Repost: Motivations Governing Cultural History

I’m going to gradually go through the best posts of the last six years.

Part of building a world is populating it. Where are the cities? Who are the leaders? What do they speak? What kind of music is playing down in the Market Quarter? Where can I get a good Vilani beer that tastes like old gym socks?

Part of the process of answering these questions is to give your world a history. The cities will have a different character if they were founded by the Sardau tribe across the mountains than if the were founded by the Tlatanga tribe down the river or the Ga Harama riding out of the Great Sand.

History is, itself, a story. The various cultures of a world are as much characters in that story as the heroes and villains in their ancient legends. This post will try to describe one way of building cultures as characters. We need to look at the old cliché of the method actor asking, “What’s my motivation?” I try to differentiate cultures by giving them fairly simple founding motivations in terms of the problems that a culture was created to address. This can explain the conflicts as that society grows and as its set of challenges change. It can also drive the life cycle of a society as those mechanisms intended to address an existing set of challenges becomes increasingly maladapted to new and different challenges. As a hopefully illuminating example of how this works I will use my own very unofficial idea for the Vilani Empire in the science fiction role playing game Traveller.

The Vilani were descended from humans transported to their world by ancient starfaring aliens called, imaginatively, Ancients, presumably as slaves, lab subjects or possibly pets. The planet Vland had life, but it was not biochemically compatible with Earth life. The biochemistry was close enough that they could find nourishment from properly treated local biomass, but it was different enough that local micro-critters couldn’t cope. I’m not sure just how reasonable theses assumptions are, but there are three points of interest that stick out for me.

  • These people have really weak immune systems that haven’t had to cope with significant attacks for many generations. Kind of like the native Americans with smallpox(and syphilis, and…) only more so. These guys haven’t met a bug that didn’t come out of their own gut in ages.
  • They’re also really dependent on a small elite group with specialized knowledge to process their food. Without those shugilii, they starve to death or probably die of poisoning.
  • These Ancients probably planted humans on other worlds(they did) and they may even have transplanted other organisms from Earth on suitable planets. Food plants would be a likely choice, especially since I’m going to assume that the Ancients were fairly compatible biochemically with Earth life(they can eat our food and drink our booze, mmm Amaretto).

So about five thousand years ago, when these guys got off their home planet and started looking around they found a world with Earth life on it, maybe even another clade of humans. What happens? Suddenly back home on Vland people are eating imported peaches and onions and potatoes and corn… and beer that wasn’t produced by fermenting old jock-straps in human waste materials. Yay! The dominant shugilii caste starts to lose its hold on society. Suddenly the alternative to kow-towing to your local chef isn’t starvation, it’s food that likely tastes better than the nutrient mulch that comes out of a shugilii’s cauldron.

This could have been a revolutionary time of innovation and liberalization, two traits not well known in Vilani of later times. Now, the shugilii, while their power is slipping, still have a lot of resources, this becomes important later.

Remember those weak immune systems? Well all of this close contact with the delicious products of an earthlike ecology just about inevitably leads to contact with unfamiliar microbiota. In the canon history, a series of deadly epidemics that ravaged the Vilani Empire after contact and war with Earth was called the Plagues of Duskir. I’m going to assume that this was named after a much earlier Plague of Duskir which precipitated the creation of the Vilani Empire.

By the time these ancient plagues were brought under control, the shugilii were firmly back in control. They blamed the misfortune which befell the Vilani on their libertine actions and their shameful innovation. The psychic trauma of these plagues must have been great as the Vilani remained hidebound and conservative millennia later. I won’t comment on how realistic that timescale might be. The shugilii, although hobbled by a limited understanding of germ-theory, also move to break contact between the Vilani people and all of those bugs on planets with earthlike ecologies, also incidentally(heh-heh) strengthening their hold on the Vilani food supply and thus their power.

So the Vilani Empire is founded with a medical motivation in mind(and shugilii power-politics, of course). The first priority is to quarantine and restrict access to worlds with earthlike biochemistries. The Vilani thus passed by many of the best, most human friendly garden worlds in favor of unpleasant, marginally habitable dumps for fear of disease. Humans found on other worlds would be even more worrisome. I suspect the empire would keep those other humans restrained to their own worlds or tightly defined ghettos in space. By force if necessary. Exploration would have been slow and tentative, but methodical in the early days. No one wants to find more humans out there, carrying awful diseases, but too strong to be forcibly quarantined. Later on, slow and tentative would start to dominate and exploration would become less methodical in a tottering, decadent Empire.

Their dealings with non-human aliens might be much less strained. Once the aliens have passed through a quarantine period and shown not to carry organisms harmful to the Vilani, they might even be admitted freely into Vilani society, depending on their cultural tendencies, of course. Officious, by-the-book Bwaps are everywhere, more creative, incautious or wild-minded aliens might be nearly as restricted as all of those minor humans.

Fear of a reprise of the earlier great plagues prevents the Vilani from the exposure to disease organisms that might make their immune systems more powerful. On the one hand, we know that they suffered under the onslaught of Terran diseases during and after the canonical Interstellar Wars. On the other hand, we also know that a few hundreds of years later, Vilani are common throughout the Third Imperium, but don’t seem to have any particular tendency to fall dead with blood coming out of their eyes on meeting humans from Earth. When the quarantine structures are broken down due to the dual perils of the decay of Imperial authority and hostile action by the enemy Terran Confederation, disease ravages the Empire. Even with reasonable contact with other human races, the variety of disease organisms from the homeworld of the human race would have had unpleasant repercussions but probably less devastating than what they suffered.

Shugilii efforts to restrict innovation as pretty much of a horribly-punished sin, results in an Empire poorly prepared to cope in the face of an active and technologically-advancing enemy.

Going back to that fear of disease, the Vilani response to contact with other humans would lead inevitably to the conflict. The Vilani contacting Earth would be happier talking with Ridley Scott’s Alien over a conference table than representatives from Earth, and it would show. The people of Earth would be less than happy at being cordoned off like lepers in some little corner of space. Other humans weren’t any happier, but contact with Earth was a perfect storm: the Empire was in a state of decay; Earth had been given a lot of time to grow, unfettered by Imperial authority; the humans of post-industrial Earth were just a bit more innovative and advanced than previous humans had been at the time of contact. In combination, this time, the humans could resist quarantine and did.

So the end of the Vilani Empire is predicated by its beginning as much as any classical tragedy.

This same pattern of traumatic problem, particular set of solutions, and failure of that solution set to be adaptable to later problems leading to dissolution, could be applied to the creation of other societies as well. For instance, the Ramshackle Empire in Traveller was predicated on maintaining the gains from the Interstellar Wars and propping up the rotting cadaver of the Vilani Empire, and the Third Imperium was simply created to maintain interstellar trade and stave off a new Long Night.

