Fidelity: Manifold Palace

A world of light. A world of glass — or something akin to glass, perfect in its transparency, brushed with the faintest of golden sheen, painfully precise in edge and angle, facet and pitch.

Beneath one’s feet lie perfect pebbles of that glass, oval or lenticular or granular, truncated pyramids and slim symmetrical stars; above one’s head, a sky so bright and shining on can barely make out the seams of prisms beyond imagining through the dusting of golden glimmer, the thousand thousand spectra cast across the gleaming lands.

Look all around — over streams of crystal-clear liquid droop slender trees of pristine angles and crosscut leaves, while other reach limbs of dizzying symmetry towards the skies above. Great mountains loom across the lands, like ranges of ponderous, perfect glass, pyramids and rhombuses and other stately shapes. And towers, clustered like crystals, their slim prisms like vitreous razor blades soaring.

All is precise, angled, ordered, perfect. Peer closer at the glass, past the shimmer and the spectra. See beyond the razor edge to glimpse the infinitesimal latticeworks, the flowing perfect lines of figures and factorings, ever-moving, ever-correcting, ever-calculating.

All is precise. All is in harmony.

See, now, the drifting light-forms of prismatic wings, sharp as scalpels, singing of the Great Pattern?

They would make you so, if you wish. If you permit. All must be in harmony.
All will see the unity of things.

Do not spill your blood on the razor’s edge of their purity; do not disrupt their precision with shattered forms, with crude chaoses.

* purity * clarity * precision * calculation * purging * conformation *

the Faded

So if all your soul has been traded away (or fallen off, or been eaten, or you tore it all out, or it was burned up, or any number of possibilities really), and that didn’t just end you (because perhaps a body just might keep moving without a soul), what else might happen?

Nothing pleasant, honestly.

You might become a mindless creature, an empty husk driven by nothing but a nagging hunger and a wisp of memory. Far too many courts of aethera notables keep such wretches as guard-beasts and hunters, with the most sluggish considered suitable only for simple brute labour.

That’s a fairly common fate.

Or you might get to hold onto your sense of self. Your soul may be empty, you may feel — you may be — as fragile as a blown-glass bubble, and you may hunger for what you’ve lost, but you retain mind and will and you have choices. You can chase after what you’ve lost, for one, or you may become a scavenger — or predator — of soulstuff of your own accord, or perhaps you choose a path of agonizing asceticism, or …

Sometimes, that latter fate may even overtake one who still clings to some portions of their soul. Which does protect against becoming a husk, at least. Even if you lose the last remnants of your soul, you are assured to keep your awareness.

If you do become one of the Faded, what does that mean in practical terms?

– magic or other effects that target the soul no longer work on you, either because you no longer have one or because the scrap you have left is too withered to be affected
– you can sense the presence of loose soulstuff close by with a Psyche test (Wis check), unless it’s warded or protected in some way
– you may choose to cause soul-rending instead of physical injury when you attack a target, with a 1-in-6 chance of a recoverable fragment of soul lingering afterwards. (provided your target has a soul to begin with.)

That’s the neutral-to-positive points.

There’s more negative ones, naturally.

– first and foremost is the hunger. you are at -1 to all tests due to the emptiness inside your self, which you can abate for a time by devouring soulstuff; the more, and the more powerful, the longer you can last, from a few hours for the simplest shards to a month or more for soul portions drawn from an influential, resplendent, powerful being.
– even though your self is still intact, your memory has taken a beating; you’ve lost up to a quarter of your memories, and recalling significant events or knowledge requires a Psyche test
– your empty self is unnerving and offputting, giving your Disadvantage on social interactions unless with close confederates or those sympathetic to your plight
– you heal poorly; normal healing occurs at half the usual rate, while magical or other unusual forms fail half the time.

[there are no tests or percentages or the like given for becoming one of the Faded, for a very simple reason: some may want these fates to be a common sword to hang over soul-barterers’ heads; other may wish these to be rare birds indeed; yet others may wish to discard the idea altogether. as always, set the odds to your own discretion — and make sure everyone playing is equally comfortable with whatever is decided.]

