Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Look at Cosmology

I begin my review of past material with the cosmology of Starfall. I figure of everything I’ve already written about the setting, that has the farthest reaching implications, and thus is the most foundational. Today, I’m mostly looking for things I like, don’t like, and think could be expanded upon or otherwise changed. I’ll also do this with an eye toward mechanics, so once the time comes to address things like spells, portals, and power-ups, I’ll have something of a roadmap to work with. This should give me enough material for a new cosmological primer I’ll post at a later date.

So without further ado…

The Material Plane

For starters, I really, really dislike the term “Material Plane”. It always felt cludgy to me, and now that I’m the one naming things, I’m going to not name this plane “the Material Plane”. In fact, even having “Plane” in the name makes it sound too studied, sanitized, and scholarly. The common people of Starfall don’t run around talking about this plane or that plane. They know they live in the world, and some other planes of existence in the lower-case sense. They probably have lots of euphemisms for their plane of existence, and I did hit on that the first time through. So I’ll be keeping “Mortal Plane” and definitely the “Mortal Veil”. I will have to give thought to some other colorful names for the mortal plane.

The description of the mortal veil as being consistent, normal, and predictable has the correct feel, and I like the description of the sun as “a burning orb of fire that lights and heats the world below” and the moon as “its cool, pale mistress”. Similarly, I like the overall description of the stars, but I’m iffy on stars being associated with “madness, drunkenness, depravity, and revelry”. I know I took that from Dionysus at some point and twisted it, but when you start tying madness to the stars, you send not-so-mixed messages of Cthulhu and the Old Ones. Starfall specifically lacks these kinds of ancient, maleficent deities, so I’d rather not create any confusion about that. I’ll need to think of new concepts to tie the stars to – maybe oracular vision, knowledge, etc.

The rest of this entry looks peachy, so I won’t mess with it. The mortal veil probably doesn’t require much description, since we, ourselves, live in something similar. It’s just “the normal world” as compared to what we will discuss from here out.

The Ethereal Plane

I immediately like words like “ethereal”, “spirit”, and “veil” for this plane. I still dislike “plane” as any kind of common parlance, and I find that scholars call it the “Veil” a bit counterintuitive. I would expect scholars to come up with clinical names like “Spirit Plane” or “Near Astral Plane” and common folks to say things like “Spirit Veil” or “the Veil”. So I’ll rearrange the terminology a bit, but mostly keep what is already there.

 The description goes on to give a pretty accurate description of how I picture the ethereal veil. It is a border plane where spirits live, and it acts as a buffer between the mortal veil and the astral, about which we will talk next. I continue to like the idea that the mortal world is reflected in the ethereal world, and that physical laws present fewer limitations on what inhabitants can do.

I find the discussion of how occupants of the ethereal are – or rather, are not – perceived by those of the material interesting. Those in the spirit veil are incorporeal and invisible to the mortal veil. It sounds pedantic, but this says nothing about humans’ more animalistic senses – hearing, smell, and touch. I think my idea of the ethereal suggests that inhabitants are imperceptible to the material world, not merely invisible. Since the section goes on to mention that entities in the Veil have difficulty perceiving the mortal veil, I think being “ethereal” means being in a different plane in terms of planar travel. But the description of the effects of being ethereal are best tied to advantages like Insubstantial (with minor tweaking) and extended Invisibility. So I think I will end up creating a bunch of modified advantages to describe how all of this works.

So for the purposes of spells and anything that has characteristics affected by metaphysical distance between planes, the ethereal will be around a half-step away from the material, but in terms of traits, entering the ethereal may not require Jumper. Being ethereal will definitely grant a meta-trait that incorporates all of the advantages, disadvantages, and features discussed above.

Ethereal Sinks

This idea interests me a bit. I took it mostly from Ravenloft, but I think it might have morphed a little since then. Basically, an ethereal sink is a place where the barrier between the mortal and spirit veils is thinner than elsewhere. This explains many Bad Places, portals, sanctified places, etc. There are even sinks where a mortal can physically step into the ethereal and spirits can cross bodily into the mortal world. But for all their wonder, they are most often haunts.

How sinks are created is left intentionally vague. The classic ghostly haunting triggers can create sinks – violence, death, strong emotions, major events, etc. But sinks can come about of their own accord, too. And I don’t see why magic can’t create sinks, too. I can see where the World Spirit (needs a better name!) could simply create or destroy sinks at will.

Something I will need to expand upon are the effects of sinks. Are spirits more powerful there? How is the perception across the mortal-ethereal boundary affects? Could ethereal sinks be valuable to certain people? These are all questions that need addressing.

Between the Planes

Ugh. “Planes”. I really need to find a better word! I am really liking “veil”, but that will get old, too. I need a few words to work with. Aaanyway!