Basically, try to isolate the motivating trauma, determine the enduring mechanisms created to handle the trauma, then come up with a new set of problems and remove some of the old ones to see how the mechanisms twist, deform and break to adapt and the ways in which those mechanisms fail to adapt.

This isn’t a philosophy of real life, though it does inform my own political viewpoint(Aaah! Politics! Run!), but it is simply intended as one tool in a box of tools for the creation of interesting cultures.

Thank you for your attention,

The Astrographer

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Clouds and more Voronoi

Fig.1 Balls textured with the six textures shown here. (top row l to r): genesis1, genesis, genesis0. {bottom row l to r): genesis 2, genesis 3a, genesis 3b.

Fig.1 Balls textured with the six textures shown here. (top row l to r): genesis1, genesis, genesis0.
{bottom row l to r): genesis 2, genesis 3a, genesis 3b. With the exception of the upper-left cannonball, all of these would benefit from separate surface(bumpmapped), cloud and atmosphere globes.

So I’ve experimented a bit more with planetGenesis. This time, my main focus has been on another bugaboo of mine after craters: cloud cover. I am very much liking the swirly weather-like effects I have attained so far. Not to say any of this is perfect. As with the cratering experiments, all of this can definitely be considered work-in-progress. Any constructive criticism or recommendations are altogether very welcome! I also experimented around a bit with more Voronoi-based textures.

Ordinary fBm or heterogeneous fractals, usually based on a Perlin noise, are usually sufficient for clouds as seen from the ground or reasonably low altitudes. From orbit or beyond, they tend to look like… fBm or some other fractal noise! I’ve messed with Turbulence, Warp, Disturb and other domain-deforming nodes, but found them difficult to control.

An image of the graph used to generate the noises described today. There are three separate trees and one minor(but significant) modification to one of the trees.

Fig.2 An image of the graph used to generate most of the noises described today(clouds.pG). There are three separate trees and one minor(but significant) modification to one of the trees.

So, I’ve packed up all the files you’ll need to follow along in this zip file. Because planetGenesis lacks a proper system for adding arbitrary labels to graphs(I’m working on giving No Operation nodes user-assigned labels, but so far I’m doing something wrong…). In the absence of that(and probably marginally clearer than my No Op labels), I’m putting up an image of the graph with labels added in Photoshop.

The red line, running from the output of the Musgrave HeteroTerrain on the left to the input of the Terrain node is the source of “genesis clouds”. You’ll note that it is also possible to connect to the output of the Multiply node, but I didn’t think that was an improvement. The green line from the output of the Musgrave Multifractallize node to the Terrain node is associated with “genesis0 clouds” and “genesis 2 clouds”. The difference is that the genesis 2 clouds pass through the Compliment(“1-x”) node before passing into the Disturb node.

The actually connected tree,”genesis 1″(between the middle Musgrave HeteroTerrain

Fig.3 Genesis 1: An appealing, if time-expensive, fractal noise.

Fig.3 Genesis 1: An appealing, if time-expensive, fractal noise. Probably good for a rock texture or coarse, grainy metal.

node and the Terrain node), is really the least important. It is simply an experiment with combining different neighborhoods of the same Voronoi together in a combined additive-multiplicative manner(F9 * F8) + (F5 * F4) with what planetGenesis calls a QuasiEuclidean distance metric. As you can see in the genesis 1 image, It makes an appealing fractal noise, but, although it doesn’t seem all that slow at 1024×512 resolution, with all those Voronoi calculations I doubt it will scale well to higher resolutions. But YMMV.

I found the genesis clouds tree to be the best compromise between usefulness and speed.

Genesis clouds. A low-frequency noise modified by a higher-frequency noise Turbulence and passed into Musgrave HeteroTerrain.

Fig. 4 Genesis clouds. A low-frequency noise modified by a higher-frequency noise Turbulence and passed into Musgrave HeteroTerrain.

As you can see, I’ve experimented with some variations on this. Multiplying the original noise in with the HeteroTerrain node really didn’t make a meaningful difference. And taking directly off of the Turbulence node through the No Op node has proven very unsatisfactory. I think I’m running into a bug, but I can’t run it down… This one makes a very nice swirly atmosphere. Though it could benefit from something to make the swirls more realistically latitude-dependent, it is beginning to loog plausible and it is quite fast. It’s all Perlin Simplex Noise all the way down and not a terribly complicated tree, so I expect it will scale pretty nicely to higher resolutions.

I added in the resulting noise to Photoshop as a layer as-is. I then used a copy of the grayscale noise as a mask for… an okay effect. After massaging the mask a little with a

Fig.5 Genesis 0 clouds. A somewhat slow combination of Perlin noise Disturbed by a Worley Cell Basis fed through an abs function.

Fig.5 Genesis 0 clouds. A somewhat slow combination of Perlin noise Disturbed by a Worley Cell Basis fed through an abs function.

Threshold adjustment and applying a Gaussian Blur filter, I think it got pretty attractive. I added a simple LunarCell planet surface to get an idea how it would look “in situ”.

The next texture,”genesis 0 clouds,” is very slow, even at a mere 1024×512 resolution, and, while attractive, probably not worth so many octaves applied to a Voronoi, so I’m not sure how terribly useful it is. For completeness, I created a surface map as with the previous noise as seen above. I actually like this more, with massaging, than the genesis clouds, but it is so very slooow.

Fig.6 Genesis 2 clouds. Modified by the Complement node, this makes nice puffy clouds. If this weren't so GODAWFUL SLOW, this would be good in combination with G1.

Fig.6 Genesis 2 clouds. Modified by the Complement node, this makes nice puffy clouds. If these weren’t so GODAWFUL SLOW, this would be good in combination with G0.

Next, I simply add in a Complement node between that last Adjust node and the lhs input to the Disturb node.

Looking at it, I think it might pay to try this with a cheaper Perlin basis and fewer preliminary octaves.

I yanked out the wiring for the other noises and replaced the

Fig.n Genesis 3a:

Fig.7 Genesis 3a: Fast version of G0.

Worley Cell Basis in the genesis 0 and genesis 2 clouds. I replaced that with a simple 1 octave clamped Perlin Simplex. I also modify the settings of the last Adjustments

node such that the output has a range of about (0…1).

I’m going to start with the first variant(no Complement). Call it “genesis 3a”. It runs pretty darn quick. Let’s see how it looks. Not terrible…

Fig. 8 Genesis 3b: A faster version of the G2 puffy cloud generator.

Fig. 8 Genesis 3b: A faster version of the G2 puffy cloud generator.

