Since 5e came out Wizards of the Coast has been very….very…very slowly releasing the campaign settings of editions past. Some settings like Greyhawk or Eberron were an easy lift and one is justified for pondering what the hell took so long. Others like Dark Sun have some problematic shit in their blood and may never see a post-4e release. Then you have Planescape. I’m going to throw out a piece of wild speculation that Planescape is the favorite of a lot of D&D writers. It’s a setting where you can see the influence on other products frequently if you know where to look. From the reference to Tenebrous in Curse of Strahd to Modrons popping up in most hardcover adventures, this is a big one.
For me, running a Planescape game has always been on the bucket list. It looks like such a deep setting with a big library of material. I find it an intimidating setting to take on because it really is a blank canvas where you can do literally anything with it. I know we can do anything with any setting but Planescape runs with that.
I found the setting through other people who loved it. The Spoony One discussed it, Total Party Thrill did an episode on it. I think the biggest driver of my interest in Planescape was Holly Conrad. Their character ‘Strix’ on Dice, Camera, Action was from Sigil. She and Chris Perkins really love the setting and made frequent mention of it on that show. Then we got Hell’s Belles, an actual play with all different Tieflings set in Sigil DMed by Mazz. And Holly DMed “Trapped in the Birdcage” which was set in Sigil. They kept doing these shows I liked featuring Planescape which kept it in mind.
But the products that people know and love are nearly 30 years old. So thus today we have the 5th Edition Planescape box set. Like the Spelljammer box set, these are three small books sold in a single set. You get a setting book, a monster book, and an adventure. I’m only here to look at the Adventure. But I’ll touch on the other two briefly: The Setting Guide isn’t enough and we don’t need more 5e monsters. That’s it.
I’ve picked up most of the 2e Planescape material on DM’s Guild over the years. I can’t say that this setting book breaks any new ground not covered by The Planescape Campaign Setting or A Player’s Primer To The Outlands and those product in pdf or POD form are way cheaper than this new set. And sure these are new monsters but do we really need new 5e monsters? Kobold Press, Level Up 5E, Sly Flourish, MCDM are all releasing monsters or monster building guides. The market is saturated with choices for monsters. And above all that the 5.5/6e playtest is happening right now. Whatever else happens I think the most generic read possible of WotC’s plans is that a 5.5 PC is more powerful than a 5e PC. Are these monsters going to pack the same relative punch a year from now? New monsters are a buyer’s market.
So let’s look at the adventure, the value add to this Planescape product.
Begin Plot Summary
The PCs come to consciousness at 3rd Level in the Sigil Mortuary with no memories. There’s a gimmick here is that the PCs are experiencing “glitches”. What that means is when they die, they almost immediately return in a different form. Think The Council of Ricks or Spiderman: No Way Home. Your Halfling Rogue winds up in the Dead Book, they come back immediately as a Firbolg Barbarian. Why is this happening?
Three levels later somehow and I assume at gunpoint, the players decide to work for Shemeshka The Marauder, an arcanaloth crime boss in Sigil. The King of The Cross Trade agrees to vaguely “perform research” for them and the PCs agree to find a missing Modron for her, because the Modron was her accountant. I am not making this up, it’s The Untouchables. The PCs need to find The Bookkeeper.
And so, your 6th Level party heads into The Outlands trying to find this fucking Modron. They immediately stumble across a clue, a recording macguffin called a Mimir. If this macguffin is brought to seven Gate-Towns in the Outlands, it will show where The Fucking Modron went.
The PCs visit the Seven Gate-Towns. A Gate-Town is basically the last stop before entering another Plane and each one has a permanent Gate into that plane. Most of these are “Go To A Place, Fight A Thing” fast quests. There are some other encounters along the way like an Angels vs Devils cricket game and River Song as a dragon.
After Doing This, your now 9th level PCs have figured out that The Fucking Modron went into a town inside The Infinite Spire that Sigil sits atop. You go to this town and find the Modron. Assuming the PCs remember why they’ve been chasing this goddamn thing, the Modron immediately spills. They say they were never Shemeshka’s Accountant and she might have something to do with The Death Glitch Affecting The PCs. Might.
Pause for dramatic gasp while the PCs realize that Shemeshka The Arcanaloth. Aka Shemeska The Marauder. Aka The King of The Cross Trade, may have lied to the PCs. To paraphrase Al Pacino in Heat, “you got lied to by a crime boss. I am, over-fucking-whelmed.”
The Adventure Assumes that the PCs will roll back into Shemeshka’s place and stride into her inner sanctum unchallenged demanding answers. And the answer is, aww shit Shemeshka never actually thought the PCs would come back. Why then did Shemeshka give the PCs the one clue, the missing Modron, that could possibly lead them to unravel the mystery? Look do you wanna play the adventure or not?
