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Torment - Book (1999)

Given that Planescape: Torment had a deep story and required a lot of reading, the idea of turning it into a novel was basically a no-brainer. Unfortunately, like the Baldur's Gate books written by Philip Athans, it didn't work out the way it should have.

The general outline of the plot is quite similar to how the game played out at first, although as it goes on it becomes to differ more and more from the original story: there is an immortal main character who wakes up in The Mortuary with no memories, he does explore the city of Sigil with the help of Morte, Dak'kon and Annah, there is an expedition into the catacombs, the search for a night hag Ravel, a trip to Curst - but the ending is changed significantly, giving a much bigger role to Fhjull, a minor character from the video game.

Many details are completely different: Annah is a wizard now and she looks nothing like her video game - and neither does Fall-From-Grace, Ravel, Trias or many other characters. Dak'kon's story arc is completely different, turning him into a member of Believers of the Source faction who follows the protagonist because his immortality might confirm some of the group's philosophy and meeting with Ravel is just there to dump some exposition onto the readers. Most importantly, Nameless One is not actually nameless - while he does not remember his original name, everyone just calls him Thane which is supposed to be a shortened form of something from githzerai language. Some characters (e.g. Fall-From-Grace) have their roles in the story reduced drastically. Others (Ingnus, Nordom, Vhailor) don't appear at all.

While the changes - especially to the motivations and personalities of different characters - are almost universally for the worse, that's not the book's biggest problem. What really kills the book is its dry, emotionless writing. The book - written by Ray and Valerie Valesse, a couple of editors who worked on a number of pen and paper RPG books for Wizards of the Coast - boils the story of Planescape: Torment down to a series of short journeys from point A to point B, with something occasionally happening along the way. It's all very fast-paced, with most things happening over one or two paragraphs but despite that a lot events take place, almost nothing interesting ever happnes because the events don't seem to hold any weight. Most of the characters are there just to make the plot go forward and aside from Morte and Annah, they have zero personality. Thane is the worst one of the bunch - he's single-mindedly focused on finding his lost mortality, like game's Practical Incarnation but unlike Practical Incarnation, his goal-oriented nature doesn't push him to manipulate others or do any other bad things. It just pushes him to make the plot go from one place to another.

That is not to say that the book is entirely bad. It's just an average, forgettable title which despite a great premise remains completely unimpressive. It lacks personality, emotions and no part of the books is even remotely quotable - there's no 'what can change the nature of a man?', no 'time is not your enemy, forever is', no 'endure, in enduring grow strong', no 'I shall wait for you in death's halls, my love' and there's nothing that comes close. But it's not entirely bad and it doesn't make the reader want to put it down instantly and go read something else - which might not be an impressive feat but is still much better than Baldur's Gate novels with their violent and long-winded but ultimately dull descriptions of combat which seemed to go on forever.

Like many video game tie-in novels, Torment is bland and uninteresting. It's the book which epitomizes 'nothing special' - especially when compared to the game it's based on. It's hard to recommend it because while it's fairly competent, it just offers nothing new to those who've already beaten the game (aside maybe from a different take on the ending) and for those who haven't it's just an inferior alternative to playing it.

Torment cover


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Planescape: Torment - E-book (2000)

Planescape: Torment, A Novelization - Let's Play (2006 - 2011), E-book (2011)

Given the disappointing nature of the official Torment novel and the amount of text that can be found in the game itself, fans of Planescape: Torment decided that the logical solution to the problem would be adapting the script of the game into the format of a novel. There were two unofficial novelizations of the game created by its fans: the first by Rhys Hess in 2000, the second one by SomethingAwful user ShadowCatboy in 2011 based on his Let's Play series of the game.

The goal of Rhys Hess' novel seems to be to create an adaptation that is as faithful to the original script as possible (or rather of a certain path through the branching script: a path of good-aligned Nameless One), adding as little narration as required and relying mostly on the in-game dialog. As a result, it's something that often reads more like a script than like a novel. The added narration (first person, from the perspective of Nameless One) consists mostly of short descriptions of places, characters and actions (with the combat sequences completely underplayed, contrary to oommon trends in video game novelizations). Rhys Hess' book is carried by the writing of Chris Avellone - and it seems that it was the intention behind it. It's less of a reimagining as a novel and more of a translation into the format of a novel, with as little changes to the original author's vision as possible.

A novelization written by ShadowCatboy takes a completely different approach, although it's also written from the perspective of a good Nameless One and it even borrows some passages from the Rhys Hess version. The book (and a Let's Play is based on - the e-book version is more or less a Let's Play without screenshots, illustrations taken from Planescape books and links to the game soundtrack) uses the script of the game but it also adds plenty of new narration and a story-within-a-story structure. While bulk of the novel is Nameless One describing his adventures, this is all framed in a second-person narrative in which 'you' sit in the tavern and listen to a group of characters read several different journals written by the game's protagonist. As the frame story takes place in Sigil, it's all full of the trademark weirdness of the Planescape multiverse: the journals begin as written words but in the end they're liquid memories of the person who read and destroyed the journal, extracted from the Silver Sea. The storytellers and those who listen to them are also an unusual bunch, consisting of an angelic bard, a dwarven midget, an imp who belongs to the insane Xaositect faction and a dweller of the Astral Plane who collects lost knowledge.

Because of their different approaches, the books have more or less the opposite problems: the first one simply doesn't bring anything new to the table and relies purely on the original script while the second one can be rather inconsistent with its writing - especially given how it was written episodically, over a period of five years. That said, both are surprisingly good reads which capute the atmosphere of Planescape: Torment better than the official novelization.

Rhys Hess novelization, despite starting out as a completely unofficial fanwork, has received the recognition: since 2010, it's been included as a bonus with the GOG version of the game.

Planescape: Torment, A Novelization cover

Planescape: Torment cover


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