Hitchhiker's Guide to the Planes
“The party stared at the area around them. It was a space with no time in a time outside of anything on earth. The lavender-colored mist swirled around their feet as they walked through the vast realm. If you could call it walking. Their feet found purchase on solid ground that didn’t exist. They noticed they weren’t even moving forward; ambient fauna seemed to move backward around them. Far off to the left they could see where the plane of water spilled endlessly into the outer reaches of the plane of fire. Lava hardened and fell through the flames to the plane of earth below as the steam rose up and joined the vast expanse of the plane of air.
Continuing on, they eventually heard the sound of a hammer striking an anvil, rhythmically, methodically. The purplish mist turned red as it picked up the light from the glowing embers of the forge before them. And there, standing taller than even the half-orc, was Baldur, pounding away on a piece of metal. The sparks flew every which way, flying off into eternity. As Miriam watched the sparks travel off into the distance, she saw it: the earth itself was hovering in the ocean of mist, briefly lit as each of the sparks crossed its horizons, almost like little…
A tear flowed down Miriam’s cheek as she remembered standing in the cornfield with her father, staring at the night sky. The moon stood proud against the black tapestry as one by one the shooting stars broke the serenity. 8-year-old Miriam whispered to herself, ‘I wish I can travel up there when I’m older!’”
Astral projection is commonly misunderstood to be a variation of its earlier counterpart, plane shift. However, the two are born of entirely different magic. Astral projection is not a teleportation; it is a transcendence. The astral plane intertwines with the Weave, making this particular plane much more dangerous. Those teleported to the astral plane are subject to the winds of chaos and energy that make up the realm. Such exposure can often drive even the strongest of adventurers to madness. Astral projection sheds the material body, allowing the subjects to travel freely about the plane with almost no fear or harm.
There are two major requirements needed to cast astral projection. First: experience. A cleric who has served his or her deity through many challenges, devoutly staying the course and spreading the holy word has in turn imbued themselves with their own limited holiness. They can channel this inner spirit to bring themselves and their allies on a spiritual journey to the astral plane. Powerful wizards and warlocks have also been able to replicate this phenomenon, though their travel is more defined by a deep understanding of the magic in the world. A wizard with years of study can learn to replicate the same magical flow of energy a cleric uses to cast this spell, and warlocks tend to make it work purely through the strength of their desire to shape the Weave.
Second: sacrifice. The key difference between astral projection and plane shift is that the former is a spell based in necromancy. It is important to note that this is not the same evil necromancy that causes the dead to awaken from their sleep and murder in the night, but nevertheless the spell requires its subjects to be willing to separate their souls from their material bodies.
Casting astral projection requires an hour of concentration from both the caster as well as all who travel with them. Those who are travelling must be within 10 feet of the caster, usually sitting down in a circle as the caster moves around in the center, weaving the magic together with the material components. The first part of the casting requires the participants to loosen their grasp on their material body. The caster may often request the participants hum a repeated, low tone such as “Hmm” or “Ohm”. This technique, taken from traditional monk meditation, allows the participants to relax in such a way that they are more susceptible to the magical energy around them, even if they do not enter a full trance. The caster begins imbuing each person with the appropriate preparatory magic charge for the second part of the casting.
After all participants are settled, the caster produces a silver bar for each. These bars must be prepared by etching ornate runes into the surface, either of arcane or highly religious nature. The carving of these runes must be done with the touch of magic, so a regular silversmith is unable to carve these bars without help from the caster or magical instruments. This specialty can cost significantly more time and/or money in preparation. As the caster begins weaving magic around these bars, the runes on each light up and fade, leaving the metal glowing hot. The magic bends the metal into long strands which fly towards each participant, entering their bodies through the mouth or nose. This experience can be very unsettling for first time casters and participants. The metal feels like it burns, but it does not actually cause physical harm. As the silver enters the body it joins with the flesh, and long, silvery, immaterial wisps begin to grow from between the shoulder blades of each participant. These serve as the anchors of the soul to the material world, allowing it to return safely.
Finally, the caster produces a jacinth worth at least 1000 gold for each of them, including himself. The jacinth serves as a vessel for a soul. The caster places a jacinth on the head of each individual, one by one, as he pulls the soul from the body into the gem. Gems of lesser value contain impurities that immediately cause the spell to fail, sometimes to disastrous results. While a valuable gem in the 700-900 gold range may have one or two minor flaws or be too small to adequately contain a soul, cheaper gems may shatter trying to hold the spiritual and magical energy, resulting in the instantaneous death of that participant. However, upon successful separation with the body, the gem floats upward. The silvery wisp produced in the second stage wraps around the gem before it turns to vapor and eventually disappears. The participants then find themselves in a random location on the astral plane, connected to their bodies below by the silver thread that also protrudes from between their shoulders in this form.
“You who are so great, so powerful,
that who seeks grace without recourse to you
would have his wish fly upward without wings.
O grace abounding and allowing me to dare
to fix my gaze on the Eternal Light,
so deep my vision was consumed in it!”
- Dante Alighieri, Cleric of Pelor