I have always been a fan of Planescape (mild understantement there) and all of the factions take up portions of space in my head. For the unfamiliar, each faction corresponds to a philosophy of how the universe works that might or might not be true. The philosophies themselves are interesting, but they become more interesting in the way they interface with the practical concerns of the actual organization, specifically in regards to their role in the city of Sigil. Sometimes it falls flat – The Doomguard and the Xaositects have never really worked for me because their philosophies (Yay Entropy! and FIshmalks forever!, respectively) are hard to square with them keeping their stuff together enough to actually do things.
I blame the writing a bit. The Bleak Cabal (who think the world is a meaningless pile of crap) could easily fall into that trap, but in the book that dug into the factions in detail, it really unpacked the fact that beause they have such a bleak view, that *drives* them to charitable works. The world is terrible, so it is on us to make it a little less terrible.
I bring this up because the faction I think about most has bubbled to the top of my head again. They are not my favorite faction, nor the one I’m drawn to, but they may be the one I find most *interesting*, and they are The Harmonium.
Some Planescape fans might find this weird. The Harmonium (AKA the Hardheads) are presented as the bully boys of the Planescape setting. They come across as borderline facists who are all about thumping people over the head for any kind of inappropriateness anddragging them off in irons. They make for the kind of characters that players really love to hate.
But what intrigues me about them is that while they are nominally the face of authoritarianism (as well as a number of other unpleasant isms), that is only a consequence of the really interesting idea behind them. Taking from between the lines and at the edges of the Harmonium, the picture is kind fo fascinating. Faced with the challenge of a universe that may or may not have any rules, what rules should you follow? In the absence of clear guidance, can you take a swing at the best rules?
And that’s the real heart of the Harmonium’s ideology – a pragmatism that says it is better to have a set of rules than no set at all. This set may not be perfect, and it needs to grow and evolve, but the point is to *have* those rules. And the more people who follow those rules, the better off *everyone* will be.
It’s easy to see where this goes wrong. Rules can grow and evolve, but what keeps them from overgrowing, or growing in unhealthy directions? What happens when things change? And what happens when someone decides that some folks need to follow the rules for their own good?
And that idea of goodness is important. You can assume the best of intentions and still have all of these things go wrong. But from the inside, those problems may not be visible, or may be attributed to problems outside the rules. Even when a problem gets recognized, it can be easily dismissed as a anomaly – something that needs to be fixed, certainly, but no big deal when compared to all the good that the rules do.
In D&D terms, Harmonium members tend to Lawful, but its an umbrella that equally easily handles Good, Evil and everything in between. And there is no contradiction to a LN or LE hardhead who is working for the greater good. There are always lawyers and monsters to be found.
But you need not even go so far. For many, there is an immense relief in having rules to follow, and a number of non-admirable human tendencies come out in those most willing to accept rules without question. And that, in turn, leads is to the cartoonish hardhead who is so well known on Sigil. She is uninterested in the philosophy of the rules because the rules have provided her clarity and guidance, and in her real life of stone and bread, that is what really matters. She doesn’t understand why peopel are so *dumb* and *self-harming* as to follow their decadent, self-destructive paths, but she’ll do what she can to save them, no matter how much they hate her.
Because she is a hero. At least according to the rules.