This work is a compilation of a wide spectrum of aspects of the medieval world and medieval life gathered under the impetus of a dedication to pursuing research that most people in this busy modern age simply don’t have the time, patience, or general inclination to embark upon by themselves. Most of the pertinent information is boiled down and condensed for the sake of clarity and convenience. While some of the information presented may be deemed by a few to be rather esoteric or superfluous in nature on first reading, further exposure reveals it to actually embody the basics for understanding the medieval environment in such a way that it becomes more compatible with the aims and purposes of a roleplaying game.
Here, the details of the medieval gameworld in which the character was born and grew up are provided, and it behooves the player to be familiar with the experiences and practices to which the characters have been exposed throughout their lives up to the time when they are brought into active game-play. This adds a dimension and richness to one’s roleplay that benefits the whole game for all involved. Where the player is dealing with a GM who is using this information as the basis for his fantasy world, it becomes an indispensable primer for roleplaying in that world, an aid to getting used to the practices and inside the heads of the medieval people who will populate the gameworld, with whom the players’ characters must blend (to a certain extent).
This is covered in the first part, “The Medieval Mind”.
It is followed by “Conditions of Daily Life”, which sheds light on the most common blind spots or complete misinterpretations or cross-period amalgamations in most peoples’ concepts of the medieval era that commonly get transferred directly into most GM’s medieval fantasy gameworlds. Now some of these blind spots or misinterpretations or cross-period amalgamations can make for an interesting gameworld, BUT the GM should use such things with knowledge aforethought so he can anticipate their impact on the other medieval standards drawn from the historic records in order that his world have a sense of internal consistency to aid and reinforce the players in suspending their disbelief.
The only liberty that has been taken in compiling this work is the fact that the usually much narrower definition of the “period of the game” for purposes of defining the “medieval era” discussed in this book, which observes a general cut-off point of 1348, on the eve before the great devastation of the Black Death, is occasionally broadened due to the fact that a few developments or social practices that are commonly associated with the medieval period actually did not come into being until the eve of the Renaissance or later. These are included due to the need to show the developments that often followed certain practices or innovations. Because many of these things have little real impact of the essential “feudal” nature of the hierarchically stratified medieval society or the basic “medieval-ness” of the genré for the purposes of tabletop gaming, AND due to the fact that in most peoples’ minds they belong together, they are included BUT identified as clearly as may be so as not to cause confusion with the historic record, with dates to provide a “long view” perspective.
There is no more important aspect to successfully roleplaying a character in a medieval fantasy setting than the player’s understanding of the conditions that prevailed historically, both in regards to the social realities and the technological accomplishments. Once the player has these things under his belt, he will be ready to play any sort of character that appeals to him in a medieval-based fantasy setting with exceptional insight and skill, to the envy of all the other players and the pride of his GM.
Conditions of Daily Life
Every player should have enough basic knowledge of the medieval period of the game to know what to expect their characters to see when they take a look at the gameworld around them in certain common circumstances. The players should know that, as in the modern world, their characters can tell the general class or wealth of the neighborhoods through which they walk by the size of the buildings and the materials of which they are built, and of the houses in which they find themselves more specifically by the quality and types of materials used to build, decorate and furnish them. So, the player should be able to recognize the statements the GM is trying to make about the characters’ surroundings when he gives a description. Out in the streets, the character will be able to tell, in general, the class and station or wealth of those he sees and meets by how well-dressed they are, or what trade in certain instances due to a traditional mode of dress, so the player should know to ask after the dress of NPC’s the PC meets if the GM neglects to mention it. This will allow him to address them in the proper manner, with deference and respect where it is needed in order to avoid some fatal social error which might result in making on of the wealthy and powerful angry at him.
As the months and seasons pass in the gameworld, the character should know just what it is all those farmers out in the fields are doing as he rides past; what sort of schedule the tenants will expect of him as a landlord (as applicable); why in late summer and early autumn he will have trouble finding a clerk or scribe or parchment or paper; why livestock prices soar after November; what times of day and on what days the streets are clogged with crowds in the towns; why the market(s) or shops are all closed around noon; why he must go hunt down the individual shops after lunch for his needs, as opposed to taking a more convenient stroll around the local market (assuming it is market day). In this regard, this work is a wonderful resource for the GM to add depth to his gameworld. There are a number of mistakes commonly made in regards to creating and travelling through a medieval gameworld. They are addressed in the following text for the benefit of player and GM alike.
For those who are already well-read on the subject, this chapter is NOT intended to provide any new, earth-shattering revelations, just an overview of the general conditions for those who lack the time or inclination to seek out and gather together such information.
In the medieval era of the game, there are many different ways of life and different walks of life. The people of the period of the game make life simpler to relate to by breaking society down into the Three Estates described in detail previously. This provides everyone with a place, and with it, usually a lord of some sort, even if a free man. The people in the period of the game are very conscious of their places and roles in the world, expressed by the Church as the Golden Chain or the Chain of Being. Of the Three Estates of society, only the first two really have the freedom to roam the roads at will, although the members of the Church only if they are about the business of the Church, or having the permission of their superiors. Indeed, any citizen embarking on pilgrimage for the remedy of his soul will be issued an official letter from the local bishop that will provide him with the freedom of the roads on routes between religious foundations housing reliquaries, used in the manner of a passport when the shrine which is the objective is in a foreign country. Pilgrims will be notable by mode of dress they share (discussed in detail later), showing their common bond and purpose regardless of the social class to which they actually belong.
The common folk, even freemen, are generally discouraged from roaming the roads outside the districts where they are known, under the principle that a man should remain in the places where his family and interests lie, so to keep him out of mischief, which is far too likely to befall him. In short, it is simply easier to encourage honest men to remain honest. In the case of freemen, however, this certainly is no real impediment to him exercising his right to freedom.
Despite modern impressions to the contrary, among the common folk in the presence of a strong monarch or at least a strong local lord, there will be visible authorities. The overriding impression of the rule of law will prevail. Of course, freemen will indeed have the freedom to roam the roads on their business, as wander they did in the period of the game, often and over long distances, especially the itinerant and journeymen craftsmen called “improvers” looking for work, particularly those in the building industry, always in demand.
As the point of the game is adventure for any number of purposes, all characters will have one thing in common, and that is the fact that either their social class/station, their interests, and/or their work (trades) will in one way or another provide them with a reason, motive, and right to be away from home and seeing the world. Even if only into the hinterlands surrounding their village, neighborhood, or home district. When the adventures take place locally the GM will make sure they get out to see some of the world, too.
The Rhythms of Medieval Life :
The Work of the Seasons
The year for the common farmers and lords running their manors and great agricultural estates actually commences in the fall, on the 29th of September and goes through the month of October. This may seem a bit backwards, but the agricultural year begins after the final accounting for the fruits of the growing season just passed. This is prepared for every estate, small and large, from the great royal estates down to the smallest knight’s feof from the end of July through September, at the same time preparations are being made for the next Spring. This is also the only time of year that new tenants will be allowed to enter new land leases.
All of this activity makes secretaries and clerks very difficult to find during this time of year, if the PC should have need. This labor deficit will be felt most keenly in the rural districts, but will put a strain on the businesses in the towns as many of the independent clerks and scribes take off for the countryside where they are needed. It is also a good argument to make sure the PC party has these skills among their members, so they do not get caught short when in need during this season.
The legal year of the central royal law courts in the capital of the realm commences on the 29th of September with a ceremony in which the judges make a procession from the Temple Bar to Westminster Abbey for a religious service, which is followed by a reception known as “the Lord Chancellors‘ breakfast” which is held in Westminster Hall. The service is held by the Dean of Westminster accompanied by a reading of scripture performed by the Lord Chancellor.
This “Autumn Term” (for the purposes of the game) may run as long as 10 weeks, which places an additional demand on the scribes and clerks in the realm.
This is also a time for local and regional faires which are held primarily for hiring workers out to sell themselves for a year’s term of work or service, due to the fact that this is the time of year when those contracts expire. At this time a reeve was elected from among the peasants of each manor and village to keep watch over the work and to ensure that production was up to the lord’s expectation. If rents or donations of goods (Church lands) fell short, the reeve must make up the difference on his own. This is also the only time of the year tenants are allowed to enter new leases.
The first agricultural work of the fall season will be the ploughing of the first field in September, that which was allowed to lie fallow the previous year, which will be the wheat field. The other two fields lie in stubble yet from the fall harvest just completed.
There is great debate between the Husbandmen in the period of the game over which is better to plough with, between oxen and horses. Oxen are less expensive to buy and cheaper to maintain, stronger and more patient than horses, and so will be more common in the villages and on the tenant farms. Horses are three to four times quicker at ploughing, however, more expensive to purchase and three to four times more expensive to keep in hay and oats. Oxen can be slaughtered for both meat and hide when they get old, while only the hide of the horse has any real value (except for the carcass to the knacker), and the hide is only really valued when it is white. Shoes for oxen are cheaper than horseshoes. The normal plough team consists of eight oxen, but as many as 12 might be used in heavy ground. Each team requires both a leader and a driver.
The wheat and rye are sown when the fall ploughing is completed.
Threshing is one of the major October activities, even though it is carried out to a lesser extent all throughout the year, not only for the grain, though, but for the peas and beans, as well.
Threshing takes place in an open area of a barn where a special wooden floor is set up. Flails were used to beat the stalks, thereby causing them to shed their grain. These are the same instruments that were adapted for use in war. The straw is then removed and the grain scooped up with a wide, shallow basket for the process called “winnowing”. By tossing the grain into the air and fanning it with a broad fan, the lighter, inedible fibrous husks, called “chaff”, are blown away until only the grain, which is heavier, remains. The heaviest of the grains fall closest to the winnower and these are saved for the next planting season. The grain that is to be eaten is then dried in a kiln, poured into sacks, and carried to the lord’s mill for grinding, as needed.
The wood gathered for the winter is chopped up and stowed in ricks at this time of year, also.
The swineherds bring in all the weaker animals and the sows that have given birth and houses them in the local manor pig-sties, and the cattle are brought in by the cowherd and stabled in their stalls for the winter season. The ploughman watches over them and sees to their care.
Before the beasts are brought in for the winter, the heavy wicker hedges called “hurdles” which guard the perimeters of the fields are taken down and the hens, sheep, cattle, and other livestock are let into the fields and allowed to forage and pick over the stubble left in the two fields harvested in August.
During late October and into November, all beasts that the farmers and the demesne lords cannot afford to feed through the winter are slaughtered, dressed, and smoked or salt-cured.
On January 14th, another of the four terms of the central royal law courts begins.. This “Winter Term” (for the purposes of the game) commonly runs only four weeks, but may run as long as six weeks.
The spring ploughing commences in the beginning of February (the 1st or the closest day afterwards the weather will allow) in the second field. This ploughing continues through the month of March and sometimes even to late April, and is the duty of the customary tenants residing in all manors. The spring sowing of peas, beans and vetches or oats and barley immediately follows the ploughing, and the hurdles are restored around their perimeters again to protect the seed and crop. A great feast is customarily thrown by the local lord at the end of the ploughing as a gesture of thanks for the services rendered to him.
In the spring, the oxen and cattle are again taken out by the local cowherds again and the livestock are allowed to forage in the two fields again before the spring ploughing.
March 25th will be the date that New Year’s Day will be celebrated on in most European towns. In some areas of France, New Year’s was a week-long holiday ending on April 1.
April 1st (April Fool’s day) will mark the commencement of another of the four terms of the royal central law courts, the “Spring Term” or “New Term” (for the purposes of the game), again running only four weeks, or as long as six weeks. This also marks the opening of the spring term of the royal Exchequer.
On the roads of all the shires in the realm the sheriffs with their staffs will be seen travelling to the royal Exchequer in the capital of the realm in the week or so prior to April 1st so they may arrive in a timely manner to appear in response to the summonses for them to account for the proceeds of their respective shires at this time.
The final field that has lain fallow following the previous August’s harvest is assayed by the farmers in May or June. They can be seen out in those fields cutting ditches for drainage and later manuring the field in preparation for the autumn ploughing and use in the following growing season. These fields are sometimes also dressed with marl or limestone when the soil is stiff. Marling is generally only done once every 15 to 18 years, however.
