Arts and EntertainmentEdit
- What is the status of the various arts (dance, music, theater, etc.) in this society? Are artists revered or mistrusted?
Art varies by the individual taste, some hate it, some love it. The majority hold it in high esteem.
- Who supports the arts? Which arts are most highly valued and why?
- Are there permanent theaters or concert halls for performing arts? If so, who owns and runs them? Are there also traveling troupes?
- What do people at various levels of society do for fun?
- Can magic be used in the arts and if so, how -- paint that glows, pictures that move, flutes that play themselves, etc.? Is there a separate branch of purely magical art, like illusions?
- What sports or pastimes are common (hawking, hunting, skiing, baseball)? Which ones take skill, money, and/or leisure time?
- What games are commonly known -- chess, dice, poker? Which are common among everyone, and which are limited to the peasantry or nobility? Are certain countries/cities known for a passion/expertise for particular games or pastimes?
- Are there non-human races who tend to be naturally talented painters, dancers, etc.? How does this affect human practitioners of these arts?
- Do non-human races have their own games and leisure pastimes? How do they differ from human games? How do they reflect the physiology and/or particular magical talents of the non-human races?
- What is the most common building material? Why is it used (availability, cheapness)? Does it have any major drawbacks (wood=the Great Fire of London)?
- How are buildings normally ornamented? Carved gargoyles, painted murals, geometric patterns?
- How tall a building can be constructed at a reasonable cost and in a reasonable time?
- What are typical floor plans like --can people afford to waste space on hallways or do they just have a series of rooms opening into other rooms? Are buildings normally built square, triangular, domed, what?
- How many people usually live in a typical house? How large is a typical house?
- What are the differences in materials and appearance between a lower-class, a middle-class, and an upper-class type house? How do city houses differ from those in rural areas?
- How are living quarters arranged? Are bedrooms on the top floors for privacy or on the ground floor for convenience? Are parlors or libraries common? How are houses heated/cooled?
- Is there a single, generally accepted calendar (including time measurement) or do different countries or peoples or races have different ones?
- How is the day divided into smaller time units? What are they (Hour of the Lark, Sunrise Bell, Nones, etc.)? Are the names relevant to anything? Is the length of an hour fixed, or does it vary depending on changes in the length of the day as the seasons change?
- What are the names of months, and how many days are there in each? How many days in a week/week-like-period? Months in a year? Are there leap years? If so, who keeps track?
- Which days are general holidays or festival times? What do they celebrate? Are there any that are only celebrated in particular countries, cities, or regions?
- What event(s) do people use to date years? Is it a single occurrence (the creation of the world, the end of the Great War, the invention of atomic power, etc.), or are events dated based on recurring things (the 12th year of Tiberius' reign, the 300th year of the Han Dynasty)?
- How do people tell what time it is? Are there clocks, watches, sundials, etc., or do people have to listen for the bells from the castle or church, or do they just eyeball the sun?
- Are there any days that are considered "outside the year"--like Mardi Gras? How did they originate?
Crime and the Legal SystemEdit
- How has the presence of magic and magicians affected law and government? Are wizards barred from certain kinds of jobs (judge, jury, police)? Do some jobs require that their holder be a wizard?
- What are considered normal and legal ways of gathering evidence and determining guilt? Is torture allowed? Truth spells? Are arbitrary judgements by the lord or landowner allowed, or is there a standard that they are supposed to follow?
- If someone doesn't like the judgement he receives in court, is there anyone he can appeal to, like the Emperor or the Supreme Court?
- Are there laws forbidding certain types of people (peasants, wizards, priests, women) from carrying arms? Are there lawsrequiring certain people to be skilled with certain weapons, as England for some centuries required yeomen to be proficient with the longbow?
- Is forensic magic possible? Commonly used? Admissible in court? Used only for certain types of crimes (and if so, what)? Is it something any wizard can do, or do you have to specialize?
- Are certain spells (as opposed to magic generally) illegal? If so, how would a criminal magician be detected? Apprehended? Punished? Are criminal magicians dealt with by the same court system as everyone else, or is there a special branch of the courts, or are they handled by the Wizard's Guild, or do you just send out a bunch of heroes to kill them off?
- Are there separate courts for civil and criminal matters? For magical and non-magical matters? For humans and non-humans? What are the differences?
- What things are considered truly serious crimes and why? (Example: a trade-oriented culture might consider counterfeiting a death-penalty crime; in a place where life is cheap, murder might be something that only results in a small fine.)
