When people talk about the Middle Ages, or medieval era, what they are generally referring to is the period from the retreat of the Roman Empire from England in the middle of the first millennium or the Viking invasions of the 8-900’s to the beginning of the recovery of technology and commerce in the 11th to 12th centuries, the little Renaissance of the 13th century, the High Middle Ages of the 14th century and the Late Middle Ages from the late 14th century through the first half of the 15th century. The Renaissance and the accompanying flowering of philosophy and technology are generally acknowledged to have started in the 1440-1450’s. Each of these “medieval” periods spans a hundred years or more and each is marked by its own characteristics that set it apart. For the purposes of defining the “medieval” basis for medieval fantasy TRPG’s, the High Middle Ages (without the advent of the Black Death in 1348 and without addressing the many years of famine that preceded it) are considered to be optimum solely on the basis that it allows the GM the greatest amount of latitude in creating his game world. This is what our focus will be for the purposes of this examination of technology and anachronisms.
For our purposes, the game world has enjoyed already roughly 3-400 years of “medieval-ness” to look back on as the source of the peoples’ proud traditions and customs. However, many GM’s run worlds where the history of the medieval practices that make those worlds part of the medieval fantasy genré runs for many more centuries than occurred historically. Indeed, most of these worlds are medieval in nature and due to the GM’s tastes are likely to remain in that state perpetually. On the Real World side, the Ottoman Empire of the Turks was founded in the 1300’s, grew steadily until the 1600’s, and didn’t start to really fall apart and suffer from secessions of its constituent lands until the 1800’s, dragging their antiquated (by modern standards) social standards and practices right down through the centuries with them. That is a precedent that stands the Gm in good stead. It may be indicative to some of a certain degree of stagnation, and such a stagnant state of affairs could well be used by the GM as the backdrop for a campaign where new blood is to be infused and some changes wrought in order to move the world a bit further along the historic track towards the Renaissance, HOWEVER, the cause for the extending of the medieval nature of the social order need not be stagnation but merely the equivalent of homeostasis in the living social organism.
What facilitates this medieval status quo, and also the occasional survival of more ancient cultures here and there as the adventurers explore some GMs’ worlds, is quite simply magick. Magick provides a dynamic counter-balancing measure to all manifestations of change, allowing old forms to continue to be observed even in the face of modern developments of technology, especially firearms, which historically contributed to the erosion and decay of the medieval ancien regime.
The great famines and the Plague fueled a great deal of social unrest and demand for change between them, decimating the population and unleashing the huge social pressures exerted by the surviving working population that kicked off the Tudor Era and the Renaissance. BUT they could not have had so strong an impact if the kings had at their disposal magickal healing and blessings for crops. Even presuming the magick available was unable to avert the calamities entirely, they could certainly blunt their impact, and then ameliorate the effects on the labor pool due to the reduced population afterwards.
However, where magick is a precious and very expensive commodity (as it almost certainly should be) the GM must allow pestilence to sweep the land to some extent, perhaps drought or floods, and resulting famine, etc. reducing the labor force in the same manner as the Plague did in 1348, or widespread long-enduring war after the fashion of the 100 Years’ War, magick can stand as a stop-gap to protect the economy from the resulting inflationary spiral of demands from labor and commensurate rise in prices, or at least blunt the impact greatly. Magick can maintain the means of labor in the event of a sharp drop in population.
Where the population is decimated, labor is lost, but demand also shrinks, so the two might end up about even, but if one or the other is out of balance, magick can help make the adjustment. Magick in the place of labor, especially the application of Naming to animating machines or the use of Enchantment to multiply the effects of tools in use and thus multiply the goods being produced by the labor of a single man, would be avoided to the same extent that technological innovations were avoided by the Romans. The same sense of social responsibility still prevailed in the medieval era, that those with money, power, and influence who were in a position to manage production had an obligation to employ those (far more numerous) who needed to work for their bread. Otherwise, there was a very real danger they might rise against them and take what they needed, destroying the social order.