All building of new structures and repair of existing ones and weeding and hoeing in the fields are undertaken throughout the good weather of the summer months, with the women and children lending a helping hand. Those who do not maintain their homes in good repair may well find themselves presented in the local (baronial or leet) court and fined. During the warm months of good weather, the household garden plot must be cultivated, which may be upwards of an acre within the enclose around the house itself, referred to as its “curtilage”.
For more information about the foods raised by and enjoyed by the various classes, see the passage titled “The Groaning Board”
Throughout the growing season, the entire community is responsible for maintaining the hedging and hurdles around the fields that protect them from the casual foraging of livestock.
At midsummer, June 21st (the Summer Solstice), the last of the four yearly terms of the central royal law courts, called “Summer Term”. This may be as little as 1 week following the close of the previous term, or as long as 4 weeks after, and like Autumn Term, may run 8 to 10 weeks in duration.
After Midsummer, sheep are gathered in the pens and the PC’s will find the people engaging in the yearly sheep-shearing, on rather a grand scale in the rough hill-country shires while concentrate in sheep-farming. The women also turn out to work alongside the men in this task.
The last task of the summer the PC’s will find the people attending to is the repair of any of the local mills, which will always be overseen by an officer of the owner of the mill, whether bailiff or reeve.
The agricultural year ends with the harvesting of the various crops during July, August and September. Reaping and mowing are the major tasks. Hay is mown in July. Summer fruits and berries will be harvested in the wastes and wilds or common forest surrounding every village, hamlet or farmstead, or from the orchards belonging to the local lord or church or franklins. Barley, oats, peas, beans, and vetches and the like are mowed first, gathered into ricks, and then cut up into trusses, The hay is mowed with the aid of the tenants in the demesne farms of the manors. At the end of July, the wheat and rye are reaped, cut high on the stalk by hand, with sickles. The harvest may take up to 6 weeks or so to complete. The stubble is mown separately, after the grain has been carefully harvested and gathered in. The hedges or hurdles are then removed and the livestock once again allowed to forage in the fields.
A great feast is customarily thrown by the local lord at the end of the harvest in return for the services provided by the tenants.
The yearly accounts of the noble manors are once again drawn up starting in July, making the clerks and scribes scarce at best for those who need their services for other work, until well into August.
And so the cycle begins again, repeated over and over, year in and year out, carrying the people through their lives to the end of their days.
From the use of the events of religious holidays and the number of incidences of their use, the player can begin to see the very central and important place religion holds in the medieval period of the game.
To simplify the matter by maintaining a sense of history and fantasy to separate the game from the historic uses of still-current religions, the names of the four terms of the central royal law courts have been changed. Historically, they were named “Michaelmas”, Hilary”, “Easter” and “Trinity” terms.
They were changed due to the fact that the name “Easter” and the timing of the “Trinity” term, “Michaelmas” and “Hilary”, are drawn specifically from the beliefs and practices of the Real World Catholic faith. “Michaelmas” (the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel OR the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael OR the Feast of Michael and All Angels), “Hilary” (marked by the Feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers), Easter (the Resurrection), and Trinity (based on Pentecost).
As such, they do not fit with the more nebulous definition and position of the faith of the ”Light” in the context of the game. The names they have been given in the text are considered more suitable for a fantasy gaming environment.
In the same manner in which the celebration of the Equinoxes and Solstices were standardized to a particular day which is “close enough” to the astronomical event it marks, the same has been done with the two holidays that historically marked the commencement of the “Easter” and “Trinity” terms of the year for the royal law courts , as can be seen in the text for “Spring” and “Summer” terms above. This was to provide a standard date for the GM’s convenience.
Easter is a “moveable feast”, whose date of observance will change every year. Historically, it was celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon to appear after the Spring Equinox, thus anywhere from March 22nd to April 25th. Trinity Term started on the Monday of Whitsuntide (“Whit-Monday”), seven weeks after “Easter” (whenever it should fall), the day after “Whit-Sunday”.
At the GM’s option, the timing used historically might be restored, as noted above, making these two events “moveable feasts” again. If the GM chooses this option it is NOT recommended that he restore the uniquely Catholic names for the festivals. Some other basis more suitable for a fantasy gaming environment is recommended.
Since “Easter” is a corruption of the pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre or Ostara whose yearly celebratory feast was held at that time of year, that pagan event might be a more suitable basis, or at least name, to apply to the holiday for game use.
Time in the Medieval World
Time in an agrarian society runs much more slowly than it does in our modern day, but more steadily in many ways. The work of the forms, tending to the land and the beasts that provide their living is constant and steady, but because it must be a sustained effort, and because everything must be attended to in a particular order according to the time of the day and the time of the year, there is less of a sense of urgency, even somewhat of a “plodding” feel to it to those of the modern world.
The divisions of time in the medieval world, beyond the simple turning of seasons and seasonal work of the ubiquitous farms that provide the food for all the realms, may not be exact in measure, but it will be much more strictly observed in the towns and cities where the pace of life runs much more quickly. Nonetheless, the people of the medieval world do not tend to feel and even less do they feel the sense of urgency in the lives and work of modern people, except when the matter really is one of literal life or death. Clocks in the period of the game are a novelty and a rarity in most places, most are rather large and affixed to public buildings for the display, they are not so pervasive as they have become in the modern world. Their impact is only known in the cities and towns. To track the time, most people will rely upon the churches and the ringing of their bells every three hours, marking the eight offices of prayer throughout the day. The more prosperous towns and cities may have mechanized clock towers, to make a large public statement of wealth for the prestige of the local merchants’ guild.
For the common folk, the day normally begins with the hour of Prime, at approximately 6am. in modern time, but coinciding specifically with the dawn, regardless of the actual time by the clock, which varies with the season. The hours rung throughout the day will run as follows.
|Hour of Prayer||Sun’s Position||Modern (approx.)|
The practice is referred to as ringing the offices, which is why for the purposes of the game, “offices” are used as one of the units in which the duration is sometimes counted for those magicks that have a limited measurable duration. The smallest unit of time with which the average folk of the medieval gameworld will generally trouble themselves to count on any sort of daily basis will be a “mileway”. This is a period of time equal to 1/3rd of an hour, or 20 minutes. It is the average amount of time needed for the average man to walk a mile, hence the name. It is really only used to define workmen’s and craftsmen’s beer breaks during the work day, and their nap times during the heat of the sun in the longer summer work days. While some smaller units of time are used for the purposes of the game, they aren’t used in the normal adventure phase of play as an element familiar to the NPC’s, but only for tracking time under the exacting conditions of combat and tactical play to ensure fairness, and so are defined with those rules in Part III. to follow.
Unless the common people are provided with a large, mechanized public clock, the length of an hour will vary between 80-minute hours for the twelve hours of daylight and 40-minute hours for the 12 hours of night at the height of summer (Summer Solstice) to 80-minute hours for the twelve hours of night and 40-minute hours for the 12 hours of daylight at the height of winter (Winter Solstice). Only at the two equinoxes will the day and night be equal in length and the length of an hour be 60 minutes long, the same as kept by mechanical clocks. What’s more, The people do not care about the variance. They simply want to know how much daylight they have left to conduct their business and amuse themselves or prepare the next meal. Hand-held, amulet-sized sundials adjustable to the latitude at which the wearer is located will also be common, as will be the candles of standard length, thickness, and burning time provided in the equipment lists, marked with the hours for measuring the passage of time, usually indoors.
As the ringing the offices of prayer marks the everyday passage of time in the medieval world, the turning of the seasons and year in the medieval gameworld is marked by the beat of the Church. All crafts and guilds have their patron saint, on whose feast day all work for that craft or guild will halt. All work comes to a halt for all of the major feasts and holy days, as well.
Some of the larger and more prosperous towns and cities may have the elaborate clock towers with mechanized spectacles that are so famous today. These town clocks’ bells will ring at odds with the churches’, however, for the clocks will ring every hour, instead of every three, and the length of the hours by a mechanical clock will be regular and even, as they are today, while the length of the church’s hours will vary with the time of year, longer during summer days, shorter for summer nights, and longer for winter nights and shorter for winter days. The churches may or may not be made to ring in accordance with the mechanical clocks, according to the GM’s determination of whether the Crown wishes to engage in the debate, and which way it is resolved, if ever it is. “Custom hath the strength of law” in the medieval gameworld.
Some customs cannot be broken; some cannot be made to bend to observe the use of innovations.
The hours rung by the Church are for the purposes of prayer for the priests, monks, and nuns. Whether the rest of the populace observe those hours in their daily life or not makes no difference. The ringing of the church bells evokes thoughts of prayer, though, and their observance makes for a more pious world. The system used by the Church is based on the functioning of the natural world as created by the gods, and mechanized time a contrivance of fallible Man. Until the matter is settled by the Crown, the bells and the clock chimes will ring at odds in the towns – except through the Equinoxes in spring and autumn – while the rural countryside will move to the beat of Church time – except in the castles and palaces where mechanical clocks will also sometimes appear. These will be large, also, easily sighted from most places in the castle that allow a view of them, but only about half the size of the great town clocks, and generally without the mechanized processional figures.
True watches may or may not be available (GM’s discretion). If they are, they will most commonly have only an hour hand, and they will be about the size of a man’s palm, about half-again the size of the pocket watches with which modern folk are familiar from the 19th century. These will appear on chains secured to a fancy wrought fob of precious metal, perhaps with gems, and will only be an expensive toy of the wealthy classes, each piece being hand-crafted.
Nonetheless, even the presence of clocks will not change the basic medieval attitude towards time, particularly in those who dwell in the rural countryside, those who raise the food on which those in the towns depend. These people expect to wait, and know well the pace at which their world moves.
The Typical Medieval Day
The medieval gameworld first begins to stir at daybreak, with the ringing of the bells of the cathedrals and lesser churches and chapels, the monks, nuns, and priests rising to perform the “Prime” office of prayer and the saying of “Morrow Mass” which those who are travelling seek to attend before they turn to the road again. These are the bells that signal the Night Watch to disperse and return home.
Among the balance of the people, the servants rise first, along with the more numerous poorer folk who must shift for their own needs. The cows and pigs are driven out to forage, and in the towns they are let out into the streets for the common herdsmen to drive out to pasture outside the walls. The maidservants and housewives wend their ways, still yawning, to the nearest sources of water, whether it be piped in (as in some districts of London), or a local well, or a river or stream that passes through or by near enough. They fill their jugs and buckets to accomplish the morning work, exchanging pleasantries and swapping gossip with the other members of the community they meet there, and maybe indulging in a quick splash of water themselves to wake up a bit better before lugging their water home again. The wells and streams and the roads and paths serving them will be very busy at this early morning time.
Soldiers rise to relieve the Night Watch with the ringing of the morning bells in castle, forts, and fortified towns everywhere, while the people of the night, the brigands, Knaves, Rogues, draughlatches, roberdsmen, women of ill repute, fences and all their ilk slink back to their scattered holes to hide again.
Wood is laid and fire is kindled in the kitchens and halls as quickly as possible against any morning chill. Beds of burning coals are commonly banked to smolder through the night to save time in the morning, and during the winter this practice is a matter of life and death for the kitchen servants who sleep by the hearth for its warmth, to stave off the killing cold (hypothermia).
The householders having servants rise and pull their “small clothes” from beneath their pillows, quickly donning them and dressing in the clothes hanging on the wooden “perches” on the wall beside the bed. The house is already warming as they attend to the morning “ablutions”, washing in the basins in the water from the pitchers kept beside them for that purpose. In the winter a skin of ice must be broken before this can be attended to. Ladies comb and plait their hair, the latter especially if they are married, perhaps applying some cosmetics, and then donning some sort of linen scarf over their hair, with may be twisted and wound, or starched, folded and piled atop their heads, or caught up in a windsock or snood, but married women do not go about with their hair hanging free like unmarried girls. The wealthy and noble have one or more valets, squires of the body, body servants, maids or specifically chamber maids to help them attend to their morning ritual, for which they are generally indispensible due to the complicated layers of clothing they can afford to parade around in advertising the privileges of their station.
Shutters and awnings groan, rattle and thump all over, especially in the craftsmen’s and merchants’ neighborhoods in the towns, as the houses are opened and aired and shops are readied for business. Everywhere, the chamber pots from the morning and the night before and washbasins from the morning ablutions are emptied – either down a convenient garderobe or out a bower window with a short, loud cry to warn the passersby below.