Needless to say, the denizens of the Manifold Palaces are seldom pleased to find one of the Faded loose in their domains …

the Economics of souls, life, and the worlds beyond worlds

Naturally, the denizens of the realms beyond don’t wait for folks to shuffle off their mortal coil if they can help it. No, there’s quicker and more efficient methods to acquire the lucre that keeps the planes spinning, and it doesn’t even have to mean stealing it (though that’s also an option). After all, if they have something you want (soulstuff, essence), and you have something they want – why not make a deal? Just sign on the dotted line …

The Soul Trade

Every sapient being (and most non-sapient beings) has a soul or spirit, that un-measurable thing that makes them them. What many of them don’t realize is that you don’t need your whole soul to still be your whole you; it’s possible to give part of your soul away. More than once, at that!

Which is very convenient for soul-hungry denizens of the Manifold Palaces, because oh do they have wonders to offer. Tutoring in esoteric wisdoms, powerful magics and exotic enchantments, the bestowing of reshaped forms and invigorating new powers, promises of favours or particular pacts – all these and more may tumble from rarefied aetheran hands. The denizens of the Cerulean Hell specialize in negotiating just these contracts — for a small consideration of their own — above and beyond their own, more intimate pledges, while the Iron Judges will descend like silent blades on those who violate them.

There’s a sting, however. (Of course there is.) Even if one has made the most upstanding of trade-pacts with the most honourable of aetheras, you have still given away a part of your soul. And, while slivering off pieces won’t unmake you – unless you give away that last tiny shard – if enough of your soul winds up in one individual’s possession, that individual can exert influence on you. Influence that becomes harder and harder to resist, the more of your soul they possess.

So keep two things in mind:

• The more parts you break your soul into, the smaller the portion you keep, and fractions are jerks
• The Manifold Palaces run on the soul trade, and that does mean trade. And all someone has to do is have a greater investment in your soul than you do; they don’t have to start that way, and you don’t have a guarantee that your soul portions stay where you think they started …

The Price of Life

In the Foundations, soulstuff is valuable – it’s still an accepted currency – but the high and mighty and their imitators have a taste for something a touch more concrete. That something is Essence, and to drink deep and bear away a portion of your animating force, the more amiable (or devious) of the primals are happy to make a trade for it.

It’s not enough for you to bleed for them, after all; what they want is part of your vital Essence, and without great effort you aren’t getting that back. On the upside, there’s no tit-for-tat strings attached the way there is for the soul trade – you’ve lost vitality, and you’re arguably one step closer to death, but you aren’t risking being controlled without warning.

Game Considerations

Essence: Is your permanent Essence score. If you have an Essence of 4 and you sign away a point of Essence for benefits, you now have an Essence of 3. You can buy it back up again with advancement points, if that’s a campaign option, but bartered Essence costs double to replace (buying Essence after that reverts to normal costs).

Soul: Your soul is measured in points equal to your (Psyche + Essence)/2, a “soulstuff pool” if you will. As long as your character retains at least one point in that pool, they’re still good to go (although they’re going to look mighty moth-eaten and unappealing to folks looking to barter, and to anyone who can sense integrity of selfhood for that matter). Buying up your traits will “grow” your soul back a bit, but this can start getting expensive fast …

[for games hewing more like B/X and its friends before and after, a character’s tradable Essence pool can be considered equal to its Hit Dice, while its Soul pool is (Wis + 1/2 Cha). yes, this means losing a Hit Die of hit points.]

Soul Trade Practicalities

So you’ve agreed to part with a piece of your soul.  Or more than one.  Or you’ve happened to come into possession of someone else’s soul or pieces thereof.  Or maybe you want to keep your intrinsic self intact, but you don’t mind sharing your vital essence and giving a bit of life up for something more tangible.

Whichever it may be, you have a commodity and an interested party (or, again, more than one); but what might that commodity get you?

Here are some guidelines for bartering your life and soul away; but prices can always fluctuate, and remember — not all entities honour their bargains, and even the most upstanding may not actually have what you’re looking for.

