The Factol's Manifesto

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 22: The Factol’s Manifesto




While In the Cage delivered enough new material to feel essential, its overall package was still weirdly lacking. However, Its counterpart, The Factol’s Manifesto, released just a month later, is an expansive release that delivers on all of its promises. Oddly, between the pair of them and A Player’s Primer to the Outlands, we’ve more or less rendered the Campaign Setting itself obsolete, but there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve moved from somewhat sketchy descriptions of the overall workings of the planar hierarchy to pages of plots and NPCs interweaving with each other. This will only become more detailed and intricate in the near future, but in some ways the Manifesto is the high point of Planescape, and often what people are really referring to when they say they’re fond of the setting’s factions. Much of the anger that would later be directed at Faction War came from just how much people were stuck on this book’s status quo, which is a bit odd in itself given that Manifesto places the setting’s myriad clubbed-philosophers all at the precipice of implosion. Planescape is set up to be an interesting world, not a world that’s meant to last, which is part of what makes this book such a good read. 

After a brief introduction, which largely serves to offer an in-world explanation for the book at hand, each of the 15 factions is given roughly the same rundown. First, there’s a monologue by the factol, i.e. the leader of the faction, accompanied by a lovely piece of Tony DiTerlizzi art illustrating them, most of which are even new works for once. There’s a page or so covering the faction’s history, an explanation of who the factol is and their backstory, a lengthy description of the faction headquarters with an accompanying, frequently full-page map, and also one or two other faction NPCs who are most likely to interact with an adventuring party. Then there’s information for players about how to roleplay this faction, how different types of characters might fit into them, and slightly adjusted ranks and player abilities drawn from Rich Baker’s Dragon article “Godsmen, Bleakers, Guvnors & Takers.” Then each faction closes with a section called “The Chant,” which tells about recent gossip surrounding the faction and with this offers a few plot hooks, and finally “The DM’s Dark,” which reveals secrets hinted at earlier that both help explain more about the faction and offers some ways to resolve those plot hooks.


This may sound like a limiting format, but really I find it much more usable and readable than In the Cage, which though useful is also undeniably a bit of a mess. The high level of organization means that you always know where to find what you’re looking for, and likewise players aren’t overwhelmed with tons of extraneous material. It wouldn’t be difficult to print out the relevant pages for each player involved with one of these factions, and that’s what I’d really recommend doing once your party is past the new-to-town stage of Planescape. The Campaign Setting is perfectly fine for a couple sessions in Sigil, but for a full-on campaign this book, even more so than In the Cage, is vital. 

As usual my scan is all washed out, but I still love how happy Pentar is about destruction.

Beyond the simple informational aspects, which admittedly are the book’s main purpose, there’s two other elements of the book I want to highlight. First is that the meta-plotting is thick here, and it’s a lot of fun to read. While the Campaign Setting hints that the factions are having some friction, and mentions that Erin Darkflame Montgomery, factol of the Sensates, and Duke Rowan Darkwood, factol of the Takers, are the two most important people in Sigil (ignoring the Lady of Pain, which seems fair given that it’s only arguable that she’s a person), why this might be doesn’t get almost any space. Here, we learn that he’s planning on overthrowing the Lady of Pain and taking over Sigil, and she’s resisting him largely, it seems, because he’s kind of a dick. They both have allies, and Darkwood is literally sleeping with the head of the Mercykillers in order to gain more power, the result of which is that the whole book feels like the prelude to an explosion. For every encyclopedic source like the Player’s Primer that gives the impression of being etched in stone, there’s now something like this or Planes of Law pointing out how much the multiverse is in flux. 

The other thing I find particularly noteworthy about the book is how much effort is put into placing this work in-universe. This wasn’t new to Planescape or this supplement, neither was it unique, but the emphasis placed on in-world monologues and the editorial comments of a currently-unknown (though eventually unveiled) editor make the world much richer. The book originally came with a “Banned in Sigil” bookmark, and this combined with learning the histories of the factions and alongside them Sigil makes the world feel much more like a real place. This is a snapshot of Sigil now, from people living there now, but the multiverse has much more to offer than these paltry few words. And unlike those recorded monologues in Primer to the Outlands, these are actually pretty good rather than a campy embarrassment. 


For all I love about this book, there’s also a couple of obvious criticisms that might be raised against it, both of which I’d like to address. The first of these came from Planescape’s original designer, David “Zeb” Cook, who said at one point, “The Factol’s Manifesto sticks in my mind as being a 50/50 product; parts of it were dead on, other parts I found very disappointing … some of the sections I think are great expansions on the faction background, but there are a few (particularly the Mercykillers, unless my memory is toast) that seemed to wildly miss the point, even to the extent of making the faction unplayable.”

Most of the new art is of the Factols, and I enjoy this one in particular as it hints at the appearance of Aoskar.

I agree that the factions as depicted here are not identical to Cook’s conception of them, but I consider that to be largely a good thing. As much as I love the factions, let’s face it, some of them, especially in their one-page version, are paper thin. The Xaositects, for instance, are famously irritating, fully fitting of the description “chaotic stupid,” as I’ve sometimes seen them referred to. Filling out even two pages on them as originally designed is a lot to ask for, and the fact is that their initial two paragraphs of description from Zeb leaves little to grow from. Sometimes the additions are a bit more questionable to me, such as the idea that Ciphers eventually transcend their bodies from attaining Universal Harmony, but on the whole they make the factions both more playable and more interesting. Here, they finally make sense as organizations, both why people would want to join them and how their hierarchies function within the city, which is something that was largely glossed over before. 


The other complaint I could see raised is that each faction only receives a dozen or so pages of detail, when World of Darkness, during their own mid-90s heyday, was putting out full books for each of the factions in its games, many many full books of which I can’t be bothered to count because there’s just a ton of them and to my outsider eyes they all look pretty much the same (sorry, I was never a goth). I would argue that this is in fact a strength of Factol’s Manifesto. I love Planescape, as evidenced by this series, but not even I’d want to read 15 books of this length detailing every minor NPC I might come across from each of these factions. That’s neither enjoyable, nor useful, as any DM worth their salt is fine with actually inventing things themselves. Instead, the Manifesto offers enough material on each to easily lead itself to new stories. Planescape is always described sketchily, and I suppose this means it requires more from both players and DMs than some settings. But this is how it should be, considering that the ethos is that people should explore the vast infinite possibilities of all mythologies and afterlives mashed into one. The truth is, while a 160-page book just about the Dustmen might sound interesting, in reality much of it would be obvious and/or a slog. 

The setting really had the highest standard for maps. There’s 15 in here, and they’re all this good.

I should also mention before we finish up that the book is generously illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi, with only a few drawings I recognized from elsewhere; though he maintains a generally sparse palette throughout the setting I still appreciate the full-color beauty of the book. And while “Diesel” (TSR’s more senior staff cartographer) stepped in for the maps rather than the saintly Rob Lazzarretti, they’re still as excellent as ever. His work is more concrete than most of what we’ve seen in Planescape, the type of thing that’s more usually seen in adventures, but that’s fitting considering that the goal here is to make these places visitable by PC’s. Having real dimensions to explore really helps ground this world, which is good for a book that’s for once set in a finite rather than infinite space.


Last and certainly least, this book contains yet another poster for the line. However, because there wasn’t a really great reason for one to be included, instead of a map it’s just a few drawings of the factols alongside some pull quotes. I haven’t got a copy of this one either, but unlike with the map for In the Cage, here I’m totally fine with that. And now that we’ve greatly expanded this central area in the last few books, it’s time to get back to adventuring and see what the setting can do with this suddenly far-more-detailed version of Sigil.

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