Not For Everyone
Somethingawful spent a number of pages gawking at the AD&D modrons. The comment that sticks out the most to me is this: "Nobody knew what the heck to do with modrons."
I was wondering where they even came from in the first place. Apparently, they are inspired by a novel by Edwin Abbott called "Flatland". I found this article, wherein Jeff Grubb talks about how they came about.
Artist Tony DiTerlizzi has talked about how Zeb Cook reached out to him in the 2e days, to try to make the modrons more appealing. He said that he was on a tight deadline, and that he took inspiration from Tik-Tok of the Wizard of Oz books.
"The re-thinking of how a hackneyed or contrived character looks was a very big lesson for me."
AD&D 1st Edition
Monster Manual 2
Nirvana: A plane of balance and absolute order. It's laid out like a great wheel with the Tower of Primus at the hub. Obedience to the laws is immediate and unquestioned. We are told a lot about modrons:
- They are unaffected by illusions or mind-affecting magic
- Upper tier modrons determine the initiative order in a combat due to their precision in order. That is hilarious. The DM tells the player not to roll, the modron has decided that the thief goes first because he is fast, then the fighter, then the modron will go.
- If slain in the prime material plane, the modron is reformed in Nirvana.
- Rogue Units: Rogues are defective modrons, "...either through natural decay or exposure to outside, chaotic forces". They are usually hunted down by a pentadrone police force.
- Decaton: They heal modrons. They have an ability to heal all modrons within 144 feet of 1 hp of damage.
- Nonaton: These are kind of like modron police. They have powers like ESP, detect lie, and power word stun.
- Septons are really weird-looking, even for modrons. They have constant ESP and detect magic going, as if they were natural senses like sight and smell.
- Secundus: These are humanoids who fight like Bruce Lee. They pretty much stun you if they hit you, and they "have special abilities as 13th-level monks, including the dreaded 'quivering palm'...". Quivering palm, you say?
- He sets the order and writes the laws.
- Primus rises from the energy pool in the center of the plane (which spawns modrons)
- The right hand of Primus is swathed in rainbow-colored lights. If he punches you with this hand, you are teleported to Arcadia (land of lawful neutral good).
- The left is clouded in inky darkness. If he hits you with this hand, you are sent to Acheron (plane of lawful neutral evil).
- The damage on that one attack per round is... 20-160. That's 8d20..!
- Primus has 100% magic resistance and can only be hit by +5 or better weapons.
Planescape Boxed Set
|My favorite piece of modron art|
Mechanus: It is explained that Nirvana is also known as Mechanus, "The Clockwork Universe". It is a realm of giant cogs that hover in space at all angles. The modrons live in a realm in Mechanus known as Regulus.
The modrons polish cog teeth and fuss over the great wheels.
Each rank of modron can only comprehend the existence of the ranks directly above and below it. It can't even see the others! This means that almost no modrons even know Primus exists. His edicts are passed down from modron to modron.
This means that modrons regard the caste higher than them as the "fountainhead of supreme logic". Other notes:
- The modrons refer to themselves as "we".
- Promotion: When a modron is promoted, it is seemingly at random. All modrons of a caste are considered equal. It adapts to it's new form instantly.
- They speak a precise mathematical language. Duodrones and higher can speak common.
- They abhor chaos, and spend their time wiping out slight imperfections in their home plane. When in a prime material plane, they try to bring order to chaos.
When slain, a modron disintegrates. Their energies merge with Mechanus, and a new modron is spawned out of the energy pool. It is speculated that the only way to wipe out modrons is to destroy their energy pool.
Primus, The One and the Prime
Only Primus understands the whole structure of the modron race. Primus sometimes appears as a normal, androgynous human. If Primus is killed, one of the secundi are promoted to become the new Primus.
A modron can go rogue due to conflicting orders by a superior, or if confronted with proof that all is not orderly. They have "..the forbidden and reprehensible glimmerings of self-awareness..."
Modrons have organic and mechanical parts inside, so magic healing works on them.
The Great Modron March
This is a gigantic adventure by Monte Cook. I came so close to running this on two occasions, as part of my traditional pre-campaign hemming and hawing.
Once every "Grand Cycle" (289 years), the time it takes for the largest gear in Mechanus to turn once, modrons march through the planes. Nobody knows why.
|Primus in humanoid form|
What Happened (Spoiler Alert): This adventure is all about Orcus. He killed Primus and has usurped his position. He has sent the modrons on the march to find the Wand of Orcus.
Technically, in this adventure Orcus is known as "Tenebrous," an undead version of himself. He was slain by the drow goddess Kiaransalee, and he needs the wand to be brought back to his former living state. This scenario leads into the next adventure, Monte Cook's highly acclaimed "Dead Gods."
