In the Cage

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 21: In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil




This is going to sound a little bit pathetic, but I’m proud that it took until now for me to completely scrap one of these blogs and start again from scratch. It’s been a whole half a year, and while my writing quality has certainly been at least as variable as the works I’m covering, it wasn’t until now that I felt I was venturing on the completely wrong path. I was about 80% done with the first draft of my essay on In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil when I realized just how unreadable things had gotten, especially to anyone who wasn’t familiar with the book. Essentially, I detailed the book’s write-ups of the districts in much the same way as I have the planes in previous supplements, but that really seemed to do the book injustice. In the Cage isn’t perfect, and we’ll get to its issues soon enough, but it’s also more than just a series of encyclopedia entries on various parts of the town. There are plenty of other “city books” out there which follow this format, but what the good ones have in common is that they’re focused just as much on the tone and feeling of these locations as they are on their physical content. 

This makes particular sense for Sigil given that the city is both constantly changing and far too large to be detailed in a 128-page book. There’s a new, glorious map of the city included with the set, but it’s still pretty abstract. Yes, street names appear for the first time, and the incomparable Rob Lazzaretti’s details do an excellent job of translating the book’s descriptions into art, but the book’s map was never supposed to be a 1-to-1 version of the city, more a rough guide. That in fact matches the goal of the book as well, which doesn’t try and describe everything available, but instead highlights particularly noteworthy spots for players to visit, with dozens of inns and taverns thrown in for good measure, as having more of these detailed is perennially useful to dungeon masters if your PCs spend their time in Sigil the way mine tend to (we jokingly began calling my last campaign there “The Quest for Five-Star Accommodations).


The first part of the book, “A Tout’s Guide to Sigil,” is its least interesting, as the section mostly just rehashes information already known about the city. There’s more basics about the place here, which is fine I suppose, but let’s not pretend it’s all new, or that what is new is surprising. The addition of “tours” through the city seems particularly pointless to me, as that’s just not something I can imagine players wanting to check out, but it’s not a bad inclusion. More than anything, this first section really pinpoints how nuts it is that it took more than a year for Sigil to get a dedicated sourcebook. Admittedly, once this appeared the floodgates really opened up, but In the Cage and Factol’s Manifesto feel so necessary for running a lengthy Planescape campaign that they really should’ve been part of the Campaign Setting. Of course, it can seem like that with a lot of the setting’s sourcebooks, as Planescape is just so comparatively colossal that it’s quite easy for a DM who doesn’t know what they’re doing to inadvertently allow players into places they don’t know how to run. But one of those places really shouldn’t be Sigil, and while there’s a dozen or so pages devoted to it in the Campaign Setting, running something there required quite a bit of invention. This was evident from even the first adventure, which devoted about a third of its pages to detailing the Hive, yet still felt like it didn’t give quite enough for more than that single adventure to be set there. 

Tony DiTerlizzi finally gets a full-page, color spread. It looks a bit washed out in the scan, but as printed it’s quite fantastic.

The Lady’s Ward and the Lower Ward, chapters two and three, are the book’s least interesting, to the point that it feels like perhaps the first half of the volume was written by one of the authors and the later half by the other. Still, even they get some points of interest. Like with the planes, there’s an emphasis placed on the idea that adventures can happen anywhere, but the Lady’s Ward, for most people, is going to be a boring place largely skipped or quickly passed through. Even here, though, the inclusion of the Temple of the Abyss is a bold move that helps change our perception of what Sigil is about. In the Temple, supplicants make deals and give up their souls in exchange for paltry sums of money, and that’s… totally fine with everyone. It’s not just accepted, it’s in the most prestigious part of the city, and just as much an ordinary business as making deals with money in the market ward. 

The Lower Ward, with its connection to the lower planes, seems much more likely for player visits. The plot hooks are better, and the streets have more character, a highlight being the “river” of refuse running through the area. The most interesting parts of it, though, concern a thread that runs through the first three chapters of the book. These are the series of hints about Sigil’s undercity, the caves and warrens beneath it, which unfortunately never received a full write-up. This was detailed by the Hill Cantons blog (discovered by pulling up Shannon Appelcline’s usual write-up of the supplement)… well, detailed as much as it could be, as this undercity unfortunately never went beyond these clues of something interesting to come. 


Hints at an undercity play arena were only vaguely hinted at. The original Sigil booklet has the haziest of mentions and it’s only later with In the Cage: a Guide to Sigil supplement do you even get a peak at what a massively missed opportunity there was:

“The homes of the dabus [the weirdo, rebus-speaking floating worker drones of the city] are deep underground; some Cagers [Sigil citizen] say that the entire torus is a warren of dabus, and that the part of Sigil on the surface is only the face the city shows to the Ring, to travelers. The actual city is a maze of deep tunnels, storehouses, dungeons and corridors…”

That’s a hell of a tease. The booklet goes on to continue to tease about the possibility throughout the book, detailing places like the Twelve Factols, an underground tavern where drunken obnoxious diners will on occasion force the serving staff to let them traipse into the deep passages that lead into the Catacombs behind warded doors. You hear a lot about the tavern in that passage but nothing about what lies beyond.

