Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Width of Two Horses' Asses

While I have no way to verify this here in the office (for fear of what such a search might drag up through the company network), there's an old story I was told by my grandfather that the width of a modern railroad as determined by the width of two horses' asses side by side. This is because when the Romans built their roads throughout Europe and the Middle East - suckers for standardization that they are - they determined that their roads (and the tunnels through which they travelled) needed to be that width in order to accommodate common horse drawn vehicles of the time. Thus, the width of many roads and tunnels up until the advent of our decadent modern ways were determined by equine backsides.

This is the sort of story that I like. Even if it's not really true, it's amusing and "truthy" enough that it sticks and entertains for at least a while. Similar stories involve why many look at right handedness as correct and left handedness as an aberration (because in a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern culture several thousand years ago, the left hand was used to do only one thing, and it was generally rude to offer that hand to do any other task), or why we in the US drive on the right side of the road rather than the left as in the UK, or any number of societal quirks that we have and have utterly forgotten the origin of but still come naturally to us. When we find out more about them, we are either amused endlessly (as I am) or simply don't believe it at all.

This is the kind of story that should be present in every game. Even if it has no bearing at all on the grand scheme of things, if you even have a grand scheme in your game, even if the players never learn about it or bother to question it, these little tidbits make the world seem just a little more alive at least to the referee, which helps to make it feel more alive to the players stumbling through the world.

In Thylia, it is customary, upon meeting a traveller from the opposite direction on the way, to pass on the side so that your shield, rather than weapon, faces the other traveller. This is a show of peace and respect as passing with weapons facing would be construed as hostile intent. Such custom becomes interesting when the other traveller is left handed . . .

At high tables, it is courteous to set aside a portion of your meal for the servants who, in ages past, would have only what scraps of food fell from the table or went uneaten at the end of the meal.

One should always pass upon the South side of a barrow, thus avoiding its entryway and possibly disturbing its inhabitants.

Mentioning the name of any man, dwarf, or elf exiled from society is bad luck and in poor taste. Most persons will attempt to politely ignore such habits and pretend such persons do not exist.

A traveller who knocks upon any door after sunset can expect at least a place upon the floor next to the fire. Such guests are expected to provide some minor service for their hosts, or at least some minor payment in exchange for such hospitality.

Any other ideas?

1 comment:

  1. This is a great idea; I wish I could come up with more than I have in my own campaign. One I have used for years is that someone rescued from certain death must serve their rescuers freely for 101 days. Not everyone does this as it's prevalent only for worshippers of a certain God in my setting, but it's a good way to reward players who save someone from an ogre's lair instead of just gold.

    The origins are murky but have to do a past historical figure that did so and afterwards was blessed by the God for his devotion. It's led to lots of good plot hooks during the years and willing servants for PCs when they need a body or two to fill out their party.