Under these circumstances, it should be expected that in a shop where the labor is provided by magickal means, any living man applying to work for his daily bread must be hired, regardless if he must enter an apprenticeship, arrangements being made as necessary to register such, until all labor in the shop is provided by living men. This by guild rules and/or royal statute, no doubt.
Thus, magick is only allowed to be a temporary fix for so long as the population is lacking, not to put any man out of his living as the population recovers.
There can be no manufactories run solely with magick where men can be found begging for their bread in the streets. In such cases, where magick must be used to maintain productivity in the face of demand when there is a dearth of labor, no Wizard is to charge more for his magicks than the labor of the men his magick is replacing would have cost the shop keeper, for as long as his magick is so employed.
Few Wizards are so generous with their Arts, though. The number of Wizards circulating to provide this sort of service would be few indeed in the event of such circumstances. It might be enough, though. The towns are only 10% of the population. A couple good-hearted Wizards to cover the needs of each of the major towns might be able to keep the major business in order, though they would be exhausted most of the time. They can tie the magicks off by circumstance, that the magick expire on its own if a man should show up to claim those tools and that work station to make his living.
Class and wealth generally determine the quality of healthcare that can be obtained in time of need, however, and those in a position to render such care were historically not all that numerous, certainly not enough to address any wide-spread epidemic or influx of the wounded and dying. The Church-run hospitals remain for the care of the indigent and less fortunate, but are unlikely to be sufficient either. While old age remains as the downfall of all mortal races, the greater knowledge of healthy living and preventative maintenance to be imparted by the medical community improves the survival rate far beyond what the common folk enjoyed historically. Those who otherwise have died in their forties would likely survive to see their sixties.
To benefit the commonalty in general, the practitioners would have to come out as an entire profession to work in dispensing charity. Not so many are all that altruistic. On the other hand, Wizards and their ilk are the professional equals of Physicians. The members of the magickal professions (or a distinct segment of them) might very easily be saddled with the equivalent of a Hippocratic oath to give what aid they can to try to ameliorate the effects of any dire natural events or life-threatening illness or faultless injury.
With their close relationship with the community of Scholars, Wizards are best depicted as being structured socially in the same manner as the hierarchy seen among the Physicians, Surgeons, Barbers, Leeches. On the bottom rung is the Low Magick of the WiseWomen and CunningMen, followed by the Common Magick of the Hearth-Witches, Hedge-Wizards, and Alchemist-Wizards, while the True Magick or High Magick of the Scholar-Wizards and Wizards by formal traditional apprenticeship, who are held in the greatest esteem, stand at the top. Those at the top coming to their Arts through a university in the same way, though their schools will be somewhat secluded from the rest of the halls used for the university for the sake of public safety (the precincts where magick is practiced MUST be secluded or sequestered from the surrounding university, perhaps in the same manner as a religious cloister, which none are allowed to leave except when the school year breaks for holidays). Most likely the students labor under an injunction that forbids the practice of magick while they are home and before they have received their certification, in the same manner that a law student is barred from even giving legal advice before he has passed his bar exam today. A further reflection of the ties to the Scholastic community that also serves to protect the public from the accidents of an untried student.
Where death due to disease can be mitigated by the greater effectiveness of fantasy-world healthcare and especially through the application of magick or the residual effects of its use in research into herbal remedies, and the worst of droughts and famine averted, war remains as the only force providing a safety valve for population control.
The Lords and knights MUST have battles to fight or they lose their sense of purpose, their raison d’etre. The world cannot be TOO peaceful a place. The Warriors grow fat and lazy and surgeons lose their skills, and troubadors lose the venue in which their patrons the Lords and Knights can prove their mettle to be praised in poem and song, losing inspiration for their compositions. The tourneys are a good training ground, but no good on their own, alone. There must be wars to fight to truly hone skills and critical tactical thinking, but also to stand as causes to rouse the hearts of the nations.
