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Idea Worldbuilding: implications of a giant magical cloud?

Yal

🐧 *penguin noises*
GMC Elder
I've got this giant cyberpunk city that really only looks good if it's always night, and always raining. And I've also got a bunch of other locales you'd travel to that looks better in daylight with the sun visible. I could just have unexplained time skips whenever you travel away from the city (you know, like how most games have a different time of day permanently for each area) but I've been toying around with this idea that the darkness and rain are caused by a supernatural cloud that permanently rests over the city.

So the idea is as follows: during the victorian era (like 1820-1850-ish), a portal to the demon world opened in London, and monsters, magic etc started pouring out (so they're already established parts of the natural world in the modern-day era when the game takes place). A side effect of the portal is that a dark cloud is generated. It has been spreading slowly over time, covering more and more of the world, now it's reached the seas of western Europe. (The cloud is called "The Everdark" since it's always dark below it).

What side effects would the cloud have?

A lot of technology will be invented the same way since I'm planning to have this be more like "the normal world but there's magic and demons" rather than accurate alternate history, but side effects like certain technology being instantly obsoleted or going from obscure to essential would be nice... and also things like the long-term effects on the weather, climate, politics...

Some properties of the cloud: (these are basically the axioms of this phenomenon)
  • The cloud acts pretty much like a normal raincloud, with the same physical properties. It is really dark, almost completely blocking out sunlight.
  • The cloud is on a lower altitude than all normal clouds (so there's never standard clouds below it)... not sure how significant this is for the science.
  • A vital part of forming the cloud is salty ocean water. No matter how far the phenomenon spreads, it can't go very far inland - it only forms over large bodies of water (with a direct connection to the original portal) and quickly dissipates when there's no water below it.
  • The raindrops deposited by the cloud contains small amounts of a mineral with magical energy. One of the big reasons people still live in areas covered by the Everdark is because this is a valuable resource you can't get anywhere else. (I'm expecting most of the rain to end up in the ocean where the mineral fragments sink to the seafloor, so quantities on land probably will be relatively insignificant - I'm not really a weather expert, though)
  • The energy deposited on land from normal rain acts as a fertilizer about as powerful as volcanic ash, so plants that don't need a lot of sunlight should be able to thrive.
  • The cloud in itself isn't directly hazardous (it's not poisonous, it won't teleport you to another dimension, etc).
  • The cloud isn't the "main point" of the game, it's more of a worldbuilding background detail.
 

