Performance Check

Planescape Faction Backgrounds – Defiers and Godsmen

If you aren’t familiar with traditional factions of Planescape, there are fifteen of them. The factions are not about good and evil so much as expressing specific ideologies and providing philosophical counterpoints to the other factions. As someone who isn’t all that into traditional explorations of good and evil, I’m a big fan. Hot on the heels of creating some magic item special features for Planescape, I started working on some of these faction backgrounds for players – just in case they wanted to start as members of factions. I’m tackling this in alphabetical order, unless there are requests for specific factions. Today brings us the Athar (also known as the Defiers or the Lost) and the Believers of the Source (also known as the Godsmen).

Athar

You have spent your life as a member of the Athar faction. You have spent your life on the planes – or at least in Sigil – and you do not doubt the strength of the Powers, just their divinity. It only follows that their lack of divinity dispossesses them of any right to divine judgement. If these Powers are not divine, they should not be worshiped. That isn’t to say none of your faction are priests – far from it, in fact. The Athar teach that behind these Powers is the Great Unknown – the source of all power in the multiverse. This is the true divine force – though it neither sits in judgement, nor asks for worship.

The Athar headquarters in Sigil is located in the Shattered Temple, a temple once dedicated to the now-dead god Aoskar. Athar – called Defiers or the Lost by others –  train to identify locations such as this – places that were once sanctified in the name of a Power, but no longer serve that purpose. It is here they make their homes, hoping to tap into the potential contained in these locations. They travel the planes looking for answers to questions of the Great Unknown, and ways to better understand it. Were you one of the explorers? Someone who performed research into the questions being asked? Or were you maybe one who sought to refute the claims of those who worshiped the “gods”?

Skill Proficiencies: Investigation, Religion
Tool Proficiencies: Navigator’s tools
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: A thin iron rod and a pouch of coarse salt that together double as navigator’s tools, a bundle of sage, a set of traveler’s clothes, a mess kit, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp

Feature: Finder of the Forgotten
As an Athar, you have learned the location of many abandoned places of worship. When traveling, you can expect to know of many places and how to generally reach them. You also know if the specific abandoned area is consecrated or desecrated once you have reached it as a result of a successful navigator’s tools check as determined by the DM. 

Suggested Characteristics

Members of the Athar are shaped by the beliefs of their faction, and their experiences on the planes. Their study into – and skepticism of – the concepts of divinity impacts how they think and behave. They might believe themselves superior to those who find faith in the gods because they “know the truth,” or might be recklessly driven to prove that truth to others.

 

d8 Personality Trait
1 I am obsessed with a dead god, and constantly share parables from its fallen religion.
2 I believe I will only understand the Great Unknown by studying places of power that exist in the world.
3 I turn my experiences into treatises that I use to try and convince others of my beliefs.
4 I am a skeptic in all things, thanks to my teachings.
5 It is only through understanding the minutiae of everyday life that I can understand the Great Unknown.
6 The underlying truth to the Great Unknown exists in the tomes and scrolls of the myriad faiths.
7 I am uneasy around practicing temples and organized religious services.
8 I treat gods and priests as if they are members of the bureaucracy – for better or for worse.

 

d6 Ideal
1 Knowledge. Through knowledge we will understand the inner workings of the multiverse. (any)
2 Strength. Understanding the Great Unknown will allow me to become stronger. (any)
3 Truth. It is important to dispel lies and falsehoods. (Lawful)
4 Morality. Without gods, it is the people who define what is good and evil. (Neutral)
5 Reason. I seek to de-mystify religion and divinity. (any)
6 Convert. It is important that I convince as many others as possible of the Athar way. (Chaotic)

 

d6 Bond
1 I was once a devout member of a religion until the Athar opened my eyes.
2 I will avenge a loved one who was preyed upon a priest.
3 I seek to obtain an object that belonged to a dead god.
4 I will stop at nothing to understand a specific place of power that holds significance for me.
5 Everything I do is to educate the ignorant.
6 A member of the Athar saved my life, and I must repay them.

 

d6 Flaw
1 I grow easily frustrated with those who are steadfast in beliefs I consider false.
2 I expect others to act as rationally as I do.
3 I believe others will thank me for exposing their beliefs as false.
4 My belief in knowledge can lead me to ignore the “human” element of things.
5 I use reason and knowledge as an excuse to avoid doing things I don’t want to do.
6 I tend to trust others who are distrustful of religion.


Believers of the Source

As a member of the Believers of the Source, you spent your life attempting to perfect yourself. You have been taught that while there are absolutely divine beings within the multiverse, they were not created that way – they attained that state. The spark of divinity resides within all beings, but few manage become divine. According to Believers of the Source, the multiverse offers myriad opportunities for refinement and growth – the opportunities are just misinterpreted or missed.

The Believers of the Source headquarters in Sigil is located in the Great Foundry. This is a symbolic place to organize, as the Believers of the Source – called Godsmen by others – are quick to state that all sentient being can be reforge in the flames of the multiverse. Believers of the Source do not always seek to refine themselves. Some focus on the potential of others, hope to influence and shape the next generation of divine beings. Are you one who travels the planes looking for ways to better and challenge yourself? Were you someone identified by the Believers and brought in the fold? Have you already failed your first challenges and are looking for ways to prove your worth? Or are you one who looks for the divine spark in others and hopes to cultivate it?

Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Religion
Tool Proficiencies: Smith’s Tools or Herbalism kit 
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: Smith’s tools or a set of vials of distilled water containing different crushed objects within them (doubles as an herbalism kit), a flask of strong alcohol, a set of common clothes, a bed roll, a steel mirror, and a belt pouch containing 5 gp

Feature: Potential Pleasantries
As a Believer of the Source, there are many who will welcome you into their homes or establishments without any expectation of payment or favor. Simply being in the presence of one who might become divine – or be identified as possessing the spark of divinity – is enough for many. You can expect food, accommodations, discounts on goods, basic medical treatment, and lodging from those who accept you into their homes or afford you honor within their place of business.

Suggested Characteristics

Believers of the Source are guided by their belief in divine potentiality over all else. They believe all gods were once mortals as they are. They might believe they possess this divine spark themselves – often believing themselves superiors to others who they identify as lacking the divine spark, or having wasted it. Others might be more humble, seeking to bring out the best in others no matter where they travel.

 

d8 Personality Trait
1 Divinity begins in the minds of others, and it is up to me to prove to others I am deserving.
2 I believe everyone possesses the spark of divinity, and has the potential to see that spark ignite in full.
3 Only through physical perfection will I pass through the divine crucible.
4 It is through knowledge and wisdom that I will perfect my mind.
5 There are no challenges that stand before me, simply opportunities to refine myself.
6 I believe organized religions are a way to people to share in the presence of divinity, but it limits those who do not use it to inspire themselves.
7 There is no one path to divinity, and I will forge my own way.  
8 I believe others will aid me in all endeavors once they witness my potential.

 

d6 Ideal
1 Body. My body is my temple, and it should be deserving of worship (any)
2 Mind. My mind should be a kingdom that is the envy of all others. (any)
3 Forge. It is up to me to shape others and cultivate their divine spark (Chaotic)
4 Station. When I assist others on their divine path, I will be be afforded a position of power and wealth until I can achieve my own divinity (Lawful)
5 Trials. I must pass through trials to better myself, and those with me (any)
6 Perfection. I must attain perfection at a chosen skill – regardless of what that skill may be (any)

 

d6 Bond
1 I was selected by the Believers of the Source for my potential, and seek to live up to it.
2 I have already failed my first trials, and I must prove I am worthy of continuing my path.  
3 I identified someone with the spark of divinity within them, but it ended badly for all involved. I now seek to make amends for the situation.
4 Someone I love was lost along the path to divinity, and I seek to walk the path in their name.
5 It is important to me that those I consider friends and allies join me in my divinity.
6 I do not believe in the teachings of the Godsmen, but I owe them a great debt I must repay.

 

d6 Flaw
1 Everyone deserves a second chance, no matter what was done.
2 As a potential divine being, I expect a certain level of respect.  
3 Others need help to take steps along the path to divinity – whether they want it or not.
4 Those who do not possess the divine spark I consider unimportant or pity.
5 I see everything as a challenge to overcome, and have a difficult time backing down.
6 II place great faith in everyone when they treat me well.

 

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  • Unexpected Dave

    Very nice so far. (I’m not very familiar with Planescape canon, so I don’t have any prior reference for these factions.)

    I really like that these backgrounds are well-defined, yet reasonably flexible. They avoid the problem that has arisen in a lot of campaigns I’ve been in, where the DM will have us pick a faction from a list where all the choices have very rigid codes of conduct and philosophies. That’s a great way to round out a character if you’ve only vaguely defined them (especially for those players who have a tough time seeing their characters as more than numbers on a sheet). But for those players who have a clear idea of who their character is and what they want, being forced to choose your values by the “bundle” ends up being a barrier to creativity and roleplaying. These backgrounds seem to focus on one “core” belief, rather than a “bundle” of beliefs, which I very much appreciate.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      That sums up the Planescape factions. The factions are meant to evoke a specific sort of philosophy that has multiple interpretations. The adventure “Harbinger House” shows off a side of the Godsmen that has some members kidnapping people and throwing them in a specific house in Sigil in order to try and force them to evolve into gods. While in-line with the overt faction philosophy, it’s definitely true large numbers of other faction members wouldn’t agree with this.

  • Leor

    I would replace the herbalism kit you gave to the Godsmen with proficiency with smith’s tools. The Godsmen work in the foundry, crafting items, as a step toward the Source.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      I could certainly do that, and I debated it. The Godsmen HQ is located in the Great Foundry, but the sum of the parts is greater than that. The idea for the herbalism kit was portable refinement – as the backgrounds are largely for the players rather than NPCs. Granted this specific part could certainly be a miss, and I’d be fine with either changing it or adding an OR clause to it.

  • Charles Geringer

    “I’m tackling this in alphabetical order, unless there are requests for specific factions.”

    Mercykillers and Sensates, please

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Sure, sounds good.

  • Matthew Myers

    Nice backgrounds. If you’re at all interested, I’ve got a few Planescape races over on College of Lore: Bauriar, Rogue Modron, Ratatoskr. You’re welcome to share them if you’d like.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      I’d be interested in seeing them, if nothing else. I did a homebrew for Bariaur and Ratatoskr way back when I was first running for Planescape for people back in 2015. I haven’t given it the once-over it deserves since then. My plan will be to add sub-races for them, as well.

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