Welcome to the second part of Campaign Mastery’s major contribution to the November 2015 Blog Carnival. The theme this time around is the Unexpected, and this series is all about taking something that is usually assumed to be basic and reliable – Portals and Gates – and throwing some unexpected surprises into the mix…
To recap: Most GMs (and certainly, most players) assume that a Portal is nothing more than an express train from point A in the celestial firmament to point B, a shortcut across planar boundaries that connects two points in localized space that are quite removed otherwise. In fact, planar travel without use of Portals is so inconvenient in comparison that the Portal connection can probably be considered the fundamental point of configuration of the relationship between the two planes, assuming it is at least semi-permanent. Establishing any sort of lasting connection to another plane is tantamount to rearranging the planes of existence such that the formerly remote destination can now be considered cosmically-adjacent to the plane of departure.
Musing on that concept got me thinking about all the nasty surprises that GMs can pull using Portals. This series of four articles is the result.
For example, let’s say that the PCs have an enemy from whom they are safely buffered by defenses and armies and allies, layer upon layer upon layer. And they also have wards that protect them from Portals arising anywhere but from the planes of allies. They’re pretty much invulnerable, right? At least, they like to think so.
So you have these enemies approach the enemies of one of these allies, and point out a mutual problem – their enemies have an alliance with this seemingly impregnable defense-in-depth. But you have a plan to end that alliance for your mutual benefit, and all it will take is a token force from the ranks of your hoped-for allies. That token force has to capture and hold a small, out-of-the-way area on the plane of the PCs’ allies, for just long enough to you to Portal in your strike force and then Portal them directly into the heart of your enemies.
Nothing is secure – not bank vaults, not (known) treasure troves, not castle walls, and not royal bed-chambers! Portals, no matter how temporary or short-lived, turn every terrestrial defense into a Maginot Line!
Thinking lubricated with astonishment? Then let’s throw out a few more gnarly notions…
There are a couple of key parameters that readers should bear in mind through the fun and games that follow. I’ve listed six, but there may be others that haven’t come to mind.
Portals and Gates can be Mono-directional, Bi-directional, or Unidirectional.
- Mono-directional: Objects can only pass from one specific end of the Portal or Gate to the other end, and not vice-versa.
- Bi-directional: Objects can pass from either end to the other, but travel can only be in one direction at a time. Attempts to travel in the other direction when something is already in transit can be blocked or can result in a collision of some kind.
- Unidirectional: Objects can pass from either end to the other at the same time.
What’s the behavior of the Portal over time?
- Temporary: Portal lasts for a finite amount of time, and then it’s gone, or changes.
- Enduring: Portal appears permanent and stable – and then isn’t.
- Recurring, Reliable: Portal appears on a predictable basis. More complex versions may follow a pattern.
- Recurring, Anarchic: The Portal is in existence at unpredictable times for unpredictable durations. It may be consistent in other parameters, or unpredictable, or cyclic.
- Permanent: Portals connect A to B permanently until disrupted or destroyed. Other parameters may change randomly or according to some pattern.
While the values for this parameter described below suggest consistency, that’s not necessarily the case.
- Small: One person at a time can pass through the Portal. Others may have to wait to enter until that traveler arrives, or they may be able to follow like links of sausages. That first variation also introduces the variable of travel time.
- Medium: A small group of up to four or five can pass through the Portal together. Anyone more has to wait. Travel time is significant.
- Large: A wagon or large group can pass through the Portal together in squads or units, up to fifty or so people at a time. More have to wait.
- Immense: An army, or a fully-crewed ship, can pass through the Portal at the same time. Travel time can be tactically significant.
This parameter can be independently assessed for each end of the Portal.
- Stable: The location of the Portal entrance/exit is fixed in geographic location relative to something.
- Proximate: The location is defined within a locus of probability surrounding some surface feature; the exact location at any given time within that locus may differ either predictably or randomly.
- Defined: The Portal is in one of a set number of locations, usually but not necessarily in close proximity, and is prone to change from one to another periodically or randomly, or perhaps after each use.
- Wandering: The Portal moves, either randomly or in a predictable manner, and is not bound to any particular geographic locus. Unless it recurs with great rapidity or doesn’t move very far at a time, this can confuse people as to whether or not it is the same Portal each time.
Why should everything always leave a Portal in the same condition as it left? Effects can be physical, or mental, or spiritual; and temporary or permanent. There may or may not be ways of shielding against, or mitigating, the effects. There may be patterns to the disruptive effects. A fixed degree of disruption vs. a percentage disruption can also be very significant.
- Safe: Portal travel inflicts little or no damage.
- Demanding: Portal travel inflicts minor damage that can be managed but may require planned recovery protocols. Mitigating capabilities begin to become significant.
- Difficult: Portal travel causes temporary near-incapacitation, or more significant long-term damage. Mitigating capabilities are very significant.
- Dangerous: The effects of Portal travel are temporarily incapacitating or debilitating for a significant period. Portals are only safe to use when the destination is protected by friendly forces.
There should be some way of disrupting or destroying a Portal, though it may be dangerous. What happens then? Will a/the Portal reform of it’s own accord, or must a new one be intentionally created? And will it connect with the old destination, or go somewhere new, or something in between?
- Precise: The same origin point leads to the same destination point.
- Self-Locking: The same origin point leads somewhere close to the old destination point and will eventually lock back onto the old departure point.
- Resistant: The old destination point resists the formation of a new Portal connection. This resistance may be overcome in some manner.
- Vague: A new Portal from the same origin may be directable to some point near where the old one was, but the exact same destination is unreachable.
- Unpredictable: A new Portal from the same origin will connect with another point completely at random, uncontrollably, within the destination plane of existence, perhaps restricted to a significant region.
I’ll be repeating the essential contents of this panel at the head of each of the articles for reference. For full discussion of these parameters and their possible effects, refer to part 1 of the series. Keep these parameters and variables in mind because I’m liable to switch gears between them without notice!
Idea #6 – The World Is My Nexus
I often find the notion of making the world that the PCs come from special in some way to be compelling. This helps to explain why it is that they are so favored by the usual GM generosity and why it is such desirable real estate that everyone and their auntie comes-a-calling. That’s not so necessary in Pulp, because the seeds of distinctiveness apply to all characters (or should) in that genre; everyone is a little larger than life, so there’s nothing to compel an explanation for.
Fantasy, and especially D&D / Pathfinder, can be a strange beast in this context. On the one hand, you have the innate position of the standard cosmology that places the Prime Material Plane at the center of existence, braced on four (or six) metaphoric corners by the Elemental Planes and the Positive and Negative Energy planes; position alone can justify a unique position. On the other, the very name of the place – the Prime Material Plane – implies the existence of other, lesser, Secondary material planes. So the question of why the place is special is already on shaky ground.
There’s no doubt that it is special; the diversity of life, the presence of mortals who receive the blessings and attention of the Gods, either directly or indirectly, the diversity of environments – it all points to the place being something special. The question of why it is so therefore lingers over the place like a Vampire at a wake. But still, there is the Position Argument to fall back on.
The notion of Portals of any substantial duration, and the implicit impact on planar relationships, wreaks havoc on that argument, but it can also provide a solution: The Prime Material World is unique not because of its position, but because it is the only plane that can serve as a central nexus, a hub for connection between planes, a grand central station of planar travel if you will. The “privileged position” exists as a consequence of those connections, and that makes the Prime Material Plane grade-a tactical real estate for anyone with interplanar ambitions – or who wants to defend against such individuals.
