View Full Version : Worldbuilding: A dangerous/helpful dimensional rift appears in the ocean. What do?

2017-06-14, 06:45 AM
Hey, Playground,

My friends and I are collaboratively working on a setting for our roleplaying campaign and I'm tasked with a pretty major worldbuilding section of it. I'm here to pick your brains, basically, on what some of the logistics and scale of the following problem would be for a whole world.

The short version: A giant portal opens up in the middle of the North Atlantic. From it, people and technologies from other worlds with different rules can come through, with technology that works and that our world can't learn or replicate easily. They don't mind doing business. Also coming out of that portal? Monsters, armies from other dimensions trying to start an interdimensional empire. The world forms a junta to respond to this and dredges out a city to defend the world and discover/trade new technologies, in that order of importance. The portal is an impossibly convoluted space-- coming at it from a different side chances where on the edge of a vast, impossibly huge and partly flooded city of Atlantis you'll end up. It's an equilateral triangle thirty miles to a side on our end, with a natural atoll on its southernmost tip outside of the anomaly. If you're in control of a global military junta, how do you protect such a space while still trading enough to keep up with the interdimensional Joneses? How big of a city do you build on that atoll? What kind of logistics do you set up? What kind of commerce do you allow? The most habitable and safest side of Atlantis, by the atoll has a relatively peaceful if somewhat criminal society of interdimensional castoffs. How do you deal with these new neighbors, who're willing to trade you for things you *cannot make*?

The city of Atlantis has risen in the middle of the Atlantic! For a rather loose definition of "city." With a cataclysmic seismic event and corresponding apocalyptic hurricane in the center of the ocean that gets everyone's attention, a portal to another world is opened that is an equilateral triangle 30 kilometers to a side on our end. When the hurricane clears, satellite imagery displays a colossally badly warped space, reminiscent of gravitational lensing, only recognizable in certain spots as a partly-flooded city. A crescent-shaped atoll is connected to the southernmost tip of the triangle, while the northernmost end remains wreathed in choppy waters that could capsize a laden aircraft carrier-- other sides of the cosmic tortilla chip seem to shift or be fuzzy until boats are right up on them-- but it's hard to find captains willing to risk their men to cross the threshold. Recon planes sent to photograph the area go silent pretty much the second they pass through the triangle. Researchers are summoned pretty much immediately to the atoll, with accompanying military escort. When they make landfall, they are greeted by... people. Humans! Mostly. Some even speak English, some in strange accents-- more worryingly are the ones who speak it with recognizable ones. Some of them have their own military escorts, even! From them we learn that Atlantis is a city that many worlds converge-- what was once a lake on their side suddenly shifted and became a road-- a road into our world. Such events are not uncommon-- nor is the opposite event. From this space we make first contact with other civilizations-- civilizations with different laws of physics, different technologies, whole different forms of matter. Over the days and weeks that follow researchers discover that they can't really... integrate the new science from other dimensions. Technologies brought over from different worlds function just fine, and the people from these worlds can describe the technologies, but attempts to truly absorb this information seem to slip out of researchers' minds-- the concepts are fuzzy and hard to understand even with primary materials handed over as cultural exchange. This particular crew seems to be representing no single world, but a community of dimensional castoffs-- a sprawling and anarchic coalition that has lived in a relative, albeit lawless, peace where disparate communities and corporations trade and establish something of an informal common law. But they explain that Atlantis is sprawling-- a difficult to navigate city-continent covered in the detritus of multiple civilizations. More than once people from global dictatorships have tried to establish multi-world empires, against often fierce and wondrous weapons. Some of the lifers, who've only ever known their chunk of the continent-city, talk about setting up defense squads against abortive attempts to take over the worlds... and worse things. These are often lethal but necessary endeavors-- probably the reason people don't just slaughter each other wholesale is that there's always a bigger fish, and sticking together seems to be the only way to keep groups like that in check. Some people ask for refugee status, fleeing oppressive regimes from across the worlds. A small camp is set up on our end-- as things get more structured, people ask for trade. Things like food, water, even ammunition and technology. People with psychic abilities offer their services. Nonhumans are persuaded to volunteer for non-invasive biological studies. Things are nice.

Then things aren't so nice. *Something* comes out of the North end of the atoll. It's big. It has a lot of eyes. Psychic individuals from other worlds drop dead when it crosses over. Its roaring tears peoples' minds. It starts making a course towards land-- the US. By the time it's dead, it's taken out two battleships. Environmental crews are rushed to inspect the carnage for... yunno. Anything that could depopulate Earth's oceans. Our contacts tell us tales of such beings are not unheard of from other portals, but the span between their appearances can most often be measured in years, not months or weeks. Things don't look so good on the south side either. By now the outcasts have permitted people to travel into their corner of Atlantis, and a missive is received that another roving army is headed from deeper in the city out to this world. A call for aid is set out. Global response is sluggish during the first few hours but as the enemy forces approach more closely it becomes clear intervention is not optional. A global junta is established and a coalition comes to reinforce the motley crew of militias and defense squads that have held their own. The day is won, but not without major loss of life. Artifacts held by the defense groups were decisive in keeping the fight fair enough in the face of anomalous technology that organization and numbers tipped the scales in our relatively mundane planet's favor.

