If traveling characters come upon a village but it has no facilities to serve “foreigners” due to their rarity, the travelers 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 travelers 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 travelers. 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 travelers 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 always are 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 travelers of means are not taken on and guested at a castle that isn’t already full of visiting dignitaries of equal or greater rank. The traveler of means can be assured of finding lodgings there. This refers mostly to rural hinterlands that are only infrequently traveled. In more civilized lands, the free commonalty are expected to avail themselves of the local facilities provided for travelers, which are commonly 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 are 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 requires them to shelter travelers 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, traveling 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.