I would like to learn about any designer explanations about how they came up with the name of the famous city.

One possible hypothesis I have is that the designers were inspired by the planet "Nivil" from the Spelljammer accessory Practical Planetology (TSR 9328), published in 1991, predating the Planescape (PS) setting by 3 years. Nivil is a ring world, and based on its description it is quite clear where its inspiration is coming from. Is it possible that the PS designers wanted to introduce a ring-city and modified the word Nivil into Sigil?

This hypothesis is also partially supported (or at least not contradicted) by the fact that the word is not supposed to be pronounced in the ordinary manner we expect (thanks to @keithcurtis for the reminder). While 'sigil', with its plain English meaning, could be considered to reflect the status of the city as a "magical symbol" or "seal" that keeps the multiverse together, we know that it is pronounced with the hard g, similar to the word cigar. Unfortunately, a 2001 Q&A session with David "Zeb" Cook fails to explain the reason for the choice of the word, only its choice of pronunciation (as a joke). However later in a 2016 interview, he himself can be heard using the regular pronunciation (around 01:08:50).

In short, while I have done some research before asking the question, my speculation is just speculation, and I would like to hear concrete sources. If I were to self-answer with the above, it would be devoid of actual references.

Are there any sources to confirm or reject this hypothesis? Where does the name Sigil come from?


3 Answers 3


So, first — apologies for not responding to this earlier. I didn't see this until I came across an FB message asking the same thing (probably somebody on this thread!). Here's what I said there with some elaborations based on Jeff's comments.

So, Sigil. I'll say right now the first theory is wrong. I'm not sure I even knew about the Spelljammer planet and certainly wouldn't have made the connection to Ringworld. (in this Jeff is clearly correct as I didn't know anything about that particular revision panic!).

The second theory much more on the mark. I think (because it was a long time ago) that I chose Sigil because it means symbol (or seal) and the whole idea that symbols and words have power was important to Planescape. While I didn't have a specific meaning in mind for the torus and spire (beyond they're impossible) I'm comfortable with the idea they symbolically mean something. But like a Dadaist or Surrealist I'm more interested in the emotional reaction it creates than a fixed meaning.

I realize that's not a lot of help, but it's more a magician's trick of presenting a mystery and leaving the audience to guess what happened.

I will note that Die Vecna, Die! was published well after I left TSR, so I can't claim any connection to what's said there. As for the Lady of Pain disallowing divine meddling, that was something of a practical solution to make Sigil a stable place for player characters to set up a base — i.e. a place of escape from whatever god they managed to piss off that week! Plus is just made the Lady of Pain more interesting — to have that level of power and yet use it in such a proscribed way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you add a link to the source of the quote? \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Apr 18, 2018 at 1:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage: I was the one who contacted Zeb Cook and I can vouch for the quote. This is indeed the "Zeb Cook", original designer of the PS campaign setting. \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Apr 18, 2018 at 13:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZwiQ after you mentioned contacting Jeff Grubb, I took it upon myself to contact Zeb, too. Glad we have a conclusive answer. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 19, 2018 at 16:51

This is not yet a full answer to the question, but at least an answer to a small part of it, ie. the validity of the hypothesis put forth.

Through his website, I have contacted Jeff Grubb, whose extensive work at TSR included the design of the Spelljammer setting. He has kindly responded by stating that the Spelljammer product describing Nivil was the outcome of a freelance project and had no connection with Sigil. Quoting:

… there is no connection between Nivil and Sigil. When TSR hired a freelance designer, the freelancer asked if he could do a ringworld. … he turned in a design for THE Ringworld, from the novel by Larry Niven, right down to Fist O God mountain. We were not in a position to cancel or delay the project, so we made a number of tweaks that would hopefully keep us out of legal trouble, and kept the name Nivil in honor of Mr. Niven.


I was quite interested in this information, as I love the setting.

I did some digging about, but there seems to be no adequate information. Apparently, the first time the city and setting was mentioned was in 1992, just as an FYI, even though it's not important.

The most relevant piece of information I could dig was a comment on a post in a very old thread discussing Sigil in regards to Planescape:Torment, and one poster said that the name came from the fact that the whole of Sigil acts as a seal, though he didn't explain what to. He claimed that the geography of the city itself was a spell, but no references were offered, no one else commented on the fact, and the thread is far too old to Necro.

Also, the Dabus speak in symbols\sigils\rebuses, which he sorta alluded to as well. That information CAN be verified. Anyway, I'll keep looking, and will update my answer if I find any concrete data.


After further reading, it seems a book from 2000 called "Die Vecna Die!" does in fact state the the Torus underneath Sigil is the physical manifestation of the Fulcrum\Centre of the Multiverse. That would align with Sigil being a seal of sorts.

The Lady of Pain supposedly disallows any divine beings from setting foot on the City, as divine energies destabilise this core, potentially sundering the Multiverse. Apparently, that's what Vecna attempted to do.

All of this and a lot more information is collated on this post: https://haunt-pa.enjin.com/forum/m/11535712/viewthread/30740147-planescape-city-sigil-factions , full with references.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a decent attempt, but I am honestly looking for actual concrete references. Please do update your answer as you gather more data. \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Mar 22, 2018 at 18:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Aye, not enough here, just figured it might send you in the right direction. I will do. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2018 at 12:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Dear Joao, all these are worthy research efforts (and some of which I had myself covered), but this is a "designer-reasons" question. Quoting from the description of the tag: "Showing the designers' reasons require statements from the designers themselves. This tag is not for asking subjective guesses about what the designers may have intended, but it is about asking what the designers themselves have said what their reasons are." \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Mar 25, 2018 at 18:14

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