The Reveal, it turns out, is that Shemeshka is behind everything. First, The Glitch. Shemeshka has kidnapped and tortured a bunch of Modrons to believe the Multiverse is corrupt which has the effect of actually corrupting the Multiverse. Then Shemeshka can take advantage of the ensuing chaos. The plot of the entire adventure is literally:
Step 1: Collect Modrons
Step 2: ????
Step 3: Profit!
The PCs are all people that ran afoul of Shemeshka and she killed them but they would not stay dead. So she imprisoned their “true” forms. The PCs now have enough information to reclaim their true 17th Level forms and free the Modrons. However, they will have to give the Modrons their own impression of the multiverse as they travelled around it. This causes the Modrons to reflect that viewpoint which changes All Modron Kind.
Thus ends the story. The PCs may have corrected the universal glitch but also may have left their own effect on everything which they now have to deal with in a future adventure.
End Plot Summary
My TL:DR on this product keeps coming back to cost and value. For the 60-90 American dollars you might spend on this 5e parcel of Planescape books you will be able to buy a far larger number of 2e Planescape PDFs that are going to be of greater utility to someone who wants to run a Planescape campaign, regardless of system. This 5e product is not giving you anything you can’t get somewhere else cheaper.
There are things I like about the adventure. I like the start in the Mortuary. I love the ending that centers on how belief shapes the planes even if the way you get there is very stupid. I actually really like the implication that the plot, THE ENTIRE THING, is a long con by Shemeshka to get the Modrons into The Blood War so she can sell them weapons. That is so fucking on brand I love it. And some of the encounters are cool. But I can’t imagine this campaign going well at my home table.
When I reviewed Descent Into Avernus I showed Pride consistent with the story in the product. I thought, boy this has some flaws but I’m a great DM I can overcome them (I was wrong, although starting a D&D campaign in March 2020 was the real hubris). Rime of the Frostmaiden I thought hey I like this even if I can’t imagine running this really fucking messy book. For Planescape I’m done being nice. I can’t recommend paying for this set right now at full price. Go buy 2e material. Maybe when the Planescape set discounts to the $30-40 range. Even though the old stuff is flawed, outdated, and buried in colloquial Planar Cant instead of clean prose that tells you how to run the goddamn adventure it is a better bargain than this.
In Depth Look At The Adventure
All right let’s stow the dramatics and get into this adventure. On the face of it, I’m not sure how I’d sell glitch characters at the table. I honestly think the best option, the one my players would actually go for, would be completely random character generation. Put every race and every subclass on a spreadsheet and roll randomly. Maybe backgrounds or some other character defining traits.
Having a character that can’t die and starting in the Sigil mortuary is obviously an homage to Planescape: Torment. I tried Torment but didn’t get far. I couldn’t figure out the controls or what to do. I quickly lose patience with RPG video games. I like the social experience of the table more than trying to get a game to dole out plot coupons. That said, I think this opening section is a hoot. It’s a great little dungeon with fun rooms and I think this part is a highlight of the adventure. I would definitely steal from Torment for this section. Try to have one player death here to establish what is going on.
I honestly don’t really understand what happens next when the players leave the Mortuary and make their way into Sigil. They’re kind of just turned loose with no context. They can join factions but why would they? It has strong Dragon Heist Chapter 2 vibes of just kinda fucking around aimlessly. I think players that have some degree of intimacy and familiarity with their characters and each other’s characters can have amazing sessions just kinda fucking around. But you just started this campaign and your characters have no memories. They’re gonna want answers not a blank piece of paper.
Eventually the Plot Railroad demands that the PCs follow this agent of the crime boss Shemeshka. The adventure strongly suggests the PCs might get arrested here but they have to get out of prison or there’s no adventure. Which makes no sense. Why arrest the PCs if they absolutely must go to Shemeshka? It seems entirely plausible that your PCs might want to contact the legitimate authorities and get this whole thing sorted out. But the only way forward is that the PCs decide to go with this chucklehead to see Shemeshka.
Having read the whole adventure, I understand now that the reason for this insistence is that Shemeshka is the big bad of the adventure. More practically, she’s the only one who can actually give the PCs a concrete answer as to what the fuck is going on. As I’ve said time and time again, this is a plot bottleneck and you want to avoid these wherever possible. I would suggest the DM does a shitload of work to find a less heavy handed way to suggest to the players that Shemeshka might be able to help them with their predicament. Or even have a different NPC give the PCs the same information. Again, shitload of work. Not great.
