The Astral Plane
The Astral plane consists of other-dimensional nothingness, a barren expanse extending in all directions. The only breaks in this bleakness are small islands of matter broken off from their native dimensions and occasional wide, spinning columns of astral conduits. Conduits link the outer planes with each other and with the Prime Material plane. The Astral is little more than a plane of transit, a means of moving between the inner and outer planes. It is also secondarily a home for extra-planar creatures.
A traveler finding himself in the Astral sees a bright, well-lit grayness that extends in all directions, as if he is within a thick silver atmosphere. The Astral material is very clear, and vision is unimpaired up to its physical limits. The plane is incredibly grey and dull, save for colorpools, other travelers, and conduits to other planes. Pools are readily accessible portals into the other planes of existence. Other travelers are natives of other planes
who have found a way to enter the Astral. Conduits resemble water spouts on a stormy day at sea, their ends lost in vast expanses of grey at either end. They are interdimensional vortices that link the outer planes with the Prime Material planes in much the same way as the elemental vortices link the Prime Material planes with the inner planes. In this case, however, the conduit exists through a third plane, the Astral.
The Astral plane has no gravity, though objects retain their masses here and can be thrown at normal velocities. This is different from the neutrally buoyant Ethereal planes and the self-determined gravity of the inner planes. This weightlessness requires some acclimation, and there may be difficulty in performing some actions until that acclimation is made. Beings can move by pushing off large objects. but most usually move by concentrating on where they want to go.
The Astral plane can be reached from almost any point in the Prime Material plane and most points in the first (closest) layers of the outer planes. Entering these planes is normally done through colorpools that open onto particular areas of the destination plane. Unlike the situation in the Ethereal, a being’s living form can exist only in the Astral or the other plane – it cannot exist in both simultaneously. The Astral plane cannot be reached from any of the inner planes. It can be reached from the Ethereal plane only through ether cyclones, which create temporary ruptures between the Astral and Ethereal.
Reaching the Astral Plane
The Astral plane and those powerful realms that lie beyond it are generally reached by two very different means. The traveler can reach this plane either by projecting his astral form into the plane or by physically entering the plane. Either method can be accomplished by spell or device, and each has similarities, advantages, and disadvantages.
Reaching the Astral by Projection
Projecting one’s astral form is the healthiest method of traveling to the Astral plane. This method, using the astral spell or the ability astral projection, separates the astral self from the traveler’s body. The astral self, bound to its original body by a sliver cord, can then enter the Astral plane and travel through it into the outer planes. Travel by this fashion has a great advantage in that the traveler does not risk his real hide-if the astral form is stain or destroyed, the traveler’s psyche returns to his original body. Further. the traveler can voluntarily return to his original body if there is a horrendous danger or hazardous situation to confront. This return takes several minutes, but it can be delayed by the forces of a psychic wind.
The astral form appears on the Astral plane as a translucent, white, humanoid form. This form is solid and treated in most situations in the astral as a physical body. Springing from the back of this astral form is a silver cord that connects the traveler with his physical body on the Prime Material plane. This cord is visible as a translucent white string that stretches back about 10 feet and then becomes both invisible and intangible. The silver cord can be stretched to any length, but it is not truly solid in the same fashion as the astral body, and as such cannot be attacked or broken except under special circumstances.
An individual’s astral form includes the traveler’s body and the astral forms of any magical items. Magical items includes items that are magical in nature and those that are under a spell effect, such as a light spell. All other items are left behind. Those wishing to bring along sufficient equipment for adventures beyond the plane, or at least sufficient clothing, are advised that an enchantment or alteration spell placed upon these items is recommended to ensure safe and modest travel.
Objects that the astrally projecting traveler finds in the Astral can be brought into the Prime Material or outer planes, within reasonable limits. A projecting traveler cannot bring a castle out of the Astral plane, but he can return to his physical body with a chest of gold.
