Friday, 21 June 2019

Slang Which Builds the World

The real world is lived in. It's a home. And like any home, it gathers knick-knacks, clutter, and idiosyncrasies of layout and design. It is hard to replicate this as a DM designing a campaign setting, because you're only one person and the setting isn't home for anybody at all - just a small section of your brain, perhaps. This compares with the real world, which is home for billions of people and has been for tens of thousands of years.

One way of doing it might be through slang expressions. In my last post, in the list of examples of historical slang, there was the phrase, "As valiant as an Essex lion", meaning timid or cowardly. What do you think when you read that idiom? First, if you're not familiar with it, you might wonder where Essex is and what kind of place. But second, you might then wonder why an "Essex lion" is considered cowardly. Is it a regional stereotype about Essex people? Is it a reference to an actual sub-species of lion that lives in Essex? Is it a historical reference? (The truth is that an "Essex lion" is an old term for a calf in the cockney dialect, because Essex was the main source of cattle for the meat markets in London.) In any event, one little phrase sparks curiosity and provides a little bit more richness - what a social scientist might call "thickness" - to the world in which we live.

You wouldn't want to go crazy with this as a DM. A little would go a long way. But dropping in the odd idiomatic phrase of the "valiant as an Essex lion" variety here or there in NPC dialogue could be a nice way of doing exactly what is described above: sparking curiosity among the players about the world which the PCs inhabit, and if nothing else making it seem a little more "lived in" than it is in reality. "He's as tight as the arse of a Druk Yul quail." Where is this Druk Yul? And what's a Druk Yul quail? Let's find out. And the players become that little bit more invested in the world you're jointly creating. 


  1. I love this kind of detail, it really helps to subtly build a world and make it seem real. And thanks for the background too, it's a new phrase to me.

  2. This reminds me of a quote from Ridley Scott talking to the set designers of Blade Runner. "The future is not new. It's old." And it always stuck with me, cause yeah, the worlds been lived in this entire time, doesn't matter if it's a sci-fi future or a fantasy world. When the players or audience steps into the world it's been there for forever already.

    1. Yeah. You really see that in "Alien" too. George Lucas understood that principle in Episode IV but then seemed to forget it for the prequels.