Liminal Space
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Basic Information

Liminal Space ("liminal" meaning "threshold") is a term used here to describe boundary areas surrounding towns and cities where the detritus of civilization meets the encroaching wilderness. While at first glance the area might look like pristine nature, a closer look will reveal garbage, ruins, and other leftovers beneath the vegetation and bodies of water, often turning the environment toxic. What's more, people often visit these spaces - especially those who seek to escape civilization for a time, or who don't quite fit there in the first place (such as the homeless) might visit and leave their marks. As one photo essay described it[1]:

"Sometimes these zones inspire people to create personal, intimate memorials to lost loved ones. Bodies are hidden in, and occasionally pulled from, these city nether-regions. Perhaps it’s the solitude and somberness of these places that makes them attractive as shrines, as well as the feeling that you’re standing on a threshold between life and death, past, present, and future."
"The most unsettling scenes in the liminal underworld are where offerings and rituals seem to have taken place—or perhaps objects are posted as warnings. These spots remind me of the gruesome forest discoveries of my childhood in Suffolk, like the time I was walking through the woods and came across several crows that had been nailed to trees. According to my parents, the crows were the cranky gamekeeper’s way of admonishing poachers to keep out. I don’t dare imagine what a village of teddy bears impaled on poles might mean."
"These locations can conjure a sense of vulnerability and even primal fear, but I try to channel it through the detachment of the viewfinder. I dread the moment I’m downloading the day’s shots and I notice a figure in the trees. There are dark druid groves just off the Belt Parkway."

Liminal environments also occur wherever one biome meets another - coastlines, the edges of forests, foothills and the like, and the idea can be extended to memetic and cultural boundaries where various social groups grind against one another. Some authorities would hold that cities are inherently liminal, but more generally you would expect this state to occur in ports, modern universities and other diverse and socially dislocated areas.

See Also

  • Urban Prairie - regions that weren't just at the boundary of civilization, but fully inhabited before they were abandoned.


Game and Story Use

  • Liminal spaces are perfect for exploration in urban fantasy games, as "urban versus wilderness" is a common theme in such campaigns. As the boundary area between both, anything could show up there - and fight for control.
    • Furthermore, thresholds always had their own magic and mystic associations. See for example crossroads.
  • These are places where you're most likely to spot cryptids and other wierd things - a creature that you'll never get a look at in the forest might well be easier to spot when it wanders out of the woods into a boundary or clearing.
  • Liminal environments are good for adventure generally - no-one is at home there and there are fewer certainties and fixed points of reference so they are places where things tend to happen.
    • They also tend to be places where evolution happens quickly, and where you can get all manner of weird cross-breeds. If your campaign uses a naturalistic explanation for monsters, this is where they're likely to show up.
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