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This is for a medium/high fantasy magic setting with a medieval flavor (a D&D campaign setting) and am trying to get a grasp on expected long term effects/reaction by repeated worldwide devastation that happens on a cycle and a mechanism that would allow nearly in its entirety that it was just a legend or never really happened. Or that it is known by some people ( sages, researchers, secret organization) but nothing is ever done to prepare.

The idea is that dragons return to the world briefly for a few months or years and spend the entire time destroying anything and everything they can. These dragons are exceptionally powerful.

For the first cycle the world is not prepared and already in a form of dark ages dealing with other problems. Dragons were thought to be extinct and have little in their way then mysteriously vanish and the world is left on its own to recover naturally. New cities, new kingdoms, nature reclaims the waste.

Then roughly 1000 years later (timescale flexible) for a second cycle the world is taken by surprise and it happens again. The first 2 occurrences can be explained well enough but after that (by 3 or 4) someone is bound to see a connection.

Like a perpetual cycle of apocalypse through post-post-apocalypse. I hate to tie a parallel here but similar to the Matrix without the concept of "The One".

Main Question: When knowledge of the events would be recorded or passed down in a legitimate way that would be recoverable and actionable by a world population, by what mechanism might I be able to avoid or ignore the usefulness of this information?

I would prefer to avoid civilizations developing dragon fighting weapons and dragon dooms day bunkers or perhaps they wanted to but were somehow prevented from being able to, every time.

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    $\begingroup$ 1000 years. Not enough to forget such an event. We remember the plagues that the Romans suffered - those are further back. And "magic" - well if they have magic surely they can stop the problem or manage it or prepare for it, or indeed predict it or see it clearly in the past (never mind the future) ? $\endgroup$ – StephenG Feb 15 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenG We do not always remember catastrophes of that scale for example sometime between 1200a.c and 1400a.c there was a Volcanic eruption that was found through geological excavations and only in response to that they found notations from monks which recorded a year of darkness where clouds were covering the sky a full year. So it is possible that such notations simply would get overlooked. $\endgroup$ – Soan Feb 15 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ The Stormlight Archive: brandonsanderson.com/books/the-stormlight-archive deals with the same problem quite well this would be an in practice example of your idea, so if you are interested you could look into this book series. I can't recommend it enough. $\endgroup$ – Soan Feb 15 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ For cyclical societal destruction I recommend The Mote in God's Eye. alibris.com/The-Mote-in-Gods-Eye-Larry-Niven/book/… It will be in the library. Do not read Wikipedia on it! Full of terrible spoilers! $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 16 at 0:02
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    $\begingroup$ Take a look at the Dragonriders of Pern. There was a periodic destruction that took place every 400 years iirc and then it skipped a cycle and people started to assume it wasn't real. $\endgroup$ – MongoTheGeek Feb 16 at 2:11
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Predictability.

Regardless of exactly how close the cycle is to 1000 years, it is more important to know how exact the intervals actually are. A cycle that is "exactly 1174 years, 8 months, 19 days, at high noon on that day, EVERY cycle", is much more likely to cause world population to prepare in advance for the next cycle than a cycle that is "every 600 years give or take 150 years". Accuracy of predictability will be the single deciding factor.

Regardless of what information is recorded, it is only useful if the world population can put it to good use at the correct time. If a cycle comes early, the population will not have prepared in time (never underestimate procrastination). If the cycle comes late, the populace could start to believe that it will not come at all (belief that it has turned out to be a false prophecy, or equivalent) then any preparations they might have made could become dilapited from lack of maintenance, abandoned, or forgotten entirely, so when the cycle does come, they are, again, unprepared but for a very different reason.

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    $\begingroup$ Good point about predictability being a factor. My brain was being pedantic on the definition of cycle and imposing regularity. $\endgroup$ – TragicBus Feb 19 at 1:16
  • $\begingroup$ I think this unpredictability factor is good. We may remember things that happened hundreds or thousands of years ago, but we don't have details. Also, does the destruction have to be evenly distributed? If it strikes a different area each time but does so to total devastation, the effect is different. $\endgroup$ – Eliot K Feb 19 at 20:00
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Maintenance costs.

All of those dragon fighting weapons cost money. All of those dragon doomsday bunkers need upkeep. Even if they just sit around, someone has to watch them sit around and keep them useable. Or replace them if they become unusable.

It's easy to justify those costs for the first few decades after the dragon attack, because people will still remember it first hand. Then it'll get slightly harder, as people who remember it first hand start dying. Eventually, people will only read about it in books, at which point it will seem like a distant threat that is unlikely to occur again.

