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Well I was in the process of designing a world for my new RP. I briefly had the idea that this world could be a psuedo-sci-fi far-flung future Earth but eventually dismissed it, because I wanted too many fantasy properties in it. However, I thought I'd open up my theories on this to this stack and see if others could rationalise it better than I could.

For starters, I originally wanted this to be a semi-hard sci-fi setting with magic.

My rationale for this was that 'Magic' is actually an ability derived from manipulating nanomachines using a computer interface installed in a special glove-like apperatus. However; the tech involved has long been forgotten. Magisters in the current setting are those that have basically figured out some functions of the apperatus. In truth, the original device would have been able to do a lot more, with sufficient training.

Why has this been forgotten? Well the second big element of the setting was the fact that there was an apocalypse around 2060 (initially this was the standard nuke-a-thon with nuclear winter, but I'm open to change) that rendered everyone dead besides 3 groups: A) some people who went underground in siberia B) some people on a pre-established lunar colony and C) people on a small fleet of prototype US Navy battlecruisers who survived due to some anti-radiation measures and rescued people on other ships.

Furthermore, I went with comic-book craziness with the nuclear winter causing severe mutation of local species, including the land-based human survivors. This creates the settings 'demons'.

Anyways, the three groups survive mostly isolated for a couple thousand years, stuck in their little bubbles.

Initially, the lunar colony considers terraforming the earth, but it is dismissed due to logistical and other issues. However, many years later, this plan is revived because they figure they can apply the tech to the moon itself after test-bedding it on the earth.

The bonus is, its not gotta be proper terraforming from scratch, its more like fixing the issues. So theres that at least.

So it's created as a genesis bomb (ala. Star Trek II) and dropped into what was once central germany (now rife with demons). This rapidly and shockingly terraforms the earth, and as a nice bonus, kills a lot of the surface demons.

In the process though, it screws up alot about what we know about the planet; topography, life, etc. and somehow makes a giant Yggdrasil tree erupt on its ground zero.

So yeah, as you can see there's alot of crazy speculation here. Can I explain some of these things at all in a reasonable fashion and still keep this even vaguely sci-fi?

EDIT: What are the demons? Basically I want a science justifiable reason for mutated creatures and humans that have lost most of their sense of reason and have become savages again; but have gained 'devilish' powers instead, like super strength, creating fire, flying with wings etc. As noted above, I used radioactive fallout as the handwavium filler-reason for this, but I'm suspicious of using that; as despite what comic books teach us I am aware that selective mutation to get results like this is beyond the realms of random chance. Also see below comment.

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  • $\begingroup$ How exactly did any of these groups (especially the moon colony) survive for any length of time? $\endgroup$ – Telastyn Apr 16 '15 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ I've made the following assumptions: Moon Colony is self-sufficient~ scrubs oxygen from the soil, diligent in its waste processing as to not waste water, has hydroponics to grow its food. Underground initially had excessive canned supplies, but branched out into underground flora farming. Ships repurposed parts of its floating fleet to be agricultural and support vessels (like in Gargantia on the Verduous Planet). None of them individually could support high populations mind. However, this is indeed one of the issues that is partially handwaved and if theres a better solution I'm all for it! $\endgroup$ – eharper256 Apr 16 '15 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ I think it's a great Idea, if you want to reassure yourself I can think of a few similar setting with Lanfeust of Troy and Gundam Turn A: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanfeust_of_Troy en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turn_A_Gundam $\endgroup$ – Spacemonkey Apr 16 '15 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ Question kind of reminds me of Piers Anthony's book series where someone has come up with a Grand Unifying Theory which proves magic exists as a fundamental force in the universe. There are lines like "back in the unenlightened period when people thought magic didn't exist". The stories have less apocalypse though. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 16 '15 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ Did the nano magic exist before "ground zero"/moon-men rebuild earth? $\endgroup$ – HadesHerald Apr 16 '15 at 17:08
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Let's call your nano-magic the "Interface", just so I have a single word to use throughout this answer. I'm assuming there's a central computer that controls all of it.