The Impact Of Portals
But that, in turn, raises some unexpected twists for consideration. What if we adopt the pulp premise (foregoing the need to make the Prime Material Plane privileged), or choose some other reasoning? Does that not allow somewhere else to be a Grand Nexus?
This makes the title of Prime Material Plane simply a label of ego on the part of the inhabitants (and lord knows they generally have plenty of that, and the arrogance to proclaim it). But more importantly, it makes the inhabitants simply another equal player to contend for control of that central nexus, or perhaps, for a slice of it. The Gods and Devils and Demons and what-have-you pay attention to the Prime Material World above all others because we’re meddlers and we’re manipulable – we’re the wild cards who can hand dominion to anyone else, we simply don’t know it.
This takes those extra-planar beings off the pedestal on which their P.R. machines would place them, and makes them no better (in many respects) than anyone else, and limiting divine power always has advantages worth contemplating.
Are possibilities beginning to suggest themselves yet?
The ‘Stargate’ Fantasy Campaign Premise
The central premise of Stargate SG-1 – past the first season or two, in particular – was humanity taking it’s place as an equal amongst the other powers of the cosmos. A campaign of similar theme could easily be constructed on the line of logic offered so far.
But there are alternative ways to use this notion. Perhaps there is no central nexus, but the inhabitants of the prime material plane have the potential to – either deliberately or inadvertently – turn it into one. The innate love of exploration alone would be sufficient to eventually bring this about. Now imagine that someone learns the truth – that all the long history of intervention and manipulation is aimed not at capturing souls, or at achieving contemporary authority; it’s aimed at being in control when the world becomes the most tactically-significant place in existence.
Perhaps it was even created as a weapon, with this destiny deliberately in mind! Either by the Gods as a weapon against Devils or Demons, or by all of them in secret alliance against some even greater threat from the outside – and all their rivalries and animosities are a mere shadow-play to bring about the necessary developments that lead this ‘weapon’ to come into being?
Or perhaps things merely started out that way, and ambition has gotten the better of some?
The Four Worlds Campaign Premise
Or – best yet – why not all of them? Picture an epic campaign in which the PCs discover “the truth” and set out to take their rightful place in the universe – only to (eventually) discover that the supposed animosity between their rivals is a sham, and they are viewed as uppity servants, and have to forcibly win their independence from this alliance of friend and foe – only to discover that all the while, one of these allies has been secretly manipulating events to leave themselves in undisputed command of the cosmological super-weapon, and have to (perhaps literally) do deals with the devil to get themselves out of the trap and force their independence down the throats of everyone – ironically achieving the initial goals set forth in the campaign?
Every political, social, and theological relationship would be affected, and many would experience catastrophic redefinition in such a sequence of events. No-one could afford to ignore it, but reactions would be as diverse as an arms race to a determined effort to annihilate anyone attempting to succeed in such an arms race. That alone could provide enough to keep PCs entertained (and slowly piecing things together, conspiracy-theory fashion) through their lower levels!
Or perhaps the PCs discover that some conclave of Wizards wants to turn the Prime Material Plane into this super-weapon, with themselves – as the only people in the know and able to create Portals – in the box seat?
I call this the “Four Worlds” campaign premise. Players might come to assume that the “four worlds” are a metaphor for the primary protagonists – Mortals, Gods, Devils, and Demons – but, in fact, I mean it as a symbol of the four complete and unexpected reinterpretations of the role of the Prime Material Plane and its inhabitants’ place in existence as the campaign passes through its four phases.
Idea #7 – Destinationally-Unstable Portals
To me, Portals always imply a certain level of stability in destination. A Portal is a connection between A and B, and both are relatively fixed ends.
I’ve touched on alternatives in the first article, and reiterated the basics in the parameters listed above, but there are more possibilities implicit in contradicting this implication.
What if Portals – when established – by default, always connect with the nearest Portal already in existence, and require something extra in the way of arcane engineering to go beyond this – and the process of doing so leaves a Portal disconnected and inactive – until some Wizard somewhere else causes the entire network to reshuffle?
One week, your kingdom contains a Portal connecting you with an ally, and your enemy has another connecting with a third party, and so on – there is an existing network of Portals, whose secret of creation has, perhaps, been lost, around which mutual strategies and alliances have formed, and which have shaped diplomatic relations for centuries – and the next, someone in a tower somewhere has rediscovered the lost secret, created a new Portal, and completely reshaped the political landscape, turning the world upside down and shaking it a few times. What opportunities might the new configuration offer the ambitious? Who was strong and is now weak? Who was weak and is now strong? And, above all, something everyone would want to know is who did this, and what are they going to do about it?
Some would want to attempt to undo what has been wrought, and re-establish the former status quo. Some would like the new configuration and want to be sure it didn’t change, and couldn’t be changed. Some would seek to change it all, again – especially if they neither gained nor lost, and feel at risk of being left behind. Some would simply want to understand what it means, and to publish the discovery far and wide – while others would desperately want to suppress it. It might be that this is what happened in the distant past to cause the secret to be lost in the first place.
Next, let’s take this speculation multidimensional. Imagine inadvertently opening a more-or-less permanent Portal to the elemental plane of water, through which an unceasing torrent of cascading liquid erupts to create floods? Or to the elemental plane of fire? Such Portals could undoubtedly be used as a weapon against your enemies, one akin to nuclear weapons in the devastation that they wrought. Even taking military intent out of the picture – at least at first – the consequences would be cataclysmic.
Some lone wizard in his tower inadvertently creates a semi-permanent Portal to the Elemental Plane Of Earth. The next day, his tower is buried beneath a mountain that wasn’t there 24 hours earlier. A week later, that mountain has become a range of peaks, growing at a mile a day outward and a thousand feet a week upwards. Trade and communication lines are cut, Allies separated, opportunities are sensed and taken, and there is a desperate need to discover what has happened and – if possible – to do something about it. And, while this alone would be an interesting and unexpected adventure, who here thinks that no military would see this effect as a potential weapon that would hand its possessor the trump card in any future conflict? And if the political leadership can’t or won’t see this, perhaps it’s time for some new, more forward-thinking leaders? Civil wars would erupt like bushfires in a hot summer.
You see, there’s another implicit assumption about Portals: that the environments – no matter what they are made of – don’t mix. Even when that environment is a substance, like water or earth. What is it about travelers that makes everything else immune to being sucked through an entrance and out the other end? Until you can answer that question, you have to consider the assumption shaky, at best.
It might be that there is naturally some form of event horizon that must be crossed, one that prevents the intermingling of source and destination; would there seriously be no wizards who wanted to create a Portal without that limitation simply for the advance in understanding of planar mechanics that would result? Can you point to a single scientist who wouldn’t be interested in studying a naked singularity?
Idea #8 – For Every Portal, There Is An Equal And Opposite Portal Opened
There are all sorts of unexpected discoveries that could be made about Portals that posed radical and dangerous questions of the world. This one poses new questions about the cosmology, asking specifically, “What’s on the other side?”
Is the Prime Material Plane a space containing a sun and a world? What are the stars? What’s out there? Or is the Plane a flatworld, with an underworld and a heavens? Is the sun actually a Portal in the sky to the Positive Energy Plane or to the Elemental Plane of Fire, or some sort of strange hybrid, with the milky way being a connection to the elemental plane of water? If you dig deep enough, will you find yourself in the Elemental Plane of Earth, ascend high enough to reach the elemental plane of air? And, if so, where’s the negative energy plane – at the bottom of the oceans or something? It might be a bit damp in there, if that’s the case – and without the rain from the Milky Way, maybe the oceans will run dry.
