[Let's Read] 4e Dragon & Dungeon Magazine: Monster Articles


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Alright, in that case, allow me to amend this most grievous error; let us revisit Dragon #414 and discuss the Ecology of the Modron!

Opening Thoughts:
I've never really been a huge fan of most of the Outsiders in D&D, to be honest. They tend to rely too heavily on the Alignment spectrum to give them any depth, and frankly that rarely works. I can name exactly two Great Wheel Outsiders I genuinely like - the Arcanaloth and the Lillend - and I have a very cynical suspicion as to why.

My enmity particularly rests with the Ethically Neutral Spectrum Outsiders. Slaadi, Modrons and Rilmani. At least the Celestials and the Fiends have some basic mythological breeding to prop them up; I find the Neutral Stripers to be just dull and one-dimensional. I love Nordom, but Modrons as a whole? They can take a flying leap. I got no real use for or interest in a combination of every stereotype of the obstructive bureaucrat mixed with the mindlessly simple robot.

But... 4e was an edition that vastly changed up the cosmology. Abandoning the Alignment Grid as a sacred cow forced them to re-evaluate and reinvent outsiders to exist on their own merit, rather than just to fill out a grid. I legitimately like 4e's Angels, it finally made Demons & Devils feel distinct to me, and I was a big fan of the new context for Eladrin. I honestly wish that 4e had gotten around to tackling Guardinals, because they're a potentially interesting concept let down throughout their history by a combination of the "alignment does all the characterization work" and absolutely horrible artwork. Seriously, if you're going to have furry angels, get a damn furry artist to do the art; this should be basic logic!

...Sorry, got lost there. So, yeah; I'm interested in seeing what 4e can do with Modrons, given how well it redid literally everything in the cosmology.

The Creation of the Modrons:
The history of the modrons is kept in-universe by the Fraternity of Order, within Sigil. It traces their past to the Age of Creation, long before the Dawn War, when the Primordials exploited the fluidity of their plane to birth infant worlds and fledgling races that they ultimately swept aside to start over. One Primordial, recorded by the Fraternity as "The Prime Architect", stood apart from its peers.

The Prime Architect was the first to peer beyond the limits of the Elemental Chaos and view something outside; an anomalous plane, a counterpoint to the Far Realm, a region of perfect order and harmony that the Prime Architect named as "the Accordant Expanse". The Prime Architect found this vision so enrapturing that it took inspiration from it and began to shape the Elemental Chaos on a massive scale. Exactly what it built, I'm not certain; I think the article is implying that it crafted the entire World Axis as a whole from the foundation of the Elemental Chaos. Here's the relevant paragraphs; what's your interpretation?

Enraptured by this vision of perfection, the Prime Architect began to shape the Elemental Chaos on a massive scale. The first phase of the grand design required distilling the chaotic maelstrom into four base elements: air, earth, fire, and water. To achieve this end, the Architect enlisted four mighty elemental lords as overseers. As the framework took shape, the elemental lords in turn tasked their subordinates, the archomentals, with crafting the latticework of the final structure, incorporating mixtures of the base elements.

At last the Prime Architect beheld its momentous creation, raw elemental power molded by symmetry and order. By drawing on this cosmic arrangement of elements, the grand creations of the primordials could persist, allowing mortal life to flourish at last.
Sadly, the Prime Architect's work was not without its flaws. Somehow, their actions opened breaches into the Far Realm, and attracted the attention of one of that mad plane's squamous god-things; Mak Thuum Ngatha, the Nine-Tongued Worm. The Prime Architect battled the Worm-god and barely managed to force it back into the Far Realm. Then, mortally wounded, it called upon the energies of the Accordant Expanse and bathed in the cosmic energy of absolute Order, transforming itself into a hive-mind of living constructs of clockwork and flesh; the Modrons.

The modrons spread through the cosmos, stabilizing all of the breaches to the Far Realm. Then, the entire race shifted into the Accordant Expanse, where they fashioned an artificial world for themselves of gears and cogs inside of a metal shell; a realm called "Mechanus". At its center, the clockwork metropolis of Regulus, centered around a grand cathedral in honor of the Prime Architect. At its center, a scintillating pool of pure Order; when the four highest-ranking modrons submerged themselves, they conjoined, emerging as a vestige of the Prime Architect given new flesh and purpose: Primus, the One and the Prime.

The Great Modron March:
We all know what the Great Modron March is; every 289 years, the Modrons swarm out of Mechanus and hold an orderly rampage across the planes. In the World Axis, there's a few tweaks, which can be boiled down to the following bullet points:
* The Great Modron March happens every 289 years because that's how long it took them to build Mechanus, down to the millisecond.
* The Great March actually varies in scope from one march to the next; some marches cover only a handful of planar sites, others cover the entire process.
* The "Fake March" triggered by Orcus-as-Tenebrous occured in the World Axis.
* A new Grand Cycle is reaching its end, and evidence suggests that the Great Modron March will target the dimensional cysts caused by the plague demons of Voidharrow.

Modron Physiology:
The segment on modron physiology is surprisingly in-depth, examining all of their sensory organs and their biological needs. Suffice it to say that modrons are living constructs, and even require food in the form of a glowing, gelatinous, psychomorphic substance found only in the Accordant Expanse.

Modron Culture:
Modron culture is orderly, but that does not mean it's logical - certainly not as mortals understand the concept! They are a hive-mind species, but rigidly divided into a series of castes of increasing order. This is basically the same social structure they had in the Great Wheel, complete with the fact that killing a modron results in a chain of promotions that ultimately sees the same number of modrons per caste remain level. Which is understandable since they are the collective physique of a singular god-like entity.

