The Elemental Chaos is part of the plane cosmology of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, replacing the Elemental Planes introduced in the 1st edition and given their truest time to shine in Planescape. It is one of the two major planes in the World Axis cosmology, counterbalanced by the Astral Sea.
Like a lot of 4e's controversial shit, the Elemental Chaos was born out of WoTC's decision to take an objective look at sacred cows of editions past and ruthlessly slaughter them if they deemed it necessary. For the longest time, the Elemental Planes (and Energy Planes) of D&D had been pretty much ignored in favor of the Outer Planes; Rick Swan's Tales from the Outer Planes did have more Inner "tales", but even here it got marketed as Outer. Even Planescape started out with a focus on the Outer Planes, getting around to the Inner Planes only toward the end. When they began, they were literally nothing but infinite, empty expanses of pure earth, air, water or fire; Planescape made them at least interesting to adventure in by adding some traces of the other elements (the City of Brass, for example, or floating islands in the Plane of Air).
Therefore, WoTC came to the decision that the old Inner Planes really served little purpose other than grid-filling and monster-generators. So, as part of the World Axis cosmology, they smashed them together, added a dash of Limbo, and created the Elemental Chaos: an ever-shifting plane of elemental substance, where reality can change at any moment and elemental matter isn't bound by the forces of mundane reality. Trees of fire and lighting, rivers of liquid metal, mountains that grow upside down, all the most fantastic vistas imaginable literally smashed together and capable of changing into just about everything.
The Elemental Chaos is one of the most important parts of the setting; birthplace of the Archomentals (known in-universe as Primordials), it is literally the foundation of the material plane, as all the "middle tiers" of the World Axis cosmology were built from the materials of the Elemental Chaos. It is the home of the Genasi and the Githzerai, and a source of many dangers.
Of course, with the controversy that 4e elicited, the Elemental Chaos underwent a huge makeover in 5e; the Elemental Planes were brought back, though styled more after the Elemental Poles of Exalted, with the Elemental Chaos being the "foundation border", the region beyond the Elemental Planes where all elemental matter originates and wildly mixes, but which also serves to separate them from the Outer Planes beyond.
Inhabitants of the Elemental Chaos
As a realm of chaos and turmoil, made from the very building blocks of creation itself, it really shouldn't be surprising that the Elemental Chaos has a diverse array of living beings inhabiting it.
Archons are creations of the Primordials wrought during the Dawn War. Recognizing after one defeat too many that the organization of the gods had its strength, the Primordials sought to emulate that by using powerful magics to rework generic elementals into living weapons. Armies of the creatures still throng the Chaos, and the creation forges that can turn elementals into Archons are a massive prize for warlords throughout the multiverse.
Dao are a race of genies elementally aligned to earth. Selfish, cruel and isolationist, they remained staunchly neutral during the Dawn War, even as their Djinni cousins begged for their aid, caring only about gathering ever-greater riches of precious stones and rare metals for their hoards. Their only interest in other races is their use as slaves to wring more wealth from the earth. Ironically, this is pretty much unchanged from their depiction in every single edition before that.
Demons are creatures that should not be, elemental embodiments of corruption, madness and destruction born from the Heart of the Abyss. From the lowliest Hordeling to the mightiest Demon Prince, they exist only to befoul and ruin all that is pure.
Djinns are a race of genies elementally aligned to air. Mercurial and capricious by nature, they once reveled in their ability to manipulate reality, producing many wondrous artworks and engineering pieces through their adeptness at shaping the raw substance of the material world. But during the Dawn War, they allied themselves with the Primordials - not for any hate of the gods, but because they feared the loss of their powers to reshape the world as they saw fit, it is believed. For this, their once-great empire was shattered and most djinni are now mystically bounded to arcane vessels.
Dwarves are surprisingly common throughout the Elemental Chaos. Before the Dawn War, dwarves labored in servitude under the yoke of the giants, and even though most of their kinsfolk fled to the World after Moradin freed them, some clans remained behind. Others descend from slaves brought through by dao, efreeti or giants in more recent times, or even traveled to the Chaos themselves in hopes of exploiting its infinite expanse of mineral wealth for themselves.
Efreeti are a race of genies elementally aligned to fire. Arrogant and cruel, they are the most powerful of the genies, wielding great power and one of the largest empires in the Elemental Chaos.
Elementals are the natives of the Elemental Chaos, physical masses of one or more kinds of elemental matter or energy granted some level of sapience. Whether a walking mass of flame or a sapient whirlwind filled with razor-sharp diamonds, elementals are everywhere in the Elemental Chaos.
Genasi are the most common humanoid race in the Elemental Chaos, as their inherent affinity for elemental energy grants them the edge in surviving here.
Giants proliferate in the Elemental Chaos for a single simple reason; this was the plane of their birth. Shaped by the Primordials in emulation of the first mortals, their mighty frames and innate affinity for the elements makes this realm naturally homey to them.
Githzerai have resided here ever since the Sundering of Two Skies, founding fortified monastery-cities from which they seek to master their minds and hone their souls, testing their wills against the eternal madness that swirls around them.
Humans are surprisingly common in the Elemental Chaos, mostly descending from planar explorers, slaves and settlements created deliberately or otherwise.
Marids are a race of genies elementally aligned to water. The most obscure of their kind, like the dao, marids remained neutral during the Dawn War and have sought only personal liberty and freedom since their birth. Arrogant but not necessarily evil, they are a race of explorers and adventurers driven to wander the vastness of the waterways of the Elemental Chaos. Again, they're virtually unchanged from their Great Wheel depictions.
