View Full Version : Fantasy Climate and Culture

2012-06-26, 02:17 PM
I'm writing a new d&d adventure that centers around a trapped tower built to collapse and sink into an estuary upon the activation of said trap. Being a bit of an obsessive GM, I want to make a decently consistent culture for the environment this would take place in. It's a much warmer climate than most of the adventures I run, and while I have a decent idea of how modern cultures look in those regions, a medieval fantasy setting would be a great deal different.

What kind of building material would they use? What would the building layouts look like? What kind of lifestyle would they live? Should the tavern have a fire going? Should it be more open? If it is open, what happens when they have a storm?

Asking these questions led me to a general curiosity of cultures in fantasy RPGs, so if anyone has ideas or problems concerning other matters of fantasy culture, I'd love to hear about it.

2012-06-26, 02:19 PM
Humidity might play a big part- a warm wet region will have very different problems to work around than a warm dry one.

2012-06-26, 02:24 PM
Humidity, flooding, heavy rainstorms, and heat are the biggest problems I've thought of, but there are probably more.

2012-06-26, 02:26 PM
Looking at real cultures close to the "medieval technology level" might be helpful- seeing how the Egyptians did things, or the Mayans, or various others.

The existence of magic might modify stuff- though one might not want to take it to extreme levels.

2012-06-26, 02:32 PM
What cultures do you think would be closest to this environment?

Craft (Cheese)
2012-06-26, 03:07 PM
You could always read up and take inspiration from the peoples of the Amazon: They generally build only temporary, disposable structures. However they do build permanent villages in Melanesia, with a similar rainforest-ish climate (although the cultures in the mountains are quite different from those near the coast). There's also India and Africa, though I don't know as much about them.

2012-06-26, 05:28 PM
What cultures do you think would be closest to this environment?

Warm/wet tropical climate? I'd say SE Asia - there are probably good 'advanced culture' precedents in China and southern India. I believe Siam (Thailand) may also have had some fairly advanced civilizations.

As for the details . . . I'd say fire is likely to be used for cooking food and keeping away bugs more than warmth. Hot climates seem to have a tendency toward spicy food (Thai, Indian, etc), though that might just be coincidence.

Clothing is likely to be minimal on commoners and lightweight/decorative on nobles - again, warmth is less important the keeping bugs away and having something that isn't just going to get soaked with sweat and rot in the heat.

Also, hot humid climates are hard on buildings. Wood structures aren't going to last long if they aren't cared for, and even stone structures are going to be covered in vines and plant growth if they aren't kept up.

Regular flooding is a *big deal.* If the place has floods, the architecture is probably going to reflect that. Nice places are going to be build on high ground (or stilts maybe). Anything built below flood level is probably going to be more of a lean-to or shack than a real building. No point in investing the time if it just gets washed away every spring. . .

2012-06-28, 03:25 AM
What kind of building material would they use? What would the building layouts look like? What kind of lifestyle would they live? Should the tavern have a fire going? Should it be more open? If it is open, what happens when they have a storm?

For building materials, wood is always good, if there are good supplies of it. Clay, and rock are also nice. Clay specially, as it's easy to shape tiles, and goes without shaping, too. Building layouts are harder. How the people regard family?As if "family" is parents and children, layout would be quite different as if "family" is 3-4 genaration under same roof - with or without cousins and such. Do they keep animals in their own building, or do the cows and goats live in same building? (Some cultures have had two-floored buildings, with animals on ground-floor and people on upper. And vikings had other end of longhouse as animalshelter and other end as peoples home.)

Tavern, if they are serving food, there should be somekind of firesource for making it (at least at "kitchen"). And if night are cold, I'd say fire on fireplace would be logical.

2012-06-28, 06:20 AM
OK, I spent two years in the Peace Corps in tropical Africa so I can describe the traditional building styles etc. This describes West Africa, obviously other places will be different.

Buildings: For the most part where I was the traditional buildings were all made of mud. Wood generally is too valuable for use for fuel. Buildings would be small and squarish, with a roof made of wood covered with dirt. Buildings would generally have some sort of courtyard--either a completely enclosed area or sometimes you would just have a collection of buildings surrounding a central open space.

