Pondering the Intro Movie: History and/or Metaphor?

After this was written Platter pointed out to me, that we in fact know more than I assumed and that from the mouth of the very creators of the game. I have left my original pondering untouched, but added the correcting information in italics. Thus it can be seen how close or how far I was from the original idea of the creators.

1. First we see the dustmens' obsidian pillar of names, which is found in Sigil right next to the Mortuary.

Historical: This Pillar verily exists and the-nameless-one has surely seen it before in previous incarnations

Metaphorical: It could be a metaphor for the countless lives, which the-nameless-one has lived through already.


2. The shelves of skulls owned by the Bone-Master.

Historical: These shelves are verily historical, which we see when we get to visit them again as Morte is kidnapped. The-nameless-one could very well have seen them before.

Metaphorical: The countless skulls could also be metaphorical for the-nameless-one's countless lives and deaths or the numerous men and creaturs he has killed.


3. We zoom into the tattoo on the-nameless-one's right shoulder i.e. The Symbol of Torment. We see an unknown woman not in the undead state, who seems to be in some kind of despair. At the same time we see the Symbol of Torment. Into this symbol a crying female arabesque creature seems to be woven.

Historical: Who is this woman? She is not Deionarra, since she had/has long hair. She could neither be Annah, since the first time the-nameless-one meets Annah is in the incarnation, which we, as the player, get to play. She could hardly be Aelwyn either if the woman we see here in flashback 3 is the same we see anew in flashback 6. If this flashback is historical it must refer to a happening, which we never hear of in the game. That is of course very likely since the-nameless-one has lived thousands of lives and we only hear of a few of them. Could this be a flashback concerned somehow with the terrible and dark crime, which we learn the-nameless-one committed and which brought him to seek immortality so that he would have time enough to try and correct his wrong?
That is my own best guess.

Metaphorical: The woman we see could be metaphorical and thus a picture of the many women, who have fallen in love with the-nameless-one. The symbol of torment with the arabesque female creature interwoven may both point to the past crime, but it could also point to something the practical incarnation says:

"You DARE lecture me?! Women have always walked our path with us - whether Deionarra or Ravel or any other woman, and they have suffered, and it was always their CHOICE. Deionarra would have died for me if I'd asked her to. There was no CRIME."

Perhaps the interwoven female creature in the symbol of torment is a metaphor for all the women, who have loved and lost the-nameless-one through countless ages.

Hey, Gondolin - the woman that appears in the movie is an unidentified victim of one of the Nameless One's previous incarnations. She was made up by the artists, and her story was never fleshed out or put into the game. It was more of a, "it looks cool, let's put her in." Sorry to have created a mystery - hope this goes a ways to dispelling it,

Chris Avellone @ BIS



Hey there! My name is Eric Campanella and I'm the artist that designed the Symbol of Torment. I'm very flattered with all of the compliments you've given myself and our team! Also that you've taken such an interest in the game and its origins and that you maintain such a reverent homage to it on your website. It's a title that had a profound effect on all of us that worked on it. Chris Avellone's storytelling was absolutely amazing! There was a synergy on that team that made all of us grateful for the experience. Many of us still look back and talk about what an incredible time we had on the project. Enough gushing!

I wanted to respond to a personal message that you sent to Big Dave Maldonado about the meanings behind various symbols in the game. I'm happy to provide the following. Feel free to post this puppy on your website! I've listed various places in the game where these symbols can be viewed, most of which you already know about.

First- The symbol of Anguish. The Tattoo on the Nameless One's shoulder is of Dianarra. Her hair is wrapped around his bicep as if she's forever entwined in his destiny. As I began concepting and subsequently building her character, I felt she encompassed all of the emotions that this game would explore. Chris had infused her with this fascinating and tragic personality and it inspired me to "imprint" her on the NO in a very personal and permanent way. She also represents all of the people that our "hero" had betrayed or destroyed in his long journey.

Second- The Rune of Torment. The bladed shape that appears on tattoos, the Axe of Torment, the Weapon of Torment, and is part of the ultimate Symbol of Torment, is actually two perfectly matching shapes flipped and combined. One of them is meant to be pure steal, the other rusted metal. These represent the Nameless One and the Transcendant One and their very unique relationship. You can see this symbol close up if you go to the bestiary section of the journal and make sure you have no portraits selected.

Note: Of much less obviousness is a symbol that can be found in the Fortress of Regrets and on the TO himself. It is of a double helix where one strand reaches its ultimate goal of "purity", represented by a diamond shape, while the other sort of dies out. This is the Symbol of Hope with an ironic twist that it belongs to the Transcendent one who works towards erasing the Nameless one (the dying strand) while becoming omnipotent, himself. You can see this symbol behind the "hero" portraits in the Journal.

