Inspired mostly by reading this: https://monstermanualsewnfrompants.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-return-of-why-did-i-click-this-its.html, and this: https://www.incunabuli.com/2019/12/trinkets-relics-and-artifacts.html, I’ve been thinking about worldbuilding through material culture, through the things you can see, touch, manipulate, explore, etc., rather than through exposition. More thoughts will likely follow, but for now here’s a picture of a culture painted through twenty things you might find from there:
Objects from Bebahidari (D20):
1. A hexagonal crystal bottle of heady honey-wine.
2. A steel spear decorated with hyena-mane tassels at the hilt, its head rubbed with dust to reduce its sheen. Whittled into the shaft is a crude depiction of three people in a row impaled by the spear.
3. An electrum coin bearing the face of the hero-king Hesama and the phrase “May the people rejoice” in Exarchate-script on one side, a tower crowned by a crescent moon and the phrase “May the heavens be content” on the other. Older coins contain more gold in their alloy, and most have been grievously clipped.
4. A thickly lacquered black-and-red box the size of an outstretched hand, decorated with relief images of mountains and flying bustards. The box contains a block of pressed hashish and an integrated mandoline.
5. A defaced brass astrarium metering the seven heavens, though the outer two and their corresponding kosmokrators have been pried off. The kosmokrators are represented by precious stones of different colours embedded in its mechanisms.
6. A gold-backed hand mirror rimmed with silver hog-headed serpents. The motto "No shame but envy" has been scratched along the top of the glass.
7. A wordless preacher's book, vibrantly illustrated with key imagery of Exarchate teachings: the bestowal of the fiery sword of dominion over the earth, the crowning of the first king, and the revelation of the calendar prime among them.
8. A glass jar full of aromatically-infused butter, which releases a fresh floral scent while it melts in the heat.
9. An oblong ebony case containing silver needles and blue ink-cake.
10. A cotton bag spattered with dark stains that might be mud, might be blood. Within are oracular knucklebones engraved with astrological sigils.
11. A six-stringed lyre adorned with colourful glass beads.
12. A leopard skin and red velvet cloak with a sun-shaped collar pressed with gold leaf. The cloak is tattered with holes, and over a dozen arrowheads dangle from its hem.
13. A pewter set of teacups and accompanying kettle, stamped with daisies. They smell faintly of the spiced tea sediment speckling their bottoms.
14. A tall, cylindrical white hat, stiffened with a wicker frame. Green ribbons make a riotous trail from its peak.
15. A red granite micro-stele with a planting spike on its base. Each face is carved with a stanza of a circular prayer.
16. A hinged wooden mancala board with polished, rounded opals as pieces. The board is engraved with scenes of an army fighting donkeys, and apparently losing.
17. A deep purple veil embroidered with a star chart in gold thread.
18. A long, curved dagger. Its blade is inlaid with yellowed ivory, its horn handle carved in the form of a rearing lioness.
19. A four-chambered clay spice-pot containing enough cinnamon, berbere, cumin, and nutmeg to season a feast.
20. An ostrich-saddle and stirrups, fit for a child or a small adult. The seat reeks of urine.