Lady of Pain rk post

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 103: Dead Factions




When I wrote about Matthew Sernett’s planar-focused editorial from Dragon issue #321, I was disappointed by his hatred for the game’s established cosmology and saw it as a sign of things to come with D&D‘s disastrous fourth edition. I can’t help but contrast that with Erik Mona’s editorial at the beginning of issue #339, which tells us about how much he’d once read into a throwaway line from On Hallowed Ground. This was a prescient article about how old settings never really die, though unfortunately Mona himself wouldn’t be allowed to play with them for much longer. Here’s a man who really had a passion for the game’s entire history, which was reflected in his decision to turn revisiting discontinued campaign settings into an annual theme for the magazine after he took it over. Paizo only had a chance to put out a couple of these issues before Wizards of the Coast snatched their magazines back, but you can really see the planar influence on so much of Paizo’s work during this period. Someone over there quite liked Planescape, enough so that they commissioned rk post to draw a new image of the Lady of Pain and slapped her on the issue’s cover—turns out she was far more, umm, buxom than previously assumed. 

The Planescape article for this issue, “Dead Factions,” once again returns to the happenings of Sigl’s factions post-Faction War, but has a particularly fun take on this idea. The authors Monte Lin and F. Wesley Schneider didn’t just cover the more recently deceased groups like the Believers of the Source or the Mercykillers, they went ahead and wrote about every single past faction revealed in the game. This means new information about the Communals, the Expansionists, and the Incanterium, which I believe is a complete list of the older factions that were concretely established by officially published material. While there are certainly many other sects, and I’d love to have their stories continued as well, for the small amount of space given this is a fun way of at least pushing things further than usual. Frankly, the decision to include them all thrilled me (that is some deep lore to even acknowledge), and the article as a whole did not disappoint. 

Ben Wooten’s art for this article is universally good… though I have no idea what the hell this has to do with any of the prose.

In the same format as “The Exiled Factions” from that last campaign classics issue, each of the groups covered receives a smattering of new information, though what form that takes is a bit random. First are the Believers of the Source, and from their segment we can glean that the faction leaders imprisoned by the Lady of Pain during the midst of Faction War were never actually let out. And while Godsmen “hangers-on insist that their factol in fact ascended, reaching his peak potential and moving on to some higher existence,” most likely they all perished out there in the mazes. Ha. Godsmen receive a couple dull feats focused on constructing items, and more importantly a new magic item called source tokens, which are marbles that can be broken to show the user a vision from one of their past lives. 


I don’t believe Communals were ever mentioned after the original Planescape Campaign Setting, such that I have to admit I’d forgotten they exist until now (in my defense, there are a lot of sects to keep track of). What’ve they been up to lately? Well:

Most of the Communals’ political ideas live on in the Revolutionary League (through their representation of the poor) and in the Bleak Cabal (through the distribution of food in their soup kitchens). Rumor has it that a small band of Communals still exist on the Astral Plane.

Which isn’t much to go on, but this is still more info about them than we’d ever received before. They’re also gifted with a new magic item, solidarity armbands, which magically distribute damage equally between users, and a couple feats with a similar focus. While the Lady of Pain hated the Communals, everything we learn about them through the items and this tiny expansion of their past makes them seem pretty damn awesome. Maybe it’s time they made a comeback. 


The Expansionists were probably most famous for the maze adventure in Well of Worlds, aptly titled “The Mazes,” but they also cropped up again in Uncaged with the profile of The Grixitt, who since the group’s demise has been working to troll the Lady (that book also contains a quick mention in its profile of Alluvius Ruskin). She’s mentioned here, as is a reference to the that ancient adventure. The Bullies—which I believe is a new term for them, especially since the old article on them labels them The Growers—receive four new magic items, all of which are extremely evil and largely focus on enslaving people. More hilarious is the return of Lightbringer, the factol’s sword from Well of Worlds, which is an arrogant intelligent weapon wishing to destroy all the pretenders to its name.

Wooten can really draw some great-looking items, and it doesn’t hurt that Source Tokens are a fantastic idea.

