An anthology of eight separate but linked adventures, Tales from the Infinite Staircase takes adventurers to exotic locales throughout the planes. A crossover product meant to be usable with the FORGOTTEN REALMS, this is a great introduction to PLANESCAPE for players unfamiliar with the setting.
Tales From the Infinite Staircase (1998) is that rarest of beasts: a non-linear, linked anthology of adventures whose chapters can be played in almost any order. The plot of all eight adventures focuses on defeating a nemesis known only as "The Iron Shadow," a creativity-smothering pall that falls across lands and has no known origin. This is a book full of adventure and creativity, and it's a good example of the best that Planescape had to offer.
Imagination Unchained. The book is flat-out fun to read. Its prose is evocative, with a bare minimum of game mechanics. The locations in each adventure are imaginative and often unexpected, the NPCs are interesting, and the challenges may have solutions that can be solved in ways other than by brute force alone. Locations are not hyper-detailed, but provide enough clear information for DMs to expand upon as needed.
Pick an Adventure, Any Adventure. After the first chapter, the remaining seven scenarios of the adventure can be played in any order. This is a tall order in a game where combat strength really matters, and Cook manages it all by keeping the adventure level relatively low, at levels 3-6, and by minimizing combat in favor of more creative solutions.
One strength of this adventure is the fact that most chapters will specify what in them may have changed when particular other chapters have been completed first.
Berk Berk Berk. I was once at a Gen Con Planescape seminar that was split right down the middle as to whether Planescape slang was annoying or flavorful. Tales From the Infinite Staircase uses just enough of that "patois" to stay flavorful without slipping into distracting or irritating jargon. Cook struck a good balance.
Come for the Iron Shadow, Stay for the View. The locations in these adventures manage to showcase some fascinating places within the infinite outer planes. The Infinite Staircase itself, for instance, is an Escher-esque winding staircase that touches all worlds. Other locations include a flooded formian hive city on Arcadia, a Githyanki city in the Astral Plane, a floating city on the elemental plane of Air, and the swamps of Hell (excuse me, Baator.)
If you're looking for interesting places to adventure, this book is worth it for the travelogue alone.
An Uncompelling Foe. The Iron Shadow strangles creativity wherever it falls. It spreads through portals, but not through the eponymous Infinite Staircase, and it can connect any locations where intelligent life and creativity exist. The adventures focus on beating back and dispelling the Iron Shadow wherever it appears.
Sadly, the antagonist - or rather, the major plot device - is, well, flavorless. (Perhaps it was the first victim of its own power to make things lack-luster.) The Iron Shadow is less a foe and more a maguffin; in fact, the module simply leaves the DM to decide what might have caused the Iron Shadow in the first place, if it even matters. Some players and critics have reported finding this enemy to be unsatisfying, especially in a campaign world where so many powerful individuals try to manipulate the mortal world in accordance with their own whims.
Almost the End of the Line. Published in the late 90s, this was one of the last books in the Planescape series. Interior art was done by Hannibal King instead of Tony DiTerlizzi (who established the look of the setting), and the themes and feel of Planescape were well established by the time Tales From the Infinite Staircase hit shelves. It remains one of the outstanding products in the Planescape line, though, and it is well worth picking up if you have any interest in planar adventures or creative adventure design.
About the Creators. Award-winning author Monte Cook started working as a freelancer for TSR in 1992 and left Wizards of the Coast in 2001 to start Malhavoc Press. His 2012 Kickstarter for the post-apocalyptic science fiction / science fantasy roleplaying game Numenera raised over $500,000. We like to think of him lounging in his secret lair and gaming with solid gold dice, but the truth is that he remains one of the most creative and hard-working authors in the industry.
About the Product Historian
History and commentary of this product was written by Kevin Kulp, game designer and admin of the independent D&D website ENWorld. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to email@example.com.