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Contact Other Plane

Following up from the last post, here’s the first draft of the spell Contact Other Plane, that I intend to use in my game.


Contact Other Plane

Spell Level: 5th
School: Divination
Casting Time: 5
Duration: Special
Range: Special
Target: Special
Saving Throw: None

With this spell, the wizard can send her mind to another plane of existence in order to receive advice and information from the beings that dwell there. The player must decide which type of extraplanar being she is trying to contact: petitioner, planar, proxy or power. She may ask up to two questions per wizard level. For every two questions, the player must roll to see if a) the target knows the correct answers, b) the target is willing to cooperate and c) the wizard can withstand prolonged contact with a foreign intellect. The relative power of the wizard and the subject determines the chance of success:

Chance to Know Answer / Chance for Insanity
Wizard Level Petitioner Planar Proxy Power
9 11% 20% 34% 60%
10 13% 22% 38% 67%
11 14% 24% 42% 74%
12 15% 26% 46% 80%
13 16% 28% 50% 87%
14 18% 31% 54% 94%
15 19% 33% 57% 100%
16 20% 35% 61% 100%
17 21% 37% 65% 100%
18 23% 39% 69% 100%
19 24% 42% 73% 100%
20 25% 44% 77% 100%
Chance for a Cooperative Subject
Subject’s Alignment
Wizard Alignment CG NG LG CN N LN CE NE LE
CG 50% 45% 40% 45% 40% 35% 40% 35% 30%
NG 45% 50% 45% 40% 45% 40% 35% 40% 35%
LG 40% 45% 50% 45% 40% 45% 40% 35% 40%
CN 45% 40% 45% 50% 45% 40% 45% 40% 35%
N 40% 45% 40% 45% 50% 45% 40% 45% 40%
LN 35% 40% 45% 40% 45% 50% 45% 40% 45%
CE 40% 35% 40% 45% 40% 45% 50% 45% 40%
NE 35% 40% 35% 40% 45% 40% 45% 50% 45%
LE 30% 35% 40% 35% 40% 45% 40% 45% 50%

To determine if the subject is willing to cooperate, consult the above table by referencing the wizard’s alignment against the alignment of the subject’s home plane. This check is made once, in secret and when the spell is first cast. An uncooperative subject will answer questions, to the best of its knowledge, but will be intentionally evasive, curt and misleading.

After the wizard has asked (and received the answers, right or wrong) two questions, the DM must check to see if she is stricken temporarily insane. This check is made after every two successive questions. The more powerful the subject, the more likely that its mind will be too much for the wizard to handle. The insanity lasts for one week per extraplanar category (one for petitioners, two for planars, etc.). The effect is similar to a Quest spell: the wizard takes on the alignment and demeanor of the subject’s plane and the subject may demand a service of the wizard which she will attempt to fulfill to the best of her ability (making it her first priority while the insanity lasts).

The wizard is not required to ask all her available questions and may end the spell at any time. However, contact with another plane may not be prolonged. The wizard must ask her questions in one sitting, without a break; if an interruption occurs, the spell ends.


Maps and Spells

Here’s one way to map the planes (2E)…


Here’s another (4E)…


Here’s a third (3E)…


Here’s an attempt from the real world to describe the higher and lower planes of existence. Here’s another. Here’s an interpretation by JDJarvis at Aeons & Augauries.

What’s our point?

Your compaign world should not be limited to one map of the planes. These are not literal maps. They do not show places. They do not represent borders or nations or peoples. There are no mountains or rivers or grasslands in these maps. They are a representation of the relationship that exists between the Prime Material and the Planes of Existence. As such, there are can be more than one interpretation. All that matters is that the interpretation contains some accurate information. (The quest for accurate information is a task that your party can take on for itself. The rewards should be self-evident.)

Delta D&D started a conversation about the spell Contact Other Plane. It has other bloggers talking about the arrangement of the planes. It has me thinking about how to structure the spell for my own game.

