Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Starfall: Cosmology Revised

Soundtrack: [1], [2], [3]

“The world people see every day is a very small part of the universe indeed. It is little more than an echo or manifestation of much greater workings only a blessed few can perceive. These other mechanisms behind the Veil bespeak the truths of the Faith and the righteousness of those who oppose Chaos in its many forms. The learned often speak of these other layers of existence as planes, which are essentially other realities, separate but inseparable.”
– From “A Meditation on Existence” by Saint Bernhardt the Lesser

What follows are exerts from Saint Bernhardt the Lesser’s treatise on planar cosmology, “A Meditation on Existence”. While his faith definitely pervades his writings, much of what he recorded seems to agree with current knowledge of the planes of existence as described by modern mystics and shamans.

The Mortal Pale

There mortal plane, also called the mortal pale, the mortal veil, the mortal world, or simply the world, is the physical world people spend their day-to-day lives existing within. It has constant and consistent physical laws, a constant flow of time, and is largely immutable to the forces of magic.

Within this plane, the sun is a burning orb of fire that lights and heats the world below, and the moon is his pale mistress. The stars are tiny pinpricks in the benighted firmament that are often associated with oracular vision, secrets, and dark knowledge. These turn about the world in unfathomable cycles, yet still Man has deciphered many of the uncanny rhythms of the stars and learned to navigate by their tenebrous illumination. Below the airy skies, great continents rise from the abyssal depths of the world’s oceans whose origins lie in Sagara, the Eternal Ocean.

Note: This is the standard world in which GURPS exists and operates. There are no special traits or features associated with it.

The Ethereal Veil

The ethereal veil, spirit pale, the spirit veil, the immaterial world, and the near astral plane – all of these are names commonly given to what I call the Veil. This thin, astral-like plane wraps the mortal pale and girds it against the astral plane, and indeed, the astral plane against it. It is a plane between planes and partaking in both while itself remains neither. So it is that inanimate objects have ethereal reflections in the Veil, which so closely follows the mortal pale in form....

...and still there are differences. Glimpses of the Veil have revealed entities that can float through the ether and pass through solid objects, while others must tread the ethereal ground one attenuated footfall at a time. And again, while time mostly flows as it does in the material world, there are pockets where it seems to be frozen in place or passes with great rapidity....

...I have found that resident spirits [of the Veil] are naturally quite invisible and imperceptible to those in the bordering mortal pale, and those same spirits often have great difficulty perceiving mortals, as well. Spirits have often described the experience of peering into the mortal world as trying to look through a thick haze. Similarly, those in the two realms have an extraordinarily difficult time affecting one another physically, although magical and mystical powers seem to function normally.

Mechanical Summary: The standard scenario between the mortal pale and the Veil is that mortals effectively have a -10 penalty on all Sense rolls to perceive the Veil and those in the veil have a -7 penalty to perceive the mortal world. Additionally, neither side can directly affect the other with anything other than supernatural powers.

Note: Being ethereal means having Insubstantiality (Always On, -50%; No Vertical Move, -10%) [48] and Invisibility (Extended, Smell, +50%; Substantial Only, -10%) [56], and Mute (Insubstantial Only, -10%) [-27]. Additionally, ethereal entities can perceive the mortal world at -7 to Sense rolls. This is represented by a trait called Spirit Senses that is a conglomeration of Acute Senses 3 (Hearing, Smell/Taste, Touch, and Vision) (Substantial Only, -25%) [18]. All of these can be modified extensively to create the way more powerful spirits can interact with the world.

Ethereal Sinks

...the Veil and the mortal pale have been known to merge partially or wholly. I call the times and places where this occurs ethereal sinks. At or during an ethereal sink, those in the Veil and the material world can more easily perceive and interact with each other. The degree to which this is possible depends on the individual sink, but such locations and times are often held in high regard, either as sacred or as unholy haunts. I sometimes wonder if this is not the origin of some holy days, but my brethren call such speculation heresy. But you must remember that only through powerful magic, miracles, or at an ethereal sink can an individual bodily travel from the material world into the Veil or vice versa!

