Rediscovering Planescape

This weekend, I visited my parents with the mission of going through those of my things that are still deposited there. Among those things were a number of roleplaying books – including some boxes of old AD&D settings. Oh, nostalgia! One of them in particular made me feel nostalgic: Planescape! The Planescape setting always struck a chord with me. The visual expression is very, very good, and apparently won it an award when the setting first came out in 1994. Apart from that, I like the feel of it. It has the same kind of “anything goes” feeling that many science fiction settings has, but with weird magic in stead of technology and science. Here, you can go straight from encountering modrons on Mechanus to chatting with Archons on Mount Celestia to being killed by the Lady of Pain in Sigil.

There’s also a great intellectual baggage in the setting. All the Outer Planes are manifestations and metaphors for a mentality or ideology, like the structured, Lawful Neutral Clockwork Plane of Mechanus, where the plane consists of cogs, representing the lawful nature of the plane. Or the desolate Gray Wastes, representing hopelessness and depression. Part of the setting is actually that the planes will change to reflect the attitude of those in the area – and if the inhabitants of a certain area of a plane start to think more like they do on a different plane, that place will move to that other plane.

This makes ideology and philosophy very important in Planescape – and of course that means that people take it seriously. Which again  means that several “factions” exist, particularly in Sigil, trying to promote their view of the world. And which faction you join will affect you greatly.

Like I’ve said, I really like Planescape. The thing I most DISlike about it, is that it is written for AD&D. I can see how it fits into D&D, but taken on it’s own, I really don’t think it is best suited for Dungeons&Dragons. It is a game that takes place on a cosmic and a personal scale at once, and where weirdness and ideology is more important than the “realism” of D&D. On the other hand, I think it’s perfectly suited to an indie mentality. It can tell stories on a personal scale, of people coming to grips with their place in the cosmos and trying to find out where they belong ideologically and philosofically – in a very literal sense: Am I a person of order, at home amongst the modrons on Mechanus, do I feel most comfortable around the decay on the Quasielemental Plane of Dust, or is my home in bustling Sigil, right where people from all planes clash and mingle?
At the same time, it tells stories on a cosmic scale, of wars and intrigues spanning worlds, if not multiverses, involving gods and fiends and armies of the most alien beings imaginable.
And so, I would like to experiment with adapting some Indie games to the Planescape world. A few ideas:

In a Wicked Age: Quite obvious. You need to write an oracle fitting to the planar theme, but you already have the theme of ancient gods, strange spirits, devious fiends and mighty heroes. All you need to do is give it a gloss of planar paint.

S/Lay w/me: Similar to IaWA – you just need to make some options appropriate to Planescape. Settings such as “An abandoned world, once the home of a wicked and depraved god,” or “Regulus, the bustling yet rigidly ordered home of the Modrons.”

Fiasco: I’m sure many a Planescape playset could be made for Fiasco. How about “…in the bustling city of Sigil” or “…amongst the scheming devils of the Nine Hells”. The first could deal with members of the different factions trying to make their way in the city (or maybe people from the Prime Material Plane just arrived there), while the second deals with devils trying to rise (or fall, I guess) in the hierarchy of the Abyss.

The Shadow of Yesterday: In many ways, I think TSOY is ideally suited to a campaign set among the planes. The different Factions and alignments can be represented as Keys, and you can easily make characters of different, strange, wonderful or dangerous creatures, be it githzerai, modrons, archons or halflings. The concept of ascencion also fits well with the planar theme – becoming one with the planes, or perhaps ascending to godhood (which is actually the basis of one of the factions).

Primetime Adventures: It’s almost too easy to mention PTA – anything can be the basis of a PTA campaign, just as long as you could make a tv series about it. Some ideas could include:
“Sigil City Blues” – a series about Harmonium coppers dealing with Sensate harlots, Anarchist terrorists, stiff Guvner judges and lawyers and eager Mercykiller executioners.
“Pelor’s Angels” – A group of female adventurers, travelling around the planes to do their good god’s bidding
“Band of Baatzus” – A group of fiends are sent off to battle the Tana’ri on the desolate plains of The Gray Wastes.
Others can no doubt be found. For instance, I have a feeling that it would be possible to use Apocalypse world for something interesting here, but I know too little of Apocalypse World to say.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. You are not the only one who has rediscovered Planescape 😀

    On the Story Games forum people have talked about adapting it to Dungeon World*/ Apocalypse World (http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=15628) and Storming the Wizard’s Tower (http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=15662).

    + there has been a “Planescape: What is it about for you?” thread
    (http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=15469)

    Maybe there is something you can use in these threads.

    *) Dungeon World is a D&Dfantasy hack of Apocalypse World.

    Reply

  2. You have found one of my fondest settings here. I own pretty much every book on the setting minus a few on the elemental planes and the adventures. Planescape had the starting advantage of using a single artist to do all of the illustrations, diTerlizzis lines kept it all together unlike many other settings. And it is what got me collecting in the first place, that and the amazing locations to set your adventures in, every layer of every plane is just dripping with awesome places and moods.

    A few more indie-games to add to your epic list:

    1001 Nights: Sensates sitting around swapping experiences while trying to climb in the faction.

    Fate: The aspects and fatepoints mechanic is just perfect for letting the heroes shape the world around them.

    Don’t Rest Your Head: People trapped in Limbo, gaining amazing powers but losing themselves in the chaos. Or just that the Mad City is Sigil, which would work without much change in system.

    Reply

  3. I too really like PlaneScape, and I hope one day to return to the setting, and luckily my roleplaying archaeology project will let me do so.

    Now since there seems to be a sport in using indie-systems for PlaneScape, I’d suggest using Shock, and replace the tech-element with the fantastic or philosophical aspects of PlaneScape creating a system, where you explore the rammifications of the fantastic encountering the philosophical.

    Also Hot War and Cold City might be useful as to create situations, where PC’s with different philosophical backgrounds are adventuring together – for as long as they can trust each other not to impose their own worldviews too much.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Elias Helfer on February 26, 2012 at 1:55 am

    Johs – thank you so much! Very interesting reading.

    Oliver – The images really do pull it all together.
    I did consider Fate for the list, but couldn’t easily figure out how to frame the conversion. I guess Fate Points are good for shaping the world around you.

    DRYH is really ideal for the planes, though the sleep metaphor would have to be transferred – maybe you are Primes trying not to be thrown back to their own world?

    Morten – If you need a player for a Planescape game…
    I briefly considered Shock, but I don’t know it well enough to think up a conversion. I could certainly see it working. I don’t know Hot War and Cold City, but what you are describing could also be done in Mountain Witch. Maybe they are going to the bottom of the Nine Hells, to inverse the upwards journey of MW. Initial Trust is decided by factions, and the Dark Fates can more or less be reused from the original game.

    Reply

  5. […] on the retro from before, it seems that half the blogging community has fond memories of Planescape. Maybe it would be an idea to bring Sigil to Fastaval. Giving the setting an indie motor and […]

    Reply

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