Product Review – Beyond Countless Doorways

First, I apologise for the lack of updates. I suppose I shouldn’t, as I am not punching a clock, but to my readers- and I know I have a few, my hit counter goes up a little every day- I feel I owe it. Also I do feel I owe you a post or two before I go off to Anime Boston on Thursday.

So let’s start with this: A product from some six years ago that was written under OGL, and one I thought I would never own myself: Beyond Countless Doorways.

Printed by Malhavoc Press, it was hyped as the “Planescape reunion,” as it has writing credits such names as Monte Cook, Wolfgang Baur, Colin McComb and Ray Vallese, four names that were, at one point, synonymous with Planescape and planar adventure as well.

… And anyone who’s read my Underdark review probably already knows why I didn’t buy this previously: The golden age of TSR’s  “many buckets” strategy, the one that gave rise to settings like Planescape? Yeah, that’s when I wasn’t buying books. So, these names? They mean almost nothing to me. Sure, later, I would learn about Baur, who helped create many of my favorite elements of Dungeons & Dragons, and Cook, whose retirement from RPG writing I took in with some dismay.

But at the time this book was released, I had minimal interest in it, mostly because I’m pretty sure it launched at $40 USD. Now, that’s hardcover, and it’s a damn beast at 226 pages, but it was a book I wasn’t overly interested in.

So, why’d I pick it up now? Because RPGNow was having a sale (How do PDFs go on sale, anyway…?), and this thing, which normally sells at $30, was priced at $10. And like I said of Kill or be Killed, you price something right and I’ll buy just about anything out of sheer morbid curiosity.

As far as initial reactions go, I was probably wrong to ignore this book at the time of its release. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Beyond Countless Doorways was the closest anyone was ever going to see to a true 3e Planescape source book, and, indeed, Doorways is Planescape in almost everything except name. It even has a “hub” of sorts called The Nexus, a plane whose main purpose is to link to other planes, in the vein of Sigil, City of Doors. The purpose of the book is to provide numerous alternate planes of existance for Dungeon Masters to send their characters to their deaths on thrill their players with exotic locales, in the form of the “Countless Doorways” cosmetology. Under this school of thought, there are literally countless worlds in existence, a thought indeed hinted upon in Dungeons & Dragons books throughout the game’s history, but never, to my knowledge, has it been fully explored.

Until now? Doorways details some twenty new planes, any one of which could be used for weeks or months of adventure. But let’s be fair: They’re weird as hell. How weird are we talking? The book opens on the description of a world where the sun has died and become a frozen, crystalline plane where the very memory of light is fading. Okay, that’s not too bad. What’s next? A realm where angels go to die, a plane of eternal regret and lament. Hm, interesting idea. What else? There’s an earth elemental plane made almost entirely out of precious materials where mining is forbidden, another world that’s patterned very strongly on the Asian Hells, another where reptiles and dinosaurs tower over pigmy humanoid races, and yet another which is almost nothing but a purple void with bizarre green vines stretching off into infinity, where harming others physically is nearly impossible, as is escaping the damn thing. And I’m only glossing over half the entries in the book, ignoring the other chapters and the sidebars on concordant planes listed in each chapter, describing worlds that may well be even stranger than the ones in the book.

Like I said, it’s weird.

But that’s actually a good thing. See, Doorways is the kind of wierd that’s just strange enough to be exotic, but not so strange as to be incomprehensible. It provides alternatives to the planes in D&D’s Great Wheel (and whatever the hell they’re calling 4e’s mess of a cosmetology) that are just familiar enough to be understood, but so different as to be unique. There’s enough for a few sessions of bizarre exploration, or a whole campaign of planes hopping fun.

Yes, I liked it, yes, I think it’s a good book, and it’s actually the first I’m reviewing on this site that fits in to one of my core gaming philosophies: “Good ideas transcend games.”

Admitted, it’s not a game that’s being transcended here, but an edition: This was written for 3rd Edition, it uses OGL rules, but the information is so packed with “fluff” that there’s no reason you couldn’t make it work in 4th Edition. Indeed, the original version of that line was “Good ideas transcend systems,” one I was using to quiet (not so much dismiss, as I do not make a habit of dismissing concerns) complaints about 4th edition “obsoleting” people’s collections of books. Same complaint 2nd Edition got, but the real crux of the matter here is, the writing in 3e? So much better. So much more fluff, so much less crunch, that it was useable, even if the rules didn’t work anymore.

And hell, if you’re still running 3rd Edition, and you use alternate planes, and you somehow don’t own this book? Consider buying it. Also, considering it’s a OGL product, it probably is compatible with Pathfinder, though I couldn’t tell you if it meshes with that game’s cosmetology… Or if that’s even very important a caveat. Given the fact that it was said that nothing in the 4e cosmetology prevents use of the Great Wheel, I think it might not be important to note at all. Someone who’s actually played some Pathfinder would need to clue me in, though.

But now I know why the reunion of these four authors on one book was such a big hairy deal: They’re damn good writers and designers. Almost makes me sorry I wasn’t buying books during the market bloat of the mid-90s.

Almost.

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One Response to “Product Review – Beyond Countless Doorways”

  1. David Ross Says:

    If you like this, you should also track down the Eldritch Might series, especially the third (which explains the Nexus). In addition my website has several riffs on EM3 and BCD under the Malhavoc Page.

    BCD is an absolute classic.

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