Mundane matters in Sigil 1. Disease and hygiene

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The Chronicler
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Mundane matters in Sigil 1. Disease and hygiene

Hygiene: How do people in Sigil perform their errands on natures behalf? And how does this vary from ward to ward? Is there a class aspect involved? Do the poor use back alleys, street corners and holes in the ground, or are there communal toilets where they can sit and chat with eachother while they´re doing their business?

Are there facilities for the rich where they can get their behinds cleaned and dried by summoned water and air elementals? And what are the costs?

What about body sizes? Are there particular facilities for halflings, and others for giants?

Diseases: Wherever large groups of people are gathered there´s a risk of disease. Wherever different species live together in close quarters there is a risk of relatively harmless diseases migrating from one species to another and becoming lethal. Sigil is a huge, crowded city with a huge variety of different species living side by side in cramped conditions.

Granted you have priests that can heal diseases. But do they perform these tasks for free? Is that a part of the price they pay to be allowed to worship their god in the City of Doors? Or do people have to pay for this themselves? Are there any companies that provide some sort of health insurance? Or is membership in a faith community a de facto health insurance, and a major incentive to give generously to the church?

If there is an epidemic outbreak, does the city pay for healing as a way to contain it? What if only one species is affected, say gnomes? Does the disease have to affect a certain number of species for the city to take action and for the factions to open their purses to halt it? Or is this a problem that each faction is left to solve for their own members?

What if the outbreak starts in the Hive ward, which is not unlikely? Will there be any attempts to aid the inhabitants, or will access to and from the ward be blocked until the disease has died out?

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Hygiene

There's scarce a Planescape-topic that the folks here haven't discussed before. ;)
From the Planewalker Post-Faction-War Campaign Setting:

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Sanitation Guild – Faced with the apparent thinning of the ranks of the dabus, who removed the daily waste that accumulated in the streets and gutters of Sigil, the Sanitation guild was formed to handle the problem. The guild was started by a group of bloods from the Worker’s District within the Clerk’s Ward, and financed by a number of unnamed cutters from the Lady’s Ward. While it cannot be proven, those unnamed financiers are widely thought to include Jeremo the Natterer, Jeena Ealy, and perhaps one other well-meaning cutter. The guild, based within a two story kip along Newt Street in the Clerk’s Ward, employs a wide range of workers to haul off the trash and filth that accumulates in the streets and trash heaps of the city. The trash is disposed of through a number of portals to the Elemental Plane of Fire, the Quasielemental Plane of Vacuum, and the Paraelemental Plane of Ooze. Other times, if the distance is not too far, the trash is simply dumped into the Ditch between the Lower Ward and the Hive where the periodic rush of water from a portal to the river Oceanus flushes the channel clean. Guild members pay no fee, but abide by the guild rules and statutes, and their area of work and daily tasks are more or less set for them by the demands of the businesses, individuals, and neighborhoods within Sigil that have signed contracts with the guild to pay them for the services of their members. Based upon the money gained by these contracts, each guild member is paid a weekly wage. Each member however wears, and is identified by a small copper shovel worn upon a chain around their necks or upon a belt. Under the guidance of guildmaster Erasmus Coalbrush (NG male dwarf Ftr3), the guild has thus far faced little competition in their work from the Daylaborers Guild, and the two guilds have studiously avoided impinging upon the others typical means of business. Meanwhile rumors are high that the Sigil Advisory Council may take up legislation to levy a citywide tax upon property owners to pay for the services of the guild on a Cage-wide basis.
KnightOfDecay
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Disease

Well I think this depends on how dark and gritty you want your campaign to be.
In a city like Sigil (and especially places like the Hive) diseases and epidemics should be a serious problems. Whilst there are charitable temples/religions (or celestials and groups/factions like the Bleakers) who might not charge money for their services, most temples probably perform them solely for followers of their own deities and only in return for appropriate donations.
In any case Sigil is just too big and there are too many poor and ill people for installing something like a working health care system, imho.

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What if the outbreak starts in the Hive ward, which is not unlikely? Will there be any attempts to aid the inhabitants, or will access to and from the ward be blocked until the disease has died out.
That's an interesting question. I suppose that depends on the concrete situation and which final decision is made at the Hall of Speakers. The Bleakers might try to help, the Doomguard might enjoy the Entropie created by the disease, the Athar might see it as a proof that the Powers are quite powerless, the Harmonium might vote for sealing off the Hive and the Red Death might wish to punish those who enter or leave without admission... lot's of possibilities.
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Latrines and toilets

Thanks. That´s helpful. Our game is set before the faction war, but I´m tempted to use the idea of an sanitation guild anyway. The babus may clean up the filth from the nightpots etc. that people throw from their windows, but the Sanitation guild could perhaps provide latrines that people can use when about in the city.

