Like all gate-towns, Automata was in many ways a tiny reflection of the plane to which it connected. Everything was orderly. Some described it as functioning more like a machine than like a town. Everything was built at right angles and using straight lines. The town had rectangular walls, and the streets were arranged in a perfect grid to form square blocks, such that it was nearly impossible to get lost. Within each block, houses were placed at exact intervals, and every house followed the same pattern of dimensions.
For example, while a building could be between one and four stories, depending on its function, all buildings in Automata had 12‑foot (3.7‑meter) stories. All buildings were built from a shining, gray-red stone. All doors for humanoids were of the same dimensions; all doors for stables were of another set. Only the smallest bits of color in a sign might distinguish two buildings of the same function from each other. Such flourishes of color had to be pre-approved.
All of the buildings on any given block were of the same kind—all residences, all workshops, all stables, etc. The different types of block might be scattered throughout the town, however, such that a residential block with only homes might be found across the street from a block of only workshops.
Each of the long sides of the town walls contained two gates, while the short sides had one each, for a total of six town gates. The town was oriented such that one of the shorter sides pointed spireward—that is, toward the great Spire of the Outlands.
At the center of the town was the gate to Mechanus. It filled an entire city block of space. The gate was a giant cog, lying on its side and always turning slowly. Anyone stepping onto the surface of the toothed gear would be transported to Mechanus, but to which location on that plane only the modrons could predict from the current orientation of the gear and other unknown factors, such as, perhaps, the time of day. The gate was well-guarded during the daylight hours. One had to obtain a permit for travel after filling out stacks of forms at no small amount of government offices. At night, on the other hand, since the laws said that everyone had to be in bed, it was relatively easy to sneak past the few remaining guards onto the revolving gear for quick passage to Primus-knew-where in Mechanus.
Leading from this planar gate to one of the gates on the short wall facing spireward ran the Modron Way, the main street of the town, which was the width of a city block. From the gate and along this road, the modrons marched during the infamous Modron Parade.
The blocks around the gate to Mechanus contained many of the government buildings, including the office of the Council of Order, which led the town.
Because of the consistent cycle of day and night on the Outlands, the residents of Automata followed the same cycle of day and night of equal lengths; folk rose at the change from night to day and rested when the change from day to night occurred.[note 2]
Outside the town's walls, the geography of the land matched the order of the town. The fields were in perfect squares; the forests' trees grew in perfect columns and rows.
There were laws for nearly everything one could imagine in Automata. Where one went was regulated; how one talked was regulated; what one ate and drank were regulated. For example, it was illegal to purchase ale after the third hour or to open a store before the first. Any visitors to the city were required to register at the Office of Visiting Entities, including payment of a five-silver-piece processing fee.
During the day, town was ruled by the Council of Order, which was composed of three seats. During the 14th century of the Dalereckoning of Faerûn on the Material Plane, the three seats where filled by Captain Arstimis of the town guard, a githzerai member of the Harmonium faction; Pelnis the Clockmaker, a human petitioner; and Serafil, a tiefling priestess of Lei Kung. Arstimis was representative for the town guard, Pelnis for the craftsmen, and Serafil for the temples. Groups not connected to the guard, the craftsmen, or the religious groups had no representation in the town government.
At night, however, when the law said that everyone must retire to bed, power in the town was informally and illegally in the hands of the so-called Council of Anarchy, which also had three seats. Leggis Scrog was a githzerai thief of the Revolutionary League who spoke for the criminals of the town. Ravis Corcuncewl was a human petitioner who spoke for the vagrants. Finally, an erinyes called Aurach the Fair saw that the plans of the baatezu were enacted.
Automata also had two militias. The official militia of the surface was led by Captain Arstimis. Patrols were composed of ten petitioners, led by a sergeant who was also a petitioner. Higher positions of control in the militia were always reserved for "planars" or even "primes", that is, for non-petitioners. These officers were also always members of the Harmonium. A typical city guardsman wore chainmail, carried a shield, and bore a longsword.
Visitors could keep time by the rigid schedule of the town guard's patrols.
While the official rulers had full control over the surface town, they had little control over the undercity. (See below.) Some scholars believed it was this fact alone that kept the town from being absorbed into Mechanus entirely.
Below ground, the militia functioned more like a loosely organized gang, with Leggis Scrog domineering over. Its main purpose was to collect "protection money" from businesses. The individual groups of thugs usually numbered between two and a dozen persons, never petitioners and usually thieves or fighters.
The strict laws had a powerful effect on trade. For example, all discounts on merchandise had to be approved by the Council, so all stores offered sales at the same time. No one ever haggled or bartered, and neither the offering of credit nor begging were permitted.
