April 28, 2011

Gondwane: Dinosaurs

I’ve been researching Jurassic era dinosaurs for my Gods of Gondwane game, and I’ve been finding a lot of interesting stuff.  For one thing, a true Jurassic instead of Cretaceous setting turns out to require much more research because the world really was quite different then.

Flora

There are no grasses, flowering shrubs or fruit trees of any sort in the Jurassic.  Instead we have ferns, ginkgos, cycads, and conifers like pines and cypresses. 

The dietary staple of the Gondwaneans is the breadcrown cycad, which sprouts a huge cone containing starchy but poisonous seeds every year. 

Eating improperly processed seeds will result in vomiting, paralysis, and eventually liver failure leading to death. I based the breadcrown on the real-life sago cycad, which really has this poisonous property.

Microfauna

The insects and other arthropods of Gondwane will tend to be bigger and nastier than their modern-world counterparts.  For one, it’ll be more interesting, and second, any bug that can bite through dinosaur hide should be reason for a human to worry. 

There’ll also be quite a few mammals and proto-mammalian critters in the underbrush, even in some Gondwanean homes.  They fill rodent-like, shrew-like, and weasel-like ecological niches, and Gondwaneans call most of them “zoraks”. 

Several species of Compsognathus are also common in and around homes, where they are kept to control vermin and as ready food – Jurassic barnfowl. Gondwaneans call them Trillers for their call.

Macrofauna

The big boys of the age of course are the dinosaurs and other big reptiles, and it was here that I had to really research.  The dinosaurs most commonly shown in media, even in Jurassic Park, were not from Jurassic but the later Cretaceous period. 

So no tyrannosaurs, no triceratops, no hadrosaurs, no big Jurassic Park raptors.  Instead we’ve got stegosaurs, ankylosaurs, allosaurs, ceratosaurs, megalosaurs, and dryosaurs.  And many sauropods; the Jurassic was the age of the big sauropod, like Diplodocus. I’ll be using descriptive names for most of the dinosaurs.

Dryosaurs are called Striders and the smaller kinds are widely domesticated as meat and riding animals.  Strider-mounted cavalry are the main striking and scouting force of many Gondwanean kingdoms.

Runners refer to various species of small herbivorous such as agilisaurs, othnielia and early psittacosaurs that are very common across Gondwane, filling the eco-niche of gazelles and deer. 

Stegosaurs are called Oarbacks, after the big bony plates on their spines.  Some nations domesticate them for use as living tanks.

I also have an idea for a nomad group that uses the Diplodocus or Argentinosaurus as a mount, transporting entire families on the back of each lumbering titan. Gondwaneans refer to all large sauropods as Earthshakers.

Just check out the size comparison and imagine how many people would fit on a howdah sized for this critter!

Allosaurs are called Devourers, and ceratosaurs are Horned Devourers.  They’re the big bad land predators of the era.

And then there’s the small but nasty Darter, based on the Sinornithosaurus.  I’m taking the hypothesis that this possible ancestor of the raptors had a poisonous bite, based on its grooved teeth and a jawbone cavity where a venom gland may have been.  It’s too small to want to eat humans, but annoy it at your own risk …

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