Performance Check

Planescape Faction Backgrounds: Madmen and the Takers

After a brief hiatus, we return to the wonderful world of Planescape faction backgrounds. Today’s selection brings us two of the more plug-and-play factions – the Bleak Cabal and the Fated. These two factions are straight forward when compared to their peers, certainly. Honestly, I had forgotten how neat the Bleak Cabal really is, and revisiting it was a joy. I did not forget what jerkwads the Fated are, however.

Planescape Faction Backgrounds: Athar and Believers of the Source | Mercykillers and Society of Sensation | Dustmen and Xaositects | Bleak Cabal and the Fated

Bleak Cabal

In the multiverse, it is foolish to believe there is any sort of higher plan. There is no great philosophical design. There isn’t an underlying metaphysical design. While this might seem similar on the surface to the beliefs of the Free League or the Xaositects, nothing could be further from the truth. There is no revelry in the chaos of it all. There is no belief that since nothing is true, the only thing that matters in the self. Instead, the Bleakers – one name for members of the Bleak Cabal – believe that since there is no greater truth, it is all the more important for your actions to matter to others. Only you can create your reason for existing.

The Bleak Cabal claims the Gatehouse as their headquarters – a place most other denizens of Sigil avoid. The insane asylum causes fear and discomfort in many otherwise-hardened adventurers. Not so for the Madmen – a moniker given to the members of the Bleak Cabal serving in the Gatehouse. It is here Bleakers learn the core tenets of the faction – charity, aid, and self-creation. If you are not willing to do it yourself and help those who are less fortunate, who will?

As a Bleaker, were you affected by their generosity and chose to give back to others? Were you a resident within the Gatehouse and recovered under their care? Are you looking to atone for your past actions or the actions of your family?

Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Medicine
Tool Proficiencies: Herbalism kit or one artisan tool of choice
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: A weathered herbalism kit or artisan tool matching your tool proficiency, 10 candles, a set of common clothes, healer’s kit, a mess kit, a bedroll, a tinderbox, 10 sheets or parchment, ink pen, ink (1 ounce bottle)

Feature: Charitable Opportunities
In the different gate cities, the Bleak Cabal can be found helping with different causes across the planes. At any chapter of any gate city, a member of the Bleak Cabal can find a list of different causes that might need additional assistance. Helping with the cause affords you and any associates assisting with room, board, and access to any donated goods – such as those left in wills to the faction by those they are caring for.

Suggested Characteristics

Bleakers are individuals looking to aid those in need. This doesn’t mean they are gullible fools who are easily tricked – far from it – but it does mean they often give questionable souls the benefit of the doubt. Still, Bleakers are not bound by any code or oaths. They serve because they want to do so and belief that they should. If they no longer feel like their service is helpful or necessary, they simply stop their service. Most find the Bleakers to be a comforting presence in the planes, and accept their assistance.


d8 Personality Trait
1 I work with the sick when no others will.
2 The plight of the poor speaks to me.
3 I defend those who cannot defend themselves.
4 I will always hear a request for help, even from foes.
5 Unquiet minds need my help the most.  
6 My satisfaction comes from creating.
7 I help those unable to ask for my help.
8 Leading by example is the best way to instruct others in how to be charitable.



d6 Ideal
1 Advocate. Speak for the need for aid is discovered (Lawful)
2 Authentic. Live in accordance with the self you create (any)
3 Belief. Sometimes, all people need if for someone to believe them – until proven otherwise (Lawful)
4 Charity. Those with plenty should strive to aid those without (Good)
5 Facticity. The past cannot be changed, but only matters in the value you ascribe to it (any)
6 Forgiveness. To be able to forgive past transgressions is truly a great gift (Good)


d6 Bond
1 The Bleak Cabal showed kindness to someone I care about.
2 I was a miser and uncharitable until the Bleak Cabal aided me in an hour of need.
3 I was once a patient in the Gatehouse.
4 I used to have faith in a greater plan, until my hour of need arrived and that faith was broken.
5 I believe I have limited time left, and a lot to make up for. The Bleak Cabal can show me how.
6 I have witnessed horrors enough, and desire to make things better.


d6 Flaw
1 I give aid freely – even to those I call foe.
2 I have little patience for faith.
3 Consequences should not define my actions.
4 Danger is not a reason to withhold assistance.
5 I am too eager in believing people are following my example.
6 Sometimes what I offer isn’t mine to give.