During the reign of King Azoun Obarskyr IV, a half-elven paladin of Oghma from Cormyr was dispatched on a mission to explore the planes of existence beyond Toril. The paladin's name was Ambran the Seeker, and excerpts from his journal still survive to this day. In volume 7, Ambran describes how he hired a bariaur guide to take him from Sigil to the Outlands. Volume 9 tells of a journey from Ribcage, another gate-town, to Automata. Once at Automata, he was able to witness the Modron Parade before continuing on to the River Ma'at.
Rumors & Legends
Interestingly, there was an underside to Automata that opposed its order. Below the town was a network of twisting tunnels and secret chambers, where chaos was the norm. The tunnels were full of violence and crime at the worst and revelry at the best. Rumors claimed that this undercity contained a gladiator arena, decadent festhalls, and even conclaves of fiends.
- The Divine Machine, the best inn in town, with hot meals with good servings, though the rooms were built more for those of halfling size.
- McGuvol's Stabling Establishment, which supposedly contained one of the secret entrances into the undercity by means of a cast-iron spiral staircase that was only accessible at night.
- Thandol's Smoked Meats, a meat shop.
The bulk of the 10,000[note 1] residents of Automata were lawful neutral petitioners of human, elven, or other mortal races. Only a few were once halflings, gnomes, or kender. Those who were not petitioners typically hoped to profit from them. There were countless modrons present, but they had their own motivations. On occasion, archons or even baatezu would pass through on business.
The petitioners were easy to distinguish from those of other origins, for they followed a common dress code. (For example, all might be wearing an ankle-length, gray-red robe with a white sash.) Those from the Prime or other planes would dare to wear flashier outfits.
Besides the six council members described above, two other residents were of note:
- Hokee Thridun, a tiefling trader of the rare and exotic in the undercity of Automata, who was also a wizard and a member of the Dustmen.
- Tourlac the Halfling, a petitioner and the owner of The Divine Machine.
- According to A Player's Primer to the Outlands, the earlier value of ~1,000 reported by the Sigil and Beyond booklet of the Planescape Campaign Setting box set is in error.
- The Sigil and Beyond booklet of the Planescape Campaign Setting box set makes reference to citizens "ris[ing] with the sun and retir[ing] when it sets," but this makes no sense, since the Outlands had no sun.
- David "Zeb" Cook (1994). Planescape Campaign Setting, Sigil and Beyond. Edited by David Wise. (TSR, Inc), pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-1560768340.
- Jeff Grubb (May 1995). A Player's Primer to the Outlands. Edited by Ray Vallese. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-7869-0121-7.
- Monte Cook (1996). The Planewalker's Handbook. Edited by Michele Carter. (TSR), p. 10. ISBN 978-0786904600.
- David "Zeb" Cook (April 1994). “The Plane Truth Part II: A Journey to the Outlands”. In Kim Mohan ed. Dragon #204 (TSR, Inc.), pp. 28–30.
- Jeff Grubb, Bruce R. Cordell, David Noonan (September 2001). Manual of the Planes 3rd edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 149. ISBN 0-7869-1850-8.
- Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford, Christopher Perkins, James Wyatt (2014). Dungeon Master's Guide 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 67. ISBN 978-0786965622.
- Monte Cook, Colin McComb (1997-10-28). The Great Modron March. Edited by Michele Carter. (TSR, Inc.), p. 17. ISBN 0-7869-0648-0.
- Monte Cook, Colin McComb (1997-10-28). The Great Modron March. Edited by Michele Carter. (TSR, Inc.), p. 19. ISBN 0-7869-0648-0.
- Monte Cook, Colin McComb (1997-10-28). The Great Modron March. Edited by Michele Carter. (TSR, Inc.), p. 18. ISBN 0-7869-0648-0.
Caverns of Thought • Court of Light • Dwarvish Mountain (Deepshaft Hall • Soot Hall • Strongale Hall) • Flowering Hill • Gzemnid's Realm • Hidden Realm • Labyrinth of Life • Marketplace Eternal • Mausoleum of Chronepsis • Palace of Judgement • Semuanya's Bog • Sigil • Sleeping Lands • Tir na Og (Deep Forest • the Great Smithy • House of Knowledge • the Pinnacle • Tir fo Thuinn) • Thoth's Estate • Wonderhome
Fortitude • Excelsior • Tradegate • Ecstasy • Faunel • Sylvania • Glorium • Xaos • Bedlam • Plague-Mort • Curst • Hopeless • Torch • Ribcage • Rigus • Automata