[Planescape] Let's Fix the Factions!

Rand Brittain

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Hi! I've decided to place this in Roleplaying Open since it doesn't involve the d20 rules, and also to further my agenda of recruiting people to help convert Planescape to new systems (such as Burning Wheel).

The factions are important to Planescape, and I think most of them are fairly cool. But several of them could use some work to make them more useful in play (I think). Some are just so out-there that it's hard to imagine sane or sympathetic characters as members. A few others are cool but don't seem to actually do very much outside of the PC members and their actions. And I can think of two groups that are so similar that they might as well get rolled into one.

Behold my solutions! First, I think the 15-faction hard limit needs to be more fluid, so that there isn't really a definition of which factions are "official" and which are not. I mean, the Anarchists aren't even a faction, so why count them? It's simpler to just drop the number to allow for more minor groups and to let statistics keep populations leveled out.

The Athar:
Problem: The Athar are a cool group, but they have an agenda, not a philosophy. They need something more to contribute than just making their saving throw to disbelieve vs. gods.
Solution: Make the Athar believers in objective Truth. They dislike lies of all sorts, and the claim of the gods to be the source of all things is the biggest lie of all. In this model, denying the gods isn't the Athar's raison d'etre, it's just their biggest project. It's also what most non-members remember them as (so they keep their terrible reputation), which annoys most faction members. Keep Factol Terrance, because he is cool.

The Believers of the Source:
Problem: The Godsmen are cool, but what does the faction actually do? In general, the Godsman philosophy doesn't seem to motivate people to do much beyond "attempt to meet the challenges the multiverse gives you," which adventurous types were going to do anyway. It's an easy way to join a faction without having to believe anything to difficult.
Solution: Fold the Godsmen into the Sign of One, just like what happened at the end of Faction War. We can keep the Sign of One name and all their philosophy, but add in the Godsmen belief in reincarnation. The One who imagines the multiverse is thus an emergent phenomenon, which you, the Signer, are becoming. Drop Factol Ambar, because he is passive even though cool.

The Bleak Cabal:
Problem: Not really any.
Solution: Find more elegant mechanics for madness. Drop Factol Lhar in favor of someone interesting.

The Doomguard:
Problem: Everyone in this faction is crazy and/or extremely stupid. I mean, seriously, they want to destroy the universe! There are words for people like that.
Solution: Scrap the Doomguard as is. Replace it with a group of the same name, dedicated to fighting entropy. The new Doomguard is made up primarily of high-Int types like spellcasters with a smattering of other sorts, and they want to preserve the status-quo, encourage making stuff, and prevent any sort of violence or decay. They're infamous in Sigil for opposing any attempt to destroy, end, or alter anything. The hideous Opera House in the Lady's Ward has stood as is for a century in spite of local protest because of the Doomguard's insistence on preserving it as-is, orange lacquer and all. They've also opposed plenty of measures that might have cut down and reformed Sigil's bureaucratic tangle of red tape. They love peace so much, they're willing to kill for it.

The Dustmen:
Problem: Cool, but only appealing to crazy people and the clinically depressed.
Solution: Play up the "goth Buddhist" aspect of the faction and focus on their inhuman serenity and zen. I mean, seriously, can you imagine how freaky and cool undead feng shui would be? Rework Factol Skall so that he's less "evil overlord only without the evil." However, you have to keep the line, "Do not enjoy your stay with us. I would be alone now."
 

Rand Brittain

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The Fated:
Problem: Basically okay and cool.
Solution: Maybe it would be fun to play up their similarites to Objectivists? I dunno. Keep Factol Darkwood, because he is awesome.

The Fraternity of Order:
Problem: Filled to the brim with the passive-aggressive, not-fun kind of nutter.
Solution: Fill it up with the fun kind of nutter who loves to game the system, with more conscious rules-lawyering. Steal the obsession with games from demons of Asmodeus in In Nomine, so that you have judges playing poker with you during your trial. The Guvners are still officious, but a bit more maliciously so, which makes things more entertaining. Keep Factol Hashkar, but he needs more interesting subordinates.

