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    Evolution in a World of Fantasy

    I was thinking about how creatures might evolve in a fantasy world like that of most D&D settings. I imagine the world starting as lifeless, with the exception of elementals. The elementals roam around and alter the landscape, on occasion interacting. Eventually, they might happen to interact in such a way as to create a new type of creature, perhaps by combining together. Thus, single-celled organisms would be formed by a water elemental combining with a specific earth elemental, and possibly a bit of fire.

    Another possibility is the formation of new types of elemental-like creatures from the original elementals (I've been assuming the the world begins with only Fire, Earth, Water, and Air elementals). Perhaps True Fay, beings of air, light, and energy, would be formed from Fire and Air elementals. Demons, creatures of liquid shadow and sharp claws and teeth, might be formed from Water and Earth elementals. At some point, the beings would grow advanced enough to have more of a mind, and then the more powerful ones might begin some intelligent design, such as the True Fay creating physical forms for themselves, and lesser versions of themselves to serve as servants, or just for the fun of it.

    How do you think the evolution of such a world might go? How do you think that a classic world of D&D might have evolved? Where would goblinkind come from? Giants? Animals and plants, even? I look forward to your responses.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tomn View Post
    I was thinking about how creatures might evolve in a fantasy world like that of most D&D settings.
    Most fantasy settings I'm familiar with assume a 'young Earth' of ancient understanding. It's hard enough having a 10,000 year history. (And I've never seen one that actually achieved that well, as even a few centuries of real history would be impossibly complex.) When you start talking about the millions or billions of years of history necessary for evolution to run its course, I boggle at the scope of imagination required to encompass it.

    I imagine the world starting as lifeless, with the exception of elementals. The elementals roam around and alter the landscape, on occasion interacting. Eventually, they might happen to interact in such a way as to create a new type of creature, perhaps by combining together. Thus, single-celled organisms would be formed by a water elemental combining with a specific earth elemental, and possibly a bit of fire.
    Sure, but since 'magic', and the world is already animistic with a 'life force' (animating your elementals, for example), what's the point? And what makes you think that such worlds necessarily have single celled organisms. In general, fantasy tends to be based on the ancient Greek understanding of the world. The notion of microorganisms doesn't arrive until late in the modern era, and as such doesn't necessarily play a role in how most fantasy settings are conceived. 'Germ theory' may well have to do with spirits and curses, and not bacteria.

    How do you think the evolution of such a world might go? How do you think that a classic world of D&D might have evolved? Where would goblinkind come from? Giants? Animals and plants, even? I look forward to your responses.
    I know where everything in my setting comes from, or it doesn't go in.

    A nameless creator created the world and left it. His three greatest creations are an organizing principle called 'The Tree of Life' (which is both a literal tree and a metaphysical one) which caused the universe to give forth living beings, an engine of change called 'The Cascade', the glittering globe suspended on an orichalcum thread in the ether - the material world of Korrel. Immediately after departing the universe, the Tree of Life caused it to give forth an abundance of life by spontaneous generation: the fauna, the flora, and the small gods - the various fey, both of the material world, and the cascade. This first event is called, 'The Pollenation' and is on going. Fey and other spirits and even in some cases fauna (maggots from meat, for example) are still called spontaneously into being in their season.

    For some unknown number of years, the original beings having no sense of time, the universe was only populated by these beings. However, the Tree of Life was also bearing fruit, and the first of these dropped and its seeds were the family of deities led by the flame eyed god Maglubiyet. For some time, these new beings had commune with the greater fey, giving birth to the Fomorians and many similar beings of semi-divine stature. After a while the second fruit dropped, and it's seeds were the family of gods led by Holy Corwin. For a while too, these two families communed with the greater fey, the genie and each other, giving birth to lesser gods and many giants and like beings. And so it went with each new fruit, and for many years there was peace. However, the family of Umman was mightier than the other families, and his children more comely to the eyes of Corwin's children than those of Maglubiyet, and in the time of the 4th fruit Umman was made High King over the gods in place of Maglubiyet who brooded in black anger who had once ruled alone over all creation and he was estranged from the other gods and dwelt in a place apart from them.