Now to click that Complement in there… Call it”genesis 3b”. Honestly, I still prefer the Voronoi versions, but these are a good stand in for when there’s a time pinch. Or when, you know, you want a reasonably high resolution texture in less time than it takes to sleep off a bad night at the bar…

That’s all for today. Thank you for watching, folks!
The Astrographer

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The Sharif Won’t Like It

Rock the Casbah!

Rock the Casbah!

I decided to mess about a bit more with Voronoi textures. Mostly, I’ve been focusing on

Buildings on top of buildings…

Buildings on top of buildings…

naturalistic forms, but I did take a look at mechanical or architectural forms with Manhattan and Chebyshev(or Chessboard, as they’re labeled in planetGenesis) distance metrics. Putting a Tileable Worley through a very slightly ramped Range node and a Fractalize function resulted in an interestingly artificial yet chaotic texture that reminded me of a map I once saw of the Casbah district in, I believe, Algiers. Chaotic and mazelike with weird, narrow, dark, wandering alleyways that don’t lead to where you’re going, but(at least in some kind of fantasy game or story) provide lots of opportunities to find adventure or a knife in a dark alley. Or both!

Actually, my first thought upon seeing that was of a wall covered in bas relief alien genesis_wallhieroglyphics, but when I actually rendered it, it looked very much like some dry medieval overgrown city suitable for A Thousand an One Nights. I loaded the image up in Photoshop, converted to 8-bit RGB and placed a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer with a gradient in browns that came with the software.

The image proved very complicated for a Blender modifier. To make it work and not look awful, I had to max out a Subdivision modifier to 6 levels, then add a couple more in a separate modifier. It’s really, really bloody fortunate that I was using a Blender Internal render, because I’m pretty

Not terribly different from the first picture. Just a bit more rounded…

Not terribly different from the first picture. Just a bit less well rounded…

sure I would have died, skeletonized and gotten buried in the dust of ages before completing a Cycles render on my computer. I’m pretty sure Cycles doesn’t like my graphics card and does everything on the CPU! The first time I rendered it, I used a vertical plane to simulate a wall a’la Blood Sands of Lh’O’won, but as soon as I saw it, I knew it was architecture and immediately re-rendered it as a flat horizontal plane. To simplify things, and also so that I didn’t end up with a round plane, I used a Simple subdivision surface rather than a nicely smoothed Catmull-Clark. I wasn’t paying close attention, so I added the last couple of subdivisions with the default Catmull-Clark smoothing. The effect, as shown in the picture at the top of the page, was much smoother and cleaner than the purely Simple subdivision, and the plane remained square as long as the Simple subd was at the top of the modifier stack. After a bit of experimentation, varying the layers of Simple vs. Catmull-Clark subdivisions, I felt I had a pretty good look.

I hope you enjoyed this little aside,
The Astrographer

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More Noise Generation

A couple of Eric Gehlin planets rendered in Bryce. That lower left planet is a good example of the effect I'd like to replicate.

A couple of Eric Gehlin planets rendered in Bryce. That lower left planet is a good example of the effect I’d like to replicate.

So after a bit of research trying to figure out how to do some things with OSL on Blender, I figured out a few things which may prove to be of use with some other apps. As much as I’d like everybody to read my entire blog, I know some of my readers probably find it a bit long and want to get the goodies. So I’ll post the goodies right here at the start. After playing with the toys a bit, maybe the rest of the post might even make more sense…

Crackle noise: A nice Voronoi F2-F1 noise.

Cratered planet 1: A first effort at using Voronoi to create craters.

Cratered planet 2: Further along with the effort. Use of fractals to increase size variation.

Cratered planet 3: Further along.

Cratered planet 4: Something completely different. Not so far along…

These all require my latest version of planetGenesis3 to run.

A preview image of the Crackle effect.

A preview image of the Crackle effect.

First, I’ve figured out how to make an effect that looks like Blender’s Crackle noise. It turns out to be something also called Voronoi F2-F1 noise, which means that it takes the distance to the nearest randomly placed point in the Voronoi noise space(F1) and subtracts it from the distance to the second nearest point in the Voronoi noise space.

To pull this off, start by right-clicking some blank space and selecting Add Noise>Worley>Biased Worley. Set the Neighbor field on that node to 2 and click Apply. Now, right-click on the node and select Copy. Set the Neighbor field on the new Node to 1 and click Apply. Now right-click on the background again and select Add Combiner>Subtract. Shift click and hold on the bottom “output” socket on the Biased Worley node with Neighbors set to 2. Drag to the top left “input” socket on the Subtract node you just made. Repeat, dragging from the output socket of the Biased Worley node with Neighbors set to 1 to the Subtract node’s right input socket.

If you now right click on the Subtract node and select Preview, you’ll get a 3d view of a jagged, angular landscape. that is a Voronoi F2-F1 Crackle texture being used as a heightfield. Congratulations! You can now click drag from the bottom socket of the Subtract node to the top and only socket on the Terrain node which is the one node on the canvas when PlanetGenesis opened. Right click on the Terrain node, set your Properties as you like. Do you want your texture to be on a spherical planet or a flat Landscape. You can click settings to set the Width and Depth of your texture. For a PNG, this will be the width and height resolution in pixels. For a Planet PNG, you can set the circumference, which will be the width of the resulting equirectangular image in pixels resolution. The height of the image will be half that… Next browse to set a location for the file generated. Next, right click on the Terrain node, select Run, and the program will generate a texture image in the location you selected. Note that the preview imagery is ony a 64×64 sample, so your texture will be much higher frequency. Here is the pG file to look at.

This next one turned into a bit more of a thing. While trying to recover my copy of Bryce after a crash, I came across a set of planet objects created by Eric A. Gehlin on ShareCG including this one. They’re striking, but I’m kind of moving away from Bryce of late.

Examining Mr. Gehlin’s texturing, I noticed that the craters were placed using a basis

DY-90 over a cratered planet.

DY-90 over a cratered planet.

noise called “Spots”. My original intention was to implement this all in Blender Cycles, but doing the previous Crackle effect required a Voronoi noise implemented in OSL, which is still quite slow on Blender. I have high hopes for OSL shaders in the future, once the developers get around to optimizing, but for now OSL is, not quite useless, but worth avoiding if possible. Anyway, a bit of googling showed that a random Spot shader could be implemented by thresholding a straight Voronoi noise. Actually, my idea for the Crackle network above was derived from this research.

I figured if I could create a Spot by setting all points with a Voronoi noise lower than some threshold to white, then I could create a ring by using the Range function that I had created for planetGenesis. Those rings worked perfectly well. To the point that I went a little overboard building up a lunar landscape.

A nice but heavily massaged cratered planet rendered in Blender 2.78a.

A nice but heavily massaged cratered planet rendered in Blender 2.78a.

