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How to DM

By Alexis Smolensk.

I will buy this book (when it comes out). Seriously, there is nothing like it in the gaming market. If there is, please let me know.

Disconnected

It seems that my ability to reach the outside world has been impaired. For at least the next week I will be unable to post. This is an ongoing issue that, try as I might, I cannot resolve. My apologies to my followers; I will be back with many opinions on many subjects, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait a little longer…

Wealth and the Planes

I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a “planar economy,” based on several posts from the Tao of D&D, but there are some obstacles in the way.

The first is definition.  From Wikipedia, an economy “consists of the economic systems of a country or other area; the labor, capital, and land resources; and the manufacturing, production, trade, distribution, and consumption of goods and services of that area.”  So we have three primary components: property, capital and services.  Services, broadly speaking, consists of anything people are willing to do in exchange for payment.  Capital is the means of securing services and/or production.  And property covers the rest.  I’ve grouped all the physical assets into property because they are physical commodities that can be owned; things like land, finished products and raw resources.  (I also realize that the above links do not mirror my definitions.)

(Wait, so maybe there’s a connection here, like physical = property, mental = capital and social/spiritual = services?)

This is a good place to start because I can brainstorm any number of economic components based on the different planes.  Bytopia and Arborea are rich in natural resources.  Limbo and Mechanus can provide services in the form of creative and organized production (respectively).  Arcadia can export intangibles like government and capital.  Elysium, the Beastlands and Mount Celestia all have natural resources, though the extent to which they export it varies with each plane’s philosophy.  Even the evil planes have resources, albeit of a twisted or supernatural nature.

But there are some complications, like with Pandemonium, Gehenna or the Gray Wastes.  What can these places contribute to a planar economy?  If they have nothing of value, why do the fiends fight for them?  What’s stopping the baatezu or the tanar’ri from overrunning the upper planes in search of resources to pillage and plunder?  Granted, Planescape covers this last question by arguing that the different fiends fight with each other because they can’t agree on how “evil” should conduct itself.  I’ve never really accepted this explanation at face value.  I think the evil exemplars of the planes fight each other because they don’t trust each other.  Every once in a while they’ll stop actively backstabbing long enough to threaten the safety of the other planes, but then someone will make a grab for power and the whole edifice will crumble due to its lack of internal structure.  And there is something to be said for the differences between baatezu and tanar’ri methods and why it ultimately leads to the Blood War.

What does this have to do with economics?  In the real world, the economy is a driving force for all mankind.  It is both byproduct of and motivator for our natural inclination toward work.  Indeed, which comes first?  The economy or our labor?  But one of the primary components of an economy is the product of our labor.  Raw materials, finished goods, land, food, clothing, weapons, etc.  Property.  Without property we cannot have an economy.

The outer planes are intangible.

This is not canon either, but it’s an interpretation I’ve applied to my game.  The outer planes are without physical mass.  They are given (or create) form from the beliefs of their inhabitants.  Again, which came first, the outer plane or the belief that shapes it?  Regardless, though the planes have form, they can be altered by belief.  This suggests to me that the core element to a planar economy is not property (or the labor needed to control it), but the beliefs of the people.

If an economy can be described as the interaction between services, capital and property, and property can be quantified by the beliefs of the people…

In other words, is there a one-to-one transference between the other components?

The primary inhabitant of the outer planes is the petitioner.  The petitioner is the soul of a mortal.  That mortal may have lived on the outer planes, or (most likely) he lived on one of the infinite number of prime material worlds; regardless, when that mortal soul passes from mortal life, he goes to where his beliefs and actions in life match the beliefs of the plane.  It should be noted that gods can supersede this by claiming a soul for their own, in which case the soul goes to wherever the god keeps her realm (even if the soul doesn’t quite match with the plane).  Now, once a petitioner is on the outer planes, he spends the rest of his existence trying to reach a state of perfection; a sort of Nirvana-like enlightenment when he will merge with his plane (or deity) and enter a higher state of existence.

Do petitioners produce anything?  Are they worth anything?  How do they contribute to a planar economy?  Petitioners only seek to fulfill their goal of enlightenment, and that is an unconscious goal (no petitioner is consciously aware of this goal and thus has no real idea why he does what he does).  Is the economy run entirely by planars (mortal beings) or proxies (immortals)?  I doubt that proxies would care much for something as simple an contributing to an economy because, after all, they’re immortal.  Their wants and needs must be different from us.  Planars, then, are the only driving force behind the outer planes, but they’re vastly outnumbered by petitioners and proxies combined.  It seems like the idea of a planar economy based on owning and producing property is illogical; there’s no motivation behind it.

