Update 6 - Ecology
Back with another update and this time I’ll be talking about the ecology of Altais and the animals and monsters you can encounter on your adventures.
First just a reminder that I will be doing a Q&A on #rpgnet this Tuesday the 29th, at 7pm Central (that's Wednesday 30th, 10am AEST for those in Australia). This is a chance to ask me any questions about the game or give feedback, so stop by and have a chat :) Here's the channel: http://tinyurl.com/rpgnetchat
One of my aims with the ecology of Altais is to create a realistic ecosystem with believable relationships between the different species of plants and animals, and this means asking a lot of questions like: Where did it come from? What does it eat? How does it reproduce? And so on.
As with life on Earth, I want the life on Altais to be diverse and varied, to feature plants, animals, bacteria, viruses and so on but to have evolved along lines very different to those here. Most of this life falls into one of four categories: Native, Introduced, Wild and Tempest.
These are the plants, animals and other life forms that evolved on Altais. The evolution of most of these species predates humans arriving on the planet and took a similar path to those on Earth except without some of the extinction events that our planet encountered. Millions of years ago, the world was inhabited by huge six-limbed four-eyed reptiles. They came in a wide variety of different forms, some were herbivores, others carnivores but they were without a doubt the dominant form of life on the planet. In many ways they were analogous to the dinosaurs that existed on Earth, with one key difference: they never went extinct. Over time smaller reptiles and even mammals appeared and began to compete with these huge creatures but they never went away completely and today many of the life forms still resemble them but on a smaller scale. Most of the native animal life during the Age of Ruin is reptilian and has six limbs and four eyes, but for humans they still fall into familiar categories: flying creatures, beasts of burden, pets, herd animals and so on.
Plant life tends to feature more trees, ferns, and vines, while grasses and flowers are less common. Carnivorous plants are also quite common although not usually dangerous to humans and other large animals.
The most dangerous form of native life that adventurers will encounter are the large predators, although there are some small venomous creatures that they also need to watch out for. In general though this is no different to encountering a lion on Earth or a poisonous snake, it’s dangerous but it’s hardly a monster.
Some examples of native life:
Skites: Small six-limbed reptiles that breed very quickly and form large swarms. They are viewed as vermin and often plague city streets and the occasional inn cellar, feeding off scraps and trash. They are not normally dangerous to humans.
Corix: Reptiles-of-prey. Four of their limbs are wings and they tend to hunt other smaller reptiles like the Skites. For this reason they often flock around human habitats and are viewed as vermin control. Some people even keep them as pets.
Aubox: Large slow moving reptiles. They are herbivorous and often used as beasts of burden or raised in herds for their meat.
Lyse: A rare parasitic flower that grows on trees in the warmer forests throughout Altais. Its roots grow into the tree's bark and it survives by stealing nutrients from its host. In the Kingdom of Rust it has become a symbol of rebellion, although despite the idiom "All lies have thorns" and the rebellion's tendency to use "thorn" as a euphemism for assassin, the plant itself is thorn-less.
A few plants and animals were brought with humanity when they first came to Altais, some are rare, while others have become common pests. Most people don’t really distinguish between these and the native species, since they all predate the Kingdoms and most of written history but a few scholars are well studied enough to know the difference.
Introduced species will probably include the types of plants and animals that are often used in scientific experiments: chimpanzees, rabbits, mice and so on.
The Wild originally had no native life at all, but over the centuries, travellers have brought life in with them either accidentally or intentionally. In ages past, it was common for major cities to be connected by permanent Wild Gates which allowed anyone (or anything) to get inside.
Within the Wild time moves considerably faster and a million years passes inside for every hundred or so on Altais. This has allowed life within to flourish and spread, filling the Wild and turning it into a verdant green wilderness full of all kinds of strange creatures.
The sun is brighter in the Wild and solar energy more abundant, which has allowed plants to grow far larger than in the physical world and the animals have evolved to keep up. Those wishing to travel the Wild now, must brave the exotic mega flora and fauna that dwells within.
Because only a small number of species have entered the Wild, life within is less diverse but larger and more aggressive.
There are large carnivorous reptiles, hostile plants, huge insects and an abundance of fungi of all forms, all of which makes the Wild a very dangerous place. Although none of these are magical in nature, they are different enough that when one occasionally escapes into the physical world, towns and villages might describe them as monsters.
They certainly pose a bigger threat than most of the native wildlife.
Within the highly charged environment of the Tempest lurk strange creatures called Sprites that are made from exotic forms of matter and energy. Some scholars speculate that these may just be pockets of Tempest energy that are drawn towards other sources of energy but some claim to have seen signs of sentient behaviour. Sprites come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and they may have as diverse an ecosystem as life on Altais, but the volatile nature of the Tempest makes investigating them very difficult.
Sometimes a Sprite makes it into the physical world, either through a rift or because it was deliberately pulled across. Without the highly charged environment of the Tempest, they immediately begin to weaken and dissipate, although large ones can persist for several hours. During this time they seek out and feed off any source of energy nearby in an effort to survive a little longer. This makes them very dangerous as they can feed off body heat, drawing it out of someone which can cause them to freeze to death.
The more energy they absorb, the longer they can exist in the physical world and the larger and more powerful they become.
Larger Sprites also have another way to survive: they can bind themselves into a physical object, fusing with it so they become more a part of the world. In this state their loss of energy slows and they can exist for years. This usually results in a form of magical construct: for example a sprite that binds itself into a pile of rocks becomes similar to an Earth Elemental found in other settings.
There are limits on what they can bind themselves into: there must be enough mass to hold their whole form, solids are easiest, liquids are possible but difficult, while gasses cannot be used at all.
Some magic users have taken advantage of this, deliberately creating golems, elementals and other constructs to act as guards although this is a very dangerous process as the Sprite has no loyalty to its summoner.
Occasionally a Sprite will fuse itself into a living creature, the result is referred to as a Wight. The Sprite doesn't take over the creatures mind, it just physically tries to move their limbs in an effort to attack and feed off any sources of heat in the area. Humans suffering from this affliction usually try to stop the Sprite hurting anyone, it's a constant physical struggle and the untiring Sprite usually wins once the human gives in due to exhaustion or fatigue.
Objects and creatures inhabited by a Sprite are very difficult to fight. Smashing an animated pile of rocks leads to smaller pieces of rock, it doesn't prevent the Sprite from animating them. Likewise killing a Wight just leads to the dead body being animated by the Sprite which doesn't need a living host. The only reliable way to destroy such creatures permanently is to have someone who is adept at Tempest magic force the Sprite back into its home realm. Fortunately these creatures are usually rare.
I'm always interested in trying out different systems and have been taking a look at this project to make a simple setting-less system, check it out!