Life As Torment: Philosophies of Suffering in Planescape

~ an essay on the game and world of Planescape: Torment (1999)

“What can change the nature of a man?

This is the question posited to the player many times, explicitly and implicitly, throughout your quest as ‘The Nameless One’ within Black Isle Studios’ brilliant isometric RPG of old, Planescape: Torment (“PT”). The Nameless One is one such Man: an immortal, amnesiac humanoid cast by strange twists of fate into traversing the crossroads of the multiverse to answer the many who’s, what’s, when’s, where’s and why’s of his storied but forgotten life.

A highly imaginative game, PT runs the gamut on the nature of life and death, and *belief*, asking many more questions than its wacky characters attempt to answer. What philosophy do you live by and why? Are you able to change? What are you willing to live and die for? And given the nature of The Nameless One’s style of immortality — resurrective and not indestructibility, i.e. he can die but just always comes back — the principal question arrives as you uncover his past : how many different lives does it take to learn the secret truth of life, of the universe itself?

“The Nameless One” ~ “You are nameless. You awoke on a slab in the Mortuary in Sigil, covered in scars and tattoos, your memory gone. Who has done this to you, and why? You don’t know… yet. But you’re going to find out.”
Planescape: Torment OST
~ art by Mat Heldwein

PT, primarily a story-driven roleplaying game experience, takes place within the world and utilizes the mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons (*pushes up glasses* specifically, the ruleset for Advanced D&D 2nd Edition). Known for its rip-roaring escapist action fantasy adventuring, PT takes its rich narrative along with its gameplay away from the typical D&D tropes. Namely, this is achieved by exhaustively exploring the philosophies of life and death as seen through the machinations within its obscure Planescape setting, and by problem-solving consistently marked more by conversation than bloodletting via blade or fireball.

Many of the merits of my experience of PT come from its tremendous worldbuilding inside of the weird and wild realms of “Planescape” — a lesser known campaign setting for D&D created back in 1994.

Sigil, the locus of the Planescape setting
“What makes you think this life *is* real? Look inside yourself. Do you not feel something lacking?”

After you awaken on a slab in a morgue, nameless and unknowing of anything and everything of the world around you, your journey as The Nameless One becomes that of asking a series of questions (literally, much of the gameplay is a visual novel of conversations in which you are the constant questioner); the answers provided to you — by your gathering cadre of offbeat companions, potential friends and foes all, and by the strange, factionalized denizens of Sigil, and by this chaotic, belief-driven realm of infinite planes and possibilities at the heart of the multiverse — all build manifold, competing philosophies.

You come to find that each is worthy of your exploration. Though disparate and principally contradictory, all these ideologies inhabit an examination of a common stream: torment, as time’s traumas upon a mortal soul, and how one must come to live with their own undergirding philosophy of some kind. Self-crafted, named, articulated, deeply considered or not, if one is to find anything close to the truth to those questions life throws at its travelers – you WILL need a personal philosophy of some kind.

“Simply try to live as best you can. Use this life, no matter how painful, as an opportunity. You are young. Perhaps seeing more of this life will kill your eagerness for death.” ~ The Nameless One to a young Dustman
“I have seen the far reaches of the multiverse and returned to tell the tale. I have walked upon the bodies of dead gods and spun moonbeams in the Astral ahead of a thousand shrieking githyanki knights. I have passed the edges of existence and watched my essence shiver away before me. What is it I can do for you?” ~ Candrian
*You see what appears to be an ordinary Lim-Lim. It’s hard to believe that this cute little creature slaughtered five wizard apprentices with such ease.*
Acaste is the ghoul-queen of the Dead Nations…
The legendary “Pillar of Skulls”
The Nameless One and his party confronting the Pillar…

The World of Planescape

~ //

David “Zeb” Cook developed Planescape when he was assigned to create “a complete campaign world (not just a place to visit), survivable by low-level characters, as compatible with the old Manual of the Planes as possible, filled with a feeling of vastness without overwhelming the referee, distinct from all other TSR campaigns, free of the words “demon” and “devil” and explainable to Marketing in 25 words or less”. For inspiration, Cook listened to Pere Ubu, Philip Glass and Alexander Nevsky, read The Dictionary of the Khazars, Einstein’s Dreams, and The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and for fun at “Bad Movie Nights”, watched such films as Naked Lunch and Wolf Devil Woman.