Mutations

The key is that maybe your people didn't mutate - what if the Interface mutated? Something like that has to be powerful and flexible. It could be coded in such a way that over time, the parameters and such would change. Add people trying to attack it, bot nets stealing CPU cycles, and clueless users screwing with the system for thousands of years, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Your "demons" are the descendants of LARPers. Pre-apocalypse they were just pretending to be demons, using the Interface to make it extremely realistic. They originally set their powers to "active mode" to help protect them during the apocalypse. But over time, and due to some malicious code, they're now stuck - they grow and spend their entire lives that way, including the full spectrum of demonic powers based on current fantasy. You actually get the entire spectrum of fantasy creatures this way, based on the Interface accidentally giving people and their descendants powers based on our current pop-culture fantasy.

Terraforming and the World Tree

The key here is that the genesis bomb was designed to use the Interface to re-write the earth - it was, basically, a giant power influx + software update.

However, they didn't fully account for the changes within the Interface. So the patch wasn't perfect - instead of the direct and controlled update they were expecting, things changed. A literal world tree from mythology grows at ground zero, consuming much of the energy needed for other projects. Geography itself is re-written to match various fantasy settings, all twisted and smashed together. Demons are killed or re-written into new creatures, or their powers are combined and changed.

Plot Twist

The Interface is an old, very powerful, very complex computer. There's a very common sci-fi trope about those - the Interface could now be sentient. I don't know if you want to use it here, but I'd at least consider it.

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    $\begingroup$ Hehe, cosplay gone horribly wrong $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 16 '15 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm... so you're saying LARPers caused the Apocalypse? My group would be in tears rolling on the floor laughing if they eventually figured that one out! Anyway, so you're saying that morally ambigious corporation X developed a system ("The Interface") for mass controlling nanomachines, somebody hacked it, and it royally screwed up stuff? Then someone over-reacted, nuked it, started a nuclear war, and... yeah I guess that could work... certainly worth considering. $\endgroup$ – eharper256 Apr 16 '15 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ @eharper256: Or it was a side effect - the apocalypse happened for other reasons, and LARPers using the Interface as a survival tool. Over time they got "stuck" in it and now they're demons, vampires, mages, hobbits, etc. But the LARP Apocalypse is nice too. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Apr 16 '15 at 15:23
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I think that you can explain a lot with one central idea:

The nanites try to keep people alive

Thanks to the nuclear apocalypse, billions were exposed to massive doses of radiation. Without the nanites, they would have all died of radiation sickness. The nanites did their best to keep people from dying, but the radiation damage was just too much for them to fully repair. They were able to prevent many deaths, but the amount of DNA damage left the survivors barely recognizable as humans. For a few generations their DNA was still very unstable and led to extremely high mortality rates, but with the help of the nanites enough were able to survive to lead to a generation with more stable DNA. By this point they are no longer human - they are the demons.

The variations are due to not everyone's DNA being damaged in the same way, leading to the nanites attempting different strategies to repair them. One strategy could have been to include the DNA of nearby animals - a person who has bird DNA grafted in could be the ancestor of some of the winged demons.

In addition, by the time their DNA stabilized the nanites became integrated into the demons. This is how they can survive with otherwise implausible body structures, and also why they have unusual abilities. It can also have affected their reproduction rate, allowing you to make them however common or rare you want.

The survivors also have the nanites helping them stay alive, leading to them healing faster and being more durable. This means that your unrealistic RP can have a somewhat realistic explanation - in real life it would take you quite a while to heal from being shot or stabbed with a sword, but thanks to the nanites a good night's rest goes a long way to helping you fully heal.

As a side note, this also gives you a way to have an interesting and powerful "magic" curse - commanding the nanites to abandon someone/something. It would cause them to lose all their nanite enhancements, including rapid healing and increased durability.

The Genesis Bomb

The members of the moon colony aren't aware of the extent to which the nanites are keeping everything running, and the ways in which the nanites have updated themselves to the current situation. This is why the genesis bomb does not behave as expected. At ground zero, the nanites detect the surge of energy but misinterpret it as another nuclear apocalypse in the making. So they quickly abandon their hosts, leaving them to die, and absorb as much of the energy as they can to render it harmless. Thanks to their misunderstanding of the nature of the energy much of the energy still escapes to terraform the rest of the world.

The nanites at ground zero eventually realize the energy is of a different nature than expected, and dump it into a single life form - a tree. Filled with enormous amounts of genesis energy, the tree grows into Yggdrasil.

Away from ground zero, the nanites do not abandon their hosts, but attempt to do what they did during the nuclear apocalypse - keep everyone alive. This causes further changes to the life forms, but thanks to the energy being inherently creative (whereas nuclear radiation is destructive) there is not the same massive die-off that there was following the nuclear apocalypse.

