Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Galadran Cosmology

The two pictures on the sidebar of my blog are my two favorite modules for AD&D - Castle Spulzeer and The Forgotten Terror. They were in essence a crossover between the Forgotten Realms (which I despise) and Ravenloft (which I think is the greatest setting of all time). The party was engaged in what appeared to be a typical adventure in the Realms, only to have it turn dark and sinister, sucking the party into a mini-domain of Ravenloft that existed in the tortured psyke of the villain.

The concept of domains always intrigued me. In Ravenloft, they served as prisons for the truly evil beings in the world. In most campaign worlds, though, there are planes, which serve as infinite (or near-infinite) world for the characters, each specifically themed (elemental planes, planes of energy, planes of Law, and so on...). I have always been somewhat leery of planar travel for this reason - an infinite plane based on a single gimmick seemed wrong, somehow. If the players want to explore other worlds, they should be other worlds, not planes - there is more precedent for world travelling in fantasy fiction than planar travel (though with the coming of Magic: The Gathering, planar travel has become more commonplace in the genre.

I like the idea of the elemental planes - the raw power of the elements having a physical location is part of my theory about magical practice in Galadran - but planes like Mechanus just strike me as silly. Whole infinite regions dedicated to the concept of Law seems foolish - Law is a human concept, and the idea that it was influenced by planar suggestion lessens the importance of the concept rather than enhancing its importance.

Yet, planar travel should be possible - whole spells are dedicated to the planes and their denizens. I've already decided against Angels and Demons in my setting (they resemble the Christian concepts of absolute Good and Evil too much to have a place in this world), but I want the travel to have an exotic appeal as well - players should want to travel to other planes if they can. They should not be just be another campaign setting (largely because I don't want to do another one).

That's why Ravenloft's domains are so interesting to me - little pocket dimensions of a limited size that allow for some variation of play without needing the same level of detail and composition as the main world. They could be created by magical means by combining raw elemental forces in the same manner as the main world was - but would be limited in scope (and perhaps in duration).

These "demiplanes" are a far more reasonable concept than infinite ones for me - they have everything that a PC would need (including the promise that they might one day have their own).

They also have the added advantage of many more adventure opportunities - many tiny fragments that obey their own rules have more potential for play. And they are different enough that I can play around with them without having them intrude upon my own world and the metagame it involves.

What metagame, you may ask? I'll leave that for next time....

For now, though, let's look at what I need to make this work.

There is no spell for planar creation in the Wizard's spell list. There is, however, a psionic power that allows it - Genisis. It is a simple matter to make this a 9th level wizard spell and be done with it. That part is easy. But the nature of the plane is what's important.

From the SRD:

You determine the environment within the demiplane when you manifest genesis, reflecting most any desire you can visualize. You determine factors such as atmosphere, water, temperature, and the general shape of the terrain. This power cannot create life (including vegetation), nor can it create construction (such as buildings, roads, wells, dungeons, and so forth). You must add these details in some other fashion if you desire. You can’t create lingering psionic effects with this power; you have to add those separately, if desired. Similarly, you can’t create a demiplane out of esoteric material, such as silver or uranium; you’re limited to stone and dirt. You can’t manipulate the time trait on your demiplane; its time trait is as the Material Plane. Once your demiplane reaches 180 feet in radius, you can manifest this power again to gradually add another 180 feet of radius to it, and so on.

Change the "manifest this power" to "cast this spell again" and "psionic" to "magic", and we're done.

But how does this fit in with the rest of the world? This sort of spell doesn't happen in a vacuum. Fortunately, the extradimensional space spells (Mordenkainin's spells, such as the Magnificent Mansion) are a perfect precursor to this spell. The experiments with these lower level spells lead naturally to Genesis.

Mordenkainin's spells are replaced by Math Keeson in my world, so this spell will be named "Keeson's Genesis."

So far so good. We've got the basis for a new cosmology - one based on slow incursions into creationism rather than exploration. This means that very powerful spellcasters have places to go in the world that gets them out of my setting (preventing "powerful NPC syndrome), as well as giving me some lesser worlds to explore with my players - world than can be collapsed and created as the story demands.

Now for the continuity: Keeson is still alive as of 607 (the default starting year for all campaigns in Galadran), and is in his early forties. This spell can be no more than a decade or so old. That limits its viability some for ancient threats, but that doesn't concern me much - there is enough ancient in my world's history that I don't need demiplanes as well. A spell of this power that is new also gives the suggestion of progress in the world - something that campaign worlds lack. The world always seems to be filled with more advanced ancient civilizations and magics than are available in the "present," and that just doesn't fit with what we know about human history and progress.

This new magical invention means that the practical effects and limits to the spell haven't been explored yet, giving my players something else to do at high levels - they can discover the limits of the spell themselves (as I'm sure Keeson is trying to do as we speak), and enjoy the discovery that entails. There may also be hidden dangers that this sort of arcane creation provokes that have not been discovered yet...

Nevertheless, this sort of creationism requires a philosophic school of specialization (as discussed in Dragon Magazine issue 338). This school should be located in Silva, since that was Keeson's adopted home for much of his young adult life (he moves to Oreda in the summer of 607 to become one of the chairs at Crage Hall).

The Creationism Curriculum

Graduates from this Curriculum receive a +3 on all Survival skill checks.

1. Shield, Floating Disk
2. Rope Trick, Flaming Sphere
3. Keeson's Tiny Hut
4. Minor Creation, Keeson's Secure Shelter
5. Keeson's Private Sanctum, Major Creation
6. Create Undead
7. Instant Summons
8. Create Greater Undead
9. Keeson's Genesis, Refuge, Imprisonment

Graduates of this school must take Illusion as their forbidden school.

That's all for now, my friends. Talk to you again soon.