One of the most popular requested settings for Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition has been Planescape. It is a setting about exploring the various planes of existence in the D&D multiverse, but in addition to providing planar sites for adventuring, it also creates factions and a home base for characters that go exploring.
We now know that Planescape is coming in the Fall of 2023. But what if you want to explore the multiverse before Planescape is released? In addition to the recent D&D releases Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos, and Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, Monte Cook Games’ Planebreaker: Path of the Planebreaker may be an option for you.
I was not provided a review copy of this product, and I am working from a copy that I purchased. While I have not had the opportunity to use the material in this book, I am familiar with D&D 5e, both as a player and as a DM.
Planebreaker: Path of the Planebreaker
Designers Bruce R. Cordell, Sean K. Reynolds, and Monte Cook Creative Director Monte Cook Developer Sean K. Reynolds
Managing Editor Teri Litorco
Editor/Proofreader Ray Vallese
Art Director Bear Weiter
Layout Javier P. Beltrán and Bear Weiter
Cover Artist Federico Musetti
Cartographers Daniel’s Maps, Hugo Solis
Artists Javier P. Beltrán, Bruce Brenneise, Olivia Butler-Stroud, Simon Carr, Domenico Cava, Biagio D’Alessandro, Sarah Dahlinger, Giuseppe De iure, Gaia Degl’Innocenti, Rachel Denton, Rael Dionisio, Angelica Donarini, Jason Engle, Michele Esposito, Michele Giorgi, Doruk Golcu, Joel Chaim Holtzman, Raph Herrera Lomotan, Russell Marks, Federico Musetti, Mirco Paganessi, Roberto Pitturru, Riccardo Rullo, Joe Slucher, Lee Smith, Kim Sokol, Matteo Spirito, Darko Stojanovic, Chris Waller, Dan Watson
Steps on the Path
This review is based on the PDF of Path of the Planebreaker. The product is 242 pages long, including endpapers, a title page, a credits page, a table of contents, a single page index, a full page OGL statement, and ads for upcoming Monte Cook Games offerings, which in this case includes an upcoming Planar Bestiary and Planar Character Options coming in 2023.
Path of the Planebreaker is formatted in a similar manner to other Monte Cook Games products, which means it has a two column layout, but also has a running sidebar on all of the pages with definitions or page references to items mentioned in the current section which have content elsewhere in the book. There is also a lot of new artwork featuring a variety of planar locations.
Defining the Path
Path of the Planebreaker is divided into the following sections:
- Part 1: The Planebreaker’s Path
- Part 2: Planar Locations
- Part 3: Planar Briefs
- Part 4: Monsters and Pathwalkers
- Part 5: Character Options
- Part 6: Planar Adventures
- Back Matter
Each of these parts is broken up into chapters. For example, Planar Locations includes twenty different chapters, each one dedicated to a different planar location.
The notations in the sidebar, in addition to providing definitions, also provide page numbers for different monsters referenced, as well as what NPC stat blocks to use for named creatures. Other notations point the reader towards different portions of the book where other locations may be referenced, or where distinct rules may be housed.
The sidebars on planar locations also call out the expected “safe” level range for characters visiting a planar location. In some cases, there will be safer and more dangerous locations in the same planar locations, sometimes denoting the difference between settlements and other regions of the planar location.
Whenever a location is introduced, there is a list of difficulty classes for knowledge checks that reveal different amounts of information on that location. The lowest DCs usually give broad folklore about a place, with the higher DCs involving special rules of magic or planar rulers associated with the location.
What Is the Planebreaker?
The unifying theme used for this work is the Planebreaker, a moon size, comet like structure that hurtles through the multiverse. The Planebreaker tears in the skies above a planar location, and then eventually rips through the planar boundaries, pulling debris from the current reality with it.
