Living with Megafauna, Pt. II

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Drakevarg, Aug 1, 2018.

  1. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Lore Master

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    So last year thereabouts I started a thread about living with megafauna, specifically in regards to how to a civilization might design sailing ships when faced with the fact that there are creatures that might mistake their vessel for food in the same manner that a shark might mistake a surfer for a seal.

    Today I'm contemplating a tangential problem: in a world where humans are very much on the menu, how do people travel and make camp? Now I know that for much of history (and to a small extent, even today), this was an actual concern - but the odd starving wolf or bear isn't really the same thing as a T-Rex or a spider the size of a tree. Maybe back in the Ice Age.

    In a world of monsters, humans have two real legs up as I see it: numbers and fire. Most creatures are averse to fire and this would likely remain true. But some, I'd have to imagine, would see fire as little more than a dinner beacon. Though I suppose from a non-human-centric point of view, a fire isn't a sign of intelligent life, it's a hellscape waiting to happen. And humans being what they are, I wouldn't be surprised if given the choice between being dinner and burning the forest down for the chance to flee, the forest loses more often than not.

    Numbers, too, are an asset that I could easily see backfiring. To most creatures a big pack of humans might be a risk, but to some it might be as a beehive is to a bear - a conveniently packaged feast. A risk worth taking perhaps, or just a push for even greater numbers - turning merchant caravans into entire nomadic towns with a rotating populace.

    In terms of smaller-scale tactics there are plenty of possibilities. Sleeping in trees, perhaps - giant spiders might be up there but at least the escape route is obvious. Or foxholes, sort of reverse-pit traps surrounded by spikes to keep things from wandering close. Or maybe just carry around a big, Spartan-style shield and curl up under it at night. I dunno, this is mostly a spitballing thing.

    Thoughts?
     
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  2. Laurence

    Laurence Grandmaster

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    The shield thing - but ones shaped like half a coconut - sound like a cool idea in lieu of a good cave.

    Think about how sleep would be affected. Some animals sleep with one half of their body at a time in order to stay alert. We might also be better at appearing large. Think of evolutionary traits that would be cool without tipping the scale too far in either direction.
     
  3. DylanRS

    DylanRS Apprentice

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    Fire is a specific fruit of intelligence, and intelligence is explosively applicable. Before you go and change creatures to be intelligent in this hypothetical, just know you'd be giving them fire too. Or maybe our great advantage is opposable thumbs and fine motor control....

    A major application of that intelligence is our adaptability. We could settle wherever the biggest beasts aren't. In Nausicaa of the Valey of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki, a toxic forest has spread all over the land, and society is on its last legs at the coast. There's giant insects in the forest, so we just steer clear. A lot of creatures are too adapted for their specific locale to follow us doggedly enough. So consider how the dangerous megafauna would affect our settlements themselves. If you want crazy animals to be prevalent in your story, give the humans a reason to visit them. This is great MacGuffin territory. Maybe giant monsters are starting to appear more often and closer to civilization than usual. Edit: this falls flat if you specifically want terrible monsters to be inescapable neighbors.

    Another extension of our intelligence is strategy. We can think multiple steps ahead and in crazy directions. We can embed strategy into our cultural fabric so that even the less intelligent among us can outsmart the animals. Come to think of it, communication itself is huge.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2018
  4. ImaginationGoneWild

    ImaginationGoneWild Journeyman

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    Maybe your humans can attempt at 'taming' some of the mega but friendlier beasts to carry entire campsites on their backs? I've artworks with that example of enormous pack animals carrying a bunch of tents on their backs so that humans have a relative safe place to stay on. Cause I can only imagine that there must be some big ones out there that don't feed off humans but trees instead or something?

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  5. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Shadow Lord

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    Just want to say that loved your last thread on aquatic megafauna and very much look forward to this. I've got some loose ideas to write in a T├ękumel-ish and these discussions on megafauna and their impact on the world are gold. :)
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Given the size and range of your monsters, I'd say humans are extinct, or at least severely scattered and chronically vulnerable.

    Caves are one protection. So are islands, but those would be small proof against godzilla-range monsters, who would simply wade out into the lake. You may want to consider giving your humans some sort of magic that would help explain why they are able to survive against superior forces.
     
