Monday, November 15, 2021

Everyone Comes to Sigil

I've said before that Sigil is perhaps the most interesting thing about Planescape, and it doesn't really rely on the Great Wheel for the things about it that are interesting. For most people, who seem the dislike the Great Wheel, that may be a design feature. I happen to like the Great Wheel (As a concept. I can't say I'm particularly excited by a lot of the execution. On the other hand, I also feel like a lot of the "what do you do with this?" response to it shows a willful lack of creativity. That's perhaps a topic for another post.) so I think a setting meant to make the classic planes of D&D a setting, but instead makes a setting that can mostly ignore them, has some flaws in execution.

We are told gods can't enter Sigil. This is very convenient, because it provides a base of operations very much like the Prime Material Plane (where gods can go, but don't much) for the PCs to run around in. It also raises a lot of metaphysical questions, which sure, might have interesting answers, but I feel like it would be just as interesting--maybe more--not to keep the gods out. Sigil is the center of a plane surrounded by all these hostile forces. It's a Neutral Zone, a DMZ, a Free City with no allegiance to any of those eternally warring philosophies. 

It would be a good place for the gods to come together to make treaties and talk, but also maybe a good place for them to vacation and let their hair down. What happens in Sigil, stays in Sigil. I'm thinking it should be a bit like the bathhouse in Spirited Away, a bit like Cold War Berlin, Throne from Kill Six Billion Demons, and Yu-Shan from Exalted. (Yu-Shan being the capital of Heaven has more bureaucracy than Sigil would have, certainly, but I mean in terms of a place crawling with spiritual powes minor and major.)

I think this would make Sigil more colorful perhaps, as part of the thing the PCs must navigate is avoiding offending visiting dignitaries. Of course, they have more room to be daring and burn the gods in some scheme or confidence game in Sigil, as the gods are constrained in what they can do within the city. Even still, it would be a risky play, but perhaps a tempting one. It would also supply a ready supply of quest-givers or dubious patrons.


Xaosseed said...

I always liked Sigil as it 'crossroads of the planes' function - and the fact that different people will see it through different lenses. For some, it is their exile, last safe haven against their divine enemies, for others it is a toe-hold, a spring-board to greater things.

If the gods were to vacation in Sigil as a neutral zone there are lots others scrambling to get their ear, make a coin, steal a secret that they can use to leverage their way up and out. And still more that would work to shield them from all this - whether from friendship, fealty or for coin.

I like it, potentially some great adventure seeds in this.

Dick McGee said...

Kill Six Bill and Kirby in the same post, you're spoiling us for art. :)

Not sure you need to open up Sigil to the gods (or their avatars) to get the feel you're describing. Divine agents with definite missions like archons, powerful mortals, and other outer-planar servitors could fill the same role, and certainly do use Sigil as a "safe" neutral ground for negotiations. I certainly used it that way myself, much more so than the lower-powered "pseudo-Victorian rookery" thing the published stuff for it seemed to favor.

JB said...

I don't know Planescape, but this idea of nexus/crossroads/meeting place isn't anything new in fiction...or even in role-playing (see Over the Edge as one example, but it shows up in many transdimensional-themed RPGs, like Atlantis in Rifts). And I *like* that kind of thing: the idea, the concept. Both in fiction AND gaming.

The problem is, I don't think it works well for the D&D game as designed.

The Cold War Berlin (interdimensional or not) is cool for a particular type of game...generally one that involves scheming, intrigue, and faction/alliance play. Newbies to the area need to get "up to speed" (before they become pawns and/or get sacrificed) while old-timers have their own machinations they're working. When you have such a nexus place that's SO awesome and SO cool you want to get involved, be involved with what's going on's not just a stepping stone to another place.

And generally, D&D is about going out into the world and exploring the unknown...whether it's a dungeon, or a wilderness, or the exploration of "domain play." It's not about staying in the city. You can (of course) have urban adventures, but they're generally one-offs. Staying around the place where you instigate mayhem is begging to be picked up by the local constabulary and taken to the gallows.

If you look at D&Dish literature you see places like Lankhmar and Sanctuary (from Thieves World) but the protagonists are generally just visitors...MOST of their "adventures" are outside the town and they're just coming back to spend their wealth, re-equip, find a new rumor/legend, whatever. But Sigil, as you describe it, seems to be the PLACE of the adventure...that most of the Planescape campaign will take place IN Sigil with occasional forays into the Outer Planes (the Abyss or Limbo, etc.) or whatever. That's not D&D as I understand it. That's inter-dimensional Top Secret or something.

For a "D&D style" nexus, I prefer something much smaller scale: something like Anthony Huso's Night Wolf Inn. Give me the Restaurant at the End of the Universe over Sigil for MY D&D game.

Anne said...

One good use of Sigil, to my mind, is to bring a little bit of the planes to the material realm, but not so much that they become unplayable due to their inhospitality.

For example, playing through the Candlekeep Mysteries with Jack from TOTG&D, we kept being transported via magic books to various demiplanes. (It was a device that I think was used too many times. Yes, when you read a book, you feel like you're pulled into another world, I get it, but still...) Sometimes the demiplane was a trap to escape, sometimes it was just wasted potential, but sometimes I think the point was to provide a more magical environment than the author thought could exist in the "real world" of the Forgotten Realms.

So the cool thing about Sigil, then, is it's a place where you can have dozens of magical environments side-by-side-by-side. You can visit Chimera Town and Little Illithid, you can go to neighborhoods where there's a *little bit* of elemental fire or lightning or ooze or ice, and you can partake in all the excitement of city adventuring with just that extra touch of magic to spice it up even more.


Alternatively, I like your Cold War Berlin idea, although it seems to me almost totally different than what I just said. An Iron Curtain divides the zones of Sigil controlled by coalitions of the various heavens and the hells. Angels and devils and demons of course can travel more or less freely across the boundary, provided they have the right diplomatic paperwork, anyway, and they probably have any number of attaches and retainers with temporary approval that could be revoked at any time if the security level goes up. And obviously, countless people who are trapped on the hell side of the boundary are hoping to buy or forge or trade blessings or "remove curse" scrolls, or Catholic Indulgences, or whatever to try to get passage over to a non-awful afterlife.

Conceivably the war might just between the devils and demons. The angels might be vaguely, tenuously allied with lawful evil against chaotic evil ... or perhaps all of heaven is occupied territory being fought over by the two conquerors, with any un-imprisoned angels being collaborators or members of the resistance. Cue the Casablanca music and prepare yourself for a beautiful friendship.

bombasticus said...

@Anne that "Berlin wall" or occupied zones angle is genius. What if the outer powers of the wheel put their ideological differences aside to conquer the center? Crossing from the angel zone to the devil zone, for example, would be a tense affair. And in the meantime the occupiers would have the equivalent of hard currency and chewing gum to trade for the most precious commodity, souls.

Dick McGee said...

@Anne There's room for other players too. Fill the city's bureaucracy on both sides of the Good/Evil Curtain with law-obsessed Modron functionaries, then throw in anarchist slaad street gangs bent on freeing the whole place from "the Man" whether they've got halos, horns, or clockwork.