- What are the punishments for serious vs. minor crimes? Are there prisons, or are people punished and released? Are there degrees of punishment--branding vs. cutting off ears vs. cutting off a hand vs. decapitation--or do they just hang everybody?
- Who is responsible for catching criminals? Who pays the crook-catchers--the king, the city government, a consortium of merchants, somebody else? How are they organized--into independent police precincts, or into overlapping districts, or just according to whoever wants to hire them?
- Are there lawyers or advocates? Who can afford them? Who trains and/or certifies them?
- Are people guilty until proven innocent, innocent until proven guilty, or does it depend on the mood the lord is in when the case comes in front of him?
- Are there judges other than the lord/king or landowner? If so, how are they paid, and by whom? How often are outlying areas likely to see a judge? Is "mob justice" common? Approved of or disapproved of?
- Are there sumptuary laws requiring certain clothes to be worn or not worn by certain occupations or classes? Do judges wear robes or wigs?
- Are highwaymen, muggers, bandits, or pirates common or rare? What sorts of crimes would the average citizen be likely to run across during his/her lifetime?
- Who can make or repeal laws--a group (such as an elected Senate, an appointed Council, or an hereditary House of Lords) or only the king/emperor/head-of-state?
- How are alleged criminals treated before/after their convictions? Do the police/military/city guard make a practice of roughing up suspects, or is this frowned upon?
- How do people feel about foreigners? Non-humans? How ready are they to accept different ideas? How cosmopolitan are they?
- How much social mobility is there? Is it easy or hard for a person born a peasant to advance to the middle class, or for a middle class person to advance to the upper class or nobility? How much resistance would there be? Would such a person ever be accepted socially?
- What things are considered luxuries--chocolate, coffee, cotton, flush toilets, spices?
- What do people in general look like? Would a blonde (red-head, brunette) stand out in a crowd? Someone 5' tall? 7' tall? Do non-humans?
- What is furniture like--big and blocky, delicate, simple, elaborately carved or decorated? What is it mostly made of--cloth, wood, stone, etc.? Are certain things (like chairs with arms) reserved for high-status individuals?
- In what ways does furniture design reflect the customs of people (example: beds with bed-curtains for privacy in medieval keeps where servants wandered through rooms without warning; chaise lounges as common furniture in a society where people are accustomed to recline rather than sit, etc.)?
- What are plumbing and sanitary systems like? Who builds and maintains them? How reliable are they, and who do you call when the drains back up? How do they differ from city to farm?
- How do people cope with various disasters--fire, floods, volcanoes, plague, etc.? How common are such disasters?
- How early do people get up in the morning in the city? Country? Are clocks common, or do people tell time by the sun or by listening for the church bells?
- What dishes are considered holiday food? What foods/drinks are associated with particular holidays, events, (e.g., funerals, weddings) or times of the year?
- When a guest arrives, is food or drink offered immediately, after an interval, or only on request? Is there a particular food or drink that it is customary to offer a newly arrived guest? A guest who is departing (stirrup cup)?
- How many meals are considered normal in a day? When are they served? Which are substantial, and which are smaller? Are certain foods (e.g., eggs and bacon) reserved mainly for a particular meal (breakfast)?
- What dishes would be considered typical of this area? What wines or beers?
- Is there a safe supply of drinking water, or do people (including children) drink ale or beer exclusively because "water is unhealthy" (i.e., contaminated and will make you sick)?
- What foods are considered peasant food? What foods are staples, commonly eaten every day? What foods are rare? What foods are normally cooked/eaten raw?
- What is the food like? What herbs and spices are readily available, and which must be imported? How common/expensive are imported foods and spices? What spices are commonly used? Do people tend to like highly spiced food, or not?
- How is food preserved for use during the off-season--smoking, canning, drying, etc.? How reliable are the methods used--how often does "preserved" food spoil?
- When food is in limited supply, who gets first crack? The laborers and farmers who have to work to produce more, or the children who are the next generation, or the wise and revered elders?
- What foods do non-humans like, and how do these differ from those favored by humans? Are some foods poisonous or distasteful to one species that are delicacies or necessary to another?
Fashion and DressEdit
- What do people wear? How expensive is it? Can the material be produced locally, or must some or all of it be imported?
- Are certain clothes customary for certain occupations -- e.g., military uniforms, judges' robes, sports team uniforms, etc.? How much variation is allowed? Could a scholar wear a fluorescent green robe as long as the cut was right, or would that be too much? Is it color or style that is most important?