Third- The Symbol of Torment. This is the combination of the Dianarra and Rune of torment symbols. It further reinforces the entwining of innocents in the Nameless One's twisted world- The good people who get stepped on along the way, if you will. The runes that run through Dianarra's hair are those of invocation. Foreseeing the end of this journey. They also represent a similarity to many of the runes written on the NO's back. Most of them have no specific meanings, to be honest. I just came up with some cool designs, but there is a tiny Symbol of Hope (the TO's symbol) at the end giving a bit of an ironic twist. A really good place to see this symbol is in the journal if you back all the way out to main page with no text in the left viewing area.

The Planescape universe is so steeped in myths and symbology that very shortly after starting on the project, we all started creating shapes that evoked the combination of threat and otherworldliness that was this realm. My early character concepts included a lot of designs with amorphous symbols designed to evoke one emotion or another. Simple ideas: sharp, harsh objects meant power/danger. Rounded would give off a safer, possibly more sensual feel. As Avellone would pass to me each character description, it was easy to be inspired, since he gave me such a good idea of what the character was like on the inside. I feel it's best to create a character from the inside out. If you know what a character is about emotionally, the physicality will reflect this to one extent or another. Somewhere along the line I began to feel that specific symbols should be incorporated into major story elements. The main character is covered in tattoos so I thought that was a good place to start. Everything else sprang from there!

Hope this answers your question!

Thanx for giving me the opportunity to clarify this. I really enjoyed putting some visual backstory in the game and was very excited to have a chance to explain it.

Take it easy,
Eric "Scampi" Campanella


4. We see a hand, which is not in the undead state caress the woman's face. It looks very much like the woman we saw in flashback 3. Suddenly she vanishes into thin air. The person, who caressed her looks around in a desperate manner finding nothing except an empty room. Suddenly he sees her again perhaps in another place since the light shifts dramatically. Yet, this time she has become a terrible undead corpse, which along with many other undead corpses point at you as if they pronounce you guilty.

Historical: Is all of this historical or only part of it? The whole scenery appears very nightmare and dream like. Again this could very well be a flashback concerned with either a past life we do not hear of or still more likely the past dark crime, which we are never specifically explained the nature of. Why did she disappear? The person who caressed her can hardly have been the one to send her away, since he seems so desperate when she is gone, yet still it seems that he is guilty in her terrible undead state. A very mysterious flashback indeed.

Metaphorical: Metaphorical the disappearance of the probably beloved lady could be a picture of how the-nameless-one has systematically ruined and lost everything he ever loved in his vain attempt to undo what cannot be undone: The past.
The undead pointing the-nameless-one out as guilty could be a metaphor for the many deaths, which the-nameless-one has caused during his countless incarnations.


5. We see a man, who is drowning. Hands in an undead state reach out towards the drowning man. We know not if they do so in order to save him from drowning or why, but apparently the drowning man is terrified of the person reaching out for him.

Historical: The person reaching out for the drowning man may very well be the-nameless-one after he has become undead i.e. lost his mortality. It is probably the undead state, which scares the drowning man. This event should thus be a newer event not connected to the past dark crime. After all Ravel tells us, that the-nameless-one was beautiful and full of fire when he first came to her and not in the sad (undead) state, which the he is in when we (the player) get to meet Ravel.

Metaphorical: If it should be seen as metaphorical it could be a picture of how the-nameless-one tries in vain to right his wrongs only causing more pain and suffering in the process.

As Platter has pointed out, the animation used for the drowning man is that of the generic hive dweller. That does not explain to us who the drowning man is, but it does tell us, that it cannot be the-nameless-one, who is drowning.


6. A person whose arms are in an undead state knife fights with an unknown person, who looks like the-nameless-one before he becomes an undead i.e. young and beautiful. This young and beautiful person stabs (and kills?) the person in the undead state.

Historical: I am inclined to believe, that the undead is the-nameless-one, but if so who is the other person, who looks so much like the-nameless-one? No matter what, if this flashback is historical then it must be a newer event since the-nameless-one has entered the undead state.

Metaphorical: It could be a metaphor for the battle, which the-nameless-one has to fight against himself in order to at last truly die. The young healthy version of the-nameless-one would then represent his mortality, which has killed the-nameless-one over and over again hoping to make him loose his mind completely.


7. We see some winged demons probably from Baator.

Historical: This may very well be historical, since we know the-nameless-one has fought in the blood war. The black Abishai in the smouldering corpse bar for one tells us so.

