To Chance with Hell (Planescape)
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The Transcendent Order: Living for the Moment
The Transcendent Order may be the name of the faction, but it doesn‘t describe the faction. Rather, the Transcendent Order is what they seek, a sense of perfect harmony and unity. But they don‘t seek to impose it on others, like the Harmonium does. Instead, the Ciphers draw it from within by unifying thought and action into an enlightened whole. See, according to them, there‘s a universal harmony – a pulse the entire multiverse beats to. And by understanding that harmony one can always find the perfect action for a given moment.
Philosophy: Know your place in the multiverse; enact it through action without thought.
Home Location: Elysium.
Prominent Members: Quillabrin
Alignment: Any neutral.
Symbol: An orange sun rising atop a starlit sky, with a crescent moon in the foreground. Gold rims the outer side, with slight hooks within the lower edge, and larger horns rising to frame the skies. The two sides are balanced and joined; unity of the cosmos is attained.
Related skills: Acrobatics, Diplomacy. A player may start the game with skill focus with either skill if they choose not to pick a skill related to being a Primer, or Planar.
Faction bonuses with the Transcendent Order will confer abilities such as:
- bonuses to initiative and movement
- powers that offer immediate reactions or immediate interrupts
- powers that prevent of cure weakness or ongoing damage conditions
The Philosophy of the Transcendent Order
Cipher though is an oxymoron – at least according to them. To the Transcendent Order, thought is but an obstacle to action. Act upon impulses, instincts, and one will find rhythm with the universe. To ponder is to hesitate; to hesitate is to doubt; to doubt is to fail. All that matters is the moment; anticipating the future is meaningless, and so is dwelling in the past.
Of course, any drunken fool can act without thinking, either with his fists or otherwise. That isn‘t the aim of the Transcendent Order; instead, they believe that ideas should be brought forth into action in a mere instant. By merging body and mind, and balancing both, one opens up both to the multiverse and to the rhythm found within. They call this rhythm the Cadence of the Plane, and once one is attuned to that rhythm, they can understand their role and purpose in the multiverse. Once this understanding is achieved, they then need not ever think again; they simply know what they must do and act upon it without hesitation or failure.
That doesn‘t mean that a Cipher is always acting. Inaction has its place in the multiverse too, and sometimes it‘s best if a body just doesn‘t get involved. Sometimes a Cipher might come across as uncaring or aloof, but truthfully, it‘s just that they recognize where their place is. When confronted with less balanced folk, Ciphers will often reflect that imbalance. Around tanar‘ri, a Cipher might be saintly. Around a modron, a Cipher might be chaotic. This isn‘t a deliberate act, but rather, a by-product of their philosophy. Since they serve the balance unconsciously, they often serve as a counterweight to extremes in the cosmos, reflecting them… rarely, though, do they reflect an extreme deeply enough to become an extreme itself. It just isn‘t in their nature.
Despite the fact their philosophy has yet to truly splinter, it has a wide variety of interpretations. See, one can‘t really be taught the philosophy. The basic concepts can be taught, and development can be tracked, but everybody‘s path is a bit different. It‘s more than knowledge… it‘s understanding, and everybody comes to that understanding a little differently… even if the end result is often the same. Even those without professions that require physical strength or grace often take care of their body, regularly training it to be in tune with their mind. The degree of physical training varies with each member, but few neglect their forms. One may never find balance through weakness, after all. Some merely work on maintaining and ensuring their health, relying on a moderate regimen of exercise and abstaining from over-indulgences (food, drink, etc.) Others focus on honing their body to the human limit and beyond, seeking a tool that their mind can unite with no matter its need.
Three major steps of progress are codified through Cipher training. The first is a Master of the Heart, where one learns to act without thought through a special trance… though only for short periods of focus. Then one may advance to become a Master of the Mind, where body and mind become one, and the trance periods last longer and become sharper. Lastly, one becomes the Master of the Spirit, where the trance replaces the member‘s old, clumsy thought processes, allowing them to come in touch with the pulse of the multiverse. It‘s said those that advance further – primarily the former factols of the faction – leave their mortal existence behind. Some claim they become powers; others say they become intermediaries between mortals and the nebulous entity that the Athar call the Great Unknown. It‘s at least true that clerics of the Transcendent Order are able to channel Oneness, supposedly a representation of the factols that have previously ascended to form their own pantheon.
If a factol ascends in this fashion, another Master of the Spirit, and only one, feels the call to take up the reins of leadership. However, the role is more that of a spiritual leader than an organizational leader. Members may be more or less enlightened, but there are no real ranks in the faction other than mutual respect (or lack thereof). Typically, the factol is the only Master of Spirit at a given time, but sometimes there have been as many or three or four.
The Ciphers live completely in the moment, following the multiverse‘s pull and generally doing what they do best. They are not random or without reason; rather, they follow a will that outsiders just can‘t get, and even the Ciphers rarely know what the outcomes of their actions will be. No one can ignore their results, however, as the Transcendent Order has long been a contributing force to many events, big and small, in the multiverse, whether they unconsciously helped another faction achieve a goal or prevented a dispute from becoming hostile. Ciphers have a way of being in the right place at the right time, and bring the opposing forces of the cosmos into balance without a second thought (or a first).
