Product Reviews – The Plane Above

Oh brother.

The latest book in Wizard’s series on extra-planar locations, The Plane Above: Secrets of the Astral Sea marks the third (and presumably final) book in their collection of pretty but ultimately sparse otherworld guidebooks. The first two were Manual of the Planes (4e) and The Plane Below: Secrets of the Elemental Chaos.  If you want the short version of this review, go with MotP and skip on Above and Below, but if you want the REALLY short version, buy a PDF of Beyond Countless Doorways ($13 as of this posting on RPGNow!), and then pick up MotP if that’s somehow not enough for you, or if you want some good info on Sigil (Even though Doorways has a Sigil-a-like in The Nexus…).

So uh, yeah. Advertisements for PDFs aside (no, I don’t make any money off that. I just really like Doorways, and RPGNow’s sales made me a believer in PDFs), let’s get to the book we’re ACTUALLY going to review: The Plane Above.

Hardcover, color, 159 pages, written by Rob Heinsoo. The presentation is fairly standard quality for 4e, with good, readable layouts, acceptable organization with a full table of contents, and great art… Much of it new, apparently.

Something I’ve failed to make clear in my other reviews, but I will do so here: 4th Edition has some of the best art the game has ever had. Yes, it’s mostly just building off of the strong foundation 3e left behind, but the colors and styles used in 4e are an even greater  step in the right direction, with rich, detailed illustrations of various scenes, locales, and creatures.

… Unfortunately, the fact that I’m dedicating a paragraph to the book’s art means that I don’t have too much to say about it.

I’ll start with my biggest beef: Much like Plane Below, a tantalizing location will be outlined, only for the section to be complete filler, referring the reader to Manual of the Planes for more information… Where this information is ITSELF a filler entry. I’m an experienced DM, so this affects me less than it would others, but even an experienced DM would become miffed at a glimpse into, say, the realm of Tiamat… Only to have any actual depth be glossed over, now twice. This is flat-out teasing, and, if I may, a flagrant attempt to sell more books. When, indeed, if you wanted to sell more books, you would provide more content.

Ugh. This is why I skipped on reviewing Plane Below. My ire for these two books makes the fires of Hell seem like a mild Summer day…

There are new monsters, but they’re all Paragon and Epic tier monsters, much like Underdark (which I liked) and Plane Below (which I didn’t). However, it does have powers you can attach to existing creatures to modify them further. These were first introduced in Dungeon Master’s Guide 2… And better presented there. If I never get around to reviewing that one? THAT is a book you need. THAT is a book you WANT.

The information on the Coatl and the Githyanki is okay, really. Nothing I deem necessary, but your mileage may vary. Then there’s the Quom, whom I found incredibly  silly. Perfectly symmetrical beings who are on a mad and unreasoning quest to reassemble their shattered deity, I really don’t see how these guys- whom I’ve referred to as “militaristic Smurfs”- would be useful to your game. Unless you wanted a campaign arc where they really do reassemble their lost god? Meh. Look, if you want creepy, otherworldly invaders, look up information on Third Edition’s Ethergaunts. These mind-blastingly hideous invaders despise deities and conquer whole realities in their quest. They’re still mysterious enough to be unpredictable, without being a race, based obsessively on symmetry, whose actions are almost wholly random.

But again, that’s just me.

There are reasons to own this book, but it’s not for every Dungeon Master. A lot of the information presented here is presented elsewhere, in better and more useful detail, including in the aforementioned MotP and, embarrassingly enough, in the Dungeon Master’s Gude 2. And, as I inferred above, it’s actually easy enough to make up information that’s both, better and more useful to you, using both existing 4e sources and other works. Again, your mileage may vary, but unless you’re really dead set on a planar campaign, don’t buy these. And, indeed, consider buying Beyond Countless Doorways instead, and do for $13 what three books struggle to do for $90…

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