All this becomes important as soon as you propose this twist on the Portal concept, which echoes Newton’s Third Law. A mage constructs a Portal from their tower to plane X, or opens a Gate, and unknowingly, a counterbalancing Portal or Gate opens from the far side of the world to the cosmological opposite plane. That, in turn, offers a lot for the GM to think about. Are we talking about some 3D or 2D arrangement of the planes? Are they in motion? Or are we talking about philosophical opposites?
Are these Portals or Gates Mono-directional, Bi-directional, or Unidirectional? Either of the latter means that as Gates become more and more an established spell in the player’s world, the ‘other side’ becomes subjected to invasion after invasion. That’s sure to both get their attention and retard their progress through disruption, especially if (by ‘mischance’ [insert evil GM grin here]) the first ones happen to land somewhere sensitive to disruption. They would devote as much attention to understanding the phenomenon of where these things were coming from as they could as a matter of national priority. If they were a little paranoid – and they might well be, after repeated invasions from other planes – they might even assume that the “other side” know what they are doing and simply don’t care. They do know enough to make these Gates and Portals after all!
So, when the farsiders finally crack the secret, there are two possible outcomes; first of all, giving back what they got – meaning that, so far as the PCs are concerned, Portals and Gates start opening all over the place, bringing pan-dimensional threats from this plane or that, disrupting their society, and so on. That’s clearly an act of war, but they have to figure out who’s responsible, and that is most easily done by hunting them down out in the outer planes – whether they are ready for the experience or not!
But equally likely is the direct solution – what the other-siders have been enduring is also (from their point of view) an act of war, and their first instincts are likely to be to strike back. They would mass-construct Portals from their other-side to the PCs side, and invade en masse. Whole armies would appear out of nowhere, preceded of course by scouting expeditions. From that point on, we’re talking Raymond E. Feist’s Magician.
There are other possibilities, too. What if every Portal opened by the Gods to take them to the Prime Material World also opened one between Hades and the Prime Material Plane? “Opposite” could simply mean the opposite side of the one-sided flat-world, a line measured out from the axis, after all. It might be that sending an Avatar precludes this effect, which is why they do it. Similarly, every time a Demon gets it in his head to have a little fun, a Portal opens up from Elysium to Earth, and perhaps it’s part of the divine social contract that the first Deity to find it is obligated to poke their nose in and investigate. That makes the history of the cosmos directly relevant to the daily lives of the inhabitants of the Prime Material Plane, including the PCs – who happen to find themselves in the cross-fire of such a confrontation, and (remarkably) manage to survive the experience. And with that, the campaign is up and running in a totally different direction.
Idea #9 – For Every Portal, There Is Another That Connects Two Random Planes At Random Points
But this idea came from a relatively straightforward and plausible model, one that most of us have played with in science classes or at least seen – the ball-and-stick molecular models used in organic chemistry, as shown. Think of the balls as the different planes of existence, and the sticks as the “binding agent” that connects them – Portals and Gates. And every time a Gate is opened, it means breaking a pair of links and cross-connecting two of the ends that weren’t previously linked (longer, more flexible connectors would make this easier to visualize).
What happens to the discarded loose ends? You could assume that they also connect with each other – meaning that each Gate spell or semi-permanent Portal rearranges the cosmos. As a concept, that’s funky enough, as explained in the first article in this series, but why stop there? We have a whole science of analogies to play around with!
There are all sorts of ways to break molecular bonds. The science of doing so, and of the bonds that form to replace them, is called chemistry. If we continue the analogies, then, even more interesting phenomena begin to occur.
When two bonds are broken in a molecule, they tend to want to connect with something else. Different sides of the Atomic Table Of The Elements (excluding the Inert Gasses below Helium) tend to prefer to connect with each other, and will break weaker bonds to connect with an element to which they have an affinity. Some of these reactions require energy to happen (endothermic) and some release energy (exothermic). Some require an input of energy to start them off, but then proceed to release lots of energy – those include some types of explosives.
So those loose ends might not connect with each other – they might cause a chain-reaction ripple effect, breaking another bond to get to the more desirable connection. So the disruption causes another bond to break and new linkages to come into existence – seemingly at random, because proximity, i.e. opportunity also plays a part. And that then produces another reaction, and then another, until every bond is “happy” and stable – and the celestial morphology – the shape of the cosmos – is completely rearranged.
What if our “molecule” isn’t the only one, and there are others out there that aren’t part of our current “local group” of planes of existence? Two Gates created at the wrong times between two neighboring realities can split both apart and leave the four parts to combine into a completely different existence. That might explain different pantheons of gods – you swap the Norse group for the Greek group.
Now, we’re getting into changes that would have a palpable effect on the lives of general citizenry. The old gods stop answering prayers and empowering clerics – the connection has been broken. There are new gods, instead. “Endothermic” reactions might mean that Hell freezes over, or the world might become more tropical. There will be strangers and stranger beings exploring their new domain – and possibly looting it for anything worthwhile in an Independence Day -style twist.
If the connection forged by the Wizard is brief, on cosmological terms, the most likely result will be that there won’t be time for a complete reordering of reality, and once his temporary connection is released, things go back more-or-less to the way they were. The longer it lasts, the more likely it is to have a permanent effect. Someone who’s currently on a sweet deal might go a long way to protect it from being disrupted – say, by launching a holy war (or resuming one repeatedly) against those characters capable of creating one.
There’s one other analogy that comes to mind and is worth exploring. Carbon sits nicely in the middle of the periodic table, left-to-right. That means that it has four bonds available; those elements to its left and its right have three (Boron and Nitrogen); those two removed to either side have two (Beryllium and Oxygen); and so on. The inert gasses have none (at least in simplistic theory, the reality is more complicated). The more bonds you have available, the weaker any single bond is – so carbon makes and breaks bonds really easily, and can form more complex patterns of molecules – and that’s central to why organic chemistry is essentially the chemistry of carbon atoms.
Now toss the “nexus” idea from earlier into the pot. Each plane has a limited number of “connections” to play with, and someplace like the Prime Material Plane – or any other plane that you designate as a nexus – makes and breaks “connections” more readily than any other. Calling it a nexus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There’s enough food for thought in this proposal to keep GM’s thinking for weeks.
Idea #10 – The Wound In Reality
I’ve always been a huge fan of creation by analogy. Take a real phenomenon, relate it to something quite different, and use as much of the source phenomenon and everything related to it as analogies for the processes and phenomena associated with the something. This is a great example of this technique.
The source phenomenon is a wound to the human body, and everything that happens, or can happen, in consequence of one. The phenomenon to be investigated and described by analogy to the source is the appearance or manufacture of a Gate or Portal between planes of existence – in other words, we’re talking about such effects being wounds in reality.
I start by listing all the aspects and attributes of the analogous source phenomenon that I can think of. I then describe each one, doing additional research as necessary. As I go, I translate all of that information into terminology, effects, etc, relating to the phenomenon that I actually want to describe.
