Dungeon Master's Guide 2

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 137: Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 & A Conspiracy of Doors




The decision to make Sigil a part of Fourth Edition’s World Axis cosmology was always weird, but it’s not until the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 that the contortions required to make it so are on full display. Sigil was such a peripheral part of Third Edition, where at least the Great Wheel still existed and as such Sigil didn’t need to be reconceptualized, that you would’ve assumed it would be dropped like so much else from the game’s past. But presumably due to the newfound emphasis on the planes (and de-emphasis on them being fun and interesting…), Wizards made Sigil a big part of their new cosmology. Even so, I don’t think anyone was expecting for it to be highlighted at the end of the DMG2 as the big paragon-level (11-20) setting. The end of this book devotes 24 pages to the setting itself and then follows this with 13 additional for an adventure centered around it, “A Conspiracy of Doors.” Not everything here is going to satisfy old Planescape fans, but that hardly needs to be said, and it’s an interesting read for any berks of the old school to dive into regardless. 

I can’t help but focus on changes and differences from the city’s prior depictions, because the big picture version of the city has few changes. It’s still a torus, though one with a slightly more enclosed shape than in Second Edition AD&D, and it’s still “ruled” by the Lady of Pain. There are six wards, and anyone and anything in the multiverse besides Powers and demi-Powers can be found there. My most controversial take on the city is that it feels more like the original Sigil than what we would later see in Fifth Edition with its Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse boxed set. The chant sees occasionally use—especially when it’s most appropriate within the adventure’s dialogue—and a multitude of fan favorite NPCs get highlighted. Despite the cosmology’s radical changes making nearly all of the original setting’s adventures and metaplots nonsensical (i.e., The Great Modron March without Outer Planes OR the Outlands OR real gatetowns is confounding concept), somehow everything from before feels canonical… at least, moreso than they would with Planescape’s proper return more than a decade later. Anyhow, I’m going to be reading through this material closely, so if you’re just looking for the broad strokes then that’s kinda it up above. It’s weirdly pretty damn good, at least until the adventure kicks off, more about that much later. 

Fourth Edition’s version of Sigil always makes the city seem too small and tubular for my liking. I guess what’s most notable here, though, is that it’s the first time we’ve seen dragonborn wandering its streets.

The “Origin Stories” section that kicks things off is dumb, particularly with its explanation that “Many myths and writings from this school of thought associate the city with the legendary proto-entities of old—the predecessors of the gods and primordials.” I am so tired of the Dawn War and its terrible mythology that making there be a pre-Dawn War era for even more terrible lore made me immediately exhausted. But all of this is the type of hearsay writing that can be ignored, so let’s just do that and move on. 


The first real addition to Sigil occurs in the “Architecture” section, and it’s something I actually rather enjoy:

An entire shadow profession has grown up around the theft of construction materials. Often the outer structure of a building is more valuable, and more in need of defense from scavengers, than its contents. Sigil’s so-called “stone pirates” scuttle out in the night to chip at masonry, saw off boards, and filch metal fittings either for open sale or to fill the order of a wealthy patron.

It’s a flavorful concept that also easily leads to plot ideas, and what’s more it feels right at home with what we know of Sigil. This is the type of development I’m talking about when I say that this section captured the feeling of Sigil, as it’s a kind of “yes, and…”-ing type of thinking about the city’s lore. 

Much more stupid is what’s decided about Undersigil in a sidebar titled “Deeper Than You Think”:

Any travel significantly beneath the surface of Sigil in fact takes you through a door to another reality. Most of the time, travel of this sort leads to tiny pocket realities created expressly for specific purposes by arcane masters of the past. Shop basements, burial chambers for wealthy families, forgotten dungeons, and even Sigil’s network of sewers were all created in this fashion in the distant past. Today, rituals permitting these dimensional excavations are not undertaken lightly. Those who can perform such rituals are rare, the rituals themselves are expensive, and such a working is liable to provoke the deadly wrath of the Lady of Pain.

No. No no no no no. Also: why? I shouldn’t even need to talk about how no one but the Lady can create portals in Sigil, let alone that she should be well aware of who’s doing this blasphemy. I consider everything in this sidebar bullshit to be completely disregarded, and it’s my least favorite change to the city proper in the entire chapter. So fucking stupid. 

See what I’m talking about with Sigil being a tube? I have no idea why this change was made, but am glad it didn’t stick after this edition.

Permanent portals are a surprisingly new addition to the city, but more varieties of portal are never a bad thing, even if these ones are largely used as a way to make the radically changed gatetowns function. And hell, there’s even a mention of checking Tivvum’s Antiquities if you need help with a gate key. I’m also rather amused by the description of what happens when a Power tries to get into Sigil, “If such an entity tries to rush through an active portal that a lesser being opened, the entity is forcibly expelled from the portal and pushed back to wherever it tried to enter from.” It’s just fun to imagine, say, Demogorgon repeatedly bouncing himself off a portal in frustration. 

