View Full Version : Need help creating a dark world?

2011-09-08, 01:28 AM
Hi everyone!

I'm thinking of creating a dark world (in the sense of; there is no sun), but I'm not quite sure how to do this. I already have some ideas that I'd really like to use, which are:
- The entire world should be in a vast cavern;
- Ideally, there would be plant growth and a diversity of creatures, but that's hard to do without light, so I was thinking about fungi and perhaps algae to serve as plants. Creatures would mostly consist of large insects and/or be blind, I guess;
- The standard races (exactly which ones I'll use I haven't thought about) desperately keep their cities etc. lit, with torches/bonfires, or with magic, or with some other form of light which they invented mainly because they need light so much?
- It will probably be a dog-eat-dog world, since there are so few plants.

What are your thoughts on this? How can I get more diverse plant-life (and still make it sound logical)? How can I explain that there is life at all, to start with?


2011-09-08, 01:47 AM
First off, this should probably be in the World Building sub forum, so you might want to see a mod about getting it moved.

That said, I think that some ideas need to be considered.

First, is the world natural? As in, has it always been without a sun? If so, a lot needs to be explained (how is it heated? Portals to the Elemental Plane of Fire? Extreme internal fusion? Leprechauns?)

Then, are all the creatures living there naturally evolved? If so, why do any of the standard races exist? Things with eyes would not evolve in a place with no light. Perhaps things akin to eyes, such as thermal sensing eye spots, but eyes as we know them would not exist.

If the races came from somewhere else, then that explains away the eye problems.

In terms of plants, once the problem of where energy is getting into the world is coming from (I recommend looking at the Thermodynaminomicon (http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/Dungeonomicon_(DnD_Other)/Thermodynaminomicon) for some thought-provoking material), the answer is pretty easy. A hell of a lot of plant-like organisms can develop in a world as long as there is energy present, even without light. Fungus of many types, lichens, and other things could exist. And, if there is no light at all, then a lot of extrapolation can be had on the different types of fungus. Sure, you probably won't have giant, tall mushrooms (since the tall aspect of trees comes from wanting to be as close to the sun as possible), but deep root systems reaching for the energy source (hot water streams? Magma?) are possible.

I think once some of those problems are answered, the more important questions can be explored.

2011-09-08, 02:04 AM
Thank you, I'll see a mod about the shift.

I actually have two ideas of how the playable races could have gotten there: either they were put there by some wizards trying to save civilisation as their world exploded (but this is awfully ripped-off of City of Ember, unfortunately (which is cool, but I don't like ripping off that much)), or there used to be a sun (under which they evolved) but it isn't there now, for some reason (not really sure what kind of reason; any tips?)

For warmth, I thought heat from the earth (as in, lava and magma deep down below) would be a good idea. Maybe lakes of lava or geysers and such could exist at low places (ocean floors/canyons).

2011-09-08, 02:36 AM
The race-movement idea is certainly a possibility (it's a common, and well-beloved trope). And that could come with all sorts of other things (if a wizard is powerful enough to transpose a bunch of races, they could probably create permanent mini-suns, alter plants to exist underground, &c.).

Personally, I like the idea of there having been a sun before, and that there still is one. I would go with some kind of uncontrollable destruction on the surface. Maybe something like a nuclear holocaust, but with magic. My first idea is that some stupid wizard released some kind of extremely powerful ooze-creature. It got its power from the sun, growing massive and powerful, and devoured entire nations. The races thus escaped underground to avoid it. The ooze quickly dies without sunlight (a matter of days), so by moving so far underground, and using non-linear tunnels, the ooze cannot penetrate their new society. However, exploring above ground is nearly a death sentence, because unrestricted access to the sun has made the ooze grow to unimaginable proportions, stretching literally across continents. Life as was known before is no longer possible. The ooze has consumed all.