The list that comes to mind in this case is 1. Shape/Nature of Wound, 2. Depth Of Wound, 3. Healing of Wounds, 4. Surgical Intervention, 5. Scarring of wounds, 6. Growth of skin, 7. Infection of Wounds, 8. Immunity and Resistance Processes, 9. Pharmaceutical Assistance, and 10. Other forms of skin harm: Skin Cancer and Burns in particular. In addition, under category number one, I am curious as to the effects and processes of body piercing from a medical point of view.
I’ll start the process by looking for a Wikipedia page or doing a Google search for general information on wounds and wound types, the results of which may well alter the list given above. So I’ll go off and do that now, making notes as I go.
When I’m done with the research, I’ll start writing up the application of the analogy to Gates and related phenomena. I would normally place all my research in a text document and overwrite a copy of it with the new application, often not drawing attention to the analogy itself except when necessary for a complex process. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to modify that process, placing the research in a colored box and keeping the original subject titles so that you can clearly see the relationship between source research and application.
It’s probably worth noting that this isn’t being done completely blindly, and neither was the choice of analogy; I know a little about wounds and their medical effects and consequences, and can already envisage a number of general Portal/Gate-related phenomena that could be analogous. The major ideas are already there in the back of my mind, in other words, I’m just looking for details that can be used to flesh things out.
0. General Research
Wounds are a sudden injury in which the skin is torn, cut, or punctured, according to Wikipedia. They then go on to mention something that I didn’t have on my list – an injury in which the skin is not broken, a contusion, i.e. a Bruise. So that goes on my list right away!
1. Shape/Nature of Wound
Wounds come in many different kinds of shapes and natures. I’m leaving some of them out because they didn’t seem relevant to my intended purpose.
It’s my thought that the different types of “Passage Phenomena” are analogous to different types of wound. “Wounds in reality” may result in random secondary arcane effects within a region.
Incised wounds are caused by a clean, sharp-edged object. They include Penetration Wounds which are caused by an object such as a knife entering and coming out of the skin.
Incised Wounds are akin to Gate spells and represent a clean incision through dimensional walls. Different “layers” of dimensional boundary “resonate” or connect with different planes of reality, and the “depth” of the wound thereby indicates which planar boundaries are penetrated through and which is the “closest” that remains intact – that being where the Gate is perceived to be a passage to. More on this under “Skin layers” below.
Lacerations are irregular tear-like wounds caused by blunt objects. They may be linear or “stellate” (irregular) – I’ve also heard the term “ragged”. I don’t think linear lacerations are sufficiently different in analogy to be separated, so I’m restricting this to stellate wounds, and will actually use that medically inaccurate but more colorful term, Ragged, to describe what I’m talking about.
A ragged tear is akin to a Rift, something that can spontaneously result when the concentration of arcane energy in a region exceeds the ability of that space to contain it. The greater the excess in a given area, the more distant the connection that results as successive layers of dimensional boundary erupt. Like Gates, Rifts tend to be open only for a short period of time.
An abrasion is a superficial wound in which the topmost layer of skin is scraped off.
If an event capable of causing a “laceration of reality” is moving sufficiently quickly, or dispersed over a wider area at the last moment, an “abrasion of reality” can result. This essentially inhibits arcane energies from “latching onto” reality in the area until the abrasion heals.
An avulsion (no, I hadn’t heard the term before, either) is in injury in which a body structure is forcibly detached, ie an amputation in which part of the body is pulled off instead of being cut off.
The creation of a pocket dimension or sub-plane is akin to tearing off a piece of the parent plane. The larger the piece, the more catastrophic the event, but the longer the pocket dimension or sub-plane can exist, provided that it is structurally anchored to the overall cosmos. Sub-planes below a critical size (dependent on their internal energy levels) evaporate over time, bleeding energy into the adjacent planes of reality (refer skin cancer, below).
Contusions are bruises that reflect an injury that doesn’t actually pierce the skin. These are similar to, but distinct from, a Hematoma which is a bruise that results from an internal injury with no external source of trauma.
A contusion of reality is less serious than an Abrasion of reality, and only inhibits further space-bending arcane spells until the ‘injury’ heals. Spells like Shrink, Enlarge, Gate, Teleport, etc, will fail and delay further the ‘healing’ of existence. Magic items such as Bags Of Holding and Horseshoes Of Speed will not function, etc.
Puncture wounds are caused by an object passing through the skin. They are therefore far more localized than a laceration, which has a pronounced lateral element across the skin.
Spells like Astral Projection, spells that distort space and time, and magic items that function in similar fashions, are considered puncture wounds in reality. These are like paper-cuts – they heal relatively quickly and are superficial in nature. They can also “feel” far more damaging than they really are to anyone with an ability to sense such things.
Piercing is essentially the process of puncturing the skin and underlying tissues in such a way that an object prevents the hole made from closing until the skin and organs heal with the hole made still in place as a tunnel through the flesh. Healing time for piercings varies greatly with the location of the piercing on the body due to many factors and typically range from a month to two years. If the object of the piercing is removed, another can take its place relatively easily and quite “painlessly”, but if left unused for long enough, the passage will narrow to the point of uselessness.
A Portal is akin to a piercing. Passage when the tunnel is newly formed can be dangerous and difficult; Portals need time to “stabilize”. The larger the Portal, and the greater the differences between the two newly-connected realms, the the longer this healing time. If the entrance and exit are disrupted or “closed”, the “tunnel” itself remains between the two realms remains and can be reopened relatively easily. The tunnel will slowly shrink, however, until it becomes useless for travel between the planes. Portal entrances and exits need to be bound by some material ring or form; even a puddle of water or a lake will suffice, but it must be relatively permanent or the entrance will close.
“Teleport” spells are also Portals of this kind, but are sufficiently transient that they can be bound by sheer arcane energy, and stabilize so quickly that they can be used virtually immediately. Establishment of a second Teleport spell will tend to lead back along the same path, however, so chain-Teleporting gets you nowhere. You either have to wait an hour or so for reality to stabilize again or travel a mile or so by other means. For this reason, citadels and the like that can only be accessed via Teleport are considered a very bad idea.
2. Depth Of Wound
Human skin varies in depth considerably; it is thinnest under the eyes (about 0.5mm); the skin of the palms and soles of the feet is about 4mm thick, and the skin over the back can be as much as 14mm thick. This thickness not only is a functional determinant of wrinkling with age, but it obviously has a severe impact on the consequences of wound depth. A 1mm deep cut under the eyes is far more serious than a 1mm cut to the back.
Dimensional boundaries become weaker, i.e. thinner with age. Passage into the planes bound by such older boundaries is thus easier, though no less harmful (if anything, they are more traumatic to reality). This parallel requires the GM to determine the sequence in which the planes were created. I would suggest that the Astral Plane and Prime Material Plane be the oldest, the Ethereal Plane be second, the elemental planes be next, in the order earth-water-air-fire, the positive and then negative energy planes are in the fourth group, most of the outer planes be second-last in indeterminate exact order, and the remaining outer planes, and any demi-planes, be in the youngest group.
Layers of Skin
The skin consists of two primary layers, the epidermis and the dermis.
The epidermis is the outer layer that we see, and forms a waterproof boundary between the body and the outside world. It actually consists of 5 separate layers, but those are too technical for our needs so far as this article is concerned. The waterproofing is less to keep water out as it is to mitigate and moderate fluid loss from the body.
The dermis cushions the body from stress and strain and is tightly connected to the epidermis by a basement membrane. It is where the nerve endings, hair follicles, sweat glands, etc, are all located, as well as the skin’s blood vessels and subcutaneous fat. Structurally, it consists of two different parts, but again, that’s more detail than we really need.
