Return of the Modrons

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 115: Return of the Modrons




Remember modrons? Sure you do, since you’re reading this column, and they were a huge part of Planescape, not to mention an important species that defined Mechanus as much as the devils do Hell. Or, at least that was how things worked in D&D‘s first and second editions. In third edition they were largely erased, relegated to a measly web supplement few would ever read or learn about. But during its final push of D&D content, Paizo kept printing reams of new planar material, and much to everyone’s surprise this meant putting this now-obscure extraplanar race back into the spotlight. Well, sort of. 

Ken Marable’s article “Return of the Modrons” for Dragon issue #354 (April 2007) is given 14 pages to devote to the modrons, which sounds like a lot, and for any singular monster it would be. However, the modrons are a vast race composed of 14 alien and at-times radically different creatures—15 if you include Primus, which I really should—and statblocks in this edition usually ballooned as monsters went up in challenge rating. Mark Jindra’s take on for edition 3.0 required 18 pages, with very few illustrations, whereas Marable’s necessitated the usual explanation of who these creatures are, plus an update for older players who’d been wondering what had been going on with them over the past decade. As such, only the five base modron types would be detailed here, and despite a letters section promise to cover the rest of the race, this never came to pass before Paizo lost its rights to Dragon. This means that there are many references to hierarchs within the article, but details about them, let alone their game statistics, are completely left out. 

Julie Dillon’s version of (presumably) Regulus. I wish they’d kept hiring her as the regular illustrator for the planes, because I really dig her work.

Nonetheless, this is still an excellent article and well worth reading for what’s there, even if it’s difficult to completely overlook what isn’t. The article’s highlight arrives at the beginning, with the “Recent Modron History” section detailing exactly what you’d hope. Following the debacle with Tenebrous and the early Great Modron March, one of the secunduses (secundi?) was tainted with evil and went rogue, taking nearly a million modrons with him. Formians took advantage of this strife and tried to claim the entire plane; they failed in their effort, though the modrons lost territory. Even more recently, it appears that the modrons have reached some sort of deal with the inevitables and may be using them to return stranded modrons to Mechanus, which would mean even more changes for this once-stable plane. Marable lays imaginative groundwork for future adventures here, ones which unfortunately never came to pass.


Much of the rest of the article is used to reiterate information that any Planescape fan should already know about modrons. However, there is a dash of new lore added here as well, particularly in the adjustment of how “rogue” modrons work. This was always a little bit wonky and didn’t quite make sense before, which I suspect is why Marable sought to clarify and adjust this system. Now there are two types of modrons outside of the normal hierarchy: rogues, essentially unchanged from before and still hunted down as fugitives; and exiles, who went through a laborious legal process to leave the hierarchy and with this are simply ignored by their brethren. This adjustment makes for significantly more playable modron PCs, as the limitation for how rogues worked before kept it so that in many situations and campaigns they were simply unusable (e.g., try running The Great Modron March with a rogue modron in your party and see how long it takes before they’re slaughtered). Sadly, that’s pretty much all of the new lore included here, but at least the reiteration from before is clear and concise. New statistics are included updating the base modrons to edition 3.5, but none of this is mindblowing. Likewise, there are rules and guidelines included for running a modron as either an exiled or rogue modron PC, plus a chart for how to use them with monster summoning spells and another for lore checks. None of this is at all bad, it’s just that it’s only really useful for a 3.5 game, and even so its utility is limited. 

How can you not love this guy?

In addition to the main text, there are two additional noteworthy parts of this article. One is a sidebar by Tony DiTerlizzi, in which he details how he reimagined the look and feel of the modrons for Planescape. While it’s only a few paragraphs long, this blurb makes you wish for a much greater look at behind the scenes from the early days of the campaign setting, as it sounds frantic and exciting. Speaking of artwork, even more of a treat are a series of new modron drawings by Julie Dillon. Her work has just as much character as DiTerlizzi’s, and recaptures the Planescape feeling for the species in every drawing. I’m particularly fond of her adventuring rogue modron and the image of a monodron cowering beside a pentadrone. 

I always love when modron artwork captures just how alien and off-putting the race really is.

So weirdly, there’s not that much here for old Planescape fans, but I still recommend giving this article a look for what it contains. The updated lore makes sense of things in a way that I can’t help but hope gets continued into the current iteration of the campaign setting, as it seems like a fitting continuation to the big meta-story began more than a decade earlier. And if nothing else, it was nice to lend the modrons a moment in the spotlight, even if it wasn’t to come to anything, and I enjoyed Dillon’s artwork enough that once again I’m hoping to see her do more planar drawings in the future. As with so many releases during this period, my brain fantasizes about a world in which Paizo was allowed to keep working with D&D‘s worlds and stories, as this might have led to a true return for the modrons, but while that never came to pass at least we had this brief reminder of how fun and interesting the race can be.


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