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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to The Lady of Pain

In this article, I am going to attempt to present the collected lore of a popular NPC from Dungeons & Dragons - The Lady of Pain. This is a bit tricky, as the Lady is meant to be an abstract thing rather than a deity with hit points.

She is tied to the city of Sigil, which was originally introduced in the Planescape setting, and became a part of the core game in later editions. Sigil is meant to be a home base for adventurers exploring the planes.

The Essentials

Here's what you should know about the Lady of Pain:
  • She is fifteen feet tall, hovers, never speaks and has a halo of blades around her face.
  • She is the ruler and protector of Sigil. 
  • She has the power to keep gods, primordials, demon lords and etc. out of Sigil.
  • Just a glance from her can cause cuts to form all over your body.
  • She is served by goat-men known as the Dabus. They clean and repair Sigil, and they speak in hovering symbols.
  • She has the ability to send victims to a Maze - an individualized dimensional prison.
  • She Mazes or kills anyone who tries to worship her.
Real Life Origin

The Lady of Pain is apparently partly inspired by a 19th century poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne caled "Dolores". It is about "Our Lady of Pain", a cruel goddess who has no compassion.

Here's a verse:

"Ah beautiful passionate body
      That never has ached with a heart!
On thy mouth though the kisses are bloody,
      Though they sting till it shudder and smart,
More kind than the love we adore is,
      They hurt not the heart or the brain,
O bitter and tender Dolores,
      Our Lady of Pain. "

I bet we could use this in a campaign somehow...

"Zeb" Cook designed the Planescape boxed set. He said: "Dana Knutson was assigned to draw anything I wanted. I babbled, and he drew - buildings, streets, characters and landscapes. Before any of us knew it, he drew the Lady of Pain. I'm very fond of the Lady of Pain; she really locks up the Planescape look. We all liked her so much that she became our logo."

AD&D 2nd Edition

Planescape Campaign Boxed Set

Things we learn about the Lady of Pain:
  • She's not kind or caring: "On a whim, she'll aid, but more often she kills."
  • She is not human and not a woman. She might be a greater god, or a reformed demon lord.
  • She doesn't have a house, palace or temple. 
  • Those who try to worship her are killed by her. 
  • "Those who try interfering with her erupt in horrid gashes at just the touch of her gaze."
  • Nobody talks to her.
Here is a quote right out of the book that makes this article very difficult: "Bluntly put, as far as a Planescape campaign's concerned, the Lady of Pain's little more than an icon that crystallizes the mood of the campaign setting. Player characters should never deal with her. She doesn't give out missions, she never grants powers to anyone, and they can't rob her temples because she hasn't got any. If she ever does make an appearance, it should be simply to reinforce the wonder and mystery of the whole place."

She Protects Sigil: The city of Sigil is special. It is a place somewhat beyond the planes, and it contains countless portals to all of the planes. Gods, primordials, demon lords and others all want to control Sigil - but they can't. None of them can set foot in Sigil, due to the power of the Lady of Pain.

The DM Guide of the Planescape boxed set says: "The Lady of Pain's about power - the power to block the doors of Sigil to all deities. She's the protector of the whole Cage, the one being that keeps Sigil safe"

"The Lady of Pain only takes action against threats to the security of Sigil, and that means her security." Things she won't tolerate:
  • Someone trying to help a deity enter Sigil.
  • Slaughtering the Dabus.
  • Tearing the city down stone-by-stone.
  • Inciting rebellion against her rule.
The Dabus: These creatures are servants and lords of Sigil. Some people think that they are living manifestations of the city. They repair what's broken in Sigil. They trim razorvine, patch cobblestone, and repair crumbling facades.

They sometime act as agents of the Lady. They put down riots or show up when there's a threat to the Lady. 

The Mazes: The Lady makes a copy of a piece of Sigil and puts it in a demiplane. A portal of her making carries the copy into the ethereal plane. There, it grows into an endless twisting maze with no beginning or end. Then some poor sap is stuck in there, maybe forever.

Outsiders can get in to a selected maze, but it is difficult to get out. Food and water appear so the prisoner doesn't starve. Prisoners know there is a way out, as the Lady of Pain always leaves a portal back to Sigil hidden somewhere.

Here's a few past threats to the Lady of Pain's control of Sigil.

The Communals: There was once a faction called The Communals. They believed that everything belonged to everyone, including the Lady's power. One day, all of The Communals disappeared. Many assumed they were all trapped in a single maze.

