Gold-weight (abrammuo): elephant

The Elephant App

I continue to write about my 5e Relex project. For those just joining in, it is a reimagining of the almost 50 years of standard D&D lore from the bottom up. It incorporates the most recent understanding of Spelljammer from 5e with a handful of fundamental changes. These fundamental changes include more elemental planes, planes that comprise the life cycle, and myriad Lands of the Dead in the Ethereal Planes.

The primary reason for this post is to see the effects of configuring my website to be a part of the fediverse of Mastodon. With this setup, you can follow my blogposts from within Mastodon without a signup on the blog. Just follow in Mastodon. It will come up as Bear (that's me) and you can follow like any other user.

I am trying to finish my post on Priests, Necromancers, and the Undead, but there are a lot of things to explain when you change how all three work. Wish me luck!

The Empyrean by Gustave Doré - this drawing gives a sense of what the entrance to Heaven may look like. There are hundreds of angels circling the opening with a shining star appears beyond the opening.

By Force of Will

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.

In the Beginning

From the void came thought, from thought came motion, from motion all that is seen and unseen came to be.

Anaxiletus - Motus, Primus, et Deos

It is believed that the Astral Sea and the Ethereal Mists have always existed. The Gods do not speak of it, the Titans question the importance of knowing their origins. However, all seem to agree that where the Astral Sea borders the Ethereal Mists, a river began to flow of an admixture of the two. This Affluviam is considered the first cause that generated the universe.

As the Affluviam flowed into the Ethereal Mists, the seven elements of the Central Wheel were formed. The first element, Bosk (Wood) was formed and as the flow continues, the rest came in order: Air, Fire, Earth, Stone, Metal, and Water. Where the elements bordered each other, came Serrago (Wood and Air), Smoke (Air and Fire), Magma (Fire and Earth), Gemstone (Stone and Metal), and Rust (Metal and Water).

Where Wood and Water met, however, a branch of the Affluviam changed course and Stroth (The Great Marsh) came to be. From the Great Marsh, life began as the start of the Inner Wheel. From Birth (the Forge of Souls), the Affluviam coursed into Growth, then to Decay and then to Death, and emerging back to the Central Wheel through Threst (Compression).

Threst is the ultimate destination of the physical body where it is transformed into a stone-like material before cast adrift in the Astral Sea. The dead gods and titans floating in the Astral Sea are proof enough that the Threst exists.

The mind, however, joins the Affluviam to journey through the Ethereal Mists and into the Empyrean Wheel, the lands of the deities (Gods, Titans, and Powers). Some minds never escape the Ethereal Mists choosing to form their own ethereal home. The mind take ethereal form as ghosts and other spirits. They in turn form the myriad Ghostrealms that stretch the infinite mists.

Beyond the Empyrean Ring lies Ad Lucem (Towards the Light) and Ad Umbram (Toward the Shadow). Light and Shadow admix through all of creation drawing sentient life toward one or the other. Some are drawn to a balance. This is where the ideas of Good and Evil, Law and Chaos come from. Their purest forms do not exist, even in the Empyrean Ring.

The known world exists in the center of Central Wheel where the elements, life, light, shadow, the Ethereal Mists, and the Astral Sea converge. Other worlds with different elements and different life flow with the Affluviam throughout the Astral Sea.

Beyond the Empyrean Ring lies only thought. The alien Ngngilligan Horrors and the Ninian Angels are believed to emerge from there. Illic furor est.

Game Usage

This is the foundation of the how and why of this universe. Instead of Gods, there are deities that comprise the Gods, the Titans, and the Powers. The idea of the Light and Shadow are meant to imply that Alignment as a game concept doesn't exist. The concepts of good and evil, law and chaos exist, but not to the extent that each concept has a common language or that magic can divine these concepts to produce an effect. As such, Clerics still exist and worship of one of the deities provides access to various domain spells per the standard rules. The Powers, however, can also serve as patrons for Warlocks.

The Njnjilligan Horrors are a stand-in for Cthulhu. Lovecraft is problematic and I don't want any part of it. The idea of non-Euclidean horrors, however, can serve as useful game material. I imagine cursed items, Phrenic Scourges, various plagues, and more could have roots here. The idea of something that is "beyond the gods" can also serve as a source for challenges to very high level characters.

The seven elements at a base level provide different kinds of elementals. It adds three more dialects to the Primordial language. The goal here, though, is to lay the foundation for the elemental bloodlines for characters. The elemental planes are home to creatures of all kinds, including sentient species like the Haizawer (Air), as well as animals like the Tineshuna (literally a fire-fox), as well as kings, lords, and beings of great magical powers. I do not believe that Genasi are OGL, but I don't have djinn in my world. Ancestors of those with elemental bloodlines can be a variety of sentient beings.

The Marsh as the beginning of life still provides a plane of Life, but nothing so overpowering to cause radiance damage by just visiting. It is earth-like, but serves as a gateway to any place on the Central and Inner Wheel. The Threst is my attempt to explain why there are dead gods floating around the Astral Sea. Basically, everything that died is transformed into the stone-like material of the dead deities floating in the Astral Sea. Anything Medium sized or smaller isn't encountered: the compressed body doesn't last very long, becoming dust. Elemental Compression is weird, true. I'm still working through what adventures there would be like.

My favorite thing so far, though, is the Ethereal Mists. There can be worlds there where the living and the dead can co-exist. The Ethereal Mists are still the fundamental source of all matter, so the thoughts of the dead provide a ghost body. Those of strong enough will could gain physical form as well. I imagine these worlds can be terrifying, but I also wanted to provide places where characters can visit the dead and talk to them.

One last thing. Anaxiletus is my NPC that is the great historian and philosopher of this universe. I haven't explored more about him yet. Anyway, those are my thoughts so far. Let me know what you think.