Cook came up with the idea that everything would revolve around factions, and that those factions would be ideas taken to the extreme. He also felt that Sigil came about because it was natural, because the planes needed a crossroads, and that the campaign needs a center which could be both a place for adventure and a place to hide, where characters could get to and from it quickly. Cook decided to adapt the Manual of the Planes because the older material made survival on the planes too difficult or complex; he ignored anything that complicated gameplay, which left the “descriptions of twisted and strange creations”.

Cook conceived of the look for the setting from images such as “the gloomy prisons of Piranesi’s Le Carceri etchings, and Brian Froud’s illustrations and surrealist art”, and Dana Knutson was assigned to draw whatever Cook wanted. “Before any of us knew it, [Knutson] drew the Lady of Pain. I’m very fond of the Lady of Pain; she really locks up the Planescape look. We all liked her so much that she became our logo.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s “IMAGINARY PRISONS” ~ one of the artistic inspirations for the creation of the Planescape setting
The Lady of Pain ~ “Do not step in her shadow, do not worship her, do not speak of her nor look upon her. Pray that you should never cross her nor go against her unfathomable will.”


My fascination with the world of Planescape comes with its escalation and elaboration of D&D’s outlandish cosmology. Much of the core action of any given D&D campaign or novel or game takes place in the Prime Material Plane, i.e. the physical, ‘real’ world of mountains and plains and cities, men, beasts; however, with the existence of magic comes the existence of deities and their many planes they inhabit, so defined by their elemental (Earth, Air, Water, Fire) and moral (Chaotic/Lawful Good, Evil, Neutral) natures.

The pantheon of gods within this multiverse exist above and below and shot through this *real* world, far away in Heaven and Hell-esque realms but providing their power and their acolytes to the mortals via long histories of divining observation, mystical interference, and portals to and from their planes.

The ‘Inner Planes’ comprise that of the primordial elements, the universal building blocks of physical existence itself, while the ‘Outer Planes’, much more numerous and varied in their nature and motive, exist as the quasi-spiritual “afterlife”-ian polar manifestations of the respective alignments {lawful/chaotic x good/evil} ~ such as — Nirvana {lawful neutral} / The Seven Heavens {lawful good} / Elysium {neutral good} / Avandor & Ysgard {chaotic good} / Limbo {chaotic neutral} / Pandemonium & The Abyss {chaotic evil} / Tarterus & Carceri {neutral evil} / The Nine Hells {lawful evil}, etc.

Many D&D campaigns never reach to the heavens, questing and doing battle through the planes above and beyond the Prime Material one. Such lands are unfit for mortals and braving them and their godlike antagonists requires an ‘epic’ level of strength (i.e. level 20+ in 2E AD&D), if not an adventuring party of wandering demigods in of themselves. However, Planescape solves this power imbalance to a degree, in the creation of Sigil, the “City of Doors,” as a launching point for interplanar travel, conflict, and interaction.

Sigil atop the Spire of the Outlands


Sigil, the “City of Doors”, is located atop the Spire in the Outlands [where all the planes meet up in a quasi-centralized locale]. It has the shape of a torus, and the city itself is located on the inner surface of the ring. There is no sky, simply an all-pervasive light that waxes and wanes to create day and night. Sigil cannot be entered or exited save via portals. Although this makes it quite safe from any would-be invader, it also makes it a prison of sorts for those not possessing a portal key. Thus, many call Sigil “The Bird Cage” or “The Cage.” Though Sigil is commonly held to be located “at the center of the planes” (where it is positioned atop the infinitely tall Spire), some argue that this is impossible since the planes are infinite in all dimensions, and therefore there can never truly be a center to any or all of them. Curiously, from the Outlands, one can see Sigil atop the supposedly infinite Spire.

Rumors & Legends ~ Sigil’s very existence and purpose were a mystery. Some maintained that it had been built by a deposed duke of the Nine Hells, while others suggested that it was the byproduct of an insane demigod’s dream, and some even speculated that it had been put together by scattered bits of the Outer Planes shortly after their creation. Another line of reasoning posited that Sigil was a prison for the Lady of Pain herself.

Sigil, fashioned in the shape of a torus

Much of PT’s action takes place within this bizarre landscape of portals and politics, ruined subterranean slums and gleaming ivory towers. Sigil, as the locus point within the Planescape setting, provides the player (and the intrigued DM) with an environment enabling interaction with the wider, extraordinary conflicts of the planes (such as the always exciting “Blood War”, the forever war between the demons of The Abyss with the devils of The Nine Hells).

