Sunday, February 3, 2013


You won't find this essay in the most recent edition of WasteOTC's latest edition of D&D, nor will you find it on the bulletin boards of that site, populated as it is by frail little old ladies for whom three swear words and a little urging represents "negative, unnecessary vulgarity."  Really.  Anything is vulgar, if it dredges up a subject of which people would rather not have shoved under their noses.

Thus, this post.

Bill Bryson's At Home was a cracking good read, with the potential to be blog-fuel for quite a long time to come.  As such, I'd like to post this lengthy quote, then discuss the matter (heh, heh).

"... masses of humanity naturally produced enormous volumes of waste--far more than any system of cesspits could cope with.  In one fairly typical report an inspector recorded visiting two houses in St. Giles where the cellars were filled with human waste to a depth of three feet.  Outside, the inspector continued, the yard was six inches deep in excrement.  Bricks had been stacked like stepping stones to let the occupants cross the yard.  At Leeds in the 1830s, a survey of the poorer districts found that many streets were 'floating with sewage'; one street, housing 176 families, had not been cleaned for fifteen years.  In Liverpool, as many as one-sixth of the population lived in cellars, where wastes could all too easily seep in.  and of course human waste was only a small part of the enormous heaps of filth that were generated in the crowded and rapidly industrializing cities.  In London, the Thames absorbed anything that wasn't wanted: condemned meat, offal, dead cats and dogs, food waste, industrial waste, human feces, and much more.  Animals were marched daily to Smithfield Market to be turned into beefsteaks and mutton chops; they deposted forty thousand tons of dung en route in a typical year.  That was, of course, on top of all the dogs, horses, geese, ducks, chickens and rutting pigs ... the Thames grew so noxious that when a tunnel being dug at the Rotherhithe sprang a leak, the first matter through the breech was not river water but concentrated gases, which were ignited by the miners' lamps ..."

Loads of fun.

Just setting the stage, as it were.  In this post, now and then, I want to do a little math.  On average, a human produces 2.2 lbs of urine (about a litre) and 0.5 lbs of fecal matter in one day.  This doesn't sound like much, but over the course of a year you've passed enough excrement out of your body to make another you, about life-sized (183 lbs.)  At the same time, you've expelled enough urine to fill one and a half bathtubs.  In no way is this, for little ol' you, an insurmountable problem.

Difficulties begin when we multiply you by all the other people living on your street, or in your town ... but that's boring and meaningless, really ... so let's compare it to something that matters:  say, the 300 orcs that are the maximum number appearing in the original Monster Manual.  Yearly, this works out to 27 tons of feces and 68,040 litres of urine - enough to fill a swimming pool 28' by 28' to a depth of 4 feet.

Well, still ... that's not a whole lot.  Most of the urine is going to soak into the soil and shit dries, so there's really no worry.  Except, well ... orcs live underground.  Where things don't dry, they sweat ... and where water doesn't soak, it leaks.  It goes down through cracks until it gets to the very bottom, to where it sits on top of rock, and there it collects.  And collects and collects.

Course, this isn't a problem so long as the orcs haven't occupied this particular dungeon for very long ... like, less than a year.

Most human villages in areas of the world like Italy, Spain, Turkey and Iran have been there since time immemorial ... literally thousands of years.  Today, some gnarled patch of rocky karst in Dalmatia, on the coast of Croatia, supports a couple dozen huts and maybe eighty, a hundred people.  During the Age of Rome, this same patch supported, and was occupied by, some eighty, hundred people.  Same rocks, sometimes the same houses, and the same select cave where for millennia the locals have dumped their waste.

Only now, the cave is occupied ...or it was, maybe.  Perhaps it is so deep that the first fifty yards or so of cave entrance is a literal coprophiliac obstacle that the party is going to have to tunnel through for, oh, a month or so (would it get denser, or wetter, as you went down?).  Or perhaps the locals have made arrangements that the local excrement goes in this hole, and not that one.  Presuming the one chosen doesn't leak into the lower, occupied caves.