I guess we can move forward to the next part because why wouldn’t we? You could just skip this part wandering around Sigil. You could also skip the next part at Shemeshka’s casino. Essentially the PCs are just killing time until they meet with Shemeshka. I guess this is good for people who like minigames? Personally I fuckin’ hate minigames. Again, the PCs are just kinda fucking around. I guess you’re building up the setting you’re letting the characters get to know each other and RP. But I just don’t think this works. This isn’t an adventure yet. And for not being an adventure the leveling seems rocket paced. There is maybe one session worth of content but it’s worth a whole level. You start at level 3 and after the casino the PCs are level 6. You could just as easily start them at level 5 in the Mortuary. I think the Mortuary is too good to skip, the rest of this is kinda pointless. The book is asking the DM to do a lot of work between the Mortuary and heading into the Outlands and that’s not why I buy a published adventure.
So then we get to The Hook. What propels the adventure forward? First, consider our main NPC: Shemeshka the Marauder. She’s an Arcanaloth Crime Boss known as the King of the Cross Trade. She’s one of these all-knowing NPCs ten steps ahead of everyone. As I said the first time I went through this above, the deal is straightforward. Shemeshka agrees to look into what’s going on with the PCs. In exchange, the PCs agree to find a lost Modron. They were apparently her accountant.
This is….thin. This is so goddamn thin. The PCs are just expected to wander around the Outlands, the infinite plane of neutrality, looking for One Modron. Now obviously a DM is going to want to give the PCs more information than this. Maybe about the walking castle in the next chapter or the town of Automata. But as written, this is basically the DM declaring that the next chapter is about exploring the Outlands and asking if anyone has a reason not to go there.
What’s worse is that this hook makes zero sense once you know the whole story. The Whole Story being that this Modron is one of many Shemeshka captured and tortured to unbalance the multiverse. They are one of presumably very few pieces of evidence that she did this Bad Thing. The inability of the PCs to be killed is a direct result of the multiverse falling apart and she is directly responsible for why THE PCs, THESE PEOPLE SPECIFICALLY, cannot be killed. Without Shemeshka giving the PCs this nudge in the right direction these is practically zero chance they could be expected to unravel this plot.
This is like the person who killed you hiring your ghost to solve your own murder by telling you what gun to look for, and then being surprised when you come back one day. The gun was lost Shemeshka! Why not hire literally any other adventuring party to find this modron if you even want it found?
I guess this works in the sense that it is actually entirely on brand for Shemeshka to put all these events in motion to increase weapon sales by getting the Modrons to join the Blood War. Which is one possible ending of the adventure. But like, really? Is this too convoluted for money? Even Hans Gruber would be like “Jesus that’s a bit much.” The only way I can make this make sense in my head is to imagine that the entire adventure is this massive shaggy dog story.
All right, just for the sake of argument, let’s accept the premise of the adventure. The PCs consult with no other experts but Shemeshka. No other NPCs have any idea what they can do or what might be happening. The PCs go through a Gate to the Outlands.
Immediately they come to a walking castle and can drive out the nameless bandits that took the place over. The rightful owner is an apparently laid back githzerai who wasn’t doing anything. So fuck it, the PCs can drive her castle wherever they need to. By a staggering coincidence, the Modron passed through this castle. And even more fortuitous, the Modron left behind their Mimir, a magical device that records information. The Modron said the skull helped them figure out where to go. But it’s broken! Oh no! Not to worry, if the PCs visit seven Gate-Towns around the Outlands, they can fix the skull and it will tell them whatever it told the Modron.
And thus the PCs are given a fetch quest. Visit these seven goddamn locations. This reminds me of Descent into Avernus and the paths of breadcrumbs or Rime of the Frostmaiden and the fistfuls of location quests thrown at the PCs. The objective is to take the Mimir to the Gate in each Gate-Town and record their observation and impression about the location. It is extremely important for the DM to note if the PCs record accurate or inaccurate information and if their beliefs or alignment shapes their observations. But without context who records inaccurate information?
One easter egg here, the Modron was also looking for information on the last Modron March which occurred earlier than expected and went poorly for…tenebrous reasons. If you read The Great Modron March or Dead Gods that’s a good one. I see what you did there.
And so the PCs take off in pursuit of….knowledge? I’m not gonna lie, the day after I read this the first time I completely forgot what the PCs are supposed to do with the Mimir at each destination. Also just like Avernus, all the travel time is completely up to the DM because the Outlands are infinite. The text even says “this adventure might take centuries!” I really hate “Speed of Plot” as an official designation for distance and travel time. I’m not sure how I’d do it better or even that I’d do it differently. I just kinda hate a published adventure giving me a shruggie.
Gate-Towns were a thing in 2e Planescape as well. The idea is that there are 16 Outer Planes. 8 of them correspond to the D&D alignments other than Neutral. Then another 8 are between those alignments. So for example, Arborea is The Plane of Chaotic Good. Limbo is the Plane Of Chaotic Neutral. But between those two planes is Ysgard, land of Thor and Loki. It’s a little more Chaotic than it is Good.
