Planescape: Dark Mirrors
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What’s a mortal to make of the modrons, those strange creatures of absolute order who whir and click on the plane of Mechanus? Theirs are not like other lives – even the infinitely subtle baatezu are more comprehensible than these thronging drones. To an outsider it appears the modrons have no existence other than as a whole. Indeed, there is a saying: “To look at one modron is to look at all of them.”
It is only logical, as it is with all things modron, that they are native to the orderly plane of Mechanus. The two, plane and modrons, probably would not exist without each other – modron society defines the plane, just as the plane shapes them. To understand the modrons, a being must stop thinking like a person, like an individual. Only then can anyone hope to comprehend the patterns of modron life.
Modrons are strictly divided into fourteen castes. Castes are hardly unique, but the modron approach to them is. Not only does each rank have its own functions, but each also has its own body shape, so the rank of any modron can be readily identified by the creature’s appearance.
Ruling over the castes is Primus, the One and the Prime. It and the plane are one in thought and deed; as Primus turns, so do the wheels of Mechanus.
Primus – absolute ruler of all modrons
Secundus – viceroys of the four quarters
Tertian – judges
Quarton – rulers of the four regions of the four quarters
Quinton – bureau chiefs and records keepers
Hexton – generals of the armies of modrons
Septon – inspectors
Octon – governors of the four sectors of the four regions of the four quarters
Nonaton – police supervision
Decaton – physical welfare of base modrons
Pentadrone – lesser police, law enforcement
Quadrone – multiple complex tasks, supervision
Tridrone – multiple tasks, minor supervision
Duodrone – Complex tasks
Monodrone – general laborers
Habitat/Society: To understand modron society, one must abandon all understanding of the self. In such forgetting comes knowledge, so with the surrender victory is gained. Should the scholar retain the slightest glimmer of who he is, his words are tainted and his observations lies. It is said that those able to strip their souls so bare become modrons, themselves, and their spirits become different from their shells.
It is a fundamental property of the modrons that each rank can only comprehend the existence of the rank directly above and below it. For example, the monodrones obey the will of the duodrones, but they cannot even conceive of the existence of the tridrones. When a monodrone sees a tridrone, it does not see a modron, and it could not even say what it sees. Some aphasia apparently breaks the link between the sight of the higher modron and what it actually is. This blindness leads to an interesting conclusion, as each rank believes that those immediately above it are the highest form of life and the fountainhead of supreme logic. Thus, Primus’s lordship is secret from all modrons but the four secundi, who pass his edicts on to the nine tertians, who in turn pass these to the quartons (who have no knowledge or understanding of either the secundi or Primus), and so on.
There is an awareness of all ranks below a modron’s station, yet communication is exclusively limited to adjacent ranks. It would seem that the monodrone is almost as alien to the tridrone as the tridrone is to the monodrone. This is not the result of elitism. Rather, the strict order observed by the race completely negates the slightest necessity for communication beyond immediate inferiors and superiors.
A modron’s perception of its immediate superiors should not be mistaken for deification, either. What others might call a god, the modrons cannot imagine, for they are unable to conceive of such an individual existence. Instead, all life and direction spring from a pool of logical action – all that is right happens because it must inescapably be, and all that is wrong is that which must not be. These metal limitations make dealings with modrons a challenge. Within each rank there is no individuality, either in form or thought. All modrons call themselves “we”, and a character has no way of knowing if the pentadrone he spoke to today is the same as the one who held the same post yesterday. This would be minor if the modrons weren’t so bureaucratically driven, requiring strangers to appear and reappear before clerks, courts, and boards. Some travelers solve the problem with a brush and paint, marking modrons with runes simply to tell them apart. Unless instructed to remove these marks, a modron may wear a splash of color or a strange sigil for the rest of its life, for they don’t seem to notice the markings themselves.
Even the size of modron society is rigidly fixed. In each rank there are only a set number of modrons. Should a modron of any rank die, an available candidate from the next lowest rank is promoted, and then the gap in the lower rank is filled by promoting from the still lower rank. This continues until the rank of monodrone is reached. With no lower ranks, the creatures at this level reproduce by fission, as one of their members mysteriously divides into two. (Given this, the claim that all modrons are one might be truer than it first seems.)