This idea is pulled from Tolkien’s elves. They were described as existing in the mortal world and the spirit world you saw when you put on one of the Rings. To me, that was the ethereal plane, and it was always cool. So guess what? There are entities that can exist in both the mortal and ethereal planes simultaneously. This creates the need for a pretty wide variety of traits for perceiving and interacting with the ethereal veil.

The Astral Plane

Well, here’s the big one. The Astral Plane. The one time I don’t think I’ll take “Plane” out of the name. It conjures up all of the right imagery. It is esoteric, weird, and heady. And frankly, the description given seems to hit the nail on the head. Unlike the spirit veil, the Astral Plane is decidedly a different plane of existence and will be fully treated as such. Still, there is room for expansion into how a visitor shapes his local Astral Plane and what happens

Soul Portals

So here we go. If the Astral Plane wasn’t weird enough yet, it’s time to talk more about the World Spirit that is so desperate for a cool name. The World Spirit is literally the conglomeration of every soul in existence, the spirit of the entire planar system, and the origin of all life. And the Astral Plane is a construct through which souls in the world can connect to the World Spirit. So think of the World Spirit as a highway network that connects absolutely everything in creation, and soul portals are the onramps and exit ramps.

So with that brief explanation and bad analogy over with, let’s see what is already written. The write up is brief, but to me, it seems to work. It also drops an important hint that I’ll leave in there. It’s pretty bald for anyone to grab onto, but it belies the troubles with demons and why the world is changing.

I don’t see where the description needs much more explanation, but I will want to consider how to handle soul portals mechanically. These are definitely how advantages like Mind Control, Mind Probe, Mind Reading, Minklink, Possession, Special Rapport, and even Turning work. I suspect this is also, to some extent, how Exorcism works. Mind Block probably works by contracting a person’s soul portal. So there’s clearly some work to be done here.

The Plane of Dreams

“Plane”. Ugh. Again. I kind of like “the Dreamlands” or “dream world” for this. I’d love to get other suggestions, too. As for what is written here, it’s a decent enough description of a common enough idea. I don’t see anything that needs alteration, but I do think Dreamwalkers would do well with further description, and an allusion to Freddy Kruger wouldn’t be out of place.

Mechanically, dreamwalking should definitely be a function of Jumper, planar travel spells, or using portals into the Astral. I will need some degree of mechanics to cover fighting for control over a dreamscape if I ever expect PCs to enter the Dreamlands. This could be a good use of the Dreaming skill. I do worry, however, that in a dungeon delving game, dreamwalking might be a bit too un-dungeon-y. Maybe this would make an interesting part of a dungeon or some such, though. And being attacked in your dreams would make a great random encounter that completely bypasses any posted guards. Yeah, I think this will get some attention.

The Akashic Library

This is stolen from Arcana Evolved who stole it from the theosophic idea of the Akashic Record. From what I can tell, it hasn’t really changed much from the original source. I will definitely need to remember the Akashic Library when I work on mystical powers. Some will be easier to build than others (ehem…Psychometry…ehem), but I think that is primarily where I will need to set my attention. I will also need a brief framework of modifiers for finding information. Thinking on it, I wonder if I can’t do this with some sort of Contact Group (Akashic Library).

The Maelstrom

So yeah. I stole “the Maelstrom” from Warcraft II (yes, that one and not World of Warcraft; I am old and Warcraft II will forever be how I envision Lordaeron and Azeroth). I stole it because calling it “the Warp” – you know, where Blizzard stole the idea – is just a tough too obvious, and besides “the Warp” doesn’t have the feeling I’m going for. I might still change “Maelstrom” to something else, but it evokes the right imagery and atmosphere already.

The mention of a portal into the Maelstrom somewhere in the North is evocative but dubious. I’m not sure I want to keep this thing that is clearly taken straight from Warhammer Fantasy. It’s not bad but I’m not sure if it fits. I will think more on it and possibly drop it or just leave it as a rumor. Rumors are never bad, and they never need to be accurate.

To Capitalize or not to Capitalize

Again, this probably sounds pedantic, but when it comes to explaining foreign concepts, an evocative name goes very far indeed. So something I will need to consider is whether or not names of planes are proper nouns. “The Mortal Veil” reads differently than “the mortal veil”. Is it “the astral plane” or “the Astral Plane”? I think a lot of this will come down to whether a term is common parlance, like “the world” as opposed to the name of the place, “the Earth”. I do have to be careful here because it is a horribly overused cliché to create proper nouns for mystical things using the old “the Noun” formula. This might be a case where a made-up word (or as I am more wont to use, borrowed a foreign word) will do. We shall see.

What’s Next?

Next, I intend to try to address everything I mentioned here and put together an updated primer on the cosmology of Starfall. It will consist of all of the bits I liked about the current version, plus any changes and addendums. I am hoping to include more game mechanical information, so eventually I can start posting actual rules on this stuff.

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