I think I need somebody to explain the 4E cosmology to me

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I need help, because I'm very confused about the cosmology for 4E and where things fall. Probably because I was never big into the cosmology in the first place. Anyway, here's what I understand existing:

  • The world (including the "sub-planes" of the Feywild, the Shadowfell, and the Underdark)
  • The Abyss
  • The Astral Sea
  • The Primal Chaos
  • The nine hells


So...the abyss is the "evil" part of the primal chaos, and the nine hells are the "evil" part of the astral sea? (a dead god's realm) Where do the gith(yanki/zerai) end up? Demons are in the abyss right? Does the astral sea just include anything you damn well please as a "pocket dimension"?

Where is "Dis" and why would anyone go to it? How is the primal chaos any different from the astral sea?

Generally, even with both preview books, I'm confused. Can anyone help?
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Exactly. They dropped the wheel to make things more nebulous so DMs can design their own outer realms. The astral sea expands out almost endlessly and is full of strange and interesting places and divine realms of a multitude of power levels. The nine hells is a (or 9) realm in the astral sea.

The elemental chaos brings chaos to the overly dogmatic circle of elemental and quazi-elemental absolutes. They made this change because the way it was made no sense and was almost impossible to build any adventures on. What could you do on a plane made entirely of earth, or fire? Now it is like a hostile, but at least in the short term, hospitable environment. It's like doing an adventure on venus...with air. The abyss was moved to the elemental chaos as a way to explain why the place is so messed up, and to offer a contrast to explain what demons call home so you have some idea why they want to destroy the heroes own world.

The feywild/shadowfell overlap with our world and pockets or rifts exist all over. this makes it much easier to have planar travel at lower levels. there can be a town near a rift to the feywild where adventurers and travelers who go too far into the forest get lost in the crazy feywild and may have trouble getting back. The shadowfell is the ethereal plane retooled with some Wraith: The Oblivion style influence.

The far realm is probably my favorite addition to the game. It is a Lovecraftian alien world. Besides the near endless adventure ideas it offers, it also helps explain weird alien things like mind flayers and beholders who don't fit into a normal fantasy ecology.

The big thing that inspired the new cosmology is that the old one wasn't friendly to adventuring. You couldn't adventure on the astral plane, because there was nothing really there. You couldn't adventure on the elemental planes because of reasons mentioned above. It was tough to adventure on the outer planes for too many reasons to mention. And the ethereal plane didn't really offer much.
I'll take a stab at it, based on my own understanding. But I only have preview material, same as anyone. So don't quote me.

The World, The Feywild, and The Shadowfell

These three planes pverlap one another. The Feywild and the Shadowfell are reflections of the World occupying the same 'space' as it were. In theory, a person who enters the Feywild, walks 30 miles, and leaves, will end up back in the real world 30 miles from where they started.

The Elemental Chaos and the Abyss

'Underneath' the world is the source of all matter. The Elemental Chaos is this seething, churning, roiling mass of pure matter. All of the matter that makes up the world came from here. It also exemplifies the force chaos. It is a seperate reality that touches The World at spots where there is a lot of powerful elemental energy: volcanos, deep sea canyons, the middle of storms, whatever.

Within the Chaos are places of relative stability and calm that have been settled by elemental creatures. The City of Brass is one such place.

Deep in the very heart of the Elemental Chaos is a deep, black pit of destruction and evil. This is the Abyss. It was created when an ancient god planted a seed of purest evil and that seed grew to consume a portion of the chaos. Primordials and elemental beings were twisted into mad, destructive creatures known as demons. Lolth was also cast into this pit and became (more) insane and destructive. It is basically an inky black hole that consumes all of the matter that falls into it.

The Astral Sea and the Domains of the Gods

Above the world (not touching the Elemental Chaos) is the Astral Sea. This is a silvery place of pure thought, spirit, and belief. The domains of the gods, such as Celestia and the Nine Hells are like islands drifting in that sea, rising up out of the silvery mist. The Astral Sea, at least in creation myths, seems to exemplify order and creation (as opposed to the chaos and entropy of the elemental chaos).

The City of Dis is located within the Nine Hells. That is, it is located on the 'island' of the Nine Hells, in the Astral Sea.

Hope this helps.

EDIT: Forgot the Far Realm

The Far Realm is a 'distant' plane located on the very edge of the cosmos. It is a twisted, alien place that cannot be comprehended by mortals from the World. It seems to bleed into the World at times, allowing abberant creatures to enter the World. Some of these creatures seek only to create their own empire free of the Far Realm, others seek to twist reality itself to match their Far Realm home.

