How do you actually Planescape?

squeen

8, 8, I forget what is for
FWIW, I don't find Tales from the Outer Planes to be all that wondrous. But MMV. I like Huso's Zjelwyin Fall, but all the TSR published stuff suffers IMO from authors who didn't have either the time or the talent to create a different reality. It all feels like prime material plane adventuring with some modifier(s).
That was my first impression of "Tales" too, but I was going to sit down and give it a legit chance.

I think I am going to pick up Zjelwyin Falls---this is the second time you recommended it. I also read his posts about "Dream House" and thought his concept of the Abyss was inspired. I look forward to it.

Thanks all.
 

Pseudoephedrine

Should be playing D&D instead
This needs to be balanced carefully, I think, otherwise the PCs become puppets for NPCs who will always be swooping in to save the day, bail them out of jail, etc.
Absolutely. This element of the setting is the one that should most resemble fairy-tales in my opinion. You have plucky protagonists who are toppling powers, but are unable to rely on consistent application of violence to do it, because of the power of their opponents. But, those same opponents aren't able to squash PCs on a whim, either. Instead, while violence may be a possibility, some shared code of etiquette governs when it is permissible or legitimate, and when it is not, and much of one's forcefulness is being able to leverage the gaps in that code. So having NPCs just come in save the day (one of the great sins of actual PS adventures put out by TSR) must be used very judiciously, and is in a sense a reward the PCs should have to have previously earned through some other adventure, rather than just become a series of deus ex machinae.

Love it! I wrote a piece about the latter for the Oerth Journal last year at https://greyhawkonline.com/sdm_downloads/oj31/ and would love to get some more ideas how factions in a PS (or generally-multi-planar) setting might differ from standard factions in dungeons and earthly campaign settings.
I think they should have speculative, metaphysical bents that translate into political programmes and bases of power. The more abstruse the metaphysical idea and the more far-reaching the consequences, the better IMHO. Islamic and Christian heresies are ideal for this, as are anti-colonial religious movements from early modernity.

Here's a few ideas off the cuff:

1) A faction that believes that the universe is rightly governed by a closed nomological network of objects interacting in rule-like ways, and the gods, undead, unapproved magic (there is of course, one good kind that they allow), and other supernatural phenomena are actually breaking apart the universe with their manifestations, introducing entropic decay and eventually causing the death of the universe through their careless vandalism. They are organised as a series of militant orders who disagree violently on priorities and methods to resolve this problem. They have infiltrated the police, jailers, orphanages, and of course, the bourgeoisie. Sub-factions disagree on what the network is made up of, how it should be characterised (mathematically, statistically, or logically), and whether the militant sects should be formal hierarchies or flat networks organised around powerful and charismatic individuals. They are currently besieging the heart of reality, from whence divine power originates to the sub-nodes known as gods, and are opposed by coalition of divine entities, both wicked and blessed, who seek to stop them via a combination of legal perfidy and military defeat.

2) A faction who believes the entire universe is constructed out of words and numbers, but actually only four words and six numbers, out of the infinities of each that are possible. Discovering and understanding these four words and six numbers gives one absolute power over reality. They believe they have one word and two numbers, that one of the other numbers is in the hands of one of several rogue branches who believes that there are seven words and four numbers, and that a partial definition crucial to understanding one of the words is found only in a dictionary written by a lunatic and long-lost in a difficult place to examine for traces. They are organised as a series of monasteries, universities, and other corporate bodies with an illuminated elite at the centre of each, and a cadre of scholar-assassins serving under them. They are the healthcare system, as well as the educational system, and are popular with urban elites, literate professionals, priests (who all assert that their god knows the relevant numbers and words) and the various classes of grifter who survive through their wits and command of language. A group of mind flayers recently ate the brain of someone who knew one of the numbers and are now petitioning to join, fully persuaded of the truth of their cause.

3) A faction who believes that strife is the ultimate expression of the generative power of the universe as well as its foundational state, providing the arena and incentive for personal excellence to manifest. Though warfare is exalted by the outer members of the faction, its inner elite know that truly, calendrical manipulation, a strenuously unpleasant regime of ritual sex, capitalist business practices, and pseudo-democratic politics are the most exquisite forms, and they throw their energies into these. The faction controls numerous municipal governments, sub-bodies, boards, and businesses, is quite popular amongst the bourgeoisie, and utterly dominates the banking and legal industries. They also have several armies on hand, are well-represented amongst the upper ranks of devils and demons, and are generous patrons of the arts. Their current goal is to convoke a formal debate in Heaven to persuade the angels of their views, a synod they are widely expected to win, even by the angels, who are engaged in sharp dealing to make sure the greatest opponents the factions can muster are otherwise occupied when it finally comes.
 

The Heretic

Should be playing D&D instead
That was my first impression of "Tales" too, but I was going to sit down and give it a legit chance.
I remember being annoyed when I bought that module because "tales of the outer planes" only contained four adventures that were actually in the outer planes.