The Planebreaker leaves a trail through the planes that can be navigated as a means of traveling the planes. When the Planebreaker first arrives in a location, it may rain down debris, some of which are Path Tokens, which allow characters to manifest on the ephemeral path that charts the wake of the Planebreaker. Once a character is on the Path, they can navigate to different planes of existence by walking the Path, which allows them to traverse realities in a matter of a few hours.
The Planebreaker itself has locations like the Sea of Uncertainty, which is a body of water that is filled with planar debris. This is the location most people materialize within when they first travel to the Planebreaker, and valuable items can be fished out of the location by scavengers willing to take the time. There are also planar whirlpools that make this job a little more dangerous.
The Planebreaker also includes the city of Timeborne, which includes the Worldswept Market, the Interpreters’ Guild, and the Enclave of the Mantis. The Mantis is the enigmatic ruler of Timeborne, who often posts bounties that can be collected. If you thought, “wow, that sounds kind of like an ideal home base for adventurers,” well, that’s what I thought as well.
This section gives you plenty to latch onto when using it as a home base. PCs can spend time sifting for planar goodies, and if you are feeling generous, you can just skip the charts in the back of the book and given them something you want them to have. The bounties are great for pushing the PCs in the direction of various adventures. I like all of this.
There are twenty planar locations detailed in this section, and I’m not even going to try to do anything but provide the highlights. I will point out that if you like the Dungeons & Dragons cosmology, and you don’t want to stray too far from it, a lot of these planar locations are framed as being adjacent to existing planes in that cosmology.
The planar locations detailed are:
- Citadel of the Fate Eater (a demon lord’s citadel)
- Erewhon (a node-based realm that doesn’t allow fiends or celestials to enter)
- Etherguard (a city in the Ethereal on the back of a giant beast, home to atoning hags)
- Grove of Crows (a region of the Shadowfell where lost faces may grow on trees)
- Infinite Labyrinth (a broken planar realm that is incorporating multiple themes over time)
- Laghris, the Burning Falls (a remnant of a destroyed realm where lava mining is an industry)
- Planes of Mirror and Shadow (a plane where characters might run into alternate versions of themselves that erase one another from existence)
- Prison of Eternal Torment (an independent prison in Acheron that transforms inmates into liquid metal)
- Ramiah, the Star Blade (a plane that exists within a soul stealing artifact)
- Sanguine (a transitive plane that can access other worlds through the veins and arteries across the multiverse)
- Savtua, the Swampy Mindscape (a plane inhabited by lizardfolk, which can be shaped by the will of those living in the plane)
- Splintered Reach (the remnant of millions of destroyed worlds, located in the Deep Ethereal)
- Storm of the Styx (a planar tornado that is a demiplane housing fiends carried from the Styx)
- Szneshnya, The Bleak Winter (an isolated elemental fragment that is home to a monastery that studies the properties of the plane for their martial arts)
- Tomb of Tomorrow (the tomb of a slain titan of time, where time runs in different directions)
- Tyrant of War (a magical war machine created by Hell, sought after by many)
- Unithon, the Geometrical (a world where everything is based in simple geometrical shapes)
- Urian’s Stair (a place where a celestial contemplated their uncertainty, which attracts soul searchers)
- Wreck of the Unimaginable (a demiplane that houses the wreck of a crashed technological starship)
- Zarth of the Five Towers (a realm ruled by five rival mages, all with the titles of Count or Countess, with unique quirks to their sub-realms)
These planar locations remind me a little bit of the Recursions from The Strange, in that they have enough detail for you to visit and move on, but each one has its own ongoing story that player characters could stay and resolve, if they dig deep enough. The end of each section also includes adventuring hooks for that planar location.
If a sourcebook immediately has me thinking of campaign ideas, that’s a good sign. If a sourcebook has me thinking of things to add into the campaign that I am currently running, as soon as possible, because it lets me resolve a plot hook I introduced, that’s great. Among the variety of planar locations I found in this book, I found one that does that exactly for me. This isn’t surprising due to the range of locations and the variety of themes.
