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    Default Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    So in my homebrew the old gods and bunch of creator races made the vast majority of today's humanoids and monstrous humanoids. They used them as slaves, food and soldiers. After the old war died off and those old races fell into decline, went extinct or were wiped out from war, the aboleths and illithids and aberrations ruled most of the planet. The Age of Dragons comes next and that's when most civilizations prosper.

    The creator races made everyone but when it all came tumbling down a dark age consumed everyone. The humanoids were still in a proto stage of development and moved slowly due to the unrelenting force of aberrations in the world. At first I thought 1000 years was right but it felt short. Then 10,000 seemed on par because, if we take the Mass Effect cycle into effect, a civilization takes around 50,000 to fully mature. I mean, IIRC, Forgotten realms dates back about 35,000 years. In the real world, its been 2000 years since the time of the Nazerine and the roman empire, and we can go back to the sumerians another 5000 or so beyond that before we just lose written records or have nothing else from earlier to use. So, 7000 years roughly and we have our own dark age that last about 700 years of that time.


    Now how long do I make this period of history? I want to help the players understand the definition of "Deep Time": they are specks on a fossil shelf record and the universe cares little about their actions.
    Last edited by Hazeeb; 2018-01-03 at 08:53 AM.

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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    Just my five cents:

    Depends a bit on what exactly you mean by proto, but considering that the big change in homo sapiens, where abstract thinking, blade technology, big game exploitation and so on developed 40-50.000 years ago, and as you say our known (written) history only stretches back something akin to 7.000 years, I'd say a dark age induced by aberrations and the fall of the gods lasting 10.000 years isn't too much of a stretch. As a rule of thumb technology, at least in our world, advances faster and faster through the ages, so the earliest ages should last the longest. Comparing your dark age to the european one might be unfair, because it is a label pasted on it by the renaissance. there was plenty of both scholastic and technological advancement that took place during the period.

    Now I generally find that fantasy universes have a bad habit of letting periods last for far too long (many thousands of years for something that in our world would have taken a few hundred), but in your case it might be justified. How far away are the players from the dark age? and what is their technological level compared to what it was during that age? And how long do you want their age to be? these questions might help with the answers:)
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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    Historically speaking, a dark age is never recognised until you've essentially come out of it. The Byzantines, through their entire 1000-year historical decline post-Romans, never once thought of themselves as being in any kind of dark age. Rather, they saw themselves as efficiently throwing off the unimportant and inefficient colonial possessions in the name of greater productivity. Post-Roman Britain didn't see themselves as in a dark age; they saw themselves as newly-liberated from foreign oppressors. It's only when civilisation has advanced sufficient to take an interest in history, archaeology, or ancient abandoned libraries that they are able to recognise what they have lost and retro-actively label the previous period a dark age. Of course, simultaneous with recognising what was lost is almost always a successful re-integration of the lost knowledge and practices into current ways of living and thinking.

    How log is a dark age? How long does it take to rebuild a civilisation. For all we know, we might currently be in the middle of a dark age for an impossibly ancient pan-galactic civilisation and not know it, because we have not (yet) found anything to tell us things were once "better".

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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    To be completely unhelpful, any data from EArth timescales doesn't take into account the existence of elves with 1000 year lifespans.

    So you have to come up with an answer to the Elven Question. Maybe your elves only live 100 years on average--still amazingly long-lived to borderline-goblinoids like humans, but short enough that a thousand years is a dozen to twenty generations. Maybe your elves aren't civilized types, maybe xenophobia/superiority complex makes them indifferent to the rising and falling of lesser races and cities--somewhat like dragons who just aren't oriented towards organizing and ruling societies. Maybe your elves only live 100 years on average--still amazingly long-lived to borderline-goblinoids like humans, but short enough that a thousand years is a dozen to twenty generations. Imagine being asked detailed questions about the rise and fall of spread option quarterbacks in the NFL, if you're not an NFL fan. (Spoiler: They ran with the football a lot, compared to standard QBs who throw a lot). You lived through it, you had access to the information, but you didn't care and so you're pretty useless at trying to help rebuild it.

    (I won't mention magic that, in other settings, could easily be ruled to reliably investigate milllenia old questions, including dialogue with primary-source witnesses--you can just as easily rule that doesn't work, that the mental ravages of age do not stop with the grave. And/or that since the Cataclysm(s), different sources have given differing yet completely reliable explanations of the same events/phenomena--either the Cataclysm deceived one side beyond the aid of magic, or maybe split the unitary past into fragments, or maybe the Cataclysm just creates a century-long blank spot in everyone's memory.)
    Last edited by johnbragg; 2018-01-03 at 09:28 AM.

