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"From the rumours, it seems this world is cursed. I don't have trouble believing this, our sky is darkened by a permanent smoke. It is said that behind this smoke used to be the biggest fireball anyone has ever seen. Stories say that a powerful magician created it hundred of years ago to keep the world from freezing. But it is gone now, as all we can sometimes see, when the smoke is pierced, is shards of white lights in the sky. The fireball was probably shattered by the one who set this curse upon us.

Our world is cold and dark. But we've grown used to it. At first, storybooks say that the white shards falling from the sky used to freeze us so much it burned, but we've grown used to it and protected ourselves accordingly. Our eyes grew accustomed to the dark, at least a little.

We're at war against an enemy we cannot fool. Creatures, mighty and swift, are searching for us. At least, it seems there aren't many of them since they did not find us yet. Our clan is separated in groups, scattered into the wild. Using maps, we're able to figure where are the other clans. Once in a while, we change locations as we need to move not to get caught. We meet with another clan to share with them our new location. This mechanism keeps us safe."

This world is set in a fantastic medieval world, mostly populated by humans. As described by this character, the sun is permanently hidden by a clouded sky, caused by a curse. It isn't complete darkness but it looks like a heavy-clouded day a little before the sun rises in "our world", so there's a little light. It snows most of the time, and it seems the only time the curse allows people to see through the smoke is at night (hence the little lights). They are separated as a "war" tactic, to keep enemies from slaughtering them all if they were to ever find them. Let's assume for now they cannot hope to win a fight against these creatures, meaning they need to flee.

Where would such a group shelter themselves? Considering the cold temperatures, the constant darkness, the need not to be found easily and the need for basic resources (food, water, etc.). They do not have much material to move, apart from some tools and food/water reserves.

I thought a cavern would be a good pick since they can protect from snow, are not necessarily easy to find and can somehow protect from the cold. But big (consider room for 10-15 persons) caverns aren't necessarily easy to find and it is pretty much impossible to see something in the darkness of a cavern. Also, I'd like my characters not to all be in caverns so it can be diversified a little.

They have no access to magic themselves but are used to live in difficult situations so they are self-sufficient.

@AndreiROM and @Frostfyre made me realise it didn't make sense for them to still be alive in this scenario. Here's the post that addresses this problem

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    $\begingroup$ It's interesting they're still alive, given the drastic reduction in sunlight. You may want to find a way to explain the continued existence of life. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Nov 20 '15 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre That's a point I didn't think of. Thing is, I'm not sure what are the implication of reduced sunlight so it'd be hard to figure it out. Could I ask another question and repost this later? Or well... is there any other way I could figure something out? $\endgroup$ – IEatBagels Nov 20 '15 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ While as you noticed the idea needs a little work, your excerpt show real promise! $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Nov 20 '15 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ @bowlturner Thanks! It's my first try so I gotta acknowledge there's some things that need work :p $\endgroup$ – IEatBagels Nov 20 '15 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ You can leave this question here, as it's perfectly fine on its own, and ask a separate question to find a solution to the sunlight problem. The problem boils down to: reduced sunlight --> reduced photosynthesis -> plants die -> food chain crumbles. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Nov 20 '15 at 16:12
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Your people probably wouldn't seek permanent shelter anywhere, instead preferring to build Yurts that can be rapidly put out/deconstructed, and moved by pack animal/two or three people.

These yurts would really be essential to the survival of your people as a means of shelter, a way to hide the light of their fires (lest they be discovered) and also because they can be made exclusively from dead animals if you know what you're doing, which removes the need for wood and hence large plant life (which won't grow on a sunless world unless magic). The yurts don't even need much in the way of skin covering in a snowbound world, as you can use the snow to form an insulating layer over the yurt itself, forming a cross between a yurt and an igloo. Having camped in a lightweight tent under similar circumstances I can personally attest to it being warm.

The other advantage to yurting is that it helps you with your war-footing. Need to move on? Shovel the snow away, take off the skins, fold the yurt and move. Too many people in your group? Get half the people to yurt-up and roll-out. worried about leaving a trail behind? Pick up the yurts, put out the fires, let the snow cover the evidence.

The biggest concern for your people is going to be fuel. Water is abundant if it can be melted. Food will be easy(ish) to come by if prey can be lured in by the warmth near the yurts or hunted by some of the hardier people in your tribe. The lack of sun for plant growth (year round!) is going to be a killer. Unless you have some form of plant that grows woody branches in very low light levels, or access to coal reserves (surface deposits revealed by the Curse, perhaps?), your people are going to freeze and die eventually. Even hardy people living high up in the arctic circle have access to trees that grow in the long daytimes.

