A Walk Through the Planes – Part 30: Uncaged: Faces of Sigil




One of the ironies about Planescape is that while nominally it’s all about the planes, its coverage of them isn’t what the setting’s actually best at. All of those boxed sets about the outer planes had their flaws, and as a whole there’s just a bit too much to cover in such a short space of time. The scope is the problem, and it’s not much of a surprise that the strength of some of the later works comes from giving places like the Ethereal and Astral planes far more detail than we’ve seen about even places as important to the multiverse as the Abyss. Conversely, it’s the extreme focus on Sigil, the strange demiplane/pseudoplane created just for the setting, that’s Planescape’s strongest feature. Pretty much every complaint I can level at the outer planes is rendered moot by how TSR covered Sigil, and Uncaged: Faces of Sigil is not just the best book about the city so far, as of this point in our coverage it’s my favorite Planescape release. 

My appreciation for Uncaged is perhaps unique in that I don’t admire it just as a piece of game lore, but as a work of creative fiction. The book purports to include details on “over 40 [i.e. 41] intriguing characters and groups found in Sigil.” As such, about 110 of its 128-pages are devoted to character profiles, and although those profiles come with brief blurbs of game statistics and advice about how these individuals fight in combat, most of what’s included is what enthusiasts call “fluff.” This includes prose describing their backstories and personalities, drawings by Tony DiTerlizzi that range from ok-to-fantastic, and occasionally some maps or other tidbits thrown in if they seem worth including, but for the most part it’s about that lovely, lovely prose. As a result, your mileage here may vary. If you’re all about stats and numbers, you can safely avoid this supplement entirely. If you’re looking for story, characters, and ways to enliven this setting, then this is the single best resource. 


Each character is given at least two pages of material, sometimes four, though the writing on these pages is quite dense. My wife is continually surprised by how long it takes me to make it through some of these slim volumes, and it’s because there’s a lot of words on these pages and very few of them are filler. Each 2-4 page entry is a story, sometimes focused on a character’s backstory, sometimes a present-day account of their activities, sometimes an interview or other form of creative writing. In each case, the goal is to offer up an interesting individual who fits into Sigil and with this contains enough information for them to be fit into your personal campaign. 

I believe this is the last Planescape book where every single entry gets DiTerlizzi art. All original, too, it’s another reason this book is so necessary.

I should add that of course these individuals aren’t created equally, nor was the author, Ray Vallese, who at this point has become my favorite writer for the setting, trying to make them so. Some characters are there mostly as flavor. Why have your party go to a normal bookstore when they could visit Kesto Brighteyes’ Part Veil, where they’ll walk over a floor made up of books and avoid making eye contact with his bodak helper? Or if they need to receive a secret message, why not deliver it via the incredibly strange singer/fountain maiden Black Marian? And perhaps they need to purchase some unsavory goods for a gate key, which leads the party to Seamusxanthuszenus and Parts & Pieces. Between this book and the two prior books focused on Sigil, there’s no excuse for leading a visiting party into ordinary locations, and the myriad weirdos found within these pages are a wonderful addition to the city’s cavalcade of oddities. 


Other characters are more plot-based, and PCs may interact with them as major NPCs, either as quest givers, villains, or anything in-between. This includes the fan favorite arcanoloths A’Kin and Shemeshka, the iconic rogue dabus Fell, and the heavenly Koe’s questionable quest to continue the Blood War (not to mention Rule-of-Three’s somehow equally questionable attempt at ending it). These characters offer a multitude of plot hooks, and build the world far more than just a single iconic interaction. Essentially, these characters are the basic building blocks of stories, and Uncaged features more than a dozen of them. 

Kylie’s more mid-80s punk here than in my head, but at least this is far better than her drawing in Dragon Magazine when she first appeared.

And while I’m sure that some players will dislike the comedy of Wooly Cupgrass or the idea of Patch, a sentient growth of razorvine, if you don’t like them it’s easy not to use them. That being said, I quite like how varied the characters are, not just stylistically but also tonally. One listing is about “Bleaknik” poets, an inherently goof/borderline stupid concept, while another is about a shadow fiend who spends his time trapping souls in gems. To me, Sigil contains all of these aspects, from slapstick to tragedy, but regardless of your particular concept of the planes the book allows for any dungeon master to make of the city what they wish. 


Most noteworthy of all about this book is that when I say that I enjoy this book as a work of creative fiction, it’s not just to say that Vallese’s prose is quite good (not just by RPG standards but by real-world writing standards), though this is certainly true. Other than David “Zeb” Cook, he’s the first writer for the setting (setting aside Monte Cook’s small contribution in Planes of Conflict) whose words are up to the ideas they’re describing, which means that each of the book’s pages is a joy to read. More importantly, the actual content here is equally delicious, such that while some characters’ stories are significantly deeper than others, on the whole they’re all a wonderful collection of fantasy storytelling. Some are a bit cliched, some you’ve seen before, but in all it’s a fountain of wondrous ideas and absolutely overflowing with personality. I recommend reading through the book simply if you’re interested in the weirder corners of fiction.

I love DiTerlizzi doing something interesting based upon the content of an entry and not just a character’s description.

What’s more, the way that all of these stories interconnect is fabulous. It reminds me a bit of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, or Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas, though it’s also quite singular, at least from my own reading experience. I absolutely love this type of fragmented storytelling (probably too much, at least I suspect that’s what my agent would say), and this is one of the finest examples of the form I’ve ever read. Network storytelling is difficult enough to simply pull off, let alone to pull off well, let alone to pull off well in a way that’s usable as a game supplement. All of these characters can be used in isolation, but they also fit together as puzzle pieces focused on a number of plots contained within the book, such as raising a god or the machinations of the Blood War, all of which could easily serve as the pieces for a homemade storyline. For instance, the makings of a trade war is easily found in the subtext of these pages, but the specifics of how this would all fit together needs to be crafted by specific DMs. 


Uncaged is a strange supplement that doesn’t fit with what a lot of people want from the roleplaying game, though I suspect it does fit with what a lot of people want from Planescape. Its limited scope is its strength, the detail given to this one town in all of the multiverse contrasting widely against the brief paragraphs we received previously about entire realms and layers. To quote Kevin Kulp, “Uncaged: Faces of Sigil does just one thing – mapping the nebulous social intricacies of Sigil—but it does that thing very, very well.” This is Planescape at its absolute best, and is a must-have for any fan of the setting. 

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