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 discssed for decades without pause.

So what does this have to do with No Books? Well, simply put, most of the supernatural creatures and specially 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 Umbra

The word simply means "shadow" and it is an appropriate one as the Umbra is the shadowed reflection of the physical world. As such, the various Umbrae are typically the most frequented by the denizens of the Valley because they are the most easiy understood by these travelers. They "reflect" a combination of the physical realm through the lens of the Umbra's purpose (i.e. Astral, Wild, or Dark). Travel within an Umbral reflection can be done in 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 would 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 Umbra, Astral Umbra, Astral Space, Mindscape, Dreaming
Description: The Astral Reaches are a bizarre landscape that 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 reson 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 Umbral Explorer. In fact, the Astral Realm is a place that every sentient being visits most every night through their dreams.
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 the "pocket realm" reflecting the conscious mind of every living (and 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 Umbral Explorers typically arrive 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 Colisseum 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 populted by spirits of wisdom, government buildings populated by spirits of authority or duty (depending on the government), or parks populated by spirits of nature or joy.

The deepest layer is the place called the World Soul, which represents the collective unconscious of everything in reality. 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 entirity 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 borders the furthers 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 reaching out to humanity through the Astral Reaches is a hotly debated subject...

Examples of Deeper Realms: 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 open a portal for themselves or their allies to physically enter through a Spirit 3/Mind 1 spell, a Mind 3 effect through their Mindscape, or a Mind 5 effect through direct Astral Projection. Changelings 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 the appropriate Clause of the Contract of Dreams.
Inspired by: nWoD Mage, nWoD Changeling

The Spirit Wilds
Other Names: The Middle Umbra, The Wild Umbra, The Natural Umbra
Description: The Spirit Wilds are place of nature unfettered by the whims of humanity. It is a place where spirits of nature, often indistinguishable from wild animals, run free of 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 disappeared in the world.
Deeper layers of the Spirit Wilds reflect worlds further and further from a world with humanity. The deepest realms seem untouched by any sentient species and are places of primal truths. Behemoths impossible in the physical world are common, spirits of the heavens walk the moon-roads of the sky, elemental spirits burn and flow and rumble and blow through the thick jungles, and 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 Realms: Pangaea (a place of extinct species), The Bygone Realms (a place of dragons, chimera, and other 'mythical' 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: 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). Mages can open a portal for themselves and their allies with a Spirit 3 effect, a Spirit 4 effect to slip through alone, or a Mind 5/Spirit 1 effect to enter as an intangible spirit. Changelings cannot usually enter the Wild Umbra without assisstance from a Mage, but rumours persist of a Contract of the Wilds which contains a Clause that would enable them to enter. Werewolves and other shapeshifters are rumoured to be able to enter this Umbra without restriction.
Inspired by: oWoD Werewolf

The Underworld
Other Names: The Low Umbra, The Dark Umbra, Land of the Dead, Limbo, The Shadowlands
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 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 is the 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 fallow, whole forests populated by death, 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 to haunt the living. Why these souls linger varies with each individual, but they all have something which keeps them fettered to the lands of the living in the form of some sort of unfinished business.
Though rare, some spirits linger long after their death but 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 resemblence to the afterlives of mortal religions, but always ring hollow. Heavens lack bliss, hells lack penance, and Limbo seeps into all. Other realms defiantly seek to buid a new 'life' amongst the dead, buiding cities on the shoores of Oblivion and shout into the Abyss from these Necropoli. Are there deeper realms, lost in the decay of Oblivion? Maybe. The deeper one travels into the Underworld, the fewer have ever returned.
Examples of Deeper Realms: 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 intermittenly 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 Spirit 3/Death 1 spell. Most Changelings are unaware of the Shadowlands, but some Darklings whisper of Contracts to interact with the dead or even enter their realms.
Inspired by: oWoD Wraith

Other Realms

Though the various Umbrae 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 phyiscal and Umbral 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 bordermarches between the two realms is often referred to as the Hedge, to indicate 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 comfortaby alongside mortals and both survive equally well. Unfortunately, the Hedge is dangerous. It leaves mortals exposed 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 holds power in a given territory sets the rules and can change them on a whim, leaving even the most powerful and talented of mortals at a tremendous disadvantage. Only the foolish would enter of their own free will, and those taken against their will are always forever changed by the experience.
Deeper Realms: There are as many different realms in Arcadia as there are Gentry, maybe more. None who have chosen to explore 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 Hedge. 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 they won't explain how...
Inspired by: nWoD Changeling

The Outer Realms
Other Names: The Realm Outside, Lair of the Elder Ones
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...
Inspired by: Countless sources, but predominantly Lovecraft and comicbook multiverses.
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