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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    Quote Originally Posted by KatteLars View Post
    Just my five cents:

    Depends a bit on what exactly you mean by proto, but considering that the big change in homo sapiens, where abstract thinking, blade technology, big game exploitation and so on developed 40-50.000 years ago, and as you say our known (written) history only stretches back something akin to 7.000 years, I'd say a dark age induced by aberrations and the fall of the gods lasting 10.000 years isn't too much of a stretch. As a rule of thumb technology, at least in our world, advances faster and faster through the ages, so the earliest ages should last the longest. Comparing your dark age to the european one might be unfair, because it is a label pasted on it by the renaissance. there was plenty of both scholastic and technological advancement that took place during the period.

    Now I generally find that fantasy universes have a bad habit of letting periods last for far too long (many thousands of years for something that in our world would have taken a few hundred), but in your case it might be justified. How far away are the players from the dark age? and what is their technological level compared to what it was during that age? And how long do you want their age to be? these questions might help with the answers:)
    Excellent reply. I like to think that the aberrational forces (illithids and aboleths primarily) constantly worked to retard advancement among the younger races. This kept them ignorant, docile and easy to prey upon. When the dragons arrived they literally brought a new arcane torch of light into the world and started to break the grip of those that held under their influence for so long.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ashtagon View Post
    Historically speaking, a dark age is never recognised until you've essentially come out of it. The Byzantines, through their entire 1000-year historical decline post-Romans, never once thought of themselves as being in any kind of dark age. Rather, they saw themselves as efficiently throwing off the unimportant and inefficient colonial possessions in the name of greater productivity. Post-Roman Britain didn't see themselves as in a dark age; they saw themselves as newly-liberated from foreign oppressors. It's only when civilisation has advanced sufficient to take an interest in history, archaeology, or ancient abandoned libraries that they are able to recognise what they have lost and retro-actively label the previous period a dark age. Of course, simultaneous with recognising what was lost is almost always a successful re-integration of the lost knowledge and practices into current ways of living and thinking.

    How log is a dark age? How long does it take to rebuild a civilisation. For all we know, we might currently be in the middle of a dark age for an impossibly ancient pan-galactic civilisation and not know it, because we have not (yet) found anything to tell us things were once "better".
    Really good points you made here. I think I'm going to keep the time around 10,000 years or so to reflect how little there was to rebuild after the fall of the creator races. This allows so many smaller 'forgotten' or 'lost' ages for story telling, creating gods, fallen kingdoms and player material for ancient lineage.
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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    Quote Originally Posted by johnbragg View Post
    To be completely unhelpful, any data from EArth timescales doesn't take into account the existence of elves with 1000 year lifespans.

    So you have to come up with an answer to the Elven Question. Maybe your elves aren't civilized types, maybe xenophobia/superiority complex makes them indifferent to the rising and falling of lesser races and cities--somewhat like dragons who just aren't oriented towards organizing and ruling societies. Maybe your elves only live 100 years on average--still amazingly long-lived to borderline-goblinoids like humans, but short enough that a thousand years is a dozen to twenty generations.

    (I won't mention magic that, in other settings, could easily be ruled to reliably investigate milllenia old questions, including dialogue with primary-source witnesses--you can just as easily rule that doesn't work, that the mental ravages of age do not stop with the grave. And/or that since the Cataclysm(s), different sources have given differing yet completely reliable explanations of the same events/phenomena--either the Cataclysm deceived one side beyond the aid of magic, or maybe split the unitary past into fragments, or maybe the Cataclysm just creates a century-long blank spot in everyone's memory.)
    I had not fully considered the elves. They are the bad guys in my world and the source of their long life spans is the corruption and eldritch magic that stems from worshipping shub-niggurath and the other Old Gods. As far as the magic, I'd be more than within my right to just have the player go crazy from either researching such a spell in this world, or simply making them crazy when they actually use it and expose themselves to terrifying sights beyond comprehension.
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    smile Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hazeeb View Post
    I had not fully considered the elves. They are the bad guys in my world and the source of their long life spans is the corruption and eldritch magic that stems from worshipping shub-niggurath and the other Old Gods. As far as the magic, I'd be more than within my right to just have the player go crazy from either researching such a spell in this world, or simply making them crazy when they actually use it and expose themselves to terrifying sights beyond comprehension.
    If you go with 10.000 years, that's still at the very least ten elven generations. And to be fair, how many of us remember anything about our great great great great great great great grandfathers/mothers?
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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    What if what you have isn't just a Dark Age--it's a hegemony of a different, hostile/alien civilization? The Neanderthal Dark Age is still going strong. Conan and his genre were chock full of fallen nonhuman and semi-human civilizations, lizard men and Lovecraftian horrors from another age.

