Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Planescape Papers: Crossing the Rubikon Pt 1

As I said in my previous post, I'm going to spend an indeterminate amount of time on this blog blathering on about Planescape: Torment, the Interplay game from 1999 that I've devoted a disproportionate amount of my life to. I think I'm going to limit posts to 500ish words, just to be mindful of the labor involved. Last time, I talked about what made it so different from other CRPGs at the time, that it focused on story and dialogue and minimized combat. So, naturally, a perfect place to take the discussion is a section that does the opposite. Join me at the Rubikon, ladies, gentlemen, and aspiring thief/fighter dual classes, after the break.

The main reason I'm writing about the Rubikon today is that it's where I'm currently stuck at in the game. Here's the context:
I picked up an item called a Modron's Cube at a general shop run by a demon woman. (The same woman, incidentally, that you can talk to in order to sell your party members into slavery, if you're following a quest given to you by a particularly nasty book.) And the first thing of note is that it's not really a cube, or not just a cube: rather, it's an action figure robot thing, with wings, arms, and legs sprouting from the cube. Immediately, it's presented in a somewhat comical matter. Check out the description:
It's a toy. More than a toy--as soon as you describe something as having "at least eighteen points of articulation," you're talking not about toys, but action figures. And when you place an action figure in a fantasy world, you're entering into the realm of satire.  The humor continues when you do what comes naturally when faced with a toy--ie., you choose to play with it. When you choose to talk to the item, here's what happens:

And it's more than just a moment of your PC acting childishly--playing with the toy moves your character alignment away from lawful towards chaotic. And if there's a message in the Rubikon, that's it; order is a little silly, and chaos is a little more play.  (It's also worth noting that this little bit is an example of the PC using his imagination, a dangerous proposition, given the way belief works in Sigil. What's Sigil? Uh, I'll get there.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Modron cube is just a toy until you take it to some actual Modrons who have gathered at the Brothel of Slating Intellectual Lusts (I'll get to that), there to observe one of its students/prostitutes (Oh, we'll get to student/prostitute thing, believe me). They inform you that it's actually a gate key to a pocket dimension. And if you perform the actions listed in option 1 above, it'll activate. They don't actually give you the options, though--you have to find it through brute force. In this way, the game forces you to interact with Modrons before you can enter the cube. Consequently, the conversation serves as an introduction to Modrons, and, by extension, the Rubikon. Put simply, they're the game's equivalent of robots; they come from a Plane (read: section of the multiverse) called Mechanus, where everything follows from programming and logic. And that logic is demonstrated when you talk to them. They refuse to reflect on anything that doesn't apply to their immediate surroundings, they demand that you give them your name--or label--before they'll respond to, and, as it turns out, they don't even know why they're here. They have orders to observe Dolora, and their function is to follow orders. It's also significant that as soon as you try to talk to them, Morte, the disembodied floating skull  who is also your first recruitable teammate (we'll get there), warns you not to talk to them at all. He then proceeds to explain just what they are, for the slow players who aren't inclined to figure out from the speech. Again and again, before you enter Rubikon, the developers make sure and doubly sure you get the point: Modrons = order. And order has its problems. (It's also worth  noting that, by this point, the player has gone through the game's epitome of unstructured chaos, the Tenement of Thugs (we'll get there), which is *also* an attack-heavy area. Implicit message: either extreme is bad.)

So, to recap, the game carefully eases you into how to interpret Rubikon before you ever get there.  Kind of like I just did in this post. We'll get there. I promise.

Later Days.

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