If these orcs have dwelt in this cave for as long as the humans above have dwelt in their houses - and whose to say that they haven't been there at least a century or two? - then the orcs are going to eventually start running into sewage problems.

Humans have perpetually solved these troubles by eventually running everything into the sea.  Certainly this was true up until the last few decades.  But unfortunately there's nowhere for the collecting sewage to go where it comes to caves.

Caves in the real world are fairly clean ... certainly free of excrement.  There are few creatures able to live perpetually underground which would be capable of producing guano or feces on a grand scale.  There's nothing as large as an orc!  Or ... saints forgive us ... a dragon.

Of course, a number of purists are going to rush forward to say at this point that dragons don't eat, and therefore they do not defecate - problem solved.  I suddenly find myself thinking of the scene in Pleasantville where the character opens a bathroom stall and finds it wonderfully devoid of a toilet.  I know, of course, that most D&D worlds work this way.  Like Ozzie & Harriet, D&D characters do not use the facilities, or at worst they 'go' behind the bushes ... which means something or other that obviously has no long-term consequences.  Where there are scenes involving fecal matter, its invariably disconnected to anything causal ... the matter simply "is" and there you have it.

Very well, let's not try a dragon, though I was tempted to at first.  Let's try something more universally 'evil,' and therefore - by D&D standards - possesses a greater likelihood of actually producing waste.  Let's try a type IV demon (Nalfeshnee).  That way, even if someone argues that it doesn't eat, or that it doesn't need to actually "go" on this plane of existence, I can argue that it would want to go on this plane, being huge and vaguely cow- or horse-like in shape and - one presumes - delivery.

The Nalfeshnee is 10 and a half feet tall, and looks in the image given in the Monster Manual to be somewhat rotund and plumpish.  Now, I'm 5'10 and I'm rotund, so let's use me for a base.  I'm 260 lbs.  If we enlarged me in the exact same dimensions that I am to where I were 10.5 feet tall, I would weigh 1,516 lbs.

If my excretion were also thus increased (and perhaps I am eating food from the other plane of existence and channelling it into my present environment) I would be producing 3 lb. of fecal matter and 6 liters of urine a day.

Ah, but if I were that big, and I had hooves - wouldn't I be producing more in line with a cow than with a human?  Of course I would.  An average modern cow (1,500 lbs) produces approximately 150 lbs. of manure a day, along with 8 gallons of urine.  Assuming U.S. Gallons, that's around 30 litres, but its even more if we're talking Imperial.  Wiki-answers didn't specify.

AND, of course, we are talking a demon here.  Why should it be limited by the amounts produced by purely mundane creatures?

That brings us back to the orcs.  Do we really know what kind of feces these creatures produce?  Is it reasonable to assume that whatever it is that comes out of them is of the same nature and substance as human filth?  After all, think of the London example above.  How gaseous is the odor of various humanoid races?  Perhaps even stepping into a room where orcs, kobalds, goblins and gnolls relieve themselves is a deadly affair.  Bryson relates in his book an example of ordinary humans being overcome and even killed by the fumes of latrines they had to climb into in order to empty out - and this from ordinary human waste.  Wouldn't it be obvious that, if you were a goblin, and you discovered your discharge had that certain je ne sais quoi that stopped humans - or perhaps just dwarves and gnomes - literally dead in their tracks, that the prime place for the latrine is front and centre?  Look, ma, no guards!

Clearly, there's a lot of air for examination here.  For one thing, a host of monsters whose peculiar aromatic leavings are called for to give a little more atmosphere to the game.  Brick by brick and drop by drop, flushed ever downwards, your dungeon needs to reconcile itself to the very real fact that when the players finally get down through all the levels and monsters, all they're going to find at the bottom is shit.


Lukas said...

I knew it was bad, did not know it was a 'civ should make this a technology' bad.

Frank said...

This is definitely a question worthy of some though. The presence of bats and their guano in caves is something to look at for ideas of what results from all this waste being brought into a cave.