The Angry DM: D&D 4th Edition Advice with Attitude http://angrydm.com Follow me on Twitter @TheAngryDM "D&D is a world where you are a great champion, and the creator of the universe is frequently disorganized, highly distractable, and alarmingly vague on the rules of the universe he’s trying to run." -Shamus Young, Twenty Sided Tale (DM of the Rings)

I need help, because I'm very confused about the cosmology for 4E and where things fall. Probably because I was never big into the cosmology in the first place.

No big deal; it's not everyone's favorite thing.

The world (including the "sub-planes" of the Feywild, the Shadowfell, and the Underdark)

Well, pretty close. The underdark isn't a plane at all; it's just the big-underground part of the World.
So...the abyss is the "evil" part of the primal chaos, and the nine hells are the "evil" part of the astral sea? (a dead god's realm) Where do the gith(yanki/zerai) end up? Demons are in the abyss right? Does the astral sea just include anything you damn well please as a "pocket dimension"?

Abyss: Yes.
Gith: The 'yanki are pirates and traders on the Astral Sea; we don't know about the 'zerai but they're probably in the Chaos somewhere (since they were in Limbo in the 3.x universe).
The astral sea domains, we aren't sure how that works. They may be large-but-finite literal islands, or perhaps you pass through a barrier of some sort and appear in the local deity's realm. That isn't very clear yet.

They aren't just "any-damn-thing" pocket dimensions, though. Each domain is created and shaped by a deity's will, by its conscious and subconscious desires and needs. Some of them were created by now-dead gods, so they'll be slowly crumbling, but in general each one is related to a particular god or pantheon.

Yes, you could throw in just about anything by positing an appropriate dead god, but it's not like the old 3.x demiplanes.

Where is "Dis" and why would anyone go to it?

Dis is the great city at the top of the nine hells. It's not somewhere you WANT to go, it's somewhere your soul gets taken if the devils get a hold of it. PCs might go there for a number of reasons -- any reason they might go to Hell in the first place, they might go to Dis. In fact, if they need to go deeper into Hell than the very outermost bit, they probably HAVE to go through the Iron City of Dis.

(Note: The city of Dis comes from Dante's Inferno; it was the fifth circle of hell, a city that contained all the lower circles within its walls. Entering Dis marks the transition from the 'passive' sins like sloth and disbelief to the 'active' sins like murder, ****, and betrayal.)

How is the primal chaos any different from the astral sea?

The astral sea is quiet and calm, a silver sea with stars floating far beneath the surface, dotted with misty islands of the gods' domains.

The elemental chaos is a swirl of the four elements mixing and separating and exploding all the time. Some areas are more stable and form "earthburgs" or balls of water, where some of the elemental inhabitants have put cities and civilizations, but it's a loud, flashy, chaotic place.
Thank you all for answering my post. I'm going to hold out on my follow up questions in hope of a few more responses, but I am reading and I appreciate the insight.
fo diggity Twitter: www.twitter.com/fodigg Comic Books You Should Have Read: http://tinyurl.com/ycxe9l7
I think most of it was covered fodigg, so you might as well give your follow-up question.
I think most of it was covered fodigg, so you might as well give your follow-up question.

That's fair. I wouldn't know if there was more to be covered which is why I was thinking of delaying. Here are my follow-up questions:
  • Far Realm: I had forgotten about the far realm in my first post. I know that aberrations come from the "far realm", but that doesn't really say much except for an overabundance of tentacles. Are there many far realms or one? Is the far realm just everything "outside" of the rest of the cosmology, as in surrounding it? Does it exist "between" other realities? Is it a specific location that is just hard to access? Once accessed, do you just go insane and that's it, or is it PC "friendly"?
    -
  • Underdark: The Underdark is no longer a "plane"? I've seen it described as a plane before (as opposed to a simple cave) and essentially a world itself beneath the world, accessible via caves. Is there only one Underdark? Or are there three (i.e., Underdark, Feydark, Shadowdark)?
    -
  • Astral Sea: I hadn't actually thought of this as a real "sea". I think I was comparing it to the bleed in wildstorm/DC. Now that I think about it, even the bleed has "shift-ships". In this sense, is the astral sea a real plane or just a container for the planes? Is it a way of just describing the "multiverse" or is it a real place-between-places? Is this where any "starjammer" or "planescape" locations would exist? Is this where other "campaign setting universes" could be placed?
    -
  • City of Brass: I had actually confused this with Dis. I'm ashamed because I love Dante's inferno. Is the City of Brass more of a "demon city", an "elementals city", or both? Does it exist at a specific location in the elemental chaos, or is the E.C. of such a nature that it's more of an "inn between worlds" that drifts around the E.C.? (I guess that's more of a question about the elemental chaos than about the city of brass.)
    -
  • Demons (and devils): Somebody mentioned that demons came from primordials. Does this mean that demons are elemental in nature? Are devils then "divine" in nature (as they were twisted versions of divine servants)?
    -
  • Realms of gods: Do all gods have a "realm" in the astral sea? (as the 9-hells/dis are the realm of asmodeus by way of deicide?)
    -
  • Gith: I thought that I read somewhere that the Gith(yanki I think) lived in the "bones of a dead god" or some such. Are they more nomadic? Do they actually live in the astral sea between astral planes? (this might be a tough one to answer I know)
    -
  • Limbo: So limbo doesn't exist anymore? Or is limbo now the shadowfell? How is the shadowfell populated? Every person that dies goes there, but then goes somewhere else? Some of them stay and become undead? Do Githzerai live in the shadowfell and hate on shadar-kai? Color me confused.