I´m still curious of how the actual latrines and toilets would look and work though. Mostly because, apart from good stories and characters, good locations is what assures good gaming experiences. And what better place to have a secret meeting with an agent, or stage an attack or assassination, than a toilet or latrine?

To do so it´s necessary to have some idea of what the facilities look like, and in Sigil they should be something quite different from what you would find elsewhere, I reckon. Could there be a toilet for the privileged where the excrements pass directly through a gate?

And toilet booths are awesome. They offer a lot of opportunities for a DM, but again I would assume that the masses of Sigil use communal latrines, or maybe just buckets. Not even that in some parts of the city.

And how does a titan or a cloud giant for example do their business without seriously disturbing their fellow citizens? If there are facilities that cater for their needs, they must be rather spectacular in terms of size. If not, it would limit their movement around the city, would it not?

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Quote:And what better place

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And what better place to have a secret meeting with an agent, or stage an attack or assassination, than a toilet or latrine?
Heh, you could even imagine the communal toilets of the Great Bazaar to be a preferred meeting ground. Indeps and merchants haggling and discussing business while doing their other... business.

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Could there be a toilet for the privileged where the excrements pass directly through a gate?
Definitely. Most Golden Lords probably have their private portals to the paraelemental plane of Ooze (or whatever plane their latrine-portal opens to) and theír own mephit cleaning crews.
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Mitigating Factors

About Sigil and diseases, some mitigating factors to consider:

Water Sources: Diseases that spread through contaminated water sources may not be as big a problem in Sigil as in normal cities, because a lot of water probably comes through portals and is therefore more difficult to contaminate. Also, as noted, a lot of waste is discarded through portals, rather than left around to contaminate drinking water. On the flip side, sometimes the water coming through the portals may be pre-contaminated, adding another potential vector for introducing diseases into Sigil!

Vermin Vectors: Sigil probably experiences a constant influx of different vermin species from across the planes thanks to its portals. This is bad news for diseases that require a specific species of rodent or insect as a vector, since that specific species will make up only a small fraction of the total vermin population. The flip side of this is again that Sigil probably experiences a constant influx of new vermin-born diseases.

Partially Resistant Population: As noted, Sigil is extremely diverse. Unless diseases can sicken a wide variety of intelligent species, Sigil will keep functioning in the face of disease since only a fraction of its population will be affected by any given epidemic.

Well-trained Doctors: The existence of a number of Powers of health and healing on the planes means that doctors in planar metropolises should know a lot more about medicine and sanitation than doctors in medieval Europe did. However, they don't have access to the same sorts of tools modern doctors do (stuff like purified antibiotics, vaccines, and other pharmaceuticals). Indeed, chemistry and genetics might not work the same way in the D&D universe as they do in the real world, so things we take for granted might be impossible for them.

Magical, Precognitive Doctors: Remove Disease has already been touched on, but for my money divination magic is the real game-changer. Stuff like mode of transmission, which species are affected, and what if any mundane medicines can cure the disease or mitigate its symptoms could all be learned this way. Divination could also give advance warning of plagues. And about Remove Disease: Presumably, there are not enough divine casters of high enough level to just magic away epidemics, but mundane doctors who fall ill would presumably be priority targets, and with proper triaging there might be enough casters to put a dent in mortality rates (still, at the height of the Great Plague in London, ~300-1000+ people died per day, which is an awful lot of third level spell slots/charity-minded 5th level casters, especially in a setting where some factols are only 8th level. The clergy of good-aligned gods probably minister to the poor as a matter of course, but they aren't going to make much headway with magic alone).

100% effective quarantines?: If there was a plague virulent enough to threaten all of Sigil, the Lady might act to protect the city. Perhaps plague carriers would find that portals into the city don't work for them, or perhaps wards or streets of the city would be spun off into huge mazes and the plague allowed to run its course within.

The Chronicler
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Sigilian plague carriers

That is some great reflections D_E.

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Divination could also give advance warning of plagues.

I especially like the idea of diviners looking out for potential epidemic threats. It´s easy to forget the awesome possibilities magical divination offers a society. It´s good adventure material as well. E.g. going into the Hive to take out a plague carrier before he or she has time to infect the population, and/or find someone that the diviners believe will be immune, so that a vaccine might be developed. Vaccines should be within the realm of the possible, even in a pre-modern setting.

Another aspect of Sigil and disease that we haven´t touched upon is the danger planewalkers from the City of Doors pose to other cultures, maybe especially on the Prime. I would think that people from the Hive, in particular, who have access to less healing magic and live in dreadful sanitary conditions and yet manage to survive, must carry a lot of nasty germs unknown in other parts of the Multiverse. I would think that a sigilian planewalker must pose at least as big a threat to various mortal civilizations as modern humans do to the last uncontacted tribes of Brazil and Peru for example.

