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The basis for this system is that there exist a vast range on parallel universes, not parallel in terms of being alternate worlds all branching out from the same source (i.e. alternate histories, although some worlds may be similar to others) but parallel in that they have varying laws of nature and other properties. Within each plane there are three spatial and one temporal axis and physics generally is governed by quantum-mechanical-type effects. These multiple parallel universes are arranged along eight mutually perpendicular axes, which are:
Position on this axis indicates how long a given plane has existed. This affects the complexity of things which have evolved within the plane, as the longer it has existed the more time there will have been for complex life-forms and other structures which may be there to have developed.
It should be noted, however, that time always flows at the same rate in all planes. It is the objective thing between planes, never going faster than an overall level though it can, under some circumstances (for example, relativistic effects) go slower. Time travel is also impossible. All planes move along the Age axis at this constant rate.
This axis governs how large a given plane is. This can be anything from a tiny bubble smaller than an atomic nucleus to a universe trillions of trillions of light years across. Position on this axis also includes an indication of how the boundary at the edge of the universe works - is it a barrier of some kind, or does it wrap back around on itself in some way (this is included in the axis position on either side of a 'zero' point)?
Position on this axis indicates how much of things (matter and energy) there are in a given plane relative to its size, that is, the density of the plane. As this is related to the size of the plane the same absolute quantity of matter and energy will give a lower Vitality in a large plane (where it is more thinly spread) than in a small one. Position on this axis also includes the relative proportions of matter and energy (this is included in the axis position on either side of a 'zero' point).
- PROBABILITY / POPULATION
Position on this axis gives information on how many planes there are with a similar set of properties. That is, the number of planes to be found at or close to any point defined by all of the other seven axes. This is also a measure of how likely a randomly selected plane is to have a given set of characteristics, and how many such planes there are.
In the direction of decreasing probability planes become rarer and rarer, so that it is eventually hard to find lines of connected worlds, which could be a problem for those travelling in some manner that requires a continuous path between worlds. It is possible that there could be 'islands of stability' out beyond the nominal line of zero probability; these would make good hiding places, assuming they could be reached...
A plane's position on this axis indicates how organised and complex physical substance can be in that plane, and so how complex physical life and technology can be there. It also governs how many fundamental particles and elements there are, and the number of ways in which they can combine into molecules.
Note that there are a roughly equal number of planes made out of matter and anti-matter (this is included in the axis position on either side of a 'zero' point where the quantities of each are balanced).
How organised and complex energy can be in a given plane, which also implies how likely energy-based life is to exist in the plane and how complex energy-based technology can be there. It also governs whether anything like magic or psychic powers exist in the plane, along with the likelihood of any beings there possessing a non-physical part to their existence (a spirit or soul) and the existence of some form of life for that non-physical part after physical death. It also implies the number of fundamental forces and how they combine. With a high Energy position it is possible for a plane to have, for example, different types of light (with some things being visible in one, but not in the other), different (positive and negative) forms of gravity, psychic powers, magical powers, darkness as a type of energy, frigories and calories, and so on.
Tolerance governs how much a given plane tolerate the bending or breaking of its laws of nature by outside influences, and how much this bending or breaking generates Violation, a measure of the plane's rejection of the source of the breakage.
Somewhere like the real world has a low Tolerance - the laws of nature can be broken, but only at the quantum level. Some kind of comic-book superhero world will tend to have a very high Tolerance - superhumans break the laws of nature and get away with it all the time. Thus Tolerance is, to some extent at least, an observer-based effect. A high Tolerance implies, perhaps, common macroscopic quantum effects; such effects harnessed by the locals and heavily used might, perhaps, cause Violation or shifting of the plane.
Once the breaking of the laws of a plane goes over the level the plane will Tolerate, the effects of Violation will 'pop' the violator out of the plane and into another. This can lead to their bouncing from plane to plane (perhaps with bad effects on them!) until they reach somewhere that will tolerate them. Or it can simply stop the violating effect; this can also be bad, depending on exactly what that effect is...
Shifts along the Matter and Energy axes, particularly from more to less complex locations, are most likely to cause Violation (as someone may arrive with forms of Matter and Energy which are impossible in that plane; in a plane with a very low Matter complexity even having an atomic structure can cause Violation). However, simple Matter and/or energy is usually a subset of the complex version so that shifts from simple to complex are usually not a cause of Violation. Shifts along the Vitality axis are unlikely to cause Violation unless (for example) one travels to a place whose Vitality is so low that the arrival of the traveller multiplies the amount of mass/energy in the plane by a large amount.