The unusual changes to the geography of the earth come about because of the interference of the nanites. Their absorbing and redirecting of the genesis energy caused it to behave in ways that the moon colonists could not have predicted.

An option:

You could have the genesis bomb be the reason why the demon's DNA stabilized - if not for the genesis bomb they eventually would have died off, but the nanites somehow utilized the genesis energy to stabilize the DNA.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is another good answer that also sorta meshes with the previous ideas. It's quite fascinating getting all of these responses! Then again, I like being spoilt for choice... $\endgroup$ – eharper256 Apr 16 '15 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ @eharper256 I particularly like how it provides a reasonable explanation for RP tropes such as being shot and not passing out due to pain/blood loss. $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Apr 16 '15 at 18:46
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Since you mention nanomachines, check out utility fog. It would give you the ability to make things appear and form magically. The Yggdrasil tree is a giant nano factory created by the bomb, which both builds and powers the nanomachines.
The factory could also build other nanomachines. Some that take stuff apart, some that build, some that fight by entering the targets body. It would use the utility fog to transport them where they need to go. The ones that build and take stuff apart are what is doing the teraforming.

Edit to summarize the comments:
Demons are caused by things left over from the war:
Biological germ weapons that have mutated and now cause mutations, madness, copying genetic traits from one creature to another.
Biological monsters created in a lab and released onto the battlefield.
Autonomous machines created to hunt enemy soldiers, now roaming and killing indiscriminately.
Super solder programs gone wrong, biological implants with horrific destructive capability.
Parasitic machines that burrow into living creatures, take them over to create a cyborg. Once the host dies the machines cut their way out so they can hunt for a new body. (actually, this one works for being "demon possessed", with a degausser as exorcism equipment)

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, utility fog is basically what I already had in mind for the magic (though I didn't know the term for it) as it involves thermodynamics, matter manipulation etc. The Yggdrasil being the factory and power source of the magery is a nice idea though; I like that. I think my main issues at the moment though are the big sweeping changes to the planet and the demons mutation and why that happens, having a issue making those fit. $\endgroup$ – eharper256 Apr 16 '15 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ Well the other nano machines could be the ones doing the sweeping changes. Taking things apart and putting them back together in new shapes... you could also include a virus that takes generic material from one creature and insert it into other creatures. That would get you some of the fantasy creatures. Griffins: the virus jumps from an eagle to a lion. Etc. Explain more what you mean about the demons? $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 16 '15 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ Well I originally had this dramatic sounding statement in the primer: "Before then, in the dark ages, the world was corrupted by the daemons who were born in the hearts of men who fell to greed and decadence; no man could not walk the land for long before their mind was enslaved by bloodlust and their body was twisted and ravaged into a form most foul. It is said in the ancient records that the eye of the Great Demon Lord Falut could see wherever there was sky, and touch wherever it was dry." >>> This is assuming the old radioactive fallout ('Falut') was the culprit, mind you. $\endgroup$ – eharper256 Apr 16 '15 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ @eharper256 Mutation from radiation could work well for a lot of it, but while the next big war could still be nuclear, biological weapons will probably also play a big part. That could be where the gene transfer virus comes from (if you like that idea), and there could be other pathogens that have mutated and cause deformity, madness, mutation... Another form of demon could be the left over weapons. Autonomous machines that hunt people. Maybe macro biological weapons. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 16 '15 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ Funnily enough, the 'weapons as demons' was always an element I liked from stuff like Scrapped Princess (which had the Demon Lord Browning; named after the weapons manufacturer) and was considering adding already. Though I want to avoid zombies, some resi-evil type biological weapon stuff is also indeed worth considering. $\endgroup$ – eharper256 Apr 16 '15 at 14:08
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Okay everyone, thanks for all of your great ideas!

Below is the completed amalgamation of parts of my original origin story mixed in along with ideas from everyone here. I believe everything works together quite nicely now and this is really starting to get its grip. Please let me know what you think and if anything is still missing, in your opinion.

How it all began

It is now the year 5,706. In 2056, the well-established military contractor, the Nanolith Corporation, with their motto, “Building new futures from tiny pieces”, had their second major breakthrough in creating the Nanocolluder Virtual Interface System (or ‘VIS’) in conjunction with Intel.