Underneath the dermis is the “hypodermis” which attaches the skin to the underlying bone and muscle and provides blood vessels and nerve connections to the dermis. It is actually not considered to be part of the skin.
If each plane of existence is “bounded” by a layered dimensional wall, this then tells us something of the composition of the passage, and how the passage will be perceived by those traversing it, because the relative age of the planes would also describe the “sequence of deposition” of those planar “boundary layers”. To get to the Elemental Plane of Water from the Prime Material Plane, according to the suggested hierarchy given above, you would need to pass through the astral layer, the ethereal layer, and the Elemental Earth layer. “Weightless, insubstantial, and under crushing pressure down a well or tunnel through unyielding rock” would fit the bill. This not only provides some suitable ‘color’ for descriptions of such travels, it provides an important diagnostic tool for those exploring a passage to an unknown destination – if one has the education to know what to look for.
Androgenic (body) hair provides tactile sensory input by transferring hair movement and vibration via the shaft to sensory nerves within the skin. Follicular nerves detect displacement of hair shafts, and other nerve endings in the surrounding skin detect vibration and distortions of the skin around the follicles. Such hair extends the sense of touch beyond the surface of the skin into the air and space surrounding it, detecting air movements as well as hair displacement from contact by insects or objects.
“Fuzzy” is used to describe a “frizzy” mass of hair or fiber, or a blurred lack of hard boundaries. While it can be used to refer to a characteristic of human hair, it is more frequently associated with objects like tennis balls. In it’s second meaning, it is commonly applied to indeterminate boundaries like those of small black holes, the surfaces of stars, the limits of atmospheres, and so on. There is also an analogous meaning within computer science (e.g. “Fuzzy Logic”), and it used to be used as a term of befuddlement (“Fuzzy Thinking”), an application which is still referenced occasionally in criticisms of thought processes to characterize them as illogical. Wiktionary lists the last as an obsolete term but I’ve heard it used a number of times in the last few years, so I would dispute that.
Dimensional boundaries aren’t solid shells; they are pliable and elastic in nature, but they have their limits. As those limits are approached, the boundaries get thin and “fuzzy” and begin to bleed into one another, momentarily opening Rifts between random planes that can suck objects and individuals from plane to plane at random, if they are particularly unlucky. More to the point, there are “ducts” along which the equivalent of “hairs” grow protruding out from the plane which are agitated by celestially-traumatic events. It is possible for spells to be developed which can “read” the “signals” from such traumas; this is the basis of many detect spells and other information-generating magics.
Sweat Glands are small tubular structures within the skin that produce and excrete substances through a duct, principally for cooling of the body through evaporation.
Magic in a plane is equivalent to body heat. Too much of it is bad, too little is just as bad. Reality has a mechanism that regulates the dissipation of excess magic into the Astral Plane, preventing the plane from “overheating” and therefore reducing the incidence of accidental Rift formation. Arcane Magic (and that of Sorcerers) is directly empowered by the absorption of arcane energies from the Astral Plane; these energies can then be used in various ways to do “work” by the possessor. Arcane energies, when expended, flow into the Ethereal Plane, and then leach back into the Astral Plane forming an Arcane Cycle. This cycle is counterbalanced by an opposite flow of “Divine Energies” which are harnessed by Clerics and Druids. This means that expending too much arcane energy reduces the power of mages throughout a plane but increases the clerical energy available, and vice-versa. An excess of either can be cause Rifts to form or (at lesser severities) Cosmic Abrasions and Bruises.
It follows that both energy types can be built up by the constant use of both on a large scale, rendering a plane volatile and prone to spontaneously connect with remote planar destinations. Higher-level demons and devils take advantage of this phenomenon.
Nerve tissue within the skin detects various sensations and connects those sensory nerve endings within the dermis to nerves running to the spinal cord and hence to the brain.
Crisscrossing through the planes of reality are various connective tissues. Some provide structure, some form the foundations of dimensional boundaries, some provide a platform for healing dimensional wounds. One particular type of sub-reality connection takes the form of a web of intricate connective threads that are under a natural tension and vibrate with various types of cosmic “injury” to trigger the dimensional healing process. Some creatures who are naturally at home in Astral and Ethereal environments can employ a type of Tremor-sense to detect interdimensional passage.
3. Healing of Wounds
Healing of wounds is an intricate process that is divided into four stages (though some conflate the first two): blood clotting, inflammation, new tissue growth (proliferation), and the remodeling of skin (maturation).
Blood clotting occurs as platelets in the blood stick to the injured site, changing them from their usual disk-like shape into an amorphous shape and releasing chemical signals that promote clotting. This results in the activation of Fibrin which forms a mesh that acts as a “glue” to bind the platelets to each other. It is thought that the major function of clotting is to prevent further blood loss from the wound.
Inflammation is the process by which dead and damaged cells are cleared out, as are bacteria, pathogens, and other wound debris, essentially through the process of white blood cells “eating” this material by engulfing it. At the same time, platelet-derived growth factors are released into the wound that triggers the process of proliferation of new tissue.
New tissue growth is the most complex of the phases, with at least 6 separate processes taking place at the same time. New blood vessels, new body tissue, and skin cells grow. As the wound heals, another of these processes contracts it to close the wound.
When the wound is almost healed, unneeded cells undergo aptoptosis, a process of pre-programmed cell death in a highly controlled and regulated manner. Between 50 and 70 billion cells die each day due to apoptosis in the average human adult.
This process continues through the period of Maturation in which collagen is realigned and one form of collagen replaces another, increasing the tensile strength of the wound closure. Since activity at the wound site is reduced, the scar loses its red color as blood vessels that are no longer needed are removed by apoptosis.
The process of healing wounds in the celestial infrastructure is analogous to the process of healing wounds in the human body, involving four major stages. The first stage involves the deposit of astral shingle-like plates called “Celestial Scaffolders”* that are unable to maintain their astral connection in the disrupted area and which naturally materialize to seal the breach, preventing the further leakage of content from one plane of reality into another. Once materialized, they form a hard crust as their vital essences, still with the last vestiges of insubstantiality, leak out through the now-solid shells to form a binding “glue” that holds them together. They also tend to “capture” ‘foreign’ material that has leaked out of the wounded plane, preventing contamination beyond the local event. These form the “walls” of “tunnels” between planes. (*Looking for a better name for these.)
The second stage is triggered by vibration conveyed along the Astral Web which attracts beings of unspeakable violence without conscience whose only thought is to consume and destroy foreign materials that have bled “through” the disrupted boundary, free-floating remnants of dimensional boundary, and any arcane leakages. There are two possibilities for such creatures that the GM can choose from: this could be the core cosmic function of Demons, or this could be an original creation. I personally lean in the latter direction and would use “Arachnophage” as the name/concept – spider-like cosmic creatures that sense vibrations in the astral plane caused by wounds in reality and instinctively swarm around the free meal until it is consumed. Either way, the function is analogous to White Blood Cells.
Waste products from the activity of Arachnophages [Demons?] attract another class of Astral Creature, the parasitic “Astral Binders,” who devour dead Arachnophages and metabolize Scaffolders, linking to each other in a scaffold arrangement that contracts to draw closed the dimensional wound in the process and regenerating the natural boundaries. When the wound is fully closed, and the foreign matter consumed by Arachnophages who in turn have been consumed by Astral Binders, there is nothing further to attract the former, and the Cosmic Wound is closed.
