I’ll be back to the Aethera campaign book review soon, but today I’m planning to describe my personal theory about the campaign setting. Specifically, I’m going to take the parts I’ve read about the cosmology and tinker them together for you in my take on the Collapse and the aftermath of it. (Reminder: I have a Patreon and even a buck a month helps support this blog and other creative endeavors!)
So, first up, there’s the current state of the system – the original star has collapsed to a white dwarf and is the only thing whose elemental alignment didn’t shift during the Collapse, while the other planets violently changed elemental alignment and one of them tore itself apart. There is no access to the Outer Planes, the Astral is inaccessible, and there are no gods in the system.
We know there are gods, as the Nightmare Fuel alien race – the taur – worshiped Baphomet, the demon lord of minotaurs and labyrinths, before they came to Aethera. They’ve lost contact with him entirely because of the Astral severance. The only divine forces are those of the Score and the local spirits – enough to empower cantors, oracles, shamans, and their like, but nothing that requires a connection to the conceptual realm of the Outer Planes.
We also know that the Progenitors somehow nailed down the elemental essence of the planets, preventing them from shifting, and the resulting tension is what provided power to their civilization. In the Collapse, this effect failed catastrophically and did horrible damage to the planar structure of the system. No Astral, the Evermorn engulfed in temporal storms, and so on.
There are six elemental forces, but only five accessible elemental planes – one of which exists solely because the Progenitors literally created it, growing the elemental plane of Wood from Earth into Water. Aether isn’t accessible as a plane, no matter how hard anyone tries, but the effects of it are plainly visible – aetheric energy can be drawn upon, aetherite exists as a material and powers so much of the modern civilization, and the infused and phalanx simply wouldn’t exist without it.
As such, here’s my theory: the elemental plane of aether is the Astral plane; Aethera, the local star, was the point of alignment with the local Astral; the Collapse was when the local planar structure could no longer keep up with the external multiverse, and local Astral space shattered. Progenitor technology seems to be compatible with aetherite and their intact structures are crammed with extraplanar beings because the Progenitors tapped the Outer Planes for power, not the Inner. All of that unleashed energy dumped into the local cosmology, wreaking absolute havoc on the system and punching through the planar anchors the Progenitors had built to keep the planets stabilized, while the Astral essence poured through the punctures in the planar fabric and crystallized into aetherite.
Only the most tenuous of links to the Astral remain, buried in the heart of Aethera itself; the aetherite reacts to those links as the barest trickle of raw Astral presence around the white dwarf calls to it. The telepathic whispers and visions are what little outside essence can trickle into the system, focused through the crystalline and embodied wreckage of the Astral Plane’s substance.
The Aethera system’s cosmology is a smoking trainwreck, a ten-car pileup on the highway, and no one except perhaps the taur and what few extraplanar beings from the Outer Planes remain from before the Collapse have any idea about it because to the natives this is normal. Were it not for those same outsiders, no one would even have a hint that the Outer Planes exist.
Meanwhile, aetherite is getting slowly burned up, the energy of it released, and that begs the question of what’s happening with it afterwards. Is the released energy slowly leaking back out to fill the void of local Astral space? Is it recrystallizing elsewhere? Or is it, perhaps alarmingly, being destroyed forever, rendered into a form that’ll prevent an Astral reconnection from ever happening?
Truthfully? I have no idea, and I don’t know how much of my theory – if any – is even vaguely close to the official canon.
But that’s what makes it interesting, no?