Wordless Wednesday: Pale
Planescape: Torment is a PC role playing game based on the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) tabletop rules. It came out in 1999, and it is played from an isometric (fancy for “top-down”) view. It is a point-and-click turn-based game set in a weird fantasy universe. I am writing a “Let’s Play” style series about Planescape: Torment from beginning to end.
I learned about it from Jeremy about ten years ago, when we found out we both liked the Baldur’s Gate series of PC games. I know Baldur’s Gate very well, but I’ve never played more than a few hours of Torment. So why not write about Baldur’s Gate?
Because there’s less room for surprise and exploration; because Jeremy once lent me his ancient, battered cd before digital downloads became common, which is a hell of a recommendation; and because of what Planescape: Torment is about.
It is about an immortal with amnesia and his best friend, a floating, talking skull. They have strange encounters with alien species, and the game encourages talking, exploration, and moral choices over fighting. It’s Doctor Who if Edward James Olmos played the Doctor. Which is how I’ll play the game as well, doing my best to make good moral decisions (tempered by a roleplayer’s greed) and choosing to help rather than to harm.
The game is available at gog.com (Good Old Games) for a few bucks, and there are several mods available for free. I’m using some of them to add missing content and to keep the game from looking its age:
Although it’s based on AD&D, Planescape: Torment is a weird game, so I’m going to add some explanation of how it’s played, what certain terms mean, and how I made my character. Thankfully, unlike Baldur’s Gate, the character creation system is simple and easy to understand.
First, here’s my guy:
You could grate a mountain on that mug. Surrounding him are his stats: Strength, Wisdom, Constitution, Charisma, Dexterity, and Intelligence. These are increased by using Character Points (in the lower left) and, depending on what I choose to improve, effect the Armor Class (AC – how hard Nameless is to hit) and Hit Points (HP – how many hits he can take).
I’ll let the manual explain the individual stats, because I miss the times when games came with manuals that added to the story or the world.
“There are six primary stats that determine what kind of person the Nameless One is – smart or stupid, strong or weak, agile or clumsy. I have 21 character points to increase them. Though some control his mental faculties, they do not affect his morality or alignment.
Okay, but how do I know what to pick? The obvious solution is to be a beefy strongman, since Nameless always starts as a level 3 Fighter, but only a level 1 Mage and Thief. He also can’t use his Mage or Thief abilities until he finds a teacher. But the manual has a bit more to say about this world and how we can best get along in it.
CHARACTER AND GAMEPLAY
Nameless is not a typical role playing game hero. The manual has something to say as well:
“In Torment, you take on the role of a scarred, amnesiac immortal in search of his identity… death serves to advance the plot and is even a tool for solving seemingly impossible problems… your actions throughout the game define your character’s development and even have the power to shape the world around you. You will find yourself gaining skills, new classes, and special abilities depending on your style of play… gathering memories is just as important as gaining experience, talking to the dead can yield more than talking to the living, and the most dangerous of enemies may be the only ones you can trust.”
Okay, that clears things right up. Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, in that order, seem to be the most important stats. I need them to solve the puzzle of Nameless’ identity and purpose, and to get more people on my side and helping me. I also want Constitution since I’m otherwise a weakling.
All the actual mechanics of the game – from dice rolls to saving throws – occur off-screen, so I mostly don’t worry about them. Let’s take another look at Nameless, with his now-completed stats:
If you can’t see them in the image, the stats are:
STR = 9 – easily bullied
WIS = 14 – not Yoda, but nice
CON = 12 – wears a cup
CHR = 14 – ugly, but friendly
DEX = 10 – falls prey to the family cat
INT = 16 – full-ride scholarship
AC = 10 – the broad side of the barn
HP = 26 – bleeds easily
I thought for a long time before deciding to sacrifice a higher wisdom for constitution. I’m almost helpless physically, and I don’t know where to find someone to train me to be a wizard. Until I do, expect a lot of running away or bargaining.
That’s all it takes to begin a game. Next time, I’ll recount Nameless’ first adventure. If you have any questions or comments put them in the comments below, and if you have any spoilers put them back in your head and keep them there. No spoilers, please.
by Philip N. Cohen
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