From there, it becomes clear that things have to change. The Junta is made permanent and official. Treaties are signed permitting dredging of the atoll to expand it outwards. A city has to be made to establish trade with our uncertain allies-- as hard as it is to adopt otherworldly technology, having a decent stockpile is imperative and making an attempt is considered a crucial method of preventative defense, and may help in case another eldritch creature passes through. Decisions are to be made, then-- what kind of city do we create, to stock and maintain a defense force around this hole in our world? How do we deal with the locals, who are helpful but also willful and not quite amenable to unified rule of law? In defending their home, they defend our home, but their series of multidimensional grey markets are a hell of an issue. Keeping our ecosystem from being destroyed is a major concern-- how do we fund efforts to keep that going? What do the logistics look like on a resulting city built on the expanded atoll, meant to support all these activities?

I hope someone can help me figure out what a city designed to be a forward operating base but also trade hub would look like-- the Playground's full of creative people, so hopefully they can give me some ideas of what such a place would end up being shaped like. Since I'm in charge of basically cartography, things about necessary buildings and build area would be useful, as would things like logistics. How seedy would our side of the portal end up being? How strong a grip would the junta have to keep on its populace? Are there any questions I haven't considered for the worldbuilding that I ought to consider? Any help's appreciated. Feel free to be as creative as needed!

Lvl 2 Expert
2017-06-14, 06:58 AM
A dangerous/helpful dimensional rift appears in the ocean. What do?

Build giant robots and punch whatever comes out of the rift.


Wrong campaign?

2017-06-14, 09:47 AM
First thing I thought of when reading the thread title. (https://what-if.xkcd.com/53/)

2017-06-14, 11:06 AM
I see things like "heading for the US" and "battleships" which makes me think this is a modern Earth setting.

Then I see things like "nonhumans" and "people from other worlds" (who are naturally psychic of course) which makes it clear this is not modern Earth at all.

Since the background is very unclear, I'm not sure who would be doing what, since I'm not sure who even lives on this planet.

= = =

That said, building giant nuclear robots is the obvious correct choice, so I'd like to second that recommendation.

2017-06-14, 04:26 PM
Let me clarify then: Our side of the rift is modern earth. Their side of the rift isn't. So our side of it has modern tech levels, give or take fifteen years. Their side has mostly humans but also some new non-human species. I'm actually unsure if the US exists in the setting as it exists right now, but the idea that one of the global superpowers was assaulted by a Cthulhu (or baby Cthulhu, since normal Cthulhu would end the world, I guess).

The water table is sort of contiguous in the rift, so the oceans aren't draining or rising. The main issue is fish and bacteria from the other side are crossing through.

And honestly I was pushing for a mecha themed game during our ideation section but they shut it down. No Gypsy Dangers for me. Though I wish there were.

EDIT: Also, Pacific Rim's rift doesn't also produce helpful things with helpful people on the other side. That's a complication.

2017-06-17, 04:04 PM
I'm not sure a military alliance meant to fight off cthulhu would necessarily be permanent in the absence of an immediate cthulhu threat, or become a world government without a series of coups that would probably mean several member nations withdrawing (and having to be invaded).

That the alien threat is bigger than cthulhu (cthulhu was sent back to r'lyeh by ramming it with a single fishing ship, after all, and this one destroyed two battleships) doesn't really change that.

That having been said, the primarily concern is going to be making as much profit as possible. If world governments aren't disrupted, they're already most accountable to people whose primary concern is profit; if they are, the best way to stabilize after a coup is to buy off everyone whose support you need with money and convince them that a second coup wouldn't put someone who would pay them off better in power. What enterprises are profitable is going to depend on what, exactly, the rift exports, but basically anything that could do anything that we're currently doing better is going to be an interest.

It's hard to say whether this means it's going to end up as a wild west boomtown, a company town (which would probably be an armed camp dedicated to enforcing a monopoly on trade), a town like those that spring up around military bases, or something else, though.

The city's size is going to depend on the amount of work that needs to be done. At minimum you need to be able to load and unload ships and planes, plus a substantial armed guard, plus a service industry (food and the like) for the people there and possibly for cross-dimensional traders. If you add in fishing and agriculture and other industries then there'll be people to do that.