This is where the “map” of the planes is so critical: This spell (and others like it, such as Gate, Etherealness or Summon Monster) is dependent upon the arrangement of the ‘verse. How we map the planes, and the relationship we define between the planes, will impact how we structure this spell.

Roughly speaking, this is my map for the planes: the Inner Planes (the Elemental Chaos) is the “center” of the ‘verse. It’s the seed where all physical matter begins. It has no permanent internal borders. We may loosely describe how water and fire are opposed to each other, and thus they do not “share borders;” and for the most part this is correct. But not always.

From there we have the Prime Material. This is the universe as we know it. There are billions of galaxies. In each galaxy there are billions of worlds. On each world there are billions of people. They live, they die and their souls depart for the Outer Planes.

The Outer Planes are arranged (roughly) according to the Great Wheel map. Limbo does not share a border with Mechanus. However, there are pathways that connect the Outer Planes in ways that are not immediately obvious. The World Tree, for example, links Ysgard directly to Pandemonium, though the two planes do not share a border.

The Astral and Ethereal represent the realms of the mind and the soul. They are the primary conduit for travel through the planes. They connect the Prime to the Outer Planes. They are largely uninhabited, though the Ethereal is home to most non-corporeal undead.

Now we come to the point: how does a spell like Contact Other Plane work?

I understand the intent of this spell is to reach out to an intelligent being on another plane and probe its mind for answers to specific questions. As such, I’m not sure how well it should work with regard to elemental creatures. The Inner Planes are not connected to the Ethereal or Astral. Elementals do not have souls and their “minds” are only rudimentary at best. I realize that, according to D&D and the Planescape setting, there are intelligent elementals and there are mortal denizens of the Inner Planes; this is a conundrum that I must solve for my game. In the meantime, however, I think it best to accept that Contact Other Plane cannot reach to the Elemental Chaos. Another way to explain this is that Contact uses the Astral plane to make the connection. If the Astral doesn’t reach the Elemental, then the spell can’t work that way.

Then we have the Outer Planes, which are arranged in a circle or wheel shape around the Prime Material. There is no distance involved here. Reaching to Celestia is the same as Carceri or the Grey Wastes. Instead, the deciding factor should be the power of the creature contacted. There are four power levels for the Planes: petitioner, planar, proxy and power. (I’d like to add a fifth, though I’m not sure where it would go and what it would represent. Again, we have to work with what we’ve got for the moment.) Naturally, petitioners should be the easiest to contact and should carry the least risk (such as insanity). They also are the least likely to know the answer.

Let’s break down the possibilities for the petitioner. How can we know if a given, random soul knows the answer to a question? (Random because I’m assuming that the caster does not know the name of the being she is trying to contact. That’s an element we can add to the spell after we’ve established some base parameters). I use a demographics table (very similar to Tao of D&D) that I think can be re-purposed here. The basic principle is that the individuals in a population are not equal. Some are clearly superior to others. In the context of Contact Other Plane, the inequality lies in the knowledge of the subject. Some people will know the answers we’re seeking. Some will not. At the petitioner level, given how many of them there are (2.5e+33 for the whole of the Outer Planes), I think it’s fair to assume that the chance you’re going to get a known answer every time is not very good.

Let’s assume that the NPCs of the world who have 3d6 for their attributes are the most likely to actually know anything about anything. About 2% of the total population have stats that are almost that good. (I would post my version of the demographics table, but I think I deleted it from my cloud storage.) That seems like it might be a decent baseline; let’s assume a 1.5% chance (per level of the caster) that the petitioner knows the answer to a given question (this requires a roll for every individual question).

