Though I don’t read everything with an eye on what it can yield for D&D, I can’t help noticing sometimes. I just finished reading Bill Bryson’s book At home last week. I only really know Bryson from the recommendations of my mother — he has become one of her favorite authors, apparently. A few years ago I read his book A walk in the woods, which was a travelogue of Appalachian Trail (combined with a history of the idea of national parks in the US and environmentalism and bear attacks), and more recently she’s been urging me to read his book on Shakespeare.
At home is largely focused on the development of the “home,” from medieval halls and huts to Victorian mansions and modern living. There are many, fascinating sidetracks taken into things like the biographies of now obscure trailblazers, various inventions and processes, and all the minutia you expect from social history, with a great deal of Bryson’s dry humor. The discussions of master-servant relations, and the daily lives of various classes of people in the Victorian era, is fascinating, as are the way such dry topics as architecture and manufacturing are described due to the combination of the humor and the practical focus on how these affect living spaces.
Anyway the D&D-able stuff from the book is a little thinner in terms of specifics than what I’ve found in books like At day’s close, but still there is enough to get some inspiration. Two bits that struck me are:
- Normal rats can leap 3′. Brown rats usually live in cellars and sewers; black rats prefer attics and ceiling spaces. Also, rats cooperate at a level you’d never believe when it comes to getting food — forming rat pyramids to reach hanging sides of meat; stealing eggs in teams so one rat holds the egg and lays on its back while another drags him back to the lair; and so on.
- Wigs were a big fashion thing in the early 1700s, which I guess most people know. What I didn’t know was that they were sometimes made from things like thin wire, nor that people worried that cheaper wigs might be salvaged from the hair of plague victims. Also a good wig was worth more than commoner could earn in a year (as was silk handkerchief, as was a packet of lace, and on and on when we’re talking about the minor luxuries of the wealthy). But when fashions changed, most were recycled by the servants as dust mops. Why are there no magic wigs in D&D? And for that matter fake moles? The crazy wigs with ships and horse races woven into them could be an offbeat source of a villain’s magic. Why not have a witch or warlock who draws objects from a massive, diorama-ridden wig, ranging from weapons to swarms of bugs?