MTG: Planeswalker's Guide to Baoth

Only bits and pieces of information of Baoth's distant past remain. Some speak of a glorious paradise, created by a powerful angel, whose error would condemn her to eternal regret. Others of formless chaos, the desire for order imposed upon it by the light of the demiurge. Others still of a bloody revolt between mortals and their artifice, which commenced the cycles of illusion and suffering. And others still view all as valid, in their own way.

All that is known is that whatever of these aftermaths brought Iah into being.

The first of the archons, Iah saw himself as the ultimate agent of order. This claim was backed by immense power, which he used to curse the plane itself. Where there once was one certain reality, there came to be five layers, blurring forever the line between truth and illusion.

With this spell cast, legions of archons were born. This "heavenly" host has since maintained the order of the plane, changing, eradicating and imprisoning as they saw fit. They are the rulers of the plane, a a claim nonetheless contested by the angels that accuse them of tyranny, and by the countless rebels these have inspired.

The nature of reality

With the exception of most archons, angels and a few other beings, all sapient beings on Baoth find themselves in a form of existential stasis. All individual bodies technically exist in the same reality, encased and restrained, but their souls, minds and senses are tuned into a particular layer of reality. Known as maya, these layers of existence blurry the line between reality and illusion, as even planeswalkers are trapped in them. Planeswalking to Baoth has caused many an existential crisis.

Although the maya were initially designed to be utopic, over time the archons realized that relatively few mortal beings could accept such paradises, only adding fuel to salvationist cults. As such, most maya have an intentional design flaw, as means to come across as realistic and to root out those who would not accept them while restraining the majority. Archons typically respond to dissent via "reassignment" to a different maya, as a form of ironic punishment.

Upon death, an individual's consciousness is reincarnated into another maya, a process usually manipulated by the archons; occasionally souls reincarnate as different species, inducing a form of dysphoria. Frequently, souls are permanently locked unto a particular maya, wandering as "spirits", though the true physical self may still be alive. As a consequence of this existential limbo, there are no true undead in this plane.

Enlightened individuals realize the falsehood of their senses and break free from one of the maya, being able to travel amidst the five layers of reality at will. To an external viewer this might seem like a microcosm of planeswalking, but few individuals have taken the extra step and released themselves fully from the maya. Most if not all of these have been planeswalkers that left the plane.

As such, no one but the archons and angels knows what Baoth truly looks like.

The five maya

Sakla - the maya of purpose

Sakla is a dimension cleansed of mana. Without it, there is no magic behind passion, emotion and, above all, freedom. As such, it is the power seat of the archons.

The landscape relief is entirely flat, dominated by various types of wetland and cities, sometime amalgations of both to various degrees of harmony with nature. There are no mountains, dunes or hills of any sort; not even waves in its shallow seas. Buildings are all in various rectangular shapes, as if their rooftops had been cut. Spacious arches and plazas are the norm in architecture.

There is no sun in this world, but the light of the archons is enough to bathe most of it, and cast whatever else in a strange dusk-like state. The brightest of the lights is of course Iah himself, his golden radiance so strong that it threatens to break apart the fabric of reality - or, at least, of maya - and that new archons are constantly spawned from it. It is here where the spends most of his time, only leaving his palace when his troops run thin.

Mortals here live for the archons, their divine grace undeniable. Lacking the will and passion to revolt, they are essentially servant races, only spared from caste systems due to the desire for agency and self-improvement. Some give their lives for their archontic masters, while others secure themselves in positions of power. Both are useful tools for their overlords, from knights and cultists willing to purge the Sakla of sin to lawmakers and viziers to even squires and other more intimate services for the archons.

Archons thus control the culture and lives of their charges in a way matched by no other plane. Most angels do not come here; any fanaticism is in favor of the archons, and the continuous presence of Iah and his legions render angelic attacks suicidal by default. When rebels do learn of the truth in Sakla, they leave to never return.

Donai - the maya of contentment

Donai is a dimension purified of mana. Without it, there is no ambition, individuality and, most importantly, power.

Some regard it as an echo of the archons' original design for all maya, a paradise where decay and darkness do not exist. Many within the archontic hierarchy do believe so, finding the realm pleasant if terribly uninspired, and outright rewarding worthy mortals with reincarnation to this maya. In truth, however, Iah designed it as flawed as the others, its purpose being to pacify and punish the selfish.

Indeed, its deathless state acts as a powerful trap, and no souls can leave this maya through reincarnation.

