Dragon Norns, As Usual

I'm torn between keeping the rather charming 'life cycle' I observed in the original duotract edits, and the equally charming behavior exhibited by my current version of the genome.

Basically, there's an instinct that in most Norns has a pretty subtle effect. It kicks on at adolescence and tells them to approach Norn Homes when in need of comfort. So, when homesick, go home. Simple. This is why most Norns -tend- to hang out in the Meso or the Norn Terrarium but may well roam out into the ship at random if they feel like it. The instinct lets them know that going home when they're homesick is a good idea, but since they aren't constantly homesick, they don't always stay home. And even then they're quite capable of ignoring homesickness in favor of some other drives due to the critical drive overwhelmsion system.

One of the traits of the duotract edits is that the Norns seem more sensitive to neuroemitters and instincts. I find myself very tempted to say that they are simply, overall, more 'conscious'. At minimum, they are more sensitive or reactive in some ways. So certain genes which are or would be relatively minor edits become more important for them.

For example, I made a neurotransmitter that slightly punishes them and inflicts Boredom for hitting other Norns. The Boredom is to counter the Boredom decrease that comes from the I Hit It stimulus. The goal was so they can still enjoy hitting gadgets and their prey, and have no inhibition to their ability to defend themselves against Grendel aggression, while still reducing intraspecies violence.

In the tritract edit, and control groups with no brain edits, this neuroemitter has at best a minor effect. It does cut down on intraspecies violence, but not so much that you'd notice it without doing a deliberate comparison of Norns with and without the gene. In most versions of the duotract edit, you can see the neuroemitter kick in oftentimes - they'll hit once, twice, then suddenly just stop, pause, and then try something else. That characteristic of striking twice and then pausing is distinctive. They can still choose to keep hitting if highly motivated to do so - and I suppose high motivation to hit is not rare among them since violence remains fairly common. But outright murder has become much rarer, and when it does happen, it never seems accidental, like the killer just went one hit too far, which is how Norn-on-Norn murder typically comes across. Now they have to really choose to hit often enough fast enough to kill each other. Or at least dislike each other strongly enough to want to hit that often despite how bad it feels to hit each other.

So it turns out that this other gene, the homesickness one, was the source of much of the 'life cycle' behavior I'd previously observed. I had modified it so that they would want to approach other Norns for comfort instead of Norn Homes. (I also changed their stimulus genes so that approaching other Norns produced Comfort reduction rather than Norn Homes, so the instinct wouldn't be inaccurate to their reality. Never forget to do this when working with instincts and stimuli!) This was part of a larger set of edits meant to encourage them to be more prone to wandering in 'packs', or at least to travel more often without getting too far away from each other to ever breed or socialize.

However, at the time, I didn't notice that the gene doesn't activate until Adolescence.

So the duotract edits were doing this: As babies and children they would roam around, usually splitting into pairs, sometimes trios. But at Adolescence they began to seek each other out more, and at Youth they began to form settled colonies and breed. So there was this clear cycle of roaming young and mostly settled youths/adults, with some individuals being more migratory than others, but the colonies being, for the most part, settled things whose location moved - if at all - only slowly on a generational basis, the way cities expand or shift over time. Mostly, the colonies would just form, last for a few generations, then eventually break apart or die off for one reason or another. (Interestingly, a murder will often lead to such a breakup, even though normal deaths from other causes usually don't. Outright die-offs are usually the result of either elking - overpopulating, eating their prey to extinction, then dying off themselves - or some unusually horrible bacteria outbreak.)

At first I thought this was the result of the duotract edit itself. In a way, it kind of is, as normal Norns don't exhibit such a dramatic reaction to the gene activating. But it's not intrinsic to the edit. It's due to this instinct, and solely this instinct.

I proved that by turning the instinct off altogether for one group of testers. The result was... unsatisfactory. It produced, as I expected, a set of Norns who spent their whole lives wandering the way the babies and children did before. Unfortunately, for some strange reason, they were even less social than before. They tended to wander alone. Their roaming pairs when formed did not tend to last long and were often same-sex even then. The activation of their powerful sex drive at maturity did nothing to change this, nothing whatsoever. They made ONE egg, in the entire run, of their own accord. They died off, very old, total failures at reproduction. They simply found wandering more rewarding than being near each other because they never really gave themselves an opportunity to learn from experience alone that socializing relieved their loneliness. Another part of the problem is the presence, in the underlying genome I used to build the dragons on as a base, of stimuli and instincts that allow them to slightly relieve loneliness by playing with plants and stuff. This is generally a good feature for them to have, but it allowed this group to get away with being antisocial ding-dongs.

