A Brief Guide to Pern

So you've just found this game, only there's one problem. It's set in Pern, and you don't know Pern. But you've looked at a log or your friend says it's fun, so you want to give it a try.

Great! Here's the basics. This is a general guide to Pern, not to Pernworld or Xanadu Weyr in particular, but it should help you get started.

Pern is based on a set of books by Anne McCaffrey. The series has since been continued by Todd McCaffrey. If you want to read them, I suggest starting with the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy.

Ah, but you're still here. All right, let's go for the short version, so you can start playing before you get the chance to do that reading.

The History of Pern

Pern is a planet. It orbits the star Rukbat. There are two moons. There are two major continents, one in the northern hemisphere and one in the south. There is also a smaller continent to the west of these.

Pern is fairly limited in native fauna. Notable species are the wherry (think omnivorous hexaped turkeys), the tunnelsnake (think a hexapedal cross between a snake and a cockroach), the firelizard (think miniature dragons), and the glow worm (naturally phosphorescent insects, later cultivated and used in baskets to provide light).

Human-type people came in a spaceship to colonize Pern. They landed on the southern of the continents. Life was good. They had some technology, but intended to live a mostly pastoral life.

The colonists brought with them all the animals you'd expect on a farm. One quirk is that things are often referred to by a scientific or descriptive name (horses->runners, dogs->canines, sheep->ovines, cattle->herdbeasts, etc). This is to remind you that you're reading science fiction.

The colonists also brought with them genetically modified big cats (something between a leopard and lion) and intelligent dolphins.

The big cats turned out to be vicious. They escaped, thus earning the name wild felines. They live only on the southern continent.

The dolphins happily colonized the seas, working with humans.

Life was good, until… THREAD!


Thread is these long strands of gray stuff that fall from the sky like rain. When it touches organic material, it eats them away like acid and turns them into more thread. It can't go through rock or metal, it dies in fire or extreme cold, and it drowns in water.

There were periods when thread fell regularly, called Passes, and times when it didn't for a while, called Intervals. They're related to the presence of a planetoid called the Red Star in the sky.

In response, the colonists used their Genetic Engineering Technology to create: DRAGONS!


There are five colors of dragon, listed here by rarity and size:

Golds are female and the largest and rarest type of dragon. Sometimes called Queens, they are the only fertile females. The other colors will always obey a gold. They always choose female riders.
Bronzes are male. They will always choose male riders, and tend to be in leadership roles.
Browns are male. They usually choose male riders.
Blues are male. They often choose male riders.
Greens are female. They are the smallest and most common type of dragon. They choose male or female riders, and are infertile, though they still mate.

Draconic Features

Dragons have six limbs; four legs and two wings. They're carnivores, can fly, have thick hide (no scales), are friendly to humanity, and they're all large enough to carry people on their backs.

Multicolor Eyes

They're swirly and change colors to match the dragon's emotions. Orange/Red is hungry or angry. Green/Blue is happy.


When a dragon hatches, it chooses a human to psychically bond with. This bond is permanent; they are in constant psychic contact. If the human dies, the dragon will suicide. If the dragon dies, the human will be very unhappy.


They can talk to anyone with latent psychic powers (which is most people), but generally limit themselves to other dragons and their chosen human.

An interesting side effect is that dragons, being in psychic contact, are aware when another dragon dies. They will mourn with a high-pitched keening sound.


They can teleport themselves and anything they're carrying by going through a cold black nothingness called 'Between'. The teleportation is usually called betweening. It is possible to get stuck between, or to come out of between into a solid object.


They do this by chewing a rock called firestone. A chemical reaction produces the flame, which they then breathe. They burp up ash afterward. Golds cannot breathe fire; instead, their riders may use flamethrowers.

Mating Flights

Green and gold dragons both have mating flights. In the time leading up to a flight, the female dragon may have changes in behavior that also affect her rider, and her hide will become brighter in color. This is referred to as being proddy, and may last a while or be very brief. Greens are usually proddy for longer than golds are, but this is highly variable.

A gold will typically waken from a deep sleep feeling hungry and horny. She will go drain the blood from prey animals, while the bronzes (and sometimes browns) of the weyr gather and do the same. She may try to eat, in which case her rider should stop her, or she may not. Either way, once she's fortified herself, she'll fly up into the air.