Each of these planes has a Gate-Town in the Outlands. The reason these things exist is that, in the fiction of Planescape, Gates from one plane to another tend to be one or more of the following:
2) Well Guarded
4) Require an unknown key to activate
Now obviously the whole point of Planescape is that portals occur randomly anywhere the DM wants them to. But if the PCs really want to go to a specific plane, that plane’s Gate-Town is the place to go. The towns are all each heavily influenced by the Plane they lead to. Automata, the town that leads to the Lawful Neutral plane of Mechanus, is ordered and laid out in a perfect grid. Glorium, the town that leads to Ysgard, is basically a small Nordic fishing village.
There is a concept in Planescape that if the Gate-Towns are too aligned with a plane of existence they will get absorbed into that plane instead of remaining separate. But this seems to be a threat instead of something that actually happens. And is the inconvenience of losing the gate the only downside to this? I can imagine if you’re in the Gate-Town that leads to the Nine Hells you don’t want to be any closer to Hell. But if you’re a Modron in Automata, why would you not want to be closer to Mechanus?
Each town has an adventure afoot. Let’s start with Automata. The town is set out in rigid order. Any rhythmic motion takes on the cadence of the big gear that makes up the portal to Mechanus, the Lawful Neutral home of the Modrons. The adventure here is “Have A Fight” and that’s it. Sure there’s flavor. The PCs fill out forms for 1-20 d12 hours. Also the town has an underground that keeps it from being…too lawful. But on substance you make some checks and you have a fight. This is thin. Automata is also home to the Concordant Express, a train that goes through the outer planes. Best I can tell this is a 5e invention that started with Keys from the Golden Vault. But man if I had to go to a shitload of Gate Towns maybe I’d just hop the damn train? It seems safer than trucking across the Outlands in a goddamn walking castle. The adventure does not contemplate this alternate solution.
Curst is the Gate-Town connected to Carceri which is between Neutral Evil and Chaotic Evil. So not a nice place. Carceri is like an entire prison plane. And it’s a prisoney town. You can check in any time but you can never leave. Even in the 2e material Curst is sparse on details. It feels like there’s a Gate-Town here because there has to be but no one actually wants to be here. Automata and some of the other towns feel much more fleshed out. The quest here is actually a pretty good one and very bittersweet. A father is hiding out in Curst. His son came looking for him and died. But because of how Planescape works, the son can’t move on to the afterlife because they died in the Prison Town. So they’re just in Curst together fixing their relationship. It’s beautiful and the PCs are asked, can you take on this son NPC to the Lawful Good plane so he can begin his afterlife. Sure the resolution of the quest is just another fight against the people looking for the father. But the fight feels like it has a reason to occur. And it feels like a very Planescape specific plot. The Automata quest was just “Fight A Guy” and could be in any campaign setting. Curst is one that really only works in the Planescape setting. And even better, it provides a push for the PCs to go to another gate-town.
Excelsior is the Gate-Town associated with Mount Celestia. Heaven, for lack of a better word. It’s a beautiful place and hopefully the DM puts it after Curst. Unlike Automata, the planar portals in Curst and Excelsior are not guarded but you get offered a quest anyways. In Curst the quest was in tandem with the idea that leaving the prison town is a difficult proposition. Help exiting was the reward for doing the quest. In Excelsior, the PCs are offered a job and under zero pressure to accept it. One of the town guards offers the PCs 2500gp and a Brooch of Shielding to talk with a suspect. I read that reward and thought Holy Shit! Shemeshka offered the PCs a scant 300gp for years of their lives wandering the goddamn infinite Outlands looking for one goddamn Modron.
The adventure here is a quick mystery. Basically a bad person is kidnapping people in magic jars and selling them to a Night Hag. Hag in a 5e adventure! Ding! This is very straightforward. Clue A or Clue B both lead to this Night Hag who is essentially just parked in a creepy van outside town. And the Night Hag encounter is a straight fight. The text suggests that the Hag will cast Plane Shift on themself if they think they’re going to lose. I would stipulate that there is no reason one lone Hag should ever think they can take a full level 6+ adventuring party solo. I prefer giving the PCs the chance to make an enemy or really ask themselves “do we want to chase after this person to save innocent people?”
I like Excelsior’s adventure because like Curst, it is very Planescape. But it’s Planescape for a different reason. This is a stupidly easy case to crack. It’s apparent right away who’s guilty and where the trail leads. But the authorities in Excelsior are Lawful Good Archons. They’re as close to Angels as one can get without having feathery wings. They literally can’t fathom how these kidnappings could happen. Sure there’s evidence in the suspect’s house but they can’t break into someone’s home! And indeed, if the PCs break the law during the investigation, if they’re rough interrogating the suspect or seize evidence from the guy’s house the Archons will fine the PCs and let the criminals go. In our home group doing Candlekeep Mysteries the tropes of dirty cops became running jokes. Here the setting is very intentionally calling those tropes out and inverting them. This is great. This kind of stuff makes me want to run Planescape.