    So if the Collapse is caused by hostile action, then the humans' Dark Age is someone else's Golden Age (Dragons or aberrations or demons or elves or whatever), and can last as long as their hegemony holds out.

    Maybe the question isn't how long a DArk Age can last, it's how long a high-magic civilization can last.

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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    It's also worth noting that "dark ages" are somewhat subjective. The Soviet-era USSR viewed Czarist Russia as a horrific dark age from which they'd been liberated. Medieval Europe viewed the Ottoman Empire and the Moorish Kingdoms as dark and backwards lands. Renaissance Europe and America viewed the Middle Ages as a Dark Age (and we, the heirs of the Renaissance, tend to view it through that lens), though now there are scholars and historians re-examining the European Dark Ages and questioning how accurate that characterization was. In fact, to the Victorians, the immediate successors of the Renaissance era, there was a certain view of backwards anti-intellectualism in the High Renaissance. The supposed "elevation" of culture was more just a focus on art over sciences, with a historical revisionism to pretend advances that had come earlier were Renaissance-era.

    To me, the best way to judge it is via economics. Productivity and wealth, measured across the whole of a civilization. Did it decline, overall? That is evidence of a dark age. This is not trivial; the Byzantines didn't think they were declining because they were still pillaging their subject states, and the discarding of them when they weren't profitable to plunder was not seen for what it was: running out of other people's money. So looking at the wealth and power of a capitol can be misleading, if the wealth and prosperity of all their associates is declining faster than their apparent wealth is growing. And it takes quite some time for the broad-based advances to look like they're more prosperous than the obvious and ostentatious displays of a plundering Imperial Seat. Ten thousand villages with enough to eat and good trade providing small luxuries are far greater wealth and more solid for advancement than one nation-state with great decadence and ten thousand poverty-stricken tributaries barely holding on as they pour their wealth into that imperial city. But it can look like the great decadent wealth of the imperial city is a high era, while the fall of that city and the subsequent, but more humble, prosperity of the now-liberated villages seems like a dark age.

    That is, of course, just an illustrative example, and any number of things can go wrong to complicate the idyll of the 10,000 prosperous villages. But I think the point, at least, is made.

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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    Quote Originally Posted by KatteLars View Post
    If you go with 10.000 years, that's still at the very least ten elven generations. And to be fair, how many of us remember anything about our great great great great great great great grandfathers/mothers?
    Another excellent point. Those are good reasons to move forward with a number around that length.

    Quote Originally Posted by johnbragg View Post
    What if what you have isn't just a Dark Age--it's a hegemony of a different, hostile/alien civilization? The Neanderthal Dark Age is still going strong. Conan and his genre were chock full of fallen nonhuman and semi-human civilizations, lizard men and Lovecraftian horrors from another age.

    So if the Collapse is caused by hostile action, then the humans' Dark Age is someone else's Golden Age (Dragons or aberrations or demons or elves or whatever), and can last as long as their hegemony holds out.

    Maybe the question isn't how long a DArk Age can last, it's how long a high-magic civilization can last.
    Strong argument there. If that argument is taken into effect then the aberrations had their golden age over most of the world during that period. It was just pockets of dedicated resistance and rebellions that challenged their rule. I wanted to give the idea that darwinism takes hold during "The Long Night". Humans and all other humanoids get stronger, faster and smarter as the elves fight their shadow war with the aberrations. Once the dragons come then the world takes a collective breath and can move forward with technological and magical theory and advancement.

