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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Planescape - A Guide to Sigil, City of Doors

I am going through one of those campaign-planning phases again, where I do a lot of research for a campaign that may never take place. I am going to attempt to create a reference for the city of Sigil, which is the extra-planar city that serves as the home base for the Planescape setting.

I am using material from these sources:
The point here is to take the essential material out of those sources to create a brief outline that can be used by a DM to get a handle on the city without having to do hours of research. It's pretty much my notes on the city that I will refer to in play when the heroes are in Sigil. I tried my best to use as few words as possible.

I would highly suggest that you play Planescape: Torment, if you're OK with a computer RPG game that involves a ton of reading. The characters are great, the details are insanely deep, and it gives you a feel for how the city should be depicted. I took notes as I played, so that I can use all of the coolest locations, like the Smoldering Corpse bar and the Curiosity Shoppe.

Sigil is built on the inside of a hollowed-out donut. Gravity works there in such a way that you can walk all the way up the side to the ceiling. So if you are on a Sigil street and look up, there's city above you.

There is a hovering luminescence above the buildings that creates day and night, though much of it is the gloom of twilight (Noon is known as "Peak", and midnight is known as "Anti-Peak"). There's no moon or stars, obviously, but the twinkling lights of the city above create a similar effect. Brownish rain is frequent and fog in the streets is common.

Important Things to Know

Sigil is Run by The Lady of Pain: She is around 15 feet tall with blades growing out of her face. It is rumored that she was once a demon lord. She doesn't speak, she just drifts down streets and those who engage her suffer her gaze, which causes cuts to begin to open on their body. She also has the power to send enemies to The Mazes.

The Mazes: A wasting maze that is a demi-plane, a copy of Sigil and in the Ethereal plane. Things can get in to a maze, but they can't get out. Food and water appear. The prisoner knows there's a portal out but can't find it or activate it.

"Powers" Not Welcome: Gods/demon lords/primordials are physically unable to step foot in Sigil. Their priests and proxies come to Sigil to try to figure out a way to remedy this.

Factions: Sigil is full of factions devoted to all sorts of things. I find it hard to keep them all straight. This site has a faction index.


The City of Sigil is full of portals in all sorts of weird places. Each portal has a gate key, which can be things like a rose from a specific mortal world, or a sword - often the gate key is connected to the plane the portal leads to. Portals are the only way in and out of Sigil. Often, a person will accidentally activate a portal and stumble into some other plane or world.

Nobody knows how to make a portal, except maybe the Lady of Pain. Even wish spells can't make portals.

There's three types of portals:
  • Permanent Portals: These don't change, they always go to and from the same place.
  • Temporary Portals: Disappear after being used once or twice.
  • Shifting Portals: These portals move on a schedule throughout the city. It might be in an arch n one section for a few days, and then in a merchant's house for a week. It will take a PC to one plane like the Shadowfell for a few days, and then to the Elemental Plane of fire for a week.
The Law

The Lady of Pain doesn't care about murders or theft.  She only cares about things like:
  • Someone killing a dabus.
  • Someone trying to help a god or demon lord enter Sigil.
  • Rebellion against her rule.
She might show up and cut you up or send you to the Mazes. If not, you might still have to deal with the factions.
The Harmonium
Three factions have taken it upon themselves to form a "wheel of justice". The Harmonium makes the arrest, The Fraternity of Order conduct the trial, and the Mercykillers carry out the sentence.
  • The Harmonium: They paladins and fighters who wear red armor. They believe that to create universal harmony, everyone has to think and act like they do. They use shifter's manacles on their captives - shackles with a magic effect that prevents teleporting and causes those who try to teleport to take d10 damage. They wield planar man-catchers with the same spell effect.
  • The Fraternity of Order: They search for order in all things, and they are obsessed with learning the laws and loopholes of the universe.
  • The Mercykillers: These people think "mercy" is an excuse created by the weak and criminals. Every crime must be punished according to the law - there is no such thing as "extenuating circumstances". They can cast detect lie once per day. They run the prison of Sigil.