This lets you have a bunch of fun on a number of fronts. Reaching the lower end of the crust of a planet is difficult (we haven't done it on earth yet), but with resources such as the Underdark, it isn't a far off idea. Plus, with the sun still existing on the surface, even if the ooze is making it impossible to live there, allows for the planet to still be "alive," that is, not surviving on nuclear fission alone (I'm going scientific on you here). I would also suggest making the ooze not able to cover the oceans, because otherwise you run into all sorts of issues regarding global warming and air flow.

Now, if you want to go with the actual "there is no sun anymore" route, there are a few ways to do this. One: the sun has burnt out. It's expended its fuel, and it is dying. The one problem with this is that it takes very long periods of time for this to occur, and so races could probably adapt quickly. Coming up with a reason why it suddenly stopped producing light does open up some interesting possibilities.

Going with a little of both routes, what if the sun has suddenly shifted? Something (magical, scientific, who knows) has caused the sun's spectrum to shift to a different level. A terrifying level. It no longer produces visible light, and it produces a much, much higher level of ultraviolet light. The result? Sudden extreme death. Plants no longer can survive, creatures which depend on light are plunged into darkness, and most living creatures begin to immediately become cancerous. A quick retreat underground was the only possibility of survival.

Not sure of any other possibilities off the top of my head, but I would suggest getting a hold of a copy of the Underdark book for 3.5. It has a variety of resources you might find useful.

2011-09-08, 04:57 AM
I worked on a setting in which the humans were banished underground by unkillable enemies (without other humanoid races), so I`ll share some ideas from there.

- The standard races (exactly which ones I'll use I haven't thought about) desperately keep their cities etc. lit, with torches/bonfires, or with magic, or with some other form of light which they invented mainly because they need light so much?

In my setting I dealt with the issue of light in two ways:
A. Summoning light elementanels and binding them to objects, basically imprisoning them and making an object permenantly shiny. Also, they change their colour every 3 hours, so I also made a way for people to measure time.
I haven`t actully stated light elemantenals, I decided they won`t have any combat ability.
B. Most areas of the cities are dark. Only important areas are lit. The dark areas could be a good place for cults, secret organisations, kidnappings etc.

What are your thoughts on this? How can I get more diverse plant-life (and still make it sound logical)? How can I explain that there is life at all, to start with?

I went very far and decided that there is no plant life at all, and water is only available by magic, so the survival of humans is completly dependant on the frequent use of magic (but magic items and mid level magic is rare),

2011-09-08, 10:10 AM
Hi all, thanks for the fantastic ideas!

I really like the idea of something taking over the upper world so the people need to go underground (although I have a slight aversion of oozes - haven't worked out yet why though). A sun that kills people because it shines ultraviolet light is a little too scientific for my tastes, but I do like the general concept of a natural, non-living thing to do this. Maybe a race of giant mindless insects/golems/something shed poisonous gases. Golems doing this could be created by a group of wizards in an attempt to defend their nation, but it has gone awfully awry. Or something likewise. At least I like the general idea of this very much.

As for light elementals as source of illumination: I think that's a very good idea too. But maybe I'll restrict them to the upper-class, who has the means to pay wizards to summon them/hunters to trap them. The rest might be lit by torches, but where does one get fuel? Intensive mushroom-farming, I gather.
The absence of plants is really something I'd like to avoid. I love the idea of underground forests/swamps/mangroves/... plants. Thanks for the suggestion though.

2011-09-08, 10:32 AM
The obvious approach, if sufficient time has passed or sufficient magic been employed, is that most races now have some combination of low-light vision, darkvision, tremorsense, and blindsense. You need to know about your environment to survive, so if there's little to no light, you rely on senses that require little to no light.

Also, if you want a more scientifically based system, there's a lot less biomass in underground ecosystems, which means that bigger creatures simply starve to death. This would imply that Small PC races would be the default, rather than Medium, and the usual parade of big monsters should be replaced with smaller ones. There's a dungeonbred template in Dungeonscape that's useful for this - it's a +0 CR template that reduces a monster's size by one category, changes its dietary requirements to be appropriate to the environment, and gives it the appetite and maintenance needs of a creature two sizes smaller than its original size.