Essentially the society that you're after is a strange combo of the Inuit and steppe-nomads, with a bit of Victorian coal-mining chucked in. Now I'm imagining someone in a Parka riding a Yak and stroking his magnificent mutton-chops...

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What I'd like to point out is that humans are not nocturnal creatures.

1 Psychological effects

Living in the dark for an extended period of time has pretty negative consequences on our psyche - check out suicide statistics from northern countries.

2. Physical effects

We need sunlight to drive vitamin D production in our bodies. Without it, we will slowly sicken and die. I'm not sure that this would be possible in the conditions you describe above - especially if people spend a lot of time hidden in caves and the such.

3. The environment

Without sunlight plant life will die in a matter of weeks. Once plant light perishes, herbivores starve to death, and soon thereafter, the carnivores. It's debatable at which stage humans would kick the bucket, but it's inevitable.

Maybe with low-light conditions some plants may survive whereas others will perish, but I think the world would still experience a mass extinction event.

4. Self-sufficiency

You say this group is self-sufficient, but with no way to grow food, and unable to hunt (normal animals will have mostly died), what exactly about them is self-sufficient?

Conclusion

Within these parameters, their position is absolutely untenable. These people might eek out a living in small groups, scavenging supplies of preserved meats and other foods from "before the curse", but they would inevitably either succumb to starvation, or get slaughtered by these other-worldly nocturnal predators.

Suggestion

If these people had some highly fortified positions somewhere where they could use magic to create light, in order to grow some crops, as well as "heal" from the effects of the night (psychologically relax, and replenish vitamin D levels), then it might work out.

Imagine that this place is an enchanted valley where the one or two surviving "good" mages are able to sustain a long-term light spell, but that the valley/castle can only hold so many people, so groups have to take turns venturing out to scavenge supplies in order to make room for others.

That's my 2 cents, anyway.


To answer the updated question:

A nomadic lifestyle is death

Taking into consideration the fact that plant life would basically become extinct, these people would not be able to adopt a nomadic lifestyle. Nomads rely on finding food on the road. With no plants growing, and no animals to hunt, what would they eat? Add in the fact that they are being constantly hunted by creatures which thrive in the darkness, and they're completely screwed. The stronger of the bunch would maybe survive for a while, but the women and children could never keep up. If they die, humanity is finished.

Strongholds, and hidden villages

Humanity has been building very impressive defenses and strongholds for many thousands of years. A medieval style society, especially one which has access to magic, would probably have a couple of pretty nice strongholds to fall back on, especially if "evil mages" are roaming the land.

A lot of people would die in the beginning, but then the situation would stabilize. Survivors would gather to those well defended places, where magic might allow them to survive in a world which will otherwise become barren and dead in only a few short months.

Because those few places would be very crowded, survivors might strike out to settle new places - defensible caves, or hill tops. Valleys, or places such as Helm's Deep in LOTR, where a fortification might be built to keep the evil creatures out.

In those places, magic might be used to nurture crops to grow, and keep people from simply going crazy, or losing their desire to live.

Strong mercenaries, or skilled trackers would venture out to resupply outlying settlements, or to scavenge in the ruins of the old world for things which they do not have the ability to produce in their enclaves, such as certain magical items, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the tips. I'll need to figure something out about this sunlight problem. $\endgroup$ – IEatBagels Nov 20 '15 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ @TopinFrassi - idk how much your scenario depends on the absence of good mages, but imagine someone in that enchanted valley / their base of operations making potions which allow the humans some advantages in the dark. For example, these potions would give them better night vision, give them more sensitive hearing. Maybe some other potion would serve to supplement their vitamin D deficiency, etc. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Nov 20 '15 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ That's brilliant. I'll push on this idea. $\endgroup$ – IEatBagels Nov 20 '15 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ @TopinFrassi - thank you for your praise. I'm very glad to have helped you out. Further consider this: maybe more than one of these "bases" exist. Maybe someone can cast the light spell in some cave somewhere, hidden from the creatures roaming the night. But maybe that spell needs some sort of "fuel" to sustain it, and the survivors are forced to go out looking for materials/weapons/magical items to keep on surviving. Some groups of expert survivors could travel from enclave to enclave as merchants, or couriers, or some others could set up traps for those creatures, etc. Good luck! $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Nov 20 '15 at 15:55
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It seems pretty obvious to me that this is a post-apocalyptic society still feeling the effects of strong nuclear winter following an all-out thermonuclear conflict. Probably these people are at least a couple of generations removed from the original conflict, as it seems they have lost the collective knowledge of their civilization based on the description of events and the current state of things.

