Setting at a Glance: Planescape

While I’m not super sure that the Eberron overview is complete (I’ll continue to update it as-needed), this is another taste of a setting; possibly the weirdest, wackiest gonzo setting that I’ve ever seen. Welcome to the surreal multiverse of Planescape.

What Makes It Different?

It’s A Big, Big Multiverse…

In a Planescape campaign, the players have the opportunity to traverse the distant edges of the multiverse, hopping through portals between the infinite layers of the Abyss to the howling wastes of Pandemonium, possibly stopping by the mirrored world of Bytopia before heading back to the nameless Prime World to finally make their delivery: a love letter to a Shadow Demon. It’s a setting of nearly infinite possibility, only limited by the creativity of your GM and your fellow players.

Pure fact is, the PLANESCAPE game is far from traditional. That dungeon to be explored might be the skull of a dead god on the Astral Plane, and the fortress of an efreeti prince could be a fiery volcano, to name just two of the excellent and virtually limitless possibilities. The multiverse of the planes can be ordinary, horrifying, enchanting, surreal, or impossible.

A DM’s Guide to the Planes, Planescape Box Set

Building Character

When Planescape came out in the ’90s for AD&D, there came the introduction of three new playable races: the Gith (psychic amphibi-monks), the Bariaurs (goat-centaurs from Norway), and Tieflings (everyone’s favorite edgelords). That’s right, Planescape is responsible for scattering our horny fiendish friends to the wind.

Nowadays, adapting the setting to 5e, basically any character option can find its way into the wide realm of Planescape; every prime material world has a pathway to Sigil if you know where to look.

But for every known prime world (Eberron, Ravnica, Toril, etc) there’s hundreds more worlds that have died in the endless void of the Astral Sea, and very rarely, survivors of such cataclysms sometimes escape through portals to other planes. As such, it could be completely possible to have a small human settlement on the boughs of the incomprehensibly huge World Tree Yggdrasil, or in the domain of the Norns themselves. As such, planar elves, humans, dwarves and more can hail from completely unknown places before the start of a campaign.

Short story long; the possibilities for player characters are virtually endless. In a Planescape game, players are freely encouraged to get a little abstract with their characters’ career goals & general outlook. For instance, perhaps a Thief’s heist of the century will be the theft of a god’s greatest secret… immortality itself.

However, while the possibilities of a players’ origin are nearly infinite, there’s one place you can safely bet that a Planescape adventuring party will visit eventually…

Sigil: The City of Doors

“The Cage,” “The City of Secrets,” “The Nexus,” the self-proclaimed civilized center of the multiverse is a huge torus-shaped city that folds over onto itself. Sigil has hundreds upon hundreds of magic portals that lead to and from the Outer Planes, so long as you have the right key & approach at the right time. As such, all sorts of beings come here to mingle & trade, whether they’re trafficking money, souls, ideas, or something more abstract. A visitor can sit down at a pub in Sigil and see a planetar and a marilith sharing a bottle of Arborean wine, hear a Xaositect and a Guvner debate the nature of a soul, and watch a duel to the death between a Githzerai and Githyanki.

The Lady of Pain

The undisputed power in charge of Sigil, the Lady of Pain is a tall, ambiguous being that is probably not a lady and certainly not a god. Normally aloof, she silently floats through the city from time to time, often attended to by an entourage of dabus (floating goat-men who speak in pictographs). No-one knows where she comes from, but most wise folks make a point of giving her a wide berth. A poor sod who gains her attention is just as likely to be torn to shreds by invisible knives as sent to an extradimensional maze to wander until they starve.

Thankfully, she doesn’t have much interest in the average visitor or inhabitant of Sigil, and much of the day-to-day functions of the city are left to the Factions, so she’s free to pursue whatever strange devices she wants.

The Factions: Existential Clubs

The PLANESCAPE setting is about ideas and philosophies, about “the meaning of the multiverse.” It’s not the dry, academic lectures of musty old professors, quoting things that don’t much matter to the real world. A planar lives in a world where the meaning of the multiverse isn’t just a question, it’s a way of life… This is a campaign where ideas are backed by actions and vice versa – swords, fists, magic, and ideology as needed.

A DM’s Guide to the Planes, Planescape Box Set

Cities tend to sort themselves into communities & stratify into groups of like-minded people, and the cosmic melting pot of Sigil is no exception. However, a complicated series of events and the cutting gaze of the Lady have ensured that only the 15 current factions exist in Sigil.

I’ll list out all 15 of their names here, but they’re really complex enough to require their own posts. Sometimes they sort nicely along alignment lines (the Guvners are always Lawful members, and the Anarchists embody Chaos), but some are really nuanced & distinct (the Dustmen believe that everyone’s dead, even those who think they’re alive are just in an earlier stage of death).

  • Athar (Defiers)
  • Believers of the Source (or Godsmen)
  • Bleak Cabal (Bleakers)
  • Doomguard (Sinkers)
  • Dustmen (The Dead)
  • Fated (Takers)
  • Fraternity of Order (Guvners)
  • Free League (Indeps)

  • Harmonium (Hardheads)
  • Mercykillers (Red Death)
  • Revolutionary League (Anarchists)
  • Sign of One (Signers)
  • Society of Sensation (Sensates)
  • Transcendent Order (Ciphers)
  • Xaositects (Chaosmen)

While they have their headquarters scattered around the Planes, these existential alliances also sort of help with the municipal necessities of running a city the size of Sigil. The Harmonium, Mercykillers and the Fraternity of Order enforce the law & keep the peace in Sigil; the Dustmen run a Mortuary & handle the dead; and the Chaosmen just give everyone headaches.

The Cant

Finally, any discussion about the ol’ Birdcage would be incomplete without mentioning its inhabitants’ strange manner of speaking. The people of Sigil speak a peculiar variant of Common that sounds a bit like the cockney criminal slang of Victorian England, which is a love-it-or-hate-it feature of the setting. It’s jarring for sure, but it can have some charm if you roll with it. Plus, it’s more legible and coherent than Chaosspeak, where the loonies just transpose words around a sentence, turning a simple question about directions into a freaking syntactical anagram.

So that’s a dip into Planescape. Of course there’s way more to discuss & explore, but this should suffice for players to see exactly what this unique setting has to offer.

My parting advice? Keep your jink close, berk. Never make a deal with a tiefling.

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