Ethereal Visions 2:

THE MAELSTROM

By Andrew C. Durston, Copyright © 1999
Edited by Lowell R. Matthews for The Guild Companion

Author's Note: What follows in this article (and perhaps others) are ideas, taken from an existing campaign setting, for the creation and integration of a realm of the elements. This article draws heavily from the Rolemaster Second Edition Elemental Companion (EC) as well as the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons supplement Manual of the Planes (MP), which was published in 1987 by TSR, Inc. I have included modifications and adaptations of material drawn from both sources. Note that I have rather liberally ignored the precise element descriptions from EC in order to form matches with the elements presented in MP. I therefore offer apologies to M. Carlyle and any others whose feathers I may ruffle with what might be a rather cavalier adaptation of the material.

* * *

"Imagine, if you would, a globe of vast proportions surrounding Arda as well as Arien the Sun and Tilion the Moon (a misnomer, for Tilion is much like Arien, but that is a matter for other lectures). Within that globe is our world, with its gods and their realms. Outside of that globe is the Maelstrom.

"Now imagine another globe, bigger than the first but centered on the same point, Arien. I propose that the Maelstrom fills the gap between the first globe and the second while what lies outside the second is what we call the Astral realms. Yet also outside the second lies what we call the Ethereal regions. And also the realms of the Spirits. From Arda, we can access all three realms, yet they do not exist in the same place. We occupy what might be called a Nexus between the Astral, Ethereal, and Spirit realities, subject to the influence of all yet affected by none."

Another semester of teaching and instruction at the Arcane Guild in Tarna's capital city of Roim was due to begin. For some students, these next weeks, the last semester of the year, just following the High Spring Festival, would prove to be unlike any other. Telengard, master mage and researcher, looked about the auditorium at the somewhat sparse crowd of students.

"I trust your Festival was a fine and exciting day," Telengard remarked with obvious sarcasm, while gesturing at cracks across the walls and piles of debris yet to be cleared from the corners of the hall. "The events of yesterday were brought about by the deities and servants of the realm known as the Maelstrom. These beings sought to bring their power and beliefs to the world, over all others, but were defeated by the might of the Lords of Light and Dark as well as the awakened might of our world Arda itself. The contest of power was won and the minions of the deities of the Maelstrom were driven back to their Elemental Realms. It is these realms that we will discuss in detail over the next weeks, with particular attention to their geography and inhabitants."

* * *

The campaign world of Arda is part of the Arien system, consisting of Arien, a G-type yellow star, and Tilion, a white dwarf. The entire star system is surrounded and separated from normal (astral) space by the Maelstrom. See Figure 1 for more information on Arda and its surrounds.

"The Maelstrom is a thing of matter, energy, and magic, which insulates us from the Astral, the Ethereal and the Spiritual. Yet for what its name implies, one can find stable structures within it and there is a flow or method to its existence. There is a continual flow of Essence, of a vast power, from one point in the Maelstrom to another point directly across the spheres from the first. The ability of the first source to generate Essence (or more precisely the more basic Arcane form of magic or mana) never wavers, and the ability of the second point to absorb or drain Essence never fails. Yet the Sorcerers, the Entropy Mages, tell us that perpetual processes cannot exist - things tend to end in randomness. Are we in an anomaly, a cycle of magic which should not exist? What if the cycle were to end, would we return to whence we came or would the Nexus of Arda be snuffed like the candle I now snuff to end this first portion of the lecture?"

In normal space, the Maelstrom is a large gravitic anomaly that has been classified as a navigation hazard by local spacefaring cultures. It is also a potent emitter of some forms of radiation, much like a large star. Every few years, an expedition is mounted into the Maelstrom. So far, none have returned. In actuality, the expeditions are most likely being destroyed by the Boundary Regions or by impact into Elemental matter. Figure 2 shows the flows of Essence within the structure of the Maelstrom.

Returning to the hall after a brief break, Telengard began anew. "The Maelstrom is a region between two spheres of great size, encompassing our world and the realms of the gods as well. The border of the Maelstrom is a hellish region of flows of time, gravity and nexuses affecting the unprepared traveler with shifts into the past or future, crushing stresses, or slips to other realities. The top and bottom of the Maelstrom are the source, a region of expanding primal energy and condensing matter and elements, and the sink, a region of decaying matter and energy and absorbed primal energy. The realms of the elements are arrayed throughout the walls within the borders, fed by the source and drained by the sink."

Figure 3 shows a view of the Maelstrom from the top with the Plane of Chaos in the center. Figure 4 shows a view of the Maelstrom from the bottom with the Plane of Nether in the center. The other Elemental Planes shown in the diagrams are briefly described below.

