While this isn't an absolutely essential addition to the D&D rules, it's still an important one - other realms have always been a major part of the game, especially at higher levels. And this sourcebook's the first attempt to repackage them for 3rd edition... It's not bad. This is a DM supplement, so it's a little dry and not as immediately engaging as some of the player books (it's certainly not as easy to skim-read), but it does just what it says on the tin. On the plus side, there are new spells, new prestige classes, a couple of new items and a selection of new monsters. Plus descriptions of each and every plane. On the negative side, some parts of the book aren't arranged very clearly - for example, there's no section for items so they're all detailed in different places, the "random destinations" chart is tucked away halfway through the spell list (next to one of the spells that uses it- but not terribly handy when you need it for one of the other spells!) and while there's plenty of guidance on customising the cosmology, I'd rather not see that as one of the things at the very front of the book - how about clearly describing the 'official' version first? Among the very good stuff, though, are the spells and one or two of the Prestige classes - the roguish plane-hopping Gatecrasher is a personal favourite - as well as impressive creatures like the Inevitables and some of the updated 'classic' AD&D monsters. As for the planes themselves... the rules are clearly laid out, but sometimes the other details are a little skimpy. While some of them get a good six pages, others just get two or three - and once you've deducted half a page of environment rules (and sometimes a map and/or an encounter table, too...) that's not a lot of space to detail a world. The things that are really missing here, though, are illustrations - some of these strange realms get wonderfully atmospheric pictures, but the vast majority just get text. Key locations on each plane are also briefly mentioned - each one usually gets a paragraph - so while there's not enough information to immediately use, there should certainly be enough to get the DM's mind working. Oh yes. And you get statistics for Bahamut (the Platinum Dragon, guardian of Celestia) and Tiamat (The five-headed Chromatic Dragon, a resident of the Nine Hells), too. Although hopefully your players won't be stupid enough to fight them!
I was, and still am, a Planescape fan in 2nd ed. and after seeing the beautiful Forgotten Realms 3rd ed. book I was prepared for something quite spectacular - or at least a worthy edition to a line that brought us gem after gem.
Instead, this is a rules heavy technical manual, harking back to the worst of the bad old days. True, it is a direct descendant of the original Manual of the Planes (another cinderblock of mechanics) but it has none of the life or flavour of even the weakest Planescape books. If you have a Planescape library, then this new Manual of the Planes provides you with all the rules to update the mechanics for 3rd ed. If you don't (and Planescape books are not easy to get hold of now) then this is a pale shadow of what it could be - lots of rules, little of the flavour.
Even if you didn't like Sigil that much, it deserved better than a mere two paragraphs.
If you really want to run a Planeswalking game then go see if you can find *any* of the old 2nd ed. books first, but since they tend to be costly and rare, buy this as a foundation and go search online for the fan forums to get the proper background detail.
I would give it two stars, but objectively its worth three, I'm just disappointed by it.
I am a real fan of Planescape. By the time I saw the release date of Manual of the Planes, I was thinking that Wizards will no longer support Planescape Campaign Setting. However, all of a sudden, this product changed my view. First of all, I am to state that it is real a manifestation that Planes are still alive! Although cosmology has been changed a lot, they are all out there. Let me specify the changes. The supporters of Paraelemental and Quasielemental Planes will be displeased ,since they are gone. The Ethereal Plane is "removed" from its original place and a new transient plane, (our old demiplane) Plane of Shadow accompanies with both the Prime Material Plane and the Ethereal Plane. Astral Plane became a hold-them-together zone. What about our Outer Planes? Well, they remain same in a way. A page or so description is not enough, I know; yet this is NOT a book for only the Outer Planes. The best thing for the book is that this pre-designed cosmology is not the only alternative. On the contrary, the authors strongly encouraged us to create our own cosmologies. The quality of the artwork is no less than the other 3rd Edition core books. (You can read this sentence as "The artwork is great!") The only negative side is that, the book only gives the faint taste of the planes. That' s why it lacks the last remaining star. I hope Wizards will focus on all of them seperately. All in all, I recommend Manual of the Planes to players who want to enlarge their fantastic campaigns in 3rd Edition. And I am sure that Wizards will publish more products supporting Manual of the Planes. (How do I know? Well, they always do so :))