It is fine, all well and good, for the GM to choose a time of peace between wartimes to run his adventures and campaign, but there must be a memory of war and perhaps even the new threat of it on the horizon, if not some area the characters may go seek out as they wish where battles are being fought seasonally.
The culture of war causes swings in population and reinforces the need for the nobility and the justification for their social rank and the Warriors’ trade in general.
The GM’s challenge is to make sure that magick remains rare and wonderful. The air of mystery and the wonder attached to it must be preserved to maintain the quality of the GM’s game and world. It is not to be squandered and, as such, should always brings a premium price. Thus it is commonly viewed as a rich man’s or nobleman’s asset first, for only they have sufficient coin to pay for it – BUT only where a practitioner willing to sell their Arts for filthy lucre can be found. Only those new to the Arts are generally available to be so bought. Those with experience have a wide variety of ways in which they can use their Arts to generate a means of obtaining income. But coin is not the only asset the noble class have to offer if they seek the aid of a practitioner of great skill and knowledge.
Smart noble families are ever vigilant for a whisper of magickal talent throughout all branches of their blood, in order to develop cadet bloodlines where they can, in order to offer their children a future of landed wealth and privilege supplemented by an even greater power. They keep a keen eye out for lines in which such power has run in the past, or resides currently, in the hopes of marrying into the true power. These nobles may have some success with the masters of magick who need an infusion of wealth to fund the growth of their libraries and skills, and especially those reckless and relatively new in the craft who do not truly understand the value of the talent that runs in their blood to the noble houses who would continue their rule if it means bringing even low-born magickal blood into the house.
The lineages of the masters and their students are recorded and followed like family trees, as important as any noble bloodlines, for those lineages indicate a certain level of heritable knowledge, but also talent. The independent masters among the practitioners of magick can afford to pick and choose, to wait and look for only the truly outstanding talents that merit their full attention. It is only to those students they pass their legacy of knowledge. The community wait breathlessly to insure that each of the great among them takes on at least one apprentice in his lifetime to whom to bequeath his life’s work, as much so as the nobles are driven to provide “an heir and a spare”, and perhaps phrased in exactly the same manner, and for the same reason, as an oblique tweaking of the nobles’ pride.
There are so few that truly have a great gift and power. Magick and the nobility end up going hand in hand, in the end. However, the arts of magick cannot be limited to only the noble class because the talent runs in the bloodlines and may appear spontaneous where ever it so chooses without regard for class of birth. Thus, it cannot become another exclusive property for them alone. Some few Wizards might take the opportunity to stomp the old noble families down by marrying only the heiresses of otherwise defunct houses, conducting a steady campaign for their own sons in gathering the old noble blood and land into their own hands, instead.
Together, a faction of nobles and Wizards might seek to create a line of Wizard-Gentlemen, Wizard-Knights, Wizard-Lords, indeed, a whole new tradition of fighting Wizards. Warlords, Knights-Banneret or commanders bound by the rules of Chivalry in their use of magick against their enemies. With or without the direct ties to the nobility, an acknowledgement of the lack of honor in using magick against those with no magick of their own is especially important to establish as common knowledge. New rules of Chivalry regarding battle where magick is present. In the hands of one sworn on (religious) oath to Chivalry the Church has a means of commanding a certain degree of compliance. This religious-based practice also greatly weakens the Church’s old arguments against magick.
Under these circumstances, cadres of Wizards behind the lines would likely be forbidden to cast magicks directly at the opposing troops, bound by oath only to affect the environment or the opposition’s provisions, gear, armor and weapons. Freely using their knowledge to eliminate or compromise the effectiveness of any siege weapons in use. Although black-powder weapons have been omitted, canons might be included. Firearms might just as easily be included, if desired, with magick present as an equalizer. In order for it to truly be an equalizer on a man-by-man basis on the battlefield, however, the presence of works of magick would have to become a far more prolific and accessible. It was the fact that the common man could get his hands on a firearm and use it easily that brought the nobles crashing down on the battlefield.