Metaphorical: Metaphorical it could be either a kind of prophetical vision showing us the terrible place which the-nameless-one must go to upon death or, since Baator is one of the hells, it could be a picture of how the countless lives, deaths and the inability to finally die is hell.


8. We see a person, who is deep down in a long shaft, reach towards the light and the opening high above him. His arm is in undead state. On the edge of this opening of the shaft we see four people standing. We cannot see who they are. They are only to be seen as four silhouettes towards the sky.

Historical: If historical it must be a newer event since the-nameless-one's (whom I think is the one reaching up towards the light) arm is in undead state. But who should the four figures be then? That I cannot guess.

Metaphorical: If a metaphor it could be a picture of how the-nameless-one tries to climb out of his past dark crime (the long shaft) reaching for the light (redemption) through his own power, but finding there only more incarnations, which he will need in order to correct the wrong doings of the incarnation he lived through last time.


9. We see a beautiful young man, who looks into a broken mirror. This man looks very much like the young and beautiful man in flashback 6. Suddenly he turns into undead state and as the flashback fades away we hear the mirror shatter.

Historical: This might be a historical event, since we know that the-nameless-one has entered the undead state when the game starts.

Metaphorical: It could however also be a picture of how the-nameless-one thought that immortality would help him accomplish his goal of correcting his past crime, but instead it turned him into an even worse monster. Or is it a metaphor for his process of becoming immortal i.e. his mortality leaving him?

10. We see Deionarra as a ghost, who floats away.

Historical: This could be historical, since Deionarra seems to be watching over the-nameless-one whenever possible. Deionarra is never very far away as we can see from the "mission-impossible-to-complete" movie. Here Deionarra is seen no matter where in the multiverse the-nameless-one's mission becomes impossible.

Metaphorical: Her leaving could also be a picture of how she cannot stay long before she has to return to the negative material plane, where the practical incarnation left her. Seeing Deionarra as a ghost could on the other hand be a metaphor for her undying love for the-nameless-one.


Now fleshing out a chronology of course depends on what is historical and what is metaphorical, but I will give you my guess and then hope you will give me yours. In this Chronology I presuppose, that we always look out of the-nameless-one's eyes in each and every flashback sequence. Furthermore I assume, that we do not see the flashback sequences in the order, which they actually took place in the past. In my suggestion for a chronology the oldest material in the flashback will be first and the newest material last. I have given them small subtitles to ease the understanding of how I perceive of the story we experience in the flashback:


Possible Chronology:

The Dark Crime of the Past.
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3. We zoom into the tattoo on the-nameless-one's right shoulder i.e. The Symbol of Torment. We see an unknown woman not in the undead state, who seems to be in some kind of despair. At the same time we see the Symbol of Torment. Into this symbol a crying female arabesque creature seems to be woven.

4. We see a hand, which is not in the undead state caress the woman's face. It looks very much like the woman we saw in flashback 3. Suddenly she vanishes into thin air. The person, who caressed her looks around in a desperate manner finding nothing except an empty room. Suddenly he sees her again perhaps in another place since the light shifts dramatically. Yet, this time she has become a terrible undead corpse, which along with many other undead corpses point at you as if they pronounce you guilty.


Loosing Mortality
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9. We see a beautiful young man, who looks into a broken mirror. This man looks very much like the young and beautiful man in flashback 6. Suddenly he turns into undead state and as the flashback fades away we hear the mirror shatter.


The Amount of Wrong only Grows with each new Incarnation.
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5. We see a man, who is drowning. Hands in an undead state reach out towards the drowning man. We know not if they do so in order to save him from drowning or why, but apparently the drowning man is terrified of the person reaching out for him.

6. A person whose arms are in an undead state knife fights with an unknown person, who looks like the-nameless-one before he becomes an undead i.e. young and beautiful. This young and beautiful person stabs (and kills?) the person in undead state.

8. We see a person who is far down in a long shaft reach towards the light and the opening high above him. His arm is in undead state. On the edge of this opening of the shaft we see four people standing. We cannot see who they are. They are only to be seen as four silhouettes towards the sky.

7. We see some winged demons probably from Baator.

8. We see a person, who is deep down in a long shaft, reach towards the light and the opening high above him. His arm is in undead state. On the edge of this opening of the shaft we see four people standing. We cannot see who they are. They are only to be seen as four silhouettes towards the sky.


Two metaphors speaking of the countless lives gone through.
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1. First we see the dustmens' obsidian pillar of names, which is found in Sigil right next to the Mortuary.

2. The shelves of skulls owned by the Bone-Master.


Deionarra's Undying Love.
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10. We see Deionarra as a ghost, who floats away.