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I want to write a story that has a Pangaean like world, but human civilization already existed during that era. Basically, the earth just has one giant piece of land while the rest is the sea.

People don't venture to the seas, because there are no lands to find, only fish. And every single humans living there are culturally the same, due to being ruled by one ruler in the center of the unified land.

But, something happened, something tore apart the land, tearing the unified land apart into countless islands. It was so sudden, the people couldn't believe that their world could be torn apart literally.

Now my question :

What is a believable reason for the land to be split apart, but still have at least 50% of the human population survive? If that is not naturally possible, what kind of magic that will produce that result, but still makes it seem natural? I want my story to be low-fantasy.

Note : The era of civilization when the "split" happens is the medieval era, the days of swords and shields.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ Your landmass is going to have to be pretty tiny to be culturally homogenous. Real world cultures have required rapid transit and communications technologies to manage that sort of thing; "low fantasy" doesn't sound like it would cut it. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ We have a strict one question per post policy. Can you edit this to ask a single specific question. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ Something like this happened in the Belgariad-Malloreon novels by David Eddings. Cause was an angry god. $\endgroup$
    – FlaStorm32
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings Edited, thanks $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 16:03

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Sea level rise

Pangaea doesn't actually have to split. A rise in sea level will leave the low-lying areas underwater, while the higher-elevation areas will form island chains.

One thing that could cause something like this would be polar ice caps melting. I don't think there is any way this could happen within one generation, so magic would have to be involved.

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    $\begingroup$ Also consider the wonderful GLACIAL ICE DAMS. This happened once in north America already. youtu.be/YWZgfPGtQEs $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ sea level change is the only natural way to get the effect in any time frame fast enough for humans to notice. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ @PipperChip I think you should build that comment into a full answer $\endgroup$
    – Harthag
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 22:14
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The splitting of Pangea

There's actually an easy answer to this. Our planet has a molten core that isn't fixed to equivalent points on the crust. A mere 200 million years ago, the orientation of the core shifted in such a way that upward currents of magma that were previously directed at oceans were instead pushing up in the middle of the Pangean continent, splitting it apart.

The tectonic upheavals preceding the splitting of Pangea are one of the things cited as causing the Triassic - Jurassic extinction that allowed the dinosaurs to gain dominance. They did, however, take about 10,000 years to actually kill everything.

Our core is also magnetic. If a strong magnet happened to fly past the planet, it could easily have shifted the core in such a manner. Overall, there's plenty of leeway for you to insert artistic license in such a scenario.

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  • $\begingroup$ Magnetism strong enough to shift the core of the Earth on a flyby would probably be strong enough to also kill every living thing on the surface. $\endgroup$
    – notovny
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ @notovny, Magnetic forces don't actually effect organics. Why would you think this? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ You're going to need outrageous levels of magnetism to pull this off, and at that level, yes, the magnetic fields at those levels will kill you. $\endgroup$
    – notovny
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ this would take millions of years to have a noticeable effect, as far as people living on the continent are concerned nothing will have changed. If the change slow enough not to destroy the earth it is slow enough to take longer than the humans have existed. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ @John, this is true. Just the amount of heat and CO2 being thrown into the atmosphere from the outpouring of magma required to create the basalt ocean beds would be cataclysmic. There's no way to do this "suddenly" in human perspective. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 16:46
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Postapocalyptic wastelands turn your surviving settlements into islands

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallout_(series)

In the years after the Great War, the United States has devolved into a post-apocalyptic environment commonly dubbed "the Wasteland". The Great War and subsequent nuclear Armageddon had severely depopulated the country, leaving large expanses of property decaying from neglect. In addition, virtually all food and water is irradiated and most lifeforms have mutated due to high radiation combined with mutagens of varied origins. Despite the large-scale devastation, some areas were fortunate enough to survive the nuclear apocalypse relatively unscathed, even possessing non-irradiated water, flora, and fauna. However, these areas are exceedingly rare...

Fallout is just the latest iteration in this scheme. Postapocalytic wastelands are perenially popular for fiction. Sword of Shannara, anyone? Anyone? Hiero's Journey? Yes. Bad stuff is out there in the wasteland, and the people who are left hunker down in their walled communities which are for all intents and purposes the islands you request.