Planars represent mortals that live on and travel through the planes, thus they might have more knowledge than a petitioner. The same applies to proxies and powers, and since there’s only four categories…

Chance to Know Answer
Caster Level Petitioner Planar Proxy Power
5 7% 14% 28% 56%
6 9% 18% 36% 72%
7 10% 20% 40% 80%
8 12% 24% 48% 96%
9 13% 26% 52% 100%


I think the other components to the spell depend on other factors. The chance for insanity depends on how powerful the contacted being is. Proxies (such as angels and demons) are certainly ‘otherworldly’ and, combined with their immortality and different concepts of morality, logic, ethics, etc, should pose a chance of rendering the caster temporarily insane. (The precise reasoning behind this, however, should be explored in a later post.) The chance that the subject tries to mislead or lie to the caster should be based on its moral inclinations. Good creatures are more likely to empathize with the caster and thus less likely to lie to her. However, I’m not certain that I have a solid methodology for determining the chances of these components. I want to avoid compounding the issue (for example, by rendering a known answer useless when the caster becomes insane for a long period of time) but I don’t have a solid answer just yet.

The bottom line, therefore, is this: careful thought should go into the design of your world. In the case of Planescape, it’s possible to create spells that are dynamic, rich and distinctly unique to your world if you are aware of the details of that world.

How to Run

How to Run, by Alexis D. Smolensk.

Buy it. Read it. Love or hate it, but please let us know why.

More Definition

There are two kinds of games: where the rules are clearly defined and there you have to figure them out on your own.

Most games fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes. Poker, I should think, is an excellent example. It has clearly defined rules. I can explain the game to new players. Deal some cards, place some bets, reveal some cards, bluff (or don’t), fold (or stay), etc. Naturally there’s a lot of variance but in the end, the rules are clear. Yet the rules of Poker are not the whole of the game. The other part – the more interesting and important part – is about reading people. How do I know if this person is bluffing?

It’s not just a matter of skill or technique. There are rules for reading people. Salespeople and con artists (and many others) know these rules, and use them to great effect. And if you doubt this claim, please invite me to go car shopping with you. I could use some humor in my life right now.

Monopoly and Risk have these elements; so does Chess. They have clearly defined rules, basic strategies (and advanced ones) for play and the element of knowing your opponent. This latter piece is more or less critical depending on the dynamic of the players involved.

Role-playing games do not have these elements.

Role-playing games have rules. These rules should be clearly defined or the game risks devolving into petty squabbles. Role-playing should not be about reading your opponent because the player does not have an opponent (at least, not in the sense that other games do).

In the game this guy is playing, there is no opponent. And if there is, he is most certainly not the DM.

In the game these guys are playing, the opponent is the DM.

All role-playing games have one element in common: dice. (Diceless RPGs don’t count. Without dice, your rules are suspect. Without dice, you have no impartial arbiter. Without dice, the whole of the game is about reading and manipulating people. That is not a role-playing game.) Dice create a bridge between the real world and the fantasy. With dice, and the rules we use to employ and interpret them, we can claim certainty about the game world and its events. We establish a baseline for referrence. We can KNOW things.

So what are hit points? Because that’s the discussion at hand and the reason I feel compelled to comment. I’ve heard it said that hit points are many things all at once: luck, fate, divine intervention, endurance, fatigue, muscle mass, skill, etc.


If hit points mean all those things at one time (or nothing at all, because they aren’t real), then what do I know about my character? I have a fighter with 27hp. Is that a lot? Or is it a little? Will I survive the fight with the orc army? Can I tackle a troll one-on-one? If I know that my 27hp represent a dozen (or more) “possible” influences over my character, then I’m confused: why should I have this numerical value instead of something different? Why should my fighter roll 3d10 for hit points instead of 3d8? Why does the thief get 3d6? Aren’t thieves luckier than fighters? Why does the cleric get 3d8? Doesn’t his god care for him enough to grant him 3d12 instead?

Here’s another take on the subject: the DM describes a troll emerging from behind a rock. The creature is massive; eight, maybe nine feet tall, with knotted muscles and thick skin. I know how many hit points my fighter has (27) and I know how much damage I can deal with my sword (1d8+3). The troll takes a step toward me and I can feel the ground shiver. I see the dent it made in the gravel road. Its voice makes my chest vibrate. I brace myself before wetting myself, and swing wildly.

