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Avernite #651

An artificial sun in Avernum

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Picked up Avernum again recently and had a thought after spending the day gardening in Real Life: What if someone created an artificial sun in Avernum? How hard would it have been? Magic seems commonplace enough and has the power to create barriers and traps and such. It wouldn't have to even be a sun, you could just artificial lighting through a string of fireballs or something that give out enough light for several hours a day to grow crops. Perhaps it may even be powered by the cave's natural heat or some such. (Though now that I mention it, I do recall it being said that the plants are modified to use the cave's heat instead of sunlight so I guess that's a more direct approach)

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The first set of wizards modified the cave fungi to give off more light as well. But the constraint on resources appears to be a critical part of the story to Jeff.  The lack of resources is mentioned with there being not a lot of metals and not a lot of food, plus of course the ending to the series.

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This actually comes up in Avernum 6, with the results you would more or less expect (in the world of Avernum) from a bunch of mages trying to accomplish a major project.

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While a solar energy source would be neat, without the rest of the materials to fuel a "surface" ecosystem (namely fertile soil) it would really only be step one in a very long process. Still, it'd be great start (assuming it doesn't go catastrophically wrong, like most major magical undertakings in Avernum have a tendency to).

 

That said, a direct "land" route into Avernum would be the more practical approach for improving things (another Averum 6 undertaking IIRC). "Dig a tunnel" is a much simpler process than "recreate stellar fusion". In fact, here it technically isn't even "dig a tunnel" but "clear a collapsed tunnel" which is another (minor) plus for the endeavors chances.

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16 hours ago, Avernite #651 said:

What if someone created an artificial sun in Avernum?

 

As it happens, this has been done! However, so far as I read it, I think it’s implied to be a tricky thing to do, requiring a lot of carefully controlled magical power. If it weren’t tricky, I imagine some of the early mages in Avernum would have tried something like that before going down the tricky route of magically modifying plants. Having said that, though, perhaps Erika, with her curse relating to sunlight, put a stop to any of that research?

 

In the Blades of Avernum scenario ‘The Za-Khazi Run’, we find a group of unicorns who used to live on the surface, but were forced to flee to Avernum. These are your familiar unicorns from traditional high fantasy, by the way, rather than Avernum’s much more common feral unicorns. They are very, very powerful magical creatures, and have recreated portions of the surface in Avernum itself. This includes soil, grass, trees and, as it happens, a fully functional sun. Here’s some text from the Unicorn Gate:

 

"The unicorns have created a beautiful garden inside this dome. An artificial, magical sun floats above you, shining cheerily down onto the grass and trees. How the unicorns got the seeds, you can't guess, but what they've done with them is remarkable."

 

Just to avoid any confusion, this is canon, by the way. The Za-Khazi run, both the place and the scenario, are referenced by Pea Eye in Avernum 4, and again by Sergeant Nichol in Avernum 6.

 

The ‘sun’ in Avernum 6 is a slightly different thing. Rather than creating a real sun, the Tower of Magi used a portal to beam sunlight down into the caves. This went wrong through no fault of their own, actually, and they had fairly decent safeguards in place to make sure that conventional problems could be dealt with. Of course, something else did happen:

 

Spoiler

It was only because of the unforeseen catastrophic failure of Avernum’s super-portal (many miles away) that anything went wrong – and the failure of their sun was the least of their problems in that situation!

 

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15 hours ago, Necris Omega said:

While a solar energy source would be neat, without the rest of the materials to fuel a "surface" ecosystem (namely fertile soil) it would really only be step one in a very long process. Still, it'd be great start (assuming it doesn't go catastrophically wrong, like most major magical undertakings in Avernum have a tendency to).

 

That said, a direct "land" route into Avernum would be the more practical approach for improving things (another Averum 6 undertaking IIRC). "Dig a tunnel" is a much simpler process than "recreate stellar fusion". In fact, here it technically isn't even "dig a tunnel" but "clear a collapsed tunnel" which is another (minor) plus for the endeavors chances.

 

The lack of a direct land route is kinda confusing for me, since there were at least 3 land routes back to the surface that I remember. One the PCs find in A1, one in the honeycomb, and one is northern avernum, the latter two of which the empire collapsed. You'd think at some point in the intervening years one of those would have been dug out and turned into a trade route.

 

In A6 the plan was to use portal magic to teleport the sun's light directly into the caves. No need for fusion.

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2 hours ago, Grimm said:

 

The lack of a direct land route is kinda confusing for me, since there were at least 3 land routes back to the surface that I remember. One the PCs find in A1, one in the honeycomb, and one is northern avernum, the latter two of which the empire collapsed. You'd think at some point in the intervening years one of those would have been dug out and turned into a trade route. 