SoapSud39

Member
This is great. Here are some ideas off the top of my head:
1. Material Deterioration and Development
  • since it's always raining in London and probably most or all of the rest of England, materials used to build infrastructure can't be the same as it has been historically in the real world
  • common materials that we might think of are very likely to deteriorate; e.g. wood rots faster, cement (in general) erodes quickly and roads are brittle, steel structures rust and fall apart
  • so to combat this, history for infrastructure materials must have been different for the late modern period (1800s-ish onwards)
  • e.g. the famous 'historical race' to produce stainless steel (according to Google, stainless steel was invented in like 1913), as well as the more involved integration of chromium and non-tarnishing metals (such as cobalt, silver, gold, platinum, tungsten) in alloys
  • e.g. early development of porous and sturdy concrete or other cement to allow for effectively water-proof pavement (i.e. much more durable and longer-lasting roads)
  • e.g. early development of non-toxic waterproof lacquers or other varnishes for use on wood structures (e.g. unfathomably advanced uses of pitch, idk lol)
2. Energy and Communication
  • magical energy allows for a historically different method of powering things
  • electricity, gas, etc. have already been in use and are being developed, but magic allowed for a new and possibly more efficient method of getting things done
  • the 1800s was the period of revolution for transportation (the railway), long-distance communication (telegraph), and other more obscure but important things (like standardization of clocks (which I've been studying in my English/Literature class haha))
  • magic, being very new, was difficult to work with, but humans can get the hang of anything, and with the magic cloud above London, scientists had all the magic that they needed to do unlimited research, so magical technologies developed very quickly
  • perhaps the introduction of magic led to the earlier development of better modes of transportation (high-speed ground and water vehicles, early flight)
  • perhaps magic allows for a mode of instantaneous long-distance communication more reliable than electricity (i.e. to connect different continents, scientists had to create really massive sea-floor cables to get electric flow, and e.g. magic allows for a non-substantial mode of connection ('magic cables') which do not require as much material as electricity does to move energy around)
  • this would allow for earlier development of advanced technology like computers and stuff, albeit they run on magic
  • finally, the introduction of magic might allow for a more accurate representation of standardized time, distances, etc. (well, I don't know how your magic works, but these might be a consideration)
3. Environmental Implications
  • magical energy is an element which is foreign to the real world and was foreign to the early 1800s in your world, but the amount of magic that was introduced was substantial, and so it may have caused many environmental changes
  • as you mentioned, the energy allows for better plant growth, even without sunlight, and so a similar phenomenon might occur in the ocean where magical energy runs off to after the rain
  • maybe the undersea plant and algae ecosystem suddenly boomed in the sea-floor area around England, spreading with the growth of the cloud
  • maybe this energy caused changes to the animals in the sea as well (whether directly or inadvertently through consumption of aforementioned plants and algae)
  • this can go one of two (or more?) ways: (1) the sea life couldn't take the sheer amount of magical energy and died out, left the area, or mutated into strange creatures; (2) the sea life was able to adapt to the magical energy and had population booms over time, making seafood very popular in English cuisine (the fishmongers discovered this change and developed the fish market considerably)
  • the introduction of magic then also would influence the progression of environmental cleanliness: if magic is utilized as a primary source of energy, developments with energy sources involving lots of pollutants (basically anything other than wind/water and nuclear powered electricity generation) became obsolete, significantly reducing or even eliminating real historical development of pollution, global warming, etc.; furthermore, magic, or what effect it might have on plant life, might have a cleansing effect (or a polluting effect, if you want to go that direction) in general, allowing for further implications on the state of the environment throughout the world

Hope you find these notes helpful! I like this worldbuilding stuff and you had a pretty good idea, so I might come back with more ideas later if you don't mind.
 
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Yal

🐧 *penguin noises*
GMC Elder
This is some really great stuff, and a lot of things I didn't even think about!

Material Deterioration and Development
I like the idea of a "metal race", having an excuse for a lot of weird and exotic alloys to exists fits really nicely with my existing lore. (Wars for control over mines with rare materials makes much more sense if you need those materials to stop your entire city from disintegrating...)

Intercity roads basically being temporary and in disrepair is an awesome premise for videogame levels, too! I'm thinking railroads is the norm for transportation (because they're the most material-efficient way to make rainproof vehicle facilitators) and vehicle/footroads are mostly still used because of tradition, but outside of cities you basically need an all-terrain-vehicle to get anywhere. In modern days, highways might be made from rainproof materials, but before that it's basically wilderness only connected by railroads.
...unless you take a detour through the inland with normal weather, I suppose. Since coasts traditionally have the most power because of sea trade, this could also have interesting effects on regional power balance.


Energy and Communication
I hadn't thought too much about using the magical crystals as a fuel source (since they're spread in a really thin layer over a really large area, it's impractical to harvest them, especially with Victorian era technology) but I do like some of the implications... like the London area having these fancy purple crystals while the rest of the country is stuck with coal, improving general health in the capital area (none of that famous smog).

(I'm thinking the magic is more like a "background radiation" sort of thing... sure, it's always there, but it's not powerful enough to have a visible effect; it needs to act long-term for things to change... it affects plants first because those things are patient enough to stay in the same area for years)
(This also means that there aren't really enough energy to go around for "unlimited experimentation" and "rapid progress" - especially early on, alchemists are basically the only ones that messes around with the stuff, and a scientific understanding and mastery of the stuff... not even sure I want that to have formed in the modern-day era)

I'm thinking that flight would be less likely to be invented and put to heavy use when all the world's oceans gradually get covered in what's basically a permanent thundercloud... not exactly optimal conditions to see what you're doing. Sure, these days flying by wire (only using instruments and not visuals) is very much possible, but there's decades of iterations on Wright era technology before we reached that.

