Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Planescape is...Juvenile? (Not Bad Necessarily, just.....Juvenile?)

I've been using some Planescape content in my D&D game recently, a 5E campaign set in my own world (Lingusia, Age of Strife) but with some planar crossovers going on.

As I was running a mixup of the ongoing plot with some Planescape material related to Avernus, the first layer of hell, and the sundry beings you can encounter on said well as certain travellers at a known gate town, I had this weird realization that Planescape is essentially a Juvenile fantasy tressed up in just enough rough clothes to feel "edgy" from a juvenile fiction point of view. It takes concepts such as the layers of Hell and the Abyss and makes them just clean enough to be serviceable....just friendly enough for low level berks to survive even if it's a helluva ride on the way through....and it ascribes a lot of intensely ordinary, human emotions to everything in the planes, even if it does so with a sort of satirical panache.

I've run plenty of Planescape in the past am definitely surprised that I really "felt" this tonal shift in terms of how I interpret it now than I used to. It's not that it wasn't there....nope, it totally's that I, as a gamer in 2017 with decades under my belt, am no longer quite as excited at that tonal feel, that essential "simplification" of the underlying lore, than I once was.

I suspect a lot of this had to do with how TSR handled D&D in the nineties, as a product aimed at kid (and mom) friendly, with as much excision of risky elements as possible. It was a kinder, genlter and more naive era. Today.....not so much. I like a bit more Dante Alligheri in my Hell, maybe (bad analogy; I ran a D&D game in the mid nineties using Role Aid's actual adaptation of Dante's Hell). Maybe what I mean is....I like more depth. More complexity. And a Lot More Horror.

Or put another tastes on how to interpret the planes appear to be leaning darker and more gruesome.

Anyway, game tonight! Will see how that affects the group's foray into the Nine Hells....

POST SCRIPT: So after some thought I decided it was ironic and amusing to suggest Planescape was juvenile when, in many respects, the totality of D&D can be regarded as such. The question is not "is this juvenile?" but rather "What are you going to do with it?"

Tonight's game was a lot of fun, not juvenile, and still rooted in Planescape. Maybe juvenile isn't the right word.....maybe Planescape's default presentation is just more whimsical and light hearted than may be typical of the represenation of such in a modern gaming era where Shadows of the Demon Lord is a Thing, you know?

Either way tonight went exactly as I wanted.


  1. I've always found Planescape to be a bit disappointing; that tonal shift makes visiting the planes akin to a suburban/rural kid visiting Manhattan, rather than the truly bizarre and alien experience it could be.

    In spite of that, I've always found lots of neat, fun stuff to plunder from it. :D

    1. That is exactly what I was realizing last night before game...that there are things in the planar realms that should be terrifying and bizarre, but Planescape makes them "curiously mundane" for the sake of accessibility. It fixes something that was seen as a problem in 1991ish, but which stopped being a problem long ago as the hobby matured.

  2. It's interesting too to realize that much of what went in to Planescape in the 90's was to rationalize just how a cosmos of infinite size with a multitude of cosmologies would function, based on D&D implied setting standards. In many ways it conceptually lays the groundwork for the era of 3rd edition D&D which built a world off of the verisimilitude of a setting that functioned precisely as the rules dictated.

    It's just trollsmyth points leads to things like wondering where (or if) a pit fiend relieves himself and how exactly all those souls in the afterlife spend their time (doing mundane stuff, apparently). It's like making the planes some variant of a Disney ride...when it should be a terrifying, sanity questioning experience.