In addition to the Planar Locations, there is a section on Additional Planar Locations, which are summarized in less space than the previous locations. While the above planar locations are each four or five pages of material, the planar locations in this section usually take up about half a page, summarizing what is of note in that location. There are an additional twenty locations in this section. While the previous locations usually have some big plot that would take several sessions to resolve, many of these locations also have an ongoing primary plot, but one that can often be resolved more immediately.
Most of the new monsters introduced in this book are tied to one of the planar locations, or at least tied to some theme introduced in the book. The creatures include:
- Accumulator (an air elemental made of lightning that may split into multiple parts)
- Avernus Observer (a devil that can see and partially manipulate potential realities)
- Divergent Skull (undead from the graveyard of worlds)
- Doom (self-replicating enforcers)
- Elar (water elementals bent on the destruction of the Aboleth)
- Hag Exile (hags seeking redemption for past actions)
- Inexorable (flying demonic foot soldiers)
- Lava Husk (an elemental that forms when a caster fails to become a lich while using elemental powers)
- Mind Mold (psychic feeding mold that creates mind mold wraiths)
- Nambu Bounty Hunter (bounty hunters with signature gear from a specific Prime Material Plane)
- Nilim Shambler (dust remnants from a distant universe that can grow into a dangerous independent construct)
- Path Mite (creatures that look like scattered debris on the Path to ambush travelers)
- Portal Dragon (dragons drawn to planar crossroads)
- Primogenitor (insect-like aberrations from the beginning of time)
- Prince of Dust (elemental nobles composed of earth and air)
- Refuse Revenant (undead killed in sewers or garbage dumps)
- Thorn Dancer (plant creatures sworn to defend other plants)
- Traveler Guide (people born with a cosmic map on their skin, acting as planar guides)
- Xenophage (natives to Sanguine that attempt to purify the plane)
There are also a number of NPCs detailed, some of which are handy utility NPCs which may express different CR versions of stat blocks that exist elsewhere (Artisan, Ecclesiastic, Expert, Master Thief), while at least one embodies the manifestation of Blue Oyster Cult lyrics (Psychic War Veteran).
This is a pretty good range of plane related monsters, although I’m always a little hesitant to use monsters that spawn or summon other monsters. While I like a lot of these monsters (I can’t wait to work a Hag Exile into a story, for example), this is the least exciting part of the book for me. That’s not a huge problem, however, since there are so many existing planar creatures to use that already exist in the game.
While there is a general plot associated with most of the planar locations, the adventures included in the book are focused on the plot of one of the locations presented, while also touching on several other planar locations.
Tyrant’s Key focuses on finding the parts of a magic item that will allow the PCs to find the Tyrant of War before another organization finds it and uses it to dominate the planes. During this adventure, they run across a multiversal organization that exists to keep anyone from finding the Tyrant of War, as well as an NPC that wants to help them so she can utilize the Tyrant of War herself. It presents some interesting options and conflicting goals presented by allied NPCs.
Sword, Sphere, and Cube sees the PCs trying to track down a malfunctioning magic item which is teleporting from location to location and spreading chaos. In addition to racing to different planes to try to head off the damage and potentially catch the malfunctioning cube, the actions the PCs take can determine what kind of magic item the cube becomes once it is repaired.
There are new species, subclasses, and spells presented in this book to represent planar focused campaigns.
- Chaos Blade (Fighter)
- Multiverse Domain (Cleric)
- Shadow Stitched (Rogue)
- Defacer (Wizard)
All the species included have the original 2014 presentation of having a specifically assigned set of Ability Score Increases determined by species. The Traveler and the Inkarnate both have the standard +2, +1 configuration for statistic improvement, so it’s easy enough to adapt them to the rules introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. The Chimeran can adopt the traits from other ancestries, which means that if you play the species, you aren’t going to be shifting your ability score bonuses, but you can otherwise adopt different traits.