Promotion occurs seemingly by accident. As soon as a vacancy occurs, the nearest modron of the next lowest rank is recruited to ascend. Since they have no individuality, there’s no point in trying to promote the “best and the brightest”; all modrons of a given rank are deemed equal. Promotion is traumatic – not only does the chosen modron undergo a wrenching change of shape to the new rank’s form, but it suddenly gains an understanding of a world previously veiled to it: the existence of a yet superior rank. Imagine the shock of a duodrone, who knew only of monodrones, duodrones, and tridrones, when it suddenly discovers those inexplicable creatures around it are quadrones and members of its own race! On the other hand, the newly promoted modron seems to adapt to its new form instantly, and it is the humanoid observer who is often most shaken by the experience.
The realm of the modrons occupies 64 of Mechanus’s coglike wheels, called sectors, and each is governed by an octon. The sectors in turn are grouped into four sector regions, overseen by the 16 quartons, and each group of four regions, called quarters, is supervised by one of the four secundi. And, of course, all of it is ruled by Primus.
Born through parthenogenesis, modrons have no family, tribe, or clan. Instead they live in rigid numerical units called, for lack of a better word, battalions. This makes them sound more warlike than they really are, although modrons have standing armies that are not to be trifled with.
Although some less-informed scholars state that no modron acts except by the orders of a superior, this is not perfectly accurate. In general, a modron can act and react to a situation on its own, provided the situation falls within the range of its purpose. Thus, monodrones, who can only fulfill a single task at any given time, are rightly seen as incapable of reacting. As one moves higher through the ranks, the range of choices and reactions available to any given modron increases. Even so, modrons are notorious for their predictable and rigid reactions to events.
It should be no surprise that the goal and purpose of every modron is to organize Mechanus in the most orderly fashion possible, but their goal is not limited to only their 64 wheels or even Mechanus itself. Given the opportunity, they would spread their rigid pattern of organization over the entire multiverse. Fortunately for the rest of the planes, order is constantly challenged by chaos, even in the clockwork vastness of Mechanus. Since even the slightest imperfection to order is enough to disturn the harmony modrons ask, they seldom find the time or resources to carry their crusade to other realms or planes.
Modrones speak their own precise, mathematical language, but those of duodrone or greater can manage at least some of the trade tongue found throughout the planes.
Ecology: Modrons fulfill many roles within Mechanus. They maintain parts of the sphere and are maintained by it. They make war with their enemies and trade with their neighbors. Together, they are one living social entity. Those few that venture outside their plane (on orders from their superiors) will always attempt to bring order out of chaos, sense out of nonsense.
Modrons are not completely without their uses to the rest of the multiverse. Their single-minded pursuit of order has a certain usefulness in some fields. On rare occasions, nonmodrons can hire members of this race for particular tasks. The process is never simple, since the potential employee can never make the decision itself – all requests must be approved by its superiors. Usually the request has to pass through several ranks before an answer is given.
If permission is granted, some wizards find modrons to be amazingly useful as librarians, and merchants may retain them as bookkeepers, although such modrons must always be watched for overzealousness. Sometimes their understanding of order, far deeper than that of most other beings, defies human understanding. In one library, all the books might be arranged by subject, in another by the first letter of the first word, and in yet a third by the page where the last diagram appears. All three might be vital keys in the overall order of the modron universe. Order, after all, does not necessarily need to be understandable.
The bodies of modrons slain anywhere immediately disintegrate. It is suspected that whatever energies were trapped within the creature’s mortal form find their way back to Mechanus and merge with the energy field of the plane. This field is what sustains the modron race. Although modrons eat physical food, it is not the substance that sustains them, but the energy essence contained therein. So long as the modrons are able to draw upon this essence, they can continue to split and perpetuate their kind. In fact, it is speculated that the only means to truly crush this race is to cut it off from this energy pool. Given the impossibility of this feat, it is fortunate that modrons are not a particularly aggressive race. Who, after all, could withstand a single-minded army that constantly regenerated itself?