17 April 2013

P is for Planescape

"Sigil's a cage for everyone: for the celestials, for the fiends, for the tieflings and the Clueless, and for the Lady. That's why the cutters who set their cases - uh, their homes - in Sigil call themselves Cagers. The Cagers who know the place best are us who teach; we're known as touts. My name's Etain the Quick, and I do my level best to tell a cutter everything he needs to know to survive in Sigil. Not everything there is to know, mind you: That'd cost extra."
Planescape. This campaign setting is in my mind, the absolute best expansion to the Dungeon & Dragons game by far. Most modern gamers, if they've heard of the setting at all, have usually heard about it from a PC game called Planescape: Torment. Unfortunately, it's hard to find much information on the setting that doesn't relate to the game without finding the actual books, as its quite an older setting, having been released in 1994 for AD&D 2nd Edition.

I first learned to play D&D during 2nd Edition, and it is unabashedly my favorite version of the game, no doubt due somewhat to nostalgia. Part of that nostalgia links directly to the planes, and their rather insane way of looking at the multiverse. Now, the planes had existed far before Planescape was created, but books attempting to describe them and create a unified vision for them before and since have lacked the level of detail and love that this setting had. This one had a completely different language, with words like "cutter", "berk", "jink", and "screed" that required a dictionary of terms to master. It was not unlike cockney in inflection and style. The box set had seventeen planes of existence of infinite length, not counting quasi-planes or meta-planes. It had fifteen distinct factions within the setting's main city, each with their own philosophical leanings. The setting was perfect.

The planes were each assigned an alignment that they leaned toward. If a visiting player was of the opposite alignment, they would find travel times to be excruciatingly long, while a player of the same alignment would travel at great speed. The way this worked was peculiar: each plane was infinite in length, and thus distances were meaningless, one's attunement to the plane was all that mattered. Magic was also affected in each plane. Some had entire schools of magic that were altered by the plane, while sometimes a singular spell would be affected. Some schools would be powered up while others weakened, some needed items called spell keys to counteract the negative effects of the plane. Traveling between the planes required gate keys, and entire adventures could revolve around simply finding out what a gate key was. In fact, I once had an entire campaign's only goal be to find the gate key back to the Prime Material plane of Toril. On the planes sometimes time flowed differently. One could go in to a plane for a day and emerge two weeks later. A few planes even had peculiar gravity or unbreathable air. Traveling the planes was a dangerous activity not fit for prime berks looking to stay outta the dead-book.

All these planes and wild adventures centered around a city at the top of an infinite spire called Sigil, the City of Doors. Yes, I said the 'top' of an 'infinite spire'. Don't ask. Ruling over the city is a mysterious being known as the Lady of Pain. No one knows anything about her, but the entire city fears her for her ultimate power to send anyone and anything to an endless maze from which only one being has ever escaped (sort of not really). With her power the city holds a tenuous peace, excepting the few times the Blood War spilled into the streets and the tanar'ri and baatezu claimed a chunk of the city as their own, or the time the fifteen factions all declared war on each other for a bit until the Lady saw fit to exile almost all of them.

Speaking of the factions, each one has its own philosophical opinion on the nature of the multiverse, and provide a service for Sigil related to that philosophy. For example the Fated believe that those that have strength deserve to take what they can. If you are too weak to defend what's yours, or too stupid to avoid being conned out of it, you don't deserve it. Thus, it's only fitting they act as the city's tax collectors. If they happen to squeeze more than the taxes require well that's too bad for the regular berks what let 'em do it to 'em. The faction called the Mercykillers acted as the police, believing that only two punishments existed: ten years of imprisonment for minor infarctions and death. They held to the belief that chaos must be culled at every turn, and only extreme diligence to lawfulness would stem the eternal tide of pandemonium. Needless to say, one tended to avoid the Mercykillers even when not on the lam. Each of the factions had certain ally factions and enemy factions, based on their beliefs, and it was entirely possible to set them off against the other for any number of slights.

When bringing players new to the realms into Planescape, I recommend starting in one of the other established campaigns like Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms before bringing them in to the planes as clueless primes. That way the players will be as confused and wondrous as their characters when you introduce them to the strange worlds that are the planes. It's always best when players experience things for the first time along with their characters. Just be sure to include lots of the local cant or else they won't see it as that different from the Prime Material.

I'd like to take a moment to comment on the art of the campaign setting as well. The art for Planescape is phenomenal. The particular style that Tony DiTerlizzi and his colleagues brought to the planes speaks with such a unique dark madness; I have yet to see any edition match its presence. The art in all the editions has its own charm, but Planescape really speaks to me on a level that really identifies with the emotion and feeling the campaigns creator was trying to craft. Outlandish and strange, comically dark, and yet bursting with character. Not enough can be said for the beauty of the art. I'll end this post with a selection of art from the boxed set, because I simply could not limit it to just the three that I normally share. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned tomorrow for "Q is for Quests".

Relevant Links
Tony DiTerlizzi
Voila's Dictionary of Planar Cant
Pyramid Pick's Review of Planescape


  1. Back in the day I mixed Greyhawk and Planescape. My players had a blast!

    Good luck with the rest of the challenge!

    1. Glad to hear other people enjoying the glory that is Planescape!