I started with a Biased Worley noise as the basis for the craters. I set the Neighbor to 1 and the Metric to Euclidean. The other settings will mostly govern the size and number of craters produced. This will produce a grid of distances to randomly distributed points, so with neighbor set to 1, the distances will produce concentric circles. Next I set up a Range node. Set the Value below range to something like -1.0, the Value within range to something like 1.0 and the Value above range to something like 0.0. The idea is that the rim of the crater is raised and the area within the crater is somewhat below the level of the surrounding land. There will be a lot of adjustments down the line, so the exact numbers are not terribly important. I’ve experimented with the Craterize node, but its hard to adjust the size of the craters produced relative to the distance between them. The only available adjustment is the size of the input fractal which directly effects both distance between craters and the size of the craters. The f(x) node shows a lot of promise for spacing and shaping craters, but the adjustments are incredibly niggling. It will be worthy of further study. I added a Modified Multifractal Noise node, ran it through a (0,1) Rough Scale node and used a connected that output and the output of the Range together through a Multiply Combiner node. This is to give the craters a bit of individual shape. In order to make the craters a bit less degraded, I added the output from the Range node back in to the output from the Multiply node through an Add node.

I add another Modified Multifractal noise node. I set the octaves, so it is just outputting the raw noise basis function. I run this into a Musgrave Hetero Fractallize function node. This creates a simple underlying terrain. Compare the Approximate Range of the Musgrave Heteroterrain node to the crater Add node by hovering the mouse over each of the nodes in turn. Now add an Offset or Adjustments node to the craters’ Add node. Set the Scale so that the underlying terrain does not overwhelm the craters, but the terrain remains interesting. I set the Scale to 25 in the example graph which may have been a bit too much. Adjust to taste.

I want to create some central ridges for some of the larger craters so I connect another Range node back to the original crater-generating Biased Worley noise node. I set the Upper End to something very low in order to make small raised points. I set the Value within range and the Value below range to the same value. Something high enough to be visible in some craters. It might even pay to set the Value below range even higher to make the central ridges pointier and more pronounced. Use an Add Combiner node to connect the craters and terrain to this new central ridges subtree.

In later iterations of the development process, I used a lower frequency Worley noise and a Musgrave Hybrid Fractallize node to add more interest to the craters. The effect was visually spectacular, but it lost some fidelity in simulating accurate elevations of a cratered world. These experiments are ongoing, including the creation of a Special Fractalize function node that didn’t work quite the way I’d hoped. We may come to this later after much twiddling and coding…

The Cratered planet 4 graph represents a departure in the method. Rather than trying to form rings with the Range node, who’s ramp seems to be broken on the Outside of range side, I decided to make big diffuse lumps which are increased in number and variety by a Fractallize node and subtract out similarly-sized but less diffuse lumps which are also enhanced with a Fractallize node with the same settings. The effect is visually effective and appears to produce a fairly convincing heightfield. We may come back to this as well.

I also have some work I’ve done trying to replicate the Terragen Alpine fractal node with pG and Blender and I’m working to improve the fractals in pG to produce strictly scaled outputs, which should aid immensely in choosing settings. I’ll save all of this for one or more future posts as this one has gotten very long and verbose.

So, for now, thank you for your attention and I hope it was at least as enjoyable and helpful to my readers as it was to me.

The Astrographer

Not too much of the terrain, but a spaceship picture that rather reminds me of a Vincent DiFate picture.

Not too much of the terrain, but a spaceship picture that rather reminds me of a Vincent DiFate picture.

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Terrain Generation Research

Today’s post will just be a quick collection of links to interesting articles on generating and creating synthetic terrains. My goal is to create interesting and reasonably plausible designed landscapes.

Terrainosaurus: Realistic Terrain Synthesis Using Genetic Algorithms – Genetic synthesis of a terrain based on user-entered constraints and DEM heightfield patches. Seems to be based more on assigning qualitative regions than a ridges and valleys approach.

Interactive GPU-based Procedural Heightfield Brushes – The most basic operations seem to be possible to approximate by painting onto alpha maps of layers generated using appropriate(preferably fairly homogeneous) procedural noise functions. I’d like to try adapting the erosive noise algorithm to planetGenesis(I’d recommend compiling from source. The latest available release is ancient). The one thing I don’t think I can approximate with a noise layer is the directional noise, stretched in a direction based on the direction of the stroke. I’d really like to see that implemented!

River and Coastal Action in Automatic Terrain Generation – There’s quite a lot here. First of all, it has an interesting user-guided system for placing geological features to create a terrain. These features are mountain ranges, valleys, canyons, buttes, cliffs and what it calls periodic hills. Lakes are generated automatically, based on basins in the resulting heightfield. Once the initial terrain is generated, it uses a very simplified model to place precipitation which guides the placement of river seeds. From these, it can generate rivers with varying width, meanders in flatter areas and a delta at the mouth. On the sea coast, this system can generate plausible beaches and headland cliffs. Overall pretty nice, although the terrains are detailed using the somewhat artifacty midpoint subdivision algorithm.

Modeling of ecosystems as a data source for real-time terrain rendering – An ecotope model for placing vegetation. Depending on the needed level of detail, this can do anything from shading for aerial or satellite photography to guiding actual placement of trees, bushes and ground cover shading on closer pictures. It also looks like it could be adapted to creating fairly simple global habitat modeling.

Modeling Landscapes With Ridges and Rivers: A Bottom-up Approach – The described model seems to be a fully automated system for generating a random terrain, but it looks like the ridges-and-valleys approach could be adapted to generate a terrain based on user-generated river and ridge networks. Actually, it looks like a skeleton DEM can be used to guide the process…

Fast, Realistic Terrain Synthesis – Promising. I haven’t gotten a real good look at it, but it looks like a detailed survey of automated patch-based terrain generation.

I hope this will prove useful or at least interesting. Thank you for your attention,
The Astrographer

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Interlude: tectonics.js

The other day while testing tectonics.js in the background, I found a result I rather liked. I was intending to use tectonics.js to create the basic continental arrangement for my habitable planet orbiting 40 Eridani as part of an incredibly long project I’m working on. I found out in the process that the latest version of tectonics.js no longer works on my computer.

Apple stopped coming out with updates for Safari compatible with my computer at least one age ago, so apparently some of the newer features of javascript aren’t implemented. I have a fairly recent version of Firefox, but it hates my GPU. Chrome never ran tectonics.js on my computer, so that was right out. Thus, I had to dig through the git registry for rtectonics.js that worked on my computer and had the Texture projection feature. Took awhile, but I found a version that worked fine. To test the quality of its rendering, I set it on a very slow increment rate(theoretically about 0.005 MYr/sec). The slower the render speed, usually, the better the look of the render. I think I may have reached a point of diminishing returns:/.