If a PC has to go to court, they can hire an advocate for 100 to 1,000 gp (usually a tiefling or devil). Often the advocate can bribe an official or work out a blackmail scheme to the PCs' benefit.
  • Punishment for lesser crimes are usually fines.
  • Thieves are whipped.
  • Blasphemers (those who dare openly worship the Lady of Pain, for example) have their tongues pierced with a red-hot poker.
  • Those who tamper with portals suffer Strappado (ugh).
  • Deserters, embezzlers and murderers are hanged.
Public Executions

Death by wyrm
It goes like this. The Mercykillers bring out the condemned in a two-wheeled cart. Citizens pelt them with rocks. They are brought to the Petitioners' Square. The prisoners get to make a short final speech, which the crowd buys meat pies and pamphlets.There's three methods of execution:
  • By the Noose: The victim pays the executioner to set the knot to the side of the neck for a quick death.
  • By the Sword: This form of execution is for people of status who did something like not paying taxes or libeling the Lady of Pain. The executioners use two sword/cleavers, known as "Scythe" and "Raven" to behead the victims. Fun fact: If the victim isn't dead after three slices, he or she is pardoned and set free.
  • By the Wyrm: This one is rare and considered a public holiday. The victim is usually a traitor to the city or a dabus-killer. The victim is tied to a post and fed to the Mercykiller Wyrm.
The Mercykiller Wyrm: The Mercykillers have a "mascot", a pet wyvern with stubby wings (it can only fly for a minute or two). It has a venomous bite that causes delirium, which makes it easier to extract confessions from people. The venom is a main ingredient for potions of truth.

Most of those who are executed are put on pikes and displayed. The worst of the executed criminals have their bodies placed in iron cages where the city's ravens pick at their remains.

Other Things That Make Sigil Different

Money: Merchants accept any coins, as long as they are made of gold or silver. So your PCs will likely end up with money from Krynn, Toril, and who knows where else in their pouch. "Sure it may be minted in the likeness of hideous Juiblex, but gold is gold."

Razorvine from the 5e DMG, page 110
Razorvine: This stuff grows in Sigil. It's a vine with black leaves that are a sharp as a blade (it does "2d3" damage if touched!). It grows fast - a foot per day. It becomes dull and brittle if cut.

A Dabus
Dabus: Blue-skinned humanoids who hover and make repairs on the city and trim razorvine. Some may be agents of the Lady of Pain. They communicate by creating hovering symbols above them (these symbols are known as "rebuses"). The Helm of the Dabus is a magic helmet allows the wearer to communicate as the dabus do - with rebuses. Only one of these is known to exist.

Most people get around on foot (there's not many horses) or by sedan chair. It is literally a chair that fits two people, carried on the backs of four burly humanoids.

Cranium Rats: Sigil has a lot of vermin. Rats, wererats and cranium rats. Cranium Rats share a group mind. The more there are in a swarm, the smarter they are. 100 cranium rats in a swarm have a 20 intelligence. Swarms have spells, can use the mind flayer mindblast power, and even gain magic resistance when the swarm nears 100 rats. It is believed that they refer to themselves as "The Us" and that they wage war with Ilsensine, god of the mindflayers.

Two Special Spells for Sigil:
  • Warp Sense: This is a level 2 wizard spell that lasts 1 round per level. Range: touch. The recipient can concentrate and see portals. He or she can then roll (Arcana?) to see if they can sense where the portal leads and what the key is.
  • Surelock: This is a level 4 priest spell. Casting time: 1 hour. Duration: 1 day/level. This spell protects an area against planar portals.
Locations in Sigil

The city is divided into wards. I am going to describe each ward and list a few interesting locations.

The Lady's Ward

The richest and safest section of Sigil. Home to the Barracks, the Court, the Prison and the Armory. There's a statue of Bigby here as well.

The Prison: Home to the Mercykillers.

The City Court: Judges hear cases here. There's a vast library of laws.

The City Barracks: Home to the Harmonium.

(inn/tavern) Fortune's Wheel: A major social hotspot, owned by Shemeshka the Marauder. It is divided into a few sections:

  • The Dragon Bar: A vast common room/tavern. There's this huge carved dragon head that can breathe a black cloud on unruly patrons.
  • The Dicing Cup: Where wealthy people gamble large sums of money. It is watched over by an invisible mage and two gargoyles. There's an albino musician named Estrella with silver hair who often performs.
  • The Bear-Baiting Room: There's a pit on the map. I have no idea.
  • Fortune's Wheel:  The minimum bet is 10 gp.  You spin the wheel and hope it lands on a gold square. Most of the squares are black and pay out nothing. The mage's prize is a relic imbued with arcane power.
  • The Azure Iris: An inn on the top of the building with magically warded rooms to prevent scrying or eavesdropping.
The menu includes Abyssal Beef (5 gp), Divine Dogmeat (3 gp), Hangman's Ham (2 gp).


Shemeshka the Marauder: There is a massive article on her in Dungeon Magazine #205. She is an arcanaloth (or raavasta) involved in everything from slave-trade to ownership of devil festhalls. She specializes in selling secrets and is an amoral liar/manipulator. She actually wears a sort of crown of razorvine on her head.