The disadvantages of astral projection are several. The first is the care of the physical body. A physical body without its astral component does not age. nor does it require food. water, or air. A detect life reveals that the character is alive. otherwise he appears to be in a state of suspended animation that resembles a feign death spell. The body can be physically moved while the astral form is absent; the astral form will return to its body wherever it has been moved, provided it remains on a plane accessible from the Astral (an astral form cannot rejoin its body if that body is placed in the Ethereal, for example). The physical body is subject to normal damage, which the astral form is not aware of at the time the damage is inflicted. If the physical body is slain, the sliver cord disappears and the character dies in moments.
Another danger of projecting the astral form is possession. A great many extradlmensional creatures, including those with magic jar abilities, can enter the Prime Material plane by possessing the body of a traveler whose astral form is out to lunch. The silver cord is not cut in this case and is still visible to those who have true seeing or similar spells. The traveler cannot regain his own body until the intruding spirit has moved out voluntarily, or has been exorcised. The wise traveler usually finds a secure location guarded by trusted friends who either have code words or divination spells to ascertain that the correct essence came home.
The third danger to the traveler using astral projection is the snapping of the silver cord that links the body to its astral form. The ways to sever the cord are fortunately very few: The psychic wind at its most powerful, the silver swords of the Githyanki, and the will of a Lesser or Greater Power.
The snapping of a silver cord has disastrous effects. The traveler’s astral form dissolves into the plane in seconds, leaving behind the astral entities of those magical items brought into the plane. The body in the Prime plane perishes, and is irrecoverable (except for wishes). Any magical items that were taken into the plane rot and evaporate with their enchantments gone, save for artifacts, which return to the Prime plane with their powers intact.
If a traveler’s astral form is slain, he immediately returns to his original body. The traveler then falls into a coma for a number of days, during which only a full wish will awaken him.
Physical Travel in the Astral Plane
The traveler using most plane-spanning devices, as well as the spell plane shift, can bring his body into the Astral and make his way about in that plane. Creatures and objects blown into this plane from the Ethereal by an ether cyclone lose their ethereal status and are treated as physically traveling through this plane. The advantage of this is that all possessions are brought along, regardless of magical status and that there is no silver cord to threaten the traveler’s safety. The disadvantage of this method of travel is that the traveler’s body can be damaged and slain normally.
In the Astral plane, the physical body appears normally, in its natural colors. The physical body has no silver cord. Both astral forms and physical bodies have equal substance. and a physical body can pick up an astral object or combat an astral foe.
Because the physical form in the Astral plane has no silver cord, the physical astral traveler must find a color pool to his home plane and use it to get back home.
The gateways to the myriad alternate Prime Material planes and the first layers of the outer planes appear as two-dimensional pools of rippling colors. These range in size from 10-60 feet in diameter. They are visible from only one side, so that a traveler approaching from the “blind side” can pass through a color pool without realizing it.
Travelers who enter the Astral always find themselves near a pool of silvery color. in the case of those projecting into the Astral, their silver cords lead back into that pool. Silver pools that ripple like mercury in a pan always lead to the plane the traveler projected from. The gateways to other planes can be identified by color.
Portals to one’s own Prime Material plane are always silver. Those to alternate Prime Material planes are other metallic colors, such as bronze, gunmetal, tarnished silver, or brass. The same is true for creatures of alternate Prime Material planes: their home portals appear silver and those of others are other metallic shades.
The portals to the Ethereal look like milky water flowing in a spiral pattern. What the astral traveler is seeing is the end point of an ether cyclone, where it disrupts the barrier between the Ethereal and Astral planes. Individuals passing from the Ethereal to the Astral are treated as physical-form travelers (they lose their ethereal nature). Traveling from the Astral to the Ethereal in physical form endows the travelers with etherealness. Traveling from the Astral to the Ethereal in astral form results in the creation of an ethereal body in a similar fashion to creation of a body in the outer planes. The ethereal-astral form cannot reenter the Prime Material plane in which the original body resides. In either case, the traveler from the Astral to the Ethereal finds himself in the middle of the ether cyclone, with all resultant effects and risks.