Planar Handbook Chat Transcript
Featuring Andy Collins, Bruce Cordell, and Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel

wizo_unicorn: Come one, come all to the Planar Handbook chat with designers Bruce Cordell, Gwendolyn Kestrel, and Andy Collins! Welcome Bruce, Gwendolyn, and Andy! Can you give us a brief introduction?

Gwendolyn: Hello, I'm Gwendolyn Kestrel. I wrote about a third of the book, including several of the new races and prestige classes. The book isn't setting-specific. It gives a great, broad base for any planar forays.

Bruce: I served as the lead designer on this project. I wrote about a third of the material, too. The main thrust of this project was to make the planes more available to the average player. It's mostly aimed at players (though, of course, DMs will find lots of useful info, too) and is very friendly to newcomers to the planes and experienced travelers who are looking for old favorites. One of the things I most wanted to accomplish was to create a reason players would be interested in going to the planes.

Andy: I served as the lead developer on Planar Handbook. It was my job to take all the brilliant material designed by the authors (Bruce, Gwendolyn, JD, and Stan!) and put it together into a coherent whole, paying special attention to the mechanics and rules in the book. As we like to say on the development team, if you see something in there that you liked, it's thanks to the designers; if something didn't come out quite right, it's the development team's fault!

grayrichardson: How is the book selling for you guys? Have you gotten some numbers back yet? Are you pleased with the response that you are getting? Are people saying nice things?

Andy: No info yet. Although I've heard anecdotes that it is doing very well.

Deekin: Why make the Lady of Pain and Sigil lawful neutral? Look at page 142.

Bruce: Lawful neutral is certainly how I see her.

Gwendolyn: That might have been me. I certainly see her actions as a ruler who makes and imposes rigid rules such as "no factions" as someone with a lawful bent.

Andy: I remember writing some of the Sigil material; that may have been my doing.

baloo: I see her more as neutral, what with playing various factions against one another (at least pre-faction war). Also, she doesn't take a very active role in governing Sigil, which is seemingly nonlawful.

shemeska: Most of us had always assumed that she was true neutral. I can think of some reasons myself, but I don't particularly associate her with lawfulness; there's a mix of that and also some whimsy. I can see a link to lawful neutral if you include the references from TheFactol's Manifesto to Factol Hashkar of the Fraternity of Order being a petitioner of Sigil, but otherwise I'm curious for your reasoning there. We've even had instances of Blood War spillovers into Sigil that went for weeks, with massive loss of life, before she took action. Sounds like whimsy to me.

Andy: Certainly, she's an enigmatic figure for Planescape fans. Of course, this book isn't seeking to recreate that setting, but rather to present a variety of planar options for your D&D campaign. Ultimately, the alignment of such a figure is only a pointer as to her likely outlook on things -- no two lawful neutral individuals are going to act in the same way in all situations. Deities and deitylike figures (a category she definitely falls into) often only have the barest connection to human-oriented methods of evaluating behavior.

Bruce: On the other hand, she enforces her own rules without compromise. She doesn't vary in her judgments. She has set up Sigil according to her own personal ideals, and she hasn't varied them. A truly neutral power -- would they go to this trouble? I can't see it.

tomu_the_king_of_dms: Classically, planar travel is reserved for mid- to high-level adventurers at the earliest. While it was said earlier that planar travel was made available to some extent to all levels, is there anything in the book that is specifically useful for epic campaigns, such as great wyrm true dragons? And I guess, on epic topics, are there any stats for demon lords, devil princes, or similar beings?

Andy: No stats for epic-level unique foes -- look to the Book of Vile Darkness and the Book of Exalted Deeds for those.

Bruce: That's right -- there's not really an epic thrust for this book. I'd say the majority of this book is aimed at 3rd- to 13th-level players, though of course there is info for players through 20th level.

Andy: Writing content for characters of levels 15+ just isn't a high priority for most of our D&D products. It's just too hard to predict what players and DMs at those levels want. We can take weeks and weeks to write a cool epic adventure or a collection of epic monsters, and what we hear from fans is, "My epic campaign isn't like that, so that stuff is useless to me." Certainly, when my last campaign got up to high levels, I found it harder and harder to use existing D&D material, even stuff that was aimed at those levels.