I suppose zeppelins might be more likely to still be used, since they're slower (and thus less likely to fatally crash because you had poor weather conditions) and being doused in permanent rain makes them less likely to catch fire...? They'd even collect the magical mineral on their surface by virtue of being big things, so scraping it off between flights could be a nice monetary bonus for zeppelin companies. (Zeppelins are basically the man-made version of looking through a window during an early setpiece and seeing a whale gracefully glide by, so it feels like having an excuse to have them float around in the background would be pretty neato)



Come to think of it, navigating using the stars would be pretty much useless when there's a permanent cloud. Luckily the compass was invented in the 1200s, so it doesn't instantly destroy all seafaring. Lowered visibility due to the weather conditions could necessitate building more lighthouses and perhaps large structures on top of the rapidly-growing coral reefs to warn about them when ships don't keep their seacharts up to date.

Environmental Implications
Re plantlife, I love the idea of something like "The Great London Reef" growing in the contamined waters... if it blocked the sea traffic around what was once a powerful trade hub, it could do some interesting things to the regional power balance. With more plentiful fish in the sea thanks to the nutrient boost (which directly affects algae, plankton, seaweeds and then indirectly the fish), traditional farms could lessen in importance and fishing hamlets become more powerful (and it'd also reflect in modern-day diets... things like sushi and fish n' chips is more common worldwide because it's easier to get the ingredients).


Some random thoughts not really connected to your points...
  • Having a common enemy (the demons) could prevent the nation-identity drive that ultimately led to the first world war, which would change the present-day maps quite a bit. (Tons of death and destruction would happen fighting the demons, so there'd still be a big war trauma) - in the modern day there's a brittle coexistence truce thing, but I haven't fully ironed out the details for that.
    • The russian revolution, communism and cold war probably would still happen, though
  • Instead of a space race, there could be a "hell race" where big nations compete to launch expeditions through the dimensional rift first
  • Visible proof of demons would lead to both big changes in a lot of world religions... revising teachings to better match reality, getting more power because now people can see their predictions are true. I've got a lot of this covered already, but it feels a bit off-topic to go into depth about it.
 

pixeltroid

Member
The raindrops deposited by the cloud contains small amounts of a mineral with magical energy. One of the big reasons people still live in areas covered by the Everdark is because this is a valuable resource you can't get anywhere else. (I'm expecting most of the rain to end up in the ocean where the mineral fragments sink to the seafloor, so quantities on land probably will be relatively insignificant - I'm not really a weather expert, though)
This IMO is the most interesting part about the cloud. What can a person do with the magic energy? Have you fleshed that out fully?

As for the cloud's side effects, I don't know. What you have is already pretty comprehensive for a 'background detail'

But I imagine a lot can be done with the magic mineral itself:

- There are conflicts over harvesting the mineral. Maybe the government decides it's illegal for civilians to harvest or possess the magic mineral and civil turmoil breaks out. So perhaps this leads to an underground market for the magic mineral and then the usual gang wars and related underworld type of stuff.
- Using the magic mineral has unexpected side effects. Maybe, the magic mineral is addictive. And users become monsters if they use too much of it, or if they stop using it suddenly. In the game, I can imagine an NPC magic mineral junkie giving the player a sidequest...."fetch me some of that mineral and I'll give you this shiny thing you need to finish your quest!".

For more ideas, check out the 2009 movie "Daybreakers" (Ethan Hawke, Sam Neil, Willian DaFoe). It's set in a world ruled by vampires and where humans are on the verge of extinction. The rare and exotic "magic mineral" that the vampire population seeks is human blood! While the actual movie is cheesy as hell, they've done a pretty good job in terms of world building around the 'human blood' element.
 
