Last year Petersen Games released the board game Planet Apocalypse and I was lucky enough to receive a copy to review. It was a great but challenging coop which I enjoyed. What impressed me the most, aside from it being a balanced, well-produced board game, was the amount of lore that was included for the Planet Apocalypse universe. It was an in-depth and engaging read about how the Hell Gates were formed, the hierarchy of minions and their masters of Underhell, and how the heroes in the game were able to resist these hellish beings.
Jump forward almost a year and Petersen Games has decided to leverage much of that lore from their Planet Apocalypse board game and create a Sourcebook for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. This Sourcebook is part Dungeon Master’s Guide, Player’s Handbook, and Monster Manual for how to incorporate Planet Apocalypse universe completely into your 5e campaign. It’s important to note that the first 3 chapters are more for the GM to share with PCs as they see fit, but chapters 4 and beyond are really for the GMs eyes only.
This will also not be a normal tabletop review because it will not have a Gameplay Overview since the Planet Apocalypse Sourcebook is a rules compendium for 5e. Instead, I’ll highlight what’s included (trying not to give away too many spoilers), focus on what I like or don’t, and give some final thoughts on the overall Planet Apocalypse Sourcebook for 5e.
The first chapter gives readers a background of the hierarchy of the 4 circles of Underhell and the invading legions by Fiend Lords. There’s also good lore of how the Doomgates are formed, why the fiends form these portals to invade, and why the PC adventures should have the Sanguine Ward or protect those with these marks to fight against the fiend invasion.
The chapter then goes on to outline how to incorporate Planet Apocalypse into existing campaigns and bringing horror element into it if there especially was not one prior. There’s an excellent detailed adventure framework for how to plan out a Planet Apocalypse campaign and which ties directly into the chapter 4 adventures included in this sourcebook.
Overall, you get excellent lore, and the GM should receive some great ideas from the tips on how to blend Planet Apocalypse and horror elements into their campaigns. The main take-away from this chapter is that Planet Apocalypse is best run with existing campaigns, and it will need customization to become part of your campaign. It’s not meant to be a stand-alone campaign and framework and information gives a timeframe to run a Planet Apocalypse campaign. The intent is for the PCs to become the main heroes of the kingdom, realm, and maybe even the world that can defeat the fiendish invasion. The original campaign can then continue after the point of the invasion, but that fiendish evil may return or has left its mark (and/or agents) that still are part of the campaign.
Chapters 2 focuses on new character sub-class options and feats. There are not only new sub-classes for the following 5e classes: barbarian, fighter, monk, rogue, and sorcerer; but there are also 18 new feats for any classes and most races (if prerequisites are met). There are no new races which is probably a good thing since all denizens from Underhell are evil in so many twisted ways and regard mortals as lesser beings whose souls need harvesting.
I do want to highlight that most if not all new sub-classes can be used outside of a Planet Apocalypse campaign, but I do wish that there were still more options for other classes. It’s mainly because some PCs will benefit from using these new sub-classes to combat the legions of Underhell and with only 5 options it seems a bit limiting. The feats on the other hand can be used by all classes and most races. All feats can also be used outside of a Planet Apocalypse campaign as well even though some are geared towards fiend fighting but players will still benefit from having these powerful feats in any campaign type.
Chapter 3 outlines new spells available for all 5e casters and includes new magic items ranging from common to legendary. Overall, there are close to 20 new spells and slightly more than that of magic items. Much like the sub-classes and feats, these can be used outside of a Planet Apocalypse campaign but some will definitely benefit PCs when battling fiends.
I did really like that some new spells require fiendish components and rules for harvesting these from fiends are included. The wide range of new spells for all caster classes is a big plus so no PCs should feel left out. Now, the magic items were fascinating given that all the items included are not only to battle fiends but also come from Underhell. PCs will find that especially Underhell weapons should not be wielded or interacted with non-fiends but maybe that makes for an interesting first encounter.
Planet Apocalypse Adventures
Chapter 4 and beyond as noted previously is intended for GM eyes only. Chapter 4 gives GMs concrete examples and guidelines for how to take the framework information from the Introduction and customize your world for a Planet Apocalypse campaign. This chapter also includes a series of adventures, but GMs are encouraged not to use it as is and customize where they see fit.
