Welcome to No Books of Men! We are a modern alternate history board set in a magical school nestled in the Columbiana Valley of the Rocky Mountains. Students of the Collegium Illustrata Columbiana (commonly called simply The Academy) are free to explore their wildest imaginations in learning the mystic arts, so long as it does not jeopardize the ongoing Shadow War with the Exarchs. How will you live up to the legacies of Merlin?

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 Cosmology 101, How the Umbra (and elsewhere) works
 Posted: Jan 21 2016, 10:29 AM
Man with a Plan
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Cosmology. A word that is deceptively simple. Cosmo- as a prefix means simply "the universe" and the suffix -logy means either "the study of something" or "the collected knowledge of something." So what is cosmology? It's simply the study or collected knowledge of the universe. A simple concept really, but one with implications that could be discussed for decades without pause.

So what does this have to do with No Books? Well, simply put, most of the supernatural creatures and especially talented folks that call Columbiana Valley home are capable of stepping "outside" our physical world and into other realms. A point of constant confusion for players, both new and experienced alike, is what exactly is there in the places "outside" in the world of No Books? What follows is a basic breakdown of these realms. Each section will describe the realm in question as well as provide an idea of how that realm might be reached and by whom

The Realms

Note: To reach any of the Realms requires a spell learned through either the Scrying or Spiritus schools, and depending on which of the two spells are used will alter how the mage appears in the Realms. Alternately, there are enchanted “portals” available in certain buildings on campus which can also be used to access the Realms, but doing so without permission will certainly result in disciplinary action.

“The Realms” is a collective name for the various “shadows” of the physical world which can be found across the spiritual barrier known as the Spirit Wall. The various Realms are frequented by the denizens of the Valley because they are the most easily understood by dimensional/spiritual travelers. There are generally considered 3 major “realms” and each "reflects" the physical realm through the lens of that Realm's purpose (i.e. Astral, Wild, or Dark).

Movement within an Umbral reflection can be seen in one of two ways. The first (and most common) is “three-dimensional” travel, where one can move left/right, forward/backward, and up/down just as they could in the physical realm. The second, and metaphysically more difficult, is along what one could call a fourth dimension or sometimes called "depth." To move "deeper" into an Umbra is to move further away from the physical realm and enter places more abstract and bizarre than the physical world.

The Astral Reaches

Other Names: High Realm, Astral Realm, Astral Space, Mindscape, Dreaming, Dreamlands

Description: The Astral Reaches are a bizarre landscape which alternates between the familiar and the unknowable. Any being capable of sentient thought will feel comfortable here, even if they don't know why. The reason for this strange familiarity is that this Umbral Reflection is built by the thoughts and dreams of every creature to have ever had a thought or dream, including the mage herself. In fact, the Astral Realm is a place that every sentient being visits most every night through their dreams, albeit unconsciously.

The Astral Reaches consist of three "layers" according to those who have studied it. The first and most personal is the Mindscape. The Mindscape is a "pocket realm" reflecting the conscious mind of a living being, and one exists for each and every living (and a few, potent non-living) beings. These Mindscapes, if entered by any but the being who it reflects, are usually empty beyond a few powerful thoughts or memories The exception is when the individual sleeps, when the Mindscape becomes a theatre of sorts where the dreams of the being becomes tangible and plays out within.

The next deepest layer is the Collective Unconscious. This is the layer where a mage typically arrives when coming to the Astral Reaches, unless they enter through their own Mindscape. The Collective Unconscious typically reflects the understanding that locals have of an area. Buildings of cultural or spiritual importance tend to stand in this realm much as they do in the physical world. In fact, places long demolished, but well remembered (such as the Roman Coliseum or the Library at Alexandria), can still thrive for decades or even centuries after their fall. This layer of the Astral Reaches is mostly populated by spirits of the local culture such as schools populated by spirits of wisdom, government buildings populated by spirits of authority or duty (depending on the style of government), or parks populated by spirits of nature or joy.

The deepest layer is a place called the World Soul, which represents the collective unconscious of everything which exists in this universe. It reflects the most abstract of concepts and carries the weight of things that don't have sentience in the strictest sense. This includes the entirety of history and places far beyond human experience (such as other worlds or other times). This is a place of abstracts and the inhuman; and it borders the furthest borders of this reality. This is also a place where human (and other species) religions have powerful reflections. Gods, devils, angels, and other religious creatures can be found here, but whether these are mere reflections of human belief or the literal beings who have reached out to humanity through the Astral Reaches is a hotly debated subject...