There is one element that can help clarify where I’m going with this: petitioners are souls and souls have value.  If we follow the published D&D and Planescape material, we find that souls on the lower planes can “advance” into the lowest forms of demons and devils.  These can evolve into higher forms, and so on until you get some very powerful fiends.  Petitioners from the Gray Wastes are treated as property or currency, herded by night hags and traded to yugoloths who use them when bargaining with baatezu and tanar’ri (who use them in turn to make more fiends that can fight in the Blood War).  Furthermore, it stands to reason that gods need mortal souls as a source of power.  The more worshippers a deity has, the more powerful she is; and if you’re not convinced of that, consider that throughout D&D’s publication history, deities rise and fall through the ranks based, in part, on how much worship they get from the prime material worlds.  If their follower count drops to a significantly low level, a deity can lose enough power to whither away or even die.  Erego, souls have value.

Belief has value because it can literally change the planes.  Souls have value because they are a source of power for the gods and the fiends.  And, as I see it, things like labor management, currency, government and other intangible economic components, all have value because they are a means of controlling the things that people really want.

So that’s the basis for my planar economy:

  • Souls
  • Belief
  • Tools for manipulating the economy (capital, management, etc.)

From here I may elaborate by identifying the goods or services that each plane produces for internal use and for export.  Or I may find myself distracted with other things (like actual work) and I’ll come back to it later…

Resources

Not much to update, really.  Still working on the alignment system.  Still reworking the storyteller system.  Still editing the planes for my version of Planescape.

This post is about my approach to the planes.  The published material is largely sufficient for a Planescape game.  However, there are missing pieces that limit a game’s potential.  For example, when I read about Pandemonium, I ask myself, “Why?”  Why would anyone in the their right mind want to travel to that desolate place?  In other words, unless I’m dealing with crazy or inexperienced players, I’d have to fight tooth and nail to convince a party of planewalkers to willingly go to Pandemonium.  And that’s something that I want; I want the planes to be enticing or inviting enough that the players choose to go there without much prodding from me.  I want to run Planescape as a sandbox game.  There will be adventure hooks here and there, but mostly I want the players to seek out the wonder and awesomeness that is Planescape.

At the same time, I don’t want to make travel through the planes easy or safe.  So how can a place like Pandemonium be improved?  I don’t want to rewrite canon so much as expand on it.  Fortunately, I’ve come across two sites that give me a lot of information.  The first is the Planar Renovation Project, a series of forum threads on Planewalker.com.  The second is at Pathguy.com.  There are others, but I recently lost my old computer and have to track down the links.  What I’ve garnered from these sites is a checklist of sorts that helps me focus on useful pieces of information:

  • Alignment (to include factions and gods/pantheons)
  • Unique overall theme (or themes)
  • Conflict within the plane (between the plane’s inhabitants)
  • Unique terrain or environmental features
  • At least one unique mortal and immortal species
  • A reason to visit the plane (beyond the standard tropes for adventure plotlines)

So far I’ve made a lot of progress with this approach.  For example, here’s a breakdown of Mechanus:

  • Alignment: Lawful; the Fraternity of Order; the Imperial Order (a pantheon loosely based on ancient Chinese and Japanese religions).
  • Themes: the Social Contract (We’re greater than the sum of our parts.  We are a whole, living thing.  Each piece must fulfill its duties in order to strengthen the whole.); the Rule of Law (Science; physics, math, logic; these things reveal the dark of the ‘verse.  They have always existed and will always exist, for there is order in everything.)
  • Conflict: What is the best means of upholding order?  How do we learn and teach?
  • Terrain: Machinery; all “natural” terrain in Mechanus is a series of complex “steampunk-like” automations that grows more complex as one nears the center of the plane.
  • Inhabitants: Inevitables and Warforged.
  • Why go there?  To study at the Great Library.  To learn the turnings of the ‘verse.  To employ the services of the inevitables and warforged.