The Free League:
Problem: Basically not actually a faction; doesn't do anything.
Solution: Have them not be a faction. You can even add a pragmatically-based group in Sigil that opposes all the factions and gives precedence to the unaligned if you want to make not having a faction be more interesting.

The Harmonium:
Problem: Basically totalitarian and evil.
Solution: Make them a little smaller so that they aren't ridiculously large for such a bunch of tactless, rigid idiots. Also, make them a little more naive, so that Factol Sarin's regime is largely a tool being used by the Guvners to reduce the difficulty of maintaining public order. This keeps the fun of encounters with the Hardheads while making the faction seem redeemable for PCs. Keep Factol Sarin, but make him younger and more easily led.

The Mercykillers:
Problem: Contains people who approach justice with such different mindsets that it's counterproductive to be in the same organization.
Solution: Just like they once were, split them into two separate factions, one for Justice Uber Alles, and one for forgiveness and mercy. They both jockey for control over the prison systems, with one operating the brutal Prison, while the other runs the "enlightened" Penitentiary. The Penitentiary is filled with planar psychologists and religious counselors, some of them helpful, some of them... um, not very. (Like every other Good-aligned organization, the Penitentiary is heavily understaffed.) To make matters worse, the justice-Mercykillers have arranged for their rivals to be given some of the planes's most insane and wicked criminals mixed in with their latest arrivals. Keep Factol Nilesia for one faction; make up somebody else for the other.
 

Rand Brittain

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The Revolutionary League:
Problem: Okay, but sort of boring.
Solution: Create more interesting Anarchists. Could Harys Hatchis be a member? I think Lissandra the Gate-Seeker could also use more press to advertise the faction.

The Sign of One:
Problem: Basically just fine.
Solution: Fold in the Godsmen and their philosophy as described above. Keep Factol Darius, who is cool.

The Society of Sensation:
Problem: Not really any.
Solution: Keep them as is, but clarify what their agenda is. What are the Sensates going to do to get Sigil to start trying new things?

The Transcendent Order:/The Xaositects
Problem: What with the whole "Do what you feel like at this particular moment" aspect, these factions are fairly similar once you get past the outside layers. Remove the alignment restrictions and merge them into one Transcendent Order. Lawful Ciphers will act on instinct in a lawful manner, chaotic ones will spread chaos like the Xaositects did. They're all part of one big Order. Keep Factol Rhys.

The Ring-Givers:
Problem: Don't get enough attention.
Solution: Give them more attention.
 

Rand Brittain

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So, do you agree? If you have different ideas about how things should be, let's hear them! Am I totally wrong about the Godsmen/Xaositects? I eagerly await your thoughts.
 

DigitalRaven

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I like your ideas, but my only exposure to Planescape was playing the old Torment CRPG back in the day. Given that [the campaign setting]'s not been in general release for a good long time, what's the best place to find out more?
 
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Verhaden

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Wikipedia:

"Philosophy is the discipline concerned with questions of how one should live (ethics); what sorts of things exist and what are their essential natures (metaphysics); what counts as genuine knowledge (epistemology); and what are the correct principles of reasoning (logic).[1][2] The word is of Greek origin: φιλοσοφία (philosophía), meaning love of wisdom.[3]"

From that definition, The Altar do have a philosophy, not just an "agenda." Many with the faction do believe in a god or "higher power." After all, the Athar's Factor gets his clerical spells from somehere, right? They just don't believe that the "gods" encountered in Planescape are really gods.

One of my favorite cannon Planescape NPC's is Kelso Brighteyes--he owns and operates that wonderful bookstore.

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I don't have anything specific to point out about The Believers of the Source, except to say that I feel that your critique isn't inherent in the Faction or the Factio's philosophy--only in the way you are choosing to interpret a character's potential motivations.

I believe the adventure "Harbinger House" provides good insight into aspects of the Believers, and might help a larger understanding of the organiation.