...is only speculations. How sinks come to exist is not truly understood. Some sinks appear to have always been; while, others appear to be spawned by a definite event. Others still pulse in intensity with an unearthly rhythm. The most commonly known method by which a true ethereal sink – and not merely a magical rift or gate – is birthed is via a traumatic or intensely emotional event, such as a murder or death surrounded by unbridled hatred, love, longing, or sense of regret. Such horrific sinks are closely related to haunts, ghostly activity, and corruption. For this reason, I cannot help but shudder and think that such sinks are scars on Ananta, the great World Spirit, herself.

I cannot fathom why some would gravitate to ethereal sinks. Certainly they grant greater access to the Veil and its denizens, but they do not grant power directly. If anything, those who congregate in such places appear far more susceptible to the corrupting influence of the Maelstrom! But alas, still there are those who seek to spread this pox across the sacred body of our Mother....

Mechanical Summary: Ethereal sinks have levels associated with them. Anyone trying to perceive something within a sink reduces their effective Sense penalty by the sink’s level. For example, in a level 4 sink, a mortal is at -6 to see ethereal spirits instead of -10, and those spirits are at -3 to see mortals instead of -7.

Additionally, attempts to affect ethereal spirits or for spirits to affect the mortals by mundane means are usually reduced by 100%. Each level of the sink decreases this reduction by 10% For example, a mortal attempting to punch an ethereal spirit normally bases damage on 0% of his ST, but in a level 4 sink, he would inflict damage based on 40% of his ST.

Between Worlds

In my studies of the other side, I have encountered several entities that hold a dualistic nature: They simultaneously exist in both the mortal pale and the Vale. They are able to both perceive and affect – and in turn be affected by – both planes of existence to some extent. Most of these have been nature spirits, but I have even met mortals who can actually see, feel, touch, and smell the spirit world and themselves be affected by spirits there. More commonly, I’ve found mortals merely exhibit a sensitivity to the Veil and its inhabitants. I sometimes call these people and spirits inbetweeners, because they belong to both and neither world.

Note: I will eventually post a full write-up on how I intend to handle different senses affecting the mortal and spirit worlds in different proportions. For now, I can say it will involve copious use of Affects Substantial and Affects Insubstantial and extrapolation from existing traits. I don’t want to say more until I sit down and actually hammer something out.

The Astral Plane

Far more difficult to describe than the Veil, the manifestation of Ananta is within and without us all. It is the architecture that underlies the mortal pale. It is both the Dreamer and the Dream. It is the collective spirit of the universe, and the universe’s connection to us all. It is everywhere and nowhere at once. It is what lies beyond the Veil and inside every spirit and soul in the world. It is the astral plane.

Because the astral plane is inherently a piece of each person and each person shares in it, an individual’s journey through the astral plane necessarily shapes his own perceptions of the plane. This makes it virtually impossible to provide an exact description of the plane’s characteristics, but some generalizations are still possible. While people may construct a mental architecture through which to view the astral plane – a childhood home, a temple, a library, an endless ocean, etc. – the passage of time there is never marked. Gravity may be subjective, allowing visitors to fly or otherwise real, depending on in whose architecture the visitor resides and how it is shaped. Visitors to the astral plane do not want for sustenance, sleep, or air, either; although, they may feel tired, hungry, thirsty, or as though they are suffocating. Such feelings are part of the architecture through which they are traveling....

...Furthermore, not everyone who visits the astral plane consciously directs the creation of his own architecture. Those with little or no experience often find the astral plane shaped by their subconscious mind. This can result in anything from pleasant dreamlike realities to horrific nightmares. Indeed, nearly everyone who sleeps does just this when they dream.

While it is possible to bodily visit the astral plane, such a feat is quite difficult. Instead, most people journey there by projecting their souls beyond the Veil or by entering through their own soul’s connection to Ananta. In either case, the projector appears as a spirit in the astral plane. Mystics most commonly do this. They also use the astral plane as a medium for reaching out and touching the spirits, minds, and bodies of other entities. It is via everything’s inherent connection to Ananta that this is even possible.

...Despite the variable and very personal nature of the astral plane’s appearance, it is not without certain landmarks or regions. The most commonly visited of these are the Dreamlands. Every night, as people sleep, their minds turn inward and slip through their own soul portals to visit the land of dreams. There, they commune with Ananta, and via this spiritual intercourse sometimes realize their own truths. Another notable region of the astral plane is the secluded and hidden Akashic Library, where all of the memories of the universe are stored. Far more common than both are soul portals – the means by which a mystic can touch and affect another entity via the astral plane.