If you possess the power and ability to take from others, you possess the right to do so. The multiverse belongs to those who seize control of it. Your fate rests not in the plan of supreme beings or a greater mystery of the unknown, but in your own hands. Nothing in life is free. If you fail, don’t blame your failures on others. It’s because you are too weak to succeed.

The Fated – known as the Heartless or the Takers – can be found in in their headquarters in the Hall of Records. The Fated do not work to ingratiate themselves to others, serving as Sigil’s tax collectors and debt recorders. That isn’t to say the Fated are unwilling to assist others – just that assistance is always meticulously recorded. You can be nothing if not certain this debt will require repayment.

As a Fated, what caused you to adopt the philosophy of the faction? Did someone fail you in the past in a time of need? Were your actions scorned by others, but you see them as the only reasonable course of action still to this day? What are your personal goals within the planes and Sigil?

Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Survival
Tool Proficiencies: Forgery kit
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: A forgery kit, a set of fine clothes, merchant’s scale, lantern, five flasks of oil, tinderbox, a mess kit, a bedroll, a two-person tent, a belt pouch containing 20 gp

Feature: The Ledger
You have access to the debt and tax records kept by the Fated in most gate towns and in Sigil. In exchange for a small fee or favor, you may look through these records to discern who owes outstanding debts or taxes, and for what reason. While not guaranteed, these ledger entries also possess marginalia regarding the nature of the individual in question, as well.

Suggested Characteristics

The Fated are tightly contained, and pride themselves on giving away nothing more than they feel is strictly necessary. Every action one of the Fated takes needs to answer the driving question “what can I gain from this?” That doesn’t mean that the Fated are cruel or evil. It simply means they put themselves first – always and forever. Sometimes, having someone like that on your team can be a huge benefit. Other times, it’s decidedly less of a benefit.


d8 Personality Trait
1 I delight in deals.
2 Everyone has a weakness, and it’s up to me to discover it.
3 I always repay my debts.
4 Nothing is free.  
5 The powerful deserve their place.
6 The foolish deserve to be fooled.
7 It’s up to the lender to determine the interest.
8 I can only count on myself.



d6 Ideal
1 Authority. The powerful make the rules, and the weak must follow them (Lawful)
2 Balanced. I should never be in debt to others, and no one should be in debt to me. All must be repaid (Lawful)
3 Control. The multiverse is mine to control (any)
4 Earned. Everything I have, I earned (any)
5 Justice. Others cannot be trusted to govern themselves, and I must do it for them. (Good)
6 Power. Only power matters, and I will be the most powerful (Evil)



d6 Bond
1 I was in debt, but worked myself free and found acceptance with the Fated.  
2 I took on the debt of a loved one.
3 When I needed help most, I was abandoned. The lessons of the Fated will ensure that doesn’t happen again.
4 There is one debt that has come due, and I will be the one to collect it.
5 A Fated seized power when I was a child, and it inspired me.
6 I took ownership of the debts of others to protect them, but I must see them through.



d6 Flaw
1 I don’t back down from a challenge.
2 What’s in it for me?
3 I overestimate what I am capable of taking, at times.
4 Not acknowledging a weakness is the same as not having one.
5 No one can possibly be as clever as I am.
6 I deserve everything, and nothing less than everything.
  • I love what you’ve done with these, and I’m glad to see more in this series. These two factions certainly provide a compelling counterpoint to one another. =)

    • Colin McLaughlin

      I thought they would provide good contrast. Those Bleakers sure are sweethearts.

  • Leor

    I think Insight fits the Bleakers better than Athletics. They seek to empathize with others going through difficulties.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Athletics is included because the help they provide can be of a physical nature – building, repairing, clean-up, etc. Insight is about the discernment of motivations, which can either matter a lot or not matter at all – depending on the interpretations of the Bleaker. I think it can be a fit, but I don’t see it as a top two best-fit. It’s about motivations of the Bleaker, first and foremost.

