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A World In The Sky Setting - Feedback requested:

This is only in the early stages. I've wanted to design an online browser game for some time, but I've only given vague thought as to the setting. This is an attempt to hammer it out a little more.


Atmos (working title) is a World in the Sky setting. I’m developing this mainly as a video game setting, but I want to leave the option of other media open. Themes are survival in a hostile environment, the ephemerality of life, and really cool visuals. It’s a Lighter and Softer interpretation of an idea I had of a fantasy world on a gas giant. I don't think this is going to be a gas giant, but I haven't decided what it is.

Magic in the sense of spells and enchantments does not exist. However, many things that we would consider magical are natural to the world.. Atmos operates under a set of natural laws that are different than the laws our universe operates under, but it is objective and consistent. If any native civilization ever developed empiricism, they would be able to observe and understand these laws.

The World

The sapient inhabitants of the world (hereafter referred to as ‘humans’) live in a spacious habitable layer of the atmosphere. In general the weather is colder in the upper part of the habitable layer, and warm and wet in the lower part, but some horizontal variation exists. Humans cannot survive above or below this layer. (I haven’t decided why not.)

The weather tends to be severe. In order to survive, humans have had to become ‘’’very’’’ good at predicting and adapting to the devastating wind and lightning storms that blow through inhabited areas. The weather is no small-talk on Atmos.


Sky sponges- This bizarre creature is the main factor in humanity’s ability to survive on this hostile world. It is a filter feeder capable of growing to massive sizes.. From beneath, it is almost indistinguishable from a cloud.

This creature begins life as a fragment or bud of an older sponge. For awhile, it will blow freely through the atmosphere, but at some point it will settle into a specific position. Once this happens, it is VERY hard to move. Only the most terrible cyclones and hurricanes can budge it. (Possible handwave: the sponge exists in a fifth dimension in addition to the usual four, and attaches itself to a surface outside of spacetime.)

There are multiple species of sky sponge, but a common variant tends to grow in a bowl shaped structure. In the opening, soil and rock tends to accumulate (from where I haven’t decided. Mineral rain?), creating a surface suitable for habitation by humans and other terrestrial life forms. The largest sky sponges are big enough to accommodate rivers, lakes, mountain ranges, and plenty of human civilization.. This kind of structure will hereafter be referred to as a ‘skyland’.

Terrestrial life forms- A number of plants and animals similar to those on Earth’s continents live on skylands. Many of them have undergone skyland dwarfism.

One particular plant of note produces an exceptional oil for burning, the importance of which will be discussed later.

(Unnamed plant) This plant is an air-plant that stands at roughly the same height as a human, with some variation. It consists of a long air root, a few broad leaves at the top, and one or more flowers. When unbloomed, the flower buds are filled with a lighter than air gas that gives the plant lift as it blows around atmos. The plant is highly sensitive, and responds to various disturbances by altering the pressure level of its buds to escape danger.

Humans often capture these plants for personal use. Once they get to a certain size, they can support a human clinging to the air root. With the right training, the human can use the plant’s defense mechanisms to gain some control over its flight path.

This is only practical for very short trips with no cargo, but it’s usually the first form of flight a child learns. It can also used to escape a burning airship.

Other A number of birds exist, adapted for the long flights between skylands. Other air plants sometimes float through the ether, and there are a few large animals that survive through lighter-than-air swim bladders.

Human civilization

Tech Level

Human society is still in a fairly primitive state, roughly pre-Classical, with some local variation. A few technologies are most advanced, such as rocketry (see below).


Almost all transport between skylands is through airship. These are fairly simple crafts, consisting of a hot air balloon made of waxed cloth or hide supporting a gondola made of woven reeds, or bound logs. They are propelled forward by crude steam jets, usually made of pottery. Humans burn the oil of a special plant to provide lift to the balloon and power the steam jets.

The earliest combat airships simply rammed their opponents. They often had a spike at the fore to puncture the balloons of their enemies. While this is still a viable tactic, most modern airships of war utilize rocket weapons of various sorts. (Think Singijeons).

When besieging a skyland, airship pilots might drop clay jars full of flaming oil to destroy ground based defenses.


Generally, each skyland is an independent city-state. The government type varies, with monarchies and tribal councils being the most common forms.

Because the living space on Atmos seems almost unlimited at this point in history, empires define themselves less in terms of territory, and more in terms of their control over scarce resources. Mineral resources, for instance, are pretty rare, and the armadas have filled the skies with rocket fire over the best mines.