You could even apply the dungeonbred template to all PC races, to represent their adaptation to the underground environment. I would be entertained by a Small human with the appetite of a housecat... if housecats ate fungus.

2011-09-08, 10:58 AM
Oh man...this could be potentially really interesting. Some thoughts...

Cut vision almost entirely. Given everything Blindsight based on Scent out to a bit over 100ft, and maybe Blindsense based on hearing for another 100 or so (or one or the other...Dwarves might have exceptional Scent, while your Elf equivalent has exceptional hearing). Cut sight down to a maximum range of 30 feet or something, and give everything Light Blindness (as light would make a rather potent weapon). You now have a subterranean community that is naturally isolated due to a very limited range of perception. This will bring a claustrophobic feel to the world, rather than "just like a normal world, but darker." It will also change threats around: instead of invisible creatures being a thread, silent creatures or scentless creatures become dangerous.

More may come later.

2011-09-08, 02:41 PM
Eeek. Incorporeal undead would be almost undetectable. Very dangerous.

2011-09-08, 03:05 PM
Seems to me that a variety of things would change. No sight would make a lot of creatures need to change, but I love the idea of a claustrophobic world. It sounds amazing.

2011-09-08, 03:27 PM
Seems to me that a variety of things would change. No sight would make a lot of creatures need to change, but I love the idea of a claustrophobic world. It sounds amazing.

A lot would need to change, yes. But I can see some rather cool things resulting...

Goblins, for example, become scurrying, climbing (tack on a climb speed) creatures, scuttling spider-like across walls and ceilings. Perhaps, with their useless vision, their clans sew their eyelids shut as a sort of tribal making, making them an eerie sight for those with limited vision (most of the common races). They don't really utilize fire or light much, and are covered in shaggy hair as a result of the cold of the underworld. Short of food, they're rather cannibalistic when the situation requires. I don't know why, but this Goblin interpretation is rather creepy to me...

Most of the PC races live in tightly packed cavern cities, mainly for defense. They have light and fire, and so have rudimentary vision in such light (torches give light out to only 5 feet with 5 feet of dim light beyond that, lanterns to merely 15 with another 15 of dim light), but sudden light poses quite the shock, something that the Goblins and several other races have learned to exploit. Spot checks clearly suffer, but most races have developed acute hearing, scent, or maybe even tremorsense or thermal senses. Food is scare: a lot of food is either various forms of lichen, or the occasional prey animal eaten raw (as fire and light are probably premiums). In short, this is a campaign world very harsh on the standard PC races.

Exploration in such a claustrophobic world is exceptionally dangerous, so parties might have space for tribal "navigators" of sorts, able to find their way back even when out of the known areas. Maybe bring back Intuit Direction as a skill. Any water-based travel on underground streams or oceans is even more dangerous: probably 99% of people undertaking such a journey never manage to find their way back home again.

...alright, it's official. I really like this idea. Hm. :smallbiggrin:

2011-09-09, 01:53 AM
Wow, that's indeed a terrific idea! I'd be really sorry to steal all that from you, since you've already elaborated it so much, so please take it. :P

It's not really the direction I would have gone, but it is great. I think I now have enough inspiration/ideas/theories to make a pretty decent no-sun setting, thanks all for the support! Djinn, if you're planning on using it, I'll steal as little as possible from you, but if you're not, there are definitely some ideas that would do great in what I have in mind atm.

Another thought though on such a claustrophobic setting: I can imagine the races with some vision to have churches (or equivalents) that are able to cast light-spells or induce darkvision, and also cults where members give up sight in favour for hearing/scent/blindsight/tremorsense/etc. I think you could have a really twisted cult of (for example) goblin-worshipers, who mimic them by also sewing their eyes shut and sewing iron claws to their hands and feet so as to climb better. Or other macabre activities.

2011-09-09, 02:06 AM
Another possibility for the seeing without sight thing is that grafts might become a popular option, simply because it's a one time cost and suddenly you can see in the gloom. Fleshwarpers might actually become rather handy in such an environment.