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Yal

🐧 *penguin noises*
GMC Elder
This IMO is the most interesting part about the cloud. What can a person do with the magic energy? Have you fleshed that out fully?
Not really... tbh I kinda want to have the mineral be a "get out of jail free" card for plot holes. :p
(In the lore, humans can only use "proper" magic after horrible genetic experiments mixing demon and human DNA, or by warlock-style pacts with supernatural entities where they can borrow powers)

I guess we could brainstorm some ground rules, though...
  • The mineral form violet crystals with basically the same physical properties as table salt (potassium chloride NaCl) - the crystals are brittle and crumbles into a powder very easily, they're carried by water.
  • The mineral is a low-power energy source in its unrefined state, but it's so low-power that it can't be ignited. Using it for anything more advanced than food seasoning or fertilizer requires special treatment (think oil refinery levels of machinery).
  • I'm not fully sure what type of energy is stored in the mineral, but here's an idea (that builds on the previously established lore). Basically, the world has 9 spatial dimensions and 2 temporal dimensions (this is based on some random factoid I heard ages ago about string theory suggesting the world is 11-dimensional, not 3-dimensional). Normal earth materials have 3-dimensional crystalline structures, but these crystals - which are actually normal sea salt - have been deformed by the conditions near the dimensional rift, and have been stretched out so the molecular bindings form multidimensional crystalline structures; since the bindings are longer than normal 3D crystals (you know, Pythagoras' theorem / the triangle inequality) they bind more energy, and it's unleashed as photons (or a new type of energy particle?) when the crystal goes through the metabolism of earth creatures.
    • Having different distortion patterns depending on different types of deformation would be a cheap way to introduce different versions of the crystals
    • IRL there's materials formed by stuffing one atom of a particular type in a "cage" of another material, so elemental versions of the crystal could be formed in the same way - I'd probably just handwave these "spike" materials and use names people recognize, like phlogiston for fire and amber for electricity.
  • Since the energy is unleashed as a type of radiation, it causes genetic mutations in large doses, and this is what causes the weird plantlife and stuff?
So basically the mineral is useful because of the unique conditions that created it, which allows it to store energy in a completely new type of chemical binding, it can be refined but not artificially produced, and at the start it has no real useful properties other than as an energy start.

But let's go one step further... let's say the dimensional distortion is its main property when refined, and this can be used in some way or another? Like creating invisibility cloaks (humans can't perceive the 6 additional spatial dimensions, only the standard 3 XYZ), distorting time in a local area, and focusing light more tightly than possible with standard prisms (allowing for long-range binoculars, setting fire on things by projecting a relatively weak light source onto them, etc)... I suppose one end goal is elemental infusions (swords and ammunition that can have whatever element you want) so let's say that the distortion also can be used to trap basically anything you want in an infinitely looping cage that neither mass nor energy can escape from, as long as the thing you want to trap is atomic-scale... this is used to create dust which can be charged with any element or material you want, and then applied to things whenever you want to unleash it. (The right kind of blunt trauma, electric shock or other stimuli - depending on how the crystal-cage was formed - will break it, letting the trapped material out)



- There are conflicts over harvesting the mineral. Maybe the government decides it's illegal for civilians to harvest or possess the magic mineral and civil turmoil breaks out. So perhaps this leads to an underground market for the magic mineral and then the usual gang wars and related underworld type of stuff.
- Using the magic mineral has unexpected side effects. Maybe, the magic mineral is addictive. And users become monsters if they use too much of it, or if they stop using it suddenly. In the game, I can imagine an NPC magic mineral junkie giving the player a sidequest...."fetch me some of that mineral and I'll give you this shiny thing you need to finish your quest!".
I'm thinking the mineral can only really be harvested in large scales in two places: underwater bases which mines crystal deposits, and directly inside the cloud (both underwater bases and flying fortresses are cool). Large basins where you evaporate water and harvest the salt could work too (as a worldbuilding detail you can see on the map and stuff). Since this is a cyberpunk world this would probably be done by megacorporations instead of by goverments... but looking at the IRL debates (an environmental effects!) over things like fracking and harvesting oil sand, there's probably a lot of fun you could do with scenarios where the corps and the governments are at odds - say, people oppose a new mineral harvesting plant opening up fearing the environment will be ruined, and the year's vote basically gets completely dominated by which candidate is for or against it; you get involved in the behind-the-scenes stuff with quests from both sides to dig up dirt on the other candidate (or outright get rid of them), and ultimately get to decide what happens - later in the game there's either a massive facility or a forest area at that point in the map. (Going for the facility could make stuff using the mineral permanently cheaper, since it's now easier to produce)
 
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Basically, the world has 9 spatial dimensions and 2 temporal dimensions
Depending on how you handle this, you're gonna have nerds @ing you =P But it also has some real potential to explain magical properties. (Also, I don't know how much you know about this stuff, so sorry if I'm repeating stuff you already know).

If higher dimensions exist and there's an entity/substance that exists in that dimension, then it has some extremely weird properties. For one, things like "physical barriers" don't exist anymore. The classic example is flatland. Flatland has 2 dimensions. If you, as a 3 dimensional being, interact with flatland, the flatlanders will experience "impossible" things.

Let's say one flatlander enters their "house" (a square where only the borders are solid). They close and lock their door (meaning there is no entry point from the flatlanders perspective). It's trivially easy for you to poke your finger into that house...You simply lift your finger up from the outside of the square, into our "3rd dimension" and then place it down inside the square. To the flatlander, you have just appeared out of nowhere with no possible access point. You could then pick flatlander up and place them down outside their square, and the same thing would've happened to them. If you drop an apple down through flatland, they would first see a tiny blob that then rapidly grows in diameter before finally shrinking down again to nothing. There's all sorts of bizarre things that can happen just by adding another dimenions. Adding another 6 is beyond wild.

If you're interested in how extra dimensional objects might appear to lesser dimensional beings, look up hypercubes and then start searching for 5-cube and beyond. The shapes are extremely bizarre and wrapping your head around the way they might move and interact is...well, it's mathematically possible, I guess, lol.

But in the name of worldbuilding and magic, this could explain things like teleportation, manipulation of matter, shape changing, etc. An interesting perspective that I hadn't thought about before.

EDIT: Also, extra time dimensions allow you to break the chain of cause and effect...
 
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Yal

🐧 *penguin noises*
GMC Elder
Depending on how you handle this, you're gonna have nerds @ing you =P But it also has some real potential to explain magical properties. (Also, I don't know how much you know about this stuff, so sorry if I'm repeating stuff you already know).

If higher dimensions exist and there's an entity/substance that exists in that dimension, then it has some extremely weird properties. For one, things like "physical barriers" don't exist anymore. The classic example is flatland. Flatland has 2 dimensions. If you, as a 3 dimensional being, interact with flatland, the flatlanders will experience "impossible" things.

Let's say one flatlander enters their "house" (a square where only the borders are solid). They close and lock their door (meaning there is no entry point from the flatlanders perspective). It's trivially easy for you to poke your finger into that house...You simply lift your finger up from the outside of the square, into our "3rd dimension" and then place it down inside the square. To the flatlander, you have just appeared out of nowhere with no possible access point. You could then pick flatlander up and place them down outside their square, and the same thing would've happened to them. If you drop an apple down through flatland, they would first see a tiny blob that then rapidly grows in diameter before finally shrinking down again to nothing. There's all sorts of bizarre things that can happen just by adding another dimenions. Adding another 6 is beyond wild.

If you're interested in how extra dimensional objects might appear to lesser dimensional beings, look up hypercubes and then start searching for 5-cube and beyond. The shapes are extremely bizarre and wrapping your head around the way they might move and interact is...well, it's mathematically possible, I guess, lol.

But in the name of worldbuilding and magic, this could explain things like teleportation, manipulation of matter, shape changing, etc. An interesting perspective that I hadn't thought about before.