She runs The Mutual Trade Association and the Knights of the Cross-Trade and has a hand in the the Order of Master Clerks and Scribes, the Runner and Escort Guild, the Entertainer’s Guild, and the Adventurer’s Guild

Lissandra the Gate-Seeker: This woman is a mage formerly from the Forgotten Realms. She keeps a log of portals, and is known to question people who emerge from portals to describe the other side, and what the portal key is. She tracks shifting gates, trying to predict patterns. People pay her for portal information. She always has her protal lo book with her, and it is protected by multiple magic traps. She's a 9th level wizard. Here's her stats: Str 11; Dex 15; Con 12; Int 17; Wis 15; Cha 16.

The Hive Ward
This is a grim and poor place, full of thieves, pawnbrokers, secret slave markets and the insane. There's even gladiatorial pits. There are a lot of demons and devils here, quietly waging the blood war in back alleys. The entire ward is home to the Xaositects, a faction of the insane.

The Mortuary: This vast complex is home to the Dustmen, who inter the city's corpses here. It is said to have portals to every plane. This is the place that Planescape: Torment begins in.

The Gatehouse Night Market: Thieves sell goods to fences, who sell the stuff to other people who ship it out of Sigil. You could come here to try to buy back something stolen from you.

(tavern) Smoldering Corpse Bar: This bar has a poor wizard hovering in the air, on fire. He is cursed. This is an awesome location overloaded with cool NPCs, including Dak'kon the githzerai.

Fell's Tattoos: Fell is a dabus that everyone avoids. He makes magic tattoos which could be a really cool magic item for your PCs.

The Slaughterhouse: This place features pit fighting in a cage. People sit on tables on scaffolds that line the walls, allowing them to watch the fight as they eat and drink. There's even an "elevator" with a rope and pulley system. The place is guarded by a minotaur bouncer named Vaargh. A popular drink is viperwine: A poisonous tanar'ric concoction demons drink. It is deadly to all except for demons. (This location appeared in the adventure "Nemesis" in Dungeon magazine #60).


Kylie: She is a tout (a guide to the city), a whip-smart tiefling and an NPC featured in a number of Planescape products. She seemingly knows everyone in Sigil and wins people over with her irrepressible spirit. She has a pet named Dib. It's an ethyk (a cute, furry little one-eyed rabbit/raccoon creature). Kylie specializes in knowing things people will pay to find out. She prefers to be paid in magic items

Lower Ward

This area is home to the city's craftsmen. It is full of warehouses, smoky mills, forges and workshops. There are a lot of portals here.

The Great Foundry: Home of the godsmen. They make anything that can be fashioned out of iron.

The Friendly Fiend: A magic shop run by A'kin the Friendly Fiend (see below).

The Parted Veil: This is a bookshop on Forgotten Lane which is a tremendous resource. There is a secret back room that nobody is allowed to go in except the owner, and in it seems to be any book a person could want. The front door has a magic mouth that utters inspirational messages whena customer enters. The walls and floors are made of old books. The place is run by a gnome named Kesto Brighteyes, who thinks the gods are weak and undeserving of worship. He is assisted by Cleve, a bodak who somehow retained his mortal memories and disposition. Cleve was a paladin from Krynn who was slain by demons of demogorgon.

The Ditch: The only large body of water in Sigil, a foul and reeking morass that corrodes corpses within hours of being dumped. Wererats gather here to receive orders from their leader, Tattershade. Metal refuse is dumped here by the dabus.

Society of the Luminiferous Aether: A gentlemen's club for working mages. Only members are let in by the doorman - Gamnesto the Vile, a bound gehreleth. The place has a library and a list of portals and keys that work in Sigil and the planes. Membership fee: 10,000 gp!

(tavern) The Face of Gith: A githzerai establishment. They drink silently and sullenly. There's a sealed blob of primal chaos from Limbo here that some spellcasters can shape it into images and creatures to amuse the patrons.

(tavern) The Ubiquitous Wayfarer: This tavern is popular in part because people believe it holds over two dozen portals (all activated by obscure portal keys, of course). The proprieter is a middle-aged woman named Riaen Blackhome who belongs to the Fraternity of Order. There's a magical statue in the center of the taproom that "...depicts a barmy old wizard with a long beard". It speaks a new riddle each week. The Wayfarer is 2 stories high and it is known as a friendly and safe place. Meals are filling if not fancy.  This location is heavily featured in the Planescape adventure "Dead Gods", by Monte Cook.