The shopping must be done daily, or no less than every other day, for all must be purchased and prepared fresh, and prepared foods purchased while still fresh, before they can spoil. This is especially true of households where they do not bake their own bread of mornings, the housewife might not have an oven sufficient to the task, and so she is off to the nearest bread market. In the greater houses, the cook or cook’s assistant sees to this duty. All the markets open at dawn, with the bells of Prime, but huxters may buy no foodstuffs before 11 o’clock. If it is not a market day in the village, she will head for a village nearby that is having its market that day. MOST towns have the convenience and distinction of having perpetual markets as a provision of their charters. Every day is market day for these, with only limited dispensation for some businesses on Sundays.
It is still early yet, and the apprentices in the bakeries are still pulling the hot loaves from the ovens.
Butchers and blacksmiths are the first to open their doors in the morning – the blacksmiths because travellers may come seeking their help from the first light of dawn, butchers because they wish to finish their slaughtering and cutting and wash away the repugnant evidence before the greater part of the morning business arrived. The rest of the craftsmen continue first with the work on the orders already commissioned, or put their shops in order while waiting for the morning business to happen by.
About the manors and castles, the smiths see to the horses’ shoes, repair of farm implements, restoring sharp edges, as needed, and other metalwork needed, cart and wagon fittings, plough shoes, and so on. Except on Sundays and market days. It is against the law to work on the weekly holy day. Indeed, a housewife can be hauled up before the ecclesiastical court on Monday for even hanging out her laundry on Sunday. All shops within a radius of 15 miles of a city, town or village are required to be closed on the days that its market is open. If they wish to do business on those days, they must take their goods and any equipment they need to the market and open a stall or set up board for the day, paying the requisite fees.
About the hour of Tierce, foreigners are allowed to engage in trade, after the locals have had the best of it, and the wandering peddlers commonly hit the streets in the cities and towns, hawking their bread, beer, milk, garlic, honey, onions, fruit, good soft cheeses, pasties or pies of fruit or fish, eel, or meat, the tipplers carrying their little casks to dispense their drink to passersby. The men are called hawkers, the women are huxters, and both are forbidden by the craft guilds whose masters own the local shops to loiter in any one spot unless actually serving a customer. From now until the bells of Sext (noon) the bustle and noise in the towns reaches its climax for the day, with the crying of wares (in place of advertising), the clip-clop of horses’ hooves on paving stones, the rumble of iron-rimmed cartwheels, and the clacking of the wooden shoes, or “galoches” of the poorer folk and the wooden “pattens” of more prosperous to keep their fine clothes from the muck on the streets.
The families repair to the local churches for the morning mass and return home to break their fasts on bread and ale. It is considered irreligious not to attend church at least once every four days. but to do so more often is considered a vain public display of piety, both serving equally as sources of local gossip.
In town and country alike, the grooms sweep out the stables, muck out the stalls, feed and water the horses in their care. Horses are exercised then rubbed down, warriors practice in the yard, and knights train their squires. Covers and pillows are shaken out and then the beds are made. In the great houses the beds may be as much as 8 feet across, requiring a long stick or pole to aid the maid to reach across. Halls, walks, and courts are all swept. Most town ordinances state that shopkeepers and other householders are responsible for the stretch of road in front of their shops or homes out to the midpoint of the street. The rushes in the common chamber or the great hall in the great houses are changed as often as the resources of the house will allow, in the spring and the fall at the least, monthly, or even weekly. The old rushes are sweet “strewing herbs” are swept away and the floors scrubbed on hands and knees before new ones are scattered across them. The laundress or “lavender” soaks the sheets, towels, and the tablecloths and other napery in her care in great tubs and wooden troughs with wood ash and caustic soda, then pounds them, rinses them and hangs them out to dry. She has her work cut out for her, to be sure. The average housewife does her own laundry once per week on average, but the manors and castles and religious houses employ one or several lavenders who may be kept hard at work all week with the care of the napery and clothing of the entire household and its staff.
Meanwhile, the lords of manor and castle see to the conferences with their stewards, and perhaps their councils of tenants to take care of the business of their estates. Their ladies entertain and worthy guests or busy themselves with managing the work of the household , embroidering, ordering the staff, or seeing to other pet domestic projects such as decorating, rearranging chambers, or seeing to the maintenance of the staff itself. The children of the wealthy upper crust and the nobility are tutored in the Scholars’ Tongue (historically, Latin), and in the use of the vulgar or common language of their country, as well as mathematics, a bit of geography and history, but this “book-learning” ceases at rather a young age for noble boys, the girls being better educated.
The boys have enough to do learning the military skills of their class, falconry, hunting, and the subtle strategies of chess. Children in the common classes have song school, then grammar school, and can go on to further education if their families can afford it or if they can find a sponsor to send them, perhaps to get a degree. Most of them stop once they have their degree in grammar, though, as fully trained clerks and secretaries, which are of the greatest use to the craftsman of the free common class, and also needed in the royal government and households of the wealthy and noble. This provides them with a career path and a clear avenue for advancement to which they can apply themselves if they desire. The education of the landbound classes doesn’t get much past song school for the great majority, and the basic education in the foundation tenets of religion. They are, as a rule, illiterate.
The chaplain of the local manor or castle commonly fills the post of tutor for the master’s children, or one of his ecclesiastical clerks, but children of true rank usually each have their own private magister, or tutor bearing a degree of one of the more prestigious of the great universities. The knights and their squires work with arms, fencing, tilting at the quintain. Archery is a favorite pastime for boys of all ages. After their lessons, the children are free to play.
The bells of Sext (noon) herald the closing of the small village markets, so the local craftsmen can return home again and visiting farm folk can find an inn, or get to a friend’s or relative’s home for dinner, or make their way home again before dark. In the streets of the towns, the tempo slows and the crowds thin, the builders stop for their “noonschenche” or noon-drink and dinner. This is commonly the hour after which no foreigner may do any more selling if the market is open until Tierce, if the market itself closes at noon, the foreigners must cease their trading by 11 o’clock.
At the noon dinner, the servants bring the trestles and planks from along the sides of the walls of the great hall and set them up with the benches that are shared for seating. In the more humble houses the dining table (planks and trestles) is similarly kept broken down and put aside so the space can be used for socializing. The table linens are laid and the water horn is sounded, which calls the diners to wash for the meal and take their places at the table. If no clergy are present, the youngest at the high table across the head of the hall over-looking the rest of the diners invokes the blessing.
The pantler brings the bread and butter out first, followed by the butler with the flagons of wine and/or beer. The head of the table is responsible for arranging or supplying the entertainment at the table, regaling his guests with witty anecdotes and amusing tales, even hiring minstrels or players, acrobats and jugglers or other entertainers. This custom applies to the innkeep, tavern master, and master of the house of call in the hall where they serve their guests, as well.
This is the main meal of the day, the largest and the heaviest.
When the family and any guests has done eating, the servants are allowed to eat, and not before. In the craftsman’s house they are allowed to eat what they wish, but not to linger in telling tales and idle gossip and drinking (housewife’s discretion).
After the meal, the diners rise, the table(s) is cleared away again and the diners wash their hands again. There are many amusements that may be pursued by the members of the house after dinner, listening to music, dancing, singing, parlor games like “blind man’s bluff”, chess, particularly on religious feast days. In the hot summer months and in hotter climates, a nap may be sought, instead. Not so, the common folk and the servants in the greater houses. Some servants head for the well to draw water to clean up in the kitchens, while others gather up the leftovers and store what will keep for a bit in the larder, and give the rest to the door to feed the waiting beggars.
On non-market days, all shops and services reopen at roughly 1 or 2pm. to continue with their business.
The hour of Nones will signal the closing for the day of all the shops or marketplaces in the larger towns and cities, or as late as 4 or 5pm. (if there is a clock) so the owners can return home for supper (although most chartered towns have right of perpetual market, not all have that right, but may have 3 or 4 market days a week, instead). Now the builders stop again to take their ease and enjoy another beer for a mileway. All except the houses of hospitality and the victualers will be closed by the time the sun sets and the Vespers bells toll.
Supper is served in the later afternoon or early evening, at least by the time Vespers toll. It is a smaller, simpler meal. The amusements pursued after dinner in the afternoon by those with the leisure to do so are far more common among all the classes after supper in the evenings, but those to whom the menial tasks fall must clean up after supper first.
The Compline bells will commonly mark the beginning of curfew in the cities and towns. In the towns, the taverners, brewers, hostelers, butchers, cooks, piebakers and huxters will not close their doors until they here the Compline bells. On the vigils of some great holy feasts they are sometimes allowed to do business for an additional hour. Now the first Watch equips itself with armor and weapons and lanterns from the guild house whence they hail, which sponsors the Watch in their Ward, and meets at its designated place to start on patrol. They are relieved sometime after Matins rings, keeping the burghers and their households safe in their beds. After curfew none are to be out in the streets except those of good name and character, and they must carry a light so they may be clearly seen if they should encounter the Watch.
No commoner will be allowed out in the streets past this time, and even the nobility will be discouraged, for the night belongs to the Knaves and Cut Purses, and no honest men are about. It must be a true emergency to for the Watch to allow the curfew to be violated, and then the Witch will provide escort to protect from the undesirables who may be encountered in the night. Indeed, no craftsman will be allowed to ply his craft after sundown, by guild law. There are NO streetlamps or other outdoor lighting such as the modern world has which changes the very look of the sky, the glare of the cities hiding the splendor of the stars. No modern person can really appreciate the true frightening darkness of night, or a country path in darkness unless he has stepped out for a moment’s ease without a light at night while camping, or the almost brilliant lovely silver light of the moon, unless he has ventured forth in a blackout to experience it. This experience reinforces the fears of the unknown. In the countryside, no medieval traveller goes by night unless driven by terrific need, and then only by the light of the moon when he cannot help it. He will never do so without a light, no matter how poor its quality, if he must go, nor without company if he can avoid it.
Those caught by the Night Watch out in the streets or at the gates of a city or town will be assumed to be up to no good and arrested, held pending proper identification in the clear light of day. Those who try to refuse or resist being taken into custody will be addressed with arms and locked up tight until they can be taken before the local law in the morning. The general Hue and Cry will be raised against those who flee this custom, and the Cry carried to the next 6 neighboring villages, as well, for the locals know that they will be fined by the sheriff’s court if they should fail in this duty. Of course, life on the marches will not be nearly so strict, or will be even more strict, depending on the proximity to a border castle, for the population will be thinner and the villages that might respond will be clustered around those castles, hence the bad reputation of “road-houses” (rural country inns).
The poorer folk retire to bed shortly after supper, after nightfall, for clear lamp oil and especially good torches and candles that burn clear and bright are expensive, commonly saved for high holy days and feast day celebrations by those who can afford them at all. The wealthier folk lead more complicated lives, and sometimes their affairs keep them up until 10pm or later (by the clock), reading missives, writing correspondence, entertaining guests, managing staff problems, ordering their business and matters concerning their properties, and so on – burning the candle at both ends, as it were. The officers of the noble households must meet with the heads of the various departments each evening in order to compile the final account of household expenditures for the day and deliberate on any disciplinary problems that must be addressed. The stewards make their reports to their masters in the mornings. With the price of candles, it is small surprise that the rights to the stubs of the candles in the churches, noble houses, and even royal households are guarded by the household officers and dependants so jealously, not only are they expensive but they are in constant demand.
The Countryside & Travel
Travel is generally considered by the populace to be so special and extraordinary and even dangerous an occasion that inns will only take in boarders who are travelers, strangers to the area, and fellowships of the road will commonly be formed among groups of merchant adventurers, carters, pilgrims, and the like who are plying the same travel routes, whether inland or by water. From pilgrims en route to the same shrine(s), to knaves in the same town, rogues and highwaymen out in the rural districts, and the like, travellers will forge associations to meet again to celebrate their survival and prosperity, usually on the anniversary of the commencement or conclusion of the trip. This is an acknowledgement that life on the road and crossing the wilderlands can be harsh, even dangerous to life and limb, and Dame Fortune a fickle mistress.
