The Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes By Jeff Grubb came out in 1987 & it remains a favorite of mine; 'The original Manual of the Planes was written by Jeff Grubb, with a cover by Jeff Easley and interior illustrations by Stephen Fabianwith Easley, and was published by TSR in 1987 as a 128-page hardcover. Easley's cover featured an illustration of a creature named in the book as an "ethereal dreadnought", although the book had no description or game statistics for the creature. This creature was later identified in 2nd edition as an astral dreadnought.'
The year is Nineteen Hundred & Eighty Nine there's one book that I wanted for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition. Jeff Grubb's Manual of the Planes was on my 'must get' list of AD&D books. Why?! Because the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes was/is a dungeon master's book. There lots of crunch here & very little flavor per say for the dungeon master to create & deal with the 'Great Wheel' of the planes of AD&D. This book does exactly what it sets out to do. The wiki entry summarizes quite nicely what the Manual of the plane covers;
"The book describes various planes of existence, and what creatures characters might encounter there, covering the astral and ethereal planes, the elemental planes, and the outer planes. The book also details how to survive in the planes, and how combat and magic differ under each plane's special conditions. The Ethereal Plane, The Inner Planes—including the Plane of Elemental Air, the Plane of Elemental Fire, the Plane of Elemental Earth, and the Plane of Elemental Water, the Para-Elemental Planes (Smoke, Magma, Ooze, and Ice), the Energy Planes (Positive Energy and Negative Energy), and the Quasi-Elemental Planes (Lightning, Radiance, Minerals, Steam, Vacuum, Ash, Dust, and Salt) -- and the Astral Plane. After these planes, the Outer Planes are briefly described, including Nirvana, Arcadia, Seven Heavens, Twin Paradises, Elysium, Happy Hunting Grounds, Olympus, Gladsheim, Limbo, Pandemonium, The Abyss, Tarterus, Hades, Gehenna, The Nine Hells, Acheron, and Concordant Opposition. Manual of the Planes explains how each of the outer planes is related to each of the character alignments. For example, "The Seven Heavens" is the final resting place for characters of Lawful Good alignment."
All of this canon would change right around the time that second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Planescape setting came out. But the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes does exactly what it sets out to do which is to be cross compatible with the Monster Manual, the Monster Manual II, & The Fiend Folio.
The difference between the Manual of the Planes & the Planescape setting books is stark because the goals are vastly different. The Planescape line of products is meant to have the dungeon master create adventures & complete campaign within that setting. The Manual of the Planes is a whole cloth kit meant to have the dungeon master create their own adventures & campaign. This same design philosophy is at the root of one of the problems of the 'OSR' as a whole.A point where rpg makers & writers seem to think that you need their product to play in their settings. The Manual of the Planes allowed the DM to set adventures among the dangerous residents & the adventure environments of the planes. There was little to no support for the Manual of the Planes over the years & its only recently that I found out why; "Manual of the Planes is mainly a location book, describing the various planes, delineating how spells work, and - in the style of the Survival Guides of 1986 - talking about how to survive there. Other than a few monsters, there's very little crunch and there's no support for GMs who want complete adventures instead of encounter tables.
Grubb planned to publish that missing crunch through a new "Plane Speaking" column in Dragon. However, he only ended up writing three entries, for issues #120 (April 1987), #125 (September 1987), and #128 (December 1987). Adventure support came through the OP module series, but only one of those was published, "OP1: Tales of the Outer Planes" (1988)."
While this is all water under the bridge at this point I think that we as players & dungeon masters have to reflect on how & why there are some great ideas that are a part of the Manual of the Planes. Here are ten ways which I use the manual:
- The Manual of the Planes is perfect for planing an alien invasion of your favorite AD&D or BECMI Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
- While the Manual of the Planes is high level the book can be used as a quick & dirty introduction for players to the planes with a random & quite dangerous encounter or two.
- The real star of the Manual of The Planes is the environs which showcase & shine the many facets of the book.
- Because this book is bare bones there's some real room for the dungeon master to get very creative with how & why they set up their cosmology in their home game's version of the planes.
- The Elemental planes are fleshed out & the DM can really go to town to create these as they wish. But beware the encounter tables in the Manual of Planes.
- There is a sense of deadliness in the Manual of the Planes that represents a degree of respect that the player's PC's must have for the planes over all.
- The DM is not hamstrung by some of the elements of the Planescape second edition AD&D setting.
- There's lots of room for campaign intrigue with the planes and it always seems to trickle down to the adventurer's level.
- The Manual of the Planes is still relevant today because it can easily work with 90 percent of the OSR products & rule sets on the market.
- There are some very cool but dangerously high level environs that can be worked into complete adventures using the AD&D Manual of the Planes