Reshaping the Multiverse: Li Po's ideas for "Planescape" campaigns

To rid oneself of avarice, to shun temptation, and to resist corruption is to attain the most enviable of all titles: An Honest Man.
      -- Utadas Tensar, in "A Guide to Sigil"
Sin makes its own hell, and goodness its own heaven.
      -- Mary Baker Eddy

Help yourself to my Planescape Character Generator for MS-DOS.

"Planescape" is really about our own world's ideals and ideologies. By turns light-hearted, cynical, and deeply moving, it mirrors the minds of our own players. AD&D is especially popular among teens and young adults who are discovering their philosophies of life.

The "Planescape" campaign promised player characters would watch their beliefs change the nature of the multiverse. So far, this has been realized when a portion of one plane shifts to another because of the philosophic leanings of its inhabitants.

The imaginary universes of adventure gaming exist for the players. It seems right that the beliefs of "Planescape" player characters would have extraordinary power, and reshape reality more than do the beliefs of their NPC counterparts. Credible or not, players will like seeing their beliefs worked out in the world around them.

Here are notes toward a system that allows mature gamers the opportunity to see their ideologies reshape their world.

In these suggested rules modifications, Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative becomes the stuff of personal experience. These optional rules are intended primarily as a model for other referees whose imagination and ability exceed my own modest gifts. Regardless of how these ideas are implemented, referees will find them challenging. Please E-mail me your own suggestions for this system. They may find a place, and an acknowledgment, from Li Po.

Most people in our world profess good alignment and some metaphysical faith commitment. Yet I once saw a survey in which members were asked, "How does your religion affect what you do outside of church?" Many respondents could not reply without thinking hard, and some could not answer at all. TSR's products, and "Planescape" in particular, offers an exercise in which inner beliefs are worked out in the larger world.

It should be wholesome.

Game mechanics

At the beginning of each game session, calculate the total number of player character levels for gamers present. For multi-class or dual-class, count the highest level, and one extra for each additional class. Divide these points among the factions as faction membership points. As participants enter or leave the game, or if a player character gains a level, revise these. Clueless and Outsiders do not contribute faction membership points.

For example, Ed brings a 5th level cleric who belongs to the Believers of the Source (5 points), Dave brings a 9th level ranger who belongs to the Harmonium (9 points), Eric brings a 5/5 level half-elf fighter-cleric who belongs to the Harmonium (6 points), and Cindy brings a 6/6 level drow fighter-mage who belongs to the Transcendent Order (7 points). Membership points are presently...

Later in the session, Rob comes in with his 10th level fighter who belongs to the Free League, and Dave has to leave.

Faction membership points affect game mechanics as follows:

ATHAR: This faction recalls our world's outspoken atheists and agnostics. "Defier" membership points give the percentage chance that any attempt by a priest of a particular "power" to cast a spell or use a special supernatural power will simply fail (and be lost).

BELIEVERS OF THE SOURCE: This faction recalls our world's sects that teach progress through reincarnation (some Hindus, some Buddhists) and/or toward godhood (some Mormons). "Godsmen" membership points give the percentage chance that any character (player or NPC) who dies in the course of an adventure will reincarnate as a level 0 or 1 character, complete with memories of the previous life, 1d6 turns later. The form, sex, class, age, and location are up to the referee.

BLEAK CABAL: This faction recalls our world's existentialists and nihilists. "Bleaker" membership points give the percentage chance that any NPC will simply do nothing. For each 5 Bleaker membership points, there is a penalty of 1 on saving throws vs. "Emotion - Sadness", "Symbol of Hopelessness", and the like.

DOOMGUARD: This faction recalls our world's nihilists. "Sinker" membership points give a percentage penalty that is applied to all system shock rolls, and a percentage chance of failure of any creative, curative, or healing priestly spells, and such wizardly spells as "major/minor creation" and "fabricate". For each 5 Doomguard membership points, there is a penalty of 1 on item saving throws. For each 10 Doomguard membership points, invocations that cause damage get +1/die.