    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    It's also worth noting that "dark ages" are somewhat subjective. The Soviet-era USSR viewed Czarist Russia as a horrific dark age from which they'd been liberated. Medieval Europe viewed the Ottoman Empire and the Moorish Kingdoms as dark and backwards lands. Renaissance Europe and America viewed the Middle Ages as a Dark Age (and we, the heirs of the Renaissance, tend to view it through that lens), though now there are scholars and historians re-examining the European Dark Ages and questioning how accurate that characterization was. In fact, to the Victorians, the immediate successors of the Renaissance era, there was a certain view of backwards anti-intellectualism in the High Renaissance. The supposed "elevation" of culture was more just a focus on art over sciences, with a historical revisionism to pretend advances that had come earlier were Renaissance-era.

    To me, the best way to judge it is via economics. Productivity and wealth, measured across the whole of a civilization. Did it decline, overall? That is evidence of a dark age. This is not trivial; the Byzantines didn't think they were declining because they were still pillaging their subject states, and the discarding of them when they weren't profitable to plunder was not seen for what it was: running out of other people's money. So looking at the wealth and power of a capitol can be misleading, if the wealth and prosperity of all their associates is declining faster than their apparent wealth is growing. And it takes quite some time for the broad-based advances to look like they're more prosperous than the obvious and ostentatious displays of a plundering Imperial Seat. Ten thousand villages with enough to eat and good trade providing small luxuries are far greater wealth and more solid for advancement than one nation-state with great decadence and ten thousand poverty-stricken tributaries barely holding on as they pour their wealth into that imperial city. But it can look like the great decadent wealth of the imperial city is a high era, while the fall of that city and the subsequent, but more humble, prosperity of the now-liberated villages seems like a dark age.

    That is, of course, just an illustrative example, and any number of things can go wrong to complicate the idyll of the 10,000 prosperous villages. But I think the point, at least, is made.
    That's very true. I suppose since history books are written by the winners, so to are "Dark Ages" penned by their inheritors.
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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    It bears remembering that "the dark ages" generally weren't anything of the sort, and the term generally has more to do with the cultural presumptions of the speaker's education than it does to do with reality. The fortunes of individual societies rise and fall, but human civilization in general endures; if it seems otherwise, it's because we tend to preference particular civilizations as "greater" or "more civilized," and so describe their decline as a sort of tragic cosmic event. In Europe alone (less than 10% of Earth's habitable land area!), technological and social progress (itself a problematic word) continued apace after the fall of the Roman empire, and indeed Rome never had a monopoly on culture or knowledge.

    If you're aiming for realism, don't use concepts like "the dark ages." Instead, establish an outline of what happened and why. You don't necessarily need to go into detail, but if humans didn't construct permanent settlements from Backstory Year 1000-3000 because aberrations hunted them for sport, it's useful to say so, rather than just "humanity huddled in caves for two-thousand years!"

    In terms of time spans, it really depends on the specifics. If you're using our own world as a point of reference, homo sapiens spent close to 100,000 years hunting-and-gathering before real horticultural and pastoral civilizations developed. That was about 13,000 years ago, and whether things have been on an upward or downward trend at any given time since really depends on what tiny corner of the world you're looking at.
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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    On the other side of the coin, the decline of the Roman Empire, and its eventual breaking into smaller nations, led to the prototype for the paradigm we might find most familiar in game settings: the Ancient Ruins filled with lost artifacts and knowledge that are greater than anything the modern world knows. Part of the "dark ages" of Europe that helps characterize them as such is that they, themselves, thought of their lands as being "lesser" than the ancient Roman civilization, to some degree.

    So if you've ever seen "ancient artifacts" that are greater than the magics of the current world, or where the idea that finding a spell older than memory would almost automatically mean it's more powerful than anything anybody today has, it arises from that notion. That there was a precursor civilization of great power that left behind relics and knowledge that have now been lost.

    One of the interesting points in Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archives is that there are ancient artifacts of great power - shardblades and shardplate, in particular - that make everybody think the Lost Radiants and their Golden Era were a time of great craftsmanship and deep knowledge. And while it's true that they knew some things better than the modern Alethi (who are the ones that seem most technologically advanced in that setting, in modern times as of the books' writing), it's mostly about facts lost to history. As they learn more, they learn that, other than the presence of these fantastically powerful weapons, the people of the Dawntimes were much more primitive than the people of Alethkar and her neighbors. Hinting that the ancient artifacts were not of the ancients' design, and opening a minor mystery as to where they may have come from.

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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    I am going to argue that you are not looking at a "dark age" per say. You are looking at the formation of civilisation rather than a dark age. One thing to realize is that a major reason we have the "dark age" wasn't a collapse of technology (there was some in the roman decline) but rather dark in the sense we had a hard time seeing into it. People started writting things down on mediums that decayed. We had lots of records of greek writting because they wrote in stone. Early vellum and paper decayed and VERY little remains.

