Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lands of Dream and Death

This continues my examination of the Astral Plane in a way that’s a bit more in keeping with real world beliefs--but mainly more weird in the way I’d like it to be. As I mentioned last time, there are “sub-realms” in the Astral. Two of the largest and nearest (to the material plane) of these are the land of Dreams and the Underworld. These two are about as stable as anything can be in a place defined by mutability.

I’ve talked about Dreamland or Slumberland before, but I’ll summarize here. Dreams, balloons of astral-stuff, float up through the material plane, until they find their level in the Astral. Here they merge into the realm of the mirror-masked Dream Lord. He and his subordinates, the gnome-like Sandmen, monitor the onieric flows for signs of trouble.  These flows are the “canary in the coal mine” of the health of the whole collective unconscious. The Dream Lord and his men strive to ensure virulent nightmares don't infect other dreams, and that idle fantasies don't spoil and bloat to become perverse obsessions.

The Dream Lord also tends a garden of mortal dreamworlds. The imaginings of some mortal minds imprint themselves on the astral substance and become something more than dreams and something less than full astral sub-realms. These worlds often feel complete when one is inside, but experienced dreamers may exploit there relatively simple structure. There are often “wormholes” or “back doors” from dreamworlds into the Astral, though Sandmen work assiduously to patch these whenever they’re found.

It is true that there are a number of noumenal planes that answer to the vague description of Heaven and Hell; it's also true that arrival in these planes of ultimate reward takes a while. How long “a while” is in a place outside the dimension of time, is a metaphysical debate I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say, only the very worst or very best of souls travel to their final afterlife destination quickly. The rest wait in the Astral, their subtle bodies staying stuck to their souls. At some point, the bored dead got tired of waiting and constructed there own afterlife of sorts in the featureless gray fog.  And this is the Underworld. It’s a sprawling city, full of shabby stand-ins for various afterlifes, giving the whole place a theme park sort of feel.

The dead wait in this ramshackle city to get their transit papers so they can move on. Some dead are in such denial that they simply sing hymns in their constructed heavens, or loudly demand punishment from imagery devils (or Hell Syndicate functionaries on a holiday) in their constructed hells, and deny the existence of the transit papers, byt they will one day get them, all the same.

Transit papers are deliver by the Gray Men, bland functionaries in gray suits, whose visits are accompanied by the faint sound of wings. The dead person’s subtle body then dissolves and their soul rises into the outer planes.

Until that time they wait. Some work jobs, or hang out in bars, or try to evangelize. Others get seduced by necromancers into returning to the Material Plane as undead. Some even get so used to the underworld, they start trying to find ways to avoid their eventual reward.

There are rumors that a few have managed to escape. It’s said they dug out of the Underworld and into the open Astral. Whether this is true, or just afterlife rumor, no one seems to know.


Zombiecowboy said...

It sounds like your concept of the Astral plane and dreams are inspired a little by Clive Barker. HAve you read The Great And Secret Show and Everville? Great books of his both of them.

richard said...

I was going to ask if you knew the old Lucasarts game Grim Fandango: nicely reminiscent of this, the idle or unfortunate or dispossessed dead who aren't trying to complete their journeys mostly hang around in casinos, bars and scrimshaw parlours. The game has a really nice feel, influenced by Mexican Day of the Dead figures, but peculiar metaphysics: the dead can be shot dead, in which case they promptly push up daisies.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Hey, I offer a pretty nice deal to them. You serve for 3 years, then get a choice: You can go your own way, and be done with me, I have a hired Lich put a permanent visual/audible/tactile/olfactory illusion of being whatever race you are, or I do the same thing, and help you get set up with people and you still work for me, although as a leader, not a grunt. Or, there's a third option, which is to stay in the army and work your way up from your current position. I've found it tends to lead to more loyalty (As in, a bonus against turning).

Trey said...

@Zombiecowboy - No, I can't say there's any Barker here. I haven't read either of those works, though I did enjoy Imajica quite a bit. The inspirations here are more diffuse, old legends of the sandman, the various DC comics of that name (particular the 70s Kirby/Simon version, and Gaiman's), and Windsor McCay's work.

@Richard - I have heard of that but never played it. I think I saw some of the art maybe when working on my own Calavera inspired pieces. Scrimshaw parlors should particularly interesting, though!

@C'norr - Nicely done!

Nope said...

Awesome! I just went back and read the last few related posts. The Underworld is awesome especially the bit about Necromancers conning/convincing souls to enter into their service.

I'd run this as a campaign in itself, very cool.

Trey said...

Thanks, AHM. Glad you liked it. The development of the Underworld was one of those bits where I had the basic idea, but a lot of the details ocurred to me during the writing process.