(tavern/inn) The Black Sail: Fused to the tavern is the hull of a galleon that has a gargoylish figurehead and a soot-stained sail. The establishment is ill-kept. There are tables in the middle of the room and curtained-off booths. The innkeeper is a brooding thief named Zaren. Salja Slitterknife, a tiefling waitress, sees a lot. She happy to sell information to people for 100-400 gold. Her brother, Llisian is a thief. This place appears in "The Eternal Boundary" adventure, as well as two Chris Perkins Dungeon magazine adventures - "Umbra" and "Nemesis".

(tavern/inn) The Styx Oarsmen: This inn prides itself on accepting the more exotic beings of the city, although you can't get in here without a password. Most of the patrons are demons who come here to meet and do business. The Oarsmen is a dark, dangerous place run by a githzerai named Zegonz Vlaric who has one arm frozen in a clawlike pose. He was crippled by "do-gooder" adventurers and hates them. Unseen servants keep the place tidy. There's a secret room in the back for clandestine meetings - you'll need to pay the bartender 100 gold for access. The bartender is a marilith named "Marilith" who mixes three drinks at a time. The place is secretly owned by Rule-of-Three, who is usually in disguise as a githzerai scholar. There's a ridiculously awesome page on this place here.


A'kin the Friendly Fiend: A raavasta who always seems a little too happy. He is connected to Shemeshka as both a friend and an enemy. She has burned down his shop 3 times in the last 100 years. Some think he is a spy for demons or devils, reporting on the Lady of Pain.


Rule-of-Three: He is a cambion who may be linked to the demon lord Graz'zt. He often disguises himself in the form of a githzerai. He gives three answers to every question. He also insists on being paid for information with three payments, like one gold, one silver and one copper or a joke, a proverb and an insult.

Clerk's Ward

Home to bureaucrats, sages and scribes. Clerks, shopkeepers and moneylenders live here. There's a 200 foot tall statue called the Trioptic Nic'Epona (a 3-eyed horse). Each of the statue's eyes are made of a certain type of gem. If you hold a similar gem in your hand and step on the base of the statue and speak a command word (which is only known to a few dignitaries), you will teleport to Elysium, Celestia or a Prime Material Plane.

The Hall of Records: Home to the Fated and the hub of Sigil's financial world. In the adjacent Hall of Information, there's this door with nine levers. Pulling them in the right sequence gives you access to a vault full of good stuff: piles of gold from fees and bundles of documents that implicate Sigil officials in all sorts of crimes. Pulling the wrong sequence of levers sucks you into the negative material plane.

The Hall of Speakers: Home to The Sign of One. This is where the factions debate laws and feud with one another.

The Streetsweeper's Yard: A junkyard where dabus gather the refuse collected from the city's streets into huge, stinking piles. The dabus watch over this place, but it is known to be home to otyughs, cross-trading bandits and diseased giant rats. There's a portal here to duergar mines in Acheron that opens on its own once a week. The dabus use it to throw trash in. (This location is from The Great Modron March, page 118)

(Inn) The Whole Note Inn: Menu - Carceri Snails (7 sp), Poached Stirge Eggs (5sp), Glorium Ox (8 sp), Goat Filet in Strawberry Sauce (6 sp), Pickled Eel and Mustard Pie (6 sp), Boiled Shank of Bebelith (5 sp).

Brothel for Slaking Intellectual Lusts: A brothel with workers who converse with the patrons. There's a secret area where the workers have these sensory orbs that contain their thoughts and feelings.

Civic Festhall: It's a concert hall, opera house, museum, tavern, and faction headquarters of the Sensates. It has these public and private sensoriums, where you can touch a magic stone and experience things like: frightened exhilaration, sheer wonder, lycanthropy and supernatural lust (!).

Curiosity Shoppe: This place sells tons of cool items. It is run by a cold alu-fiend with blue skin and yellow eyes named Vrishika. The magic items in here are awesome and unique. There's a rune-covered ale stein that keeps drinks ice cold, a monster jug (with a monster trapped inside) and a chocolate quasit - a quasit magically turned to chocolate.


Estavan the Merchant Lord: An oni merchant lord. Ostentatious, manipulative and merciless. He often wears a red silk kimono and a gold necklace.He lives in an office building with a sign that depicts a caravan passing through a series of portals (the symbol of the Planar Trade Consortium). Estavan is never seen outside of his office - many think that there's a portal in his office to a secret headquarters of the consortium.

Jeena Ealy: The most popular author in Sigil. She writes true life adventure books. She hires freelance adventurers for research. She is planning books on the river styx and the beastlands. Some works include:
  • Death in the Norns: Adventures in the Outlands
  • In Darkest Sigil: Chronicles the horrid conditions in the Hive.
  • Other books include a history of the blood war, and a study of yugoloths.
The Guildhall and Market Wards

There are permanent portals here to cities of the planes. This is where you come to buy stuff.

