Plane: The Deep Ethereal
Many have heard the stories of the Border Ethereal; a world that hovers over our own, the gateway. It is a place where ghosts dwell who cannot bear to leave the world they were bound to in life, and it is also place where evil spirits reside - invisible to the naked eye, but no less dangerous for it. One travelling to the spirit world, it is said, can pass through walls and solid objects as though they were made of mist - for while the world of mortals is visible from the Border Ethereal, it is insubstantial.
Few, however, know anything of the Deep Ethereal, often called the "spirit world" by the denizens of Morus. The Border Ethereal is just a tiny part of the vastness of the Ethereal Plane; if the Ethereal is an ocean, the Border Ethereal are the shallow shores where one might see the outlines of familiar lands. That ocean is very wide and very deep indeed.
The Deep Ethereal is rightly called the world of spirit, for it is the formless mass from which worlds are made. All of the raw primal matter of the Inner Planes comes from it; the Elemental Planes arose from the Ethereal, and the Material Planes rose from those building blocks. It is the mist of infinite potentiality and uncertainty; a place in which dwell the essential spirits and essences of things, and the spirits of things that have been or could one day be.
It is in the Deep Ethereal that the Dreamlands can be found - the world that is shaped by the wandering spirits of sleeping mortals. It is from the Deep Ethereal that souls issue to the Material Planes and grant the gift of mortality. And it is from the Deep Ethereal that the psychopomp, the living manifestation of death, comes to guide the spirits of the dead to the hereafter.
It is a common misconception that the Inner Planes are each separate dimensions. This is far from the truth. Just as the deepest oceans and blackest pits of Morus can lead to Elemental Water or Earth, all of the Inner Planes are connected. Like the Material Planes, every Elemental Plane has its own Border Ethereal. All of the Inner Planes flow into each other like water, to the extent that it can be very difficult to tell where one ends and the next begins.
Not only the Border Ethereal, but the Deep Ethereal, too, is intricately intertwined with the Material and Elemental Planes. A mystical forest in the "spirit world" may contain a clear pool in which the Lady of the Lake dwells; this lake actually opens onto Elemental Water. Likewise, a deep cave in which the Eater of Chains dwells might, in fact, be a passage to the Plane of Elemental Earth. These kind of "natural" linkages between Planes can be found in the Material, but they are far more common in the Ethereal.
The Ocean of Fog
The Deep Ethereal is a place that is often a reflection of the Material or Elemental Planes, but is separate and distant from them all. It is more like an abstract reflection of the endless potentialities that make up those worlds. A great part of it is so abstract and formless, in fact, that it appears as nothing more than and endless swirling sea of mists.
This ephemeral part of the Deep Ethereal is known as the Ocean of Fog. The Dreamlands are located here. It is in the Ocean of Fog that one can also find the Far Shore, the boundary of a great windless sea that eventually leads to the Realm of Fey, in the Astral Plane. The Ocean of Fog is the deepest, most nebulous part of the Ethereal; it is believed by some scholars of the Planes to be the seed of potentiality from which the entire multiverse sprung.
The Spirit World
For a planar adventurer or keeper of the balance, this is where the meat of the Ethereal is.
The Ocean of Fog represents the infinite, formless reaches of the Deep Ethereal. As one comes closer to the Border Ethereal, the world becomes more ordered. This realm, a place of reflections and abstractions, is what is known as the spirit world. Although similar in some ways the Material, it is more extreme - a place of vast forests of enormous trees untouched by human axes and deep caverns that plunge beneath the ground. It is here that all manner of strange spirits make their homes - the patron guardians of shrines and forests, wandering malevolent demons and oni that stalk and devour the living, and the psychopomps that carry the souls of the dead to the Outer Planes.
