Lady of Pain
Lady of Pain – original on the cover of Dragon Magazine issue #339 (January 2006 edition)
The chief inspiration for the character of the Lady of Pain is the 19th century poem Dolores (Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs) (literally, Our Lady of Seven Pains), by English Decadent poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. The poem is written on the topic of a cruel, ruthless, and sexualized but unapproachable goddess figure, Dolores, Our Lady of Pain. Swinburne's Lady of Pain resembles her D&D successor in some ways. She is ancient, and has destroyed and outlived gods themselves (li. 353–368). Furthermore, she shares her absence of compassion, her moral neutrality, and the brutal indifference behind her actions. However, she differentiates herself in appearing decadent, whereas D&D's Lady of Pain is noticeably austere.
Her image originated in the form of a doodle by Dana Knutson. David "Zeb" Cook, designer of Planescape, explained how the character came about: "Dana Knutson was assigned to draw anything I wanted. I babbled, and he drew – buildings, streets, characters and landscapes. Before any of us knew it, he drew the Lady of Pain. I'm very fond of the Lady of Pain; she really locks up the Planescape look. We all liked her so much that she became our logo."
Troy Denning wrote the hardcover novel, Pages of Pain, in 1996: "It had to be from the Lady of Pain's viewpoint—which is something of a problem, since (as every Planescape player knows) she never speaks—and (this was the really good part) the reader must know less about her at the end of the book than he does at the beginning, and nobody knows anything about her at the beginning." Denning recalled that Pages of Pain "really made me rethink the way I approach stories, and for that reason alone it was worth writing. It also ended up being a much deeper book than I had ever written before, which I think was a result of the extreme approach I was forced to take. Those who have [read it] seem to think it's my best work. It was certainly the most challenging and—forgive the pun—'painful' to write."
The Lady of Pain's role in Sigil is described in the 4th editions of both the Manual of the Planes and the Dungeon Master's Guide 2. Her appearance, function, and behavior remain mostly unaltered when compared to previous iterations.
The Lady of Pain appears in the Planescape: Torment video game.
The Lady is sometimes seen as a floating, robed, monolithic, and gargantuan woman, with her impassive, expressionless face bracketed by an imposing mantle of sharpened blades. No reliable witness has ever heard her speak, although she can communicate through her servants, the dabus (former Mercykillers Factol Alisohn Nilesia claimed the Lady made a verbal confession to her in a dream, but Nilesia's sanity was questionable). She can will even the most hale and stalwart beings she comes into contact with to suffer pain of elephantine proportions with a simple gaze, and even something as superficially innocuous as tactile exposure to her shadow can send any being into rapid spasms of body-warping disintegration.
Her chief imperative never changes: maintaining the balance of Sigil. When transgressors against this goal are not slain outright, they are involuntarily transported to one of innumerable densely convoluted magical mazes. Beyond this, what compels her to act, if anything, remains open to conjecture. On all other matters, she seems persistently apathetic.
The Lady is a largely ineffable enigma. Often, those who cross her path, even by accident, are either flayed to death, or, for reasons that remain unknown, teleported to one of her mazes, in and of themselves constituting nigh inescapable pocket universes, located in the Ethereal Plane. Many rumors and legends purport that even estimably powerful deities have fallen before her. The Shattered Temple, located in Sigil, was once a very prominent fane dedicated to Aoskar, the god of portals. At one point, he attempted to bring the city under his control. When Aoskar did manage to accumulate some power, the Lady decided to intervene. Slaying him with a mere thought, her actions acted as an eponym, simultaneously shattering his fane and scattering its priests into her mazes in the process. The then-decrepit fane eventually became the headquarters of the Athar. At one point, there were numerous factions attempting to control various parts of Sigil, resulting in a thoroughly bloodied and relentlessly merciless war of attrition. Once the war had finally concluded, the devastation was immense. At this, the Lady elected to spontaneously appear. Emerging before a pacified amalgam of every faction's leader, she commanded the factions to disband, or die, doing so through a dabus. The factions naturally acquiesced, and have honored this decision ever since. The vast majority of Sigil's denizens dread the Lady's apparitions. They vehemently avoid speaking her name, as they fear that this will draw her attention to them.
The Lady exerts omnipresent control over every portal in Sigil. This control is both undisputed and indisputable, and she utilizes it as she sees fit. The dabus are charged with the task of city maintenance, as the streets of Sigil require constant inspection and upkeep. For all her power, the notion of deifying The Lady is vociferously abhorred in virtually every corner of the city. This is due to the taboo nature of her response to worship: any and all worshippers are gorily slaughtered by the Lady's blades.
No one knows how the Lady came to be or what her true purpose is. Hellbound: The Blood War suggests she might be a renegade demon lord or Lord of the Nine. In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil states that she has been ruler of Sigil for as long as the city has existed, though she might predate the city's creation.
A theory that appears late in the computer game Planescape: Torment is that the Lady is a prisoner and that Sigil is her cage. This theory is plausible in that its coiner, Ravel Puzzlewell, who would refer to herself as "the solver of puzzles not needing solving", had a level of understanding about the mechanics of the planes incomprehensible by men. Unfortunately (or consequently), she was also insane; whether her insanity set in before or after being "mazed" by the Lady is unknown.
According to Die Vecna Die!, she is a being of the same origin as The Serpent, a deific embodiment of the quintessence of magic.
Another, far more lighthearted theory, forwarded by her Planescape: Torment bestiary entry, purports that she is a group of six giant squirrels—possessed of a headdress, a robe, and a ring of levitation.
Rob Bricken of Kotaku identified the Lady of Pain as one of "The 13 Strangest Deities In Dungeons & Dragons", commenting: "So technically, no one really knows if this immensely powerful entity from the D&D's Planescape setting is a god or not. That's because any time someone tries to worship her, she kills them in the most painful way possible. However, she's definitely immortal, giant, and if her shadow so much as falls on you, you will die in incredible agony."
This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (April 2011) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
- Dragon #208
- Alloway, Gene (May 1994). "Feature Review: Planescape". White Wolf. White Wolf Publishing (43): 36–38.
- Varney, Allen (March 1998). "ProFiles: Troy Denning". Dragon. Renton, Washington: Wizards of the Coast (#245): 112.
- Cook, David "Zeb" Planescape Campaign Setting. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1994
- Cordell, Bruce and Kestrel, Gwendolyn. Planar Handbook (Wizards of the Coast, 2004)
- McComb, Colin, and Monte Cook. Hellbound: The Blood War. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1996
- Baur, Wolfgang and Rick Swan. In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1995
- "The 13 Strangest Deities In Dungeons & Dragons". 28 March 2016.
- Baur, Wolfgang and Gwendolyn Kestrel. Expedition to the Demonweb Pits. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2007.
- Cordell, Bruce, and Miller, Steve. Die Vecna Die! (TSR, 2000).
- Denning, Troy. Pages of Pain (TSR, 1997).
- Slavicsek, Bill. Harbinger House (TSR, 1995)
- Swinburne, A.C. Dolores (Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs) (Poems and Ballads) (1866)