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Astronomy and Cosmology in Fantasy **

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From the concept of a flat or spherical Earth to the Pratchettian turtle model, fantasy universes vary wildly in their cosmologies. It is obviously a factor which must be taken into consideration. In a world where PCs spend a long time they will eventually come to the ends of the Earth (or will they?) and you'll need to know what's there.

Not only that, but the prevailing views on cosmology can have a big political clout: just think of Galileo, put under house arrest for refusing to renounce his controversial views of science.

In a campaign world, the DM gets to decide: is it geocentric, heliocentric, or somethingcompletelydifferentocentric? Testing this could be the basis for any number of adventures, where the PCs travel to remote corners of the Earth for crazy astronomer-wizards, taking measurements to determine (e.g.) the curvature of the planet or its movement through its solar system. And again, their results could get them into some serious trouble...

There is another, perhaps more directly useful, application of cosmology in fantasy, namely the constellations and their relative positions through the year. In a very detailed campaign world, these would be crucial for adding depth to navigation and giving a sense of the passage of seasons. In the same way as we associate Orion with winter and spring (at least at my latitude!) maybe our fantasy world will associate Gurmug the Jolly and his enormous celestial beard with their season of festive mirth.

How much more prominent would be the scintillating effects of aurorae in a world with two very active suns?

How would people explain the mystical coloured clouds in the sky if they lived inside a nebula? How would this affect their mythology?

For mythology and astronomy are intimately linked. How many people would have heard of Orion if it weren't for the constellations? And how might different cultures with different mythologies perceive and name the constellations (if at all?). Just think of the opportunities for confusion: trying to navigate from a starchart by a different culture; maybe one of the cultures is persecuted by the other and uses one of its own constellations as a covert religious symbol.

The opportunities really are vast. So I'd welcome suggestions for constellations, and suggestions for how constellations and other cosmological entities could be incorporated into games.


Hestis the Viol

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Allara the Barmaid

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Ocaro the Mule

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This is always a wonderful way to give your games depth and really innerse your players in thier roles. Problems only arise when players try to take things too scientifically and disrupt the game.

Like if the planet was shaped like a torus (doughnut) then the people standing on the inside part would either see the other side, or see a large black band dividing the heavens. Also, they would weigh less, but that's only for players who know a bit too much physics.

I've never pondered the sky of a nebula, I think it's appearance would differ greatly depending on the density of the nubula, and, since it is so close to a star's gravity, would become noticiably less over the ages. Could be an interesting reason for magic going away, but how would the players reverse it?

Just remember this is a fantasy game and if you want a flat planet shaped by the gods, the players are just going to have to deal with it.

I prefer my worlds to have a more "mythical" feel, so most of my worlds are flat worlds with strongly defined centers.

A constellation from my world Khoril:

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Nastra, the Warrior

My world is a normal round world, but with a couple of stange things.

The circle the planet makes around the doublesun is so circular, that there is hardly any noticable seasons....., but everybody can tell the (approximate date) by looking at the moons. There is three of them and in short, the story is as follows.
One moon  always circled Teolin.
One moon was formed when a gigantic meteor crashed into the world and a large amount of water was flung into the sky, this is now a small blue moon called Bular.
One moon was a rock that came flying in to finish Teolin. It was directed at this course by a god called Moob-Dhane. Irtolie, an other god got so angry that he and Moob-Dhane started to fight. Mood-Dhane was flung into space and crashed into the rock. The amber collored blood of Moob-Dhane spilled all over the rock and the impact redericted the course of this rock into orbit around Teolin.
Now the planet has three moons and they pretty much decide on how much light is shed on the planet during the night.

As the people recognize the importance of the moons, the year on Teolin has been adjusted as such that a full moon cylce is now one year. (i.e. Every day of the year has  a fixed moon constelation.)

To read the full story, please click the www button, enter my site and choose the option "history of Teolin"

I actualy keep track of the days to first and above all know how much light is shed onto the planet, but also because some events do take place on fixed days. Like in a normal week, some days have special functions. The first day of the week is typicaly devoted to prayer, where as Sou-oct is typicaly used as a market day.

So cosmology may impact your world way more as just knowing about the different star constelations.


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