Li Po's Guide to the Astral Plane

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The astral plane is "the silver void". It is the extended access route to the alignment planes. Just as the elemental planes provide the substance for the natural world, so the astral is a place of potential ideas which provides the substance for the alignment planes, where our ideals and ideologies take physical form. The astral is a dimension of mind -- a bleak, barren expanse of silvery-gray, with a few inhabitants and many gateways into other worlds.

The concept of the "astral plane" comes to AD&D from theosophy and occult lore. According to mystical traditions, the living human body is coextended by a duplicate. The double is supposedly made of starstuff, and hence is called the "astral body".

During trances, the astral body may supposedly separate and carry consciousness into a world of ideas which appears to be extended space. The realm responds to mind, and what the spirit experiences there depends on its attitudes.

During natural life, the astral body is supposed to be attached by a "silver cord" (see the puzzling last chapter of "Ecclesiastes", which otherwise seems to refer to old age). After death, the cord is cut, and life begins (or resumes) in the world of ideas, where consciousness shapes reality and the kind of person you've chosen to be makes all the difference.

Some Christians, including many Anglicans, think that this is what the "intermediate state" may be like, before final, permanent entry into heaven (or final refusal of love, and entry to hell).

Gary Gygax adopted the occult lore of the astral, the underpinnings of the alignment planes, to be the realm of ideas. In "AD&D" as in the traditions about the astral plane, consciousness shapes the world in which you live, and communities are brought together by shared beliefs. AD&D differs from other traditions in having the astral itself remain unmolded by consciousness, and the realms of developed ideas taking the form of the alignment planes.

Gary Gygax's original notes on the astral plane were developed by Roger Moore and then by Jeff Grubb. Later, a "Planescape" book was published on the subject. In the Third Edition, the astral has color-coded (new system) pools to all other planes, both inner and outer. Unlike the Third Edition ethereal and shadow planes, one cannot travel from one point to another on a single plane, or spy on a plane, using the astral, and upon returning, one ends up at or near the original point of departure.

The astral void extends to infinity. It shimmers, evoking infinite possibilities and subtle beauty. "Detect magic" is overwhelmed here by the plane itself. Here and there, adventurers may find the bodies of dead "gods" -- discarded ideals and ideologies, or worse. Land on one of these, and perhaps the adventurers will have strange dreams. The "Athar" sect ("There is at most one god") has its headquarters on one of these corpses.

One or more characters can "plane-shift" or (I would allow) "wind walk" into the astral with all gear, or enter in an unusual form by way of the "astral spell", which seems to be something like a very powerful "projected image". Some clerics, even low-level ones, can send their consciousness into an outer plane by "Astral Journey", though they arrive defenseless and able only to observe and question. Middle-level clerics might be able to cast "Join with Astral Traveller", and join a friend already there. Either way, visitors find themselves in the astral standing by a silvery pool, looking into a reflection of the familiar world. In moments, they are whisked away, perhaps hurtling among images of stars and galaxies beyond numbers.

Time is meaningless here, and all journeys are extremely rapid. The astral is the dimension of undifferentiated ideas that sustains the alignment planes, just as the elemental planes sustain the world of matter. So perhaps it is wrong to talk about "time elapsed until reaching a destination", and to allow all astral journeys to take place immediately, simply determining random encounters.

Here is a possible encounter table for the astral, but it seems likely that one would tend to meet those of similar interests and attitudes. Perhaps the astral would require that creatures encountered have something in common with, or some interest in, the travellers. In a dimension which underpins all higher purposes, things should happen for a reason.

Since the astral is the dimension in which people's interests shape their experiences, then encountered creatures must surely appear in the midst of the party. They would usually have some proposal, often an offer of trade or an offer to join. Evil types may attack. Referees will need to decide whether it is possible to flee at normal movement rate, to flee at infinite speed, or impossible to flee.

Roll d100 -- and be sure you have numbers and behavior ready.