Natural 20. I roll my double damage and get the maximum. The troll takes 22 damage. And it drops. I chopped its head off.

For the sake of this argument, the DM is not using critical hit tables. I got lucky, sure, and did a lot of damage, but how many hit points should this troll have? Remember, the DM in this example emphasized the description of the troll. I know how big and burly my fighter is. I know I can take a few hits from a sword before I’m in danger of going under. This troll is twice my size, at least, and probably a good deal stronger. How can 22 damage take its head off?

The DM is playing by different rules. He subscribes to the “hit points aren’t real, but troll muscles are” philosophy. But I’m the player. I’m limited in my knowledge of the DM’s world to what the DM tells me. I rely on the DM to provide me with consistent information that I can use to understand the world and to guage my actions. What if the example were reversed? If the DM sent a troll at me but the creature looked diseased and sickly? Further, suppose the sick looking troll has 80hp? The DM defends this by saying that this troll is blessed by the gods, while the other had recently been in a battle (presumably one where fire was used, but it left no tell-tale scars… wait, what?).

Dice are the basic building block of a role-playing game. They provide the unit of currency for our discourse. We have common ground to relate ideas because we can reduce those ideas to numerical values. When I hear the DM’s description of a scene I can translate that into factual data. I can use that information to make decisions about my character’s actions.

When we say that 1d8 represent the damage of a sword, what we’re really saying is that it represents the fucking damage dealt by a sword swing. 1 is less than 8. A creature that has 1hp will surely die long before it meets me, the player character. So if I happen upon a hostile creature with 1hp, I expect that there will be a damn good reason. I also expect that it will be a very rare occurrence, as in, not a 1-in-8 chance.

I know that my sword does 1d8 when I swing it. What I don’t know is what that represents in the game until the DM tells me. If the DM tells me one thing and represents the game with another, then he’s playing by different rules. That’s not role-playing. That’s being a dick.


What is the population of the Outer Planes?

The Outer Planes are the afterlife of the mortal realm. They are the heavens and hells of countless Prime Material worlds. In my version of the setting, they also have no real mass; they are the realms of ideas. They are formed and shaped by the souls that inhabit them. If a planeswalker travels to Arcadia and convinces the people of a city to change their beliefs, that city can slip away into Mechanus or Acheron, or virtually any other plane as befits its new alignment

I recently read (though I cannot now find the resourc) that the threshold for culture change is around 30% of a given population. If you want to effect change in your company, for example, you need to get about 30% of the people on board with your ideas. After that, the idea will spread on its own (whether its good or bad). I can atest to this phenomena, albeit in a negative way. My company is currently dealing with negative behaviors from the hourly employees following an internal merger that brought an assembly line-worth of people to us from a different state. These out-of-state workers brought their habits and, over the past three years, have been spreading those habits to other assembly lines. If the new(er) employee group was smaller in size (relative to the rust of the factory), it’s likely that they would have had less influence.

So if 30% is a good threshold for changing ideas in a population, what’s the population of the Outer Planes?

I don’t mean to suggest that players in my game will actually change an entire plane’s worth of people. They might, if they were persistent and capable and organized enough. But there are other reasons to ask this question.

How many angels and demons? How many demons in the Blood War? The Planescape books hint at things like the ratio of Upper Plane population to Lower Plane. But what about the Planes of Order and Chaos?

How much currency is floating around the planes? If I want to present a dynamic economy for my players, wherein the shift in things like price and availability is measureable, I need to know certain constants. What is the base value for the planar economy? It can’t be gold or silver and it can’t be trade goods. These things aren’t real, though people believe them to be real. That’s the issue: the physical goods of an economy only exist because people believe they exist and that they’re needed. Besides, I’ve already established that one of the components for my economy is the population itself; their ideas, their souls, their labor. In order to expand further, I need to know how many souls exist in the Outer Planes.