In the case of merchant adventurers plying the same ports, this practice will have given rise to the historically prominent international guilds such as the Hansa, though there will be innumerable social fraternities, as well, and the PC party could do worse than establish such a fraternity of their own with a regular place to meet, even build a hall for their own use with lodgings like a guild house, as discussed previously, especially if they number five or more, to allow them to gather without danger of being viewed as a threat. Legally speaking, the definition of a riot in the period of the game is a gathering of five persons or more.
Many such fraternities will make a practice of endowing chapels for the use of their members and those living local to it, which will care for the members’ widows and orphans, some providing retirement situations (home or living), or even a small hospital accommodation, combination guesthouse and infirmary. Such an establishment, especially if the tie to the Church has been strengthened by the provision of a living for a chaplain and further charitable works, is a great way for the PC party to forge a strong bond and high reputation among the locals, and with the Church in particular.
There are a few pitfalls or presumptions of the modern mind that should be addressed. The first is that, while there was indeed trackless, unoccupied wilderness in the medieval world, ALL land in a given realm is owned or claimed by somebody, even if “only” the king. There really is NO such thing as “no-man’s land”. While it may be squatted on, if or when that fact is discovered by the king’s officials, a suit at law is sure to ensue, those doing so must appear in court, and likely the squatter(s) will be fined for making the “assart” or “purpresture” on royal land, and an inquiry will be ordered to determine if the interests of the king are damaged or diminished, and if so by how much, and a final determination made as to whether or not the squatter can stay, as a tenant with a “fee-farm” yearly rent (commoner), purchasing the land in free ownership – forming the nucleus of a new hamlet or village (free commoner), or “in feodo” as a vassal in return for military service (noble). Broken mountain lands, poorly drained bogs, marshes and fenland, and the deeps of massive, eldritch forests where no navigable rivers reach, especially on frontiers and wild borderlands, will likely be under the jurisdiction of one of a series of “marcher lords” (marquesses). These are granted almost complete autonomy from the king’s government in the same manner as the palatine earldoms (later elevated to duchies to distinguish the royal blood of the sons of the kings over the rest of the nobility of the realm). Their feofs guard the borderlands or frontiers beyond any districts containing any royal residences or hunting lodges. In such environs, squatting and making an “assart” or “purpresture” might go unnoticed for a number of years.
Free forestland open to the community of commoners local to it will be rather scarce or limited in extent where it does occur, and will often share a boundary with an adjoining royal forest or nobleman’s demesne wood, or royal chase or plaisance.
Royal forests can always be identified by the ditches and hedges that surround them, dividing them from forest lands open to common folk, while the private groves, chases and forests will be marked by wooden palisades, whether they are royal, noble, or privately owned by some wealthy commoner. The palisades are there to keep the “king’s deer” from straying into them, and to protect the trees growing in them. Unless one owns the land or woods, to take game in it is illegal. One must have a license from the owner. That game is his property. To hunt deer, one must have a license from the master of the royal forests, unless the right has been ceded to some nobleman.
Trapping or otherwise taking rabbits requires a license from the one who owns the right of warren – who may or may not actually be the one living on the property. This will be true of fish in the rivers and streams where they pass through the lands of various men, as well, and eels too, especially if the land is rented out from the Church. As in the modern day, ignorance of the law is no excuse. These feudal rights are common at least in character to all realms, regardless of the name by which that right is called (which no doubt varies from one country to another). A man need not know who owns the rights of game or warren or the like for a given stretch of land to stay his hand until he finds out and secures permission to hunt. The PC should understand the difference between a license given to hunt for sport, and one that allows the grantee to profit from the kill. The terms of every license granted will specify whether the grantee is allowed to kill and keep the game he chases down or let it go, taking joy only in the chase or by whiling the hours away with pole and line. If he may kill, it will state how many beasts or fish he may take and whether he must take the game himself or send a servant to take them for him, and then also whether he must consume it within his own household or it may be sold or sent as a gift. Each of these terms commands a different price to obtain the license. The greater the liberty granted, the more expensive the license and the harder it will be to wheedle it out of he who owns the right of it.
Travellers are generally expected to stay to the roads and not to trouble honest folk who are out in the fields about their own business. When there is no inn, hostel, hospice, house-of-call or similar establishment where a traveller might stay on the road, camping on the “verge” or margin of the road will be the norm.
By law, the verge is a space that stretches 200ft. on either side of the road cleared down to the level of the grass in order to deter miscreants, bandits, brigands and highwaymen. The owner of the land through which the road runs is responsible for clearing the verge of all except large, mature trees such as oaks, so that no coppice, brushwood, ditch nor hollow remains which might serve as shelter for malefactors. If he failed to do so, any robberies, murders or other crimes occurring by virtue of that failure would result in fines to be paid to the king.
Travel takes time, and most people travel on foot. While horses can walk faster, better for travelling long distances, they generally are not more than one or two available in any given village to be ridden, usually the property of a free commoner called a “radman”, and they must be rested, watered and fed with the same regularity that human folk need. Only the wealthy can afford good riding horses in sufficient numbers to really make a difference. Even with their horses, the poor “roads” are so hard on the carts that the horses are prevented from using their strength and speed in moving the long baggage trains that make a display of the noblemen’s wealth and station.
A man dressed humbly found riding on a horse is likely to be stopped and interrogated by any authorities encountered as a suspected horse-thief in any area where he is not known, for such a beast is obviously beyond his apparent financial means. A letter sealed with the owner’s mark or that of his society should be carried on such occasions to keep the rider from getting thrown in jail and tried, but it is likely the rider will be detained until it has been confirmed that he has right and permission to ride the beast, otherwise. Donkeys or asses are a viable alternative to horses for the more humble classes of society. Travel by cart and wagon is even slower than on foot, largely due to the fact that the roads are so poor they often cannot be dignified by being called roads, but are more like rutted paths. A cart may make 10 to 15 miles in a day, where the average man can walk (hike) 20 to 25 miles in a day (8 to 10 hours).
As a rule, even the free and noble cannot leave their own country without a passport from the king granting permission, and specifying the length of time for which it is good, when they must return. They may be granted for unspecified terms when issued for purposes of going abroad for education or work or pilgrimage.
While most people are well aware of the awful conditions of winter and messy weather that can afflict the land and its people, the people of the modern era are largely used to fair to good quality paved roads and comfortable cars and the machinery of snow plows which allow them to travel, even if only locally, much as they please despite all but the worst of the winter weather. From the start of the autumn rains all through the winter, the dirt tracks that generally pass for medieval roads turn to a stew of mud that can be knee deep or worse, or ice-covered slush. If the traveller can wait until a good hard freeze, all he will have to deal with are uneven rock-hard ground and treacherous frozen ruts that can tear at wheels and are dangerous to horses’ legs and footing.
Carts are slow in good weather; in this season they are nothing but trouble, and snail’s pace trouble at that. All of this and dangerously low temperatures, despite warm clothing, and the cutting winds that drive the effective temperatures down to even more dangerous levels. Winter camping is extremely tough and trying, especially when there is no dry wood to be found and no “Coleman”® or “Sterno”® lamps or stoves or other modern conveniences. Indeed, these are only the personal hardships. There are difficulties involved in caring for any mounts and packbeasts, keeping them active and running about in the winter without adequate shelter from not just the wind, but the freezing temperatures, while the characters are tucked snugly into their tents or pavilions under their heavy sleeping furs. Their shaggy winter coats will only protect them so far. PC’s have a knack for taking themselves and their beasts and servants into the MOST inhospitable of climates without a second thought. Far beyond their simple needs to keep them from starving, these beasts will require beans, oats, and the fodder that all died off after harvest time in order to keep their energy and strength up for the work they must do. There is also the danger of the snow balling up in the shoes and icing up to cause frostbite and lameness – a nightmare in general for the husbandman charged with their care.
Unless the need is dire, no one travels in the regions that are subject to a true northern winter such as is seen in England or Scotland, or the New England area of the US, until after the worst of the spring rains have passed and the ground has had a chance to firm up again, well after the spring thaws. While prudent, most adventurers are no where near so conservative in such matters.
In addition, the deserted state of the roads also make it that much easier for outlaws and brigands and their ilk to haunt the highways and byways from winter encampments which may be rather close by in rough country without danger of being spotted, with a far smaller chance of the usual danger of witnesses happening by.
Letters also take time to travel between those who are literate and at long distances form one another, as well, according to the means used by the ones carrying them. They are the only means of long distance communication in the period of the game, excepting magick in the fantasy gameworld, and that is usually far too expensive a commodity for commoners to afford except in case of emergency. Letters that are not trusted to a servant or agent or factor or other man of affairs to carry by horse at one’s own expense, which may take a bit of time itself, will still travel much faster than the common practice of entrusting letters to a ship’s captain heading for a particular port, or to a carter travelling to the destination desired, where the one to receive the letter is located. Should the recipient be far from the beaten track, or several shires or towns away, or even in another kingdom, it is not at all uncommon to entrust one’s letter to a travelling friend or neighbor going that way, or even to a stranger passing through on his way to the letter’s destination. It is a common courtesy extended by those who are travelling to those along their route. Without any sort of regular means of sending letters available, one who is travelling in the right general direction might be entrusted with a letter to take with him and then, when he arrives there, pass it off to another who is heading to the specific destination. It is a common custom and courtesy by necessity for the period, observed as scrupulously as the rules of hospitality by those who are on the road to those they encounter along the way. The real problem with letters is tracking down the exact recipient once it has been carried to the correct town or village, due to the fact that there are no street signs – anywhere – compounded with the fact that the houses are not numbered. There are no conventional, standardized addresses as they are known in the modern world. Shipments of goods suffer from the same difficulty, except that the recipient is always notified of the name of the ship on which his goods are being sent, and an agent will usually be watching the ships coming in so he knows when his goods have arrived, and can direct the docking of the ship (as needed) and the off-loading of his merchandise.
The Lay of the Land :
Directions, Maps & Mapping
One of the facts that kept the outside world strange and full of threatening unknowns in the medieval world was the fact that beyond the major locations of import to all citizens, most people did not know how to get anywhere else, especially beyond their home shire (“native country”), and in some cases the riding or hundred of that shire. Lacking a need to go anywhere except the nearest market to sell their goods, they remained snug and safe at home in their villages and hamlets tending to cultivating their rows in the fields. Only 3 to 5 major market towns were needed in any given shire, one of which would be the chief town of the shire where the sheriff could be found representing the king’s law.
The average citizens of the more populous shires of the realm know the major routes through their native shires, and most definitely through their native territory (hundred), just as we today know how to get to the interstate(s) nearest our neighborhoods or towns. Nonetheless, it is unlikely the average citizen has used these routes unless they are in his backyard and are used to get to the local market (OR nearest major market town on rare occasions). Most know the general direction such routes lead. The closer such routes are to their homes, the more likely the average citizen knows the next couple villages or towns in either direction from where he would take those roads. In the hinterlands there is far less knowledge of and concern over the more populous regions, except in a general sense, nor the routes to get to them except, again, in a general sense.
All characters, both PC and NPC have knowledge of topographical details such as the locations and general extents of major features like manors and lords estates, rivers and streams, or villages and minor towns, markets, friaries, nunneries, monasteries, churches and chapels found within (AWA) miles from the town or village in which he resides, in which he is likely to have been born and also grown up.
The in’s and out’s of small local features like farmers’, cowherds’, and shepherds’ paths, major game trails, small paths leading from the various public facilities like, grange, mill, and manor, common small game trails and especially paths used to get to and around local fields and orchards, also the paths used by Foragers, Huntsmen, Woodsmen and Guides, the downs, cliffs, mountains, knolls, crossroads, creeks, streams and rivers, their fords, meadows and pastures, and especially those with names important to local historic traditions, bogeys, fairytales or cautionary tales, which are found within (AWA) furlongs from the town or village in which character grew up should be considered common knowledge for him, also. The lesser paths followed by those of a particular trade (farmers out to the fields and back or among the fields, herders of all sorts of animals to the areas where they are grazed) are also common knowledge but only for those whose business makes them familiar with them (GM’s discretion)
Of places of major importance within (Awareness, Intelligence, etc.) miles, regardless of why they are important, a resident is likely to know the general direction in which they lay and the approximate amount of time it takes to get there, but it is highly unlikely they ever visited there personally. The Huntsman, Woodsman or Guide, on the other hand, is very likely to have been to visit all such sites at the very least a time or two.