4. Surgical Intervention
Bruises generally heal themselves. Abrasions generally require no treatment beyond keeping the wound clean; that’s the purpose of bandaging them. Evidence to support the cleaning of other wounds is poor. Treatment is often simply to close the wound and close it via sutures (commonly referred to as stitches), skin clamps, staples, and/or glue. It is generally automatic to simply close a wound within 6 hours of it being inflicted; wounds that are not closed in that time carry an increased risk of infection if closed immediately, at least in theory. Some providers will delay closure while others may close wounds up to 24 hours old.
Sutures come in two varieties: absorbable and non-absorbable. The first dissolve over time (at varying rates) while the second have to be removed, effectively inflicting a second, lesser injury as the sutures are removed. It is believed by many surgeons that dissolving sutures leave less scarring.
Modern practice is to avoid topical antibiotic ointments and even antibiotics in general unless there are definite signs or near-certainty of infection.
There is some evidence that honey followed by gauze is more effective than antiseptic for wounds resulting from surgical procedures, in any event, but there is presently a lack of quality evidence regarding its use on other types of wounds. Honey is believed to be mildly antiseptic, and some suggest that the effect combines direct nutrition of the healing cells while removing direct exposure to the air but I wasn’t able to find anything definitive.
Leakage of the “entities” that heal Cosmic Wounds as byproducts of their natural life cycles – Scaffolders, Arachnophages, and Binders – into the affected planes of existence pose a threat to life forms in the vicinity. For that reason, those capable of utilizing the different flows of energy, either Arcane or Divine, may choose to attempt to speed the “healing process” by disrupting and forcing closed the Cosmic Wounds, destroying anything that has leaked into a foreign reality, etc.
For lesser “Wounds”, the healing process may be enhanced by deliberately attracting such entities into the celestial region using a succession of cosmic “pin-pricks” near to the scene of the Wound. This is the equivalent of using dissolving “suture”.
5. Scarring of wounds
A scar results from the biological process of wound repair, and is a natural part of the healing process. With the exception of very minor lesions, every wound results in some degree of scarring.
Scar tissue is composed of the same protein (collagen) as the tissue that it replaces, but the fiber composition of the protein is different; instead of a random basket-weave formation found in normal tissue, the collagen cross-links and forms a pronounced alignment in a single direction. This collagen scar tissue is usually of inferior functional quality to the normal collagen randomized alignment, and has 80% or less of the strength of uninjured skin.
There are other skin functions that are mitigated or inhibited by scar tissue. Scars are less resistant to UV radiation (i.e. they sunburn more easily) and sweat glands and hair follicles do not grow back within scar tissues.
Scarring is strongly affected by healing rate. If a wound becomes covered with epithelial tissue (new skin) within two weeks, minimal collagen will be deposited and no scar will form. If a wound takes longer than three-to-four weeks to become covered, a permanent scar will form. Intermediate periods produce scars that will probably eventually fade and disappear.
Deep Cosmic Wounds rarely heal completely. The dimensional boundaries woven over the wound by Binders are thicker but weaker than those that had evolved naturally and leave a “scar” on reality. Such scarring makes it more difficult to create a new Cosmic Wound leading to anywhere other than the destination of the old wound, and repeated Woundings in the same location further weakens the boundaries between the two planes that were connected. Travel to the Astral Plane or the Elemental Planes from the prime material does not cut deeply enough to scar unless the wound is exceptionally large; travel direct to the outer planes is more certain to produce scarring. Concerned travelers often use intermediate staging points for longer travel between realities.
6. Growth of skin
Skin grows from the constant replacement of skin cells. Every inch of your body contains more than 19 million such cells, and the human body sheds 30,000 to 40,000 of them every day, replacing them with new ones. The entire top 18 to 23 layers of skin cells are dead cells. Older cells move from the bottom of the epidermis, or top layer of your skin, to the very top of the epidermis before they flake off. It takes about 27 days for the skin to completely replace itself.
Dimensional Boundaries are not passive phenomena, they are natural outgrowths of reality that shift and move, grow and flex. They grow outwards from their parent planes along the scaffolding that binds reality together until they can grow no further and then dissipate into the Astral Plane. As a result, Cosmic Wounds slowly migrate away from the plane in which they occur, and hence very old Wound Scars can appear unpredictably in an entirely different plane of existence. It takes millennia for any given “point” in a dimensional wall to completely disappear into the Astral Plane.
7. Infection of Wounds
Infection occurs when a disease-causing or pathogenic agent enters the site of the wound because the protective skin barrier has been breached and begins to multiply. Some produce toxins as byproducts.
There are all sorts of byproducts that result from a Cosmic Wound, and all sorts of creatures that can take advantage of them. Floods of both arcane and divine energies result. Leakages from other planes can result, causing random harm or healing, and restoring some dead entities to a state of undeath. In particular, necromantic abilities are enhanced. With natural rips and tears in the dimensional boundaries becoming more common with age, it is not surprising that some entities have evolved to take advantage of them for their own benefit, and have evolved abilities that delay or inhibit the healing process. This is why Arachnophages have become so hair-trigger violent and why they swarm; they face opposing forces that must be overcome lest the wound fester and grow.
Every celestial Wound has the potential to attract these organisms, but the deeper the wound, the greater the likelihood that the healing process will persist long enough for a pathogenic creature to find the wound. Some feed on the carcasses of Scaffolders, others consume Arachnophages, and others consume one or both of the energy forms released, or open secondary wounds to other realities, especially to the positive or negative energy planes.
Some believe that this is the ultimate origin of Vampires and other high-level undead. Certainly, these are amongst the creatures which are most greatly enhanced by Celestial Wounds and even more-so by the “infection” of such wounds.
Obviously, if an Arcane-energy consumer finds a Cosmic Wound and begins consuming the Arcane Energy in the vicinity, it will disrupt the functioning of Arcane magics and items; if a Divine-energy consumer finds such a wound, it disrupts Clerical magic and items.
8. Immunity and Resistance Processes
When infection occurs, complex biological reactions (the human immune system contains a number of defensive reactions, many of which trigger other defensive biological responses) result. One of the primary defensive mechanisms involves the infected tissue and pathogenic agent being attacked by white blood cells. These are often killed in the process (their survival is secondary to that of the overall organism) which manifests as pus.
I’ve more-or-less covered the analogous behavior in preceding sections.
9. Pharmaceutical Assistance
Antibiotics were once considered the ultimate miracle of medicine. Then came the discovery that viruses, arguably more serious harmful agents than bacteria, were unaffected, and the utility of antibiotics began to dim. In more recent times, the phenomenon of bacterial resistance has demonstrated that early antibiotics did nothing but buy the human race time to better understand the biological processes and their medical support. Newer, and far more potent antibiotics have largely replaced penicillin and the other early antibiotics except in the treatment of the most routine injuries, and then only when essential. To date, cocktails of various antibiotics have been overcome most cases of resistant infection, but – having been alerted to the problem – this is not considered a justification for complacency.
Depending on both the plane of origin and the plane of destination, and their relative ages, the energy leakage through a Cosmic Wound can be predominantly Arcane, predominantly Divine, or some ratio of the two. There are two approaches to inhibiting the “infection” of Cosmic Wounds: you can attempt to starve them by consuming the energies that they feed upon, or can overwhelm them by flooding the region with the type of energy that they can’t consume. Because of the “balanced flow”, the first has the net effect of the inducing the second, and hence is considered the better technique.