Alignment Revised

[Edit] After I posted this I found my notes on alignment and realized I had made a mistake.  I have alignment broken into three components(following the Rule of Three): ethics, beliefs and virtues/nature.  The following information isn’t inaccurate, it’s just not up to par with this framwork.[/Edit]

In my last post I introduced the concept of Arete.  It is self-knowledge, virtue and potential.  It is possessed by all planewalkers and determines their limits (or lack thereof) in my Planescape game.  Today I’m going to address alignment in a way, I hope, that will provide a solid foundation for a system of rules and rewards.

I want to begin by defining alignment.  While I’ve written about this before, I recently came across a slightly different take.  The original concept of alignment in D&D was focused on chaos and law; it grew from the factions of Chainmail.  So alignment had nothing to do with philosophical ideas of morality or ethics.  It was all about which side of the war you supported.

Coupled with definitions of the base word “align,” I believe the following is a good place to lay the foundation:

Alignment:

  • The act of aligning or state of being aligned
  • An arrangement of groups or forces in relation to one another

A planewalker’s alignment is a summary of her relationship to the rest of the ‘verse.  It describes the values she holds most important.  It explains her beliefs in simple terms.  In short, my goal is to make alignment a framework which the player can use to guide her character’s actions.

To that end, I’ve decided on three aspects to alignment: ethics, religion and faction.

Ethics covers the old alignment of D&D.  It is the moral and ethical outlook of a character.  It’s largely general in order to allow room for interpretation.  Religion applies to planewalkers who have formalized belief systems that require the presence of a central god (or pantheon).  Religions seek to answer specific questions about mortal life and afterlife, and how one should live that life.  They are structured around routine rituals and observances.  Factions are organizations built on planar philosophies.  They can be either personal or social in application.  Factions address the broader question of, “Why?” in regard to existence.

These explanations are a bit rough.  They’ve been flying around my head for several months now and I’ve only recently been able to narrow them down.  The purpose behind this is a system that I can express in terms of dice, ranks, abilities, etc. — so that the players have the tools they need to create compelling, awesome characters.  Each of these alignment components plays out in slightly different ways.  I’ve only solidified a few examples, though, but some of the ideas include:

  • Bonus dice or “advantage” when performing actions that reaffim your alignment;
  • Expenditure of Willpower to take action that runs counter to your alignment;
  • Bonus or recovery of Willpower after taking action that reaffirms your alignment;
  • Bonuses or penalties when traveling the planes (as the planes themselves have alignments that may conflict with yours).

If these seem familiar, it’s probably because they exist in some form or another in previous editions.  The original setting forced modifiers on magic.  3E imposed modifiers on social skill checks (mostly Charisma-based).  I don’t really know what happens in 4E, since the composition of the planes changed so much.  In the end, though, I’m going to try and settle for a few rules that explain how a character’s beliefs impact her actions in the Planescape setting.

Before I finish, I want to touch on these aspects of alignment with a few lists.  These are my ideas for each component.  They work like this: when a player makes a character, she has to choose at least one component for her alignment.  She can take anything from ethics, religion or faction.  If she wants to create a new component, that works; so long as the player and GM are on the same page, it’s all good.  These alignment components or traits define, in part, the character’s personality.  They are the character’s belief system.  So a planewalker may claim to be “good;” and will note it on her character sheet; and she’ll recover Willpower when her beliefs are tested and she follows through on them; but they aren’t a straitjacket.  She can decide to not be good and (at least for the time being) the only repercussion is that she won’t regain Willpower (beyond the usual method, whatever it ends up being).

So, the lists…

Ethics

  • Good: Compassion, empathy, honesty, mercy
  • Evil: Selfishness, apathy, deceitfulness, cruelty
  • Law: Tradition, honor, society, rules
  • Chaos: Creativity, individualism, freedom, disorder
  • Neutrality: Indifference, balance, moderation

Actually, I’m just going with ethics right now.  The others are still in the works, and I’m still working out how to apply the planes to the whole system.

Arete

Arete (play /ˈærət/; Ancient Greek: ἀρετή), in its basic sense, means excellence of any kind.[1] In its earliest appearance in Greek, this notion of excellence was ultimately bound up with the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to one’s full potential.

Sometimes translated as “virtue,” the word actually means something closer to “being the best you can be,” or “reaching your highest human potential.”

Wikipedia

While browsing Planewalker.com, I came across these documents – a conversion guide for Mage: the Ascension.  They were a perfect find because I’ve been working on a storytelling system approach to my Planescape game.  I’m drawn to its simplicity.  Attribute + Skill = Ability.  Roll the total number of dice and check for successes.  Get enough successes, and you accomplish your task.  And like any good roleplaying system, there’s enough room for additional complexity or customization, as evidenced by the plethora of games produced by White Wolf Publishing (the creators of the system).

