Exiled Factions

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 94: The Exiled Factions




While we’ve had quite a bit of planar material since the end of Planescape and AD&D‘s second edition, “The Exiled Factions” is only the second release that I’d consider a conscious continuation of that line. The first was 2001’s weirdly disappointing “Fractious Factions,” which offered prestige classes for six of Sigil’s factions and, well, absolutely nothing else. It might be helpful if you want to play a third edition Planescape campaign, but then again, probably not. “The Exiled Factions” keeps the focus on faction lore and Sigil, but not only does David Noonan’s article feature the first instance of official Planescape branding in the new edition, he also tries to address the post-Faction War reality of the multiverse.

Which is not to say that “Exiled Factions” is a masterpiece either, though it does make good use of the tiny amount of space it was allotted. The January 2004 issue of Dragon (#315) was the “Campaign Classics” issue, themed after the dozens of settings TSR/Wizards had published over the past three decades, nearly all of which were by this point abandoned. While this idea is fantastic in theory, offering at least a couple pages of content for practically every IP Wizards still owned publishing rights for (though, weirdly, not Spelljammer), it’s also rarely more than a taste of what made these settings special. Some are given as few as two pages of space, and only the cover story on Ravenloft, which features new maps of the original castle and 3.5 conversions for use with that module, really feels like a complete-ish work on its own. I loved reading the issue’s mini-retrospectives about each setting, courtesy of Stan!, but the new game material tended to be lackluster and too short to really be of use.  Planescape did better than many settings, receiving five pages of the magazine, but considering that one page is just a weird piece of art by Kalman Andrasofszky, that’s not nearly enough to create something terribly worthwhile. 


As for the particular essay in question, my biggest issue with how Noonan decided to fill his space comes from his description of Faction War‘s aftermath.

The Faction War wiped out three factions (the Believers of the Source, Mercykillers, and Sign of One), and the Lady of Pain gave the others a choice: leave Sigil or disband. Six factions (the Bleak Cabal, Dustmen, Free League, Society of Sensation, Transcendent Order, and Xaositects) disbanded, although in most cases their former members continue to hold the same views and engage in the same activities they always did. They just don’t have the same hierarchy and organization.

Six other factions chose exile. Their activities since the end of the Faction War are described below.

That’s not quite how things happened (at least as far as the original work was concerned), and misses entirely the nuance of, for instance, what happened to the Mercykillers. I realize I’m being pedantic here, but saying that the Believers of the Source or Sign of One were wiped out completely changes the setting’s (admittedly minor) canon. I suggest ignoring Noonan’s brief summary, as its simplification serves to actually miss the gist of the module’s aftermath. 

That being said, focusing only on the exiled factions did make for a more manageable scope; the article covers only the Athar, Fraternity of Order, Doomguard, Harmonium, Fated, and Revolutionary League. While the crunch included for each faction is quite different, ranging from a full-on prestige class to just a character stablock, more importantly we’re given a brief summary of what the faction has been up to lately, which is the most valuable material of the entire article. 

I actually quite like Kalman Andrasofszky’s art, I’m just not really sure who these people are and don’t think it feels that much like Planescape.

The Athar have, as indicated at the end of Faction War, relocated to the base of the Spire, as that’s one of the few other locations in the multiverse where they’re safe from the Powers. They’ve apparently worked out their differences with the rilmani there, and have a new base that’s “a cross between a library and a well-fortified castle called the Fortress of Veils.” As well as a bit more information about this fortress and the many attempts various religions have made to infiltrate it, we also learn that they’ve begun mining gems from near the base of the spire and incorporating them into magic items anathematic to deities. These “spireshard” weapons temporarily disrupt any creature’s ability to use magic, not just clerical magic, as perhaps was originally intended, but any magic at all, since they feature a miniscule shard of the spire embedded within. 


The Fraternity of Order has forged an alliance with the inevitables on Mechanus, which is a bit odd considering that these beings were only retconned into existence with the third edition Manual of the Planes. As such, their new items also concern the inevitables and are clockwork grafts, which is also more than a bit frustrating considering that this type of thing was one of the main issues in The Great Modron March. So yes, there are stats for zelekhut wings and a kolyarut hand that can be grafted onto people, but on the whole this feels like a misfire to me and doesn’t do a good job in hearkening back to Planescape-era canon. The entire Mechanus biosphere is now radically different from how it was before, and this short blurb elides any questions about conflict between the formians, inevitables, modrons, and the recent influx of Guvners. 

The Doomguard receive pretty much no new lore. They’re holed up in their four towers at the edge of the Negative Energy Plane (no mention is made of the quasielemental planes…), and only leave for assaults when massive acts of creation or reconstruction are underway. As per their philosophy, they’re likely dying off in the near future. They receive two new magic item traits, wrecker and stealer, but it’s largely short shrift, and you get the sense that for the most part this faction’s story is over. At this point, I will be surprised to see them receive more than a sentence or two of mention in the next 20 years of game products.


Conversely, the Harmonium receive an entire prestige class, and this seems more fitting for them than the earlier faction-based prestige classes in “Fractious Factions.” Their lore is largely the same, except with the clarification that now the Harmonium are trying to “unite the Upper Planes by making the crusaders of the Harmonium indispensable to the armies of good,” which is slightly different from their previous plan of uniting the upper planes “under the banner of law.” It also makes a hell of a lot more sense, given the fundamental nature of the outer planes. 

Most of Faction War‘s denouement about the Fated is repeated, sometimes verbatim, though we learn that Aram Oakwright is now running things, and he’s really upped his game, going from level four when we last saw him statted out in the Factol’s Manifesto to a whopping level 18 now—looting Rowan Darkwood’s magical items probably helped a bit. His statblock is the only bit of new, usable crunch for the Fated, which feels better than adding something ill-fitting to the faction, though it is quite a contrast with the full page received for other factions.


The only new lore for the Revolutionary League is that there’s a name for the members trying to foment revolution elsewhere now that they’ve succeeded on disbanding the factions: the Second Wave. Otherwise, we’re introduced to a new prestige class for them, anarchomancers, who gain the ability to transform into a new identity so successfully that it’s undetectable short of a wish or miracle spell. How this works in the game is that they end up making new character sheets entirely using rules for followers, and I find the entire mechanic quite cool and clever. Their other abilities aren’t nearly as worthwhile, and as such you probably would just get that first level and go back to your main class, but at least that one ability is suitably wondrous. However, Anarchists also get a minus in style points for mentioning Union from the Epic Level Handbook in their description. Yeah, good luck trying to overthrow that city, or even trying to knock over a liquor store against a level 35 guard who can defeat Acerak with one hand tied behind their back.

“Exiled Factions” is certainly better than “Fractious Factions,” and I appreciate that it contains not just crunch but also a smattering of lore to move the multiverse forward from Faction War. However, a vast majority of this simply reiterates what was already included at the end of that adventure, and so we find ourselves yet again picking through the text for morsels of new material when there’s very little to actually be found—like with the Book of Vile Darkness or Book of Exalted Deeds, lore is largely recycled from second edition. Paizo will do better with this concept of revisiting old campaigns in the future, and ultimately I don’t think that this is worth buying the whole issue for if you don’t already have a copy, but there are some worthwhile additions here if you are running a D20 Planescape game and it is freely available like the rest of Dragon over on archive.org if you’re interested in taking a look yourself. Noonan clearly loves Planescape, and the only real demerits here are trying to fit parts of third edition’s cosmology into a world that makes more sense without it. 

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