The result I found, when I checked it in the morning was rather interesting. I don’t know if I will use it for the 40 Eridani project, but I am keeping it for later use.

The Satellite View shader of tectonics.js gives a good idea of the rough biome of regions. It's sensitive to temperature, precipitation and altitude.

The Satellite View shader of tectonics.js gives a good idea of the rough biome of regions. It’s sensitive to temperature, precipitation and altitude.

I did think I would show it off, here, though. I can go show the images I have generated, and go over the features that appealed to me particularly.

The first thing that I noticed about this map was that it vaguely reminded me of the map of Tschai from the Planet of Adventure books by Jack Vance.

In retrospect, the similarity was only very vague.

In retrospect, the similarity was only very vague.

You have to squint really hard to see the similarity. It also probably wouldn’t hurt to have a nut or two loose in your brain case like me!

Kotan is a bit soft pedaled. Kislovan and Haulk are a bit hulking. Charchan is kind of there(…). That island in the Draschade Ocean seems to have wandered a bit eastward, or maybe Vord fell to the south.

Okay. It’s not that close a resemblance, but it’s about as good as you could hope to come up at random.

The image marked up with approximations of features from Tschai. Some are more fanciful than others…

The image marked up with approximations of features from Tschai. Some are more fanciful than others…

Anyway, with a similar exercise of the imagination, you could see bits of Earth in this map as well. This is a bit less literal than my effort with Tschai, although squinting and loose fasteners are similarly useful.

That island in the south east quadrant brings New Zealand to my mind. Isolated, temperate and perhaps a touch exotic. The temperate arc in the north east quarter looks like it could have an interesting Europe-like feel to it. Along the coast you go from the edge of a desert to something vaguely like Iberia. Further up the arch, you pass through regions similar to

If you thought Tschai was forced, take a gander at this attempt to place bits of an Earth map on the image.

If you thought Tschai was forced, take a gander at this attempt to place bits of an Earth map on the image.

France and perhaps Germany. Across a small gulf, you find Scandinavia or maybe a more continental Britain. Inland, to the north and west, you segue into possible steppelands, like Russia. If you head south to the upside-down tee-shaped peninsula, you find desert and tropical jungles like a diminutive Africa of sorts. This arrangement, with its pocket-sized tropical regions makes me think even more strongly of the World of Greyhawk. As you can see, the more specific we get, the more forced the comparisons become. This is all for the good. If we wanted to play on Earth, there are plenty of very good maps of that planet.

I would also want to add further points of oddness to the world as I detailed it. Strange flora and fauna. Unearthly environments. Earth itself has plenty of those, why shouldn’t this world?

Anyway, I thought this might be an interesting exercise in trying to visualize a world by looking at a fairly random map. “Fairly” random, because this is based on an attempt to model the tectonic processes that might be found in a real planet similar to Earth.

For added enjoyment. Hopefully. I’ve added some additional generated maps.

This is the "Bedrock" shader. For purposes of visualizing elevations, I think it gives a better feel for the variation in lower and flatter areas. Sadly, I wasn't able to save an elevation map before Safari crashed on me. My computer makes me sad… LOL

This is the “Bedrock” shader. For purposes of visualizing elevations, I think it gives a better feel for the variation in lower and flatter areas. Sadly, I wasn’t able to save an elevation map before Safari crashed on me. My computer makes me sad… LOL

This is the vegetation shader. It also gives a good idea of the ratio of evaporation to precipitation. Because insolation is an altogether positive effect in the algorithm used to generate this, that breaks down in the upper latitudes. One can figure on more snowfall in the upper reaches…

This is the vegetation shader. It also gives a good idea of the ratio of evaporation to precipitation. Because insolation is an altogether positive effect in the algorithm used to generate this, that breaks down in the upper latitudes. One can figure on more snowfall in the upper reaches…

Comments and suggestions are always welcome. Criticisms might be appreciated…

Thank you for your attention.
The Astrographer

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First Contact between humans and the Rax occurred at a planet orbiting one of the stars of 40 Eridani. This planet would later become a mixed Rax/human colony world. The Rax were the first sapient alien species contacted who were roughly on par with human technology.

For the same size, mass and power requirement, Rax hyperdrives were slightly slower at the time than their human equivalent. Sublight warp drives manufactured by the Rax were a bit faster than their human equivalents, all else being equal. Their material science was a bit superior, so their ships were generally either lighter or tougher than equivalent human craft. Due to the social psychology of the Rax, their ships tend to be small, often suitable to be run by a lone Rax or a small immediate family group.

Rax medical technology was also about on par with humans. At the time of contact, both humans and Rax could expect a healthy lifespan of about 200 years, well in excess of the natural longevity of either species. At the time of contact, Rax had better implanted nanomedichines than humans, but human autodocs were somewhat superior. For historical reasons, Rax are generally more comfortable with cerebrocybernetic implants. The Zombie Wars would serve to turn off humans to such things for decades.

The two species have shared technology and scientific research freely since they made contact, so human and Rax technology can be considered more or less identical at this point.

In appearance, a Rax is more than a little similar to a cross between a centaur and a gigantic scorpion. Rather than a stinger, the Rax’s tail ends in a large, strong claw, with a flattened gripping surface similar to pliers. A Rax can quite readily lift its own moderately encumbered body with the strength of its tail. This is frequently used along with the smaller gripping claws on its six feet to aid in climbing. They are not arboreal, but they are perfectly comfortable climbing into trees in pursuit of prey. This claw has limited capability as a fine manipulator, but is perfectly well suited to grabbing and holding heavy objects. The Rax uses six of its limbs purely as ambulatory legs. These are, as was mentioned earlier, tipped with gripping claws useful both for traction on the ground as well as for climbing. Two arms on the slightly reared up front part of the body are weaker than human arms, but the four-fingered hands are capable of finer manipulation.

Above the shoulders, on a long, very mobile neck, the Rax has a large head. At the front of the head are a beaked mouth below a pair of small, beady eyes, suited for close very fine observation not very far beyond the reach of the arms. These eyes do not have significant color discrimination. Above these eyes are a pair of very large eyes with very fine color discrimination over a fairly wide range of light frequencies from near infrared to just short of violet. These aren’t capable of highly detailed in-close vision but for distance vision they have only slightly less acuity than human vision. They are very good at picking out movement and small differences in color. Four, small, not particularly acute eyes ring the upper part of the head. Unlike the four eyes, on the front of the head, these eyes are not capable of binocular depth perception, but they provide full 360º visual coverage and are very sensitive to motion. These crown eyes do not have any discrimination of hues, but they are very sensitive in very low light levels and can see a range of frequencies from thermal infrared to just short of orange. Two sets of whiskers, coming out of the head to either side near the front set of eyes serve as very sensitive tactile sensors and give an acute, but non-directional sense of smell. Another two clusters of whiskers, at either corner of the beak, give a sense of taste and a more directional sense of smell.

