The main problem with Planescape is its vast strangeness. There’s a lot to explain and not enough space to fit it all in. The initial box set makes a heroic effort but it was never going to be anything more than an appetizer. In fact, the whole set of Planescape accessories and sourcebooks feels like it is just scratching the surface.
The Factol’s Manifesto (1995) is a much-needed deep dive into the factions that reside at the heart of the campaign setting. Here, finally, is everything you need to know, and then some – colorful maps of their headquarters, their chains of command, their leaders, their philosophies, their goals, their nefarious plots. The book brilliantly embellishes Zeb Cook’s original broad strokes into a vivid painting of politics and ideology.
The book is entirely illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi and you can see his art improving already. His palettes are a bit more varied, his compositions a bit more energetic, his anatomy a bit more dimensional. His trick of using dabs of pure white pigment to act as highlights, causing the illustrations to pop off the page, is used here with surgical precision to great effect. Of the Planescape books I own featuring DiTerlizzi’s art, this was long my favorite (no longer, but we’ll come to that).
The downside of Planescape fleshing itself out is that all the many thrilling potential possibilities start settling down into boring old facts. The Factol’s Manifesto very much lays the groundwork for the Faction War adventure, which essentially wraps up the Planescape campaign setting. Re-reading the books with fresh eyes, war was an inevitable conclusion for Sigil – I am not sure it was wise for TSR to chart the course of that war with a canon-changing module. Better to present all the variables and let the DMs sort out the particulars for themselves.
Another downside: this book seems to be the start of the book cover designed to look like a mystical tome trend. It is tolerable here but, come Third Edition, it turns hideous.