A Sundered World: Cosmology-ish

It has been a little over a year since I started working on  A Sundered World, which provided about six months of adventures before one of the key players could no longer play, and we had to pretty much drop it.

Though I initially wrote it for 4th Edition, Josh and I have been going over the notes and trying to create a largely system-neutral world bible, as I want it to be usable by people using 4th Edition, Dungeon World, D&D Next, and probably other fantasy role-playing games that we do not play.

During this process we have been revamping the world, such as it is, quite a bit. At least part of the premise--that the gods and primordials fought, but no one won--is still there. The other part, which could be summed up as, "Dungeons & Dragons, but in the Astral Sea", is where we diverged: we felt that sticking everything in the Astral Sea, though visually awesome, was limiting, and made it difficult to rationalize where people obtained things like food and materials.

Also you needed a very expensive, magical ship to get around.

The world now is the result of every plane collapsing into each other after the Sundering. A lot of it is covered in ocean (mostly because of the Elemental Chaos/Inner Planes grossly upsetting the balance of everything), but now it is easier to explain how people grow food, get water, and find materials to make things, though there are still crazier elements, such as the shattered trunk of the World Tree in the center of existence, flying islands and celestial dominions, god-corpses, and so on.

Elements from other planes get mixed in, too, so where the dark influence of the Shadowfell settled, it created Shadowlands that draw in undead and restless spirits. Undead kings, which could be death knights or liches, rule kingdoms of undead vassals, occasionally sending forth black ships to claim lingering souls and bodies to expand their ranks. On the other hand, the verdant light of the Feywild causes plants to flourish where none should, animals and plants to possess uncanny intelligence (and sometimes speech), and in some cases time to flow differently.

Other planes get used more overtly.  The Astral Sea, or whatever you want to call the heavens, is a silvery, starry expanse that extends beyond the clouds. Here, above even the castles of the storm giants, are the remains of the celestial dominions and corpses of dead gods. Some are still inhabited by angels that try to make do, upholding the dogma of their former masters (though some tend to go by the letter and not the spirit), and providing at least some kind of mostly-eternal reward for the souls of the dead.

Some choose to remain on the world, protecting worshippers both alive and dead from the many threats that abound, not least of which are devils, because the Nine Hells is a place on a Sundered World: a massive iron sphere, it floats above twisted spires of iron that jut from the ocean like black, jagged teeth. A lattice of iron bridges connect the sphere to the towers, which teem with slaves, infernal citizens, and souls of the damned (or unlucky enough to get picked up by fiendish or undead raiding parties before the angels found them, though how unlucky that is depends on the angels).

And at the furthest edges of reality is the Far Realm. Creatures that venture too close often attract the attention of eldritch horrors, though even those that escape are often driven insane or mutated.

So, that is one part of the bigger picture. There really are not other planes, which might be a feature or a bug depending on how you look at it (I remember there being a huge uproar at 4th Edition's cosmology). I think that by moving the setting from the Astral Sea to something a bit more normalish makes it a lot more accessible; when I first ran  A Sundered World I just gave Josh's character an astral vessel, because if I did not then it would have made things a lot harder for them to get around and adventure.

The only part that I am a bit fuzzy on is how the days and nights work. Originally there was no day or night because the Astral Sea just kind of had a default luminescence, but I am thinking that maybe it could lighten or darken regularly, giving some semblance of night and day. Some regions could also just be lighter or darker (having bits of Feywild or Shadowfell layered on, but not too much), or even go with something a bit crazier like having angels that formerly served the sun god keep towing it across the sky.

What do you think?


  1. This post makes 'a Sundered World' almost no different from any cliche fantasy world. Shadow lands, Magical forests, Heavenly Skies? WHAT?!?!

    I like the idea of angels towing the sun around the sky. That already screams adventure! What if they were assassinated at night so there was no more day (or vice versa)?

    The 'vast shadow lands' thing doesn't quite cut it for me. It's already a cliche. Instead, I think it would be more interesting if it were something more like a patchwork of everything. I think that the Astral Sea and Elemental Chaos should have a bit more prevalence(not in the sky, mind you, but the ocean could drift off into the Astral), since they were the homes of the warring parties, and the world+mirrors should be dotted about randomly. There could be some interesting combo areas where both the Feywild AND Shadowfell are present... Void zones where the Far Realm holds sway, etc.