So that Did Not Work Out Well.

I decided to go another route and restore the gene, but have it activate at birth and be much less powerful. Instead of being set to max relief, it's set to .3-something reduction of Comfort. Which is still a significant incentive, but much less of one. (Remember, readers, Instinct genes DO NOT provide the actual reward themselves! They merely tell the Norn what reward to EXPECT. Instincts are simply programs for Norn dreams. Nothing more. When the Norn sleeps, their instincts are played out, so that the Norn experiences scenarios as if it were awake and they were really happening, including learning from them. This creates learned expectations about the world and is how instincts help modify Creature behavior. But if the instinct doesn't match reality it can and will be unlearned. This is why editing your stimuli and instincts together is so important. If the stimulus doesn't match the relevant instinct(s), you won't get the results you want.) I did not change the actual amount of Comfort relief they get, but that's okay, because it was never as high as the instinct implied it was anyway.

And the result is... interesting. Not quite what I expected, but interesting. Actually, it's the closest I've come to my original goal of pack behavior. It's still NOT that, not really, but it's closer than before.

What they do is they form more settled groups from the beginning, but these groups aren't nearly as permanent as before. They're much more prone to drift across the metaroom or relocate to different metarooms. They also break up and reform as other colonies in different spots more frequently. Travel between metarooms using the provided metaroom doors as well as Offline Portals is less frequent than in the roaming stage of the originals, but much more frequent than in the settled stage of the originals. They are more apt to form trios and larger groups, but some pairs do form that go off at least a little to be with each other. I have not made a close study of their reproductive habits yet to determine whether or not they are still engaging in that curious serial monogamy behavior.

But now I find myself stuck between the two! I can't do both, manifestly.

I guess I could have the gene activate at a higher life stage, as before, but leave its potency reduced. That would restore the earlier roaming stage but make the older ones less settled and more prone to returning to their exploring ways after or during the breeding stage. But is that even what people want to see? Would it be better to restore the original model? It was kind of interesting.

Blaaah. As if I didn't already have enough plans for different types of Dragon Norn... And ALL of these variations would come in AT LEAST two types themselves, duotract and tritract. (I need better names for those, along the lines of CFF or CFE or whatnot, to identify them separately from the Dragon genome. Hmmm.)  AND I ALSO plan to do a whole set of Grendel Dragons, too. I could keep myself busy for years with this...

Now I also have to consider social dynamics for all of these!

Abyss Dragon - Draconian sprites only. No wings, flight, or air breathing. Purely aquatic obligate predators. Will probably use the high-roaming compromise version of the instinct. Will also be much more resistant to cold (possibly immune to it entirely) and whatever other edits I can come up with to reflect their adaptation to their cold, high-pressure, deep-water environment. (If only I could give them bioluminescence without major sprite edits... :p)

Zephyr Dragon - Draconian with Gargoyle arms (at least until a better solution comes along *daydreams about having the time and energy to do the work of pasting all the Draconian upper arm sprites over the Gargoyle ones to create Draconian arms with Gargoyle wings - would even color match if you used the female Gargoyle wings for both sexes... ) Opposite of the Abysses, these fly and breathe air but cannot swim or breathe water. Purely land-going/flying obligate predators. Again, will probably use the compromise version of the instinct.

Imperator Dragon - For those who want it all. Flight, swimming, and full amphibious lifestyle capabilities. Predatory omnivores; they will still use the standard dragon prey digestion system but will have the ability to obtain at least some nutrition and hunger relief from browsing on fruit, food, and seeds. Compromise version. May also get some other edits to give them some sort of superior social skills, or mating superiority, or some other thing in line with the idea that they're somehow just a bit superior to the rest of the dragons (even though objectively they're just another variant of the breed; in-theme they're, you know, Imperators, so they should fit the part at least in some token way beyond merely being the first to get amphibiousness, flight, and swimming.)