    At that point, histories diverge. But to make a long story short, humans blame Maglubiyet for what came after, goblins blame Umman, and the elves blame everyone but themselves. In those days, the greatest spirits of the animals came together, for they were feeling poorly represented in the present affairs, and desired to create for themselves an over king who would petition their cases before the gods. To that end, the spirits breed together, and from this breeding came many of the magical beasts which can be seen to the present day - the whales, the griffins, the hippogriff, and the pegasi, to name but a few. The mighty Griffin Mattatron was acknowledged king over all the fauna, but over the objection of those invertebrates who felt poorly represented and choose their own king. During this time also the race of fire, stone, frost, cloud, and storm giants was first seen, as the result of breeding between the gods and the lords of the genie.

    Ultimately, treachery within the house of Umman lead to the God's War, in which Korrel was nearly destroyed and evil brought into the world. To fight in these wars, the gods fashioned races of great servitors - the fiends and the celestials. Finally, after the death of many gods now forgotten to history, the Gods met on the highest remaining mountain peek amidst the smoldering ruins of the world they'd each tried to claim as their sole province and agreed to a truce and a compact. Each would abandon their dwellings on Korrel and fashion new dwellings and dominions in the Astral. They would no longer make open war on each other, and would respect the sovereignty of each other's domain. Additionally, so that the world would not lie in waste, they would fashion lesser servants after the fashion of the lesser fey, having free will, but weak and mortal like the lesser animals, so that these servants could in no wise be a threat to any of them. These servants would be charged with repairing the world and restoring it to as much of its former glory as possible - for it is said before the God's war that the world outshown in beauty even the most remarkable present dwellings of the Gods.

    However, immediately the compact was thrown into disarray as no pattern for these new servants could be agreed to - each God desired that the new servants would resemble them in interests and skills. It was Maglubiyet that proposed that multiple designs be accepted, and that gods could work on these new designs as they saw fit, and further that each design be allowed to choose which gods it would serve as it pleased the individual being. This compromise pleased some and displeased others, but was accepted at last and so the six created races of Free Peoples were created and added to the first (the fey) - goblins, elves, humans, dwarves, orine, and idreth.

    And so on and so forth.

    The important point is that while there is a sort of evolution going on here, and not everything is going as intended or necessarily foreseen (the gods being far from omniscient), most of what is going on is a sort of directed evolution akin to selective breeding. Even the random elements are sentient. The world is expressly animist and theistic, as suits a world with hosts of clerics casting spells. Evolution per se doesn't have a place here, and to the extent that it did, it would be work of the God of Chaos or at least Random Chance who in context is himself (or itself) a natural process (although, it should be said that there is a strange lack of a God of Chaos in the pantheon of gods, that has been noted by scholars).

    Now, you might have a billions year old magic world with either no deities or more hand's off and subtle gods of still small voices that hesitated to intervene openly or else the mindless careless gods of Lovecraft, but you then probably wouldn't have clerics. Such a cosmology might well look a lot like Lovecraft, with Russell's "Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way" - Azathoth majestic over all.
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    I've used Evolutionary models in my worlds and they work okay provided that you accept that fantasy and science are unconnected

    I once posited that Dragons were synapsids and descended from a pelycosaur with a double sail-fin on its back. I also extended the thinking to include Manticores, Hippogryphs and Kirin as related species.

    I like the concept of Oozes being gigantic amoembas and that disease is caused by miniscule oozes in the body whose acids are eating away at the host flesh.

    Using you proposed Elemental model I'd go thus "The Heart of Fire burned hot in the hands of the Creator, and he blew upon the flame with his divine breath which is called Wind and which caused the flame to blaze and spark. The sparks which spiralled upwards within the smoke of the flame became stars and those which fell became the seeds of life.

    Then the Creator encased the fire which he had kindled within a layer of stone, creating an orb in his hands which warmed and glowed but then began to crack as the fire refused to be contained. And so the Creator had to seal the cracks and also to cool the stone and for this he took the waters of life
    and bathed the orb of stone and fire.

    And the seeds of life were there within the fire and the stone and the water and the wind"

    Now assuming Earth + Water = ooze we of course have the birth of Oozes and the miniscule form of single cell amoeba and protozoans.

