Alnair is home to a nexus of interdimensional passageways that have existed for thousands of years. Known to most magic-users as the Paths, these passages are accessible through magically charged portals scattered around the continent. The portals are normally sealed to prevent access, but they can be opened by performing particular magical rituals, casting a portal spell, or using a magical keystone.
The Paths vary in appearance. For example, travelers have reported portions of them that appear to be caverns, mist-shrouded hallways, forest pathways, or murky rivers. They may change appearance abruptly or smoothly, depending on the portion of the network being traversed at any given time. Occasionally, a portion of the Paths will shift or change for no apparent reason.
Portals also vary in appearance. Many appear to be stone archways that have been bricked closed. Other examples include a small circle of blue standing stones outside Avalon, an ancient stone zigurrat in the ruins of Darkhold that is said to have a separate, unmarked portal on each step and face, the Face of Westmarch that holds a portal in its mouth, and the Well of Worlds at Heralds Hall. Although some of the more famous portals are highly decorated, the lesser-known portals are often simple and relatively non-descript. There are even reports of a small girl traveling through a portal that appeared to be a large rabbit hole outside of Canterbury.
The portals and, presumably, the Paths themselves were created before human civilization on Alnair. There are some records that were discovered in the Formiithian ruins that suggest that they were created by an elder reptilian race. Other records from the same source, however, suggest alternative sources including extradimensional forces or beings or an ancient elven race. Some have even suggested that the Paths are tears in the fabric of reality caused by the forces of Chaos and that the portals were created to seal or cap them and prevent access.
Regardless of their origin, however, they have been used by humans and other races on Alnair for at least the past two thousand years. They were used particularly heavily by magic-users and cultic priests in Formiith prior to the collapse of the empire. The elves of Starfall have also used them extensively. They have also conducted studies of the Paths and portals and claim to have discovered or created no fewer than fourteen alternate planes or dimensions accessible from them.
Some scholars studying the Paths have suggested that using them may be dangerous. They point to the appearance of Chaotic entities in the vicinity of known portals, and the occasional disappearance of travelers in the Paths. Elven Elders in Starfall and Chateau d'Anges have warned against using them to travel. They have forbidden travelers from opening the portals in the Crystal Garden in Starfall and placed them under heavy guard. Anaril Blueraven of Heralds Hall has mapped several of the Paths and traveled them extensively. He has presented several reports to the Hall of powerful Chaotic creatures encountered in the Paths, unusual distortions of time and space, and the appearance and disappearance of numerous planes or dimensions. He noted that most of these unusual phenomena seemed to occur when he was accompanied by larger parties of companions, retainers, and servants.
Despite the warnings, however, many people still use the Paths regularly to travel from place to place. The dramatic reductions in travel times between very distant points normally outweighs any concerns that travelers may have. Those that are concerned hire guards and mercenary spell-casters for protection. Because of the concerns and rumors, some of the inns and way-houses near portals are seeing increased business from sellswords and adventurers.
Traveling on the Paths requires an open portal. A few portals normally remain open, including the Well of Worlds at Heralds Hall, two known portals in the ruins of Darkhold, and the King's Gate in Freistadt. Because of the recent rumors and the appearance of Chaotic creatures through these gates in the past, these portals are all under constant guard. Access to them is normally limited to authorized travelers. Other portals may be opened or closed with the appropriate ritual. Very few details of these rituals are recorded, and characters will normally need to consult sages or perform extensive magical research to discover them. Portals may also be opened or closed by using the portal spell or a keystone, as mentioned previously.
Traveling the Paths is similar to traveling overland, but travel times are normally substantially reduced. The reduction varies considerably, depending on the entry and exit portals used. Some trips through the Paths appear to be instantaneous, while others could take hours or days. The exact travel time between points will be determined by the game master.
The Paths open between dimensions and can be extremely dangerous at times. Chaotic creatures are known to travel in the Paths and are attracted to the presence of life in the ways. Single travelers are less likely to attract their attention than large groups. Generally, for each hour spent in the Paths, the game master should make a check to see if the travelers are noticed by a Chaotic creature. In most places, the chance for a Chaotic encounter should be 3% per traveler in the group. The referee can increase this chance for particularly dangerous sections of the Paths. For example, because of the Chaotic activity around Darkhold, the chance of an encounter with a Chaotic creature in the Paths near there could increase to as much as 10% per traveler per hour. The details of the creatures encountered are up to the game master but could include anything from minor demons to Chaotic gods or avatars.
In addition to the possibility of Chaotic encounters, it is possible for travelers to get lost in the Paths. Characters entering a portal are advised to research their route carefully before departure or hire an experienced guide. Even with an appropriate map or guide, there is still a slight chance of being misdirected due to the changing nature of the Paths themselves. Any party entering the Paths has a 10% chance of getting lost. If the travelers have not taken adequate precautions or done appropriate research, do not have a guide, or have an inaccurate map of their Path, the chance of being lost is doubled. A party that is lost in the Paths may exit through a random portal or attempt to find their original destination. If they attempt to return to their original route, their travel time will be doubled (60% of the time), tripled (30% of the time), or quadrupled (10% of the time), with an appropriate increase in the number of encounters.
Guides are normally experienced (6th level or higher) magic-users or elves that have traveled extensively in the Paths. If they are not of sufficient level to cast a portal spell, they will normally carry a keystone. A rare few guides are characters of other classes equipped with keystones.
This spell allows the caster to open or close a single portal within range. A permanent portal is not affected by this spell.
This item appears to be a large stone or gem covered with ancient runic carvings. It can be used to cast a portal spell up to four times per day.
Greater Keystone: This item functions as a normal keystone. It also decreases the chance for a traveler to get lost in the Paths to 1% per trip.
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