Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Tag: Planescape

Ravenloft Table

The last two years, I’ve surprised my players with a jaunt to Ravenloft, bringing out candles and turning out the lights to set the mood. This year, they knew they were heading back beforehand – there was no way I could surprise them three times – but they surprised me with a blood-spatter tablecloth and coasters!

Ravenloft Table

With the lights off (as Ravenloft should be played):

Spooky Table

Expect more Ravenloft updates akin to last year’s Savour of Madness here soon!

Planescape Play Report – Olympus Burns

It’s been quite awhile since I posted, but here’s what my players have been up to in my Planescape game recently.



  • Mount Olympus and its surrounds on the plane of Arborea has become a war-zone.  Anarchists (members of the Revolutionary League) posing as Athar have stirred up resentment and hostility towards the Olympian pantheon who reside on the Mountain, claiming them to be decadent and tyrannical rulers.  This, in turn, has caused the powers of the gods to wane as they lose worshippers.  The Revolutionary League is always aiming to dethrone authorities and undermine the fabric of society, which they believe is hopelessly corrupt.
  • As a result of the Anarchist machinations, war has broken out as inhabitants of Arborea rise up against the gods.  The gods, still powerful, are fighting back to put down the rebellion, but are reluctant to unleash the full force of their powers lest they appear to be the very vicious tyrants they’re being painted as.  Many, such as Apollo, have abandoned their palaces for Zeus’ temple-fortress at the top of the Mountain.
Fall of Rome
  • The slaughter, unfortunately, has “destabilized” the plane.  Each of the Outer Planes is associated with a set of Alignments; when events and beliefs on the plane shift, planes begin to “slide” into one another.  So, as a result of the war, parts of Arborea (Chaotic Good) are beginning to slide into the Abyss (Chaotic Evil).  This has been facilitated by the fact that Arborea, as a plane, is a place of grand passions – the plane actually amplifies emotions.  This includes emotions such as hatred, fear, and anger.
  • As the plane slides into the Abyss the Doomguard (crazed entropy-worshippers – basically the heavy metal Faction) have joined in the fun and started randomly burning, pillaging, and generally revelling in Arborea’s desecration.  The Doomguard have brought with them three flying Ships of Chaos, powerful “Entropy Weapons” capable of great destruction.
  • Meanwhile, Tanar’ri – that is, Demons – are emerging out of the Abyss and into Arborea at the places the planar boundaries are weakest.  They’re now running amok, some of them magically enslaving the native inhabitants to do their bidding (so, for example, there are hordes of cannibalistic Maenads running around who’ve been Charmed by incubi and succubi).  They seem to be allied with the Doomguard, and indeed Tanar’ri crew can be found on the Ships of Chaos.
  • The Blood War – the eternal, now many-millennia-long conflict between the (Lawful Evil) Devils and the (Chaotic Evil) Demons – has started spilling into Arborea, as the Baatezu (Devils) suspect the Tanar’ri of attempting to “outflank” them using Arborea somehow.  So there are also platoons of Devils and their mercenaries stomping around Arborea’s hinterlands and attacking Tanar’ri wherever they find them.
  • The Harmonium (a Faction dedicated to stability and order) have arrived in force on Arborea to try and stop it from sliding whole-hog into the Abyss.  They’ve brought with them the Mercykillers (a Faction of executioners and bounty hunters) to help enforce order and try to end the conflict.  However, so far they seem to be having the opposite effect, their presence only leading to more fighting and carnage.
The whole situation is based on one of the players’ back-stories.  I’ve played it out as a hexcrawl, with Mount Olympus at one end of the map and a bunch of hexes in the middle full of forest fires, gorgons, mad minotaurs, Blood War skirmishes, and rebels.  The tone is sort of Apocalypse Now meets 300, with a little zombie/cannibal survival horror thrown in.  So far, my players have done the following:
  • Cut their way through swathes of Bacchae-infested wilderness, holing up for awhile in a ruinous trade-town stripped bare of every scrap of food from an orgiastic horde of the Raving Ones.
  • Rescued some prisoners from the anthropophagic Dionysian revellers, killing the Bacchae in mass numbers though liberal use of Fireball and Cloudkill.
  • Repaired one of the downed Ships of Chaos (Doomguard “Entropy Weapons” literally made from the souls of the damned) and psychically bonded with it.
  • Picked up an Earth Genasi mercenary (a new PC), a Lawful Evil Monk dedicated to becoming “One with Stone.”
  • Used the Ship to engage in high-stakes aerial combat with a flock of Harpies and Vrock before seizing a second vessel of the same sort, killing the mixed Tanar’ri/rebel crew and confronting the Anarchist wizard captaining the thing.
  • Joined up with a beleagured battalion of Harmonium and their Mercykiller death-squad (the Ranger also decided it was a great idea to sleep with the head torturer).
  • Raided the abandoned and thoroughly desecrated Temple of Apollo and re-took it from demented Baaetzu legionaries driven mad by prolonged exposure to the Chaotic/Good energies of Arborea – their passions eventually got the better of their discipline.  Their leader, a depraved Bone Devil, was keeping a Medusa as a kind of pet; the party freed her and used her to petrify the Devil’s lieutenant, an Erinyes.  The Hardheads have now adopted the Temple as a base of operations.

