The Two Cycles of Chained RealmsThe foundation of my cosmology lies in the fact that there are only two types of matter - ether and aether. These are two most basic materials you could split everything physical, and some nonphysical things too, into.
Ether is everything spiritual - the soul. But also the light and darkness. This material can be found in the afterlife planes such as Heavens, Hells, but also in the Material Plane and its echoes, and as one would expect, in the Ethereal Plane, sometimes called Ether.
Aether is what one would think of as elements - fire, water, earth, air, electricity, and their combinations. It is also what mind is made out of. It can be found in the Elemental planes, but also in the Material Plane and its echoes, as well as the Dreamscape.
|Drawn by yours truly.|
From this, one could picture how the planes look. It's pretty much a Venn diagram, with the circles representing ether and aether, intersection being Material Plane and its echoes, borders of intersections being Ethereal Plane and Dreamscape, and the nonintersecting parts of these big circles being afterlife and elemental planes respectively.
Then there is the space outside of this venn diagram, place outside of the cosmology, the Far Realms. Which are not part of this cosmology, it's just a nice term for "everything else". I have already talked enough about Far Realms, so I won't say much on that topic here.
When you light a branch on fire using a spark produced with a pair of stones in any of the planes in the intersection (let's say Feywild for this example), here's what happens - the spark, and the wood that's consumed travels through the Dreamscape into their respective elemental planes, to be replaced with fire and ashes. These are brought back through the Dreamscape into the Feywild. That's how the cycle of material goes.
Similarly, when someone dies, their soul travels through the Ether and into the afterlife their soul belongs to. Through the Ether the soul comes back and is reused when someone is born. Again, this is a topic I talked about in another article. Any changes or additions to that will be stated here.
The last bit of information about the ether and aether themselves is that their sum total stays the same at all times, and one can't be turned into the other. Picture this kind of like the first law of thermodynamics, except that there are two types of energy that both have unchanging amounts.
Now then, it's time to get into specifics and talk about the planes themselves! I'll start from the outskirts and then get to the Material Plane and its echoes, you'll see why later.
Elemental Planes and Afterlife PlanesAlso called Elemental Planes. We all know what to expect here, right? Planes that are filled with water, fire, earth, but also other things. Well, I made some changes to how elements mix, because I wanted lightning to be an element of its own, and for any elements to mix, at least in somewhat sensible way.
Then there are mixtures of elements with light and darkness. These would mostly be found in the Prime planes, but of course there can be exceptions.
The last two kinds of matter that can be found in the elemental planes are mind and the aether itself. Mind doesn't mesh well with the elements. Aether doesn't mesh with elements either, because it's all of them and none of them at the same time. It's usually described as thin, silk-like bright strings.
Of course, if the DM wishes to structure the combinations of elements in a different way, add or remove elements, or even if they want to make up completely different elements just for fun, they are free to do so. There could in theory even be an infinite number of elemental planes, making the Elemental Chaos into a space ripe for exploration.
Afterlife planes work in a much similar way. All elemental mixing that occurs in relation to this plane has been described above already however, so this part will be much shorter. When one encounters an angel, it's a being literally made of pure light imbued with a soul. Heaven too is made of pure light. Still, afterlife planes have space for adding more and more planes for exploration - be it from the Great Wheel (Ysgard, Limbo, Acheron, ...), or planes of your own making based on what kind of treatment one deserves. Maybe there's even space for the planes of luck and misfortune that were included in my previous iteration of the cosmology.
Ether and DreamscapeTransitive planes are used for traversing planes. Well, sort-of. They do also have things within them, but those things aren't that easily accessible. Which is why we differ between the Border and Core, sometimes called Deep regions.
Picture standing on a glass ceiling. You can see everything underneath you (the Core), but can't really interact with it. Your interactions are limited to what's on top of the ceiling (the Border). When one travels through Ether or Dreamscape into a different plane with their body, their soul, their mind, and their equipment intact, this is kind of what's happening. You're accessing the Border Ether, or Border Dreamscape. You can observe what's within the Core, though you can't really affect it. and you can access the Core only by the purest abstract thing body has of corresponding element - the soul for Ether, the mind for Dreamscape. Getting anything more inside and outside of that would take magics of power greater than Wish itself.