The city will, though, probably be a temporary boomtown, however it's built; it doesn't actually produce anything to support itself; it imports everything and exists as a necessary stop to enable its re-export.

2017-06-17, 07:27 PM
I think the biggest problem would be the mob fear of the unknown. If the general populace found out how much danger they were in, they would want to kill everything that came through there. (And yes they are in massive amounts of danger. Even one bacteria could easily turn into a world destruction event). If I were a government that wanted to make a profit off the alien tech, I would set up a military base, not a city. I would try to limit media coverage of the site. I would sanatize everything I distributed to the public and only allow the least scary tech to even be distributed in the first place. I would create artificial currents using a water heater and cooler in strategic locations to prevent natural currents from running through the rift

Fable Wright
2017-06-18, 09:18 PM
I hope someone can help me figure out what a city designed to be a forward operating base but also trade hub would look like-- the Playground's full of creative people, so hopefully they can give me some ideas of what such a place would end up being shaped like. Since I'm in charge of basically cartography, things about necessary buildings and build area would be useful, as would things like logistics. How seedy would our side of the portal end up being? How strong a grip would the junta have to keep on its populace? Are there any questions I haven't considered for the worldbuilding that I ought to consider? Any help's appreciated. Feel free to be as creative as needed!

Well, first off, consider the fact that people from the other side might be selling the equivalent of tactical nukes or worse across the gateway.

Then consider that various governments (which will still exist, no matter what the United Junta is saying about things) all want as much technology in their hands as humanly possible. Then consider that this site is a hub of the world's attention, and would be a prime location for terrorist attacks for any ideology, from 'Our Earth First' to any usual suspects. Then consider the fact that knowledge of what is available from the traders could itself cause public disturbance. And then we know that enormous threats can come from it, and the kind of defense we'd need on the weapons capable of taking out those enormous threats.

And then consider the normal restrictions on imports and exports that people with access to government information have. You might think I'm joking, but in the US, at least, you can get fired or worse from talking about your assigned tasks on an unclassified military contractor project if there's a Canadian citizen coworker in the next booth over. That's just talking about tech that might give a very small edge or bit of information to a closely allied foreign government, not paradigm-shifting imports from completely unknown vistas.

This city is not a city. It's a military compound. Guests can access some limited-restriction areas of the compound if they have Secret to Top Secret+ security clearance and a reason to be there. The entire area is a no-fly zone enforced with AA guns, drones, and satellites for intelligence, plus interdimensional tech. Anything that comes out of the 'city' en masse has to be a trade deal approved by an appropriate government. Past the outer defensive layer, there are three 'rings' for lack of a better word. The outer ring is for people dealing with basic service tasks—food, water, laundry, similar support stuff that does not absolutely require thoroughly vetted personnel, and housing for visitors. The middle ring is the furthest anyone from the rift can go, and people from our side can enter it if they are cleared and have the paperwork to meet with this one particular individual, likely with an armed escort for both parties. The inner ring is not player accessible. Period. This is where we have weapons capable of ending any Eldritch Abomination threats who dare emerge into our world, this is where the heads of intelligence agencies send their most trusted individuals to gather information on potential imports and exports to disseminate back to trade companies with sufficient security clearance, and 90% of the data gathered in the inner ring never leaves it in any form on our side. Breaking the NDAs associated with this zone are high treason, and given the amount of background information you divulged to be cleared for entry and the sheer number of records kept on you, they will find you fast. Even if you escape under the aegis of a far-flung government, you will never get access to the compound again.

This, in universe, would be THE most serious of serious business. Normally, you'd expect a sprawl to grow around an important trade hub, but that's sharply curtailed by the need for border security around the atoll. What you do get, though, would be pockets of cities that receive these imports becoming even bigger and more important than they already were. These gadgets are the top of the top when it comes to gentrification; impossibly expensive conveniences that are only minimally available to the public. Stores in locations with the easiest access to them become the top of the top, and bring associated individuals along, while the wealth gap becomes increasingly large with the huge demand for completely unique luxuries.

Think of how rich Venice got when they had a monopoly on the spice trade in Europe. That's for being the trade hub for rare foods. The gap is much larger now; the US and Western Europe become immeasurably wealthier with this, South American and West African areas might see increased development and an edge in the world economy; China, the Middle East, and Russia feel incredibly slighted and will exploit every edge to secure a route to these goods that competes with the Atlantic countries.

Or you could throw out all the real world baggage and just make it Neo ChtulhuTokyo, where the gadgets are weird, strange things roam the streets at night, Kaiju appearance is a constant threat, and everything is shiny, packed, and has its own trendsetting culture. That might be more fun to play with, actually.

Jay R
2017-06-18, 09:41 PM
This sounds like a great time to go adventuring in Australia.