The spirit world is not simply a contiguous but separate world of pale reflections, however. It is deeply connected to the Material Plane - after all, the Material arose from the Ethereal. This fact can often be useful to those with the power to bridge the planes: powerful presences are often reflected in the spirit world long after they have faded from the Material. An old oak once venerated by druids, but now rotted and forgotten may well be the sanctuary of a witch in the spirit world, where it is as healthy and magically potent as ever.The connection between the Material and the spirit world is the truth that underlies the teachings of the Druidic Order. They teach of an energy called Animus, the universal life-force that permeates all living beings. It is this energy which makes up the spirit of a being - its life energy. Elementals and similar beings are made entirely of the Animus; other beings, such as elves and the fey, have physical bodies but are animated solely by their spirits. When they die, they return to the Animus. In this, they differ from mortal beings that have souls; they are beings of pure spirit, bound to the Inner Planes.
The Animus is the power of the natural world, the force that drives the Inner Planes. When it is in balance, it produces harmony and plenty. However, it can be thrown out of balance. As noted above, many of the denizens of the spirit world are patron spirits; a dryad might act as patron to a deep, old forest, or a nereid may be patron to a lake. Not every natural area has a patron, but the old and the hallowed areas of the world often do.
When these places are violated - a sacred forest hewn down for war machines, for example - the patron spirits are angered. Every spirit contains both light and darkness within it, as reflected by the Planes of Positive and Negative Energy. When the light of the Animus is snuffed out by sacrilege, Negative Energy rushes in. The ways this can manifest vary, depending on the types of spirits in the area. The only constant is that the angered spirit will manifest its anger in the Material Plane, even if it is normally a wholly Ethereal being. Some examples of the results of angering a spirit:
- A dryad might allow its darker side to manifest, becoming the savagery of the wild. Wild animals, treants and fey issue forth from the forest to lay siege to a human town.
- A nereid may become the storm embodied, wrecking all in its path with great typhoons.
- A Xeg-Yi might become a swirling sea of Negative Energy, causing the recent dead to rise as zombies, ghouls, wights and shadows.
- A Xag-Ya would do the opposite; the Animus would run wild. Men and beasts alike may be gripped by a fey madness; beasts might become lycanthopic or dire, and in the most extreme cases the excess of life energy may spontaneously give rise to an army of treants or horribly mutate living beings into gigantic monsters.
It is the nature of the Animus, when unbalanced, to seek balance. Inevitably, balance will be restored, but there are two paths by which this can happen. If left alone, the spirits will grow angry and destructive - venting their fury against those who transgressed, but also against any who get too close. The intensity of their anger grows worse, not better, over time. Eventually, all vestiges of civilisation and imbalancing agents will be washed away, and the wounds dealt can begin to heal. Even when there are no vestiges of civilisation left, the area will be dangerous for a long time until the healing process is complete.
The other way the balance can be restored is by agents of nature - most commonly Druids, though some orders of monks or clerics have endeavored to follow this worthy cause. The angry spirits must be calmed and brought back into harmony and balance. Entering the spirit world is the most direct way; otherwise, the spirits can be soothed by confronting them or attempting to commune with them. Since they attack blindly and without reason when angered, however, even the best intentions can result in death for those who would mend the rift. If you are entering a forest animated by a dryad, for example, you can expect the wild beasts and treants to attack - even if you are a Druid! Very powerful Druids can often temporarily pacify the spirits if they can physically confront them, but this will not heal the rift unless the imbalance is redressed.
Those who attempt to respond to angry spirits with brute force, even aided by magic, find that they have made a grave mistake. An imbalance in the Animus acts as a vortex for negative energy. The more one tries to fight the spirits, the more imbalance and negativity grows - attracting demons, oni, shadows and other evil spirits into the fray. Even a relatively small imbalance, provoking only mischief, can be made much worse by foolish action. "Killing" the spiritual patron or guardian of an area in the Material Plane does not destroy it, and will only cause it to manifest later with even greater power. Even killing them in the Ethereal will not heal the imbalance, and the resulting void will attract something even more dangerous.
As an extension of this rule - and for obvious reasons - those who enter the spirit world with ill intentions, or negative energy around them, are in for a hard time. Like attracts like in the spirit world. Strangely, children who become lost in the spirit world often find themselves protected and looked after by gentle spirits - to a large extent, it is your own outlook and what you seek that defines what you will experience. However, this rule cannot be trusted - everything is in flux in the spirit world. A child who becomes lost may be safeguarded by kind spirits if they are lucky, or they may wander into the domain of a child-eating oni.
