This is My World: Green Sun

Dinosaurs & Dragons – Getting Biological in DnD

In this article I’m going to talk about how I used ecology and Dark Sun to inspire a setting that borrows heavily from ideas in Dark Sun but creates a different feel. I do not try to establish everything about the setting, after all that would take either a lot of blogs, or a 50 or 60 pages of setting book. Instead I aim to show how we can be inspired by the strangest things to create a unique game world to explore.

Where did this start?

I was looking through the Dark Sun Creature Catalogue and came across this picture:

On seeing it my first thought was “why are they fighting this?” a thought quickly followed by “to be a danger it needs to be a predator” this then lead me to thinking about the problems associated with having such large predators, and what a world would be like where some consideration was given to the ecological concepts of producers and consumers. In a world where those basic concepts are at work organisms are divided into 4 basic groups, from the plants at the bottom, then herbivores, then moving up through orders of predators. Now I know some people are going “but it’s fantasy” and thinking this stuff doesn’t matter, but you see it brought  to life subtly in movies like Avatar for example, and as that movie showed these ideas can be useful story seeds.

Now an ecological pyramid of numbers (like the one on the right) shows the numerical relationships that exist in a food chain. As you can see the further up the food chain you get the less of the creatures there are, and really the explanation of why this happens is irrelevant, but it does give us a foundation from which we can build a setting.

There is one other important thing to consider; herbivores are often as large as or larger than their predators. This has important implications in a world with giants, and dragons, especially combined with the ideas of the ecological pyramids.

Send in the DnD

Now it is my understanding that in Darksun the Feywild has been destroyed, and regardless of if that is accurate, it does give ideas when we look back at the other concepts inherent in the biology of real ecosystems. What would happen if the Feywild was much closer to the world, and even indistinguishable from it in places such that you could walk from the Middle World into the Feywild? What if the Feywild didn’t exist because it was merged entirely with the Middle World and the Shadowfell was distant and hard to reach?

In such a world living things would be dominant, great forests with trees as tall as skyscrapers might dominate the world. Massive herbivores might wander such forests as prey of giants and dragons, and even more dangerous smaller beasts. In a world dominated essentially by dinosaurs and dragons where would the “medium” races fit? What is the defining fact for the survival of the player character races?

Green Sun

Not the literal concept of a green sun (though that is not impossible per se), but rather the idea of a world much like the one of Darksun but where instead of a pollutant that despoils the land magic is life. The most magical predators rise to the top of their food chains, and even the most mundane things are infused with magic both arcane and primal. In a world dominated by magic, and fey and primal spirits stone is a rare commodity, replaced in most cases by arcane weaving of trees, an art of which the elves are the masters. Metal is rare not because the mines are lost or exhausted, but because the creation of such endeavours is a difficult thing when the spirits of the ground protest their abuse for the same of greed.

In this world humans, elves and such live in the middle world of the forest.

In the canopy high above, rule the dragons and other great predators such as Rocs.

On the forest floor rule the giants, both intelligent and bestial.

Example Setting Themes

The easiest theme is “Nature vs Civilisation”. This isn’t a theme that would put primal characters at odds with characters that draw on other power sources, but rather one that pits savage races, races that have embraced the idea of “you are either predator or prey” against races that have answered that with the trappings of civilisation.

“Corruption” or “Pollution” is another possible theme, and things like Demons, such as those that serve Demogorgan, are excellent examples of how corruption can be created as a problem without getting into more modern concepts. (Oh and so is Hexxus from the Ferngully movie!)

“Undead Horror” is strangely a powerful theme for this setting. In a world where life is so abundant how much more terrifying are the undead? Especially if undead are extremely rare. Giving even lesser undead like Skeletons fear auras and raising them many levels to be high heroic or paragon foes changes them a great deal along with their relationship to the setting. If undead are tied to the Shadowfell, what does it mean when they grow to be a threat in a world so abundant in life?

Bringin’ the Biol Back

So why all that talk about “ecology pyramids” and “food chains” and stuff? Well the answer to that lies in how you can establish the monsters in the campaign, and the character’s relationships to those monsters. This is a dangerous world because it is full of things that want to eat you! Not in the “you wander into the dungeon and they attack” sense, but in the “you wander 50 paces from the safety of the village without care and you are probably getting eaten” sense. (cf Avatar) Cows and horses are non-existent in this world, and only the magical nature of the Pegasus and Unicorn make them able to survive. The domestic beasts need to be herbivorous dinosaurs or maybe creatures like giant ants, or perhaps griffons and hippogriffs or similar.

The ground level is one where dinosaurs, or “behemoths” as they are called in 4E, are the dominant herbivore. Their predators are dragons and rocs (etc) from the upper canopy, dire animals, horrid lions, remorhaz, huge spiders, and so on from the ground and they are likely herded and used by giants of all stripes as domestic beasts.

The middle level is where much of the “medium” monsters are found, along with intelligent monsters. This is where things are “normal” in the setting. In this level “civilisation” is the dominant paradigm, but even that is a slender light against an overwhelming sea of “natural order”.

The canopy is a riot of various life forms. In the canopy small creatures make their homes, along with plant creatures like myconoids, treants and dryads. It is also here that the great aerial predators make their homes and hunt for their prey on the forest floor far below. Here in the canopy savage tribes of kobolds worship dragons as gods and ride drakes through the air on raids of the middle realm to find food, slaves and treasure for their draconic gods.

‘ware the beasts.

It is important to note that in Darksun a big element of the setting are the abiotic factors (nonliving chemical and physical factors in the environment), in this setting the big element is the biotic factors (predator, prey, competitors). Here you do not die of thirst, here the smell of your blood from the last battle brings death swooping from above, or lunging from the foliage. Here the light of civilisation flickers not against an unfeeling climate, but against a swarm of hungry beasts. Here the darkness is not empty and unfeeling; here it is pierced by eyes that stare after you hungrily.

I could go on…

I could spend a great deal of time expanding and refining the ideas given above, but will leave that for you should the ideas have sparked your imagination. There are many sources of further inspiration for such a setting these include things like: Avatar, Ferngully, Fire & Ice (1983), Tarzan, anything with a “Lost World” motif, and in particular Jurassic Park.

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