The only characters who are more familiar with the land over a larger area are those who are trained as huntsmen, woodsmen, or guides (Rangers, etc.).
If the players’ party intends to travel beyond the scope of their knowledge of the lay of the land, a member of one of these trades, especially a huntsman (Ranger, etc.), is invaluable. Failing this, the characters must stick to the (major, most commonly used) roads and follow the directions of the locals, although hiring a local guide of some sort might be more effective, especially if the characters are ultimately seeking some location off the beaten path. Major important destinations should not generally be too difficult to find, as most people know where they are in general, and the route to be taken, and the local knowledge of the exact route grows among the locals encountered the closer the PC’s get to the destination itself, so the locals can usually be relied on to keep them on the right path, so long as they make a good impression on them and treat them with respect. If the characters are trying to find lesser known places, especially little villages or hamlets or an individual homestead, in the deep country away from the major roads, they had better know what it lies near as far as major landmarks if they want help from the locals along the way to guide them there.
To the overwhelming majority of the populace of the medieval game world, maps are a luxury enjoyed by those with the money to afford them. They tend most often to be fanciful creations of scholars.
In the main (market) square of a town on a major travelling route, whether for commerce or religious pilgrims or on the road between the capital and some major port town or center of local government like the chief town of a shire, where travellers commonly meet, and/or outside the gate, in the court of the local premiere inn, or especially posted publicly in the midst of the most prominent group of local inns, a public map may be posted, showing the waterways, the rivers and canals, and the towns and cities that lie along them, as well as the major overland routes (nor necessarily roads as the modern mind comprehends them) and the towns and cities that lie along them. Please note the use of the terms “town” and city” here, expressly excluding villages and anything smaller. Only noteworthy seats of civilization usually of c. 1,000 souls or larger and perhaps also the locations of such noteworthy places as shire towns, abbeys, priories, and castles might have a good sized map of the region, PERHAPS the whole realm. Such maps may be posted for the benefit of travellers in a few of the greater locations marked on the map, in many of those towns, or in all of them, at the GM’s discretion.
These maps look much like the “Gough Map” (c.1360) which is supposed to have been posted for just such a purpose. The most important attributes of these kinds of maps are that the features on it are relatively well-placed in relation to one another BUT they are NOT drawn to any particular scale, because the people of the period did not measure the distances between places. The time required to get from point A to point B with whatever means of travel could be secured was FAR more important. In the same vein, they did not put signs at intersections in town or countryside labeling which roads led to what destinations – when so few can read, what is the point?
Thus, maps available in the game world should similarly lack any attempt to render true to any scale or even in relative scale, one landmass or area to the next, and as such are basically useless for reckoning distances. Medieval maps were simply meant to inform the viewer what places he would come to if he followed a particular stretch of coast, or road, or waterway. While useful in a general way to guide the PC’s along established routes, such maps are not much use in navigating through wilderness areas, especially rough or dangerous terrain. The GM has been advised to follow the same practice for his own amusement and sanity in regards to the maps that are available in the game world.
If the PC’s want to have such a map of their own, it is HIGHLY unlikely that even a merchant character from a wealthy background has one of his own without having to buy it with his starting funds. PC’s must commission their map from a cartographer who has an extensive knowledge of the lay of the realm, who has no doubt travelled the length and breadth of the realm to make his map, or find a cartographer willing to part with such a map which he has already completed. The larger the map and the greater the number and quality of colors used to embellish it, particularly rich greens, reds, and blues, or gold leaf, the more expensive the map, after the fashion of any other illuminated work.
The only other type of map that was available to travellers in the medieval world is an “itinerary scroll”. This is a scroll on which all of the locations of note to be found along the traveller’s route are recorded along a straight line drawn lengthwise down the center of the scroll that represents the road, showing all branchings and intersections where they occur relatively between these locations, with river crossings marked by bridge symbols over wavy blue lines indicating water flowing at right angles to the road (regardless of the physical reality of the setting), but always describing the traveller’s path as a straight line down the center of the scroll.
These sorts of maps are FAR more common and readily available. They can be made by any scribe who has knowledge of the route travelled. Certain scribes and cartographers may keep a master copy of a map of a popular route in store so they can merely copy it over when one is desired. These are part and parcel of the bread and butter of the tradesman’s business, but those kept in stock to copy are likely to be limited only to the most popular routes for pilgrimages and travellers between borough towns (chief shire towns), major ports and centers of government and cathedral cities and university towns and the main cart-service routes between major trade towns, and then only within his native shire or it and those surrounding. The greater the town or city in which the scribe or cartographer is located, the better a picture of the entire realm he is likely to have. When reading this type of map, the physical length of the featureless route-line down the center of the scroll indicating empty road between locations on the route followed have nothing to do with any actual distance between locations along the road’s length. The features and locations marked are actually noted rather close to one another down the length of the route-line in order to conserve paper or parchment. In addition, there are never any orientation marks on itinerary-style maps. The cardinal directions are not given. What bearing do the cardinal directions have on following the itinerary map’s course? As the route is described by a straight line where the road in fact wanders across the landscape, the orientation of the cardinal directions actually varies according to where the traveller is located along the course described by the map. The map is drawn in what is considered admirable detail, and the point is to look for the features marked and follow the turnings indicated at each crossroads, to pass through or by the cities, towns and villages marked as one progresses down the scroll.
Another little twist of history the player should be aware of is the fact that, being most pious and devout followers of the Light in the game world, the people revere the sun after a fashion (it being the brightest light in their daily lives) and believe that “Paradise” or “Heaven” lies beyond the Uttermost East, whence dutifully rises the glorious sun every morning, and so scrupulously lay all their maps out so that the East (or Paradise) can be found at the top. Finding east on a map on which the east is placed at the head is much easier than finding any other direction. The reader need merely face the rising sun or put his back to the setting sun and hold the map up before him. Hence, the practice of “orienting” one’s self on a map (“orient” meaning “east”), regardless of the fact that North now stands at the head of modern maps. trying to find north on a north-headed map would be an exercise in frustration for the great majority of people. Only the huntsmen, woodsmen, guides and mariners (Rangers, etc.) would have no trouble with it.
The common purposes of the maps available is to show the positions of places relative to one another, in the order in which they occur while travelling by road, or by water, NOT to quantify the actual distances between them. If the characters want to know how far it is to the next location on their road or to their final destination, he should ask the locals, and be prepared to get an estimate not in miles, but in the length of time it would take to walk there using the 3-mile per hour standard of the mileway, which is based on the average man, assuming one is travelling only during daylight hours and accounting for regular meal breaks along the way. This is assuming that the one approached knows where the destination is or someone who has travelled that road before. The player is simply going to have to get used to this and accept it. It is how people whose world is rather small express distances, and is likely to be the best and only type of concept or view of the GM’s fantasy world the character is likely to get.
The detailed and accurate modern-style map(s) the players may see glimpses of now and then as the GM consults them during play are for his sanity, so he can keep close and accurate track of distances, terrain types, vegetation, and locations of villages, towns, and other significant locations for the sake of accuracy in continuity and fairness. Regardless of the “strange” period-style maps the PC’s have to use, the GM always has a copy of the true game world reality, physically accurate maps.
The players can either ignore the maps available, or try to redraw them according to their own experiences over the course of their travels, as desired. The latter is recommended as the best way for the players to explore the game world and define it as their knowledge of it expands. There is little, if any, remedy for it, except perhaps by the use of magic.
Practitioners of magic may well be able to hover high above and draw accurate maps with rough scales related to travel times between points of interest, BUT are they likely to allow such knowledge to pass outside their own orders? That smacks of giving out trade secrets, a crime that can easily lead to death at the hands of brothers in the Arts, for those receiving that knowledge as well as those violating the trust of their fellow practitioners. Accurate maps actually fall within the same category of knowledge that individual trade members would keep to themselves. Only those that have the skills to rise high enough to make such maps should really have them. Receiving such a map as a bequest from another practitioner, perhaps the master under which the character originally served his apprenticeship, presents a great gift and opportunity.
The only characters who are going to get any real sense of the actual lay of the land the way modern folk know of it are irdanni and Huntsmen, Woodsmen, and Guides, unless some Witch or Wizard figures out a way to survey and measure the whole thing, and comes up with a scheme for getting a bird’s eye view from a single stationary point that will allow him enough time to render it, or get an artist up there to render it (much less likely), then put the measurements to use on the bird’s eye view and create a map in some sort of useful scale with true relationships of distance between all features. The only thing left is to account for the curvature of the planet – OR perhaps the GM’s world really IS flat ….
When the characters begin to explore and use their own means of looking at and even measuring the world around them, they may be able to slowly change their own map(s) to make it/them more accurate. While they may never get it to be exactly accurate (who knows? maybe they might), it is certain that they gradually improve on the standards of the period, or at the very least amend what they have so it provides more useful information. The players can always pencil in the time it takes to get from place to place, if they like, down the length of an itinerary map, work out their best guesstimate of the distance, then perhaps transfer it to a national or regional map of the Gough-style and slowly build up a composite of their own over time. They may well end up with a map that is more accurate and useful than those available from the professional cartographers, which might be worth some money to them if there are any artistically inclined Scriveners or actual Artisans in the party interested in making copies to put up for sale. Alternately, they might make a copy and look for an established cartographer’s shop interested in purchasing it for use in producing their own maps. If the practitioners of magic are indeed trying to keep this knowledge to themselves, the PC’s might be in for a fight in trying to capitalize on spreading the knowledge they eventually are able to gather.
The slow process of exploration and the definition of the gaming environment by the players’ characters to the standards that will satisfy the modern curiosity can become a challenge in and of itself. Perhaps the players will be the next “Christopher Columbuses” of the GM’s world. Another reason to get those characters out and involved in this sort of activity.
On Law & Order
While the PC’s are out travelling the wilderlands they will largely be a law unto themselves. There will be few (if any) present to take exception to their actions, and so effectively no law. Should their actions break the law and others suffer who then return to civilization and lodge a complaint, trouble then begins, however. And it will begin as soon as they themselves return to civilization, which they will have to at some point in order to get gear and supplies. If the complaint is serious enough, a cadre of guards might be sent forth to bring one, a few, or all of them in, perhaps led by a sergeant-at-arms, or even a knight.
Once back in civilized lands, the PC’s can no longer be a rule unto themselves, but must abide by the laws even if they hold them in disdain or even contempt. Regardless of the setting, when there is the possibility others might carry the tale of their deeds back to authorities who by the law must disapprove, the PC’s will have to act accordingly. While outlaws who cross the PC’s paths are fair game, and their deaths will yield a profit like any other wolf’s head, opponents who annoy and even completely frustrate their efforts cannot be tortured or cut down simply to vent one’s spleen. Murder is a hanging offense, and all property will be forfeit to the Crown.
In regards to outlaws, regardless of their appearance in various shows or movies supposedly set in the period, there is NO such thing as a “WANTED” notice or poster such as is depicted being used in the towns of the old Wild West. Not much more than 20% of the population is able to read, to start with. To post such a notice would be an exercise in futility. With no printing press, writing them by hand in sufficient quantity would cost the earth in labor and paper and ink – wasteful as well. Notices to the general populace are read aloud by heralds in places where people gather, like markets on market days, from the pulpit in the churches, in town squares and on village greens, and passed on the guilds to be read to their members.
Those found hovering over a dead body are likely to be arrested on suspicion by those raising the Hue-and-Cry, for it is their duty on finding the body to raise the Cry themselves. Any protestations of having been engaged in a little “detective work” will matter little, and is likely to anger the local officials, because inspecting the premises and evidence on the scene and all other inquiries into deaths are the responsibility of the Coroner of the Shire and his men. Of course, if a commission can be obtained or at least an understanding can be struck with the Coroner and the Sheriff, the PC’s might find themselves with a free hand to fight crime in their shire.
Other misdeeds must be reported to the Village Reeve and the Bailiff and/or Constable of the Hundred, the Sheriff or other authority to be pursued by them and their men. If the misdeed happened before the PC’s themselves, they must raise the Hue and pursue the malefactors and take them captive, with the help of those who respond to their call, and wait for some authority to arrive to lock them up. In such cases they will be called on to render affidavits for evidence in court.