So I downloaded the Mage conversion documents and looked through them.  I have to say that, while the author did a good job of adapting the old Mage game to Planescape, the end result falls short of my expectations.  I’m not saying it’s a bad product; I’m just saying that I wouldn’t use it.  But it helped me to realize what I want — no, what I need in my version of the setting.

Most White Wolf games have stats or attributes that are unique to that particular version of the system.  One in particular seems to define characters from that game in a way that makes them unique – Scion has Legend; Mage has Gnosis; Exalted has Essence.  They are almost like class and level rolled into one, but with fewer restrictions.  Man, that’s a terrible description.  Think of it this way: Gnosis determines how much mana a mage can spend in a turn, or how many ranks she can have in her Arcana skills; Legend and Essence provide similar limits.  These are attributes that are tied to the basic concept of these characters.  Magi have Gnosis, which is basically secret knowledge of the inner workings of the universe.  Scions have Legend, which is divine influence at work in their bodies and minds.  Exalted have Essence, sort of similar to the soul.  Without these, the characters cannot exist.  At the same time, they aren’t really limiting.  They let the character “break” the standard limits in the game.  So as a mage advances her Gnosis, her potential increases and she can acquire more ranks in Arcana, for example, or she can spend more mana each turn and thus use more powerful magic.

This is where I’m going: I want my Planescape game to be based on the storyteller system, and I need an attribute that applies to all planewalkers, that defines their existence and that lets them be more powerful than your normal planar (but not as powerful as a proxy; at least, not until they hit the higher “levels”).  That’s where the Mage conversion guide (link above) comes in: Mr. O’Rance uses the term “arete” to describe something very similar to Gnosis.  Now, I’m not going to design my game around Mage: the Ascension.  I think that’s too limiting because I like the idea of warriors, rogues and priests (after all, Planescape was an AD&D game to begin with).  So I started thinking about what arete means.  Then I remembered my philosophy classes, and since Planescape is all about philosophy, I figured the term would fit perfectly.

Arete: Virtue.  Excellence.  Reaching your highest potential.  Self-knowledge (thanks TriskalJM).

Arete represents how well a planewalker knows herself.  It’s how in-tune she is with her own existence.  This self-knowledge enables her to grow beyond normal boundaries.  With a high Arete, she can advance her attributes and skills to six or more ranks (the normal limit is five).  Arete determines how much mana a planewalker can spend each turn (to power special abilities or spells/prayers/talents).  I intend to find a link between Arete and Belief or Alignment (more on those in another post).  Arete is the trait that defines planewalkers.

So at this point I’m starting to see another project: a .pdf of Planescape: Storytelling System, or something like that.  It’s a shame I can’t find someone to pay me for this…

After a day or two of heavy thinking (during which I set aside pretty much all other work; I find it’s good to do that every once in a while), I came up with a few ideas about the nature of the Outer Planes.  It seems to me that each has a theme, a core concept upon which the entire plane exists.  I don’t believe that any one plane has just one theme, either; and following my previous thoughts concerning a new alignment system, I came to realize that the planes have natural relationships between each other.  I haven’t had time to figure out each plane on its own, but here’s what I’ve got so far (I’ll go over some of the thought process that went into this after the list):

Arcadia

  • Order: We govern by the will of the people.
  • Community: We’re all in this together.
  • For the greater good.

Mount Celestia

  • Tradition: Aim for the standards of your betters.
  • Virtues: Stay true to the virtues of your character.
  • Do what is right, legally and morally.

Elysium

  • Peace: Let people live their lives.
  • Compassion: Do good things for others.
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Ysgard

  • Honor and Glory: We honor the glory of the hero.
  • Purpose: A man is nothing without purpose.

Pandemonium

  • Madness: There is no purpose—it’s all a lie.
  • Isolation: You’re all alone.
  • God is dead.

Abyss

  • Corruption: Use what you can, when you can, to take what you deserve.
  • Strength: Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
  • If you can take it, it’s yours.

Gray Waste

  • Despair: There’s no joy; no love; no hope.
  • Apathy: We all die and rot in the end.
  • Ex nihilo nihil fit.

Carceri

  • Betrayal: Treachery is the path to power.
  • Imprisonment: You just make do with the prison you’re given.
  • Lies are the truth.