     1    Astral deva, LG
     2    Astral deva, NG
     3    Astral deva, CG
     4    Upper planes type, LG
     5    Upper planes type, NG
     6    Upper planes type, CG
     7    Modron patrol
     8    High-level party
     9    Slaad gang
    10    Rakshasa patrol
    11    Lower planes types, LE
    12    Lower planes types, NE
    13    Lower planes types, CE
    14-20 Nasty character types ("Nobody understands me!")
    21    Thendar
    22    Githyanki
    23    Mindflayers
    24    Adventurers, good-aligned
    25    Adventurers, neutral-aligned
    26    Adventurers, evil-aligned
    27    Corpse -- DM's choice;travels with party
    28    Petrified creatures -- DM's choice, travels with party
    29    Globe of matter -- DM's choice, travels with party
    30    Stray arrow -- roll to hit    a random member, THACO 20.
    31    Color pool -- DM's choice (party has misteleported)
    32    Color pool -- DM's choice; creature emerges
    33    Color pool eruption -- many different; each party             member must check vs. dexterity or fall into one (DM's choice)
    34    Salvation Army -- repentance preachers, well-protected, healers
    35    Far Skies Clerics
    36-00 No encounter

Movement in a combat situation is (intelligence x 30), in other words, very fast. Bonuses "to hit" and on damage result from intelligence, not strength. Defense and missile adjustments result from wisdom, not dexterity. Missile fire for non-natives is at -2 because of the unstable footing. There is no need to breathe or eat on the astral, and no one can recover spells on the astral plane.

Here are some methods of access, both official and possible.

In classic AD&D, the astral spell permitted a group of characters to enter the outer planes in new bodies. The astral counterparts were translucent white, bound to the spellcaster(s) by silver cords, and a similar cord binds the spellcaster(s) to the prime plane. These bodies can be flesh and blood, or any element that is handy -- the latter will always offer some advantages and disadvantages, which can be discussed with the sages' union prior to making the trip. If killed on the alignment plane, the adventurers would merely return to their home worlds, and even if they fail the system shock roll, they will merely go to zero hit points. Individual or group suicide on the alignment planes is impossible, and those in charge on the alignment planes usually forbid a visiting spellcaster to dispel the "astral spell".

The major disadvantage of using the "astral spell" was that a successful "dispel magic" ends the trip immediately. If the silver cord is cut (which almost never happens), the character's bodies would both die. Items carried from the prime plane must be magic or blessed, and if the astral counterpart of an item is lost or destroyed, its prime counterpart is disintegrated.

After reading AD&D scenarios for 20 years, I have never seen the "astral spell" suggested as a preferred means of going on an adventure. Risk-free travel to other worlds, but with the likelihood of an abrupt end from "dispel magic", is not the stuff of heroic fantasy. It would seem best-suited for a short, information-gathering visit.

Color pools were an invention which would seem to be worth preserving. I have modified the code a bit. It would seem a shame, in the dimension where ideas become reality, not to indicate the nature of the pool in some way. The pools provide entry to the outer planes, and they may be found by intuition by a cleric or strongly-aligned roleplayer. It takes (20 - leader's intelligence) encounter checks to get to a pool of the visitor's choice, 1 encounter check using "find the path". The alignment of the pool will be apparent from its color, from some nearby marker (they are never mismarked), or from using "know alignment", "identify", "divination", "legend lore", or "true seeing". Those like-aligned will feel at ease near a color pool, while those with contrary outlooks will be uncomfortable. The adventurers' home plane always appears within a silver pool. Sometimes pools may appear as video screens, grilled gates, cells, tinted mirrors, etc., etc. They function as usual.