 

  1. The Elemental Source Planes
  2. "The Elemental Planes begin in the Plane of Chaos. A place of pure magic, chaos and energy. It is form and formless at once. All things are created and destroyed in an instant or a thought," Telengard gestured and pointed, moving back and forth across the stage. "Chaos appears in the center and flows to the borders. Creatures, of strange nature, can impose order in parts of Chaos—and thus life exists. More structure and form appears in the border realm of Plasma but it is still dangerous."

    1. Plasma and Chaos
    2. Chaos is the center and the source of the Maelstrom, a white hole producing primal energies—the Arcane, the basis for all mundane matter and energy. Plasma is a spherical region surrounding Chaos, a region of creation and condensation of primal energy into mana and mundane matter and energy.

      The Plane of Chaos produces the Element Chaos, classified as Type E in the EC. It is also roughly equivalent to the Positive Material Plane in the MP. The Plane of Plasma produces the Element Plasma, classified as Type D.

      "The Elemental Planes end in the destruction and stillness of the Nether. All ceases and is devoured," Telengard voice became deep and still, and his pacing ceased. "Matter and form dissolve into basic magic, Nether and energy. Those forms vanish in an infinite pit of despair. Creatures, near-perfect opposites to those of Chaos, form grim, dark, and destructive realms. In the Umbra is the great Graveyard of Destruction. All flows end here."

    3. Umbra and Nether

    Nether is the center and the sink for the Maelstrom, a black hole absorbing all primal energies. Umbra is the event horizon for the Nether, the region of decay and dissolution where all matter, mana, and energy is broken down into primal energies.

    The Plane of Nether produces the Element Nether, an EC Type E element. It is also roughly equivalent to the Negative Material Plane in MP. The Plane of Umbra produces the Element Vacid (sometimes called Umbra), an EC Type D element. The "Nether Mastery" spell list from the Rolemaster Companion III (RC3) has been renamed "Umbra Mastery" in this campaign, because it more correctly deals with that element as a counterpart to the Plasma Mastery list also introduced in the RC3.

  3. Elemental Boundary Planes
  4. Telengard resumed his pacing about the stage. "The dull whorls and swirls of color that highlight the black of the night sky are energies released in the Boundary Regions. One may note that the colors are brighter near Tilion, which indicates that the home of the Lords of Light is close to the boundary of the Maelstrom and in some way they interact. This is a veil which separates the true forms of the Maelstrom from our eyes on Arda."

    The "Boundary" is the border between the inside of the Maelstrom and the Arien star system as well as the border between the outside of the Maelstrom and the universe at large. The boundary planes do not have individual surfaces but represent different flows that may be encountered within the Boundary Regions. Note that aside from Tilion and other planets in the Arien system (omitted from Figure 1), there are no objects visible in the night sky other than the flows of the Boundary.

    1. Time
    2. A traveler may encounter flows that propel him forward or backwards on the sea of time or, more dangerously, may age or revive him where he stands. Time is an EC Type E element.

    3. Gravity
    4. In these flows space is compressed or stressed by great forces, creating either sinks, which pull objects in and subject them to massive crushing forces, or sources which, repel all matter from the region with great force. Gravity is classified as Type B in the EC, but in this campaign it has been reclassified Type E.

    5. Nexus

    In some regions, the forces of Time and Gravity merge to warp the local space, creating a Nexus. In this area, objects may be transported to other Astral (real or n-space) planets or planes, to other Elemental Planes, or perhaps to the Ethereal or Spiritual regions. These unpredictable effects can be the most dangerous of all. Encountering a Nexus can be almost as bad as entering Chaos unprepared. Nexus is an EC Type E element.

  5. True Elemental Planes
  6. Telengard smiled as he began to described his favorite lore. "The True Elements, Air, Fire, Earth, and Water, were the first discovered and manipulated by Spell-Users of all types. They are by far the most commonly encountered elements. Their Elementals are the easiest to summon. Their realms are the most hospitable, traversable, and diverse. One must master the use of these four elements before others may be pondered and used."

    These Planes are by far the largest areas of the Maelstrom and represent the four most commonly found and/or summoned Elements. Each form (Air, Fire, Earth, and Water) is said to be a pure form of evolved Chaos.

    1. Air
    2. Air is an EC Type A element.

    3. Fire
    4. Fire is classified Type C in the EC, but in this campaign it has been reclassified Type A.

    5. Earth
    6. Earth is classified Type B in the EC, but in this campaign it has been reclassified Type A.

    7. Water

    Water is an EC Type A element.

  7. Para-Elemental (Partially True Elemental) Planes
  8. "Now we can investigate the diversity of the Planes. In the Para-Elemental Planes, the True Planes meet and mix. New Elements occur and new beings arise. Their Elementals are less numerous and their matter is trickier to control."