Flora Dragon - May or may not do this in two versions, one for air and one for water. Might just make it amphibious, in the sense that it won't drown in either environment, but only able to fly OR swim (most likely not able to fly, in which case they'd use the full Draconian sprite set). Basically, these would be just like other dragons, except that their digestion would be reverted to normal. All predatory-related edits would be reverted or removed and edits promoting the consumption of plants, leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds would be added. They would also be given much greater resistance to weeds than normal, though they would still be vulnerable to toxins and such. These will use the original version of the instinct, prompting them to follow that distinctive life cycle, which seems appropriate. I will use other measures that will encourage them to become even more 'rooted' once they do settle down. They will be wandering as 'seeds', then grow 'roots' and settle in to make more 'seeds'... et cetera.

Fallout Dragon - Similar to Fallout Norns, this would be an otherwise standard Dragon genome which has mutation chance for all genes, brain genes included, maxed out. I'd also add a few other changes like high resistance to the damaging effects of heavy metals (but not their ability to mutate offspring even further) and probably something to promote irrational behavior. I wish there were a way to make them actually, like, radiate heavy metals or something, but I don't know of a way to do that without a special agent, and even then it'd probably be a pain in the butt. These will probably come in two versions. One with the 'life cycle instinct' muted, meant to be used in mixed worlds with other dragon types, and one with a weak form of instinct that's active from birth, for people running them on their own specifically to farm mutations.

Toxic Dragon - Again, like Toxic Norns, only modified from a Dragon genome. Right now this basically obligates them to also be detrivores and herbivores, since I don't know of any toxic critters or bugs, though they could be designed to perhaps specialize in pests? I just know at some point I want to do a Toxic Dragon. Should probably not be as exploratory given the more limited nature of Toxic environments available, so will use the original strong version of the gene and have it activate earlier in life (though perhaps not from birth).

Snapper Dragon - Insectivorous and amphibious. Technically capable of deriving nourishment from critters and animal eggs still, but has instincts only for bugs and pests, and neuroemitters that discourage eating critters and animal eggs. Will use the original life cycle, but reversed, so that those young enough to be weak or of breeding age stick close to the group but those of Old age or older are liable to wander. (If I can figure out how to make that work. Otherwise they'll probably get a weak version of the instinct that activates at birth or childhood.)

Oviraptor Dragon - Amphibious, swimming, flighted. Egg thief! Again, can technically derive nourishment from any usual prey, but will have instincts only for animal eggs, and neuroemitters to discourage other prey and food sources. Probably will have these guys be a bit less social. If I can figure out how to maximize 'pairing' behavior, I will do so for these.

Earth Dragon - Landgoing and flightless. Predatory, but also capable of deriving useful and satisfying nourishment from fruits and seeds (but 'food' provides little hunger satisfaction or useful nutrition), with many individuals favoring the latter as primary nutrition. Will likely use a strong form of the instinct from birth or childhood, as it makes sense for these to be much more sedentary and socially settled.

Swamp Dragon - Amphibious, swimming, flightless.  Has high toxin resistance and can benefit from some toxins but isn't a full blown toxic breed. Immune or nearly so to bacteria but doesn't derive benefit from them - it's weed/plant toxins specifically they have adapted to. Also even tougher than normal - as tough as it can be to be killed by hitting without making it flatly impossible. Also, lacking the innate hostility most dragon norns feel toward Grendels. Meant to be kept alongside the eventual Dragon Grendels. Able to derive some nutritional benefit and hunger satisfaction from eating fruit, leaves, and flowers, but also inclined by instinct to seek pests, bugs, and animal eggs. Neither inclined to nor discouraged from eating critters. Seeds and food are 'junk food' that provide little to no nutritional benefit or hunger satisfaction.

Nightmare Dragons - Amphibious, swimming, flying. These are engineered to produce Chemical 233 and Chemical 130 constantly. 233 happens at varying doses, 130 is constantly maxed out.

Psychonaut Dragons - Amphibious, swimming, flying. As with the former, but with 130 only.

Hallucinosis Dragons - Amphibious, swimming, flying.  As with the former, but 233 only.


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