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What's a Sect?
In Brief
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The Sects

Clueless? Start Here!

Copyright 1998 by Jon Winter
Thanks to Randir, Thomas Magann and the Planes of Chaos Boxed Set

What's so great about Sects anyway?

Ha ha, how many more lame puns can I make? ;-) Sorry. That was the last one, I promise...

So, you want to know about sects? In case you haven't seen 'em, here's a couple of relevant quotes from TSR's fabulous Planes of Chaos boxed set, that say it as well as any blood with the dark of it could:

From the Book of Chaos [Planes of Chaos Boxed set]:

"Surprising as many Cagers might find it, not everybody on the Great Ring ascribes to one of their factions. For one thing, there are a lot of backwood communities that've never even heard of Sigil. And then there are those folk who have heard of Sigil, but figure it's just some pretentious madhouse that doesn't hold much significance to their lives. These folk have their own irons in the fire, which means they have their own way of looking at things.

"Sometimes those distinctive ways of looking at things are held in common by enough people that they rival a faction in significance, at least locally. That world view is referred to as a sect. To put it more simply, while factions are groups centred in Sigil with a specific world view, sects are those without a recognised seat in Sigil."

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From the Planes of Chaos Travelogue:

"Planar Politics. If Sigil is, as some claim, the heart of the planes, faction politics is the lifeblood pumping through the heart. And Sigil's factions reach outward to the rest of the planes as well, affecting much of what transpires there.

"However, not everyone on the planes gives a fig about Sigil's factions. The most obvious example is the denizens of the prime worlds, who are as clueless about the factions as they are about other planes in general. But even on the other planes, a lot of souls are either ignorant of the factions or disdainful of them. In fact, in some places, local philosophies and concerns outshine Sigil's factions in importance. Within the githzerai strongholds in Limbo, for instance, the politics of terrain shaping is extremely important. And from Ysgard there has spread a philosophical outlook whose adherents are known as the Ring-givers. These and other examples are detailed [in the Travelogue], with the planes on which they're most commonly found.

"Among Cagers, it's common practice to refer to such groups as 'sects', so as not to confuse them with the factions who run the various aspects of Sigil. Now, that may seem a pretty pretentious attitude for Cagers to take, but considering how snobbish and self-absorbed they can be, it's a wonder they deign to recognise outlying groups at all."

Basic definition of a Sect

A group of people who share a particular world view, who are not represented in Sigil. Factions on the other hand are a group of people who share a similar world view and are represented in Sigil.

Most sects do not serve a particular purpose

The Anarch's Guild are one of the exceptions, (however, their purpose is localised to Limbo see Planes of Chaos). Factions on the other hand have a very specific purpose, in that each one operates an maintains an aspect of Sigil's civil government, in addition to their own scheming.

Sects are in a sense hereditary, they are local

Sects are usually limited to a small area (relative to the planes) and are always "local" in nature. The Mathematicians are found primarily on Mechanus, and generally are only found wandering in other planes. However, you are just as likely to find a Guvner native to Baator as you are one in Elysium.

This also changes who Sects "recruit". Sects tend not to be highly evangelistic, unlike Factions which are in Sigil largely for that purpose.

Sects do not always have a philosophy they are promoting...

If you look at the Sects found in PSMCII you will notice that they do not have the same philosophical bent as the Factions do.
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With these sage words still lingering in our memories, let us consider some of the points which have been raised:
  • Sects are groups of people and things outside of the Cage that share lifestyles. Factions are institutions, establishments, and in a few cases "disestablishments" that promote a way of living.
  • Because the Sects don't have an official presence in Sigil, they have much less of an impact on what the planes think. Factions pervade the society of the planes, except where folks decide they've got their own better ideas, and set up local sects.
  • Of course, on infinite planes, "local" takes on a whole new meaning. It could be one plane, a part of a plane, or several; it depends on all sorts of factors. But basically, while there might be individuals espousing their sect's beliefs in Sigil, the sect itself isn't officially represented either on Sigil's Council (which not all the factions are either) or with it's own HQ in the Cage.

