The Let's Play Archive


by M.c.P

Part 26: Lore: Catherine and Riven

Lore – Catherine and the Rivenese

This is going to be a bit different. In truth, I’ve been wondering how to get some of this extant information put out there, but I found that much of it seemed to be restated information. Anything I wanted to write seemed to be covered well enough by Catherine’s journal and the details on the islands. So we’re going to go over the backstory, but we’re going to do it while appreciating the Cyan team’s world building skill.


Gehn’s plan

As Atrus and Catherine write in their journals, Gehn is trying to revive the D’ni. As far as Gehn knows, he and his son are the last people in the Multiverse capable of the Art. Gehn hopes to revive it, with himself as its humble and righteous god-king, of course. No one else can possibly lead the fledgling empire.

So he wrote inhabited Ages, dozens of them, using phrases copied from whatever ruined books he could find. Riven, his fifth Age, was early in the process, but by some coincidence of luck it turned out to be a relatively stable one with a large, populous island that perfectly suited his needs.

As Catherine notes, he probably wrote the materials for the Art into all of his Ages, and he himself was extremely knowledgeable about how their creation.

But it wasn’t enough to simply have the resources to write, he needed people. People he could mold into the new D’ni. He didn’t anticipate any problems. They were created by his imagination, after all, surely they could fit his needs?

Of course, it didn’t work like that. Gehn would create a battery of Ages for this purpose. Some, like the 37th, crumbled from Gehn’s poor writing. Others may even have rebelled, though Gehn obviously wouldn’t bring those up to Atrus or his other subjects.

If Atrus and Catherine hadn’t trapped Gehn on Riven, the cycle might have proceeded indefinitely. But instead he was confined to Riven for two decades.

We don’t need no education

Riven’s original culture is, by and large, gone. Gehn has gone to great lengths to either appropriate or eliminate the original Rivenese culture and raise the people as D’ni subjects. There are just a few traces left, kept alive by the villagers and the Moiety.

There seemed to be a respect, if not a reverence, of the various creatures that also live on the islands.

There was a definite fear of the wahrks that lurk in the oceans, a fear that Gehn was perfectly willing to use to his advantage.

And there was a reverence for what Catherine calls the “Great Tree”, which judging by the size of the trunk, was probably as tall as a skyscraper.

The names, beliefs, and otherwise are simply not present in this game or the books. Gehn has been at work in Riven for more than 20 years by the time the game begins, so a whole generation of the Rivenese people simply do not remember a time where Gehn was not in power, Catherine included.


Katran confides in Atrus that when she was young, she felt disconnected from the others in her village. Whether that’s simply youthful confusion or an aspect of her talents isn’t really gone into, but as she entered the Guild of Writer’s school she quickly stood out as a quick study. She and a number of her fellow Rivenese are inducted into the special program, under the direct tutelage of Gehn.

Part of that process is getting a brand on the neck symbolizing their status but…

I think the game devs forgot that little detail.
maybe she got it removed.

Learning the art was extremely tightly controlled. No special ink, no special paper, and lots of rote copying of phrases. It did, however, come with the privilege of traveling to D’ni and helping Gehn with his projects in the ruined city.

Gehn’s teaching wasn’t really one that brooked questioning, and as a result most of Katran’s peers didn’t really take a lot of initiative. Katran did, however, manage to get her hands on a blank book and ink, and wrote an age in secret. After she started working with Atrus, she showed it to him.

Katran’s unnamed Age

The first thing off about the Age was that, according to Gehn, non-D’ni were simply unable to perform the Art. Of course, Gehn has been known to lie, and the D’ni themselves wanted to prevent outsiders from learning the Art.

The second thing was the use of symbols Atrus didn’t recognize. When he questioned Katran about it, she said she made them up. Further reading showed that the book contradicted every rule Atrus knew about the Art, that it shouldn’t even function as is.

The third through nth things became apparent when they visited the Age

What they first saw upon arriving was a massive waterfall flowing upwards into the sky, then slowly splitting and falling in streams around the outsides of the island. The sky was dark, but filled with glowing creatures like fireflies that seemed to merge and split constantly.

After Atrus picked his jaw up, Katran led him through a long and windy tunnel that messed with Atrus’ sense of direction, and took him to the other side.

On the other side the ‘island’ was bathed in light. Around the edges, large storm clouds endlessly poured rain into a large central lake, which emptied through a hole in the center. Here a multitude of multicolored butterflies filled the air and landed on the surface of the water.

Atrus realized that it was a closed system. Water flowed through the center and came pouring out the other side, where it somehow streamed around the outside edges to fall as rain back into the lake. But how it was possible, and how there was a shift in gravity from one side of the ‘island’ to the other, he hadn’t the slightest idea.

Atrus and Catherine

Atrus, as shown in Myst, is prolific, scientific, and observant. He wrote hundreds of Ages, some populated, some not, but as his journals show he does so out of an endless sense of discovery. There are some elements he might anticipate, but his hopes are to understand how his writing effects the worlds, how their fantastic elements operate like they do, and perhaps to meet and befriend the people that live there. He is an iterative explorer, driven by a wish to understand.

Catherine, however, is a dreamer, a savant that the D’ni Empire itself may have never seen.

Catherine’s worlds are few, but they are all unique and operate in ways that defy physical law. Tay might be her most normal Age, written as a refuge for her people. Though even Tay was created in part to create a material that fixed Gehn’s broken books.

She exists as a refutation of D’ni in general and Gehn in particular. The D’ni themselves might have been kind enough to avoid enslaving Ages, but their xenophobia and tradition blinded them to possibilities they wouldn’t have dreamed of. The D’ni are gone, but the people carrying on their Art have already surpassed them.

That’s going to be the last of Lore for a little while. We’re actually closing in on the end of the game, so I hope you stay tuned while we finish our exploration of Riven.