    That is not to say we lost writting though. It just didn't hang around for historians.

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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    TBH, with fantasy there is no limit to how long it can be.

    It all depends simply on how you justify it.

    There are plenty of effects that can maintain a dark age. And the longer the period is or the greater the scale, the more subtle this influence can be. Messing with a population's food supply is the surest way to control progress. That has been the metric of our civilization's progress since the dawn of mankind. It is the primary factor in the number of individuals who can devote time to pursuits other than survival(i.e. progress).
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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    Quote Originally Posted by gkathellar View Post
    It bears remembering that "the dark ages" generally weren't anything of the sort, and the term generally has more to do with the cultural presumptions of the speaker's education than it does to do with reality. The fortunes of individual societies rise and fall, but human civilization in general endures; if it seems otherwise, it's because we tend to preference particular civilizations as "greater" or "more civilized," and so describe their decline as a sort of tragic cosmic event. In Europe alone (less than 10% of Earth's habitable land area!), technological and social progress (itself a problematic word) continued apace after the fall of the Roman empire, and indeed Rome never had a monopoly on culture or knowledge.

    If you're aiming for realism, don't use concepts like "the dark ages." Instead, establish an outline of what happened and why. You don't necessarily need to go into detail, but if humans didn't construct permanent settlements from Backstory Year 1000-3000 because aberrations hunted them for sport, it's useful to say so, rather than just "humanity huddled in caves for two-thousand years!"

    In terms of time spans, it really depends on the specifics. If you're using our own world as a point of reference, homo sapiens spent close to 100,000 years hunting-and-gathering before real horticultural and pastoral civilizations developed. That was about 13,000 years ago, and whether things have been on an upward or downward trend at any given time since really depends on what tiny corner of the world you're looking at.
    Very fair. The dark age in question is known as "The Long Night" where the aberrations literally managed to blot out the sun for extended periods of time. This allowed them to control vast swaths of land as they dominated the lesser races. Having a lack of actual LIGHT in the world would be a good reason why things didn't move faster.

    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    On the other side of the coin, the decline of the Roman Empire, and its eventual breaking into smaller nations, led to the prototype for the paradigm we might find most familiar in game settings: the Ancient Ruins filled with lost artifacts and knowledge that are greater than anything the modern world knows. Part of the "dark ages" of Europe that helps characterize them as such is that they, themselves, thought of their lands as being "lesser" than the ancient Roman civilization, to some degree.

    So if you've ever seen "ancient artifacts" that are greater than the magics of the current world, or where the idea that finding a spell older than memory would almost automatically mean it's more powerful than anything anybody today has, it arises from that notion. That there was a precursor civilization of great power that left behind relics and knowledge that have now been lost.

    One of the interesting points in Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archives is that there are ancient artifacts of great power - shardblades and shardplate, in particular - that make everybody think the Lost Radiants and their Golden Era were a time of great craftsmanship and deep knowledge. And while it's true that they knew some things better than the modern Alethi (who are the ones that seem most technologically advanced in that setting, in modern times as of the books' writing), it's mostly about facts lost to history. As they learn more, they learn that, other than the presence of these fantastically powerful weapons, the people of the Dawntimes were much more primitive than the people of Alethkar and her neighbors. Hinting that the ancient artifacts were not of the ancients' design, and opening a minor mystery as to where they may have come from.
    Ooooooh minor mystery indeed. That's going to be a lovely subtlety I'd like to include in my world.

    "Yeah that's an ancient artifact made by the (insert supposedly strong group of people during The Long Night)."

    "Uh...but they didn't have access to (insert fantasy material). They lived in the polar region."

    *Stares at the artifact humming in his hand, then back to person B...then back to the artifact.*

    "...Huh. Then who..."

    Quote Originally Posted by Fouredged Sword View Post
    I am going to argue that you are not looking at a "dark age" per say. You are looking at the formation of civilisation rather than a dark age. One thing to realize is that a major reason we have the "dark age" wasn't a collapse of technology (there was some in the roman decline) but rather dark in the sense we had a hard time seeing into it. People started writting things down on mediums that decayed. We had lots of records of greek writting because they wrote in stone. Early vellum and paper decayed and VERY little remains.

