(image attribution rgbstock.com)
Astral Lenses allow 3 creatures the combined ability to perform a “Portage” into a parallel Timestream. The Lenses are layered to form the dark colour spectrum (red, green, and blue). Single or double Lenses will only allow a small window into the parallel Timestream, and that window will be limited. A creature will be able to reach his hand out at arm’s length through a single or double Astral Lens, but he won’t be able to see, touch or retrieve just anything. Simply putting one’s hand into an alternate Timestream without preamble also carries its own dangers: A creature doing so must also save vs. Positive-Plane energy poisoning.
The Colours and What They Do
Through a Green lens, organic matter will be clear and tangible. Through a Red lens, spirits, souls, and other cruces of sentience will be clear and tangible (assuming the PC has the ability to see or touch such entities to begin with). Through a Blue lens, mineral or inert material will be clear and tangible.
Note that selective viewing through one Lens will not allow a creature to see through entities viewable only by another Lens. Wielding a Green Lens and purposefully eschewing the Blue Lens will not allow a creature to see a body behind a stone wall. Instead, the wall will be represented by a formless mass of shadow, and will block sight to the other side as a wall normally would. If anything, the Lenses restrict sight even more, as even a clear glass windowpane would be an obscuring mass of shadow when not viewed through the Blue Lens.
How Do I Get One?
An Astral Lens, though it can be a physical object, is typically a magical anomaly existing only in the vision of a creature so endowed. Typically, only demigods, archmages of chronomancy, or high priests of the Elven god of time Labelas Enoreth, would be gifted with (or capable of procuring or wielding) more than one Lens. Some possible other ways to procure a Lens are:
1) to subject oneself to repeated blasts of Positive-Plane energy filtered through carefully aligned crystal prisms, after many years of careful study on their position and timing. Though the theories documented by chronomancers for this procedure are sound, only one archmage in history has actually survived the process. He went hopelessly mad, and is currently busy killing off versions of himself in parallel Timestreams and eating their brains.
2) to contract a form of degenerative illness known in wizardly circles as metacausal ague. People in direct causal relation to events or persons that have been erased from the Timestream often contract this, as their minds wither under a spectral gamma-storm of existential reshuffling. It’s never healthy to be caught in the crossfire when the Universe rights itself.
3) to be thrown by divine force into another Timestream without warning.
4) to cross Timestreams so often that, eventually, one can only exist in the dark spectrum that straddles all Timestreams. Such unfortunate creatures live within their Lens, and are unable to fully corporealize in any single Timestream. Reality for these beings is a confusing blur of infinite causal branches. They wade downstream through a realm of exponentially dilating probability and commensurately contracting Time, never able to actually engage with any of it. Eventually, as they crawl downstream and expand to encompass hundreds and even thousands of Timestreams, they slow to the point of crystallizing, and become vast prismatic libraries documenting their own last living moments through each Timestream. Chronomancers refer to these horizon-spanning corpse-artefacts of frozen probability as the Bridges of Prophecy, and speak in reverence of the sheer weight of algorithmic knowledge that could be extrapolated from a thorough decoding of their panoramic surfaces. It is theorized that one could gather enough probabilistic data to predict the future with great accuracy in any given Timestream, if one could only survive long enough between Timestreams without suffering the same fate as one’s object of study.
In order to access other Timestreams with at least a small measure of safety, one must layer multiple Astral Lenses, one of each colour. When these Lenses are layered together, they can be expanded in the shared mind’s eye of the creatures that own them, to form an Area of Effect within which the creatures may operate for a short time in a parallel Timestream. Things will be slightly different within this parallel Timestream. People will have made different choices, created and destroyed different things, etc. These changes will generally regress to something similar to your own Timestream, given time, thus containing wild ripple effects that could cause major divergences over the course of centuries. However, that is not to say that they are not without impact for the PCs. Certain NPCs might be alive, where before they were not. Certain wars or skirmishes might have been lost or averted, public figures will be in varied standing and demeanor, etc.
The process of creating and entering this Area of Effect is referred to as a Portage. The Portage is performed with a variation on Blackjack rules. Each player will be dealt two cards, one face-down below another face-up. The players will try to get as close to 21 as possible without going over. Face cards are 11, and Aces are 1 or 11, player’s choice. The DM will not deal any cards to herself at first.
Each player in turn says either “Hit me”, “Hold”, or “Reveal”. Unlike regular Blackjack, a player cannot receive more than one card in his turn. When all 3 players have gone, one round has passed in game time.
Whenever a player says “hit me”, the DM can also deal herself a card. If that card is equal to no more than half the value of another player’s top card (rounded up), she can hit the player’s stack with it, thus increasing that player’s total score.
Holding or Revealing does not prevent a player from performing any of the 3 actions on their next turn.
Each player will have a target figure equal to 21 – (½ level), rounded up. For example, a Level 7 player’s target figure is 17. When a player’s score reaches or exceeds this figure, he can choose to Reveal on his turn. The first player to Reveal immediately draws 1m2 on the map. This is the beginning of the Area of Effect.
After the first Reveal, whenever a player that has Revealed has a turn, he may spend his degree of success on either meters squared or duration. For example, our 7th level character Reveals at 18 and lays down 1m2 on the map. On his next turn, he Holds, and can lay down an addition 1m2 and purchase 1 round of duration, or lay down 2m2, or buy 2 rounds of duration. The turn after, he bravely says “Hit me” and, lucky dog that he is, gets a 2. This brings his score to 20, 3 higher than the base success, which means he has a degree of success of 4 to spend on meters squared or duration.
