Geography Of A Sundered World

When Antioch pitched his Sundered World campaign to me, the genesis of the idea was to take the cosmology detailed in the lore of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition's implied setting and remove the cosmic membrane that keeps the planes separate, creating a blasted spacescape wherein players could explore dead stars full of incomprehensible horrors, navigate chaotic elemental storms, and fight unhinged angels aimlessly wandering their dead gods ruined domain.

Since then, he and I have been pitching, reversing, bolstering and molding ideas back and forth which have sprouted into a lot of the lore that has been posted on this blog space, and you readers have offered some invaluable insights on.

One of the particular areas of detail that Antioch and I are trying to hammer out, along with our friend and resident cartographer Victor, and hopefully the people who read and comment on this blog, is the makeup of the Sundered World's “landscape” for lack of a better term.

Previous to the mysterious cataclysm that tore open the veil between realms, the Sundered World was made up of five(ish) distinct planes, each with it's own character and inhabitants:

The celestial heavens of Empyrean, and the infernal hells of Apollyon were a vast expanse of stars and free floating domains where devils and gods dwelt, along with their angelic servitors and the souls of the devout. The astral plane was a magnificient realm of opulent ivory palaces floating upon magical golden nimbi, and stygian black iron citadels wreathed in blue hellfire.

The Maelstrom was a roiling mass of elements, constantly colliding and reforming into new matter. It was believed that from this storm of constant destruction and reformation the rest of the universe was thrust into being. This is where elementals lived and thrived. At it's very heart, the eye of the elemental storm, is a vast, unfathomably deep well of utter darkness called the abyss. This is where demons made their home, frequently making incursions into the space beyond.

Faerie was a wild and verdant mirror realm to the Prime Material plane, where magic courses through the roots of the great godtrees and the loamy soil like blood through a man's veins. Before the Sundering, mortalkind who found themselves in the fey realm either by wandering through faerie rings or through design, often became transfixed with the beauty of the faerie landscape and found themselves wandering and wondering endlessly, until they lay down and die of old age many decades later. The fey creatures who made this realm their home, are often so intuned with the freely flowing mystical forces of Faerie that they possess innate magical gifts. Creatures like Elves, gnomes, dryads, unicorns, etc.

The Netherworld was another mirror realm to the Prime Material plane. Where the realm of Faerie is teeming with life and energy, the shadowy Netherworld absorbs it creating a bleak and funereal landscape of sepia and grey. Often referred to by mortals as Purgatory, or the Land Of The Dead, this realm sounded a clarion call to the souls of the dead - a pilgrimage on their way to wherever the were going after their mortal clock winds down. Many of the inhabitants of the Netherworld were ghosts and specters, but there were mortal inhabitants as well. Shades are humanoids who are naturally imbued with umbral nether energies much like fey creatures are imbued with magic.

The Prime Material plane was the native home of humankind, and the world most like our own. It is the nexus point where all other realms meet, each touching the plane in some way. This was also the center and the strongest point of the Axis Mundi, which is what connected the planes to one another, but also kept them separate. This made the Prime a place of strategic significance to imperialistically driven races from the other planes. In fact, many of the races who made their home on the Prime Material plane were actually refugees from other planes who grew acclimated to the realm over the course of generations.

And then there are the things from Beyond. Maddeningly strange and incomprehensible things native to somewhere beyond the planes. Alien horrors that view all life in the known universe with mocking contempt and disdain. Abominations that feed on fear and insanity just as they consume flesh and bone.

Though the details may have long faded from memory of even the oldest beings, there is a reason that Celestials and Primordial eventually stopped warring with eachother. There is a reason that scores upon scores of angels and devils entered aberrant stars to fight side by side. There is a reason that the instinct of demons is to flee away from the Abyss.

This was the makeup of the multiverse before the Sundering. Now, the celestial heavens are a vast sea of stars wherein pockets of space that used to belong to other planes now float like islands in a sidereal ocean.

So what then would this blasted starscape actually look like if you were to map it? Well - we don't know exactly. Antioch and I both have different ideas which we'll detail here and hopefully get some of our readers to weigh in, as your input has proven to be a valuable asset to us in the creative process.

Antioch's take:

Antioch envisions the geography of the Sundered World as a vast expanse of space in layers with free-floating motes of lands from other planes suspended therein. The uppermost layer is comprised of starry space, while the bottommost layer is a roiling cauldron of wild elemental energies descending into the great Abyss. Picture if you will, the universe as a tea kettle sitting on a gas burner.

His take springs from the idea that players will be faced with potential perils on all sides, with the Abyss at one end, and the boundless mysteries of deep space beyond.

Gizmoduck's take:

The picture I have of the Sundered World in my headspace is a similarly immeasurable span of starry space that is bisected with a great diagonal gash of wild elemental energies, as though space had been slashed with a great sword, and is bleeding fire and ice and living earth.

My idea is that domains would be situated on one side of this scar or the other, and that travel between them is a perilous prospect...sort of like mariners traversing the worst stormy sea you can imagine and oh yeah there's demons.

So there you have the basic mental maps of our grandiose cosmic ruin. We'd love to hear what you guys and gals and arthropods think.