Are there any attempts to avoid spreading diseases to the Prime and other planes?

Or are there any vicious attempts to harvest those nasty germs and turn them into weapons of mass destruction?

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Quote:Or are there any

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Or are there any vicious attempts to harvest those nasty germs and turn them into weapons of mass destruction?

I just realized that microorganisms are probably not known to sigilian scholars. It might still be possible to weaponize the germs without knowing about them though, for example by giving out blankets used by plague victims, dumping a corpse in the water supply might work in some cases etc.

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Great post D_E.Quote: If

Great post D_E.

Quote:
If there was a plague virulent enough to threaten all of Sigil, the Lady might act to protect the city. Perhaps plague carriers would find that portals into the city don't work for them, or perhaps wards or streets of the city would be spun off into huge mazes and the plague allowed to run its course within.
I'm not sure about this, though - considering what the Factol's Manifesto tells us about the Indep Plague.
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The Chronicler wrote:I just

The Chronicler wrote:
I just realized that microorganisms are probably not known to sigilian scholars.

Scholars probably know about them. It would be very odd if none of the various gods of health ever mentioned the existence of microbes to their followers, and as the crossroads of the planes Sigil probably has a member or ex-member of pretty much every group imaginable. The Guvners probably have whole departments of people dedicated to cataloging microbes from across the planes and prime.

However, the average man on the street probably does not know about them. I don't think there's any effort made in terms of standardized public education, so the populace would just have hearsay and superstition to go on.

In terms of setting flavor, Planescape is (sometimes/often?) said to have Victorian era trappings, and microbes were known in Victorian England (they were first observed around 1665, Queen Victoria ruled from 1837 - 1901). Indeed, the germ theory of disease was being proven during that period (Louis Pasteur lived during this time, and was doing his experiments in the 1860s). Of course, Planescape, and Sigil in specific, has many (tens of) thousands of years more history behind it than Victorian England did, so it would make more sense for germ theory to be long-settled science, rather than something new, even if the common man has little to no idea about any of it.

However, depending on the details of a particular DM's setting, germs may not actually exist, or may be very different from how we understand them. Consider: the Elemental Planes definitely exist in the standard Planescape setting. Order of the Stick jokes aside, this suggests that at small scales the D&D world is very different from our own. Since (the smaller) viruses are basically molecular-scale automatons, they might not exist in a world with no molecules. On the other hand, since curses are real, curse-based-diseases probably are, too. Mummy rot might literally be caused by cursed grains of dust, and if a Night Hag glares at you, you might just contract a transmissible curse with no physical component.

If this came up for some reason in a game I was running, I'd be inclined to say that disease-causing bacteria and fungi definitely exist, something analogous to viruses probably exists, and that curse- and evil-influence-based diseases also exist and circulate in much the same way that more 'normal' diseases do. But this could vary a lot depending on the flavor the DM was going for.

The Chronicler wrote:
Or are there any vicious attempts to harvest those nasty germs and turn them into weapons of mass destruction?

Creating new bioweapons is basically the Oinololth's main power, and if there's a planar lord dedicated to it, a lot of other people probably do it too.

KnightOfDecay wrote:

Quote:

If there was a plague virulent enough to threaten all of Sigil, the Lady might act to protect the city. Perhaps plague carriers would find that portals into the city don't work for them, or perhaps wards or streets of the city would be spun off into huge mazes and the plague allowed to run its course within.

I'm not sure about this, though - considering what the Factol's Manifesto tells us about the Indep Plague.

I agree that it shouldn't be a certain thing or a commonplace occurrence. The DM in me says only do it if it's going to directly affect the PCs. For example, if the PCs were investigating a severe planar plague, it might up tension if one of them finds they can't use portals into Sigil anymore; or you could use the quarantine-maze idea if you want to trap the PCs in a slice of Sigil and have society disintegrate around them.

Since the Lady is such an enigmatic character, you don't really need a solid explanation why she acts in one case and not others. Maybe this disease is particularly dangerous. Maybe it could affect Dabuses (Dabus? Dabusi? Dabusi-eses?). Or maybe she just acted differently this time for no detectable reason.

--D_E looks up the Indep Plague--

I don't think that would stop her from acting to protect Sigil from a particularly bad plague. She probably doesn't care about individual citizens of Sigil; but she has acted in the past to protect the city as a whole, and a city without inhabitants is not much of a city at all.

rant begins ...I also have... strong feelings... about the fact that the Factol's Manifesto authors spent two paragraphs describing the thoughts and motives of the Lady when they could have just said "sometimes when an Indep uses one of Sigil's portals, they contract a deadly disease. No one knows why." They could have used the leftover column inches describing theories held by characters that PCs can actually meet. rant ends

The Chronicler wrote:
And how does a titan or a cloud giant for example do their business without seriously disturbing their fellow citizens? If there are facilities that cater for their needs, they must be rather spectacular in terms of size. If not, it would limit their movement around the city, would it not?