Although there may be some exceptions on some skylands, generally the closest thing to religion on Atmos is a kind of animism. People fear and revere the spirits of the natural forces that control their lives, the wind, the rain, and fire. These spirits are not gods so much as anthropomorphic personifications, but some cultures do attempt to appease them with sacrifices.

Sacrifices are thrown off the skyland, where it is believed they will fall to the hallowed Underworld. Generally, the one edge of the skyland will be designated the ‘clean place’, for sacrifices and the bodies of the deceased to be dropped, and people will use the other edges to dump garbage.

No one’s ever flown to the Underworld and lived to tell about it, but it weighs heavily on the mind of any human who’s ever taken to the air, which is most of them. It’s considered the final destination of all life, and possibly its origin as well. Many human cultures describe life as a journey. On Atmos, it’s more common to describe it as a freefall.

edited 6th Sep '12 7:34:33 PM by Topazan

 2 kassyopeia, Thu, 6th Sep '12 9:53:52 PM from terrae nullius


Except for the basic premise, this is actually eerily though subtly similar to my setting. So, I'm afraid we think too much alike for me to be able to offer much in the way of constructive criticism.

The sapient inhabitants of the world (hereafter referred to as ‘humans’) [...]

One bit of generic advice: I'd recommend giving them a proper name ASAP, if you intend for them to be in any way different from humans. Same goes for everything else that's sort-of but not quite like familiar things. It's surprising (or not, if one stops to think about it) how much easier the simple act of attaching a name to something makes it to keep its characteristics straight in one's mind.

By now, I've pretty much adopted the practice of naming everything right away. It doesn't have to be a "real" name, a temporary label will do just fine. In that case, it's helpful to make the label a bit silly on purpose, otherwise it tends to stick in one's mind and actually make it harder to come up with a real name when the time comes. Me, I've taken to using an "-ix" suffix for such labels, so I'd call these guys "humixes" or "sentixes" for the time being.

To be clear, those are just illustrations, not suggestions. You can't have my suffix. Get your own. tongue

In the opening, soil and rock tends to accumulate (from where I haven’t decided. Mineral rain?) [...]

Having the stuff fall down on the thing seems a bit problematic to me. If it falls in clumps, it's going to be a health hazard. If it falls in particles which gradually build up, it'll take ages (literal, geological ages) to amount to anything. Couldn't the stuff be a secretion of the sponge itself? You termed it a filter-feeder, so it could take in minerals along with nutrients and then exude whatever it can't use for its own metabolism through its skin. The stuff that comes out at the "belly" just drops away, but the stuff that comes out in the "bowl" accumulates, and accumulates at a much more reasonable rate at that. The mountain ranges you mentioned would form over areas of increased secretion, like an orifice or a scar or something along those lines.

Oh, and metabolically malfunctioning specimens would constitute the sources of precious resources you mentioned later on. Healthy sponges use all the iron they filter out of the air to make their equivalent of haemoglobin, or whatever, so there isn't much in the excretions, but sometimes one of them gets their equivalent of leukemia and stops being able to process the iron and so has to expel it instead. If that happened in the past and the critter got better, you get an iron-rich layer in the soil or an iron vein in the mountain range. If it happens in the present and the critter doesn't get better, you get a continually replenishing source of iron, but eventually the sponge will die and that'll be the end of that resource stream.

What d'you think?

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
Thanks for the reply. It's not so much that I intended them to be different from humans, unless the pseudoscience calls for certain adaptions to the environment, but I'm not sure whether or not there's more than one sapient species.

I'm curious about which aspects of our settings you feel are similar. It's hard for me to imagine how much of what I wrote could apply to a setting with a different premise.

What I was thinking for the sponges was that the material falls in particles dissolved in rain water. The water would seep through, providing hydration to the sponge, while the solid material would accumulate. Yes, it would take a geological time frame to build a fully developed skyland, but that's not really a problem, since one could assume the setting's current skylands are just really old.

I really, really like your idea, however. It's a really creative way of explaining where various minerals come from and why some are scarce. The only problem I see is that it begs the question of why the sponge evolved in a shape where it accumulates vast amounts of waste. If it was somehow symbiotic with the organisms that colonize it, I could see it working, but otherwise, from the sponge's point of view, the bowl shape is a huge evolutionary flaw.

The idea of iron being produced by a process that could be deadly to the sponge is interesting and fits in well with the themes. Old, habitation-sized sponges would have an iron vein or two, like you said, but maybe the best source of minerals is a young, sick sponge. Small enough that the iron is very accessible, but if the sponge is terminal then any given day your entire mining colony could be taking an unexpected trip to the Underworld.

