Dancers at the End of Time is a trilogy by Michael Moorcock, consisting of An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands, and The End of All Songs. It is set in the distant future where the only inhabitants of Earth are debauched, decadent immortals who can conjure up anything they desire with the use of power rings. They spend all their time constructing elaborate edifices of poorly remembered past events, having wild orgies, and collecting aliens and stranded time travelers like animals in their "menageries."
The story focuses on one such future inhabitant, Jherek Carnelian, and his relationship with Mrs. Amelia Underwood, an accidental 19th century time traveler. To amuse himself and his peers, Jherek vows to "fall in love," with this woman, romance apparently having fallen out of fashion in favor of wild orgies. What begins as a stunt turns to genuine love, and Amelia learns to forgo much of her 19th century English prudishness and realize Jherek is much nicer than her own awful husband.
Various time-travelling shenanigans occur; Amelia and Jherek are separated, the other inhabitants of the future play merry hell with the time stream, all the while the universe of the future is collapsing in on itself. The story is not Moorcock's best work, and I found it aimless and maudlin.
However, the picture of the future that it paints is an excellent model for a prior world in Numenera. The people of the end of time live in a complete material utopia, capable of altering their environment and themselves with little more than a thought. As such, they want for nothing but entertainment, an enterprise to which they devote all of their attention.
How to Use It in Your Game
The people at the end of time did not make a great many permanent structures, but if they are used as a model of a prior-world society, then a huge and impressive structure made of non-native materials that serves no practical purpose could have been created by just such a society purely for the purposes of entertainment.
A more interesting idea might be to use the end of time as a model for the future of the Ninth World itself. The debauched society described by Moorcock is the result of humans or human-like creatures having their every whim satisfied, after all. By tampering with some time-related Numenera, the players might find themselves flung into the future and held prisoner in the name of entertainment.
Time travel in this setting is persnickety, as well. Moorcock's solution to the time paradox dilemma is to endow time itself with a sort of animal sentience, so that it seems to intentionally re-locate time travelers who cause paradoxes. This also means that someone who has visited the future might find themselves brought back at any time, if they spread to much paradox-generating information.
With that in mind, the end of time, or something like it, might just be one stop on an entire time-travelling campaign or adventure path, with the idea of "You're causing a paradox" as a versatile GM fiat to jump to a new setting if things get too dull.
Future or past, you should be able to use these ideas in your game right away.
- After tampering with a numenera device, the characters find themselves in a strange place and an item of interest for alien beings. Mercurial and all-powerful, their strange hosts seem to regard the PCs as entertainment. They'll have to find a way to distract them and/or establish contact in order to find a way back to their native time/dimension/planet.
- A powerful nano requires a numenera device available only in a prior world. His solution? Hire someone to go get it, using his time machine. The only catch is, the people he hires must act exactly as if they were natives of that bygone time. Failure to blend in could cause a paradox, which would result in them being hurled through time to god knows when.
- The PCs acquire a powerful artifact, only to discover that it is powerless and inert. The only practical means of activating it require them to travel into the ruined city where its energy banks are stored and coax the dilapidated wireless power transmitter back to life.
- A bizarre alien creature armed with powerful numenera has appeared in a major city, and has begun robbing other stores of numenera. In truth, this creature is a time traveler from a prior world, trapped in the dilapidated future of the Ninth World and desperately seeking a way home.
- An enormous palace of lapis lazuli and gold stands in the middle of the wilderness. Its doors and windows are purely decorative, and there seems to be no way in. Further, its walls are freakishly tough, despite being paper thin.
- A wealthy nobleman's estate features enclosures for various human, quasi-human, and alien individuals, all housed in radically different settings and technology levels.
- A ruined, prior-world city boils with vibrant, multi-hued chemical vapors and pools, all of which are totally harmless to humans despite their noxious appearance.
- A circus sideshow features a captive alien who does nothing but desperately warn onlookers about the impending doom of the world.
This is the second of hopefully many Fiction Inspirations posts. As I will only use those materials I have experienced personally, the next one will come from this list:
At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft
Dancers at the End of Time, by Michael Moorcock
The Dying Earth, by Jack Vance
The History of the Runestaff, by Michael Moorcock
Pump Six and Other Stories, by Paolo Bacigalupi
Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Viriconium, by M. John Harrison