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Outer Geometry 801: How do OBs fit in...?by Sharon Dornhoff
I've been snooping through my recently-acquired copy of the gold box's old immortal rules. (Actually, I've been busting my lil' brain, trying to make heads or tails of its bizarre "physics"; if you don't have those rules, this probably isn't gonna make a shred of sense, folks! ;-D) And it occurs to me that the "Outer Beings" which Geoff, Andrew, and others have devised could fit into its cosmology, rather nicely ... provided, that is, we give the OBs permission to break just a few of the Immortals' "proven facts" about life forms, the multiverse, and how dimensional geometry works. (Hey, ANY Cthulhoid monstrosity that's worthy of the name oughta violate a known law of physics or two, eh...?)
So, here's a bit of revisionist "cosmic theory" I'd like to test out, on all you immortal-set experts and collectors of Unspeakable Outer Being lore:
According to the immortal books, the multiverse has five dimensions -- "dimensions" in the length/width/depth sense, not the "stacked paper plates" of the WotI Codex; such 'layered realities' might better be referred to as "continua" instead of dimensions, in order to prevent confusion -- known to the Immortals, plus an untold number of higher dimensions which the Vortex prevents them from reaching. Mortal races exist in four dimensions and perceive three: the first, second and third, for 'Normal' beings; the third, fourth, and fifth, for 'Nightmare' beings. Normal creatures and Nightmare creatures each sense the other's continuum in dreams, and are horrified by the 5th (or 1st) dimension and disoriented by the 4th (or 2nd). Immortals exist in all five dimensions, but can't perceive one of those five: either the 5th, if they'd been Normals in mortal life; or the 1st, if they used to be Nightmare natives. Old Ones, presumably, see all five of these dimensions and exist in six or more. Certain life forms, of a lower evolutionary grade than mortals, may exist in only three dimensions and perceive two, or in two dimensions and perceive one.
The big "proven fact" that the Immortals have deduced from all this -- along with the characteristics of "nippers" on the Astral Plane, that exist in the second, third, and fourth dimensions -- is that no being can exist if its dimensions aren't contiguous: there's no combining dimensions 1, 2, and 4 while omitting the third dimension, for example. THAT kind of cosmic geometry just doesn't happen, so far as the Immortals know; it isn't feasible, given everything they believe they've discovered about the nature of reality. It's ludicrous. It's delusional. It just plain makes no sense!
Which is where the OBs come in, natch. :-)
The Immortals are dead wrong, you see. There CAN be creatures which exist in discontiguous dimensions ... they're just not a form of life which contiguously-comprised creatures can fully conceive of*! Rather, they're alien and abhorrent by the standards of BOTH Normals and Nightmares: baffling/mind-wrenching in their geometry, incomprehensible/deranged in their intellects, and unearthly/abnormal in their bodily composition. Just as Normal and Nightmare beings each exist within the Prime Plane, but in separate dimensional 'continua', so do the "Discontiguates" exist within the same multiverse as Contiguous beings; yet geometrically-contiguous life forms can perceive these weird entities only in nightmares, or if part of their dimensional makeup happens to mimic that of Contiguous creatures.
(* - Just TRY to picture a critter with dimensions that don't "match up" -- that's got volume without any width, or a fourth dimension without any third. Go on, I dare you! Can't do it...? See, I proved they're "inconceivable"! :-D)
Most of the "Servitors" which Geoff has described could easily be classified as mortal (four-dimensional) Discontiguates. Those having material substance -- servitors of Yurrgh-Thal, Zhochal, Hresha-rhak -- exist in the 1st through 3rd dimensions, plus the 5TH ... the same one, that makes Nightmare creatures so horrid-looking to Normals! Thus, they appear hideous to all Normals, and can potentially drive onlookers mad by their very appearance. (Presumably there are Servitors in the Nightmares' continuum, who exist in the 1st dimension as well as the Nightmares' usual three; they'd freak out diaboli, just as much!) They resemble Contiguous life in their three visible dimensions, yet that extra dimension that's also a part of them gives Normals the screaming heebie-jeebies, just from being around them. To a Normal-derived Immortal (who can't perceive the 5th-dimensional component), such servitors might initially "pass" for mortals under cursory examination, but closer study reveals that there's something innately-abnormal about them: their bodies and living energies, though they appear whole and intact in the three dimensions Normals can perceive, also seem to "trail off" as if to attach to additional body parts and structures, in directions which the Immortal's close-peering eyes can't manage to follow.
