Planescape: Campaigning in Sigil, the City of Doors

Planescape is fondly remembered by many, and the City of Doors, Sigil, remains one of its most enigmatic and memorable features. This planar metropolis was the focus of many of the published adventures and supplements during the setting’s AD&D 2nd Edition run, and it has been translated to every edition since. It’s a huge place, with lots of interconnected locations, Non-Player Characters, and organizations that can provide far too many plot hooks and adventure sites for one campaign to handle. At the same time, that makes it an amazing sandbox, filled with people and places that an enterprising DM can choose from to get a wide variety of campaign tones and themes.

City of Doors

It’s a floating city, inside a torus, on top of an infinite spire…oh, never mind.

Resources

First you need the pertinent Planescape books:

  • In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil provides most of the venues and location descriptions that you’ll need, along with pricing tables and more. It’s detailed enough that you could probably make due without the Planescape Campaign Setting.
  • Uncaged: Faces of Sigil provides the ultimate book on describing the most notorious, famous, and otherwise powerful NPCs in Sigil, and gives even greater depth to various locales associated with them.
  • The Factol’s Manifesto, only available on the second hand market like eBay at the moment, gives you everything you need for running the Factions, and most importantly, describes their base of operations within Sigil. If you can’t get your hands on this book, just turn to your favorite search engine and you can easily find useful descriptions of each of the Factions.
  • Faction War might be an adventure that divides the fanbase due to its “campaign exploding” conclusion, but it’s actually quite useful for its additional info on various parts of the city, as well as a template for how the Factions might deal with each other when in a crisis mode. Treat it as a What If? and you’ll find it has tons of great adventure seeds.

Now all you need is a map and some lists. Planewalker’s Sigil Resources includes a map, some in-game documents, and the databases for NPCs and Venues that we’ll discuss in a moment.

Sigil as Hexcrawl

While it’s enough to be armed with a really cool map of Sigil, like the one from Planewalker.com or In the Cage, another option is to go the full-on hexcrawl route, so you can track the players’ movements through the city and break up neighborhoods and the like in bite-sized chunks. Sigil being what it is, settling on a scale for the hexes is not some universal feat, but based on some descriptions from the 4th Edition Manual of the Planes and Dungeon Master’s Guide, I took the route of roughly a 1-mile hex, and had a map created by Tequila Sunrise, a poster in the Making a Hex Map of Sigil thread on RPG.net.

  • Sigil Hex Map shared document (a PDF via Google Docs). It’s huge, so download it. The placement of the hexes allows fairly easy reference of the various locations and venues used in the Venues Database (see below), as well as a useful way to break up neighborhoods and Wards. This should help the DM determine when environmental factors might change.
Sigil - City of Doors

This is the original Planescape Campaign Setting map

Non-Player Characters

Planewalker’s Sigil NPC Database is an exhaustive listing of every named NPC that ever showed up in a Planescape-related product, which unfortunately means that there are characters from various sourcebooks, adventures, and even DUNGEON Magazine. It may be nearly impossible to track down every source. I know: I tried, failed, and sold off a bunch of the stuff.

The key to the NPC list, then, is to use MS Excel to sort by location and other info of import for your specific campaign needs. You can focus on a single Ward for a while, and just have the NPCs that show up there “in your pocket.” Furthermore, you can treat them all as expendable, and not rely too heavily on the published material (much of which might be unfamiliar to all but the most hardcore Planescapefiles), thereby making each NPC your own…but with the info in the database, you have plenty to work with. Best of all, when pairing together the database and whatever sources you do have handy, you’ll have a giant map of ready-made plot hooks.

What’s the best way to make use of all of this information, you ask? Well, just make a list of the NPCs that might be great contacts and patrons for the party, and you can narrow things down even further.

Contacts & Patrons

Developing the List

Once you know where the players are likely to start, sort the database so you’re only looking at one Ward’s or Faction’s worth of NPCs. Pick out the ones you have reference material for, or that sound cool, and hide the rest. In just a few clicks, you now have a list of NPCs that can provide quests, story material, and useful information at the drop of a hat.