Aoskar: Long ago, the worship of Aoskar, god of portals became very big in Sigil. A great "Temple of Doors" was created in the city - a church of Aoskar. The worship became so widespread that a dabus became a priest of Aoskar (!).

One night soon after the dabus became a priest, the Temple of Doors and buildings for blocks around were destroyed by a force unknown. Aoskar died. His giant corpse now floats in the astral plane.

It was soon after declared that worshiping Aoskar is illegal in Sigil, punishable by death.

Heart of Aoskar
There are two magic items related to Aoskar:
  • The Heart of Aoskar: A clockwork heart the size of a human head. It apparently has the power to create a portal to anywhere, regardless of normal restrictions.
  • The Blood of Aoskar: This resembles wine, and acts as a universal portal key - activating any portal in Sigil.
In the Cage - A Guide to Sigil

We learn a few more factoids:
  • Some think the Lady is one of the dabus, or perhaps she is their god. "When the dabus are disturbed, the Lady's mind is troubled."
  • Apparently, the Lady used to send enemies to Agathion, the third layer of Pandeonium, rather than use the Mazes.
  • During the time when Aoskar was worshiped in Sigil, followers of Aoskar began making sacrifices in the name of the Lady of Pain. They considered the Lady to be an exarch or aspect of Aoskar.
We also learn about some more past threats:

Shekelor: 10,000 years ago, there was a wizard named Shekelor. He wanted to seize the Lady's throne. He sought an almost-successful usurper in Agathion, but the plane's dangers killed him.

The Expansionists: Recently, there was a faction known as the Expansionists. They were led by a man named Vartus Timlin, who had a powerful sword called Lightbringer. When he began speaking openly of seizing power, he was cast into a Maze.

Uncaged, Faces of Sigil

This book details a few NPCs who have strong links to The Lady of Pain.

Fell: This is the dabus who dared to become a priest of Aoskar. He walks on the ground, unable to hover like his fellow dabus. People fear and shun him, as they are certain the Lady will soon come for him.

Fell is a tattoo artist. Sometimes his tattoos become real - a bag of coins or a gate key. He secretly gathers with the Will of One, a splinter group of the Sign of One. He tells them fervent tales of Aoskar's might. Fell has the power to cast any priest spell that relates to inter-planar travel.

The Sign of One has a person all lined up to be a vessel of Aoskar's energy - Omott the linqua. A linqua is a creature created by a god (Sung Chiang, in this case) and they can draw power from their god to cast spells and boost their strength to 19. Most linquas become "addicted" to the god energy that flows through them.

The plan here is have the linqua draw power from Aoskar, and use that energy to somehow resurrect Aoskar.

Djhek'nlarr: She is a githyanki who pretends to be a githzerai. She sells maps of the Lady of Pain's Mazes! She is trying to learn the secret of the Mazes, so that she'd never have to fear the Lady Mazing her. She even tricks people into being mazed. She goes to the Maze, maps it and returns to Sigil.

It is thought that Djhek'nlarr is able to harness psychic energy from the astral plane. She may be able to follow the psychic trail (silver cords) through the astral to the victim in the maze. Apparently she escapes the mazes by following her own psychic trail out of the maze.

Planescape: Torment

The Lady appears in the game in a few scenes. If you become too disruptive in the city, she actually sends you to a Maze. The maze is a large circular vine-choked labyrinth, where you have to pass through a series of portals to escape. The heroes also have to break into a maze to speak with the powerful hag, Ravel Puzzlewell.

Check out the animation of the Lady of Pain Mazing you here.

Pages of Pain

This is a novel written from the perspective of the Lady of Pain. In Dragon Magazine #245, there was a bit of discussion about the book:

"...Take Denning’s PLANESCAPE® hardcover Pages of Pain (1996). The editor assigned it to him in good-news/bad-news terms: “I want you to write a hardback. The bad news is, its about the Lady of Pain.”

Denning recalls the difficulty. “It had to be from the Lady of Pain’s viewpoint - which is something of a problem, since (as every PLANESCAPE player knows) she never speaks - and (this was the really good part) the reader must know less about her at the end of the book than he does at the beginning, and nobody knows anything about her at the beginning.”

Would you cry defeat? Denning rose to the task, showing his characteristic desire to improve his craft. Pages of Pain “really made me rethink the way I approach stories, and for that reason alone it was worth writing. It also ended up being a much deeper book than I had ever written before, which I think was a result of the extreme approach I was forced to take. Those who have [read it] seem to think it’s my best work. It was certainly the most challenging and - forgive the pun - ‘painful’ to write.”

