A new Planescape record - visiting 7 outer planes in one session

Sammael

Adventurer
Alright, I have to brag about this.

A good friend of mine planned to celebrate her birthday today with a special RPG session that was meant to last 8-10 hours; the DM was going to be another mutual friend, but, due to real-life complications, she had to bail out of it yesterday.

On the spur of the moment, I offered to jump in and run an adventure myself. Since it was going to be a one-off, and I didn't want us to waste time creating characters, that meant pre-gens. I knew that most of the players (birthday girl included) were much more concerned with the story and role-playing than with the rules and tactical combat intricacies. So, what should I run that can be relatively rules-light, yet compelling and story-driven? Planescape, that's what.

I had a grand total of 4 hours to prep for the session. I spent 3 of those 4 hours on pre-generating characters. A lot of that time went into converting various Planescape fluff into feats and special abilities for my own d20 system. Eventually, I had my Sensate Elf Rogue, Dustman Tiefling Bard, and Guvner Githzerai Mage. Oh, and the Clueless Prime Human Fighter (to be played by a guy completely new to RPGs in general).

The remaining hour was spend mapping out the "maze" - a series of interconnected outer planar portals that branched out to every outer plane (save the Outlands). In keeping with the setting flavor and the Rule of Threes, every plane had 3 exit portals. Some of the portals are one-way, and some are two-way. On each plane, the characters had to discover one piece of the portal key for the "main" portal that would let them out of the maze.

I then wrote a single sentence for each plane, meant to describe the location of the key on that plane and the easy way for recovering it.

Believe it or not, the players actually managed to visit 7 of 16 outer planes - Beastlands, Limbo, Arborea, Elysium, Ysgard, Acheron, and the Grey Waste, and they came up with a number of creative and unexpected solutions to the problems I presented (and each plane had a very specific problem, related to the nature of the plane). The play time spent varied from 10 minutes (Elysium) to an hour and a half (Ysgard). But, believe it or not, the time was more than sufficient for them to get a feel of the plane and its inhabitants.

Normally, in a typical session, these same players have difficulty navigating more than 3-4 dungeon rooms due to the constant bickering and inability to reach consensus. For some reason, this was much different - and a huge accomplishment in my eyes. Maybe I should just run Planescape more and worry about the rules less?
 

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Quickleaf

Legend
Maybe I should just run Planescape more and worry about the rules less?
An all around Good Idea. :)

Maybe how smoothly things went is because the goal was super clear to your player and you were steering the game a little stronger as DM for the one-shot?

Anyhow, sounds like a fricking great all day session. Kudos!
 

Madeiner

First Post
Nice post there.

I am also preparing a Planescape campaign to be run in september.

I'd be interested in the problems you presented on the planes -- i fear the hardest thing for me in planescape will be to correctly describe the different planes and provide challenges that are unique to them.

If you can't/dont want to describe it, any change you could recommend me some good materials for inspiration? I'm already reading the novel "Fire and Dust" and i find it very very good.
 

Sammael

Adventurer
I can certainly give you the challenges I ran that night, but bear in mind that the session was a one-off and somewhat light-hearted...

Beastlands: I took the players by surprise and transformed them all into thematically-appropriate animals the moment they stepped through the portal. They had to overcome the weaknesses of their new forms and defeat a group of prime hunters who were destroying the forest.

Arborea: They wound up in the middle of an... ahem... party overseen by Dionysius himself and attended by many fey/Greek mythological creatures (satyrs, nymphs, centaurs). They were all there for a series of contests that were to take place the next day - contests of strength, skill, and wit. Winning a contest is usually not a problem for the PCs, but what if they had just spent the night drinking potent spirits?

Elysium - Easiest one, they figured out they could just enlist the aid of the local petitioners to accomplish their goal. Make sure that the petitioners are uncomfortably well-meaning, ready to help, and good natured. In a long-term campaign, I think several sessions could be spent in high-quality paranoia before the party realized they were in Elysium and the NPCs weren't really secretly plotting against them.