As the relative centerpoint of the multiverse, this City of Doors provides access, though not unfettered, to the far-reaching cosmological conflicts of D&D’s world. With its own geopolitical discourse structured by an extremified and well-defined ideological competition for the souls of its populous inhabitants, the struggles of all the planes end up bleeding onto Sigil’s multifarious districts.

The factions within the city, composed of eccentric, queer and altogether remarkable persons, use Sigil’s position at the eye of the cosmological storm to generate fresh intrigues, world-shaking, Great Balance-upsetting adventurism, and all-around mortality-shifting magical chicanery.

Simply, Planescape, with PT’s daring narrative as a principal example, offers the roleplayer the opportunity to craft some rather entertaining fucking stories!

“Aye… the Blood War. The most dangerous family feud this side of the primordial soup…”
His eyes cloud over. “I went to the Inner Planes to discover my true essence. I made the mistake of visiting the Negative Material Plane in order to understand my body’s urge to decay and the cycle of death in life. I thought myself protected against the ill effects of the plane with my magic, but I was wrong. The blackness of infinite nothing pressed on my soul, and I was beset by shadows that sought to snuff out my very soul. I lost my way for a time – for an eternity – and nearly lost my existence. I could feel my essence falling away from me, and am even now half-gone. I will never return.”
Welcome to the Negative Material Plane!
“I am Yi-minn. I am a githyanki angler. My people are the undisputed masters of the Astral Plane, where the gods go to die and the memories of the dead float like leaves in a pool. My duty is in retrieving the memory cores of the dead and gleaning them for information. I can locate your memories. You have only to pay the price.”
Heart of the Fosterer ~ According to legend, the Fosterer was a sorcerer who built his empire upon the Plane of Shale many centuries ago. He was rumored to have 3,333 hearts, and each of them carried in it a different evil he had committed in his lifetime…
“This statue is believed to be the final fate of the Etherserian sorcerer Gangroighydon. Attacked by a conclave of rival sorcerers at the height of his dream madness, he was imprisoned with a spell that turned his flesh into stone. Gangroighydon is said to have been frozen with a final, awful curse still upon his lips, a curse so terrible that it was “never” meant to be spoken by the lips of a living man.”
~ succubus erotic fiction via Sensory Stone ~
~ ‘The Elixir of Horrific Separation‘ || 200 copper

~ Planescape Campaign Book ~

“Planescape Torment aims to provide its players with a sense that they are excavating a history (the avatar’s forgotten past) while exploring, more or less at will, a vast and bizarre invention.”

~ Diane Carr, Game Studies

“The Outer Planes are created of and by belief and thought and faith. They take their imagined form from the Prime Material Plane, shaped into forms that stagger the imagination, built by the accumulation of belief. Belief creates the planes. Belief is power here. Change belief, and you can change the nature of reality. The creatures that are born here – the planeborn, like the fiends and celestials – are truly borne of the thoughts and concepts of mortals. They each express some sort of ideal, and the more powerful the ideal, the more powerful the being – thus, the being that symbolizes love is one of the strongest of all.” ~ Candrian

Factions x Philosophies

Before even playing through Planescape: Torment, I read through the Planescape lore and became most intrigued by the interplay of its many factions. Their stated beliefs, though rather one-dimensional and extreme to the point of parody, each do relate to existing, real-world philosophies. Like political factions, some vie for control over Sigil’s economic and spiritual flows; unlike political factions, they often transcend ambition and the sheer mechanalia of power’s play within society, even forgoing any elegant proselytization of their ideas to the many.

It is through some of these factions that PT builds its narrative, with The Nameless One as the potential convert to their institutions as he runs into them over the course of his investigations. Whether or not he is taken in by their words, even to the point of conversion into their orders, is based on the player’s choices, and more saliently, their beliefs.

Though not ALL of them are featured within the game, followers of the “Dustmen”, “Godsmen”, “Sensates”, “Revolutionary League,” and “Chaosmen” provide worthy conversations to pitch the player on their (joinable) paths. {In my playthrough, I joined the Dustmen, then the Godsmen, and later faked membership within the Sensates.}


The Factions of Planescape ~

Athar ~ Also known as “the Defiers” or “the Lost”, they deny not only the gods’ right to pass judgment over mortals, but their very divinity. They claim that the gods (whom they call “powers”) are powerful but have limits and do not deserve worship. Instead, Athar priests channel divine power from what they call the “Great Unknown”, or what they believe to be the true divine force behind everything. Their headquarters in Sigil is the Shattered Temple, the former temple of the dead god Aoskar. Following the faction war, and banned from Sigil, they moved their headquarters to the base of the infinite spire where divine magic does not function in protection of the many gods they have offended. The Athar are broadly derived from real-world atheists, agnostics, and Deists.