Examples of Deeper Places in the Realm s: The Fountain of Language, Asgard/Mt. Olympus/Heaven/other religious realms, The Pillar of Government, The Grand Library, The Apex of History

Ways to Enter: Anyone can enter their personal Mindscape through dreams. Mages can easily enter through direct Astral Projection, merely by concentrating and “thinking deeper.” Alternately, a portal can be opened with Spiritus; such portals are much easier to open in places of intellect and/or learning, such as a school or laboratory. Wyrdlings can naturally enter any Mindscape through making a pact with the individual who owns it, but entering the Collective Unconscious can only be reached by Changelings with an appropriate Trait.

The Spirit Wilds

Other Names: The Middle Realm, The Wild Realm, The Primal Wilds, The Ancient World

Description: The Spirit Wilds are a place of nature unfettered by the whims of humanity. It is a place where spirits of nature, often indistinguishable from wild animals, run free from mortal influence. The closest layer of this world reflects the spiritual health of the physical world. Though it is extremely rare for cities or towns to be reflected in the Wild Umbra, the effects of these settlements can be seen in spiritual pollution or bizarre clearings in the woods. Spirits of species long driven from an area (wolves for example), can still thrive in the Wild Umbra for centuries after the last of their kind disappeared in the physical world.

Deeper layers of the Spirit Wilds reflect worlds further and further from a world with humanity. The deepest of these Realms seem untouched by any sentient species and are places of primal truths. Behemoths impossible in the physical world are common there, spirits of the heavens walk the moon-roads of the sky, elemental spirits burn, flow, rumble, and blow through the thick jungles. Storms rage endlessly. It is a place where few mortal creatures can survive for long and abstract thought can get you killed.

Examples of Deeper Places in the Realm: Pangaea (a place of extinct species), The Bygone Realms (a place of dragons, chimera, and other 'mythological' creatures), The Flux (a place of eternally shifting land and predation), The Elemental Realms (i.e. The Firelands, the Deep Earth, etc)

Ways to Enter: Mages can open a portal for themselves and their allies with Spiritus spell, which is much easier to do in the wilderness; or by first entering the Astral Realms with a Scrying spell and then looking for “entrances” in stories of wilderness or in primordial concepts. Wyrdlings cannot usually enter the Wild Umbra without assistance from a Mage, but rumours persist of a rare few with a Trait which allows them entrance. Werewolves and other shapeshifters are rumoured to be able to enter this Umbra without restriction, but this is currently unproven. Even mortals can rarely enter the Wild Umbra in the deepest and wildest places of the world (including a rumoured entrance deep in the Columbiana Valley).

The Underworld

Other Names: The Low Realm, The Dark Realm, Land of the Dead, The Shadowlands, The Afterlife

Description: From the beginning of human history, there has always been references to souls who linger after death. The exact nature of these spirits has never been entirely clear to the living, but their presence has been persistent. Though the eventual fate of the human soul, and the reality of a true afterlife, is still unknown to the living and the lingering dead alike. However, it is known that some spirits linger in either the physical realm or in the Shadowlands.

For most, the first images of the Shadowlands they see is a decayed reflection of the physical world. This first layer is a place that appears nearly identical to the world of the living, only empty of life and riddled with decay. Buildings are collapsed, fields lay empty, whole forests full of dead trees, and cold winds blow slowly through a barren landscape devoid of any warmth or life. Spirits of the recently dead, usually those who departed life within the last century, haunt this part of the Umbra and sometimes find avenues through the Spirit Wall to haunt the living. Why these souls linger varies with each individual, but they all have some form of unfinished business which keeps them bound to the lands of the living.

Though rare, some spirits linger much longer after their death and have nothing remaining to keep them tethered to the lands of the living. Cast adrift, these souls wander deeper into the Underworld and into the realms beyond. Some of these realms bear a passing resemblance to the afterlives of mortal religions, but always ring hollow. Heavens lack bliss, hells lack penance, and Limbo seeps into all. Other spirits defiantly seek to forge a new 'life' amongst the dead, building cities on the shores of Oblivion and defying the Abyss from their new Necropoli. Are there deeper places, lost in the decay of Oblivion? Maybe. One fact always holds true: the deeper one travels into the Underworld, the fewer have ever returned.

