Performance Check

Planescape: Keys, Portals, and Complications

One of my favorite conceits of the Planescape setting is that anything might be a portal to somewhere else, and anything might be a key to said portal. For example, you might be leaving your inn with a bit of melted candle in your pouch thanks to staying up late to write a letter to a factol. As you leave, you see one of your exes that you would rather avoid. To that end, you duck into a shop you wouldn’t normally enter – who needs a designer scroll case? – only to feel that all too familiar feeling of losing all sense of direction and time as the multiverse swirls around you, depositing you in a place you have never seen before. Checking your pouches, you find the melted candle gone. However, you find your arrows are now glowing with a faint blue outline. As you inspect the rest of your possessions, a humanoid made of mist in a vest and bowtie approaches you and says, “Greetings, traveler. What brings you to the glorious tower of Heveshi the Grand, Lady of the Favored Stone, here on Tintibulus?” This sort of thing is not an uncommon occurrence within the world of Planescape, but not one that every DM is prepared to run. To help, here are lists of items that might be keys to elsewhere within Sigil, what those portals might be, and what might happen to you when you walk through them without further precautions – if it’s the sort of portal that isn’t properly stable or secure. Don’t worry, this is a short deviation from the ongoing Planescape faction backgrounds. We’ll return to those next time around.

Keys

Keys can be all manner of things in Planescape. We don’t need to limit ourselves to what we traditionally consider keys to locks. In fact, we don’t even need to limit ourselves to the idea that a key must be a physical objects. The more open we are to the concept of keys, the more fun we can have with deciding what works to open portals within the City of Doors.

 

d12 Key
1 A scrimshawed bone
2 A song that must be sung in reverse
3 Parchment stained with ink and ale
4 Five drops of blood from each traveler
5 Your true name spoken aloud
6 Broken, rusted chain links
7 A cheese-filled pastry
8 Mead poured from a drinking horn upon the ground in the shape of a rune
9 Feathers from a roc
10 The smell of sandalwood
11 Three memories that are not shared by others
12 An origami frog

 

Portals

Portals need be no less diverse than keys. While a doorway is certainly iconic and traditional – it’s a threshold marking one place from another – it doesn’t necessarily have to be that simple. Much like keys, the conceptual can join the physical quite readily.

 

d12 Portals
1 The broom closet of the Singing Harpy
2 The third step to the third floor in an old temple
3 Jumping from the roof of the Illithid’s Inks when the shadow of the bell aligns with the fountain in the plaza below
4 The indelible graffiti outside the Mortuary
5 The northernmost sewer grate behind the City Barracks
6 The flame of the Ever-burning Torch of Uster
7 The chipped brick seven up from the bottom on the door frame into Gearheart’s
8 A gilded mirror that has been covered in a purple silk sheet for at least 24 hours
9 The mouth of the broken statue of Abraxas in the Lower Ward
10 A cracked cauldron large enough to sit inside
11 Tea made from the flowers that grow along the shore of the River Styx
12 The dreams of one who has succumbed to too much drink

 

Complications

Passing through portals – even if you have the right key – is not always the safest action. Sometimes the objects on you will be altered – for better or for worse. Sometimes you will find that you now possess a strange power or are now unable to readily perform tasks you were skilled at performing only moments ago. Stable portals do not often affect those who use them in these ways. In other cases, simply having the correct key will stave off the adverse effects of traveling through them. However, some portals are simple so unstable that they leave a mark on whomever travels through them. That’s where things can get complicated.

 

d12 Complication
1 Swapped. An enhancement bonus on a weapon you possess is transferred to another item in your possession for the next 24 hours. The weapon is no longer considered magic for purposes of resistances and immunities for this duration.
2 Interesting. You are suddenly fascinating. You have advantage on all Charisma ability checks until you complete a long rest.
3 Singed. You exude a faint smoky aura. You have disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks and may not benefit from invisibility or greater invisibility until you change clothes and bathe.
4 Scrappy. You have advantage on all saving throws against death until you roll a natural 1 on the saving throw roll. You re-roll the 1, but no longer have advantage on saving throws against death. This fades after one week if this does not occur.
5 Magnetic. Metal weapons are more likely to strike you. All attacks made against you with metal weapons roll 1d4 and add the result to the attack roll. This lasts until you drop to half or below of your maximum hit points for the first time after traveling through the portal.
6 Observant. Your eyesight is sharper than you remember. You have advantage on Intelligence (Investigation) and Wisdom (Perception) ability checks that involve sight until you imbibe alcohol or you complete three long rests.
7 Unlucky. Natural 2s on a 1d20 are the same as rolling a natural 1 until you receive a remove curse.  
8 Energetic. You gain resistance to an energy type of the DMs choice. This ends after you complete three long rests, or if you become restrained or incapacitate through means other than non-magical sleep.
9 Winded. You have disadvantage on Strength (Athletics), Dexterity (Acrobatics), and saving throws against exhaustion until you complete a long rest.
10 Referential. You are proficient in Intelligence (Arcana), Intelligence (History), Intelligence (Nature), and Intelligence (Religion). If you are proficient already, you double your proficiency bonus. This lasts until you imbibe alcohol or complete three long rests.
11 Adorable. You have disadvantage on Charisma (Intimidation) ability checks. This is a disease and can be removed with a DC 14 Charisma saving throw during a long rest, or through magical means. You may only attempt to save once per long rest.
12 Empowered. Whenever you would deal damage, roll 1d4 and add the result to your damage roll. This lasts until you complete a long rest.

 

Shares
  • I started a book 111 spell-Key adventures, but eventually gave up on the project. Your system is a bit more elegant than mine was. One of the things I had in my book was that sometimes the spell-key was only a part of what would open the gate to another dimension. Some factors included – but were not limited to: having someone with appropriate alignment, a ceremony, having defeated a specific monster and so on.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Calling this a system is too grandiose, but thanks 🙂

      To me, everything you outline is part of the key, rather than a separate factor. Nothing wrong with multiple-stage authentication, after all.

  • Alex Mitchell

    As a fan of WotC’s Everway RPG from the long ago, I’ve always wanted to play up this aspect of Planescape’s Sigil! Nice work here.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Huh. I had never heard of that game and setting. That sounds pretty fun! It reminds me of Worldrunner meets Magic: the Gathering 🙂

    • Alex Mitchell

      Not a bad comparison!

Shares