The X'yeth leeches have already been described as Ethereal beings who extend tendrils of mental energy into the Prime; but perhaps a better alternative would be to call them Discontiguates of the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th dimensions. Lacking the 3rd dimension's volume, they'd appear two-dimensional (as well as horrific!), to both Normals and Nightmares. This might help them to insinuate their bodies into the tissues of a host, when feeding on the Prime Plane; it'd also let these "merchants" trade with/prey upon both continua's inhabitants. Existing within the 2nd and 4th dimensions -- i.e. the two that make Teleportation possible, for the different continua's natives -- as well as within the nightmare-inducing ones, they would have a capacity to twist the fabric of Euclidean space inside-out, in a suitably-Lovecraftian manner. Since X'yeth leeches are mortal, they'll be "blind" to one of their four dimensions; perhaps those who are blind to the 1st dimension prey upon Nightmares, while others who are blind to the 5th prey on Normals.
The so-called "Outer Beings" -- the big, powerful ones worshipped by Carnifex and other cultists -- are the Discontiguates' equivalent of Immortals. They are five-dimensional beings, comparable to Immortals in this respect ... but the series of dimensions they occupy aren't consecutive. Instead of the 1st through 5th, the ruling OBs exist in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, and SIXTH dimensions! (Yes, they're impinging on "Old One" turf.) They lack any presence in the 3rd dimension -- the one that gives both Normal and Nightmare beings their 'volume' -- and so are fundamentally alien to Normal beings, Nightmare beings, Immortals of either continuum... and nippers, for that matter!
Because the Outer Beings exist in the 1st and 5th dimensions, they are horrific to ALL non-Discontiguates, whether Normal or Nightmare. Since they also exist in the 2nd and 4th dimensions -- the two dimensions that endow a world with magic, from the respective continuums of Nightmare and Normal life -- they have access to a LOT of magical power, of a kind that combines the two hyperspace-dimensions' qualities and is equivalent to, yet inherently unlike, Immortals' unique magic. Of course they may also warp the fabric of space, like X'yeth leeches do. As they do NOT exist in the 3rd dimension, the Outer Beings can't perceive non-Discontiguates as having 'volume', i.e. substance. Thus, Contiguous forms of life -- even Immortals -- seem inherently "unreal" to them, such that their lives and endeavours don't, and CAN'T, be deemed significant or deserving by the OBs. Conversely, since their own bodies lack the usual 3rd dimension but partake of the 6th, their material substance -- study as an Immortal's, yet "alien" to all Contiguous life -- differs greatly from that of the Normal or Nightmare continua, making them seeming impervious to any mortal weapon or spell.
Because the Outer Beings also exist in the 6th dimension, on common ground with the Old Ones, they have otherworldly properties which the Immortals, themselves, aren't equipped to quantify or understand ... let alone, mere mortals! This puts the OBs right where other writers have said they belong, on the scale of things: beyond Immortals' comprehension and of greater strength than they, yet (since they lack the 3rd dimension) not quite a match for the Old Ones. Note that their 6th-dimensional facet also makes an Outer Being -- which, under other circumstances, would look two-dimensional to Normals or Nightmares -- seem "massive" and imposing to an overwhelming degree, in a way that mere physical bulk can't even come close to. The Outer Beings can't perceive the 6th dimension -- it's their "blind" dimension, just as Immortals are blind to the 5th or 1st -- but greater-than-Immortal power is available to them because of their existence in that obscure 'angle' of the cosmos.
