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DnD failed Spelljammer, and I worry for Planescape 5e

Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse condenses the classic DnD setting into a three-book bundle – a format that proved underwhelming for Spelljammer 5e.

DnD Planescape 5e art of the Lady of Pain (from Wizards of the Coast)

Wizards of the Coast has just launched pre-orders for Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse. This should be a time for fans of classic DnD settings to rejoice – at long last, here comes Planescape 5e! But my anticipation is tinged with dread instead of delight. And there’s one word to sum up why: Spelljammer.

In August last year, Wizards released Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, a three-book bundle that revived the D&D second edition setting. It featured a lore book filled with DnD backgrounds and DnD races for players to try, a compendium filled with DnD monsters, and a Spelljammer DnD campaign.

In my Spelljammer: Adventures in Space review, I pointed out how this three-book format spread Spelljammer too thin. In-depth rules, world-building, and setting descriptions were all stripped out. The campaign was uninspiring. Plus, the most interesting parts of the product were thirty-year-old ideas that were copied with little expansion (or, as we saw with the Hadozee controversy, scrutiny).

Now, almost a year later, Planescape 5e follows the same shallow format. ‘Sigil and the Outlands’ is a 96-page book of character options and setting descriptions; ‘Turn of Fortune’s Wheel’ is a 96-page adventure introducing players to the land of Sigil; and ‘Morte’s Planar Parade’ is 64 pages of stat blocks and monster content. It’s three DnD books with the typical page count of one.

Planescape 5e book bundle (image by Wizards of the Coast)

Planescape is a vast, rich world. The original book spanned multiple booklets, and that alone merely established the DnD setting. Plus, Planescape is more than just an epic place to explore: it’s a setting known for its nuanced explorations of philosophy, morality, and DnD alignments. It’s hard to imagine we’ll have time to ponder anything in this whistle-stop tour.

A watered-down adaptation doesn’t appeal to anyone. Newcomers don’t get to see the full potential of the setting, which may mean they’re less inclined to spend time there. And veterans are left disappointed, counting the features that failed to make it back into Sigil.

And we know Wizards of the Coast can handle nostalgia – as long as the material has room to breathe. Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen featured new options for DnD classes and took place on an entirely different planet from most D&D 5e games. But it put the campaign first and let the adventure do all the talking – something that might not have been possible if 128 pages were chopped to make room for Krynn lore.

With so many throwbacks coming up in the DnD release schedule (Vecna, the Red Wizards of Thay, and more), I’m keen to see Wizards find its stride adapting the classics. I hope Planescape 5e can prove me wrong. But right now, the three-book bundle looks like little more than lip service.

For more on the latest D&D releases, check out the grotesque giants in the next DnD book that’ll put you off your dinner.