Planescape: The March to War

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A Primer for the Clueless

(Excerpt from the Planescape Campaign Setting)

If anything can be said about The Planes for sure, it’s that they are many and varied. The peaceful fields of Elysium, the mechanical metropolises of Mechanus, the infinite torments of the Abyss, and everything else in between can be found somewhere in the multiverse. Worlds made entirely of water touch those where everyone lives in cities in the sky, bound together by portals reaching across all creation. Billions of people, both the living and the dead, as well as creatures beyond such states, all exist throughout infinite landscapes each different than the last. Some are unaware of the multiverse beyond their own dimension, but others travel the cosmos and make up the greater society of the planes. Anything you can imagine can be found out there by those brave enough to look.

The setting of Planescape is not a single continent or world, but rather an entire multiverse, a collection of planes linked together by portals, mystical pathways, and stranger channels. Most players are familiar with the Prime Material Plane, which serves as the backdrop for the majority of Dungeons & Dragons campaigns and hosts a variety of worlds all its own, while the other planes are commonly reserved for the mightiest adventurers and the most powerful foes. Here we dispense with that myth and make each plane a setting all its own, suitable for characters of any level, and all the richer for its interaction with the rest of the multiverse. There is no single world or plane that sits at the center of creation, for no place in the multiverse overshadows the rest in importance. Players are expected to travel to new planes and encounter new people and ideas often, for that is the life of a planewalker and one most characters would not pass up.


Planar Denizens

Walk into the right bar in a major planar city and it’s not unusual to see a angel from Mount Celestia sitting across a devil from Baator discussing philosophy, politics, and the grand scheme of the multiverse. Mythical creatures are both more common and more active on the planes. Despite the grandeur of such beings, with literally hundreds of thousands of species inhabiting the multiverse there is always something stranger, more powerful, or more influential. Some live as “normal” members of their respective societies while others remain hidden in the far reaches of creation. Indeed, the gods themselves have their own realms, and it’s not unheard of for a deity to speak with visitors or take direct action to further their own ends.

That being said, races that are prevalent on different worlds in the Prime Material Plane are populous on other planes as well, with humans in particular found in high numbers just about anywhere. Beyond that, there is little that can be said to describe such a wide range of creatures and cultures, what with every walk of life existing out there somewhere. Planar societies have a way of reflecting the common aspects of Prime civilizations while being more alien and diverse. At the same time, people tend to hold stronger convictions yet remain somewhat open-minded; the planes have a way of testing one’s beliefs, but with so many different faiths and principles brought into contact on a regular basis planars usually develop a degree of tolerance, if only to avoid getting themselves into unnecessary trouble.


Defining Reality

On the planes, the majority of organizations and powers value one substance above all others: belief. It is a source of power in the multiverse, the sustenance of the gods, the force that makes and moves creation. Much more than abstract thought, reality itself conforms to strong belief. Virtually everything, from whether a particular harvest will be good and what awaits a person’s soul in the afterlife, to the layout of the multiverse and which gods are prominent at any given time, is heavily influenced by the collective will of everyone in the cosmos. In the end, the power of belief can change the planes in profound ways and literally make anything possible.

At first glance, subjective reality may seem like a playground where everyone gets what they want, but most of the time the planes only react to strong convictions and ideas shared by the masses. Beliefs regarding lifestyle choices, which deities deserve worship, and issues of moral and ethical debate are most strongly reflected in the multiverse, for such things truly matter to people. Likewise, the greatest conflicts are between those seeking to prove the superiority of their philosophy or to win the hearts and minds of others, either in hopes of making reality a better (or worse) place or to gain the power inherent in guiding the belief of billions. In the end, the war to define reality provides fertile ground for adventures filled with passion and intrigue, great leaders and conniving gods, and battles that challenge principles as well as capabilities.


Distinctions of Good and Evil, Law and Chaos

Traditional D&D games pit heroic adventurers against vile villains. Advanced stories may complicate matters by placing characters in difficult positions where they must make decisions about what is truly right and wrong. Planescape takes this idea a step further and emphasizes the cultural and philosophical differences that can turn benevolent societies against one another and lead patrons of virtue to become allies with paragons of evil. Just think of the conflicts that can arise from the two ideologies “individual rights supersede the desires of the majority” and “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” and you can begin to see the tensions which divide the multiverse. Even those of good alignment cannot plainly justify their viewpoints based on any sort of majority, for there are just as many realms of evil as realms of good, and some say more than enough fiends to overrun all creation.

To planars, questions of right and wrong instead become questions of what ideology is the best, and with the most extreme manifestations of Good, Evil, Law, and Chaos as influential as they are in the motions of the cosmos, both zealousness and tolerance can often be found in abundance within a single person or group. All of the Outer Planes can be seen as a spectrum of gradual change in outlook, with distinctions in alignment, religion, and culture between neighbors near and far provoking both a confluence of ideas and struggles for supremacy. What this means for planewalkers is that adventure and peril can be found even in the most serene realms, and it is considered no more righteous to go around killing those of opposing morality for what they believe than it is to hunt those of a particular race (even “monstrous” ones) for the characteristics they were born with. That said, there’s no shortage of wars and lesser conflicts over just these differences.