 4 kassyopeia, Thu, 6th Sep '12 11:20:00 PM from terrae nullius

The similarities are as much in the general feel as in specifics, I suppose. These are the bits that directly apply to my setting: Awesomely hostile environment, magic "no but yes", habitable region bounded above and below, severe weather, some Earth-like ecology some of which exhibits dwarfism, pre-Classical tech level with some outliers, but human flight even so, scarce metals, city-states, naturalistic religion, strong mythical associations for one of the two neighbouring non-habitable regions but not so much for the other. Oh, and one of the plants of central importance in my world is the meaningfully named inglewood tree. Seems like quite a lot of overlap to me, especially considering that the basic premise isn't shared, no? smile


Could the sponge be tapping into the photosynthetic potential of the plants growing on it somehow? That would provide a very plausible evolutionary motivation for accumulating a layer of soil. I can't really think of a specific mechanism at the moment, admittedly. My first thought was "like human gut flora", but I don't seem to be able to develop that idea into anything usable, at the moment...

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
Wow, that is an amazing set of overlaps. grin So, by 'habitable region bounded above and below' do you mean north and south, or is your setting also a sky world? Or is it the underground that's uninhabitable?

Yeah, like I said, if there's some kind of symbiosis between the sponge and the life forms that colonize the surface it makes good enough sense. Something to think about. Alternatively, maybe the soil protects it from toxins that fall from above? That way the bowl shape gives it the maximum surface area for feeding, while providing shelter to the top? Except that wouldn't help in strong winds...

 6 kassyopeia, Fri, 7th Sep '12 12:08:02 AM from terrae nullius

My setting is essentially one-dimensional: A single coastline about 50, 000 km long. The twist is that my Altlings ("humans") can't really become seafarers because the amplitude of the tides increases from a few metres when the planet is near aphelion (far from its star) to a few hundred metres when it is near perihelion, which makes it impossible to build permanent settlements closer than a day's march from the sea. In the other direction there are first jungle-covered foothills infested with, among others, bear-sized leopards and T-Rex sized bears (oh my), and then a Himalaya-scale mountain range which nobody has ever crossed or even returned from, but about which many tales are told anyway. So, it's as vertical a setting as you can get on a planet's surface, though of course not quite as genuinely vertical as yours. I originally developed it here, if you want more details.


Another idea re the bowl - your original approach involved rain water, so I'm thinking that if rain were relatively rare, the bowl could be needed simply as a catch basin. Everything else could then be mostly incidental, or perhaps serve the purpose of locking in the water once it's caught, so that the next storm doesn't blow it away again. If the bowl is relatively shallow, that could easily happen, I'd imagine.

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.

I'll definitely do some more reading about your setting when I get the chance.

That idea for the sponges sounds pretty good! The soil could even be explained as helping shield the water from the rain.

Along those lines, what if instead of instead of the soil being waste, its stored nutrition? The sponge sheds nutrients that may become scarce in the bowl. If a period of scarcity doesn't occur, then the original store becomes unusable as it gets pushed up by another, and another, and so on. These scarcity periods are infrequent enough that settlement is viable.

edited 7th Sep '12 12:37:34 AM by Topazan

 8 kassyopeia, Fri, 7th Sep '12 12:56:55 AM from terrae nullius

Could some of your plants be photosynthesizing from carbonates rather than carbon dioxide? If so, I think I see a way to tie several of those ideas together into one elegant bow.

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 9 Jabrosky, Fri, 7th Sep '12 3:29:52 AM from San Diego, CA
If Atmos's inhabitants believe that life may have originated in the Underworld, how do they explain how it reached Atmos from below, especially with pre-Classic age technology?
 10 Topazan, Fri, 7th Sep '12 9:38:01 AM from San Diego
@kassyopeia - Why not? Let's hear it.

@Jabrosky - They believe that in a metaphorical/spiritual sense, not a physical one. That souls are created and renewed there. In may be true that at least some of the raw materials for life (the particles that the sponges feed on) are kicked up from below through storms and updrafts.

 11 kassyopeia, Fri, 7th Sep '12 1:05:58 PM from terrae nullius

[up] Hah, that's just what I was going to say, and am now going to say even though you already said it. (I say, says I!)

Suppose the sponges need organics, minerals, and water, as most creatures do. However, what it has to work with is only anorganic dust carried up from the rocky surface, and rain water falling on it from above. It extracts the former by filtering it out of the horizontal airflow and captures the latter simply by intercepting its vertical fall.