Food

Survival itself will be very difficult. Beyond the need to stay warm, food will be a top concern. Plant life depending on photosynthesis will not survive. Herbivores depending on those plants will not survive. Hence the survivors' options for food will be severely limited. Scavenging for surviving food stores will be important. Eating insects may be the best option at times.

Groups

Staying in small groups will not only be good for protection against "the enemy", but from other surviving groups. Raiding will probably be commonplace. Cannibalism will be tempting.

Build temporary shelters with dead trees

Staying warm is important, but not that difficult with some basic survival techniques. There will likely be plenty of dead trees around for wood and building temporary shelters. Assuming it's too cold to rain, windproofing the shelters will be sufficient, so they need not be water-tight. In that case, piling up a few layers of dead branches/underbrush will suffice.

Mobility

The groups will want to stay mobile, for the reasons you mentioned, as well as the reasons above.

Consequences

Leading a nomadic life in a cold, dark, barren world will take incredible will. Many will die. Some will just give up and wander off into the darkness to await a cold and lonely death, a release.

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I would recommend building shelter in the shallow underground.

Whilst the examples are obviously not medieval, the concept can be retrofitted to older technologies and building methods.

They can be built, as seen from the link, in a number of different environments, such as hills, caves and even flat ground.

I would suggest digging a large trench (flat ground) or cave (hillside), building buttresses to support the roof, and using the materials that were dug up to build a stable roof/wall in order for the accommodation to blend in with its surroundings.

This would work to keep the homes warm, as less heat would be lost from conduction through the ground as opposed to air. And if interior fires are allowed to be built (if smoke is not an issue) they will not let a lot of light be seen from the exterior.

Also, if there is little exterior light (as the sky is always cloudy), there will not be as much need to have such large windows etc, except for ventilation.

This would help these homes to be invisible from the 'creatures', as they will be indistinguishable from the surrounding environment from a distance, particularly under a thin layer of snow.

The only issue would be if there is heavy snow, it might be very difficult to leave the abode, so there might need to be at least one person awake at all times to remove any snow covering the exit. They could also act as a lookout for the creatures, and cover the doorway with a layer of snow as camouflage when they are nearby.

These homes could then be built in locations where people can survive easily, such as near water/food sources. As the creatures are likely to do most of their hunting for people in these areas, they will be sufficiently hidden that even with a thorough search the creatures would not find the home unless they were directly on top of it.

Particularly if these tribes are constantly in contact with each other, they can guide each other to any underground shelters that they have built that have since abandoned, in case anyone would like to go back to it eventually, and mark for others which ones have been compromised.

This would mean that more shelters would constantly be being constructed in order to stay ahead of the predators, meaning that they would be vulnerable in the construction stage, but this would be true with any building method.

Whilst it is true that life as we know it could not exist without the amount of sun that we get, a lot of species on earth are incredibly resilient. Whilst some sunlight would be required, plant life would eventually adapt to survive on low sunlight at certain times of the day, particularly things like algae or fungi.

Obviously these things would need to be considered, as well as potential adaptations of humans and animals living in circumstances with little sunlight. That means that this story would likely need to be set many years after the curse took effect, so that life could once again (precariously) sustain itself, with humans adapting to no longer be at the top of the food chain.

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Without light, without warmth, how does anything live? The meteors that killed the dinosaurs did so mostly from the dust cloud it threw into the air, first killing off most plants and then the herbivores starved and then the meat eaters starved. Light/heat/energy is the basic building block of life. Granted you need more than that, but that is a requirement!

People actually need light to produces Vitamin D and also other physiological benefits.

Plants do not grow in below freezing temperatures, they hibernate. So unless some plants learn to add anti-freeze to their veins they won't grow, and on top of that, plants produce CO2 when they don't get enough light to photosynthesize.

So no plants, for at least decades, so all living things live off of 'meat'. This is generally not a healthy nor sustainable living arrangement.

Now, maybe there are fungi in caves to help support diets, this could at least conceivably handwaved away. This would also encourage finding and living in caves, or just as useful, digging tunnels underground, warrens like gophers. The ground is a great insulator and areas could be kept 'warm' merely with body heat.

These are really the only two options, natural caves, or man made caves/holes, since without trees there isn't much to build. There may be enough dead ones left to help shore up tunnels.

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  • $\begingroup$ @Angew yes, and I even looked it up before I wrote this. Still wrote the wrong one $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Nov 20 '15 at 19:14

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