Trifle (1-2 points): +1 to relevant Attribute on a specific type of test (poisons, scholarship), +2 AP (mystical armour, scales, metallic skin, force-mantle), lost knowledge, a specific ring-pattern, mundane valuables, a specific physical feature (including unusual colours or limbs or ornaments), a spell or trait, an enemy’s weakness, unusual esoterica (sponsorship, tutoring, letter of recommendation)

Boon (3-4 points): 1-2 increase to Attribute or Essence, Advantage on a specific type of test (poisons, scholarship), secrets taken to the grave, a specific physical feature that grants a special power, +3-4 AP, several spells, a single soulshard from someone else, enchanted critter companion, removing (or placing) a curse, creating a manor (or equivalent) from nothing

Treasured Boon (5-6):  a grimoire of spells, elemental/environmental immunity, powerful enchanted object or weapon, defeating or killing an enemy or rival, granting a trifle or boon to a third party, exotic materials or resources, dramatic environmental reshaping, someone’s memories, innate elemental or other form of ranged attack (calling lightning, “spirit sword” at will, psychic beams)

Death, in the worlds beyond worlds

There’s always the question of what happens when things die, isn’t there? Unfortunately, for ringwalkers and other wanderers of the planes, there doesn’t seem to be one answer to rule them all.

Some planes certainly seem to be abodes of the dead — or their place of punishment, or their final reward — but gods can be fickle, some gods are false, and the gods do not always truck with the dead remnants of mortals to begin with, even if demons and seraphs and stranger beings may. And there are many documented instances where the realms of the dead, of the not-yet-alive, and the never-material, among others, are nonetheless part of — sometimes literally, lying deep below the earth or just beyond the highest clouds or nestled in a shining network of spans across the most rarefied mountain peaks — the same core plane that their ordinary people live in.

More to the point, the further realms Out There may be reflections. Or artificial creations. Or their own strange ecosystems. Or — more common than many realize — the inhabitants of such places travel to the abodes of spirits to coax or kidnap their “charges” away, if they don’t succeed in snatching up new (and newly dead) spirits still wending their disoriented way to their new abode. That’s saying nothing, of course, of promises and pacts deemed to good to refuse.

The wise traveller keeps all this and more in mind, and minds the silver tongues that wag across the worlds.

So what happens if you die while ringwalking?

Well, death, obviously. 

This can be unfortunate!  After all, there’s the small question of what happens to your soul (or what may be left of it) afterwards — your expected afterlife is probably back home, attached to your home plane, and here you are deceased and far away.

So what might happen?  There’s limitless possibilities, really, including:

– You might just be marooned.  Oops?  You’ve been lost.  But there could be a quest attached here for someone else …
– Any deific force/notable ancestor/other pre-determined afterlife connection may reach out and claim you (meta)physically, especially if you’re important to them
– You might continue on as a spectral version of yourself, composed of soulstuff
– Someone — or, more likely, many someones — may try to snatch your soul up and render you into soulshards or other valuables
– A wandering psychopomp may guide or ferry you to where you belong, for free or for fee
– You might get to spend a period of time tucked into a spirit-pyx for safety (or “safety”, depending), either because of any of the above, or because you or your friends planned it out, or any number of other reasons

… or any number of other, more esoteric, exotic, or just plain unexpectedly (un)pleasant possibilities.

Something else for the wise traveller to keep ever in mind.

Cerulean Hell: Manifold Palace

A miraculous place, this. Wondrous, truly.

Or, places.

Some describe the Cerulean Hell as an endless rolling hillscape of spiraling terraces and copper-winged gazebos beneath a burning blue-flame expanse.

Others tell tales of billowing gold-painted draperies of inhuman complexity concealing magnificent miniature gardens, the skies unseen, all a endless sprawling palace of dizzying mosaic and sculpted pillars and flower-fire breezes.

Yet petitioners murmur of rivers of cool, soothing fires choked with lilies the colours of the sky, or soaring black marble spires carved in intricate relief-work of war and reward, rest and paradise, while overhead roils a tempest of seafoam and glittering diamond.

All these and more, a hundred hundred retellings.

Perhaps the Hell is, in fact, Hells.

The softly smiling, sharp and shapely devils do not say, no more than they name their homeland. The only constant is the deepest, most beautiful of blues — of sky, of water, of the heavens so many small mortal lives strive for — in flame and thunderbolt and softest whisper, the delicate finery and brazen horns, like sweeping lyres, strung with jewels, the cerulean scrolls offered by jeweled talons, and the soft susurrus of a cry that carries through silences.

The Cerulean Hell is pleased to enter any contract, supply any desire, destroy any obstruction, purge any sin. The price may be high, the exchange dear, but what is desired shall always be made so, without fail. All contracts must be honoured so; the devils pride themselves on the pleasure of their clients.

Faith and hope and good-will and more may falter, but the Cerulean Hell upholds its work.

* legalism * temptation * promises * decadence * want * need * inexorability *

Burelac: Foundation

What is more precious than the core of one’s self, solid and resolute, a stony cradle for all that came before and shall come after, tucked away from prying eyes?

