Today I’ll be outlining a concept that recently struck me, a mixture of Wild/Weird West and the old TSR setting Planescape. The shorthand of it is that the planes – particularly the Elemental Planes – have been connected by train networks, and goods are moved along these train lines. PCs might well come into this setting as would-be train robbers.
For those unfamiliar with it, Planescape was a 2nd Edition AD&D campaign setting, largely built off the question of “What if low-level PCs got to go to the planes? What would they find and do?” It built a fascinating cosmology that implied it was the structure that linked all the other TSR-era campaigns into a unified multiverse. It failed at this in some ways, where the campaign settings were a bit too esoteric and strange to be meshed with the Great Wheel cosmology, but overall it worked.
Planescape also brought a punk-ish vibe with it, and it mixed slang and cant into the writing in a way that brought the sourcebooks alive in a way that I didn’t see again until Eclipse Phase came to my attention. As such, it felt more alive than most RPG settings ever do, with fast-talking angels and looming pit fiends who liked to sit down for a cup of tea every afternoon. As such, it’s been one of my favorite settings, and it’s always bothered me that it quietly sank into relative obscurity when Wizards of the Coast bought out TSR.
However, recently it wandered back into my thoughts – I blame Darcy Ross, a fellow Planescape fan and a geek of many colors – and crossed with a question of what might happen in such a setting if technology pushed along in tandem with magic and society; what if the planar multiverse had entered the age of steam and railway as a whole? Efreeti nobles paying to have a massive aquarium of essential water (which won’t boil or evaporate) to their palace on the plane of fire, complete with fish, plants, and weirder creatures; crystalline fire being shipped to the deep mines of the dwarves on the plane of earth as fuel for their furnaces, hotter than any kind of coal could burn; custom-carved blocks of exotic stone shipped to a djinn on the plane of air to build a wildly colorful palace on a glacier imported a trainload at a time from the plane of water.
And then you have what comes along with the early days of rail: train robbers. PCs might be such outlaws, aiming to steal the wildly valuable materials of one plane to sell off on the black market, or they might be guards or law enforcement seeking to keep the trains safe. Discard the full structure of Planescape, here; each railway passes through a distinct interface between the planes, and these form demi-elemental pocket planes in their own right, depending on which elements are interlocked and how they settle into balance. For example, the boom town of Scorched Oasis, where tracks from Fire, Earth, and Water all meet, built beneath eternally rainy skies that weep down across an obsidian island thrust up from a sea of molten rock, could easily be home to an enterprising band of mercenary enforcers who can be hired to guard – or rob – the trains that pass through to those planes.
Or perhaps the PCs are those who travel the tracks, hopping trains at the waystations as they look for opportunities for fame and fortune. This week they hit up a bounty board in the gloomy caverns of a waystation between Earth and Water, hopping off the tracks to chase an outlaw into the twisting depths of Earth; next week finds them chasing stories of a treasure in Fire, buried among solidified flames by a demon thief who was hung with blessed rope before spilling the secret of where their loot was hidden.
And this is just with the elemental planes, not even including the other inner planes (such as positive and negative), the prime material plane, or the outer planes where the gods and the spirits of the dead dwell. There might be literal ghost trains hauling the dead through the Astral, needing protection to fend off those who would poach the spirits before they can reach their final destination; infernal engines wrought of abyssal iron ferrying the twisted “ore” of the Abyss to be smelted in the forges of Fire; inevitables deputizing unwitting adventurers to enforce the law across the wild planes; and so much more besides.
Not bad for something that began as wondering about train robbers trying to hijack a transplanar express, really.
Who knows? Maybe it’ll get developed into an adventure, or more.