Yesterday I talked about the dominant society of humanity in the Aethera system and why I, as a player and as a PC, wouldn’t trust them in the slightest. Today I’ll turn my attention to the rest of their homeworld, which is also the homeworld of the infused and, at least for practical purposes, that of the phalanx.
If I were to use a single sentence to summarize the earth-aligned desert world of Akasaat, it would be that Akasaat is everything the Arrakis and Tatooine should have been, if they had been able to avoid the cliche of single-environment worlds. Previously a water-aligned ocean world before the Collapse, Akasaat still bears the signs of its oceanic history.
A massive canyon split the surface in one area, the dusty remnant of a deep ocean trench akin to the Marianas Trench. Lifeforms adapted in the surge of elemental twisting prowl the depths of it, with flying squid and worse. Elsewhere, the slowly crumbling stony skeletons of vast coral reefs rise up above the terrain. Many of the arcologies are built on the edge of continental shelves, with support struts reaching miles down to touch what was once an abyssal plain.
More satisfying, the planet has not just a variety of landforms, but also a variety of desert environments. Temperature varies by latitude, there are dusty deserts, rocky deserts, and badlands, and there are even seasonal polar icecaps that you really don’t want to drink from without purifying it first. It has patches of green here and there, and the description lends itself to the understanding that there’s scrubby plants in some areas and lichens almost everywhere that there’s a stable surface for them. When you walk across the flatlands, your boots will make crunching sounds as you break the thin layer of life living in that top centimeter. There are living things clinging to every nook and cranny, and they’re all making the atmosphere breathable.
It’s a magnificent take on a desert world, and that’s before you get into anything specific. There are salt flats, vast underground cave systems, and natural hazards ranging from simple dehydration to desert lightning and sandstorms that would make Mars proud. We also get plenty of specific locations – an oasis grown from the intermingled wrecks of a Hierarchy battlecruiser and an erahthi warship, an entire ship graveyard of aetherite-poisoned land with the wreckage of numerous aetherships and erahthi vessels, the different arcologies, and the Far Horizon Mining Facility.
The main arcology of the Hierarchy also gets several pages, including a description of life in the city, factions, notable locations by section of the city, history, and even a few sidebars on useful details that don’t merit a full section of their own; a non-Hierarchy major city, Teratha, also gets covered – it’s the place to go if you want things the Hierarchy would rather you not have, from aetherite-derived drugs to spells sold by unlicensed spellcasters.
Akasaat is a mixed world; you could easily place Pathfinder-rendered scenes from Mad Max: Fury Road, Dune, Star Wars, or any number of other franchises in the wastelands outside the arcologies, while you could handily place things like Blade Runner and arcane renditions of most cyberpunk inside the arcologies. In all, it’s a lot better than you’d expect from the brief description of Akasaat being a desert planet. It is, but it’s a believable one, with a range of biomes, visible relics of its history, and some clear thought put into how it works as a world.
Also, while I could save this for a post specifically on the planes themselves, I’m going to talk about the two adjacent planes that reflect the Material Plane – the time-shattered Evermorn and the dark and twisted Plane of Shadow. Akasaat, like each other major celestial body, has a warped reflection on these two planes.
On the Evermorn, Akasaat has multiple massive slow-time storms raging; the result is that in many areas, the waters of the ocean are draining only sluggishly, waterfalls spill out of the slow time into more normal areas and form rivers, and as a whole Evermorn Akasaat is a rather green and pleasant world as long as you’re not in the middle of the slow-time areas. You can see where the oceans are draining into the newly fractured caverns in the depths, suggesting that if someone explores deep enough you’ll find those ancient waters forming deep, sunless seas. All in all, as long as you don’t piss off the local fey creatures, this version of the planet isn’t a bad place. Just stay away from the arcologies, where the Hierarchy’s influence warps the plane into a psychic mirror of their fascist order.
On the plane of Shadow, though, you’e got a lot more to fear. Jet-black deserts, mountains of razor-sharp obsidian, chasms that wrench open when you go to step across them and snap shut after you fall, and worse occupy the dark reflection of Akasaat. If you can survive, it’s not that bad compared to other Shadow reflections in the system, but it’s not a place to go if you don’t need to. Worse, though, are the reflections of the arcologies – the Silent Cathedrals of the kytons, home and heart of the Choir of the Machine that forms the kyton civilization in the Aethera system. Travel there with extreme trepidation, because new kytons are born from both unwary mortals they capture and those they convince to undergo conversion into their chain-wrapped and tortured kind voluntarily.
So… Yeah. Akasaat. Come for the expectation of an amusing sci-fantasy desert world, stay for the impressively well-considered design work that actually went into it. It’s everything you could want from a desert world, right down to the understanding that oxygen has to come from somewhere.
So that’s Akasaat, the world that could have been another dull trope of a desert world and instead proved fantastic.