Despite its age, the Transcendent Order keeps no history and no records, and rarely brags of its deeds or stories. The trick of the matter is that to them, the present – the now – is all that matters. The past is gone, and shall never return, and the future shall be, but neither is worth the distraction. Though they have existed for over a millennium, actual records of their origins are scant at best. Some Guvner theories, combined with small evidence, claim the faction originates from a figure who spent time with the rilmani and was attempting to emulate their ways. Others point to the land of Kara-Tur on the prime world of Toril, noting similarities between some native philosophies and that of the Ciphers. Some Ciphers seem to believe that those that have ascended to Oneness guide them, and that the first of their kind stumbled upon the Cadence of the Planes by singular, unguided enlightenment. Whatever the truth is, few tales are told of Cipher exploits, and especially by their own.
That isn‘t to say they haven‘t done anything important. Most certainly, they have. Prior to the Faction War, they served as mediators, smoothing over clashes and disputes between the factions. It could be said that the Faction War probably would have happened quite a bit earlier were it not for the Ciphers‘ efforts. Much of the way the government of factions worked is due to their assistance, and they also contributed greatly to Sigil‘s current political structure. At the same time, it‘s not as if they‘ve worked hard at keeping the peace; rather their own balance helps bring equilibrium to Sigil has a whole. The more advanced members of their faction have often been in the right place at the right time to make a difference, lending their efforts with no more of a deliberate quality than a heartbeat. Their current factol, Rhys, has embodied this natural action in her conversion to Cipher thought, becoming well-liked among both those in their faction and among outsiders. Despite being a tiefling, she‘s overcome her natural tendencies towards evil and her past criminal acts to become the most natural Cipher anybody knows.
Recently Rhys traveled to Elysium, the retreat of many a Cipher. Coincidentally, she took this sojourn just before the Faction War broke out. Where most factions served only to stoke the fires of conflict higher, the Ciphers helped the common folk of Sigil. Afterwards, Rhys returned to the Cage, the only factol remaining after the war. Though they lost the Great Gymnasium and their faction status, the Ciphers focused on helping rebuild and heal the city.
Truthfully, not much changed for the Ciphers, and it could be said they weathered the conflict largely intact. Nowadays, Rhys serves as one of the nine representatives that govern the city, and she‘s clearly one of the most influential figures in the city today… not that it concerns her. To her, the power doesn‘t seem so important, as she‘s just doing what the multiverse needs her to do. Still, a lot of folks are suspicious of her, and whisper that if she steps too far into influencing Sigil, the Lady herself will step in. In the meantime, many factols of other factions watch her progress, curious to see how far the tiefling can go, and just when the Lady is willing to put her words into action.
While technically Rhys is still the leader of the Ciphers (nobody calls her a factol anymore), her time on the council has caused another member by the name of Quillabrin to take up the role of Cipher representative. A former member of the Harmonium, Quillabrin was troubled by her inner nature as a quasi-elemental planetouched, and never found the acceptance or peace she sought from the faction. After the Faction War, she deserted the Harmonium for the Ciphers, and seems to have found peace in her conflicted spirit through their path. Having become a Master of the Spirit some time ago, she‘s served in Rhys‘ stead during her recent absence for the few times the Ciphers need a voice. While she hasn‘t felt a call – at least as far as anybody knows – Quillabrin‘s development puts her as the closest thing Rhys might have to a second (or a successor).
The first goal of every Cipher is, at least ideally, enlightenment… abandonment of hesitation and thought. It may seem a bit self-centered, but it‘s far from selfish. They believe that by becoming balanced, they thus become able to balance the actions of others, and bring everyone closer to the Cadence of the Planes.
Rhys has seemingly inspired her faction to help rebuild Sigil, just as she has. Granted, she hasn‘t ordered any of her followers to do so, nor has she suggested that they should. They‘ve simply followed suit. Whether their actions are due to the Cadence of Planes or just Rhys‘ charismatic presence is up for debate. Most Cagers don‘t mind the assistance, though. After the mess the rest of the factions made, they‘re just glad to have any help they can get.
After the Faction War, many Ciphers have drifted away from the City of Doors, instead taking their philosophy to the Outlands and gate-towns. While not quite spreading the word‘ deliberately, their presence does have a calming effect. Some whisper that despite their good doings, the presence of the faction further about the planes is actually a bad sign. They say that the Ciphers are preparing for some new disaster, one that‘ll make the recent troubles in Sigil look as small as they actually were.
The Transcendent Order‘s one of the few groups that gets along with just about anybody. Often counterbalancing other factions, they complement the philosophies of others quite well, and rarely get involved in the kriegstanz to any serious extent. Combining this with their diplomatic and largely inoffensive nature, few have considered them foes, and even fewer have ever confronted them.
Of the major factions, only the Harmonium truly eyes the Ciphers with suspicion. See, the two groups are alike in that they seek group harmony. However, while the Harmonium seeks it by converting and inspiring others, the Ciphers do it by looking within. Thus, the Hardheads see the Transcendent Order almost as competition. While the Harmonium desires peace for all, the Ciphers distill peace in the individual. Still, the Ciphers have never given the Hardheads major cause to actually bring their suspicions into action… at least for the time being.