Oh, and they did this:


They have sort of a habit of taming & domesticating weird horrible things.

Sigil’s Most Wanted

I recently made a bunch of wanted posters for my players as handouts – the law has finally caught up with them after a year and a half of hijinx in the City of Doors.

Wanted Pandemonium Six

The original party met in the Howling Land of Pandemonium; due to their exploits the Sigilian authorities have dubbed them the “Pandemonium Six.”

Wanted Alfgrimr

Alfgrimr was a character made by a Planescape veteran who, unfortunately, has now left the campaign (due to graduating from library school).  Alfgrimr was a very, very odd character – a water genasi Cipher of the Transcendent Order (which meant that if his player said he took an action, even in jest, he had to take that action), he was obsessed with achieving immortality and thus was always collecting odd bits and pieces along his journeys in the hope that they would extend his lifespan.  He was also crazily ruthless and disturbingly creative.  For a period another character possessed a Helm of Telepathy – which, at our table, is now represented by a paper crown worn by the player whose character is wearing the helm – and Alfgrimr’s player would periodically pass the telepath unsettling notes, the “ambient thoughts” rolling around in Alfgrmir’s twisted consciousness.  He also died a lot, and eventually became a proxy of the Norse god Baldr.

Wanted Kets

A catfolk Rogue and former street urchin, Pockets has a history that feels a bit like something out of a Dickens novel crossed with Selina Kyle and Garrett from the Thief series.  The abandoned daughter of the former Cat Lord of the Beastlands, “Kets” is a hardened, embittered seventeen-year old pickpocket turned upscale burglar who usually is about as jaded as they come.  She fights with a rapier and a winxy pistol, an ensorceled firearm she picked up in a Demiplane modeled on Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.  She’s defiantly True Neutral.

Wanted Gwendolyn

Gwendolyn is the animal-lover of the group and one of the two Good characters.  Along with Belric, below, she helped create a giant, green super-intelligent hog monster that grows bigger the more it eats and is now housed in an extradimensional warehouse in the Sigil’s slums, hence her moniker “Swine-Mother,” bestowed on her by a group of Xoasitects.  She’s a half-elf Ranger/Druid and so serves as the party’s main healer.  She often tends to spend a healthy portion of a given sessional wild-shaped into some sort of bird.  She’s also slightly deranged from wearing a Helm of Telepathy for a bit too long.  Oh yeah, and she’s wearing a symbiotic Corset now…

Wanted Klaira

Klaira is the party’s Bard/Gunslinger and the only other Good character, so she’s forced into the role of “group conscience” pretty frequently.  She’s also on the run from Unseelie bounty hunters who want to return her to a twisted fey aristocrat who previously kept her around as an enslaved storyteller, Scheherazade-style.  During the Savour of Madness adventure in Ravenloft she got grafted with a reptillian tail remeniscent of a chameleon’s.

Wanted Belric

Belric is a Halfling… and also the child of an Olympian demigod from Arborea.  He’s a Sorcerer who specializes in lightning spells, a former Athar turned Sensate, and easily the whackiest character in the party – he’s got all the appetite of a Hobbit and a taste in mind-altering (and body-altering) substances that would match William Borroughs.  He eats and drinks everything: mysterious chaos-cheese from Limbo, age-reversing potion, Alignment-altering liquor, animal petitioners on the Beastlands, and dozens of other morsels and tinctures.  Chaotic Neutral to the core.  He was reincarnated as a Kobold for awhile.  He’s also bedded fallen celestials, fairies, and probably a few things I’ve forgotten about…

Wanted Achaia

Achaia is a Fetchling Rogue/Shadowdancer with a Stealth bonus so high I often don’t even call for Stealth checks anymore.  She can shapeshift and hide in plain sight, and steals pretty much anything that isn’t nailed down, which all goes into a capacious bag of holding.  She’s usually pretty self-serving but seems to have a soft spot for children and simialrly vulnerable types, going out of her way to aid the downtrodden and neglected.  The hat was filched from the Mad Hatter’s felinoid house.  She’s also got a nice little time-manipulating stopwatch a Paladin polymorphed into Goblin form gave her after an escapade on Acheron.

Wanted RulgaRulga was a character made by a player who unfortunately had to leave the campaign, but she was great while we had her.  A Dwarf Monk and member of the exacted Fated – who are something like Planescape’s Objectivists and Nietzscheans – she served as a major voice of reason (she was also the only Lawful character in a party full of Chaotic types).  She eventually met Arthur Pendragon in Avalon on Elysium – he was waiting to be recalled to Albion on the Prime Material Plane, but the party somehow convinced him to join them, and over time the two had an extremely strange off-kilter romance that survived several reincarnations.