Faunel is the Gate-Town for The Beastlands. Apparently this is the only town that was absorbed into its plane at some point. I suppose that would be a more complicated and interesting story if it happened to a traditional village but this place is in ruins. There seems to be a dispute of leadership among the sentient animals that run things. But this all seems to be a complicated way to get to a fight with a bunch of gnolls. That fight seems way too easy for level 6+ characters. I don’t have much else to say about this one.
Similarly of low complexity is Glorium, the Gate-Town for Ysgard. This is a little fishing village. The PCs fight a bunch of seawyrms, reskinned Giant Crocodiles. Then they can fight a reskinned Behir. These monsters are threatening the area. It feels a little “shut up and fight this thing.” But! There is a prize for whoever deals the killing blow whether that’s one of the PCs or a random NPC also hunting the great beast. The prize should be explicit, the DM should put that upfront that whoever gets the killing blow takes a pile of magical shit. Although one item is a Horn of Valhalla which….is a terrible magical item. Add a shitload of high HP low damage monsters to the initiative. Fucking great. I’d love to see a very public DM like a Matt Mercer or Chris Perkins actually run this item at their table. Also this is a Comic Book Guy level nitpick, but this area is being threatened by Monsters and one of the NPCs ready to stop them is a member of the Doomguard faction. The Doomguards are a faction that worship the concept of entropy, things getting worse in the universe. Why the hell would a Doomguard want to stop this rampaging monster?
Getting back to the lower planes, we have Rigus. This Gate-Town is tied to Acheron, the plane of eternal, pointless war that sits between Lawful Neutral Mechanus and Baator aka HELL. This town is under attack and it’s believed there is a spy in the village helping them. There is. One thing I noticed here, in the big battle the PCs can make perception checks to try and spot who the enemy isn’t taking swings at. I don’t like “Make a perception check as an action.” If you make a PC’s choice “Do A Cool Thing” or “Maybe Do A Cool Thing” they’re always going to choose the known quantity. And then deal with the fussy bits after. Making skill checks that expensive in combat just makes combat harder and more expensive, not more tactical or interesting, at least for me.
And now we come to Sylvania which sits outside the plane of Chaotic Good.
…Who the fuck wrote this chapter?
Seriously I read this twice and had no clue what the hell is going on here.
All right let’s go line by line to try and discern realities.
Syvlania is one big party all the time. This is one of two towns with random encounter tables in the adventure, the other being Curst. Curst’s are milquetoast and forgettable, not worth mentioning. Sylvania’s table strike me as are weird and anachronistic, even for Planescape. A fish in a punch bowl has a birthday party, one member of a cranium rat swarm has a hangover, three planar folks want a PC to perform with their band. In one, a priest high fives a party member of the same religion. That’s it. That’s the “encounter.”
The Gate the players need to hit up moves randomly in the woods near town and the only people who know the location are the council of seven people that run the town. And they’ll only show the PCs what’s up if they help them with a problem. There’s an angry Celestial Giant, the townsfolk want help calming them down. Why do the town leaders think the PCs are uniquely qualified to deal with this? Do you want to play D&D or not?
So the problems the giant is having. First, they can’t get into a party. Second, their sibling beat them at cards and won their hammer. The giant is basically here to drown their sorrows in reckless celebration. There’s a paragraph of life facts about this giant and how they feel inadequate in their life…umm okay?
Then there are more random encounters. These ones specifically have a place for the Giant in them. All of these are “make a skill check”. Help the giant dance. Help the giant get along with pixies. Help the giant play bocce.
In the end, the PCs either helped with the giant and the giant feels better, they got rid of the giant and the locals are pissed about that for no apparent reason, or the giant gets pissed and goes on a rampage.
There’s no wrong answer here. No matter what the PCs do, the town leaders show them the gate. It just affects how they part company.
This is very Planescape but unlike Excelsior or Curst it’s a shitty adventure. The right group could maybe make hay of this and have fun. But there’s not a whole lot here. I think a DM has to do work to make this ready to face players. For starters, play up the nature of the Celestial Giant. This is an Empyrean, this is a Titan. Their beliefs have a great effect on the area around them. Their family members are literal gods. They’re enemies the PCs don’t want. It’s very Planescape to have the adventure revolve around “we need to bring this person’s beliefs around to a certain point of view”.
I think the problem with this Celestial Giant is the same problem as Lulu the Hollyphant from Descent into Avernus. They are a flawed character but they’re the wrong kind of flawed for a TTRPG. They’re very mopey and insecure but also causing great destruction around them. They’re boorish and whiny. And when you need to write an NPC you can make an NPC flawed but you can’t make them annoying. Players turn on that kind of NPC fast. Fix that and maybe this will work.