The spirit world is infinite, but some places are more interesting than others. Many places are desolate, containing only hungry ghosts and wandering spirits. Shrines and other places associated with spirit patrons are protected by their patron. The patron may be alone, or they may be accompanied by other spirits - as servants, guests, or even enemies. There is as much variation in the politics and life of the spirits as there is in human society. Here is an accounting of some specific locations of particular note.
The Vale of Faces
The vale of faces is a deep fog where human souls that have become lost in the spirit world are deposited by evil spirits. It is a place for the lost, the hopeless and the mad. Many evil spirits, particularly those that feed on negative emotions - shadows, negative elementals, xeg-yi, shades and so on - will seek to capture mortal spirits and bring them here rather than kill them.
The effect of the Vale of Faces is to drive people mad, and that is why they are brought here. A human soul will live on forever here, lost in the mists, but once they finally break and lose their sanity, they become faceless. Their visage disappears into the mists, and the faces of the damned swirl constantly in the mists. If your Wisdom is 15 or higher, you lose 1 sanity for each day you spend in the mists. If your Wisdom is 12 or higher, you lose 1 sanity each hour. If your Wisdom is lower than that, you lose 1 sanity each 10 minutes.
The spirits that bring people here feed on the negative energy of mortals as they are driven insane; it gives them power. Consequently, those who guard it are more strong than usual spirits. They are larger and have maximum hit points on each hit dice. To make matters worse, the faceless human denizens of this place are hostile, fighting in a similar way to bacchae when in groups of two or more. Food, light, heat or music attracts them.
Only by holding on to who you truly are can you fight your way through the mists; and even then, the matter of the shades and nagas that guard the prison remains.
The Deep Ethereal is home to many abstract and unique spirits, but there are also more mundane denizens. Many types of spiritual being dwell in the Ethereal or pass through - ghosts, elemental spirits, and even beings from the outer planes.
Many mystical creatures simply visit or pass through the Ethereal as a means to an end, but many also dwell there permanently. Those that dwell there permanently - especially those of a spiritual nature, such as elementals - are often inextricably linked with the very nature of the place. For example, an invisible stalker may make itself the patron of a shrine in the Material Plane - maybe of a saint who treated it with kindness. Its lair will be in the Deep Ethereal, from where it watches over its charge.
|Animal Spirit||Variable||Same stats as normal animals, but max HP on all die. Often found as attendants (rarely patrons) of nature shrines. Powerful or very angry spirits may use the stats of dire animals or lycanthropes - these are more likely to be patrons.|
|Cerebral Parasite||3d4||From 1e MM; only interested in psionics.|
|Memedi||1d3||An annoying but usually harmless minor spirit. Makes no lairs, but may refuge in the spirit world.|
|Monadic Deva||1||A being of great good on a mission from the Upper Planes.|
|Elemental||1||May be a native nature spirit, i.e. patron of a lake or volcano. Elemental patrons often have a personality and appearance unique to their domain.|
|Genie||1||Likely just passing through.|
|Tanar'ri, Least, Dretch||1-100||Wander the spirit world wreaking havoc and mean-spirited evil.|
|Traveller||1||May be an adventurer, lucid dreamer et cetera.|
|Lammasu||1d4||Likely passing through on their way to fight evil in the Material.|
|Nature Spirit||1||Always patrons; their lifeforce is tied directly to the plant or object they are associated with.|
|Nightmare||1d2||Possibly an evil being's mount; or possibly an evil omen or dark messenger of some kind.|
|Shadow||2d10||Roam alone, but sometimes cluster in swarms under the direction of a shadow dragon, shade, oni, etc. Appear completely different in the spirit world, like shadowy foul monsters that are barely humanoid.|