Gwendolyn: Often, epic campaigns are crafted specifically to suit the needs of the specific players and DMs.

baloo: Not directly related to the book at hand, but are there any plans on making a planar monster book? Perhaps something presenting a larger variety of those major planar races that has been sort of ignored (a handful of creatures across about a dozen books)? For example, monsters like the yugoloth, as well as the celestial types.

Andy: I'd say that any plans to follow up with another planar-themed book are going to weigh heavily on the sales of Planar Handbook.

Bruce: Never say never! But, nothing like that appears on the catalogue of upcoming products. As you say, though, this is a rich area, and who knows what the future could bring.

Gwendolyn: The upcoming Monster Manual III has some cool outsiders, but it isn't a planar-focused group.

shemeska: First of all, as one of the writers for planewalker.com, {{link to external site: planewalker.com}} I have to extend a thank you for the inclusion of Faction material, Sigil, and other references from Planescape. As for my question though, why no mention of the modrons? We only had a tiny reference to them in the Manual of the Planes, and while there was a web enhancement giving them stats, they've gotten remarkably little exposure despite being the dominant exemplar race of Mechanus.

Andy: Modrons, modrons, modrons . . . the D&D team decided early on in 3E design & development that modrons didn't reflect the direction that we wanted the game to be heading in. While there are no doubt plenty of ways to portray modrons as something other than goofy-looking polyhedrons, that's a very hard sell. The vast majority of players and DMs who see modrons think, "Oh, a sentient six-sided die with legs, that's just silly." Fair or not, it's certainly the perception we've gotten from the customers.

Bruce: We decided to give more time and development to formians -- those who enjoy modrons have an incredible number of sources to draw upon in regard to them.

stormforge: This might be a little off the wall, but, with such a focused handbook, could you incorporate a Spelljammer campaign or setting with the Planar Handbook as a major source where you could go between Prime Material worlds, say from Toril to Greyhawk or homespun worlds?

Bruce: That's correct!

Andy: I don't see any reason why you couldn't. Between the Planar Handbook and the Manual of the Planes, you'd have an amazing wealth of tools at your disposal for creating an interplanar campaign of any variety.

Gwendolyn: Absolutely! The book has a great scope and it would be easy to create different "worlds/planes" for a Spelljammer setting.

grayrichardson: Does it look like Wizards will "green light" any more planar books or adventures in the near future? Or even the not-so-near future? How does Wizards feel about the planes in general? I vote for a Forgotten Realms planar handbook!

Andy: The recent Player's Guide to Faerûn had some information about Toril's cosmology, but I don't know of any plans to go into it in more depth. Every time a book takes a step away from the core concepts of the game, sadly, sales decline significantly. Doing a niche of a niche (such as "planes of Toril") is a risky product. Personally, I love the planes. Both Bruce and I put our Adventure Path modules on the planes, which shows our attachment to the concept of planar adventuring. Above all else, if we (meaning Wizards of the Coast) perceive a demand for a product, we'll find a way to make it happen, so don't hesitate to "talk it up" about product concepts.

Bruce: As Andy said a little earlier, that will depend on the sales of Planar Handbook. It is certainly possible, though.

Gwendolyn: Sales influence product line decisions. If the book does well, that serves as a nice support for related books in the future, but as Andy says, "Planes of Toril" might be too narrow an audience.

Bruce: True -- it'd have to be a product that had a wider net.

taski: How feasible is it for the Astral Plane to have native creatures, or creatures that once came to the plane and evolved over eons to become unique creatures in their own right?

Bruce: Completely feasible. We have examples of such creatures in various books, I believe.

Andy: Seems totally feasible to me. While it's true that no creatures should be "truly" native to the Astral Plane, after a long enough time anything's possible, particularly in a world of magical fantasy.

Gwendolyn: We have the concept in the core books with the astral stalker.

shemeska: Speaking of demand, the secondhand market for Planescape material on online auctions is absolutely fierce and bloated. You'd think that more attention might be paid considering how popular it appears to be. Out-of-print material goes for double to triple original price or more.

Bruce: More evidence of my anecdotal experience that Planar Handbook is doing well.