You might even have a few instances of useful hirelings or henchmen to join the player characters on various errands. Any characters that don’t make the cut are either potential enemies, or are simply neutral, and can be ignored unless they really strike your fancy.

Even More Focus

There’s still going to be a lot of NPCs, and only so many can be patrons, contacts, hirelings, villains, or roadblocks. A great way to shake that feeling of option paralysis setting in is to narrow the focus even more.

At this point, look to more than just the starting location of the PCs, but also at the stories that interest you about Sigil. Is there a reason to shut down some Wards? Is there a particular Faction that you want to highlight, or perhaps use as an enemy? Are there other organizations with natural connections to the characters and locales you want to feature in your campaign?

Answering these questions might lead to side quests or other means of narrowing the list of NPCs you’ll want to start off with some details on. Maybe the Ward in question has been shut down due to a plague (this works well in the Hive or Lower Ward), so low-level PCs couldn’t even leave if they wanted to. Or maybe the campaign really stresses the Factions that might show up only in The Lady’s Ward and the Clerk’s Ward, making for a much more political game.

If you start this process from PC character creation, the choices the players make should help you narrow the focus. If you start with preparing the campaign (thus narrowing the focus for the players before they create their characters), you’ve likely just made some choices that will help the players choose from only a single Faction, or maybe just a couple. Either way, the number of NPCs you need to develop just shrank.

Planewalker.com Logo

Might as well shout out the #1 site for Planescape on the web!

Venues & Locales

Planewalker’s Sigil Venues Database is much like the NPC one, but dealing with all the venues that have cropped up. The vast majority can be found in the books mentioned above, so you’re off to a pretty comprehensive start there. Tracking down a few adventure modules on dndclassics.com or second hand shouldn’t be hard, or even necessary, to make use of a wide variety of adventure-friendly locations in each Ward of Sigil.

In much the same ways as you did with the NPC Database, you should cut down the list of locations you want to feature at the start of the campaign. Stick to those that interest you, or are closely tied to the NPCs or plots you want to feature.

Faction headquarters are always a great place to start, but Sigil’s filled with great stories and locations, so make sure you mix things up with taverns, inns, homes, miniature fortresses, and underground tombs or vaults. Consider what types of adventures the party will engage in, and whenever possible, stick to a location that’s been detailed in one of the books you have, to reduce your workload.

Always remember how Sigil is described: expanding, shrinking, ever-changing, with the Dabus rebuilding or tearing down structures, and locations and portals moving willy-nilly about the city. This gives you carte blanche to modify and move to your heart’s content.

Weather & Features

For as much as Sigil gives you room to move things around, take some care to remember how Sigil differs from other cities and adventure sites…in almost every way!

Key pieces of that are the physical terrain and features of the various Wards, and the “weather” that sometimes crops up. zen79 (Swen) at DeviantArt has created this comprehensive map of Sigil that also includes a nifty Weather Table, good for the whole of Sigil, or easily split up into sub-tables that can also add some local color. For instance, the Lower Ward is always going to feature the smell of sulphur and noxious air, on top of whatever weather is going on.

Sigil with Key by zen79 @ DeviantArt

Sigil with Key by zen79 @ DeviantArt

But there are many more features and terrain that make the different Wards feel different, and challenge the party in different ways. Strolling through The Lady’s Ward might net you an encounter with some nosy Hardheads, while doing the same in the Hive is just as likely to get you dragged into an Ooze Portal, never to be seen again. Either way, that’s frighteningly different, and it’s not too likely that you’ll ever encounter these features in the other location.

