Monday, 20 February 2012

planescape, scrawling on the classics

Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF I have been thinking about planescape with my 6 orbiting brains.

I think planescape is " top shelf " and has some fine fine fine art and generally awesomeness.
But! I thought it was a liiiiitttle under done. Or maybe I got greedy with its cool bits and wanted more.

Any way here's me scribbling all over the classics:
spell keys? weapon bonuses that got weaker the further you went from the plane in which the weapon was made? Random spell modifiers depending on what planes you were on that  were just  like -2 to illusion type spells?
Did anyone remember that they were there? Did anyone use them?
These were some rules that were put to give some kind of flavour or something, but if you can't remember a flavour rule after reading it once it's no good.
By flavour rule maybe "tone" is a better phrase, you know any rule thrown in to keep characters reminded of a on going environmental/metaphysical/psychological factor.
Anyway some sharper than I could prob do a break down on what makes good mechanics and what does not . Planescape's spell key, plane modifers definitely fails. Bland, bean counting, and abstract.
Maybe if it was more like to use healing spells in Baator you have to kill something that day, but even then seems like dead weight. The fact that you are walking on a lake of frozen souls being chased by gelugons should be taking up enough presence of mind that some rules farting around making your spells more difficult, are just slowing things down.
I think there might of been some more rules like this , but I really can't remember them, and so they must of been even more naff.
So in no particular order here's some thunks about this:
(note: this is actually going to have to be an ongoing series, I have notes I wanna share on ysgard, sigil, the upper planes, gehena, pandemonia, limbo as well, but this post feels like it's taking too long to do already, more over the next few days)
Planescape was making something new out of all this metaphysical detritus that various d&d products had left, but the weird thing (for me anyway) was even how this was the selling point , it was all the new stuff (the sigil dirty victorian , factions, and the like) that was really strong.
And I feel that a lot of the planar locations were pretty bland and got used as dumping ground for various pantheons . Which was meant to be a cool selling point, but I found it annoying having Greek gods, Chinese gods, Celtic gods and the like.
It's great to loot cultures shamelessly for campaign dressing, but having just pasting them all over the place without even filing the serial numbers off felt cluttered.
I mean I'm not too fond of gods full stop in campaign worlds, like its always feels wonky trying to get their power levels and involvement in the world right. Maybe having gods only being at the power of a demon lord and not having a immaterial form, just their avatar would work for me.
So basically having them be SuperKings. And while they would claim credit for making worlds and races, that shit just happens due to deeper blind forces.
I just don't like all powerfully invisible sky beards that can sculpt the world and what not and have all this interest in mortals but cannot directly intervene because of some blah blah blah.

So I would shift the focus of the outer planes away from all this pantheon bullshit.
I will repeat myself here how dull it is having Sigil and tieflings and factions and trees made of snakes and madness mazes and all this effort to make a unique tone and then having the party run around ancient Greece.
Maybe someone is thinking here "oh but that's the appeal, like the adventure starts in ancient Greece , but then they go to Valhalla, and then the kingdom of the elves" and I'm thinking wow, this is "Where in mythology is Carmen Santiago?"
Also a sizeable chunk of tolkien and western mythology has already been strip mined for the roots of d&d and there's not a lot left there that's of any interest.
Still bits and pieces of pure gold, but yah gotta dig further than togas and talking trees here.

Firstly all the planes should have some possible low level adventure nonsense
secondly  the planes need more fleshing up than just this cultural garage sale nonsense.
I'm a fan of symmetry , like if one plane has murderous hats tied to their plane, I like thinking of other planar equivalents of these murderous hats.
So I been doing about of this "murder hats of the alignment compass" as creative exercise.
Examples of fine murder hats include Baator, with the baatezu.
(oh an aside here, I liked that demons and devils got their own name for themselves, it was part of that throwing away of human-centricness that planescape had going for it , that I really liked. Demons don't exist to lure you to evil, and  don't just represent a force to oppose and strive against. They are not fallen angels , seething in bitterness, envious of the light. No, demons have existed for longer than your whole planet, your downfall is mere sandwich choosing, and they are a force for evil and destruction because to them, that's how things work, and anyone who is not out for carnage and power is weak, deluded, or a fool. Not that people aren't having hella  fun with the medival styles of demons, I just love the idealogically cluster fuck approach.)
The abyss with Tanar'ri, limbo with Slaadi (but you know, like how I do slaadi) and the githzerai apparently but I never got a handle on them, Mechanus with modrons etc.
But there are some gaps. Like there's no distinctive denizens for Gehenna , Ysgard, Acheron etc
Acheron could have ,damn I want to use archons , but that word is already in use for angels, so lets use um..
oh thanks wiki , Nephilim

