Planet of Disasters

January 19, 2012

I’m thinking “Horizon” wouldn’t just be the name of the game, but also the setting’s word for “world” — everything you can’t see immediately in front of you is “Horizon,” so it’s the word they use when they’re talking about the whole world, earth and sky and sea alike.

Horizon is not a friendly place.


First off, its seasons are extreme.  It almost never snows on the equator, but the farther you get towards the poles, the nastier winter gets.  Winter at the middle latitudes of Horizon is like winter in Alaska on Earth.  Go farther north and it gets worse and worse.  But by the same token, summer at those latitudes is quite pleasant: That’s when most equatorial real estate is hotter than any settled place on our world.
Just about any single place on Horizon is, at some point in the year, miserable to be.  The equator cycles through unbearable heat through warmth, through a pleasant winter, then heads back towards broiling.  The northern and southern ends of the realms of men are temperate in the summer, cool-to-cold in autumn and spring, and murderously chill in winter.  In between are areas that oscillate between miserable heat and miserable cold, with tolerable transitional seasons.

What do the people do?  Bundle up in winter, strip down in summer… and travel a lot.  The majority of humanity on Horizon live in nomadic tribes.  They cluster around the equator in the winter, then scatter out to the north and south as the weather heats up.  There is one human settlement that deserves the title ‘city.’


As you can guess, that sort of temperature swing wreaks havoc on the coastlines and weather patterns, making thunderstorms, snowstorms and hurricanes more likely.  Fortunately, the God Storm eats a lot of them.

You know how Jupiter has the great red spot, a permanent windstorm the size of a couple Earths?  Planet Horizon has a permanent storm too, though not so bad.  It’s the God Storm, and as the game opens, very few humans have seen it and survived.  A few crazy storm cultists try to sail out and commune with it during the winter when it’s at its least horrible, but few of them make it back.
The storm cult believes that it is literally the body of their god (though his spirit reaches anywhere on the planet) and it makes sea travel on the south and western side of the human-habited continent extremely risky.  That can and will change, but the game’s starting position has it regarded as an insurmountable barrier to exploration in those directions.  Sometimes, it pulls lesser storms into it and rips them apart.  Sometimes, smaller whirlwinds and monsoons are cast off it and reach the shores.  Such is the caprice of the Storm God.


Earth passes through a stream of meteoroids around November every year, giving us the Leonid meteor shower as a light show and, typically, some 12 tons of dust on the planet’s surface every year.
Horizon passes through a field of cosmic debris that’s much larger and chunkier.  Every year, peaking in the fall, big chunks of metal fall from the sky in a fairly narrow band around what would otherwise be a rather nice stretch of real estate.  But instead, it’s a region called the Ironfall lands, because it’s pocked with craters where meteorites have crashed down, uprooting trees, vaporizing the occasional pond, and wearing down the tops of mountains.

Because it’s geographically and seasonally isolated, Ironfall is eminently avoidable, and the tribal travel routes avoid it smartly.  It’s even possible to survive the Ironfall season in the Ironfall region, with moderate luck.  But over decades, building anything permanently there is tempting fate.

On the plus side, it’s an awe-inspiring light-show every year.  Moreover, it makes iron-mining pointless: There’s no reason to stay in one point patiently delving in the soil for metals you may or may not find when you can simply wait for some to fall from the sky.  As long as you’ve got someone burning charcoal for you, you can have high-grade iron tools without the bother of mining, and with very little smelting: The heat of re-entry removes most impurities before the star metal even arrives.

Next time: Society Without Settlements


One Response to “Planet of Disasters”

  1. Justin Woo Says:

    I love this. Environmental hazards as conflict creators to generate story. Lovely.

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