Thanks again for taking the time.
fo diggity Twitter: www.twitter.com/fodigg Comic Books You Should Have Read: http://tinyurl.com/ycxe9l7
Far Realm: I had forgotten about the far realm in my first post. I know that aberrations come from the "far realm", but that doesn't really say much except for an overabundance of tentacles. Are there many far realms or one? Is the far realm just everything "outside" of the rest of the cosmology, as in surrounding it? Does it exist "between" other realities? Is it a specific location that is just hard to access? Once accessed, do you just go insane and that's it, or is it PC "friendly"?

The far realms are one place or many, they sort of squoosh together. It's a place outside the cosmology, or possibly outside time and space... whatever. You don't really go there, but you might run into 'leakage' from it.

Some aberrations come from Outside, but others (like otyughs) are normal creatures twisted by exposure (like radiation-mutants in pulp novels).

The realms may have changed from what they were in 3.x; in 3.x it was pretty much Epic character land, and not very friendly to them (save or go permanently insane every minute or so).

Underdark: The Underdark is no longer a "plane"? I've seen it described as a plane before (as opposed to a simple cave) and essentially a world itself beneath the world, accessible via caves. Is there only one Underdark? Or are there three (i.e., Underdark, Feydark, Shadowdark)?

The underdark was never a plane, but under the surface of the real world.

The Feywild and Shadowfell have reflections of the underdark; the Feydark is a "hall of the mountain king" style of place, with glowing crystals, faerie courts, and fomorian kingdoms. The Shadowfell's underdark we don't know much about; it sounds like it's inhabited by Death Giants and darklings and such, and there's some thought that it may include a sort of Hadean underworld, like where Hercules battled Cerberus and Orpheus went to find his true love.

Astral Sea: I hadn't actually thought of this as a real "sea".... In this sense, is the astral sea a real plane or just a container for the planes?

In 3.x it was an infinite expanse of silver haze, like sitting inside a cloud. In 4e it seems to be a literal sea with ships and everything. (That's good -- an infinite expanse of nothing is boring. Sailing, we can see where that goes, storywise.)


Is this where any "starjammer" or "planescape" locations would exist? Is this where other "campaign setting universes" could be placed?

Spelljammer.

Not really; Spelljammer would have to be a different setting with a different cosmology, and if Planescape were going to use the old planescape setting material, the Astral would be back to "inside of a cloud".


City of Brass: I had actually confused this with Dis. I'm ashamed because I love Dante's inferno. Is the City of Brass more of a "demon city", an "elementals city", or both? Does it exist at a specific location in the elemental chaos...

As in Arabic myth, the City of Brass is where the Ifreet live. It's a specific location in the Chaos, on a continent-sized deserty place where earth and fire mix freely. It's a city of elementals with a Persian flavor.

Demons (and devils): Somebody mentioned that demons came from primordials. Does this mean that demons are elemental in nature? Are devils then "divine" in nature (as they were twisted versions of divine servants)?

Correct. Demons are twisted elementals and utterly inhuman, while devils are angels transformed by their treachery.

See, devils aren't just evil. Angels can work for evil gods too. But angels are made for one purpose -- to serve their deity. Deicide is unthinkable, and that a group of angels did it is virtually unimaginable. It's not just evil, but breaking the very nature of their existence. An angel who refuses to serve and even kills his deity is like water that refuses to be wet or fire that gives up on being hot.

To the gods -- even evil ones -- devils are anathema; they're a horror, an utter perversion. Some of the evil gods will hire them on, but even then they're kept sort of at-arms'-length.

Realms of gods: Do all gods have a "realm" in the astral sea? (as the 9-hells/dis are the realm of asmodeus by way of deicide?)