"Nephilim" (נְפִילִים) probably derives from the Hebrew root npl (נָפַל), "to fall" which also includes "to cause to fall" and "to kill, to ruin". The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon gives the meaning as "giants"[1] Robert Baker Girdlestone[2] argued the word comes from the Hiphil causative stem. Adam Clarke took it as passive, "fallen", "apostates". Ronald Hendel states that it is a passive form "ones who have fallen", equivalent grammatically to paqid "one who is appointed" (i.e. overseer), asir, "one who is bound", (i.e. prisoner) etc.[3][4]

So the Nephilim are these (i still wanted to used Archon because grant morrison's invisibles has them being such great dirty shits from beyond) tarnished grey steel lords of war and strategy, ranked like chess pieces.
Nephilim pawns not is not working um.. okay lets make the celestial archons called nephilim and then
archons live in acheron.

Lets start again:
acheron is great. Big steel cubes floating a void with endless battles on their surfaces, some the size of mountains some the size of a house. Battleground discarded bodys and weapons gradually turn to metal and become part of the plane. Some of the cubes have little tunnels riddling them. There are great junkyards where rust dragons feed. There are other layers of the this plane that have great floating discs that are thin enough to cut a eyelid cleanly in 2. All of this is great.
Archons of Acheron:
The Archons are looming figures of pitted steel, corroded and dirty grey by the dirt and war of Acheron.
War and conflict to them are a pure fundamental things. They believe in order, strategy, logic and above all war. Unlike the fiends however, the Archons find concepts such a cruelty, corruption and destruction for destructions sake, utterly irrelevant. Archon can be found throughout the planes hired as mercanarys or strategic advisers. While safer to deal with than fiends, it is not with out precedence for Archons to subtly escalate or aggravate conflicts. Archons organize themselves in churchs named after the king of the church.
for example the "Church of Reprise Preceding Retribution " with Reprise Preceding Retribution being the Church king. Typical churchs normally have around 100 pawns, 5 castles, 10 knights,5 Bishops, 1 queen and
1 king. Churchs have extremely complicated greater allegiances to each other that, grouping them into OverChurchs ( about 20 churchs) and above that a (about 20 OverChurchs) Supremacy. When not united under/in a OverChurch or a Supremacy (generally towards an outside threat), Churchs of the Archons are in perpetually conflict with each other.
Archon care only for territory or wealth or power as means of winning conflicts. If no worthy conflicts are to be had , these trappings are quickly neglected or used as chips in the wars that immediately and formally start between Churches if no greater challenge  is present.

Archon Pawn
Standing about at about 2 metres tall, Pawns are gaunt figures of armour wielding long seemingly flimsy spear axes. They have no real insight or initiative of their own and more or less exist to follow orders. Under the armour there is nothing but black oil supersaturated with rust.
They do not talk, but any higher ranking archon of the same church can know anything a pawn knows if the pawn is close by and they spend a moment or 2 regarding the Pawn.

Archon  Knight
Knights are are joined with their steeds , a compact metal horse thing. Also one arm which can swivel along the chest to access either side with no hindrance. They have long curved horns on the helmets to designate their rank, and dozens of spears and tattered banners emerging from their backs , trophys of countless conflicts. While more comfortable taking orders, Knights are quite capable leading small squads of pawns, or other troops, and if under the service of particularly weak leader or summoner will attempt to replace them.
Unlike Pawns , Knights can talk, but do so only in the bare minimum to function efficiently as a military unit. They have limited powers beyond great speed and prowess with halberd, but can blink every 3rd round or so.

Archon Castle
Castles loom at 15 metres, but bigger ones have been reported. The appear as tower with a great cleft in its middle like a baleful eye, and they advance on a tripod of great  stone legs. They are faster than they look, and relentlessly trample opposing forces underfoot. They also have powers of gravity manipulation and can use this power once a hour to do one of the following:; flight on themselves and twice their weight in nearby units, a wall of force effect, or a "murder ball" where they create a spot of strong gravity, causing anything with in 60 feet of it to fall towards in the first round, and rounds thereafter the gravity effect no longer pulls anything towards it, but still traps whatever did on the first round. This murder ball maybe rolled around at 30 feet per round by telepathic command of the Castle, crushing and mangling anything too slow to get out of the way.
Castles have deeply resonate voices that can easily be heard even over the cacophony of battle and also can communicate silently with any other castle within a 100 mile radius. While they out rank Knights, they will take orders from them on the battle field.
If under the command of a non-Archon and not employed actively enough  they will attempt to over throw their commander or set off a war.

