To Chance with Hell (Planescape)
Getting around Sigil
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Getting Around in Sigil: First Impression for the Clueless
Stepping into Sigil, regardless of which ward you enter, is always a unique, and not always an altogether pleasant experience. Be that as it may, it is always remarkable and not easily forgotten. The first thing you’ll probably notice is the sting in your eyes as you cough, and maybe struggle for your first breath of the thin, soot-laden air mixed with the sounds and smells of a thousand worlds, planes, and their inhabitants. And then you start to marvel at the place despite the dense blanket of haze that hovers like fog, mixed with the low hanging clouds that form the city’s own weather. In a word: Sigil can be utterly dreary at the same time it amazes and confounds.
That nearly constant haze and high hanging fog very well constitutes the average weather of Sigil. While the city isn’t truly large enough to create its own weather patterns, a presumed number of portals exist that link it to the Elemental Plane of Air, as well as the Paraelemental Plane of Steam, and perhaps even the Quasielemental Planes of Lightning and Smoke. All of this, in combination with the influx of air from all other portals in the city, and the combined cooking fires, exhalations of the residents, and any other similar things combine to form the unique atmosphere of the City of Doors. It isn’t exactly pretty berk, even by a fiend’s ideals. While the air in The Lady’s Ward might be a bit clearer most days, down towards the Lower Ward the exhaust and smoke from the Great Foundry and all the other myriad workshops and forges combine to form a yellowish, sickening blanket of smog over the city that spreads out to the other wards.
Now if this all kept up, eventually the air in the city would be “unbreathable”, or so the graybeards say. Every so often when the smog seems like it can’t get any worse, it all improves in the space of a day; the air seems cleaner, a blood can see further up into the “sky”, and the ring opposite seems much more detailed than before. At these intervals the air is downright pleasant to breathe too. Not that it lasts all that long, but the chant is that either winds blowing up off the Spire purge Sigil of its worst smog, or the Lady opens the portals in such a fashion as to flush the air and replenish it anew when needed.
But I’ve gone down quite a tangent, and forgotten the scene at hand. Past the mildly acidic drizzle from overhead on most every other day, you can stand and gawk at both deva and fiend conversing with one another as they stride past you on the wide cobblestone street between two high eaved buildings. Glancing at the surrounding structures themselves, you will notice the blades and ornate spikes that might decorate the surrounding walls and terraces from which ravens and pigeons, among more exotic beasts, might roost or lie skewered. As you walk you might be jostled by a passing bariaur, or a human and a golden skinned aasimar speaking at length, and then notice that the buildings, regardless of grandeur or condition, all tend to bear a unique and common style.
You see, Sigil’s buildings, from its most glorious and gilded structures of the wealthy and powerful to the rotting ramshackle shanties of its slums, all have a distinct style and appearance in common. Several features typify Sigil’s architectural tradition: blades, spiked fences, iron and stone ornamentation, and razorvine. Of these features, the first three have practical uses for the buildings they decorate, while the last is a widespread nuisance that is dealt with and has accommodated some function only in order to put a positive spin on the hellish vegetation. While some of the racial enclaves and ghettos may deviate from this typical architectural style, a building from Sigil is recognizable and distinct from most anywhere else on the planes.
Blades sprout from many of the buildings in Sigil, rising up as razor-edged fingers to glimmer in the hazy light. These ornaments likely originate in imitation of, and deference to the blades of Sigil’s enigmatic ruler and protector, Her Dread Majesty, the Lady of Pain. But besides this likely origin, the blades are just as much for protection against thieves and intruders.
The spiked fences common to most of the larger buildings in Sigil, and to a lesser extent the smaller and less cared for buildings of the poorer wards of the city, have both a decorative function as well as practical ones for the buildings they grace. Thieves find their grips and potential handholds topped by spikes, and windows and shutters girded with iron. The spikes also deter some of Sigil’s indigenous birds such as executioner’s ravens and some types of grayish green pigeons from roosting atop a berk’s kip. [To say nothing of mephits… – The Editor]
Ornamentation in the form of either abstract designs or carved imitations of perched figures and gargoyles in both iron and worked stone is common. The more prominent the building – or the more wealthy the occupant – the more elaborate the ornamentation. Decorative waterspouts, eaves and gables are common in the more wealthy areas of Sigil, but are not restricted to them. Iron and stone are the most common building material used because they can be created through magic, rather than imported at great expense by way of Sigil’s portals. However, in the richer wards of the Cage, special and unique varieties of stone, metal and wood have been imported from places ranging from Mount Celestia, to Gehenna, to the Quasielemental Plane of Mineral. But most commonly used as building materials across all of Sigil are varieties of simple grayish or white stone, iron, slate, and rough-hewn wood.