|Azer||1d10||Azer dwell in a part of the Ethereal called the Delve; the Norse know them as dvergr.|
|Bat, Fire||1d2||Stragglers from the Plane of Fire.|
|Couatl||1d4||A divine, benevolent creature that is as likely to dwell here as in the Material.|
|Dispossessed, The||1||A lost soul, dispossessed of its body by a possessing entity.|
|Ghost||1||These restless spirits are native to the Ethereal.|
|Banshee||1||These restless spirits are native to the Ethereal.|
|Grue||1d4||An elemental being that is sometimes a mere visitor, but sometimes acts as the spirit guardian of an area.|
|Invisible Stalker||1d3||A powerful elemental spirit that may or may not be malicious. Sometimes act as guardian spirits.|
|Ki-Rin||1||Likely encountered in its own lair, a benevolent and fanciful domain.|
|Oni||1d8||Ferocious lesser spirit, native to the Ethereal Plane; sometimes patrons of shrines, sometimes marauders, sometimes worshiped.|
|Vartha||1||Guardian spirit; if a patron, often a dead ancestor or bound by some oath to protect something.|
|Xag-Ya||1||A being of pure positive energy; patrons of life and light in the spirit world.|
|Xeg-Yi||1||A being of pure negative energy; manifest in places of deep sorrow and evil.|
|Xorn||1d3||Patron of mountains and caves; otherwise, wandering in search of minerals and acting as a guide.|
|Aerial Servant||1||Nomadic in nature; likely soaring around in search of mysteries or violent weather.|
|Aasimon, Agathinon||1d10||Like monadic deva, likely here on some sacred mission.|
|Baku||1d2||When encountered on the Ethereal, always the patron spirit of an area.|
|Demon, Lesser||1d3||May be scouting or hunting a celestial; sometimes dwell in the spirit world, worshipped as patrons of corruption and evil.|
|Devil, Lesser||1d2||Likely only temporarily dwelling here while working some foul plot on the Material.|
|Foo Dog||2d4||Almost always act a guardian/protector patrons of a shrine or other holy place. Have a strong sense of justice.|
|Grim||1||Guards entrances to the Demiplane of Shadow and other evil places. Sometimes protect very evil places.|
|Grim Reaper||1||These are psychopomps ferrying the souls of dead mortals to the Outer Planes. If killed, their ward becomes a lost ghost.|
|Hollyphant||1d3||Likely the patron of some holy place, especially a shrine dedicated to heroes.|
|Moon Dog||1d4||Constantly on the move, hunting evil; will help travellers in jeopardy.|
|Shadow Dragon||1||Exist in realms of great darkness and shadow, especially underground. Maintain lairs but range very far.|
|Shen Lung||1||An oriental spirit dragon; fascinated by humans and good-natured. Patrons of whatever takes their fancy.|
|Opinicus||1||Patrons of ancient desert ruins, particularly the monuments of ancient civilisations.|
|Para-Elemental||1||Like elementals, often the local guardian spirits of an area if native.|
|Phantom||1||The afterimage of a dead soul; has no role in the ecology of the Ethereal.|
|Aasimon, Planetar||1||As devas and agathinon.|
|Salamander||1d4+1||Wanderers and visitors; likely hostile if encountered.|
|Shade||1d4||Denizens of the Demiplane of Shadow; likely hostile if encountered.|
|Shedu||1d2||Often the patrons of desolate places.|
|Spirit Naga||1||Patrons of murky pools, desolate islands and dark caves. Very evil and dangerous; eat souls. Have great power. Sometimes bargain.|
|Spirit, Stone||1||Act as evil patrons to abandoned shrines and similar places; their natural form is a twisted version of what their statue depicts.|
|Phase Spider||1d6||Roaming monsters; hostile.|
|Triton||1d4||Patrons of places of seaside shrines and underwater places.|
|Spirit Troll||1d2||Rarely patrons, but often assume dominion of some peaceful place to terrorise it from the spirit world.|
|Thought Eater||1d3||Hostile, but only interested in psionics.|
|Water Weird||1||View living creatures only as prey, but often make themselves patrons - or predators - in watery places.|
|Wind Walker||1d4+1||Similar to air elementals; sometimes make themselves patrons of places near the clouds.|
|Tenebrous Worm||1||Natives of the Demiplane of Shadow; hostile.|