Mechanical Summary: Entering the astral plane requires one of Jumper (Spirit), Plane Shift (Astral Plane, 20 FP), Plane Shift Other (Astral Plane, 20 FP), or Create Gate (200 FP).

Anyone who wishes to exert conscious control over their perception of the local astral plane must make succeed at a roll against Dreaming. Several modifiers apply: Time Spent (p. B346) modifiers; +0 for up to a 10-yd-radius, -1 for a 20-yd-radius, -2 for a 30-yd-radius, -3 for a 50-yd-radius, -4 for a 70-yd-radius, -5 for a 100-yd-radius, -6 for a 150-yd-radius, -7 for a 200-yd-radius, and so on; +0 for an open space or single room or shallow avatar, -2 for a detailed garden or fully furnished house or realistic person with shallow affectations, -4 for a hedge maze or an entire mansion or a truly believable person with complete personality, -6 for a palace and surrounding grounds or a small hamlet or a few families worth of believable people, -10 for an entire town of believable people, -20 for an entire city of believable people; complementary skill rolls for any related craft or knowledge skills, such as Architecture, Carpentry, Engineering (Civil), Gardening, Geography, Masonry, Smith, etc.

Success means you get what you wanted, possibly with some reflections of your thoughts or mood, but never in a hampering way; critical success means you get exactly what you wanted. Failure means you either create something tainted by your thoughts and emotions or you get nothing. Critical failures create environments that are downright hostile.

If more than one person wants to shape a particular patch of the astral plane, they must make a Quick Contest of Dreaming skills, with all of the penalties associated with their creation. Whoever succeeds exerts control over the astral plane in that area and can shape it as they see fit. Regardless of success or failure, both people know that someone else was trying to shape the same area of astral plane as themselves.

The astral plane will retain its shape for a number of hours equal to the shaper’s margin of success, with a minimum of one hour – or until someone else re-sculpts that area. If anyone tries to reshape an area that has already been sculpted, he must win a Quick Contest against the Dreaming skill used to create that architecture.
Some places in the astral plane are more immutable than others. The Akashic Library is one such immutable place. No one who has ever visited Ananta’s Memories has ever been able to reshape it. Some other places may only impose their own penalties on shaping rolls.

Soul Portals

Each and every soul and spirit shares in Ananta by means of what I call soul portals. These are windows doorways through which an entity is connected to Ananta and may enter her, or an astral entity may enter him. Precisely how this is accomplished is not easily explained and takes years of meditation and instruction to accomplish, but it is by this means that mystics can touch the minds and souls – and even the bodies – of anything in creation....

...alarming. Many mystics who have encountered demons and have been fortunate enough to survive the affair have remarked that demons do not possess soul portals. Those who have traveled extensively through the astral plane have never found any connection between Ananta and the chaos spawn, either – only the weeping wounds on the soul of the world left by their passage. This has led some to conclude that the denizens of chaos are not of this world whatsoever and others to further speculate that the corruption creeping across the land is nothing less than an attack by an alien universe on our own....
Note: Soul portals are the means by which mystical abilities function, so anything that lacks a soul portal cannot be affected by mystical powers. This specifically includes demons. These powers will be addressed in detail in a later post.


I believe that whenever anything dreams, the barriers between its mind and certain parts of the astral plane weaken and dissolve. The dreamer’s vayu, or psyche, passes through his soul portal into a portion of the astral plane known as the Dreamlands. There, the dreamer’s subconscious shapes a small domain where it mingles itself with Ananta. Practiced dreams are able to direct these dreams and pierce the dreamveils that separate individuals’ dreamscapes; his is the art of dreamwalking. Many a mystic and shaman are dreamwalkers who nightly traverse the Dreamlands, passing from one person’s dreamscape to another, encountering different people, speaking with them, appearing in their dreams, and even shaping them....

...and mystics speak of the perils of the Dreamlands. Not every dream is pleasant, and not every dreamer is friendly. While dreams themselves may not be real, the dreamer’s vayu is very exposed, and the eschatological damage that may befall him very much is. Those with a sadistic bent or few scruples may exploit this vulnerability to terrorize, attack, or influence sleepers. Even in the absence of such adversaries, a dreamer may unwittingly stray into the twisted nightmares of a crazed lunatic. Worse still, there are myriad dream spirits, many of whom are plagued by malice. The most feared of these are dream stalkers, entities who induce hellish nightmares and whose wounds are made real in the waking world.