Examples of Deeper Places in the Realm: Reflections of various Heavens and Hells of every imaginable kind, Various Necropoli (examples: The Jade Empire, Shangri-La, Nyx, Gotham), The Labyrinth, The Maw of Oblivion

Ways to Enter: Most people catch fleeting glimpses of the Shadowlands intermittently throughout their lives, but mortals can almost never reach this realm without aid (at least, while alive). Mages can open portals for themselves and their allies with a Spiritus spell, or by casting themselves into the Astral Reaches and symbolically “dying” or finding a place reflecting the concept of “death.” Most Wyrdlings are unaware of the Shadowlands, but some few possess Traits which allow them to contact or even visit the Shadowlands.

Other Places

Though the various Realms are, by far, the most common places for those who would explore outside of the physical realms, they are far from the only places. What follows are the rare few places outside of the physical and spiritual realms that are known to those within the Valley.

The Hedge

Other Names: Arcadia, Faerieland, Tir Na Nog, Countless others

Description: The Realm of the Gentry is something... else. It is connected to this world, but is still somehow outside of reality's rules. The border-marches between the two realms is often referred to as the Maze, and refers to the strange realm that has cropped up between the two. It is a place where the laws of the mortal world are weak, but the laws of Arcadia don't have total control. It is a world of half-truths and half-measures. Things impossible in reality can stand comfortably alongside mortals and both survive equally well. Unfortunately, the Maze is dangerous. It leaves mortals exposed to strange threats and even mortal magic is weaker there, leaving them ripe for capture by the beings native to Arcadia.

Arcadia itself is a place where the rules and truths of reality are as fluid as water. The Faerie Lord who hold power in a given territory set the rules and can change them on a whim, leaving even the most powerful and talented of mortals at a tremendous disadvantage. Only a fool would enter of their own free will, and those taken against their will are always forever changed by the experience.

Deeper Places in the Realm: There are as many different realms in Arcadia as there are Gentry, maybe more. Rumours persist, of an “Elder Kingdom” in the heart of Arcadia, ruled over by the “Elder One” to which all Gentry owe their loyalty. None who have chosen to explore the furthest reaches of Arcadia have ever returned.

Ways to Enter: No one knows how many or how many there are, but there are “Gaps” in reality which lead to the Maze. Most of these Gaps can be located by looking for traditional signs of the "Fae;" e.g. Fairy Rings, African Ghost Circles, Menehune Lagoons, and other similar phenomena (most of which are in isolated areas far from human settlements). Through these Gaps, those who wish to do so can reach the Hedge and Arcadia beyond, but the road can go both ways. Some say they have been able to open new Gaps with magic, and imply they were also able to close it afterward, but if true none have ever explained how...

The Eternal City

Other Names: The Living City, The Endless City, Infinopolis, 416c6c2057696c6c204265204f6e65

Description: An endless city, which spreads as far as the eye can see and much further beyond. Some say that the city encompasses a world equal in size to our own. Others say that it is much, much larger than that. Regardless of the truth, the city is massive on a scale difficult to comprehend. What’s more, the geometry of the city is constantly shifting and appears to operate independent of what humanity considers “normal” or even “possible,” which makes navigating the city in any reliable or repeatable fashion nearly impossible.

Deeper Realms: There is no deeper realm, only more of the city’s sprawl.

Ways to Enter: No reliable method is known, but various anomalies and locations have been known to open into the Eternal City. Such places and occurrences are far more common in urban areas, but even small towns have been known to have “disappearances” which can be traced to the City. Those who seek the City seem to always find it, eventually. The problem is, due to the odd nature of geometry and physics in the City itself, most who seek the City never return…

The Outer Realms

Other Names: The Realm Outside, Lair of the Elder Ones, The Great Black

Description: A place of Unreality, the Outer Realms are mostly unknown to those of this world. What little is known is more defined by what these bizarre realms are not and not by what they are. Scattered within this place of Nothing, there are pockets which contain whole other Universes. Some are deceptively similar to this world. Others defy explanation.

Deeper Realms: Countless realms of all kinds and descriptions

Ways to Enter: No reliable method is known, but rumours persist of impossibly complex and powerful rituals that are capable of opening gateways. If these rumours are true, those who know of these secret rituals keep them carefully hidden away...
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