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Author Topic: Astronomy and Cosmology in Fantasy **  (Read 3054 times)

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Offline ephemeralstability

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Astronomy and Cosmology in Fantasy **
« on: October 02, 2003, 04:12:53 PM »
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.

ephe!
« Last Edit: December 04, 2005, 12:13:05 AM by MoonHunter »
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Offline ephemeralstability

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« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2003, 04:24:02 PM »
Hestis the Viol
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ephe!
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Offline Agar

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Astronomy and Cosmology in Fantasy
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2003, 09:56:56 PM »
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.
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Offline CaptainPenguin

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Astronomy and Cosmology in Fantasy
« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2003, 10:04:12 PM »
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
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Offline Ylorea

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Astronomy and Cosmology in Fantasy
« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2003, 01:41:34 AM »
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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Offline Ria Hawk

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Astronomy and Cosmology in Fantasy
« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2003, 11:40:10 AM »
I also had three moons planned for my world.  The smallest, Selis, had an orbit of 8 days, and that determined the week.  Jakun, the mid-sized one, had an orbit of around 22 days, and that was the month.  Merisol, the largest, had an orbit of approximately 88 days, and affected the seasons.  The first day of the week was named Selis as it fell on the the full moon of the same name.  The new moon, four days later, was named Selok.  Selis was the day of prayer, and Selok was the day reserved for the market.  The official date of the beginning of the seasons was the day that all three moons were full at the same time.  The eqinoxes and the solstices were the days that Jakun was full and the other two were new.  Any times that the moons appeared on top of each other (conjunctions) were holidays, especially if they were all full at the time.  The orbit of the moons is slightly irregular, so it is possible that all three moons could be new at the same time, although the calander does not show that.  I haven't yet decided if that would be considered auspicious or ominous yet.
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Offline Agar

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Astronomy and Cosmology in Fantasy
« Reply #6 on: October 03, 2003, 12:51:35 PM »
All this talk about moons is making me have flashbacks to my physics lectures earlier this semester. Here's a useful link for learning more about actual lunar movement.

http://www.opencourse.info/astronomy/introduction/04.motion_moon/

Note the absence of turtles holding the earth on it's back or other fantasy elements. Feel free to mutilate reality to suit your needs.
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Offline CaptainPenguin

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Astronomy and Cosmology in Fantasy
« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2003, 02:14:39 PM »
My world has a rather larger amount of moons.

-Ne, the White Moon
-Worak, the Green Moon
-Teko, the Red Moon
-Loukee, the Broken Moon
-Niloshtai, the Bone Moon

The moons cross over the world every night and descend past the edges into the Underworld, where they make a journey through the Underworld in their mortal forms.
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Offline MoonHunter

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« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2003, 02:09:19 AM »
Stellar, Solar, Lunar, and planetary cycles all have an impact upon cultures.  They are convient ways to mark the passage of time.  Marking the passage of time is VERY important if you are in the agricultural OR ritual business.  Heck, some said the existance of "ritual business" was initially required the organization of agriculture. The "folklore" that crop people used to mark time evolved into religion (or was folded into the existing religious order).  

Most everyone has a day night planetary period. If you have a center earth sort of world, with an eternal sun, you will need a moon or something to create a sense of time.  If you don't the world is timeless or has minimal concept of time passing (See Warlord Comic Book or Pelucidar books).  

The Passing of seasons (planetary cycle) is an important element for agriculture.  If you are lucky some lunar, solar, or stellar event that you can notice, is there for you.  

If a culture puts an emphasis on Lunar cycles, the "calander" will be lunar in nature.  Two (or more) lunar cycles might mean you have a linked set of months. much like we have weeks and months, they have two months.  

If your moon's period is not its cycle, you will have a moon whos face is always changing.  There may be a "week" or sub unit of a month based on the rotating face.

If you are lucky, your lunar calander works out to be the same as a solar calander.  If not, your calander falls out of synch with reality... causing problems for the ritual and agricultural business... as they are supposed to plant crop X on the 12th day of spring, but their calander is 32 days off, so it is the 44th day of spring when they actually plant.  

This is what brought about the Gregorian Christian Calander, so Easter and other holidays would occur when they should occur.  

For the West, accuracy was more important than tradition.  In China, the Lunar Calander was maintained (augmented by a solar calander.. rather than replaced).  The Aztec and Mayans used both a solar and lunar calander that were seperate from each other.  Thus they had special days when the calanders linked up ever 52 and 725 years.  

If you are lucky and have other period celestrial bodies to observe (A pulsar nearby) the rotation or cycle of other planets, comets, etc, you might have calanders based on that.  

The passing of time become inportant for agricultural, religious, and administrative/ ruling functions.  So make sure your world has a calander and you know why they selected that calander.
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Astronomy and Cosmology in Fantasy
« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2003, 06:57:03 PM »
You have a good setup Ria! Every world has to have moons, why not use them. Just needs a simple calender and the need to keep track of days and they can be intricate part of the world and each night would have a distict description.

The thought of constellations never really crossed my mind much either. Interesting idea. Perhaps constellations and who they represent could help some wax and wane of magical power as well. The moon is often times used for different magical strengths, constellations could too perhaps.

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Offline Agar

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« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2003, 10:56:15 AM »
Not every planet has to have moons, although most do. How would the absence of moons affect the seasons, the religions, the concept of time, even the tides? A moonless planet could be very interesting.

A ringed planet would make for interesting mythology as well, and the effects of the rings on the tides would be very slow, leading to floods every few decades or so, and would also have strong myths surronding them too.

And of course, don't forget comets and novas for impressive celestial events.
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Offline manfred

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Astronomy and Cosmology in Fantasy
« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2004, 05:26:20 AM »
Weird Worlds


What are the strangest world ideas you people had? Creator gods have often strange desires. Use: for inspiration and for creating your world mythos.


We all know Terry Pratchett's Discworld on four elephants and a turtle, a design much older. There is MoonHunter's Arth, with lots of "biomes" glued together. And Ringworld.


I imagined once Flat Lands, a world so eroded it is basically composed from lakes/seas and land, and very few low hills. The land is always endangered by the water currents, ready to be moved, and people have a hard time to live. A very wet setting. Watch out for any amphibians.


Cube World is exactly that: a cube. Four sides rotate towards the sun, and are so (relatively) hospitable. Two sides of the cube are deadly cold to life as we know it, good for demons maybe. Gravity being normal, all "sides" are best to dwell on around their middle, where is a large lake, separated from other sides by truly great mountains. Transport between different sides might be done only through magic, since those high mountains have too little atmosphere to breath. Through time and erosion, it may become an "ordinary" planet, roughly round in shape. The Past will be buried under the earth, the older the civilisation was, the deeper will it end up.
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Offline Siren no Orakio

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« Reply #12 on: January 07, 2004, 01:00:21 PM »
One that we crafted (As the PCs in a much more than overpowered campaign- It was absurd, but fun in absurdity.) was what was swiftly named the Kallisphere. The Kallisphere was a living, sentient Dyson Sphere. Over several billion years game time, it grew to the size of a small galaxy, contained a small galaxy, and became our basic world setting. Most of the time, it was a pretty normal setting, excepting the Faster than Tea Space Drive. However, there was an edge not to the world, but effectively, to the universe, and you could run around on it. If you were really unlucky, you could find the exit, and once you left, the rules changed, for the Gods were only Gods within the sphere.