Friday, August 19, 2022

Weird Revisted: Cold War Planescape

"Intelligence work has one moral law—it is justified by results."
- The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John Le Carre

This is what came of seeing The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2016) and Atomic Blonde in the same weekend back on 2017.

Take Planescape's Sigil and re-imagine it as vaguely post-World War (it really doesn't matter which one) in technology and sensibility. It's the center of fractious sometimes warring (but mostly cold warring) planes, but now it's more like Cold War Berlin or Allied-occupied Vienna.

Keep all the Planescape factions and conflict and you've got a perfect locale for metacosmic Cold War paranoia and spy shennanigans. You could play it up swinging 60s spy-fi or something darker.

There's always room for William S. Burroughs in something like this, and VanderMeer's Finch and Grant Morrison's The Filth might also be instructive. Mostly you could stick to the usual spy fiction suspects.


Judge Joe Kilmartin said...

This is brilliant.

If I might suggest a system, something like INTO THE ODD or TROIKA! could easily take this if you didn't want to do it with D&D

Dick McGee said...

You could even leave Sigil as-is and play up the tensions be between Hell and the Abyss during a "calm" period of the Blood War, or do an alignment-based Law/Chaos or Good/Evil Cold War. Sigil is normally kind of fantasy pseudo-London in terms of feel, and Victorian London could easily be a hotbed of fantasy espionage the same way Paris, Berlin, and Vienna have all been. Inspiration could be taken from a variety of Sherlock Holmes stories (both original and pastiches like Solar Pons) whose cases often involved spies. The Great Game also played out some of its acts in London, and you could crib all manner of adventures from that mess as extraplanar powers struggle over (say) some particularly important Prime Material Plane or Outlands settlement in lieu of Afghanistan.

John said...

I've actually tried this, many years ago, and I still like the concept a lot. The problem I had at the time was that I couldn't find or devise satisfactory rules for handling spy games on the large scale between 15+ factions, while keeping the players as independent or deniable assets. Stuff like naturally generating points of friction between factions that would lead into skulduggery, recording meaningful advances and setbacks for the factions as a result of successful or failed missions, and so on. So I ran it on an ad hoc basis, but that ended up being more the players taking gigs Shadowrun-style than feeling like an integrated part of the kriegstanz, and since that wasn't really our scene we drifted into more traditional adventuring. Perhaps I could do better if I tried it again today.

Trey said...

That's interesting and not wholly unexpected.

Dick McGee said...

If you're looking for a non-D&D system to do this with, adapting Blades In the Dark to a mission-based espionage campaign rather than heists would be a good place to start. Even as written it can lean into spying more than actually crime, and its clock systems handle multiple competing factions well.

Admittedly, 15+ active factions is probably enough to make it collapse, but I'm pretty sure that's true of any conceivable rule set. It can and does work fine with five or six, though.