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The following is excerpted from the DMG, pp.160-161.
The world occupies a special place at the center of the universe. It’s the middle ground where the conflicts between gods and primordials, and among the gods themselves, play out through their servants both mortal and immortal. But other planes of existence surround the world, nearby dimensions where some power sources are said to originate and powerful creatures reside, including demons, devils, and the gods.
Before the world existed, the universe was divided into two parts: the Astral Sea and the Elemental Chaos. Some legends say that those two were once one realm, but even the gods can’t know that for certain, for they had their origin in the Astral Sea.
The Astral Sea
The Astral Sea floats above the world, an ocean of silvery liquid with the stars visible beneath the shallow sea. Sheets of shimmering starlight like gossamer veils part to reveal the dominions, the homes of the gods, like islands floating in the Astral Sea. Not all the gods live in dominions—the Raven Queen’s palace of Letherna stands in the Shadowfell, and Lolth’s home, the Demonweb Pits, is located in the Abyss. Avandra, Melora, and Torog wander the world, and both Sehanine and Vecna wander the whole cosmos.
Arvandor is a realm of natural beauty and arcane energy that echoes the Feywild. It’s the home of Corellon and sometimes of Sehanine. Arvandor seems to be as much a part of the Feywild as of the Astral Sea, and travelers claim to have reached it through both planes.
The Bright City of Hestavar, as its title suggests, is a vast metropolis where Erathis, Ioun, and Pelor make their homes. Powerful residents of all the planes make their way to the Bright City to buy and sell exotic goods.
Tytherion, called the Endless Night, is the dark domain that Tiamat and Zehir share. No light can pierce its darkest depths, and both serpents and dragons haunt its otherworldly wilderness.
The Iron Fortress of Chernoggar is Bane’s stronghold in the Astral Sea. As its name suggests, it’s a mighty stronghold of rust-pitted iron, said to be impregnable to attack. Even so, Gruumsh makes his home on an eternal battlefield outside the fortress’s walls, determined to raze it to the ground one day. Immortal warriors fight and die on both sides of this conflict, returning to life with every nightfall.
Celestia is the heavenly realm of Bahamut and Moradin. Kord also spends a good deal of time on its mountainous slopes because of an old friendship with the other gods, but his tempestuous nature keeps him from calling it home. Upon parting a veil to enter Celestia, a traveler arrives on the lower reaches of a great mountain. Behind him, the mountains disappear into silvery mist far below.
The Nine Hells is the home of Asmodeus and the devils. This plane is a dark, fiery world of continent-sized caverns ruled by warring princelings, though all are ultimately under the iron fist of Asmodeus.
The Elemental Chaos and the Abyss
At the foundation of the world, the Elemental Chaos churns like an ever-changing tempest of clashing elements—fire and lightning, earth and water, whirlwinds and living thunder. Just as the gods originated in the Astral Sea, the first inhabitants of the Elemental Chaos were the primordials, creatures of raw elemental power. They shaped the world from the raw material of the Elemental Chaos, and if they had their way, the world would be torn back down and returned to raw materials. The gods have given the world permanence utterly alien to the primordials’ nature.
The Elemental Chaos approximates a level plane on which travelers can move, but the landscape is broken up by rivers of lightning, seas of fire, floating earthbergs, ice mountains, and other formations of raw elemental forces. However, it is possible to make one’s way slowly down into lower layers of the Elemental Chaos. At its bottom, it turns into a swirling maelstrom that grows darker and deadlier as it descends.
At the bottom of that maelstrom is the Abyss, the home of demons. Tharizdun, the Chained God, planted a shard of pure evil in the heart of the Elemental Chaos before the world was finished, and the gods imprisoned him for this act of blasphemy. (This story is told in more detail in the “Demon” entry of theMonster Manual.) The Abyss is as entropic as the Elemental Chaos where it was planted, but it is actively malevolent, where the rest of the Elemental Chaos is simply untamed.
The World and its Echoes
The world has no proper name, but it bears a wide variety of prosaic and poetic names among those people who ever find need to call it anything but “the world.” It’s the creation, the middle world, the natural world, the created world, or even the First Work.
The primordials formed the world from the raw materials of the Elemental Chaos. Looking down on this work from the Astral Sea, the gods were fascinated with the world. Creatures of thought and ideal, the gods saw endless room for improvement in the primordials’ work, and their imaginings took form and substance from the abundance of creation-stuff still drifting in the cosmos. Life spread across the face of the world, the churning elements resolved into oceans and landmasses, diffuse light became a sun and moon and stars. The gods drew astral essence and mixed it with the tiniest bits of creation-stuff to create mortals to populate the world and worship them. Elves, dwarves, humans, and others appeared in this period of spontaneous creation. Resentful of the gods’ meddling in their work, the primordials began a war that shook the universe, but the gods emerged victorious and the world remains as they have shaped it.
As the world took shape, the primordials found some pieces too vivid and bright, and hurled them away. They found other pieces too murky and dark, and flung them away as well. These discarded bits of creation clustered and merged, and formed together in echoes of the shaping of the world. As the gods joined in the act of creation, more ripples spread out into the Feywild and the Shadowfell, bringing creatures to life there as echoes of the world’s mortals. Thus the world was born with two siblings: the bright Feywild and the dark Shadowfell.
The Shadowfell is a dark echo of the world. It touches the world in places of deep shadow, sometimes spilling out into the world, and other times drawing hapless travelers into its dark embrace. It is not wholly evil, but everything in the Shadowfell has its dark and sinister side. When mortal creatures die, their spirits travel first to the Shadowfell before moving on to their final fate.
The Feywild is an enchanted reflection of the world. Arcane energy flows through it like streams of crystal water. Its beauty and majesty is unparalleled in the world, and every creature of the wild is imbued with a measure of fantastic power.
Scholars claim that the universe described here is not all there is—that something else exists beyond the Astral Sea and the Elemental Chaos. Evidence for this idea appears in the form of the most alien creatures known, aberrant monsters such as the aboleth and gibbering orb. These creatures don’t seem to be a part of the world or any known realm, and where they live in the world, reality alters around them. This fact has led sages to postulate the existence of a place they call the Far Realm, a place where the laws of reality work differently than in the known universe.
In addition, the souls of the dead—though they travel first to the Shadowfell—pass beyond it after a time. Some souls are claimed by the gods and carried to the divine dominions, but others pass to another realm beyond the knowledge of any living being.