Believers of the Source ~ Known as “Godsmen” they believe that each life is a test, and that every person has the potential to become a god. Their headquarters is the Great Foundry, symbolizing their belief that the multiverse constantly forges and refines all beings. Shares many parallels with Hindu, Buddhism, and most sects of Mormonism. However, the ultimate goal is not Nirvana but apotheosis.

“We believe that the universe is a giant testing ground, a place where we prove ourselves through a series of tests. These tests continue throughout your life, throughout your many lives. Each step in each day may well be a test for you, and your reward in the next life depends on how well you learn your lessons in this life. We believe that a body learns from experience… and that experience extends through your lives, making you into something greater than just a single life.” ~ Keldor, godsmen leader

Bleak Cabal ~ “Bleakers” or “Madmen” deny that any belief system has any merit; as they see it, the universe has physical rules, but no metaphysical or philosophical ones, therefore any meaning in life must come from within. Their headquarters is the insane asylum of Sigil, called the Gatehouse. They are derived from real-life existentialists and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Doomguard ~ The “Sinkers” believe in the sanctity and inevitability of entropy, particularly the inevitable destruction of all things. The core of their belief is that everything ends. Their headquarters is Sigil’s Armory, where they forge weapons as tools of destruction.

Dustmen ~ Also known as “the Dead”, they believe that both life and death are false states of existence, that there is a state of True Death which can only be accomplished by denying one’s emotions and physical wants and needs (a conception similar to eternal oblivion, but also conceivably to Nirvana). Their headquarters is the Mortuary, where Sigil’s dead are interred or cremated. Their philosophy is closely related to that of Arthur Schopenhauer, along with some shared similarities with Buddhism, Stoicism and acosmism.

“Kill your passions. Strip yourself of the need for sensation. When you are truly cleansed, then the cycle of rebirth will end, and you will achieve peace.” ~ Dhall, dustmen scribe

Fated ~ “Takers” or “The Heartless” believe that those with power and ability have the right to own what they control and to take what they can from those who are unable to keep it, and that it is their right to exploit any situation to their advantage, regardless of how it affects anyone else (a position akin to “might makes right”). Their headquarters is the Hall of Records, where they serve as the tax collectors of Sigil. They are derived from real-life Social Darwinists and the philosophies of Max Stirner and Ayn Rand.

Fraternity of Order ~ These “Guvners” believe that knowledge is power; they learn and exploit both the natural laws of the universe and the laws of society. Their headquarters is the City Court, where they serve as judges and legal advocates. They recall the Sophists of Classical Athens.

Free League ~ As “Indeps”, they reject the other factions and their bureaucratic, hierarchical dogmatism and do not consider themselves a faction at all. For this reason, they don’t have a factol or an official headquarters, though Sigil’s Great Bazaar serves as an unofficial one. They believe in individual freedom as the highest good and are analogous to libertarians.

Harmonium ~ “Hardheads” believe that peace and stability can only be established under one rule — theirs. The planar faction known as the Harmonium is actually just a small part of a much larger political entity which rules over the entirety of the Prime Material world of Ortho. In Sigil, they serve as the city’s police force, and their headquarters is the City Barracks. They are related to present day authoritarianism, particularly religious evangelicalism and fundamentalism. They take offense to the term “Hardhead”.

Mercykillers ~ “The Red Death” believe in justice and retribution at the expense of all else. Their name does not come from “killing out of mercy,” but rather “killing mercy.” Their credo that mercy is for the weak, and the merciful should be punished. Their headquarters is Sigil’s Prison, where they carry out the sentences of convicted criminals.

Revolutionary League ~ “Anarchists” who believe that social order and man-made laws are inherently corrupt and must be destroyed — though none of their members can agree on what, if anything, should replace them. Like the Indeps, they have no headquarters and gather in many safe houses and secret meeting places.

