Esper is a world where purpose and control have triumphed over savagery and chaos. Bereft of red and green mana, this plane's natural forces pale next to the supernatural power of its human and vedalken mages. Under the foresight of Esper's ruling sphinxes, the plane has transformed from wilderness to a tightly-controlled magocracy, with all forms of life perfected through the æther-infused metal known as etherium. Travelers to Esper should expect a spectacle of sophisticated beauty, where not only the plane but also its denizens have been meticulously designed according to a grand plan.
Terrain and Climate Edit
A temperamental gray sky dominates the view wherever you travel in Esper. Towering clouds sliced along wizard-defined grid lines float over vast oceans, slate-colored islands, and deserts of glass. Without red or green mana, "wildlife" is not common here, but what the plane lacks in ferocity, it makes up for in violence of wind and waves. Esper has strong winds and heavy downpours, the only elements of nature here not yet completely controlled by the spinxes' magocracy.
Oceans and Seas Edit
Esper's oceans and seas typify all forms of marine geography, from the pitch-black Inkwell to the pale Dwindling Sea, from the placed Sea of Stars to the whirlpools of the Twin Maelstroms, from the vast Sea of Unknowing to the mysterious Kingdom of Fog. The vedalken set up tide controls to regulate the periodicity of the tides in most of Esper's waters, and tidemages help ships navigate through Esper's turbulent weather. Despite these advancements, what lurks beneath the sea here is still largely a mystery.
The Cliffs of Ot Edit
These wind-carved cliffs hang improbably over a stretch of of the Sea of Unknowing. Travelers are often encouraged to listen to the whispers and wails in the sea spray; some Esperites believe the sounds are the voices of the dead. Vedalken however, believe the cliffs are a place of mysticism, and that meditating on their heights will yield arcane insights.
The Glass Dunes Edit
Esper's largest contiguous landscape is a large, glittering, white "sand" desert known as the Glass Dunes. Though normally calm, windstorms here can kick up the glass-dust and permanently blind those whose eyes aren't protected. Beneath the dunes, glacierlike masses of glass slowly accumulate through pressure and time.
The Cesspools Edit
Esper's cities and settlements are nothing if not clean. Waste material of all kinds is shipped to the Cesspools, deep pits where monstrous creatures swim through the ashen mulch and "process" the refuse. The Cesspools have given rise to their own ghoulish ecosystem that Esper's civilized world does its best to avoid.
A subterranean system of caverns, half-filled with darkened seawater, extends under Esper's largest islands. The seas' tides have worn the rock into a sort of honeycomb, a baffle for the crashing waves. The caverns continue for miles inland, providing good cover from the elements. Research indicates that Tidehollow may conceal evidence of long-dead cultures from Esper's ancient past, possibly related to the era of a unified Alara.
Cloudheath and the Eternal Storm Edit
Above a large, rocky expanse called Cloudheath, a storm with high winds and driving rain has been raging for over a century. A single tower stands in defiance of the storm, home to a single human hermit called Tiln. Tiln is an ancient, powerful, and irascible stormcaller. From time to time he will begrudgingly help guide a huge storm away from a major city, or rescue a vessel lost in the Kingdom of Fog.
Esperites believe all life is flawed and incomplete without an intrinsic connection to the aether, the essence of the universe. Through nonstop experimentation, they have devised countless magic that enables them to artificially supplement any living thing with etherium, a mysterious alloy infused with aether. Almost all living things have a small amount of etherium fused with their anatomy. The line between organic and artificial has not been totally eliminated here, but it has been blurred.
The methods of creating new etherium are known only to one sphinx, Crucius, whose whereabouts are unknown. Since his disappearance, Esper's existing etherium has been endlessly refined and attenuated into ever more delicate structures.
The Ethersworn Edit
The sanctioned order known as the Ethersworn serves a single purpose: to instill as many living things with etherium as they possibly can. As Esper's etherium supplies dwindle, their missions grows increasingly difficult, but members of the Ethersworn believe the metaphysical "fitness" of their entire world is at stake. In accordance with the teachings of the sphinx Crucius, they maintain that if enough of Esper's life is fused with etherium, the plane will transcend its mortal and physical limitations.
