Behind the Mask: Angels and Devils

Last week on Behind the Mask, we talked about the basic dimensional structure of the Champions universe and its parallels with the Kabballah. This week, we take you a bit deeper into the mythos of Champions Online. We'll take a look at the Astral Plane, or Yetzirah, and the key places that exist there. I'll be focusing heavily on the Quaternion -- a series of four planar zones within the Lower Astral Plane that embody most fantasy elements critical to the Champions Universe.

If you have ever wondered about demons and angels, this is a must-read. The Vibora Bay story arc paints a very unusual picture about the nature of these planes, and we'll be covering just what Heaven and Hell are in respect to that story. We'll also be covering faeries, elves, dwarves, and other popular fantasy elements. If you're planning on creating a roleplaying character who fits into a fantasy subtype, travels through dimensions, or just uses magic, this information will be critical to you!

But first, a disclaimer

Before we get too shoehorned into the lore, you might wonder what this means for characters that don't quite fit the information presented here. If the Champions Universe has infinite possibilities, certainly it has things that don't fit into the examples here, right?

The answer is simply, yes -- that is correct. However, if your backstory conflicts with this, you need to have a good explanation as to why. The simplest answer for most characters is that your fantasy race is not a true demon, angel, or fey, and the world your character comes from is in the material planes of Assiah. For most characters, this is sufficient.

As an example, many demon PCs claim they are not bound to the Netherworld and can be slain by mortal means or are rooted to their physical bodies. This simply means that they're not really demons as the rest of CO considers demons; they likely come from either another part of the Astral Plane or a more earthly material plane. Fantasy elves, dwarves, and other fey creatures also can be from a more terrestrial realm; there's no reason why pointy-eared humanoids couldn't be called elves on some alternate plane. Likewise, while the real Greek gods are presented here (and cannot operate on Earth), there's no reason that another sub-plane or material plane couldn't be populated with alternate, lower-power Greek gods who can operate in the CO world.

If those facts bother you (particularly not being a "true" demon/angel or your "God" not being a real one), I advise rewriting your backstory to fit more within the lore already present. It bears repeating that the more ridiculous and lore-destroying your character's story is, the less seriously people will take you.

The stuff of dreams

The Lower Astral Plane, or Yesod, is composed largely of ideas created from material worlds. This means that thoughts, wishes, and desires of humans (or other sentient beings) often become real in these regions. They're aptly named the Imaginal Realms, and every idea born from a human mind is connected to some plane here. The stronger the ideas of the lower planes are, the more concrete and tangible they are in Yesod.

The four regions of Yesod most closely connected to the world of CO are the Quaternion. These four realms are psychic mirrors of different elements of human thought -- specifically, good, evil, fantasy, and reality. Early on in the timeline, the lords of these realms (we call them gods) could directly intervene on Earth.

At some point in the history of Champions, humans began rejecting the idea of gods. We can trace these back to real-life historical figures like Zoroaster and Gautama (Buddha), who began pushing for mankind's independence from the gods. At around 30 AD, a well-known guy connected to one of the Imaginal Realms was staked to a plank of wood for some reason or another, and gods became unable to affect the world directly. This event is called "the Ban" in the mystic community.

With the Ban in place, gods became forced to use servants to enact any actions upon the Champions world (encompassing both the Earth and all of outer space), and even those now require special efforts or mortal requests. Magic spells and prayer are both effective in the right conditions, but summoning a god itself to the CO world is basically impossible without a lot of blood sacrifice. Even that won't let the god do his work for more than a few hours -- the Ban is that strong.

Heaven or Hell, Duel 1

The reflection of good in the Champions world is known as Elysium. Like all of the four Quaternion regions, Elysium is not a single plane. Instead, it encompasses all human concepts of holiness, messengers of light, and divine paradises. This includes waypoints to Buddhist nirvana (not the actual state itself), the Jade Emperor's Celestial Court, and of course, Heavenly Jerusalem, the Judeo/Christian paradise.

Servants of the gods that rule these realms are called various things, including angels, devas, kami, shen, and so on. The uniting point of all of these servants is that they are not real, physical entities and their spirits are bound to Elysium, making them virtually impossible to kill. While a servant of Elysium must manifest a physical body to do physical business on Earth, if it is destroyed, it is little more than an inconvenience; the angel's spirit can (painfully) return to its home plane should it be destroyed. Attacks that directly harm spirits can be effective, but even then, it's extremely hard to kill an angel or deva.