According to the Planewalker wiki this massive underground is only called “UnderSigil” by the Clueless (outworld newbies according to that annoying PS in-game cant), it is mostly known as “down below,” “the Catacombs,” “the Realm Below,” or “the Labyrinths” according to the locals. 

A small portion of this crops up in Planescape: Torment, but it’s certainly not at the depth of a megadungeon. A year in, Planescape is still adding constant hints as to what’s to come with the setting, and while some of these did come to glorious fruition, it’s sad to note that quite a few of them remained only rumors and dangling plot threads, this being one with some obvious potential. Then again, not everything needs to be detailed. Had Planescape lasted another half-decade I suspect we would’ve seen something happening down there, but as it stands this is still a perfect opportunity for DM’s to invent something of their own, perhaps using something like Planescape author Monte Cook’s Ptolus as a template for how this adventuring-below-the-city format would work well with the setting. 

One of the book’s better supplementals.

The final three chapters of In the Cage are much stronger, with more details on locations that aren’t just wacky planar inns. They also introduce more characters, such as the writer Jeana Ealy, and new creatures and plot threads. The amount of supplemental material grows and grows, until it feels as much a part of the story of Sigil as the text itself. Ealy’s excerpts surround the pages on the Hive, while the Clerk’s Ward has pages of information about how to, well, use the Hall of Information. Some of these bits of supplemental material even come into play with the storylines hinted at in the primary text. Hary Hatchis is the in-world writer of many of the business advertisements and promotions within the book, yet he has a grudge against Bordon Mok of the Clerk’s Ward. As such, he placed the combination to Mok’s vault on a puzzle contained in the book, easily copied (or, I suppose, cut out if you’re a very different sort of person than me) and given to the players. None of these storylines are quests in and of themselves for players, but fitting them together isn’t difficult, and even if you’re never going to include them they help to build the city as a cohesive environment. 

That being said, the book certainly has its flaws, and like the Player’s Primer to the Outlands at times it feels amateurish. While In the Cage‘s interior art is good, with Ned Dameron doing a more-than-adequate take on DiTerlizzi’s sketchy version of the city’s inhabitants, many of the “handouts,” or “supplementals,” or whatever you want to call them, are somewhat lacking. They look designed on an old, clunky layout program rather than by artists. The results are a mixed bag, with some I’d show to players if the situation warranted it, but plenty of others I wouldn’t. Compared with so much of Planescape, they feel weirdly low-rent to me, not nearly the sort of luxury product as the rest of the line. And while the maps are all stellar, I actually didn’t realize it originally included a big, foldout poster map until reading through the book again. The guy I bought it from in high school must’ve lost his copy, and there don’t seem to be any available for sale online except for alongside the book itself for $150 or so dollars. All I’m saying is that if someone does have an extra of these lying around, or even just sees one for sale at a reasonable price, I’d be more than happy to get my hands on a copy….


More relevant to people who aren’t me are the pair of problems relating to the book’s conception the first being that it’s meant as a companion to the Factol’s Manifesto. That’s the next work in the line, which goes into detail about all the factions’ headquarters, but frustratingly that means that each of these locations is given a wasted paragraph or two here (which is pretty much throwaway space considering what’s available elsewhere), while the rest of the material is split into another volume entirely. One consistent problem for Planescape, which should be evident to anyone trying to follow along with me, is that it’s insanely vast, and as a result even a short campaign will likely require many sourcebooks. This particular decision to cordon off the factions means that even if your planar adventure never goes anywhere outside of Sigil, you’re still going to want more than just this book, which is frustrating. 

I included this image of Arcadian ponies because their front-tentacle freaks me the hell out.


The other big problem is one of audience. Again, much like A Player’s Pimer to the Outlands, In the Cage is meant as a product for players. Only, it’s both too large and informational for any players I’ve ever known to be interested in (in addition, it doesn’t concern them in particular, detailing how to make their PC special, which is why those Player’s Handbook Rules books did so well), and many of its pages are specifically meant to be avoided by them. They’re labelled “The Dark,” and while they make up only maybe a dozen pages total of the book, they’re interspersed throughout. And yes, theoretically they can just be ignored by players, but the fact is they’re right there on the page, and sometimes it’s difficult not to read them passively, even just by accident. The book could be improved by being completely for dungeon masters, allowing it to both keep information more unified, and be more explicit about some of its plot threads. Again, maybe your PCs are different from mine, but reading an entire city book for their campaign isn’t something I’ve known ever known players to have interest in.

None of which is to say that this is a bad book, far from it. Honestly, for anyone looking to run the setting it’s one of the first things I’d recommend purchasing. Nearly every page makes the city and setting richer, stranger, and more exciting, it’s just that it’s hard not to see what could’ve easily turned this book from a B+ into an A student. Or maybe I’m just bitter because I really, really want a copy of that map.

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