The Noble Work, the Ignoble Flesh Edit
The expression "the Noble Work" refers to the ongoing effort to instill every living thing in Esper with a small amount of etherium, thought to bring all beings closer to perfection. "The Ignoble Flesh" is the term for a splinter group who takes this philosophy to an extreme. Its adherents believe the flesh is fallible and impure ad should be shed through the eventual replacement of the entire body with etherium. The very few who have achieved this goal are known as aether-liches.
The Seekers of Caramot Edit
One sect of wizards, comprised of both humans and vedalken, has arisen recently on Esper. Their claim is that the etherium is running out, and that the way of life brought on by the alloy will die out along with it. Their message has gained popularity in recent years as the etherium infusions of new generations have waned in size and complexity. The leaders of the sect claim that they have in their possession the partially destroyed, elaborately encoded Codex Etherium of the sphinx Crucius himself, and that they have decrypted the tome to the extent that they know they must find a red stone called carmot to unlock the secrets of etherium.
Carmont is indeed a component of etherium, though no trace of it has been found on Esper. The spinx Crucius may have consumed all of the material on the plane in his initial creation of etherium. Or it may be that Crucius was a planeswalker, able to obtain carmot from other shards of Alara.
The Humans of Esper Edit
On Esper, magic is synonymous with culture. The humans here are devoted, expert mages, and those with the most powerful magic rule the others. For this reason, Esper's history is peppered with occasional crude grabs at power, but each would-be tyrant has been swiftly put down. Subtlety goes much farther here than flashy magic or vulgar force.
Magical Specializations Edit
Among the humans of Esper, specialization is the key to establishing one's mastery. This is an incomplete list of such specialized mages:
A master of secret knowledge and lost lore.
An artificer with a talent for infusing complex creations with magic.
One who manipulates the forces of time.
A trafficker in thoughts, especially those others try to hide.
One who uses magic to influence the seas and tides.
In addition to these types once can also find the more standard voidmages, nullmages, pathmages, and so on. Some mages claim to know only one kind of magic, keeping their other skills to themselves.
Every mage of note has a personal retinue. The size and quality of a mage's retinue is an indicator of his or her clout and status. A powerful and influential mage might have a retinue of six or seven, including apprentices, telemins (see below), gargoyles, animal familiars, magically-created humanoids called homunculi, and even specimens of physical perfection just for show.
A society founded on control needs individuals willing to be controlled. A voluntary "underclass" has emerged amongst Esper's humans, people willing to be the instruments of other mages' artistry. Telemins, sometimes called "mage dolls," allows themselves to be mentally commanded by a mage to perform some task, whether it's menial, skilled, or artistic. Credit for a telemin's skill or accomplishment never goes to the telemin himself but rather to the mage who "plays" him. Some telemins have become famous in the same way that a well-made instrument can become famous, like an exquisite violin.
Notable Human Places Edit
Even outside of Vectis, Esper's largest human fortification, there are plenty of places to interact with humanity.
The Visitarium Edit
This complex has a multitude of "visitation bays" in which humans can host other creatures for various transactions, whether they're for business, educational, or secretive purposes. Humans meet with vedalken visitors here, for example. There are large, central bays in which Esper's sphinxes land to discuss matters with the humans they deem worthy of their communication.
The House of Dialects Edit
The House of Dialects is a sort of parliament chamber where the most influential human mages come to argue, convince, entreat, and bargain. Unlike vedalken society, human culture is not strictly hierarchical and is instead governed by influence, alliances, and debts of loyalty.
The Crypt of Knowledge Edit
This sacred place is reserved for the clerics, who protect the arcane secrets and bodies of great archmages contained within it. Half tomb, half library, the Crypt of Knowledge is treated with the utmost respect. Speech is forbidden here, and documents and sepulchers are moved and manipulated telekinetically so as not to sully them by touch.