Donai is a world of majestic, endless gardens, flowery meadows, rolling hills and blue pools. There is no sun, but daylight never ends, being an ambient constant. Similarly, there is no cold, all warmth neatly distributed. Spellcasters can still focus the light and heat of this plane into powerful spells, however.

The inhabittants of these world are well aware of the archons. Some actively help them, trying to get as many souls to reincarnate in this world as possible. Others actively conspire against them. Most, however, simply do not care about the wider conflict.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, angels are drawn to this world, and it can be considered their base of operations of sort. Rebels of all sorts come here, many of those within other maya rescued to this one. However, as with every world, archons are always vigilant, and as such these operations are clandestine.

Ailo - the maya of standard

Ailo is a dimension pruned of mana. Without it, there is no instinct, harmony and, most importantly, acceptance.

Little to no plant life grows in this plane. High above, four artificial suns skim through, white and heatless, casting the plane in a perpetual but cold daytime. They are periodically repaired by the archons, granting them their light.

Artifice has become the norm in Ailo, civilization having spread over the barren lands. However, while metal and stone still serve as building blocks and the most rudimentary tool bases, technology here is dominated by light constructs, using spellcasting to generate and manipulate radiance into tools. Radiant tools can be temporary or permanent, depending on intent and power. Cities of light spread across the earth and the seas, bliding buildings reach kilometers high.

Few on Ailo are aware of the archons' existence. Their lives are consumerist in nature, distracted by the need of better and more efficient technology and enchantments. Meritocratic educational systems distrat young minds with chores, constant upgrades and reliance on technology distract the average citizen from anything more to life, backstabbing politics keep those right-beneath the archons from the possibility of true power and literally bright entertainment offers what little comfort this life has.

There is no shortage of rebels, lead by the angels that brave into Ailo, but they are almost always branded terrorist traitors and met violent and inhumane opposition. Often, only the warrior angels themselves can fight against the magical and artifical pawns of the archons, but their light, warmer and true than the suns' always inspires the next generation of freedom fighters.

Phaios - the maya of ignorance

Phaios is a world devoid of mana. Without it, there is no caution, progress and, most importantly, perfection.

Phaios is the closest thing to a conventional plane Baoth has, hills covered by scrubland and mixed forests, farming fields and deep lakes, all littered by settlements, usually no larger than a village.

A single sun illuminates this world, but it has trouble moving on its own. As such, every year, the local tribes gather and elect at least five individuals to be sunrunners, who guide the sun's way across the sky. Every morning, the sunrunner lights a torch and marathons across the land, connecting the sun with the torch with magic. The sunrunner is physically unable to run all across Phaios, but keeps on running for as long as necessary; eventually, the sun will resume its course, helped along by another sunrunner.

The task of the sunrunner keeps a relative peace among the tribes, preventing outright warfare. However, beasts, storms, meager crops and other external factors keep the villagers on edge, and as such they do not have much time to worry about the nature of the world they're in. Rebels are generally not drawn to this maya, and the angels are reluctant to make themselves known here, due to the fragile nature of its sun.

As the only world with a day/night cycle, Phaios is the best place to appreciate the artificial nature of the maya: there are no stars in the sky. A single moon made by the archons constitutes the extent of effort they've made into this illusion, and even it is perpetually full, due to the light of the sun gravitating across the world.

Marcion - the pit

Marcion is a world devoid of mana. Without it, there is no order, morality and, most importantly, peace.

It is the only world where the archons and angels alike hold no sway; it was designed as the ultimate form of punishment, as a pit where everything the archons could not kill was dumped into. Most importantly, it is also a form of psychological warfare, to remind the rebels of what the world would be without the archons.

Beside the rampant flashes of lightning and fire, Marcion lacks any light. It is a world of chaos, where the landscape rapidly and constantly shifts, sometimes even into formless maelstroms. The landscape ranges from barren to deadly forests to raging seas to walls of flesh, all in constant flux.

Life that exists here is monstrous to its full capacity. Thorny plants, venomous reptiles and unspeakable horrors, always twisting and mutating and merging in a state of agony and torment, without the release of death. Mortals sent here are usually reincarnated as twisted abominations or even as part of the shifting landscape, forced into what can very well be an eternity of suffering. It is the only world where demons and devils are allowed to exist, burned from elsewhere by the light of angels and archons alike, and as such these bitter, sadistic demonic beings vent their frustration at those unlucky to be in their path.

Nonetheless, some of the rebels willingly visit this world, often because it is the only place where they can truly be free of the archons.

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