|Wraith||1||These restless spirits are native to the Ethereal.|
|Xill||1d6||Evil hunters of the Ethereal Plane.|
Very Rare Creatures
|Animal Lord||1||Wandering with their charges and guarding over their species in the Material.|
|Centipede, Spirit||1||Dwell in dark crevices but frequently roam. Punishers of injustice.|
|Demon, Greater||1||A powerful patron of extreme evil or a soldier sent on some errand of destruction. Nabassu are likely.|
|Devil, Greater||1||Likely a cornugon on some mission of great importance to the Dark Eight and their unholy master.|
|Dryad||1d4||Patrons of deep forests and jungles.|
|Flame Spirit||1||As fire elementals.|
|Foo Lion||1d4||As Foo Dog, but more powerful. A symbol of courage and strength.|
|Khargra||1d6||Appear only beneath the ground.|
|Greater Lammasu||1d3||As Lammasu.|
|Lich||1||Unique. Motives vary.|
|Magman||1d3||Often patrons of places of great heat; capricious and enjoy causing havoc.|
|Mastiff, Shadow||1||Prowls in places of darkness and shadow; patron of gloom and sorrow. Devour joy and happiness.|
|Modron, Base||1d4||On a mission, which they will pursue with singleminded intensity. Alternatively - possibly a rogue modron.|
|Modron, Hierarch||1||On a mission of great importance to Mechanus. Might be a rogue.|
|Nereid||1d4||Patrons of lakes, waterfalls and other watery places.|
|Phantom Stalker||1||Patron of fiery places, such as volcanoes or magma flows.|
|Phoenix||1||Benevolent symbol of rebirth. Passes freely through the planes. Has many preferred roosts in desolate places.|
|Archomental||1||Unique demipowers, the ultimate manifestations of their element. Have no permanent shrine, but are sometimes abroad.|
|Rakshasa||1d4 or 1||Dangerous cannibal, evil spirit of the greatest power. Disguise themselves as human. Sometimes become patrons, pretending to be a good spirit. Immensely deadly.|
|Sandling||1||As Elemental; patrons of desert areas.|
|Spirit of the Air||1d10||Similar to air elementals, but serve the winds and the air gods. Patrons of high, windy places.|
|Titan||1||Those titans who are not imprisoned in Carceri are patrons of immense power - for example, Algorn is patron of the ocean. Their will is the will of the natural world in a Material and they are rarely wakened. An imbalance big enough to anger a titan threatens the world.|
|Ungolusin||1||Patron of ocean realms.|
The tables given above are just examples; the spirits of the Ethereal are uncountable, and take many forms. Likewise, the position of each one is unique; no two patrons are alike. Even creatures which are not usually patrons might, in the right circumstances, become them. Take the example of a ghost, usually just a malignant presence in the Ethereal. In areas where ancestors are venerated in shrines, the ghosts of the dead may well cluster in the Ethereal and protect the area from malignant spirits.
By the same token, it is possible even for unusual creatures not listed above to become the patrons of areas. Creatures with bodies made of physical material, rather than spiritual matter, can never become patrons. Patronage is a link to the abstract energies of a place. Even so, there have been many cases of the discorporated spirit of a dragon or even a humanoid being taking residence in a place and becoming a patron, leaving their mortal life and form behind. Once this transition is made, however, it is a permanent one. Even if their physical body survives, they can return to it only for a brief period.
Finally it should be noted that patrons - like gods - are unique beings, with a unique connection to their domain. They are not the same as normal beings of their type encountered. For example, under normal circumstances a demon is simply a footsoldier of the Abyss, and a dryad has a number of nature related abilities and nothing more. In the spirit world, however, a demon may subdue the patron dryad of a forest and possess her tree, twisting the forest into a place of evil. This is despite the fact that most demons have no particular powers of possession. Patronage is a strange thing, and the rules about how it is assumed, revoked, passed on, or stolen are complicated and difficult for mortals to understand.