Several attempts at depicting the appearance of a Rax. They have helped me to solid up my sense of what my scorpion-centaurs look like, but my artistic skills are really not up to the task. Hey! It was very courageous of me to show this in a public context.

Several attempts at depicting the appearance of a Rax. They have helped me to solid up my sense of what my scorpion-centaurs look like, but my artistic skills are really not up to the task. Hey! It was very courageous of me to show this in a public context! LOL

A representation of the Rax that my twelve-year-old son did on commission. He's a better artist than me, but it wasn't exactly what I was looking for either. To the degree I knew what I was looking for…

A representation of the Rax that my twelve-year-old son did on commission. He’s a better artist than me, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for either. To the degree I knew what I was looking for…

A little something from The upper body is far too human, the arms should end in functional hands, rather than claws, and the tail should end in a flattened gripping claw rather than a stinger, but the artistry is better than I can do, and I kind of like the overall look.

A little something from The upper body is far too human, the arms should end in functional hands, rather than claws, and the tail should end in a flattened gripping claw rather than a stinger, but the artistry is better than I can do, and I kind of like the overall look.

These are, all of them, very different pictures, but if you squint a little and use your imagination to triangulate off of all of these, you should get a decent idea of what a Rax would look like. Dear Dogs, I wish I was a better artist!

Now that I’ve made an attempt, through words and images, to depict the physical appearance of a Rax, let’s go on to a bit about their psychology and society.

Psychologically, the Rax evolved from a species of solitary hunters. Social behavior is a bit of a recent innovation in the evolution of the Rax, and they are generally somewhat uncomfortable with large crowds. Rax cities are, thus, generally small, spread out, and surrounded and intercalated with lots of dense greenspaces. Rax don’t have kitchens or restaurants as they don’t cook their food. When hungry, Rax living in urban areas will head out into the surrounding wild or the greenspaces and hunt down usually small prey. Like many predators, Rax can go for many days between eating meals. One of their social activities is the process of keeping the urban greenspaces properly stocked with a wide variety of small or medium prey ranging from squirrel-, rat- and dog-analogues, to a very small number of animals up to about the size of deer.

Rax have a high incidence of antisocial mental disabilities, such as sociopathy. This sometimes makes it difficult and uncomfortable for them to interact socially with others of their kind. For such generally antisocial beings, though, Rax are surprisingly xenophilic. Not really full-on xenophilia, but they do tend to be friendly towards other sapient races that they do not find edible. Among their own kind, they tend to interact distantly when necessary to get business done. They often find that gathering a small cadre of alien individuals to deal with their interactions with other Rax serves to greatly lubricate their social interactions. More than any other species in the UNSEO universe, Rax society has come to integrate other species into their own society, in the process making for a much happier, just and unstressful lifestyle. Even humans, who tend to be more out-and-out xenophilic, have not integrated aliens into their society nearly as much as the Rax have.

This is all I have, so far. As I develop the Rax more, I will post notes of those developments.

I hope this was edifying. Thank you for your attention,
The Astrographer

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Races of the UNSEO – Olyuylolly

The Olyuylolly are one of the more technologically-advanced races contacted by the UNSEO. Much of their technology is significantly more advanced than that of Earth.

Physical Attributes and Appearance

Olyuylolly are herbivorous grazers just slightly larger than humans, though not as tall, and have three heads and three legs. The rear leg is considerably longer, heavier and stronger than the other two. Each head has a strong four-segmented beak, usually hidden behind a set of sensitive, raspy lips, a single large eye, a trifurcated nostril, and a single directional ear.

The heads are used to pluck or bite off leaves and fruit from grass-like plants and sometimes thorny bushes. The false-mouth is not actually connected to the digestive system but simply holds food to carry it to the single mouth under the body, which does most of the grinding and moistening of the food before passing it on to three stomachs and a long and extensive set of intestines and out through a pair of orifices flanking the large hind leg, along with the efflux from the three kidneys.

Respiration is one way, driven by the more or less continuous action of strong peristaltic muscles(not sure if this is plausible. don’t want breathing to consume more energy than it provides). When an Olyuylolly exerts itself, it doesn’t breath harder, just faster. The continuous low hiss of their breathing gets louder and higher-pitched the more they exert themselves. Air goes in through the three nostrils, passes over a set of complex chemosensory tissues around the false-mouth and running down the neck. These highly innervated chemosensory structures give the Olyuylolly an excellent sense of taste and discriminatory smell. An important part of the herd life of Olyuylolly is governed by pheromones passing complex messages of dominance, danger, sexual readiness and the simple calming sense of being safe among one’s herd. Although, Olyuylolly are similar to the Vugoa in that pheromonal messages are an important part of their social life, Olyuylolly are much more consciously aware of the smell of those pheromones and have much more conscious control of their own pheromonal emissions. This ability to control pheromonal emissions varies somewhat from one Olyuylolly to the next, but that variance doesn’t correlate to any strong degree with social status.

Olyuylolly are completely incapable of holding their breath, although they can slow the flow of air at will. If an Olyuylolly is exerting itself, it will find it difficult or impossible to slow the flow, autonomic responses take over.

Olyuylolly speech does not involve their mouths. Their noses are involved, but only in so far as they supply the air needed to speak. Once air passes out of the one large lung, it is split through three syringes(plural of syrinx) into a complex labyrinth of resonating chambers and finally out through three sets of spiracles spaced about the body. Each syrinx feeds its own set of spiracles. There are seven spiracles under the body between the front legs, and a set of nine along the top edge of the body on either side between the hind leg and each of the front legs. Olyuylolly have a very wide vocal range, both in terms of frequency and articulation. Their hearing range is similarly broad and discriminatory. Coupled with the fact that Olyuylolly can speak in up to three simultaneous voices, their languages are all completely unpronounceable and largely unintelligible to humans. The Olyuylolly are capable of speaking any language among the worlds known to UNES humanity, except those which go beyond sound. Lacking the chromatophores, which are a vital element of Pfak language or radio-frequency electromagnetic abilities of the Traders, they need technological aid in speaking to some species, but among the more common species who rely on sound for the major part of their communication, they are perfectly capable of speaking any language they learn flawlessly and without accent. The immense intelligence of the Olyuylolly ensure that they can learn any language they have so far encountered.

The brain of an Olyuylolly is very large and as a result, they are very intelligent creatures, usually what humans would consider creative geniuses in some field and generally capable of handling many very complicated issues simultaneously. They are consummate linguists. Driven by a near constant game of one-upmanship among themselves, most Olyuylolly will know at least dozens of languages, and are capable of learning more very quickly. Especially after being embarrassed by an inability to understand a language spoken to them by another. In addition, Olyuylolly are constantly involved in games, mathematical puzzles and other competitive intellectual exercises. Most of them also consider themselves artists of some form or another(usually several). They’re usually, but not always, quite good.