With the real presence of magick, and its influence as a force in society – even as a rogue force – it is possible for the wheels of history to grind on in many respects, especially technologically, without truly disturbing the social fabric.
In daily life for the common folk of the medieval gameworld, fire in the form of hearth-fire, rushlight, even good tallow candle or torch are the standards for light after sunset. The use of magickal sources of light, those which do not consume natural resources or only consume a token of that which more mundane sources do, are likely to be produced for the use of the wealthy, a mark of their status in the perpetually medieval gameworld, as good gaslight with beautifully crafted shades to soften the glare were for the wealthy in the Industrial Revolution in the Real World. The GM must consider if it is worth the time and effort for the magickal community to develop manufactories for certain standard types of either disposable or perpetual light sources, the latter commanding a far higher price than the former, of course. Some such items have been incorporated into a number of fantasy RPG’s as a standard for the worlds run by their rules, and certainly bear contemplation for their impact on the GM’s gameworld for RoM. It does however run smack into the concept of overuse and even abuse and frivolous use discussed in the Grimoire, which can eventually cost the disrespectful practitioner a terrible price in the end.
Where the medieval world was one lit only by fire historically, such a move might bring light into the streets as it has been known since the Industrial Revolution, pushing the less desirable elements further back into the darker streets and neighborhoods, constant light in wealthier areas obscuring the light of the stars in the heavens, pushing observatories of those to whom they are important out into the darker hinterlands surrounding larger towns or even into the mountains in the wilderness where higher elevations make for better visibility.
In many ways, magick becomes the great equalizer, stabilizing the social fabric in the face of influences that otherwise can force change, as they did historically. The Art of Enchantment is most specifically the great equalizer where the development of firearms destroyed the old feudal order. Canon mean nothing when you have a Wizard who can make the castle walls strong enough to withstand ANY siege weapon. So it comes down to the fact that the army with the strongest Enchanter has the edge needed to defeat or preserve any army or castle. However, the more closely matched the practitioners on each side, the longer that could take. With all sides being equal, the rules of siege warfare remain the same, the process simply takes longer, becoming more expensive all the way around.
The tools remain the same as well, merely enhanced by magick the same way as the walls of the castles, although the carftsman’s produce of those tools can be multiplied.
While the use of magick makes a castle breachable by a number of different means (there are a myriad of ways to accomplish any given task with magick, it depends on how the practitioner wants to accomplish it or approach the problem, depending on the strengths and weaknesses of his skills in the Arts. No fortification however well enchanted can be protected from every possible application of magick that might be used to attack, mainly because many uses of magick are not going to be focused directly against them, and no resistance is allowed when magick is directed at inanimate objects.
HOWEVER, because it is possible for a practitioner to breach a castle any number of ways doesn’t mean that there are enough practitioners around to make castle-building meaningless. Far from it. There remain FAR too many more mundane dangers in the (basically) medieval European fantasy gameworlds NOT to build castles.
That line of thinking, by which castles are rendered charmingly useless, denies the MUCH more likely concentration of the practitioners’ efforts on the castles as strong points of defense, for the simple fact that they are products of their times and think in terms of castles already, and in terms of the existing power structures. Canons could end up ranged against a fortress whose walls are buttressed against mortal weapons by magick. Such institutional uses of magick to harden castles and maintain their effectiveness are far more likely to occur all over the land than magickally enhanced armor or weapons for individuals, while still allowing the rarity of magick to be largely retained.
The advent of firearms, which swiftly changed the nature of battle historically, provided a great equalizer that recognized no superior social class on the battlefield and allowed a man of no dignity and even very little skill to kill a well-trained warrior noble quite handily with little risk of being run through or trampled by his noble steed. In addition to the heavier improved armors that appeared after the advent of firearms, “proofed” against their shot, there is magick in context of the game to enhance it further to save the noble’s life, providing the skilled nobleman with the opportunity to hack the presumptuous commoner firing upon him to pieces before he can reload to try again. Thus, the importance of the Chivalric order is maintained while technology pushes closer to the Renaissance.