So... we've got suitably-alien Outer Beings, whose geometry is inherently warped/"impossible", in a way ol' HPL would like. We have them driving people insane with their looks and (since they're partially in the 5th and 1st dimensions) contacting and hassling/propositioning Normals and Nightmares, alike, in their dreams. We have some of them popping between planes, Hound-of-Tindalos style, and others -- the really nasty, BIG, munch-small-planets-for-breakfast kind! -- possessed of powers and weird characteristics which even the Immortals haven't been able to cope with or figure out.
Now all we have to do is imprison the ugly muthahs.
Suppose the Old Ones didn't REALLY create the Vortex, just to corral the Immortals in the five dimensions which make up these potential Old Ones' playpen? Suppose they originally did it, so they could cut off the Outer Beings' multiversal facets -- the 1st-, 2nd-, 4th-, and 5th-dimensional parts of them -- from their SIXTH-dimensional facet ... the same component that'd made them the Old Ones' near-equals? And suppose it's their having DONE this, to sever the OBs' connection to such power, that created both the Normal AND Nightmare continua, in the first place?
Sure, the immortal book SAYS that the Vortex's creation is what kicked off the Nightmare creatures' evolution, and the Normals had appeared well before then ... but given how the boxed set's written for Normal Immortal-campaigns only, that seems like a pretty whopping huge conclusion to jump to. How could Pandius' Immortals possibly KNOW whether their own (i.e. Normal) life forms had actually pre-dated the Nightmare ones, or not? How, for that matter, could they tell it wasn't the NIGHTMARE creatures (!) who were first to exist, and that NORMAL life forms weren't the ones who only arose with the Vortex?! (We shouldn't necessarily take Mentzner's word on this. After all, Frank IS a human rather than a diabolus -- at least he was, the last time I saw his picture in Dragon! ;-) -- and his conclusions about the issue might easily have subject to personal bias. :-D) Who's to say there isn't a city full of Nightmare Immortals, off in the other continuum, who are just as convinced that it's THEY, who came first, and that it's the Normal version of everything which is a mirror-inverted copy...? Maybe the Nightmare and Normal Immortals should get together and toss a coin for it, because neither bunch is going to conclusively PROVE they were the original form of life in the multiverse.
Instead, given how Normal and Nightmare beings ARE such exact "photographic negatives" of one another -- not just to the cursory degree to which they might, if one took shape from the others' nightmares; but in every conceivable respect, from their dimensional makeup to the magical energies they employ to their moral/ethical compass -- I have to conclude the most plausible history for the multiverse is for Normal and Nightmare beings to have originated simultaneously. Life as we know it kicked off, in each of these continua, shortly after the Outer Beings had been confined behind the Dimensional Vortex; up until that point, higher-dimensional entities and their constructs may have been the ONLY living beings, within the cosmos! Normal and Nightmare life's proliferation on the Prime was a "side effect" of the Barrier's having been erected to control the OBs ... an event which no living Immortal of either sort can remember, and which neither continuum's Immortals, therefore, can truly claim to have preceded. The Old Ones only discovered that these new life forms had the potential to attain Immortality, after the Vortex had already been established; that the Barrier happens to block Immortals from higher dimensions, as well as hold the Outer Beings in check, was a happy accident for the Old Ones ... NOT the intended purpose for which they created the Vortex, in the first place.
Furthermore, I propose that ever since the Vortex was laid, each continuum has undergone the eternal "cosmic cycle" described in PC1, with the two continua's Spheres being exactly out-of-phase with one another (i.e. Chaos and Entropy are now "good guys" in the Nightmare continuum, as it moves from disorder to order via an inversion of Normal thermodynamics). Wait a few trillion years for the Prime Plane to run down -- eroding into pure entropy for the Normals' continuum, and stagnating into pure stasis for that of Nightmares -- and the Spheres of the two continua will switch polarity.