Dabus return, though more changed than you’d expect. In Second Edition AD&D, dabus are roughly equivalent to perhaps a 4th-7th level character depending upon advancement. They’re quite tough by mortal standards, but still not terribly intimidating for most adventurers. Now, though, they start at CR 15 and only go up from there. The reasoning for this is obvious, but I hate scaling things to player levels in RPG’s and this is a pretty dumb case of it, since a weak dabus is now a mighty warrior capable of ruling kingdoms in the “natural” world. They also communicate differently from before, in that “When a dabus needs to communicate with someone, it does so with gestures and sign language, and occasionally in the form of a rebus.” I suspect this is to make things easier for DMs, but it does remove some of their uniqueness in making the rebuses such a secondary part of the communication.

In its governance section, the chapter reiterates the changes at the end of Faction War and that these remain canonical—Fourth Edition Sigil exists in a post-Faction War multiverse. However, this doesn’t mean the city is as static as it was in Third Edition, and Sigil seems to be moving forward and adapting to its new (lack of) governance. The Sigil Advisory Council is still wasting everyone’s time and the Sons of Mercy are pretending they’re cops, but more interesting to read about is the newly formed Mutual Trade Association. Originally formed by Shemeshka, Estavan, and Zadara, their goal is to protect the interests of merchants. Of these three, I’m rather surprised the designers remembered the far-more-obscure Zadara, who they’ve changed from a titan to a storm giant for reasons I can’t really fathom since titans do exist in this edition. Likewise, Estavan is now an oni rather than an ogre mage, which of the three racial changes for this trio is the one I’m most fine with. There’s real potential here for future storylines, but what’s available thus far isn’t quite developed enough to warrant their featured status, not least because of how mediocre the adventure concerning the MTA is later in the book. 

The last real change before we dive into specificities of the wards themselves is the growth of the idea of night markets. The Gatehouse Night Market used to be a unique location, but now shady night markets seem to take up half the city’s commerce. This development is unexplained, but it also seems somewhat natural since the end of essentially all laws within the city post-Faction War, and while I would’ve appreciated some sort of explanation, at least this doesn’t seem out of keeping with the city’s general tenor. Night markets also seem less unsavory than before—no mention of slavery, for instance—but I have no problem with leaving that aspect out of published material. 

Sigil’s the same as before in its broader strokes, but this is still its worst full-city map. Weirdly, several of these locations aren’t explained within this book despite being new to the city.

The Lady’s Ward has what is the most surprising development, in that it includes “The Gardens,” which were only mentioned before in the parody article “April Fool’s Faxions” from Dragon #216 (April 1995). Given that William James Cuffe made the Beautification League (aka the Rosebringers) canonical in “Of Sigil and the Sea,” this isn’t the first time they’ve cropped up in non-parodic material—their Factol’s Manifesto reference is also a joke—but it’s still a very, very deep cut to reference. There’s also a new inn, the Silver Tankard, “a celestial mead house constructed in imitation of a similar establishment in paradisiacal Hestavar.” Which is… fine, I guess. If you’re going to use this dumb cosmology, then why not?


In flavor the Market Ward is largely the same as before, though we’re given new inns with the names The Golden Spout (eww…), Hand of Vecna, Battlement, and The Red Tabor. Also new is Seeker’s Plaza, where touts look for work, and Copperman’s Way, where rich merchants gentrify and destroy the poor just because they can. Realism!

The Guildhall Ward is finally ascendant, as “Since the decline of the factions, the guilds are once again rising to prominence in the City of Doors.” It’s an excellent and logical development, though the only new guilds are the Arcane Brotherhood and the Adventurer’s Guild, which are both the type of boring establishments that cater directly to PCs rather than the city’s own needs.  

I completely fail to understand why anyone gives two shits what the courts of Sigil have to say now that there’s no form of law-enforcement, and as such I would’ve expected the Clerk’s Ward to implode. It still manages “Laws, ownership deeds, proof of citizenry, payments and debts, arrests, and taxation,” but… no one can enforce laws, and so who cares what a deed says? Post-Faction War Sigil never figured any of this out in the few pages at the end of that module, and those questions are left unanswered here as well. Apparently there are even new taxes being levied by the group who took over after the Fated were dispatched, the Order of Master Clerks and Scribes, but I fail to see why anyone would care what they have to say. In essence, attempts are made to keep the city functioning with no government, but nothing explains how this might actually be achieved. Also left unanswered: who’s running the Civic Festhall now?

