The absence of your mortality not only removes your fear of the absolute end, but it seems to have cleared away the worries and emotions that encumber transient beings. You have a clarity about your purpose that I, for one, could never achieve because my feelings invariably complicate matters.
–Dak’kon, the githzerai
This is likely the final book that TSR will release based on its Dungeons and Dragons Planescape role-playing setting. The reason I say that is due to the fact that they canned the setting last year, and from the few rumors I’ve heard are bound and determined to sweep it under the mat. I view that as a shame, because I was a big fan of Planescape.
The setting is the Multiverse. Every world, everywhere that we view as “normal” (at least for a fantasy setting) is set in the Prime Material plane. This is where TSR has their Forgotten Realms, their Greyhawk, and their Dragonlance worlds placed. However, the Multiverse also holds the Inner planes, which have realities defined by the four classical elements and a combination of each, and the Outer planes, realities defined by belief and morality. Order and Chaos, Good and Evil aren’t just concepts on the Outer planes-they’re ways of life. And in the center of it all (although characters of the setting would laugh at the idea of a place being at the center of it all), is a city called Sigil. This is where devils and demons can be walking down the same street as angels and not get into mortal combat-although neither group is friendly to the others. Sigil is unique because every door, every window, every arch, every bounded space could be a portal to somewhere else…if you have a key. There are a large number of Factions that would like to claim they rule this city, but the real power is the Lady of Pain-an enigmatic being who controls the portals, and bars gods from entering-yet she is not a god herself (at least, that’s the theory).
Planescape books have really gotten mixed reviews from the role-playing community. The Blood Wars trilogy wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on (I’m not going to review those-my review could be summed up in three words-“Don’t get them”-even if somebody’s giving them to you for free), and Pages of Pain was…well, interesting. I’m not reviewing that either, unless there’s requests for it. Others have probably beaten me to it, though, and you’d be better off reading those reviews. So it was with some concern that I picked up Torment.
Torment is based on a computer game of the same name. However, it has about as much in common with the game as the movie The Lost World had to do with Michael Crichton’s book of the same name. The names of the characters are the same and perhaps the basic plot, but that might be it. So if you’ve played the game, don’t expect the book just to be a recitation of the game. I’m not going to point out the differences, since I review books, not games.
The protagonist is a rather unique individual in a city of unique individuals. He wakes up in the Mortuary, where the folk of Sigil bring all the dead bodies. He has no idea of his name, where he is, how he got here, and such. His sole companion is a floating skull with attitude (at least to start with). He does discover quickly, however, that he is an immortal. He can die-but he doesn’t stay that way. His mind, however, seems to take a beating when he does. The story goes along as he tries to piece together who he is, how he became immortal-and why he’s wanted by the Harmonium, the city’s equivalent of the cops.
The cast of supporting characters are interesting, although we really don’t get to know them too much (I’ll address why I think so in a moment).. Dak’kon is probably the most fleshed out of the group, as a humanoid githzerai, and an exile from his people and his Faction. Morte, the floating skull, remains a mystery throughout the book, and Annah the fiendling is just kind of there. I really want to say this was a great book…but I can’t.
The reason: the pacing. To be completely honest, the book seemed rushed. I suspect this is because the authors tried to hit all the major points of the computer game-and it was a pretty long and involved game. To put all that into a single paperback novel likely required some patchwork. To add insult to injury, it did leave room to write a follow up novel-which will probably never happen, since TSR is scrapping Planescape. (It makes me wonder if the novelization of Balder’s Gate read like this. Hmm, maybe another review brewing….)
If fans of the Planescape RPG are hoping Torment will get the line resurrected, then they’d better think again. Of course, reviews of the computer game are much kinder than this review, which might do the job. If you’re given a choice between buying the book or the game, and all other things being equal…go with the game. It has far more depth to it. If you’re looking for a great Planescape book…better go with Pages of Pain.