Bishop Archon
 standing at about 2 metres, and are hunched cloaked figure with a visage like the business end of a particular elaborate executioners axe. They use a perforated metal ball on a chain, to dispense a variety of killing, mind effecting, and morale boosting gas. They have access to cleric spells. They will always be in a command position if a Queen or King is not present.

Archon Queen
A terrible stilted wasp thing with a floating barbed ring for a face, Archon Queens are rare, and when not serving as a commander , rapidly fly around the battle field wielding a variety of battle magics, both cleric and wizard,and impaling with theri ovipositor. This ovipositor  is also used to turn stolen partitioners into pawns and worthy pawns into knights, knights into castles and castles into bishops.

Archon King
A twisted stunted thing atop a limbed  throne, while tough to destroy, the King is not particularly ferocious in combat, and will rely on summoning other archons, or cleric spells. They are of course master tacticians.

Further notes on Acheron
every plane should have some quick low level adventure areas, and battle ground scavenging on the floating metal cubes of acheron is a good one. Either the party could be after a particular item, or just generally greed. Tension can be mounted by having a time limit before the cube collides with another one, or the battle shifts and the spot the adventures are in becomes right in the middle of a conflict between 2 forces. Remember how the discards have a certain amount of time before becoming useless? Meaning the best lootings are from fresh battle fields, scouts might have to keep carefully watch for returning forces.  Escape could be through tunnels winding through the cube, allowing for a 3 dimensional (well more so than usual) dungeon crawl.
Also looting junkyards, especially a dungeonesque pile of old fused war machines, the gaps and spaces forming rooms and passage ways. Or having something like a battleship sticking straight up out of the ground like a tower, and the exploration would be vertical both below and above.

Carcerian Choir Slugs
I was thinking up something for carceri before I realized Demondands are hanging out there. But hey , here's choir slugs, foul congealed masses of evil squeezing themselves through the shells of the inclosed spheres that make up carceri.
They find partitioners of a particular brand and strength of evil and assimilate them , growing a new head and gaining power. They can only get a new head if the new soul is more evil than the last. 5 heads seems to be the natural, but not theoretical limit.
In the rare event they leave carceri they will attempt to corrupt or foster evil of the type they need to grow. Before they get their first head they are the size of a dog, and each additional head makes them double in size
Their are 3 types of Choir slugs:
Marauders feed off bullys, thugs, vandals, and then despoilers and warlords. Their slug like mass is composed of thick congealed blood, sweat and black mud. They can sing blasphemous words causing confusion, fear and enraging. Their heads flail and tear at flesh with their teeth and are venomous, the venom either causing weakness, or blind rage.
Like all choir slugs they can envelop and suffocate as well.
Torturers bodys are formed from tears , semen and pus and their heads chosen from the cruel; spousal abusers, animal molesters, torturers and sadists. They can gibber unclean words causing wounds to re-open, agonys to flower , and creation of visions of half forgotten terrors. They do not bite, but lick with razor rasp tongues, with the saliva lingering to either burn like acid, prevent healing, or cause horrible infections at a later date. They can also heal with these licks as well, to prolong the agonys of a victim.
Oppressor slug's sick mass is a festering clump of fat, oil and rotten half digested food. They source their heads from overbearing teachers, bosses, horrible kings and popes.
They attack not with direct physical attacks but by spitting up to 60 feet. The spit can burn, charm, blind, dominate or paralyse. 
They know words that cause fear, domination of the weak, and summoning.


