I talked to my great-grandfather and he tells me that the heavens generated by the will of the deities are not nearly as sweet as the wine he shares with his father and the visits from his living descendants.
Anaxiletus - Voluntatis (Of Free Will)
When a sentient creature dies, the soul or spirit separates from the body and traverses the Astral Sea and the Ethereal Mists to make their way to the home of one of the various deities, usually one that was revered in life. Revere is a strong term, the deities will let anyone in that wants to be there.
The deities will say that the Empyrean Ring was created by the force of their will alone. Each plane demonstrates their power to control creation. The deities create these planes for a permanent place to live and to avoid conflict with other deities. For a deity to live in a Material Plane would not only endanger that plane, but upset the others that also need the worship of souls in that plane.
There is an unspoken agreement amongst all the deities that rare visits and occasional avatar visits are okay, but worship is a scarce resource that needs to be shared for their mutual survival. With all the Material Planes floating around the Astral Sea, each deity should have enough souls to thrive. But there is a reason that the bodies of dead deities drift in the Astral Sea, deities can be forgotten and the lack of remembrance will kill them. Once dead, no amount of worship can revive them.
To survive, the deities generate their home planes to provide an eternal place of worship. Again, worship is a loose term that can range from simple acknowledgement to elaborate rituals than span centuries. Any amount of consideration will contribute to the survival of a deity.
The Lands of the Dead
Some souls, though, find a place amongst the Ethereal Mists to call home. Like deities, through shear force of will, a soul can create their own place to be. It is gray, but it will have its own source of light making it brighter than the surrounding mists. Through force of will, solid ground will form and even a structure or two. As there are countless Material Planes floating along the Astral Sea, there are countless demi-planes that dot the Ethereal Mists.
If another soul finds a demi-plane, it will grow to accommodate all the souls on that demi-plane. The will of more sentient creatures makes it brighter. As the souls interact with each other, small landscapes emerge like a small field or a tiny grove of trees. The collective will adds detail and/or substance to the demi-plane. If more souls find a demi-plane and choose to stay, the demi-plane becomes a Land of the Dead.
The easiest the find Lands of the Dead are comprised of generations of related souls. These are bright places that could easily be mistaken for a large city or a kingdom with vast fields, towns, and food bearing plants. In these places, the living will visit or even take up residence. There are many cultures on the Material Planes that revere their ancestors and take periodic trips to visit them.
Not everyone's idea of a good time is endless retirement. Some souls thrive on conquest. For those souls, the Ethereal Mists start out as a fun place, but when materializing anything comes through force of will and no one is truly able to die, their restless souls look elsewhere. These ghosts and spirits have enough will to affect the Material Planes and use that power when they visit. The cost of being of taking a physical form is a small price to pay to have the ability to interact in the Material Plane. Having a physical form, of course, also makes them mortal and susceptible to death all over again.
The demi-planes of the Ethereal Pirates, however, take this to the highest degree. Through force of will, they have become completely corporeal to the point of requiring sleep and food to survive. With their corporeal forms, they can board etherships to seek out plunder and conquest.
The Source of Magic
The Ethereal Mists are the raw material of the universe. Some call it ectoplasm, but most call it Antimber. Antimber doesn't act on its own, but reacts to being acted upon. The Astral Sea is the raw material of thought or Huye. It acts upon the Ethereal Mists to create matter and energy. The Astral Sea also does not act on its own. In the beginning, the Demiurge had its first act of will as the only thing in the universe that could act on its own. It's first act was to set the Astral Sea in motion to begin the Affluviam and thus the generation of the universe.
In the same way, magic is the manipulation of thought and matter to generate an effect. The spellcaster wills something to be and it will be. This can be mending a small tear in a garment, invoking a fiery maelstrom, or granting a wish.
Thoughts Outside the Fiction
I want to talk more about magic before talking about the game implications of the cosmology.
In D&D, people can through study (Wizards), bloodline (Sorcerers), or transaction (Warlocks), use their will to generate magic. Clerics will be a separate post, but they function like Warlocks. It isn't self-contained, though. Spellcasters use something outside of themselves to generate magic triggered by their will. For Warlocks, their will activates power that comes from making a deal with a greater being. There's a direct exchange between the source and the warlock. The Warlock get magical powers and the patron gets a soul, a favor, or something else of value to them. Wizards, though, have less obligations. Instead of a soul, they gain magical powers through study and the necessity of components. Their tether to their source of power is either the spoken word, physical motions, a physical object or a combination of the three. For sorcerers, the power is in their body, a gift from an ancestor. No selling the soul, no wandering all over for obscure ingredients, studying obscure languages, and mastering the hokey-pokey. The power is innate, but is tied to their physical body. Specifically for the purposes of my relex, the power is in their blood.
Going one step further, there is now a rationale for psionics (also a separate post). A psion is their own source of power and it is mental, not physical. Like the soul forming a demi-plane in the Ethereal Mists, everything a psion does in the Material Plane is a pure act of will. No components or blood required. Psions spend only their personal mental energy.
In game, deities have a special hatred for psions. The source of magic for spellcasters can be traced back to them. Warlocks directly receive power, the strongest connection. Sorcerers get their powers from one of the deities through their progeny, so there is still a connection. Wizards are driven to research everything, usually through formulas, incantations, or rituals that the deities themselves invented or revealed to others. Psions, though, have no tie to the deities at all. As such, deities are fearful that they will lose their power and ultimately their lives if sentient species find a way to empower their own magic. The fear is that there will be no need for worship if an individual can be their own source of magic.
Going back to the Lands of the Dead, the intent was to provide something that made sense for the "free and willing" target of a resurrection spell. The assumption I wasn't happy about was that someone wouldn't come back because they were at peace in one of the Outer Planes. That left the only creatures capable of being resurrected were those that were willing to leave the Outer Planes. The most obvious reason would be that they would leave is that the soul is in one of the bad planes.
Admittedly, the question of where the soul when upon death is intentionally vague in D&D. I found, though, that thinking through it offered an opportunity for some great settings. The idea of a soul going to an outer plane is born from Western cultures. Other cultures, though, have a form of afterlife that do not involve deities directly or even at all. D' Jalia / Ancestral Plane from Black Panther comics and movies is not tied to any deity that I am aware of. A couple of adventuring ideas for these Lands of the Dead are:
- Having a place for family reunions with the dead.
- investigating ancient mysteries by interviewing someone that was at the scene thousands of years ago.
I am working on game crunch. I am a bottom-up worldbuilder, so I want to know the why of something before I can describe the how. These three posts so far provide the universal whys of the universe making it easier to talk about how some classes work and develop subclasses for them. It also provides fodder for different spells and magic items as well as new creatures to encounter.
Tomorrow I hope to talk about Clerics or Psions.