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Behind the Mask: Between this world and the next

Patrick Mackey

One of the exciting things about writing about Champions Online is that there is a huge amount of lore and backstory behind the game. Although Behind the Mask has a definite focus on concrete game information (that's just how I roll), the lore is always something I'm excited to cover. It offers a look into Champions that can't be experienced with just the online game.

This week we're going to look at alternate dimensions in the Champions universe. I was going to take a more indepth look at the background behind the war between Heaven and Hell, but unfortunately there is so much information that paints necessary frameworks for those story elements. It's unfortunate, but the information I have to go over this week is pretty crazy stuff.

Before you go through this, you may want to check out some of my other lore articles, including my magic lore article and my general lore primer. I do restate all the necessary stuff here, but having a broader understanding of what's going on can do nothing but help. A lot of the information here is from The Mystic World sourcebook, but there's also a fair bit of stuff cobbled together from ingame lore and some other sourcebooks. Definitely check them out if you want more information on these subjects.

Before we get into what the Champions universe's dimensional structure is, it's important that we return to the base concept that all superpowers in Champions have their origins in magic. A mutant gets his ability to regenerate or shoot laser blasts due to magical exposure or perhaps a latent magical ability that manifests into mutant powers in his teens. Super-inventors create impossible devices because the devices have latent magical properties that allow them to do the impossible.

This doesn't mean that these powers are magical, and in the Champions universe, resistance to magic doesn't give resistance to superpowers or super-tech. Likewise, the ability to detect magic won't detect mutant powers or super devices. It's just a handwave that allows the PnP and MMO writers to put whatever they'd like into the world without having to justify it in some absurd way.

However, this also means that the planar structure of the Champions universe is based heavily in mysticism. As with superpowers, that doesn't mean that magic is the only way to travel to other dimensions. It also means that worlds can exist where magic does not function at all in the traditional sense -- although traveling to one might cause some difficulty on the return home.

Where imagination runs wild

The structure of the Champions universe mirrors that of the Kabballah, meaning that the planes are ordered according to the branches of the sephiroth or tree of life (no, not the Final Fantasy character). At the bottom of the tree, there are realms that act according to "reason" or physical laws. As one moves towards the top of the tree, reason starts to make less sense and physical laws become less and less relevant. By the upper half of the tree, concepts and imagination become the driving forces rather than what we'd consider "reality."

To better explain this, the rules of a higher realm such as Death's Domain or Yggdrasil are governed by the will of either a single powerful entity (such as Death) or the collective will of an entire universe of existence (such as all the plants to ever live on any plane in the Champions Universe). If one were to travel to Death's Domain, for instance, Death would have control over most aspects of its realm (Death is referred to as a he or she, depending on whom you ask). The will of your character might be able to influence small parts of his or her experience there just by imagination, but Death is as much a concept as it is an existence, and the idea of Death will persist everywhere even if it doesn't take an active role in your character's journey into its world.

I'm sure that everything is clear as mud right now because the idea of concepts and ideas governing real existence is pretty weird. In general, most people (including most roleplayers) don't quite understand the scope of some of the higher dimensions that embody concepts like Order, Chaos, Art, and Nature.

I like places where gravity is normal, thanks

Getting away from the crazy top half of the sephiroth (if you ignore that it exists in your roleplaying, I wouldn't blame you), we get to the bottom of the tree. The bottom of the sephiroth contains the worlds governed by reason. What that means is that imagination can't randomly create stuff out of nothing in these kinds of worlds. If you're familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, these are the worlds we'd call the "Prime Material" planes. The world of Champions Online is just one of these planes. These worlds have things like gravity, relativity, and thermodynamics. Real physical laws exist, and breaking them is impossible without outside intervention (e.g., magic).

In these planes, magic can exist, but it's much weaker than in the higher planes where mages can tap directly into the cosmic powers present to perform crazy miracles, and even non-mages can create magical effects just by wishing them to happen. Instead, as I mentioned in my magic primer, mages on the material planes have to tap into the energy in those higher planes to produce any sort of magical effects.

Most worlds that player characters come from fall into this category. While players create absurd, god-modey backstories all the time, most people have a lot of trouble imagining worlds where physical laws only apply when someone wants them to. Unfortunately for many players, this means that someone playing the incarnation of Death or even a demon from Hell often has her backstory tragically wrong. Although I would love to get into how Heaven and Hell fit into the Champions mythos (and that was the original point of this column), I'll have to cover it at another time because there is simply so much groundwork to cover before we talk about specific planes or dimensions.

Cthulu Ftagn

However, the Champions writers were not content with just having a simple organization based around the Kabballah and its tree of life. In addition to the sephirothic planes, there is an extra set of planes in their own category. We know them as Qlipthoth, and these planes form a huge amount of the story in Champions Online, from the demons in downtown Millennium City to the insurgency in Demonflame and Aftershock. Multifaria, the world where Resistance takes place, also resides in Qlipthoth, although this may be due partially to the intervention of Shadow Destroyer.

Qlipthoth is deliberately left very open in the Champions RPG books. I believe this to be because the writers wanted gamemasters to have some wiggle room to create their own kinds of demonic villains.

What we do know is that the Qliphothic realms are generally full of eldritch, unknowable horrors like the Kings of Edom. Like the material planes, these realms also seem to follow a series of rules, but those rules are completely alien to outsiders. We know that Qliphothic energy is corrupting, and it functions sort of like anti-energy or anti-life; it will destroy sources of energy (such as batteries) and consume life that stay too long.

Unfortunately, there is not much material on the Qliphothic between The Mystic World and Book of Destroyer sourcebooks. I've scoured some of the other books for more minor details, but they are few and far between. The best source of information other than The Mystic World is the actual in-game text, as there are quite a few Qliphothic plot arcs.

The universe of Champions Online is surprisingly detailed. The writers didn't skimp on information about demons and dragons or angels and gods. The higher planes where these creatures originate are all lavishly detailed in various books. If you're looking for more information, you should check out The Mystic World, or stay tuned to future editions of Behind the Mask where we'll cover other planes in more detail.

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.

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