If the social fabric remains relatively stable and social responsibility is maintained to such a degree that “labor saving” devices that eliminated jobs are largely shelved in favor of keeping people working (as was done under the Roman Empire in a number of instances), then certain technologies might be allowed to be developed according to the normal historic timeline without the status quo changing to any great degree.
There are a number of technological developments and refinements that might be introduced without shaking up the basic medieval-ness of the swords and sorcery genré inordinately. The historic improvements over time of the tools and methods for cutting gemstones that developed right through to the 19th and 20th centuries could create two markets for stones, one for the only crudely cut stones with faults and inclusions that were enjoyed nonetheless in the period historically and those that shine and sparkle like the stars cut to modern day standards. The former would be the market for the commonalty, the latter for the truly wealthy and the noble. In the author’s gameworld, the latter are called dwarf-cut gems/stones due to the fact that the dwarfs jealously guard the knowledge and the tools necessary for producing them. It is assumed that all others must take the time to develop them on their own, without dwarfish aid, likely following the historic model in the timetable involved – or that might be somewhat accelerated with the dwarf-cut stones present as an example to inspire, and the possibility of magickally enhanced tool to make the process easier.
Potting and stamping, and then puddling afterwards, might be introduced as acceptable means of refining pig iron without the use of charcoal. Even the Bessemer process which enabled the mass-production of good strong and flexible steel from pig iron might be allowed. Coking to drive off sulphur, water, coal-gas and coal-tar from coal so it burns cleanly might be allowed to develop, which would slow or halt the wholesale deforestation that England underwent through the period of the game. The resulting coke was the main fuel for the smelting metals, again taking the pressure off the forests.
The use of hot air to float balloons might be allowed, as well. This would naturally change the state of cartography in the gameworld.
Optics, real prescription glasses, spyglasses and telescopes could be brought into play without disrupting the social fabrics overmuch. In conjunction with the hot air balloons this could affect cartography further.
This could result in mapping swiftly achieving Renaissance standards, even modern map types developing which account for the curvature of the globe (unless the GM’s world actually IS flat). True images of the world as a globe might be held stubbornly in the hands of the magickal community, who do not want the kings to have it, until by use of the hot air balloons a sense of the spherical nature of the world is perceived.
With more reliable and economic production of good steel, the principles and motive power of steam might be developed. In the author’s gameworld, this is in limited use in the depths of the dwarfish kingdoms, also.
Between the knowledge that magick can be harnessed to gather, especially where combined with herbcraft, synthetic pharmacology is unlikely ever to be developed. Natural remedies have FAR fewer side effects, so herbcraft becomes more sharply targeted and far more effective when magick is used as the means of researching it.
Natural resources for fibers, dyes, or anything else could be cultivated and managed as renewable resources by the uses of magick and the knowledge of cultivation in general it can be used to research.
The printing press and moveable type revolutionized the spread of ideas and information, brought about the advent of “how to” books for the common man. The knowledge, the Mysteries, of the crafts were blown wide open in time. The guilds still controlled the dissemination of the Mysteries of the trades, however. Legal redress is available against any who dares to breach the oaths they swore on induction. They would be prosecuted both in criminal and canon court. If the situation were dire enough, a Wizard might be employed to find the culprit and bring him to justice, perhaps also to seal the breach and mend the damage, if he were primarily a Sorcerer able to meddle in men’s minds.
The mysteries of magick and alchemy are themselves wrapped in secrets that must be maintained, couched in ancient languages and cloaked in classical metaphors. Guild rules no doubt spell out penalties for translation into the vulgar tongues, and for allowing them to fall into the hands of non-initiates. Initiates who are also printers are in no way alleviated of the oaths they took regarding the mysteries of their crafts. The protected knowledge of the guilds is hedged about with confidentiality contracts, their members bound by sacred oaths, willingly taken as a condition of membership. