This fantasy world mirrors our real world; within the primal chaos of things, our plane of existence was born, universes began to spin, planets formed and throughout history the world evolved to what it is today. Where cities and buildings stand in the real, for most part, they exist. When politicians and criminals dominate real news, most often the headlines within read the same. In history, when forces waged war or disasters struck, such things happened. For most inside, the world of Umbra would seem no different to our real world outside. While physical differences exist, the city of Greyholme stands on the east coast of America, Stoneway on the west, the way in which people live their lives is no different, citizens work and pay taxes, have families and grow old. For most, life begins and ends without ever knowing anything but the mundane. Very few know the Umbra exists, even fewer can see it.
The campaign world is named for the Umbral energy and barrier, the true point of difference between the real and fantasy world. This fantasy world has some physical differences, and even some changes in history, but the true consideration should always be the Umbra.
At its most basic analogy, the Umbra is a fog, an invisible barrier that prevents surreal happenings. Where a fog may prevent a fire from starting, the Umbra prevents the implausible. It is only when the Umbra is light, when the barrier fog is thin can surreal and impossible things occur. At its thinnest is when fires spark, from there the surreal can expand like a blaze. When the barrier fog rolls back in it fights the fires, it not only diminishes the ability to start those surreal fires it actively works to put them out.
The second understanding is that the Umbra is an energy. Often called magic, or mana, the Umbral fog holds back Umbral energies. When the barrier is thin the energies flow in that space and time. The energies do not wane, it is the fog that holds them back that flexes and breathes. While holding it’s breath the world is starved of Umbral energy.
The Umbra evolves parallel to all things. When we read stories of noble heroes and great beasts, this is when the Umbra may have touched our world. Tales told from generation to generation may tell of a time when the Umbra affected things. At times, in places, the Umbra will be affecting us unseen in its machinations. During these times we may experience things contrary to those we may expect or understand. When the Umbra affects the world, great beasts walk the earth, magic is more possible. But the Umbra is not a blanket, while it affects one part of the world it may be devoid from another.
It is important to understand that the Umbra is not a place, nor is it a veil hiding mysterious worlds. The Umbra is not an alternative realm hiding magical creatures and demons. While the Umbra is thin such things as dragons and fey may be born into the world but they come to life here, they are not brought from elsewhere. However, a consideration exists. The Umbra does act as a barrier to other planes. Where such planes exist, one must penetrate the Umbra to reach them.
The Umbra is always with us whether thick or thin. For most of our recorded history the Umbra has been thick over most of the world. It is easy to comprehend a world without its influence, it is our real world. Crime and strange things still happen but these are the movements of men. Bad people do bad things, the Umbra is not responsible for the will of man. Without the Umbra, life still ticks on it just ticks to a mundane expected beat. Without the Umbra you may still hear a bump in the night, but that bump is likely a possum or a bad guy. And it is this that makes the Umbra so hard to see, so hard for mundane minds to predict or understand. The mind of men wander and make excuses for what they can’t understand. They may hear that bump but without seeing the cause, in the night, amidst dreams and darkness, one’s mind may conjure any manner of fanciful reasoning.
The Umbra is not a retributive law. While the fog is thin the energies let the surreal become real. Elves are born of magic, they are inherent to it. While thin the Elves within may bear children. When the Umbra becomes thick again it does not remove those children. When it moves away those Elves may become barren, their magic weak, but the Elves remain, and those children still grow. The Umbra may remain thick for so long that even those long lived children may grow and die in a world without knowing the Umbra. The Umbral flow has no rhythm, no pattern to it. While thin today it may be gone tomorrow, or moved to a different location. There have been times when a thin Umbra has lingered but it seems that modern life is somehow keeping it at bay. This may be a coincidence, there may be no correlation and the Umbra may return in an instant.
The Umbral fog and energies are separate opposing forces that usually work in harmony. When the barrier fog is thin the energies are released, but this is not an on or off affair. The barrier breathes. The fog is fluid and changing. In contrast the Umbral energies are constant. Like water they exist in a ready state to flow or not, and like water, the more that builds up behind the barrier the greater the pressure to release it. At times there may be a flood of energy. During such times the world seems in chaos with unexplained behaviours, random occurrences and events beyond surreal, but for most part the fog is thick. In most locations, at most times a small flow of Umbral energy ‘leaks’ into the world. This serves to prevent flooding energies, and tends to enable the surreal justifiable in man’s mind.
Umbral energies are chaotic, unpredictable and their increase or build-up has a compounding effect. While slight energies exist the surreal is often slight. When a flood runs the surreal can defy possible description. Even if one could see such a flow or measure it the nature of the surreal it creates is incalculable. Conversely, locations or times that once flowed with energies can become barren and stark. Magic locations exist but they only hum with life while the Umbra is thinnest, evolving while the Umbra was thin. Like Elves, such locations are inherent to Umbral energies, to magic. They are like sponges that use and on occasion amplify each drop of energy given. Then, there, the impossible may have been real. Faerie circles may dance with glittered wings, but when the Umbra thickens and those fairies have died those circles are still and quiet … until the Umbra breaths over them again. A slight level of energy commonly reacts to existing wants. Such energies are incapable of surreal, instead they enable surreal possibilities. Slight energies may spur a wandering mind to do wandering things. It is only when Umbral energies build up or flow with strength that they are capable of igniting surreal. Such strengths have been known to cause miracles. Dragon eggs may be laid in the clutch of a great eagle, but only in the presence of intense energy. It is far easier for the Umbra to rebirth starved locations or to inspire. It is far easier for the Umbra to follow a path that aligns with universal law. To birth magic from nothing, to create implausible encounters resistance that the plausible or pre-established uses do not. Universal laws are solid and immutable, but it is a case that the mundane minds do not necessarily understand all universal law.
Evidence of the Umbra can be seen when reading history. Ancient records that recount stories of great beasts and events, things we may think of today as fantasy or metaphor, it is possible that in those times the Umbra was thin, at those times, in those places, those beasts and events were real. The Umbra always has an effect on the world. For most places, at most times, the level of Umbra allows some surreal to pass, the clown that can always guess your age (to the day) or the tree that always bears fruit on the 1st of March. There is always some level of surreal with us, it is just the strength that varies. Because the Umbra has evolved with us, because it has always been there, most people justify the slight surreal they encounter as coincidence. The level of Umbra is thin enough, or thick enough, that the impossible we encounter seems possible, just for that second.
The Umbra is not immutable. The Umbral fog can be seen, can be touched, and can be reasoned with by those that know how. While such capacity is rare, manipulating the Umbral fog is the first step to utilizing her energies. In the face of paradox, while the fog is thin the energies flow and more energy in the world, the more surreal. In such times occur more creatures that use the energies. After such times a number of these creatures retain their ability. Without retribution these creatures often milk every drop offered in their time and space. While any one particular time and place may seem starved of Umbral energy, it may be that such creature exists. And there too exists a rare few that know how to draw Umbral energy through the fog, without it being offered.
In recent times the Umbra seems to be moving. As the world has evolved, as technology has been invented, so too has the Umbra changed. When once such energies spawned gargoyles and mermaids in today’s world those same energies spawn killer sharks and lottery winners. Slight energies inspire creative minds and give inspiration in technology. Great energies place celebrities as presidents and move people to topple governments. The changing Umbra has long ceased to create or birth wondrous beasts preferring to blend with society. This is a modern world that utilizes circuits and signals over Umbral energy. It’s almost as if the Umbra has been forgotten. It seems the willingness of men to believe the surreal is as much a barrier to it as the fog itself.