Planar Sites — Biome

Throughout 1998, Dragon Magazine ran a design contest in every issue.  A spell, a type of undead, a magic item, the subject of said contest changed with each issue, but it was open to anyone with an idea and the verve to write it down.  When issue #253 hit the stands, blazoned across the top was a banner reading: “WIN!  The Inner Planes – AD&D Contest”.  Being the obsessed Planescape fanboy that I was — and still am — I knew I wanted to win.  When I read what the contest was, I knew I *had* to win.

The design contest was to create your own planar site, a place of uniqueness somewhere out in the multiverse.  The write up went to great lengths in describing what it could possibly be, counting through various possibilities.  I knew by that the fact these things were mentioned that I had to envision something grander, or in the contest’s own words, “something no one’s ever seen before”.  I like to think I have a rather unique and inventive imagination, and I believed what was beginning to form was the tenuous, intangible beginnings of something expressly different.

With a limit of 2,000 words and an emphasis on breath taking vistas, it would be difficult to translate the planar site I had envisioned, but I slowly began to work out what became Biome.  Just as a cell grows, splits, and multiplies, so did the germ of an idea.  I would create a world you lived within, a place you were a part of, where the sum was greater than the parts.  Not a cog, but a… a living body.

Biome was a plane that existed within, an internal realm on a scale both microscopic and massive at once.  You traveled down veins and arteries instead of tunnels or roads, fought off amorphous shapes inherently hostile to your very presence that seemed to lack nearly any sense of individualism.  A world with the Bronchial Forests, the sound of hurricane winds billowing in and out of massive caverns.  It had an image of great expanse of acidic waters known as the Chyme Sea, streaming through fields of Villia flora that would sting intruders around the ankles like Portuguese man-o-wars.  The natives carved weaponry and tools from the very walls of the Biome, making items with strange elastic yet sturdy properties; where magic was siphoned off from the neural ley lines of the world by those that could link their minds with the plane.  Everything in this planar site was alien yet familiar, turning the normally squeamish biological processes into majestic landscape and challenging environments.

I had to tweak my entry a bit, resorting to using contractions to save on word count, but eventually pared the submission down to the required 2,000 word limit.  While I wanted to include a map, the very nature of our own bodies fills textbooks and to convert the intricate interweaving of circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and nerve systems to a single sheet of paper would have been impossible.  Biome was a case the proved the contest rules correct — some sites simply cannot be mapped!

While my submission was sent on time, judging the contest was not.  The book given out as the prize, The Inner Planes, was released and I simply could not postpone purchasing a copy for myself on the self-deprecating belief that if I had won, I would have already be informed.  As it turned out, it seemed response exceeded their expectations, and it wasn’t until Dragon #261 — ten issues later — that the winners were announced.  I got my winnings in the mail soon thereafter, a signed copy of TSR 2634 The Inner Planes, now residing with pride amidst my whole Planescape collection that I slowly got signed over the course of a few Gen Cons that in themselves were magnificent memories of Planescape.

Unfortunately, I no longer possess a copy of my submission.  It was either lost in some past hard drive crash or hidden utterly on a forgotten, antiquated floppy disc.  Further still, I had hoped to contact the other contributors to the contest, collect all our entries and release them — for free — on the internet as a netbook of planar sites.  The Kargatane had done just the same with the previous Ravenloft-themed contest, and I didn’t want to miss out on a similar opportunity.  Unfortunately, my attempts to collect the submissions met with failure, as I was told that WotC did not keep them.  I was devastated, and unfortunately had to let that idea go…

Time passed.  Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was folded and 3E debuted.  Planescape as a campaign setting was left behind, with only a fraction of the incredible amount of possibility it possessed converted over into D20 rules.  While the dedicated fans were occasionally placated with planar content in Dragon Magazine (unfortunately horribly shoe-horned into 3E prestige classes), we were never presented with anything that shone with such brilliance as the original work done on the campaign setting.

Then in 2004, Planescape fans were rewarded for their patient loyalty when Sword & Sorcery and Malhavoc Press put out Beyond Countless Doorways, a reunion of sorts with many of the creative staff behind the Planescape setting:  Monte Cook, Wolfgang Baur, Colin McComb, and Ray Vallese.  The book even had an introduction by David “Zeb” Cook, original designer of the setting and a cover illustration by rk post (sic). Proofread by Michele Carter, even play tested with Eric Mona and Chris Perkins, it was almost a Who’s Who of Planescape.

I, like many others, feverishly awaited this post-Planescape product, and we were not disappointed as it contained 18 planar sites.  But it was one chapter that caught my eye in particular: Chapter 13: Palpatur.  A plane that was alive, where the ground was flesh that both fed and clothed the natives.  I can’t help but wonder if my Biome from long ago influenced the genesis of Palpatur, and this was just a little glimpse of what could have been had more been done with what I wrote.  Wishful thinking, I suppose…

There is still a lot of potential in my Biome idea, some of which I used in the background of a self-destructing Planescape campaign I ran that I called “The Open Cage”.  Every now and then I think back on it and the urge to run another game wiggles around in my brain box.  Maybe I’ll come back to the concept and flesh it out more… someday.

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4 thoughts on “Planar Sites — Biome

  1. Was there a stipulation that entries became the properties of TSR/WotC? I would assume so, and it could explain the similarities between the two planar sites. I know I’d email those designers just to ask if the entry was influential to the creation of the new site. I mean, you never know what types of connections can be made with something like that… Regardless, kudos to you!

    • Yes, according to the contest rules, the entries became property of TSR/WotC. However, when I contacted them about collecting the entries and publishing them for free as a netbook (which was done for the earlier Ravenloft contest, “Terrors From Above”), I was told the entries were not saved. Beyond Countless Doorways was produced by Monte Cook and his Malhavoc Press imprint almost six years after the setting folded, and that was a decade ago. I severely doubt they’d remember a contest from the 90’s now, let alone a particular entry. I’d feel practically narcissistic contacting them now and claiming inspiration. But thank you for your kind words!

  2. I can certainly say that I can clearly remember novel influences for years after the fact, and i haven’t even had anything published. Not pushing for you to do or not do something, just saying don’t sell yourself short. 😉

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