- Travelers appear to be human but are born with a map superimposed on their skin. They gain the ability to find the most direct route to items or locations that allow for planar travel, they gain a proficiency bonus to navigating any terrain, can gain a bonus to Int, Wis, or Cha saves a number of times equal to their proficiency bonus, and they get the light cantrip. At 3rd level, they can briefly disappear into their map until the beginning of their next turn.
- Chimerans can ingest something from another species, and over the course of 10 minutes, adapt their traits.
- Inkarnates are the physical manifestations of glyphs that communicate a concept. They have “wings,” which are the symbols from which you originally manifested as a concept, and they can be used as weapons, but not to fly. They gain the ability to cause psychic damage when explaining to others how they have violated the concept that they embody, and at 3rd level, you can grant an extra die to be added to an skill check or save, when you explain how the concept you embody is on their side.
These are some interesting planar aligned characters. I especially like the Traveler, except for the name. Between having a name to identify a species that is also used by cultures in the real world, and headers like “born human, but different,” I think it’s an unfortunate association. I don’t think it was intentional by any means, but it’s potentially an issue.
Chaos blades are less about “outer plane” chaos and more about “confluence of multiple elements” chaos. They can summon a weapon at 3rd level made of “chaotic energy.” This can even be a weapon that uses ammunition. The weapon fires normally, unless you score a critical hit, in which case it changes to an energy type.
Your crit range increases at 7th, and you gain a fly speed at this level as well, but it’s limited to flight on your turn unless you spend levels of exhaustion. At 10th level, you can manifest ribbons of elemental chaos that grant you a bonus on AC and saves, which you can, again, manifest more than once per short or long rest if you power it with a level of exhaustion. At 15th level, you can throw a fireball that is considered to do all types of elemental damage that you can manifest, and if your opponent is vulnerable to any of them, they are vulnerable to damage from this attack. This is another short or long rest ability that you can fuel with levels of exhaustion. At 18th level, you gain immunity to some of the energy types that you were resistant to previously, you gain reach, and once per turn you do extra elemental damage.
The Multiverse Domain is more about infinite possibilities as much as being connected to specific planes. You gain proficiency in Arcana, and you can, a number of times per proficiency bonus, grant the Favor of the Multiverse as a bonus to a roll – unless you roll a 6 on the d6. At 2nd level, you can use Channel Divinity to learn a skill or tool proficiency for 10 minutes, as you access a version of yourself that learned that ability. At 6th level, you can access The Path as if you had a Path Token. At 17th level, you can pick from a number of abilities, manifesting the abilities of another version of yourself for one minute. Your cleric “kicker” at 8th level is bonus weapon damage.
Shadow Stitched rogues merge something else’s shadow to themselves at 3rd level, granting them a number of dice to spend equal to twice their proficiency bonus. You can spend these to have your shadow help you accomplish things, starting with adding dice to a check you make with proficiency, using the shadow to perform a cunning action, or boost your attack roll. At 9th level, you can stretch your shadow and swap places with it (up to 60 feet) and then make an attack with advantage. You can merge with your shadow and gain a flight speed at 13th level, and at 17th level you can manifest a CR 7 creature to represent the creature whose shadow you merged with.
The Defacer wizard learns powers associated with the Grove of Crows. This includes a crow familiar with the aberrant type, and the creation of a mask that is your spellcasting focus, giving you darkvision and gaining a gaze attack once per long rest. At 6th level, you learn Deep Speech and resistance to psychic damage while wearing the mask, and at 10th level, you gain access to the erase face spell, and can cast it without expending a spell slot once per short or long rest. At 14th level, once per short or long rest, you can effectively banish opponents to the Grove of Crows and inflict the effects of the erase face spell on them.
The Chaos Blade feels a little off to me, if only because it gets no real damage kicker early, and only gets extra elemental damage under a narrow circumstance. It does gain an increased crit range faster than other subclasses with that feature, but it feels like this class is a late bloomer for one that is about manifesting elemental power. A lot of more recent subclass design has revolved around spending a resource to get a subclass resource back, and levels of exhaustion are an interesting way to explore this, but the current exhaustion rules can become a death spiral quickly, especially for a fighter that could quickly end up giving up mobility and eventually accuracy of attacks.
