried to make the planes too similar to the Prime sometimes.
I view this the opposite way. Those bars in hell are just another form of trap...they aren't safe. They're literal hellish bars. It makes the dangers more diverse within each plane; it doesn't diminish those dangers.

One of the 'safest' places in Baator is Jangling Hiter...home to the kytons. If you don't think the bars there are dangerous...well, that's how a clueless berk ends up in the dead book.
I think the one I was thinking of was in the Deva Spark adventure module. I remember reading the description and it seemed to be more of a Star Wars cantina than a place of eternal damnation.
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Re: An Indepth Commentary On The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes

Post by Cromstar » Sat Jul 13, 2019 6:57 pm

Seethyr wrote:
Fri Jul 12, 2019 2:20 pm
I think the one I was thinking of was in the Deva Spark adventure module. I remember reading the description and it seemed to be more of a Star Wars cantina than a place of eternal damnation.
It is kind of low-key in that adventure, though looking at it, it does have an entire heading in that section telling the DM to remember its an Abyssal tavern, and to flavor it with an appropriate flair (and then describes some of the food, drinks, and games found in the place to provide a starting point). I could argue that, as its a respite for veterans of the Blood War who aren't on the frontlines right that moment, that feel isn't entirely out of place either (even tanari'i are people [ok, they aren't *people* per se, but they are sentient beings with their own wants, needs, and desires and staying alive is at the top of that list]).

---------------------

Having taken a little time to leaf through MotP again and then re-read this post I'm split on the two central points the author made:

I agree that the MotP is a good book that builds a great, solid foundation for the planes.

I disagree that the book is inherently superior to Planescape, in large part because I think needles credits MotP with stuff it straight-up did not do.

Breaking down the 10 bullet points in particular, I feel its not a super-strong list.
The Manual of the Planes is perfect for planing an alien invasion of your favorite AD&D or BECMI Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

There's lots of room for campaign intrigue with the planes and it always seems to trickle down to the adventurer's level.
These two specifically baffle me because there is literally none of this in the MotP?

The MotP provides almost entirely crunchy rules, and a little bit of fluffy setting details (mostly the physical descriptions of all the planes themselves, which is important, but we'll get back to this in a second). Other than the 4 new MM entries for creatures that first appeared in the MotP (Einherjar, Maruts, Mortai, and the Archons), there are no new details on any of the monsters found on the encounter tables. The genies of the elemental planes? We gain no new understanding of or details on the efreeti (etc) beyond what was already detailed in their MM entries in other sources. The book has encounter tables for each of the planes, which is a good reference, but most of the listed creatures we either already knew could be found on those planes (efreet and salamanders on the plane of fire) or could be reasonably inferred to be found there. This doesn't provide any details, like detailing a society, that would actually prove useful in planing an 'alien' invasion of a prime material world. It does provide the hard rules you'd need to game out your players for a counter-punch into the home realm of such an invasion, but anything around the invasion itself would either come from other sources or be created from scratch.

Similarly, there's literally no intrigue of any kind in the MotP except some slight, single-sentence off-hand references in the small blurbs about a specific deity, elemental prince, etc. Again, there's no talk about the society or lives of the inhabitants in these planes, so there's room for stuff in the same sense that a blank map has room for any kind of world you want to draw on it.
While the Manual of the Planes is high level the book can be used as a quick & dirty introduction for players to the planes with a random & quite dangerous encounter or two.

The real star of the Manual of The Planes is the environs which showcase & shine the many facets of the book.
These two are the strongest arguments presented and, IMO, are spot on. This is, to me, what the MotP is: a primer for taking characters from the normal (prime material) campaign world and throwing them into the greater planes for a straightforward in-and-out or a weekend-in-hell style adventure.
Because this book is bare bones there's some real room for the dungeon master to get very creative with how & why they set up their cosmology in their home game's version of the planes.

The Elemental planes are fleshed out & the DM can really go to town to create these as they wish. But beware the encounter tables in the Manual of Planes.

The Manual of the Planes is still relevant today because it can easily work with 90 percent of the OSR products & rule sets on the market.

There are some very cool but dangerously high level environs that can be worked into complete adventures using the AD&D Manual of the Planes.
These four I kind of agree with, though I think that's because they are kind of truisms, but I also feel they directly contradict the first two I quoted above for exactly the reasons I laid out there: the lack of setting details certainly leaves room for the DM to do whatever they want, and that's not a bad thing at all. I just consider it to be a neutral thing because official sources always leave room for adding things (that may require more work or less depending). This isn't any less true in Planescape, IMO (except the one about rules for obvious reasons). And that one about rules is just kind of a simple truism: "this book is compatible with any rules written with compatibility in mind" isn't a particularly transformative stance. Crunch is either compatible, convertible, or neither. Fluff is always compatible because it doesn't depend on rules, so you can take whatever fluff you want and leave the rest behind.
There is a sense of deadliness in the Manual of the Planes that represents a degree of respect that the player's PC's must have for the planes over all.
I feel this point kind of underscores my difference of opinion in the mindset: as I stated in my earlier post, Planescape is very deadly. If you look at the full spread of published adventures, the low level adventures tend to fall into two categories: they take place in very 'safe' locations (ie, the Upper Planes, Sigil, Outlands) or, if they go to someplace more inherently inhospitable (like the Lower Planes or Inner Planes), there's usually some contrivance that provides an easy safety net or a quick in-and-out to minimize the chance the low level PCs get in over their heads (because a group of level 3-and-unders in any of the lower planes should be dead or enslaved in a matter of hours at best if we're being honest).
The DM is not hamstrung by some of the elements of the Planescape second edition AD&D setting.
Mini-rant: This is, in my opinion, the absolute worst, stupidest complaint to ever make about an officially published product for D&D. Its the lazy-man's lament. The *first* rule of D&D, which has been repeatedly stressed over the decades of the game's existence, is that the DM has final say. on. everything. Here's direct text from the 2nd Edition DMG (the revised version): "In short, follow the rules as they are written if doing so improves your game. But by the same token, break the rules only if doing so improves your game." And it applies equally to fluff as it does to crunch.

Integration is certainly an issue a DM has to take into account, but it is completely possible to remove or change anything. If you wanted to completely remove Cormyr from the Forgotten Realms and replace it with...literally anything or even just empty wilderness, you can absolutely do that. So arguing that somehow anything in Planescape, which is super modular by its very nature AND just layered on top of what's already in the MotP (it overwrites almost nothing setting wise and only drops a handful of rules), prevents the DM from doing their own thing is just...denying the core conceit of the Dungeons and Dragons game itself.

Just as a personal anecdotal example, I extremely dislike the 3rd Edition and the core philosophy behind that rule set in their entirety, and yet I own a handful of the source books because there is some super great stuff to plunder in there (example: I've added 3 entire disciplines to 2nd Edition psionics and to help flesh one of them out, I used the 3e psionics books because amongst all the chaff was plenty of wheat).

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