Finally, I propose that the "sixth dimension" of the Old Ones is NOT next to the 5th -- which is, after all, an arbitrary number; Nightmare-Immortals count off these same dimensions the other way around -- but adjacent to what Immortals call the THIRD dimension: the sole angle held in common by both Normal and Nightmare life forms, and from whence sprang both the Prime-planar continua (not to mention the Astral Plane!). This means that geometric dimensions in the OD&D multiverse display a "Y"-shaped pattern of adjacency, with the 1st and 2nd comprising one arm of the 'Y', the 5th and 4th forming the other, and the 3rd dimension constituting a nexus where the two arms -- and thus, both of the Prime Plane's continua -- converge. The 6th and higher dimensions, branching off from the 3rd dimensional nexus-point, make up the stem of the 'Y'.1 5 2 4 3 <- This is how it looks. 6 7 +
In this view of things, Normal and Nightmare beings really ARE dimensional mirror images of one another -- diametric opposites equidistant from the higher dimensions -- and both are equally eligible to attain Immortal or, potentially, Old One status. That makes more sense than having the 6th dimension adjacent to the 5th ... which would imply Normals are the LAST bunch of mortals you'd expect to evolve into Old Ones, since they'd be starting out several "angles" further from the 6th dimension (the one they need to gain access to) than their Nightmare-born counterparts! On the other hand, placing the 6th and higher dimensions adjacent to the 3rd means that not only are Immortals not finding the higher dimensions, due to the Vortex's being in the way ... but they've ALSO been looking in the wrong 'direction', to begin with (!), by assuming that the 5th dimension (or the 1st, for Nightmare-Immortals) is the right frame of reference from which to commence their search.
Moreover, this arrangement means that the Outer Beings, if they lack the 3rd dimension, are missing the very "hub" that would otherwise unite their three facets -- 1st/2nd, 4th/5th, and 6th dimensional parts -- into an unbreakable whole, as it does for the (Contiguous) Old Ones. By laying the Barrier between the 6th dimension and the other five, the Old Ones could deny the Outer Beings any use of their Old-One-level powers ... yet not cut off their OWN 6th-dimension-derived magics (accessible to the Old Ones via their contiguous 3rd dimensions), in the process! The Outer Beings lost their ability to do anything beyond Immortals' capacities, when the Barrier disrupted their tenuous Discontiguates' connection to the 6th dimension. Furthermore, without those 6th-dimensional facets of their natures to keep their remaining, twofold facets replenished with Old-One-level strength, the Outer Beings' two-dimensional 1st/2nd and 4th/5th facets also lost considerable Immortal-level power, such that the Old Ones succeeded in draining away the OBs' Power Points until their Discontiguate enemies collapsed into the stupor of hibernation.
Since the Old Ones can perceive all four dimensions (1, 2, 4 & 5) on which the Outer Beings' multiversal components exist, they aren't befuddled by their discontiguous nature (well, not much...) the way mortals or Immortals are. Indeed, once the Beings had been "tranquillised" by the Vortex's appearance, the OOs quickly took advantage of their 'disconnected' makeup, dividing up the multiversal facets of each Being and imprisoning them in separate, hidden locations throughout the cosmos. While those Immortals and others who are "in the know" about the Outer Beings believe their sleeping bodies are confined in one place, and their minds/spirits, in another, this is merely an analogy: what's REALLY been sealed "beneath the seas or within the hearts of stars" are the separated 1st/2nd dimensions, and 4th/5th dimensions, of Outer Beings in an Old One-induced coma.
