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

Continuing our exploration of the dirtier side of RPG world building (see part 1).

Whose job is it?

rpg-blog-carnivalThere is always a prejudice against those who work in waste disposal. It is a dirty, smelly job and one which often involves anti-social hours which can lead to an “untouchable” social caste. This creates a hidden world (figuratively and literally) which the players may need to infiltrate.

Because waste disposal work is low status, it is also associate with poverty. Those heart-breaking images of children picking over rubbish dumps is a horrible, everyday reality for hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Fantasy and high-tech worlds will be no different. There are always poor people who survive on other people’s garbage. These people may be the breeding ground for a deadly disease or a revolution; their plight might inspires a character; or they can be a useful resource the party after information. The lowest of the low are rich in plot hooks and role playing possibilities.

How does the toilet shape the language, culture and technology?

In Ancient Rome, toilets were communal and used by rich and poor alike . It was one of the few opportunities where different social classes could mix. For hundreds of years the Kings and Queens of England had a Groom of the Stool. It was this person’s job to monitor and aid the monarch’s toilet habits in the most personal of ways. This was not the most glamorous of jobs but the Groom of the Stool had regular contact with the monarch when all other advisors were excluded. Access to people of power is highly valuable, no matter how unpleasant the job.

The english language has a huge variety of metaphors for going the toilet and for the room itself. The word toilet is itself a euphamisim. Which words we use to describe our bodily functions says a lot about ourselves and how we view the people we are with. For the GM, it can be a useful shorthand for establishing the personality of an NPC. Someone who says they are going to “powder their nose” has a very different personality and background from someone boldly announcing they “need a shit”.

It is because toilets are an unavoidable part of life for both the powerful that bodily functions is vital for a world builder to consider. What toilet arrangements do Tolkien’s elves have? If they can forge a ring to rule them all, can they make odour-neutralising porcelain? Magic / technology to dispose of bodily waste or to use the toilet as means of assassination would be highly valuable.

Where There’s Muck There’s Brass

World building is about asking questions: Where are the mountains? Who rules this land? What monsters lurk in the forest? By finding novel answers to these questions, GMs create vibrant worlds for the players to explore. Questions about sewage and bodily functions may not be as glamorous as thinking about royal dynasties or fantastic geography but by considering an issue fundamental to all living beings, the smart GM will find interesting ways of making their world, their player’s experience richer.

Image Credit: UNAMID, World Environment Day. CC-NC