Possibly the greatest quantum computer yet built to date, this wondrous machine finally allowed large-scale control and manipulation of nanobots on an unprecedented scale.

Nanobots were already becoming accepted at this time due to their obvious medical applications by MicroLife, and Nanolith’s own first product, the AURA (Autonomous Upgradable Reactive Armour), which was adopted by the US Military. So when the VIS was used to freely provide incredible disaster relief from a tsunami later that year, in its instant reconstruction of shelters and clearing of rubble, people only became even friendlier towards this new technology. This was a very smart business move by the company; generating a huge surge of interest and investment.

Of course, as with any advance, there will always be those that wish to use it for unsavoury things. After all, the VIS was not an intelligent machine. It didn’t consider the right and wrong of what it was ordered to do. It just did it. And despite the catastrophic potential of the technology, its newness meant it had no restraints or laws like gun control to bind it. People could buy the interface devices and crates of nanites, and do whatever they wanted to do…

There were some interesting applications to this. Somewhat innocuous ones, like Live Action Roleplayers with too much money on their hands changing themselves into beasts and demons. But also far more terrifying ones, like using nanobots to create new weapons and plagues.

By the time restraints were put into place properly, it was far too late already. A cunning terrorist with a rich benefactor got hold of a crate of nanites and an interface, and had a terrifying idea: if I can make anything with this, can’t I just make an ICBM? A deadly virus for the first world?

The Apocalypse

A meticulously planned operation over the next year would be the start of the downfall of humanity.

An ‘accident’ occurred in a lab in midst of London, infecting the water-supply and the Thames. In just a handful of hours, half of the city died from a super-plague that warped their flesh and made them choke on their own blood. Those that were not mercifully killed instantly become enraged beasts that added fuel to the fire, tearing things apart in their pain and madness. The underground collapsed, parliament was set on fire due to a riot. But it didn’t end there. Shortly afterwards; an American submarine launched a missile at London. It was nuclear.

Despite shocked protests from the Pentagon and The White House, nobody could deny that the missile came from an American sub that was on the edge of British waters. The sub was quickly sunk by a nearby British Destroyer, and divers confirmed its allegiance. The provisional British government, rallied on by its outraged people, gave the order that evening to launch a Trident VI. The next morning, San Francisco was wiped from the map.

Needless to say, nuclear wars very rarely stop with a single savage strike from both sides. Within the next six months, the earth became a hellish nuclear wasteland.

The Survivors in the Storms

Meanwhile, the shocked people of the nearly forgotten James Watson lunar colony looked on. The winds, rain, storms and devastation that wracked the Earth meant that it seemed as though nothing had survived (ala Millenium 2.2). Of course, that was nearly true.

Some people, reacting to the first of the strikes quickly, retreated to a repurposed underground shelter in Siberia. They would survive by sealing off the world underground, and would go on to be the source of the Engi race.

The crews of the three newest advanced US Navy Battlecruisers, with their own onboard Fusion Reactors and limited Electromagnetic plating survived as well, rescuing civilian ships and people from coastal settlements as the world broke down in chaos. They would go on to become the Great Migrant Fleet of the Usnay.

Furious dust storms laced with nuclear fallout ravaged the planet for over a hundred years following this. During that time, the lunar colonists hardened their hearts and toiled away, ever hoping to create a way to re-terraform the Earth. They felt themselves fortunate at their recent private investment that led them to have their own hydroponics and fusion reactor, without which they could never survive without the Earth’s assistance.

The Dark Ages

When the storms stopped a century later, the remainders of the land were inhabited by foul and vicious creatures that were the ones able to survive. Miraculously, some surface humans did live on, but most were mutated by the radiation. Little did they know at the time, these survivals were entirely at the assistance of the remaining nanobots of the VIS, which had been unleashed upon the world en-masse by one of their original creators with a single command ‘Preserve as much life as you can!’. The nanobots truly, heroically tried their best to meet that demand, preserving life without being able to consider the consequences of such a poorly worded order. These ‘survivors’ would become the demons of the Usnay legends.

The Usnay, now the third generation of those original crews, were faced with the decision of braving the land once more. But it was now populated by vicious creatures and mutants and still replete with nuclear radiation, so they chose to instead stay within their ships forevermore, barring occasional missions to obtain metal scrap and other supplies. Where safer, after all?