This courtyard would be where people would do most of the living, the inside areas were generally only used for sleeping and avoiding rain (in part because the mud brick houses could easily become mud brick ovens in the sun). Your "tavern" would most likely be an outside area, with some sort of cover for shade/keeping off the rain, a small building to store things, a fire for cooking, and a short wall to keep away the riffraff.

Clothes This has much more to do with the local culture than the climate; reqiurments of modesty are the most important here. In general people wore less clothing, especially at their house or when working. However, when out in the sun, it is often cooler to wear light clothes to keep the sun off. This becomes less of an issue with high humidity.

Agriculture You will have different foods that are grown. Bananas, Mangos, Pinapple, Yams, Cassava, Millet, ... Also, in many parts of the tropics some form of agriculture is possible year round, rather than only the summer.

2012-06-28, 07:13 AM

Being a tower, it's probably not going to be wood or clay bricks, because you can't go very tall with those. They also wouldn't sink very well, so we're stuck with stone. I would also think that mortar would dissolve over time, so it's probably gotta be interlocking stone blocks (and not limestone either).

I can't think of any logical reason to build a tower-trap designed to sink, but then I can't think of any logical reason for much of my own country/culture's crap, so I'll run with it. Maybe they expect enemies that they can't kill, so they build elaborate traps to get them stuck in mud for 10,000 years, I dunno.

Egyptians did it, Incans/Aztecs did it, your guys can do it (but without limestone - probably). Loads of people chiseling stone, then shipping/rolling it into position. Probably a slave culture with psychopathic leaders (chromatic dragons/half-dragons? half-fiends? undead?). Actually, maybe these things are kinda like pyramids - tombs that are built above the ground, then sink into position (because you can't delve a dungeon in overly wet, muddy areas).

So, traps are designed to entomb the robbers where they will die via suffocation/thirst/hunger (or just crush them). They probably involve sand or water (or mud), with stone blocks sinking into place. I also keep thinking poison gas. Probably anything non-destructive - this tower is built to stay intact, right? So the traps shouldn't affect the structure too much, as long as they keep it sinking intact (so, sinking blocks and huge shifting weights of sand/mud/water shouldn't matter as long as the whole thing keeps going down).

I imagine these things would have undead guardians, leaning more towards incorporeal than not.

As for layout, it's probably the standard narrow-corridors-connecting-isolated-square-stone-rooms. However, it's a tower, so there's more space than matter...but if it's designed to sink, then it might be the other way around. Beats me.

Cultures in warm climates still build fires at night. The tavern is probably a roofed, wall-less structure with a fire pit in the middle.

Lifestyles? Probably farm, gather, craft, mend, etc. Standard post-agrictulture, pre-industrial life.

Anyway, I drew most of this from egyptian/incan/aztec/similar cultures.

2012-06-28, 08:46 PM
If the heat is oppressive, there might be a long break when the sun is highest (and hottest). The hardest work of the day might be done in the cool of the morning, while "white collar" business might be conducted in the late afternoon. Socializing might occur after the sun goes down.

If you have multiple races (elves, dwarves, etc.) then you might also consider putting them on different schedules. Dwarves might not come out of their tunnels in daylight, while elves don't mind the heat at all. Or some other variation.

2012-06-28, 10:47 PM
You said this is a fantasy world, right? How often do you want to use magic here?
I mean, there is nothing stopping you from using magic to make buildings out of living trees and vines, or the tower out of a single, titanic tree that is set to rot exponentially when the trap is activated.

Similarly, humidity and rain tend to be problems, in dense jungles, but less so in more open spaces clear of plants. Clothing could easily be made out of gigantic flower petals, while giant insects serve as mounts and beast of burden in place of more conventional animals. In fact, you could even model the village after the structures wasps, ants, and termites build (in a larger scale of course)

Generally, swarms of smaller insects tend to also be an issue in areas of high humidity, so netting or incense could be an integral part of the structures and culture.

These are ideas for a more fantasy-oriented culture. I hope at least one of them helps.