EDIT: Also, extra time dimensions allow you to break the chain of cause and effect...
I'm aware of Flatland~
(I've also had a bunch of higher-dimensional maths like tensor theory, but it's all the kind of abstract stuff you can't really comprehend even if you can do the maths right, so not sure how much it helps)

I probably would intentionally keep a lot of this stuff vague for two reasons: it lets me get away with handwaving more stuff, and it's harder to poke holes in the reasoning if it's not too well defined. (A third reason would be that people would just use their suspension of disbelief anyway and not want to read through hundreds of screenfulls of lore if they don't have to).

I like the connection between 9-dimensional space and non-euclidean shenanigans, though... gives a new dimension to the whole Lovecraftian "impossible angles" shtick... I guess i have to look higher-dimensional shapes up a bit. I've seen some novelty games where you collapse higher-dimensional spaces into 3 dimensions to be able to perceive puzzles, perhaps building dungeons around that could be a fun idea.

2-dimensional time was mostly because I felt 9 is a better number than 10, but it adds a lot of freedom for things... time loops don't need to be internally consistent if they can sponge off parallell universes with different chains of events, I could take the Schrödinger's Cat thing (which is pretty well known) and use it to illustrate how 2D time works (instead of quantum-entangling macro scale events, it causes two timelines to be entangled). And of course, all potential outcomes to a choice are canonical.

Another fun idea: particles that move sideways through time, going through all potential states of the world instead of moving through a single state's changes.

The basic effects of the extra 6 room dimensions is that there can be small pockets of 3D space in random places (they're in the same place physically, just moved a bit in a direction humans can't perceive)... used for things like Silent Hill style mirror worlds, abstract otherworlds, Werehouses (houses that only exists in the normal world during full moons)... and of course the demon world which is at least the same size as the human world, just displaced beyond human understanding before the cloud incident. But now I'm definitely going to look into how higher-dimensional spaces would actually behave instead of just using this as a cheap excuse. :D Maybe I can actually drive some players insane from the realization?
 

Yal

🐧 *penguin noises*
GMC Elder
Sorry for being a bit too brief in my previous reply, I had to speed it up because of life reasons...

I've toyed around with the ideas some more in the meantime, though!
  • The magic mineral is called Odium (named after Odin, the king of the gods in norse mythology; this is because the odium crystals are essentially the king of materials). Thorium exists IRL so there's some nice parallels to real science, too! (You don't wanna know how many names I had to go through to come up with this idea)
  • Mindscrew moment: the universe is actually a single interconnected 9-dimensional shape, the spherical(ish) planets we see are actually the 3-dimensional slices of this shape passing through our 3-dimensional plane. The reason we don't see the shapes morph and twist is because we move at the same speed (good ol' "relative reference frames" from relativity theory) so from our perspective they stay still, even in 9-D space.
    • This also has the side effect that we can explain dark matter. We can see the effects of all the matter hidden in 9D space, we just can't see it directly.
  • Unrefined odium appears purple because it traps ultraviolet light, and it bouncing against the edges of the crystal structure slows it down, changing its wavelength so that it becomes plain ol' visible violet light instead. The bulk of the energy stored in unrefined odium is still in the crystalline structure itself, but only the light energy can be used by plants.
    • This explains why plants can absorb the purple crystals: they absorb the light and do their photosynthesis as normal. It's still going to be much less concentrated than direct sunlight, so it still promotes plants that don't need a lot of sunlight in the first place, like fungi, venus flytraps, and blueberries.
    • The cloud could appear so dark because the odium crystals in the cloud itself absorbs all light, and since things like radar waves and radio waves are both electromagnetic radiation - just like visible light - they'll also be fully absorbed! This makes it impossible to examine the cloud remotely, you need to be inside it (even drone-based systems would have issues taking orders or sending back data), this solves all the worldbuilding I need to give you a reason to go inside the cloud and fight monsters later :D
Thanks for leading me down this track of thoughts, it's been really fruitful! ^__^
 
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