I love the concept of the Multiverse cleric, but I would need to play it to see if the dice manipulation and other effects felt like they were telling the story of the subclass. The Shadow Stitched rogue and the Defacer wizard are the big winners for me, as they have some flavorful abilities that support their subclass “story,” even if the rogue takes until 9th level to really kick into gear (which is not the subclass’ fault, it’s the placement of rogue subclass levels in the 2014 rules).
Spells and Feats
This book introduces four new feats, and eight new spells. All the feats in this document are +1 to ability score feats. The spells are split between 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 7th level spells, and while they are mentioned as being found in a wizard’s spellbook, there isn’t an explicit class listed for them. That said, some of the subclasses in the book reference these spells.
Two of the feats involve using ice or lava to increase combat effectiveness. Another increases your ability to navigate The Path and shortens your time between locations. The final feat allows you to learn from the malleability of one of the planes presented in this book to learn how to manifest an item out of reality itself.
The spells include an updated version of the old 3rd edition staple, Dimensional Anchor, but renamed. There is a spell that allows you to travel to the mirror corridors of one of the presented planes, which may allow you to find a world with an alternate version of someone you know living there. Erasing someone’s face blinds them, allowing them a save once per minute to shake off the effects. There are other spells that open portals to fey crossroads, or scramble the exit of an existing planar portal. One of the biggest potential pain points is the Unleash Doom spell, which summons a Doom, one of the creatures mentioned above that can continue to summon other Dooms, for 1 minute. In addition to attacking your target, the longer the Dooms stick around, the bigger the chance they have to turn on the caster.
There are twenty-five new magic items, all of which have a general planar theme, or are tied to one of the planar locations mentioned in the book. One of the most interesting items is the Star Blade, which is the weapon that contains one of the planar locations detailed earlier in the book.
Another interesting thing to note in this section is that soul silver, which is listed in a few places in the book as a potential currency in some locations, is detailed. Soul silver can be infused into a person to heal them of damage, in addition to its value as a planar currency.
Stairway to Heaven Not only does it have some great ideas for adventure hooks and locations, but those locations should also sit comfortably next to the existing planar options in D&D 5e.
There are so many great adventure ideas in this book, and if you have even a slight interest in having your D&D game travel to other planes of existence, you will find multiple hooks that will fire your imagination. I like that this product manages to build its own planar mythology that still sits alongside the current D&D mythology and references it as a touchstone in several places. Every location has a ready hook, so it’s hard not to have an idea what to do with that location. Timeborne is a solid homebase for a planar campaign, and the nature of the Planebreaker means that you can literally drop it into a campaign whenever you want to do so.
Highway to Hell
The monsters, while not bad, didn’t fire my imagination as much as the locations. I really like some of the player’s options, but I’m not sure how the Chaos Blade should play, and I’m not sure what my handle would be on a Multiverse cleric. I definitely think there is a potential issue with the Traveler species, at least in concept. It’s inevitable with so many planar locations and plot hooks, but a few of them fell flat for me. I’m just not that enamored of Unithon, the Geometrical, for example, and Savtua feels like a cool concept that doesn’t quite bring home what it promises. But those are a few ideas in a huge stew of concepts.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
If you play D&D and have any interest in planar travel, I doubt you will be disappointed with this product. Not only does it have some great ideas for adventure hooks and locations, but those locations should also sit comfortably next to the existing planar options in D&D 5e. It would be very easy to step off the Path and end up attending a class at Strixhaven or exploring the connection between one of the planar locales and its possible connection to the Radiant Citadel.
What have been some of your favorite planar fantasy supplements? What do you like about planar adventuring, and what differentiates it from more worldbound adventuring? We want to hear from you in the comments below!