The biggest change here is arguable the role associated with each modron caste, although at least the basic idea of "Base" Modrons being low-intelligence laborers and "Hierarch" Modrons being directors is consistent. The World Axis version of the hierarchy looks like this:

(Base Modrons)
* Monodrone: General Laborer
* Duodrone: Skilled Laborer
* Tridrone: Supervisor
* Quadrone: Manager
* Pentadrone: Law Enforcer
* Decaton: Administrator
* Nonaton: Arbiter
* Octon: Mayor
* Septon: Inspector
* Hexton: General
* Quinton: Councilor
* Quarton: Governor
* Tertian: Judge
* Secundus: Viceroy
* Primus: Absolute Ruler

Modron Outlook & Psychology
Whilst modrons view themselves collectively, that doesn't mean they're entirely devoid of individuality. Each has a unique set of life experiences, which builds up to give it a subtly distinct personality, mostly made up of unique quirks. These are more notable amongst hierarchs than amongst base modrons.

At the core, modrons are (or at least view themselves as) incarnations of reason. To this end, bringing order from chaos is their obsession; many hierarchs are engaged in bizarre studies to unlock the hidden logic within apparently senseless phenomena. They come across as passionless and frustratingly bureaucratic to others, and their overriding goal to organize, clarify and regiment causes them to view free will as a blight that must be purged from an ordered universe like an infection.

Modrons have a particular dislike of portals, which makes sense when you remember that the racial memory would include the battle against Mak Thuum Ngatha. They view them as weak-points in the fabric of the cosmos, and that using them is slowly corroding the very structure of the cosmic firmament. As a consequence, modrons often appear in areas where portals are found, seeking to prevent their use and ultimately seal them up - no matter their purpose.

Obviously, modrons often need to fight the forces of chaos, which means they have a particular enmity for Slaadi... nothing's changed there, obviously. They fight using logic and proven battle stratagems; because base modrons are so rapidly replaced from the central creche, hierarchs never hesitate to employ wave tactics. Beware the modron as an enemy, because remorse and compassion do not exist in their mind's eyes.

Rogue Modrons:
As in the Great Wheel, the World Axis modrons can "go rogue". This varies in its effects from causing them to develop fully functioning individual personalities, or just enter a basic robot-style programming loop or other such malfunction. The phenomena is almost always seen in base modrons; because hierarchs are caused by a fusion of multiple lower-ranked modrons into a singular body, all of a hierarch's constituent modrons would need to malfunction to drive it rogue.

Naturally, a sizable few paragraphs are given to the idea of having a rogue modron as a companion to the party; various reasons are given for why they might tag along, as well as stats for Rogue Monodrones and Duodrones, and a note that rogue modrons are prone to moving on when they judge they no longer require the party.

The Accordant Expanse is an anomalous plane, similar in basic nature to the Far Realm, but unnaturally structured and orderly, in comparison to the fluid, chaotic and amorphous nature of the Far Realm. It's still not a place you want to visit by any means; its denizens claim that the Accordant Expanse is the "true" universe, and all other existence is a failed construct of their invention, a, quote, "malignant wasteland of chaos and emotion". Thusly, those who managed to look upon the Accordant Expanse find it as terrifying as the Far Realm.

Mechanus itself is a world within the Accordant Expanse, one of many bizarre realities to coexist within that planescape. It takes the form of a metallic cube, roughly 10,000 miles on each side, whose interior is an air-filled void made up of enormous clockwork gears and cogs, pulleys, levers, springs... essentially, it's like being trapped inside of a clock the size of a solar system, with cogs the size of planets, each with its own gravity.

The capital city of the modrons, as stated before, is Regulus; a clockwork metropolis made of 64 interlocking cogs at the heart of Mechanus. Notable locations covered as part of this article are the Cathedral of Order and the Tower of Primus.

If you're familiar with Primus at all, there's nothing really new in this sidebar that discusses who it is, beyond the second confirmation that Primus' murder at the hands of Tenebrous and his replacement is canon in the World Axis.

The last segment of the article adds three new modron statblocks; the Tridrone Watcher, the Pentadrone Farstalker, and the Nonaton Arbiter. It also points the reader to check out the original modron monster article, "Creature Incarnations: Modrons" in Dungeon #186.

Closing Thoughts:
Well, that's the end of this Ecology. What do I think? Well, you might be surprised, but I like it. True, a lot of it is reiterating lore from the Great Wheel, but in this case, that's a strength, not a weakness; fans of modrons from old will find they're not getting some watered down version of the original, which is a common complaint I've seen addressed at 4e's eladrin, but there's enough new stuff here to give them a solid "fit" into the World Axis.

On an aside, I really like the idea of the Accordant Expanse and the Far Realm as mirror-images of each other. A lot of Great Wheel fans complain that the Elemental Chaos is basically an amalgamation of the Inner Planes and Limbo. In addition to pointing out that Limbo's "chaos soup" already made it basically a dumping ground for elemental encounters, this clearly paints the Far Realm as the World Axis' "Realm of Chaos". With the Accordant Expanse as its alien, Lovecraftian Order to the Far Realm's Lovecraftian Chaos, we have finally seen a true homage to D&D's long-unsung Moorcockian heritage. These two realms literally mirror the Order vs. Chaos battles of Moorcock's Eternal Champion novels, and further strengthens the 4e setting's pulp-punk/metal fantasy genre/aesthetic. How can I not love that?
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