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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Modrons

Modrons are little magic clockwork people from the plane of law known as Mechanus. They've been around in D&D for a long time.

Not For Everyone

Modrons are definitely a creature that some game groups like and other game groups hate. Are they too cutesy? Too weird? Too steampunk?

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."

Creative Origins

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
There are 5 types of base modrons and 10 types of Hierarch Modrons. There is a precise number of modrons, all ruled by an entity known as Primus.

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.
AD&D 2nd Edition

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.

The modrons are detailed in a gigantic section of the 'Monstrous Supplement' in the box. The text explains that "to understand modron society, one must abandon all understanding of the self".

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.
This makes me really want to give my PCs a modron sidekick, who insists on organizing and cleaning their stuff and reorganizing their backpacks in a symmetrical manner. If a PC has 21 arrows, the modron will have to destroy one so they have an even 20.

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.

Planewalkers Handbook

This book has rules for playing a rogue modron as a PC!

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
During these marches, the modrons trample anything in their way. People in the planes are used to this, and are prepared for the marches in advance. This adventure is about the modron march happening 189 years early. The modrons have a crazed look in their eyes. The heroes end up involved in the whole thing, trying to figure out what is going on.
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

Mechanus is discussed in this book. It is called "The Clockwork Nirvana of Mechanus." The centers of many cogs in Mechanus have portals to other planes. They appear as green coglike circles, slowly turning.

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.
The other major inhabitants of Mechanus are formians - ant-people. They actually reside at the center of the entire plane, where the Scion Queen Mother resides.

It is mentioned that the modrons live in a section called Regulus and that they control 64 cogs.

Web Enhancement

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.
There is also a place in Regulus:

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

This giant article is utterly fantastic. Author Ken Marable takes what has gone before and moves things ahead a step in a logical manner. Many bases are covered:

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 Original Primus is a Vestige: Primus was killed by Orcus, but lives on as an entity who can be contacted by practitioners of pact magic.

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.

Sample Encounters:
  • 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.
The article even has some information about using summon monster to call on a modron, and a note on using a modron as a familiar (which I would love).

D&D 4th Edition

I am very interested in seeing what happened with modrons in 4e.

Dungeon Magazine #186 - Creature Incarnations: Modrons

This starts off with a note that Greg Bilsland, Mike Mearls and Bruce Cordell held a seminar at Gen Con about making monsters. They let the attendees vote on which monster to create, and the overwhelming choice was 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.
Pretty cool stuff. I don't get why they're all 8th and 9th level. I'd have loved stats for a combined modron.. a mecha-modron. What a great idea. If you accept that kind of thing in your D&D, that is.

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.

The Accordant Expanse: Mechanus is in an "extraplanar realm" known as the Accordant Expanse. It's a cube-shaped void 10,000 miles on a side, filled with interlocking gears.

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 Tower of Primus: A complex floating clockwork fortress, 41 stories high. It forms a spiral, and it shifts from black to bright and shiny at the whim of Primus. Primus lives in the center. One of the seven pieces of the rod of seven parts is supposedly here.

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

Modrons are in the 5e monster manual. They re-used the art from the Paizo Dragon article. That doesn't bother me, because I never noticed. One of the best pieces of art in the DMG depicts a band of heroes hiding from an endless sea of modrons on Regulus.

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.


FyxtRPG said...

Modrons are definitely a strange and dividing creature. I think even groups that don't like them could find times to use them. You definitely don't have to use them in all of their glory. However, they do offer and interesting NPC encounter if nothing else.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I have always liked these guys, but this article reminded me that modrons actually have a purpose in the multiverse.

Sean said...

FyxtRPG: I like them, but I think when you run them you have to get the tone just right. Your game could turn into a Disney movie if you're not careful... although there's a lot of good Disney movies.

Tim: Yeah there is a lot more lore out there than I realized. Especially the Paizo stuff, so many cool ideas.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to make a lv 1-5 adventure with them. So far hordes of monodrones seem to do the trick for lower levels.

Christian Burger said...

Hehe, it's funny cause I was allowed by my DM to custom a modron time wizard. I have can summon minor modrons or slow time to take another turn. It's cool stuff.

Sean said...

Christian Vurger: That sounds really cool. You might want to look up the modron cube from the planescape:torment computer game. It's an item that can suck you into a modron maze - might make a cool home for your character or something.

Anonymous said...

I never got why modrons are so divisive, if your players hate them being too cartoony you just have to accentuate their cold robotic side more but I guess the roleplaying community is full of people with sterile imaginations who want everything to fit the generic medieval fantasy mold and thus they just can´t accept them no matter how they are presented to them, the moment a player expresses disgust towards "silly" stuff like modrons, slaad or flumph is the moment I realize I don´t want to play with that person

Scotty Hood said...

Interesting concept that Modrons could combine together to make bigger modron. Could make for some interesting encounters!

Janik said...

I still say minions ripped em off