I don't own this book, so I did a lot of searching and read reviews. I found a couple of sample chapters on

The main character has amnesia (apparently this book is a retelling of the greek myth of Theseus in D&D form). He has made a deal with the god Poseidon to deliver a gift (a trapped amphora) to the Lady of Pain. He ends up in a Maze and that's where most of the book takes place.

It's all written from the Lady of Pain's perspective. Apparently she actually addresses the reader on a number of occasions in this book.

We learn:
  • The Lady of Pain apparently can travel Sigil invisibly as long as her feet don't touch the ground.
  • She is the source of all pain in the multiverse.
  • She is obsessed with mental and physical pain of different kinds.
  • She might be a physical incarnation of the city itself.
  • The Lady may not know her own origin. A question posed in the book: "Is it better to know who you are, or to forget?"
  • It is possible she is the daughter of Poseidon.
  • There are four pains spread through the multiverse: Agony, anguish, misery and despair. Apparently the source of all of the pain in the multiverse comes from the void in her chest where he heart should be.
Reaction to the book is very mixed. Some amazon reviewers call it a "classic", while others have scathing remarks, like this:

"It's been a while since I last read something as bad and deceptive as this novel. First of all, and my biggest issue with this piece of literary junk, is that the book flat-out lies to you. Yes, the book actually says that it's going to reveal the backstory of the Lady of Pain, her origins, etc. Heck, a tag line was "The silence broken!".

Not only does it reveal NOTHING about the Lady of Pain, it opens stupid and unnecessary questions about her that are actually pretty pointless. So, there goes my main reason for purchasing this new doorstop of mine."

The sample chapters that I read seemed fine and breezy.

Die Vecna Die

This is a crazy adventure meant to signal the end of 2nd edition and usher in the 3rd edition cosmology. I always liked the whole concept of a final edition-ending adventure.. I wish they'd have done it at the end of 4th edition.

In this gigantic adventure, Vecna uses a ritual to become a god, and then forces the Dark Powers of Ravenloft to funnel him into Sigil. Vecna wants to bring down the current planar order and become the supreme deity of a new multiverse in his image.

It is suggested that the Lady of Pain is one of the Ancient Brethren, as is The Serpent, an entity that advises Vecna.

Vecna holes up in The Armory in Sigil, and it is explained that the multiverse could unravel. "...should the Lady reveal herself in her true form in all its aching majesty to do battle with the waxing god, the multiverse would come undone like a mobile whose strings are simultaneously severed."

The heroes will have the Hand of Vecna and possibly other Vecna relics, which apparently means they can take Vecna down. The Lady has a dabus tell the heroes to go kill him. There's a note in the module that if the PCs try to attack the Lady of Pain, she is invulnerable to any attack and a single glance from her will cause the aggressor to vanish.

The heroes hopefully reduce Vecna to 0 hit points and he is ejected from Sigil. His avatar is sucked down a whirlpool-like conduit.

The Lady of Pain rewards the heroes with a key to the city of doors - a magic item that basically creates a permanent portal to Sigil from anywhere.

The Lady of Pain reorders reality "...while standing on the crux of the multiverse known as Sigil." Some planes drift off and are forever lost, others collide and merge. Some common spells begin to work differently.

Die Vecna Die is considered controversial as it breaks a number of established rules:
  • "The Serpent" had previously been more of an abstract concept, not a type of OverGod related to the Lady.
  • Vecna somehow escaped Ravenloft, something that is supposed to be impossible for a domain lord like Vecna. The whole point of the Domains of Dread is that the domain lords are trapped there.
  • Gods are not supposed to be able to step foot in Sigil.
  • The Lady of Pain was able to destroy Aoskar, god of portals with a thought, but somehow fighting Vecna is more difficult and could unravel the multiverse.
D&D 3rd Edition

Planar Handbook

This sourcebook has about 6 pages devoted to Sigil. It basically repeats what was written in 2nd edition. The one notable thing I found is that they gave the Lady of Pain an alignment:

From what I understand, this didn't go over so well with some fans, who feel that the Lady of Pain should never be statted out. Once she's statted out, PCs will be trying to kill her.

Expedition to the Demonweb Pits

This adventure takes place partly in Sigil. It reprints the Planar Handbook info, and also includes a pencil drawing of the Lady:

D&D 4th Edition

Manual of the Planes

This book has a nice section on Sigil and the Lady of Pain is summed up quite nicely here:

Dungeon Master's Guide 2

This book just reiterates what came before. "She is just the wonder and mystery and danger of Sigil made manifest."