The Vedalken of Esper Edit
Vedalkens are intelligent, progressive humanoids with skin tone that varies from a bluish white-gray to a dusky, deep blue. They have only the slightest indication of an outer ear, with no lobe or 'rim,' just a hole that leads to the eardrum. They have nostrils but only a slight nose bridge. They have only fine body hair that's uniformly clear and light.
Esper's vedalken are refined, sophisticated, and lawful, and have led Esper in both magical advancement and the use of etherium. Whereas humans tend to have relatively minor and simple etherium enhancements, vedalken make more dramatic use of the alloy. It's not uncommon for vedalken necks or abdomens to be partially replaced with etherium, for example. In such circumstances, powerful enchantments stand in for traditional biological function.
Vedalken Psychology Edit
In vedalken society, the pursuit of magic takes on an almost scientific purpose and methodology. The vedalken are driven to understand everything around them, and are thus in a constant, intense observational state. It can give other species the unnerving impression that they're being monitored and examined rather than talked to.
Artifact Devices and the Twenty-Three Winds Edit
Orreries, astrolabes, observatories, meteorological charts, topographical models, all these thing are like furniture to the vedalken. They are compulsive measurers and recorders of information of all kinds, but tend to focus on visual data. Vedalken have names all twenty-three winds of Esper, ascribing oracular import to their unique air currents.
The Filigree Texts Edit
The vedalken's search for enlightenment can be surprisingly spiritual. The vedalken study sacred grimoires called the Filigree Texts. These books contain all the information about Esper that the vedalken find significant, and weave that information into an obtuse kind of long-form poem. There are twenty-three tomes, one for each of their names winds. Several decades ago the vedalken augurs decided the tomes were sacred enough to to be committed to etherium. Now each of the twenty-three codices consists of delicate, priceless etherium metal pages, with the text spelled out in the negative space between the filigree.
Notable Vedalken Places Edit
Vedalken architecture is among the most often recommended sights in the Multiverse, and the structure of Esper's vedalken exceed even the highest expectations. If you must choose two destinations, choose these, but each of Esper's vedalken-governed cities will inspire any devotee of art and architecture.
The Sanctum Arcanum Edit
The Sactum Arcane is the glass-and-steel vedalken temple that houses the Filigree Texts. The atmosphere above it is echanted so that it's never overcast; there's a kind of "hole in the clouds" that enables light to shine directly down onto the structure. Many small academies have cropped up around the sanctum dedicated to studying the text in specific contexts.
The largest vedalken city, and considered a work of art by most vedalken, Palandius's dramatic architecture works with the natural terrain to create a dramatic, organic cityscape. It overlooks the Sea of Unknowing and is a major port for human-vedalken trade.
The Sphinxes of Esper Edit
Esper is home to a handful of great sphinxes, whose wisdom, magical prowess, and mastery over etherium make them the rules of the plane. Sphinxes prefer to remain a mystery to the humanoids, making their homes on distant, remote islands shrouded from view by magic. Their visits with humanoids are reasonably frequent, but sphinxes do not form lasting relationships. All sphinxes are vastly knowledgable and insightful, but beyond that their characters vary widely, from cold and calculating to honorable and beneficent.
Sharuum, the Hegemon Edit
Sharuum is the beautiful, ageless female sphinx who serves as Esper's de facto "philosopher queen." Her word is taken as the deepest wisdom and her judgements, though rare, are incontrovertible. She cannot forge new etherium, but Sharuum has taught her allies how to thin the existing etherium, leading to ever more delicate filigree structures among Esper's beings. After Crucius disappeared, Sharuum devoted much of her life to finding the whereabouts of her former partner.
Crucius the Mad Edit
The sphinx Crucius was a seminal but controversial figure in Esper history. Esperites now revile the genius who brought etherium to the plane, thinking him to have disappeared or died years ago. But evidence suggests that he may have been a planeswalker, and furthermore may have understood (and attempted to correct) Esper's plight.
Decades ago, Crucius devised the magical alloy etherium and began a grand project to infuse living things on Esper with it, which he called the Noble Work. Records show that he proposed the Noble Work as a means to overcome the frailties and limitations of the mortal flesh, but Crucius may have in fact perceived Esper's disconnection from two crucial elements, red and green mana. Indeed, the aether inside etherium, spread out across enough of the plane, may have been intended to enable a spell that would reunify Esper with the other shards of Alara.