The Olyuylolly are hermaphrodites. When mating, each mate produces one egg, which is inseminated by the other. Each mate will, thus, produce one child. The child regards the parent from which it issued as its mother and the other parent as its father. The father’s child who issued from the mating is considered a twin brother or just a twin. Other children from the same mother with the same father are considered sisters and  children from the same father mating with the mother are considered brothers. Children of the father who aren’t of the mother aren’t considered to be familial relations. A sister’s daughters would be considered nieces. There’s really no traditional sense of a sister’s sons or of a brother’s children as being related, although in some cultures a brother’s niece can be considered a sort of off-niece, but this would be a very informal relationship, with no familial authority. Within these rather altered concepts of gender, family and clan structures can be considered matriarchal and matrilineal.

The Olyuylolly lifespan is incredibly long. Whether this is a natural attribute or the result of life prolongation technology is completely unknown.

Culture and Psychology

The Olyuylolly historically had many separate cultures, presumably with different traditions, but since long before they reached space(a very long time ago, indeed) they have been unified into one all-encompassing culture. Although the old cultures have largely melted into the one over eons, it appears that the Olyuylolly have retained a great number of languages. Linguistic skill is usually a very important part of determining social status within Olyuylolly society. Not only do they retain a dizzying array of languages from their own history, they collect languages from other worlds and frequently create their own personal languages on-the-fly in the continual process of showing their greater abilities to others. Creating a new language is something of a balancing act, as they want it to be complex enough to stump a fair fraction of those around them(or at least delay their understanding), but not so complex that nobody manages to translate it. Frequently, they will create lessons to teach others their language if other Olyuylolly remain stumped. The eidetic memory of Olyuylolly ensures that once the language is learned, others will quickly be able to recognize the fluency of the speaker and understand any jokes or insults that previously have been spoken.

Olyuylolly culture is divided into family, clan, caste, and herd.

Family is the most informal, but also the most traditionally significant relationship among Olyuylolly. Family relations are almost strictly matriarchal and matrilineal and is largely dedicated to the rearing and education of the young. Senior family members, while strictly to be obeyed by children, have no real authority among adult members of the family. Among adults, family is largely considered to be a group of friends and allies, although sometimes enmities are retained from childhood.

Above the family in this hierarchy, lies the clan. Matings are frequently out-clan, thus reducing the significance of fathers and brothers still further. A clan is a formal and fairly permanent association between families. Individuals can change clans, usually to the father’s clan, but that’s a rare and momentous decision, not to be taken lightly.

Authority within the clan is determined democratically by an odd process of election by acclaim known as The Song. Elections are always unanimous, following an often very long period of singing, which is presumably some form of argument. Eventually, a particular melody begins to arise out of the cacophony, and driven perhaps by browbeating, exhaustion, peer-pressure and compelling arguments, becomes unanimous. The process appears very mysterious, even to those taking part, but it is universally stated that everybody is in complete whole-hearted agreement with the conclusion. Positions are held until dissent reaches a level such that The Song sets in again.

The usually more significant social structure in Olyuylolly culture is the caste, a sort of political/professional guild-like structure. Selection of caste is altogether voluntary and taken upon reaching adulthood. Every clan has members in every caste, and every caste has members in every clan.

Authority is determined by the same process of acclaim and election as with clans, only with the members of the caste taking part rather than members of a particular clan. Onset of The Song in either sector seems to destabilize authority, so frequently many castes and clans will go into it at about the same time.

The interplay between caste and clan is believed by the Olyuylolly to help unify the herd as a whole. Which brings us to the highest level of Olyuylolly culture, the herd. At one time, references to,”herd,” might have been seen to mean some structure analogous to nation-states on Earth, but today and for a very long time into the past,”herd,” or,”Herd,” is essentially synonymous with the Olyuylolly species taken as a whole. While caste and clan are considered parallel within Olyuylolly culture, Herd is above all else. Far above.

There is a saying that lying is the Olyuylolly specialty. This is not entirely true. In fact, Olyuylolly rarely lie outright if they can possibly avoid it. Instead, the true Olyuylolly specialty is subtlety and obfuscation of his plans, motivations and knowledge. For an Olyuylolly to lie would be unsubtle. If an Olyuylolly makes a declarative statement every fact he states will very likely be true, however they will be slanted in such a way as to spin the listener towards the speaker’s preferred version of reality and false conclusions about unstated facts. The twin goals of Olyuylolly obfuscation are safety of the herd and utter unpredictability. An Olyuylolly will only tell an outright lie if it believes that the safety of the herd depends on its doing so.

The most important part of the truth will always lie between an Olyuylolly’s words.

Olyuylolly are strongly pacifistic. They will go to great lengths to avoid using violence or having it inflicted upon them. They will, however, when they feel trapped and in fear for their lives or when they consider the herd to be at risk, engage in violence. This is rarely good for their mental health, and they often suffer from serious mental illnesses afterward.

Olyuylolly generally do not like space travel. For some generally mysterious reason, they absolutely detest FTL travel, so only a tiny minority will ever leave their home system. Most will travel in automated starships under suspended animation. Dealing with other, not so pacifistic beings adds to their dislike of interstellar travel.

The most important element of Olyuylolly social life, and life in general, is the herd. Although generally very cautious and timid, an Olyuylolly will definitely sacrifice its life for the survival of the herd. Olyuylolly will not allow anything to stand in the way of the survival of their herd and species, and can be quite ruthless.

Short of violence, ruthlessness is a common behavioral trait among Olyuylolly. Combined with their cautious and incurious nature, ruthless obfuscation has done much to slow scientific and technological development among the Olyuylolly. They are considerably more advanced than UNES humanity, but this is only because they’ve been around a lot longer.


This is the least-developed part until I’ve determined more about the technology of the UNSEO/UNES. At present, all I can say for sure is that it’s well in advance of the technology of Earth and that particularly advanced areas will be in space propulsion, medicine, nanotech, cerebrocybernetic interfaces(though vanishingly few would agree to having them implanted) and artificial intelligence(though they’re deathly afraid and distrustful of it!).

There’s certainly more to the Olyuylolly than this, but this is what I have so far. Perhaps as I start writing stories about them, more will come to light.

Hopefully reading this was enjoyable. Thank you for reading,
The Astrographer

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Races of the UNSEO – The Vugoa


The Vugoa really started as an expy for Traveller’s Vargr in my old Solar Union milieu, they’ve changed quite a bit since then. The Vugoa still have a largely canid appearance, and live in a similar ecological niche, but I haven’t decided yet if they are actually derived from Terran canines. Not uplifted in any case, but the World of the UNSEO does contain Echoes of Earth. On the other hand the Vugoa could be no more related to dogs than Aslan or Kzinti are to cats.