The Dabus are given stat blocks:
  • They can shoot psychic rays that daze, and drop psychic bursts that stun.
  • Dabus Enforcers have a power called "psychic rend", which slides a target and stuns them.
  • They also have "Mind Cage", a burst that does a pile of psychic damage and immobilizes the target.
Then there's this: "It is believed that the dabus live beneath Sigil, or that the city creates them when they are needed..."

There is a massive section on Sigil in this book. I'd forgotten all about it. There's even a complete 4e adventure in Sigil, which I ran way back in 2009, which I used to lead into Revenge of the Giants.

Dragon Magazine #419 - "Winning Races: Bladelings"

Is the Lady of Pain a bladeling?

Bladelings are a race of humanoids created by the evil deity Bane.  They fought in the Dawn War, the ancient battle between gods and primordials.

Bladelings have metallic skeletons and skin, and they have blades and spines that sprout from their flesh. Check out this sidebar:

D&D 5th Edition

The Lady of Pain is mentioned on page 68 of the Dungeon Master's Guide:

Most lore was created in 2nd edition, and the later editions don't really add much. She's a very cool NPC. Every time I introduce her into a campaign, the players light up. I have a player right now who wants to kill her, and judging from what I am reading, that is pretty much impossible.

Don't forget to check out this official D&D video about the Lady of Pain.

Noah of The Spoony Experiment talks about a player's scheme to outwit the Lady of Pain. Skip to 34:00 to bypass his explanation of Planescape and get to the minotaur's interesting idea.


Bud said...

What a great compilation of information. I've struggled myself, on occasion, to try and produce a deity-like being with which players can interact with. The best method I've found is to just not let my players encounter abstract beings - instead I ply them with subservient beings who act on the other's behalf. Great article!

Some guy said...

On the Vecna thing. The Serpent is said to be a thing that is as powerful as the lady of Pain. The Serpent was making Vecna partially immune to her powers while he was rewriting the universe.

Pretty much Vecna was good enough to escape Raveloft, The Serpent allowed him to enter Sigil and made him immune to the Ladies powers unless she was willing to destroy everything. (Even then he was not totally immune she could make him feel pain, but could not kill or banish him.)

In the End Vecna's Avatar was destroyed depowering him and allowing the Lady to boot him out of sigil.

Though it was a net gain for the Lich as he became a lesser god instead of a demigod and was free of Ravenloft. (And ironically for an Adventure called Die Vecna Die. Vecna can't die in the adventure.)

Sean said...

Bud: I'd really like to have more divine intervention in my games, but the problem is that I don't know what a d&d god knows and doesn't know. I mean.. are they omniscient? Do they know the future and everything about the heroes? And if a god is so all powerful, why don't they handle all these quests and things with a snap of their fingers? It is probably best to do like you are doing, but I can't help but experiment sometimes. Thanks!

Some guy: Hmm OK, I get it. Thanks for all of that info. Makes me want to make up my own member of the "Ancient Brethren". I wonder if there's any other D&D entities out there that would fit the bill?

OhOne said...

Sean, great compilation of information, just like all your other ones! I love the format you take, showing the layers of information and the growth/change of core characters in the game over time.

You mentioned wanting another Ancient Brethren to develop: In fact there is one. The Serpent and his twin serpent-god/concept/principle are outlined in A Paladin in Hell. Either there or elsewhere, I don't recall where, it is hinted that Asmodeus might be either the Serpent himself or closely tied to it: thus his anchoring in one plane, much like the Lady in Sigil. The other snake-god-thing is now the god of the Coatls. That one appears in the Savage Tide campaign a bit I think, but I haven't read through that (just encountered it as a player). I seem to recall the Persian names Ahriman and Jazirian were given to the Serpent and his coatl-ish twin.

So you could develop that other serpent-god-thing, with the Lady as their balanced, neutral counterpart.

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Anonymous said...

Read 2E The Guide To Hell. It explains The Serpents. There are two of them.

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Anonymous said...

I'm wrapping up a long campaign, and am thinking one of the final reveals will be that the Lady of Pain is in fact one of 3e's lovecraftian ur-Demons, an Obyrith. And she never leaves Sigil because it's her Schrodinger's box, and outside of it her power is finite.

Of course, her whole unstatted unkillability is just a standard-issue plot device, she exists to make an implausible society - that of Sigil - work as an edgy Word-of-Darkness-esque adventuring backdrop, without the players (PCs or 'major players' of the multiverse) leveraging it in all the obvious ways.