Time for another Worldbuiling post!! This time, we’ll explore the theme of culture a bit more. We’ve already explored the things that will impact the evolution of different cultures and the way culture and language are interconnected…now we’ll look at different ways you can show customs and practices through the behaviour of your characters!
The easiest way to find opportunities to showcase the cultures of your campaign setting is by thinking about the different ways we observe and participate in local customs and practices in real life, from people watching at local cafe each morning to always carrying an umbrella with you iin case of spontaneous rain (English weather can be fairly tempermental)…Here are some examples you might use in your game!
I used to live in Louisiana and one of the things I miss the most is the celebration of Mardi Gras! The bright colours, lively music, not to mention the King Cakes…
There are plenty of customs surrounding Mardi Gras that might seem weird to someone who has never experienced it before, like the jazz/zydeco music, elaborate masks, and strange items thrown from garishly painted floats, from the iconic Mardi Gras beads to weirder things like packets of ramen noodles and foil-wrapped hot dogs. There is an entire history behind this festival, dating back to original celebrations of revelry before the beginning of Christian Lent observances…but it continues to evolve year after year.
Your RPG setting should be no different! What are the different things the people within your world celebrate? Many cultures have festivals highlighting the changing of the seasons, like harvest season, midwinter, and may day. Maybe the way one village brings in the spring is a bit different from the others, made unique by the different regional flora and fauna the villagers are accustomed to. In Jokull, spring festivals aren’t celebrated as much with flowers as it is the sight of the new green grass itself. Each Snowmelt Festival celebrates the return of the sun and the way it warms the earth as it awakens from winter’s long sleep. The climate is still pretty cold in this northern continent, but the first sight of green showing through the melting snow and ice is a cause for celebration regardless.
Minor Ceremonies and Celebrations
Not all celebrations have to be huge events…there are plenty of other reasons for celebration each day! For example, how do people celebrate birthdays and special occassions? Is it a private celebration within the family, or do you throw a party with the neighbors all invited? Are the years marked by the actual day of birth or, if life is a bit harder in certain areas, do people wait to celebrate after a child has reached a certain age?
In the Moineiran town of Garran, birthdays are celebrated with a special cake made from local berries and herbs. Farther west, in the horse-rearing town of Capall, birthdays are marked by a ride around town on horseback while friends, families, and neighbors offer simple gifts or advice for the new year to come.
In many Tashkil, children’s birthdays are celebrated, but the communal Day of Gifts is more important. Tashkili culture emphasizes service to the whole, so a child’s ascension as a full member of the community is marked by the presentation of the craft, art, or service that will shape their role in society from that point onward. The Day of Gifts takes place each year, and highlights the youth of the town and the reception of their first gifts to the community.
Other than birthdays and coming-of-age ceremonies, think about the way a town will celebrate weddings, funerals, births, and feast days as well.
Daily Customs and Greetings
Cultural practices can also be seen in simple day-to-day habits, such as starting the day by reading the news, shaking hands, or taking a midday nap (my grandmother takes her siesta every day without fail…and I happily partake in a nap of my own whenever I visit)!
These may be shaped by religious observances, local industry/production, or the unique geography/topography of the region. A seaside port city will have local customs highlighting seafaring culture or haggling techniques at the fish market. People who live in a heavily forested area might make a habit of gathering firewood or hunting in their regular routines, in which activities like tracking and archery will be highly valued.
The styles of greeting and well-wishing might be different in each of these communities. The sea-faring folk may offer up a wish for calm seas and strong winds in greeting/parting, while the village of rangers and hunters may invoke keen eyes and swift feet. In parts of the world where life is hard or uncertain, good luck or the favour of a god may be a common salutation.
Every culture has its own set of unique customs, both in reality and in your RPG setting, and presenting such behaviours through your PCs and NPCs is a great way to help the world come to life! What are some other examples of interesting customs you might incorporate? Share your ideas in the comments below!