Andy: Wizards tries to be very careful about adding new product lines. Having too many "branches" in the D&D product line is one of the things that killed TSR.

tomu_the_king_of_dms: My own guess is that Planescape material sells better online because it's discontinued. If there were new, up-to-date stuff, I'd guess it might not sell so well.

Andy: Most people here feel that creating new lines, rather than returning to old ones, has a better chance of bringing a large number of interested customers.

Gwendolyn: Planescape fans also have a great resource with planewalker.com. {{link to external site: planewalker.com}}

Bruce: The print runs of the original Planescape material weren't especially large, either -- demand is fierce, but supply is limited.

weeds_omaha: The Planar Handbook was not what I was expecting it to be -- it relies too heavily on feats and prestige classes to fill a void of detailed content. We have been overloaded with them!

Andy: I'm not sure why you expected something billed as a player's resource to be something else. Sure, the book could have been nothing but adventure hooks and weird planar sites, but that's really a DM's book, not a player's book. And even with that caveat, note that creatures and planar sites take up nearly half the book, which seems like a good amount of resources for the DM. And on top of that there are the new races (with plenty of hooks for DM inventiveness), the organizations (ditto), and so on.

Bruce: The book wasn't meant to be another DM's sourcebook on new areas -- it was for players (although there is certainly DM content). I'm sorry you were looking for something different. But players have been finding it very useful. That said, the planar touchstone feats double as weird new sites, actually. It fits both bills.

Gwendolyn: It is a question of audience and expectations. Its intent was always to be a book for players to use (not just for DMs and not just for reading). Even the planar touchstones are cool places for players to visit.

tomu_the_king_of_dms: Prestige classes in the Dungeon Master's Guide don't make it a player sourcebook.

Andy: I'm going to disagree with you. I think that the prestige classes and magic items in the Dungeon Master's Guide very much contribute to its popularity among players as a reference tool/sourcebook. While it's true that the sense of entitlement to something in the Dungeon Masters Guide isn't as high as it would be if it were in the Player's Handbook, it's still a "source of material" for players.

tomu_the_king_of_dms: Would it be safe to say then that the Planar Handbook is the player equivalent of the DM source Manual of the Planes? Is there any reference to the old Planescape "cant" in the book?

Gwendolyn: I don't believe that there's any mention of "cant" in the book -- Sigil's description tries to focus on material that's immediately crucial to a DM looking to use it in his game, and thus can't go into as much detail as that would require.

Andy: That's certainly one way I've been using to describe it. While it's not 100% accurate -- just as there's player stuff in Manual of the Planes, there's DM stuff in the Planar Handbook -- it's close enough to the truth to be a useful comparison.

Bruce: The book at least seeks to empower players with tools, classes, races, and goals for seeking the planes. Of course, as with all things, the DM is the final arbiter. As far as the "cant" goes, if it is in there at all, it is only as a description of the vernacular that is often utilized in Sigil -- that voice is not used as an authorial voice in the book.

Gwendolyn: It is very player-focused, but DMs will definitely find new ways to bring the players to the planes and the planes to the players.

jaerc: In your opinions, what is the best thing to happen to the bard in the Planar Handbook?

Andy: Certainly the bard planar substitution levels add some interesting flavor for a bard who spends lots of time on the planes, though I'm not sure they're the first thing a bard would notice in flipping through this book. There are a few new bard spells of interest, including beastland ferocity (subject fights without penalty while disabled or dying). And a bard who likes to summon creatures has some new options thanks to the Monsters chapter, as well.

Bruce: Well, the bard gets some "substitution" levels, if that's what you mean. It provides the bard with some new abilities keyed toward planar adventures. The concept of substitution levels debuts in this book, as well, but all the classes share in its novelty.

Gwendolyn: Well, one interesting option that the bard has for a prestige class is the Ardent Dilettante (tied to the Society of Sensation). It captures much of the flavor of the plane-traveling storyteller. It requires multiclassing with progressive prerequisites, but bards should find it a natural fit.

shemeska: The book mentions that inside the mazes you can die of starvation or old age. However the one previous look inside a maze, the maze of Vartus Timlin, former factol of the Expansionists (in Well of Worlds) had him being fed daily and not aging a day within the maze, despite being sent there hundreds of year before he escaped. Any reasoning there, or are we to assume that Timlin's maze, and perhaps all of them, are unique?