And on that note, we’re done with the Gate-Towns. I’m not a huge fan that they’re all mandatory instead of choosing a selection from all 16. But I suppose if the DM wanted to do more work they certainly could. There are a few side treks that are recommended to fill the travel gaps between each Gate-Town. There’s a baseball/cricket game between opposing teams of Angels and Devils. There’s a few River Song style encounters with a Time Dragon met out of order. In keeping with the time dragon there is a table of random encounters that herald SOMETHING is wrong in the multiverse. I have not mentioned The Glitch in many paragraphs. It doesn’t really come up as the PCs are galloping from town to town. Nor does the missing Modron the PCs are making this journey to find. It doesn’t work to have the PCs bite on a story hook and then never mention it again. The adventure kind of just trojan horses an excuse to have the PCs visit the Outlands. And if that’s the case maybe come up with a plot that gives them an actual reason?
With the data from the Planes, the Mimir that the PCs have been pouring information into finally reciprocates with something useful. And so at long last the PCs, now 9th or 10th level, have found the Modron that Shemeshka offered them 300 gold to locate.
Actually what the adventure has the mimir say is where the Modron “likely” went. Although the Modron didn’t actually go anywhere else and the adventure assumes you go here next so I think what the adventure means to say is “The Modron Definitely Fucking Went Here.” I’m nitpicking but come on guys. That should’ve been edited.
Another nitpick while I’m crossing my harms in a huff, we are told the modron was following the path of the last Great Modron March to the infinite spire at the center of the Outlands. Hey…WOTC? Uhh….you remember the Modron March goes AROUND the outer planes right? The exact absolute last place a Modron should be in the entire multiverse is dead center at the infinite spire atop which sits Sigil. Just saying guys.
Okay so inside the Spire there is a village. It is populated by Rilmani, these constructs of absolute neutrality. Not law, neutrality. Why do constructs that have no needs form a village? Ahh fuck it do you want to play D&D or not? So while the gate guards tell the PCs to fuck off, they’re met by another construct who greets them warmly and reminds me of Andy the Messenger Robot from Wolves of the Calla.
In what ought to be some foreshadowing for the PCs, The Construct, who has their names and the Modron’s name on the same list, tells the PCs that the constructs in the village are looking for the Modron because it might be a threat to the multiverse. Just that Modron is the threat, we swear. The PCs at this time say well wait a minute, we’re looking for the Modron in this village? And sure enough if the PCs question this construct villagers they’re like “yeah the modron was here they went that way.”
This construct detective ain’t exactly Sherlock Holmes are they? I mean come on, it’s the fate of the multiverse, you have this airtight village in a cave….and the one being that you need to find just wandered through here? Maybe we don’t know when that happened. It could’ve been years ago and well before the constructs actually starting looking for this fucking modron. But this is a goddamn mess.
Ah fuck it. So the Modron wandered through this village deeper into The Spire. Inside the thing is actually hollow? There’s not really a sense of how big this place is to describe to the players. It’s miles wide inside and infinitely tall Definitely sounds Bigger On The Inside. This is cool but maybe a bit pointless? There’s a desert in the spire. The PCs can find their way to a fragile bridge and fight The God of the Ropers and Piercers. This section ends when the PCs find a powerful CR 17 yugoloth. The creature banters with them a bit, but the next stage is a climb. It has The Book of Vile Darkness which seems random? There’s a random table here of secrets the PCs might learn from this creature. One of which is that Vecna is coming. Again, I think we’re getting a Vecna as Thanos hardcover someday, probably a kickoff for 6e.
So after those potentially interesting but ultimately pointless encounters the PCs climb up to a ledge. Now they find an appropriate CR 11 spider monster to fight. There’s no map here which seems unfortunate for the final fight of this chapter and probably the closest thing to a boss fight so far in this book. The fight is kind of just…here? Like the adventure knows there’s supposed to be a fight and is a little embarrassed about it. Or they knew the monster they wanted but didn’t have the page space remaining for any map or tactics. For such an unusual environment like deserts and staircases inside an infinite spire there is no art of these fantastic locations.
After the fight the PCs find The Modron. You did it! Good job. Maybe Shemeshka will reward the PCs if they remember that she sent them on this fucking fetch quest in the first place.
The Modron immediately spills the beans and says they fled Sigil because some unnamed casino-owning fox was holding them and other Modrons hostage in a secret prison doing unnamed things that disrupt the multiverse and have caused the characters to have their death glitch. By a staggering coincidence the Modron was able to escape using a platinum casino chip that opens a secret door behind the big prize wheel in the casino.
Wait a second, platinum casino chip, goddamn it WOTC is this campaign just Fallout New Vegas?