Reuniting these facets would bring the OBs back to consciousness (or at least whatever passes for it, in Discontiguates), but only a fraction of their original power: try as the OB-cultists might, there's no WAY that mortal or even Immortal characters are going to breach the Dimensional Vortex, reunite their 6th dimensional facets with the other ones, and let the Beings' full, Old-One-equivalent powers run amok! But since an OB whose other facets are brought back together will have four out of five dimensions to draw upon -- the same four that it could always perceive, and the four which give them access to spatial travel and magic from BOTH the Normal and Nightmare realms -- they'll be able to do anything within the bounds of either continuum's mortal OR Immortal (but not Old One) magic. Not a particularly comforting prospect even for the Old Ones, considering these buggers are bound to be irked about having had their dimensions torn asunder. No matter how bizarre or discontiguous or preposterous your body's geometry is, that kind of treatment's gotta HURT!
Yes, there ought to something that keeps the Immortals from pursuing the arms of the "Y" any further, as well. That's another detail the immortal boxed set doesn't seem to address: what dimensions, if any, might lie BELOW the 1st? Is there more Vortex there? Does the cosmos just dead-end? Or would an Immortal checking "beneath" the 1st dimension (or 5th, for a Nightmare Immortal) be reduced to a 0-dimensional singularity and become trapped forever?
Perhaps the Old Ones, once they saw how this new five-dimensional multiverse was shaping up, wanted to keep the Immortals from exploring in the wrong "direction" -- eventually they want them to become OOs, after all; if they evolved along another path, who knows WHAT they might turn into...? -- and so extended the Vortex to "cap off" the arms of the Y. That would give us this picture:? ? V V 1 5 2 4 3 V 6 7 +
"V" indicates locations where Immortals run into the Vortex, if they explore too far. (That's why they keep hitting it, while probing the tips of the Y's arms ... even though the stem is the part they should be TRYING to access.) The plus-sign indicates dimensions which the Old Ones might be trying to figure out, much as the Immortals try to figure out the sixth. The question-marks could be just about ANYTHING the Old Ones didn't want the Immortals to go wandering into, from other realities (like the AD&D multiverse) to structurally-unstable realms where dreams might originate (since the adjacent 1st and 5th dimensions influence dreamers), to a whole lotta nothing: just vacant, never-ending oblivion.
Hey, look out gang: another idea just struck me. Perhaps becoming an Old One shouldn't JUST involve becoming Full Hierarch twice, but becoming one in each of the two continua ... once as a Normal, once as a Nightmare! This would mean that the Immortal gets to experience reality from the viewpoints of BOTH "arms" of the Y, in the course of his or her advancement; and thus, to become as familiar as possible with all five known dimensions, having learned to inhabit and perceive each one in turn. Moreover, would-be Old One could also shed their parochial belief -- a prejudice common to Normal and Nightmare Immortals, alike -- that their own continuum must be older and more important than the other, in the process. This prepares the character for his or her future role as an Old One, in overseeing both these realms as an equitable and broad-minded custodian.
This means that Old Ones might not be quite as impartial as we thought, when it comes to what "mere" Immortals are up to. Rather, they may lend a subtle hand in guiding Immortals to eventually join their ranks, just as Immortals work to shepherd mortals along the Paths of Immortality. In the Old Ones' case, this means they need do nothing more than pull a 'switcheroo' on any Full Hierarchs who choose to become mortal again, by transferring their spirits into mortal bodies in the opposite continuum, instead of into whichever bodies they'd intended to assume, in their own. Memory of the previous continuum is wiped away so that they won't find their new forms horrific, and those memories aren't recovered until Old One status is attained, and the character can accept both Normal and Nightmare beings as worthy forms of life.
That'd certainly explain why the "Path of Old One-ness" has to be taken TWICE ... a strange requirement, otherwise, since you'd think that mastery of all FIVE Spheres would be required, for someone to transcend "mere" Immortals' limitations! (Not that many Immortals would survive the process of becoming an Old One, if they had to relinquish their Immortality four times, instead of just once...!) But attaining a Full Hierarchy once in each continuum -- and thus, learning about a different part of the cosmos's dimensional framework, each time -- makes sense, and sounds a LOT less arbitrary than just "climb ladder, return to bottom, repeat". :-)