The Great Foundry is now being operated by a group of bladelings, a race whose provenance I can’t recall in this edition given that Acheron no longer exists, though I lack the willingness to look it up because fuck the World Axis. The Shattered Temple is now haunted by ghosts, vampires, and other undead after the Athar left, but this just seems like a flimsy excuse for an adventure hook. Otherwise, the Lower Ward is pretty much unchanged.


Finally, the Hive’s Dustmen are now the Mortuary Guild, though unfortunately they also “seem to have a connection to the Shadowfell, and many revere the Raven Queen for her role in the final disposition of the dead.” Given that earlier on in the Sigil section there’s mention of other pantheons of gods, it’s particularly grating and annoying to have the small, uninteresting Fourth Edition pantheon thrust onto the city here, but I suppose this acts as a reminder that this dumb cosmology is still waiting just outside the city. The slags are newly ridiculous in that the traps left by demon warriors (no mention of the Blood War here…) “reestablish themselves through demonic magic,” which is such a lazy way of explaining why they’re still around as hazards for PCs that I’m going to pretend I never read it. The kadyx even returns to haunt the area, though he’s only CR 21 so I’m unclear why a small group of dabuses haven’t cleared him out by now.  Oh, and for some unexplained reason, the war between goblins and orcs from Acheron seems to have relocated here in miniature? I don’t like it either, don’t ask me.

The Shattered Temple is now a really bad metal album cover from the early 80s.

Following these details about the wards, we receive two pages on “Faces of Sigil,” which essentially distills 22 entries from Uncaged down to a paragraph each (except for Rule-of-Three, who amusingly receives a proper trio). Of these, only Arwyl Swan’s Son; Balthazar Thames; Caravan; Lothar; Ramander the Wise; Rhys; Tattershade, King of the Rats; and Vocar the Disobedient are from elsewhere. Many of these should still be familiar, but here’s a rundown of the obscure individuals featured here:

  • Balthazar Thames – Originated with Doors to the Unknown, where he’s working for Estevan (though without his knowledge). He’s not much more developed than what’s here, and I’m guessing that he was added due to Bill Slaviscek’s oversight. In an interview with him and Michele Carter for Dragon #380 (October 2009), he said, “I volunteered to take on the 47-page section that was devoted to paragon campaigns and the City of Doors.” Does this mean he wrote the entire chapter? I have no idea, though it would explain why the accompanying adventure is so very shitty.
  • Caravan – So far as I can tell, he’s entirely new. Since he’s just a semi-nameless lackey, that’s not too surprising… but why include him at all?
  • Remainder the Wise – Now we’re getting real obscure. Ramander cropped up originally within In the Cage, within a sidebar called “The Dark: Portals of Sigil.” Here, it’s explained that he runs a weird scam finding portals and extorting people to pay him in order to keep him from surelocking them. There’s also mention of him within the entries for The Grixitt and Shemeshka in Uncaged, but I’m surprised anyone compiling this section remembered him. 
  • Tattershade, King of the Rats – Originally from In the Cage, he’s now a shadow fiend rather than a shadow demon, *shrug*. Though he’s less flavorful than before, even his wererats retain their names. 
  • Vocar the Disobedient  – For those not following along with this series, he features heavily in the adventure Kingdom of the Ghouls, released shortly before this book was published.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this section comes from where it originated. Quoting from that same interview, Michele Carter said:

I wrote the two-page “Faces of Sigil” spread. That’s not the interesting thing. The interesting thing is when I wrote it—back in 1997, when the Planescape team was working on a project called City of Doors, meant to follow Faction War. As it happened, some of the material from City of Doors was integrated into Faction War, but not all of it. One of the “lost” pieces was a 30-page section I had been compiling that listed all of the Sigil residents noted throughout the Planescape game line. When Managing Editor Kim Mohan and I were wrangling Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 into shape, I realized that with a little bit of nip-and-tuck, we could free up two more pages for Sigil. And I just happened to have kept all the City of Doors files … on floppy disc. Thankfully, I had a computer that could still access the files, so with a little bit of translation work—and some small amount of updating—those two pages were ready to go.

I have so many questions for Michele about City of Doors and, well, everything else having to do with Planescape, so hopefully one day I’ll manage to track her down and convince her to speak with us for a bit.

As usual for Fourth Edition, there’s little art here, and in fact this is the last piece from this chapter that isn’t just a battlemap. It’s… fine, I guess.