Everyone seems to take at face value the chant that Sigil sits atop the great Spire in the exact center of the Outlands. This’d place Sigil at arguably the very center of the Outer Planes, and, by some cutters’ reckoning, the center of the multiverse. Any resident of Sigil however will dismiss this notion as pure screed, despite its attractiveness. Nothing is at the center of everything. Ask any planewalker and they’ll tell you the same: that it’s the rule of the Center of All showing through. Every point in the multiverse sits in the midst of a sea of everything, infinite and vast. From that perspective, every point is the same and at the center of everything as far as it’s concerned. It’s just the fact that Sigil’s portals connect it to every plane of existence that leads to the mistaken idea that it sits at the center of everything.
Of course, some even question the assumption that it sits atop the Spire in the first place. Thing is, the Spire is supposedly infinitely tall. So how then can there be a top of the Spire for something to be placed at? [Indeed, Sigil is a mystery among mysteries. Some would even say THE mystery. – The Editor]
Entering and Leaving the Cage
Getting to and from Sigil is at the same time both simple and complex. The lowliest prime can slip into and out of the city with but the Lady’s whimsy and the right key, while the gods themselves are barred from entering no matter how long they rage in impotence at doorways forever sealed to them. There’s something poetic about the reality of Sigil, with so many things stark and definite, but coexisting with the enigmatic and unknown.
That said; Sigil’s hallmark is the nigh uncountable portals that are the reason behind its name, the City of Doors. A door, a window, a flagstone, a tracing of cracks in a stone wall, a painted circle left by a barmy Xaositect on the side of a tree. All of these are bounded spaces, and all of them potentially portals. Any bound space within Sigil has the potential to be a portal to effectively anywhere in existence from the Outer to Inner planes, the Prime, even demiplanes hidden throughout the multiverse. All that matters is having the correct key.
A portal key can be anything. A leaf from a cutting of razorvine, a golden ring, a silver rose dipped in blood. All of these could be portals keys. And indeed a portal key need not be material. It could be a certain song hummed while walking backwards through the bound space, or even a thought in passing while crossing the portal’s threshold. At the will of Her Serenity, all of these could be the keys to activating any of Sigil’s portals.
Indeed, the portals of Sigil are the only way in or out. Without the knowledge of the proper portal, and the proper key to that portal, a body can’t enter or exit Sigil. There is no other way to enter or leave the city, though some have attempted to do so by leaping from Sigil’s ring in the spot called ‘Suicide Alley’ where the outer wall is low enough to climb over. What happens to those is dark; none have ever been proven to return. If Sigil sits atop the infinite Spire, one might simply fall for infinity after jumping clear from the ring to eventually die of starvation or thirst. Some have even suggested that the poor sods might be thrown to a random plane, but again this is unproven. Curious? Try to look over the walls and see what lies beyond. Some have done so, especially those cutters who have the ability to fly, and they see neither the Spire, nor even a void. Nothingness. Try as they might, those who’ve seen over Sigil’s walls say only that nothing lies beyond them, and leave it at that, words failing to fully describe the concept. The multiverse has its mysteries, and Sigil lies at the heart of many of them.
The portals of Sigil have an even more unique, and humbling feature. The powers may not enter Sigil. Powers, deities, gods, whatever your name for them, they are barred from entering the City of Doors. Rage though they might to take the gateway to the planes, they may not so much as step a foot through a portal into Sigil. Of everything on the planes, little may be held as a true constant save this: Gods may not enter Sigil. Perhaps this is a byproduct of Sigil’s location atop the spire, or its place at the so-called center of the planes, but most graybeards acknowledge but one answer to this dark: Her Serenity, the Lady of Pain.
There is no way around the limitations imposed upon Sigil, though many have tried. Sigil is coexistent upon the Astral Plane, though planewalkers upon the Astral have said that the city is surrounded by a palely luminescent, and utterly impenetrable bubble that sears the mind and defies proper explanation. This astral barrier wholly prevents passage into Sigil through the Astral Plane, leaving only the Lady’s portals as viable entry. Still, the city isn’t so much separated as, well, caged off from the Astral. Spells and even psionics that work by connecting to that plane do work within Sigil. It’s just impossible to enter or exit the city, or even observe anything but its mysterious shielded boundary by means of the Silver Void.