“We are a secret society, cells of members who work alone or through directives passed through the network of informants and leaders-who-remain-hidden. Our goal is to tear down the power structure, to free people from the lies of politicians and powers, to let all lead their own lives of their own volition. We work in secrecy – worked in secrecy – and changed our routines constantly to avoid infiltration. My time was decades ago, and so all the secrets I knew are no longer valid, except for the faces I can remember – and even those must have been changed by now…” ~ a talking skull on the wall, former anarchist

Sign of One ~ “Signers” believe that everyone is the center of their own reality and that reality can be reshaped by the power of imagination. Their headquarters is the Hall of Speakers, which houses Sigil’s legislature. Some of them are solipsists, though most are not so extreme.

Society of Sensation ~ Sensates believe that accumulating experiential knowledge through the senses is the only way to achieve enlightenment. Their headquarters is the Civic Festhall, which features an endless series of entertainments and a library of magically stored experiences. They are reminiscent of ancient Epicurianism (if not hedonism more generally), as well as the more modern empiricism.

“This brothel is intended to slate the lusts of even the hardened intellectual. It is designed to stimulate the mind, to heighten one’s awareness of themselves and others, to create new ways of “experiencing” another person. It is for those who seek something more than the shallow physical pleasures that fill the Hive and Lower Wards.” ~ Fall-From-Grace, succubus sensate and purveyor of the “Brothel for Slaking Intellectual Lusts

Transcendent Order ~ The Cipher believe that by tapping into the ‘cadence’ of the planes and acting through pure instinct they can achieve a higher state of being. Their headquarters is the Great Gymnasium, where members can train to improve their bodies and minds. Their philosophy could be considered similar to Taoism and Zen Buddhism.

Xaositects ~ “Chaosmen” who believe that the only truth is revealed in chaos. The Xaositects have been quite accurately described as being “totally off their rockers, every one of ‘em.” Their headquarters is the Hive, the most disorganized part of the Sigil ward of the same name. Compare with real life discordianism.

“Chaosmen, a faction they says. What they ARE is an addled bunch that runs wild through the Hive and does whatevers they please! We never did no harm to them! Then they lope in like dogs and tear apart anything within their reach.”


Needless to say, looking from within the lore or outside of it, none of these factions / philosophies / ideologies — are complete, or ‘right’, or without their fatal flaws. But they are thought-provoking. Each is convicted in its course; not unlike any given religion, their power is drawn from the conviction of their commune. Each is an avenue of sincerest exploration into the universe, an examination of civilization and consciousness and of mortality.

You can see these beliefs as a response to the struggles of life, providing answers regarding self-governance, pathways to self-actualization, and resolutions as to the possibility for an afterlife. These beliefs both motivate action and give structure to the communities that they partake in ~ creating companionships, altering lives, founding a future, with a history and a next logical step.

“All mortal psyches blend elements of the demonic and the sublime.”
~ one of the Godsmen in Sigil

The factions, much like the art of philosophy itself, do not just provide an adaptable schema to dictate courses of action in particular circumstances to win gains, power, favor to their cause — but also, importantly, they give a why behind such action.

For example, with the premise that one is *being oppressed* ~ the Godsmen of Sigil would likely see such an obstacle as the latest to be overcome as a boon of potential personal progress in ability and position, while the Revolutionary League would seek to revolve the current power structure for the good of all the other’s oppressed, while the Dustmen would see such oppression as an illusion, just another toxic phantom within a life that is already suffused with falseness.

Such thinking resembles PT’s alignment shifting mechanics as you interact among the many NPCs of Sigil with nearly complete ethical freedom. You can talk with many, ignore them, help some, kill others. As you make your responses and take your actions, your alignment changes from True Neutral to elsewhere along the axes. In the same vein as the faction’s teleological formations, here it is not just what you do, but why you do it that makes you who you are.


“Alignment is a descriptor of one’s beliefs, and how one act upon those beliefs. At their core, all creatures predominately behave in one of three ways: with good in their heart, with evil in their heart, or indifference – or neutrality – in their heart. They predominately express each of these core behaviors in one of three different ways: in an ordered manner, in a chaotic manner, or in an indifferent, neutral manner. Thus, there are nine core alignments that one is capable of.”