So, now, it's got its minerals and water, but doesn't have any organics and has no way of making them itself, even though there is plenty of carbon in the minerals, in the form of stuff like chalk (calcium carbonate) and potash (potassium carbonate). What's it to do?

The obvious answer is to rely on other organisms to "digest" those substances for it. Plants do something quite similar already, they "digest" anorganic carbon dioxide into organics like sugar, so we're going to further suppose that your plants can do the same with carbonates. However, plants need sunlight to do this, which is why we call it photosynthesis, so it can't happen inside the sponge's body, as digestion usually does.

Thus, the equally obvious answer to the new problem is to do it outside its body; specifically, on the side which is exposed to sunlight. Everything we want follows naturally from this scheme, I think: The sponge secretes the minerals it can't directly make use of itself onto its "back", which needs to be bowl-shaped so that the stuff doesn't fall off. The water which is needed both by the sponge itself and by the digestive plants very conveniently adds itself to the mix of its own accord. The plants "do their thing", converting the anorganic carbon compounds from the soil into organic matter, which is eventually returned to the soil when the plant dies in part (shedding leaves) or as a whole). The sponge simply needs the ability to then resorb some of the organic carbon compounds from the soil, as well as those minerals which it only secreted for storage purposes (there was an excess then, and there's a shortfall now, for whatever reason). I'd suggest it does this by growing root-like tendrils up into the soil, just as the plants grow those down into the soil, but that's entirely up to your fancy.

So, the contents of the bowl are its versions of both gut and fat layer in a human. Furthermore, they serve to lock in rainwater to protect it from being blown away, as well as to protect the tender skin of the sponge from anything that comes from above, like direct sunlight and perhaps those toxins you mentioned, making them also its version of rolling in mud as many animals like to do.

Clearly, the bowl isn't just evolutionarily reasonable, it is absolutely essential. Voila! cool

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 12 Topazan, Fri, 7th Sep '12 1:36:45 PM from San Diego
[up]I like it! I like it a lot! grin

Immature sponges that haven't had enough time to build a body of symbiotic plants can barely meet their needs by air plankton. This supply becomes insufficient once they reach the adult stage, necessitating the bowl structure.

This is starting to sound like a much more complex creature than its namesake. I wonder if a new name is called for?

The next question is why the inhabitants are confined to a single layer, and what they see when they look up or down. I originally imagined the lower layer consisting of a thick yellow sea of toxic gas inhabited by gargantuan monsters, and the above layer being toxic with a constant incredible wind, but like I said this is Lighter and Softer.

I guess as you fly up the air gets too thin to support the balloons. It's pretty cold at that point, anyway. Down is the big question. Like I said, I wanted cool visuals, so it would be neat if by looking down on this world you see another sky: blue with clouds in the daytime, starry with one or more moons and/or rings at night. I'm not sure if that makes any logical sense though. Maybe the solid core is so far away that its invisible, and you just see through the planet?

Well, you mentioned a rocky surface, so that may be out. Maybe if you fly too low the air pressure gets too high for humans and their crafts to survive. The surface is always obscured by opaque heavy gases, leaving people to speculate what's down there. Not quite as cool, but good enough.

So, the means that this is a terrestrial planet, but with a much bigger and thicker atmosphere than Earth. That settles the big questions. Maybe I'll start working on some short stories to flesh out some of the human cultures.

EDIT: Actually, is it even necessary to include the bit about plants digesting carbonates? Couldn't they just produce organics from carbon dioxide like real plants do?

edited 7th Sep '12 2:50:52 PM by Topazan

 13 kassyopeia, Fri, 7th Sep '12 3:31:56 PM from terrae nullius

You're right, I think, the substitution of carbonates might not be strictly necessary. It makes the symbiotic cycle much more satisfying, though, don't you think?

Otherwise, the only thing the sponge contributes is a surface to grow on, like the non-living Earth's crust does for terrestrial plants. And there might not even be a need for soil, in that version; you could simply have mosses growing directly on the sponge, converting carbon dioxide into organic compounds some of which the moss uses to grow and the rest of which is consumed by the sponge. With the carbonates, the soil layer is an essential part of the conversion process, as it is the buffer into and out of which the two symbiotic partners inject and extract their respective contributions.