How did the Modron escape Sigil, wander the Outlands, and then make it to the infinite spire tucked into one little corner where the PCs rescue them in the nick of time? Look do you want to play the adventure or not?
On the way out, the construct detective attempts to kill the PCs for screwing with the multiverse. The adventure specifically mentions the PCs are not allowed to re-enter the construct village because a) they’re not invited and b) they’re not a lone modron everyone is fucking looking for. Sigh. Fortunately there’s a secret exit after the fight. So that’s good news.
This is really dumb. This section is dumb. There’s no maps, there’s no dungeon. The mandatory beats are Enter Spire, Find Modron, Acquire Exposition. And honestly you could change any of these locations. This feels like it was written by AI with the prompt, give me 5 locations inside the infinite spire ending with one CR….HEY CHRIS WHAT’S THE PARTY AT HERE? Got it, one CR 10-11 monster from the fancy new book. It reminds me a lot of Avernus where you just have these disconnected non-sequiturs until we have enough paragraphs to move on to the next section. At least the gate-towns felt like they had the alignments of the towns to provide some structure.
The Grand Finale
And so the PCs will return to Sigil to confront Shemeshka. I guess? If they want? The DM should probably hint more strongly that things in the multiverse are falling apart. But like Descent into Avernus or Rime of the Frostmaiden there is no ticking clock here. It’s just, “This is bad, it’s gonna be worse…eventually.”
The only avenue the adventure contemplates is heading for this secret door behind the Fortune’s Wheel game at Shemeshka’s casino. This door is secret in the sense that it’s not publicized rather than that it is forbidden. The door leads to The Platinum Rooms which is like, the high roller portion of the casino not patronized by any berk with some jink in their pocket.
With the chip in hand, the PCs can just enter this area. The adventure describes the security, other patrons, and there’s a map of the rooms and games. These details are nice to have but this isn’t a social call, right? The PCs are here because they found the key for entry on a creature who said the multiverse is being threatened by creatures here.
It took me a few reads to understand what the hell the PCs need to actually do here. Basically there is an even more private sanctum inside the private area of the casino. That is where Shemeshka is hanging out and she is apparently not taking visitors. The only way to get in there is to win a bunch of games, get declared a cheater, and then get hauled in. Or start a fight and if the regular security can’t handle it the backup heavies come in.
Also can I please request that we fix the 5e Monster Manual Assassin Stat Block and never use the original one again? I realize it sounds cool to have assassins as security but as written alllll their difficulty that earns them that moderate CR is based on making a surprise attack. The 6e PC version of Assassin is basically throwing surprise in the garbage. I don’t like it but I get why. I definitely prefer it for monsters I’m throwing at the PCs in waves of five at a time.
So the next step of the adventure is the PCs fight or gamble their way into meet Shemeshka in her ultra secret private sanctuary inside the high roller area inside her casino. Immediately Shemeshka has her bodyguards fight to the death while she flits about the room taunting and playing defense. Uhh hey lady you did ask them to find the Modron. What if the PCs are just thick and did as they were ordered?
After the battle Shemeshka calls for a truce and will share exposition. She never expected the PCs to return from searching for the Modron which is….dumb. They’re immortal jackass! These people could’ve wandered for centuries searching. Shemeshka reveals that the PCs all made themselves enemies of her at some point but they would not stay dead. She killed them repeatedly until they lost their memories and were third level. She thinks their problems and the multiverse’s are caused by a group of Modrons lost in the Outlands. She does not point out that she captured them in a demiplane to torture them. Shemeshka is manipulating them to profit off Mechanus in ways she does not elaborate on. After the explanation Shemeshka teleports away.
You know she probably could’ve imprisoned the PCs forever at 3rd level. Or kept them on busy work that wasn’t connected to her master plan. Or she could’ve had them seized immediately when they re-entered the casino. Granted the PCs might be in new bodies by now. I dunno, “be on the lookout for 4-6 motherfuckers who might use these names and say they have my modron.”
All right I’m done nitpicking. The adventure doesn’t say it explicitly but I think the takeaway here is supposed to be that a group of troublesome adventurers who refuse to die aren’t at the top of her to do list. Shemeshka is a busy crime lord. Yeah this toppling the multiverse thing sounds really important and it is to the PCs but for Shemeshka this is just another Tuesday.
With this the PCs discover their true selves and jump to level 17. I kinda wish this level jump hadn’t been spoiled by the marketing.
There’s an almost audible clunk as we move from this confrontation with Shemeshka to the conclusion. The missing Modron the PCs gives the PCs more info. Why didn’t the Modron give the PCs this info after the rescue? Do you want to play the adventure or not?