    Your version of hell is interesting. I always imagined it as this vast underground kingdom with fiery chasms (except for the colder regions of course), but yours could well be a popular adventure site.

    If A Sundered World isn't a good place for more Far Realm shenanigans, I don't know what is. More Reality Rips!

    I will be really sad if such a great concept becomes a cliche fantasy world. The posts made me want to buy MotP (low budget DM), and almost made me dump my Nentir Vale campaign. The floating islands, the corpse stars, god-husks, feywild-is-the-moon, all that made A Sundered World come alive for me will disappear into the paragon/epic tier!

    On a side note, what is a good source book for low-level planar baddies?

    -A big fan of yours

  2. Whoops, I forgot to mention that the Feywild-as-a-moon would still be there.

    A lot of these changes came about from, after actually running the campaign and thinking about it, that I was not entirely sure where people got the stuff for food and basic supplies. Like, how do you grow food if there is no steady supply of water?

    I am not sure what you mean by something being a patchwork of everything, but what I think you are talking about is having zones of like, "normal" world adrift in the astral sea, with water and such.

    I could see something like that as kind of like going from pocket to pocket like traversing the dominions of 2nd Edition's Ravenloft.

  3. Exactly. Sort of like Discworlds, only less round and without the turtles and elephants.

    Planar Dromonds might be a slightly more common way of going places in the Astral, especially for the more prosperous 'disks'.

  4. I can dig it. I'll run it by Josh and see what he thinks. Thanks for the idea, and glad you at least like some of what I mentioned above. :-D

  5. (shrug) You asked what your readers thought.

  6. Sorry if I came across as, like, sarcastic. I really do appreciate the feedback and suggestion.

  7. You didn't. At least not to me. But then again, I always have trouble with that sort of thing...

  8. I stumbled across your blog recently and really enjoyed what I've seen so far. I was originally brought here because I was looking for Ravenloft stuff -- I once ran a 3.5 Ravenloft campaign that ended in complete disaster, and have been designing a "revisit" for the original players with new characters -- but I stuck around because of the transcripts from your Sundered World campaign. It's very cool that you're taking the time to flesh out the world enough to put together a comprehensive "campaign guide" -- I'm certainly intrigued to see the final product.

    The changes sound interesting but, in some ways, I find them unnecessary. From the transcripts, I was given the impression of a living, breathing world where everything simply happened and could be explained away because of the nature of the "sundered" world.

    In the grand scheme of things, I think worrying about where food and water come from is nothing to be concerned with; the Feywild was torn asunder and now resides on the moon, but it's influences are still felt elsewhere, so who's to say that there can't be patches of Feywild all over the "main" world, where plants grow and thrive? Heck, in that sort of world, the patches of the world where food can be found are most likely would end up being important territory that races would war over (because whoever controls food has the happier populace).

    Or, alternatively, perhaps the people from the Feywild planet are tolerated specifically because the rest of the races rely on the existence of their "planet" to provide all of the food that they eat. That could bring its own set of conflicts and some racial tension that could play marvelously into that sort of world, especially given the already existing conflict that seemed to be present during the transcripts.

    Access to water could be explained by hotly-contested pockets of the Elemental Chaos where water bleeds through. Perhaps you could revert back to how 3.5 approached the different elements -- each element received its own plane of existence -- and have the different planes torn asunder and permeating the world, explaining the existence of the "water pockets", and then add things like "fire pockets" or "earth pockets" where the raw elements take over from time to time (I'm imagining an Ol' Faithful-type geyser, only it gushes flame instead of steam).

    Alternatively, the "water pockets" could have manifested in waterfalls that spout from nowhere (where the Elemental Chaos has broken through) and pool in places that the different races vie to control. Or you could have it so that powerful sorcerers from each major city have managed to puncture holes in the fabric of reality to bring the Elemental Chaos to their city, in order to provide the populace with water. That alone creates all sorts of adventure ideas where the party has to make sure a villain doesn't stop the flow of water, or travel to the Elemental Chaos to find out who (or what) has stopped the water.