This parameter measures how a plane deals with any Violation it suffers once its Tolerance is exceeded, and how likely it is to be changed or damaged by Violation effects.
- High Stability, High Tolerance planes will allow a great deal of Violation, but this will not affect the fundamental form of the plane, and it will snap back to normal once the source of the Violation leaves.
- Low Stability, High Tolerance planes are easy to cause Violation in, but if it is caused, then it changes the plane in its entirety, usually in unpredictable ways - the Violated part could pinch off into a smaller sub-plane (which takes on the properties of the Violation, and moves through the dimensional axes to an appropriate new position); it could shatter the plane into many sub-planes with different properties; it could cause a 'planar cancer', which converts the entire plane to the type producing the Violation. Both of the latter would cause movement of the affected plane through the lattice of dimensional axes to a new position defined by its new properties.
- Low Stability and Low Tolerance planes are fragile or brittle. If Violation occurs - and it is very easy to cause - any of the Low Stability, High Tolerance effects can occur, and probably with a faster and more violent effect.
- Medium stability planes tend to be affected in line with the amount of Violation. Relatively small levels (compared to its Tolerance) do little; higher levels have large effects.
- Low Stability planes tend to fluctuate about the axes (Matter and Energy at least) as they inevitably change. As they do so, they can split, change size and so on. They can also coincide with, and merge with, other planes, absorbing or being absorbed by them, making them 'viral realities'. Very fragile worlds tend to be destroyed or fragmented very quickly, so they usually do not exist for long. Fragments of fragile worlds will move through the axes to where they best fit, surviving as 'rubble' worlds between large, less fragile worlds. These fragments may be split again and again until they become identical to another world and are absorbed by it (leading perhaps to older or younger 'inclusions' in a world), or may exist as a rubble fragment for ever.
Matter and/or Energy of sufficient complexity almost inevitably give rise to some form of life. Matter-based life generally needs some energy to survive. Energy-based life is more likely to spurn matter entirely. The level of Matter/Energy complexity determines the level of mind that can exist in a given plane.
The Energy from high-level planes can have negative effects on entities whose senses (and bodies!) are adapted to only handle low complexity energy. This can result in burns, dazzling, blindness, hallucinations and so on. And can possibly stopped by some form of protective goggles or suit. Likewise, low Energy light might appear (effectively) monochromatic to high-Energy eyes.
Conversely, high Energy entities used to low Matter environments may also be disrupted or dissipated by resonances with high Matter structures which do not (or can not) exist in their home environments.
There are 'walls' on the Matter, Energy and Tolerance axes, beyond which travellers cannot pass. The Matter and Energy walls are at very high complexity levels, and are, perhaps, a complete quantum shift in how things work which is intolerable and unreachable to entities from 'below' the 'wall'. The Tolerance wall is at high Tolerance where, it seems, the laws of nature become so flexible and breakable as to be meaningless, allowing who knows what? Perhaps the walls between the planes break down, making everything one above the wall (although the overall 'laws' in one place may, on average, agree with those from equivalent but lower tolerance planes).
The worlds close to these walls are strange, inhabited by powerful god-like entities.
The Axes are all quantised in some manner. This implies that fragments of broken worlds will jump towards their preferred place, far and fast at first, then more slowly later. This implies that worlds could sit in 'meta-stable' locations, not their true place, for a long time before jumping on again.
The laws of nature in a given plane tend to be similar to those of the adjacent planes, along all axes. This is not always the case, though - there are worlds with similar axis co-ordinates but very different laws of nature.
Some worlds do have 'hyperspaces' which are usable for things such as faster-than-light (FTL) travel. These are sometimes a sub-plane, sometimes a separate 'phase' of the plane reached by 'rotating' out of the normal phase, or a separate plane linked to the first in some fashion. In this last case the same 'hyperspace' is sometimes accessible from many worlds close to it, allowing cross-planar communications and travel.
There are strange attractors in the rules governing world and plane evolution. For this reason there are a large number of worlds with stars and planets, lots of planes with humanoid inhabitants, lots inhabited by hive-mind squid, and lots inhabited by sentient 'suns' (energy generating concentrations) in high Energy planes.
