Part 8: Cosmology & Religions
This was addressed in the Introductory preface, but given this chapter’s contents I feel it’s good to bring up. There are some spells that don’t exist in the Beast World, and several of them are due to both setting conceits and the cosmological framework: awaken, create or destroy water, fabricate, gate, goodberry, guidance, plane shift, raise dead, regenerate, reincarnate, remove curse, resurrection, teleport, teleportation circle, true resurrection, and word of recall. Additionally, spells and abilities that make mention of the core transitive planes (Astral, Ethereal, Shadowfell) instead refer to the Astral Sea. Several of these spell restrictions help encourage the “free-roaming wagon train to the Dungeon” feel of exploration, such as getting rid of teleportation and water/food creation, while the removal of resurrection magic is designed to keep what happens after death a great unknowable.
We covered the known lands of the Beast World in our prior chapters, but what of realities beyond? The setting has its own unique cosmology along with some common laws of reality. We first start out with a more in-depth distinction between quiet-minded and willful creatures: while the major dividing line is intelligence, what makes a creature willful is its ability to be aware of its own identity and what it represents, where it distinguishes itself from others for no other reason than its uniqueness. Additionally, the ability to build observations and thoughts beyond instinct and stimuli are important, such as moral frameworks for living. The ability to change and grow from such observations is also an important aspect of willfulness; while certain creatures may be intelligent, if their natures are locked into an innate mindset or programming then they cannot be willful.
Worlds of reality are usually made up of three forces: Nature is the physical foundation, and Arcana is the “mind” that is the foundation of magic. Divinity takes the form of gods, who are personifications of concepts imagined by willful creatures. Curiously, gods are not willful creatures: they cannot transform or grow, as they see the world in terms of their portfolio and thus can only take actions in line with influencing that aspect. All forms of magic interface with these three forces in some way or another. Natural magic wielded by druids and rangers calls upon the automatic decisions of reality to make Nature express itself, arcane magic takes advantages of Nature’s loopholes by debating Arcana itself to make it “correct the discrepancy” in reality, and the god-given spells of clerics and paladins are derived from a relationship with a deity. Warlocks are considered a special category of their own, their patrons being powerful creatures whose nature and personalities can change over time. This separates them from gods, as they’re believed to be willful. The elemental forces of air, earth, fire, and water are present in all three forces, not pulled from separate elemental planes but from the elements already existing in a world.
There are also different kinds of worlds, which drift aloft in the spacelike Astral Sea connecting them all together through an infinite void. The Absolute Veil is an analogy for extraplanar travel, where one passes through gaps in the fabric to enter other worlds. Material worlds are the most complex of worlds, and include the Beast World, Ancestral Homeland, and the Broken World.* Material worlds have the three forces, although the Broken World’s Arcana has been drained.* Thus, they are the only worlds that can create willful creatures. A solved world is one where reality has settled into a final state that cannot be altered by willful creatures; existing willful creatures lose the ability to procreate, which in turn causes deities to starve or leave. Solved words come about from the actions of willful creatures, and can range from intelligent life being exterminated to destroying the fundamental building blocks of Nature which thus becomes unable to enforce its own rules. The Ancestral Homelands is an example of a Solved world.
*I presume that this is either an error or the Broken World being used as an example was it as a former Material World, for the book also mentions that it contains no Arcana.
Manifested worlds are realities, usually small, created by the hands of others, such as an extradimensional spell made by a spellcaster or a god’s personal retreat. The Dreaming is a Manifested world, created by the thoughts of sleeping creatures. Finally, Coterminous worlds aren’t a category of their own but explain a world that overlaps another on an identical basis. The Netherworld is coterminous with the Beast World, being akin to the Ethereal Plane of core D&D in this regard.
What happens to the souls of those who die is unknown, deities are unwilling to provide any information on the subject, and resurrection magic is virtually unknown. The devotees of Pirhoua teach that the dead live with her in a court of the afterlife, but beyond that there’s a multitude of belief systems with their own answers.
We have d100 tables for spellcasting on other worlds, as non-Material worlds and distance from deities may have side effects. For instance, the Broken World lacks any Arcana at all, and arcane casters must roll on a table with random effects whenever they cast a spell. Spellcasters who gain their magic from a deity require their god to reach through the Absolute Veil, which can have random effects every time they prepare their spells on a long rest. Nature magic is enhanced in the Dreaming, has a chance of not restoring expended spell slots in the Ancestral Homeland, and cannot be regained at all in the Broken World. Finally, warlocks are immune to such randomness, for their patrons aren’t tied to the makeup of a particular world.
