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I would like to know how to make it clear that little, non-magical rituals such as a blessing before eating, drawing water, harvesting grain, starting a fire and the like are a part of everyday life, without making it boring and tedious for the players.

Would this be best put in a player handout at the beginning of the game, emphasized by some exposition (by myself) at points in the game? (By that I mean "So, you prepare supper, performing all of the appropriate rituals along the way") Or is there some better way to handle it without making it too overbearing?

This is an extraction of one of the central questions arising from my original (overly broad) question.

Related question: How can I represent the use of fire being misrepresented in a campaign?

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2 Answers 2

Basic ideas

How to make an interesting folk ritual? As a game master, you can always lead by example - i.e. prepare a brief, yet thoughtful and engaging ritual on a paper and then act it out in front of the players. A short poem, a haiku, a sand drawing, etc., etc. - whatever you fancy, whatever matches the in-game culture.

A short in-game quest may involve the players trying to impress someone of a foreign culture (a foreign culture with all the rituals and customs). In order for the players to score some "bonus points" with the foreigner, you may suggest the players to learn the foreigner's customs and impress their target with their newly acquired cultural knowledge once the time is right (invite the foreigner for a diner, etc.)

Anthropological thinking

As for the folk rituals, they always reflect something. Let's explore the food rituals a bit as an example, and draw some theory along the way ...

Nowadays, the modern person goes to a diner, or just buys a snack whenever feeling hungry. In the old days, fetching food wasn't all that easy, reliable and it did require some effort. A hunter might have searched the woods for a few hours before successfully hunting down a rabbit; similarly, a farmer must have spent most of the day on the field before returning home for the spoils of his efforts, etc.

In this regard, food on the table represented fruits of our labors, something to look forwards to - a success. In this interpretation, the ritual right before eating stood for closure on success.

Another perspective on eating: all the members of the family gather up in from of the table; and in such an occasion, they remind themselves of their virtues ("poems" like The Lord's Prayer can serve this function). Etc. etc.

Deep role-playing

The people participating in a series of activities leading to a ritual, unless ignorant to the ritual itself, go through a specific cognitive experience. If you want your players to really immerse themselves in a ritual, I'd suggest making them experience the same process (for a diner ritual, let's make them work for their real-world food, an during that nasty little experiment, let's also starve them a bit to boot).

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It has been my personal experience that when trying to hammer in "flavor" details such as these, what works best is a combination of pre-game exposition and some in-game uses. Allow me to elaborate.

When you explain to your players how your campaign setting works and such, be sure to at least mention these rituals. If you go into a lot of detail here, your players are very likely to be bored, so you might want to stick to short explanations, such as "In this region, fire is a bit of a taboo, and there are a lot of small rituals and activities related to its use that foreigners find unusual, but locals consider a part of everyday life". This is deliberately vague, but be ready to answer if one of your players asks for examples of this. In a perfect world they will but don't bet on that happening.

Having said that, phase two happens during an actual session. Have an NPC perform one of those rituals, and describe it rather thoroughly. Be very mindful not to say "he performs one of the rituals I told you about", but rather describe it as a normal thing (provided your PC's are locals). The key here is to make that one ritual colorful, which creates a detail that will stand out in the player's minds. If all goes well, after one or two of these, the players will get it, and they might even start doing some of the rituals themselves, especially if performing them doesn't take up a lot of game time.

Hope this helps!

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It does. Thanks!! –  mudbunny Jul 14 '12 at 22:12
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Very nice for a first answer. Welcome to RPG.SE! –  SevenSidedDie Jul 14 '12 at 22:43

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