D&D 3rd Edition
Manual of the Planes
The modrons seemed to have been elbowed to the side somewhat in 3e. Interestingly, the book says that most prevalent creatures on Mechanus are the Inevitables:
- Kolyaruts - Fugitive hunters.
- Maruts - Foes of those who cheat death.
- Zelekhuts - Enforcers of contracts.
It is mentioned that the modrons live in a section called Regulus and that they control 64 cogs.
Wizards unleashed an internet-only web supplement to this book that spends 18 pages discussing modrons. This is a fantastic article that covers everything that has gone before in great detail. I'd go so far as to say this is the one thing you should read before using modrons. And it's free!
There is some new material here, too. Two creatures that function in modron society:
- Moignos: Tiny, two-dimensional constructs obsessed with finding the exact value of pi. The modrons use them as calculators.
- Coggles: These are massive, living, floating cogs. Sometimes they are nearly a mile across. The modrons use them to transport battalions. Coggles can speak the language of modrons.
The Modron Cathedral: In this place building is a device that the modrons have been working on - an orrery made of constantly moving gears. You can try to use it to scry on a specific plane, but if you roll bad you will go insane. Primus uses is to teleport modrons to different planes. This device has a reputation for causing people to go insane, so few people try to break in and use it.
Dragon Magazine #354 - Return of the Modrons
The Rogue March: The events in "The Great Modron March" are now known as "The Rogue March." Many modrons on that march got stranded in different planes.
The Tainted Modron: A secundus had been corrupted by the link with Orcus. It has taken a million modrons to Acheron and is planning to return, attack Regulus, and take the mantle of Primus by force.
The Inevitables: The inevitables have been allowed to live within Regulus, and even have some monodrones serving them.
The Failed Formian Invasion: The ant people tried to wipe out the modrons, but failed.
Exiled Modrons: Their bond to the energy pool is broken. They have a few memories of their past lives.
- The Messenger: Your heroes might run into a messenger modron, en exile who now serves a wizard.
- The Serial Killer: ...a serial killer modron!? Tainted by Orcus, this maniac has accepted the chaotic taint killing the poor and helpless. This tridrone is known as Maniel, the silent death.
- Rogue Hunters: A pack of modrons are hunting down a rogue modron called Cubelian the Bright. Cubelian has turned to goodness and worships Pelor.
D&D 4th Edition
I am very interested in seeing what happened with modrons in 4e.
Dungeon Magazine #186 - Creature Incarnations: Modrons
4e modrons battle chaos, specifically slaads and aberrations. They also don't like portals (modrons see them as planar tears or weak points).
They can... assemble with other modrons into a more powerful modron! What a crazy idea.
The Origin of Primus: Nobody is sure. He might have been a primordial.
There's a few different types, all around 8th level:
- Monodrone Brickguard: A minion (what creature is more fit to be a 1 HP minion than a monodrone?)
- Duodrone Marcher: Wow. When it is slain, 4 monodrones appear in its place.
- Quadrone Enforcer: It can slide monodrone minions around and blow them up, like pit fiends do. Four monodrones appear when it dies, too.
- Modron Hierarch: It drops area burst attacks that do force damage. When it dies, two duodrones appear in its place.
Dragon Magazine #414 - Ecology of the Modron
Way back when the primordials were creating things in the Elemental Chaos, a creature from the Far Realm called the Nine-Tongued Worm tried to destroy and corrupt everything. A primordial called the Prime Achitect defeated the worm, but was mortally wounded.
It retreated to a plane of order, and became Primus and the modrons. The modrons took to traveling the planes and sealing off breaches to the Far Realm. Stuff we learn:
Abyssal Plague tie-in: Wow, I just wrote about the abyssal plague the other day. The plague has caused all these tears in reality, and Primus may need to declare an emergency march so the modrons can destroy these dimensional cysts.
Primus: Primus is humanoid in shape, with a head and upper torso made of solid gold. The lower half of Primus is energy that fades into the energy pool that Primus dwells in.
The Nexus Cube: The modrons may have an artifact that grants the bearer immunity to aberrant creatures.
The Infinity Web: This is mentioned a bit in the Great Modron March adventure. Primus uses it to deliver orders.
There's stats for a few monsters, a tridrone, a pentadrone and a nonaton. Nothing too special.
D&D 5th Edition
The 5e monster entry has all of the basic modron stuff from previous editions. No major changes or deviations. Only 5 types of modrons are listed, monodrones through pentadrones. I guess that means we will see more modrons in a future book?
That's where we're at right now with modrons. They're weird, but I can see an awesome session or two where your heroes have to go to Mechanus to either meet with Primus, steal something, or stop a plot by that evil tainted modron. The whole concept that modrons can't all perceive each other opens up a lot of cool possibilities.
5e stats for Nodrom the modron from Planescape:Torment and Gear Spirits
Check out this old site for some weird stuff about Mechanus.
This artist has created some modrons out of metal. Awesome stuff.