I had to jump through a few hoops to arrive at that figure, to be honest. I found an estimate for the total number of births throughout human history. There’s a lot of discussion concerning historical periods – how long they lasted or when they started/stopped. Then there’s the question of how many Prime Material worlds contribute to the souls of the Planes.

The total number of births throughout human history is a (very) rough estimate. When I compared it to an equally rough estimate of historical periods, I noticed an interesting trend: the population of the world tended to increase as the length of historical periods decreased. This meant I could play with the relationship between these values and create a standard for the “average” Prime Material world. That average comes in at about 117 billion. We can comfortably assume that the number of deaths per Prime world is about 100 billion.

Interesting scientific discovery: there are potentially 60 billion habitable worlds in our galaxy. Since the Prime Material is our universe, and our universe has upwards of 500 billion galaxies, I think it’s fair to put the number of populated worlds at 5.0e+10 * 5.0e+11 = 2.5e+22. Multiplied by the number of deaths over time and we get 2.5e+33.

The next step is figuring out where those souls end up. There are several factors involved in this calculation, such as alignment and creature rarity. We also have to consider things like reincarnation or ascension: how many souls, over time, end up back in the Prime or absorbed into the Planes themselves? I have the answers, but the explanation is a lengthy one and I’ll have to explore it in my next post.

Defining the Grey

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) from Spells and Steel was kind enough to answer my question (as I posed it on his site):

Me: “What about those grey areas?”

(I was speaking specifically of the experience system in D&D, which I have returned to in full force, having abandoned my misguided attempts to create an entirely new game).

Charles: “The point is, *no matter the system*, there are always grey areas.”

Me: “Is there anything that can be done to push them back so that they don’t show up too often?

Charles: “Trying is a waste of time. They will always be there. The solution is to *trust the players and the GM to be mature human beings*. You can’t make rules to prevent someone from being a jerk. All you can do is not play with them.”

Naturally, I find this… unsatisfying. I do not disagree with some of Charles’ statements. Yes, there will always be jerks in this world. No, you cannot legislate away their bad behavior. Yes, you have to learn to trust people, or help them become better, or not associate with them, etc. But…

But we are talking about a game, not life in general. And this is a game that has rules. And over time, this game’s rules have grown; they’ve changed, evolved, or regressed (depending on your point of view). Interestingly, there’s another game that has changed over the years: football.

Football started with a certain set of rules. Those rules were later expanded. And changed again, until eventually, today there are over 130 pages worth of official football rules. 130 pages. Why? Why is it necessary to have so many rules? I mean, I don’t play football that often, but I remember the basics. It’s a simple game. I can teach my kids how to play well enough that they can play with their peers at just about any time. The same logic applies to basketball and baseball: here’s the core rules, which are simple enough that anyone can join with anyone else, anywhere and at anytime, to play a game. But that does not stop the professional organizations from having a rulebook in excess of a hundred pages. There is an advantage to having that many rules. They are clearly defined to avoid the grey areas. For example, two referees might rule two different ways about a common play, such that it becomes a risk to use that play if you do not know how the ref will respond. So the pro league will refine their rules and remove the grey; the ref now has clear guidance about how to handle that play.

This is to the benefit in football. Why do we argue that it is to our detriment in roleplaying?

Roleplaying is different from games like football or baseball. It’s different because it has no real boundaries. We can design all the rules we want, and we can get as complex as we want, and we can create guidelines for a thousand permutations of one scenario – and in the end, one player will think of something we did not, and we will find ourselves forced to rule ad-hoc. Roleplaying is a sandbox game, where the edge of the sandbox is beyond the pale. No matter what we do, we will never conceive of all the rules for all possible situations.

Thus the response, “trying is a waste of time.” Which is just another way of saying, “it’s too hard,” or, “I’m lazy,” or, “my players aren’t worth the effort.”

The effort of expanding the rules of the game is to our benefit because it creates a consistent, reliable, robust environment wherein we can present the best possible game for our players.

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.


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…


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  The second is at  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.

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