  1. Another model I had considered was to shape the "landscape" similarly to our galaxy, with the Elemental Chaos in the center surrounding the Abyss. This follows the idea of the Astral Sea having a kind of plane/horizon that inert matter settles to (making it more similar to an ocean).

    If nothing else, being able to largely ignore a myriad of differing elevations would make it easier to map.

    Yet another model is more akin to 3rd Edition's Astral Plane, with everything scattered about wherever. Here the Elemental Chaos would not be one place, or even a "layer". I would imagine numerous elemental maelstroms floating about, occasionally ejecting pulses of matter similar to how some stars unleash bursts of radiation or solar flares.

  2. I like that idea. You know, some believe that a black hole exists at the center of the milky way. That could be either the Abyss or the Far realm?

    I think that the potential adventure ideas make it worth the trouble to map elevation.
    Adventurers might make a mistake traveling to a certain dangerous layer, or maybe they were tricked?
    Just use the same tricks that WotC used to map Sharn.

  3. I would have the Abyss in the center, and the Far Realm beyond the edges of creation, kind of how the Wyld works in Exalted. Of course, there could be multiple mouths leading to separate parts of the Abyss.

  4. The setting just gets richer with every post. I've said it before and I'll say it again: If Eberron were less awesome, this would be #1.
    Still, ASW is still sitting pretty at #2 :)

  5. Second is better than third. I already posted this on G+, but might as well repeat here that we are at 40 of a projected 150 pages.

  6. Eberron presents a nearly insurmountable level of awesome for another setting to compete with. We are just happy that gamers have rooms in their lives for more than one setting : )

    As for the idea of the Sundered World being shaped somewhat like the milky way, but with the Maelstrom as it's soft nougat center, I am a fan. I like the idea of having an expanse of wild and unpredictable space that people either need to traverse, or go around because I don't think long range travel in the setting should be point A to point B. In a setting like a Sundered World, just getting to the adventure should be an adventure in and of itself.

    I can kind of picture planetoids moving in non-concentric, independent orbit, often eclipsing eachother and that light and heat come from the maelstrom. A campaign front could be the impending danger of two planetoids colliding, or that instead of orbiting, they are being slowly and inexorably drawn into the abyss.

    As for the Far Realm...I don't think it should be part of the cosmology at all. I think the relationship between the Far Realm and the Sundered World should be like the relationship between our world and Abeir-Toril: a completely separate reality. I like the things from beyond to be utterly alien in ever possible way.

  7. I am the same anonymous from all the posts above (just to clear that up).

    I'm not completely sure that I'll be able to pitch the setting properly to my group, but I will try after we're through with this campaign.

  8. Well since we are still in the middle of writing setting info, what type of stuff would you want us to map, elaborate on, or include?

  9. You actually want my full opinion?
    here goes.

    The vehicles look awesome, but I don't have the book that includes the full vehicle rules. Unless I'm missing something...

    Some of the areas should be no more than a paragraph for good DMs to flesh out, but I'm not very good at that sort of thing so I'd like comprehensive info on the more important/interesting sites, such as that one dead city, Horizon, Astrazalion, Gloomwrought might be here with some changes as well, and some unique adventure sites. Not just politics, but also basic NPCs that have quests to give, or just bartenders and innkeepers. The more quirky the better!

    I'm not that big a fan of city maps. Maps only restrain the city. They restrict the potential for spur-of-the-moment invention and creativity. Sharn is the only exception, since they're only district maps.

    I think that the small villages should be just as interesting as the bigger cities and corpse stars (big fan of those as well) in their own heroic-tier way.

    If there are some setting-specific feats, Paragon Paths, and Epic Destinies, or at least advice on modifying some of the fluff, that would also be great.

    My 2 cp.

  10. For Dungeon World vehicles will have tags for the various engines, as well as a simple system for constructing and using a vehicle in play. For Dungeons & Dragons, they will affect things like speed, fuel, and ideally things for using them to power magic, weapon systems, and the like.

    Not every area is equal. Some settlements will have many paragraphs going into the people, places, adventure hooks and the like, while others will just get touched on so that DMs can flesh them out how they like.

    I had not thought about maps restricting creativity...might still be useful for Horizon due to its multiple tiers. If nothing else that is one less thing for us to worry about. :-P

    The idea is that if a place is not interesting, there is no reason for us to bother including it. DMs can crank out generic villages just fine on their own: the goal here is to make places that spark interest and get creative juices flowing.

    For Dungeon World, I am working on a sorcerer and warlock class. For Dungeons & Dragons, expect an "Essentials" warlord, serpent shaman, red dragon-themed wizard magic, magic items, and other stuff refined from homebrew material from the original campaign.

    At the least, we keep thinking up new things as we write.

  11. Wait... are you actually going to refine Josh's class from the ASW posts?

  12. Oh yeah. And write up power blocks for Danh's serpent powers, the magic items, some of Lothelle's stuff that I wrote up but did not get a chance to reveal before the campaign ended, monsters on Acamar, clockwork horrors, and more.

  13. If only I had a time machine to the future...



Powered by Blogger.