This chapter is meaty with campaign and adventuring information. It includes 3 adventures that can be used as an introductory and additional as GMs see fit. All three include rules for adapting and customizing as needed. Each adventure also gives scaling advice for party sizes and for when to introduce which adventure arc at recommended character levels. Overall, greatly detailed information and excellent guidelines for the GM to use to help create a Planet Apocalypse campaign.
A World Torn Asunder
Chapter 5 begins by going into greater detail about how Doomgates are formed in the mortal world and how The Sanguine Ward help the PCs fight against the fiendish legions. PCs or NPCs with The Sanguine Ward can ignore Fiendish Hard to See and Sickening appearance traits which is a boon. The chapter continues to go into detail about how the Underhell fiends’ mere presence changes the lands, inhabitants, and monsters of the mortal realm. New curses, diseases, poisons, hazards, and traps can spread ahead or behind invading fiends and warping it to match Underhell itself. The last section of this chapter outlines each of the 12 different fiendish legions and their strategies for invasion, defenses, mortal monsters that are drawn to it, and Fourth Circle Fiends and Fiend Lord that ally to the Legion.
After reading this Sourcebook, the Planet Apocalypse campaign has a dark and bleak feel to it, but The Sanguine Ward gives the PC some hope and light. It’s a great weapon against the fiends and it’s a great roleplaying element for the PCs and GM to figure out. Now the effect of the fiends is not ideal on the mortal world but it’s a great narrative and horror element on how it’s changed and twisted by their presence. Lastly, reading about the Legions of Underhell gives the GM plenty of choices as to which one or ones that they’d like to use to incorporate into their Planet Apocalypse campaign.
Monsters and Fiend Lords
The last two chapters make up the Monster Manual of Planet Apocalypse Sourcebook for 5e. Chapter 6 Monsters outlines the Apocalypse undead, corrupted Monsters of the mortal world, the fiends of the 4 circles of Underhell, and living war-machines known as Nephilim Engines. Chapter 7 houses the evil masterminds behind the invasion, the Archlords and Fiend Lords.
The corrupted monsters is a great element because it can take existing campaign monsters and warp them to the fiendish presence by giving them new traits. Now, they don’t need to be aligned with invasion forces but again it just makes for another customizable option for GMs to add to their campaigns. I also really liked that instead of just outlining the same fiendish forces from the Planet Apocalypse board game that there were variants of the void maggots, grylluses, underfiends, and cacodaemons. Those fiends from the void and the first 3 circles of Underhell make up most of the invasion force and having different options helps again to customize your Planet Apocalypse campaign.
Lastly, the Archlord and Fiend Lords will likely be the final battle that PCs will face so to see these are encounters is awesome and horrifying all at once. Archlord and Fiend Lords could also appear in an avatar or true form but in either case, even if defeated like the other fiends just means that they are banished back to the Underhell to plot their next possible invasion.
I must admit that I was very impressed how Planet Apocalypse Sourcebook for 5e outlines how to bring this campaign into your existing gaming world. The depth and quality of the lore and how the focus is to adapt and customize to current campaigns is intentional and I’m sure most GMs will appreciate. PCs should also like that they are given a weapon, The Sanguine Ward, to battle against the fiendish invasion. There’s a ton of variety that GMs can use to customize as much or little as they see fit but the fact that you’re given so many options is the true success of this 5e sourcebook. Overall, this supplement is well-produced and filled with amazing artwork that is mostly shockingly inhuman and uncomfortable to behold.
After reading and re-reading the Planet Apocalypse Sourcebook for 5e, my only complaint is that I wish more sub-class options were provided. Only including 5 seems like a mistake especially given that the focus should be on the players. If there were 2-3 more for other classes I would have no issue.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – The definitive Planet Apocalypse resource for 5e that gives GMs the tools to add and customize to their current campaigns and which should excite and terrify PCs.
• Only 5 sub-class character options included
Disclosure: An employee for Petersen Games also writes for Board Game Quest. He had no influence over the opinions expressed in this review.