In this RPGnet thread about the mapping of Sigil, some of those features were talked about by location. Here’s a sample:

  • Cagequake (Hive, Undersigil) – earthquake, 3d4 damage Dex save for half
  • Ooze Portals (Hive, Sewers) – grasping Ooze Mephits, possible Planar trip!
  • Razorvine (anywhere) – in the form of tumbleweeds, or growing uncontrolled
  • Aoskian Hound (Lady’s, Clerk’s, Market, Guildhall) barks from behind some nearby wall, stunning folks
  • Random portal (permanent/temporary/shifting; leads to anywhere)…and you happen to hold the key!
  • Sulfur-cloud (Lower) – choking Abyssal haze, debilitating
  • Smog-cloud (anywhere) – insidious haze that saps endurance (increase effective Encumbrance?), or low visibility
  • Dabus – perhaps they made some sub-par repairs that fall apart?
  • Wildlife: pigeons, Executioner’s Ravens, Aoskian Hounds, Astral Streaker (carrier pigeon)
  • Foundry/workshop fire or explosion (Lower Ward)
  • Disease/ailment (Hive, Lower)

Develop your own encounter and environmental feature tables for the Ward(s) you’ll be using most, and it’ll soon feel like the party has a huge wilderness of varying terrain to adventure through!

Campaign Type: Factions

If you enjoy the Factions of Sigil, by all means, make them the center of much of the plot of any campaign in the city. About the only thing you’re missing in 5th Edition D&D is the specific mechanical benefits and drawbacks of Faction allegiance. You could just approach each conversion on a case-by-case basis, trying to adhere as close to the original rules modificatons as possible, while still designing with an eye towards the 5th Edition rules (few +/- modifiers, Advantage/Disadvantage, Proficiency bonuses being doubled or applied to new checks, Inspiration, etc.).

Another option is to look at the RPGnet thread Why join a FR Faction? It lists a bunch of useful Faction-specific benefits used in both the 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide and the various Adventurer League adventures. These are quite useful as templates for Sigil’s Faction benefits, as well as any story-related interaction with some organization (such as merchants, the Ring-Givers and other Sects, and so on).

However you handle the mechanics of Faction allegiance, choosing a set of Factions — based on plot or the choices of the players during character creation — will help you focus on what NPCs and Venues to pull from the databases mentioned above, and gives you a good starting point (or two) on the Sigil map.

The Factions of Sigil

The Factions of Sigil

Campaign Type: Megadungeon

Using Planescape: Torment maps to create a megadungeon out of Undersigil is an excellent campaign idea, and easy enough to do if you pick up the Planescape: Torment Official Strategy Guide. A few quick searches on the web will likely turn up enough ideas as well.

You can treat Sigil as a “closed system” just like any Megadungeon, with the portals leading out providing simpe, quick excursions to shake up the tone of the game on occasion, but with the focus remaining within the city. In such a campaign, it’s important to have a wide variety of possible objectives and “safe points,” so pay particular attention to the venues and various magic items and artifacts that are found there (or in the hands of relevant NPCs).

Keep in mind that Sigil has a lot of political plot threads dangling in every book and adventure module, so the “bust in the door” method of gaming doesn’t really fit the core conceits of Sigil. That said, if the party is powerful enough, you could run such a campaign, and the fact is that the adventure Faction War potentially serves as a great template for an all-out war in the city, which would be the perfect time and place to stage such a campaign. Simply stretch out the various political and military events of that adventure, and use them as either the impetus or the backdrop for the players’ own delves into various sites for treasure or experience.

Here’s a map that might be more applicable to this type of campaign than you’d otherwise suspect:

The Realm of Every Game

“Random Key” pretty much sums up the design philosophy of 2nd Edition Planescape

Other People’s Turn

All that you see in this article has been built on the backs of giants. Here’s what some of these other folks have done:

What have you done with the City of Doors?

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One comment on “Planescape: Campaigning in Sigil, the City of Doors
  1. Amber says:

    Thank you so much for this! I’m using Sigil as a base for a pretty off-book multiverse campaign and these resources have been incredibly helpful in getting a handle on that setting and directing me to some really good resources.

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