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I'm brainstorming ideas for a fantasy videogame and have been trying to list possible reasons why a fantasy world would have a lifespan diminish exponentially through countless cycles of death and rebirth, each dominated by a new sapient race for the duration of the epoch until they face their predetermined apocalypse. Each successive peak just falls short of the last, and each dip the inverse.

Humans who live in the current Nth epoch are already facing the decline. As far as their descent, from the golden to silver to bronze to the current age the decay has been taking place faster.

The splendor of the earliest age, who is without compare, will never be repeated. When it all ends the apocalypse comes as if to wipe the slate clean.

This world was created by gods who in turn may suffer their own (considerably longer) decline in their powers and lives. They, as the humans, may not know of this decline. either way they appear to never intervene.

LITERATURE

For civilizations think H.P. Lovecraft's at the mountains of madness, where the elder things' decline takes place over vast eons to end finally with their last legacy being the mindless Shoggoths or Tolkein's The Simarillion, where after the time of the elves domination over middle earth passes and mankind comes to take their place unable to repeat truly their splendor, gradually declining themselves after Numenor.

MYTHOLOGY

I may not quite grasp the concept, but for Hindus there is the concept of Kali Yuga, for Buddhists the time of the Maitreya shall be a time where chaos and vanity rule and Buddhism is forgotten, and the Greeks identified their golden age with the now ended reign of Kronos, whose son Zeus now presides over heaven.

TL;DR

The world and civilization before it dies and is reborn every age, which each get successively shorter.

EDIT

What are possible reasons a world's cyclical lifespan would get progressively shorter after each cycle's apocalypse?

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    $\begingroup$ What's the actual question? $\endgroup$ – Gene Nov 14 '18 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series has an excellent cyclical world scenario. It doesn't however get shorter each time. If you haven't read these books, it's worth doing so. There are a few books in the middle of the series where things get bogged down a bit but the start and the ending ones are excellent. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Nov 14 '18 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Kennichi Nitta The actual question is in the title although it would be worth it to include it again at the end of your post. I like the concept for your world by the way! $\endgroup$ – IT Alex Nov 14 '18 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ I would recommend tying the reason in with the reason the worlds are born in the first place. As far as cosmology goes, the decreasing scale of time you describe is a tiny facet of a far larger story. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 15 '18 at 0:23
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Magic itself is decaying

The primary races developed their technologies being heavily reliant on magic. Each apocalypse damages the forces that makes use of magic possible. Perhaps the overall effects are weaker, or some higher forms of magic are impossible to achieve.

The races that follow salvage what knowledge they can from the remnants of the precursor races, but find that they cannot replicate the tech. This also ingrains the belief that magic is required to achieve those technological feats and that belief hinders normal, non-magical progress.

This would also explain the gods' decline of power.

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    $\begingroup$ You're actually my first answer to my first question. Thank you. Anyway, I've been tossing around something a little like that. The second paragraph definitely does apply well to my world. $\endgroup$ – Kennichi Nitta Nov 14 '18 at 23:53
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Ancient races persist. The degenerate, corrupt things of old contaminate the new.

Each new race that comes up then goes down. And down. And down. But it does not ever completely disappear. Remnants of these races persist in the world, in dark corners and hidden places. Here they become progressively more depraved and degenerate. The corruption from what has gone before taints the world, and this taint accumulates as time passes. It is harder and harder for the new to ascend before the cumulative corruption from what has gone before drags it down.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your suggestion's pretty good with plenty of potential for expansion. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Kennichi Nitta Nov 15 '18 at 1:48
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The Sun is waning

All life on Earth is driven by energy from the Sun. As its radiation declines conditions become more conducive to survival and less conducive to luxury.

At the start of an Era, warlords loot old treasures but the infrastructure to mine more and manufacture things is harder to support - in any case, natural resources are depleting continually (entropy). The Warlords drive the peasants harder and harder until the economy collapses. This happens increasingly rapidly each time because farming is less and less viable.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting idea! $\endgroup$ – Kennichi Nitta Nov 14 '18 at 23:32
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    $\begingroup$ The sun in your idea seems to be waning on human timescales. There could be some interesting reasons for that. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – Kennichi Nitta Nov 14 '18 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ For reference, you might look at the Dark Souls series and Asimov's "The Gods Themselves". Both of these feature a waning sun that forces the characters to try and reset or restart their environment through extreme actions and could plausibly be extended to have shortening cycles. $\endgroup$ – Siegen Nov 15 '18 at 23:25
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Hormones in the meat

Each civilization breeds their cattle to be fatter and as productive in terms of meat as possible. Due to humankind needs drive selection, cattle become sexually mature increasingly fast, and become more and more obese by the generation.

This leads to meat products that are increasingly rich in growth hormones and colesterol. The former makes kids reach puberty faster; The latter causes them to die from heart, pancreas and liver related diseases at ever younger ages.

When a civilization collapses, cattle escape theie farms and become feral. The feral cows do not lose the traits which were selected by humans, though. When a new civilization appears, they domesticate that cattle again, restarting the cycle.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer could be "reskinned" to any sort of technical/mystical advancement - something bad done by previous civilization is becoming increasingly easy to rediscover/reclaim, and so it triggers the decline sooner every cycle. $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Dec 18 '18 at 18:19
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Non-Renewable Resources

Each cycle uses up more of the easily obtainable resources before succumbing to it's own apocalypse, leaving less and less for future generations.

At first there are enough resources left in the ground that they can simply keep mining. Later, they can make up the difference by scavenging the remains of previous epochs, but eventually, all of the obtainable resources have been harvested and burnt up.

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Perhaps in the decline of the civilizations and their gods what becomes apparent is that the gods were only sub gods of the actual planet, and this planet has finally developed a super natural ability to think. So as it’s defense it gradulally, over ‘planet’ time, becomes capable of concocting natural airborne parasites or diseases which slowly annhialite the inhabitants and their masters, the gods. But this is a slow process to the inhabitants because it is on a solar or galactic time scale. The niche here is that the omnipotent planet god has a plan to use the inhabitants and each cycle of their declining civilizations in redesigning the terrain for possibly a new being. Perhaps rocks or trees that can walk or change shape or fly or think or whatever you want. So in essence the main god only allowed the sub gods and their human followers to exist as an experiment or as an evolution of cultivating the new being in their physiology or image? Sounds weird I know.

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Elements that give off radiation have set half lives, where after each cycle they have half of the radiation output that had at the beginning.

If your world's life and magic are dependent on a fictional non-ionizing radioactive element with a freakishly long half life then you could use that as your base for why the world keeps getting worse. Only problem is it won't just go downhill, it will nosedive as the deterioration will be much worse at the beginning of the cycle.

To top it your world will die slowly and painfully, as the deterioration will be so small after just a few cycles that you would not even notice the change for a long time.

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maybe the solar system in which your world inhabits is in an ecliptical orbit with something that is harmful to most life. when it gets too close crops and livestock die people start getting Ill technology breaks down. just have this orbit change slightly after every pass, it could be speeding up or decaying.

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The presence of a binary star system close by. One being a white dwarf near a main sequence star. The white dwarf would steal mass from its partner until it reaches a critical mass and goes nova. If this system is close enough, it would cause cataclysmic events on the world.

If these two stars orbit is degrading and being pulled together, each nova event would happen in a much more rapid fashion. making each eon shorter than the previous.

However, it seems that the time between nova events may be short. Not exactly sure how to make it long enough to accommodate the formation of a civilization. Maybe an elongated elliptical orbits of the two stars?

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