Worldbuilding: A Deepness of Time

In an earlier post I mentioned the modern world ought to have more monsters, not less. But that doesn’t mean you have to make your monsters of modern origin. Places with old history, places with deep time, are an excellent source of potential monsters. Think of them as being like refugia; gingko trees surviving in temple grounds, coelacanths and chambered nautili in the deep seas. If conditions change, if humans mess around just so, if The Stars Turn Right, something could emerge from these last refuges and spread like monstrous wildfire.

The problem then becomes figuring out where, in your world, has this deep time, and what might be hiding there. I vote for checking where people find RL weird species. Places like sinkhole caverns, acid hot springs, and other extreme environments. Or if you want something a little less exotic, remember that mountain chains functions a bit like islands separated by elevation and temperature instead of water. And the Appalachians, in particular, are older than fish.

…No, not speaking metaphorically. The mountain chain originated in the Ordovician. The end of the Ordovician is when we think jawed fish finally developed. Before that you had lamprey-like critters. The Appalachians are literally older than fish.

The Roman Empire? Older – and part of the mountain chain’s in bits of Scotland and Europe, so yeah, they saw that. The rise of mammals? Older, definitely. The extinction of the dinosaurs? The mountains had been through at least three major extinctions before that.

In fact, depending on where you are, the mountains are older than dirt. Glaciers scraped it all off New England, so until that Ice Age ended there was nothing but shattered rocks. For twelve thousand years plants and soil recovered, yet it had no earthworms. Until Europeans got there. Which means we’ll never know all the forest species that used to exist there, dependent on centuries-deep leaf litter. Think about it.

Even into the modern era, the Appalachians have swarms of plant and animal species found nowhere else. They’ve served as refugia through several ice ages, dinosaur-hot temps, and whole continental breakups and rejoinings. Every event brought a fresh wave of species to the mix. What we see today is what survived.

Pick a spot in your world. Think of the broad sweep of events you want to have had happen there. Did a river change its course? Did a new port develop? Did some bored demon lord open a pit to the Abyss thousands of years ago, and anyone who delves too deep in the caves might rouse something better left sleeping?

Places are characters in your story, too. They have personality. They have history. Give your world backstories with deep time. I guarantee you’ll find your monsters!

23 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: A Deepness of Time

  1. If you’re looking for monsters, also remember that some species are apparently completely harmless – until transplanted to a place that doesn’t have predators or other factors keeping them in check. Usually that means out of control breeding, but maybe some species start getting much, much bigger and more dangerous if imported into exactly the wrong place.

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  2. Jumping earthworms. The new monsters destroying deep leaf litter ecosystems. Just because it doesn’t destroy humans doesn’t mean its not a monster.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You can have some easily human-sized monsters even in well settled areas, especially if there is anything they can be confused with– cougars are notorious for not being seen except by folks who get poo-pooed as imagining it until a body is found, and they neither hibernate nor are human-grade intelligent.

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    1. I have the interesting experience of living right on the border of a *very* large city park. It’s so large (and mountainous) that there *is* a mountain lion living there. And deer. And several coyote packs. Around a 30-minute drive from the down-town area of our city… Why yes, the small dogs/cats don’t last long in the neighborhood. The large ones do just fine…

      Speaking of coyote packs… If you’re looking for the American South-West version of were-wolves… use those instead of wolves for the were-animal. They’re native to the area and anyone who lives there will ignore the yipping sound they make as it’s common enough no one will think anything of it. Yes, even in cities. Coyotes can live in cities just fine so long as there’s some kind of park and/or empty lot with dense bushes in the area… And if the city is liberal enough, they’ll be all but impossible to permanently get rid of due to the environmentalists…


      The idea of were-creatures *as* the environmentalists… would honestly fit *really well*… hum…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The idea of were-creatures *as* the environmentalists… would honestly fit *really well*… hum…

        Oh, wow, yes, it would.

        The far end, totally crazy, impossibly high standards of evidence before you can say “this is a problem” would totally work.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. I understand that this was basically the world building in the World of Darkness.

        Werewolves were the environmentalists.

        Vampires were running the big city criminal conspiracies.

        Whole setting could be understood as being remarkably based.

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  4. X-Files used to have wonderful monsters in the modern world. I wished they hadn’t descended to space aliens and conspiracy theory.

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  5. The best places for monsters to spawn from? Deep sea and the Amazon. Places that to this day aren’t fully explored. Or they might be hibernating in caves deep underground, in volcanic areas. If you want something really interesting, Australia has some caves that are full of subfossils, Thylacine, Thylacoleo, and other marsupial megafauna. There’s some belief that the Thylacine did survive past 1930s in the wild, and was officially declared extinct in 1982, as with a crypid, with the reasoning being the lack of camera traps. Some of the creatures described in the Aborigines Dreamtime stories and cave paintings have been found as fossils in the limestone caves…

    There’s also some caves, fairly recently discovered ones, that are huge. One of them even has it’s own weather system…

    Maybe a sinkhole opened up, and the monster woke up because of it? If it was hibernating, or if the sinkhole leads to a huge underground cavern, that has it’s own ecosystem. A world beneath.

    There was a Pokemon episode, first season, where a bit of dynamite opened up a cave that fossil pokemon inhabited, including an Aerodactyl, that then proceeded to rampage. It was an entire population that never died out. Just quietly lived below the surface world. Or they were sleeping, one of the two.

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    1. That recent find of a moth/butterfly from the Philippines that had been thought extinct.

      They found eggs and larvae in some guy’s jar of Filipino seeds, which he had brought in his luggage. Got stopped by Customs, TSA, and Department of Agriculture.

      They let the eggs hatch and the larvae grow, just long enough to find out what they were, and then killed them with steam.

      At which point it turned out that they had killed an endangered species — and released a press release on how proud they were of it!

      I mean, I guess the moral of the story was that the moth wasn’t actually endangered, but….

      Yeah, everything probably comes through an airport, if you wait long enough.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is reminding me of the Dinotopia series and what I keep thinking whenever I read it;

    That if that world and the modern world ever really met it would be a total clusterf*, in both directions.

    Because not all those Dino’s had sapience or a desire to get along with other’s.

    And no way wouldn’t someone try to get their hands on their very own ‘pet’ dinosaur.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. They are also older than shellfish. That is why there is no limestone in the Appalachians.

    Meanwhile, if you go north along them, you will hit the Adirondacks.

    Those were rising to tower like the Himalayas while multi-cellular life first arose.

    Liked by 1 person

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