Spatial locations are equivalent between planes which are close together along all of the axes, but become less and less so the further away one goes from ones point of origin. The speed of travel is determined by the laws of the plane when in-plane; between planes it is the distance along the axes and the method of travel used which determines travel time.
Interplanar travel can occur in a number of ways. By technology, magic, psychic powers, and so on. However, these generally only function within a given range of axis co-ordinates, close to their point of origin.
Longer-range travel is possible, and can be done by way of gates opened from a 'home base'. Gates can only be created from high Stability, high Tolerance, high Matter and high Energy planes. These use vast amounts of power and require a nearly godlike being to control them. They cannot be looked through, but can be communicated through. Because of the power involved they are usually opened only briefly so that people can go through. The gate then closes and then re-opens after a set period. If the rendezvous is missed it can be re-opened at further set times, and so on.
The further the gate goes along the axes, the harder it is to create, the smaller it is, the shorter the time it stays open and the less stable it is. They are also traceable by those with the means (usually those who can open gates can also trace them). Opening a gate to a low Stability plane can seriously damage it.
It is possible to carry a device through a Gate that acts as a Gate terminus at the other end. This allows bigger, longer-duration gates to be created, by using some kind of power resonance effect, and also by providing a target for the Gate projector to home in on.
In some planes there are natural gates between a few close-by planes. These are usually fixed in position. Some open and close depending on the positions of the stars and so on in the planes in question.
The Real World:
- Matter: High (complex material life)
- Energy: Low (only a few fundamental forces)
- Size: High (it is very large)
- Vitality: Low (matter is very thinly spread out)
- Age: High (twelve billion years plus)
- Probability: High (though that is a biased call!)
- Tolerance: Low (strange things only happen at the quantum level)
- Stability: Average (again, a biased call)
An Earth with magic or psionics would have a high Energy ranking, but be otherwise much the same.
A Superhero World:
- Much like the real world, but with a much higher Tolerance, and probably a higher Stability. It may also have higher Matter and Energy values, depending in how superpowers work there.
A Plane Of Dark, Cold Gas And Dust:
- Matter: Low
- Energy: Low
- Size: High
- Vitality: Low
- Age: variable
- Probability: High
- Tolerance: varies with the exact plane
- Stability: varies with the exact plane
A plane like the above, but with high Vitality, could consist of hot dust and asteroids, swarming in a space filled with air.
- Matter: High
- Energy: High
- Size: High
- Vitality: High (infinite plane of matter)
- Age: High
- Probability: Low (a biased call)
- Tolerance: High
- Stability: Low
A world of low Energy and high Matter might give rise to plasma beings.
A plane where the only forces are Strong Nuclear and Gravity might be nothing but a black hole.
The Amber Universe:
The Amber universe is an infinite array of different planes, extending from its centre, in Amber itself, to the Courts of Chaos and the Abyss. The Matter, Energy, Size, Vitality, and Age characteristics of each of these planes (or 'shadows', as they are known) are individual to the plane. However, there is a definite gradient of Tolerance and Stability from the very high levels found in Amber and its surrounding planes, to the low levels found in the vicinity of Chaos, where the planes are often fragile and easy to damage or destroy. There is also a definite gradient of probability, with some planes, such as Amber and Chaos themselves, being entirely unique, while there are infinite numbers of other planes, and some planes which are found in numbers between these two extremes.
Obviously there are some entities, individuals and groups who have mastered inter-planar travel. These include:
- Huge unknown and mysterious things which are sometimes vaguely detected while travelling between planes.
- Interplanar alliances of superhuman groups, who work together against greater interplanar threats and so on. Some alliances are benevolent, but others are malevolent. [See the 'Top Ten' comic book for an example of how this might work.]
- A small group of dimension-hopping thieves, some of whom are super-powered or mages. A Steampunk mad scientist does the actual dimension-hopping via a device of his own devising.
- Dimension-spanning corporations, which can be either benevolent, malevolent or neither.
- 'Gods' from beyond the high Matter/Energy/Tolerance 'walls', who cannot go 'below' those walls by themselves, but who can send 'probes' or 'emissaries' 'down' through the walls to do their will or perform reconnaissance 'below'. Even so these emissaries tend to stay in high Tolerance areas [see 'A Fire Upon The Deep' for more on why this is so, and how these 'probes' might behave]. Some emissaries are neutral or indifferent; some are curious watchers; some are malevolent (their emissaries act as real gods in some worlds, either directly or by manipulating their rulers as 'voices'; some 'harvest' worshippers from these worlds for some sinister purpose); some are users who breed, shape or uplift races and cultures to their own ends; some are do-gooders, and are similar to the 'users' but only act 'to help'.
