A Walk Through the Planes – Part 14: The Analects of Sigil




I’ve said before that we’re not going to cover the Planescape novels, which is something I’m sticking to largely because I’d much rather spend my time reading books I find remotely enjoyable. But with “The Analects of Sigil,” once again we come to a piece of prose fiction set in the Planescape universe by David “Zeb” Cook. That being said, that’s hardly unique for the setting, as it contains a multitude of supplements that are largely works of creative writing—even things like the Monstrous Compendiums are filled with these snippets that tell the story of this world and its inhabitants. “Analects” is odd because it’s on its own, but otherwise it feels in no way out of place for how the game designers wanted to explore this game setting. 

“Analects” appeared in issue #100 (October 1994) of Polyhedron Newszine, a publication put out by TSR to support the Role Playing Gamers Association. It was never as large or successful as Dungeon or Dragon, and always felt more than a bit awkward and unnecessary to me, but at the same time it allowed for the printing of strange little pieces like this one. We’ll see it pop up a few more times over the years, but unlike with its sister magazines nothing printed in Polyhedron felt essential, its articles were curiosities more than full-fledged ideas. 


“The Analects of Sigil” almost certainly pulls its name from The Analects of Confucious, also sometimes just known as the Analects. It’s the only usage of that word I’m familiar with—while you can find it in dictionaries as meaning something along the lines of selected passages or quotations from an author, in reality it’s simply a way to refer to this key work of Confucious. I am far from an expert in Confucious, only knowing the most absolute basics of his philosophy, but one part of this concerns the four cardinal principles, which are sometimes translated to be propriety, righteousness, integrity, and shame. This is what Cook is playing with here, and we’ll see his version of the principles below. That being said, none of this is strictly necessary knowledge for enjoying the story, and if anything probably serves more to distract and confuse than anything else. 

Like Cook’s previous story “The Plane Truth,” “Analects” is written as an excerpt from an existing document in the PLanescape world. In this way, Cook continues trying to build into setting a sense of archiving and realness—their narration is documentary, and should be treated as a fragment from this world he created that players could come upon in their own exploration. Here, it’s a “confession of late Handulus, scholar of the 3rd rank, as extracted by Jerak of the Mercykillers before appointed witnesses.” Handulus seems to have committed two crimes: to have killed Jeron, another member of the Fraternity of Order, and to have left that faction to join the Doomguard. Knowledge of what these factions mean isn’t necessary for understanding the piece either, but I do think it helps. Cook uses shorthand terms both for speed and to draw readers into the world, where both the narrator and hopefully anyone reading this have enough easy familiarity not to need any of these terms glossed. 

The story even assumes, to a certain extent, that readers are familiar with “The Plane Truth,” which concerns the Codex of Infinite Planes. It reappears here, and Handulus is “careful and respectful of the work; I knew the tales of the Codex and what it could do to a berk.” As, at this point, do we, if we’ve been obsessing over the setting the way I have, though I’m sure for a lot of readers the immediate drop into the depths of this world’s jargon and references didn’t make for a great reading experience. Really, I can’t blame anyone who bounced off this piece before finishing the first page. 

Tony DiTerLizzi is rarely credited on Planescape releases (for instance, the adventures), but his art is so recognizable it hardly matters.

This is a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, plus some character development etc., but like the descriptions in the Monstrous Compendium, it’s a narrative that’s focused on something else entirely. Handulus is a cypher, what matters is his descriptions of five mysterious citadels located on the negative energy planes. 


Oddly, these aren’t the already-known citadels on these planes, which are inhabited by the Doomguard, nor any other well-known landmarks—Handalus went in search of “true citadels,” which he soon names the Five Citadels of Surrender. Each of these citadels is described, making for a series of new, unique locations for players to visit, but there’s plenty of that elsewhere on the planes. More interesting is that visiting and leaving these locations takes something from their visitors, which Handulus refers to as the Great Surrenders. For instance, in the Plane of Salt’s Citadel, the Great Mine, “you give away fear—your memories of it, the taste of it, even the energies it feeds you. Your fear slips away to become one of the little creatures on the path.” 

As well as fear, the other three of the quasi-elemental citadels require the surrender of hope, compassion, and remorse. These are the analects of the title, and while their correspondence to Confucious’s is a little bit sketchy, it’s clearly there, though in opposite. Perhaps this is because these are the negative energy planes, and so while the positive analects might be those Confucious wrote about, here we have the negative aspects, which are lost from us instead of gained. Though I may be reading too much into a very short, only passingly interesting story. 


The conclusion leads us to believe that visiting the last Citadel of Surrender means renouncing yourself entirely, and that leaving information about this was how Handalus ultimately killed Jeron. At the same time, with nothing left to believe in, he became a nihilist, following the Doomguard philosophy almost as a default. 

“Analects” has little significance as far as Planescape’s overall direction and I assume very, very few players ever read it (I hadn’t until this past year), but I quite like Cook’s fiction, both here and before, and appreciate that there always felt like room for these miniature stories within Planescape, that there was always more space for fantastic ideas that would never fit easily into something like the Forgotten Realms. It’s with these fragments that Cook and the rest of the designers grew the setting’s mythology, a piecemeal approach that felt richer and realer than the all-knowing works that fleshed out other campaign settings. The inner planes were, at this point in time, largely ignored, and seemed for the most part just as inhospitable as they appeared in the Manual of the Planes. Yes, there was a short trip to them in The Eternal Boundary, but this was made to feel largely like an anomaly, whereas for the most part they still felt uninteresting compared with the outer planes. Here, Cook gives them some of the mystical sense and feeling of belief that’s usually associated with other parts of the multiverse, and makes it seem as if perhaps they might have just as many interesting places to visit. It would take a while for the setting to catch up to here, but at least there’s an inkling that perhaps the inner planes have something going on for them besides instant character death. 

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest Exposition Break articles sent to your inbox.