Baator

  • Power: Take them out before they take you out.
  • Order: The best way to keep what you got is to keep your lessers in line.
  • The ends justify the means.

Acheron

  • Stability: The State is the Law; the Law is the State.
  • Nationalism: We serve for the glory of the nation.
  • For the greater good.

Each plane above has three statements.  The first two are themes, summed up with one or two words and a short definition.  The third is a sort of “catchphrase” that I think helps to further define the plane, at least from a player’s perspective.  Naturally, when I get around to running a Planescape game, there will be much discussion with the players about the full concept behind each plane.  For now, though, these help me organize the planes into relationships.

For example, as I’ve used before, Arcadia and Acheron oppose each other on the basis that they both claim to work “for the greater good,” but they cannot decide where to ground that “good.”  Arcadia represents order and stability for the benefit of the majority, and not at the expense of the minority; while Acheron sees the minority as a threat to the stability of the nation-state, which exists to protect the majority.  In other words, Arcadia represents a utopian view of society, while Acheron is a dystopian one.  At the same time, Arcadians believe that community is necessary for existence, that individuals cannot hope to survive, let alone thrive, in life without help from others.  Pandemonium holds the opposite view: that social structures and community are a sham, and we’re really all alone in the ‘verse.

I’m particularly pleased with Pandemonium’s themes.  I didn’t set out to drastically change any of the planes, I just wanted to understand their core concepts better.  When Pandemonium “clicked” in my head, it was a happy time.  My approach to the subject was this: what do the alignments from AD&D mean, as philosophical ideas?  Good is empathy and selflessness; evil is cold seflishness.  Law (order) is tradition and social stability; chaos is individualism.  With these ideas in mind, I set out to tackle the hard to define planes first.  Places like Arcadia and Pandemonium have always been tricky to explain, because their “alignment” isn’t a proper alignment according to 2nd Edition.  Pandemonium is listed as “chaotic neutral/evil.”  What does that mean?  Well, I guess it means chaotic neutral with some evil tendencies.  Okay, but what evil tendencies?  And how exactly is it chaotic neutral?  Can we use the old planar alignments as a starting point for understanding them?

I think we can, and so I did, but I didn’t go straight from there.  I looked to the expanded description of each plane.  Pandemonium is a massive underground cavern system where light is literally swallowed by darkness.  The winds blow constantly, and most of the time they’re so loud that you can’t hear your own thoughts.  It’s very easy to get lost there, and once lost physically, it’s even easier to lose your mind.  What must it be like to wander around in the darkness, hearing nothing but wind and your own voice (when you can hear it at all)?  How long does it take the mind to crack, to fracture, or to hallucinate?  When will you start to question your sanity, or wonder if you were ever alive or real to begin with?  With these thoughts in my head, I looked back to the alignment of the plane.  Chaos is individualism in the extreme.  Pandemonium is a place where a planewalker can feel truly isolated.  And the “evil tendencies?”  The realization that, if you are truly alone, or life isn’t real, then all those other people you’ve formed connections with?  Phantom thoughts; demons; shadows; a waste of your time and life; figments that never really cared for you.  Why would you care for them?  If they’re not real, what do they matter?

In other words, the process was a bit more complicated than I made it seem.  Coffee helped.  A lot of coffee…

I’ll continue to brainstorm about the other planes.  And, clearly, I’ll still work on the morality system.  I’ve got a place to start defining character beliefs and philosophies; now I need a means to express and reward them in the game.  But what do you think so far?  Do my themes match with your understanding of the planes?  Have I missed a crucial concept?  Or is any of this even necessary?

Progress

I’m fortunate to have access to the ‘net here in Egypt; however, it’s not consistent, and so I find myself unable to post my latest thoughts. That I’m writing anything at all now is practically a small miracle. Thus I cannot relay the entirety of my ideas in their current form; the best I can do is provide a glimpse of the awesomeness to come. For you see, I have an plan for alignment in Planescape. Sure, I’ve covered some of the basics; and I’ve established my goals; but only now do I see through the fog of philosophical banter to a solution that captures the essence of the setting. See, in Planescape, the planes themselves are built from the beliefs of people. They live, almost as you and I are alive, and can exert their influence on others. I’ll go into detail with those ideas later; for now, let us consider what this may mean for a morality system. Take Arcadia: it is a place where nations organize themselves around the best form of government. They seek to provide and care for as many people as possible, while maintaining individual rights and freedoms. Acheron, on the other hand, contains nations that likewise want to govern their people, but not because it’s best for the people; they govern and control because it’s the best thing for the nation. If the rights of the people are trampled in the process, it’s a necessary evil. Now you may not agree completely with these views of these two planes; but they are an example of what I’m driving at. In this system, each character identifies with a plane. Each plane has at least two views (outlooks, opinions, etc) that represent that plane’s “alignment.” A character who identifies with Arcadia will act according to the belief that governments (and their laws) exist to benefit as many people as possible; sort of, for the greater good, but without crushing people in the process. Planewalkers who identify with Acheron might take the opposite belief: people need order and stability, even if it means losing personal liberties. And that’s just the start. In a couple weeks, I should have more reliable access, and I’ll be able to expand on this concept. Til then…