Not all plants have to be able to do this, mind you. I'd take one of the ubiquitous kinds we have and turn that one into the "carbonator", and give it a slightly alien look to show off that difference. Like grasses, or ferns, or the already mentioned mosses. The alien look could be that it's halfway between a plant and a mineral - "grass crystals", maybe, or white-stemmed "chalk ferns", or "ashen moss" which your humans can directly make soap from *, or something like that. You might even like to tie your fuel-plant into this, since that would give you a direct conceptual connection with the petroleum ("mineral oil") humans use.

I always like introducing alien elements which are motivated by something actually relevant to the plot or setting, instead of those which are merely there to make things generically exotic without serving any real purpose, so I'd jump at this. But this is your baby, so by no means let me talk you into anything. smile

The other aspects, I'll have to think about for a bit.

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 14 Topazan, Fri, 7th Sep '12 3:53:28 PM from San Diego
That sounds reasonable. I'll have to think about it some more.

 15 kassyopeia, Fri, 7th Sep '12 5:27:04 PM from terrae nullius

Sky Sponge: I really like the ring of "sky sponge", so I'd keep the name in spite of the added complexity. Also, some real-life sponges build exoskeletons out of calcium carbonate, which would provide a nice secondary linkage if you do decide to go with the "carbonator" plants.

Up: When the inhabitant look up, they have to see sunlight, surely? I think you can make the (upper) atmosphere thicker or otherwise more refractive, meaning the sun's disk or suns' disks would become dimmer and hazier and instead there'd be more diffuse light from the rest of the sky, which would be a nice visual counterpart to/lampshading of the Lighter and Softer concept. But if you were to go further and make the atmosphere actually opaque, then everything becomes just gloomy and the plants stop working, so that doesn't seem worth pursuing to me.

That being said, if there's as much mineral dust in the air as I've been supposing, and if some of that dust were highly reflective, that might give you a seriously Alien Sky, with a sort of general glitter effect and rainbowy prismatic stuff going on and perhaps fata morgana-like images of the suns in places other than those in which they actually are. This sort of thing on a larger and more permanent scale.

That is, unless you have a different light-source in mind in the first place, in which case none of the above applies.

As to bounding the habitable zone, that seems entirely straightforward to me. As you say, the air becomes colder and thinner as one goes up, which also means less oxygen to breathe. There's also more nasty radiation and potentially stronger winds and eventually weird electrical and thermal effects, so there's really no shortage of explanations.

Down: Depends on what sort of planet this turns out to be, as you say. A rocky surface would be the obvious source of most of the atmospheric dusts, I figured. Then again, volcanic eruptions might be even better for that purpose, it now occurs to me. For those, you just need rocky stuff somewhere inside the planet, and not necessarily at the surface at all.

"Another sky" is easy enough during daytime, it just means that the (lower) atmosphere is too thick to be able to see the planetary surface. If it's a rocky surface, that's pretty much a requirement anyway for your mythical framework to hold up, it seems to me.

"Starry with moons" at night doesn't seem possible to me, unless you make up new physics - which you could, of course, given what you said in the premise. Assuming you don't want to go to those lengths, orbits within the atmosphere just can't be stable, and being high enough up for the planet to become noticably smaller, in order to be able to look past it, isn't compatible with the atmosphere being transparent at that scale, I'm pretty sure.

However, the volcanoes I just suggested as the source of the dust could give you something quite like a night-sky, I'm thinking. They'd be visible as bright spots of various sizes, and they'd move across this "other sky" (perhaps call it "yks", for now, by inverting the spelling), assuming that the atmosphere rotates noticably slower at habitable altitudes than the planet's surface - which is perfectly reasonable, as far as I know. Supposing that the atmosphere is sufficiently opaque in daylight to be unable to see the surface then but sufficiently transparent at night to be able to see the "starcanoes" (stress on the second syllable, not the third) should be perfectly reasonable also, considering that our sky works that way, relative to the stars.

That would leave you with a lot of leeway as to what the surface layer of the planet and the bottom layers of the atmosphere are like. The former could be rocky or liquid, and the latter could be liquid or gaseous, and if they're both liquid, then there's no surface as such, as I think is the case for some or all gas giants.

Again, not hard to come up with factors which make it impractical to explore the yks. I'd definitely have your people believe that there's the kind of monster down there you had in mind originally, either as their equivalents of the dragons that There Be in uncharted places, or as guardians of the planet in its function as a mythical place, or whatever. Whether those really exist should be kept from the audience, at least at first.

The actual reasons why explorers never return would again mostly be physical ones - actually, almost all of those that apply to going up could apply to going down, either directly or inversely: Air becomes hotter and thicker, and yet there might not be any free oxygen because of all the volcanism. Nasty radiation could be coming from the surface as well as from space, surface winds can be just as strong as stratospheric winds, and weird electrical and thermal effects could again occur either way.