    This set of four planes is second in size only to the set of True Elemental Planes. In fact, each exists at the border of two of the True Elemental Planes, and the resulting Para-Element shows aspects of its "parents." These are the second most commonly found Elements and Elementals.

    1. Smoke (Wind)
    2. Smoke exhibits qualities of Air and Fire. The MP designation is the Plane of Smoke, which in this campaign has been made equivalent to the EC Plane of Wind, an EC Type C element reclassified to Type B.

    3. Ice
    4. Ice exhibits qualities of Air and Water. This Para-Element appears in both the MP and the EC. Ice is an EC Type C element reclassified to Type B.

    5. Ooze (Inertia)
    6. Ooze exhibits qualities of Water and Earth. As in §4.1, the MP plane is Ooze and the EC equivalent is Inertia. It is an EC Type B element.

    7. Magma (Heat)

    Magma exhibits qualities of Fire and Earth. As in §4.1, the MP plane is Magma and the EC equivalent is Heat. It is an EC Type B element.

  9. Quasi-Elemental (Quasi-True Elemental) Planes
  10. Telengard leaned back after cupping one ear to the audience. "Ah! A bright question, young lad. Let me repeat Baradur One-Eye’s inquiry—‘What happens when the Plasma and Umbra meet the True Planes?’ Here we have realms of transition where the True Elements evolve from Plasma and devolve to Umbra. These Quasi-Elemental Realms are crossroads and are difficult to master. Their inhabitants are fickle and hard to find."

    This set of eight planes form at the boundaries of the True Elemental Planes with the realms of Plasma and Umbra. They are the third largest set and represent transition forms between the Arcane Elements (Plasma and Umbra) and the True Elemental forms. One might say that the first four planes (Lightning, Steam, Radiance, and Mineral) represent the birthplaces of the True Elements, and the last four planes (Vacuum, Salt, Ash, and Dust) represent the graves of the True Elements.

    1. Lightning (Electricity/Light)
    2. Lightning exhibits qualities of Air and the Excess of Essence (Plasma). The MP plane is Lightning, but in this case the EC counterpart is a combination of two EC elements, Electricity and Light, with Electricity dominant (see also §5.3). The combined element Lightning is classified as an EC Type C element, where EC Light is Type A.

    3. Steam (Vibration)
    4. Steam exhibits qualities of Water and the Excess of Essence (Plasma). The MP plane is Steam. There is no true EC counterpart, so the EC element of Vibration has been assigned to it (see also §5.4). (It is perhaps not the best match, but it suffices.) Steam is classified as an EC Type C element, where EC Vibration is Type A.

    5. Radiance (Light/Electricity)
    6. Radiance exhibits qualities of Fire and the Excess of Essence (Plasma). As in §5.1, the MP plane of Radiance is best represented as a combination of the EC elements Light and Electricity, with Light dominant. The combined element Radiance is classified as an EC Type C element, where EC Light is Type A.

    7. Mineral (Vibration)
    8. Mineral exhibits qualities of Earth and the Excess of Essence (Plasma). The MP plane is Mineral. As in §5.2, there is no true EC counterpart, so the EC element of Vibration has been assigned to it. (Perhaps all sorts of crystals and their resonant vibrations predominate in this plane.) Mineral is classified as an EC Type C element, where EC Vibration is Type A.

    9. Vacuum (Dark)
    10. Vacuum exhibits qualities of Air and the Absence of Essence (Nether). The MP plane is Vacuum and the closest EC counterpart is Dark (see also §5.7). Vacuum is classified as an EC Type C element, where EC Dark is Type B.

    11. Salt (Cold)
    12. Salt exhibits qualities of Water and the Absence of Essence (Nether). The MP plane is Salt and the closest EC parallel is Cold (a fine place for Elemental Sharks, see also §5.8). Salt is classified as an EC Type C element, where EC Cold is Type A.

    13. Ash (Dark)
    14. Ash exhibits qualities of Fire and the Absence of Essence (Nether). The MP Plane is Ash and the closest EC counterpart is Dark (see also §5.5). Ash is classified as an EC Type C element, where EC Dark is Type B.

    15. Dust (Cold)

    Dust exhibits qualities of Earth and the Absence of Essence (Nether). The MP Plane is Dust and the EC Plane is Cold (see also §5.6). Dust is classified as an EC Type C element, where EC Cold is Type A.

  11. Demi-Planes - The Transition Zones

"And yes, there may be Realms where the Para-Elemental Planes meet the shores of the Plasma and the precipice of the Umbra."

Several small "Demi-Planes" (Para-Quasi-Elemental Planes?) exist at the intersections of the Para-Elemental Planes and the Realms of Plasma and Umbra. They exhibit many aspects of the surrounding Planes, so are treated as transition areas rather than actual realms.

