The Astral

Unlike other realms, the Astral is more of a state of mind than a physical place. Every sentient being touches upon it when they sleep, projecting their minds into an indistinct realm beyond the reach of time or reason. It is a place where the gross distinctions between thought and form become blurred and ideas take on a life of their own.

Because of its nature, the Astral assumes many different forms. An Astral traveler may witness landscapes, creatures, or phenomena that would be bizarre or even impossible in any other realm, formed from the raw stuff of dreams in seeming defiance of natural laws. These visions are ever-shifting, rising and fading from the mist in constant flux, making it impossible to chart or navigate the Astral at its lowest levels. Beyond the dominion of individual dreamers, however, some semblance of order does emerge, but even these areas are filled with strange sights and even stranger beings.

Some believe that the Astral is the wellspring of all consciousness. Much as living spirits are born from the Prime, they say, all thoughts originate from the Astral. This is supported by the fact that all sentient beings must dream; those who do not inevitably go mad and die, seemingly cut off from a source of vitality as essential as air or water. Seers in particular are known for exploiting this apparent link between minds when performing their magic.

Denizens

Bizarre and abstract beings make their home in the Astral. These include the projections of mortal dreamers, as well as living thoughts that have gained a reality of their own beyond the dreamers who originally conceived them.

  • Dreamers - Mortal dreamers are the most numerous denizens of the Astral. They are easily recognized by the faint silver cords that trail behind them, tethering them to their sleeping bodies. Most dreamers remain within private dreamscapes of their own making, although some may wander into other dreamscapes or even higher levels of the Astral. Few are aware of where they are or what's happening around them, and react to their surroundings in a purely subjective fashion. If they are disturbed or slain, they simply vanish, waking in the mortal realm.
  • Skuthropazown - The "skuthro" are a race of floating faces formed out of raw emotions. Each is named according to the characteristic expression of the emotion it embodies (e.g., scowler, screamer, smiler, sulker, etc.). They are numerous and often dangerous, considered by some to be a form of wildlife within the Astral.
  • Eidolons - Just as skuthropazown are the embodiments of emotions, eidolons are the personifications of ideas. Some may appear as horrific monsters torn from nightmares, while others may be scholarly concepts given substance or fairy tales that catch hapless travelers in their wake. The most powerful eidolons form from the concensus of hundreds or even thousands of dreamers, representing an idea in its most refined form.
  • The Forgotten - Gray, faceless beings that radiate uncertainty and loss, the Forgotten are one of the Astral's most insidious dangers. Some believe they represent amnesia, or perhaps embody the absence of thought in the same way that undead embody the absence of life. They feed upon the memories of dreamers and travelers unlucky enough to encounter them. This may be mere minutes for passing exposure, to entire years or even complete amnesia for prolonged exposure.
  • Incubi & Succubi - Attractive but sadistic creatures, incubi and succubi are fiends that can travel freely between the Pit and the Astral, where they torment the dreams of sleeping mortals. They are known to be extremely rare, only coming into being when a fiend feeds upon the soul of a seer.
  • Sandmen - Thought by some to be dream elementals, sandmen are humanoid beings composed of bluish silver sand who patrol the Astral in search of those who do not belong. They are known to attack seers, succubi, and undreaming Astral travelers on sight. Most mortals only know them for their other function, however, which is to put waking mortals to sleep by drawing them into the Astral.
  • Facets - Rarely, a traveler may become trapped in the Astral. When this occurs, the integrity of the person's mind gradually fades, leading to madness. Eventually, the mind may completely shatter, forming into multiple entities known as fragments. These divergent pieces of the individual's personality often take on different forms to reflect the nature of fragment they represent, and are difficult to distinguish from any other type of Astral being.
  • Reflections - In some cases, those who journey to the Astral do so through special mirror gates, a dangerous mode of travel that has a chance to create a mirror duplicate of the traveler. This reflection shares the same appearance, memories, and traits as the original, albeit reversed, and seeks to trap the original in the Astral so it can assume his or her place in the real world.
  • Dreamwalkers - Seers are known for being especially adept at projecting themselves into the Astral and navigating its hazards. Dreamwalkers are seers who have forsaken the waking world to wander the Sea of Dreams. They are some of the few truly rational beings to travel the mists. Some serve as guides to wayward dreamers. Others seek learning or understanding, a grasp of future events, or even a connection to the primal thought. Despite their apparent sanity, seers in the waking world often note how dreamwalkers have fallen victim to the basic, fatal allure of the Astral and turned their backs on reality.
  • Oneiroi - There exist Astral beings of great power who defy definition as dreamer or eidolon. These oneiroi are dreams that have achieved self awareness and separated themselves from the dreamers who conceived them. They are known for being able to create dreamscapes at will, even in places beyond the Astral, and often have hordes of lesser Astral beings under their control.

Domains

Only one immortal maintains a domain within the Astral, although there are many unique territories that seem to form out of the collective concensus of every dreamer.

  • Dreamscapes - Dreamscapes are small, impermanent domains created spontaneously by dreamers. Most are unique, self-contained realities that dissolve within minutes or hours of their creation. The lowest reaches of the Astral are formed almost entirely out of dreamscapes, making entry into the upper levels difficult at best.
  • Fields of the Forgotten - Amidst the Astral mists, there exists a vast, barren wasteland devoid of light or joy. The Forgotten roam this place, stealing away the memories of all who venture there. Strangely, the Fields of the Forgotten tend to appear in between destinations in the Astral, forcing travelers to lose their way or forget where they were going entirely.
  • The River of Ages - Banekeril, the Oarsman of the Ages, watches over an Astral river without end, in whose waters flows memories of the past as well as prophecies of the future. Dreamwalkers are known to venture here only to become hopelessly captivated, unable to stop gazing into the river's endless depths. Perhaps thankfully, it is far removed from casual travel and very difficult to reach, even by Astral standards.

Travel

As one of the farthest removed and most alien realms in existence, the Astral is notoriously difficult to reach. Portals into the Astral are rare and unstable. Only seers seem capable of traveling there with any regularity, and then only as projections. Actual, physical travel into the Sea of Dreams is a nigh impossible magical feat, as is retrieving anyone lost there in such a manner. This is in steep contrast to the ease with which all sentient beings project into the Astral as they sleep.

Those who travel into the Astral find it to be an unchartable, ever-shifting landscape full of psychic perils. Merely being in the Astral outside of one's own dreamscape puts a constant strain on one's sanity. Those who project into the Astral enjoy a small measure of safety, as a sufficiently jarring experience such as death will simply cause them to awaken, returning to their physical bodies through their silver cords. Even this has its risks, however, as trauma sustained in the Astral can lead to lasting forms of madness or even death in the waking world.

In addition to these dangers, many fundamental natural laws function differently within the Astral. Distinctions such as form or space are mutable and subject to change from one moment to the next. Not even time works as it does elsewhere. Travelers who spend months in the Astral may return to the waking world to find only hours have passed, for example. In rare cases, those physically traveling to the Astral have even been known to jump forwards or backwards in time.