One implication of these planes being required for moving around their matter is the existence of genies. I've mentioned previously in the article about souls that when someone dies in the Elemental Planes, their soul is stuck there. It gathers the ether, and eventually becomes a genie. Great thing about this is that the same logic could now be applied to the Afterlife Planes! If you die on the Afterlife Planes, your mind is stuck there. Eventually, it gathers light and/or darkness, and becomes its own being, ... which I haven't named yet. Alternatively, if you leave behind a piece of your equipment, like your teapot for example (which is of course made of aether), it eventually attracts ether, and becomes alive. Animated teapot, now where did I hear of that before...
Prime PlanesThese are the planes in the intersection of ether and aether. Most familiar of these to majority of players is of course the Material Plane, but its echoes belong here too. Feywild, Shadowfell, and anything else one could make up. Or not. this depends on the DM - if they wish to go with a simpler model, they can freely omit the echoes and keep just the Material Plane. Or they might also exclude that one too. That could make for an interesting world.
|Something something hot topic, something something heated discussion.|
Original image is the concept art from Rift
So far simple enough, right? Well, here's another thing that made me mildly unhappy - try to imagine the elemental plane of fire. What is it made of? Of course, fire is present, but what else is there? Maybe... the ground to stand on is made of hot rocks? Maybe the air is filled with smoke and stuff? Maybe even lakes of lava. All of that... is starting to sound less and less like fire. So, my way of solving it is simple: It's not just fire, it's all the elements, but mixed with fire.
How about a practical example? Picture the Elemental Plane of Fire being made out of smoke, magma, fire, plasma, and steam, possibly even radiance and ash. Now that sounds like something that could actually exist instead of just fire. Lakes of plasma and lava, air that's filled with steam and smoke, grounds covered with ashes and burning... things that resemble plants but are not plants... You get the idea.
Or how about the Elemental Plane of Earth being made of sand, earth, magma, magnets, wood, minerals and dust? Picture the sandy shifting sea, moving up and down like a liquid. Picture the earth that's got minerals here and there, and even some naturally magnetic metals. Picture wooden underground structures, and lava lakes, again!
How about we take this to whole another level? What if you could transform Feywild and Shadowfell into a more whimsical and more scary place? I hear no objections, so let's do it!
First and foremost, we will have to define how the Feywild and Shadowfell fit into the cosmology. I'll keep that simple, and say that they are Material Plane, but with a little bit of light and darkness added - light for Feywild, darkness for Shadowfell. Now, having those affect the entire planes could be dangerous, so I will come up with natural phenomenons to explain them - storms! Lightstorms in Feywild, and darkstorms in Shadowfell (work in progress names).
When a part of the Feywild is struck by lightstorm, you see bits of light falling from the shining clouds above. Everything that's rained on gets altered a little by them, for some amount of time. The fires turn into lightshows of color (radiance), the air carries sounds in a much more effective manner, making everything louder and more intense (thunder), the earth beneath you literally turns into precious stuff (mineral), the water turns into slime that's possibly alive (ooze, of course), and when a lightning strikes, you see it as a falling star flying down in a path that resembles lightning (spark).
For Shadowfell, the darkstorms turn the already shady place into an even worse one. The earth beneath you crumbles and feels dusty, any fires turn to ashes instantly, the water turns to poison, there is a lack of air (just... try to ignore the physics here, please), and during the storms, instead of lightnings the world is enveloped in a moment of absolute darkness and silence.
EpilogueWhat makes me the most excited about all of this is that it's got a lot of potential for expanding. We can start with basic 5 elements described above, the Heaven, the Hell, Material Plane and two of its echoes, two transitive planes and Far Realms. But when we need it, we could make a hellish afterlife that's a huge prison like Carceri, a two-sided heaven like Bytopia, the Elemental Plane of Bears or even the Grigori, Material Plane's echo where time is much faster and beasts rule...
And if you run out of ether and aether? Well, you could always come up with another kind of primordial matter. I already got two in store, but don't tell my players. It's a secret.
The possibilities are endless, which is why this kind of multiverse makes me very excited as a creator. Maybe one day I'll make a cosmology that's better than this one, but until then... I'm fine with this one.
|Who knows how many materials are there...|
Image via BBC, I think.