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Formians

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Iavas's picture
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factotums
Joined: 2006-07-12
Formians

I just felt like starting a discussion on the topic. Let's see if it goes anywhere, shall we?

Formians. The centaur ants, as they're sometimes called, have been presumed to be from Arcadia for the majority of 2e. Sure, they've made the occasional foray into Mechanus. However, come along 3e and 3.5e, and suddenly the lawful insects are originating in Mechanus and bringing layers of Arcadia to themselves (something that in 2e was attributed to the Harmonium's efforts for finding the common good, fat lot of it that did them). Of course, the entire thing was a ploy by WotC to replace the goofy-seeming Modrons with the ferocious law aligned Formians as the exemplars of Mechanus. We, the fine members of Planewalker, will not stand for such blatant disregard for canon (I hope)! There's nothing wrong with change, as long as it happens logically and, for the most part, gradually. That's what keep cohesion, thereby believability, in a setting. So, seeing as the continuation of the Planescape setting has, at least for now, fallen into our hands - what shall we do with the Formians?

Personally, I prefer to keep them originated in Arcadia. The reason for Menausus slipping into Mechanus should also stay as the Harmonium's 'training camps'. However, to promote some change (even the lawful planes aren't meant to be stale) the Formians of Menausus that were taken along for the ride might have succumbed to their lawful natures, completely abandoning the "good" aspect from their existence. Thus, they are at war with Modrons for territory (although, as seems to be the current consensus, the Modrons have closed in on themselves in order to evolve, leaving the Formians to overrun many parts of Mechanus without much bloodshed). The "good" Formians from Arcadia are repulsed by the new breed - they see them as more insectile and savage. That leaves us with the new 'breed' of Formian described in Fiend Folio (3e). Are they bred for defense by the significantly reduced Arcadian Formians or for war by the expanding Mechanus hives? Or, are they a natural evolution from the significant changes in the planes?

I'd really like to hear some more opinions on the subject. My little monologue above is just a starting point - feel free to critique or add to it. Just try to base your arguments on the setting as set up in 2e books, rather than WotC's retake of it in Manual of the Planes. While good, that book isn't Planescape canon in any way besides, perhaps, d20 numbers for planar qualities.

ripvanwormer's picture
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Factol
Joined: 2004-10-05
Formians

My formians page.

Iavas's picture
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factotums
Joined: 2006-07-12
Formians

Wow! That was detailed, rip. Awesome job. It does a fine job of explaining the relationship of the Arcadia and Mechanus Formians as well as with other races.

The only gripe I have with it is the predominance of visual art in the Formian culture. I would have them focus on shape, texture, and smell. They are, after all, an underground race and would unlikely rely on color (or have color glands, as you wrote). They would, however, rely heavily on touch and smell and would strive to create art that is beautiful for those senses.

Color, however, would be very important to another Formian-like race - the Abeils. The bee people might not be exemplars, per se, but since I discovered them in MM2, I immediately wanted to expand their importance to a planar level. Rather than just have them live with the Formians sometime, they could have either a friendly (or not so friendly) rivalry. However, they can be discussed in a different topic. There's just too much to say about both Formian and Abeil in one.

Finally, I'm curious as to where you got the idea for the aquatic and runner caste Formians. I haven't seen them mentioned in any official sources, so I presume you made them up. A very intriguing idea, that, although I would refrain from going overboard and making 'ship formians' (pardon the pun). That sounds too much like what the Modrons are doing, with their specialized castes. Biorobots, such as the Modrons, can more believably evolve into vehicles than can insects, although the latter can sometimes act as vehicles for smaller beings.

Anyway, I feel like I'm beginning to rant (as if I haven't been since the beginning). Again, great work on the Formian article, rip, and do tell me what you think of my suggestions. They're meant as a productive criticism (based on my opinions) more than any sort of dislike for what you've written. Seeing as my opinions aren't always right, feel free to critique them right back. Smiling

ripvanwormer's picture
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Factol
Joined: 2004-10-05
Formians

Formians wouldn't have had color glands in their earliest history, before they became civilized, but they do continually alter themselves with alchemy and so forth. They're meant to be the planar paragons of lawful artisanship, so I liked having them expand to all senses. Their cities aren't dark tunnels any more, but brightly lit places - sunlight can be directed from the surface via mirrors, and they can use bioluminescence and magic to supplement this.

And yes, I made some of the castes up.

Darkness_Elemental's picture
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Joined: 2006-01-13
Just a thought

Whether intentionally or not, the name "Scion Queen Mother" implies the existence of another, still greater Queen Mother, either sometime in the past or concurrent with the pressent era.