The extra info is where to go next. The Modrons are being held with the God of Beholders because Beholders change things and multiply in their dreams. They were lost on the last Great Modron March. Shemeshka is exposing them to fiendish influences and convincing the Modrons that the Outlands are overrun by evil. This is unbalancing the multiverse. Shemeshka is going to send them back to Mechanus to affect that plane somehow. Then Shemeshka will profit.
This is the Underpants Gnomes. This is literally the Underpants Gnomes scheme. This is really really stupid. More than that it might be boring. The entire adventure comes down to this Shaggy Dog Story of Shemeshka trying to turn her nigh infinite fortune into a slightly higher amount of money.
Okay so let’s keep going. The PCs head to Tyrant’s Spiral which is like a demiplane where the God of Beholders lives. This dungeon is hard to understand. There are six maps but they’re not intended to be contiguous. Check out this passage:
“The distance between areas varies from yards to miles. Feel free to add additional encounters between areas, to change their order, or to have the characters come across the same areas multiple times to reinforce the space’s surreal nature.”
I read this as “Do whatever you want because we’re not filling in the details.” Which makes me sigh. There are six encounters listed. Apparently the PCs are continuously being trampled by Modrons if they’re on the ground? This place is packed to the gills with thousands of modrons walking an infinite loop. Apparently these Modrons went astray during the literal 2e adventure The Great Modron March which is treated as canon here.
The finale here is that the PCs need to reboot the head modron in this dungeon with their mimir to demonstrate that the Outlands are not in fact overrun with fiends. This is where the quality of information they put into the Mimir comes back to bite them maybe. If they put accurate information in, they get the best “everything goes back to normal” ending. There’s an “Inconsistent” ending if the PCs mixed up entering accurate and inaccurate info that doesn’t really give you any information about what actually happens.
The more interesting ending is what happens if the PCs information is skewed towards a particular alignment. If the PCs recorded their impressions of the Outlands in a particularly Lawful, Good, Chaotic, or Evil way the Modrons reaction the opposite way. It’s not clear why the Modron reaction is to act in the opposition to what the PCs tell them. The way I am choosing to make sense of it is that the Modrons have already been warped and for some reason that causes them to act defiantly to whatever they’re told. It’s an open question if it is at all clear to the PCs that things are going to work that way and could be a very nasty surprise. So you reboot the head modron and they will now carry this philsophy back to Mechanus to influence that plane.
The adventure does kind of ask you to consider the logistics of how these thousands of modrons leave this demiplane. That’s fun for me to consider but you could probably handwave that if you don’t think that would be fun for your group. The adventure points out “hey if you send these things to Sigil the same way the PCs got here then The Lady Of Pain is going to be pissed” which might be fun.
Then we come to the epilogue. If the PCs helped the Modrons escape, they can make a fuckload of money. The adventure suggests that maybe the missing modron is the only modron not affected by whatever effect the PCs did so if they fucked up then maybe they can set things to right. The adventure says here that whatever the outcome, Shemeshka doesn’t hold a grudge and isn’t one to avoid hiring competent help. Again you get the sense, without the adventure explicitly saying it, that for Shemeshka this whole thing was just one scheme among many and not one that even cracks her top ten. This makes her come off as kind of a creator’s pet but I’m not that angry.
The adventure suggests that Shemeshka’s preferred outcome here would be for the PCs to fill the Mimir with Capital-G Good impressions of the Outlands to skew the modrons evil and get them involved in the Blood War so she could sell them weapons. As I’ve said before, this is such a Planescape specific shaggy dog story story ending and I kind of love it.
I wish that positivity carried over to the adventure as a whole. I don’t think it’s a good adventure. There is too much “follow this trail of bread crumbs” for my taste. And for open areas the book’s guidance amounts to, “well I’m gonna take a smoke break you do whatever you want here.” My final word on this is that I like it but I don’t like it full price worth. I would love to get this as a gift or pick it up when the price drops to somewhere around $40.
- 5e changes the names of all the factions that have “men” in their name. Dustmen, Chaosmen, Godsmen. I get why but the name changes aren’t better.
- Planar cant is completely missing from this book. No one uses it and there are no sidebars suggesting how the PCs use it. On the one hand I think the 2e material really overindulged in putting too much Planar Cant in sections that were intended to help a DM understand what the fuck is happening in a scene. But stripping it out completely sucks.
- This book also uses the word Multiverse like 400 million times. I don’t think they mean it the same way consistently though. In Planescape I think it means all the planes, all the material, inner, outer, elemental, and in-between planes. But in the context of this adventure where characters get replaced by a duplicate when they die I think they mean it in the “Council of Ricks/Marvel Cinematic Multiverse” sense.
- One fight in the endgame Beholder Dungeon is against a Monster Manual Lich. It’s weird to see an adventure encouraging you to use spellcaster monsters when every new book including this one has completely redone spellcasting monsters to be more DM friendly. It’s like a recipe book encouraging you to keep some expired sauce on hand.