When that starts happening, some enterprising young prince or duke will say "Yeah, we don't need to be spending all of this gold on dragon survival bunkers. Let's take that money and spend it on Necromancy For All instead!" And so, 1000 years later, there will be necromancers giving out free healing spells on every street corner and no way to repel the next dragon invasion.

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If the destruction is thorough enough, then the survivors won't be able to tell what happened. I'm talking complete destruction of all buildings. Individuals might survive, but groups would have to be small and avoid buildings. Over 99% of everyone dead. Since destruction is concentrated on buildings, the death toll would be highest in cities--where the most educated generally live.

Rumors might survive, but by the time that a thousand years is up, they'd be disbelieved by most. And in terms of the repeat occurrences, they'd be forgotten. That kind of destruction would destroy the written records in which the previous rumors were posted.

A century or two after the destruction, people would be wondering how long ago it happened. Why? Because all the calendars were destroyed. People having to live a hunter/gatherer lifestyle while trying to rebuild agriculture don't have time to keep track of the days and years. So when the next time is approaching, they won't know. Because they didn't track the length of the last period. The kind of people who would have done that died in the destruction.

The survivors would be trappers, travelers, and the occasional hermit.

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You could look at the first Pern books for inspiration. They have exactly this situation where the threadfall comes on a periodic cycle every 250 years....but sometimes it misses. They had it miss twice in a row and as a result people became complacent and started thinking it would never come again.

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Upkeep Cost

It's a waste of money, all those weapons, catapults, soldiers, barracks, bunkers, oracles, etc, used to determine when the dragon will attack and defend ourselves is very expensive. Only during the first years after the attack will people want to pay for it, but, after some time, like a generation, the dragon attack will only be a story, not an immediate threat. Politics will use all that money from taxes to other stuff, like bread and circuses or anything better.

Random Cycle

Dragons aren't machines, they didn't attack every 1,000 years. Maybe the second attack was 900 years later, and the third was 1,120 years later. These differences reduce the credibility of the cycle. For example, 5 years before the 1,000th year, the king spends a huge amount of money to build an army of dragon-hunters to protect the kingdom. 5 years later, nothing... 10 years later... nothing, 50 years later... still nothing. The king can't pay any longer an army who isn't used and so he dissolves it, 60 years later the dragon comes and kills everybody. Unless you can magically predict when the dragon will come, maintain an army is difficult, more if you promise to people work hard to prepare for the attack, and nothing happens, people won't believe you next time, and obviously, people always forget.

Memory

1,000 years is a lot of time, plenty of time to forget. With that amount of time, something like a war with a dragon may become a story, a legend, or just a past event that won't occur again.

Preparation

Okay, you just was attacked by a dragon and all is destroyed. A few years later the kingdom starts recovering from the damages. You know you have 1,000 years to prepare until the next attack. What would you do?

99% percent of people will say nothing since they will be dead by that time. Then, after some time, when people start having a chance of still being alive to the event (like 50 years) will say it's plenty of time, and they will wait. People are procratinators by nature, even more, politics. Any politic will leave the preparation (and its costs) to the next, and this the next, and then the other to the next, until it's too late are you are on fire, literally.

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A classic case of "We have the knowledge but not the will to use it." The political expedience where the cure is more disagreeable then the disease. How badly do you want the bearer of bad news to suffer in order to save the population? One likely scenario is that a minor nobleman/knight's kingdom/village/area of influence was devastated in the distant past and a blood pact/family curse compels the descendants to look for signs and portents of a "reawakening" of the dragons. Now that the crisis is eminent, the "hero" has to inform/warn the public. Of course the family name is in disgrace so nobody will listen to their warnings of coming danger. This is made worse by the fact the protagonist is a drunk or hears voices or did some sort of faux pas so is totally discredited by the powers that be. One thing he can't be is a beggar on the streets as he would zero standing in the community bases on class/social standing. Another typical scenario is that a young monk is tasked with spreading the warning the masters have discovered/saved of the impending disaster but is socially awkward or that sect is currently in disfavor by the religious hierarchy so he falls in with a group of travelling actors/performers and disseminates his message in the form of a morality play to the masses after escaping from some harrowing adventures. The last scenario is where the powers that be are in denial and attempt to kill the messenger because it would disrupt or inconvenience the rulers and their decadent lifestyle.

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  • $\begingroup$ These are extremely specific scenarios that force some pretty strict scenarios. These could certainly work for a given playthrough or specific iteration of a cycle but feel too specific to work as a repeated excuse. $\endgroup$ – TragicBus Feb 19 at 15:07

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