(I also missed my chance to tell you that this one is a bit of a stinker)

The first adventure is a huge dud unless your players know Deities and Demigods inside out. The second adventure made me embrace the diplomacy skill with open arms (eh, still doesn't work). The astral plane one, IIRC, had WAY too many silver swords in it. "Through The Fire" was probably the best one of the bunch. And oh yes, the Voyage of the Nereid gives you a renfaire submarine. Sounds like an A++ in Bryce's book!

I'm trying to think of there are any good extraplanar adventures. Hmm.

Maybe the outer planes should be off limits. Do we really need to make the afterlife mundane? (here's looking at you, World of Warcraft).
 

Pseudoephedrine

Should be playing D&D instead
Just off the cuff, eh? Wild Machiavellian stuff.
Much obliged. Truly, tho', I have nothing on the real stuff. The debates over the plastic principle (Cudworth's nitus vs. Spinoza's conatus!) in the 17th century and the controversies over whether the Quran is created (Mu'tazila) or not (the Hanafis) and what that implies about epistemology put even my finest flights of fancy to shame, and I steal pretty freely from those and many others (henosis? No, kenosis!) for inspiration.
 

squeen

8, 8, I forget what is for
Ressurecting this thread on Planescape due to @PrinceofNothing and @The1True comments in the State of the OSR thread.

From the wikipedia page on Planescape: Torment...
From the outset, Planescape: Torment's designers intended to challenge traditional role-playing game conventions: the game features no dragons, elves, goblins, or other common fantasy races; there are only three swords; the rats faced in the game can be quite challenging to defeat; and the undead sometimes prove more sympathetic than humans.[16][19] The designers explained that most RPGs tend to have a "correct" approach to solving problems, which is almost always the morally good approach.[21] They called this "predictable and stupid" and wished to make a game with greater moral flexibility, where a particular problem might have "two wrongs or two rights".[21] The main quest is not about saving the world, but about understanding The Nameless One and his immortality.[21] Death (of the protagonist or his companions) is often just a minor hindrance, and even necessary at times.
My question is how much of a shot-in-the-arm (i.e. popularity boost) to Planescape was the Torment video game?
How closely are the two entwined culturally?

It sounds like PS was the the 90's cyberpunk antidote to the high-fantasy of Dragonlance.
 

The1True

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
I was digging through the books with my kids the other day. It was shameless grungy GenX pandering through and through (all shabby clothes and big boots, punk hair and piercings) and I still love it. I have a ton of game-collecting friends for whom Torment is Top10 of all time, pride of place on the shelf etc. That didn't spur them to take up TTRPG though.

I still remember Ignus, this perpetually tormented, flayed and on fire man that I found a way to free from his imprisonment and add to my group. He spent the rest of the game threatening to murder me. And then he did. I thought for sure I could redeem him. It was frickin glorious.

I think Planescape enjoys its continued popularity due strong support among steampunk geeks.
 

squeen

8, 8, I forget what is for
Was Planescape popular before the video game, or did it originally languish in Zeb Cook obscurity?
 
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The1True

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
I'll leave that one to the archivists. Anything I could say would be pure speculation. All I know from my own circle of early 90's game-geek friends was that it enjoyed a surge of popularity among the GenY's that I knew who were drawn to the DiTerlizzi artwork and targeted youth marketing and this was long before the CRPG came out.
 

squeen

8, 8, I forget what is for
That's answer enough for me. I was wondering if it was the other way around and if that might explain the central premise of this thread --- which I read as: "it's cool but not fleshed out enough to play...except by defaulting to standard-D&D mode".

If the video-game had been largely responsible for its popularity, that would logically follow---one medium does not translate well to another. Folks who loved the video-game tried to make the obscure RPG book work (and fueled their fondness for it), despite its lack of infrastructure. In a sense, the video-game showed them "How to Planescape", albeit awkwardly without the computer.

However, if that wasn't the case, I can't really reconcile mass popularity and difficulty-of-play.
 
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The1True

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
I can see how the setting rankled the old school. It distinctly offered instructions in how to play in a Trad (?) style for both the DM and Players. Unlike the 2e PH and DMG there was a distinct attempt made to show how to Rrrrrole play and how to set up scenarios for Rrrrrole playing and that was a way out of relentless munchkinism for my buddies and I for which I will be forever thankful. The artsy fartsy design and artwork combined with the campy planar cant was too much for some but it was all seamlessly and professionally designed and integrated to introduce and force a certain style of play which was amazing for those of us looking for something more in our game but a slap in the face to mature gamers who would've preferred a simple expansion on the Manual of the Planes, I think.
 

squeen

8, 8, I forget what is for
OK. I can see now there are 5 'r's and just one 'o' in Rrrrrole-play. That does help. Thank you.

To be clear, until Yora brought it up in this thread, no rankling had occurred, because I'd never heard of it. I guess that makes me "not old school", which is fine...because that's a 90's slang term I never much liked. FWIW, the Alehouse crowd think Manual of the Planes was crap too.

My probing now is strictly archeological. 2e was soooo watered down (IMO) and neutered, I can see where---like so much in the late 80's and 90's---folks wanted something dystopian and darker. High-fantasy (whatever that is...fairy tales?) never much appeal to me either.

