Intro to Planescape #3: Faction Fundamentals

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A large part of the Planescape campaign setting were the Factions. In current 5e Adventurers League play, PCs belong to organizations that they call factions, and that’s not too far off from a starting point to understanding Planescape’s Factions (although they had nothing do with organized play, that’s a major difference). In Planescape, belief is centrally important in shaping the Outer Planes themselves. Naturally, when that much power is involved, groups of like-minded people will form.

As people with similar beliefs about the nature of reality started working together, they became more organized and more powerful, so others with competing beliefs realized that they needed to organize as well. The result was the Factions, all of which naturally either moved to Sigil or were formed within Sigil since the City of Doors was an excellent place to spread their beliefs to others. Over time, the Factions became the primary powers within Sigil, with several Factions running the administrative and law enforcement aspects of the city.

PCs could join these Factions (or the Free League “not a Faction”) and gain both magic-like abilities, as well as political power within their Faction. Since each Faction is very large with even competing ideas within them, a DM could use a Faction as everything from a plot hook to start an adventure, allies and suppliers, a group in need of adventurer help, villains, annoying obstacles, or any aspect of the game an organization could fill. Especially the shorter published adventures would have in the introduction a section on what Factions would want to send PCs on this adventure and why.

Although their presence throughout the planes was mixed, within Sigil itself, you could never really avoid the Factions. I’ll have to check for a specific reference, but at least the impression given was that a significant number, if not majority, of Sigil’s citizens were members of a Faction, even if only in name. (Those sods were called Namers. Different levels of membership had different labels, as well as different abilities granted from Namer to Factotum to Factor to the one Factol who runs each Faction.)

Historically, some Factions came and went and new ones arose until the Great Upheaval about 630 years before the time of the original Planescape products. At that point, open war broke out between the dozens of Factions until the Lady of Pain decreed (through a dabus, more on them another time, but they are the enigmatic maintenance workers of Sigil) that only 15 Factions would remain. Since then (with one major exception explained below), the 15 Factions have been relatively stable within Sigil.

Now the Factions exist in a cold war of spies and politics with very little open conflict. This makes them ripe for adventure possibilities. However, even when Factions are strongly opposed to each other, individual members may still be acquaintances or even friends (as with the PCs who may belong to wide variety of Factions). They may get unhappy looks from their superiors or requests for information, but Faction high-ups don’t outright demand avoiding members of certain Factions (other than possibly the Revolutionary League as noted below). Life in Sigil is too complicated and interconnected to completely avoid a rival Faction’s members.

The exception mentioned above is the Faction War. This was an adventure published as one of the last Planescape products before the line was cancelled. It involved the 15 Factions – can you guess? – going to war again with each other. I will discuss the results of that in a spoiler-tagged post later, but suffice it to say, many Planescape fans divide the setting into pre-Faction War and post-Faction War. At the time of publication, many fans found the events pretty exciting, while others thought it was yet another Time of Troubles (a widely criticized “blowing up” of the Forgotten Realms setting that many felt changed too many aspects of the setting unnecessarily). So opinion was deeply, deeply divided, but with time, opinion seems to have softened against it especially as the cancelled Planescape line slide into nostalgia.

One more related aspect are Sects. These are mini-Factions that typically have far fewer members and no official standing on Sigil (although their members are allowed to come and go through the City of Doors). Some were Factions the fled Sigil after the Great Upheaval, others originated out among the planes and have beliefs more firmly linked to that plane. However, they are still similar to Factions in that they are formed around certain beliefs about the nature of reality, although many of them have views that are much more narrowly defined than the Factions (which is a big reason why they don’t have so many members since their beliefs are more idiosyncratic).

The 15 Factions of Pre-Faction War Planescape are:

Name Nickname(s) Philosophy Role in Sigil
Athar Defiers, the Lost The gods are frauds and it’s up to us to prove that.
Believers of the Source Godsmen The gods were once mortals, and each of us can be reborn into greater forms until we reach godhood. Run the Foundry since forging items helps perfect their bodies and mirrors the forging of their selves
Bleak Cabal Bleakers, The Cabal, Madmen There is no meaning or grand plan in the multiverse. The only meaning comes from within. Run the asylum as well as providing for a lot of the poor and ill
Doomguard Sinkers Entropy and decay is the natural state of the multiverse and we are here to help it along. Run the Armory manufacturing weapons
Dustmen The Dead We’re all dead – just some more than others. Someday we can achieve the purity of True Death. Unsurprisingly run the Mortuary
Fated Takers, Heartless, Coldbloods Everyone is entitled to what they can take and hold on to. Tax collectors and run the Hall of Records
Fraternity of Order Guvners Learn the laws of the multiverse and you can rule it. Administrators, bureaucrats, and judges
Free League Indeps This isn’t a faction, and no faction has all the answers. Better to keep your options open. Extremely varied
Harmonium Hardheads Peace and harmony is our goal, even if takes busting a lot of heads to achieve it. Sigil’s police force
Mercykillers Red Death Justice is everything and punishment purifies. Run the prison and are in charge of dealing out punishments
Revolutionary League Anarchists Those in power are corrupt and need to be overthrown for us to find the truth they hide. Isolated cells that work to overthrow those in charge
Sign of One Signers The multiverse only exists because it is imagined to exist – and maybe I am the one imagining reality into existence, or maybe you are. Headquartered at the Hall of Speakers which is Sigil’s legislature, although representatives of most of the Factions actually comprise the legislature
Society of Sensation Sensates To know the multiverse, you must experience it since all we know, we know through our senses. Run the Civic Festhall providing entertainment including experiencing stored memories
Transcendent Order Ciphers Action without thought is purity of the body in harmony with the mind, and therefore with the multiverse. Run the Great Gymnasium
Xaositects Chaosmen Embrace the randomness and chaos of the multiverse to truly understand it.

To learn more about each individual Faction, the Player’s Guide in the original Planescape Campaign Setting Boxed Set has excellent 1 page overviews of each Faction. More details on each can be found in the Factol’s Manifesto – a partially in-character examination of the Factions with 8-12 pages on each. Both are great products full of far more flavor then mechanics making them still useful for 5e games. Also, here at Rule of 3, we will soon start Faction Fridays with a post dedicated to examining one Faction each week.