Sunday, July 21, 2013

Review: The Plane Above for D&D 4th Edition

Okay, so I finally finished reading The Plane Above, written by Rob Heinsoo and published by Wizards of the Coast for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition.  Now, it is quite possible that I may never run a game with these rules.  Only one person in my group has any interest in playing it and its days as a happening game seen to be coming to a close.  But that's not why I bought this book (at my FLGS, Games & Stuff). Construction of my new RPG campaign world is coming along pretty well but I haven't put much thought into the larger cosmos surrounding it.  That's where The Plane Above comes in.

This book is about the astral plane, or Astral Sea, of the D&D multiverse as described for the 4th edition.  The book starts by giving a great overview of past history to explain the current state of affairs, lays out various ways to set a campaign in the Astral Sea or add it to an existing campaign, and explains the various modes of travel possible.

Next up are the dominions for the deities of the D&D campaign world.  A dominion is home to one or more deity and certain favored companions and serves in many ways as a reflection of that deity's personality and philosophy.  Each dominion is surrounded by an archipelago of lesser satellite "islands" inhabited by various peoples, entities, and monsters.  I liked that each dominion has a mystical veil around it which serves as a portal.  Travelers cannot see into a dominion from outside the veil, but the veil for each has a characteristic color and appearance so you can tell which dominion it is--if you have that knowledge.  And when travelers pierce the veil they arrive in a different fashion for each dominion.  I think Mr. Heinsoo did a terrific job with all of these dominions.  I like that each dominion has its archipelago.  The archipelagos provide a lot more terrain to adventure in but with a predictable character related to their associated dominions.  Each dominion and its archipelago come with plenty of description and plot hooks for adventuring.

In addition to the main deity dominions there are several shattered dominions which are a bit different, each with their own backstory.  I see this category of dominion as being the one where GMs can add their own creations.  Because the Astral Sea is pretty much laid bare in this book there has to be room for GMs to slip in something the players can't read up on anywhere.

The book also has four races which are native to the Astral Sea.  I'm not always keen on additional races for RPGs, especially D&D because it already has so many.  But the four included here (Couatls, Githyanki, Maruts, and Quom) are given good reasons for existing in the setting and core motivations which drive them.  Note that these are all really non-player races, unless you want to have an alternate style of campaign where all the characters are from that race.  In addition to the races there are several monsters for the setting.

Last, but not least, I liked the art in the book a lot.  I'm a very visually oriented person and I have bought RPG books based almost entirely on the art.  The Plane Above does not disappoint.  I must say that D&D has come a very long way art-wise.  The very early books were atrocious.  Nowadays I can pick up a D&D book with confidence that the art will be great.

So all in all I really liked this book.  It was exactly what I was looking for and I can see actually using the contents for my campaign universe.  Since this was so good I'll be keeping a lookout at my FLGS for the related 4E books: Manual of the Planes, The Plane Below--Secrets of the Elemental Chaos, and The Shadowfel--Gloomwrought and Beyond.

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