This is the larger setting of “Shadow Vale”. A future post may drill down into Shadow Vale itself.
The Three Realms
It’s not certain whether the Three Realms, a.k.a. “Otherworld” is a Corporeal World, a Demiplane, or something else entirely.
While it appears to be a single contiguous albeit dimension-defying planet, it in reality consists of three distinct worlds: the Supernal Realm, the Shadow Vale, and the Infernal Realm.
The Supernal Realm
Inside the Outer Wall lies a lush, rolling land of forests and farms. Most Supernals – the inhabitants of this realm – lead a bucolic life. Only a few Supernals pass the trials that permit them to serve the Paragons, godlike masters of this realm, and the Tetrarchs, its creators. Despite the seemingly endless landscape, inhabitants always have two landmarks: the dark Outer Wall always visible around the edge, and the shining Citadel of the Tetrarchs at the center protected by the transparent Inner Wall.
The Shadow Vale
Outside the Outer Wall lies a barren world of gray dust, high mountains, and deep fissures. A wan light shines from above the Outer Wall, leaving most valleys in perpetual shadow. The so-called Shadowlanders eke out a living here, as do strange beasts, horrific monsters, and the enigmatic Goblins.
While Shadowlanders don’t need to eat nearly as often as mortals, they do need food to fuel sudden bursts of energy and natural healing. For this they rely on farm towns.
Each farm town has high walls, an inaccessible location, and other defenses against raiders and monsters. Food tends to be the same crops: some type of fungus, a hardy cactus-like plant, a few smaller weeds for flavor.
The headman of the farmtown is usually chosen by the other farmers. Few Shadowlanders will put up with coercion for long.
Goblin markets pop up wherever and whenever the Goblins decide to put them. Word quickly spreads, and Goblins do a brisk business in weapons and other alien goods, including spices for those bland meals. When the Goblins run out of goods to sell, they close up shop and disappear again.
To trade ordinary goods for orichalcum or other goods and services Shadowlanders rely on trading towns. Like Farm Towns trading towns have walls and other defenses against raiders and monsters, but unlike farm towns trading towns contain a dense maze of stalls, shops, warehouses, inns, private residences, and other establishments too disreputable to mention.
The richest people of a trading town appoint themselves mayor and city council, then pay people to enforce their word as law. What matters in a trading town is not what’s right or wrong but what’s good or bad for business.
In the wastelands of the Shadow Vale one sometimes – often – runs into ruins that according to the official history of the Three Realms shouldn’t exist. Shadowlanders explore them regardless, and try not to get killed.
The Infernal Realm
At the edge1 of the Shadow Vale, surrounded by the Three Watchers, is the Dark Gate to the Infernal Realm. A pit extends down into the darkness, and the Infernals live along the spiral staircase leading down or in alcoves cut into the walls. At the bottom is an endless Void, over which a cage hangs: the inescapable prison of the Adversary, god-emperor of this benighted realm. The Supernals say the Infernals rebelled against the Tetrarchs and Paragons at the dawn of time, and for that crime they remain eternally imprisoned. What the Infernals say is, apparently, unimportant.
In addition to the primary realms are a few others.
The Numinous Realm
While the Tetrarchs and Paragons are immortal, lesser Supernals can die. Those who die in the Supernal Realm achieve “apotheosis” and become ancestor spirits in the Numinous Realm. The Numinous Realm is also home to guardian spirits of the wilderness. When the living need a spirit’s wisdom or intercession, a ritual can make them manifest for a brief time.
The Mental Plane
The Mental Plane connects all minds in the Realms, much like the Psychic Plane connects all minds in the Multiverse. It connects all Otherworlders in the Three (Plus One) Realms. Non-natives can use their existing psychic powers with or on each other but not with / against natives.
The Outer Wall
Notionally, the Outer Wall separates the Supernal Realm from Shadow Vale. However, nothing apart from the light of the Supernal Realm comes over the Outer Wall. In particular nobody has ever flown over the Outer Wall, and the only way to the other side is through a Portal. So there’s no way to tell whether the Outer Wall of the Supernal Realm is the “Outer Wall” in the Shadow Vale.
Portal Space is the only physical way in or out of the Three Realms. It appears as a short black tunnel between two endpoints which resemble a Roman arch in the nearest vertical surface. Portals fall into the following categories.
