Thursday, May 31, 2018

Dinosaurs Fuck Off

So settings have a prehistory--the stuff that happened way before the common era.  They're usually either:

(a) tediously enumerated with faux-mythology, or
(b) just sort of ignored, and assumed to be the same as Vanilla Earth

Both of them are fine, but there's a lot of fertile ground between those two fence posts.

None of this is canon; I'm just spinning my axles.
Image result for world tree

The Age of Stars

In this Age, the Authority arrived in the sky above Centerra and constructed his throne: the Sun (which was a golden disc, and not yet illuminated).

He decided that he would create Life, and that the purpose of that Life would be to Worship.  That would be what Good was.

The Authority decided to organized the luminous heavens into stars, which would be arranged geometrically in the heavens.  The star-lines would be worshipful in their repetition.  They would be  made to twinkle according to mathematical sequences, forming great cathedrals of logic, the grids from which they would conduct the dignified business of worship.

Eventually, the Authority became tired of his sublime geometries.  They composed beautiful chords of light, but they never produced anything that he didn't teach them.  They had become repetitive.

And so the Authority decided that he would create better servants.  They would have to have an element of randomness to them, so that they could compose better praise.  And they would need to have the ability to self-refine, so that the most successful types of worship would become abundant and successful, while the least successful types of worship would shrivel up and become extinct.

He almost got it right the first time.

The Degenerate Age

This is where the Authority fucked up.  The first organism he created was Sathla, a vast and impossible creature that covered a continent and contained all possible biologies.

She was meant to be iterative: each brood she produced would be judged according to their fitness (the acceptance of their worship).  After receiving their judgement, Sathla would then reabsorb all of her children (which was easy enough when you cover the entire continent).  She would then spawn the next generation based on the most successful individuals, as well as some permanent worshippers.

This is pretty similar to how life works now, except that the continent would eat you when you hit middle-age and force you to mate with all of your friends inside your mother's cavernous fallopian tubes, followed by a debriefing and swift (but not unpleasant) digestion.

Sathla was quite clever with her flesh--there was a great deal of neural sponge cradling her uterine cathedria.  She would learn what worked and adapt.  This would not be a blind process.

In this way, Sathla would eventually produce the most elegant worship of the Authority possible, even accounting for the fickle metagame of the Authority's changing tastes.  (Bacchanals are out.  Sestinas are in.)

This plan got fucked up almost immediately.  Many of Sathla's children escaped reabsorption.  Many abhorrent biologies were produced that were offensive to the Authority.  And with directed intelligence came a sort of manipulation.  Sathla never worked against the Authority (she was incompatible with the very idea, in fact), but she worked hard to ensure that her children met with more approval than the actually deserved by using such tools as guilt, flattery, and loose definitions of identity.

Besides, she loved her children, and preferred to transform them rather than destroy them, and would do so whenever possible.  Additionally, she had her own ideas of what the Authority preferred, which differed from what he said he preferred.

This isn't to say that Sathla didn't find some success: some of the most ancient angels were actually created by this process.

When the Authority closed the door on this misbegotten project (a few million years too late) Sathla was nearly destroyed by his withdrawal.  Without unity, her body tore itself apart again and again, as a million competing cancers struggled for escape and dominance.

She split into competing schools of flesh in a process that was simultaneously mutiny, cancer, and evolution.

A great many animals evolved in the Degenerate Age as creatures tore themselves in half.  The Serpicant, the Black Pudding, and the elder chimeras.  (It is a common misconception that chimeras are formed by lesser creatures that fused together into the greater.  They have it backwards.)

Most were composed of pieces that would seem to be singular animals today.  A living tank that rolled around on tank treads composed of fused elephants.  Enormous bi-directional tortoises whose shells were filled with conjoined snakes that served the same function as a nematocyst on coral.  

Nearly everything had an surfeit of heads.

This is the process that spawned both the Serpicant, the Black Pudding, the Unfinished Leviathans.

One of Sathla's surviving offspring is Elcoroth, one of the founding members of Zala Vacha.

Anyway, the Authority turned the planet inside out and put all of this mess in there, along with a few of the most disappointing stars.

It was a bit like flipping over a piece of paper in order to draw on the other side, except it took 200 million years and nearly everything died.

The Age of Mounds

Having learned from his mistakes, the Authority decided that he would reward Good Deeds with Calories.  What was Good would be rewarded with Calories, so that it would be able to produce more of itself.

Just like the last Genesis, this one would be iterative.

He didn't realize it, but this time the Authority had accidentally invented evolution.

This age favored sacrosynthetic metabolisms, and after a few hundred million years, This caloric distribution scheme eventually produced the Holy Mounds.  They were soil-dwelling networks of flesh that great to incredible sizes simply by thinking holy thoughts and avoiding all violence.

They resembled small hills with a wind tunnel scooped through the middle of them.  Ringed with forests of flagellar villi, these wind tunnels blew air through their midsections.  This allowed them to sing praise to the Authority while simultaneously absorbing carbon and nitrogen from the air.  (Their holyness only gave them calories.  They still needed to pluck carbon from the air.)

Their offspring were flying worms that crossed continents, powered by a similarly powerful inner wind tunnel, until they burrowed into a promising section of unclaimed land.