The reason this is popular is that the wastelands are unknown, full of monsters, schemers, treasures of the world that was, heirs to the throne, psychic mooses (best part of Hiero!) and whatever else you need. Not that your world cant have that stuff under the waves but you will need Kevin Costner to dive down and fetch it for you.

You can have the wastelands come to be in a way that makes sense. Maybe the Empire falls and there is no more law - monsters move back in. Maybe there was a war of some sort or a plague (some combo of those two I think are responsible for the ELden Ring world). Zombies? Restless spirits? Magic badness gone extra bad? Triffids? All time tested and effective.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think the OP was wanting actual islands rather than metaphorical 'island' communities. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 17:14
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Pangaea existed here on Earth, and over time ours split into the continents that we know today. Eventually, they may return to a different Pangaea like formation, though possibly different than the one before it.

So as long as your world has those same tectonic plates, such a split is possible. Now for the (somewhat apocalyptic) solution, given that there is a fantasy tag in play here ...

Magic went horribly awry

What that magic was exactly, and how that relates to the magic now is not necessarily for the readers to know. What is known by the layman is that there was a calamity and the land heaved and the earth was torn asunder. Lands fled from each other and gaping waters flooded in to keep the lands separated. Who did it is up to you and the needs of your story.

The power of what happened, either by design, through failsafe, or through pure random chance, surged through the tectonic plates of the world. The process accelerated the natural process of your world's Pangaea splitting, causing the appearance of the land heaving. Effectively, your planet's tectonic activity has gone through millions of years in only a few years

Of course, such an abrupt shift in the world is bound to basically be an apocalypse waiting to happen. That is where the runaway magic comes in. The very magic of the world itself was consumed in preventing the end of all life as we know it by severely dampening the volcanic activities that creates the new lands, and preventing the seas from dropping in the chasms opened in the plates in the oceans, and all the immediate problems. There were still natural disasters, but compared to that they should have been -- the world got off lightly.

But not everything can be stopped. Some land masses will move into more inhospitable areas and people there may die out through starvation or predation. Entire villages will disappear into the earth where the fault lines gaped open and left naught but a void and doom. Floods and other disasters caused buy the shifting lands will rewrite the world, causing upheaval.

Depending on where the landmasses travel and how people were spread out over your supercontinent, will help determine those that would perish sooner over later.

The epicentre of the calamity, naturally, has been destroyed beyond recognition

The Aftermath

However such an calamitous endeavour has left the magic of the world weak and recovering very slowly, even as the aftershocks of a calamity long ago still rumble across the lands. Magic has been left permanently scarred and weaker, in the low fantasy state that you are desiring.

Without modern technology to fail, the people of the world can carry on without too much interruption to their skill sets. The main problem is that crops that might have thrived before could fail while others that failed could now thrive. But the practices of farming are still similar, and we humans are tenacious if nothing else.

Certain resources may be an issue in these spread out lands, which could be an interesting world building point.

The lack of technology at the time of the calamity means that there won't be a backslide in that regard. People will adapt to the new landscape and climate, as will the flora and fauna ... hopefully.

Interesting points

  • Water travel should be at least known for its ability to carry goods more efficiently over water than land.
    • I would expect that the tech is stalled as really only river and small lake travel would be needed in quantity.
    • There could easily be a boom in shipbuilding triggered by advances if the condition is right
  • There is likely an uneven split of resources in this newly split world
  • There might be theories or inventions that were once regarded as novelties in the world before that become important now.
  • A shift in the flora and fauna populations of the world will happen due to the changing of the lands -- how humans deal with that may be interesting.
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Very soft fantasy, The world is actually a millenium ship The core itself is the machinary

The entire biosphere is basically just "grease growing in between the machine parts" Well ok, algie and stuff that covered the real machine underneath

A sudden shift like that could be explain by the machine doing a regular "system check"

And there were legends that "the unified Pangea" were once upon a time many islands

Or maybe be a bit more cliche and just say something something accidentally awakened the machine,

Now time to figure out why there would be a millenium ship,

Maybe it's created by a advanced civilization to escape some great world ending Eldridge god, and the original biosphere within the ship failed, and life has slowly got it's way on the surface and revolved to popularize the surface,

Why would it be orbiting a sun if it's a millenium ship then? Maybe that was it's final destination, And it arrived eons ago, But due the the failed biosphere on the way, no one was there to try recolonize the star system, until life naturally evolved on the surface of the machine,

And + a millenium ship as a planet, that can keep doing system checks, would require magic,

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