Astral Encounters

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 88: Astral Encounters




For whatever reason, once Wizards of the Coast got ahold of Dungeons & Dragons they kept going back to the Astral Plane. That doesn’t mean that they really understood what the hell they were doing with it, though, which is best evidenced by Darrin Drader’s “Astral Encounters” series for, a set of seven articles focused on a single, not terribly interesting location within the plane. Perhaps inspired by all the githyanki business going on with Paizo, he decided to add a new location to the Astral, though at the same time it feels more like a way of slamming planar travel together with spelljamming. Which I suppose was actually forward-thinking, given eventual changes to the plane in the next couple editions, though at the time this development didn’t actually make any sense. 

This series focuses on Crosswinds Keep and a few of its inhabitants. That being said, the keep is hardly that interesting, and most of the information written about it is as follows:


Crosswinds Keep was built upon the head of a dead god that has long since turned to stone. It is the single largest settlement within the Elserryn Cluster, and it opens its doors to visitors who hail from other locations throughout the planes. Before gaining entry, each visitor must agree to put aside any regional conflicts they may have with one another and be peaceful during their stay. Despite the fact that visitors must agree to this one rule before they are allowed entry, conflicts commonly arise not only within the keep, but in the space surrounding it.

Home to 2,500 people, Crosswinds Keep was founded by an adventuring company, originally from the Material Plane, who called themselves the Stalwart Lions. 

I’m exaggerating a little bit when I say that this is all we find out about the keep, but not by too much. Of these seven articles, two focus on the party who founded it, one on a new monster who bothers the inhabitants, one on githyanki raiders, and one on a weird artifact that helps keep out visitors. But there’s no map of the location, just a bad piece of computer art and your imagination (circa 2023, it’s impossible to find a full-size version so the little thumbnail I’m posting here is the best that’s available), and as far as what’s located here otherwise that’s really up to you.

The series’ one new image in all its glory.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with another small establishment being added to the plane, but note above that it’s located within the “Elserryn Cluster.” Now you may be thinking to yourself, “What the hell does that mean, there’s nothing remotely like clusters within the Astral Plane?” and you’d be right. However, clusters occur within the Prime Material Plane where spelljamming takes place; there are quite a few clusters located within the various ptolemaic spheres. Presumably this is what Drader is referring to, and it’s not a one-off error, as this cluster gets mentioned in several of the series’ articles. 

Likewise, the second article in this series focuses on the many ships used by Crosswinds Keep’s inhabitants. As such, it’s basically a conversion of a handful of random spelljammer ships into third edition, with a slice of additional information in that “Spelljamming ships work just as well on the Astral Plane as they do in the Material Plane. While a spelljamming helm works in exactly the same way, ships also can be outfitted with sails to harness the power of the astral winds, thus making the spelljamming helm unnecessary.” Now, if that were the case before now, why wouldn’t there be a ton of spelljamming in the Astral Plane? Because it’s a dumb ret-con, that’s why.


Essentially, Drader posits that the Astral is just part of the fabric between Prime Material worlds… I think? Maybe? Admittedly, this is me jumping to conclusions based upon what I found here, but in any case whatever’s going on in these articles contradicts previous material about how the planes work, and for the most part really served to irritate me, so much so that it turned me into a typical internet curmudgeon despite myself. He gets other parts of the plane correct, such as its timelessness and the dead gods and the githyanki, so flooding the place with spelljammer ships seemed particularly wrong. It’s such an offhand way of rewriting the entirety of the game’s cosmology that it was hard not to be frustrated that Wizards published this article. Maybe employees of Wizards of the Coast who plan on writing a series titled Astral Encounters should’ve been asked to read the less-than-100-pages-in-length Guide to the Astral Plane so that what they write isn’t complete nonsense? I dunno, I’m just spitballing here.

So that this write-up isn’t entirely critical, I should note that my favorite bit of this series is the one entry focused on a new monster, fazes, who are essentially Astral jellyfish that feed on conscious thought. But as is typical for this type of low-effort content there’s no image, and their existence seems to stem from the analogy between the Astral Plane and seafaring that Drader was really keen on. 

Originally, I was going to post links to where the Internet Archive stores all of these pages, as that’s the only way to read them today ever since Wizards unceremoniously dumped the entirety of its web content into the Abyss. However, given my irritation with its take on the game’s cosmology, and the general lack of quality for the whole series, I decided that if you want to read it then you’ll have to slog through that search yourself. Drader will be back again next week, as one of the authors of the Book of Exalted Deeds, and maybe he’ll manage to redeem himself… though given his weird understanding of the planes thus far it’s not something I’d hold my breath about. 

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