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So I'm writing a story that has a species that's immune to being burned or suffering any kind of ill effect from being heated, functionally regardless of the temperature (I'm not planning on tossing these dudes into a sun at any point in the story). This is being accomplished by a species-wide magic/boon-thing and has been a common facet of their lives since pre-history.

At the time of writing, I'm just using this to have them be great overland traders because they can treat deserts like mildly-more inconvenient plains. Oh, and an excuse for members of this race to like literally scalding tea.

In case it is relevant, any harmful amount of heat they experience is ejected from their skins (technically scales, but that's probably not relevant) without affecting them in any way. They can feel hot to the touch, but not suffer any effects of being hot, so to speak. Losing heat, like being in a snowstorm without coverings, will kill them at the same rate as humans. Other species in this setting do not have this heat immunity trait.

Is anyone aware of any ramifications of this trait I am missing? I'm looking for any consequence of being fireproof that might shape their culture, be it militarily, economically, socially or religiously. And Is this species, with human-level intelligence and physical ability, over-powered?

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  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking about interactions with lava, but they don’t have any special protections against fumes or being buried alive so probably treat volcanoes like most other species. Lightning strikes wouldn’t hurt, but those are rare enough I couldn’t think of any species impact there. Maybe something special in the Bronze Age with not needing so many tools? $\endgroup$ – SRM May 11 '18 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ I'd just like to point out, drinking scalding tea is different from their scales ejecting away heat because they are consuming it and so the heat is now inside you and will have to be ejected somehow. Another issue would be how do they eject the heat, because if its just their good scales they still need a medium other than air to reliably remove heat. Of course you can magic handwave this all away, but you kind of need to do away with the scale ejecting heat as well, since that would mean they are actually heating up, just that they don't feel the effects so maybe due to massive nerve damage? $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee May 11 '18 at 0:56
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I didn't word this as well as I hoped. I included that bit about ejecting heat because I didn't want these guys to violate the laws of thermodynamics by removing heat from the universe. Practically speaking, I just didn't want heat to effect there tissues. Maybe I could say they just get hot but are not damaged? Saying they are constantly cool on the inside is a bit silly. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 11 '18 at 2:04
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    $\begingroup$ Just for inspiration: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/93704/21222 $\endgroup$ – Renan May 11 '18 at 15:52
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They would probably be larger or at least thicker

Being larger makes you less vulnerable to cold and more vulnerable to heat due to heat being generated by volume (cubic) and shed by area (quadratic). With magical heat dissipation, the balance would be much higher, so you'd expect body mass to grow and them to become thicker and more muscular.

Better endurance

Overheating is a major factor in getting tired from aerobic exercise. These people would not suffer from that. They could over distance easily outrun horses and cavalry. They'd also be able to outrun humans which is actually harder over long distances.

Resistant to hot places

These people would be well suited to places where humans need to take a siesta during the hottest time, which is lots of prime territory, not just those deserts. It might also cover places such as forges or deep mines. Lots of crafts would benefit from workers who are not distracted by the heat.

Resistant to arid conditions

Lots of our water need goes toward removing excess heat to keep body temperature even. Your people do not need to do this and would have lower water requirements. Using water to shed heat also consumes energy and electrolytes, so they'd probably need less food as well, especially if they have a thicker or larger body that retains heat better. This would make people better able to cross deserts or oceans or have high population densities.

What this means

I basically think you have reinvented the dwarves but with scales and magic. And without the obsession with living underground or being isolationist.

Probably overpowered?