Planescape: Torment’s moral mechanics ~ (on my playthrough I ended up as Neutral Good)

  • Telling the truth = Lawful
  • Lying = Chaotic
  • Helping people = Good
  • Helping people in return for reward = Evil


“If there is anything I have *hated* about you, it is your countless questions – your desperate fumbling for meaning and answers.” ~ The Nameless One’s *practical* incarnation
“I… no longer wish to live like this…” ~ The Nameless One’s *paranoid* incarnation
“I found that changing my nature was not enough. I needed more time, and I needed more life…” ~ The Nameless One’s *good* incarnation

From my reading of the PT’s unpredictable plot’s weave, and The Nameless One’s fascinating journey through it, the disparity and variety of the factions within Sigil mirror the many-faced truths of his past live(s). As you come to discover the many different masks, and names, that The Nameless One, your protagonist (whether you are currently playing him good, evil, lawful, chaotic, somewhere in between), has worn over his many years of existence across the planes — all along lying, cheating, fighting, killing, loving, helping, scheming, discovering, betraying, etc. throughout — you inch closer to potential answers regarding that original question:

“What can change the nature of a man?”

  • Truth: “I don’t know.”
  • Truth: “Love.”
  • Truth: “Hatred.”
  • Truth: “Power.”
  • Truth: “Greed.”
  • Truth: “Betrayal.”
  • Truth: “Death.”
  • Truth: “Regret.”

^ When explicitly asked this question midway through the game by the powerful witch, Ravel Puzzlewell, who you find out originally gifted/cursed The Nameless One with immortality, these are the potential answers you may provide to her. At that moment in the game, faced with potential violence from this powerful creature at any moment, whose intentions you have not yet been able to fully unravel, the answer you are preparing to give feels gravely important. In the conversation mechanics of the game, the “Truth:” part is placed before any opinion response that you are role-playing for your character to be just that — truthful, as oppose to a “Lie:”

I remember that I answered “Power” here, moreso because it is my own belief, and it mixes in anyway with many of the other responses. However, given The Nameless One’s path up to then, and his amnesia only partially cured with the gaps of his life semi-filled, his answer should probably be “I don’t know.”

The witch Ravel Puzzlewell
“Immortality was *your* solution and your challenge to me…” ~ Ravel to The Nameless One

And I think this is at the core of Planescape: Torment’s whole paradoxical thesis ~ you cannot truly know about life, death, mortality, immortality, the concept of *change* itself, let alone ‘what can change the nature of a man?’ until you have lived life, until you have died (emotionally, spiritually, or physically), until you have lived and died and experienced the torment of living and dying and changed as a result. {Read: “Ego death“}

Thusly, the only way to fully understand life and its painful complexities and necessary contradictions is to live it. The immortal Nameless One, with all his memories intact by the end of the game ~ including all the scars upon his body, all his past sufferings and torments at the hand of his own hubris alongside fate ~ is the one uniquely positioned to answer such a question as this truthfully. All of the above answers are correct, at one time or another.

The Nameless One, with all his past iterations, good and evil, paranoid and practical and everything else, are just like the different factions of Planescape’s principal city — distinctive, extremified methodologies tasked by the user with dealing somehow with the suffering of life. They are primarily philosophies of coping; each is a hope to ultimately provide an ameliorating answer to the necessary pain of existence. The Nameless One’s myriad lives are just the same, ways of coping with his mortality stolen away, now burdened with infinite time to solve the mystery of himself, an endless stream of increasing meaningless bouts of existence before him, questions asked ad infinitum, potentially without their answers…

As he opens his mouth, you get that feeling of eternity again – inside his mouth, you see no tongue, no teeth. It’s almost as if this man were a shell surrounding an illimitable expanse. “I have spoken with you before, and always you forget. Your endless quest to discover yourself ends always in your amnesia. You draw close to the truth and recoil. Let us hope that you have the strength to endure your existence.”

Link ~ The History of The Nameless One in Planescape: Torment


Such a predicament resembles Alan Watts’ thought experiment of the theoretical omnipotent being’s eventual desperate dream of something new, chaotic, unexpected. If you were immortal — as in, you could die but kept coming back to live any way you wanted — at what point would the resolved purpose to your existence turn? Turn from one style of living — one purpose or path or convicted moral course (lawful/chaotic x good/evil) — to another

Whether you started with trying to be good or successful or strong, eventually after so many lives lived in such ways, you would flip things on their heads and start doing things counter to such notions — being wicked, or chaotic, or utterly random in your actions — if only to make things interesting.

With infinite time and infinite potential lives, it stands to reason that eventually making life intriguing and novel — making yourself see and do and experience things you never have before in all your previous iterations, if only unconsciously (without all the memories carried forward) — would come to supersede anything else.

