Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Great Rot

One of the themes of Valley of Blue Snails is that of seasons. I like the cyclic elements and the occasions where this cyclic nature is disrupted. The endless seasons are probably the most important disruptions that pop up. I suspect among the populace of Valley of Blue Snail in every turn of the seasons there would be a big sigh of relief. Everyone pretty much knows that if the winter does not end and last for 10 years, it is doom for all. So endless seasons are the things that calendars are based upon, the demeanor of the Elves are based upon, and Halfling prescience is ultimately based upon too (to predict when they come, other prescience is just an incidental effect of this survival mechanism). I would like to include Dwarves in this somewhat – so far I have them as simply burrowing in their workshops and caverns when things get too rough outside and that may be good enough.

The last great season was the 4 year autumn of The Great Rot. This occurred 31 years ago and like all great seasons it had a massive impact. I will probably throw in races that vanished during The Great Rot, certainly civilizations died, and definitely many new things that cropped up as well. So what exactly happened during The Great Rot? Good question and I think I shall delineate it year by year.

Year prior to The Great Rot – Halflings begin to sense the approaching great season but do not know which it would be. Like worker squirrels, they begin to collect massive amount of grain, salted meats, pickled fish and other non-perishables. The Sheriffs are sent out in droves in an attempt to discover which great season it shall be. The Elves quickly follow suit when the notice the flurry of activity among the Halflings. The Elves tend to be less meticulous and do not have these sense of worry that the Halflings do (they all have done this before many times), but they do build new stores of supplies. The Dwarves are likewise warned and begin to cultivate their underground shelters. Human are oblivious, do not listen, or simply lack the means for meaningful preparation. There are a few well-to-do exceptions but by in large the Humans are unprepared.

Start of The Great Rot – Halflings eventually predict that autumn will be the great season and make the necessary preparations. Fall comes as it usual self but does not end. By the end of what should be winter, all races are now sure the endless season is autumn, much to the relief of the Elves who know how brutal an endless winter can be.

Year One – Harvest is particularly bountiful, perhaps double or even triple their usual yield. Tree, bushes and plants all still grow leaves and fruit but the yields start very mature and ripen/fall to the ground quickly. At first this is seen as a boon but it quickly becomes a problem when the food stores rot far more quickly than they can be consumed. Ancient trees grow prolifically but only bier large autumn leaves (3+ feet in diameter) which fall to the ground within a month or two.

Year Two – Grain and harvest yield lessen considerably, and much of what is produced rots almost as soon as it grows. Orchards with massive amounts of rotting fruit still on the trees are common. Foliage of autumn leaves piles up considerably forming an under-mesh of compost in all of the forests. This is almost a second canopy on the ground level. Large piles of compost and decaying material form dunes of rotting material and huge piles along the rolling hills, plains and valleys. Mold and lichens grow on just about every surface and must be routinely removed to prevent damage to buildings.

Year Three – Sunlight is perpetually in a sunrise/sunset type of lighting, even at night. Yield from grain and fruit turns non-existent and they rot as soon as they bud. Newborn animals are half-alive when born and soon die afterward (no creature is born in year 3 or 4 of The Great Rot – at least none that live more than a few month). Large numbers of human begin to die out due to the lack of food and famine. A new ecology forms along the compost canopy; huge mushrooms, walking toadstools, lichen-beasts, and other strange leafy creatures. Large piles of compost generate considerable heat, which attract dens of bizarre creatures which make these compost piles their homes. Many trees start to fail and fall to the ground rotting from the inside out.

Year Four – Sunlight is dimmer, almost a perpetual twilight. All but the strongest trees fall creating forests of rotting bark. The new ecology begins to edge out the old ecology and many animal races begin to die out. Molds, zygotes, and blastopods appear on just about everything. It is not uncommon for the humans and demi-humans to walk around with polypores attached to their skin. The Human population is decimated with about a 35% mortality rate. The demi-humans fair better but still take losses. The Dwarves retreat into their underground workshops full-time, letting none inside. Intelligent fungus and leafy creatures stalk the wilderness and begin to encroach into civilized areas.

Year Five – Winter hits rather suddenly about 4.2 years of The Great Rot. Luckily the cold kills a fair amount of the mold and fungi creatures. The winter is thankfully short and spring followed which started the process of recovery among the greater ecology.

Afterward – Most of the young forests have died out but seedlings began to spring up in their place. Today these forests are only a few decades old and are relatively small in size. A few ancient forests survived The Great Rot. These trees are usually enormous with leaves that span in feet. The legacy of The Great Rot is still visible through the remaining piles of composts and fallen leaf canopies that exist in the deeper wilderness still today. Every year they decrease in size but there are enough of them around to still be a dangerous landmark. These fallen leaf canopy and huge compost piles are still a haven for the strange mold, leaf and fungi creatures, many of which are intelligent.

Many survivors who lived through The Great Rot have an innate fear of fungus and the twilight hours of the day. The younger generation naturally finds this perplexing but the fear is genuine. I suppose those who lived through The Great Rot would speak of it in the same tones that old-timers would speak of WWII. 31 years is not that long ago, especially among the non-Human races. So the lessons of The Great Rot are still fresh in their memory. No creature was born in the 3rd or 4th year of The Great Rot. Those born during the 1st or 2nd year are usually marked in some form. They are appear older than they are, have a musty scent, mottled skin and speckled hair. These rare individuals are as intelligent as their peers but often have eccentric minds and tastes. It is said Emperor Seleuicid was born during this time.


  1. Sounds very rough on the human societies. I could see cults developing during each great season as dark, desperate acts are committed to appease the seasons. Probably still are some damn fungus-cultists around.

    Seems like a setting designed for Druids. And a setting where a really stick-up-the-butt lawful religion can thrive as well. Lots of divination work and false visions about the time and type of the next great season. Farmer Green is digging a lot of ditches, does he know something, did his crazy sister have a vision?

    And when the great season comes, no doubt more than one rich family has retreated with its servants to an expensive, dwarf-built shelter (good work for a dwarf in that business), a la Masque of the Red Death, never to emerge.

    Every great season can be a source of odd ruins and leftover areas, such as an impossibly high tower in a vine-choked swamp that was the refuge of some scholar from the floods and choking growth of one spring.

    Thanks for the inspirational post.

  2. The intention is to be very rough on the Humans, damn dirty bastards.. :P

    It is very true that every great season leaves its mark of ruins and left over muck. In particular I wanted a reason for the odd race of monsters to be around. The endless seasons give a good origin for this. Lets say Myconids from the endless Autumn, and so forth.

    Anyhow thanks for the comments.

  3. I love the great season idea and the link to fungus people. These great seasons seem more interesting in play than the big seasonal changes over hundreds of years I read about in a science fiction series decades ago.

  4. I finally found the link to the book. I think it was boring at the time, but I've read it so long ago I can barely remember.


    Good stuff, wish I read that before I went into the seasons stuff.