I’ve made it a point, to date, to ignore the discussion over D&D Next.  And for the foreseeable future, I will continue to do so.  I’ve come to regard Planescape as a roleplaying world separate from D&D.  I think it’s always been a setting that didn’t quite fit the game.  So instead of making Planescape fit D&D, I’m going to start making rules to fit Planescape.

As I’ve discussed here and here, my intent is to express alignment in both fluff and crunch such that it is a clearly defined, viable system.  My experience with games like AD&D, 4th Edition, Star Wars (d6) and various White Wolf products, along with online resources, leads me to the following model for a morality system:

  1. Belief influences actions.
  2. Actions determine belief.
  3. Stressful and dangerous situations test our beliefs.
  4. When a character acts according to his beliefs in stressful situations, he reaffirms his sense of self.
  5. We can represent this psychological event by rewarding actions that adhere to beliefs.
  6. The rewards need to be relevent and significant to the game (mechanically speaking), and need to be different from one belief to the next.

In the above formula, we can replace the word ‘belief’ with ‘alignment’ as a point of reference.  I don’t intend to keep alignment; at least, not the alignment system from AD&D.  Instead, I want to draft a “spectrum of beliefs.”  We’ll start with a foundation:

The planes are concrete representations of ideas.  For example, Acheron, nicknamed “The Infernal Battlefield,” is a place where order exists for the benefit of the whole.  If the individual is harmed in the process, that’s okay; if a lot of individuals are harmed, that’s also okay, so long as the state survives.  According to AD&D, Acheron is Lawful-Evil, with a strong tendency toward lawful over evil beliefs.  I’m not going to ignore this fact; it helps me decide what to include and remove from Acheron.  But I’m not going to use the old language of alignment.  Instead, I need to replace it with something that reflects the ideas of the planes.  So Acheron is defined by its adherence to law and order as a means to create the perfect nation-state.  Arcadia, interestingly, is defined the same way; but it’s different because it defines the “perfect” nation-state as a place that exists to benefit the people; Acheron sees it the other way ’round.

Good.  Evil.  Order.  Chaos.  These are the basic beliefs of the planes.  When I look to White Wolf games, I find the following terms: Compassion, Conviction, Temperance and Valor.  Further speculation turns up other ideas: Empathy, Honor, Vitality, Harmony, etc.  Between the themes of the planes and these terms is a middle ground.  Perhaps the belief of Acheron and Arcadia is “nationality,” or nationalism.  A character with this trait measures her actions against a sense of nationalism.  Do her actions further the goals of her nation?  Or does she drift from one nation to another, always shifting loyalties?  As there are 16 planes, I should get around eight morality traits.  Following the examples found in White Wolf products, we can track a character’s progress along her chosen traits (probably only one or two per character).

At this point I want to question my method: can I represent two ends of a spectrum with one trait?  Can a trait be negative instead of positive?  Is there a way to link these traits, at least vestigial, to the old alignments?  I wanted to write more about this topic, but it seems I’ve just barely managed to stir my brain into a mush resembling baby food.  I think I will have to ponder the issue further…

But if you’ve kept up with my work, or you want to take a moment to peruse my past rants, what do you think?  How else can I go about devising a morality system that is both definitive and flexible?  What sort of rewards should I offer players in my Planescape game?  Any other thoughts you want to toss my way?

Edit — During this next week, I’m going to put down my thoughts about a morality system specific to Planescape.  It should be interesting.

Here’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for a long time, but have never implemented in a game: outer planar creatures have no physical bodies.