    From there you have plants and primitive animals developing as per Doodle god. Then its wide open. Perhaps goblins are amphibians, perhaps trolls are an evolved form of therizinosaurs and bugbears are obviously apes.

    Now lets look at the base humanoids all of whom appear to be able to interbreed.

    Humans are a standard evolved form of ape and thus closely related to the neanderthal Orc but more distant from the Austropiticine Bugbear. Humans are versatile and can adapt to most conditions.

    Elves are a related gracile hominid but not as durable as humans and tend to not adapt so well. However due to early evolutionary exposure to high magic (fae) zones Elf genetics are hugely mutable, indeed it seems that as soon as an elf enters a new environment it is traumatized by the new conditions to the extent that epigenetic change occurs and its offspring will evolve into a new form. Hence elfs have so many variants.

    Dwarfs are also hominids, possibly a pygmy neanderthal or a related branch. Dwarfs are not adaptable at all but what they do have is huge amounts of endurance. A dwarf wont adapt to any environment outside its alpine caverns, but it will endure them albeit with a gruff bad tempered demeanour.
    Last edited by Tonguez; Wednesday, 28th January, 2015 at 12:09 PM.

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    Evolution needs a mechanism. It implies the existence of radiation and DNA which implies molecular biology and now you're science fiction instead of fantasy. Or you can replace the mechanism with something else... but what? Magical mutation?

    An alternative to evolution might be crossbreeding. Not a major mechanism in the real world, but in fantasy if everything can breed with anything, there's your source of change. Natural selection can still work.

    I almost never use evolution. Gods are more interesting and fun. I could see it in a conan style swords & sorcery world, one that is human centric. Heck is hard to imagine conan without evolution, it's baked into the setting.

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    You don't necessarily need the millions-of-years process to get interesting results. If you have domesticated pigs that escape the farm, about three generations of offspring later you're dealing with big, dangerous, feral swine. Some creatures just adapt faster. I figure that's why there are so many kinds of goblins. In a few years, their offspring are completely optimized to their surroundings. If first level adventurers didn't come along and wipe them out every so often, they'd overrun a kingdom completely.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alcamtar View Post
    Evolution needs a mechanism. It implies the existence of radiation and DNA which implies molecular biology and now you're science fiction instead of fantasy. Or you can replace the mechanism with something else... but what? Magical mutation?
    .
    Lamarkian evolution works fine in a fantasy setting and works over a single generation, Lamarks theory was that organisms adapt to their environment and then pass these acquired traits to their offspring. The usually example used is Giraffes, who were said to have started short but who then had to begin stretching their necks to upwards to reach leaves, these traits of longer necks were inherited by their offspring 0 very much the Elf/Goblin subrace model already prevalent in fantasy settings with the only added element being a high magic environment...

    The gods and magic still shape the environment but the life in those environments is free to adapt and 'evolve' with no genes involved

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    The Owlbear clearly is the "missing link" evolutionists have been searching for all these years.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tonguez View Post
    Lamarkian evolution works fine in a fantasy setting and works over a single generation, Lamarks theory was that organisms adapt to their environment and then pass these acquired traits to their offspring. The usually example used is Giraffes, who were said to have started short but who then had to begin stretching their necks to upwards to reach leaves, these traits of longer necks were inherited by their offspring 0 very much the Elf/Goblin subrace model already prevalent in fantasy settings with the only added element being a high magic environment...

    The gods and magic still shape the environment but the life in those environments is free to adapt and 'evolve' with no genes involved
    Good point. For a fantasy setting, bad/wrong science from our world can be declared as "valid" in the fantasy world.

    This would in turn lend the world its own rules of how things work, that fit the actual game setting your playing in.

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    Quote Originally Posted by amerigoV View Post
    The Owlbear clearly is the "missing link" evolutionists have been searching for all these years.
    Actually IMC Owlbears are a robust form of gryphon, and do indeed form a missing link between griffons and lesser therapsids like the krenshar
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    There was an article in Imagine magazine (?) once with spell lists for "Evolutionary Wizards"; spells to splice, mutate & evolve creatures if I remember correctly - 2nd Ed. D&D, always wanted to use it but never found the right character or scenario....

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