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  7. MrBrightsider

    MrBrightsider Acolyte

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    Damn, this is a great question.

    One thing I'd say is that humans are particularly ruthless when it comes to how they operate. If you had two cities and a stretch of land in between, and that land was occupied by monsters, you can bet that a king is going to raise an army to murder the living hell out of anything that might interfere with trade. Scholars estimate that the Persian army had about 300,000 men at the Battle of Thermopolyae (Sparta Fight), and I would wager that a T-Rex is going down with way, way less than that. I would almost say that megafauna WOULDN'T be an issue, because any country where humans have decided they're going to... well, make a country, would have been absolutely PURGED of anything that might be a threat to that a looong time ago.

    I think of it like this: if my story is set in fantasy-land technology, then my humans had to survive long enough to get there. That means they managed most of their evolutionary history in some small place where they WEREN'T threatened by monsters; maybe a valley, or a ravine, or a high mountain place where large megafauna wouldn't have enough food to survive. As they got bigger, and expanded, they branch out from this 'safe zone', getting larger and larger, and thus able to tackle larger and larger challenges. Megafauna have the real-life problem of being relatively FEW in number (you don't get a land filled with apex predators: you've gotta have an ecosystem, and the bigger something is, the more it needs to eat, and if it doesn't, it just DIES and your problem solves itself haha). So if in--for lack of a better analogy--the human starting zone, there is ONE giant T-rex apex predator, all they need to do is murder that and presto, at least the surrounding t-rex territory belongs to humans. Then they expand, get more humans, and repeat the process.

    So, long-winded answer, megafauna would likely NOT be a problem in anything resembling a country, because in order for the country to even have come to exist in the first place, all those predators would have needed to be murderized as a per-condition.

    NOW!

    If you're talking about humans traveling through MONSTER lands--expanding territory, navigating to new and uncharted places, that's another story. But again, I think the numbers issue comes into play. Rather than risking traveling through some dangerous area, some ass hole king who wants to exploit the hell out of the surrounding area raises an army and sacrifices a few hundred thousand lives genociding everything harmful in the way, and THEN trade commences.

    That's how I'd think of it, anyway, hah!
     
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  8. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Lore Master

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    Non-predatory megafauna definitely exists - indeed it's just as if not more plentiful than the predators - the teeth gotta eat something after all. Not that they're necessarily any safer than the predators. An ornery boar the size of a dump truck is not my idea of a good time. And while I have taken the idea of taming some of them into account - such as giving thought to what a primitive culture would get out of having an air force - I'll admit it never occurred to me to think of it from the point of view of defense during travel. Kind of Pokemon logic, I suppose. In a world where field mice can electrocute you when spooked, going into the wilderness without a living flamethrower is dumb.

    Well, more Kong-sized than Godzilla-sized. The latter exists, but I'd file them more under "nature god" or "living natural disaster" than "wildlife." For the rest, settlements are definitely fortified by default. Even a village with a handful of people needs at minimum a wooden wall, if not some kind of natural barrier and maybe even a ballistae or two (to shoot down the odd gryphon).

    I think a crucial element you're missing in this equation is that this isn't "basically Earth, except also there's the occasional superpredator." It's more accurate to say that the entire ecosystem has been scaled up. Spiders the size of cats are household pests. Wasps big enough that their hives are marked on maps like cities. Eagles large enough to ride. So predators large enough to give spears pause are the rule more than the exception.

    Now, it is a good question in that circumstance how humans can wage war and hold any of pretense of "kingdoms," since the general assumption I've run on is basically "if you're not in a fortified town, you're on the menu," and even then it's not a sure bet, since among other things those household-pest spiders have been known to attack unattended infants. And you're no more likely to wipe those out than you are to manage that with spiders in our world. So it's a question worth asking, just not one I've taken the time to consider yet. I imagine the conclusions of this thread will help that along.

    One idea I had last night while trying to get to sleep was basically an analogue to truck stops - well-traveled roads could be dotted with low-maintenance fortifications where travelers can rest and hide out from things that would want to snack on them. Likely a few more clever predators might start specifically camping out near such fortifications, but I can't really think of any way around that short of making entire roads into walled trenches.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Truck stops = caravanserai. You could certainly fortify those, though who bears the cost? It could be the locals, in the same way medieval folk were expected to help with the upkeep on bridges or roads. Much depended on the nature of the local authority, so there's plenty of room for excellent stops and nearly ruined ones.