All I ever wanted was Middle Earth + a bit of classic scifi gonzo now and again. It was not a thing that ever sold in mass quantities (to quote Beldar).
 

EOTB

So ... slow work day? Every day?
I will always mentally link Planescape and Vampire, as people seemed to either love them both, or...not love them.
 

Beoric

8, 8, I forget what is for
FWIW, the Alehouse crowd think Manual of the Planes was crap too.
Yeah, MotP is visibly my least used book. It is what you would get if the multiverse was designed by modrons. I don't think I have ever been more disappointed with a D&D purchase.
 

The1True

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
yup yup. As I said, it showed us a way to play that wasn't numbers bashing away at other numbers and that was a real step up for us but I do understand how it was very much not to many gamers' tastes. Many of us had to figure D&D out in a vacuum and were never indoctrinated in a mature culture of play. For us Planescape was a first taste of 'the sword doesn't solve everything'-style of gaming.

Wilderness Survival Guide was way more disappointing. At least MotP offered food for the imagination with its descriptions of mystical places that had just been an afterthought in the PHB for years.

I LOVE EGG's Great Wheel cosmology and despise newer more randomly distributed cosmologies with the obdurate, insensible zeal of a fundamentalist. I'd say come at me, but it'd devolve into regrettably pointless shrieking and name-calling fast.
 

PrinceofNothing

High Executarch
Staff member
The comparison of Planescape with a sort of cyberpunk is remarkably apt. Cosmopolitan environs, moral ambiguity, sprawling immensity, heavily altered traditional elements, a plethora of nebulous factions etc. etc.

Planescape Torment captured the feeling of mystery, immensity and wonder that Planescape stood for in singular fashion. It is still widely regarded as one of the best CRPGs ever made.
 
Planescape is one of those settings you want to play and find interesting but is so poorly executed that it’s a hot mess to run or read through other than to mine good ideas. Someone needs to be shot just for the font selection and “parchment” paper like background.
 

Pseudoephedrine

Should be playing D&D instead
Was Planescape popular before the video game, or did it originally languish in Zeb Cook obscurity?
PS was popular before the video game, but at roleplaying scales. Torment came out in 1999, right before Wizards killed the setting off for 3e, and it was a huge success, a sort of last hoorah for PS before it was shuttered. I think Torment plays an important role in the desire of younger gamers who've never really played PS in person to revive it (and there is a constant interest in reviving it).

Also yeah, PS was meant to channel cyberpunk and to catch some of the energy of Vampire.
 

grodog

Should be playing D&D instead
The artsy fartsy design and artwork combined with the campy planar cant was too much for some but it was all seamlessly and professionally designed and integrated to introduce and force a certain style of play which was amazing for those of us looking for something more in our game but a slap in the face to mature gamers who would've preferred a simple expansion on the Manual of the Planes, I think.
I was definitely turned off to D&D for most of a decade by the (pre-PS) 2e neutering and Mom-safe removal of demons, devils, and assassins (and monks) from the game (for which Jim Ward was the messenger in Dragon #154, Feb 1990), and by the general lack of focus on GH products (or, when they did some, they largely sucked). 2e and PS added demons and devils back gradually, and certainly foregrounded them in ways that they weren't done in 1e, which I could see being a boost to folks who missed them. But as I mentioned before, I really hated PS cant, which was present in Dave Cook's original previews in Dragon in the early 200s, and it's what definitively pushed me away from the setting. (And I often liked the PS artwork, too).

FWIW, the Alehouse crowd think Manual of the Planes was crap too.
It's a largely-squandered neutered mess that foreshadowed more of 2e to come ;)

When Monte Cook released his Beyond Countless Doorways in 2004, it was being marketed as both a PS reunion as well as a Moorcock-driven multiverse, but only the former claim was correct (and this showed up on some contemporary reviews too, see https://www.enworld.org/threads/beyond-countless-doorways.122548/ for example).

Yeah, MotP is visibly my least used book. It is what you would get if the multiverse was designed by modrons. I don't think I have ever been more disappointed with a D&D purchase.
I still have my MotP, but I returned WG7 and WGR1 (the two faux Castle Greyhawks) to my local bookstore after they were released. That said, MotP isn't completely useless---it's filled with wonderful art from Stephen Fabian (unlike the Survival Guides, which I've had less cause to use over the years than MotP, even).

I will always mentally link Planescape and Vampire, as people seemed to either love them both, or...not love them.
When I quit D&D I spent most of the '90s playing VtM and similar games (Amber, CoC, Paranoia, Kult, Ars Magica, etc.). Many were refreshingly dark in a non-sanitized way, and I think there was a bit of a millenialism zeitgeist throughout the decade, in particular as the second half of the '90s neared 2000, that drove folks in this direction (Anne Rice's vampires' immense popularity being another).

In any event, I loved 1e Vampire (and Mage), but still loathed PS with a passion that continues to this day =)

Allan.
 

The1True

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
When Monte Cook released his Beyond Countless Doorways in 2004
I'm a huge PS fan and a pretty big Monte Cook fan, but I hate Beyond Countless Doorways, probably because they decentralized that Great Wheel cosmology that EGG and Monte sold me on in the first place.
 
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