The bronzes will chase her, and eventually, one of them will catch her. They mate in the air. The riders of these dragons are swept along by the emotions of their dragons and also have sex; others in the area may also be affected, albeit less strongly, by the dragons' psychically projected emotions. The gold dragon will gestate eggs internally for a while, then lay them on hot sands. After a while, they hatch and choose riders.

A green dragon's mating flight is much the same, except all colors of male dragons chase, the projected emotions are much less strong, and there are no eggs afterward. Because greens are the most common dragons, greenflights happen frequently in Weyrs.

Draconic Relatives

There are two species closely related to dragons: firelizards and whers.

Firelizards are basically miniature dragons. They can and do live in the wild, but they can also be impressed like dragons if they're offered food when hatching. They are much less intelligent than dragons, and can only communicate with pictures and emotions instead of words. Unlike dragons, gold and green firelizards are both capable of laying eggs; greens lay fewer and only chromatics (brown, blue, green).

Whers are about the size of a horse, somewhat ugly, have stubby wings incapable of flight, and dislike strong light. They are not as intelligent as dragons, but some of them can use simple words telepathically. They are used in mining and as guard animals.

More History

Thread happened. The colonists made dragons to fight it by flaming it out of sky, and also created grubby things to eat it on the ground. Life was getting toward good again, then earthquakes and volcanos happened, and the colonists fled to the Northern of the continents to start life anew. In the process, they forgot nearly all of the history so far, that dolphins were intelligent, and their technology, and instead established a sort of vaguely late-Medieval European feudal society. (With dragons!)

Places of Pern

There are, in broad terms, three types of places on Pern. They have independent power structures and autonomy, though they may well work together or come into conflict.


Dragons, their riders, and the people associated with them live here. The rider of a gold dragon is called a Weyrwoman. One of these will be the Senior Weyrwoman, usually the most experienced. The others are Junior Weyrwomen, and are expected to take their direction from the Senior. The dragonrider whose bronze caught the gold on her most recent mating flight is the Weyrleader, and shares leadership with the Senior Weyrwoman. There's also a Weyrsecond, an appointed second in command for the Weyr.

Traditionally, Weyrwomen are involved with managing the people of the Weyr and things like supplies, and the Weyrleader is responsible for managing the dragonriders and leading them in fighting thread. There is often a Headwoman/man and/or Steward who helps with this and reports to the Weyrwomen. Exact roles may vary.

Riders are organized into wings. Each wing has a Wingleader in charge and a Wingsecond as second in command. The Wingleaders report to the Weyrleader and Weyrsecond.

Weyrs are often located in dormant volcanoes, making use of geothermically active areas for hot sands for the dragon's eggs and the cliffs as a place to carve homes for dragon-rider pairs. These are also called Weyrs. It's kind of like how you have a home city and a home.

In part because of draconic mating flights and the associated emotions, the Weyrs have a reputation for being libertine and promiscuous. It's partly true; while there are dragonriders in committed relationships, sex as a result of flights is generally accepted, and some social mores are more relaxed.

When there are dragon eggs getting ready to hatch, the dragonriders will collect people who might be suitable. The dragons can detect such people (blues are best at this), and the riders ask them to come to the Weyr as Candidates and Stand at the hatching. If a dragon chooses them, they become Weyrlings and are trained in what to do as riders.


The equivalent of towns and cities. Also called cotholds if they're small or mostly residential, seaholds if they're on the ocean, beastholds if they're involved with herding… you get the idea. Traditional Holds are carved into cliffs so as to be sheltered from thread. The Holds of an area all fall under the authority of one large Hold, run by a Lord and Lady Holder. There is often also a Steward and/or Headwoman in a large Hold being second in command on the org charts. The Lord Holders are all part of the Conclave, a sort of overarching structure of governance with little actual authority. Holds may be inherited by anyone in the Holder's family. The heir is selected by the Holder and must be confirmed by the Lord Holder or, in the case of a Lord Holder, by the Conclave.


A Craft is some moderately specialized skill. There's a main Hall for each one, and people join the craft as Apprentices (usually in their early teens), and become Journeymen and eventually Masters. Crafters at the Journeyman (or, rarely, Master) level are posted to holds, halls, and weyrs as appropriate. Apprentices may also train under a Journeyman or Master directly instead of at the Hall. Crafts are led by a CraftMaster and CraftSecond chosen by the Masters of the craft.

Most of the crafts are pretty self-explanatory. Beastcrafters, Farmers, Healers, Smiths, Seacrafters, Minecrafters, Weavers, and so forth all do what you'd expect. One unusual craft is the Harpers. In addition to music and the arts, they're also responsible for studying law and teaching general education.

