As a gamer and reader, I consume fiction pretty damn fast in regards to gaming. It’s one of the things that irked my first DM, in which I read so many supplement books, yet had no idea how the hell to play a Cleric. Even so, I learned and retained a lot of things even he had glossed over, which has allowed my scope of the D&D games history to be very wide. The same thing happens with me when I play video games. That should mean I have pretty good memory, right? Not necessarily, because I still manage to forget names of people I meet at least once a week, yet still know solutions and specific plot details of games I played over 10 years ago. Need to transition this capability of mine into the real world somehow.
That is beside the point, which is I’ve read a lot of historical fiction within D&D, and in my pursuit of understanding it more I bought Elder Evils, a book detailing specific end of the world plots the DM can challenge against PCs (and probably “win” considering the Big Bad at the end of each). I was actually playing through one of these scenarios under the same DM, but I was kicked out before things came to a close, and seeing as I was no longer obligated to refrain from reading this book as per the DMs wishes, I bought it from eBay (and lost my soul in the process). Also not the point of this discussion, but just a means to give context. I will delve into Elder Evils in due time.
One of the plots detailed in Elder Evils spoke of the Well of Many Worlds, a high level magic item which acts as a two way gate through the multiverse that exists within the D&D cosmology. Depending on where it is opened, just the slightest change in placement could mean the difference between 1000’s of miles of distance, another plane or even an alternate reality. Pretty powerful considering what you do with it. A world growing scarce on resources could conceivably invade an alternate world through the Well of Many Worlds. Pretty world changing, yes? Not so much compared to its usage in Elder Evils, in which it was used to create a black hole which could not only collapse the world you are on, but all worlds throughout the multiverse. Makes you wonder how many of these Wells there are.
And despite the fascinating qualities of the Well of Many Worlds, from all the research I’ve done it appears Elder Evils is the only officially released adventure that uses it. I find this outrageous considering the completely random yet extravagant possibilities it has in any game. Though it’s possibly due to this random nature it only appears in homebrew games? However it goes, I have been adamant there has to be something out there, and a book titled Well of Worlds seemed like a good bet to understanding this Well a little more.
The first indication of otherwise should have been the title, which was “Well of Worlds” and not “Well of Many Worlds”. The Well of Many Worlds doesn’t make a single appearance in the book, so off the bat I had already failed in my intention for buying it. However, I still had the book, and I gave it a read through because I was curious about the world of Planescape, making this the first official writing I’ve read on the campaign setting. Not bad in terms of coincidences either, because this book was apparently written to guide new players into the world of Planescape, so maybe I didn’t lose out as much as I thought.
As I read it, what got me the most was the change of atmosphere I’m otherwise used to. Sigil, the city Planescape is built around, exists as an otherwise complete neutral ground for all (sometimes referred to a prison as well). In this place you can actually see demons and angels wandering the streets together, due to the fact the powers (Gods if you will) have no hold of the place because the Lady of Pain decrees it. Mind you this doesn’t mean the city is peaceful, because it’s quite possibly the most dangerous place in the multiverse if you aren’t careful.
However, the feeling of freedom is ever present, because you’re not a simple mortal living out a life in the Material, but a player in the larger scheme of shaping the world around you. Philosophy is actually a tangible and real thing, and not of questionable nature in the Material. And no, I don’t just mean by visiting the homes of the Gods (though that is part of it). If you believe in something as simple as an Idea, it can become a reality. In summary, The City of Doors is your landing pad to infinity as you explore the nature of the universe. How can anyone not think that’s cool?
Other interesting aspects include the strange words and definitions thrown around, such as prime, cutter, berk, cager, basher…the list is quite large actually. It’s confusing at first, but it certainly pulls you into a different mindset. And to top it all off, for the DM looking for game ideas there’s a total of 9 adventures laid out in this book: 1 intro adventure and 8 adventures that can be taken in any order and with variable levels. Considering the price you could pay for this ($5-$35 if map is still intact), that’s value in of itself considering the price of a single module adventures ($1-$30 depending on quality and rarity).
Now comes the bad. A lot of the adventures presented give scenarios which otherwise Railroad the PCs. This is not all the scenarios, mind you, because some are written quite well in this regard, giving suggestions on what paths the PC could take and how to work with it. However, when the majority of the adventure relies on the PC doing “X”, one has to wonder what happens when “X” never comes round. Sure, you can say the DM has the capacity to wing changes and additions in the game, but the DM isn’t supposed to save the PCs from themselves, and as written some of these adventures screw the PCs should “X” be given the middle finger. Not allowing for creativity on the part of the PC can lead to a lot of dissatisfaction, and the Railroad can be sure to always bring it round.
Also, this seems like a very common theme in the Planescape setting from my reading of the book (or maybe it was just the style of the era?). For one, travel from plane to plane relies on portals. Achieving your goals not only requires you to find the correct location (anything from a giant arch to a bathroom doorway), but to find the proper key to open it (specific materials or liquids sometimes from specific locations, character specific items like the food bowl of a trapped man, passwords sometimes included…among other things). This is nice for those with puzzle solving in mind, though its implementation had me wondering at times if the adventure is simply leading the PCs by the nose. Of course there are also situations where someone has the power to instantly transport you as well…sometimes against your will, making the Railroad come round once again.
With that in mind, Well of Worlds is one of the better buys I’ve ever gotten from all my D&D purchases. Sure, it’s not not a supplement expanding upon a certain subject, or has a lot of prestige classes or magic to select, but it’s got style and inspiration to boot, giving a taste of what Planescape can be. And seriously, I really can’t bash on it considering the price of $5 I paid for it on eBay, and like a said before, that’s value in of itself in comparison to a lot of other adventure modules around. Will need to give this thing a shot once my campaign is done. Within the year I tell you, within the year…