The people of the Siberian shelter eventually forgot they ever came from the surface except in some forgotten legends. They became partially adapted to the dark; and over time, terrified of the prospect of the surface. Their leaders, pressed for space for all the people, agreed to expand further underground, starting the legacy of the warrens of the Engi that persist to this day. Their underground hydroponics supplied their diet, most notably via the Armillaria Superior, a hardy genetically engineered mushroom species made to taste like honey and grow upside down on cavern roofs to giant sizes in the soft rock conditions, consuming the dead tree roots above.

Due to politics on the moon, and a lack of ability to expand due to food, development of the Terraformer was slow. Occasional missions back to the home world for samples to aid the process was met with the demons, and the third and fourth generation Lunarians abandoned the project as hopeless. (by this point the Usnay ran radio silent; whilst the Engi had been cut off completely). Only a thousand years later did a lunar leader finally restart the project, because living space on the moon was difficult at the best of times and it would be in their best interest anyway to terraform the moon itself even if the Earth was a lost cause.

The Fall of Heaven

So the Dark Ages passed. Much knowledge was lost. It took the Lunarians, who now called themselves the Ruto, another thousand years to figure out the process of terraforming; the breakthrough finally occurring when a bored programmer came across ancient records for the VIS: this was the answer- provide energy to the dead nanobot facility and use their capability to restore the planet. Had the Ruto historians of known the truth, they might almost laughed at the irony of this plan, since the VIS had technically been the cause of the apocalypse and the demons in the first place.

Most Ruto of this time had become of a religion that shunned un-necessary technology. Their goal became to recreate the earth and then all move there and start afresh without the old tools of man that caused this in the first place.

So they built a small fleet of ‘Angel’ class attack shuttles, and carpet bombed the remaining surface demons into oblivion. Some of the remaining Usnay tech-priests noticed but were too shocked to consider shooting down the new arrivals, considering that they were combating the demons, especially considering the Genesis device that was dropped shortly afterwards in what used to be Central Germany. The VIS roared back into life from its previous sleep mode. Dead nanobots across the globe leapt to life in rebuilding the wasteland.

There was still a slight problem, though. True, the VIS, given this large energy infusion and a massive firmware update, could indeed fix the world. But the thing was, it had been a thousand years since anyone had seen the Earth. What had it looked like? What was is supposed to look like? There were records, yes, but most were lost or incomplete. And many… guesses were made…

In the space of a month, a ripple of transformation smashed across the world. Previously ash-covered lands became lush again. The earth was certainly very different from what the Ruto remembered. But at least it was earth again. They kept their promises. They sunk the ‘Angels’ into the sea, and dropped their colony ship, the Argo, right near the landing spot of the genesis device, where a great tree had begun to grow. They didn’t actually expect the tree to grow so rapidly, though. It actually engulfed their ship and they were forced out.

Some of them sailed in ships of wood to meet the Usnay, and the Engi took the rumbles on the surface to be a sign from a prophecy, and emerged themselves into their promised land.

And so we have the world as it exists today.

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Further idea, Luna base is like the ISS, and in concert with Siberia and the US Naval fleet is able to design the G-bomb. Dozens of prototypes are launched all over the earth with the idea of capturing released free radical energy from the existing energy supplies and converting it into broadcast power which would help power the G-bomb nanites to rescuplt the planet. The early prototypes are obviously not up to the task, and "Magic" is the result along with your mutations. "Magic" exists as a superset overlay of holoprograms given full reality interface (the G-bomb itself was designed to take advantage of this property) by the "corruption" of the software update. This would make it so that people from Luna base would have no actual ability to manipulate magic (but maybe they are psychic? from all that time spent mamipulating the Interface?). Luna base would have the ability to fire off people down to the surface into the sea near the US Navy so characters would be able to interact with each other.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah, unfortunately, the ex-lunarians have been designated as the 'natural mages' in the setting, and the three not knowing about each other is pretty integral the subsequent setting; since over the missing generations each part of humanity has continued to change slightly, with the undergrounders getting a bit cave-adapted, the sea-goers becoming more slender, tanned, and acrobatic, and the lunarians becoming taller, weaker and relying on some genetic engineering. There are some people who were planned to be natural psychics though, and have gained the ability to manipulate local nanonmachines. $\endgroup$ – eharper256 Apr 17 '15 at 7:59

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