    (There's more but it cut me off. Sorry for the length!)

  9. I also think changing the nature of the world from a more "astral" sort of expanse to water was unnecessary. Part of the charm of the entire universe was being part of an airship crew and sailing the high skies and discovering the far reaches of sundered planes bleeding into each other; to take that away does, unfortunately (as Anon mentioned above), turn the world from a wholly original and unique experience into something that seems more run-of-the-mill. The planes bleeding into each other is certainly an interesting twist on it but reverting their placement (and normalizing the access to each) to a more mundane focus makes the world exactly that -- more mundane.

    I think, to truly capture the nature of the world as it was originally presented, you need to come up with equally fantastical explanations for things. Simply saying "There's water everywhere, and the world looks mostly the same as you would imagine, except for the occasional flying island and the odd 'planet'" just makes it seem like a slightly different take on every other world. Don't be afraid to break the expected conventions for fear of something "not making sense". It's a fantasy world; things only make sense if you say they do!

    Please don't take my comments as hateful; I thoroughly enjoyed the world as you presented it before, and am excited to see what sort of depths the world holds! I just don't want you to sacrifice the wonderful uniqueness and originality you had to make things "make sense", y'know?

    I look forward to what you share with us in the future! (And, again, sorry for the excessive length.)

  10. I totally agree 100% with Nick.

  11. @Anon: That is good. I have been told that I can sound cross or sarcastic when I do not mean to. :-)

    @Nick: Thank you for the massive, two-post response! It is great that I wrote something that people appreciated enough to warrant that sort of reaction. :-D

    When I first started, I ran with the idea of Water Guilds mining water from the Elemental Chaos, and groves where people prayed to nature spirits in return for food (and sometimes water). It never came up in the campaign, so I did not give it much thought until we decided to write up an actual world bible for public use.

    I agree with you and Anon that my original vision had a much more unique flavor and style working for it, and I expect that we will change course, say "fuck the rules", and just make an Astral Sea that normal boats can traverse (though Astral vessels would be better at it).

    Thanks to both of you guys for the extensive pep talk. :-)

  12. I share your readers' concerns that the whole waterworld thing seems a bit more mundane than what we initially set out to do with Sundered World. Traversing the ruined heavens and ravaged, disembodied motes of land is definitely a cool and unique backdrop.

    However, you'll remember that we discussed the Astral Sea setup and how it necessitates players being railroaded into attaining magical conveyance in order to proceed to further adventures.

    In the end, though I understand and agree with much of your reasoning in regards to "normalizing" the setting, I think that I have to agree with your readers that we should just go for broke and make it as gonzo as we can while still clutching a semblance of logic.

    It's called "fantasy" for a reason, afterall.

    Incidentally, you really need to read "Abarat" by CLive Barker...I just finished it and the world really reminds me of Sundered World.

  13. @David: I'm happy to share my thoughts! I don't have decades of table-top experience under my belt or anything -- I've only been playing since high school, which is probably about eight years ago now -- but I just couldn't sit idly by while you were going to make such massive changes to a beautifully unique setting!

    I like the idea of "Water Miners" and "Food Groves". There are plenty of interesting adventure ideas that go along with both and I think it is a suitably "sundered" representation of the ecology present. You could have corrupt miners trying to corner the water market, or a fire archon appear that has gone mad and wants to burn all the food groves. There are lots of ideas that spawn from those! Run with that!

    @Josh: The railroad of magical conveyance is certainly an issue, though it's not necessarily that uncommon. Every campaign requires parties to go from point A to point B; it's the journey that makes it interesting, y'know?

    That being said, I understand that getting a vessel to traverse the Astral Sea might seem like a daunting task, but there are ways around it. The beginning of the campaign could have them joining a crew of an astral-faring vessel, ready to journey the high skies and visit strange new worlds, only for the ship to be attacked and most of the crew killed. It then falls on the party to take control of the ship and strike out across the skies, looking for the men (or creatures) that killed the captain.