The Vugoa inhabit the planet Asdakseghzan, the planet previously partially mapped in Projecting a Map From Imagery: Photoshop and Flexify. I’ll deal with further details of the planet in a future post.

The social aspect of the Vargr was the strongest draw that led to the adoption of the Vugoa into my imaginary universe. I liked the idea of highly social(even, in GURPS terms, Chummy) intelligent people who find it very difficult or even nearly impossible to organize into large social groups. I’ve played around a bit with the notion of Vargr ‘Charisma’ in order both to enhance the alienness of the Vugoa and also to drive the formation of interesting cultures.

Pheromonal signals are universal among the Vugoa. There are essentially four social states among the Vugoa: alpha male, beta male, gamma male and female.

There’s a single alpha male leading each pack. All other males in the pack are betas, who follow the alpha and have essentially equal status(there is a small non-persistent variation based on the current reputation or esteem of each individual and his degree of confidence; even in a particular individual this will vary significantly with time).

The alpha male is the core of the Vugoa pack. The pheromone-driven ‘charisma’ of that alpha male is the cement that brings and holds the little group together. Hormonal changes that take place when a male accepts an alpha as his superior reduce the effectiveness of his own pheromones. This has hampered attempts to create more layered ‘packs of packs’. An alpha ‘baron’ that gives fealty to a higher alpha ‘king’ will find his ability to maintain cohesiveness in the pack will falter. Most likely he will simply become a beta in the pack of such a would-be king and most of his pack would simply wander off as gammas and free females to find or create a new pack.

Males who are not currently part of a pack(adolescents who chose not to join their parent pack and former members of a pack which has broken up) are considered gamma. Gamma males, sometimes referred to, very impolitely, by humans, as “lone wolf” Vugoa are continually in search of a compatible pack. If they fail to find a compatible pack, they will often form a new pack, with an alpha gathering a coterie of gammas with his charisma who will become the betas of the new pack. Even a highly charismatic gamma will only rarely challenge the alpha of an established pack as, in the event of a victory by the gamma, the members of the pack will seldom stay together under the gamma, but most will instead wander off as gammas themselves. A victory over an alpha will, however increase the charisma of the gamma in question, thus increasing his chances of becoming an alpha in a new pack. The most likely situation is that the gamma finds a pack with an alpha more charismatic than himself and joins that pack as a new beta.

Although packs typically disperse if the alpha is defeated or disgraced, packs can survive the death or willing abdication of their alpha. There is usually a transition period, during which the males are considered deltas(a temporary, transitional state, thus not really considered a fifth social status), the males vie among themselves to determine the most charismatic who shall become the new alpha. Thus have some packs persisted for many lifetimes. This is also one of the very rare opportunities for an outsider gamma to become the alpha of an established pack.

The female is generally something of a free agent within the pack structure. Females have far more traditional and legalistic social hierarchies. Females also tend to gather in larger, more geographically-structured social constructs. Females are also only loosely bound into the pack to which they ostensibly “belong”. Frequently, when the alpha male of a pack decides to move on to a different location, while the beta males will follow along, the females will frequently disperse to other packs in the area rather than leave.

Due in part to anatomical differences, males and females inhabit different, but parallel cultural models. While Vugoa females are receptive to pheromonal signals, and in fact produce pheromones of their own to communicate mood, sexual receptivity and the like, pheromones confer no persistent hierarchical status to individual females. The social order among females is both more fluid and more legalistic than among males. While females retain a sense of identity with their pack and its alpha male, they are much more capable of forming bonds with other females outside their pack. As the male order very much travels with the pack and its alpha male, the female order is far more territorial. This has proven significant in forming larger social conglomerations among the Vugoa.

Another structure that has been significant in the formation of larger social structures in Vugoa culture, is the pair bonding. Alpha males never pair bond, instead forming loose, temporary relationships with a small harem of typically young females who are generally considered as the pack’s females. Although formally the members of this harem are considered to be the alpha’s mates, they are, outside of the alpha’s immediate attention, available to any beta male of the pack who is not otherwise pair bonded. Older or more successful betas will eventually become pair bonded with one member of the harem, effectively removing that female from the alpha’s harem  and creating an exclusive mating relationship between the beta male and the female in question. If the pack’s alpha chooses to migrate and the pair bonded female refuses to follow, the beta male must stay with the female and become a gamma until or unless he can find a new pack in the area. This creates one of the strongest bonds between male and female Vugoa society as pair bonded males must stay under local female laws and alphas of older, well-established packs risk losing a significant part of their beta following if they choose to relocate, perhaps in protest to dictates of the local female legal structure.

The packlord structure in Vugoa society is based on a voluntary and conditional cooperation between multiple packs. “Packlord” is the term for an alpha male in this structure. Although packs are only weakly bound to a geographical area, the loose packlord confederacies are almost always geographically contiguous. Otherwise, packlord confederacies are very fluid geographically. Individual packs will frequently leave confederacies to join neighboring ones they find more conducive to their short-term interests or migrate to more hospitable realms. Such confederacies can often be found intertwined with more geographically-oriented polities. Areas considered to be ruled by ‘packlord governments’ are usually possessed of a highly fractious or tribalized female hierarchy. In these cases, even the female culture is nomadic in nature. Typically, this is found in marginal environments such as heavy jungles, high mountains or arid regions or in areas with primitive hunter-gatherer economies.

The monarchies of Asdakseghzan are exclusively led by one or more queens, no kings. The parallel female social structure has driven the creation of most large-scale political structures among the Vugoa, particularly the monarchies. In addition to packlord confederacies and monarchies, some areas of Asdakseghzan are under the control of city-states or even a few republics. Among geographical hierarchies, republics have the most male integration. While alpha males are loathe to subordinate themselves to the rule of a majority, fewer still would willingly abdicate voting power to other males. Thus male participation in republican governance is fairly common. This is unusual, as for the most part, unless faced with some kind of Lysistrata Gambit, most alpha males treat the feminine geographic states as little more than a formality.

The Vugoa, with their footloose males structured into small mobile pack groups and settled females structured into larger geographical societies, present an interesting challenge to the development and maintenance of persistently organized civilizations. The existence and success of such civilizations on Asdakseghzan is a tribute to the resourcefulness and intelligence of these canid alien beings.

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Pixar’s 22 Rules for Storytelling

A very helpful bit of writing advice from the people at Pixar. Enjoy.pixar22rulesNow it’s time for me to apply Rule 11. See you soon!

The Astrographer

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