Most do; the Raven Queen gave up her astral realm for some shadowfell property, and nobody knows why; and Vecna apparently walks the earth still despite being a minor god.

Gith: I thought that I read somewhere that the Gith(yanki I think) lived in the "bones of a dead god" or some such. Are they more nomadic? Do they actually live in the astral sea between astral planes? (this might be a tough one to answer I know)

Changed from 3.x to 4e. In 3x they made homes on the bodies of gods floating in the astral void. Now, they probably are seminomadic with a few city-bases placed in abandoned deific realms.

Limbo: So limbo doesn't exist anymore? Or is limbo now the shadowfell? How is the shadowfell populated? Every person that dies goes there, but then goes somewhere else? Some of them stay and become undead? Do Githzerai live in the shadowfell and hate on shadar-kai? Color me confused.

Limbo used to be the realm of chaos, full of exploding and mixing elements. That sort of became ALL of the elemental tempest, so Limbo is no more as a separate place. But you can do anything in the Tempest that you could've done back in Limbo, so no great loss.

You seem to be confusing Limbo with the Ethereal Plane, which is gone and partially subsumed into the Shadowfell (in terms of being ghost-land).

The Shadowfell is full of shades, which are like undead. They're dead souls who stop there in the 'fell for just a little while as ghosty sorts before they move on to the afterlife proper. They're not really undead, they're just dead, but they operate in a lot of the same ways.
The far realms are one place or many, they sort of squoosh together. It's a place outside the cosmology, or possibly outside time and space... whatever. You don't really go there, but you might run into 'leakage' from it.

Some aberrations come from Outside, but others (like otyughs) are normal creatures twisted by exposure (like radiation-mutants in pulp novels).

The realms may have changed from what they were in 3.x; in 3.x it was pretty much Epic character land, and not very friendly to them (save or go permanently insane every minute or so).

I've always compared the far realm to Eberron's Xoriat or the "squidies'" dimension in Wormwood: Gentleman Corspe. A bleak, empty space populated by horrific lovecraftian creatures that one would expect Hellboy to fight.

Wow, I use comic book examples a lot. Oh well. Am I right in assuming that entering the far realm would basically be insanity? Something reserved for the achievement of an epic destiny where the heroes sacrifice their sanity and their lives to seal the portal before an aberrant invasion.

The underdark was never a plane, but under the surface of the real world.

The Feywild and Shadowfell have reflections of the underdark; the Feydark is a "hall of the mountain king" style of place, with glowing crystals, faerie courts, and fomorian kingdoms. The Shadowfell's underdark we don't know much about; it sounds like it's inhabited by Death Giants and darklings and such, and there's some thought that it may include a sort of Hadean underworld, like where Hercules battled Cerberus and Orpheus went to find his true love.

I wish that I could remember which book it was where I got the "underdark as a plane unto itself" quote. The context of the quote was regarding players who are overly concerned with what life would be like actually living underground, and to not worry about it. With that in mind I might be taking the quote in the wrong way. Regardless, it's a concept I might have to consider just as a homebrew fluff. I like the idea of the shadowdark as the true "underworld" as it would leave the above-ground shadowfell a bit more "normal" to be populated by living creatures such as the shadar kai and others.

In 3.x it was an infinite expanse of silver haze, like sitting inside a cloud. In 4e it seems to be a literal sea with ships and everything. (That's good -- an infinite expanse of nothing is boring. Sailing, we can see where that goes, storywise.)

I like it too, though I'm wondering now how one would see "island-realities" floating on the sea. Would it be a glowing light on the horizon that once you reach you're in an alternate reality? Or would it litereally be a big floating "iceburg" island?

Not really; Spelljammer would have to be a different setting with a different cosmology, and if Planescape were going to use the old planescape setting material, the Astral would be back to "inside of a cloud".

I won't worry about it then. I like the idea of eberron characters being thrown into FR somehow, but I don't need such concepts to be reflected in cosmology.

As in Arabic myth, the City of Brass is where the Ifreet live. It's a specific location in the Chaos, on a continent-sized deserty place where earth and fire mix freely. It's a city of elementals with a Persian flavor.

Ifreet = elemental genies right? I like that.

Correct. Demons are twisted elementals and utterly inhuman, while devils are angels transformed by their treachery.

See, devils aren't just evil. Angels can work for evil gods too. But angels are made for one purpose -- to serve their deity. Deicide is unthinkable, and that a group of angels did it is virtually unimaginable. It's not just evil, but breaking the very nature of their existence. An angel who refuses to serve and even kills his deity is like water that refuses to be wet or fire that gives up on being hot.