Sounds like a good niche for business, actually. Perhaps some enterprising Fated buy houses and convert them into for-profit latrine facilities. Perhaps similar to Discworld's King of the Golden River.

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Microbes

Quote:
It would be very odd if none of the various gods of health ever mentioned the existence of microbes to their followers, and as the crossroads of the planes Sigil probably has a member or ex-member of pretty much every group imaginable. The Guvners probably have whole departments of people dedicated to cataloging microbes from across the planes and prime.

I guess with the awesome powers of magic divination available to sigilian scholars, it´s reasonable to assume that they are aware of the existence of microorganisms, even without the help of the gods. Microscopes are terribly expensive and difficult to manufacture in a early modern, or pre-modern, culture though. Wouldn´t it be easier to research a spell that allows the naked eye to view the germs without this costly and bulky equipment?

If there is such a spell it would open up the possibility for sigilian physicians and clergy (I guess it would be natural for those two professions to overlap in some cases, given the existence of deities of health) to successfully reveal pathogens not only in Sigil, but while traveling around the planes. No need for a fragile and cumbersome microscope if you have a spell, scroll or a small lense imbued with a permanent "microscopic view spell" or the likes (a lot could go wrong bringing back samples of these microorganisms though, both through accidents or forces that want´s to get hold of them for their own less than altruistic purposes).

This knowledge ought to be converted into non-magical remedies that actually work. As you said, magical healing is probably not gonna cut it if a full fledged plague breaks out. But if there is an awareness among physicians of microorganisms as pathogens, then there ought to be some attempts at convincing the high ups of the value of improving the sanitary conditions in Sigil too. For example by having public latrines, preferably with some means of washing up afterwards, ideally with running water, like a fountain for example. Emptying night pots etc., especially containing faecis, straight into the gutter might also be frowned upon, even if the dabus do clean it up.

Could it even be illegal to do so in the better parts of the city?

Another reason for assuming that non-magical medicine has advanced quite a bit in Sigil is the fact that just about every medicinal plant (or minerals and animal parts) in existence is available to physicians and researchers. As late as well into the 19th century, as far as I know, Western medicine, after well over two thousand years, had only a handful of drugs to offer that actually cured anything, other than by inducing a placebo effect. Like aspirin from the willow tree and quinine from the chinchona tree. If 19th century pharmacologists had access to gate travel it would be quite different, I reckon. And even pre-modern Western medical pioneers would probably achieve a lot more, even without access to all the medicinal goodies of the Multiverse, if they had the lifespan of say a steel dragon, ursinal, nocturnal or a mere elf to devote to their work.

Also, (I´m repeating myself), I think primitive vaccines should be a possible way of dealing with the most threatening epidemic diseases, especially in combination with magical divination. The concept of inoculation is so basic that it could have been used in pre-modern or early modern-societies. Some even claim that it was. And a long lived, maybe immortal, Sigil-based medical researcher who had a particular interest for inoculations would have almost endless amounts of diseases and an almost equally rich diversity of species to inoculate. Great fun. Maybe they pay the poor residents of the Hive and Lower Ward for the risk of letting themselves be inoculated? Maybe that could explain why people somehow do survive all these diseases, even in the wretched conditions of the Hive? Apart from being inoculated, the fee they´d get for volunteering as guinea pigs would fill their bellies, which also helps stave off disease.

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In terms of setting flavor, Planescape is (sometimes/often?) said to have Victorian era trappings

I don´t know. My players characters are actually from victorian England. They recognized the smelting works and the smog from the Lower Ward, the crime, poverty and distrust in the poor parts of the city, but apart from that Sigil seemed in part completely alien and part pre-modern/early modern European to them.

They have learned that there is actually quite a lot of fine mechanics know-how too, even though magic is usually preferred because it´s simpler, faster and cheaper. One of the Earthlings has tried to reverse engineer and produce a substantial quantity of Lee-Metfield repeating rifles, and employed a group of highly technically skilled gnomes for this purpose. He has serious problems convincing them of the need of making all the parts absolutely identical so they can be interchangeable though, and he constantly has to keep them from "improving" on the design.

One thing is more "modern" than London in 1887 (the year they left Earth: There are less horses in Sigil.

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Perhaps plague carriers would find that portals into the city don't work for them, or perhaps wards or streets of the city would be spun off into huge mazes and the plague allowed to run its course within.

I think that´s a really awesome idea. I love it. It could be a really terrifying experience for the players, if the DM plays his cards right. And it would illustrate how cynical and ruthless the Lady of Pain can be when something threatens her city.