Eldersphinx's Locations in Vacuum

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sciborg2
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Eldersphinx's Locations in Vacuum

By User Eldersphinx

Every elemental plane has its pockets of imperfection. Places that are less pure - and more interesting - than raw elemental material or unrestrained energies. The plane of Vacuum, for all that it's defined as elemental absence of anything, is no exception. The stable collections of outside matter are rarer, true; the nature of Vacuum is to slowly erode, demolish and disperse anything it comes in contact with, and preventing this is not straightforward. Still, they exist, and are prime sites for adventure.

I. REDOUBTS

Of the types of landmarks found in Vacuum, these are the most comprehensible to mortals - and with good reason, since mortals are generally responsible for creating them. A redoubt begins when someone brings a large quantity of outside matter into Vacuum... and persists when someone realizes the degree of constant effort required to keep said matter intact and compact in the face of Vacuum's depredations, and devises a plan to do so.

Redoubts can take many forms, from the citadels of Vecna and the Doomguard to the hollow cinder cities of the Abduldinach efreeti to the spindle of frozen lightning conjured by the aasimon Matariel. All redoubts, though, are ultimately defined by the measures taken by their residents to hold back the emptiness beyond their borders. The simplest such method is use of spells - which must be powerful, varied, and ceaselessly renewed. Conjurations to feed the encroaching Vacuum, or evocations and transmutations that can compact and restrain the redoubt's foundations, are the most commonly used tools here. No redoubt can last for long with only a single engineer to maintain it, though, and yet groups of spellcasters fare little better given the chance of envy and internal discord. To try to keep a redoubt strong with merely mortal tools is a difficult proposition.

Other means exist, of course. More than one redoubt has been built around a caged artifact, a chunk of comatose godstuff stolen away from Anubis, a source of some primal Positive energy, or yet weirder means. The Convent of Unwhispered Secrets, for instance, is said to have as its foundation stone the seed of an entire unborn Prime Plane, and so pushes back Vacuum's consumptive influence. Even these greater means, though, require directive attention to function properly, and can be breached if managed incompetently or left unattended. When its protection fails, the redoubt's outer workings are quickly stripped away, leaving only a tangled remnant of material surrounding the quiscient power source. Moreover, anything powerful enough to maintain a redoubt is also powerful enough to serve other ends, and is at risk of being seized or stolen by those who seek to shape the wider multiverse. If this happens, the redoubt collapses upon itself, and its wreckage eventually erodes away into Vacuum once more.

In the long run, simply put, no redoubt can hope to survive. They are strictly temporary things, often outlasting the life of a human or even an entire ruling dynasty, but eventually doomed to disaster of one kind or another. Once breached or abandoned, a redoubt generally suffers irreparable damage, and eventually disperses to nothingness.

II. HOLLOWINGS

Not all Vacuum is created equal. While large parts of the plane of Vacuum are merely passive, empty spaces that simply remain unfilled by the nature of their home plane, there are areas where reified nothingness is far fiercer, pulverizing and eventually annihilating anything that gets too close. And yet, like hurricanes that have an eye of calm at their centers and suns whose cores burn less fiercely than their coronas, there are places where Vacuum becomes so destructive that it forms a repulsive shell around an area of placid stability. The interior of these areas are called Hollowings, and they can - with proper care and preparation - be quite comfortable places to live.

The first challenge with regards to exploiting a Hollowing is simply finding one. By their very nature, they are in parts of the plane of Vacuum that are not exactly safe to traverse, requiring substantial magical protection. What's more, they are effectively invisible, even to most magical means - until one is actually inside a Hollowing, it merely appears to be an especially volatile area of Vacuum. One favored means of detection is to use native wildlife as trackers - experts within the Doomguard, for instance, have taken to breeding ghostwings, albino batlike creatures able to shriek and listen through Vacuum itself. (It's rumored that the Mercykillers have begun a project to acquire their own ghostwings, to use in tracking escaped criminals who've fled to the quasiplane... something that the Doomguard have not taken too kindly to.)

Once a Hollowing has been located, there's still the task of getting inside. Teleportation and plane-shifting magic work, of course; for large inanimate cargoes and the magic-averse, an alternate means of entry is to construct or conjure a protective casing of some tough but disposable material, and physically push it through the Hollowing's destructive shell. It's important to note, though, that this trick only works for getting in. When approached from within, the shell of a Hollowing behaves much differently - it exerts a mild repulsive effect that's enough to keep gases encaptured, but any object that has sufficient momentum to overcome the repulsion and make contact with a Hollowing's shell from inside will find itself instantly disintegrated. (A living creature thrown against the inner shell of a Hollowing should get a save vs. Wands to avoid contact. Failure means that a wish is needed just to get enough of a body back to raise from the dead.)

