Endless Blue – Kickstarter Day 14 – The Why and How of Ultravision   Leave a comment

The How and Why of Ultravision

For those old enough to have played in the early years of 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons, there was a type of vision called ultravision.  Ultravision was on the opposite end of the spectrum from infravision, which was the ability to see into the infrared, or in other words, heat.  As expected, ultravision allowed seeing into the other extreme, the ultraviolet range.  Very few creatures possessed the ability (and absolutely no player races did either), so it was a rarity to come across in the game.  Many players felt it was poorly explained and amounted to little other than a different kind of infravision, so slowly it fell out of use until 3E, where it was expunged completely.

I always felt that was a wasted opportunity, to simply throw away a part of the game that could still have some viability if someone simply put a little effort into giving it an identity of its own.  So ultravision has ruminated in the back of my mind for most of my RPG career.  It’s no wonder it found a home in the ENDLESS BLUE, which was given life from all the little things in aquatic supplements that just left me feeling they were a bit nonsensical.

Darkvision is the infravision of the D20/Pathfinder game systems.  It is an active type of sight, meaning it needs to do nothing other than accept the infrared wave lengths that are given off by warm objects.  To clearly show a difference between it and ultravision, I decided to make ultravision a passive type of sight.  This means there must be an active source of ultraviolet light nearby for ultravision to work.  This made sense, because even though all natural light has UV light in it, the deeper into the ocean you go, the more of the spectrum becomes absorbed by the water above.  At a point, even what ultraviolet light that isn’t reflected off by the albedo of the ocean is absorbed, leaving the depths completely dark.  But with an active UV source, a new kind of vision could become useful.

As for what is actually seen when using ultravision, I looked to the other effect that ultravision has: making pigments fluoresce.  When I was younger, I remember a friend having an ultraviolet lamp and black light posters (it was the `70s, after all).  As vivid as the colors were that those posters gave off, the one thing that struck me most was the dark polished wooden posts of his bed — they glowed a faint yellow.  That memory really struck with me, the difference between the rich dark color under normal light versus the faint, artificial glowing under black light.  I learned that it was the wood stain that was fluorescing.  The pigment that gave the wood its dark lustre had a completely different effect under ultraviolet light.

This effect is not isolated to artificial compounds, either.  It happens in nature as well, notably some scorpions, normally expertly camouflaged under normal daylight, become ghostly glowing creatures when bathed in ultraviolet wavelengths.  Bees can see into the ultraviolet range, and that makes the colorful flowers the seek stand out from others that we humans would find indistinguishable.

And that led me to the purpose for ultravision: to enable naturally camouflaged creatures to be seen for what they really are.  This ability would be amazingly useful in an environment where animals often use coloration to blend into the surroundings.  To the naked eye, they are practically invisible; but under ultraviolet light, they would stand our against their surrounds as the specific pigments that normally hid them betrayed their location.  And what aquatic creature more exemplifies the ability to change their color than the cephalopods?  Octopi, cuttlefish, and squids…  and the greatest known squids that operate in the aphotic depths of the ocean are the mysterious Kraken.

This set in place one of the major arcs in the history of the ENDLESS BLUE, the Kraken Occupation, and its downfall as the waring piscean races put aside their differences and made ultravision magic work.  It’s a unique detail that helps give Elqua it’s own personality and individualism.

William James Cuffe

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