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Via the history of The Bleak Cabal, Factor Lhar is interesting in regards to how long he's held the position as Factol of the Bleaker's. He's unparalleled among all other previous Factol's from the organization. However, this also means replacing him with someone "interesting" wouldn't violate much of the canon, as you could have him fall into maddness and replaced with someone else.

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I don't find The Doomguard all that crazy or stupid. The book "Factol's Manifesto" paints a character of the Factol of this Faction as a very interesting and unique character--well, she's really crazy, actually. Nevermind. Not every member of the Doomguard wants to burn down your house--many would be content with watching it wear away of natural causes. From a scientific standpoint, the general theory proposed by the Doomguard isn't all unreasonable. Again, I think it's up to the player to determine their approach. If they think it's too crazy or out of whack, they're not going to join the Faction.

Besides, this is Planescape. Belief is everything. Who are you to say that wanting the universe to be destroyed is wrong? A lot of people do think their attitude is "crazy", and that's the point!

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I don't think that their current Canon representation is particularly one way or the other. Since the ultimate goal of the organization is to shed oneself of all emotion, I think letting the players decide which direction to take and interpret the Dustmen philosophy would be better.

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I suggest you read more Planescape material. The Fraternity of Order is filled with a wide variety of characters, particularly of the Lawful Netural and Lawful Evil kind, of which there are documented examples of demonic Judges who love to toy with their victims with a particular "literal" reading of certain laws as opposed to their "spiritual intent" and what not.

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The Free League's problem is that it's basically not a faction, and your solution is to have them not be a faction?

They already believe they're not a Faction, however popular outside opinion says they are. That creates an interesting play schism. I also believe that, like the Bleak Cabal, there's documented "strange events" that happen within Sigil when memberships within either "faction" get too high in proportion to the rest of the Factions.

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Again, stereotypical and limited interpretation of the Faction as is. There's a lot of depth to the faction, admittedly most of it written by members of the Harmonium espousing their own spin on the philosophy. But members don't HAVE to be portrayed in the manner you suggest. And members could easily be made to be more naive--their base is on a planet in the Prime, afterall. A DM could easily present a recruiter within the organization who would recruit Primes to "protect them from the strangeness of the Planes" with that kind of familiarity.

Attempting to make them into a tool of the Guvner's destroys their unique status as a Faction, and largely removes the "lawful good" aspect from the Harmonium. And I'd prefer to keep the Factol of the Harmonium as his. His status as a Prime, and a married guy with an extended family too boot, give him plenty of depth.

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The schism between members of the Mercykillers is a problem for them, but not for you. That's the point. It's a source of friction that can drive storylines.

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The Ring Giver's aren't a Faction, and therefore I don't think they belong on the list.

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Largely, I don't believe that the Faction's need to be "fixed." As is, I don't think there's anything wrong with them.

However, I do believe that much more information about each faction needs to be clearer and stated up front. "The Factol's Manifesto" and "Uncaged: Faces of Sigil" both need far more exposure to the general Planescape fanbase. Also, "Planescape: Torment" is a good tool to see how many of these elements can interact together to form stories.

One of Planescape's primary purposes is to make D&D's alignment system actually make sense. A character can be "Lawful Good" because there actually is a place in this universe that is the representation of all of that alignment's ideals.

The fact that some alignments (and therefore some Faction's philosophical stances) don't make sense in the real world is immaterial--they make sense in Planescape.


But take what I say with a grain of salt. Who's to say that you can't change up the Faction's within your own campaign? Hell, going a step farther, we should get RPG.net together to make a list of custom Faction's.
 
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Echo's Bones

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I thought the Doomguard was different than what you made it out to be. AFAIK their philosophy is that the universe is geared toward destruction, but every act of creation is one step in the cosmic path toward entropy. You build a house, you have to chop down trees and mine out iron. You enjoy the house for years, until termites eat it down. That's the big picture. Termites will eat everything, and then they'll starve to death. So why not build houses and schools and theaters?
 