The danger of Revealing earlier than the other players is that the DM can still hit you with cards half as low as your top card, and push you over 21. To avoid this, try to end with low cards.
On scoring 21, the degree of success is counted as double. Our 7th level guy would be laying down 10 points into AoE and duration each turn!
Click Your Heels, Dorothy!
When all 3 players Hold consecutively, the ritual is complete, the cards put away, and the PCs alight into the AoE through no force of their own, drifting serenely through the Portage and into the other Timestream, eyes flashing a dazzling convergence of Red, Blue and Green. The duration countdown begins. The players can move and act freely within the other Timestream for their earned duration. Other creatures of this or the other Timestream will not notice the Portage or the AoE, unless they too possess Lenses. They will, however, notice the players’ (dis)appearance.
The Portage uses an Anchor on the other side. This can be either an object or a person. The AoE will move with the Anchor, should the Anchor change position. When the duration ends, every creature in contact with the Anchor will be jerked back into the PCs’ Timestream.
If a PC (or any thing or creature they brought with them) comes into contact with the edge of the AoE, they are immediately vaporized by Positive-Plane energy. Creatures and PCs level 5 or higher may make a saving throw versus spell; if they pass, they instead lose two random limbs and take 5d8 Positive-Plane energy damage. Creatures immune to Positive-Plane energy may pass through at will.
But Wait… What Happens Over 21?
Scoring over 21 is a consistently horrible thing to do. All scores over 21 must be Revealed immediately, and their effects are resolved at once, before turns are continued.
- At 22, the players must take STR checks or get sucked in. The offending player makes his check with a +4 penalty. The ritual ends immediately, but the Portage can still be completed as long as either all or none of the players passed their STR checks. If only 1 or 2 of the players got sucked in, the Portage closes and they are stranded on the other side.
- At 23, 2d10 denizens of the Astral are attracted to the Portage, and swarm around the AoE. There is a 50/50 chance of them appearing in the one or the other Timestream, and the players will not be able to tell which. They will not be able to break through into the AoE until the duration ends, at which point the PCs are either holding the Anchor or not.
- At 24, the target Timestream is switched out with another Timestream.
- At 25, 2d8 random creatures belonging to the other Timestream who have or will, in the course of past or future, pass(ed) through the AoE, are pulled out of their own place in the Timestream and into the present, within the AoE.
- At 26, the party, their AoE and their Portage are teleported to a random world location.
- At 27, each PC rolls up a Wild Surge. The offending player rolls up 2.
- At 28, the Portage’s Anchor on the other side is changed to a random creature or object within the AoE. The players will know that something is wrong with the Anchor, as it will suddenly be grey. The ritual ends immediately, and the players are pulled in so long as there is at least 1 round’s duration. In order to spot the new Anchor, all three must look directly at it at the same time. Coordinating their gazes requires 1 round per target.
- At 29, the ritual ends immediately, and each player is blinded by an intensely hot, supernova-grade light for 1d4 rounds and blasted with 5d8 Positive-Plane energy damage. They can save vs Breath Weapon for half damage. The offending player gets 10d8 damage. Those who critically fail their save (by 4 or more) must also follow the saving throw procedure for Positive-Plane energy poisoning. This blast of radiation is merely an echo of what happens inside the AoE in the other Timestream. Everything within a 5m radius of the Anchor is atomized as though it had come into direct contact with the Positive Material Plane. Even the landscape, the air, everything in a 5m sphere is nullified. The anchor itself survives, and has a 50% chance of being pulled into the PCs’ Timestream. From 5m and out to the edges of the AoE, if any edges go beyond 5m, all vegetation is vaporized, and all creatures receive 10d8 Positive-Plane energy damage. Those who fail their saves must follow the saving throw procedure for Positive-Plane energy poisoning (think I’ve spammed that enough now).
- At 30, Labelas Enoreth, the Elven god of Time, sends an archangel with a +5 flaming longsword to destroy the offender for having so abused his power. The archangel will ignore the other party members unless attacked by them. If the offender immediately falls to his knees and offers his neck, there is a 50% chance that the angel will instead deliver him to Labelas’ throne room for judgment.
- At 31, roll 1d4+1d6+20 and use this result. Do this twice.
- At 32, the offender ascends immediately to godhood.
If the DM hits a player with a Joker, step 31 is immediately invoked. If the DM draws a Joker to her own stack, the AoE becomes omnipresent, and the duration becomes permanent until dispelled by all 3 players grabbing the Anchor to return to their own Timestream. They can, in effect, wander the other Timestream indefinitely. However, should the Anchor be destroyed, they would die with it, and atomize everything within 5m of them as per #29.
The Mythical White Lens
Legend speaks of a being of the Timestreams whose mind holds in its eye a White Lens. This being was once a human scholar who had spent far too long crossing Timestreams and became trapped. He somehow avoided the inevitable fate of crystallizing into a Bridge of Prophecy, and now he assumes a plethora of potential forms simultaneously, but is bound by none of them. His/her/its perception of reality and the flow of time is so profoundly esoteric that engaging him in conversation would be utterly impossible. They say he wanders in and out of important moments in history and in futures past, gibbering and unleashing the occasional wild surge in a seizure of transcendent chronomancy.
According to theoretical chronomancers, a White Lens would render the Weave of magic itself clear and tangible. If this is correct, this being, referred to in legend simply as the White Lens, can cast magic in multiple Timestreams and at multiple points in history, most probably with no control whatsoever, and without actually entering the real Multiverse. Some fringe theorists even speculate that his very presence ripples back to the birth of the Multiverse, and that he serves as the unwitting primogenitor of the Plane of Limbo and, by extension, of Chaos itself as a supra-abstract entity.