Other spells such as summoning and similar conjuration magic fail spectacularly within Sigil, although some wizards are said to know of spots within the city where by chance, or more likely the Lady’s will, such spells do work, within limitation. Plane shift spells fail, though teleportation works within the confines of the city. Again such spells work, but nothing may cross into or out of the city, except by way of the portals. Even such powerful spells as gate and wish fail to breach the limitations imposed upon Sigil. Indeed, if even the powers cannot breach the wards set around the City of Doors, what hope does mortal magic hold to accomplish the same? Some say that the portals of Sigil appear at the whimsy of the Lady, others that they are all random and She only controls the keys to open them. Others still say that nothing is random and indeed, She creates Her portals not at whimsy but with deft, measured strokes of will. As with most things regarding the Bladed Queen, the matter remains dark. But what is known is that the Lady of Pain has the ability to shut down the portals of the city, even all of them at once. She has done so before, and could do so again. And with that, mind this: the City of Doors has but so much air.
Shape and Direction
The City of Doors, being built along the inside of a great torus atop the Spire, has a rather unique shape. Indeed standing upon any of the streets of the burg, given enough clear space to see for any decent stretch, one can see the city curving up and along the circumference of the ring. Looking up at night, when a basher can see through the perpetual haze, you can see the twinkling lamps, fires and other lights from the streets and buildings clear across the ring on the other side of the city. One big ring sitting at the very center of the Great Wheel of the Outer Planes. Coincidence, or the Unity of Rings shining through? Let graybeards ponder over that question. Allow the clueless to stare and wonder. The rest of us just accept it and live out our days without giving it much thought.
Shape aside, the size of Sigil, from one end to the other, as determined in the past by Harmonium and Guvner surveys, places the Cage at roughly five miles across, and twenty miles in circumference. However, these are simply approximations and an average of the myriad values they found. See, the actual size of Sigil is not set to any value. The Lady can alter the size of the City of Doors at Her whim, making it larger or smaller for whatever mysterious reasons and purposes She has. Likely if the population of Sigil exceeded a certain amount Her Serenity might simply allow the city to grow in size to accommodate these changes, with her servants, the dabus, creating new buildings and paving new streets.
Another artifact of the unique ring shape of Sigil is that, like most planes, there’s no easy way to orient yourself for directions. There’s no north and south, no east or west. All directions end up being relative to specific points in the city and to the Spire (not that it can be seen from within Sigil, but it’s assumed to be there, somewhere). In this manner, you give direction by which wards to pass through or go towards. For instance, to get to the Gatehouse from the Lower Ward, you would travel to the Hive. With the ring “laying on its side” above the Spire, there also exist up and down, commonly known as spireward and downward, corresponding o up and down respectively, which govern direction to the edges of the city.
Modrons and certain lawful cutters, such as the former members of the Fraternity of Order, break from this system of relative direction and favor a system of radial and chord wise coordinates. Most bloods don’t tend to bother with this exact system, favoring the more common, and while less exact, easier to use methods of giving directions relative to the wards and the spire.
Time in the City of Doors is measured along a convention that’s been in place for about as long as anyone can remember. Though admittedly, records of the history of Sigil itself are rather sketchy beyond a thousand years or so, and grow even dimmer the further back a cutter delves. Now, while most Primes will tell you that their own worlds are ruled by a clear cut day and night, alternating between a blazing star in the day sky and various numbers of moons at night, Sigil has no real sky with heavenly bodies by which to tell the time. Yet there still exists something akin to day and night in the burg. Here it’s called peak and antipeak, for the times when the dim, hazy light that seems to spring out of the very air above the ring of Sigil is waxing or waning to its highest or lowest points. That said it’s never truly bright in the city save for the hours surrounding peak. Otherwise, it’s usually a subdued glow of early morning or growing twilight, filtering through the haze, or, during the hours around antipeak, when the sky is a more or less an artificial night. And although Sigil has no sun or moon or stars, being that the city is ring shaped, during the hours around antipeak, a cutter looking up can see the faint twinkle and glimmer of lights on the streets and in buildings clear opposite of them on the other side of Sigil. Well, when the air is suitably clear of fog or haze anyways.
The roll of years is something of a mixed bag in Sigil and frequently comes to confuse the clueless and graybeard alike. For while Sigil is, or is presumed to be, eternal in every sense of the word, written records of history in the City of Doors are hard to come by the further back one looks. Without accurate and longstanding historical records there exists nothing by which to judge the flow of time, or by which to date against. The latest convention for keeping track of the years has been, until recent history, giving the date by the number of the year of the current factol of the Fraternity of Order. With the assassination of Factol Hashkar, and the flight of the Guvners from Sigil after the Faction War, there has been no standard convention in place for the roll of years since then. In common usage until recently have been to label the years since then as the 5th year of the Faction War, the 5th year of the Factions’ Fall, and the 5th year of the Liberated Sigil. While still not official, the most commonly used method, now increasingly seen in documents relating to city business, is to label the years relative to the Lady’s edict banishing the factions. Thus a year would be described as the 5th year of the Lady’s Edict.