    Another possibility: inns. But think of them as more like castles. The innkeeper is in the employ (even if it's just in the form of privileges) of the local baron, so much like a castellan. Normally, the inn is just an inn, but in case of Monster Attack! he also has military background (a good gig for retired warriors) and can button up the boat. Give him/her a signalling method, and Local Baron could send relief troops. You don't invest in building castles every five or ten miles, but let entrepreneurs build their inns and then pay for the privilege of entering into baronial (or royal) service.
     
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  10. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Lore Master

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    Sorry about lack of reply, just didn't have anything to add yet besides "that is a very good idea," was waiting for more inputs to respond to.

    Anyway, one thing I could probably do better with worldbuilding in general, not just this train of thought, is to stop wondering how people adapt to maintain the expected status quo and start thinking about how such conditions would shape humanity's development to begin with.

    So it's the dawn of human history, mankind has stepped blinking and ignorant out of the ashes of the last age, and find they're one the menu. How to respond? Shelter seems the obvious answer. But humans can't exactly just become dwarves - this setting's underground is almost as lively and dangerous as the suface world, moreso in some ways. Small burrows might be effective, especially if reinforced, but sprawling tunnel systems probably wouldn't pan out. I think mountains, islands, tree houses, etc, any way to geographically isolate your population from its predators would be taken as an optimal approach. Vast swaths of agricultural land would be a risky consideration to say the least. Maybe have irrigation systems that double as a series of moats? Would help keep the terrestrial predators at bay at least, even if it left your farmers vulnerable to the occasional huge crocodile. Nothing Egypt couldn't handle.

    Roads also might be very carefully chosen - rather than a roughly direct route from A to B, major thoroughfares might deliberately pass through areas that minimize exposure - narrow valleys, paths that squeeze between a river and a cliff face, and so on. Hardly without risk but better than passing directly through Murderdeath Forest or the Easybuffet Plains.
     
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  11. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Lore Master

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    What is the level of industrialization? When people found sperm whales, they saw 85ft raging monsters, who are social and sometimes will come to each others' aid, and thought "oil!". Moby Dick, (not real, but based on a single real incident with a very angry whale) could wreck a ship, but a monster like that on a rampage - well, that's why the Abraham Lincoln sets out in 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea, and if the Nautilus had been a whale, the Lincoln would have won. People remember things, and most animals can be intimidated or tricked. If a mastodon or tyrannosaurus stumbles and shies before a wall of fire, you know who will be building bonfires. Big things tend to be slow, and I can say that I can usually feel the earth shake for a few minutes before I hear the train, if I am not in a city... you have a warning. Big things also tend not to be able to handle varied terrain ("movable vs. "mobile", see the ~80 ton cap on ground vehicles, like tanks and dump trucks, bigger things, like dragline excavators, tend to move below walking pace and are disassembled for long trips, and whilethe cap is more of a guideline then a law, there is a reason for it, )

    Here is a good book on how different laws of physics effect you differently at different scales.
    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct...ize_and_Life&usg=AOvVaw2fs_L9xqk-_4CWgNOzokIt
    I'm not sure how technical I can get without losing my audience, but as things get longer their sizes go up exponentially. a 50ft monster would weigh 8x what a 25ft one would. (the cube of the factor by which the size increases, twice as long, twice as wide, twice as high. 2x2x2=8.) An ant can fall a mile and walk away. If you fall ten feet, you may break a bone. If an elephant falls over it may also break a bone - that much more mass, without much more air drag, will result both in higher falling speeds, and more force when it hits the ground per whatever amount of speed is obtained.. What would happen to an Ultrasaurus if you tripped it? I think it would just die. Their bodies are heavy, and they are still made of the same flesh and bone you and I are. Their bodies are pushing the limit of how big the ribs can be and still be moved to breathe, how much weight a leg can hold, how far a heart can pump. They don't need to be violently killed; a little push to put them over the edge and they would self destruct . The old idea that sauropods were semi aquatic because no skeletal structure could hold a beast that big upright and allow it to breathe makes a lot of sense. Modern paleontologists still struggle to explain how the beasts could have oxygenated and pumped blood, and been structurally sound on such a scale. A large sauropod or theropod dinosaur could not just march through a forest, and definitely could not walk up a mountain.

