Monte Cook

250px-TSR2600_Planescape_Campaign_SettingI’m overwhelmed with the success of the Torment: Tides of Numenera Kickstarter. It’s amazing and I cannot wait to work on it, as the guys at inXile are really a great bunch. It’s got me thinking  a bit about the original Planescape: Torment game, which was fun (although I never actually worked on it, I enjoyed playing it, like just about everyone else). Which of course brings to mind Planescape itself, which was also a blast to work on. The Planescape tabletop rpg setting, created by David “Zeb” Cook, taught me a lot about rpg setting design.

When I was about 14 years old, I was in a bookstore checking out the latest D&D offerings, when a new module caught my eye. It was called Dwellers of the Forbidden City, and while it looked cool and had a great cover, what attracted me was the author’s name: David Cook. Because, of course, that guy’s name was my last name. I remember it so clearly because it was the first time I realized that it was somebody’s job to write D&D modules.

I wanted that to be my job.

Years later, while working as a freelancer rpg designer, I got invited to interview for a job  at TSR itself. Before the scheduled interview, I happened to meet David “Zeb” Cook at a convention and he sat down with me and talked about what it was like to work there. He was great, and even bought me lunch. By that time, Zeb was the creator of 2nd Edition D&D–pretty much already a legend. When I got the job, it was Zeb that came to the airport to pick me up. A great guy. It wasn’t that long before we started to joke that we were related (we weren’t) and that was how I got the job.

My first week at TSR was kind of rough. I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision to come to work there. They didn’t seem to be doing much in the way of product that excited me. On the Friday of my first week, however, a boxed set showed up on my desk. I opened it up, and was utterly blown away. I spent the weekend reading a new campaign setting called Planescape and it was light years beyond anything I’d seen before. The text was imaginative, daring, and bold, and matched the fantastic art (by Tony DiTerlizzi) perfectly. It was written by Zeb, and I knew then and there that I wanted to work on products related to that setting.

After a while I did get to work on Planescape products–Planes of Conflict, Planewalker’s Handbook, Dead Gods, Hellbound, and a lot more. By the time Planescape: Torment was created, Zeb had moved on from TSR, but his legacy was clear. The factions of Planescape? All Zeb. The unique cant? Zeb. The city of Sigil? Yep, Zeb.

There wouldn’t have been a Torment without Zeb. And frankly, there probably wouldn’t be a Numenera without Planescape. Planescape taught me how an rpg setting can stretch the boundaries and focus on ideas more than just rules.

If the Ninth World, Numenera’s setting, is half as imaginative and cool as Planescape, I will consider it a huge success.


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  1. Just hearing that name takes me right back to my adolescence.

  2. Ernesto Bravo · March 12, 2013 at 10:20 am · Reply

    My discovery of Planescape mirrors your own discovery of Dwellers of the Forbidden City. I was at a book store and the boxed set caught my eye so I got my mom to buy it for me. I was probably 13 or 14 years old and I hadn’t even played a D&D game at that point. more than 20 years later I still play with a gaming group that has been together for at least 15 years and we STILL play Planescape. The Planewalkers Handbook is still required reading for anyone joining our game. Whenever we go to game conventions we sometimes feel like we are the last Planewalkers – even though many of the elements of that campaign setting has been adapted to the last few iterations of Dungeons and Dragons, most new players are Clueless. This too is the reason I am really looking forward to Numenera and starting a new campaign in this whole new setting.

  3. Anthony Adkins · March 12, 2013 at 10:21 am · Reply

    PlaneScape is — bar none – *still* my absolute favorite setting made for any RPG — tabletop, card, video game — *EVER*. Reading through the setting material itself is a joy and feeds the imagination with scenarios.

    To think that PlaneScape was, in a way, the inspiration for Numenera gives me a lot of hope for the final product (not that I didn’t already have great hope for it — I love the creativity Monte brings to the game).

  4. Fantastic–I love reading this type of stuff–where the creators pull back the curtains and show us what it was like back in the day. But more importantly, I was caught by this:

    > If the Ninth World, Numenera’s setting, is half as imaginative and cool as Planescape, I will consider it a huge success.
    The fact that you don’t aleady consider Numenera a huge success suprises me.

    What are you using to measure success?

    You have already demonstrated imagination. The idea of Sigil is still amazing, but I have a feeling that you will have a city or two that will rival it. In fact, I am confident based on what you have already written.

    Numenera is cool. LOOK AT THE ART. Nothing in Planescape ever looked that cool. Ever.

    I mean everyone I know has heard of Numenera, is excited that it will be coming out, is looking foreward to playing it,…I think you already have a success on your hands, I am just patiently waiting to be a part of it!

  5. Actually, since the torment kickstarter began, I found and have begun playing an old copy of Planescape Torment for the fist time.

  6. Raphael Costa · March 12, 2013 at 3:15 pm · Reply

    Amazing article, but I have to agree with David Schwarm up here, Numenera is already a huge success and one of my greatest regrets is to not have participated in the kickstarter at the time. Gonna pre-order, though. Anyway, as a GM I normally create the worlds in which I want to master an adventure. The settings of Planescape and Forgotten Realms, amazing as they are, were always good enough for me to play but never to master into; now Numenera is a setting in which I really want to master (I already have some character concepts and ideas for ruins and relics just with the little bit of the world you have exposed) and that is something that was previously achieved only by the Fallout setting and The Lord of the Rings setting. Truly fabulous world you are creating!

    On a side note, I didn’t know where to post this so I’m putting it here: I was a bit disappointed when I tried to open The Amber Monolith in my Kindle and the letters were all tiny and difficult to read, so I made a Kindle friendly version of it and uploaded it to my google drive; it can be found here: so anyone with a Kindle can download it and enjoy!

  7. Christian Smucker · March 19, 2013 at 12:49 am · Reply

    Well, Mr. Cook. I think you have at least partly succeeded, as my first thought upon looking at Numenera was “This looks a lot like Planescape!” Alas, I was not aware of the kick starter when it occurred. I did rush to help fund the new Torment game. Seriously though, your game looks like it will be its own thing. Can’t wait to lay eyes on it.

  8. Planescape is , bar none, the best setting ever for any RPG. I have been playing and collecting D&D for 25 years.

    I have tested a LOT of modules, but Hellbound is the most incredible, deep, twisted, epic adventure I have ever had the joy to play in all these years.

    Thanks Monte, thanks Zeb!!

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