Smugglers and counterfeiters are ferreted out by local innkeepers and merchants, and by the official Searchers commissioned by letters patent through the local sheriff’s office. These may or may not appreciate getting “tips” or leads from common citizens, especially if a reward for the service is sought in return. If the PC’s can get a formal commission to act as Questors or Searchers, or obtain from the authorities permission to make their own inquiries, well and good. If the PC seeking this is a “law-worthy” knight owning land within the shire he is seeking permission to operate in worth £40 per year or more in income, he may well succeed. He will have to have a few influential local friends in the shire, however, and the good will of the Sheriff and Coroner. That good will depend on how dedicated to their officers those men are.
At the very least, cultivating friendly relations with the people who hold the offices responsible for the peace and upholding the law will be its own reward if the PC’s intend to get involved in investigating matters of crime. Otherwise, their interference is likely to be resented, unless they have the patience to wait and see what the authorities and the courts find and resolve to do on their own. If they disagree with those findings, the PC’s can take any additional evidence they find and perhaps open a new case, or see the old case reopened.
Should the PC’s not appear or take the time to “essoin” (tender an excuse) in answer to the summons for a suit at court, they risk eventual outlawry, a price of 2s. or more on their heads and the forfeiture of any and all worldly goods on which the authorities can lay their hands. The PC’s will need to decide which side of the law they will live on. While living on the right side of the law may take a little more patience, restraint and effort, it can sure make freely gadding about the land on one’s business a far less worrisome affair.
In the civilized lands there is law, and if the PC’s have a mind to redress injustices of any kind, they really should get a grasp on the law and the system in place designed to mediate justice in the medieval gameworld. Civilization has its benefits, advantages and comforts, but the officials and the law by which it runs can be a two-edged sword.
When a robber, murder, or other felon, or even one whose offense is political – treason – is too hard pressed by the law and its officers, especially on having escaped from prison, he could always flee into a church and claim Sanctuary. Churches in the period of the game are sacred places, inviolable by ancient custom and canon law. All those crossing its threshold stand under the protection of the Peace of the Light.
Many churches will have a special door with a knocker for the receipt of those seeking sanctuary, and others have “fridstools” or “peace chairs” of either carven wood or stone, on which the fugitive must seat himself to claim safety. Once he has claimed sanctuary, the fugitive may not be removed from the church except by his own will, especially not by any force of arms.
To take a fugitive by force from the church who is seated in the chair, or located at the shrine of the holy relics behind the altar, no fine can be levied, the offense is too great for any amount of money to be accepted in atonement.
On claiming sanctuary, the bell is rung and witnesses summoned, the crime(s) are confessed before them and taken down in writing, along with the full names of the witnesses, and took an oath to remain peaceful, to help in case of fire or strife, to bear no pointed weapon – dagger, knife, nor any other weapon against the King’s Peace.
To drag a man out of the church is sacrilege punishable by whipping, heavy fines, excommunication, or even death. Even Ralph Ferrers, the retainer of the most powerful man in the kingdom of his time (1378, John of Gaunt) was excommunicated for having dragged two men from the sanctuary of Westminster Cathedral, killing one of them in the process. In response to the excommunication, a great treatise was written calling for the abolition of the ancient right, but even the king dared not trespass upon it.
Only the Church itself has the right to expel those in Sanctuary from its protection. A woman killed the priest of a certain church in London and remained in that same church claiming sanctuary for 5 days, after which time the bishop of the city issued a letter denying her the aid of the Church, after which she was taken away to Newgate and 3 days later she was hanged (1320).
In London (1324), 10 prisoners escaped the dungeons of Newgate, 5 of which took sanctuary in one of two churches, after which they foreswore England and abjured the realm.
After the fugitive’s confession, the Coroner conducts the abjuration, first assigning the fugitive a port by which he is to leave the realm and the date by which he is to go, then taking his oath on the steps before the church door.
“This hear thou, Sir Coroner, that I, [name], am a [criminal, cite crimes … robber of sheep, or other beasts, a murderer of one or more, etc.], and a felon to our lord the King of England, and because I have done many such evils … in this land, I do abjure the land of our lord [Edward] King of England, and I shall haste me towards the port of [place name], which thou hast given me, and I shall not go out of the highway, and if I do I will that I be taken as a felon to our lord the king; and at [port name] I will diligently seek for passage, and that I will tarry there but one flood and ebb, if I can have passage; and unless I can have it in such a place I will go every day into the sea up to my knees assaying to pass over; and unless I can [depart] within 40 days, I will put myself again into the church as a [fugitive] and a felon to our lord the king.
So [the Light] help me in [Its] holy judgement.”
While on his road to the port assigned, the criminal holds a wooden cross out in front of him so others will know his purpose. His time limit will vary, on occasion being so brief as to be almost impossible for one on foot to meet it in some cases requiring him to maintain the impossible speed of 33mph (8 days to travel the 270 miles from London to Dover, one of the most common exit ports).
A priest who claims sanctuary in a church, on the other hand, is not required to abjure the realm, as long as he can truthfully swear he is a priest and enjoys ecclesiastical privilege.
The institution was horridly abused in practice, however, as shown by the following quote attributed to the Duke of Buckingham.
“What a rabble of thieves, murderers, and malicious heinous traitors … Men’s wives run thither with their husbands’ plate, and say, they dare not abide with their husbands for [the] beating[s]. Thieves bring thither their stolen goods, and there live thereon. There devise they new robberies; nightly they steal out, they rob and reave, and kill, and come in again as though those places gave them not only a safe-guard for the harm they have done, but a license also to do more.”
Sanctuary was not legally suppressed until 21 James I (1624), however, and the custom proved so deeply entrenched that the law had to be reissued in 1697.
If travelling characters come upon a village but it has no facilities to serve “foreigners” due to their rarity, the travellers are expected to inquire with the local headman, bailiff or reeve to solicit volunteers to put them up in accordance to the rules of hospitality. The apparent class of the travellers themselves determine how much hospitality is offered. The lower the apparent class of the traveller, the lower the class of accommodations that will be offered. However, the player must understand that such housing is likely to be modest if not down-right small to begin with, and the same is true of most isolated farmsteads. Hamlets and villages deep in the rural districts are not generally where sumptuous housing is available, especially when there are no regular facilities for travellers. If the family occupying a cottage or hovel has children, there may well be no accommodations to be had within the house, hence the popularity in stories of strangers bedding down in the stables. Sometimes stables are likely to be the only accommodations available out of the weather. For travellers who appear to be poor or simply wandering beggars, this is likely the best they may hope to be allowed for shelter in better homes.
If there is a castle or manor reasonably close by, nobles and the wealthy will always be directed to it first as having the best accommodations and an atmosphere more agreeable and proper for people of means, according to the rules of hospitality. Few travellers of means will not be guested at
If the castle isn’t already full of visiting dignitaries of equal or greater rank, the traveller of means can be assured of finding lodgings there. This refers mostly to rural hinterlands that are only infrequently travelled. In more civilized lands the free commonalty will be expected to avail themselves of the local facilities provided for travellers, which will be clustered about villages and roads along the way. Only those of immediate noble rank or blood and their retinues, gentry with strong connections to noble blood, or commoners of high rank or office will be guested in manor or castle in these districts.
When there is some religious establishment nearby, the party may be directed to it if they appear to be free commoners of at least middling wealth, especially if one or two appear to have greater wealth. The faith of those who inhabit the house will require them to shelter travellers in need and to entertain them to the best of their ability to the standards commanded by the guests’ class and station. The religious houses, especially monasteries, cater to the wealthy and noble or the indigent, the poor. The former out of necessity, as the nobles are the patrons on whom the Church depends for generous donations, and the poor out of charity according to the dictates of religion. The common inns are far too expensive for the poor, and too mean in accommodations for those with true wealth, intended for the emerging “middle class” – small land owners, itinerant packmen, travelling merchants, etc.
Where the traveller finds an inn, only strangers, foreign or alien visitors will be allowed to lodge there. This may be generally taken to mean only those who are not residents of the immediate area, from some place outside the local hundred. Inns and the “divertissements” and entertainments they offer are for the leisure of those who are travelling away from home. Whether it is to visit the local market from some distant town or village or to complete some legal or social business, only those who have no friends or family to put them up in the area may stay at an inn. Inns are commonly (but not exclusively) found outside the established limits of a town, just inside a large, busy or popular gate or outside it to serve the needs of those who arrive after the town’s gate has been closed and locked for curfew. They may be found among the accretion of other buildings and facilities that generally grow up to serve the needs of travellers, and may be on the road into town as far away as the next closest village to it.
The rules by which inns function in the period are important for the player to know, as most characters spend a fair amount of time in inns. Upon first arrival, if a room is taken or even if the patron is only staying for a drink and/or a meal, his weapons and armor are hung up upon the wall of the common room near to where the patron is sitting, all but the accepted sidearms (dagger, pricker, by-knife, knife, etc.). Hanging on the walls they are just inconvenient enough to get at to deter the patrons from taking them up rashly, while still being close enough to hand that they can be easily gotten to if a real need should arise, such as an attack by brigands, outlaws, or highwaymen.
Rooms in inns are different from the modern concept of a hotel or even a motel. Except in the finest of inns and the greatest houses-of-call, most inns will have only a limited number of truly private rooms with substantial beds such as might be required to satisfy a travelling dignitary of nobleman and his personal servant(s), maybe even as few as one or two, perhaps only a handful with an antechamber-parlor even in the greatest inns or houses. This, the best quality of room, may have a window and perhaps a hearth or actual fireplace of its own, depending on the quality of the establishment. These rooms may have a small antechamber as a sitting room (solar) and accommodation for a servant, as well as a small cot for a servant in the bedroom (bower) itself, or it may not, and will have one or two windows before they will have a fireplace, but windows actually fitted with glass will be rarer than a fireplace in the rooms of inns. Most windows will only be equipped with shutters alone, or perhaps panels of oiled parchment to allow some daylight to get through, or even “isenglas” (thin sheets of mica) instead of glass, but curtains only in the best of inns. These rooms commonly have but few furnishings, due to their being provided for the use of the wealthy and noble, who commonly require room for large trunks, boxes and bales of their personal effects, and carry their favorite furnishings with them when on progress to their various residences/estates.
Despite paying for the pleasure of one of these “private” rooms, in the event that the inn fills up and another guest of similar rank demands the same quality of lodgings, the patron may well be required to share his “spacious” lodgings and bed with a stranger.
Indeed, two to a bed is the rule rather than the exception, unless perhaps the client pays double so the innkeep is compensated for the loss of revenue with a single occupancy. In Germany, three to a bed was the standard accommodation.
Aside from the “private” rooms, there are only “common rooms”, which are great, long chambers located sometimes in the garret (attic) of the building, sometimes the common hall of the building, where a patron can sack out on a coarse tick filled with straw from the stables (unless he can provide his own finer tick and/or stuffing), or just flat out on the floor or in some window seat or other alcove or embrasure. Otherwise, for the poor commons who do not have the money for even these accommodations, bedding down on the hearth in the kitchen with the scullery maids, or out in the stables can be expected.
When the only common room available is the common hall, trying to get to sleep before the last of the evening’s revelers have been tossed out or shown to their rooms for the night could be more than a bit of trial. Trying to remain wakeful and attending to personal matters after they have gone or taken to their beds could cost the character(s) some extra coin in fuel for the fire and for candles, for every amenity has its cost in an inn. This is no modern hotel. Even in the grandest house-of-call or inn, there are no candles, no towels, tub, or extra blankets, no fuel for fires, nor anything of that nature kept in the room for the guest’s pleasure and use, BUT they can be there simply for the asking, along with an appropriate charge added onto the appropriate guest’s slate of charges which is kept hanging either on the common room wall or in the kitchen. Complaints of excessive charges are as common as they are today.
The chambermaid will gladly light the patron’s way to his room after nightfall when he wishes to retire, bur for her to leave the candle for him or light another to leave with him will cost, too. Inns are set up mainly for the traveller of means, who carries his own food stores when the inn is not serving something to his liking, who carries his favorite furnishings, cushions, pillows, sheets, blankets, coverlets, and towels. While meals can be had regularly at an inn, the proprietor will charge for every side dish and condiment he is asked to supply, and the proprietor can only rely on his own experience and the letters and harbingers or outriders of his patrons in determining how much to cook for each meal. When this runs out, it is gone. While more may be made (demand warranting), the patrons will have to wait for it, perhaps a good hour, depending on what the inn has by way of food in their larder. The proprietor may need to send for fresh meats and/or vegetables to be brought in, which will take even longer. If a guest is having guests of his own meet him at the inn for a meal, it is best to notify the proprietor or the cook first thing in the morning or the day before. If the characters arrive late, after dinner, they may get leftovers, if there are enough to go around, or if the kitchen has already been cleaned and the cook has gone to bed, they may get nothing until morning unless they cook themselves from their own stores on the hearth in the common hall.