    That is not to say we lost writting though. It just didn't hang around for historians.
    INTERESTING! The actual invention of a sturdy, reliable writing surface is not something I'd considered. I will ponder on this.

    Quote Originally Posted by martixy View Post
    TBH, with fantasy there is no limit to how long it can be.

    It all depends simply on how you justify it.

    There are plenty of effects that can maintain a dark age. And the longer the period is or the greater the scale, the more subtle this influence can be. Messing with a population's food supply is the surest way to control progress. That has been the metric of our civilization's progress since the dawn of mankind. It is the primary factor in the number of individuals who can devote time to pursuits other than survival(i.e. progress).
    Well the Aberrations, Elves, and Minotaurs are the main forces during The Long Night. Lowlight and darkvision. It would not be hard to assume that the more powerful or corrupt races sabotaged the more numerous humanoid and weaker races to keep them from being a threat, or perhaps to keep them as a steady source of food and dieific sacrifices.
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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    Having just finished the Mass Effect games (yeah I slowpoked, but I did eventually get around to it) the civilization resets in that universe occur across evolutionary timescales if that tells you anything.

    I'll also echo the above in that the term 'Dark Ages' is a viewed from the outside in. It's also a big propagandist in that anybody not up to your standards as a historian was in a Dark Age, the filthy savages, how dare they be different and primitive and from the filthy dirty past.

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    Quote Originally Posted by magicalmagicman View Post
    ... You seem to be the true golem master on this forums.


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    Ettin in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hazeeb View Post
    INTERESTING! The actual invention of a sturdy, reliable writing surface is not something I'd considered. I will ponder on this.
    "We have the Ancient Dark Lore, of course. The flayed human skin upon which it is written in glowing eldritch runes is not subject to decay."

    "Speak no more of the Ancient Dark Lore."

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    Default Re: Just how long is TOO long for a Dark Age to be?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hazeeb View Post
    So in my homebrew the old gods and bunch of creator races made the vast majority of today's humanoids and monstrous humanoids. They used them as slaves, food and soldiers. After the old war died off and those old races fell into decline, went extinct or were wiped out from war, the aboleths and illithids and aberrations ruled most of the planet. The Age of Dragons comes next and that's when most civilizations prosper.

    The creator races made everyone but when it all came tumbling down a dark age consumed everyone. The humanoids were still in a proto stage of development and moved slowly due to the unrelenting force of aberrations in the world. At first I thought 1000 years was right but it felt short. Then 10,000 seemed on par because, if we take the Mass Effect cycle into effect, a civilization takes around 50,000 to fully mature. I mean, IIRC, Forgotten realms dates back about 35,000 years. In the real world, its been 2000 years since the time of the Nazerine and the roman empire, and we can go back to the sumerians another 5000 or so beyond that before we just lose written records or have nothing else from earlier to use. So, 7000 years roughly and we have our own dark age that last about 700 years of that time.


    Now how long do I make this period of history? I want to help the players understand the definition of "Deep Time": they are specks on a fossil shelf record and the universe cares little about their actions.
    The way I'd approach this is by asking "what of the Pre-Dark Age do you want to find?"

    In 30 years, wood roofs fail and most houses are lost.
    In 75 years, buildings made out of brick crumble.
    In 100 years, protected steel rusts (unprotected Steel is gone) and buildings held up by it are lost.
    In 500 years, reinforced concrete collapses. Concrete slowly dissolves and disappears.
    Humanity's largest stone structures are estimated to have a half-life of about 1,000 years.
    Climate Patterns vary over tens of thousands of years.
    Humanity itself is about 200k years old.
    Recognizable Geography might take ~15 Million Years to entirely disappear.

    Materials shielded from natural processes (Magic could do this) could potentially remain in mint condition forever. The Apollo Moon Rover is, barring a hit or a near hit with a meteor, standing until the increased heat of the sun slags it. The problem is, a speck in the scope of time doesn't really explain much.

    A Dark Age could be vast in length. You may even have a setting where races were driven extinct on various worlds and so 'Everyone died' lasts billions of years. A Dark Age, though, seems a lot more meaningful of a descriptor if people are acutely aware of a higher period and a lower period; and the problem with geologic timescales is "What people?" Then again, you can have deities who have watched it all and decided that this trillion years sucked. There's no maximum on the concept, but it does get silly.
    So far, there's only one thing more fun then medieval D&D.
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