The Broken World
is the homeland of the Brethren, whose reality began to gradually crumble for unknown reasons. The laws of physics seem to change with little rhyme or reason between regions, resulting in weird landscapes such as the horizon being a jagged line rather than a flat expanse, unbreathable atmospheres, the passage of time being slower or faster than normal, and so on. Travel to the Broken World can be accomplished via a Crossworld Well, a 4th-level magic ritual which acts as the catalyst for a portal requiring a variety of ingredients. There’s even an in-universe ingredient and instructions list for how to cast the spell. Furthermore, a magical suit known as bubble armor is used to safely travel without being exposed to the plane’s effects, creating a magical bubble around the wearer’s head. The bubbles are of limited duration, requiring fuel that is worth 200 gold pieces per 10 minutes of function, and explorers often make use of neckwear that casts the banishment spell on the wearer via command word.
The Broken World itself is virtually lifeless, and so far no explorers have found any concrete animal life save for large shadows moving across the horizon. The environment is deadly enough, being best summed up as a Deck of Many Things but for an entire plane of existence. There’s a new condition known as Exposed that affects those who don’t have an item or effect that explicitly protects against it. We have twelve d6 tables that determine the current natural laws of a region, and they’re quite creative. The Nature of Flora may fill a region with immobilizing choking green spores harmful to exposed creatures, the Nature of Space may turn reality into a two-dimensional plane that grants inhabitants blindsight, the Nature of Sound may cause echoes to be eternal and any instance of thunder damage is repeated ad infinitum in the same space every round, and unique Other Natural Laws may make it so that all creatures and objects are super-fragile with 1 hit point. The book notes that the Broken World is quite dangerous, in that it makes death and fates just as bad to be likely scenarios, reflecting the fact that the characters don’t belong here.
The Astral Sea
is the metaplane connecting the known worlds of the setting. And every space in the Beast World has a corresponding location albeit there’s no guarantee that they’ll be the same size. Inhabitants move through the Astral Sea via mentally focusing on a point of reference and “fly” to the point. The Sea is made up of an immaterial substance known as Astra which can be shaped into virtually any material with enough mental discipline in a process known as astralcrafting.
Bats are native inhabitants of the Astral Sea, who made contact with the Beast World last year, and they make use of astralcrafting to build mazelike cities with lighthouses to serve as flying waypoints. As astra can also be turned into edible substances, so bats and other inhabitants do not have to worry about starving to death. Astra’s major limit is that it can only exist in the Astral Sea, so objects made out of it fade when taken to another plane of existence. We have two pages of rules for Astralcrafting too, covering what kinds of items and structures you can make from it as well as their game mechanics (hit point, AC, duration, etc) when relevant.
The Ancestral Homeland
is a Solved World and the birthplace of dragons and kobolds. Reality is made up of disc-shaped regions each ruled over by a single dragon who determines the physical functions of their region. Long ago dragonkind altered the laws of their reality to have perfect control over their domains at the cost of being able to travel outside their home domains. This turned the Ancestral Homeland into a Solved world, the dragons becoming prisoner-kings of their own lands. The surviving dragons are incredibly powerful, with even the youngest among them were elderly wyrms before the creation of the Beast World. There were wyrms who for various reasons found this alteration to be a mistake or not to their liking, and escaped in time before the world was completely solved. After sailing the Astral Sea for an unknown length of time, they found themselves in the Beast World. The dragon refugees were allowed to settle by the gods in exchange for having limits placed on their power. As they could reproduce and ensure worthy inheritors of their greatness, this was a worthy trade-off.
As for the dragons still in the Ancestral Homeland, they too desired a means of creating progeny, and via contact with each other at the edges of their circles they engaged in a ritual to find a temporary loophole and create willful life from nothing. This was half-successful: they created kobolds, who weren’t willful but capable of moving beyond their parent dragons’ regions, swelling to tens of trillions and burrowing massive hive-tunnels through the realms. When gathered in large enough numbers kobolds could act with machine-like precision, entering something akin to a hive-mind like trance which effectively works as a growing intellect for the purposes of working together. Those kobolds who managed to find their way to the Beast World had a rare few become willful, gaining names and languages.
is a reality that exists at the behest of sleeping creatures in the Beast World, shaped by magic into a mental landscape of individual dreams being less like locations and more akin to collections of memories and emotions. Its permanent inhabitants are the Seelie Court, the slumbering gods of an old solved world, whose resting place is a city that appears in every dream in the Beast World. Although it is often in the distance and can take different forms and shapes, the Seelie Court is as much a fact of life as the sky being blue. Travel to the Dreaming can be accomplished via the Daisy Walk, a 2nd level spell that has the caster fall asleep into a lucid dream where they enter the dream of another creature. Casting the spell at higher levels grants more benefits, such as letting other targets enter the lucid dream state with the caster or the ability to obscure oneself from the memories of the target dreamer.
is a Coterminous world, a pale mirror to the Beast World. Its objects are hazy and dull, and sounds are slower and distorted. The Netherworld is inhabited by ghosts, who aren’t the spirits of the departed but rather copies of willful creatures, often coming into existence from strong emotions or persistent repetition of an activity or concept that “solidifies” the ghosts into the Netherworld.
