Friday, July 27, 2018

5 "Modern" Ideas You Should Try Adding To Your Fantasy World

The devil is in the details, or so they say. So this week I thought I'd suggest a few, minor changes you could make to your game's world and setting that would make it feel more unique. After all, who doesn't love a fun little world-building exercise?

No one reading past this point, I'll tell you that much!
So, if you enjoyed previous posts like Introduce Some "Period" Technology Into Your Game, or the much more recent What Is Graffiti Like In Your World?, this one will build on some of the ideas put forth in there.

#1: The Highway Rest Stop

Oh... well isn't this lovely?
If you've ever been on a road trip, then you know exactly what a life saver a highway rest stop can be. It's your one-stop place for stretching your legs, refilling your water bottles, buying a quick snack, and getting information about the local area. You can even take a quick nap, if those highway lines are starting to blur together, and you need a bit of rest before you keep on trucking.

Given that we have all sorts of roads in our fantasy games, why don't we have pit stops like this every so many miles as a benefit of traveling along popular highways? If you want to go simple, they could be shelters that were built for use by travelers, and kept up by the same (introducing a whole cultural thing where it's considered good form to leave fresh firewood, make sure the doors are closed, etc. when you leave). Alternatively, if you're in deep woods, these locations might also be outposts maintained by a company of wardens. These woods guides could act as information sources, and they might be useful for quest hooks. Or perhaps these settlements have small enchantments on them, making them warm in the winter and cool in the summer, giving greetings using magic mouth, and other, similar luxuries.

The sky is the limit here! But they can make things a lot more interesting than, "Roll survival to find a bed of grass to sleep on tonight."

#2: Advertising

Drink at the Dirty Duck! Best pints in town!
When was the last time you saw advertising for something in a game world? Whether it was for a tavern, a curiosity shop, or even a pawn broker's where you could flog all your dungeon trash for drinking money? Probably never. Even in towns big enough to have more than one drinking hole, or a couple of different merchants, we never bother with one of the central conceits of capitalism.

So give it a try, and see what your players do.

If they're walking down a forest path, have them notice a huge painting on the side of a bounder advertising the Sunset Tap, fifteen miles north, take the fork at Durnhill. If your party is in a city, consider putting up actual signs, or have someone handing out leaflets (especially if paper is a fairly cheap resource that could be used for such "low" purposes). Or, if there is a lot of magic in a town, why not have an illusion that stumps for a particular place to eat, rest, get new gear, etc.? It might look like high fantasy Blade Runner, but who at your table would expect that kind of laser light show?

#3: Branding

Is that an ORIGINAL Ulfbehrt? Whoo, that must have set you back.
We tend to think of brand names as a modern conceit, but for goods manufacturers your brand has always been important. That's why smiths would leave their mark on something they'd forged, and why everyone from leather workers, to dress makers, to bakers would try to do something that stood out. In some cases, that mark became synonymous with quality and value, like the signature marks on the Viking Ulfbehrt blades that were made from crucible steel imported from the Middle East back in the iron age.

So what kind of brands exist in your setting?

For example, is the Ironcrest clan the standard for quality in dwarven steel weapons and armor? Are health potions brewed by the Godmouth Springs the equivalent of those who drink fancy, bottled water? Are there off-brand magic items that have drawbacks, but still work well enough under the right circumstances like some of the examples in Drawbacks on Magic Items Can Force Players To Make Tough Decisions in Pathfinder?

Even if the brand doesn't offer any inherit benefits to the user (though many of them might explain the masterwork cost, or be used exclusively for defining the forgers of particular magic items), they can add a great deal of flavor to your world. Particularly long-standing brands, such as those begun by nearly immortal races when early examples of their crafts are found in forgotten tombs, or ancient treasure hoards.

#4: Franchises

We tend to think of franchises as a uniquely modern thing, but they aren't really all that new. Especially when you consider that they could be built around a brand name from the section above, or they could be built around a particular service or creed. Like Crazy Olaf's Adventurer's Emporium, which prides itself on having every kind of gear an adventuring party might need, while offering trade-in value on anything they find in a dungeon. You can even get new and used equipment! While there are outposts for Crazy Olaf's all over, the ones in the hinterlands tend to transport their goods traded items into the big cities where people are more than happy to buy authentic goblin swords to hang on their walls, or to acquire a hill giant's club for use as a conversation piece (paying platinum for what Olaf got for a handful of silver). And then the expensive steel, magic items, alchemical weapons, etc., are shipped out to where such items are needed by monster hunters, rangers, militiamen, etc.

A franchise can be built around anything, though. Do Gillman's Stables offer the finest horse flesh? Do the Iron Riders guarantee that your letters and packages will get to their target safe and sound within a fortnight? Can you go to the furthest reaches of a trading road, and find a Stumble Inn ready and willing to put you up for the night?

It's a little thing, but it can add a lot of flavor to your world. Especially when it devolves into franchise v. local for your buying choices. Also, if you're looking for some franchises to put into your setting, you should check out 100 Merchants to Encounter from Azukail Games. I purposefully built several of them to act as widespread operations that can enhance any setting they're put in.

#5: Entertainment Options

We are Skullduggery! Now did you come here to rock!?
When we think of entertainment in most of our RPGs, we usually picture the local tavern. You can drink, get some food, and maybe play a few games of dice or cards in the corner tables. If you're lucky, there's a band playing to provide live music. And... that's about it unless your game specifically takes place during festivals, or in cities big enough to support a pleasure district.

While there's nothing wrong with that setup, consider expanding the entertainments on offer.

As an example, include an outdoor stage near the town, and post some goings on. Maybe the church does morality plays on their holy day, but traveling performers are welcome to use it as well. Everything from theater companies, to stage magicians, to insult comics. And, sometimes, well-known bands might set up their own show, complete with magical enhancements to play to bigger audiences (probably a festival-style audience).

Then there are sporting events. If a town has a team, then there should be regular events for the locals to follow. Whether it's Skrum (an orc take on rugby), Slammers (a kind of frenetic polo that requires both brutality and skill to play), or even more traditional sports like wrestling, boxing, or the joust, including those elements in the makeup of the local culture can make things more fun. Especially if the owner of the tavern supports a particular team or fighter, making it clear in their decorations who they stand with.

If you add in other potential entertainments, like curated arboretums, smoking dens, coffee houses, poetry slams, libraries, museums, and the latest novels released by retired adventurers telling the tales of their time in the field, then there's a whole plethora of background information you could use to fluff up your world, provide character hooks, or even include as part of your story arcs.

That's all for this week's Fluff installment. Hopefully it got some wheels turning out there in DM land. If you'd like to see some more of my work, drop by my Vocal author page (or just click over to my Gamers archive). Or you could head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where Crazy Olaf and others make their homes. If you'd like to stay on top of all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support Improved Initiative you can either Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go become a patron on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page

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