    The Planes of Chaos quotes above give the impression that it isn't just where the sects aren't based that defines what they are, it's the fact that they're more relevant locally to the people who believe in 'em. The sects are keyed to more specific attitudes than the factions, almost. Many of 'em have tighter alignment restrictions, and they're not so easily adaptable to other places in the planes.

    The Anarchs for example don't have much call outside of Limbo, and the Converts can't be lawful. Lawful and evil characters tend to shy away from the Ring-Givers as they ain't the generous sort. Ragers must be chaotic, Merkhants aren't ever good, Incantifers are usually evil or at least neutral. Chaotics aren't allowed in the Order of the Planes-Militant (and evil berks can't usually hack it), and Mathematicians must not only be lawful, but also have an intelligence of 17 or more! Wylders can't be evil or lawful, and the Guardians must be good. And there's plenty more examples...

    Almost all of the published sects have alignment restrictions. Members might be found anywhere, but they tend to gravitate towards the plane that spawned their sect, as that's where their belief fits in best.

    Compare this with the factions: Neither Bleakers nor Anarchists may be lawful, the Fated can't be lawful good, Guvners, Harmonium and Mercykillers must be lawful, lawful good or lawful neutral characters 'might find being a Signer difficult', Ciphers must be neutral, and Xaositects obviously are chaotic.

    That's just over half the factions (if you count the Signers). Maybe some of the factions grew up on the Great Ring and then made the jump to Sigil, or maybe they just started off in the Cage. Probably some of both.

    The factions are more all-embracing than the sects. More cosmopolitan, if you like. They're based at the centre of the Outer Planes in Sigil, where all beliefs clash, and they generally appeal to more folks than the sects.

    Of course, there are now only 15 factions. The Lady of Pain sorted that out long ago. Nobody really knows whether she'd take offence if a sect set itself up in Sigil as a proper faction.

The Role of Factions and Sects

With the exception of the Indeps and Anarchists, all the factions play a part in the day-to-day running of Sigil. The Fated take the taxes, the Guvners run the law courts etc etc. The sects have philosophical goals, sure, just like the factions, but they don't have a hand in the running of either Sigil or any other non-sect activity (except the Anarchs as was stated earlier).

Some wise philosopher once said: "Factions are bent on conquering the multiverse, sects are more concerned with living in it."

Now, that's elegant, but the Ring-Givers might disagree. Maybe that's how a sect starts off, but when it grows big enough, taking on the multiverse gets higher on its 'to do' list. The Guardians want to put all the evil creatures into the dead-book, for a start. Pretty grand thinking.

Why are the Factions in Sigil? For health reasons? 'Cause they like smog? No, because from Sigil they can spread their ideology to the greatest number of people. And if enough people all think the same way, then they take over the multiverse.

Sects on the other hand, are mostly local in nature and deal with an aspect of a particular plane. Verdant Guild deals with ecology and nature, primarily in the Beastlands.

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Could the factions also have come to Sigil as it's the place that best suits their cosmopolitan stance on morals? After all, it's easier to pick up recruits in the Cage than it would be to traipse round the Great Ring preaching. Sects tend to want to find recruits who share their morals and ethics, and they'd naturally look first to the planars on the Great Ring. After all, it's easier to change the way someone looks at the world in terms of entropy, justice, anarchy and death than it is to change their morals (there's no XP penalty for thinking you're the centre of the multiverse, unlike there is for changing alignment, right?)

Of course, this is just a rough guide. Sects can be found all over the place, and some faction members never leave one plane. But on average, the factions are not only located in Sigil, but their members're also more widely dispersed than sects as their world views rely less on morals and ethics and more on abstract ideas.

Entropy isn't lawful or chaotic, it just is. Anyone can believe in it, no matter if they're good as a guardinal or bad as a balor. Defending Mount Celestia from evil and corruption, however, takes a special kind of blood.

There's a difference in the lack of sects' headquarters in Sigil, the function they play in the belief of the planes as well as Sigil's government (most sects are local whereas the factions are widespread and in Sigil) and the necessity for specific ethical and moral beliefs in more sects than factions.

Or mybe the factions are simply sects who've got the Lady of Pain's seal of approval...

Consult the Mimir Again

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