“Time is not your enemy. Forever is.”
~ Fall-From-Grace, the reformed succubus, to The Nameless One, at the end.

The Nameless One’s past sins, and his long quest to gather enough time to rectify them, are only unexpected or rash within our normalized framework of a singular, mortal existence. From his unified, long-game perspective (the one the game delivers to you in its magnificent ending) all that came before suddenly makes sense. Endless time makes for endless possibilities, and the myriad methods of coping necessarily adopted in the form of philosophies learned, factions joined, communities formed … as well as sins, betrayals and regrets gathered along the way.

The Nameless One’s party that you gather throughout your journey, all quite well-known to past versions of him, represent their own tormented, though singular and well-remembered, paths:

  • The Nameless One — the latest iteration, the blank slate questioner, the one who more than anything else just wants to *know*
  • Morte — ironic jester, the floating skull who lies and likes to have fun
  • Dak’kon — warrior of quiet discipline, the Githzerai battle-mage who quests for self-actualization within a byzantine religion from an absentee prophet-leader
  • Annah — mischievous lady of action, an independent and self-reliant thief with no patience for fools or enemies
  • Fall-From-Grace — the one who changed (born a devil, became an angel), a succubus Sensate who lusts for goodness and intellectual pursuit in place of her previously inborn baser desires
  • Ignus — the one in literal constant physical suffering, a psychopathic mage whose life of crime and pyromania led him to the punishment of becoming a living conduit to the Elemental Plane of Fire…
  • Nordom — a mechanical being known as ‘modron,’ formerly part of a hive-mind whose newfound individuality confuses and excites him
  • Vhailor — an unwavering seeker of justice, a restless undead spirit who exists to serve Justice, not the concept but the God as he believes it to be
Morte, the talking, biting, taunting skull
“When a mind does not *know* itself, it is flawed. When a mind is flawed, the man is flawed. When a man is flawed, that which he touches is flawed… It is said that what a flawed man sees, his hands make broken.” ~ Dak’kon, the gith with a metaphysical sword
Fall-From-Grace’s character sheet


In the end, The Nameless One shares his fate with each of them, who have integral ties to his past and present — and the player learns as much from them as the many prongs of the quest they undertake together.

“What Ravel said, in the maze – she said you draw people who suffer to you, like a lodestone.” Morte shakes his head, “Maybe it’s because *you’ve* been suffering all this time. Maybe when you end up settling things … maybe *we’ll* know a bit of peace, too. Maybe.” ~ Morte, at the end, to The Nameless One

So, *What can change the nature of a man?*

Anything and everything. But such a question answered with such words does not really matter ~ (just as it does not end up mattering within that in-game conversation with the witch). The Nameless One’s life of lives proves that only by living out such questions can they be answered with anything close to legitimacy.

To me, more than anything else, Planescape: Torment’s greatest achievement as a work of weird and artistic fiction is in the expansion of one’s conscious thinking on such themes as life, death and mortality, and what they mean to us tormented souls that are tasked with considering them without end, until the end. ~

“If there is anything I have learned in my travels across the Planes, it is that many things may change the nature of a man. Whether regret, or love, or revenge or fear — whatever you believe can change the nature of a man, can. I’ve seen belief move cities, make men stave off death, and turn an evil hag’s heart half-circle. This entire Fortress has been constructed from belief. Belief damned a woman, whose heart clung to the hope that another loved her when he did not. Once, it made a man seek immortality and achieve it. And it has made a posturing spirit think it is something more than a part of me.”
~ The Nameless One

“A man’s mortality is a compass that points his way in life. If it may be grasped like an object, much can be learned about the nature of the man it was torn from…” ~ Trias
IT IS MY FORTRESS. IT IS MY HOME. / “And what a home it is, too. Mortared from my regrets, with nothing but the shades of those we’ve murdered filling its halls, abandoned relics of the past languishing beneath dust, and the life-draining energies of the Negative Material Plane to feast the eyes on. There are words for places like that – they’re called “prisons.” ~ The Transcendent One and The Nameless One
“Before you seek to guard others from your feelings, know this – love is powerful, so powerful that it found its way into Ravel’s twisted black heart and its touch caused her to value another more than herself. Do you not know the *strength* required to change a heart such as Ravel’s? For all the pain it may have caused, I think there is something to be said for the good it has caused.” ~ Fall-From-Grace to The Nameless One