Yggdrasil, the Mother of Trees, the World Ash

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Everything You Wanted to Know about
Infinite Trees, and a Little Bit More
Recorded by Voilá! into his explorer mimir
on a particularly uneventful climb up the World Ash
(by Jon Winter)
There's a lot more to this Planar Pathway lark than meets the eye, cutters. These days it seems everyone's using 'em. If it ain't tipping down tanar'ri, I'm yelling at yugoloths or bashing baatezu. Some berks whisper the fiends have taken a liking to the Grand Old Tree and take every chance they get to tromp up and down her barmy branches. But most bloods know the real reason the fiends have suddenly got so keen on climbing to places they used to teleport to. But I digress. You want to know about the World Ash, right? I'll take it in stages; it's easier on the mimir that way...
What is Yggdrasil?
Yggdrasil goes by many names; almost as many as she has branches in fact. The World Ash, the Tree of Wisdom or Knowledge, the Grand Old Tree, the Infinite Ash; the list goes on. Milori once told me that "Yggdrasil" actually means "the horse of the terrible one", and I thought she must've banged her head that day, because the Ash clearly ain't a horse. Now I think I understand why; the terrible one is in fact Odin of the Norse pantheon, and he uses the Ash to get from place to place in a hurry. So I guess it's like a horse. But I never did understand Divine Logic.

So given that Yggdrasil's really a great big tree, where does that leave us? Well, for starters, it's such a large tree that it crosses a host of planar borders. Whether the branches, leaves and roots draw sustenance from any or all of these planes is a matter left to Yggdrasil herself to worry about, I think, but the fact remains you can climb up or down the tree, along the roots, trunk and branches, and find shimmering colour pools to any plane the Ash touches.

How does it Work?

To get onto Yggdrasil, look for a gate. You can rarely see them from the outside; just walk under an archway of branches, or through the thickest part of a copse, and you're suddenly there. Gates to the World Ash are identified by the vegetation they're near; the tallest tree in a forest may well be linked to (or even be) part of Yggdrasil, or a tree clinging stubbornly to the side of a sheer cliff, or a natural perfect circle of trees might have a gate at its centre.

Once you're on the Ash, you have to climb. Nobody said planewalking was easy, cutter! In general, if you want to get to the Upper Planes, you have to climb up, the Lower Planes are down, and planes of a similar moral level to your starting place are around the trunk. But don't take that as the law, berk, it's just an observation I've made myself.

When (or should that be if ?) you reach your destination, you'll find another colour pool (you can see them easily from the tree-side...they look a little like colour pools on the Astral, if that means anything to you). If you screw up your eyes and stare really hard, you might be able to catch a glimpse of what's on the other side, but the best way it to step through. They don't need keys to operate, and they're (almost) always two way, so there's not too much to worry about...

Those sound like famous last words, eh?

Where does it Lead?

More planes than I've ever cared to visit, that's for sure. The following planes are definitely connected to Yggdrasil in one or more places (I'm sure about most of these because I've been there myself, berks):

Arborea -- the Gnarl in Arvandor is touched by a particularly thick branch of Yggdrasil's crown. There are plenty of other branches here, but this is the best-known, and best served by ratatosk guides.

Astral -- en route to the Prime, Yggdrasil grows through the Astral. It's a funny sight from here, cutter, with the light from the plane making the branches and leaves look like they're made out of silver. What's more, because time stops here, Yggdrasil doesn't grow. Which beggars the question how it ever got here in the first place!

Beastlands -- as one might expect from a plane of Wild Nature, the Beastlands has its share of large trees, and more than its share of connections to the World Ash. Since most of them are unmarked, take care when you travel.

Gray Waste -- one of the Ash's three main roots ends up in Nilfheim (the Abode of Darkness) on the second layer of the Waste, spitting distance from the horrible realm of Hel. Be vigilant here, cutter, because the foul dragon Nidhogg and her brood dwell here, gnawing on the root. One day they'll kill the tree and the planes will come crashing down, or so the story goes. You need to see how think Yggdrasil's roots are to understand we're safe for a long time yet. Leave the old beast and her children well alone and you'll usually be fine. Oh, and look out for Garm, the monstrous dog that guards the road to Nilfheim too. Hmmm...all things considered, maybe you should avoid this place altogether...

Limbo -- there may or may not be Yggdrasil connections here, depending on the weather (as they say). Your best bet is Pinwheel, a bizarre stable island in the centre (they say) of the plane. If it doesn't send you elsewhere, Limbo is its usual destination (!)

Outlands -- one root (some say a branch) extends to the Realm of the Norns, leading to the Well of Urd. There are dozens of other connections throughout the Land, but only from the fourth ring and out.

Pandemonium -- if you're keen on visiting Loki's Winter Hall, Yggdrasil is as good a way of getting there as any. Take climbing gear, or risk being blown off the tree from the fierce winds that gust through the gate...

Prime -- legend has it that any prime world where they've ever worshipped Norse powers has at least one connection to Yggdrasil, and judging be the number I've found, it's probably true. Easily the most numerous, but also the hardest to find, colour pools to the Prime litter the Astral regions of Yggdrasil like acorns on an oak tree. I've also heard tales of a living planet in a prime world called "Torilspace" called Yggdrasil's Child. Now that I would pay to explore...

