We’re back to tackle the rest of the Transitive Planes. This week it’s the Shadow Plane and the First Realm, so let’s dive in.
The Shadow Plane is the bridge between the Material and Negative Energy Plane, and much like the Ethereal, is separated from the Material Plane by the thinnest of barriers. Unlike the Ethereal though, the Shadow Plane has its own geography, significantly different than the Material Plane, though there are many places where the barrier is thin between the two planes that the Shadow Plane is a dark reflection of the Material. Which brings us to the primary features of the Shadow Plane. As is implied by the name, the Shadow is inherently darker, with few sources of light, and even where there is light, all color, sound, and taste are muted. Many important locations from the Material have corresponding areas where they touch the Shadow Plane, perhaps most famously Shadow Absalom and Absalom, but by no means limited to areas from now lost Golarion. In fact, given the dark, empty reaches of the Vast, there are almost certainly places out in the void where the Shadow bleeds into the Material. The inhabitants of the Shadow Plane are mostly the fetchlings/Kayal (humans that long ago became trapped in the Shadow), gloomwings (and their larva, tenebrous worms), shadow mastiff, creeping shades, the strange shodrav, svartalfar (exiled fey, possible in service to Count Ranalc), mementor (exiled fey definitely in service to the Count), shadow giants, various undead (the majority of which are shadows), and last but absolutely not least the velstrac and their lord Zon-Kuthon. The Midnight Lord claims a significant portion of the Shadow Plane as his domain, his velstrac servitors all call the plane home, and his followers travel back and forth between the Shadow and Material. It is through the Kuthites more than anything else that the Shadow Plane makes itself know in the Pact Worlds, as they offer one of the few major alternatives to Drift travel through the use of the Shadow Plane and their Pain Engines. Velstrac starships all use this blending of magic, faith, and technology to traverse the stars for their own ends, and woe be the mortal who draws their attention.
If the Shadow Plane is a colorless and dull place, the First World is very much the opposite. Full to bursting with life, colors, sounds, smells, and more, the home of the Fey is just as relevant in the time of the Pact Worlds as it was back on old Golarion. Unlike the other Transitive Planes, the First World doesn’t bridge some other plane the Material, but rather the Material Plane seems to be the bridge between the First World and everywhere else. Perhaps even stranger, while the Material Plane is an incredibly massive expanse of largely empty space punctuated by planets, stars, and other astra phenomena, the First World is single infinite landmass that somehow links to planets and locations in the Material (a strange concordance that is taken advantage of by First Drive engines). Home to the Eldest and pre-dating all but the oldest gods and powers, the First World is thought to be the rough draft of reality, like an Alpha build of a game, but one that has to stay running in order for the rest of reality to work, which bleeds into the current iteration, still has Alpha testers sitting on exploits and messing with the latest build, and (considering all the gremlins) home to a near endless supply of trolls both literal and metaphorical. Both timeless and eternally evolving, the First World is the source of all Fey from the humble gremlins to the ineffable calecor, and seems to be connected to the rise of life itself through reality. Most mortals living in the Pact Worlds probably never give the First World much thought, but at the same time they’ve done rituals and made offerings to hobs and sprites any number of times (to ward off glitch gremlins, court good luck at work or in an online game, and so on…) just as part of going through a normal day. On a larger scale, we know of 9 primary Eldest, but others (like Count Ranalc mentioned above) seem tied to specific planets or cultures, so there are probably many more such creatures out there. What might the fey of the Veskarium be like? Do the Vesk have an Eldest? The Pahtra? Or even the Skittermanders? The Azlanti Star Empire traces its origins back to Golarion and the same solar system as the Pact Worlds, did they bring some of those fey with them? Did some Fey power split off to accompany the wayward Azlanti? What relation does the First Realm have to the Great Old Ones and the Outer Gods? The Eldest know…
Hopefully this gives you some ideas for how to use these Planes and the forces that reside there in your game. Starfinder has such a rich tapestry of magic, folklore, and mysticism mixed in with all the sci-fantasy, it can be easy to miss some of the lore. A powerful Fey could be the fixer that hires the party for missions, all to accomplish goals that make sense only to a creature with a perspective that spans eons. Or perhaps some action of the party attracts the attention of vesltrac paincrafters and their kuthite cultists, bring elements of true horror into the game. There are many ways you can tie the First World and the Shadow Plane to your table!
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