The last trick with a Hollowing is keeping it in balance, long-term. The interior of a Hollowing is absolutely a closed system - nothing gets in except through deliberate action, and nothing leaves unless deliberately removed or destroyed. Left unattended for too long, a Hollowing's air will foul and its interior will overheat. Even if these are controlled for, a Hollowing can be overrun by vermin, run out of food or other raw materials and be abandoned, or suffer a magical catastrophe that makes its environment impossible to maintain. Hollowings that have become uninhabitable in this way can make for... interesting reclamation projects, with potential threats ranging from environmental hazards to leftover magical traps to Vacuum natives that have somehow found a way inside to Prime vermin that have adapted to their new home.

III. FROZEN STARS

Over the infinite history of the multiverse, many attempts have been made by natives of other planes to transform Vacuum, or find some way of filling it with hospitable outside matter. None have been perfectly successful, but some have come close in their own way. One such effort, a twisting and collapsing of Vacuum itself by some long-forgotten Prime civilization, alters the space of the plane in such a way that outside matter is not simply destroyed, but instead dragged inexorably towards an infinitely small central point. These anomalies are known as frozen stars.

Not all frozen stars are equally useful. Some are small and weak, their influence only partially offsetting Vacuum's destructive influence; they are useless except as landmarks. Others are too powerful, able to suction in any matter that comes close and compact it down to nothingness in a matter of moments. Between the two extremes, though, are specimens that can actually preserve outside matter for a nontrivial span of time, and these frozen stars often have a corona of solid mass, atmosphere and sometimes even inhabitants.

Living around a frozen star is often chaotic if not outright dangerous. While it's entirely possible for air, heat, solid ground, drinkable liquid and the other necessities of life to all be trapped within a frozen star's ambit, there's no guarantee that they'll be arranged in any sort of accessible manner, or even continue to stay in the same place from day to day. Waking up to discover that the resevoir pond's drained off, or that the atmosphere's only filling half the space it used to, are uncommon but not unheard of events near a frozen star.

One special longer-term hazard is the possibility of being bodily altered by the frozen star - having one's physical form compacted in on itself. In game terms, the character gains a bonus to Strength (denser muscles), but a penalty to Constitution (skeletal stress and organ rearrangement) and to all saving throws (strain on the nervous system and limbic disorientation). In addition, the DM may choose to call for a system shock roll at each time interval after 1 week. The Strength bonus and saving throw penalty are lost once a character departs the frozen star, but the Constitution penalty remains until magically healed (usually involving regeneration or similarly potent effects). Also note that the time intervals below are averages; for a particular frozen star, they can be anywhere from half as long (if the frozen star is particularly powerful) to three times as long (for weak or erratic frozen stars).

Time Interval Size Chg Modifier
12 hours x0.99 none
36 hours x0.97 none
3 days x0.94 +/- 1
1 week x0.9 +/- 2
2 weeks x0.85 +/- 3
1 month x0.8 +/- 4
3 months x0.75 +/- 5
1 year x0.7 +/- 6
5 years x0.6 +/- 7
25 years x0.45 +/- 8
150 years x0.25 +/- 9

The final risk involved in visiting a frozen star involves departing one. The seemingly most straightforward method, teleportation, is risky; something in the frozen star's structure tends to disrupt such magics. Anyone attempting to teleport away from a frozen star must save vs. spells; on a failure, the teleportation effect fails, and the subject instantly adds their character level in days to the actual length of their stay for determining the frozen star's effect on their body (as per the chart above). Even if the save succeeds, chances of a botched teleport are doubled (roll twice, take the least favorable of the two rolls). Plane shifting is somewhat more reliable, in that it will always allow for the caster's departure; however, a save vs. spells is still required, and on a failure the destination of the plane shift is off-target (DM's exact discretion as to where the traveler ends up). The simplest and safest way to escape a frozen star involves use of the reverse gravity spell - being careful, of course, to cast it in a place where no barriers can interfere with the caster's departure. Failing that, natural or magical flight at a speed of at least 72" is sufficient (which likely involves some combination of haste magic and custom spell research).

sciborg2
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IV. DISJOINTS

IV. DISJOINTS

Avoiding Vacuum's ravages isn't always a matter of brute force or twisting local physical law. There are always places - usually tiny - that are less vulnerable to the touch of the plane. Making a Disjoint is simply a matter of finding some quantity of those places, making them habitable... and then tying them all together with spell effects that distort distance or otherwise make remote locations adjacent to one another. Simple.