Ysgard -- this pane is literally overgrown with bits of Yggdrasil. There are branches leading to Rowan's Hall (the Fated headquarters out of Sigil), the Well of Mimir in Jotunheim (a place close to me own heart!), Smoke-Top in Vanaheim (that's a root, leading underground),

I've heard stories that these planes might be connected, but haven't checked them out yet.

Abyss -- rumours of twisted portions of the tree and warped branches lead one to assume there might be the odd section of Yggdrasil that's wormed its way int the Abyss.

Bytopia -- although there aren't Norse powers here, the chant goes you can reach the Twin Planes from the Tree if you look hard enough for a pool.

Earth and Water -- they say the roots of Yggdrasil reach even this far, though a body's assume they'd have to pass through the Astral, Prime and Ethereal first! I'll reserve judgement on this one, I think. But the rumours are very persistent.

Where did it Come From?

Chalk that one up to another mystery of the planes, cutter, because nobody knows for sure. Magnum Opus tells me that the World Ash is mentioned all the way back through planar history, and is at least as old as the River Styx itself. It's a good chance it was born the same time as the planes themselves.

Another theory goes that Yggdrasil is a natural product of the planes. Just like the Abyss represents corruption and evil, and Elysium is ultimate, peaceful goodness, Yggdrasil represents growth and renewal. Climbing it, then, becomes a symbolic gesture; as the planewalker traverses the obstacles of the Tree, so obstacles in her life are overcome, and she grows, physically and intellectually.

Yggdrasil also represents renewal. While it's an evergreen, so the leaves don't drop off with the seasons (though a canny basher will add there's no seasons on most of the Outer Planes anyway!), the tree itself seems to go through cycles of growth and consolidation, where some colour pools wax or wane, new ones are formed, and older ones die. Some bloods reckon that the less-used portals eventually disappear, as if Yggdrasil only keeps them there as long as cutters stretch themselves to use them.

And some cutters snort at that and say that it's just a sodding big tree...

What's Climbing it Like?

Like climbing any tree, only larger! You'll find that many of the better-travelled routes are quite wide; often with roads big enough for wagons and caravans to pass down, because the World Ash is often used as a route of commerce. Less-known routes might have steps carved into the trunk, or ropes and ladders helpfully placed in difficult places by previous climbers. Of course, if you're looking for an unknown portal, or one that other cutters don't want you to find, expect to have to hack the undergrowth back yourself!

The tree itself often doesn't look too much like a tree. It's that, big, berk, that you can rarely see both sides of the branch, with vegetation growing on the nutritious bark obscuring the view. When you do catch a glimpse of the edges, it can look more like a cliff than a tree. There is a general sense of "up" and "down", and falling off a branch is a hazardous process, as you're bound to hit a branch sooner or later and invariably come out the encounter the worse off than the tree. Some areas of the tree have localised gravity, however, so you can walk along the trunk rather than down it. Be wary of points where two branches meet, though, because sudden shifts in gravity can be mighty disorientating. Often you can walk around a branch and not fall off, because gravity points to the centre. But with the tree this infused by the Planes of Chaos, it's a leatherheaded cutter who trusts a rule of thumb all the time.

Travel times vary according to how fast a basher climbs, of course, and how far away portals are from one another, but they're certainly a lot shorter than you might expect from a tree that crosses infinite distances! You can usually reach any point from another in 1-12 days of climbing, assuming you're not waylaid by unpleasant encounters.

What are the Dangers?

The main dangers on Yggdrasil are other travellers. As I said before, fiends and celestials both use the Ash; depending on your temperament either one of those could be a threat to you. A fair number of monsters and hungry predators also make their homes in the branches, particularly ettercap, mold men, manticore, and trolls (who live in holes in the trunk and love to set traps).

Also beware of crossing a treant, for these self-important creatures see themselves as Yggdrasil's guardians (ignoring the fact that the ratatosk also claim this honour).

Can I Get a Guide?

One of the best and safest ways of traversing the Tree is with a guide. While there are many touts and planewalking cutters who'll gladly show you the way around for the right jink, the best guides I've found are the ratatosk. If you can bear their squirrely antics, you'll find they know more about the World Ash than they let on...

If you must trust a humanoid, try the burg of Crux. It's a well-known stopover point on Yggdrasil, and boasts a very pleasant tavern, and some friendly residents. You should also be able to find good guides there, at reasonable prices (so long as you're not planning on going anywhere dangerous).

And now, if you'll excuse, me, I think I can see my colour pool just ahead. Ah, don't you just love the bland, washed-out smell of the Gray Waste? I've got a date with a 'loth, and it's bad form to be late. Mimir, cease recording...

 
Related Topics

Tales from the Tree

Being a collection of stories, journal entries and chant concerning the World Ash, including the prize-winning "The Lizard, the Squirrel and the Dryad" by Matthew David.
Copyright 1998 by Jon Winter,
artwork by Jeremiah Golden and Jon Winter

Consult the Mimir Again