The practice of a craft is not strictly limited to those trained at the Hall (not all stablehands are beastcrafters, for instance), but the Crafthall expects to be involved at such a point as someone's making a profit at it.


Some people don't live in any of these. They're generally either traders traveling in caravans (risky, if there's thread), or criminals and renegades hiding from justice.

Even More History

A bunch of stuff happened. Humanity eventually found the Southern Continent again, and found AIVAS, an AI from when the colonists arrived. Together, the dragonriders and AIVAS stopped thread forever. Then, AIVAS went away, but left all the records behind, so people figured out all that history they forgot and that dolphins were smart and so forth.

Things got a bit weird for dragonriders with no thread. Some of them settled at Holds. Some of them stayed in Weyrs and learned crafts, or did things like transporting heavy objects or search and rescue.

The Economy

Money takes the form of Marks. They're basically promissory notes issued by a Hall or Craft. One mark is a lot of money; more common are fractional marks. They go in powers of two; so, half-mark, quarter-mark, down to a thirty-second mark.

Gathers are festivals held by various areas. They draw people in, more to the bigger ones. There's generally trading, music, dancing, runner races… that sort of thing.

Family Structure and Fostering

Small CotHolds - farming families are hard-working, often large with limited resources and few options. All pitch in from a young age helping with both chores and farming tasks. Being sent to the crafthalls is expensive so one or two out of an enitre family might make it to apprenticeship.

Major Holds - The Lord Holder's family is a privilaged one. Early turns would be spent in harper lessons, fostering among other major holders is practiced for some of the heirs to both broaden their horizons, expose them to other methods of hold management; this practice fosters political ties between holds and provides a form of training for heirs not directly in line for taking holdership when the Lord Holder or Holder passes.

Weyrs - During the times when Thread was falling, many dragonriders were simply too busy to raise the children they give birth to. So fosters were found for them to free the parent to care for their dragon and fulfil their military-like existence that kept Pern safe. With the cessation of Thread, fostering, while still practiced for various reasons, is not as prevalent; many riders choose, with the help of a private nanny, to raise their own children. Weyrs maintain a nursery for the very young. Children 4 -12 turns attend daily harper lessons, while children 12 and up might either enter a craft as an apprentice, take a position within the Weyr to contribute to its function or seek a position at a hold. Fosters might be a relative of a rider, either living in the Weyr or from the rider's original home or someone of character living in the Weyr - older or childless families willing to raise children note their own. These people would be vetted by a joint harper-head nanny and maintained on a list kept by the headwoman. Compensation is made to those willing to foster and may be either marks or goods. Fosters are responsible for the daily watchcare of the children entrusted to them, make sure the attend their lessons, do their chores, provide their clothing, food and a place to live. Family visits might also be hosted by them and of course the parents retain visitation rights.

Food and Drink

Klah is basically coffee. It's not actually, it's the bark of some tree, but it serves the same function. Yay caffeine!

Food is mostly like you'd expect. There is no honey, chocolate, or actual coffee. Some foods are called by different names; potatoes->tubers, apples->redfruit, and so on. Bubblies (or bubbly pies) are a popular kind of hot berry pastry.


Numbweed is a topical analgesic. Fellis is an opiate-like painkiller. Redwort is an antiseptic. Needlethorn is used for syringes.


They're called turns instead of years. There are thirteen months, each of 28 days. It's a sevenday instead of a week; people have turndays instead of birthdays. With the discovery of Avias and the revival of technology, clocks and watches are, while not excessively common, in use.


No, not the ones that sailors use. Knots, on Pern, are used as badges of rank. So there's a knot for a Healer Apprentice, and a different one for a Healer Master, and a knot for someone from a certain Hold, and so forth. Generally speaking, each Hall, Hold, and Weyr has a set of colors that they use, and the fancier the knot, the higher in station someone is. There's no real consensus on what they actually look like, but they exist. One envisioning.


Common Pernese curses are "Shells!" "Shards!" "Oh, Faranth!" "By Faranth's Egg!" and conjugations thereof. ("Shardit!", etc.) Faranth was one of the first gold dragons, and shells and shards are references to eggs.

The End!

That's the basics. There's more, of course, but don't worry about it too much. Read the helpfiles for the areas you're interested in and ask questions if there's something you're wondering about. You'll pick more things up with time. For now…

Welcome to Pern!

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