 

It's been a loooong time but wasn't there another surface tunnel attempt in A2 (can't remember if it was included in A2CS), east of Motrax & north of the stuck Empire Patrol (early red pass) in the area north of Formello?

 

****

 

Obviously physics are different in the Avernum universe but that's one thing that's bugged me over the years, why they couldn't just eventually tunnel out onto the surface.  The Honeycomb attempt went up for "miles & miles" ... just how far underground are they?  Apparently the Avernum crust is a lot bigger than earth's otherwise they'd be living in magma.

 

Then of course there's the really big question from A5, where does all the water go?  Our intrepid heroes are following a river 'deep' down, down, down, into the lower caves (& then pick up another river later on).  Ok... so where does all the water go eventually?  All that water is going deep underground (& it's a 'lot' of water given the scale of the rivers), it has to go somewhere otherwise the caves should become submerged rather quickly. 

 

Sorry, didn't mean to give people brain cramps, but how it all works has had me scratching my head for years...

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3 hours ago, TriRodent said:

 

It's been a loooong time but wasn't there another surface tunnel attempt in A2 (can't remember if it was included in A2CS), east of Motrax & north of the stuck Empire Patrol (early red pass) in the area north of Formello?

 

****

 

Obviously physics are different in the Avernum universe but that's one thing that's bugged me over the years, why they couldn't just eventually tunnel out onto the surface.  The Honeycomb attempt went up for "miles & miles" ... just how far underground are they?  Apparently the Avernum crust is a lot bigger than earth's otherwise they'd be living in magma.

 

Then of course there's the really big question from A5, where does all the water go?  Our intrepid heroes are following a river 'deep' down, down, down, into the lower caves (& then pick up another river later on).  Ok... so where does all the water go eventually?  All that water is going deep underground (& it's a 'lot' of water given the scale of the rivers), it has to go somewhere otherwise the caves should become submerged rather quickly. 

 

Sorry, didn't mean to give people brain cramps, but how it all works has had me scratching my head for years...

 

The one east of Motrax's cave was the one I was talking about in northern avernum.

 

And if we're gonna start speculating on geology and hydrology my guess is: a) a mile is considerably smaller in avernum (you'll find sign posts saying something like "castle 30 miles east" and the castle is a short walk away, we could probably get a decent estimate of a mile from A3 since it actually tracks time), and b) the water is brought back up through geysers and the like, creating a water cycle. 

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6 hours ago, Grimm said:

 

You'd think at some point in the intervening years one of those would have been dug out and turned into a trade route.

I can't claim to be very knowledgeable about either geology or mining, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was a lot harder to clear a tunnel if you have thoroughly destroyed and undermined the surrounding rock than it would be to dig a tunnel through relatively stable rock (and likely utilize natural tunnels and caves on the way).

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6 hours ago, Grimm said:

The lack of a direct land route is kinda confusing for me, since there were at least 3 land routes back to the surface that I remember.

 

There are a number of tunnels that lead to the surface in the parts of Avernum we see. Of these, all but one were closed off by the Empire before Avernum 1. The exit found by the party in the first game was also closed off by the Empire before the second.

 

The Empire didn’t play lightly with these exits. They were keeping their dangerous prison shut, and the tunnels were sealed very, very thoroughly. The game makes it clear that the exits are magically sealed with “millions of tons of rock”, something the party marvels at. In fact, here’s what the game says about the exit found in Avernum 1:

 

“Nothing's left here now but a lost opportunity. It is blocked forever.”

 

These tunnels were almost completely blocked by rocks – miles and miles of broken rock. To all intents and purposes, it would probably be easier boring a new hole to the surface than opening up the old exits, even with a head start of a few miles. After all, reopening a tunnel full of densely packed rock is dangerous because of all the shifting material, and the rock may well have been melted or hardened magically depending on what process the Empire used.

 

Digging a hole to the surface would be extremely hard. You would be tunnelling upwards (which is hard anyway) for what is clearly many miles. That’s something that’s hard to do even with modern machinery. It would take a long, long time – perhaps the work of many years.

 

Perhaps the critical thing here is Avernum had no need to do this for most of its history. When they were at war, they couldn’t go to the surface because the Empire would destroy them. By the time the war ended, they had their super portal and a way to get the surface magically. Given how expensive and time-consuming building a physical tunnel would be, it seems reasonable to me that they just kept using the portal. Of course, putting all your eggs in one basket is dangerous, but that’s part of the point of Avernum 6!

 

4 hours ago, TriRodent said:

Then of course there's the really big question from A5, where does all the water go?

 

I’ve already waffled a bit, so here are some thoughts briefly. This is a fun excuse for a little scientific speculation!

 

All the rivers we see in Avernum keep a mostly constant height, so there must be some way that water gets from the place the river is flowing to back to its source; there must be some sort of water cycle. How could that happen?