Bruce: I've always regarded each maze as potentially different from the next. That makes for more interesting fiction, and game settings.

Andy: As we've stated earlier, this book isn't setting out to recreate the Planescape setting. For obvious reasons of space, we can't delve into every detail that has been used before. I think it is safe to say that every maze is unique, even though we don't call that out specifically here.

grayrichardson: On page 77, the description of the Mechanus Eye says it is salvaged from an extinct planar race that used to control the plane. Is this a wink towards the modrons? Are they all dead now? Or another race?

Gwendolyn: "Purportedly" it gives a DM lots of wiggle room.

Bruce: The race is referred to as "demolished" is not extinct. That might be overstating things, if indeed this is a reference to modrons.

Andy: I don't know that any such speculations have occurred. In fact, maybe it didn't happen at all. Although you could probably cast some blame on the über-deities JoT, MoCo, and SkWill!

Gwendolyn: No comment.

shemeska: I didn't expect it to recreate the Planescape setting, but when it deviates from the material that forms the basis for it, I get curious for a reason. Even if it's just "so and so didn't like it so . . ."

Andy: Adherence to continuity is important, but we made a decision way back when we were writing Forgotten Realms for 3rd Edition that we couldn't be slaves to what had come before. We aim to get as much right as we can, but we can't require authors to read through a library of books just so they can write on a topic. It's really a case of diminishing returns: spend an extra week reading background material to glean one more tiny detail, but give up the 10,000 words you'd have written in that time? Just can't do it.

Gwendolyn: This openness enables us to take the best and brightest of the jewels while making wholly new creations.

Bruce: Yep, we adhere to continuity whenever possible. Sometimes, it is not possible. Sometimes a reference is too obscure to ferret out. And sometimes, the decision is simply made to go a different way.

wizo_unicorn: Let's grant the designers a little latitude.

taski: Now that I know there can be creatures unique to the Astral Plane (though not native to it), would it be feasible to have a spell to summon them out of the Astral as allies?

Bruce: Such a thing is quite possible, if you design it.

Andy: Sure. Just about any extraplanar creature (within reason) feasibly could be summoned, so I see no reason why a specific or general summoning spell couldn't do exactly that. I think that spells that summon specific creatures are also more interesting to the game than über-summoning spells, personally, and can afford to be a bit more powerful than the normal summon monster (since they're giving up versatility.)

Gwendolyn: There's an Astral kraken, a CR 16 monster that lists the Astral Plane as its normal environment.

the_storm: How many completely new wizard and sorcerer spells are in the Planar Handbook?

Andy: I count 45 sorcerer/wizard spells, of which I'd guess roughly 40 are brand new (a few are picked up from Manual of the Planes or other sources, but not many).

baloo: Does the Planar Handbook have anything concerning Eberron's cosmology, or is it all Great Wheel/Generic?

Andy: The Planar Handbook only tackles the core cosmology of D&D. I wouldn't be surprised to see Eberron's cosmology get more attention in the future, though probably as part of a larger book rather than as its own topic.

Gwendolyn: Some highlights include resist planar alignment, locate touchstone, light of lunia, mechanus mind, belker claws, babau slime, balor nimbus, infernal wound, wall of gears, and miasma of entropy.

Bruce: A lot of the material in Planar Handbook could be used in the Eberron setting, though Eberron is never called out, and there are no Eberron specific sites in the book.

Andy: Good point, Bruce. There's no reason you couldn't steal Acheron-themed material for a similarly themed plane in Eberron (I'm pretty sure there's a battlefield plane in there somewhere, but the book's not handy).

wizo_unicorn: Okay, that's it for tonight, folks! Andy, Bruce, Gwendolyn, thank you VERY much for chatting with us tonight. I know folks are going to love the book!

Andy: You're welcome, unicorn. Good questions, folks. I hope you enjoy reading (and, more to the point, using) the material in Planar Handbook.

Gwendolyn: Always nice to talk about the book. Loved working on it! Hope you enjoy it.

Bruce: Thanks all. This was fun. I hope everyone enjoys the book -- make sure you go find a touchstone site to call your very own.


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