People who die in appropriate ways for these gods have their souls claimed by them and can be visited by dimensional travelers. However, Elysium is extremely secure; it's hard to leave and even harder to enter.

Therakiel the Bright, presumably a servant of God from Heavenly Jerusalem, is originally from Elysium. In the war between God and the Light-Bringer (who would eventually set up shop in the Netherworld), Therakiel believed that the war was flawed (for whatever reason). Much like Azrael in the movie Dogma (who also refused to fight for God), Therakiel was exiled to Earth. He became bitter, and rightfully so: He was pretty unjustly punished, after all. His story is a bit more tragic and a bit less melodrama than one might expect from playing through the story arc, although this view requires one to read between the lines a bit. Either way, his bitterness leads to a desire for revenge on both parties, culminating in the Vibora Bay crisis.

The Netherworld represents all of the human ideas about evil. The various planes of the Netherworld include the typical Christian Hell as well as the Abyss, the Nine Hells, Niflheim and Muspellheim, and many more. Because humans have a lot more ideas about evil than they do about good, there are a metric ton of planes in the Netherworld. Like angels, demons are bound to their specific origin plane and draw power from it. Also like angels, demons can't be killed by traditional means. The typical Netherworld god is called an archfiend or archdemon and is limited by the Ban like any other god.

Unlike the separate Elysium planes, the Netherworld planes are woven together in a kind of mishmash fashion. It's possible to "walk" from Dante's Inferno to Pandemonium, for instance, although such a feat is generally pretty dangerous. While it is possible for some Netherworld planes to be more stable and secure, this is not the norm. Most Netherworld planes are extremely easy to enter (to catch unwary souls!) but very hard to leave without outside assistance.

Fantasy and... reality?

The Land of Legends, sometimes referred to as "the fey planes," is where mortal thoughts about fantasy come from. The subdivider between "fantasy" worlds versus "good" or "evil" worlds is kind of nebulous. For instance, Asgard is in in the Land of Legends, while Niflheim is in the Netherworld. Don't ask me how this works; I don't make this stuff up.

Most of the fey planes are wild and random. If it belongs on a Disneyland ride, it's probably in the Land of Legends. There is a plane where Cowboys-and-Indians is a real way of life (complete with shootouts, magic, and nobody ever really winning). Modern-day fantasy beliefs probably also extend other realms in the Land of Legends to pirates and ninjas or plants and zombies.

Most real mythologies also find a place here. Although there are some realms like Ma'at that fit in more ethical directions, places like Mount Olympus and Asgard are in the Land of Legends. In fact, CO elves tightly follow Norse mythology (since that's where they were first "invented") -- making the Poetic Edda required reading for anyone wanting to play an elf or dwarf.

The fey planes follow their own rules. In Elysium or the Netherworld the laws of physics generally suit the desires of the particular god ruling there, but in fey realms the laws of physics can usually be described as random. On some worlds, lethal weapons might not work. On others, you might not be able to do anything unless Simon says you can. On other worlds, you might not age, or time might not pass... unless the fey king of that realm allows it.

The one thing true of all fey realms is that visitors are railroaded. While characters might be able to solve problems in unusual ways, the magic of the Land of Legends generally forces anyone visiting to solve them. If heroes stranded there wish to explore, they'll find that they generally all end up in the same place -- at that same bridge with the troll underneath it.

The final realm in the Quaternion is Babylon. Babylon represents sentient life's ideas about reality, including the past, present, and future. What separates Babylon from the real world is twofold; first, it includes both past and future ideas, and second, it only includes ideas. Because Babylon is a reflection of the real world, it is somewhat self-aware. Residents of Babylon know that there's a real world on the other side of the mirror (so to speak) and that they are reflections of it.

Because Babylon represents ideas about the real world, things that we think might be real are real in Babylon. This includes urban legends, the Illuminati, and other "real world" fantasies.

Babylon exists as a single interconnected plane, with many districts that embody different cities, both real and imaginary. Although it's not covered in the rulebooks, presumably there are other Babylons (likely named differently) for alien cultures within the Champions mythos.

Although I don't have space to go into further detail (that's just the Quaternion!), you can read a lot more in the Mystic World sourcebook -- a great resource for anyone interested in extradimensional creatures or magical heroes in general.

When he's not touring the streets of Millennium City or rolling mooks in Vibora Bay, Patrick Mackey goes Behind the Mask to bring you the nitty-gritty of the superhero world every Thursday. Whether it's expert analysis of Champions Online's game mechanics or his chronicled hatred of roleplaying vampires, Patrick holds nothing back.
This article was originally published on Massively.