Phoelarches are a rare race, a spiritual fusion of a bird-like fire elemental called a phoera and a human. Though they mostly live in the mortal world, enclaves of them exist in the Elemental Chaos, seeking to better understand their true nature.
Primordials are the greatest of all elemental beings, the former rulers of the Elemental Chaos until the Dawn War saw them slain, imprisoned, bound and otherwise divested of most of their power. But still they dream and struggle, seeking to rekindle their former might and take back the worlds they created so long ago.
Slaadi are a strange form of elemental-kin, embodiments of anarchy and personifications of entropy. Driven by mad whims, their sole driving goal seems to be to tear down all forms of order and rule, creating a chaotic realm that even Primordials may not be able to master.
Titans are the first form of giants, the elders of their race and the truest minions of the Primordials. Whether ruling enclaves of giants or on their own, titans make for powerful lords in the Elemental Chaos.
Locales of Note
In a realm of shifting elemental matter, there are many strange places to visit. Some of these are taken from locales that first appeared in the Great Wheel, whilst others are new to 4th edition.
The City of Brass is the center of the efreeti empire, a mighty point of stillness and stability amidst the flux of its surroundings. Built on a vast basalt plate in a immense volcanic field on the edge of a fiery sea, the City of Brass showcases the true chaotic nature of its homeplane in how liveable it is; though one might expect such a terrain to be instant death for any creature not impervious to fire and heat, the truth is that the majority of the city is no hotter than a sweltering summer's day, rising to a forge's interior or the slopes of an active volcano in its worst spots. But then, this only makes sense, for how else would the efreeti keep their vast armies of slave-workers alive?
The Keening Delve is a mountainous mass of blood-red rock, riddled with a maze of tunnels that echo with a perpetual shrieking wind. Said to have been the fortress of the Primordial Haemnathuun, the winds are reputed to be the echoes of his dying screams, which have worn away his citadel over countless eons. Filled with maddened elementals, rampaging demons and shrieking slaadi, fabulous treasures are also reputed to lie within the untamed depths.
The Ninth Bastion is a massive fortress-city, launched from the World into the Elemental Chaos by the Empire of Mira; a theocracy ruled by an alliance of Erathisians and Banites, they sought to tame the Elemental Chaos and bend it to their will, as they had done to the mortal world. Though it has fallen time and time again, survivors continue to restore it to life, standing proud as a bastion of mortal strength amidst the raw chaos of the elements around them.
The Abyss is technically a part of the Elemental Chaos as well, a rotten wound within the very fabric of the plane.
The Brazen Bazaar is a plane-traveling efreeti trade caravan, which departs regularly from the City of Brass and roams the multiverse, buying and selling from a thousand times a thousand worlds.
Canaughlin Bog is an enormous swamp of magical nature, in some places normal, in others more fantastical. Dngerous as it can be, it is also very valuable, for it contains portals to swamps across the multiverse, from marshes in the World to the Murkendraw of the Feywild to moors in the Shadowfell to the mudflats of Minauros. During the Blood War, Canaughlin Bog serves the devils well as a means for invading the Elemental Chaos or maneuvering between the planes.
The Choking Palace is the center of the Duchy of Fume, a small independent region in the Elemental Chaos. Ruled over by Ehkahk, the Smoking Duke, it is made of smoke that has been magically shaped into a solid mass.
Gloamnull, also known as the City of Rain, is a fortified genasi trade city that takes the form of a huge citadel atop a floating island. Cursed by some dark magic, an eternal rainstorm lashes the city, blotting out all light and drenching it in a torrential downpour of tainted water. Driven to survive, the genasi natives have been forced to swear a pact of servitude to Dagon in order to sustain their home, and now terrible demons breed in the flooded tunnels beneath the blighted city.
Irdoc Morda is a continent-sized floating mountain-range, pierced by miles-high towers of forged steel and iron. Once rich in mineral wealth, it was mined to exhaustion by the Primordials during the Dawn War. Now, only legions of archons maintain a silent, mindless watch over this place. Iron Archons, first born from the veins of elemental metal in these mountains, hold dominance over all.
The Moteswarm is a swirling mass of small motes of various elemental substances, most notable for the three-way war between elementals, giants and githzerai over the intact archon creation forge at its heart.
The Pandemonium Stone is a massive mountain of endlessly shifting materials that travels the Elemental Chaos randomly through space and time alike. Ancient even before the Dawn War, it has a mysterious connection with the Slaadi.
The Pillars of Creation are enormous pillars of elemental matter, said to be the umbilici that reach from the Elemental Chaos and into the World above, sustaining the life-giving flow of elemental substances and energies that allows mortal existence to continue.
The Riverweb is a massive, free-floating, multi-layered network of water-ways, spanning hundreds of miles and connecting vast swathes of territory.
Sanzerathad is a githzerai monastery that is losing its battle against chaos, slowly being ground out of existence by the raw tides of madness arrayed against it.
Hak Karlum, also known as the Faceted Plain, is a floating mountain of crystal that supports myriad forms of rare, oft-magical gemstones in its depths.
The Body Luminous is an enormous mass of lightning-lit thunderheads, miles in diameter, that streaks endlessly across the Elemental Chaos. Those who pierce its depths find a nucleus of chalky stone filled with fossils and petrified artifacts. Sages whisper that it is a vestige of some apocalypse that will strike the World in the future, hurled back in time through some cataclysmic upheaval.
The Mountain Builder's Barrow is the tomb of the Primordial Tziphal the Mountain Builder, sandwiched between three mountains, encircled by rivers of magma, liquid mud, and liquid salt.
|The Cosmology of the World Axis|