Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Twenty-Eight Adventures, #7: Eternal Boundary

Welcome back! I hope folks are enjoying these little retrospectives on old adventures. The process of writing this series of posts has enticed me to pull old modules down off the bookshelf and re-read things that, in some cases, I haven’t looked at in 10 or 15 years. I keep a nice barrister-style bookshelf in my living room, and do my best to stock it with one copy of everything I publish. I call it my “ego shelf” since it’s pretty much a stack of things that I’ve done over the years. It’s my resume, so to speak. Over the last few weeks I’ve actually popped books out of twenty-year-old shrink wrap so I could look through them and remind myself what I did when I was just getting started in my career.

Okay, on to the adventure of the week. This time, it’s Eternal Boundary.

#7: Eternal Boundary

When I started at TSR in October of 1991, they’d just released their big new world of Dark Sun. I look back at Planescape (released in 1994) as the first big new world that was created while I was on board. Rather surprisingly, I only wrote two Planescape products: Planescape Monstrous Compedium II, and Eternal Boundary. I say surprisingly, because I was really excited by the new shiny, and I was eager to dive in and contribute anywhere I could. But the cold calculus of The Schedule just didn’t ever seem to give me much opportunity to work on Planescape stuff.

I regarded Eternal Boundary as something of a challenging assignment, because I had to create the inaugural adventure in a product line that was just so darned different from the middle-of-the-fairway fantasy settings I was used to. Basically, writing the first Planescape adventure meant that I had to figure out what Planescape was *for*, if you follow me. Fortunately, the Planescape team—Zeb Cook, Dave Wise, and other folks involved in making that big, beautiful boxed set—were very helpful and provided lots of good guidance for things like using the lingo and factions.

(Yeah, I actually worked in the same building with Zeb Cook, for about four years. It took me about a year to work up the gumption to actually speak to the man. I was also contemporaneous with folks like Jim Ward, Jeff Grubb, and Bruce Nesmith. That’s what starting at TSR in 1991 meant.)

Anyway, I had to adhere to some pretty big decisions that had already been made: for example, I had nothing to do with the title of the adventure. I was just told to write an adventure that fit the title. (That happened quite a lot back at TSR.) I also had to feature Sigil, make it low-level, and do something that would make sense given the existing artwork for the cover. Sometimes you have to color inside the lines!

The physical format is quite nice—the idea of including a stiff gatefold that could serve as a DM screen and include the maps was pretty smart (don’t know who came up with that, sorry). The internal layout blew people away back in 1994, although things like the pull quotes and the texture-patches must have been a real headache for the typesetters. You may also notice the Exocet font for headers and quotes, which then popped up everywhere (for example, Diablo and the 13th Warrior).

I think my favorite touch in the whole adventure is the way the Xaositect faction addresses the situation. With barmies turning up dead and someone obviously responsible, the Xaositect basher who’s got the job of figuring out the mystery just goes around randomly thrashing people in the Hive, figuring that sooner or later he’ll thrash the guy responsible for the dead barmies. It was the most chaotic way to proceed that I could think of.

Looking back at Eternal Boundary now, I’m pretty happy with it. The mystery-solving in the Hive is a lot of fun, the Mortuary section just begs for skulking around instead of trying to kill your way through it, and the final section offers a nice taste of the size of the multiverse and an unexpected development. I think that in some ways I was actually a little too conservative—parts of the adventure didn’t really need to be keyed locations, and might have worked better as an event-triggered flowchart. In my defense I’ll say that writing the first adventure in the setting meant that I was still thinking about “creating a D&D adventure in Planescape” instead of “creating a Planescape adventure.” The folks who came after me were able to really follow up and explore the kind of scenarios that weren’t possible in more conventional settings. Hey, someone had to go first!

Next Week: A little side trip to the Alternity Science Fiction Roleplaying Game for The Last Warhulk!


  1. This is a great series, Rich, and it's good to see you posting again. Thanks - looking forward to more!

    1. Kind of you to say so, Scrivener! Best screen name ever, BTW.

  2. I ran this back in the day, and I recall it went over really well. I even made a mix tape (yes, tape; it was the 90s) for the final session when the PCs sneak into the Mortuary. I included L7s "Pretend We're Dead", and finished it off with Suzanne Vega's "When Heroes Go Down". Thanks for the great memories!