Worldbuilding: Cutting Down to the Bone

In your world, what eats dragon bones?

This is a serious question. One of the gruesome but fascinating discoveries about undersea life in recent years has been the question of, what exactly happens to whale carcasses? Sure, sharks and other opportunistic surface life get their share, but the remnants of the carcasses do, eventually, sink. All the way down.

The deep ocean is notoriously dark, cold, and poor in food sources. It’s like a desert; if a desert were under enough water pressure to squish you like a bony grape. Creatures at depth tend to be slow-moving, fragile, and able to subsist on not much at all for long periods of time.

And then, like manna out of the far-above sky, down falls Huge Amounts of Food. Marine biologists even coined a term for it; “whalefall”. Bones, carcass bits, everything – all of it is potential food to the abyss.

Somehow, critters find it. Hagfish, of course, scavenging away, but also crabs, odder fish, squids and relatives; just about anything alive finds its way to the booty eventually. A whalefall can last a long time, with a whole colony of organisms sprouting up around it, just as they do around black smokers with their sulfur-eating archaea food source. Even the spermaceti and other hard-to-crack fats will get eaten, by bacteria that in surface waters are often found nibbling oil spills.

So apply this to fantastic worlds, whether fantasy or SF. If you have natural megafauna (for varying degrees of natural), eventually a specimen will die, and then there will be creatures adapted to eat it. I’d think this would be particularly critical when you deal with super-tough beasties like leviathans and dragons. Something has to be able to get through the skin, even if they do it by waiting until an eye or some other orifice decays enough to let them in. Something has to be able to decay that skin. Something has to be able to break down ultra-strong bones, nervous systems of wires or magic, the Ultimate Acid stomach.

That could be a very scary Something, if you think about it.

And some character in your world should think about it. Big critters are often dangerous to humans, through sheer mass if nothing else, and you’d want to investigate any tool at hand to take them down. Especially if your world has mind-control, or anything that might madden an otherwise normal creature into an unstoppable juggernaut bent on sating its cravings for human flesh.

…Or, for your average red dragon, Tuesday.

This would be of particular interest to necromancers, for one thing. What good are undead hordes if there’s something out there that chews up bones like toothpicks?

…Huh. Maybe the ultimate anti-necromancer weapons would be trained wolverines?

Give your adventurers plenty of stuff to kill. But think about what happens after!


18 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Cutting Down to the Bone

  1. or, it could be used as a tool for necromancers-
    in ” The Wondering Inn”, the necromancer, pisces likes to work with bone, but dislike s zombies and has no interest in ghosts, so he leaves dead bodies deliberately where scavangers can strinp the flesh, so he will have only bone left to work with.

    leave a dead bear carcass where crabs of the nonmonstrous veriety can get to it, and you can return later to make unded skeletal bear minion!

    he also later mentioned, that scavangers are an issue to permenant undead that are weak! unless your skeleton is strong or rediates magic that has animals keep away, a wild dog or wolf will see it as a source for a nice, chewy bone, unless you constanly keep watch to shoo it.

    its probably a trade secret most necromancers are embarrased to talk about to outsiders-that they have spells designed specifically to keep scavangers away from their precious undead!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Necromancers? D&D is notorious for the Stuff used magically, so that adventurers would be butchers. Perhaps the god of magic so decrees to avoid all the litter.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. A friend of mine always wanted to get to a island off the Maine Coast for the Zombie apocalypse. The zombies would march into the sea and be eaten by the lobsters. Lobsters scavenge everything. Also the ocean currents would disperse the zombie army before it reached land.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. And the dragon slayer, having cleverly trapped and killed the dragon, now has to face the scavengers unprepared…

    Putting more magical assumptions on it.
    What happens to the creature that eat it?
    A lot of stories assign all sorts of magical benefits to dragon bits.

    The dragon is dead!
    The commoners rejoice.
    The forest is filled with super monsters empowered by eating a dragon!
    Things get worse.

    It would be funny if instead of being a desirable treasure, dragon bodies turned out to be the magical equivalent of a superfund site.

    “Why are we destroying this dragon? Isn’t it valuable? I’ve heard of all sorts of things that can be made from it…”
    “Yeah, people used to think that. Then they started dying of cancer. Turns out dragons are just stupidly toxic.”

    Liked by 4 people

  3. :flails hands around:

    I got it!
    This is where those giant, nasty rats come from!

    Look, IRL, what eats a lot of bones in the forest is rodents. Thye need to gnaw to keep their teeth short enough to not die.

    Well… you gnaw on Literal Symbol of Magic’s bones…

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Yep.

        And incidentally justifying every “kill ten rats” video game quest.

        Oooh, the giant bugs, too… that avoids the entire problem of “look, they flat out DON’T WORK for an existing population!”

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Omg this is one of the things that bothers me so much in the Dragon Riders of Pern series. When their riders die they suicide by going between. Which means that literally tons of mass vanish from the world every time a dragon dies. I know planets are huge but still… The only time the series talks about the problem of the giant corpses that should be left behind is in the Morreta’s Ride book about a plague.

    On another topic I found that dnd source book you recommended and it’s just awesome, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t remember anything about that in the books. Also that wouldn’t make any sense with “timing” it. I always thought of it like a void between points in the world but considering that dragons and riders run out of air but don’t end up with decompression injuries I don’t really think they’re traveling through space. It has been a few years since I read the books though so I might just be forgetting. (I don’t consider the books Todd McCaffery has written to be canon btw though.)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Nemorth, the Benden Queen that laid Ramoth’s egg, died on the hatching sands. There’s a small reference to it when Lessa Impressed Ramoth in Dragonflight. I think that there was a book, called Beyond Between. Not sure how canonical it is, and that Between might be Hyperspace.

        Tod’s books, are not canon. They break it. From what I’ve heard, Sky Dragon’s broke canon so hard, that I’ve refused to read it. Firelizard females laying a gold egg, believable. Watch-Wheres, believable, Wind-Blossom wasn’t as traditional as Kitti Ping. Tunnel snakes eating dragon eggs, believable, if they’re big enough. Green Dragons being fertile, no way. Kitti Ping engineered the Golds to be fertile and unable to flame after chewing firestone. Greens are infertile and able to produce fire after chewing firestone.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Dire wolves, or Borophaginae. Hyenas and Jaguars can also crunch bones. Along with Entelodonts, giant predatory or scavenging pigs from the last Ice Age. Even modern day pigs can eat bones…

    For a more frightening world, T.Rex! Or it could be smaller species of Wyverns if they’re similar to the T.Rex…

    Liked by 3 people

  6. And now I’m imagining a gaggle of specialist following the dragon slayer around like weird nomad camp-followers.

    “Oh, are you here to harvest the dragon’s corpse?”

    “Nah, that things toxic as h*, we’re here for what’s going to eat the corpse”

    With some continuing to follow the slayer while the rest settle down for the next few years to hunt everything that shows up to eat the body.

    The smell might be horrendous but the locals have to admit the upswing in the local economy is Very Appreciated.

    Liked by 3 people

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