DUSTMEN: This faction recalls ourworld's stoids. "Dead" membership points give a percentage penalty that is applied to all "raise dead" and "resurrection" spells. For each 5 Dead membership points, there is a bonus of 1 on all saves vs. spells intended to produce any emotion (charm, hope, courage, sadness, etc.)

FATED: This faction has been noted to recall our world's social Darwinists and the ideas of Ayn Rand. "Taker" membership points give a percentage bonus that is applied to all thieving skills.

FRATERNITY OF ORDER: This faction resembles our philosophers who emphasize the primacy of science and the value of law. "Guvnur" membership points give a percentage bonus on the chance of success for magical research, and any character's once-in-a-lifetime check for psionic ability. For each 5 Guvnur points, psionic rolls are improved by one.

FREE LEAGUE: This faction recalls our libertarians. "Indep" membership points give a percentage chance that you'll be allowed to do your own thing, and business, racial, or philosophical animosities will not enter into consideration.

HARMONIUM: This faction recalls our own Religious Right at its best and worst. "Hardhead" membership points give a percentage chance that any NPC, in a particular encounter, will -- automatically and no-matter-what -- be reasonable, fair, and decent.

MERCYKILLERS: "Red Death" membership points give a percentage chance that any PC or NPC who intends to tell a lie will tell the truth instead.

REVOLUTIONARY LEAGUE: "Anarchist" membership points give the percentage chance that any particular authority figure will be indifferent to whatever the party is doing, by reason of stupidity or personal considerations.

SIGN OF ONE: This faction recalls our New Age "you create your own reality" mystics. "Signer" membership points give a percentage chance that a player's expressed belief is reality. Once per game week per non-Signer player, twice a week for Signers, a player may say what he or she thinks is present or is about to happen. If a d100 roll gives the percent or less, the belief becomes reality. The belief must be reasonable, and the referee may call for or rule out a dice roll. For example, Cindy says she thinks the solitary guard is asleep. The referee has not considered this possibility, but it is reasonable, and there are 14 Signer points. Cindy is allowed to roll d100, and rolls 07. The guard is, indeed, sound asleep.

SOCIETY OF SENSATION: This faction has been compared to the Epicurean philsophy. "Sensate" membership points give the percentage chance for a PC asking "Do I notice anything?" to notice something he or she would otherwise not. Once per game week per non-Sensate player, twice for Sensates.

TRANSCENDENT ORDER: This faction has been compared to our intuition mystics (some Taoists, some Zen practitioners, Star Wars jedi). For each 5 "Cipher" membership points, there is a bonus of +1 to everybody's every proficiency check.

XAOSITECTS: This faction recalls our own worlds "discordianism." "Chaosman" membership points give the percentage chance that a random effect from the referee's prepared table happens. Roll whenever it seems appropriate. Once per adventure, the party can suggest that something will happen that is possible but unexpected, and to the party's advantage. A successful check allows this, and requires immediate referee ingenuity. For example, a solitary guard might simply decide to join the party instead of raising the alarm. To offset this advantage, the referee may, at any time, make a Chaosman membership check to cause a minor mishap to affect the party.

Adventure themes

As a faction gains power from its player-character members, referees take this into account designing adventures, scenarios, and NPC's.

Even as one faction comes to dominate the multiverse, the outlook of the faction can change. Consider a campaign in which the player-characters are good-aligned and some belong to the Mercykillers. That faction's pursuit of justice would be as intense, but the faction becomes just as interested in defending the innocent, and making sure that punishments are not excessively harsh but commensurate with the actual danger the crime posed to society.