carceri seems to be lazy paste job of dante's inferno with some gods littering up the place.
It come across like a second rate baator or Abyss. The one thing it has going for it; is the name, and the greek titans stuff.
Evil giants in togas? I hear you yawn. That goya picture is awesome though. Okay lets make the titans more monstrous, like ones with a hundred arms or masses of snakes for legs or a neck that continually eats its head, and maybe carceri to be an all purpose dumping ground for conquered enemy monsters.
And make it really built into the landscape. Like huge angry half drowned faces the size of small mountains emerging from the muds of  Othrys. Mostly have these grotesques frozen and unmoving, but just when the party starts to think of them as set dressing, have , say, a giant face jutting from a cliff face they are traversing below, suddenly start screaming and screaming and screaming. Bonus points if you do this as the gm.  Basically have chunks of half dead and fully dead and dying or just plain nailed to something giants and monster everywhere. Big cages, and chains that would crush a city lying worryingly empty in the deserts of Minethys . Porphatys the mountainous volcanic one needs like cracks from which come angry, pleading voices, alternatively promising and threatening for release. The cracks however are very long and deep and the voices have travelled a way to the depths of the mountain were nightmares are trapped.
Low level adventures could be entirely inside giant bodys, maybe a whole dungeon of the empty veins, the party trying to find the heart to take a sample for some paying npc.
 Or trudging through the upper layers trying capturing the last of some abandoned species , that was relocated on mass to carceri because something needed its homeland. Basically a wilderness hex crawl with horrible monster parts the size of hills to mess with.
That swamp of depair with apathetic crazy but hella wise turtle from the never ending story should be found here as well. Holy balls was that some harsh horse murder for a kids movie. Speaking of which, I read animal farm as a kid, thinking it was kids book about some wacky animals running a farm. And then the second half happens and the pigs go corrupt and the draft horse / spirit of the Russian working class works himself to death and gets made into glue. The end. Ah well , built character I'm sure.

Okay that's the post. Will try and get the rest of the thunks I thunk up here soon.
Finally here's some early sketchs of the archons and a page of catalogue from the exhibition:


  1. I love your slaadi and already replaced the old ones, which I never liked, but I'm not all that shit-hot on symmetry. Something about every plane having its special archetype race just seems, I don't know, somehow too tame? Acheron being a whole bunch of warring factions and little tinpot empires seems like more fun adventuring to me than evil chessmen. But, each to their own.

  2. I hear you, about the symmetry, my motivations being more that most of planes ain't .got shit there and it's dumb. . I'm not advocating one plane one race, so Acheron would still have warring factions and little tinpot empires of hobgoblins and what have you. The archons/sinister chest pieces would be thrown in there too.
    Each plane should have distinctive personality and angle to it, and I reckon trying come up with a unique denizens for each really helps sharpen what the plane is about. Acheron was already pretty interesting though, but sometimes more is more

  3. Top shelf, scraps. I am on the evil chessmen like black and white on rice.

    But myself I do like the pantheons willy nilly because I find the idea of "I am some wiseass Sigiller with a huge ruff and fleas in my codpiece and oh hell now I'm on mount olympus and it's crazy." I think the Olympus and Asgard etc realms invite you to go realllly over the top, it's not Greece or Iceland, it's crazy divine realms where you meet the revelation

    1. true over board pantheons are fun. Just that they got used too much to fill up space where something enhancing the planescape "ideological metaphor becoming literally landscape" vibe, could of been.
      More is sometimes more.

    2. Possible acheronians :

    3. cubeeeessss innnn spacccceeeee!!!

  4. Never have I been more keenly aware of how many years (decades) it's been since I played the game. I have absolutely no idea what a Sigil or a tiefling is at all.

    Buuuuut...your Archons of Acheron concept was just amazing. A really seamless and brutal bit of world-building. With phenomenal art too. If I knew people who still played the game, and played with this much imagination and willingness to re-sculpt the bones of the thing, I'd never stop.

    1. get thee to wikipedia Matt kish, planescape was fine fine fine.
      Also you should have look at zaks blog and constantcon to find people you can play games with on g+ that are totally excelling at the imagination and willingness to re-sculpt bones thing

  5. This is great work, Scrap. this is how it should be.

  6. GJ on the Archons and Choir Slugs, and your take on Carceri is nice and creepy.

    Never used spell/power keys or magic item modifications by plane in Planescape games. I had trouble enough tracking the requirements of the various gateway keys without gimping characters for doing what the setting was about. My take on it was based on common sense and laziness: "no, you can't fireball the Plane of Water, but at least it doesn't make your magic sword go floppy."

    High Adventure in the Lower Planes may be relevant to yr interests. A quick overview of why there's actually no "You must be this level to enter" criteria on planar adventures. Plus 150 Low-, Mid-, and High-level adventure hooks for the 5 evil planes.

  7. Just found this, and it is 31 flavors of awesome. You've picked up on the parts of the setting I've always liked and then ran someplace amazing with them. I've been noodling around with the idea of finally running planescape (never got around to it when it was new), and your stuff has cemented it for me. Thanks!

    1. it is most pleasing to me that you find merit in these scrabblings. It will help encourage me to finish off the series.