View Full Version : Local Flavor: things to add to RPG locations

2021-09-19, 10:20 PM
It's not D&D specific, but that's the campaign I'm making.

I've decided that adding a little more local variation and descriptions to the upcoming multi-country campaign is called for. None of it will have game effects, but I do want to paint a more clear picture in the players' minds when they arrive at a new city, county, or the like. Not that I want a five-minute box text per village, either.

Here are the categories I've got so far:
1) Food. I love to cook, so this was going to be here regardless. What are the most popular local ingredients, and what unique local dishes use them?
2) Beverages. Mostly booze of course, but if there's a goat-heavy region I'd expect goat milk would be in the local taverns too.
3) Architecture. Based on local materials, what do the buildings look like, rich, poor, and commercial?
4) Music. This might become more names of specific musicians or groups rather than the country overall, based on my (limited) understanding of real-life classical music I don't expect there to be massive changes in music styles from one city to the next. One country to the next, yes.
5) Games. What's the local entertainment? I plan to include variations on existing PHB items, kind of like how you can play stud poker, draw poker, or Texas hold'em and expect someone who plays one to be able to play the others.
6) Fashion? I don't know if a country the size of France or Ohio (all my campaigns are in a country the size of France or Ohio) will have a ton of geographic variation, as much as economic variation.

What else should I consider? What have you used in the past? I have months yet, I'll take any ideas you give me greatswordly. Gratefully!

2021-09-20, 02:58 AM
Hello there!

I wholeheartedly second food & beverages as a start - as they are something most players can easily understand. But my favourite are customs. Think about following:
- how food is served (on plates? on single big plate? in dozens of small bowls with everyone grabbing what they like? on a pan? in a bath?)
- what customs are tied to food (first mouthful must be placed on a separate plate, which is then given to the poor; first mouthful goes to the dog - mainly to check for poison; each dish is followed by a piece of fruit; each dish offered is expected to be refused at least once, and can be offered three times; you need to lick the plate clean or you insult the cook...)
- condiments (you are expected to salt everything; you never can salt anything without tasting)
- how drinks are served (glasses, cups, bowls, tankards... hot, cold, ice cold,...)
- what customs are tied to drinking (you need to crash the glasses together, shout "Cheers!", then hit the table with the bottoms and then drink; you need to spit the first sip out, you need to bow to each other drinker; you need to leave at least an inch of fluid at the bottom of the glass, etc.)

Each of these can have a highly logical explanation, or just be a colorful local crazy custom.

The other areas that are usually easy for players to notice:
- customary greetings
- customs for guests (e.g. you welcome a guest with a piece of bread and pinch of salt, they are now under your protection for next X hours)
- etiquette in temples (e.g. you can enter only with your eyes closed; you can not bring inside any gold; you can enter only while kneeling...)
- trading customs (e.g. bribes are normal part of trading, haggling is not expected/mandatory, a gift is expected if you made a good profit, every trade needs to be "closed" by having a drink together...)

As for the geographic variation of clothes... depends on the climate (more fur & leather in the northern, colder parts, and mountains; linen in the other areas), but also resources & wealth of the region (rich regions will be more jewelry-prone, with poor regions having mainly utilitarian clothing; colours will be the domain of rich regions which can afford them). Even my country, smaller than 1/2 Ohio, there were radical differences in the costumes of the folks in the past - mainly because people worked with what was available.

Kol Korran
2021-09-20, 06:23 AM
Hmmmm... Some ideas:
- Occupations and resources:
Is this town built mostly around fishing? Lumber and wood carvings? Does it boast vast herd lands and a is known for a a special bovine! Is it a hub of commerce? Does it mostly cater for a military fort? And so on...

- Holidays and festivities:
Is there a celebration of the turning of the seasons? A "True naming" day for when the young become adults? Do they have annual celebrations and dancing with local fey? A memorial day for the battle of the old bridge? A day for the saint of the local church? A mourning week for the atrocities that wrecked the region 40 years ago?

- Local rule and laws:
Is the village ruled by a council of wise women? Perhaps by the person who one last year's contest of X? Perhaps only those of a magical blood line? Perhaps the dragon that resides in the nearby mountain decides? Perhaps the spirits/ ghosts of the elders? And about laws- Are your required to sheath your weapon or deliver it upon entering town? Perhaps guests get lodging with one of the families of the village? (And are expected to give a donation), you may be prohibited to hunt a specific kind of wild life? Or address people from a certain social cast, unless authorized? Perhaps in a certain region/ place/ time/, circumstances you are required to dress under a specific code? (must wear red, must wear a mask, must have a tear in your clothing, and such).
- Magical/ Fantastical:
Perhaps the lake water nearby emit an enchanting song after sunset? Perhaps the fruits of the nearby wood makes you change color, or more susceptible to strong emotions? Perhaps an old silly curse makes you lose a small item each day (which ends up in someone elses possession/ house?). Maybe the great yellow birds can burst into dazzling flames, with a conplicated fascinating sky fire dance, twice a year? Perhaps the water in the local sacred pool sometime shows images of departed loved ones? Perhaps the region has a special effect, that may cause illusions to become real, but with a twist to the intended desire? And so on...

Just some ideas

2021-09-20, 08:21 AM
Hmm. In the real world, the nobility often uses non-local stuff more than common people. Imported marble and wood rather than local rocks and wood. Foreign dances in royal balls. Serving dishes in the manner of another country. And they even take pride in speaking a non-local language.

So if the adventuring party is invited by a noble, perhaps the contrast between the folk culture and the noble culture would also make things interesting.

2021-09-20, 09:12 AM
What else should I consider?
As an example of two neighboring countries with differing climates: Italy had a different climate from Yugoslavia when I visited both places in the 1980's, and likewise was different from neighboring Austria...)