Debate is currently ongoing within the Sigil Advisory Council that would establish an official convention for the roll of years as a standard, but with other myriad issues facing them it is unlikely to be pushed to the forefront of debate. For now the unofficial official convention works as well as any other.
Being the nominal center of the Outer Planes (at least from the Cagers’ perspective), and with links to points across the multiverse, the Cage is populated by members of nearly every race and culture imaginable. While the list of different races is much too exhausting to write down in this limited space, suffice to say, the exemplars and planar branches of the prime races abound and form the majority of the population of Sigil. The planetouched races are represented largely by aasimar and tieflings within the City of Doors. While there also exists a smaller and visible amount of the various genasi races, any of the more exotic planetouched races are a small minority collectively. Also of note is the fact that the Outer Planar races vastly outnumber the natives of the Inner Planes, despite Sigil’s portals to every plane in the multiverse.
From ward to ward, the population of the City of Doors varies with respect to composition by both planars or primes, as well as the types of bashers that populate the ward. Many of the more exotic races, and those who have been historically more insular, persecuted within Sigil, or across the planes in general, tend to accumulate among themselves in their own racially distinct neighborhoods. Indeed, a number of racial enclaves across Sigil have grown large enough to merit distinction as districts of their own within a given ward.
The Lady’s Ward is nearly free of the fiendish races, and relatively few tieflings grace its streets or call the ward kip except for the touts of the city, which number many tieflings among their number. Humans, half-elves, various genasi (particularly air genasi, who appreciate the cleaner air of the ward), aasimar, zenythri, and bariaur make up the stock of the ward in number from largest to smallest. The powerful and the opportunistic reside in this ward alongside the honest and the upstanding. By crime or by the law, a blood may find themself fleeced of his jink one way or the other if they’re not careful within the ward. Alongside the crosstrade, the wealthy, and the knights of the post are the various members of the clergy. They abound in The Lady’s Ward in numbers larger than in any other section of the city, with even the occasional divine proxy traversing the wide avenues.
Within the Lower Ward a cutter will find the most diverse collection of racial types within Sigil, though true to its name, the number of portals to the Lower Planar tends to skew this mix of races towards a more fiendish bent. Regardless, humans are the largest group, followed almost equally by tieflings, githzerai, and bariaur. Less numerous, but still represented in numbers one cannot dismiss, are elves, dwarves, gnomes, half-elves, and rogue modron. Indeed, the Lower Ward, unbeknownst to many, was ages ago called the Prime Ward, for the ghettos of the Clueless herded and sequestered there. [An idea which Cirily of the Sigil Advisory Council would likely find attractive once again. – The Editor] And here, within the racially diverse atmosphere of the ward, most bashers tend towards common labor, most of them having little training in sorcery or swordplay. Forge workers, pot menders, and tailors have little use for such crafts. More often than not the populace trends more to mundane means than in most wards.
In the Hive, the poorest and most crime-ridden ward of all of Sigil, the racial mix becomes much different from the other wards. Humans are hardly the most common race, and are a considerable minority when compared with the number of tieflings, githzerai, chaonds, bariaur, half-elves, monstrous humanoids, giant-kin, and full-blown fiends. Celestials and aasimar are virtually a rarity within the ward, for good reason with the number of fiends and bashers of a criminal nature.
Within the utter squalor of the Hive, the masses of living detritus tend towards little to no education, and so the educated and the rich tend to be a rarity in most areas, except for those few who have moved into the ward either to exploit, employ, or preach to the population. Some berks find that they can make a name for themselves with their skill or magical prowess in the ward’s criminal circles. The unorganized, or organized and less powerful, criminal elements of Sigil reside in the Hive. Here thievery can allow even a relatively unskilled leatherhead to make quite a living for themselves inside the ward, or to venture outside, make their jink, and then flee back to avoid the rule of law outside the Hive.
The Clerk’s Ward, home of the bureaucracy that daily greases the wheels of Sigil’s government, tends to be rather drab when compared to the other wards of Sigil. Its citizens comprise a population made up largely of humans, with smaller numbers of githzerai, tieflings, zenythri, bariaur, dwarves and halflings. Most exemplars tend to avoid the ward for whatever reason, maybe considering the mundane lot of little importance in their schemes.
The citizens of the Clerk’s Ward tend to be a bit higher educated than in many of the other wards, with more skill using a pen than a sword for many. However, that’s not to say that the unskilled have no use in the ward. They simply won’t have any chance of gaining much influence, but they can, and do manage to make a living serving as guards, servants, and laborers.
The Guildhall Ward stands in marked contrast to the Lower Ward, but also in startling similarity in terms of racial complexion. While the ward is just as diverse as the Lower Ward, the population tends towards a mirror opposite of it, with the fiends and fiend-touched races replaced by celestials and aasimar; and here, even more so than in the Clerk’s Ward, a large number of spellslingers and magical artisans call the ward kip.
The Market Ward is fairly diverse with regards to racial composition, though much of the diversity comes from the daily influx of buyers. After all, every cutter in Sigil has things they like or need to purchase, and the Great Bazaar of the Market Ward has the largest selection of merchants and vendors within all of Sigil. Among the merchants themselves, there’s more than a fair share of bariaur and half-elves along with the human population. Here, fiends can be seen passing by celestials on a daily basis, and none seem to give it much a second thought. Still, the occasional fight between passing Baatezu and Tanar’ri makes way for an opening in any crowd within the ward.
Most cutters of any background can find a use for themselves within the ward, be it for the security of the merchants, creation of items, preaching to the crowds in the Bazaar, or bobbing some sod for his coin. The ward takes all kinds and passes little judgment upon them. This facet of daily life remains one of the most lingering influences of the Free League. [Though admittedly they never officially existed as a faction, so it’s unfair to say that they no longer exist with the Lady’s Edict in place. They’re still here with the same faces and the same social and business circles, but no longer by the same name in public. – The Editor]
Sigil, as with any other city of its size and population, has a wide variety of services hawked by those canny bloods with skills, ranging from the common to rare, and abilities, ranging from unskilled to masters of their craft. From the portals come flooding into the burg a vast diversity of products, wares, and raw goods from all corners of the planes. From street corner vendors’ carts, to shops, to whatever a berk can hold in his hands, the wares of commerce are to be had by those with the jink for it, or the quickness to bob it off those who do.
Most of the business within Sigil, or at least the vast bulk of it, takes place within the Great Bazaar inside the appropriately named Market Ward. Of course, to find something within the ward isn’t always quite so easy. One must consider the size of the area it occupies and that most of the shops are pitched upon the ground in a haphazardly manner and may change position slightly depending on the circumstances and the goods they sell. [Illegal goods move fast, in every sense of the word. – The Editor] Most products sold in the Market Ward are on the up and up, though other areas such as the Night Market within the Hive sell to customers unconcerned with prior ownership or price.
Other shops are dotted throughout Sigil, in each and every ward, with the wards in turn giving a bit of flavor to each shop, and the shops themselves giving something back to their districts. Poignant examples that serve to exemplify this range from the Friendly Fiend in the Lower Ward, Parts & Pieces in the Market Ward [With the ever so added benefit of being run by Seamusxanthuszenus, Slayer of Fiends and Merchant Most Excellent! Aka ‘That Mephit with the Hat’. Need I say more? – The Editor], Tivvum’s Antiquities in the Market Ward, and Traban’s Forge within The Lady’s Ward. All of these shops have their own unique flavor that adds to, and derives itself from their ward of residence. Indeed, so do most of the small, independent merchants within Sigil to an extent.
But shops aside, all manner of services are available within the City of Doors, such as tours of the city available from the Tout and Escorts guild, entertainment provided by the Civic Festhall and Entertainers Guild, and the location of desired portals provided by the members of the Doorsnoop’s Guild. Since the fall of the factions, many of Sigil’s guilds hold far more influence in the city, and consequently offer more services and benefits to their members than in the previous seven centuries of their existence.
Across the city, a blood can find sedan chair rides or Arcadian pony drawn carriages to ferry him over or through the crowds, and young scaps called light boys carry glowing staves to light the way for a cutter walking in Sigil after dark. Life is much easier for those with jink to freely spend on their own luxury.
Magical items of all types and manufacture may be bought from the merchants or spell-slingers of the city. At the same time, arcane knowledge itself can be found in both the Great Library, the Sensory stones of the Civic Festhall, and smaller and more private groups like the Society of Luminiferous Aether. And bub… a hundred different alehouses, bub taps, and watering holes can be found across the breadth of the city. Each of them with their own unique atmosphere, clientele, and price range, to say nothing of other entertainment provided to the patrons. [The Fortunes Wheel in The Lady’s Ward, and the Bottle and Jug in the Hive are perhaps the two most polar opposites in this regard, though under the surface they have much more in common than the patrons of the former are likely to admit. – The Editor]