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 16 Topazan, Fri, 7th Sep '12 6:07:23 PM from San Diego
I really appreciate your posts. You are quite a knowledgeable and creative person. grin

The idea I had for the monsters is that sometimes, when you watch a shot-down pilot fall towards the toxic yellow "sea", long after the screams have died out... ENOURMOUS serpent will spring out of the yellow fog and snatch her out of the sky to swallow her whole.

I can see this being a bit of pilot folklore. Some fliers deny the existence of these serpents, but others swear they've seen them.

I'm not married to the "other sky" idea, I was just thinking that since part of the game would involve overhead map views, it would be a handy way to inform the players that there's no land under those tiles. If there's something else interesting and distinctive, that will work too.

I'm not sure it's necessary for the surface to be obscured in order to preserve its mythical framework, as long as the habitable zone is high enough up that people can't make out the details. As long as they can't see that their sacrifices and bodies are just piling up, the mythical role should be preserved.

I'll have to think about all your suggestions for the nature of the planet's surface.

So, if the lower atmosphere was too thick to be transparent, would it look like a blue sky during the day?

edited 7th Sep '12 6:10:29 PM by Topazan

 17 kassyopeia, Fri, 7th Sep '12 7:10:28 PM from terrae nullius

I'm not sure it's necessary for the surface to be obscured in order to preserve its mythical framework, as long as the habitable zone is high enough up that people can't make out the details. As long as they can't see that their sacrifices and bodies are just piling up, the mythical role should be preserved.

That's what I thought at first, too, but if the surface is solid, then surely there'll be vegetation (or life of some other sort) there, no matter how different the conditions are from those in the region that's habitable for humans. Life is just too good at adapting, judging by the scarcity of truly lifeless environments on Earth.

Consequently, surely the cumulative effect of continuous dropping of refuse and corpses would have a significant, perhaps even essential, impact on the growth of that vegetation, feeding some kinds and killing off others. So there'd be a distinctive growth pattern underneath each inhabited skyland, in the shape of either a ring as large as, or, if the winds scatter the droppings a lot, a disk somewhat larger than the skyland. And you'd have to be bloody high not to be able to make that out.

Granted, that doesn't necessarily preclude the interpretation of The Planet as a mythical place, but it doesn't mesh too well with the usual notions associated with such places, it seems to me.

So, if the lower atmosphere was too thick to be transparent, would it look like a blue sky during the day?

Not necessarily, but possibly. If there's a sharp gas-liquid interface, it would act as a mirror of the blue sky and thus look blue itself, just like bodies of water do on Earth. Without a sharp interface, which I think is the more plausible assumption for a situation like this, an opaque gas would have whatever colour it happens to have, tinted by the colour of the upper sky which illuminates it. Think water vapour clouds on Earth - they're ordinarily white, but will typically take on the same shade as the sky at sunrise and sunset. If, as I suggested, the lighting is more diffuse here, that would amplify that tinting effect.

Our Neptune has a nice rich blue, and apparently "[p]rominent absorption bands of methane occur at wavelengths above 600 nm, in the red and infrared portion of the spectrum [and] this absorption of red light by the atmospheric methane is part of what gives Neptune its blue hue". So, if you simply posit that your atmosphere has a significant methane content as well, that ought to make both the sky and the yks as blue as you want it to be. Methane might in fact be the lighter-than-air gas produced by the air-plants and fish-analogs you mentioned in the OP, which would be another nice linkage. Earth's plants put 20% oxygen into the atmosphere, Neptune needs less than 2% methane to appear as blue as it does, so that creation mechanism is entirely plausible. Just keep in mind that methane is a potent greenhouse gas - and explosive in sufficiently high concentrations, but I'm sure I don't need to tell you that. tongue

The other thing that makes something look sky-like are, of course, clouds, and there's absolutely no reason why those shouldn't exist below as well as above the habitable zone. As anyone who's ever been atop a reasonably high mountain will now first-hand.

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 18 Topazan, Fri, 7th Sep '12 7:41:53 PM from San Diego
Ok, that makes sense. The yks could even be a slightly different shade of blue than the sky. That would work for the day, but at night you'd see the stars all around and a depressing emptiness below. :/ Unless I went with a reflective surface or your starcanoe idea. I'll have to think about it.

What would an atmosphere with diffuse light look like?