However, there is some evidence to suggest that these creatures are developing resistance to anathemaic energy flows, and a few have even learned to utilize both, so there is some debate that such treatments may be doing more long-term harm than short-term good.
10. Other forms of skin harm
There are a couple of other notable skin conditions that may provide useful analogies. The two in particular that stand out are skin cancer and burns.
All planes contain energy both in structural arrangement and in content, and both are released when temporary sub-planes decay and collapse. If the energy losses can be replaced, the sub-plane can become quasi-permanent, but this is rare. It is difficult to definitively describe one form of energy release as more damaging than the other.
There are three main types of skin cancers – melanoma being the most common, with the other two often conflated as “non-melanoma” skin cancers (NMSC). The least aggressive are the two varieties of NMSC; one grows slowly, rarely metastasizes, and is unlikely to spread to distant areas or cause death, the other is more likely to spread and grows more rapidly, and is more likely to metastasize. Melanomas are intermediate in growth rate (but vary widely) but are far more aggressive and prone to spread, causing secondary cancers; they are also the rarest of the three varieties, despite probably being the best-known to the lay person.
That is the result of the relative mortality rates. NMSCs have a mortality rate of about 0.3% and cause about 2000 deaths per year in the US despite being far more common. Melanoma is much rarer, but has a mortality rate of 15-20% and causes 6,500 deaths per year in the US. Even though is far less common, malignant melanoma is responsible for 75% of all skin cancer-related deaths.
There are also a number of lesser-known rare skin cancers.
The NMSC cancers frequently carry a UV-signature mutation that indicates direct DNA damage from UV-B radiation. The malignant melanoma, in comparison, is predominantly caused by indirect DNA damage caused the creation of free radicals by UV-A radiation. Early sunscreens also contained chemicals that would become free radicals when exposed to UV-A radiation if they were applied too sparingly and/or too infrequently. The researchers who detected and measured this phenomenon also point out that modern compounds do not contain these chemicals and that other ingredients are frequently incorporated into sunscreens specifically to retain the active ingredients on the surface of the skin.
Like all cancers, these are the uncontrolled reproduction of genetically-defective cells; despite the DNA damage, they usually remain sufficiently similar to the normal DNA of the patient that the immune system does not recognize the cells as a threat.
Particularly significant is the fact that the DNA damage that results in the cancer and the cancer incident can be widely separated in time; childhood solar exposure is particularly prone to causing skin cancer in later life. My generation is amongst the last to be completely susceptible to this delayed effect, at least in Australia (where skin cancer rates are the highest in the world); I was about 10 when public education messages warning of the need for hats, shirts, and sunscreen began airing and were immediately taken seriously by the majority. By the time I was 20, the “Slip, Slop, Slap” messages were mostly discontinued because the general attitude was that anyone who hadn’t gotten the message was either an idiot or living under a rock somewhere. By 20 years ago, the second generation of those raised with awareness of the situation were arriving, and the need for sunscreen was largely taken for granted.
If you have organisms and forces that heal dimensional boundaries, and if dimensional barriers naturally grow, then there are multiple mechanisms that can be disrupted or run out of control. The energies that are released by the slow decay of sub-planes are capable of causing Scaffolders and Binders to begin operating in a form of hyperactivity and can supercharge any of the organisms that can “infect” Cosmic Wounds; either can cause dimensional boundaries to grow out of control, spinning off more sub-planes from the host plane, devouring reality. The result is something analogous to a Cosmic Cancer of the dimensional boundaries, one which – if not stopped – can completely consume a plane. Obviously, the plane which is most at risk is the one from which the sub-plane has emerged.
The destruction of a complete plane releases sufficient energy to stabilize a number of sub-planes, which will slowly grow to become full-sized planes of existence in their own right, so this is actually the process by which the cosmology grows. But it’s devastating and ruthless to those living in the affected plane.
Burns are categorized by how deep the affected tissues are. Those that only affect the superficial skin layers are called 1st-degree and require little more than pain medication; those that extend into some of the underlying layers are called second-degree; a burn that extends through all the layers of skin is a 3rd-degree burn, and a fourth-degree burn involves injury to deeper tissues such as muscle, tendons, or bone.
Lethality is a function of the size of the burn, usually assessed as a percentage of the total body surface. These percentages are slowly creeping up as medical treatments improve, and more than half of patients with 3rd-degree burns to 60% of their body now survive. The 50-50 mark is now closer to 70% total body surface area.
First and milder second-degree burns rarely produce permanent scarring or other immediate secondary effects. Serious 2nd-degree burns and all third degree burns routinely produce scarring, and 3rd- and 4th-degree burns often require amputation. When amputation is not recommended or not possible, 4th-degree burns usually result in significant functional impairment.
When time runs out for an unstable sub-plane, it unleashes a torrent of energy in streamers in many different directions. Most certain to be affected is the plane from which the sub-plane derives, due to proximity; each plane farther away reduces the likelihood of impact with an energy stream by about 50%. Those streams that do not intersect an existing plane eventually dissipate in the Astral Plane and Ethereal Plane (arcane and divine streamers, respectively).
The intersection of a plane by an energy stream is frequently a catastrophic event. The dimensional boundaries swell and then erupt as energy beyond their capacity is absorbed. Half of this eruption propaGates inward to devastate the plane itself, blackening and burning anything even the slightest bit combustible, melting rock, and vaporizing the living. The withered husk of this part of the plane will never get the opportunity to regenerate; that part of the eruption that propaGates outward causes the dimensional barriers to bubble and blister into a number of new, smaller, unstable sub-planes, each linked to both the affected plane and to the plane that resonates with the affected layer of dimensional wall. One in three will follow this line of resonance and manifest a short-lived Rift into the remote plane through which the debris will collapse, producing a deafening explosion in the sky capable of leveling forests for a thousand square miles and producing a rain of ash and eruption in mid-air of noxious gasses.
Another one in three will simply dRift off to collide eventually with another dimensional boundary or to evaporate and dissipate relatively harmlessly in the Astral or Ethereal Planes – unless they happen to encounter an unwary traveler at the wrong moment, no-one is harmed.
The other third simply propagate their own life cycle, creating a rash of lesser ‘burns’ on the dimensional boundary of the source plane through which most of the devastated landscape will be sucked, creating a lifeless dead sub-plane. In time, unless colonized by the living and supported through the injection of additional energy, these two will eventually undergo catastrophic collapse.
Fortunately, most sub-planes do not inflict this degree of devastation on collapse. A critical factor is the size of the affected sub-plane relative to the host plane; this is because the structural energy is not released as the sub-plane evaporates, only the binding energies that hold that part of the sub-plane together. When the sub-plane reaches the end of its existence, all this structural energy is released at once.
Sub-planes less than 0.1% of the size of the parent plane inflict a minor injury, affecting perhaps a square mile of the parent plane on collapse, the equivalent of a 1st-degree burn. Sub-planes between 0.1 and 0.5% of the size of the parent plane inflict a substantial injury, affecting 10 square miles of the parent plane and having a 50% chance of spinning off up to half a dozen further sub-planes of roughly 1/10th the size of the first. These are equivalent to minor and more serious 2nd degree burns, respectively. If no further sub-planes are generated, the results are a widespread ‘scarring’ of the surface of the plane, pointing to other planes at random. The younger the plane, the more likely it is to be the recipient of such a weakening (because it’s part of the boundary layer is closer to the outside of the parent plane).