    Ppeople would know the limitations of the beasts, and probably focus on breaking their legs, which would likely be very heavily sressed already.
     
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  12. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Lore Master

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    For those observations, I'm going to give two versions of the same answer, one Watsonian and one Doyalist:

    Watson: Virtually every living thing in the setting is descended from dragons, except for humans, who are descended from Titans (for this reason, there are no apes in the setting - nothing genetically links humans and monkeys). Dragons can get as big as a passenger jet, can fly, and are tough enough to tank cannon fire. That leads to a significant advantage in the structural stability department for their genetic offshoots.

    Doyle: My setting is in large part an exploration of my love of kaiju films and Harryhausen-style monster-filled adventure stories. I'm not about to let something as incredibly tedious as the Cube-Square Law to get in the way of my fun.
     
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  13. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Lore Master

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    Which isn't to say that there are no limitations put on these things - the sheer fuel requirements for such large creatures, for example - just that structural stability isn't on that list. Now certainly people do kill these monsters, humans are still near the top of the food chain after all, just not THE top. But that usually comes down to attrition, and the biosphere has been scaled up enough that "render everything we're scared of extinct" is basically out of the question. And that's before you take into account supernatural factors that aren't really a focus of this discussion, like "forest gods don't like it when you barge in and kill everything in their woods."

    P.S.: The time limit on editing posts is a pain in the butt.
     
  14. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Grandmaster

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    There are three issues with this post I want to address.

    First, no, large animals are not really slow and noisy. Yes, they appear slow. Their legs move rather slowly compared to their size. The thing is, their legs are long. Each stride covers a lot of ground. You may see an elephant running on Animal Planet or whatever and think it looks like it's moving in slow motion. Elephants can actually run at ~25 km/h (~15.7 mph), which is allegedly about the same range as the average human. Also, elephants are quiet. They sneak into villages and camps at night and break into food stores in Africa and India. T-rexes were similarly quiet, at least according to my childhood hero, Robert Bakker.

    Second is the implication that an elephant falling over is the same as a human falling ten feet. Not sure why that would be the case. Falls of complex structures (such as humans or elephants) have too many moving parts to make an accurate general model. An elephant may break a bone if it tripped and fell. Or it could get up like nothing happened, like this guy right here:


    On the other hand, a human, if they tripped and fell, could also break a bone if they landed badly.

    The third issue is that, no, the old idea that sauropods were semi aquatic never made much sense and did have a lot of pushback even back in the day when it was popular. Yes, water would help them hold up their massive weight. No, water would not help them breathe easier. In fact, the most-used argument against this hypothesis was that, had these animals submerged themselves in water, the weight of the water would have crushed their lungs and prevented them from breathing. In any case, we have hard data that they were in fact able to live on land so that idea's been debunked.

    Finally, biomechanics matter. One cannot take one animal and extrapolate data about another group of animals. Tigers are heavier than humans and when they pounce they land with a lot of energy, probably more than a person falling from 10 feet, and they do this multiple times per day with nary a consequence. This is because tigers are built to withstand these impacts. Their skeletal and muscular structures have adaptations suited for dealing with these kinds of stresses, not to mention they know how to do it safely, whether by instinct or by parental tutelage. Similarly, an enormous animal would have the adaptations to deal with their enormous size, both structural and mental.

    The only issues I can see with the square-cube law in what Drakevarg's posted is the tree-sized spiders and the Godzilla-sized natural disasters. Everything else seems reasonable according to the fossil record. From what I'm seeing, they're mostly ~16-25 feet tall?
     
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  15. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Lore Master

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    You are right. I made some incorrect assumptions by overextending my knowledge. I am just a math student, not an engineer or biologist, and the only reason I know anything about this topic is because I am a wannabe polymath. I would like to ask you some questions, but that is neither the point of this thread or forum. Thank you for correcting me.
     