    (More below. Again. :P)

  14. Still @Josh: Alternatively, you could have the characters hired by a wealthy patron to perform a task, and he gives them an astral-faring vessel complete with crew and the like. Perhaps in the course of the first adventure, however, the party discovers that the patron is evil and can either confront him (and take the ship afterwards) or simply escape into the skies (and then have the patron on their heels the rest of the campaign).

    Or, on the flipside, you could introduce other means of transportation. Sure, astral-faring vessels are the shit, but there are plenty of other magical means of getting around. Transportation circles, magical gates, even winged creatures could be ridden across the skies from place to place.

    Think about supply-and-demand, right? 100 years ago, cars were a brand-new thing and people considered them little more than novelty, instead relying on the railways and basing our civilization around that form of transportation. Nowadays, we couldn't survive as a race if we didn't have our automobiles to get us from place to place, and trains are almost obsolete. Our civilization has changed so drastically, simply focusing on one means of transportation over another.

    Apply that same sort of logic to a fantasy world and, suddenly, horses are a useless race of hooved mammals that are only useful for manual labour. And even that capability is limited when compared to the brute strength that can be harnessed by larger creatures, such as griffons and hippogriffs. Further, because griffons and their kin can fly, they are doubly useful as a means of transportation -- especially because there is so much of the world that is only reachable from the air.

    In simple terms, in the sundered world, the races didn't breed horses into a labouring species -- they bred griffons and their kin instead. There may still be wild horses present in the wilderness, and maybe the elves and eladrin (and other fey) still use great horses on the Feywild planet, but the vast majority of the races could use griffons instead (or other suitable races -- I'm thinking wyverns or other draconic-type creatures, for the dragonborn living on Bahamut). This creates an interesting flip from the regular fantasy worlds, where horses are commonplace and griffons are rare; change that supply-and-demand and suddenly horses are one of the rarest domesticated animals around.

    Now, of course, you could limit the effectiveness of griffons and wyverns, so as not to make things too simple -- perhaps winged creatures can travel all across the "material plane" planet but cannot cross the Astral Sea without proper training and perhaps some magical wards to protect them -- but it would allow a semblance of freedom without forcing the party into getting an astral-faring vessel.

    Of course, the same supply-and-demand logic can be applied to the regular ship/astral-faring vessel situation -- If there is no water present, why would anyone even bother creating a sailing vessel when astral-faring vessels are the necessity? And, if that is the case, would the astral-faring vessels be any more difficult to acquire than a regular sailing vessel in your stock fantasy world? -- but perhaps you want to give the impression that not everyone can travel the high skies. I get that; it would somewhat normalize the characters, when you want them to seem special in the world you have created.

    It creates a balance to be found but there are plenty of options available, so don't worry about "railroading" characters, necessarily. Speaking from experience, sometimes if you railroad them just a little with the intent of getting to something awesome, they won't mind so much afterwards.

  15. If astral vessels are suddenly the norm, then there should be ways to mass-produce them. For instance, what if smaller god-fragments hurl through the astral in the form of comets or asteroids? These can in turn be mined and serve a similar purpose to Eberron's Dragonshards.
    Here's another approach: If astral vessels are like aircraft, than Spelljammers are like space shuttles, able to travel very fast at the cost of incredible need for fuel. Of course, can't forget the Planar Dromond...

    The vehicle conventions can be very intersting.

  16. I just realized that, what with all the dead gods, what is the convention for playing Divine classes? Could such characters gain power from the god-husks? Or are there a few that remain in hiding? Or are they completely removed from play, like in Dark Sun?

  17. Hey, just found this page randomly and as a potential Pathfinder DM and fantasy fan, found it very interesting.

    Just wanted to say, re: the flying ships etc. Wouldn't there be commercial vessels on which the common man (with sufficient wealth, so perhaps not so common then)could simply purchase a passage?

    Surely there would be some route which were so popular and valuable, for trade or even something like pilgrimages, that there would be regular passenger services. Just like ocean steamers before aircraft become ubiquitous. Though they could be smaller and relatively more expensive to travel on.


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