  • Lilfut

    A lot of the Fated personality traits feel more like flaws, and the “Aid isn’t earned. It’s given.” flaw for the Bleakers seems more like a personality trait. Other than that, this looks excellent!

    • Colin McLaughlin

      A lot of what belongs where is open to personal interpretation. The same is true of the backgrounds that appear in the PHB, in my opinion. Not all personality traits are positive in those lists, and the difference between some of the traits/flaws is fairly minimal. Likewise, the ideals overlap in a lot of areas, etc.

      For that specific flaw of “aid isn’t earned, it’s given” the idea is the Bleaker lends assistance to those who “don’t deserve it” from an observer’s perspective. Many would see that sort of action as a flaw.

    • Lilfut

      Excellent points. I still think the “aid isn’t earned” thing could be phrased more clearly.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Sure. I can give it a second pass.

  • Manos Ti

    Me likes. I do think though that the granted equipment is too generous, but other than that it looks mint.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      The Fated intentionally have a lot of equipment. It’s very much in theme for them.

  • Lilfut

    I’m giving this one another look, and there is one major issue I’m seeing: the Ideals seem to oversimplify fairly complex philosophies into “bleakers good, takers bad”. Admittedly, this is something that players could easily write their own Ideals for, but an Evil ideal for the Bleakers could be something like “Self. The only thing that matters is that I have what I desire.” and a better Good ideal for the Takers could be something like “Equality. No one is owed anything, but everyone gets what they need.” (Obviously these could use work, but in short evil Bleakers see the meaningless of existence as an excuse to do whatever they want, and good Takers think that their ruthless libertarianism is more fair than any sort of charity)

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Ideals are one sentences blurbs. Any complex idea is going to be oversimplified unless you further expound on it as a concept. I am pretty certain no one is going to fit existentialism in six bullet points.

      I also fundamentally disagree with your interpretations that it’s as easy as bleakers good, takers bad.

      For example,take this bleaker ideal:
      Authentic. Live in accordance with the self you create (any)
      There is absolutely nothing there that says the self you create needs to be positive. It just means if you are going to be selfish, then live selfishly. Don’t pretend to be altruistic if you are not.

      On the flip side, the takers have an explicitly good ideal, but several of their lawful/any ideals can be interpreted in myriad ways:
      Earned. Everything I have, I earned (any)
      Hard work will pay off is an easy way to interpret that. Taken a step further, it’s easy to see how a Taker might instruct others through lectures, lessons, examples, etc. to follow in her footsteps.

      I also don’t agree that the Takers, even good Takers, would much agree in the ideal of Equality.

    • Lilfut

      Yeah, Equality probably isn’t the best one-word blurb.

      I feel like the Ideals here do lack a lot of the variety that makes the Planescape factions so compelling – every single one of them can be used to justify good or evil, depending on the individual. The Ideals here should, ideally, serve to represent this duality. It’s particularly true here about the Bleakers – while the 2e sourcebooks played up their nihilism too much and downplayed their charity, I feel like this version does the opposite, presenting the meaninglessness of existence as little more than a justification for charity. Obviously, the Bleakers are going to include good samaritans and evil nihilists in equal measure, with most members being somewhere in between.

      Of course, this is all nitpicking – the mechanical meat of these is good, and obviously if I were playing a good Taker or evil Bleaker I’d just write my own ideals. Still, the duality of the Factions is something I think any Planescape content should try to touch on.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Welp, sorry to disappoint you.

    • lochinvar

      Dunno, I think this version actually gives you something to do in game that makes sense and doesn’t make you a jerk to be around- “Life is empty” and “I don’t care” wears on the other PCs pretty fast, but wrap that in some steadfast altruism, and then you’ve got something that’s actually a pretty solid team member.

    • Lilfut

      But the other interpretation can be just as interesting, with a sufficiently skilled player. It’s a multifaceted faction, and to act like they exist purely for altruism and charity is to undermine that IMO.