The Incanterium is the least obscure of these ancient factions, largely because for some weird reason it received miniatures. That being said, only three Incantifers were ever named (Tivvum, the vanished founder of Tivvum’s Antiquities; Alluvius Ruskin; and Trikante, the Incantifer, who’s quoted in “Nemesis.”). Unlike the other ex-factions of yore, it received a write-up in the Planescape Monstrous Compendium II, so whenever the concept of dead factions came up in something like Dead Gods or The Planewalker’s Handbook they always received a mention. Anyhow, here they get a prestige class that lines up pretty well with their original write-up, though as with all practically spellcaster prestige classes who don’t gain a spellcasting level with every single level I can’t imagine why anyone who subscribes to this belief system would actually take it. This is a weird, common issue in third edition that made many spellcasting prestige classes nonsensical to me, as it means that mechanics and lore miss each other completely, but this is just a weird pet peeve of mine.

Next up are the Mercykillers… sort of. The end of the Mercykillers also meant the return of the Sons of Mercy, and this is the other group who receives a new prestige class. The most interesting thing about this is that they take blood oaths against the criminals they’re hunting, but there’s not really any new lore here otherwise. The Sons of Mercy are no more interesting than their progenitors/successors.

New bariaur art! I think this dude is supposed to be an Expansionist? I say that because he looks like more than a bit of a dick.

The last ex-faction covered are the Sign of One, whose leader’s disappearance is yet again ignored, as “many Signers declare that she merely imagined herself a new existence and departed. ” The group receives four new magic items, including some of the more thematically worthwhile additions of the article. The Book of Names allows Signers to change the multiverse by bestowing blessings or curses on individuals. More noteworthy is The Shadow Mirror, which adds a new concept to the faction: that “One group of Signers believed that the Plane of Shadow was a disbelieved. or forgotten reality and spent months meditating in hopes of reestablishing that displaced existence.” Shadow creatures pop out of it and can be controlled by the nearest sentient being. And while the Speaker’s Trumpet is completely forgettable, their final item is The Heart of Aoskar, a minor artifact of some note:


The Heart of Aoskar looks like a clockwork heart the size of a human head. Numerous keyholes of different shapes and sizes pepper the surface of the device, which can be folded and unfolded to reveal more keyholes and more hinged plates. No matter how many plates are adjusted the heart remains the same shape.

Any character who makes a successful DC 30 Open Lock check causes the Heart of Aoskar to create a spontaneous portal, effectively transporting all creatures within 15 feet to a random plane, as per the spell plane shift but disregarding the boundaries of connecting planes, Thus, a character using the Heart of Aoskar might jump from an Inner Plane directly to a normally inaccessible Outer Plane. What plane the user and those around him appear on is determined by the DM or at random.

I’m  not sure why anyone would want to use this artifact except in the direst of circumstances, but more than this I found the implication that the item truly is his heart, and that somehow the Signers have/had it in their possession, something worth considering. If I were to use this item in an adventure, I’d want to expand on its abilities a bit, as they seem lacking to me for how cool the actual item is.

Dunno why you’d want to use it, but at least Aoskar’s Heart looks fantastic.

A sidebar at the end of the article also notes where to find prestige classes for all of the traditional Planescape factions. My favorite bit here is that for Mercykillers it says just to use the Justiciar from Complete Warrior, and after looking that up, yeah it seems to fit them totally fine. The Mercykillers always kinda sucked.


At 11 pages long, the article doesn’t contain quite as much new information as might be hoped, but what it does contain is valuable. Eight images take up a lot of space (though the art is quite good), plus there’s plenty of reiteration, as the article doesn’t believe anyone really remembered what happened after Faction War, which is fair. I also suspect that Paizo was reluctant to do anything to radically move things forward, as changing the planar status quo would certainly step on Wizards’ fingers. Still, any Planescape fans are going to want to seek this article out, as what’s actually here is well-written and easily usable. It feels like a perfect accompaniment to “Exiled Factions,” and I remain impressed by the level of research that went into this article. Wizards might have been readying to ditch the planes entirely, but at least Paizo was still bringing in excellent work even as they were about to lose access to the game’s IP. 

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