Limbo - Emphasize this plane's mutable nature and allow the PCs to bend it to their will. Creativity is the key, and no task is too hard when you can shape anything you may require out of planar essence. Slaadi may appear and attack and then cease the attack for no reason at all. Make sure to never use more than one slaad against on PC (they all wait their turns).

Acheron - the party landed in the middle of no-man's land on a cube contested by orcs and goblins and had to capture the magic banner that was located on the hill between two sides. Individually, orcs and goblins should be weaker than the party; but when there's several thousand of them, and they're out for blood...

Ysgard - What I had here was a typical "viking village" adventure with a neighboring pesky frost giant camp. The leader of frost giants had a magic wand made of an Yggdrasil branch, and the party had to get it. They could try to enlist the vikings for help and a glorious battle, outsmart the giants, or try sneaking in and stealing the (frost giant sized) wand.

Gray Waste - crossing the Styx was a problem here, so they spent some time searching for larvae to pay the marraenoloths. Needless to say, despair nearly overtook them several times, and they barely managed to keep moving. Once they crossed the Styx, to the domain of Hades, they had to put Cerberos to sleep and then steal something he was guarding.
 


TarionzCousin

Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
Congratulations on having such a resounding success.

Normally, in a typical session, these same players have difficulty navigating more than 3-4 dungeon rooms due to the constant bickering and inability to reach consensus. For some reason, this was much different - and a huge accomplishment in my eyes. Maybe I should just run Planescape more and worry about the rules less?
It might be worth discussing this further, if you think we could help you figure out how to get this group to bicker less in the future.

Was this all the normal members of the group?
Did they play their normal style of characters?
Or, to shortcut it--what was the difference and could you make it happen again?

Also, did you work out puzzles for the other 9 planes ahead of time, too? If so, do you want to share?
 

HelloChristian

First Post
In 1994 Planescape and Soundgarden went together for me like chocolate and peanut butter. I plan to re-visit the planes very soon. Thank you for your inspiring post. Seven planes...that is amazing!
 



Sammael

Adventurer
Thanks for all the compliments! I'll post stuff for the other nine planes tonight when I get home from work.

As for the party problems, I think there are several reasons.

First, one of the players pretty much can't stand another player (the girl whose birthday it was, let's call her Player A) and he was absent that night. Usually, his characters display a great deal of intolerance towards her characters, but he wraps it all up in good role-play and it never comes to actual aggression, just a lot of bickering.

Play styles of the four regular players in that campaign are wildly different.

System knowledge is likewise very different.

A lot of it stems from the fact that Player A usually plays very similar characters who resemble her in real life - loud, full of crazy ideas, fairly chaotic, no respect for authority, doesn't listen much to what others have to say (because she likes to push her own ideas).

Now, I, as the DM, know how to handle this sort of player (don't let her hog the spotlight, but give her enough time so that she doesn't feel left out; allow one or two of her crazy ideas to work; etc).

However, other players are still quite irritated by her general behavior, and simply can't resist being argumentative with her (even though they know it will accomplish nothing).

The game flows better when I limit the options and steer them in certain directions, but I don't like railroading that much and it can sometimes be counterproductive (e.g. the players start feeling that NPCs are pushing them around, and so on).
 

Sammael

Adventurer
Incidentally, aside from the already mentioned Planewalker site, which is a superb resource, I can highly recommend Li Po's Planescape guide (don't mind the late 1990s site layout and pictures, it's really full of useful information and includes oodles of inspirational links).

Also, Mimir used to be really good, but I haven't been there in a while.
 