- Are the dyes for certain colors -- purple, indigo blue, etc. -- rare, making cloth of that color more expensive and/or reserved for nobility or other high-status people?
- Are there sumptuary laws, defining who can wear what? What are the penalties? Who decides when changes are needed? How often are they adjusted?
- How many changes of clothes can a normal person afford? A noble person? A peasant?
- What are current fashion in clothes like? In hats? Jewelry? Shoes? Do such fashions differ for humans/non-humans? From country to country?
- What materials are appropriate for the climate? What cloth (e.g., silk) must be imported, and is therefore used only for expensive upper-class clothing?
- What styles are considered tacky and vulgar, and what is stylish?
- What types of decorations and accessories are common? What colors and combinations of colors are thought to look well together, or to clash? Do opinions of this vary from race to race?
- What physical types and characteristics are currently fashionable--tan vs. pale skin, the "consumptive look" vs. robust good health, fat vs. thin, blonde vs. brunette, muscles vs. "dead poet", etc.? How does this vary for non-human races?
- How do non-human fashions reflect the habitat and physiology of non-humans? Do mermaids have a nudity taboo, for example? Do dragons dress for dinner?
- Do men and women, parents and children, servants and master, eat separately, or does everyone eat together? How is status displayed at the table (seating above or below the salt, near or far from the head, serving first with the best, etc.)?
- What dishes are considered holiday food? What foods/drinks are associated with particular holidays, special events (e.g., weddings, funerals), or times of the year?
- What distinguishes a formal, high-court dinner from an ordinary meal, besides quantity and variety of food? How do formal, high-court manners differ from everyday ones?
- What eating utensils are used, if any? Forks, eating knife, spoons, chopsticks, what?
- What is the order of a typical upper-class meal--do they start with wine, then a sweet, then stew, then salad, or is everything brought in at once?
- What shape are tables/eating areas (round, oblong, square, rectangular, etc.)? Where is the "place of honor" for a guest? Where do important members of the household sit/recline/whatever?
- Are special arrangements necessary for entertaining guests of different races/species--taller chairs for dwarves, raw meat for werewolves, perches for harpies, etc.? How do the eating customs of different races reflect their cultures and biology?
- What things are never eaten (i.e., what's not kosher)? Why? Are some common human foods poisonous to dwarves or elves (or vice versa)?
- How much does it cost to get various levels of education?
- What education is available, and where? Are there schoolhouses in every town, or do ordinary people have to travel if they want to be educated? Are there universities? Private tutors?
- What is the literacy level in the general population? Is literacy considered a useful/necessary skill for nobility, or something only scribes/clerks/wimps need?
- What areas are considered absolutely necessary knowledge for a courtier (poetry, languages, skill at arms, etc.)? Which are nice but not necessary? Which would be slightly embarrassing if anybody found out (a passion for comic books, etc.)?
- How respected are teachers and scholars? Who supports them?
- Does this country have formal relationships with other countries? If so, who can be an ambassador/envoy? Are there standing embassies and consulates, or are envoys sent only when something specific comes up?
- How are treaties arranged? Are there any significant ones currently in force or coming up for signing?
- How much do official attitudes toward other countries affect commerce and trade? Do merchants pretty much ignore tensions between governments as long as they can make a profit, or will this get them into trouble?
- How much formal spying and intelligence gathering is normally done by governments? By the military? By merchants? Who has the best information-gathering system?
- Which countries are traditional allies? Which are traditional rivals? How do these traditions affect current foreign policy?
- Which heads of state are related by blood or marriage? How important are marriage alliances? How do ties of blood/marriage affect foreign policy?
- Are gestures and body language in this society generally subtle, or not? Do people talk with their hands, or is that considered vulgar?
- What gestures are insulting? What do they mean? Do some gestures differ in meaning depending on the culture or time (example: the American "V" for victory sign, which became the peace sign, is/was highly insulting in Europe)?
- How do overall gestures and body language differ between countries? Are there things that don't matter in one area that are mortal insults in another (eating with the left hand, etc.)?
- What are the different ways of showing respect (bowing, saluting, etc.)? To whom is one expected to show respect--one's elders, superiors in rank, social superiors, teachers, priests, etc.?
- How has the presence of magic and magicians affected law and government? Are wizards barred from certain kinds of government jobs or offices? Do some positions require that their holder be a wizard?
- How has the presence of non-human races affected law and government?