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  16. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Lore Master

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    The outright daikaiju-sized threats are blatantly supernatural in nature, so they don't really "count." As for the rest, most don't significantly exceed historical precedents on Earth, at least in broad terms. The biggest land-based animals don't get that much bigger than a sauropod, and the biggest aquatic creatures don't get that much bigger than a whale. Individual examples might be excessive for their kind (the tree-sized spider, for example. We've had animals that big, just not spiders that big), but the general size cap isn't pushed that hard with a few exceptions (rocs exist, for example, even though the largest flying thing in history wasn't much bigger than a giraffe).

    This again is less a structural concern and more a fuel concern - it's much easier for suspension of disbelief to accept that animals this big could support their own weight, than it is to accept that they would be capable of feeding that bulk. Take a look at how much herds of grazing animals can transform the landscape around them, and now imagine what would be needed to keep a herd of 200-foot elephants fed.
     
  17. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Grandmaster

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    If you really think having such large herds of herbivores would be detrimental to the plant life, you could always scale the vegetation up too. I will say though that the large sauropods were herd animals and they didn't seem to have a problem keeping themselves fed, and as far as I know the vegetation wasn't much bigger than modern trees. I would imagine that their feeding behaviour was similar to modern elephants: staying on the move and only eating a little from each individual plant to avoid wiping out the vegetation.

    You can ask by PM if you'd like. Er, it's normal to overextend your knowledge when you're starting out. I can assure you, you aren't the only one it's happened to. Plus, the things I responded to are rather common misconceptions.
     
  18. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Lore Master

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    That's been done, yeah. It's a more a matter of how far you can go without inhibiting regional diversity. Can't make everywhere a dense forest with kilometer-tall trees. If I want the possibility of both scrubland and megafauna, there's only so big I can make the latter (or another gap would happen - the big stuff would just not live in those areas, and humans would, rendering most of the danger moot). Though that in and of itself is worth consideration. There's a very classical fear of the woods, the mountains, the remote places. It would be both quite in-theme and less disruptive to a standard model of civilization if there were a division between places that were resource-poor but relatively safe, and resource-rich but significantly more dangerous. "Here there be dragons."
     
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  19. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Grandmaster

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    30% of the world is currently covered by forest, and this is down by about one-third from pre-industrial societies, so 45% of the pre-industrial world was covered in forest. Anthropogenic deforestation isn't just an industrial phenomenon though, it's been the case for most of history, albeit on a slower scale, and it wouldn't be much of a stretch to imagine that upwards of 50% of the Earth's land area could be forest while still keeping an absurd amount of biodiversity. Scale it up slightly, add some sequoia-sized trees to the regular forests and make some enormous kilometre-tall trees if it tickles your fancy, and you got enough to feed your megafauna.

    Also, re:resource-poor but relatively safe and resource-rich but more dangerous... eh. Megafauna would likely have to be migratory to prevent damage to their ecosystems, so even the plains and scrublands would face regular migrations of large herd animals and accompanying predators. I'm not sure about grasslands and scrublands being resource-poor either. Early civilisations tend to avoid forests and mountains and prefer plains. Specifically, fertile flood plains along river valleys. They'd probably want to stay away from the larger rivers, though. The Nile was really good for Egypt but its biggest crocodiles were 13 feet long, not 130.
     
  20. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Lore Master

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    Good points all around.

    So, back to the primary topic of discussion, how would humans travel safely from place to place? To give a brief rundown so far:

    1) Build settlements in remote or defensible locations. Even small hamlets are fortified.
    2) Roads deliberately take routes that provide a degree of cover, like narrow valleys, cliffside beaches, winding mountain paths, etc. Routes that take three times as long are worth it if it minimizes predation.
    3) Fortified caravanserai or roadside inns to allow for safe resting areas whenever practical.
    4) Domesticated animals to serve as protection. Could range anywhere from a pack of raptors to walking fortresses.
    5) Always travel in numbers whenever possible. Keep torches handy to make wildlife wary.
    6) Divide up any open farmland with "irrigation moats." Large terrestrial predators will have trouble moving from region to region, and semiaquatic ones like crocodiles aren't likely to roam that far from the water.
    7) Fortify yourself as much as possible while making camp. On top of any preparations a large caravan could make (circling the wagons, etc), dig foxholes, sleep in trees, or curl up under big shields. Anything to inconvenience predators.

    Anything else come to mind, or between these does it seem like a reasonable degree of preparation?
     
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