Needless to say, while many Disjoints are perfectly pleasant places to reside and all are invariably much more hospitable than naked Vacuum, most humans and demihumans avoid them if they can. The idea that your head could at any moment be possibly just one persistent spell's failure away from being forcibly separated from your body by a distance of thousands or miles or more is not a pleasant one... especially considering that like almost everything else in Vacuum, Disjoints aren't truly stable, and need their nodes regularly pruned and replaced to keep a strengthening region of the plane from putting the entire structure at risk. The deliberate dissolution of a Disjoint's node usually happens with enough warning to allow prompt evacuation to occur, ensuring the safety of all involved. Usually.

It's little surprise, then, that the main residents and makers of Disjoints are decidedly nonhuman. The majority of these sapients fall into one of two main clades - the Ool'qA'hatch, a type of intelligent ooze with amazing powers of natural regeneration, and the Dreamheards, a distributed-mind race of mobile fungi. Neither the Dreamheards nor the Ool'qA'hatch are native to Vacuum; both claim to be the original inventors of the Disjoints, though, and cast the other race as interlopers who have stolen territory and magical secrets. Relations between the Ool'qA'hatch and the Dreamheards are accordingly every bit as frosty as one might expect. The only thing that keeps an all-out war of annihilation from breaking out are political divisions within each race, preventing the kind of unity needed for a concerted crusade against the outside foe.

This isn't to say that Disjoints hold no interest to humans - far from it. While they make poor residences, they can greatly help travelers who need a safe shortcut through Vacuum's emptiness. Both the Dreamheards and the Ool'qA'hatch are willing to allow such outsider visits... for a price in gold or gems, which they generally use to hire mercenaries for attacks on their enemies or reclamation of a lost Disjoint. Working as a Disjoint sellsword can be a profitable living, if a dangerous one.

There is one interestingly odd danger that has presented itself recently where Disjoints are concerned (at least, 'recently' as far as the planes measure time). This is the appearance of some unnamed race, probably of some flavor of Far Realm origins given their distinctly unsettling appearance, that has started to take possession of Disjoints away from Dreamheards and Ool'qA'hatch alike. These invaders don't seem to speak or communicate in any way, and can apparently strike suddenly and irresistably - the only evidence anyone has ever found of one of their attacks is arriving after the fact to find the Disjoint under new ownership. Getting away after such a discovery is, of course, an adventure in itself.

V. CHRONAL BUBBLES

Of all the many methods used to carve out habitable pockets in the plane of Vacuum, the chronal bubble is perhaps the most audacious. It is arguably to time what a Disjoint is to space - a habitable environment is assembled in some relatively placid region of Vacuum, persists there as long as is safe, and when conditions worsen vanishes entirely from existence; flitting forwards in time to some moment of renewed safety. For those within the chronal bubble, time is continuous - there is no visible clue or indication of nonexistence. For those outside, of course, it's a different matter.

Even for Vacuum's standards, chronal bubbles are rare. Their inhabitants are those unworried by the potential risks associated with months or years among the greater multiverse suddenly passing them by in an eyeblink; moreover, such occurrences are startlingly common, as even the most hospitable sites for chronal bubbles can rarely sustain one for a period of more than a few hours before needing to separate them from sidereal reality. It's a seeming paradox that any being with enough magical prowess to create a chronal bubble is very likely too ambitious to willingly inhabit one, but a few exceptions - most commonly grey elves, ahn-githyanki, or rouvven - do choose to do so.

More likely inhabitants are those who have actively taken up residence in a chronal bubble hoping to see the future arrive and the multiverse change. These souls are adherents of ur-prophecies, keepers of dying godsparks, seekers of unborn artifacts and those who want vengeance against the immortal - they don't care about how the multiverse might change across millenia, as long as the ends they want are ultimately met. As a result, while they stand apart from the affairs of the larger multiverse, they still have a keen interest in its doings, and are willing to pay well for messages, news and other tales delivered by trustworthy outsiders. The risk, of course, is finding a way to deliver such without being caught within the bubble as it makes one of its jumps through time.