"I theorize," Telengard continued, "that even these little realms contain Elemental folk, though perhaps their populations are not so great as to have produced Elemental Gods or even Demigods."

The Demi-Planes are:

  1. Ice - Plasma: The Realm of Blizzards.
  2. Ooze - Plasma: The Realm of Mudstorms.
  3. Magma - Plasma: The Realm of Firestorms.
  4. Smoke - Plasma: The Realm of Smokeflashes (perhaps Nightblades draw power from this Realm by some strange means).
  5. Ice - Nether: The Realm of the Bitter.
  6. Ooze - Nether: The Realm of Silt or Tundra (Caribou gone!).
  7. Magma - Nether: The Realm of Slag.
  8. Smoke - Nether: The Realm of Black or Shadow (perhaps Shadow Mages draw power from this Realm somehow).

Blizzard, Mudstorm, Firestorm, Smokeflash, Bitter, Silt/Tundra, Slag, and Black/Shadow are all classified as EC Type C elements.

  1. Revised Elemental Summary Chart
  2. "To summarize," Telengard gestured—words appeared in the air next to him, creating a glowing table as he spoke—"we can classify the Elements based on their ease of use and populations of inhabitants to summon and study."

    The Elemental Summary Chart, which appears on EC page 11, has been revised as shown in Table I below.

    Table : Elemental Summary Chart

    Element

    Type

    Air

    A

    Earth

    Fire

    Water

    Heat

    B

    Ice

    Inertia

    Wind

     

     

    Element

    Type

    Cold

    C

    Dark

    Electricity

    Light

    Vibration

    Plasma

    D

    Vacid/Umbra

     

     

    Element

    Type

    Chaos

    E

    Gravity

    Nether

    Nexus

    Time

    In this campaign, Spirit is not considered an Element; Aether is obtained from the Ethereal Plane and is not part of the Maelstrom.

  3. The Effects of the Elements
    1. Destructive Effects
    2. "Ardelain asks about the destructive effects of the various Elements." Telengard fixed the young gypsy mage with a stare. "I have quantified such in terms of primary, secondary, and tertiary effects. The purer the Element, the fewer effects produced. Air, for example, has only one effect, while dangerous Chaos has three."

      For those who use the Additional Criticals chart, which appears on the bottom left of page 103 of the EC, it has been revised as shown in Table II below.

      Telengard turned back to the rest of the hall. "For those of a less destructive bent, I have also some notes and studies on the success rates of Summoning of the various forms of Elementals. I will soon pen a scroll about how the Deities of the Maelstrom were able to slowly increase the difficulties of Summoning until it was virtually impossible, without cooperation, to Summon even the most common Wispling at the time of the High Spring Festival."

    3. Ease of Summoning

For those who plan to use the "Ease of Summoning" rules (Grey Worlds, Volume III, Number 13, page 27), Table III below presents Static Maneuver ratings for various types of Elementals. These ratings assume that the Summoner is unaligned and has no particular favor with one of the Elemental Planes or its Deities.

Elemental Force

Primary Critical

Secondary Critical

Tertiary Critical

Air

Vacuum

-

-

Earth

Impact

-

-

Fire

Heat

-

-

Water

Impact

-

-

Heat

Heat

Shock

-

Ice

Impact

Cold

-

Inertia

Impact

Shock

-

Wind

Impact

Vacuum

-

Cold

Cold

Impact

Stress

Dark

Cold

Depression

Shock

Electricity

Electricity

Impact

Heat

Light

Radiation

Electricity

Heat

Vibration

Vibration

Stress

Shock

Plasma

Plasma

Cold

Electricity

Vacid/Umbra

Shock

Stress

GM Option

Chaos

Acid

Physical Alteration

Acid

Nether

Disruption

Stress

Stress


Easy

Light

Medium

Hard

Very Hard

Extremely

(+20)

(+10)

(+0)

( - 10)

( - 20)

Hard ( - 30)

Air

Heat

Cold

Plasma

Aether

Chaos

Earth

Ice

Dark

Vacid/Umbra

Gravity

Nether

Fire

Inertia

Electricity

 

Nexus

 

Water

Wind

Light

 

Time

 
   

Vibration

     

Telengard closed his notes and perused his students once more. "In my next lecture, we will consider the various creatures, cultures, and specifically, the deities of the Maelstrom. I will also discuss spells and enchantments derived from the study of the Elements. I have finished for now, but we are barely just begun. Those who have questions may reach me in the lounge, for my office seems to have disappeared in the aftermath of this inconvenient business with the Maelstrom." With what actually might have been a sigh, he turned and walked from the stage.

In future installments of Ethereal Visions will appear some suggestions for "Adapting Spell Lists from the EC," and "The Deities of the Maelstrom." Thus ends Ethereal Visions 2

Editor's Note

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