Sub-planes of between 0.5 and 2.5% of the size of the parent plane suffer still greater injuries, spinning off between 6 and 15 new sub-planes, each 1/10th the size of the original sub-plane, and devastating up to 100 square miles at a surface level; however, natural processes within the plane may eventually regenerate this internal damage. Any sub-plane larger than 2.5% of the size of the parent plane promises the greatest devastation, described earlier. Between 11 and 30 new sub-planes will be formed, and up to 1000 square miles of the parent plane will first vaporize and then cease to exist. Above the 5% size, a new sub-plane will be stable.
Ironically, failed attempts to stabilize a sub-plane only add to the energy density contained within and released upon collapse. Such attempts become eternal burdens upon those initiating such an attempt – and if the task ever falters, the resulting harm to the parent plane is all the greater. Every century of stability effectively increases the size of the sub-plane by a factor of 1.25, i.e. effectively makes it 25% larger – and makes the energy demands to continue to sustain it 25% higher for the following century. If the stabilizing force can continue supplying the energy needs for long enough, the sub-plane will eventually achieve stability; this occurs when the energy contained becomes 500 times the initial energy level. Starting with a 0.1%-sized sub-plane, that target is therefore 50% (because 500 x 0.1 = 50). So the growth of the energy contained within the sub-plane would be:
- Century 1: 0.1% becomes 0.125%. Substantial impact if the sub-plane collapses is crossed immediately.
- Century 2: 0.125% becomes 0.16%.
- Century 3: 0.16% becomes 0.2%.
- Century 4: 0.2% becomes 0.24%.
- Century 5: 0.24% becomes 0.31%.
- Century 6: 0.31% becomes 0.38%.
- Century 7: 0.38% becomes 0.48%.
- Century 8: 0.48% becomes 0.6%. Threshold to serious impacts (if the sub-plane collapses) is crossed.
- Century 9: 0.6% becomes 0.75%.
- Century 10: 0.75% becomes 0.93%.
- 1.1 Millennia: 0.93% becomes 1.16%.
- 1.2 Millennia: 1.16% becomes 1.46%.
- 1.3 Millennia: 1.46% becomes 1.82%.
- 1.4 Millennia: 1.82% becomes 2.27%.
- 1.5 Millennia: 2.27% becomes 2.84%. Threshold to critical impacts (if the sub-plane collapses) is crossed.
- 1.6 Millennia: 2.84% becomes 3.55%.
- 1.7 Millennia: 3.55% becomes 4.44%.
- 1.8 Millennia: 4.44% becomes 5.55%.
- 1.9 Millennia: 5.55% becomes 6.94%.
- 2 Millennia: 6.94% becomes 8.67%.
- 2.1 Millennia: 8.67% becomes 10.8%.
- 2.2 Millennia: 10.8% becomes 13.6%.
- 2.3 Millennia: 13.6% becomes 16.9%.
- 2.4 Millennia: 16.9% becomes 21.2%.
- 2.5 Millennia: 21.2% becomes 26.5%.
- 2.6 Millennia: 26.5% becomes 33.1%.
- 2.7 Millennia: 33.1% becomes 41.4%.
- 2.8 Millennia: 41.4% becomes 51.7%, exceeding the 50% target that was set. Sub-plane becomes a permanent, stable, and mature Plane in its own right.
Actually, after 2.785 years, 9 days, 20 hours, 28 minutes, and 5 1/3 seconds of increasing energetic content, the sub-plane becomes stable. It is now half the size of the parent plane, having inflated as the energy has been injected, and the plane from which the energy has been drawn to stabilize it has shrunk proportionately – if that happens to be the parent plane (which is the most easily-accessed source), it is also only half the size that it used to be.
If the energy supplementing should fail, even a little, before reaching that point, evaporation will commence, and the stability will retreat at the rate of 2 years worth of progress for every year that passes until the energy supplementing is restored to the target levels. If the failure occurs in the 1880th year, for example, the energy that needs to be provided is 5.55%; if it is not restored to that level for 30 years then maturation and stability are set back by 60 years. If the delay was 40 years, the setback is 80 years, but the target remains 5.55%; if the delay is 80 years or more, the setback is 160 years plus, but that reduces the energy demand level to the pre 1800-years mark of 4.44%. So the recipe would be 100 years at 4.44% plus 160 additional years at 4.44%, before the demand again rises to the 5.55% and the 18th century of growth is restarted.
Of course, there are various ways in which the achievement of stability can be force-hastened, but they are all fairly catastrophic, involving the mass sacrifice of sufficient content of the source-energy plane. Note, however, that if there were 25 planes providing the energy, each would only shrink by about 2-2.5%, a relatively negligible loss.
The alternative is to host population within the sub-plane and sustain them; life, with its complex interactions between positive and negative energies and its capacity for the use of Arcane and Clerical energies, acts as a stabilizing agent. The population density needs to be the equivalent percentage of the density of the parent plane – so 0.1% size requires 0.1% of the population density, or 0.01% of the total population of the parent plane. Smaller sub-planes take longer to stabilize but far smaller living populations.
For example, if the parent plane is the home of 20 thousand million life forms, a sub-plane of 0.1% size would need to be populated by 2 million beings – animal, vegetable, and sentient. A sub-plane of 0.01% size would need to be inhabited by 20,000. A sub-plane of 0.001% size, a mere 200. A single couple are sufficient for a sub-plane of 0.0001% size, or an individual and a tree, or whatever. If the parent plane was the size of the surface of the earth, that’s about 225 km by 225 km, or an area about the size of Cyprus. However, I suspect that these numbers seriously underestimate the population of anything the size of the earth. The world livestock population alone totaled 24 billion in 2007. Even allowing a ten-fold increase though modern farming methods, it’s easy to imagine a 100-1 ratio between wild animals and domesticated ones, and another 100-1 ratio of plants. 24/10 x101 x101 = 24,482.4 thousand million – on which basis our “island of Cyprus sub-plane” should have not 2, but about 2,500 resident creatures – plus margin for consumption and death!
Still, that shows that it’s manageable – if you want to stabilize a sub-plane that is so small it would inflict no severe damage anyway.
[Author’s note: Technically, we should be talking Volume, not surface area. Who cares?]
Conclusion to Idea #10: The Wound In Reality
As you can see, the analogy technique is a great tool for developing ideas. All you need is sufficient imagination to apply it (I’m still not happy with the name of the “Scaffolders” for example). The end result usually encompasses the entire range of scales relative to the size of the phenomenon being imagined – here, we’re talking about the cosmos, so there are cosmic-scale events and events that can manifest at the human scale in particular events and phenomena, and all points in between. The resulting view of Portals and planes is a rich and detailed cosmology that is not the static thing depicted in rule books but dynamic, evolving, and growing – slowly and with internal violence. More, there are many effects consequential to the creation of Gates and Portals, few of which those performing such acts of creation are likely to anticipate – resulting in many unexpected outcomes.
Picture the PCs confronting a single zombie in a graveyard – when suddenly that zombie is flooded with negative energy, gaining 15-or-so hit dice, having its sentience awakened, and becoming a vampire the equal of Dracula. Sure, the PCs might win – but they will certainly have been taken by surprise! Now make it a pack of 10 zombies…
To Be Continued…
That’s ten surprises to play on unsuspecting players down, and 10 more tricks to come!