A High Portal opens only for a Tetrarch, a Paragon, or an outside Visitor issued a talisman called a “Citadel Key”. (Only the intended recipient can use the Key.) It opens directly onto a reception room. Citadel Guards keep Visitors in the room until a Supernal escorts them inside … or throws them out. Visitors travel to the Supernal Realm to establish diplomatic contact, and overzealous guards have occasionally scuttled said contacts.
A Low Portal opens only for a Tetrarch, a Paragon, or a Supernal with a Travel Pass issued by a Paragon or authorized magistrate. (Only the intended recipient can use the Travel Pass.) It connects the Outer Wall in the Supernal Realm and a Corporeal World. A travel pass expires on their return to the Supernal Realm.
A Pilgrim’s Portal opens for a Pilgrim, a mortal chosen by a Paragon to live in the Supernal Realm. (Some Corporeal Worlds worship Paragons as gods.) It connects to the Outer Wall in the Supernal Realm. While a Pilgrim remains in the Three Realms they are transfigured into a Supernal body. When (or if) they return to their starting point they regain their original body.
Outer Wall Portals
An Outer Wall Portal opens only for a Tetrarch, a Paragon, an authorized Wall Guard with their Truncheon of Office, or a Supernal with a Travel Pass from a magistrate or Paragon. (Only the intended recipient can use a Travel Pass or Truncheon.) It connects the Outer Wall in the Supernal Realm to the Outer Wall in the Shadow Vale on those rare occasions Supernals take an interest. Unauthorized individuals who attempt to enter an open Outer Portal hit an invisible wall.
A Goblin Portal opens wherever a Goblin puts it for whoever walks through. It connects a specific place in a Corporeal Realm to a hidden spot in the Shadow Vale, sometimes with a stop in the Labyrinth, the Goblins’ home. The Citadel maintains that Goblins could not have hijacked Portal Space, therefore Goblin Portals do not exist, therefore no Goblins can appear in the Shadow Vale. The existence of Goblins in Shadow Vale is irrelevant.
Connections to the Multiverse
Three Realms connects to the larger Multiverse in the following ways:
The Void Between Worlds: There’s some evidence that the Void at the bottom of the Infernal Realm is the Void Between Worlds. Apparently no Infernal has braved the Void to find out.
Corporeal Worlds: The only physical way into the Three Realms is Portal Space. Portals in a Corporeal World open wherever and whenever a Diplomat or returning Pilgrim previously entered a portal, an ordinary Supernal uses his Travel Pass, or a Paragon or Goblin decides they do.
Astral Plane: There’s some evidence that Ancestors can travel the Astral Plane, but no Astral Traveler has ever entered the Numinous Realm.
The Psychic Plane: Whether the Mental Plane connects to the multiversal Psychic Plane is an open question; no psychic as yet has reached out of Three Realms to the Astral Plane or a Corporeal Plane.
Peoples of the Three Realms
Excluding Supernal animals, Shadow Vale monsters, incorporeal spirits, and whatever else lives in the Infernal Realm, the inhabitants of the Three Realms fall into the following categories.
The four rulers of the Supernal Realm allegedly built the realm after their war with the Infernal Realm, as a haven of peace for their loyal followers. They outrank and outclass the Paragons in every way.
Unlike the other humanoid species in the Three Realms, but like the Watchers who silently guard the Dark Gate, all four Tetrarchs have four eyes, no hair, no clear gender, and noseless, alien-looking faces. No one dares ask them why.
The four Tetrarchs are:
- “The Mightiest”, a muscular magenta titan almost 290 cm tall, notionally commands Supernal defenses but often goes monster hunting in the Shadow Vale.
- “The Craftiest”, a gold-skinned lean titan about 275 cm tall, steers the Supernal bureaucracy. They also run the internal and external intelligence services and set up intrigues between departments to foster competition.
- “The Wisest”, a thin, cyan-skinned titan a full 300 cm tall, usually sits in meditation monitoring the Numinous Realm and supernatural threats beyond the understanding of the others.
- “The Eternal”, a large titan with jet-black skin only 260 cm tall but easily the heaviest, manages Supernal support systems, including the Houses of Healing2, the granaries, and the Citadel’s numerous maids and servants. Some say the last role gives them a better intelligence network than the Craftiest’s.
Paragons stand about 2.25 to 2.5 meters tall with perfect human proportions for a person 1.8 to 2m tall. Their skin tones and hair colors not only run the gamut of “natural” colors of Earth but “unnatural” ones as well. Most have male or female genders but cannot reproduce. According to rumor the Paragons were once ordinary Supernals uplifted to their current state after the Infernal War. If true, no Supernal has become a Paragon since.