What emerges from such secret nurturings but the most precious of gifts, given freely, from one who can choose to make that gift?

And so it is in the depths of Burelac’s vast and chthonic heart. Through solid immensity of stone, implacable as black basalt, wind countless labyrinthine passages; from these paths, like beads on a cord or a heavy harvest hanging from bowing limbs,vast chambers piled on chambers expand and meld together, each lined with dense black soil that glitters like mica.

From such earths the coal-scaled primals of Burelac till, and hoe, and plant, and reap: harvests of pale curling shoots, of delicate leaves, of sweetly-tender fruits of strange appealing shapes, all of softly glowing, shimmering, translucent jewels. Each such, it’s said, carries the gift of resolution, of stability, of cycles of gain and loss and time — of long-lost secrets, of lives long past lived, and more rarified things yet. And the gardeners save over but one seed, one kernel, from each of their charges, to begin again when they grind the precious things to dust and turn the soil.

Sometimes a new tendril sprouts, unknown; a gift, tended and tested and brought into the fold.
Sometimes gnawing horrors of broken stone and keening shards break through the chambers seeking to devour or corrupt garden and gardeners both.

Conflicts between enclaves spill, not primal blood, but the shards of shattered crops, the gifts they bear lost forever. Fruits are stolen; soil is scoured with acids. There are whispers, also, of growing disruption of the very core of Burelac’s endless rhythms; the light-veins fade, the sawclans gather, and dissent whispers through the labyrinths.

* earth * cycles * centering * secrets * resolution * preciousness *


How do you map an infinite variety of realms and planes, dimensions and space-time labyrinths?

You don’t, really. But a certain metaphysical conception of how –- very broadly speaking! — they tend to sort themselves out does help a bit.

Think of the worlds as a series of nested bubbles made up of drunken rings of endlessly swirling realms, the way colours swirl on a soup bubble. At the very “centre” are the

Corerealms: Well, to the folks born and raised there, they’re the “core”, at least. These are the most balanced of the realms, with sturdy components and rarified elements and all that good stuff. They are, essentially, what one would consider a “typical” (dare we say “mundane”?) world.

Interacting with, overlapping with, and yet not quite part of the Corerealms is:

The Shadow: It seems another Core, until you find another you there. Or several instances of other folks you know. Or get drawn into the never-ending squabbles over the strange milk-marble complexes that scatter across the sunset fields, with warriors that span a thousand thousand worlds’ worth of time and space. But the Shadow has its uses beyond extraplanar land-grabbing and the remnants of ancient aeons under its earth; it’s ridiculously easy to travel from a Corerealm to the Shadow and back, or to another Core, with little to no risk of bungling the ringwalking, and passage-throughs spontaneously weave themselves from places of dusk and want and power.

Beyond the mixture of Core and Shadow lie the

Manifold Palaces: A dizzying array of countless wondrous realms, strange and enlightening and frankly hungry for inspiration, for dreams and daring and for the sweet sweet taste of souls. The Cerulean Hell and the Iron Courts, the Desert of the Ebon Sun, and uncounted would-be paradises and purgatories are found amongst the Manifold Palaces. These realms strive against each other more than any others, with great queens and daemon princes alike whispering and conspiring –- and leading incursion charges. Neither are they above expanding their influence into other worlds beyond their dizzying orbit.

Reaching further still, towards more concrete measures, are the

Foundations: Worlds of forces and concepts that make up, well, very foundations of physicality and mind; what many sages refer to as “elemental planes”. But that does not make them monoliths, oh no, because there are as many understandings of “air” as there are winds across the worlds, and to try to count grains of sand is madness. Primals of the Foundation often consider the Manifold Palaces’ aetheras to be flighty and of little substance at best, utterly untrustworthy at worst. Most primal incursions involve attempts to assimilate other Foundations of similar substance or temper.

Weaving throughout all this are the rogue realms; pocket dimensions, artificial labyrinths and new-budding planes as yet unformed and undetailed, shifting from ring to sphere to orbit. Some murmur of travel to a realm they call the Mirror or the Whirlpool, a place of dreams and nightmares threading clear through all other planes.

And then there is the City Of Chains. Unmoored and untraceable, free of incursion, found only by misfortune and whispered secrets, Wilusa belongs nowhere and everywhere at once.