Echo's Bones

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I thought the Doomguard was different than what you made it out to be. AFAIK their philosophy is that the universe is geared toward destruction, but every act of creation is one step in the cosmic path toward entropy. You build a house, you have to chop down trees and mine out iron. You enjoy the house for years, until termites eat it down. That's the big picture. Termites will eat everything, and then they'll starve to death. So why not build houses and schools and theaters?

I'd keep the pro-entropy slant -- but have the Doomguard be based on creation. They create art, write plays, commission public works, etc., etc. It's nice while it lasts, and it helps the universe's ultimate goal.
 

Rand Brittain

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My general intention wasn't to make the factions "better," but to increase their amount of playability by giving them more hooks into specific organizations and broadening the kinds of characters that can be found within, so maybe I phrased myself wrong.

I think adding a fixation on Truth to the Athar would improve them because it gives the Athar as characters and as an organization more of a motivation to get involved in outside events. Several of the Planescape adventures list motivations for Athar PCs that have to stretch rather far to bring in "how can I use this to make the gods look bad?" I think adding to their motivation will make them more useful and fun for players without taking anything away from what makes them cool. Kesto Brighteyes and the Parted Veil would work very well with this added motivation, actually.

It's true that on the planes, being completely insane isn't a disqualifier; I just don't think the Doomguard as is makes an attractive proposition, and I like the idea of a preserver faction that's just as meddlesome as the Doomguard today is. Maybe it might be better to just increase the number of Doomguard members who want to slow entropy down (they're mentioned in the Manifesto, but don't get any detail) to form a significant sect in the faction. Then we get delicious conflict!

There are some interesting characters in the Guvners, but I think the predominant mental image of a member is of someone like Factol Hashkar- somebody as boring as all get out. This should be changed! (The other Guvners in the Factol's Manifesto aren't very interesting either, which is why I said Hashkar needed better subordinates. Regrettably, Judge Gabberslug isn't a Guvner- he's unaligned.)

Since the Free League isn't a faction, says it's not a faction, and doesn't act like a faction... I just wish they'd given the page space they wasted on it to someone else and not wasted my time on not-very-interesting Bria Tomay.

Since when was the Harmonium ever "lawful good," except in their own words? Almost every action they take in the books is them doing something totalitarian and evil. They were so evil, they actually broke an Upper Plane and sent it off to Mechanus. You could certainly write them differently for your own games, but the canon material paints them with a pretty thick stereotypical authoritarian brush. Hopefully, any new versions of the game will make them a little more justified and less, um, hardheaded.

I admit that the tension within the Mercykillers makes for drama; I just don't find it very believable that anyone with pretensions to goodness would put up with Nilesia's craziness for very long. She's just unambiguous and she compounds it by not being very bright. I think with all the complicated situations the planes can throw up, you can get more interesting conflicts involving justice. I mean, what happens to immortals who get sentenced to life in prison?

The Ring-givers are a faction, just a minor one. I just happen to like them, is all. :)

I do think that a "Planescape 4e" will want more information on Sigil, the way it's run and the details of the factions. Hopefully, there will one day be a hardcover to help make our dreams come true.

In other news, trying to make the alignment system make sense will send you directly to the Criminally and Irretrievably Insane Wing. Do not pass go, berk.
 

Rand Brittain

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I thought the Doomguard was different than what you made it out to be. AFAIK their philosophy is that the universe is geared toward destruction, but every act of creation is one step in the cosmic path toward entropy. You build a house, you have to chop down trees and mine out iron. You enjoy the house for years, until termites eat it down. That's the big picture. Termites will eat everything, and then they'll starve to death. So why not build houses and schools and theaters?

I'd keep the pro-entropy slant -- but have the Doomguard be based on creation. They create art, write plays, commission public works, etc., etc. It's nice while it lasts, and it helps the universe's ultimate goal.
No, they pretty much just want to smash stuff. They want entropy to happen as quickly as possible.
 
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