The exception to the prevalent use of inns in the medieval period lies in the availability of hostels, hospices and hotels of the Church within a town, as these commonly lie within what are known as “liberties” of the town, small pockets of buildings or neighborhoods where the municipal authorities have no rights or power, usually even being enclosed behind walls and gates of their own. These houses of hospitality are generally run by a local order of monks or nuns and will take in travellers who meet their requirements. They are usually reserved for the relief of the indigent (poor homeless beggars) and the sick, and for those who travel for the benefit of their soul, either in penance or on pilgrimage or in pursuit of a holy quest. Sacred Knights on errantry by their very trade are always welcome in these places, being engaged on a life-long holy quest. The customs and practices of these houses are practically the same as those found in the inns described above, however. Hospitality is supplied in accordance with the guest’s means.
Taverns, Alehouses & Pubs
In between adventures and when in search of gossip and the possibility of plots and “action” and adventure, taverns and alehouses or “public rooms” (“pubs”) are the establishments provided for the leisure and recreation of citizens and foreigners alike. They are found in great numbers in medieval towns and cities. The difference between taverns and pubs is generally one of quality and the services provided. Alehouses or pubs generally only serve common drink (beer and ale, made on premises) and light snack foods (sausages, pasties, etc., also prepared on premises), while taverns usually offer a wider variety and better quality of drink, including various sorts of red and white wines, but also murrey (blackberry wine), caudell (wine whipped with eggs), hippocras and clarey (wine spiced and sweetened with sugar or honey), mead (honey wine) and methaglin (mead spiced with ginger, tea, orange peel, nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, cloves or vanilla), melomel (mead with fruit such as berries), hard ciders like perry, and perhaps also spirits (GM’s discretion). Honey-based wines and wine products will be popular in regions where grapes will not grow, and also in areas where bees are raised for their honey and wax.
Taverns usually offer one full, fair-sized meal each day, the time at which it is served will vary with the clientele that frequents the establishment most. Those by the docks that cater to the stevedores may vary their mealtimes with the arrival and off-loading of the ships. One thing pubs and taverns have in common is that they generally do NOT have rooms to rent for lodgings, although the better class and the more prosperous are likely to have one or two rooms in the back which they might let for private parties, meals or meetings for favored clients. For sufficient coin, a proprietor who holds the entire building might let a garret or cellar or backroom for the simplest of lodgings (read : “NO amenities or furniture at all”). The pubs do not have the greatest of reputations in general, but they are, on average, no worse than a neighborhood bar in the modern world. The roughness of the clientele will be determined by the general character of the neighborhood in which it is found. In the medieval gameworld, alehouses and pubs are reviled only in the evenings, after sundown, when the underbelly of society creep out from their hiding places to gather in them. Those who entertain in the taverns and alehouses, playing for the patrons and then passing the hat, especially at night, are generally considered the “meanest” sort. Troubadors should avoid such venues, on peril of ruining his reputation.
Taverns, on the other hand, are the places where a variety of professional people gathered to conduct much of their business. As there are no office buildings in the period of the game, the player should be aware that most professionals effectively have their names on a given table in a tavern in their neighborhoods not far from their residences where they can be found during the day when they are looking for clients. These may be lawyers, solicitors, and barristers in search of new clients to retain them, recommenders of men and recommendresses of women who represent men and women of good character and reputation seeking work as household man-servants (valets) or maid-servants, usually for positions in the upstairs or bower areas of the house. There may be recommenders of masters and recommendresses of mistresses who work for those seeking to find servants to employ.
The recommenders and recommendresses are go-betweens who match those who are looking for work with suitable positions, generally in domestic service but perhaps in other areas of household service such as clerks, cooks, grooms, falconers, etc., or matching those who are seeking to hire help with suitable candidates for them to interview. People avail themselves of these agents to help ensure the good quality and character of the help they hire. If the agents are false, the damage done by the client’s complaints could wreck their reputations, and so put an end to their practice or business. Some inns will be similarly devoted to certain businesses or trades, in a similar manner. The Inns of Court (Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, the Middle Temple, and the Inner Temple) and the Inns of Chancery (Clement’s Inn, Lyon’s Inn, Clifford’s Inn, Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, the Middle Temple, the Inner Temple, Barnard’s Inn, Thavie’s Inn, Furnival’s Inn, Strand Inn, and the New Inn) in old London were where out-of-towners made their lodgings while they completed their education and training at law as either barristers or solicitors, respectively. The various merchants’ halls are where the merchants of the same foreign town or country all band together and make their offices. The town hall or local guild hall is where the local merchants will keep offices and where all goods will be weighed and inspected for quality.
The reputations of the taverns plummets after nightfall, however, as the dispossessed of society, the seedy underside, come out to play – just like the alehouses and pubs. Indeed, the farther afield one travels into the wilderlands, the more likely one is to find an inn of the same character, when one finds an inn at all. Outside of safe town walls, or occasionally within a specified district within a town, may be found specialized inns providing lodgings for ladies who work at providing comfort to men (brothels). Because of the reputations of the surviving old Roman baths, where the practice of co-ed bathing became corrupted to more scurrilous pleasure-houses, the brothels in the English culture will be known as “stews”. These will be licensed and regulated by the bishop of the diocese in which they are located.
The Groaning Board :
Medieval Food & Diet
The foods of the period of the game will no doubt be recognizable, by and large, by the modern reader, but some may have been forgotten and others may not still be prepared as of old, while still others might be shunned in this modern day. Many of the recipes of the period are very intricate and complicated. Many complications arose in the kitchen from trying to balance the humors in the food to the needs of the guests according to the medical theory of the period. Roasting, baking and stewing are all known well today, but during the medieval period they had a number of other interesting preparations, such as the blackmanger (“blah-MANJ”), a custard-like meat dish of chicken pounded into a paste, blended with rice that had been boiled in almond milk, seasoned with sugar, and cooked until very think, finally garnished with sautéed almonds and anise. Mortrews is another such preparation of pounded meat or fish, mixed with breadcrumbs, stock broth, eggs, and then poached to make a sort of dumpling.
Pounded meat will be very popular with the people medieval gameworld, as otherwise, much of the meat will be tough and stringy to start with, and commonly smoked or salted to keep, especially that which will be eaten in the winter. Due to the fact that most (common) people will not be able to afford to slaughter their animals until they have outlived their other uses, , and chickens and geese are kept about half wild, their meat is all stringy and tough. Thus, much of the meat will be boiled. Fish, eels, poultry, and blood meats will be commonly made up into pies, pasties and fritters.
Sop-in-wine is another interesting dish, a mixture of wine and almond milk, ginger, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and mace, poured over a piece of the best white bread.
The people of the period of the game ate much more of the parts of the animals they slaughtered than do most mainstream modern folk, as well, from entrails, blood, and brains, to making gelatin from hooves, blood sausages and puddings, and the scrapple still popular in some parts of the US today. They also ate many creatures which modern folk no longer bother with, and even more which most modern folk would simply abhor. The feasts that the PC’s may encounter during the course of the game may include such beasts as peacocks, swans, cranes, larks, partridge, woodcock, and plover, as well as suckling pigs, the famous holiday boar’s head, and the obligatory venison, fresh from the forest. Doves and pigeons (squab) are a mainstay among the clergy and nobility, for whom they are reserved and protected in the same manner as deer, belonging to the lords of the manors. As many as 700 pigeons might be consumed on a single manor in a year, and there will be hardly a manor to be found without its tall dovecote.
The common folk have their chickens and capons, rabbits, or the larger hares, ducks, geese, mutton, pork and beef on occasion, though the last two are the most expensive. Starlings, curlew, gulls, herons, bitterns, storks, cormorants, and even vultures are known to the peoples’ dinner tables as well, and just about every kind of fish is eaten. Herring is about the most common, salmon, sardines, mackerel, haddock, stockfish (cod), and tuna (fresh, salted, and dried) are also eaten regularly, as well as such things as porpoises, seals, dogfish, and whale. Lamprey, freshwater eels, and perch are normally reserved for the dinner tables of clergy and nobility, also.
No house is without its own little garden, sometimes not so little by modern standards, space permitting. Vegetables, flowers and herbs are all thrown in together willy-nilly, with little regard for type. . Lettuce, shallots, beets and scallions are all common to household gardens everywhere, as are cabbage, onions, leeks, sorrel, and mountain spinach. Turnips are considered commoners’ fare, and so are found in the gardens of free commoners and the landbound commoners.
Some flowers are also used in the kitchen – the petals of lavender, lilies, marigolds and peonies are often used as bright garnishes over the tops of stews, soups, and sauced dishes. Violets are minced into salads and cooked in broths, while roses and primroses are stewed in desserts. Parsley is used for green coloring in foods, dandelion or saffron for yellow, alkanet for red, mallow, roses, blue turnsole, and violets are all used. Daisies, cowslips and germander all brighten the gardens. Those aromatic herbs and flowers that are not used in the kitchen (as well as many that are) are also scattered on the floors amidst the rushes in the common chambers and halls and carried in small satchels to sweeten the air.
Seasoning is an art in itself, and the people of the medieval gameworld are VERY fond of their spices. They like the food sharp, hot and spicy. Pepper, mustard and garlic are among the favorites, although the first two are rather expensive. Agrimony, balm, basil, borage, chamomile, coriander, costmary, garden cress, dittany, fennel, sweet fennel, hyssop, mallow, marjoram, mint, purslain, rosemary, rue, savory, winter savory, tansy and thyme make up the great majority of herbs that can be found in the household gardens and hanging in bundles from the drying racks in the kitchens. Many herbs are grown not only for their use in cooking, but also for their value as home remedies.
Herbs are planted liberally, but the spice cupboard has a lock on it to guard its very dear contents. Even the wives of the wealthy townsmen may hoard only a few threads of precious saffron, worth many times its own weight in gold. Ginger root, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and mace and several other spices from the mysterious Far East are almost as expensive and just as carefully guarded. Such spices as mace, cumin, cannel, and cloves are not so steep, but still dear enough to be spices for the wealthy. Pepper and mustard are just affordable to the well-to-do, and salt is relatively cheap, unless it is the finely ground true white salt. Honey is produced in most rural places, but in rather small quantities, so it is still rather costly at market. The sugar most commonly seen among those who can afford it comes in a hard loaf that must be pounded and ground, and is more expensive than honey. True white ground sugar is the most expensive sweetener. Sweetened dishes of any kind are rare on the tables in commoners’ houses, generally only affordable for use in holiday dishes.
Those who have the space may also raise a few fruit trees, apple, pear and medlar are all town garden favorites, as are currant and raspberry bushes, and grape arbors are common where the temperamental vines will consent to grow. Plum trees, peach, cherry, and also quince can also be found in the home gardens or manor and castle orchards.
To add variety to the table, the housewife or household cook may buy something a little different from the market.
Bread, the Staff and staple of Life , comes in many different grades, depending on the quality and type of grain used to make it. The finest white bread has the texture of modern croissant and is called wastel. Simnel bread (also artocopi, or Lords Bread) is really just a denser, more moist biscuit made from the same flour for a higher price, followed by cocket bread, mancherin or manchet (or Noble Bread) and pandemayne (or Daily Bread). Pretzels are also available, an invention of a monk who twisted the dough into the shape of a monk’s arms properly crossed in prayer to help instruct the services, large and soft, rather than the small, crisp sort that come in a bag. Then there are the brown breads : rye, bran, and maslin or mixtilio (mixed wheat/rye flour), and the rough brown loaves of bis or trete. The poorest sort of bread is called horse bread, made from peas, beans, oats, or similar poor serf’s feed, also used to feed horses. The breads are all sold at a standard price, only the size of the is allowed to vary, its proper weight set by statute every year according to the harvest and the prevailing price of grain.
