The obvious question for a book like this is, why should a reader listen to these people? In this case:
- Avellone was Lead Designer on PLANESCAPE: TORMENT in its incarnation as a computer game;
- Norton wrote the manual;
- McComb, another of the game's designers, followed TORMENT over to Interplay from TSR, having worked on the Planescape campaign setting there.
The book's chapters are grouped into two parts, where PART 1: A WORLD OF TORMENT provides an overview and PART 2: FOLLOW THE GREAT ROAD is a detailed walkthrough. PART 2, of course, provides the most spoilers for the game, but certain sections of PART 1 also contain spoilers. While anyone consulting a strategy guide should've waived the right to complain too much about spoilers, it is possible (with some care about not reading too far ahead) to consult specific sections for specific problems.
Part 1 contains 5 chapters of the book's 16. Chapter 1 ("Genesis") discusses character generation in detail, explains the general principles of fighting, and provides an overview of alignments and factions. (It also compares/contrasts TORMENT with BALDUR'S GATE: similar interfaces but some specialization for TORMENT.) Chapters 2 - 4 cover creatures, gear, and spells/special abilities, while 5 is devoted entirely to tattoos. Chapter 5 is the most spoiler-heavy of part 1's chapters, thanks to the detailed discussion of Event Tattoos (available only after achieving certain actions in the game).
I'm aware that this book has attracted some criticism regarding the accuracy of the numbers in part 1's tables. For example, every kind of critter in the game has a description in the ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL section, accompanied by a table describing such matters as its Armor Class, Hit Points, etc. Likewise, GEAR covers all the objects in the game (including weapons), and SPELLS AND SPECIAL ABILITIES provides analogous information. Given the sheer volume of information, it's likely that the tables aren't perfect.
Personally, I can't speak to the accuracy of the tables' numbers. What I can say is that using the tables as the sole criterion for judging the value of this book dismisses a great deal of other valuable information herein. I'm thinking primarily of two types of information that don't depend on numbers:
- general information about effectiveness of various kinds of attacks on specific types of monsters, and
- specifics about how to get at quests, game areas, special abilities, etc. that a player may overlook if he or she doesn't think to experiment in the right way.
The first case covers such matters as the need to invest in enchanted weapons when fighting abishai, preferred types of weapons in dealing with the undead, and so on. That kind of information can help improve one's gameplay generally and help bail the player out of annoying "I keep dying there" situations. The latter case, though, means that this book can help the player find the game itself more interesting.
For example, if a player falls into particular habits during character generation at the very beginning - loading up Wisdom but neglecting Charisma, or Constitution at the expense of Dexterity - certain scenarios may never arise because the character will never see the relevant dialog options, or will never manage to be deft enough to successfully pickpocket the right character. The main characteristics that affect dialogue options are Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom; a character with low Charisma will never get the opportunity to fast-talk his/her way into certain scenarios, such as a few of the more interesting aspects of the Whispering Stone catacombs.
The strategy guide also provides information about Alignment that may not occur to a player who automatically seeks to play as Lawful Good. Playing the game as a Chaotic character provides opportunities to join factions not available to more conventional Lawful Good characters, without necessarily restricting the player's ability to take on more typical quests. (For example, the Nameless One can take on the same quest for a variety of reasons ranging from "evil must be resisted" to "I want the money".) Without the strategy guide, for instance, a player may never recognize the contact point for joining the Revolutionary League or Xaositect factions.
And, of course, there are easy-to-overlook details that a player may not think of without prodding. For example, once the player can speak to the dead, some specific undead NPCs encountered earlier may be worth revisiting. At the opposite extreme, using a translator for some languages that the player can already understand - and then listening for discrepancies in translation - can yield interesting information, though it can be as simple as another character having greater mastery of language than *you* do.
I consider the guide well worth the money, not so much for its ability to bail one out of hard-to-play scenarios as for this latter quality of opening up scenarios I didn't manage to find on my own.