Reconvergence plan or no, the Noble Work became a kind of dogma and spun out of Crucius's control. Despite the sphinx's attempts to warn them, the Esperites began to replace more and more of their flesh with etherium, eventually leading to the creation of undead abominations called aether-liches. Crucius, as the source of etherium, was blamed for these creatures, earning him the moniker Crucius the Mad. Ostracized and despondent, Crucius disappeared soon after.
Kemuel, the Hidden One Edit
One other sphinx bears noting. Kemuel, called the Hidden One, lives in a vast, complex maze within the Glass Dunes. He never leaves his inner chamber, partly because he is missing part of a wing and a rear leg, the result of a centuries-ago clash with a leviathan. The skies over his maze are kept turbulent by powerful magic so that none can bypass the labyrinth. Only the desperate dare to consult him, and many have died in the maze trying to reach him. The few that have reached him and received his wisdom often find it baffling at first, but once understood it is tantamount to prophecy.
A homunculus is a magically-created, living humanoid creature, created by the human alchemical masters of Esper. Homunculi are sentient and self-willed, but incapable of defying the demands of their creators. They are used for a myriad of purposes, but most often function as clerks, scribes, and couriers, and as decorative additions to mages' personal retinues.
Homunculi vaguely resemble small, "toy" versions of vedalken, which appears to make the vedalken uncomfortable around them. Whether humans intend a deeper symbolism in the homunculi's appearance (as home to the wise and noble vedalken), or as a hint to some sinister origin of the creature, is not known. Though the lives of homunculi aren't considered intrinsically valuable, humans keep them well protected, probably due to the labor and expense of their creation.
Other Creatures of Esper Edit
Despite its sparse vegetation and lack of red and green mana, Esper is home to more than just humanoids. Among the creatures of Esper are gargoyles, drakes, birds, and several kinds of undead. Below Esper's seas lurk leviathans and krakens, some of them documented to predate even the oldest sphinxes.
The faithful servants of the most powerful mages in Vectis and Palandius, gargoyles serve as living compromise between the world of flesh and the world of insensible objects. The first gargoyles on Esper were originally huge, elegantly carved statues perched on the tower abode of a former ruler of Palandius. They were brought to life with dramatic spells and an infusion of etherium to celebrate the ruler's ascendance to power. They proved to dedicated and practical that other, smaller gargoyles were animated for travel and guardianship.
Ecology of the Cesspools Edit
Esper's sludge-filled pits, the Cesspools, support their own ecosystems of strange creatures. Sluice serpents swim under the surface, eating whatever moves. Brinewaiths, vicious, incorporeal undead, are said to be the revnant spirits of those who died in water. Hauntcreeps, shadowy ghosts that drift around the Cesspools, make no other sound other than a hissing white noise. And sludgestriders are monstrous insects that balance on the surface, feeding on passing refuse.
Tidehollow Scullers Edit
The most fearsome sight in Esper may be the scullers, the undead boatmen of the tidecaves. When the weather on Esper's surface gets too inclement for extended journeys, some humans vedalken will brave the Tidehollow and entrust their travel to them. Travelers to the plane should be aware that scullers use strange, nonverbal communication to negotiate their price, and only agree to unusual forms of payment. If you travel with a sculler, be prepared to lose something of great and subtle value.
Drakes are dangerous predators on any plane, but the etherium-infused drakes of Esper should be treated with special caution. The sphinx Crucius, and those who now carry out his Noble Work, the Ethersworn, spent years perfecting their designs on drakes before infusing the first humanoid. As a result, hundreds or thousands of etherium-permeated drakes soar above Esper, many of which suffered strange behavorial changes as a result. One's usual instincts about drakes should not be trusted here.
Esper is home to a large, owl-like bird called a strix (collectively striges). Striges resemble ashen-colored screech owls with deep back eyes. The screech of a strix can drain the thoughts and memories of those who hear it, which in turn nourishes the bird. It's a kind of psychic vampirism.