- What is the basic form of government in this country--feudal aristocracy, oligarchy, absolute rulership, democracy, what? What forms of government are used in neighboring countries, and why are they the same or different?
- what services does the government or head of state provide: schools, wells, courts, an army to protect people from the Vikings? What services are provided locally or privately?
- Who has the right to levy taxes? For what purposes? On what or whom? Can taxes be paid in kind, or do certain things require money?
- Who provides support services for the head of state? What are they called: King's Councilors, Cabinet ministers, Secretary of State? Are these hereditary offices, appointees, career civil servants, or elected officials?
- Is the relative power of a country or king usually measured by the size of the army, the number and ability of the wizards, or the amount of money/trade flowing through it?
- What are the easiest/most common ways to advance in status--amass more money, marry well, get the king's eye, etc? How much resistance is there to someone advancing in social status?
- Who will take over running the government if the current head of state is incapacitated? How is this determined? Is there an heir apparent (either actual or political)? What happens if the heir is a minor?
- Who is responsible for protecting the king or head of state? His personal guard, the Secret Service, an elite group affiliated with the regular military? What safeguards have they got against assassins, poisoning, direct assault, magical attack?
- Who can give orders (to military, to tax collectors, to servants, to ordinary folks on the street)? How are such people chosen?
- Who is responsible for coinage: the king, local barons, merchant guilds, someone else? Are there generally acceptable standards for coins? How easy/common is counterfeiting?
- Is there an organized system of education? If so, who provides it: government, temples, private persons? How is it supported?
- Who can call up men for an army, and how? Does the king ask his lords for men, who in turn draft their peasants, or can the king go straight to the bottom?
- How much formal spying and intelligence gathering is normally done by governments? The military? The merchant guilds and wealthy tradesmen?
- Do relations between countries depend mainly on the relations between the heads of state, or can two kings hate each others' guts without being able to just declare war and drag their countries into it?
Greetings and MeetingsEdit
- How did the greeting gesture originate (example: shaking hands to prove one's weapon hand was empty)? Is there a special I-am-not-armed gesture for wizards?
- Is there a difference between the greeting offered to an equal and that offered to a superior or inferior? Between that offered a man or a woman? (cf. the various levels of curtsey) Between that offered a human vs. a non-human?
- Is there a way of changing a greeting gesture to make it insulting?
- When meeting someone for the first time, how are they greeted--wave, handshake, bow, some other gesture? Does this differ if one already knows the person? If you see someone you like on the far side of the street, how do you acknowledge them?
- How are two people who have not met before introduced to each other? What is the order of precedence when there are several people of differing sex, social status, or race/species present who must all be introduced to each other?
- Are there people or beings who are neverintroduced to each other? Are "true names" significant, and if so, under what circumstances would someone be given someone else's true name? Are there customs involving the way in which someone is named when being introduced (example: giving all of a person's names and titles at the first meeting, but never repeating them afterward, so that he's always referred to as "George" even though he's introduced as the Duke George Edward Canterbury Gordon de la Suis-Foule, Marquis of Horsham, Whitewater and Framingham, Earl of St. Peter's Close, and Viscount of Abernathy.)
- Is there a "trade language" that facilitates commerce between countries that don't speak the same tongue? Is there a "universal language" spoken by educated or noble persons, as Latin was in the Middle Ages?
- Are some or all people bilingual? Is there a common second language many people know?
- Are there "secret" languages or codes known only by priests, soldiers, guild members, etc.? If so, why were they developed?
- What are the variations in speech patterns, syntax, and slang from one social class to another? One occupation to another? One region to another?
- What areas do local slang phrases come out of? (Example: In a fishing town, referring to good luck as "a good catch"; in a farming town, as "a good harvest", etc.) What kinds of colorful turns of phrase do people use?
- What things in this culture would their language have many specific words for (e.g., the Inuit languages that have 14+ words for different kinds of snow)? What do the people in this culture consider important enough to name?
- What will people swear a binding oath by? What do people use as curse words?
- How many languages are there? Which ones are related (e.g., the Romance languages of Europe) and why? Which languages borrow words or phrases from other languages? Which are likely to be most widely spoken?
- Are there different languages for different races (dwarves, elves, etc.), or is language based more on geography than race/species? Is there a special language you need to learn in order to talk to dragons or other magical beasts?
- Do wizards have a special language that is used for magic? If so, where do they learn it? Is it safe to chat in this language, or is everything said in it automatically a spell?