Hm, I guess there would also be a noticeable growth pattern just based on the shadow cast by the skyland. It just occurred to me that obscuring the surface is a better idea, because even if the natives can't make any sense of it, the viewers might be able to. Adding some more mystery might be a good idea.

But, what are the usual notions associated with such places?

 19 kassyopeia, Fri, 7th Sep '12 8:36:40 PM from terrae nullius

Yeah, there'd definitely be a disparity in the blues of sky and yks. The contributions are a bit too confusing for me to clearly sort them out, with blue-preferential scattering plus blue gas for the one and blue illumination plus more blue gas for the other, but if you think "sky blue" versus "marine blue", that shouldn't be too far off the mark.

I'm not sure if even a reflective liquid surface could give you stars in the night-yks. In my very limited experience, those large enough to be visible from altitude are never still enough to reflect individual stars. A reflective ice surface might work theoretically, but that's far-fetched on several different counts.

You know those once-a-year-or-so sunsets when, just after the sun itself has disappeared, the sky in that direction seems to briefly become a brighter shade of red or pink or gold and the whole world seems to glow a bit in that same shade and there are barely any shadows and everything seems to take on a slightly otherworldly quality? That's diffuse light. Just imagine it at normal daylight levels and with blues instead of twilight levels and sunset hues.

If you don't know those sunsets, the next best example I can think of is thick fog illuminated by a streetlamp. But that's at a much smaller scale, which makes a big difference to the overall effect, and is much harder to extrapolate to the daylight case, as far as I'm concerned.

At the same time, as I said, the effect would also be to dim and wash out the suns' disks. Again, just think how it looks just before sunset, but minus the squashed shape and the red hue.

Whether the shadow cast by a skyland would affect the surface below would depend on the ratio of its size and altitude. If it's 100 km across but only 10 km above the surface, then most of the region directly beneath it would always be in shadow, which would have a definite effect. If it's 10 km across and 100 km above the surface, then the suns' movement across the sky would cast the shadow onto any one region only for a brief time, just as a gnomon casts its shadow onto any one part of a sundial only for a brief time while the rest of it is in the light (sorry, been waiting for an opportunity to use that word for a while now tongue).

Adding more mystery is always a good idea, in my opinion.

Regarding the "usual notions", I just meant that places like Heaven and Hell aren't usually pictured in a way that matches the mundane world as closely as those growth patterns would match the skylands. None of Earth's major religions suggests, for example, that people who inhabit a given city on Earth would inhabit a counterpart of that city in the afterlife, and that people from other cities would have their own counterpart cities. Instead, afterlife worlds are always structured in some metaphysically meaningful way. Pay the ferryman, cross the river, stand in line, get judged, then go to Elysium or Hades or Tartarus (do not pass Go, though), that sort of thing. Dante's Divine Comedy epitomizes that sort of structure, from what I know of it in spite of still not having read it.

An alternative to the starcanoes which just popped into my head is bioluminescence. Probably produced by writhing colonies of microbes consuming the refuse and corpses kindly provided to them by the skylanders, but they wouldn't know about that squicky aspect and so could just enjoy the visual display in the yks. smile

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 20 Topazan, Fri, 7th Sep '12 9:10:48 PM from San Diego
Yeah, you're right that a reflective surface might not be enough. I don't think I've ever seen stars reflected on a body of water, or even ice.

That sounds like a pretty cool phenomenon. Is it the same effect people attribute to smog? I'll have to see if I can find more examples.

Hm, , those luminescent microbe colonies would only exist around skylands, or possibly along major trade routes, so it would still leave most of the yks bare. It's not really a big deal, and I guess there's the possibility of livening it up a bit with atmospheric luminescent creatures. Or just tell any concept artists to make sure any night shots are taken either horizontally or from below. :P

 21 kassyopeia, Fri, 7th Sep '12 9:51:50 PM from terrae nullius

I'm sure we've both seen stars reflected in puddles or still lakes, though I can't say that I recall any specific instances at the momoent. smile

As far as I'm aware, the diffuse lighting I'm talking about has nothing to do with air pollution. I've seen some pretty spectacular sunsets in the wake of forest fires, but it's quite a different sort of effect. You get the vivid colours, but not the glow or the absence of shadows. Instead, smoke makes things look as if they were "drenched" in the light, somehow, and the shadows get deeper, if anything. Soft light versus hard light, also, whatever that means in physical terms. My suspicion is that it has to do with water droplets or vapour, because the glow is rather like that of the sky within the arc of a particularly bright rainbow. I googled "dramatic sunset", and this photo captures the effect I mean pretty well - if you manage to look past the high kitsch coefficient...

