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Planar Handbook: A Player's Guide to the Planes
Bruce R. Cordell and Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel
Wizards of the Coast, 193 pages

Planar Handbook: A Player's Guide to the Planes
Dungeons & Dragons Accessory: Planar Handbook
Only the most exceptional characters dare tread the infinite paths of the planes. From Sigil, the City of Doors, to the Blinding Tower at the heart of the Plane of Shadow, to the Elemental Plane of Fire's storied City of Brass, countless perilous locations in the multiverse await bold heroes armed with remarkable talents and abilities, more than a little courage, and above all, knowledge.

This supplement for the D&D game provides everything you need to create and play characters prepared for the odyssey of planar travel, including new planar races, feats, equipment, spells, and magic items. The Planar Handbook also introduces the power of planar touchstones, along with details and advice for visiting dozens of planar sites.

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A review by Chris Przybyszewski

There are only so many adventures to be played. There are only so many kobolds and dragons to slay. There's only so much loot to be stuffed into those Bags of Infinite Holding.

That's true, if your characters are stuck on only one planet.

Single-planet campaigns are good for many, maybe even most player characters. What's wrong with becoming a big fish in a small pond? But for others, the cosmos beckon. For others, the universe, in its infinite variety, calls with a silver-tongued voice, one that cannot be so easily ignored.

For those adventurers, Wizards of the Coast present the Planar Handbook: A Player's Guide to the Planes, a new source book for the Dungeons & Dragons world. The Planar Handbook offers a variety of information on multiple worlds, multiple possible campaigns, and multiple character classes.

This book is not specifically meant for game masters. The information is useful for any GM, but instead the focus is to educate players and player characters in their ways through the planes. A good portion of the book elucidates ways to maneuver (safely, and sometimes not so safely) through the planar areas, weapons useful against the multitudinous enemies out there (there are quite a few), and also the feats that will help your character survive.

The new character classes (buommans, mephlings, neraphim, shadowswyfts, spikers, tieflings, and wildren) bring new ideas to what a character can be. Each of the planar characters share characteristics of those evolved in multi-planar environments. That includes resistance to many elemental harms (e.g., acid, cold, electricity), multiple languages (common ain't so common on the planes), and -- how shall we say? -- a relative view of good, evil, and religion in general. Each plane offers its own brand of such things, and the players will have to be familiar with the 'rules' of each plane in order to get the help they need (and to avoid dying) through their campaigns.

To give an example, the Tieflings are evilish characters from the outskirts of the planes. Nimble thieves, Tieflings struggle to fit in their respective societies, and often fail. The creatures look humanoid, except for the presence of some combination of small horns, pointed teeth, red eyes, cloven feet, and red skin. Oh, and is that brimstone you smell? Probably. Tieflings receive a +2 to Dexterity and Intelligence, but lose a 2 in Charisma. They can cast Darkness once a day, and has resistances to cold, electricity, and fire. Is someone a relative to a demon? Yes, I think so.

Other practicalities offered in the Planar Handbook are the Planar Touchstones. Each plane features its own energy, identifiable and malleable to those with the correct knowledge and will. For example, those with the Personal Touchstone feat are able to draw new abilities from the plane to which they are attuned. Of course, there are multiple story-line capabilities available. Perhaps some nefarious demon guards a particular touchstone. Perhaps only those of certain blood types can access certain touchstones. Maybe some touchstones carry certain ill side affects that can wreak havoc (along with great power) in the lives of player characters.

The most important part of this supplement, in my opinion, is the final section, which outlines in detail the planar hot spots: The City of Brass, Sigil, and Tu'Narath. Each city is big enough and varied enough for an entire campaign. And while the authors include the standard level of information for each city (inhabitants, factions, governments, weather), there is plenty of room for GM improvements and unique additions.

For example, how many players have actually traveled to the Githyanki city of Tu'Narath? The city is located on top of the petrified remains of a dead god, which is bad for property values but good for adventures. Oh, and a lich-queen runs the place, which is also fun. Here's a travel tip: when traveling in Tu'Narath, get a pass from the queen. Things will go badly for your group otherwise.

As with many of the current supplements out there for D&D, the emphasis is on possibility, not rules. The outlines for each character, class, and feats give heuristics by which players and GMs can expand their scope of campaigns and stories, so that each can discover their own true path. To those who wish to stay on this side of reality, good. For those who wish more, read the Planar Handbook.

Copyright © 2005 Chris Przybyszewski

Chris learned to read from books of fantasy and science fiction, in that order. And any time he can find a graphic novel that inspires, that's good too.

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