Paragons are immune to all weapons save those made of Skymetal and Darkmetal, two metals unique to Otherworld. Paragons also excel at Otherworld magic, which includes mental contact with any other being in the Otherworld and possibly beyond.
Under the guidance of the Tetrarchs Paragons rule the Supernal Realm. Nearly all have roles in the Supernal Bureacracy; the remainder run the Mightiest’s Defense Forces or aid the Wisest’s metaphysical explorations. None serve the Eternal, as the Eternal’s responsibilities are too plebian for a Paragon.
Supernals stand about 2 meters tall, plus or minus 10%. They have the same rainbow of coloration as the Paragons. Unlike the Paragons, most of them can reproduce; only a hundredth are sexless, the rest evenly split between male and female. Gender usually follows biological sex, but not always.
Supernals take damage from all weapons, although mortal scale weapons harm them less. Supernals seldom die from their wounds unless the weapon is made from Darkmetal or they’re decapitated, cut in half, or thoroughly burned. Even when slain, though, their spirits ascend to the Numinous Realm. All Supernals practice Otherworld magic to a greater or lesser degree.
Supernals perform all the menial tasks of the Realm, including farming, making things, and serving the Paragons.
Pilgrims enter through a Pilgrim’s Portal. On their way through they are granted a Supernal body while their mortal body waits in repose. Pilgrims generally worship the Supernals as gods.
Shadowlanders are physically identical to Supernals but for their scars and other effects of living rough.3 Many Shadowlanders or their progenitors originally came from the Supernal Realm, and were thrown outside the Outer Wall for some offense against the Paragons or Tetrarchs.
One feat Shadowlanders do that Supernals don’t dare to do is shapeshifting: growing out claws, lengthening one’s legs, masquerading as an Earth mortal, or even reshaping oneself into a bipedal form. Shapeshifting trades one disadvantage for another: quadrupeds move faster but can’t use tools, and mortal-sized Shadowlanders blend in on Earth but can’t fight properly with shorter limbs and more compressed muscles.
If slain a Shadowlander may form into a pitiful ghost or malignant wraith, spirits that haunt the Shadow Vale. It’s said that some Supernals try to collect these spirits and lead them to the Numinous Realm, but no experienced Shadowlander believes it.
Shadowlanders eke out a living farming, mining, making necessities, and/or raiding the people who farm, mine, or make things.
Most Infernals should be locked away in the Infernal Realm. They’re not.
Infernals can change shape to mimic any existing corporeal creature or any corporeal creature they can imagine. That said, many Infernals stick to a single grotesque shape that maximizes their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses: brawny but stupid ogres, clever but weaker imps, charming but non-combatant devils, and a few dreaded Dark Lords who seem to have no weaknesses.
Infernals are even harder to kill than Shadowlanders; one must burn all parts of the body or they will return. Also unlike Shadowlanders, a dead Infernal does not form a ghost or wraith, and cannot ascend to the Numinous Realm. They’re simply dead.
Infernals in the Shadow Vale act much like the natives do, only with lots more pillaging, ruin, and domination.
A Visitor is any non-native mortal or immortal being who enters the Otherworld. They break down into the following categories:
Diplomats arrive in the Citadel through a High Portal to establish relations between the Supernal Realm and other worlds. Most get no farther than the Citadel, one way or the other.
Goblins are mortal and fragile creatures from outside the Otherworld. Each stands no more than 1.5 meters tall, and most closer to 1 m. All wear gray environment suits to help them survive the harsh conditions of Shadow Vale and its occasionally percussive inhabitants.
Goblins do a brisk trade in weapons and luxuries within the brutal wasteland of Shadow Vale.
Others come in through a Goblin Portal. Mortals without protection are likely to perish. Even immortals will have a rough time in the Shadow Vale. Who knows why anyone would come through.
Any edge. This would indicate the Three Realms is spherical, with the Dark Portal at the antipodes from the Low Portal, except that the Shadow Vale seems both flat and infinite without a Skyship or portal. ↩︎
The Houses make an Elixir that can heal almost all wounds and replenish energy reserves. It’s very rare and technically illegal in the Shadow Vale. ↩︎
Some authors refer to Supernals and Shadowlanders together as “The Folk”, as they make up over 90% of the two Realms’ known sapient population. Some even claim that Infernals are merely Folk who went too deep into the shapeshifting arts and lost themselves. ↩︎