To the gods -- even evil ones -- devils are anathema; they're a horror, an utter perversion. Some of the evil gods will hire them on, but even then they're kept sort of at-arms'-length.

So demons are rogue A.I. I love it. The cyberpunk in me rejoices.

Most do; the Raven Queen gave up her astral realm for some shadowfell property, and nobody knows why; and Vecna apparently walks the earth still despite being a minor god.

I'm assuming that such "realms" are up to DM discretion in description, but I kind of like the idea that they're all the god's version of an "island paradise". Very Wonder Woman Themyscira.

Changed from 3.x to 4e. In 3x they made homes on the bodies of gods floating in the astral void. Now, they probably are seminomadic with a few city-bases placed in abandoned deific realms.

I can dig that. I still like the idea of them constructing cities (and even ships I suppose) out of the corpses and bones of astral beings.

Limbo used to be the realm of chaos, full of exploding and mixing elements. That sort of became ALL of the elemental tempest, so Limbo is no more as a separate place. But you can do anything in the Tempest that you could've done back in Limbo, so no great loss.

You seem to be confusing Limbo with the Ethereal Plane, which is gone and partially subsumed into the Shadowfell (in terms of being ghost-land).

The Shadowfell is full of shades, which are like undead. They're dead souls who stop there in the 'fell for just a little while as ghosty sorts before they move on to the afterlife proper. They're not really undead, they're just dead, but they operate in a lot of the same ways.

This goes back to the shadowdark vs. shadowfell. I'll probably reserve the "surface" shadowfell for living shadowfell creatures and place most of the "dead" in the shadowdark as a sort of underworld. Undead that refuse rebirth I suppose could be anywhere in the shadowfell the same as they could be anywhere in the mundane.

I think I'll definitely have the three underdarks merged (or at least linked via clear passage/portals) so that a hero can enter the "underworld" by climbing down into the bowels of the earth.
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Am I right in assuming that entering the far realm would basically be insanity? Something reserved for the achievement of an epic destiny where the heroes sacrifice their sanity and their lives to seal the portal before an aberrant invasion.

I guess. Like I say -- in 3.x you could go there for short periods, risking madness; I don't know what 4 is going to do.

I like it too, though I'm wondering now how one would see "island-realities" floating on the sea. Would it be a glowing light on the horizon that once you reach you're in an alternate reality? Or would it litereally be a big floating "iceburg" island?

There's some art of it in the W&M gallery.

Ifreet = elemental genies right? I like that.

All genies are elemental in D&D. Jinn are air-element, Efreet fire, Dao earth, and Marid are water.

In the original Arabic mythology, "djinn" meant "the hidden people" or "invisible ones", and ifreet were just one type of djinn. I don't know where they got the fire relationship -- in Arabian Nights, the fisherman's genie is sometimes referred to as an evil ifreet. (That's the one where the guy tricked it back into its lamp by saying, "Bah, that's a lie, there's no way you could fit in there!" Apparently genies are kind of stupid.)

So demons are rogue A.I. I love it. The cyberpunk in me rejoices.

Devils.

I'm assuming that such "realms" are up to DM discretion in description, but I kind of like the idea that they're all the god's version of an "island paradise".

Well, they may not be literal islands on the inside. I don't know how it's going to work. You may pass a border of some sort and find yourself somewhere that's nowhere near a shoreline.
I guess. Like I say -- in 3.x you could go there for short periods, risking madness; I don't know what 4 is going to do.

I bet they won't touch it for a while. Keep it more as a "source of monsters" than as an actual place.

There's some art of it in the W&M gallery.

Very cool. I'm starting to recall that.

All genies are elemental in D&D. Jinn are air-element, Efreet fire, Dao earth, and Marid are water.

In the original Arabic mythology, "djinn" meant "the hidden people" or "invisible ones", and ifreet were just one type of djinn. I don't know where they got the fire relationship -- in Arabian Nights, the fisherman's genie is sometimes referred to as an evil ifreet. (That's the one where the guy tricked it back into its lamp by saying, "Bah, that's a lie, there's no way you could fit in there!" Apparently genies are kind of stupid.)

Okay cool. That fits the "lies within a desert" them for the city of brass, right? Would it be unusual for demons to be just walking the streets or no?

Devils.

Whoops! I meant that...

Well, they may not be literal islands on the inside. I don't know how it's going to work. You may pass a border of some sort and find yourself somewhere that's nowhere near a shoreline.

This reminds me of freelancer. The planets were fairly "small" compared to the scale of the space ships, but you'd go through a "docking ring" and just be on the planet, which appeared to be the size one would expect of a planet, though you never really get to roam around it in that game.
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