Ghosts are a vital resource in the Beast World, as simply being aware of their presence gives them more cohesion to continue existing, and thus ghosts crave attention like living creatures crave sustenance. While ghosts can appear as faithful copies of people, they rarely have the memories and talents of their creator in the Beast World. Magic items are created by finding its counterpart in the Netherworld and convincing a ghost to inhabit it via a Covenant Forge, allowing the ghost to become one with it and thus gaining a prolonged existence. The forge user and ghost often negotiate contracts, and those who specialize in communicating with ghosts are known as witches. We also get a new magic item, the Netherworld Intrusion Ritual Kit, that allows the user to create a double-image of themselves into the Netherworld.
is our final section of Chapter 8, providing us with 8 gods of the Beast World. We start things off with an in-universe text on how the Beast World came to be: Varasta found a new world whose only inhabitants, the Seelie, were weak and slumbering. Seeking to find a fun new place for mischief, he manipulated his fellow deities into transforming the world into a living reborn one with willful creatures. They all found something of interest in this world, and Pirhoua made a deal with the Seelie to uplift the quiet-minded beasts into willful creatures, with the promise that she’d teach one of the uplifted species about the Seelie (the Jackals) and who would then have a role in helping shape the world. Veronette, Pirhoua’s spiteful sister, and Aubade, her head-strong brother, grew jealous of her and threatened to destroy the world if they didn’t have a place at the table. Varasta managed to quell their threats with a wager, where each would attempt to win over the newly-created Beasts with their own ways, and Dramphine and Yttrus would act as impartial judges. And thus, the various gods of the Beast World continued to play this cosmic game, and Varasta now had a whole new world of possibilities in which to have fun.
One thing to note about the gods of the Beast World is that they have no listed alignments or domains. Instead, the text outlines their dogma and nature. That being said, the text all but says that Pirhoua is Good-aligned, Dramphine is Lawful Good, Veronette is Evil-aligned, and Varasta is almost certainly Chaotic. Not all gods necessarily have clerics, either: the majority of Dramphine’s worshipers are paladins, and that class is closer to classic D&D where the only allowed alignment is Lawful Good. The Ghost God only deals with Warlocks, and anyone practicing necromancy of the undead-making kind has to make a deal with Veronette in order to master those forbidden arts. The Seelie can make warlock pacts with Jackals, their dreaming state somehow granting them both the benefits of godhood and patronage.
Pirhoua, the Beast Mother
is the most popular deity in the Beast World, commonly appearing as a bovine woman. She encourages virtues of cooperation, mercy, and forgiveness as the best paths to making a better world. They aren’t necessarily pacifists, although the “vanquishing evil” aspect of holiness is better known among Dramphine’s followers.
Dramphine, the Moon Wolf
is the goddess of justice, the moon, and destroying supernatural evils. If Pirhouans knit wounded flesh together, than Dramphinians are the scalpels that excise tumors. It is said that the moon is Dramphine carrying a lantern as she travels the night, and like Pirhoua she too has Three Divine Charges. The first charge is the eradication of Unnature, their term for demons and undead and a manifestation of Veronette’s corruption of the Arcana. The second charge is to act as judges of mortal deeds, and paladins have jurisdiction to act as law enforcement in every land in the Beast World save Oric. The third charge is one of just rebellion, where the Moon Wolf permits her paladins to intervene, by force if necessary, against systemic injustices and tyrants who abuse their oaths of protection against their citizenry.
Aubade, the Sun Bull
is the god of the sun, holding sway over various passions from art to violence. The sun is said to be his watchful eye looking down upon mortals, and in lieu of Divine Charges he encourages his faithful to find their own inner lights. Thus his only universal commandment is to live life to the fullest, and a mental state known as Sunblood occurs among his worshipers in their most extreme emotional states. While many have used Aubade’s example to good ends, there are those who used his teachings to indulge in violent and selfish ends, who are responsible for giving the Sun Bull a reputation as a god of slaughter.
Yttrus, the Knowing Mouse
is the genderless deity of knowledge, whose achieved omniscience has given them a dispassionate view of reality for they know where all paths lead. While they are revered by the scholarly-inclined, there are only a few dozen “true Yttrusians” who dedicate themselves to understanding the god. First, one must dedicate years of study to different academic practices, calculating cosmic forces into a final data point through which Yttrus is understood. The Knowing Mouse’s only active duty is to act as a Guardian of time, where mages who try to alter the fundamental flow of time are given a warning in the form of an explosive sound that harms their mind. Further violations see the perpetrator hunted by Yttrus’ sphinx and mummy agents. Mummies are the sole undead who Veronette doesn’t hold sway over, instead being Yttrusian wizards made immortal.