(Related to this last: A persistent rumor in Sigil is that one or another of the factions - which one depends on who's telling the story - was actually founded by refugees from a very long-lived chronal bubble, who fled to it along with their philosophies during some time of great and traumatic change across the wider multiverse. It's a story that's initially appealing but ultimately treacherous, and it's no surprise that none of the factions actually admit to it being part of their history - who wants to admit that at a time when existence itself was remade in some larger image, the champions of your creed had to run and hide away?)

No discussion of chronal bubbles would be complete, of course, without mentioning the possibility of bubbles that don't confine their chronal jumps to merely a single direction in time. To any logical thinker, such an embellishment is utterly, needlessly ludicrous; but since to most outsiders the bare notion of a chronal bubble is ludicrous it's not much of a step. These rumors are undoubtedly helped along by stories from the Ue Lakothimos, a chronal bubble whose inhabitants are apparently engaged in some kind of cosmic con game; they invite in visitors at every opportunity, then seek to convince those visitors that they come from the future and that every jump will carry them further into the past. Why they attempt such a deception is unclear, but they do so well enough to pull in their share of marks from even among experienced planar travellers. And even those aware of the Lakothimes' aims may hold out hope of an actual back-travelling bubble waiting out there, somewhere...

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VI. REIFICATIONS

VI. REIFICATIONS

If chronal bubbles are the most audacious kind of landmark within Vacuum, reifications are undoubtedly the weirdest. Rather than trying one method or another to maintain solid matter as an anchor within the quasiplane, a reification dispenses with the material entirely and instead twists Vacuum to construct a realm of pure thought. With no substance to attack or erase, Vacuum's inimical nature becomes irrelevant.

To the outside observer, the presence of a reification is marked by some abstract image - of what, exactly, depends on who's watching. Mortals most often see reifications as intricate enormous crystalline geodes, gigantic many-fronded flowering plants, or tumbling, ever-shifting constructs of wave or cloudstuff. Fiends have described reifications as cages of blood, barbed fire, or ululating pain; celestials see them as sculptures of pure light or embodied serenity. Though a reification seems to take up space, its actual size is infestisimal, and even a slight change in perceptive angle is enough to drastically revise its apparent shape.

Entering a reification is simple - just make contact. The subject's physical body is destroyed, with mind, memory and personality taking up residence inside the reification. If the journey is not intended to be a one-way trip, a substitute body (via magic jar, for instance, or a planar projection similar to that created by astral spell) is recommended. Failing this, clone or wish to recover the lost body may suffice. Alternately, purely mental contact (via any of several psionic talents, or custom-purpose magical spells - simple ESP is too crude and transient to work) can get a visitor inside, though this does require leaving a comatose physical body outside in Vacuum for the duration of one's stay.

The interior of a reification is limited mainly by imagination. Size, shape, appearance and apparent environment are dictated by the inhabitants' wills. Exactly who sets a reification's form in the event of a dispute varies from place to place. Some reifications practice seniority rule; others go by consensus or majority vote, or even willpower-backed anarchy where the strongest and most determined minds triumph. A few reifications even exist where the newest, least experienced residents receive precedence, to ease them into the community and encourage them to reshape their new home. Generally, though, self-identity is strong and difficult to wholly reshape; most who enter a reification find their appearances and capabilities roughly equal to what they could do in the wider multiverse, at least to start with. (Githzerai, though, are sometimes watched carefully. Certain of their zerth adepts have proven quite capable indeed at reshaping reified space while still relative novices.)

Just as nothing material can come into a reification, nothing other than thoughts and ideas can leave. This limits commerce somewhat - but there is a lively trade in information; which includes not just facts and hearsay but also blueprints, mechanical specifications and reagant lists for all sorts of constructions, magical experiments and similar activities that would be absurdly expensive, insanely risky or simply futile to conduct in the outside world but are simplicity itself inside the observer-dictates-all environment of a reification. Which, of course, means that anyone departing a reification may be suspected by their enemies of bringing valuable secrets with them... reason enough to retain bodyguards, or set a counter-ambush or similar ruse.