ATHAR: Scenarios involve reason, not religion. Various prime worlds go the way of Krynn, and "the gods" disappear, or the "Birthright" campaign where gods die. Individual "gods" actually die, or resign, or follow the first Cat Lord's example and choose to become mortal. An entire pantheon may go in search of the greater truth. Clerical NPC's leave their calling. Bad religions collapse. Churches close. The planes are enriched with philosophers like Socrates who seek truth behind the veil and are no longer prosecuted for not believing in the gods. The petitioners grow restive and question their "powers", and some of them move on to a mysterious higher destiny. GOOD PARTIES see the world throw off the shackles of superstition and enter an age where people work together in love and without sectarian hatreds. NON-GOOD PARTIES see the erosion of moral authority along with the disappearance of organized religion.

BELIEVERS OF THE SOURCE: Scenarios involve people learning and remembering. Both petitioners and living characters begin remembering their past lives. "Advanced beings", like avangions, make their appearances. It is discovered that petitioners do indeed reincarnate, that no soul is ever annihilated or confined for too long, and that they are the origin of the strongly-aligned planar races (devas, modrons, etc.) The various worlds experience technological progress. GOOD PARTIES see a world where peace is kept through good will and example, and people grow in goodness, wisdom, and ability. NON-GOOD PARTIES see the painful side-effects of advancing technology, with industrial slavery. New, more-powerful monsters, some even resembling "powers" as do the dragons of Athas, make their appearances.

BLEAK CABAL: Scenarios focus on caring for others in a meaningless world. Insanity becomes prevalent through the multiverse, creating many interesting scenarios for adventurers. People stop looking for meaning beyond themselves. GOOD PARTIES see a world where people do good, simply saying "Since life means nothing, why NOT be kind?" NON-GOOD PARTIES see a world of angst, madness, and despair.

DOOMGUARD: Scenarios involving decay. The trap has been sprung, the monstrous guardian has died, the treasure has rotted away. The patron is found dead before the adventurers earn their reward. Scenarios in collapsed or collapsing buildings. Worlds like Athas, where magic is destructive; elsewhere, magic may also begin to have harmful environmental effects. Worlds that are already ruined, dying as a result of pollution or nuclear war or meteor impacts. Suns within crystal spheres go nova. Petitioners seem to lose bits of themselves, and memories decay. As the universe winds down, GOOD PARTIES discover peace, while NON-GOOD PARTIES find only sadness.

DUSTIES: Scenarios involving the undead in roles ordinarily filled by ordinary NPC's. Worlds conquered by the undead. NPC's have a high mortality rate from natural causes. GOOD PARTIES have a world where both the living and the undead become logical, reasonable, serene, and dispassionate, and where equanimity makes possible a life of good works without the interference of human passion. No one suffers terribly from emotional hurts, but goes about life with equanimity. NON-GOOD PARTIES watch both kindness and humor fade, and finally love and birth themselves vanish from the world.

FATED: Worlds in which economic activity accelerates to a frenzy. Capitalism takes over all but the most chaotic planes, with ruthlessness on the lowers. Government regulations on free enterprise vanish. People work hard, and work smart. Other people become robbers. NPC's continually say, "Stop whining and get a life", "Greed is good". Sales of self-help books soar. It comes to be known that the fiends, regardless of type, gain their strength by consuming the souls of weaker sinners of like alignment and interest, which may in turn be freed or stolen by killing the fiend. GOOD PARTIES see unparalleled opportunities for happy corporations, and the multiverse fills with prosperous world where people live the adage "Be nice, it's good for business." Especially, people no longer cherish personal or ancestral grievances, and never blame others for their own lack of initiative. NON-GOOD PARTIES see a Marxian vision in which greed aggravates the gap between haves and have-nots without increasing overall productivity, and where the have-nots often choose to become aggressive thieves.