Player Races

Primes, Planars, and Player Characters

There are a few details to be aware of regarding the Prime and Planar races. The vast majority of Prime races - elves, dwarves, halflings and the such - one would encounter on the Great Road come from the Prime Material Plane. That doesn’t mean that all the elves one meets are Primes though.

Millennia ago prime humans and demi-humans adventured to the realms of their deities. And in the case of the demi-humans they – for the most part – decided they liked it there and stayed to establish homes and raise families. Communities of planar demihumans are born, live and die in the specific areas that their gods have established as realms. Few ever leave; if a body lived in the perfect home of her god, her people’s idea of heaven, would she bother to go adventuring around the planes? Probably not. Only a trivial number of planar demihumans live outside the realms of their gods.

Now, a few demi-human Prime enclaves exist in rare places; like the halfling village of Barnstable in Limbo, transported there by wild magic. Those halflings now live on the planes, but they are not planars. After a generation or two, their kids will be planars.

What this means is that, planar demihumans (elves, dwarves, gnomes and halflings) may not be PCs unless the DM gives specific permission for that particular character. Players who want to play an elf from Arvandor (for example) must offer a very good reason why the elf’s left the home of his gods. Naturally, as noted above, demihumans prime characters are allowed as usual.

Prime Races

The polite term for those mortal travelers born on any world in the Prime Material Plane who have since ventured beyond their narrow realm. They’re usually humans, elves, dwarves and the like. Most are just visitors who journey to the planes for some particular purpose, but some are adventuresome types who’ve set up permanent shop on the planes, most often in Sigil. Prime settlements are found scattered about the Outer Planes, (mostly in the upper reaches), and prime wizards like to make demiplanes in the Ethereal, but neither is very common.

Primes have got one big advantage over the local folks: They’re not susceptible to planar-related magic. Seems that while Planar folks are sensitive to spells that protect, summon, or banish, the primes are completely immune. A Monster Summoning will never drag primes away at an unexpected moment, and a Holy Word won’t go casting them back to their prime-material world. Even a protection from evil spell doesn’t consider them extraplanar creatures.

Dwarves

Elves

Gnomes

Half-elves- Though listed amoung the Prime Races, Planar Half-elves can occur from the union of a planar human and a prime elf.

Half-orcs- Much like the above, Planar Half-orcs can result from the union of prime humans and planar orcs.

Halflings

Humans- Being the ubiquitous species that is, humans have carved out civilizations for themselves across the planes for generations. As such, humans can be of either Prime or Planar origin.


Planar Races

Most beings found out on the planes are planars, born and bred on the planes. Planars ain’t all horrible monsters or whatnot, and actually include all sorts of folks: humans, half-elves, githzerai and the like, in addition to some more exotic types. Planars do have powers that make them different from primes. It’s part of their extra-dimensional blood, something that just comes from being born a part of the extended cosmos. Planars don’t have a silver cord - that magical thread that ties a prime back to his or her prime-material world. Planars also have the power to see the gates between planes with a simple perception check. Portals between planes are clear to any planar; where a prime would see nothing at all, a planar sees the glowing outline of a portal. ‘Course the downside is that Planars are, in fact, extraplanar and suffer from things like protection from evil. Almost as bad, planars can be hauled off to the Prime Material Plane without notice by monster summoning’s and the like.

Aasimar - in their veins flows the blood of both humankind and one of the races of the Upper Planes.

Bariaur - denizens of the Upper Planes, proud warriors with the upper features of a man, and lower features of a goat.

Drow - the infamous Dark Elves.

Genasi - half mortals that have the power of one of the Elemental Planes flowing through their bodies.

Githzerai - a proud race that fights for its freedom, and whose members have mastered the Chaos of their home Plane of Limbo.

Rogue Modron - Robotic creatures that have broken away from the hive mind on the Pure Law Plane of Mechanus.

Tieflings - in their veins flows the blood of both humankind and one of the races of the Lower Planes.

Player Factions

Athar: (Deniers, the Lost) - According to these folks, the great and feared powers are liars who are undeserving of mortal worship! Those who claim to be the “gods” of the planes are just mortals like us.

Believers of the Source: (Godsmen) - To these characters, all things are godly. All things can ascend to greater glory - if not in this life, then in the next. Patience, that’s all it takes.

The Bleak Cabal: (Bleakers, the Cabal, Madmen) - “There’s no meaning to it all,” say the members of this faction, “so just give it up, poor sod. Whoever said reality had to make sense?”

