Planescape Memories

Planescape Memories

Wright of Derby, The OrreryWe weren’t ready for Planescape. We were happy with our medieval analogues, playing brave young men and women from the local village, setting out in search of fame and fortune. But this was different. This was weird.

First session went something like this: “This is the center of the universe. No one knows for sure exactly where it is but it’s shaped like a doughnut, run by 13 philosophies, and contains doorways to everywhere in existence.” After that, things got a lot more confusing.

A bunch of greener, more fourish conies you have never seen. Top shelf cutters we were not. We did all the stereotypical clueless things: “what’s over the edge of Sigil?” (eek!), “Who’s that chick with the pointy face?” (Aargh!), “If this is the hive, where are the insects?” (urgh!), and “I don’t know what a baatezu is but maybe we should sign up for their war?” (D’oh!). And yeah, we even trusted tieflings…

We completed the first published adventure and, to this date, have no idea what the hells was going on (“everything caught fire” is the best we can work out). In time, things got slightly better: we quested for intangible things with all too tangible repercussions, we discovered that the upper planes can be just as dangerous as the lower, we learnt about factions and joined them and promptly hated each other for philosophical reasons that had nothing to do with alignment (we got over it… after about 5 years of real time). And we died. A lot.

Sometimes the blood was so deep, PCs survived only because someone lifted their unconscious faces out of the gore. We renamed the setting “Painscrape” and players (not characters) actually threatened to go on strike about 3 weeks into the adventure Fires of Dis, it was so utterly horrible. Its 16 years later and we still use “ASK THE MAGGOTS TO STOP WRIGGLING???” as an exclamation when the DM says we should obviously have done something utterly ridiculous.

Ah, good times.

Where Are You Going With This, Dan?

I have a point, I promise. It’s about gaming with a sense of wonder and discovery.

Imagine playing Against the Giants in 1978, meeting your first drow and having no idea what they are. Imagine your first flickering torch-lit expedition into the Underdark (or the Abyss!), having none of the familiarity with its powers and tropes that comes with time or a quick trip to Wikipedia. It’s all virgin soil, unknown territory: the scenery strange and wondrous and out of this world, the magic unknown, and the creatures unfathomable. It’s still the same game—we still roleplay and kill things and take their stuff—but also something genuinely original and different. Like Oz or Wonderland, there are rules, but can you tear your eyes away from the chaos and glory of it all to learn them? Dare you peer behind the curtain (“pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain!” bellows the great Mask of Oz) into the secret, behind-the-scenes life of angels and devils, gods and departed souls?

That’s where we’re heading with Dark Roads & Golden Hells, to the ragged, bleeding edge of reality to channel that old Planescape spirit still alive after 17 years and multiple editions. Because I want my mind blown all over again.

19 thoughts on “Planescape Memories”

  1. All true (especially the bit about the gore).

    Bonus kudos to patron and long-term gaming pal ‘Bill’, who’s portrayal of Tashkarn the tiefling as “the definition of dodgy but I can’t prove anything, damnit” basically defined the race for us. Over a decade later and we still don’t trust any of them thanks to him!

  2. Thanks for sharing this! I think the sense that RPGs could be much, much bigger and weirder was what drew a lot of people to it. The planes SHOULD be stranger than we know.

    I guess I really should ask China Mieville whether he ever played in Sigil. Seems like such a “separated at birth” vibe between it and Bas Lag.

  3. I normally stick to patronage projects that are adventure-centric and definitely going to be Pathfinder to lessen the strain my poor wallet; but dammit, I just can’t resist this one…

  4. Great (and funny) article! Good times indeed (my players even started creating words, on the spot, for the Chant). You’re setting high stakes for Dark Roads & Golden Hells, but now I’m really excited about this product.

  5. Illessa, this is definitely going to be Pathfinder.

    What’s not clear yet is whether is will also include 4E D&D material. I don’t think Dan has really clarified that yet.

  6. This is incredibly awesome. Planescape was the first RPG I ever really immersed myself in, and our group of four great buddies (GM’d by the peerless Clinton J. Boomer) played it religiously through junior high, high school, college, and beyond. To this day, Planescape deeply influences every game I play in, run, and all my writing and design contributions to other RPGs.

    Dan’s post here captures a feeling I know very well, and fills me with great excitement about this product. You’re on the right track, berk!

  7. I think the strength of Planescape’s ideas is obvious in the way its persisted through into later editions – not to mention the various Fate, GURPS, and other systems that I’ve seen adapt the source material. The more the merrier in my view!

    I’d love to include some 4th edition material or conversions somewhere along the line, and I know at least some of the patrons are fans of 4e too and would be up for helping out.

    As to whether there’d ever be be a full blown 4e Dark Roads and Golden Hells book… I guess it depends on how loud the 4e crowd can shout and clamour for one!

  8. Thanks, Theodoric. I really wasn’t sure if I was being coherent at all, or just getting that faraway misty-eyed look of the wierd old gamer in the corner…

    Because I am that gamer :-)

  9. Hm, has anyone pointed out this project on the Planewalker boards?

    Because I don’t know my way around over there, but it seems like it would be relevant to their interests…

  10. Ahh, good times!

    I will always remember fondly the look on your faces when The Lady herself showed up in the top of Harbinger House (and left so much bloody death in her shadow).

    …and laugh whenever I recall the “special relationship” your cleric Sartos had with his deity. Planar priests beware; chances are your god loves his primer priests more than you, no matter your characters level! ;)

  11. I hope there’s still room in a few weeks to jump onto this one. Funds are a bit tight (new baby) and I just sprung for the Complete Tome of Horrors :-)
    What are the odds there will still be room at the end of the month?

    1. Congrats on the new baby! I’m sure it has Cha 18, and the Int and Dex will improve rapidly.

      Odds are good we’ll have this one funded by August 1 and maybe sooner. We’ll post some status reports as the funding closes in on the goal.

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