Written by Jeremy Morgan, tabletop games editor, gamer, and software developer.
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Planescape 4E - Hacking the Planes with Cortex+ Distinctions

1 December 2011

So last time I talked about belief and the planes. I wanted to lay some groundwork before diving into these posts. Let me be clear that I am not entirely sure what will come of this. This might peter out in one more post. This might turn into a wonderful, long run of posts on the topic. We’ll have to see.

Before I get to concept of stress, I had a thought about using Distinctions from Cortex+ for the planes. It will be easier to use an example plane than to talk in generalities, so let’s pick one that lends itself well to this sort of thing. How about Carceri?

Welcome to Prison

Carceri is the prison plane (you might recognize it better as its alias, Tarterus). Six layers are arranged in concentric shells (like matryoshka dolls). The alignment of choice here ranges from neutral evil to chaotic evil, and exiles and other outcasts call this plane home. The Red Prison is the native home of the gehreleths, strange treacherous creatures raised from those who die here.

Carceri’s Aspects

So this plane is fairly simple to create aspects for. We could word things several ways, but for point of discussion, let’s assume there are the following:

  • Treachery is the path to power.
  • Power is the only goal worth pursuing.
  • Lies are truth.

How’s that for conflict instigation?


I know I said I was going to cover this in another post, but let’s go ahead and take a crack at it, shall we? Let’s take an example party.

  • Thief (of the Honor Among Thieves variety)
  • Paladin
  • Mage (primarily concerned with arcane knowledge)
  • Cleric (of some flavor of good deity)

Now, let’s see what stresses we can cause in Carceri. The paladin and the cleric are going to be uncomfortable here. The thief will likely be okay some of the time and none too happy other times. The mage may be indifferent to all of it.

So, the paladin and the cleric will gain the suspicious or angry stress, for example. If they’re normally calm and reasonable, suspicious makes the most sense. If they’re emotional, go for anger. The thief could gain the suspicious or overconfident stress, depending on whether they thought they could “game the system” or just wanted to be careful. The mage might gain distracted stress, because they’re not paying enough attention.


So I’ve think we’ve made an interesting start here. We still need to translate those stresses into mechanics, but I think we’ve got an interesting system working here. Leave a comment or ask me a question below. You can fire off to a tweet to me, too.


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