The City of Doors is undoubtedly Planescape's strongest setting element, and In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil does an admirable job of bringing it to life, but I'm left with a single burning question - where in Sigil can an adventurer possibly go to get a drink?
I crack myself up with the sarcasm sometimes. There's actually quite a lot of bars, you see. Although, sometimes they're inns. And one of them is a bathhouse, and if you're a member of the Transcendent Order, you can even eat the floating oranges and lemons completely without charge (outsiders have to pay 3cp for the privilege).
Forget sarcasm, that cracks me up. You've just worked up a sweat in the Great Gymnasium. Now it's time to cool down with a soak, but you know what would really hit the spot? A refreshing bathtub lemon. Mmm, sour, but with a musky hint of unwashed centaur.
Oh, okay, that did veer into sarcasm a little. However, sarcasm aside, I really do count the abundance of pubs, restaurants, and inns as one of the book's strengths. It's maybe not what you'd ask for in a setting bible meant to guide authors and artists, but it's definitely the sort of information a band of wandering adventurers is going to want to know. Even aside from the occasional bouts of R&R, half an adventurer's business comes from shadowy meetings in anonymous public spaces. You can't all meet in an inn if there isn't an inn.
So, Into the Cage is absolutely a great book for games where the PCs are just passing through Sigil. And I don't mean that in even a slightly backhanded way. It's the City of Doors. Its defining feature is that it's filled with magical portals leading to other parts of the Universe. In a long-running Planescape game, the party could pass through Sigil two or three dozen times. And with this book, they could stay in a different, distinct inn almost every time. Plus, they can have plenty of color encounters with pickpockets, corrupt guides, heavy-handed town guards, or Kadyx, the burrowing infernal carnivore/urban legend that does hilarious things with its victims' bones because it's also kind of an asshole (it once ate a vigilante who was tracking down an alcoholic, shoe-stealing criminal, and it left behind nothing but her feet).
The real question, though, is how the book functions as a guide to running Sigil-centric games. There, I have reservations. It's not that In The Cage is a bad book for Sigil games - quite the opposite, really. It may feel touristy, but even when the characters are natives, the players and the DM are tourists, so it works out. No, what's missing is a sense of the civic life of the city. We learn a bit about the laws of Sigil, but very little about how they're passed. I suspect the culprit is the factions. The very next book in the series is The Factols' Manifesto and I'm guessing that relevant material is being held back for it. But since the factions are so important to Sigil's functioning, the gaps are sometimes pretty conspicuous. The faction headquarters usually get about 1-2 paragraphs - even when they are major adventure locations like the Armory or the Civic Festhall. It honestly felt at times like I was reading half a book.
On the other hand, there is very little fat in this particular volume, and nothing that stands out to me as an obvious candidate for removal, so maybe I'm really saying that Sigil is a big enough subject to be worth 250+ pages. It's not such a bad thing to be left wanting more.
Short post this time, so let's go to the notes for random comments:
I'm not sure how I feel about the Lady of Pain being able to shrink or grow the size of the city. Something like "the City of Doors" does have an intrinsically fey quality to it, so uncertainty about the place's exact dimensions is thematic, but it's also a place where mortal people live, and calculating the interior surface of a torus is not all that difficult, especially at ranges short enough for parallax to be visible to the naked eye. Maybe it's just a case of the designers underestimating what's possible with medieval techniques and equipment.
There's a restaurant that serves larvae steaks. Larvae, in D&D, are the souls of evil-doers that manifest on the Lower planes as wormlike creatures. I'm not going to say a damned thing about eating a steak made from a giant bug, because really, it's not all that different than eating a cow. But eating a human soul? This is one of those areas where Planescape doesn't realize how weird it is. The Outer Planes are the afterlife, but they are also a place where mortal creatures can exist. So the residents of the afterlife can interact with the living, when they're both on the Planes. So the dead must have a substance that appears sufficiently similar to the material substance of the living. And the living can eat that substance. Or, at least, they can do all the steps of eating. They can cut away portions of the dead. They can handle those portions after they've been separated. They can heat those portions with fire and they appear to transmute from uncooked to cooked. They can put the cooked portions in their mouths. Chew. Swallow. A dead soul.
I feel like maybe that should have been a bigger deal.
The Transcendent Order charges people 2000gp to use their portal to Elysium. That's about 40 years of wages for an average worker. So the cost of this back door to heaven is approximately the output of a single human life. Aargh! I really wish that Planescape had more to say about capitalism and colonialism, because the metaphor is almost too on the nose.
Ukss Contribution: There's a bar called "The Fat Candle." Its characteristic feature - "a candle the size of a tree-trunk in the center of the room is the only source of light." I love fantasy like this, where it makes me go, "Sure. Why not?" I searched the internet and the Yankee Candle's flagship store has a 1300 lb, 6 foot tall candle that will burn for an estimated 7 and a half years (source), so it's not even something you'd need magic to do. It's just a weird, implausible bar.