The Great Gymnasium: Home of the Transcendent Order. This place has baths, steam rooms, massage tables, etc. It's a place for people to relax, and also a neutral ground for hostile parties (weapons and spells are not allowed in here).

The Flame Pits: This bath house is run by a sharp-tongued githzerai named Laril Zasskos. This place has exotic baths: lava pools for elementals, scouring whirlwinds, rank ooze, and pure water.

The Great Bazaar: Home the the Free League, a great place to buy stuff and get information.

Imel's Happy Tongue: A restaurant that sometimes sells cheeses: Warrior's Cheese (2 gp), Bytopian Red (1 gp), Tiefling's Delight (2 gp), Death Cheese (made from catoblepas milk! 20 gp).

Ensin's Discount Elixirs: Ensin, a mage, brews potions with cheap components. No refunds! He makes concoctions such as:
  • Potion of Small Animal Control (50 gp) - 1 to 4 rats, etc.
  • Potion of Limited Invisibility (50 gp) - Only works at night or in a dark room.
  • Potion of Limited Healing (30 gp) - Heals d6 damage
  • Potion of Blue Hue (10 gp) - Turns you light blue.
  • Potion of Drowning Resistance (75 gp) - You can breathe water for 10 minutes
Zakk's Corpse Curing: Mhasha Zakk is a taxidermist that will stuff anything. It's a good place to dump a body or make a little extra money. She pays 2 gp for a dog or cat, and 20 for a man-sized creature (or a man).

Alluvius Ruskin
Tivvum's Antiquities:  I am using material from Dragon Magazine #414 - "From the Attic of Alluvius Ruskin". This store is in a tower with green marble walls. It is known as good place to buy portal keys and is run by Alluvius Ruskin, a tiefling, old and frail. Some keys: Ice made from water of the river Styx, a balor skull inlaid with gems. The place also has some awesome magic items:

  • Mimir: A small skull made of metal that can give you information on the planes.
  • Karach Armor: Githzerai armor made from chaos matter of Limbo. It has no speed penalty despite acting as chain, scale or platemail.
  • Spellsoul Blade: A blade that allows you to store a piece of your soul in it. You can use it to deal different types of damage (fire, lightning, etc.). You can store it and recall it from an extradimensional space.
  • Modron Toy: You can use this to summon a modron, or open a portal to a "pocket dimension bounded by interlocked gears". You can rest in there, though if you spend more than 8 hours in there, you're either dumped out or sucked into the lawful plane of Mechanus. Time flows differently in the pocket realm. The DM rolls a d20, and the result indicates whether time flowed faster or slower while you were in there.


Jason Raabis said...

I'm going through a big read of Planescape material right now as well! Back in the day I skipped the setting as I was already running a successful Spelljamming campaign and I thought Planescape wouldn't add much to the mix. My analysis was that it was a similar vehicle as Spelljammer in that it was a way to bridge the gap between different worlds; I liked the Spelljammer concept better because half the fun is getting there!

Of course I was wrong. Ever since reading some campaign journals from Loki's Planejammer campaigns on Obsidian Portal, I've been hooked on the idea of COMBINING Planescape and Spelljammer to get the best of both.

Hopefully you post your synopsis of Sigil when it's complete! I'm enjoying your blog :)

Sean said...

Jason Raabis: Spelljammer and Planescape are completely compatible! The tone of each is very different... Planescape stuff would be expecially useful if your heroes get stranded on a world. They could use a portal to get to Sigil.

I'd imagine the Arcane/Mercane would have links to Sigil too.

snakeappletree white-lightning-gate said...

Thank you for making this thoroughly enjoyable blog!
It taught me a lot about Planescape, something I missed out on yet somehow it deeply affected me. Please peruse my experiences regarding it:

Liam de Ste Croix said...

Top notch stuff, cheers.

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Charlie Benbennick said...

Good stuff. Obviously you couldn't go through and copy all the old text verbatim, but you did a great job summarizing it. I do have a couple thoughts and questions about the powers you gave each of the factions, since they (mostly) aren't sorted by rank - first would be, what the hell do the Free League get? I know that they didn't get much originally, but 2e was not exactly focused on balance. Feels a bit underdeveloped to give them nothing at all.
I've been making a campaign document for 5e Planescape, and filling out all the various powers of the factions is giving me a headache. Gonna have to actually dig up and crack open the Factol's Manifesto again I suppose.

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