FRATERNITY OF ORDER: Scenarios in which the underlying reasons for things become clear. Psionics, based on law, becomes more prevalent. World governments spring up, for better or worse. People just start obeying the law, saying "Why not?" Science is discovered, and research (technological, scientific) becomes easier, and technology advances. "We care about how the world works, not what it means." People say "This is happening for a valid reason." "Let's make sense out of this." Science, study, and research become everyone's focus. If (as in Michael Moorcock's works) "magic" is the power of chaos, and technology is the power of law, then magic itself may begin to fade. If (as elsewhere) magic merely reflects an understanding of the underlying laws of the multiverse, then magical research, too, becomes easier. GOOD PARTIES see law as developed and instituted by consent of the governed, promoting the well- being of communities and protecting the rights and opportunities of individuals. NON-GOOD PARTIES see new technologies for oppression, heartlessness masquerading as "scientific objectivism", and harsh and arbitrary laws.

FREE LEAGUE: Scenarios involving people coming together in goodwill and dropping their prejudices. Parties adventure to create a good business climate throughout the multiverse. Philosophic discussions remain just as frequent but become more friendly. Instead of faction wars, there are elaborate, well-reasoned bull sessions. Animosities among races and religions drop away. People say, "Don't close your options", "Nobody really has the eternal truth", "People who pretend to have all the answers don't let you ask all the questions", etc. GOOD PARTIES see prosperity increasing, and people who used to work for ideologies now work to promote the health and happiness of others. NON-GOOD PARTIES see contempt for intellectuals, and a focus on selfishness and the unexamined life.

HARMONIUM: NPC's move in alignment toward law and decency. Large areas of the multiverse become safe for decent people. It becomes possible and even commonplace to rehabilitate, rather than kill, most of the party's enemies. Animosities among races, faiths, and economic classes vanish. GOOD PARTIES see people become reasonable, kind, and fair, and scenarios in which morality really can be legislated. NON-GOOD PARTIES see a world dominated by conformist zealots who have lost sight of love and kindness and who demand obedience on pain of death.

MERCYKILLERS: Guilty folks confess, and the innocent are safe from wrongful prosecution. Hostage-taking stops. The law generally becomes less concerned about killing innocent bystanders. The dead always go to their just rewards, and petitioners remember what they have done and how they are getting their just deserts, for better or worse. It becomes feasible, in most cases, to apprehend wrongdoers found adventuring, and taking them back to face justice. Draconian laws and disproportionate punishments for minor crimes disappear. But even minor infractions gets noticed, reported, and punished. GOOD PARTIES see the law become fair, prosecutors become smart, and wrongdoers becoming contrite and thinking of ways to undo their wickedness. Restitution and community service becomes more important than revenge, and rehabilitation occurs. Eventully there is little law-breaking, simply because people have no reason to do so. NON-GOOD PARTIES see wholesale destruction in the pursuit of unwinnable quests for evildoers.

REVOLUTIONARY LEAGUE: The structures of society begin collapsing. Authority figures abdicate. Factories close, armies simply disband, jails are thrown open, the countryside fills with guerrillas, and cities become lawless. "Do your own thing." "Live free or die." GOOD PARTIES see the dreams of the 'sixties revolutionaries realized in a universe of peace, love, and freedom, where people provide services and organization because they want to. "If we make peaceful revolution impossible, we make violent revolution inevitable." "Work within the system to change the system." NON-GOOD PARTIES see mob rule, economic collapse, and the nightmares of the French Revolution.

SIGN OF ONE: The petitioners gain the power to shape their planes, as described by the spiritualists of our own world. Illusion-phantasm spells, though they may become easier to recognize, may become semi-real. GOOD PARTIES hear ordinary folks say "Improve yourself to improve the universe." And the pretty things of fantasy worlds start becoming real, until the world is a happy fairyland. NON-GOOD PARTIES see people become increasing isolated and unwilling to communicate with each other.