Your people would not only have an edge in long-distance travel over deserts and oceans, they would also have an edge in melee combat due to superior endurance, making weapons and armor because of not being bothered by the heat and endurance, and in population density because of reduced water and possibly food requirements. They'd also have a general edge on productivity over humans in many climate types that generally have high agricultural productivity and very rich and valuable flora.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don’t think author intended that they dissipate all heat. They just have very efficient body temp regulation that keeps their bodies at optimal internal regardless of heat introduced. So the size augmentation part doesn’t seem to apply. $\endgroup$ – SRM May 11 '18 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ Man, that is a big list of advantages, and I didn't have a clue about the increase in size. I did want these people to have a slight advantage, but it looks like their poised for several global monopolies. Hopefully I can compensate with lower birth rates, decreased omnivorous ability, and maybe issues domesticating animals. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 11 '18 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM Doesn't really matter. The increased size is optional and up to author anyway, just like the efficiency of the heat dissipation. Probably should write that part clearer, so it is clear that I am talking about species evolving their body form to adapt to their environment to either retain heat or dissipate it and this magic more or less disables that balance and not about some magical "grow big" effect though. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 12 '18 at 17:08
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The single biggest problem that I see with your model is food.

Not all deserts are hot. Take Antarctica, for instance. Almost no precipitation. You have access to water there, but it's either locked in ice or it's salty (from the ocean) Also (most importantly) nothing grows there.

The species you're describing is almost the reverse of a penguin. Antarctica gets a lot of breeding colonies of penguins because of the absence of predators. Interestingly enough, Flamingos do something similar, nesting in soda lakes because the caustic nature of the lake means no natural predators. In each case, you either need to find food (and water) you can process in that location (be the local apex predator) or you need to venture out of that environment to find yourself (and in the case of penguins, your family) sufficient sustenance.

Your species would probably do exactly the same thing. Being able to live in the middle of a desert means that you'd have major towns out there for things like breeding and security, but the food and water issue would have to be resolved. This is not so much an issue if you have an active trader culture as getting resources to and from the towns wouldn't be any larger a problem than it is for us today (How much food actually gets grown in New York, for example?). But, your people need something to trade for it. What is their industry?

Personally, I'd go for glass manufacture. You already live around heaps of sand, you're less susceptible to heat stress and it's a commodity that would be in high demand in your world.

So; with that in mind, your culture is very protective of its young. Most other species have probably never seen a young member of your species. They're artistic in nature, and have a canny sense for trade.

They're curious, insightful, and probably more technologists than spiritualists. That is not to say that they wouldn't have religious proclivities, it just means that as a whole, their creativity is primarily directed to industry because without that, they would have to risk the safety of their children to migrate closer to food sources. Also, good trading ability means that their math skills would grow, and that also helps them with things like science and technology.

All this said; they lack the natural resources that we take for granted. They're not in mountains (so lack the experience that leads to metallurgy), there'd be no practical reason to engage in mining for that reason as well, they don't have access to wood, bone, or even much stone which would lead to the creative resourcefulness that we assume a group like this would need. This is all the more reason why they would have a technology that focuses on the production of glass; it's the one thing they can manufacture in abundance and you'd probably find that they'd have built an entire culture and technology around it. Glass huts, even.

This is a group that would by definition probably be both culturally and technologically narrow until they had regular contact with other species, not because they are unintelligent, but because their intelligence hasn't been exposed to other environments where it can be expanded on a regular basis.

The key thing to state in summary about your species is that this specialisation they have (if you look at penguins, flamingos and others with similar traits) would be used to evade predators and enemies in the first instance and any other consideration (even the ones I list in this answer) are largely speculation.

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  • $\begingroup$ I wasn't planning on having this species live in deserts for the same resource problems you mentioned. They would just exploit their heat immunity for profit. I'm a unsure where your ideas about protecting their young came from (related to your penguin example?). I absolutely love your glassworking example, although I don't know how they'd do that without wood, charcoal, or coal. Again, though, not desert dwellers, so not a problem. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 11 '18 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion both penguins and flamingos do this; retreat to an area hostile to others to hatch their young. If you don't want them living in the desert, then like you say glassworking still counts as they can collect the sand AND work the glass with minimal discomfort. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II May 11 '18 at 2:17
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One component you mention is that they like scalding tea, which indicates that the heat immunity is not only in their skin but a part of themselves. You also indicate they shed heat through their skin that then becomes hot to the touch (although they themselves do not feel it).

