Reviews and Ramblings
MIDDENARDE - PART 7 by PurpleXVI - 12/12/16
MIDDENARDE - PART 6 by PurpleXVI - 12/12/16
MIDDENARDE - PART 5 by PurpleXVI - 12/12/16
MIDDENARDE - PART 4 by PurpleXVI - 12/12/16
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GM Startup Guide by PurpleXVI - 06/10/09
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DORF FORT ELLPEE by CAPSLOCKGUY - 10/19/08
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Back In My Day, when I first started playing 2nd edition AD&D, my very first RPG, I didn't start out playing Planescape. If I had it would definitely have scared me the hell away, because I was 12 or something. Planescape ain't for kids, it's not for hacking and slashing, it's not for min/maxing. It's the setting where a clever 1st-level character can do more damage than an Int 3, Wis 3 combat monster with more vorpal swords than digits. When you're 12, you just want to know that you found a bitching sword and how far that orc's head rolled when you cut him in half.
A lot of "modern" gamers missed out on this awesome setting, which was really one of the things that dragged 2nd edition AD&D above and beyond the hack-and-slash stigma that D&D is saddled with by a lot of people...
It's not an entirely undeserved stigma, D&D straight out of the basic book, in all editions, does tend to get played as "FUCK YEA, MORE MODIFIERS! NOW I CAN KILL MORE ORCS!" and the basic settings are always pretty bland and not much suited for anything else(Forgotten Realms? Greyhawk? Come on). And in 3rd edition, sorry to say it, you don't really have much more than these weedy settings, I've also heard of no particularly awesome 4th edition settings(but they have time to arrive, I suppose.).
2nd edition may not have been technically the epitome of D&D, 3rd and 4th do quite a few things a lot better, but where it shone was in the settings. You had Ravenloft, which was Horror D&D. You had Dark Sun, which was post-apocalyptic D&D where everything short of humans had been turned upside down(even staples like elves and dwarves). And then you had Planescape.
(Here's the short version of Planescape: Belief is power and can reshape reality, the Outer planes are the planes of philosophy and faith, the Inner planes are the elemental planes of substance and creation, the Primes are the places in between where the building blocks of the Inner planes create worlds and sustain life, while the deities and creatures of the Outer planes vie for control of the belief that said life has)
In addition to introducing a lot of cool new places(Finally some details on the Outer and Inner planes, and how we can go there and kill a lot of interesting new creatures for their loot!), Planescape also introduced some cool new concepts. Read Forgotten Realms and look at the NPC's, most of them are godlike creations with double-digit levels and more magical items than most deities lose down the couch cushions. In Planescape? Some of the most influential and powerful NPC's are 1st-level. Why? Belief.
Planescape's all about belief, there's no definite "good" or "evil," no definite right or wrong, dozens of beliefs about the nature of the entire setting, and you, the player, can choose to adhere to any of them. Winning battles in the Planes isn't just about hitting people over the head(though sometimes it DOES come to that), it's about converting them, shaking their faith and convincing them that YOU are right. A million dead demons won't conquer a single foot of Mount Celestia, but a clever conversion campaign can have half the Outlands sliding into the Abyss. Belief in the Outer Planes moves mountains, creates races, destroys obstacles.
It also forced players to be prepared and creative, on half the planes their spells would function weirdly, or in some cases not at all, or creatures would be immune to their weaponry, which was another reason to resort to dialogue. That Balor might be immune to your +2 longsword, but is he immune to a heartfelt conversion speech or deceitful trick that would have Yugoloths applauding?
Personally, one thing that's kept me returning to 2nd edition time after time is this: Beyond Charisma THERE ARE NO SOCIAL STATS OR ROLLS. Roleplaying, conversion, debate, lying, it's all roleplayed and arbitrated by the DM. In tight spots he might call for a Charisma check, but that's all. You can never rely on the dice, only on your own silver tongue.
For some reason, past some half-hearted fan conversion attempts, this setting was completely passed by for 3rd edition, much like Dark Sun and Ravenloft were. Which, considering the flavour of those settings(thought before brute force, and death very easy to come by), hardly does little to strip 3rd edition of the appearance that it's all about the numbers and dice.
If you want an introduction to Planescape, you can probably still find Planescape: Torment somewhere. A fine old Infinity Engine CRPG which really illustrates a lot of what Planescape is about, you see more of the game with 25 Wisdom and Intelligence than you do with 25 Strength and Dexterity. The game puts you as the Nameless One, an amnesiac immortal who loses his memories every time he TRULY does at the hands of an enemy he can't remember, and you're out to find out who the hell you are, why you're there and how the fuck you stop this asshole from killing you over and over. The story may not sound very original, but I've not seen an alien story of amnesia executed better in movie, book or game form before or since. Be warned, though, like Planescape, it is not a high action game. Violence is often an option, but the combat isn't particularly fascinating(though the higher-level spells are spectacularly over the top), it's essentially more like an interactive story, be ready to read some shit.
Alternately you can just jump in feet-first and find the books in physical form(sadly unlikely) or PDF form somewhere. Even if you don't find 2nd edition AD&D to be quite to your taste(as admitted, it has some technical flaws and can be a bit of a struggle to get into for some people), the concepts, settings, NPC's and quest hooks therein will no doubt enrich your campaigns and horrify/amaze/maim your players over and over again if you decide to loot them for whatever other games you run.