SOCIETY OF SENSATION: The referee's descriptions become more and more vivid and sensual, using techniques explained in the "Ravenloft" campaign materials. Entertainment centers flourish, and new forms are invented. Magic items simulate the movies of our world. People on the street say "Try it! You might like it!" NPC's become thrill-seekers. The afterlife grows more sensual. Sensuous heavens and so forth. People remember to smell the flowers along life's paths. GOOD PARTIES see a universe of delight and fascination, ever-increasing opportunities for exploration. Travel opportunities become easy. The senses may become more acute, and remain sharp throughout life. Petitioners have increased opportunities to vary their experiences. People learn from their experiences, and are enriched. And exploration and the frontiers of experience expands as never before. NON-GOOD PARTIES see leering sensualists, sexual exploitation, and new forms of weird cruelty.

TRANSCENDENT ORDER: Scenarios focus on education. Schools open, gym memberships increase. People from time to time simply vanish. Mottos are "participate, don't anticipate". GOOD PARTIES see a world in which even the good clerics say "Hands that help are better than lips that pray". NON-GOOD PARTIES see the world fill with amoral, self-centered martial-arts mystics.

XAOSITECTS: Scenarios involving random effects, random teleports, descriptions where a dice roll determines outcome. Dadaist scenarios, things are there that make no sense. Slums expand, cities decay. There are more random encounter checks. Wild magic effects pop up, and even psionics has random effects. Referees create long lists of possible random effects and events. Language gets more difficult to understand, areas where Babble occurs. DM and NPC's alter word order. Armies disband. Battles may become more numerous, but less strategy. Random changes à la the ship of Lolth, where random events take place for no reason (for example, goldfish appearing within your clothes, and turning to glass when captured.) GOOD PARTIES see creatures performing random acts of kindness and living lives of spontaneous beauty. NON-GOOD PARTIES see the multiverse becoming absurd, science and technology collapsing, and people withdrawing from fellowship with each others as things become incomprehensible.

In addition to the factions of Sigil, there are sects based away from the city. These include

Anarchs' Guild (Chaos Masters, Groundsfolk), who create objects from the stuff of chaos, an ability that might become possible elsewhere in the multiverse;

Chameleons (Turncoats), who believe that as we learn, our beliefs are likely to change, an outlook that would make for interesting gaming when party members like to talk philosophy with NPC's;

Dispossessed (Exiles, Chippers), super-tough people who have been banned from their homes by the law, and who live and work together for revenge;

Guardians (Protectors, Caretakers) who protect goodness and fight evil aggressively, seeking to create a safe multiverse for decent creatures, without concern for Law or Chaos, politics or anarchy;

Incantifiers, wizards who find meaning in accumulating magic, and who have escaped old age and death by consuming it.

Mathematicians, who focus on the mathematical basis of portal research, and perhaps other great secrets;

Verdant Guild (Wylders), who seek to preserve and extend the natural wildernesses;

Merkhants (Misers), who unashamedly consider monetary wealth to be the goal of life, and its accumulation the only meaningful way to live;

Order of Planes-Militant (Children of Heaven, Faithful), clean-living folks who defend against evil, and who seek to bring justice, fairness, and kindness to the rest of the multiverse by example rather than force;

Ring-Givers (Bargainers, Beggars), for whom a lifestyle of generosity and poverty is the way to be free of the world's traps, an attitude that could extend throughout the multiverse;

Why this page?

Athar: So that "Planescape" campaigns would focus on something worthwhile, not "the gods" and such stupid stuff.

Believers of the Source: Because any gaming system is developing and evolving toward something stronger, more meaningful, and more enjoyable.

Bleak Cabal: (Sigh)... Don't try to figure out "why", berk.

Doomguard: Because the author, a pathologist, is constantly confronted with inevitable wearing-out of the human body.

Dustmen: Because the author wanted to take time off from examining the dead.

Fated: Because the author seized the opportunity to make a difference.

Fraternity of Order: Because games without rules aren't fun, and rules should be reasonable.

Free League: To give a hearing to all points of view.

Harmonium: Because most people want to be good and decent, and be able to live in harmony with others.

Mercykillers: Because the author's special interest in criminal justice prompted him to think about important things.