The Doomguard: (Sinkers) - They’re pretty sure nothing lasts forever, not even the planes. It’s the way things are supposed to be, they guess, the goal of everything.

The Dustmen: (The Dead) - These guys say Life’s a joke, a great trick. Nobody’s alive; in fact, there’s no such thing as Life. Sure, the petitioners are dead compared to the rest of us, but everybody else is dead, too - they just don’t know it yet.

The Fated: (Takers, the Heartless) - This faction says that if they've managed to get a hold of something, it's because it belongs to them. Each sod makes his own fate, and there’s no one else to blame for it.

The Fraternity of Order: (Guvners) - These folks are sure that everything’s got laws. Mankind’s got laws. Sigil’s got laws. Even the Lower Planes got their laws. He knows how to use them to his advantage, and how to break them without getting caught.

The Free League: (Indeps) - This ain’t no faction and nobody tells them what to do. The idea that any berk knows the truth and everybody else’s wrong - well, that’s a chance a body shouldn’t take.

The Harmonium: (the Hardheads) - The secret of the multiverse? That’s simple, and every cutter in the Harmonium knows what it is: “The Harmonium is always right.” Look, the goal of every enlightened being in the multiverse is to live in perfect harmony with all others.

The Mercykillers: (Red Death) - As far as this faction’s concerned, justice is everything, and there ain’t no sod who can give it the laugh. Those cutters that try’ll have the Mercy Killers on their tail, so the smart thing is just don’t try.

The Revolutionary League: (Anarchists) - “These universes, these powers, they’re all corrupt!” screams this faction. “They’re guiding people in the wrong directions, keeping them slaves and prisoners to the powerful. The old beliefs are lies.”

The Sign of One: (Signers) - Every person, every individual, is unique. This is the greatest glory of the universe – that each creature living (and dead) is different from all others.It’s obvious, then, that the multiverse centers around the self, or so this faction would have everyone believe.

The Society of Sensation: (Sensates) - According to these folks, life and the multiverse can only be known by the senses - the only proofs of existence.

The Transcendent Order: (Ciphers) - These guys say that for a body to become one with the multiverse, he’s got to stop thinking and act. Action without thought is the purest form of thought.

The Xaositects: (Chaosmen) - As these sods see it, the multiverse wasn’t born from Chaos - the multiverse is Chaos.There’s no order, no pattern to anything. That’s themeaning of the multiverse, the great secret everyoneelse is just too dull-witted and cowardly to admit!


Mechanics

Languages

From the list we have been given from the races the common languages would be:

Trade languages: There exists 2 trades languages, Planar Trade and Lower Planar Trade. The upper plains use Celestial Common but that isn't listed for anyone other than Aasimar.

Racial Languages: Each race has a race language. Most common seem to be Githzerai (which is probably related to Githyanki), Draconic, Eladrin, Goblin, Sla'ad (2 entries), Khaasta (2 entries), Yugloth (2 entries). Also common are the standard race languages, and a bunch of celestial, elemental, demonic and unknown races listed as follows:

Aasimon, Archon, Asura, Baku, Guardinal, Githzerai, Bariaur, Baku, Guardinal, Tso, Drow sign language, Gehrelth, Night Hag, Sla'ad, Tanar'ri, Mephit. Nereid, Efreeti. Djinni, Tanar'ri. Modron, Baatezeu, Bladeling, Gehreleth, Nighthag, Tanar'i, Tso.


Resources

Guide to Planescape Slang Some things written in the narrator's voice is actually insulting the reader. Find out more here.

Planescape Campaign Setting This document has a lot of information for Planescape. Unfortunately as I was unaware, its also probably not cool to just cut and paste out. Try to read it for yourself, but then again its pretty huge.

Alchemist Build Guide

Summoner Build Guide


Old Pathfinder Characters

Firaga, a Pure Neutral Tiefling Elemental Fire Wizard, belonging to the Doomguard faction. Played by Mike.

Journeyman Kinoc, A human cleric assigned to assist and guide the free wizard Firaga. Played by Eric.

Karesansui, an Earth Genasi Barbarian looking for understanding of the universe, and the Dao. He is also looking to achieve Godhood.

Hahlsi'un, An elderly Githzerai professor looking to salvage his mangled career.

Caden-Ardea, A human divine defender paladin... seeking to destroy all things evil on its home turf.

Ozma, Aasimar Rogue/Cleric. Firaga's foil that usually just ends up enabling him. Once married to a Satyr. Sensate

3n+1: A Rogue Modron who believes that his true place is within the Confuscian Celestial Order

Aiden Ó Fidhne An elven diviner hoping to eliminate violence by being able to predict the outcomes of all potential battles

Bo Bessette Human fighter, dreams of going home and slaying his entire village.

Cao Zheng An old Elven Alchemist out for revenge.

Dolanu, an Elven Ranger played by Prince.

Lillian Beaupree A 16 year old girl with a pet sheep.

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