RPG World Building From The Bottom Up (Part 1 of 2)

Where Do Character’s Go To The Toilet?

rpg-blog-carnivalThe point of world building in role-playing games is to give the players the sense their characters exist in a living, breathing world. If GMs and world builders ignore questions about toilets and waste disposal they are missing out on a wealth of opportunities for creating a rich, believable worlds.

Whether it is a tiny space craft, a mega-city or a dungeon complex, there are four questions GMs and world-builders need to ask:

Where are the toilets?

Shit rolls down hill” is one of the reasons why historically the rich and powerful live on high ground. The location of toilets (and more importantly where the waste pipe goes) says a lot about a society and who has power. In a dungeon, will a mighty lich really be happy living at the bottom of some kobold’s garderobe?

Access to better toilets, e.g. the executive bathroom, is a mark of status and therefore something the powerful can grant or remove depending on the character’s actions. The position of the characters’ berth on a ship relative to the toilets / waste disposal system can create possibilities. Merely mentioning the player’s cabin is next to the crew’s bathroom will create role playing opportunities even before the GM discusses the smell or how the constant noise prevents the characters from sleeping.

What happens to the waste?

Even the biggest cess pit will fill up eventually and, as countless cities have discovered, rivers can only carry away so much waste (see the Great Stink). In every society someone makes a living out of other people’s waste. They may be paid to take it away or do it for free because one person’s waste is another person’s vital resource.

Historically, human sewage has been used for fertilizer and as a vital component in a variety of processes including leather tanning and making gunpowder. What about in a magical world? Does dragon dung have any particular properties and do the Magic Guild’s rubbish bins contain anything of value?

In a high-tech world, there may be nano-bots breakdown human waste and replicators to turn it into “Tea, Earl Grey, Hot”. But if that technology exists, what else does that technology enable? Disposing of a victim’s body is suddenly very easy.


For the final two questions on building an rpg world from the bottom up, check out Thursday’s rpg blog post.

Image Credit: Steven, Cockatoo Island CC-NC