- The Master of the Sun [as in the character from the 'Starlord' comic by Marvel Comics]. He is a formerly human explorer who made it through the 'wall' into the high Matter/Energy/Tolerance regions beyond, was merged with a 'god' from there, and then 'fell' back though the 'wall', irrevocably changed, but still a 'half-god'. As such he refers to all of the universe together as the 'Ensemble' (as in canonical), not the multiverse. He understands the 'gods' somewhat, and originating from a 'lesser' plane does not like their meddling. He opposes the 'gods' who see the 'lesser' planes as ants nests into which they can poke sticks and play. But he is not a 'god' any more, though he has the advantage of being below the 'wall' rather than having to send emissaries down through it. He lives in a sun as he needs it power to live and open Gates (the plane it is in is High Matter, High Energy, High Tolerance, High Vitality, High Stability, Low Probability, Low Age, Medium Size). Platforms, paths and walls float in the star as required, his base being spread out over kilometres but will all the rooms widely separated. Obviously gate creation requires effort and concentration and so he does not hold them open constantly.
He has teams of agents who do his will, travelling via gates. Player characters could be a 'core team' of these agents, with rotation on and off as necessary. He has agent teams in the field and trading links to many planes, sometimes covert, sometimes not, as well as some 'big gun' forces on call rather than a permanent part of his forces. His links to other planes sometimes need defending, reinforcing or expanding. He also has links to some nearby uninhabited idyllic planes that are used for rest and recreation by his agents. Some of the other agents of the Master of the Sun, recruited from across the planes, include:
- A full-body cyborg, a former female from a hard-life background, converted into a cyber-agent by a megacorporation, and now free.
- An undead cyber-linked driver/pilot from a work of magic and cyber-technology.
- A sentient ship to carry agents. [Which looks like the 'Sidewinder' (of the Special Executive, from 'Captain Britain').]
These are essentially irreproducible 'god-tech' items which a group of player characters could acquire from someone like the Master of the Sun.
- Violation Anchors
These are devices that partially mitigate the effects of Violation. They can cope with up to a given amount of cumulative Violation, and they vary in this. There is a chance they will fail each time Violation occurs, which increases each time the Anchor absorbs some Violation.
Obviously it can be bad if an Anchor is lost or broken. The failure of an Anchor which is protecting many people can scatter them across planes, unless they grab one another, in which case they will all 'pop' to the same place. This can lead to people being marooned on some random plane, trying to survive until rescue arrives (if it does; there may be worlds populated entirely by the descendants of the survivors of such a marooning).
Most Anchors include a locator beacon. This is not automatically activated if the Anchor breaks, as it may be traceable by those with the power to travel planes, and this may not be desirable under all circumstances.
Some Anchors also show the axis values at ones current location. An example of this would be eight radial lines with length and/or width and/or colour proportional to the current axis value.
- Universal Translators
These do what they say, and are obviously very useful in coping with the essentially infinite range of languages across the planes. They come in a variety of types. Some use computers to analyse and learn languages. Others use psionic technology or magic to read meaning, or magic to teach a local the language of the spell-caster. All can cause Violation simply by operating.
- Flux Grenades
There are a one-shot device which when used temporarily boosts the Tolerance of the local area on an intolerant plane, allowing everything to work in its area of effect for a while. The size of the area and how long it lasts depend both on the grenade and the plane it is used in.
Once the flux effect runs out, large Violation effects will occur and things and/or people in the area of effect are likely to be popped out of the plane entirely.
Flux Grenades can cause serious damage to low Stability planes, or even disrupt them completely.
As Flux Grenades are hard to make any given group of travellers is only likely to have one of them.
Of course, magical and technological groups everywhere will be interested in all of this equipment should they come across it. It is a pity for them that it is essentially incomprehensible and irreproducible to non-godly minds. This will not stop them vigorously questioning those who carry it, of course.
- Rescuing someone of significance from a death camp.
- Dimension-hopping thieves are interfering with the Master's operation and must be stopped, or he wants to recruit them.
- Someone finds a dead or trapped agent and is recruited by them, or simply takes their place for some purpose ('Green Lantern'-like).
- Some people from a plane find a dead agent just as their Violation Anchor fails, sending them all off through the planes.
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