As the points at which the sum of all purposes become limited to particular points of view, it's unimaginable that the destinations are not identifiable. Probably everybody sees the pools coded in a way which is personally meaningful. My suggestions for pool colors:

     Diamond:       Lawful neutral
     Sky blue:      Lawful, good tendencies
     Sapphire:      Lawful good
     Opal:          Good, lawful tendencies
     Sea green:     Neutral good
     Light green:   Good, chaotic tendencies
     Emerald:       Chaotic good
     Forest green:  Chaotic, good tendencies
     Black:         Chaotic neutral
     Olive drab:    Chaotic, evil tendencies
     Dirty yellow:  Chaotic evil
     Ocher drab:    Evil, chaotic tendencies
     Rusty orange:   Neutral evil 
     Maroon:        Evil, lawful tendencies
     Dirty red:     Lawful evil
     Ruby:          Lawful, evil tendencies
     Gray:          True neutral
     Home prime:    Silver 
     Other prime:   Other metallic
     White spiral:  Ethereal (ether cyclone)

The party stands outside the pool, and one member selects the viewing area. Looking into the pool shows the upside-down reflection of the other plane (and probably some inhabitants). If an intelligence check succeeds, the viewer has found the desired point of entry. Otherwise keep checking, one encounter check farther away each time. Roll a random encounter for the new plane as soon as someone looks into the pool. Creatures on the alignment plane who see the pool can also see the reflection of the party in the pool (upside-down, of course). If they like, they can force the party into the alignment plane at once using "dispel magic" (always works, and the pool disappears). Or they can reach into the pool and actually pull the astral intruder out. (Each side rolls d20; the character making a successful strength check wins; if both make the check, high roll wins.) A creature on the alignment plane with higher intelligence than the party leader can dispel the pool, leaving the party either on the astral or on the alignment plane at the creature's choice. Viewing "sets" the pool for one day, and causes the pool to appear on the alignment plane, or to show the creatures' reflection if it was already there. On some planes, the leader can cause the pool to move at a rate of ten yards per point of intelligence per round. The pool will not move through substantial living beings (including ivy), metal, certain mortars, or into most homes. When the party wants to enter the plane, they merely jump into the pool, and jump out on the plane, fully combat-ready. The pool remains open and fixed on the plane for one day, and during this time the party can escape through it. Only good creatures can pursue them through the pool. For a randomly-encountered pool, there is a small (DM's option) chance that it has been opened by a petrifier (medusa, gorgon, basilisk, cockatrice). Roll "to hit AC 0" for the petrifier. If this succeeds, everyone looking into the pool must check vs. constitution or be petrified.

The Third Edition offers an alternative idea about the "astral plane" which will probably be popular with gamers. The astral could be the world of the spirits, coextensive with our own world and duplicating whatever has spiritual significance. Nature is grander and more beautiful, and the spirits of natural features can be met here. As long as the ancestors are remembered, they watch and protect their children from this dimension, perhaps coexisting on their alignment planes as well. Gateways to the alignment planes are perhaps located in the corresponding places of worship. Or the places of worship might coexist on both planes and some action by the faithful changes their destination when they leave, or even who else seems to be present in the building. Gateways to the elemental planes might be in volcanoes, ocean depths, mountain roots, or the eyes of hurricanes. I respectfully suggest that the physical aspects of this plane be exactly as our own world, and that when the living visit, they be treated as "outsiders".

Gamers for Christ -- news group

The Alignment Planes

The Abyss -- Chaotic Evil
Acheron -- Lawful, Evil Tendencies
Arborea -- Chaotic Good
Arcadia -- Lawful, Good Tendencies
Baator -- Lawful Evil
The Beastlands -- Good, Chaotic Tendencies
Bytopia -- Good, Lawful Tendencies
Carceri -- Evil, Chaotic Tendencies
Elysium -- Neutral Good
Gehenna -- Evil, Lawful Tendencies
The Gray Waste -- Neutral Evil
Limbo -- Chaotic Neutral
Mechanus -- Lawful Neutral
Mount Celestia -- Lawful Good
The Outlands -- True Neutral
Pandemonium -- Chaotic, Evil Tendencies
Ysgard -- Chaotic, Good Tendencies
The Inner Planes
What "Planescape" could be
AD&D and the Religious Right
Li Po's Hermitage (character generators, more)
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