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The Plane Below: Secrets of the Elemental Chaos (D&D 4E) Review

Posted on April 8, 2010 by Robert A. Howard

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The Plane Below greatly expands on the Elemental Chaos, which is one of the fundamental planes of the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition cosmos. To be sure, this supplement is primarily intended for Dungeon Masters and is best suited for paragon and epic tier games. There is no doubt that the Elemental Chaos is aptly named, for although there are some relatively stable places to visit, much of the plane is filled with a roiling chaos of raw elements from which the rest of creation is derived. It is a hostile and alien place — just the sort of place to drop your players into unexpectedly to watch them squirm.

The first section of the book, Chaos Incarnate, tries to tackle the very difficult task of describing an ever changing and completely alien terrain. We’re presented with a dizzying array of terrain features, hazards, obstacles, and information on how to put these to immediate use to create fantastic battle grounds and lively encounters. This approach of focusing on using these elements in building encounters works well in beginning to paint a mental picture of just how insane a place like the Elemental Chaos really is.

By the time I read through the first couple dozen pages, I found myself scratching my head and wondering how I could possibly create a campaign that centered around the Elemental Chaos. The authors most have foreseen my apprehension, as they immediately continued on to provide a framework for building campaign arcs featuring organizations and adventures set in the Plane Below. Indeed, the Elemental Chaos is more than just a mix of a hostile environment and even more hostile inhabitants – although it is that in spades. The adventure hooks and potential adversaries given in this chapter are a good way to prime the storytelling pump as it were, although they came across a bit stilted.

Plowing on, the Races of Chaos chapter gives us an overview of some of the inhabitants of the Elemental Chaos, including detailed sections on the archons, djinns, efreets, genasi, giants, githzerai, and slaads. Many of these creatures have been presented in past editions, but here we find out more about their life and civilization in the Plane Below. The archons in particular are fairly new in concept in 4th edition, so the section on their life and society was particularly enlightening.

The real gold to be mined from this supplement is in the Elemental Locales and Into the Abyss chapters. Both of these are a treasure trove of fascinating locations for your players to explore. Some of these places are more unique features of the Plane Below and others are permanent locations – pockets of stability in an otherwise completely chaotic plane. Places like Gloamnull, a genasi city with a dark secret, and the Mountain Builders Barrow really come alive and could themselves be the focal point of an entire campaign. Other locations such as The Brazen Bazaar, a travelling marketplace originating from the City of Brass, could be exciting diversions to spice up your campaign. Here you will also find a number of ready-to-go encounters that you can plop directly into your game or quickly tweak them to suit your needs.

Closing this book out is the Creatures of Chaos chapter, which stats out nearly fifty new creatures to challenge your planes-hopping adventurers. There are a fair number of interesting solos and elites to pick from, and plenty of others spread out between 8th and 34th level. My only real complaint for this chapter is that not all of the creatures are illustrated. The most conspicuously missing art was for creatures that were particularly difficult to conceptualize based solely on the descriptions.

My Thoughts
Rather than igniting a fire within me that would rival that of even the most severe Cinderstorm, The Plane Below: Secrets of the Elemental Chaos left me lukewarm. There is no doubt that this book is a valuable resource for anyone who is running a campaign set in the planes. The opening chapter offers an impressive list of fantastic terrain and obstacles for setting up memorable encounters, and the Elemental Locales and Into the Abyss sections gave me some great ideas for locations that my players could visit or even originate from. Does it succeed in making the Elemental Chaos a must-visit destination in any planar campaign? Probably not. Then again, it is a far more intriguing place to visit than the fundamental planes (fire, earth, air, water) of previous editions.

Review by Robert A. Howard, Pen & Paper Games.

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