Mechanics: Entering the Dreamlands requires the use of Jumper (Spirit), Planar Visit (Dreamlands, 20 FP), Plane Shift (Dreamlands, 20 FP), Plane Shift Other (Dreamlands, 20 FP), Create Gate (200 FP), or a successful roll against Dreaming and falling asleep. Gates into the Dreamlands may also exist. Note that Dream Projection allows the caster to communicate with a dreaming person, but it does not transport the caster or his spirit and it does not allow the caster to shape the dreamer’s dreamscape.

Moving from the astral plane or one’s own dream into other people’s dreams requires a successful roll against Dreaming. This becomes a Quick Contest of Dreaming if the dreamer being invaded wants to bar entry; he may add any levels of Mind Block to this roll, but the invader may not. Once in, the invader may attempt to shape the dreamscape against the dreamer’s will just as he would shape any part of the astral plane.

The Akashic Library

The Akashic Library is a small domain buried deep within the heart of the astral plane. There reside the memories of the entire world. Every experience, every sensation, every piece of knowledge gleaned by anyone who shares in Ananta is stored there. Accessing this tabernacle of divine records requires special training or magic, but those who do can learn absolutely anything they are capable of mentally processing.

Of course, sifting through every memory since Ananta awoke from her eternal slumber upon Sagara is difficult, tedious work, so it is typically easier to find information that was or still is held as common knowledge than obscure or ancient facts. The veracity of the information stored in the Akashic Library is often dubious, since what is stored are the memories – not absolute facts. Indeed, many a person holds beliefs that are simply incorrect; in the Akashic Library, these may appear as a true fact. Despite these limitations, the Akashic Library is a tremendous resource for those talented enough to access it and is often credited with much of the sagacity attributed to mystics.

Mechanics: Entering the Akashic Library requires the use of Jumper (Spirit, at -5 to skill), Dream Projection, Planar Visit (Akashic Library, 30 FP, -5 to skill), Plane Shift (Akashic Library, 30 FP, -5 to skill), Plane Shift Other (Akashic Library, 30 FP, -5 to skill), or Create Gate (300 FP, -5 to skill).

Anyone who visits the Akashic Record via the means described above can attempt a Research roll on any subject pertaining to something within the universe. This roll takes modifiers for Time (p. B176), complimentary skill rolls for skills pertaining to the information required, and a modifier for how widely known the information is: -16 for just one person; -8 for a couple dozen or fewer people; -4 for a hamlet or neighborhood worth of people; -2 for a village or town worth of people; +0 for a city worth of people; +2 for a county, duchy, or small nation of people; +4 for a large nation of people; +6 for everyone in the world; +8 for everyone in the world and spirit world; or +10 for everyone in the universe.

Practiced access to the Akashic Library may be represented by a Contact or Contact Group for access limited by subject, Psychometry for memories of places and objects, Reawakened for the memories of ancestors, or Wild Talent for accessing skills or spells stored in the Akashic Library.

The Maelstrom

Little is truly known of the Maelstrom. It is the mindwarping abominable place that spews taint, corruption, chaos, and demonkind into the world. IT is not of this world – no akashic delving has ever found any mention of it from before the starfall. There are no known portals or crossings to it within our world; although, rumors from the north claim a gaping scar of a maw lies within a ring of jagged stone teeth beneath a constant tempestuous sky in the center of a vast, barren wasteland somewhere far beyond the Great Glacier.

No one has ever claimed to have entered the Maelstrom and returned, nor has anyone ever claimed to have seen this worldwound first hand. A few gibbering madmen claim to have peered beyond the edges of reality and witnessed the horrible truth of the Maelstrom, but their minds are shattered and distorted, and their discourse so fantastic and fragmented that such accounts cannot be given any weight. So what is truly known about the Maelstrom? It is the name given to the place where the demonic scourge hails and corruption emanates. It is the antithesis of health, life, and purity. It is Evil.

Note: No mechanics need be created for the Maelstrom, because PCs will not be expected to go there, and any who try will no longer be player characters. This doesn’t necessarily mean character death, but it does mean they will become NPCs and the players get to make a new PC.

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