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Madeiner

First Post
Thanks for the links, i'm having a look!
Maybe i'll finally understand why dustmen don't commit suicide or just get themselves killed, for example :p
 

Sammael

Adventurer
Here's the original document I prepared for the session (that's pretty much ALL the prep work I did, story wise; "symbols" that are mentioned are parts of the key I wrote about in the first post):

Arcadia
Show that you are willing to sacrifice yourself for the common good. Hold the fort against superior odds.

Mount Celestia
Show charity, justice, fortitude, temperance, hope, faith, and prudence

Bytopia
Payment for an honest day’s work

Elysium
Ask and you shall receive

Beastlands
Save animals from hunter depredations

Arborea
Win three competitions

Ysgard
Steal symbol from the giants

Limbo
Shape symbol from chaos matter

Pandemonium
Decipher insane ramblings of egomaniacs to see who has the symbol

Abyss
Skin a huge goristro demon

Carceri
Find out which of the compulsive liars has the symbol

Gray Waste
Conquer apathy and death, wrest symbol from Cerberus

Gehenna
Bribe your way through

Baator
Sell your soul or help ambitious underling

Acheron
Capture the flag

Mechanus
Bureaucratic nightmare
 

Sammael

Adventurer
And here are the more detailed plans I made up (in my head). Hopefully, I'll get to use them

Arcadia
A dwarven batallion is holding its own against an invasion of formians. If the party agrees to help the dwarves, and the party fights without fear, accepting that they may die in defense of the dwarven village, they will be rewarded with the symbol - a badge of honor.

Mount Celestia
An archon will assume various disguises to test the party's charity, justice, fortitude, temperance, hope, faith, and prudence. Regardless of whether he is pleased with the results, he will hand them the key in the end - its value is immaterial here - but they will have to endure a lengthy lecture about their failings (if any) before they get it.

Bytopia
The folk of Bytopia dislike adventurers. But even an adventurer is capable of taking up a shovel or a pick and doing an honest day’s work. And those who do will be rewarded.

Pandemonium
As they exit the portal, they are picked up by a wind current and carried through the freezing tunnels until they land, battered and bruised, in a Bleak Cabal camp. The Bleakers are taking care of some poor insane sods - egomaniacs with delusions of grandeur, each and every one of them. Each will claim that he has the key but, in reality, neither does. However, their insane ramblings will contain a clue as to where the key can be found.

Abyss
A fairly straightforward task: the symbol they seek is tattooed on a huge goristro demon. All they have to do to get it is kill him - but be careful enough to avoid damaging the symbol.

Carceri
They find themselves in a prison corridor with six prison cells, each containing a compulsive liar (make them all planar creatures to spice things up). One of them has the key, but finding out which one will require some skillful questioning.

Gehenna
The item is held by the petty yugoloth warlord of the city-state they enter (they should see him carrying it around... from a safe distance). To get to the warlord, they will have to bribe their way up or take up less than savory missions for those who can open up the door leading to the next in line. By the end of this mission, the whole party should feel exceedingly slimy.

Baator
Once again, the item is in plain sight - and the devil who owns it is more than willing to sell it. The meager price is... their souls.

Of course, the devil has an ambitious underling who calls the party to the side and explains that if he were in charge, he'd GLADLY give them the item. Direct violence is unacceptable, of course. There will have to be incriminating evidence... Blood War draft dodging... consorting with angels... failing to secure souls... and so on, and so forth.

Mechanus
The party enters a huge steampunk-ish office building, with countless counters and windows, each manned by a modron. They inquire about the item at the information counter, and are told that they must fill request form #239b, sold at window 1. Which is, of course, located on the sixth floor, next to window 28. Once they reach window 1, they are told to obtain permit #18g and fill out section 7, subsection c. Of course, the modron has no clue where to obtain that permit. So they'll wander from window to window, from counter to counter, from office to office, until they (A) die of exhaustion (B) go insane (C) resort to violence or (D) try to find a loophole. The item in question is actually located at the information desk.

Asterix fans should recall the famous scene from The Twelve Tasks of Asterix. :)
 

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