Wizards of the Coast is pulling out all the stops from the runaway lightning rail train that is 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. Its latest release, Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse, delivers what may be the trippiest, most white-knuckled thrills that D&D has seen in a decade while skipping players like stones across dozens of exotic locations. But also, much like the Spelljammer-themed three-volume set that came before it, this one could use a bit more meat on the bone.
That said, this is the rare situation where that light touch may actually work to Dungeon Masters’ advantage — especially if they move fast and break things. And by things, I mean player characters. Get ready for a shocking amount of character death, all in the service of a weird and wonderful story.
Fans of the Planescape setting likely know it from the 1999 PC RPG Planescape: Torment, which tells the story of a lost soul finding their way to absolution. Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse takes that video game’s narrative as inspiration, even going so far as to start its player characters in the exact same location and in much the same state, i.e., recently resurrected and without their memories.
The boxed set includes three hardcover books and a handy DM’s screen, all packaged inside a handsome slipcase. At its core is Sigil and the Outlands, a setting book that feels every inch a love letter to fans of that original video game. However, at just 96 pages, Sigil and the Outlands — much like the Spelljammer product’s Astral Adventurer’s Guide that came before it — feels kinda thin on details. Likewise, the included character backgrounds are nothing to write home about. While they do a good job of tying willing characters to the realm where this adventure is set, I’m not sure they have much utility outside this setting.
Frankly, what Sigil and the Outlands could have used is more pages with additional details on the city’s various factions, major buildings, and outlying Outland realms. Instead of that material, though, DMs get Morte’s Planar Parade, a bloated 64-page collection of monsters and stat blocks with lots of blank space left on its pages. The big draw here is the narrator, Morte, the plucky floating skull that played a central role in Planescape: Torment. Unfortunately, his humor doesn’t translate well from computer screen to the page.
That leaves us with the boxed set’s 96-page adventure, Turn of Fortune’s Wheel, and, aside from a few gaps here and there, it absolutely delivers — albeit with a few recommended modifications.
[Ed. note: The following contains spoilers for the plot of Turn of Fortune’s Wheel, the campaign included inside Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse.]
The big gimmick in Turn of Fortune’s Wheel is that every time a player character dies, they return as a slightly different variation of their true self. It’s a brilliant tweak to the regular rules of D&D, and the way it’s implemented gives rather than takes agency away from players. To drive the point home, death is seemingly behind every corner. The opening dungeon alone has not one, not two, but three no-bullshit traps that will kill off low-level characters in an instant.
Once dead, however, players need to sit the action out at least for a little while before one of their quirky alter egos rejoins the game to mix things up. Just like going to jail in Monopoly, death can really slow down a game of D&D. DMs able to keep the action moving will see much more engagement with their players than those who take their time. Played right, it’s a viciously virtuous cycle, with more weird character variants showing up over time the more that player characters get killed off.
Unfortunately, Turn of Fortune’s Wheel doesn’t do DMs any other favors with regard to its pacing as written, which is languid at best throughout. My biggest grievance are the several sections where DMs are asked to just sort of pad things out by throwing semi-random and seemingly unrelated mini adventures at players before the next story beat falls in line. The setting itself reinforces this lethargy, with an in-fiction timeline that can span “the course of weeks, years, or centuries.” While it’s all fine and good to play D&D for a long time, repeatedly and for several months or even years, taking that long to tell a complex story tends to kill the momentum. That’s especially true in this particular narrative, which is just as circular as the donut-shaped city of Sigil itself.
The bottom line is that DMs who take too long to get to the point in Turn of Fortune’s Wheel run the risk of neutering the campaign’s biggest narrative arcs. My recommendation would be — in addition to killing characters off frequently — to skip whatever feels off topic or nonessential in favor of pushing forward toward the endgame. And what an endgame it is, with vibrant cartography from Jared Blando and more modrons — charming clockwork automatons — than you can shake a stick at. Best of all, you’ll finish the campaign with 17th-level characters fighting some of the most challenging 5th edition D&D encounters yet published.
Despite the unevenness of its mid-game and the relative paucity of its supplementary materials, Planescape: Adventure in the Multiverse delivers on the promise of D&D with an adventure that is both enchanting and tremendously challenging. It’s a garish, unsettling romp through the multiverse and the perfect way to send the classic role-playing game into the new year — and its highly anticipated 2024 rules revision.
Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse arrives in stores and online as a physical product on Oct. 17. The content is already live digitally for those who pre-order through Wizards of the Coast. The books were reviewed with a pre-release physical copy provided by the publisher. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.