The Seelie, the Dreaming Court
were the gods of the world that existed before the Beast World. They live within the Seelie Court of the Dreaming, eternally asleep and whose minds reach out to the jackals who serve their will. Other species can also worship them, although thus far only the jackals have been permitted into their Court. The Seelie have three Divine Charges: the first is that the Jackals are their chosen people, the second is to preserve the legacy of the world that came before in hidden places and treasured texts throughout the Beast World, and the third is to act only until the correct response is as clear as possible.
Veronette, the Spiteful Sister
is the quintessential evil deity of the Beast World’s pantheon. She does not wish to rule the world, only to watch it burn and tear down everything Pirhoua built. Those who worship her are the types who are consumed by hate and the desire for harm, or the misguided belief that they can use her power for a better end. She spread the art of necromancy to such doomed souls, and mindless undead who aren’t kept in control inevitably harm others due to Veronette effectively giving them permission to destroy their creators. Sentient undead lose their free will, becoming little more than puppets of the wicked goddess.
Varasta, Handsome Idiot Dice Fox
is perhaps the closest a deity can get to becoming a willful creature, for his portfolio of chaos allows him a wide domain of influence. He often takes the form of a tradewind vulpine in the Beast World, and unlike the other gods he can visit mortals and mingle among them, having a fondness for making various kinds of bets as a sort of cosmic bookkeeper. His three Divine Charges aren’t really edicts of conduct so much as explanations for his own behavior, where his only real edict has him act as someone earnestly willing to hear and negotiate the terms of any bet or contract. He becomes a deity of nature every day after 2 AM, representing the chaos of the wilderness and venerated by many (but not all) druids. Varasta holds in his breast pocket an envelope recording the odds of the bet between the sibling deities, and if any mortal were to read it it would collectively unravel the minds of every willful Beast. Sometimes he’s lost the envelope, but thankfully he managed to recover it each time.
The Ghost God
is like the Seelie in being a collection of deities rather than a single entity. In this case, they are the remaining memories of the gods of the Broken World, unable to save their reality and died in the wake of its gradual unmaking. Living on as the will of a pantheon to survive, the Ghost God forges a bond with warlocks in the Beast World. Its three Divine Charges are to remember the Broken World and to spread the god’s name, to scavenge the Broken World for whatever can be found and saved, and to use objects from the Broken World as a means of continuing the memory.
The other deities have mixed feelings about the Ghost God. Pirhoua pities it and helps it to continue existing, Dramphine recognizes that it is not undead and tolerates it, Yttrus has no strong opinion like with everything else, while Varasta and Aubade are creeped out by it. Only Veronette truly hates the Ghost God due to Pirhoua being friendly with it.
Thoughts So Far:
I like how the cosmology is both detailed and different enough from core D&D while also feeling internally consistent with its own self-imposed rules. The explanation of willful creatures is a good means of determining sapience and the capability for change, and also explains why a seemingly intelligent construct or Dungeon monster isn’t actually “willful.” Additionally, it explains why deities care about mortal followers, given that their loss will fundamentally break the Divinity pillar of many worlds.
When it comes to the planes of existence, my favorites are the Broken World and Ancestral Homelands in terms of themes and being interesting places for PCs to explore. The Astral Sea, Dreaming, and Netherworld feel rather barren in comparison, with the Netherworld being less a place and more an explanation of how magic items are created and powered in the Beast World. That being said, I feel that travel in the Broken World is too expensive. While meant to have a feel of unreachability, the bubble armor’s fuel source could be knocked down a peg or two: for a party of four to stay in the Broken World for an hour, they would need 4,800 gold pieces worth of fuel before they risk exposure.
The deities work in being a rather tightly-themed pantheon whose history and workings are bound up in the setting. I do like the fact that they aren’t just for clerics and can empower worshipers in various ways, and their portfolios cover a broad range of concepts for most characters. Dramphine and Aubade cover the warrior aspects, Pirhoua your mercy/life “goodly good” faith, Yttrus and Varasta cover knowledge and trickery (and nature), and Veronette serves as your all-purpose evil/forbidden magic deity. I can see just about every official Cleric domain fitting under one of them in some way. As for weak points, the lack of certain spells in the Beast World means that certain classes will need to have bonus spells swapped out. In particular, Raise Dead for the Grave and Life domains and Fabricate for the Forge domain come to mind. Additionally, paladins being Lawful Good is a bit of a subjective taste, as 5th Edition explicitly attempted to decouple the class (and by extension the rest of the game) from alignment.
Join us next time as we meet the setting’s power players in Chapter 9: Factions of the Beast World!