In grafting, the term "scion" refers to the bit of the plant that you're grafting onto a new stem. In terms of decent, "scion" refers to "a descendent or heir; "a scion of royal stock" (wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn)

Both usages imply the existence of a greater Queen Mother.

On the other hand, the designers may have meant that the Scion Queen Mother was the Queen that all other queens were scions of.

Iavas's picture
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factotums
Joined: 2006-07-12
Formians

Yup. It depends where you put the commas, or the apostrophes in this case. 'Scion Queen' Mother or Scion 'Queen Mother'. The first would imply that this is the mother of all the scion queens, or lesser queens. The second would imply that this is the second in command, with a greater queen mother being somebody else (Clarity, perhaps?). Considering rip's awesome exposition, I'd go with the second view and have Clarity (Kk'kk) being the Queen Mother and her renegade Mechanus daughter (Kk'kl) being the Scion Queen Mother.

Armoury99's picture
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Joined: 2006-08-30
Formians

Great write-up Rip!

Arcadian formians are far better than the “army of unstoppable alien insects” that WoTC seem to be pushing. It probably makes the difference between the true formians of Arcadia and those of Mechanus all the more telling.

Personally, I’d still lay the blame for the loss of Menausus at the door of the Harmonium – the loss of the layer was a major part of Harmonium in-game history and it would be a betrayal of that to remove all the philosophical arguments that surrounded it and now say it was just the formians.

Wanting to use these Arcadian formians as the basis for the race, I’d say that the Mechanus breed are an off-shoot that have connected to their new plane and lost the goodness of Arcadia, becoming the remorseless alien creatures out for perfect order as described in 3e.

Perhaps the change results in them desperately clinging to the layer as it moved? Or perhaps the Plane of Mechanus itself (or some Power on it) detected their arrival and has decided that Formians can be made into superior servants of order (the modron having fallen from grace because of the Dead Gods/Great Modron March debacle).

ripvanwormer's picture
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Factol
Joined: 2004-10-05
Formians

Planescape laid the blame for the fall of Nemausus squarely on the Harmonium. The Manual of the Planes blamed the formians for the fall of Menausus and said it happened thousands of years ago. The Book of Exalted Deeds blamed the Harmonium again and implied it happened fairly recently.

We could easily ignore the MotP entirely, but blaming a single faction - no matter how powerful and prevalent - for the slide of an infinite planar layer has always stretched credibility. I like the idea of combining the two ideas, so that a group of more harshly neutral formians caused the slide of a large part of Nemausus - now called Menausus - thousands of years ago, and the Harmonium finished the job much more recently, causing the fall of the rest of the layer.

This doesn't remove the philosophical implications, because the flaws and hubris of the formians in question is identical to that later displayed by the Hardheads. It's history repeating itself - the Unity of Rings. A group of formians believed that Law was something that should be imposed on others, and their beliefs cost them their homelands, as it would later cost the Harmonium. To say it was the other way around - that the slide of the plane changed them instead - reverses the usual Planescape paradigm and absolves them too much of moral culpability.

In fact, if the formians had been more open and less secretive about their crime, the Harmonium might have learned from their mistakes. This doesn't absolve the Hardheads for their methods, of course - turning Nemausus into an outer planar Guantanamo Bay was a bad idea, one they came up with independently.

I'd also blame some of the gods of Nemausus, particularly St. Cuthbert and Marduk, in enabling the Hardheads and possibly the formians as well. I might also be inclined to speculate that there may have been a third major slide of Nemausus, resulting in the Egyptian realm of Duät.

Iavas's picture
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factotums
Joined: 2006-07-12
Formians

'ripvanwormer' wrote:
We could easily ignore the MotP entirely, but blaming a single faction - no matter how powerful and prevalent - for the slide of an infinite planar layer has always stretched credibility...I might also be inclined to speculate that there may have been a third major slide of Nemausus, resulting in the Egyptian realm of Duät.

Ooh. It never clicked that the layer was called Nemausus before the slide. As for blaming a single faction, I just consider the Harmonium to have delivered the coup de grâce to a layer already morally wounded by the super-lawful Formians. Do you think the layer slid in parts, and if so, how would that occur? What's part of infinity? I never was that great at calculus.

ripvanwormer's picture
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Factol
Joined: 2004-10-05
Formians

'Iavas' wrote:
Do you think the layer slid in parts, and if so, how would that occur? What's part of infinity?

Any amount would be part of infinity, but in this case, it would probably have been an infinite cross-section that became a finite (but breathtakingly huge) gear in Mechanus. In Nemausus, a witness would mainly have noticed that many formally prominant landmarks were now missing; otherwise, there wouldn't have been a noticable decrease in size. Another idea would be that there was actually an infinitely wide cliff face that dropped off into endless airy void, but that might be a little too blatant.

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