Where Do They Go To Go...?
  • Where Do They Go To Go...?



    Where people go to the bathroom matters a lot, worldbuilding-wise. They may use an outhouse, a chamber pot, a porcelain commode, or an advanced vacuum-flush system aboard a space station, but the infrastructure of sewage disposal informs a lot of urban planning, clothing, agriculture, public health - even diet. It’s not usually a topic most worldbuilders want to think about for fear of reverting to juvenalia, but assuming it just gets taken care of offscreen can be detrimental to setting.


    Let’s take the Indus Valley Civilization for example. At 2500 BCE the city of Mohenjo-Daro had a functioning sewage system, consisting of a waste disposal/toilet hole built into a washing platform, joined by clay piping to the city’s sewage system. Flushing the hole was done by emptying a jug filled from a courtyard’s central well. The sewers emptied into cesspits, which were later raked and emptied.

    This tells us much about their civilization. Firstly, that they were sophisticated and skilled enough with ceramics, brickwork and hydraulic engineering to run sewage lines from private residences into a larger, public drain while also avoiding flooding and aquifer contamination. They prized cleanliness and public infrastructure, planned where they built and had sanitation workers. That’s a lot of information from a toilet.

    Toilets also inform us about clothing. Observe the voluminous skirts and petticoats European women wore from the 1600s to the 1900s. Having to use the commode while dressed such necessitated the wearing of open drawers left open at the crotch for convenience.

    Consider also what they do with the resulting sewage. The ancient Romans collected urine, which they allowed to age to create ammonia. Called lant, its use continued into pre-industrial times. Lant was used to scour wool, brush teeth, flavor ale and treat wheat seed to prevent birds eating it once sown. Fecal matter can be composted to make fertilizer, or used raw as nightsoil. The use of nightsoil is hazardous. Fecal-borne bacteria can contaminate the plants grown with its use, which then sicken the people who consume them without adequate cleaning or cooking.

    This brings us to sanitation and its effects on food and public health. Note the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in London, which was traced back to a water pump that pumped from a well contaminated from a cesspit. If a people are pre-germ theory, then this could lead to food taboos such as a ban on raw vegetables, or a belief that ale is healthier than water (due to the boiling required to make mash).

    Besdes, heed the words of Michael Westen, from Burn Notice. Bathrooms are a great place to fight. If you’re running a gritty campaign, having a fight take place close to a sewage trench may allow you to up the lethality of a short skirmish via infection. Run a horror campaign, and have some terrifying squirming thing using sewage pipes for transport, like the Flukeman from X-Files.

    Start worldbuilding from the commode up, and use all those factors to influence your setting.
    Comments 10 Comments
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Besides world building, anybody who hasn't planned out the sewers beneath their cities is missing out on some ideal adventuring turf too...
    1. pdmiller's Avatar
      pdmiller -
      Quote Originally Posted by R_Chance View Post
      Besides world building, anybody who hasn't planned out the sewers beneath their cities is missing out on some ideal adventuring turf too...
      The first homebrew adventure I wrote for AD&D was The Sewers of Silk City.
    1. Jacob Lewis's Avatar
      Jacob Lewis -
      Never split the potty.
    1. Ed Laprade's Avatar
      Ed Laprade -
      Ah, but what about the good old days when GG built all those dungeons without so much as a chamber pot for all the Big Bad's minions to do their business in?
    1. M.W. Simmes's Avatar
      M.W. Simmes -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ed Laprade View Post
      Ah, but what about the good old days when GG built all those dungeons without so much as a chamber pot for all the Big Bad's minions to do their business in?
      Status effect: Potty emergency.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ed Laprade View Post
      Ah, but what about the good old days when GG built all those dungeons without so much as a chamber pot for all the Big Bad's minions to do their business in?
      I almost hate to admit this... but my underground fortress / ruins included garderobes, sewers, kitchens, barracks etc. A misspent youth involving a fascination with medieval and ancient life and architecture saw to that
    1. Lylandra's Avatar
      Lylandra -
      IIRC even Rappan Athuk had a toilet. including a... very lethal poop monster! (a mutated mimic)
    1. Jacob Lewis's Avatar
      Jacob Lewis -
      Player: "I drink a potion of healing..."

      DM: "Okay, your bladder is already at maximum capacity. You'll need to save to hold it."

      Player: "Wait. What?!"

      DM: "I put toilets in the dungeon. I expect you to use them. No more squatting in whatever dark corner you can secure."

      Player: "So... do I need to roll to go?"

      DM: "Table 1 or table 2?"

      Player: "I'm out. This game just got weird."
    1. Ralif Redhammer's Avatar
      Ralif Redhammer -
      The Rappan Athuk toilet...no PC I ran it for ever went anywhere near it. Toilets in dungeons seem to scare them a lot.

      Quote Originally Posted by Lylandra View Post
      IIRC even Rappan Athuk had a toilet. including a... very lethal poop monster! (a mutated mimic)
    1. Lylandra's Avatar
      Lylandra -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ralif Redhammer View Post
      The Rappan Athuk toilet...no PC I ran it for ever went anywhere near it. Toilets in dungeons seem to scare them a lot.
      Oh, we did! We thought there could be treasure hidden inside. That thing scared us for life.
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