The commoners generally have plenty of bread, except when the wheat crop is bad. They do not lack for cheeses or curds, oatmeal cakes or porridge. Thick soups and stews full of vegetables are common fare among the rural commoners and the landbound. Meat, although generally reserved for feast days and holiday dishes, is not all that rare. Fish such as herring is very common, and in October and November everyone feasts on the meat from the slaughtering in anticipation of winter. What is not eaten then is salted down or smoked for the winter.
Drink varies with station, and also with nationality. The gentleman generally drinks wine at his table, but the wines are young compared to what modern folk drink, less than a year old for lack of a good method for sealing the casks to put it up to age, unless it comes from the Middle East or Greece in sealed amphorae. After about a year, young western wines tend to go sour and start to get moldy. Wine is often served mulled for holidays or with dessert, hot and laced with honey, cinnamon, cloves, and/or ginger, like a number of the beverages described in the previous passage on “Taverns, Alehouses & Pubs”, sometimes to mask the wine’s poor quality. Monks commonly favor mead or methaglin. Beer and ale are the drinks of the common folk, though drunk exceptionally young compared to modern beer. The average common family will drink a gallon of beer a day. These tend to spoil within about five days of brewing for lack of refrigeration, and they are not made with hops as are modern beers. Ciders of various fresh fruits are also had at table, apple being the most common, followed by perry, made from pears. Milk is also seen on the commoners’ tables. Water is not trusted, and with good reason, it is believed to be unhealthy and downright dangerous. Given the state of sewage disposal and the runoff of livestock pens and riverside meadows used for grazing which all runs into the common water sources (the rivers), that belief is well-founded.
Wine will be the drink of choice for the French cultures, except for the Norman French who favor hard apple cider. The hard cider of the Normans is considered by those of other lands to be the special curse they bear. The Anglo-Saxons preferred mead by comparison, methaglin, bragget, all honey wines – but they also had a drink made of sweetened vinegar! The English culture chosen for the purposes of the game will like their beer, however, though some will retain the old Norman taste for hard cider. Honey wines will pass in and out of fashion along with nostalgia for the old Anglo-Saxon culture, literature, music, art, themes, dress, and the like.
Two or three courses in a meal are common at supper, the first two of the same sorts of foods, the last a light dessert course of nuts, cheeses and fruit. Among the wealthy, clergy, and nobility, the supper is commonly two or more light dishes like salad and/or soup or stew, and two meat dishes followed by a dessert course for which sweet wafer pastry might be served, accompanied by spiced wine. . The king’s table might be graced by three meat dishes on a common day, although will certainly be quite elaborate, as befits the king’s station.
Monks normally eat one meal each day, but in the summers a light supper in the evening is also allowed. The monks of the English culture which is the focus of the game demand that they be allowed to break their fasts in the morning on bread and ale, according to their native custom, and they do, indeed, do so. Their afternoon dinners are normally supposed to consist of bread, cheese and egg dishes, beans, vegetables, cereals, and fish. Oysters as well as fish are staples on fast days, and are cheap, to boot. Gluttony is the darling sin of the monks. Gradually accumulating great wealth in gifts and benefices of land over the years, their lifestyles too often depart from their spiritual aims. They may sometimes enjoy dining on as many as 15 dishes or more in a single meal. Some customarily see 13 dishes set before them at every meal, all decked out in sumptuous sauces and washed down with beer, claret, new wine, mead, or mulberry wine, only to be censured for their excesses by their superiors of the clergy.
Society & Custom:
Weapons of War
All formal weapons forged for war will generally be forbidden to be carried or worn except to those born to the noble class or free men serving as professional Warriors currently in service to a patron in need of a personal guard (merchant transporting goods, wealthy traveller, etc.), to a chartered town, a lord, or the Crown, or a member of the Fyrd (militia of the commonalty) when mustering in time of war.
Thus, not every NPC encountered who wears a sword will be a knight, but the idea that the sword is an exclusively “knightly” weapon is not entirely wrong. Throughout medieval Europe, swords were the chief weapon of knights, nobles, and mounted men-at-arms (mercenaries), who by schedule of the Assize of Arms it is clear were also well-to-do men. The “bastard sword” and the “great sword” among swords of the “combination” type will specifically be considered the symbol of the nobility and knights. No common soldier could normally afford any sword larger than a common (“long-”) sword or falchion, and no knight or lord would allow him to carry a bastard sword or great sword even as a spoil of war, but would expect such weapons to be brought to him to be redeemed for a fair price, exchanged for coin at the close of a battle.
Before being allowed through the gates of any town or castle, everyone wishing to be let in will be challenged, stopped and questioned, asked for their names, their origins, and their business within, why they should be allowed to pass, unless they are locals already known to the guards. These questions must be answered to the guards’ satisfaction or the would-be entrants will be detained and questioned further while the guards’ superior is called for to make a judgement as to whether they should be admitted or to take them in front of a magistrate and required to provide pledges for their good conduct, especially if their answers have been vague and evasive, raising the guards’ suspicions. Should they have any letters of introduction addressed to citizen(s), fraternity(-ies), or guild(s) of the town or to resident(s) or officers of the castle proving their stated business, they should be in hand on arriving at the gate and offered for inspection. If they are presenting themselves as itinerant craftsmen, their bona fides will be requested if they are not offered. Security is the guards’ job, after all, and their heads are on the block (so to speak) if they should allow a criminal or other dangerous or undesirable person to pass within. As stated previously, this is NOT fascist to the people of the period. These men are the agents of the establishment and the law, symbols of the commitment of the lords and/or municipalities to maintaining peace, law, and order. The people know well how dangerous and life-threatening lawlessness can be, so these men are a blessing and a comfort, so long as they do not let their positions go to their heads.
Within the walls of most medieval towns and cities, the wearing of swords will generally be forbidden for everyone, sometimes even the nobility, as well – at least during times of peace. It will be common practice for all folk bearing weapons entering a castle, fortified town or city, military fort or citadel, manor, palace or other such stronghold or place where the law and the King’s Peace are most strongly enforced, to surrender their weapons (except for the customary dagger or knife) to the guards at the gatehouse to be stored in the armory there, in the keeping of the constable, castellan, or seneschal. In return for the weapon, half of a chit or tallystick will be issued to the owner, the other half being hung on the weapon to identify it when the character presents its mate for redemption on departing that place.
In the shires and hundreds, the constable will come and get the weapons when he hears of them, if he is not sought out to surrender them.
The weapons and armor required of a man due to the Assize of Arms is kept at home, as his personal property, to be stored as he likes (generally at his home), but it must be maintained and will be inspected by the local constable once or twice per year to ensure it is in battle-worthy condition.
This weapon restriction doesn’t apply as stringently to the “common” swords like back-swords, estocs, short swords, braquemarts, falchions, etc. (GM’s discretion), except in those areas in which there is a constant and strong presence of the royal government and its officers of the peace, or of the local nobleman and his retainers, those areas where the law is strongly and consistently enforced. Otherwise, examples of the permissible length of daggers and sometimes also swords that may be carried inside city walls without fear of penalty or reprisal will often be mounted in prominent locations usually on churches or in city halls immediately adjacent to the marketplaces in the towns, along with the standardized measures for trade and commerce.
Those who are allowed to keep their weapons may be let by with the show of a “warrior’s knot” on their (sheathed) larger weapons. This is a leather thong tying the weapon into its scabbard, which must then be untied before the weapon can be drawn and used. This makes drawing the weapon more difficult and time consuming, which lessens the number of rash uses of weapons in quarrels. Those who have not prepared their weapons in this way will be instructed to do so.
A general exception to the ban against wearing weapons, however, will be observed in the cases of travellers (merchants, the general FREE citizenry, even those on pilgrimage) due to the constant and widely acknowledged dangers of travel by land and sea, in districts or waters where there is danger of brigands, pirates, and outlaws, especially in areas or regions beyond the regular reach of the feudal officers who maintain the peace.
Even students of Oxford University, all clerics normally forbidden arms, were allowed to arm themselves for travelling due to the widely acknowledged danger of the road.
Free commoners carrying bows or slings will not be questioned out on the roads, but they will be expected to surrender them when it is appropriate to ensuring the peace in civilized places. Quarterstaves will simply be considered to be walking sticks by most, and will only be asked for by the paranoid and over-zealous (GM’s discretion).
Farm implements mounted with steel edges for use in war will still be considered farm implements, however. Farm tools can be freely carried about by both free and un-free in the manner of an itinerant farm worker without raising any suspicion at all, except when those people are brandishing their tools and raising a ruckus in groups of three or more (by the letter of the law falling within the definition of a “riot”).
Common belt-knives or daggers may be carried by anyone at all, and generally will not be collected when other weapons are demanded, unless a character is being stripped of weapons in the course of taking him prisoner. When one is being “dressed down” for shackling at the time of arrest, his hat, gloves, cloak, jerkin, tunic or doublet and dagger or belt-knife are all taken to symbolize the loss of honor and status.
However, ALL persons, including even the nobles (regardless of rank), are barred from carrying their swords into an open market on a market day, into any enclosure in which a faire is being held, or into any court where there is a magistrate sitting, or into any church. This does not mean it didn’t happen, it simply means that there are legal repercussions for doing so.
Due to gradual social changes which commenced during the 1400’s and later, it became more and more acceptable for civilians and noblemen alike to carry the lighter and thinner successors of the sword, the rapier (cut-and-thrust swords, back swords, estocs, etc.), as an everyday weapon for self-defense in public, until they became an essential accessory to the apparel of ALL men who wished to be viewed as “gentlemen”.
When not on duty, a warrior’s war harness will normally be left hanging in his lord’s armory or town or castle garrison, unless he is travelling, as described previously, unless it is the Warrior’s own personal property. When the war harness is issued by the lord, the sheriff, king’s marshal, etc., it is not his property and must be returned to the armory when he is not using it in service.
A weaponsmith will not even undertake the making of any true sword for a character nor a merchant accept payment without first being convinced by the character’s assurances that he is entitled to bear it or is purchasing it for one who has that right, including rich, noble attire, retainer(s) and fine, noble manners. Adventurers will have to take care to follow these rules when in populated places. They will be impossible to circumvent in common, honorable society except by deceit or with the aid of others of equally questionable character.
As a general rule, any character of the Villein, Bordar, or most particularly the Serf class will be unable to buy any weapon other than a common knife or dagger designed for war (or metal armor either, for that matter) from any honest smith or merchant, unless he invests at least 6s. 3d. in a suit of clothing befitting a man of the free or “middle” classes with which to dupe him. Honest merchants or craftsmen may still discover the ruse or become suspicious of the character’s true social class due to his speech, attitude, or manners, spoiling the sale. The details will have to be worked out with the GM. The Presence skill of Silver Tongue and Player/Trickster skills may allow the character fool a merchant to buy from on the sly.
On the other hand, it was never by any means an exclusive right of the knights and nobles to wear and fight in armor. Not every piece of armor was once worn by a knight, nor can every person depicted in an artwork wearing armor be identified as a knight. A person in armor should more correctly be referred to as a “man-at-arms” or “man in armor”. Foot soldiers such as mercenaries, or groups of retainers comprising peasants, and burgesses or burghers of the towns, as well, also participated in battle in time of war or civil unrest, and protected themselves accordingly with armor of varying quality and extent, according to their means and the Assize of Arms. Indeed, the free burgesses of most medieval and Renaissance cities (of age 16to 60, and above a stipulated wealth or income according to the Assize of Arms) will be expected — with the force of law — to acquire and keep their own arms and armor. This will not necessarily be a complete suit of armor, but will consist of at least a helmet, a body defense in the form of a mail shirt, fabric or padded armor, or breastplate, as well as a weapon such as a spear, pike, bow, or crossbow, perhaps with a horse, according to each citizen’s material means and the requirements of the Assize. In times of war, these militia forces, called the “Fyrd”, will be required to defend the city or to set forth to render military service for feudal overlords, king and country, or allied cities.
During the 15th century, as some wealthy and powerful cities became more independent and confident, even the free burgesses in some independent towns organized their own tournaments for which, of course, they would also have worn armor.
For members of the commonalty to go about “armed” – wearing a garment of armor greater than single thickness, particularly enhanced padding and especially any of the metal or rigid armors – is considered just as suspicious an action as carrying a weapon to any authorities encountered, particularly for anyone known to be of the landbound class.