This can flesh out "what we celebrate and when" and may be informed by a local religious practice, or not, as your tastes dictate.

2021-09-20, 01:14 PM
As always in worldbuilding, the answer to "what can I do better?" is "relationships"!.

Local food is important, but what food is imported says a lot about the city. Just because this is a human city doesn't mean the beer is not imported from the nearby dwarven city.

A stranger might recognise the architecture as alike the one of the nearby big city, or at the contrary very different or heterogeneous (hinting at previous wars?).

The second answer after "relationships" is "changes". Which buildings are old? Which are well maintained? Maybe the "traditional dish" is less and less "traditional" as in "everyone eat some on a regular basis" and more and more reserved to the elite that care about the past. Etc.

2021-09-20, 01:20 PM
Wow, that's a lot of help and so quickly! Thanks everyone who's chimed in so far.

Occupations and resources

One of the first things I did, as it ties into a bunch of quest material. I didn't think of it as "flavor" but, yes, it's important enough to be considered.


the geographic variation of clothes

This, too, is already on the list. "Climate" to me doesn't count as flavor, it's a mandatory game mechanic, but yes it should definitely be part of a locale's description. So don't worry -- it's in there, I promise!

And yes, resources leads to clothing, because you can only make clothing with materials you have onhand.

Holidays and festivities


A great idea! There's already a calendar/timeline of important events from a quest perspective. Putting on other more RPG-flavored events would be easy and fun. Thanks!

Magical/ Fantastical

This one's kind of complicated. The main campaign issue, as it turns out, is "one of the area's fairy tales is true". They don't know that at the start of the campaign. But what that means is, the characters will either know (they're locals) or find out about (they're visitors) the local fairy tales from books, word of mouth, bar songs, etc. waaaaaaaaay before they see any evidence of any of them with their own eyes. So good idea in general, I just don't know if I can use it here the same way as food and clothing, which are everywhere.

These two need to be lumped together.

Local rule and laws

But my favourite are customs.

What I didn't mention before was, the campaign's central location has recently been conquered and occupied. So these are, in fact, a big deal -- it'll draw a heavy, obvious distinction between the invading force and the locals. So yes, those seem like must-haves.

Hmm. In the real world, the nobility often uses non-local stuff more than common people. Imported marble and wood rather than local rocks and wood.

This will be related, too. The invasion was recent, so there's not enough time for the conquerors to have their own buildings 100% to their taste. (They are doing massive construction of their own port, but that's a later in the campaign issue) They can, however, take over existing buildings and put up their taste in decorations. It might even be a way to spot a sympathizer...or spy. I like it.

I'll check back later, but this is easily enough to start on. Thanks again for the assist!

2021-09-20, 01:30 PM
Oh, you were answering while I was typing!

Local food is important, but what food is imported says a lot about the city. Just because this is a human city doesn't mean the bear is not imported from the nearby dwarven city.

I see what you're going for here, and it sounds worth doing. The main campaign area is a country with one major port city which is more cosmopolitain and international, and the rest of the inland is less and less influenced by outside forces. PCs who are visitors will feel more and more isolated the further they travel from the port.

I'm even toying with the idea that the country has its own language, and Common is an accepted universal trade language, and it's spoken less and less away from the port city. Haven't decided on that one for sure yet.

2021-09-20, 05:00 PM
One thing I've had fun with is small examples of commonplace magic, or inherently magical things. My favorite example is a drink available in one of my elven kingdoms called Dreamwine, which is distilled from the sap of trees connected to dryads. When they drink it, I have the players make an endurance check, and when they sleep, they experience a single year's cycle from the perspective of a tree. When they wake, they find that they have grown a small branch crown around their head, depending on the results of their check. Low checks result in a consumable that lets them reroll a Nature check or a social check while dealing with the fey, while a higher check gives them what is functionally a slotless magic item giving bonuses to Nature checks and social checks with the fey, BUT also lowers their Will when it is targeted by a fey opponent.

I also like having travelers, immigrants, and politics play a role. I don't generally have mono-race settlements unless that's like, actively the point. There might be a majority, but it won't generally be more than 60%. And if you're in a tavern, you're more likely to get a bigger variety thanks to travelers and merchants. Maybe you'll meet a questing paladin who has stopped for the night, or some merchants going the opposite directions who will swap rumors over a game of dice.

Speaking of dice, games can be very fun. Dice poker is a great easy one, Liar's Dice is good, pretty much any game played with dice can easily be added into a dnd setting and actually played, since you've got plenty of those on hand. And maybe different races have different rules (for halflings you want to get low numbers in poker, don't ya know?). Or maybe that's just your opponent making stuff up to try and cheat you out of your coin! maybe that even inspires one of your players to try the same kind of swindle at some point!

Figures of speech can also be a good one. The DnD 3.5 Races of X books had a handful of sayings for each of the races, along with an explanation behind them. Likewise, your regions might develop specific slang for each other. Sigil and Shadowrun both do this, and it adds quite a bit of depth to both settings.

2021-09-22, 09:58 AM
Another response, thanks!

One thing I've had fun with is small examples of commonplace magic

This would absolutely be flavor, but it's a low-magic campaign and wouldn't fit in this case.

I also like having travelers, immigrants, and politics play a role.

This is a major campaign issue. So while I can't call it "flavor" it's 100% going to be a mandatory part of the campaign.

games can be very fun.

Definitely on the list.

Figures of speech can also be a good one.

That's a good one! I'll come up with a few for each region. Again, it wouldn't be the worst thing if PCs sniffed out a traitor or spy when they either mangle local expressions or use the wrong ones.