 

A less wacky answer is this: the water flows to the ocean. If we think of the world of Avernum as having much, much thicker continents than Earth, we can imagine the tunnels of Avernum as being hollow spaces inside these continents. These tunnels then open out at the edges of the continent into the oceans (which would be *deep*). Since the very deep tunnels of Avernum are shown as being fairly narrow, I think it’s fair to say that the pressure of the huge volume of river water leaving the caves through tiny holes would be enough to keep the ocean at bay. This is why the caves of Avernum don’t flood. (For an analogy, think of holding a running shower head under a bath. Water would naturally try to flow into the holes of the shower head, but the pressure of the escaping water prevents this.)

 

Or, for a weirder answer, think of this. The water runs into very deep lakes that sit on top of the planet’s magma layer. The water in these lakes constantly boils, and will get very hot because of the pressure (i.e. much hotter than 100ºC). Super-heated gas will escape. This expands in volume enormously and cannot be contained by the lake cavern, so it escapes through chimneys – either natural ones or ones that the steam bores itself. The high pressure and temperature of the steam causes it to rise through the chimneys very rapidly, until it escapes to the surface.

 

This mechanism is basically exactly the same as a geyser! However, these geysers would be enormous, and essentially active all the time. So you’d get spots on the surface where there would be great hot lakes fueled by constantly steaming geysers. The Empire gets free, vast hot springs!

 

Ah, Grimm got there first. Oops!

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I might have to threadjack this thread a bit, because it's close to the subject matter I like to speculate about...

 

1. Light and fauna in "early Exile." Exile has always been a magical place. It doesn't need to be relegated to the supernatural entirely, as Jeff keeps a good deal of science fiction in play. Thus, natural light sources in the caves are not entirely magical, even if magic was used in the creation of [some of] the glowing fungus that illuminates the underworld. The lands of the Vahnatai are darker than Exile, but they are lit like the rest of the caves. If the caves above the Vahnatai were dark, why do the Slith have eyes? I always thought it would be a great storytelling point if you encountered a cynical character who countered the general story of how the mages lit the lands and provided the fauna: that stuff was always there. All the mages did was to make it more suitable to humans, and perhaps unintentionally, for the humanoids (the Nephil, etc.) who are made to suffer along side them.

 

2. Ecosystem and geology speculation. I tend to think about materials available in Exile more than I do other things. Materials available tend to influence what people are capable of doing or making, or at least doing with relative ease. Copper and tin should be relatively hard to come by if more realism is going to be written into what you make of Avernum. The nice thing about bronze is that it should require less energy to process into a finished good. Fuel is going to be your main concern. Iron and steel need much more thermal energy to process in comparison. Steel is simply iron fused with carbon, but you have to get the carbon in there somehow. You'd get that from the fuel of course, which could come from crappy cavewood, coal, or maybe even bones. Coal will require a lot of effort to mine, cavewood is not great and needs to first be made into charcoal/coke, and bones are... kind of intense, if you get my meaning.

 

Next, we see that a lot of metal refining in Exile is done with magical fires. Perhaps these "fires" are just heat, and not combustion? I bring this up, as it's worth wondering about how much oxygen is produced by the fauna of the caves in comparison to how much is used by their occupants and their industry. If no one is gasping for air down there, one has to assume that the ecosystem is pretty darn robust (even without sunshine and assuming the worst about industry). There also seems to be enough airspace down there that gasses released into the caves are not high enough in concentration to, you know, kill everybody.

 

So, to conclude my derailment, I believe it's safe to conclude that iron and steel are scarce in Exile because they're harder to refine. Perhaps a place like Fort Draco not only sits on a healthy iron deposit, but perhaps it also sits on a source of coal like lignite. Draco thus has enough of a carbon source, and potentially a fuel source (if magical fires are reduced in their importance) to make steel. The steel then gets distributed to craftsmen in the Great Cave, who have their own convenient natural furnaces to process it into whatever.

 

*COUGH*

 

So, derailment aside, light is an interesting discussion in Avernum/Exile. Light is naturally tied to the production of many life-giving processes, such as the production of oxygen. The latter of course is needed by humanoids and their industry. That said, there seems to be enough light, at least in the short term (consider the Vahnatai's sleeping period) to facilitate all of this fairly well, even without the intensity of sunlight. For how long and for how much seems like the makings of the next Avernum title.

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That's really interesting.  Huh.  And speaking of the Vahnatai's sleeping period, ties in quite well with what Elohi-Bok says about scarcity of resources in the caves.  Bit subtler of a take than how A6 handled it.

 

2 hours ago, Thaeris said:

If the caves above the Vahnatai were dark, why do the Slith have eyes?

The Sliths originate in the deeper caves, not higher up in Exile.  This is also why the Vahnatai remember them from before the Resting.

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