Revolutionary league: To work within the system, respecting the decent rights of others, in order to change the system.

Sign of One: You create your own reality, cutter.

Society of Sensation: To make ideas real, palpable, vivid, so-real-you-can-touch-them.

Transcendent Order: Knew how, did it.

Xaositects: ...rules New chaos generate....

I am glad that you, too, like TSR's wonderful "Planescape" milieu. Here are some other sites that I hope you enjoy as much as I have:

Jon's Planescape Site Out of this world!

Planewalker, the most active Planescape site, is back up! Todd Stewart, the developer, is my cyberfriend. Thanks!

On the Wings of Mephits -- mostly humor

Wikipedia Planescape

Wikipedia Outer Planes The Roaming Genasi Tavern -- "for those touched by the inner planes
AD&D and the Religious Right
Li Po's Hermitage My AD&D site, with character generators, a list of individuals available as consultants, a collection of AD&D links, a Planescape section, and a review of the pseudo-Christian attacks on the D&D games;
Li Po's Guide to the Outer Planes Silly pictures, etc.

Li Po's Guide to the Inner Planes Silly pictures, the Temple of Elemental Goodness, etc.

Ed's "Hamlet" Site -- Shakespeare

    Athar: "Hamlet" is post-Christian.
    Bleakers: Sigh. Hamlet didn't find meaning, because there isn't any, but he did find peace.
    Ciphers: Hamlet found out he could act instead of brood.
    Doomguard: The court goes bad and everybody dies.
    Dust Folk: Hamlet finds peace in death.
    Free League: There are many meanings here.
    Godsfolk: Hamlet develops as a person.
    Guvnurs: Nowadays with good forensic pathology, we could have proved the case against Claudius without Hamlet having to take the law into his own hands.
    Hardheads: See what happens when law and order break down.
    Mercykillers: We love a good revenge play.
    Revolutionaries: Authority corrupts.
    Sensates: "Hamlet" showcases powerful feelings.
    Signers: There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.
    Takers: Hamlet learned to quit moping and got what he wanted.
    Xaositects: Crazy make sense people the most.

You can E-mail me to obtain the current test version of the Skills and Powers (which includes Planescape) character generator, or the smaller Planescape character generator.

"Planescape", "AD&D", and so forth are copyright by TSR Hobbies [now Wizards of the Coast]. Without respect for copyright, none of us would be able to enjoy their creations. It would be a sadder, duller world. I'm a professional man and a gentleman. I urge everyone to respect the rights of TSR, now and always.

Panhistoria --Online campaigns by Chayla Hamilton
Planescape Rules were developed by Wojciech Kozlowski for third edition. I think this is substantially better than the third edition "Manual of the Planes." The link is now down. -- remarkable Planescape site
Tony DiTerlizzi's Art


New visitors to
reset Jan. 30, 2005:

The Alignment Planes
The Abyss -- Chaotic Evil
Acheron -- Lawful, Evil Tendencies
Arborea -- Chaotic Good
Arcadia -- Lawful, Good Tendencies
Baator -- Lawful Evil
The Beastlands -- Good, Chaotic Tendencies
Bytopia -- Good, Lawful Tendencies
Carceri -- Evil, Chaotic Tendencies
Elysium -- Neutral Good
Gehenna -- Evil, Lawful Tendencies
The Gray Waste -- Neutral Evil
Limbo -- Chaotic Neutral
Mechanus -- Lawful Neutral
Mount Celestia -- Lawful Good
The Outlands -- True Neutral
Pandemonium -- Chaotic, Evil Tendencies
Ysgard -- Chaotic, Good Tendencies
The Inner Planes
What "Planescape" could be
AD&D and the Religious Right
Li Po's Hermitage (character generators, more)

Ed's character generators:

[Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly]

Ed's home page

Ed says, "This world would be a sorry place if people like me who call ourselves Christians didn't try to act as good as other good people."