The Astral plane consists of other-dimensional nothingness, a barren expanse extending in all directions. The only breaks in this bleakness are small islands of matter broken off from their native dimensions and occasional wide, spinning columns of astral conduits, also called wormholes. Wormholes link the outer planes with each other and with the Prime Material plane. The Astral is little more than a plane of transit, a means of moving between the inner and outer planes. It is also secondarily a home for extra-planar creatures. The plane has precious few native creatures, and the only Power that makes his home here from Legends and Lore is Anubis of the Egyptian mythos.
A traveler finding himself in the Astral sees a bright, well-lit grayness that extends in all directions, as if he is within a thick silver atmosphere. The Astral material is very clear, and vision is unimpaired up to its physical limits. The plane is incredibly grey and dull, save for color pools, other travelers, and conduits to other planes. Pools are readily accessable portals into the other planes of existence. Other travelers are natives of other planes who have found a way to enter the Astral. Conduits resemble water spouts on a stormy day at sea, their ends lost in vast expanses of grey at either end. Wormholes are interdimensional vortices that link the outer planes with the Prime Material planes in much the same way as the elemental vortices link the Prime Material planes with the inner planes. In this case, however, the conduit exists through a third plane, the Astral. Conduits and color pools are explained in more detail in the Encounters section.
The Astral plane has no gravity, though objects retain their masses here and can be thrown at normal velocities. This is different from the neutrally buoyant Ethereal planes and the self determined gravity of the inner planes. This weightlessness requires some acclimation, and there may be difficulty in performing some actions until that acclimation is made. Beings can move by pushing off large objects, but most usually move by concentrating on where they want to go (see page 64).
The Astral plane can be reached from almost any point in the Prime Material plane and most points in the first (closest) layers of the outer planes. Entering these planes is normally done through color pools that open onto particular areas of the destination plane. Unlike the situation in the Ethereal, a being’s living form can exist only in the Astral or the other plane—it cannot exist in both simultaneously. The Astral plane cannot be reached from any of the inner planes. It can be reached from the Ethereal plane only through ether cyclones, which create temporary ruptures between the Astral and Ethereal.
The Astral plane and those powerful realms that lie beyond it are generally reached by two very different means. The traveler can reach this plane either by projecting his astral form into the plane or by physically entering the plane. Either method can be accomplished by spell, psionic ability, or device, and each has similarities, advantages, and disadvantages. Unless otherwise noted, rules that apply to a traveler (as opposed to an astrally projecting or physical traveler) apply to both forms of travel.
Projecting one’s astral form is the healthiest method of traveling to the Astral plane. This method, using the astral spell or the psionic ability astral projection, separates the astral self from the traveler’s body. The astral self, bound to its original body by a silver cord, can then enter the Astral plane and travel through it into the outer planes. Travel by this fashion has a great advantages in that the traveler does not risk his real hide—if the astral form is slain or destroyed, the traveler’s psyche returns to his original body. Further, the traveler can voluntarily return to his original body if there is a horrendous danger or hazardous situation to confront. This return takes 1d100 melee rounds, but it can be delayed by the forces of a psychic wind.
The astral form appears on the Astral plane as a translucent, white, humanoid form. This form is solid and treated in most situations in the astral as a physical body. Springing from the back of this astral form is a silver cord that connects the traveler with his physical body on the Prime Material plane. This cord is visible as a translucent white string that stretches back about 10 feet and then becomes both invisible and intangible. The silver cord can be stretched to any length, but it is not truly solid in the same fashion as the astral body, and as such cannot be attacked or broken except under special circumstances.
An individual’s astral form includes the traveler’s body and the astral forms of any magical items. Magical items included items that are magical in nature and those that are under a spell effect, such as a light spell. Those wishing to bring along sufficient equipment for adventures beyond the plane, or at least sufficient clothing, are advised that an enchantment or alteration spell placed upon these items is recommended to insure safe and modest travel.
Objects that the astrally projecting traveler finds in the Astral can be brought into the Prime Material or outer planes, provided they do not exceed the traveler’s normal encumbrance limits. A projecting traveler cannot bring a castle out of the Astral plane, but he can return to his physical body with a chest of gold.
The disadvantages of astral projection are several. The first is the care of the physical body. A physical body without its astral component does not age, nor does it require food, water, or air. A detect life reveals that the character is alive, otherwise he appears to be in a state of suspended animation that resembles a feign death spell. The body can be physically moved while the astral form is absent; the astral form will return to its body wherever it has been moved, provided it remains on a plane accessible from the Astral (an astral form cannot rejoin its body if that body is placed in the Ethereal, for example). The physical body is subject to normal damage, which the astral form is not aware of at the time the damage is inflicted. If the physical body is slain, the silver cord disappears and the character dies in 1d10 turns.
Another danger of projecting the astral form is possession. A great many extradimensional creatures, including those with magic jar abilities, can enter the Prime Material plane by possessing the body of a traveler whose astral form is out to lunch (there is a 1% chance of this occurring each time a character ventures into the Astral). The silver cord is not cut in this case and is still visible to those who have true seeing or similar spells. The traveler cannot regain his own body until the intruding spirit has moved out voluntarily, or has been exorcised. The wise traveler usually finds a secure location guarded by trusted friends who either have code words or divination spells to ascertain that the correct essence came home.
The third danger to the traveler using astral projection is the snapping of the silver cord that links the body to its astral form.
At the end of this time, a system shock roll is made. If it fails, the individual dies. If the system shock roll succeeds, the character regain consciousness with the following restrictions: • Regains consciousness with 1 hit point. • No spell casting until at least half hit points are regained. • Movement reduced by half until half hit points are regained. • Attacks with a – 4 penalty until half hit points are regained. Healing magic can bring the victim back up to full hit points, but all penalties remain in effect until enough time has passed for the victim to have regained half his hit points without curative magic. (This time is measured in terms of true time.) The ways to sever the cord are fortunately very few: The psychic wind at its most powerful, the silver swords of the Githyanki, and the will of a Lesser or Greater Power.
The snapping of a silver cord has disastrous effects. The traveler’s astral form dissolves into the plane in 1d10 turns, leaving behind the astral entities of those magical items brought into the plane. The body in the Prime plane perishes, and is irrecoverable (except for wishes). Any magical items that were taken into the plane rot and evaporate with their enchantments gone, save for artifacts, which return to the Prime plane with their powers intact. The psionic skill astral projection allows only the user to project the astral form, as do most devices of this type.
Some devices, and the astral spell, permit the caster to take others along with him. At the start of the spell, the caster and those accompanying him must hold hands, but they can separate once they enter the Astral plane. The silver cord runs to the caster, and then out to all the other members of the party. If the cord to the caster is severed, all those connected to him are destroyed as above. If a cord from the caster to a fellow traveler is severed, only that fellow traveler perishes.
The traveler using most plane-spanning devices, as well as the spell plane shift, and the psionic ability probability travel, can bring his body into the Astral and make his way about in that plane. Creatures and objects blown into this plane from the Ethereal by an ether cyclone lose their ethereal status and are treated as physically traveling through this plane. The advantage of this is that all possessions are brought along, regardless of magical status and that there is no silver cord to threaten the traveler’s safety. The disadvantage of this method of travel is that the traveler’s body can be damaged and slain normally.