Finally, there is the risk of false reifications - constructs set up that don't provide a haven for mind and thought, but simply obliterate them. A cabal of archons and aasimar known as the Argent Peak is accused with first coming up with the notion, as a trap for yugoloth intelligencers who were felt to be working far too closely with different reifications; whatever the truth, the trick of creating a false reification is now a known ruse of war across all the planes of existence. Fortunately, destroying a false reification is relatively simple - the sort of task that can be delegated to even moderately competent mortal agents. The chief trick is finding some way to be certain that the target is, in fact, not a real reification after all.

VII. SIMPLICITIES

This last form of landmark holds the rare distinction of being one of the few kinds of thing in Vacuum possibly more dangerous than the plane itself. The area of a Simplicity might appear to a naive observer to be reasonably safe, for material objects are in fact preserved inside; the cruel truth, however, is that Vacuum's destructive nature is merely altered, not held in abeyance. Within a Simplicity, what is attacked is not structure, but distinctiveness.

If a Prime farmer's crop field were somehow transported entire into a Simplicity, each and every ear of corn would gradually become identical - same height, same thickness, same tilt against the nonexistent wind, same number of ears on each stalk and same number of kernels on each ear. The field mice, likewise, would all too quickly converge on a single size, weight, shape of eye, ear and head, length of tail and hue of fur. Over the longer term, stalks of corn, unplucked weeds, the willow trees lining one edge of the field and the river reeds along the opposite side would all devolve down to one single hybrid plant form, just as the field mice, worms and beetles, visiting crows and the farmer's cat would all grow more and more alike, ending up as something usually only found in wizard's laboratories. Even the soil itself would sift itself down to a sort of silt-sand, composed of endless repitions of the same exact dust grain.

This, then, is why almost no sane traveller in Vacuum gets too close to a Simplicity once its true nature is known. A short visit might be relatively safe, and a chance to escape the plane's usual continuous attack on material structure... but then again, if the Simplicity acts first on a visitor's rational mind and sense of purpose, a brief stayover could all too easily turn permanent. Best to stay away - unless, of course, one's going in after a colleague who risked getting too close.

Simplicities aren't wholly without use, though... at least, not if one is amoral enough. More than one villain in the multiverse has proven willing to use a Simplicity as a prison and torture device, dropping in truly loathed enemies so that they don't simply die, but gradually have their minds and eventually bodies stripped from them as they're transformed into some grotesquity. Less directly cruel, though still thoroughly ruthless, is to trick or bait some foe into entering a Simplicity of their own accord. There's only one consolation for those trapped in a Simplicity in such a manner - the nature of their prison is such that it's more or less impossible to keep a close guard in place, offering a hope of rescue. Assuming, of course, that any rescuer is daring enough.

Simplicities offer one more potential prize to the ambitious outsider. If a Simplicity is seeded with the proper mix of matter, then left alone with nothing new added for a sufficiently long period of time, it will eventually begin to reduce its contents into raw, unadulterated ylem - protean ur-stuff, the building blocks of everything. Finding ylem is normally quite difficult, and keeping it uncontaminated long enough to put it to good use is harder - but a properly managed Simplicity obviates these problems. It does pose the new question of how to safely retrieve the ylem, but if the answer was easy anyone could play...

Postscript: Additional Random Notes

'Abduldinach' efreeti - compare to the origins and meaning of the real-world 'Abdullah'. Then reflect on the fact that Aldinach is a named demon lord (1E MMII, p. 35). Draw your own conclusions.

Frozen Stars - Yes, the name's translated from Russian astronomy. Guilty as charged.

ool'qA'hatch - Larry Niven's Chirpsithra aliens would recognize this name immediately. Not sure if this means anything, but it's probably worth sharing.

Ahn-githyanki - Once or twice in a generation, an otherwise mostly-unexceptional githyanki will suddenly gain 8-12 levels of experience in a single instant. The ones smart enough to strike out on their own in the wider planes, rather than challenging Vlaakith directly (and proving anew the old dictum about old age and treachery versus youth and vigor) become ahn-githyanki. They're powerful, paranoid, eccentric, reclusive and mildly sadistic.

Simplicities - I had an aside, at one point, about a would-be tyrannical conquerer who had the brilliant idea to wrap himself in about six layers of magical defenses, hole up in a Simplicity along with a hundred or so hapless victims, and wait for the Simplicity to make everyone else into an exact copy of him. But I couldn't find a punchline that actually made for an interesting adventuring hook, so I dropped it. Anyone who can think of an interesting way for the story to end should feel free to steal it.