I actually quite like the idea that the night-yks would have different kinds of patterns than the night-sky, going by what you described. Instead of points of light, there are rings of light, and instead of imaginary lines connecting the points in a constellation, there are actual (though dim) lines along the "highways" (ah, that's a word you have to use in some capacity) connecting the rings. Do you have a rough idea of the size and density of skylands, or are you leaving all of the concrete stuff for later?

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 22 Topazan, Fri, 7th Sep '12 10:21:18 PM from San Diego
I see. So during the day everything would be bathed in a blue light? That could be cool, if a bit difficult to portray artistically.

That is an interesting concept. It would mean that people might believe that the Underworld is a reflection of their own world. A doomed patriot therefore might sing, "Ye'll take the high way, and I'll take the low way, and I'll be in Tocsland afore ye." It would also encourage people to keep using the same routes, since they can use the luminescence for navigation at night, meaning that if choke-points are needed in the game or story they'll be viable.

I was thinking that this might render exploration irrelevant, but actually it wouldn't. There would be other 'constellations', unconnected to the known world to be discovered that might be too dim to see without getting closer, and less populated skylands would have extremely dim rings.

I'm not quite certain I'll go with this, but it's one more thing to think about. I haven't quite hammered out the details yet, but I was thinking as a rule of thumb the absolute largest skylands are about the size of Great Britain, with most of them being much, much smaller with room for only one city, or in some cases one village. In terms of density, I'm not sure exactly how far apart they'll be, but it will be a comfortable distance even though there will be a lot of them.

 23 kassyopeia, Fri, 7th Sep '12 11:12:27 PM from terrae nullius

Well, not really "bathed in blue" light, more "tinted with" blue light. We have that already, the blue light coming from all of the sky illuminates the shadows cast by the disk of the sun. But on Earth, the difference in brightness is so severe that our eyes don't really register that in any way, under normal conditions. More diffuse light means that that difference becomes less severe. Things which aren't in shadow would get a slight blue tinge, because the slightly bluer and somewhat dimmer sun-light combines with the somewhat brighter sky-light. Things which are in shadow would be more noticably illuminated by the sky-light alone, and so would be a much purer blue. It's entirely up to you how far to take this, though. At one end of the scale, you get a barely noticeable blue glow added to a familiar sunlit scene. At the other end of the scale, the sky as a whole could be brighter than the sun and the sun little brighter than a full moon, and the difference between sun-lit and sky-lit (fka shadowed) zones would be more one of hue than of brightness - blue-ish for the former, all-blue for the latter. I guess that case does fit your description of "bathed in blue", after all. smile

LOL @ "Tocsland", and I'm very much in favour of your idea of using the yks-constellations as navigation aids and thus in the long run reinforcing those constellations in turn. This could actually lead to travel between beyond-the-horizon skylands being done preferentially by night, since that mode of navigation wouldn't be usable during the day.

Would there ever be skylands more or less on top of each other, but separated by a significant vertical distance, or is the habital zone not that thick?

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 24 Topazan, Fri, 7th Sep '12 11:16:50 PM from San Diego
It's possible, but the density is low enough that it's unlikely. The habitual zone is thick enough that elevation is as much if not more of a determiner of climate than latitude, if only because the story takes place in a specific latitude zone.

I was thinking that the lower skylands would be deserts and jungles, while the highest would be icy tundras with a temperate zone in between.

Of course, they would have to have some other form of navigation to establish those constellations in the first place.

edited 7th Sep '12 11:25:46 PM by Topazan

 25 kassyopeia, Sat, 8th Sep '12 12:29:55 AM from terrae nullius

Good point. I actually mean to include the analogy of ant trails in my previous post, but forgot: The luminescence would be like the scent markers that both define the trail and are renewed whenever an ant uses the trail. If one extends the analogy, the initial establishment of a trail would work like this: An explorer blunders about and happens upon a worthwhile destination. They then return directly to the "nest", marking the trail as they go and bringing a sample of what the new destination provides. If the sample is considered acceptable, other ants follow the trail to get more of the same, and you're up and running (literally).

For that to be applicable, one would have to fill in the two missing pieces: Would a ship be able to return directly home? If so, how? And would they understand how to kickstart a luminescence trail? If so, would they have the means to do so right away?

As to the first, they could have some equivalent of homing pigeons on board and just follow those. As to the latter, they'd just need a huuuge supply of some equivalent of Hansel's breadcrumbs. tongue

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
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