This leads to some interesting possibilities:

  • Hand to hand fighting/wrestling/jiu jitsu

They can ingest heat and exude it through their skin. In a fight they BECOME a weapon. With a touch they can scald the skin of other species. A bear hug could literally kill someone. Engaging in non-weapon combat would bring an entire host of problems for other species on your world.

  • Weapon choices/styles

As above, their exothermic capabilities would invite them to carry sources of heat they could ingest and then use in conductive weapons. Think chain whips that would bind and sear their prey/enemies at the same time.

  • Uncomfortable for other species

Being stuck in a room with many of these people in a hot climate would be unbearable for other species. Your species is heat immune, and so their body is converting the outside temperature to an internally comfortable one. They exude that heat back in a concentrated fashion into the room around them. This would in turn raise the temperature of the room and exacerbate the cycle. A sauna, for example, would possibly become scalding for other creatures if stuck too long with a few of these individuals.

  • They are "heat conductive"

They can transfer heat from one medium to another. Much of this (and the above items too) would depend on the ratio of heat loss from the ingestion to the expulsion through their scales but they could in theory "swallow" fire and then use it to boil water. Or ingest other extreme heat sources and precisely etch glass using a finger.

  • Inventing portable heat

Due to the uses above they would probably keep portable heat sources (magical or otherwise) handy at all times. It has many many uses in the wider world. This also would probably have shaped them spending time inventing portable heat sources that we humans have not invented (or didn't event until much later).

If I think of other similar uses I'll update but this is the general idea...

In answer to your second question

I would argue that they would only be "over powered" if other species haven't been allowed to adapt to them. For all of the answers provided, other creatures/species would have found ways to negate/nullify those advantages. If they hadn't, they would have been eliminated long ago either through evolution, war, or attrition of resources. Humanity as a species is invariably adaptable. We might nullify one advantage with the maxim that you "always wear leather when fighting a Lizard" or (as has been mentioned in another answer) humans may be hunting your species for their hides. Assuming that the ecosystem is balanced, then other creatures would have found a balance with your species over time.

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  • $\begingroup$ I thought about trying to weaponize the heat-conductivity angle, but I couldn't think of a way for them to ingest any kind of lit fuel without it harming them or snuffing out after swallowing it. I don't care how fireproof I am, I am not swallowing liquid metal. Heated chain is a good idea for siege defense, and I can see homeowners keeping a few links in the fire just in case. Do you think scalding water itself could be a weapon? $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 11 '18 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ I was basing this on the comment you made that they prefer scalding tea which indicated the protection extended internally as well. You do mention that fire would be snuffed (although the heat would still be conducted to some degree) but swallowing boiling oil or another liquid that would hold heat at extreme temperatures would be possible I'd think on the same "boiling tea" concept. <<starts frantic Google search for liquids with highest boiling temps>> $\endgroup$ – VerasVitas May 11 '18 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ Found this! engineeringtoolbox.com/specific-heat-fluids-d_151.html Alcohol...always alcohol... $\endgroup$ – VerasVitas May 11 '18 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ While alcohol is a good fuel, swallowing a significant amount of concentrated alcohol might cause more harm then good. A drunken-master type could be fun, though. That link you posted showed that olive oil has a crazy high boiling point and is digestible. Could a warrior carry a thermos full of that? Even if they don't chug it , splashing that on some would be devastating. Same with spitting, now that I think of it. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 11 '18 at 22:58
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There's going to be a large amount of stuff made from human (alien) skin, if this trait is endemic to their bodies instead of the magical effect only happening to whole and living beings. Even if it's the latter case, then there will be a concerted push to replicate this trait in other materials.

This material is a miracle, absorbing heat from both sides but only transmitting it away on the outside. You can take advantage of this to create one-way heat barriers, which would drastically impact the shape of society. At the bare minimum a tent or cloak of this material would block out head from the Sun, keeping the inside nice and cool even in baking-hot Summer days.