Planescape’s cosmology is organized something like this:

I understand that you’re probably familiar with D&D and the Great Wheel; these images aren’t intended to inform, but to illustrate.  First, they serve as a partial example of the point I made in my last post: there are many ways to organize the planes, and it’s not about their physical relationships to each other, but about their metaphysical relationships.  Second, the classic arrangement suggests a series of wheels-within-wheels, meaning the inner planes are literally nested inside the material plane, which is nested inside the outer planes.

I know.  The plane of fire does not lie in the center of the universe.  But this arrangement can be used to garner insight into the nature of the planes, their inhabitants and their relationship to the Prime Material.

What do we know about the inner planes?  They are the origin of all physical matter.  Natives do not have souls; most barely have the mental capacity that primes possess.  When an elemental dies, its body merges with its surroundings.  We may postulate that elementals do understand religion, or that they do not possess emotions.  I’m not convinced that this is the case, but I understand the logic behind it.

The opposite view, then, is that outer planar natives (petitioners, planars, proxies and powers; more on these later) are non-physical.  See, the outer planes are the cornerstone of belief.  Each plane represents a philosophy (or a group of closely linked philosophies) that is so ingrained in the collective consciousness of the multiverse that they’ve become (for all practical purposes) permanent places.  I want to focus on the idea, then, that the outer planes are built purely from belief.  They contain no physical matter.

There are many roads leading from this point.  Are the outer planes like a virtual reality simulator, a place where you plug your mind in, ala The Matrix?  What happens to a prime’s body when he travels to the outer planes?  How do planars, like demons and angels, appear in the Prime Material if they have no bodies?  I don’t want to address all of these; I just want to talk about how my game would operate, and how your game might benefit, under these rules.

First, I don’t know how primes will travel to the outer planes, or what happens to their bodies when they do.  This might be an explanation for why so many primes either get trapped in the Wheel (their minds are locked away while their bodies whither to nothing back home), or just happen to be really powerful (they have the magic and/or training to physically leave the Prime Material behind).  Either way, I’m assuming that the players are primes that have overcome the metaphysical barrier of the Wheel, or they’re planars.

Sidebar: there are four categories of outer plane natives: petitioners, planars, proxies and powers.  They’re better defined in the Planescape Campaign Setting, but briefly: peititioners are the souls of prime material inhabitants; they’ve died and gone to heaven, loosely speaking.  Planars are born and bred “mortals” of the planes.  Proxies are generally the immortal variant of planars (and include demons and angels in their ranks).  Powers are deities of all size and shape.

A planar’s physical form is determined by a few factors: 1) race, 2) plane and 3) power.  Race is fairly simple; a bariaur is a ram-like version of a centuar, while a tiefling is a human with daemonic influences in his bloodline.  Following this example, then, if a bariaur from Ysgard (home plane) travelled to Acheron, he would experience some sort of physical change.  This represents the near-sentient nature of the plane exerting its influence over a non-native.  Finally, if the bariaur is powerful enough, he may be able to negate Acheron’s influence on his body.

This standard would be the norm, then, for player characters.  Petitioners are too limited, being little more than extensions of their plane, while proxies and powers are another breed altogether.  But for the purpose of discussion, I’ll cover them: petitioners would never change form beyond what their plane normally prescribes (some petitioners “evolve” over time into more or less advanced forms); while proxies and powers would have more control over their bodies while travelling the planes because of their inherently powerful natures.

Interestingly, this approach would generally limit who can travel effectively through the planes.  By “effectively” I mean that a planar would probably limit his travel to those places that do not conflict with his nature; and if he were to travel beyond that, he’d probably be fairly powerful himself.  So when player characters meet a bariaur in Acheron, it stands to reason that the bariaur is not someone to be taken lightly.  It also helps to explain why these planes have held their shape for as long as they have.  The inhabitants are shaped by the plane’s philosophy and they, in turn, help strengthen the plane.  When outsiders travel to a plane, they are “assaulted,” after a fashion, by the plane itself, as well as its natives, until the intruders are repelled.  This generally prevents a plane from being overrun by beings who would otherwise cause its philosophy to shift.

As I read what I’ve written here, I realize that I’m probably not clearly explaining my thoughts.  If that’s the case, and you’re so inclined to seek clarification, please leave a comment.  Or if you generally disagree or otherwise want to discuss the topic, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I apologize if my writing is too vague; I really just wanted to the get these ideas on the page so I could work them over.  I’ll probably revisit them in future posts, in relation to other subjects.

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