This section is followed by two sample encounters that I have absolutely nothing to say about. Then we’re on to the strangest part of this chapter, two pages dedicated to gate-towns which completely redefines what this concept means. Unlike before, “A gate-town is any settlement, in the natural world or on the planes, built around a known portal to someplace else.” Which is fine enough, but why is this included in the middle of a chapter about Sigil given that only a couple of these even link there? Gate-towns, as they exist in Fourth Edition, seem to serve the same purpose as so many other parts of this edition, which is making planar travel extremely easy and convenient. Now you don’t need to be on the Great Wheel or the Inner Planes in order to walk from one reality to another, you can do so anywhere for any reason. I don’t like this development, as it takes away from the specialness of leaving your own reality and makes traveling dimensions seem more like any other sort of travel, but it fits with the cosmology and I can understand using this concept if that’s the type of game you’re interested in running.

Tradegate is given more prominence than before, and with that it’s moved to the “natural world,” i.e. the Prime, i.e. why has this edition still not named either its setting or even its world yet? “Sigil’s Planar Trade Consortium runs Tradegate,” meaning that as with so many things in this edition it takes the name from before but bears almost no relationship with what used to use this name. Cool. Slumber is a gate-town connecting the Shadowfell to the Plane of Dreams, a dimension whose location on the World Axis I’m still completely unclear about. Excelsior leads to Celstia still (sans Mt.), Plague-Mort to the Abyss, and Bedlam to Pandemonium, though the cities are moved to the Astral Sea, Shadowfell, and the Feywild, respectively. Of course Celestia is also in the Astral Sea, making that gate-town completely pointless. Then there’s four new gate-towns taking you from the “natural world” (yes, I refuse to stop putting quotation marks around that) to elsewhere: Moonstair connects with the Feywild, Farren with the the Far Realm, Gloomport with the Shadowfell, and Gleaming with the Astral Sea. I’ll be honest, I was real bored reading through these descriptions by the end, and am really hoping that none of these new gate-towns ever pop up again.

Yup, this warehouse looks like a warehouse alright. What excitement and adventure the infinite planes of possibility offer in Fourth Edition.

The rest of the chapter consists of the adventure “A Conspiracy of Doors,” which focuses on taking a level 11 party from the “natural world” to Sigil and the planes. Its story, unfortunately, makes no sense and revolves around a really stupid first event, though I’ll get to that in a moment. An upcoming holiday in Sigil is being disrupted because the supply lines to Sigil are being attacked, and apparently they’re both incredibly fragile and also tiny such that if even one portal is disrupted the city is at the verge of rioting. Umm, sure. I hate all of that, but oh well, only the players can solve this slight inconvenience, etc.


Players meet with Estevan, who then tells them to talk to someone else to get to Sigil, which… wait, what? Why wouldn’t the PCs go with him? Or use a portal he knows about? How does he plan on getting back home if he doesn’t know of one? Anyhow, this goes awry because the individual he has them meet for the portal information has been murdered and replaced by a lamia. But fortunately, though the lamia killed this person, they made sure to leave plenty of clues as to where the players should head next in Sigil in order to find out who was behind all of this. 

The Gatehouse Night Market is now distinctly underwhelming.

Following a short, unnecessary journey to another plane where it turns out the entire city of 2500,000 people’s festive wine comes from one dude with mushrooms in a cave, the PCs track down the real villain attacking merchants. They’ve been doing so because, hmm, why have they been doing this? Oh, right, “Tarvas Demoncaller is a wizard committed to spreading chaos and destruction.” Wait, he’s just evil for the sake of being evil, that’s really it? There’s gotta be something else, give me a second to reread this damn thing…. Here we go, Tarvas also “seeks revenge against the Planar Trade Consortium for some real or imagined slight.” You’re not even going to tell us what that is?! What type of terrible motivation is that?

Every event in this short adventure is contrived, from why Estevan recruits the players in the first place to his concerns about being mazed if the holiday goes badly (the logic behind this is truly baffling) to why players end up in a fungus cave midway through. I wanted to like it, because I like Estevan, I like Sigil, and I’m just really happy whenever the Planescape setting makes another appearance, but “A Conspiracy of Doors” is just a bad adventure that does nothing to sell players on wanting to adventure more in Sigil. 

I realize that this is a weird note to end on, as for the most part I rather like the DMG2‘s write-up of Sigil. But the moment it rubs against what Fourth Edition thinks of as adventuring I immediately had a bad taste in my mouth. And this was, as far as the edition is concerned, a rather open and not-combat oriented little module, too, it’s just that the linearity and lack of focus on character or idea means I just couldn’t care about any of what happened. It’s weird to say that this is the second best Sigil-set adventure so far in Fourth Edition, but that’s where we’re at. Maybe give this final chapter a readthrough in order to get some ideas about what Sigil looks like post-Faction War, but I’d skip “Conspiracy” entirely so that you don’t get the impression that both Estavan and the Lady of Pain are complete morons. 

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