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    $\begingroup$ Whoo, dang. I was worried this trait would give these dudes an unfair advantage, now I'm concerned about this species being hunted for their skins. There's a lot of drama potential from being worried about being turned to oven mitts. This doesn't quite answer my question about this species' culture, but it's a great idea nonetheless. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 11 '18 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ Even if you limit it to the species being alive, you have a problem. Imagine slaves strapped to roofs providing insulation for others. You probably want to make them effectively transparent to heat so they can’t be abused like this — any heat they take in beyond their body needs just passes out again via the coolest side. $\endgroup$ – SRM May 11 '18 at 15:06
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No need to wear clothes in hot climates. If you don't get sunburn or heatstroke then there is no need for sunhats, sunglasses or desert clothing. They might still wear clothes for modesty reasons (if they have a nudity taboo) or to show status (only royalty wear purple) or for fashion reasons (darling, everyone's wearing top hats this season).

They can wear winter clothes in hot climates. The flip side of the above is that they can also wear tons and tons of clothes in hot climates without any ill effect - they could wear their favourite polar bear skin coat in the middle of the Sahara.

Other species are not immune to heat/fire. If they ever get into conflict with other species, fire will be a weapon. They can blithely set fire to an opponent's forest/city and use that fire as part of their tactics. Perhaps their soldiers can flank the enemy by travelling through the forest fire, or try to drive the enemy into the fire? Your species' clothes and weapons may not be immune to the heat, and the soldiers themselves will still have to cope with breathing in smoke and being squished by falling debris.

They'll be immune to castle defenders pouring boiling water on them, wizards casting fireballs, troops armed with flamethrowers and so on.

They won't burn themselves when cooking, firing pottery, doing blacksmithing, working in a foundry, etc. Humans require all sorts of protective clothing - these guys can just grab hot metal and other things with their bare hands. Of course, they could still ruin their ordinary clothing by dangling sleeves in the fire or having sparks catch it alight, so perhaps they do blacksmithing and stoking the fires for a kiln in the nude?

They be in demand as firefighters. Other species may want a few in their fire brigade, to send into burning buildings as a rescue team. See above about smoke inhalation and collapsing debris.

They'll be in demand as miners. Deep mines are uncomfortably hot. Your species doesn't care. (I don't know what your technology level is and if anyone in your world can dig deep enough for this to be a problem for humans).

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Assuming their body temp regulation is a constant process, they would be extremely vulnerable to infection. Ejecting excess body heat would essentially eliminate what we know as fevers. The human body raises its temperature as a reaction to infection to kill off bacteria. Without that defense mechanism, your fireproof reptilians would be easily overtaken by disease. This has multiple cultural impacts:

  • They would learn to place a high value on cleanliness.
  • Food and water would be customarily heated to very high temperatures to sterilize them (another excuse for scalding tea).
  • They would seek out extreme heat. With no adverse effects, being in extremely hot environments would only serve as a hindrance to potential pathogens.
  • Especially as traveling traders, they would likely keep their entire bodies covered at all times, particularly their hands and faces.
  • In general, they would avoid interacting with strangers who may pass disease to them.
  • Any religion they have could hold the extreme heating of food and drink as well as head and hand coverings as a central practice.

That said, this is not a necessity. You could easily rationalize it away as their body being able to do the same thing, it just has much more control than the human body. On the other hand, this weakness would integrate well with the idea of these creatures being hunted for their skins. For that to be practical, you could say the skin is a sort of one-way heat barrier; any internal heat above a certain point just leaves the body.

As a side note, it would be awesome to see a group of soldiers who run into battle with clothes soaked in oil and set themselves on fire. Think Viking beserkers, except far more terrifying.

This has been mentioned before, but economically, they could be renowned metalworkers/glassworkers. Being able to manipulate molten materials with their bare hands gives them far more control than any human could get. It'd fit well with your idea of traveling merchants; they would both create and sell the most intricate and luxurious items in the world. If they get along well with other species, the other species would likely not develop any kind of metalworking of their own. Seeing as this trait extends to prehistory, they could either dominate other species by learning to make metal weapons first or have other species depend on them for metal tools and weapons themselves.

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