Some say that the Holy Mounds were the predecessors to the Paladins of the Voice.

Another type of creature was the Suffer-Blob.  They survived by being hyper-sensitive to pain, and thus surviving on the modicum of karmic calories that their suffering provided.  Their lives were so miserable (it hurts to breath, it hurts to blink) that the Authority felt bad allowing such horribly disadvantaged creatures to starve.

There were also Nurses, gangling creatures that survived by taking care of Suffer-Blobs, and thus earning some karmic calories through these good deeds.

The Authority eventually realized that this process was just creating ecosystems that were born to suffer, take care of suffering things, and eventually die noble deaths protecting their young.  It was all so. . . unnecessary, and yet it was the natural consequence of the natural laws that he had designed.

And so the Authority discovered Moral Ecology.

He decided to try making calories transferable, so that creatures could use them as currency in exchange for goods and services.  This quickly led to parasitism and carnivory, which nauseated the Authority.  (Violence existed prior to this, along with teeth and fangs.  But the consumption of other creatures, this was new.)

And so the Authority discovered Regular Ecology.

He decided that this whole mess was rather fucked, and would go back to Worship instead of Good Deeds, this time incentivized by caloric inputs.

The Suffer-Blobs died quickly when the caloric distribution schema was changed, but the Holy Mounds survived for a long time.

The Age of Trees

Calories would be appointed to the creatures that displayed the most worshipful displays.  He would turn the planet into a peacock.

The first creatures that evolved to take advantage of this caloric distribution scheme were things that covered the ground like tarps, covered with colorful mandalas.  But them some of them evolved to stand atop little stems, and to spread their patterns like an umbrella, not unlike a small tree.

This evolutionary arms race continued for millions of years.  The trees eventually became taller, and the patterns bigger.  In order to avoid being blown over by the wind, they split their spreading patterns into smaller leaves.  And they grew in such a way as to show the most of their leaves to the Authority.

Trees didn't maximize their photosynthetic areas in order to absorb photons from the sun, they maximized their sancrosynthetic area in order to show the sun pleasing images.

The colors and patterns were riotous in those days.  The trees were priests, of a sort.  They contemplated holy things (like their predecessors, the Mounds) and preached to all the animals who would listen, which was normally only the creatures that parasitized and/or ate them.

<digression>To this day, aphids still remember fragments of this ancient wisdom, passed down through a billion generations.  The aphids know that they are special, and they may even know the true name of the Authority, who the humans call Dumadiyei (rhymes with 'my ma says hey') when they use his name to work miracles.</digression>

This is also the age when the Authority first lit the sun.  More light would allow him to see what beautiful things his children were showing him.

After 400 million years, he had grown tired of all possible designs, patterns, poetry, hues, fractals, compositions, chromastrobic follies, and synthetic para-colors.  The only thing he still enjoyed was a single color--his favorite one.  From then on, calories would be distributed to whatever organism showed him that color.

You can guess what color it was.

The Age of Disappointment

The Authority began to lose hope that he would ever redeem this mess.  He contemplated destroying the whole thing, but was halted by the prospect of the massive amount of suffering that would entail, as well as the billion years it would take to do the job properly.  He was getting older, after all.

Perhaps there was another unspoiled planet somewhere else?  An egg that he could pull a more beautiful hatchling from?

And so the Authority departed Argosa.  He would not return for a long time.

Bonus Links

Other people have done similar posts about fantastic prehistory, staring with a couple of people that were talking about it before I was thinking about it.

If you want more. . .

False Machine extrapolates ancient life-forms.
Scrap Princess extrapolates nonsense myths into semi-nonsense.
Skerples talks about troll epochs.
Dan makes everything weird and a little funny.
Dunkey tells us of the Second Bird Age, unfortunately.  (I hope that's your most enduring creation.)
Skerples takes several thoughts to their conclusions.


  1. This is fabulous as always, one thing I always wonder about is how this information becomes known in the setting if it does. Considering how long it took us to figure out actual biology and all.

    1. If I ever write a setting book I'll fill it with a bunch of competing, contradictory accounts. Everything is canon and no one has any idea.

      A more useful answer would be: whatever the DM wants to use to make a better game.

      Mechanics can be modular/adaptable. Why not settings?

  2. I love how much of a fuck-up the Authority is. The combination of flaky stupidity with Real Ultimate Power is almost endearing.

  3. Would Zulin then inherit this mess?

    1. well, we clearly have to consider how gods fits in this picture. i think they where already there when The Authority returned, so, in my opinion, they are spiritual life-forms who took the "niche" that was previously occupied by The Authority. But they are not omnipotent, so the ecosistem has to rely on other sources of energy, while are mainly the intelligent beings who do the worshipping. maybe The Authority do not care as much as once, and Zulin has decided to clean up the mess on His behalf. maybe his worship of The Authority is the ultimate form of worship?

    2. also fuck, i didn't notice it were you, tln. i swear i am not stalking you

  4. This may be something you've already answered, because I'm reading the blog from both ends--I'm reading your new posts, but I also have been reading from the beginning and have only gotten as far as the post on Noth.

    Anyway, the question is, how far after this does the Time of Fire and Madness occur?

    1. Possibly 4.3 billion years, since everything is assumed to be Earth-like by default, I guess, maybe.

    2. Close enough for government work. :-)