Game Day: Fueling the D&D 4E Storm with Planetorn

After a week’s hiatus so I could play with the kids on an island, our Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition playtest campaign gets back underway tonight. The campaign’s officially moved to “active” status, and now has its own campaign home page in the GriffWiki.

For those late to the show, we’re using Planetorn as a short-run campaign to try out 4E and see how well it works for our needs. It revolves around a Chaos Storm that’s destroying alternative realities, and threatens to consume the entire multiverse. A handful of Planetorn adventures — survivors of those realities already destroyed by the storm — have been gathered together to determine why the storm is happening … and how to stop it.

With the help of fellow campaign wiki-editor Cory, we’ve posted write-ups on all but one of the player characters in the campaign; you can check them out by visiting the campaign home page. I’ve also added write-ups about The Burning Sands of Fierth, which is the first alternative material plane that the Planetorn heroes are visiting, and Azra, the City of Bronze, which is located on that plane.

I’ve also got some Sigil stuff to add to the wiki, specifically regarding the Obsidian Tower’s presence in the city (which provides the nominal tie-in to our regular Greyhawk campaign, the Tower being a collection of mages tasked with defending Oerth from extraplanar invasion.

Planar References

I’ve dug up a number of planar source books to help out with the Planetorn campaign, particularly in recreating Sigil, City of Doors. Nate, one of my players, lent me his extensive collection of 2nd Edition Planescape books, and I spent a chunk of my island vacation last week reading through In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil, which provides a detailed look at the city at the center of the multiverse. It’s written in that infamous Planescape cant, and it takes a while to get your brain translating all the terms into English, but it’s packed with useful information.

I also picked up the Planescape Campaign Setting boxed set as a PDF from This was included in the stack I got from Nate, but it’s handy to have it as a PDF for reading and research during my lunch breaks. The scan quality leaves a lot to be desired, but I can’t complain too much: it was only $5.95.

One aspect of Planescape that I’d like to work into Planetorn is the idea of philosophy as warfare, in which changes in the relative strengths of belief systems can cause disruptions among the planes; if a normally chaotic place suddenly becomes very lawful, for example, it might shift out of alignment and jump to a new plane. It’s a neat idea that wouldn’t work within the confines 4E’s streamlined alignment system, but fortunately, we’re not bound by that view. This is our universe, not Wizards, and I think the conflict between the simplistic morality of 4E, and the complex nine-point one of 3E should make for some great planer battles.

Another source book I’ve picked up, but haven’t had a chance to read yet, is the PDF of Beyond Countless Doorways (you can also get it from Amazon). Published by Malhavoc Press, this book is a Planescape reunion of sorts, featuring many of the same writers who worked on the original campaign setting. The book has a bunch of speciality planes, and I look forward to incorporating some of them into Planetorn

Quantum Leaping

One challenge for me in writing the Planetorn adventures is to not get bogged down in any one particular setting. I want the adventure to jump from plane to plane in rapid succession, but I find myself getting drawn into the world of Fierth, and wanting to spend more time detailing it.

Which, of course, is exactly what I shouldn’t be doing. I want to paint the multiverse in broad strokes, not sucked into the details of the pretty little trees (even if they are on fire). I realized I was planning out a 3-4 story arc involving Fierth last night, which may not sound to bad but the whole Planetorn mini-campaign will likely only last eight or so sessions. I need to get things moving … and moving fast! I’m not quite sure how to do that, but I expect it will involve explosions, and lots of them.

Something else that I’ve discovered while working on Planetorn is that it’s difficult for me to shift into a 4E state of mind while doing campaign development. After eight years of 3rd Edition, that’s shouldn’t be a big surprise, and I don’t know that it’s really a huge problem — I just flesh out my NPCs using 3E terms (e.g. Warrior 3, Expert 2, etc. for NPCs, with a few skills) and then convert them to 4E if the need arises.

Where it has been problematic is in coming up with challenges and threats for the characters; I’m used to having a half-dozen monster manuals and source books to fall back on for creatures to throw at the party; now I’ve got one not-so-slender tome. I’m making do — the as the Monster Manual says, it’s easy enough to change the flavor text for a monster, and keep the stats — but I do miss 3E’s depth … and the lack of any conversion process between the two editions.