Planescape Soundtracks

The main game I’m running these days is a Planescape campaign (for those that know the setting well, I’ve set it before the Faction War, using all the AD&D boxed sets and a lot of my own notes; for those that don’t know the setting well, you can find out more here). I run the setting very much as a sandbox: we’ve got a big, sprawling map of Sigil in the middle of the table that the players can interact with, and at any given time there’s about half a dozen plot-threads they can engage with and intertwine. Planescape is a challenging setting to run for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is tone.


As I interpret the setting, there are two major stylistic/generic elements at play in Planescape: noir and myth. On the one hand you’ve got a sort of gloomy urban fantasy vibe. Planars (especially Sigilians) cultivate a kind of hardened, jaded cynicism – they’re hardboiled. The world of noir is, in the words of famous noir critics Borde and Chaumeton, “oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel.” The noir element is dark, surreal, world-weary; it’s about conspiracies, mysteries, dubious motives, and off-kilter misadventures. On the other hand there’s the myth element, which is kind of the opposite of noir – it’s about big, larger than life heroism and archetypes, spiritual forces, allegory, and ritual. These things are, in some sense, ultimately and inescapably opposed. Noir is a nihilistic genre about existential crisis, about grappling with the dark sides of the psyche in a universe without the comforts of some greater meaning or telos; there’s horror and terror and awe, but people in a noir universe are detached from these emotions, perhaps almost in contempt of them. Myth, on the other hand, is all about greater meaning, all about sublimity and intensity. Myth has Heroes in the Cambellian vein; noir has anti-heroes.

This noir-mythic tension – which, to me, is endlessly fascinating and rewarding to play with and mash up – brings me to the actual purpose of this post, which is music. I use music in all of my games these days. The right music can set the tone perfectly, while the wrong music can wreck the tone completely. A Planescape soundtrack requires eclecticism: you’re in Acheron one minute and Elysium the next, and walking down a street in Sigil, Devils rub shoulders with Elementals and lycanthropes and sentient robots. I also want the music to reflect both elements of Planescape’s ethos, the interplay between dark noir fantasy and myth.  I favour video game soundtracks for my games, because by their nature they’re designed to be ambient and repetitive, but I also use soundtracks from movies and other sources. So, without further preamble, here’s my Planescape soundtrack:

Planescape: Torment Soundtrack – a good all-purpose score specifically designed for the Planescape setting.

Grim Fandango Soundtrack – excellent for taverns and clubs, and a nice alternative to the stereotypical quasi-medieval harp music you often here in taverns in rpgs.

The Void Soundtrack – one of the most hallucinatory soundtracks I’ve ever heard,with a mystic, dream-like tone shot through with a lot of unease.  The Turgor Theme
is especially brilliant.

Sherlock Holmes Soundtrack – especially good for frenetic chases, back-alley fights, and street scenes.  I have mixed feelings about the films (in essence: superb popcorn cinema, god-awful as Holmes adaptations) but the soundtrack is quite marvelous.

Alice: Madness Returns Soundtrack – brilliant for dark doings, twisted realities, Kafkaesque trials, gigantic machines, Wonderland-inspired vistas and the like. I use this one a lotDollhouse is probably my favorite track.

Zeno Clash Soundtrack – for suspenseful moments, fights, and exploration of alien wildernesses. Another one I use very frequently.  Danger in the Mist is a particularly useful track in crazed alley-labyrinths haunted by Chaosmen who’ve decided to adopt the personae of ravenous hyenas, or fungal forests in the Plane of Ooze infested by savage vegepygmies, etc.

Riven Soundtrack – for conspiracies, forgotten temples, and moments when the players glimpse the wheels-within-wheels play of power and pain that keeps Sigil from flying apart at the seams. I’m especially partial to the Moiety Theme which has a wonderful aura of sinister mystery and immense age to it.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines Soundtrack – a nice, dark fantasy urban soundtrack, especially good for demonic dance clubs.

Thief Soundtrack – for sneaking around, naturally. A rich mix of ambient sounds, ominous trills, and vague discord.

Dishonored Soundtrack – more good city music. A very melancholic sort of soundtrack, to be used in quieter moments.

Amnesia Soundtrack – for my annual month-long Ravenloft segments and occasionally in other especially horrific situations. I use this one sparingly.

Beetlejuice Soundtrack – for encounters with Xaositects (who I interpret as Dadaists and Absurdists) and Limbo. The main theme is brilliant in chaotic, madcap situations that call for a comedic touch.

Rune Soundtrack – for moments of mythic horror, cold planes, Ysgard, and anything involving Dwarves.  Also some good pitched battle music.

Sin City Soundtrack – I actually use this one fairly rarely as it’s a bit too recognizable in places, but I would like to make greater use of Old Town in the future.

Note: obviously the big sonic/thematic influence I’m neglecting here is punk, which is also important for the setting.

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