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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Is Safe Water and Sanitation a Concern in Your Campaign?

The default fantasy world is pretty much built off of an idealized middle ages / medieval Europe, but we tend not to see the open sewers and open pits for refuse and other personal waste that was common in those urban environments.

Is it avoided out of convenience? Is it assumed that there are magical ways to remove the refuse and the potential illnesses associated with it? How clean is the water in these urban areas? Are the churches and temples constantly casting purify water and cure disease to keep these environments running?

Beer may (or may not) have been the alternative to clean water back in those days, but it wasn't nearly as strong as the beer we know.

Do we just assume that in our magical worlds, refuse and water don't mix and refuse and open sewers do not lead to illness and disease?

Hand wave or magic or make it real? What's you take on it?


17 comments:

  1. I don't know about everyone else, but filthy sewers are probably in the top 5 of areas my adventurers end up trodding through, usually with some constitution/disease saves in the mix. Some of my settings don't have the engineering acumen for such marvels as actual sewage systems, and I have no problem reminding players when the wretched back alley they've picked a fight in is filled with difficult terrain due to sewage waste.

    Although it might make sense, I don't think I've ever seen a campaign (except maybe Eberron) that assumed magic became ubiquitous enough to solve sanitation issues.

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  2. I am constantly making Disease rolls, being that your average adventurer spends his career crawling through muck, goo, slime, filth and gore with open wounds. However, the existance of Cure Disease and Healing spells even the odds...

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  3. "Is it avoided out of convenience?" Yes.

    I incorporate things like a "Cellarers' & Plumbers' Guild", because I'm aware that someone has to take care of all the stuff. But on the other hand, me and my group are not interested in making these things matter in our game.

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  4. Without a vast network of anachronistic Victorian-era sewer mainlines running beneath every little market town, where would DMs store all their giant rats and copper piece troves?

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    1. In Babylonian era ceramic pipe and brickwork sewer systems...http://www.sewerhistory.org/chronos/early_roots.htm
      "they say the sewers date back to an earlier empire."

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  5. Without a vast network of anachronistic Victorian-era sewer mainlines running beneath every little market town, where would DMs store all their giant rats and copper piece troves?

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  6. We dedicate entire campaigns to installing flushing toilets and sewer lines.

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  7. I want them to be because of the logistical challenge, but ... I can't bring myself to kill a character off with dysentery that has managed to make it through orcs and dragons and deadly traps.

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  8. Great question! I feel like the disease rules presented in the AD&D DM Guide seem anachronistic alongside diseases like lycanthropy or green slime rot or mummy disease. I’ve created a list of diseases that nibble away at player character ability scores or cause other problems for the players (like cannibalism) but have not had a chance to test them in play much yet.
    In general, we’ve had some fun with random encounters with diseases that are caught by being bitten by giant rats, wading through fetid swamps, etc., but I don’t think we would ever make someone roll for disease whenever they take a drink or eat a meal.
    The Romans had some pretty good sewer and water systems and I've always assumed fantasy architects and engineers would have the advantage of magical construction methods or dwarven advice... and ancient sewers beneath the streets are always good places for adventures to happen.

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  9. Maybe the average person is more susceptible than our heroes.
    I will add that into my world description.

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  10. Maybe the average person is more susceptible than our heroes.
    I will add that into my world description.

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  11. While I want to bring more environmental factors into my games, these are the most challenging to make interesting to the players... Nobody wants a few random dice rolls to end in "You have died of dysentery."

    If I found a really compelling way to narrate these kinds of hazards, I'd give it a go, but it would have to be fun for them or else it just becomes an annoyance.

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  12. While I run adventures through filthy sewers often, I often hand wave filthy conditions in towns or cities. It really depends on the game though. If I'm running WFRP, there's filth everywhere, Forgotten Realms.. not so much.

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  13. Recently I watched a doco on Rome's Underworld, called Rome's Invisible City (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwflyxImJKw). A really good source on info; it detailed cults that worshiped now forgotten gods below ground, the aqueducts, the dungeons below the Colosseum and a series of catacombs. The cool thing for me was the tech they used to map these blackened arcades and dark chambers. Most of all I liked it because a lot of the aqueducts and the buildings served by it showed me that I could dream up secretive Dagon cults in ancient bathhouses and Aboleth in in the murky Imperial Aquariums long abandoned. These are just a few examples of how a campaign can be more than just a sewer-styled dungeon filled with rats and diseases. In fact I can see how Against the Cult of the Reptile God slots straight into the underworld beneath a city in Dark Albion for example. Even expand it into a campaign the size of Temple of Elemental Evil. Who knows?

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  14. Ruddy hell, this is why I play GURPS. The Hygiene stat from GURPS City Stats gives a bonus or a penalty (always the latter in my faux-medieval world) to rolls for contagion and infection in urban areas. My main town has a Hygiene of -1, like most medieval urban areas, giving everyone a choice as to whether or not you want to try to heal up in a smelly town but one that has stuff, or a village that has nothing but at least is clean.

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  15. GURPS -- the game you love because there is a rule for everything... and the game you hate because there is a rule for everything. ;)

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  16. One of my players once got pissed at me because he got Filth Fever. He was all "Great, I'm gonna die now!!!" I didn't tell him it wasn't THAT bad. xD

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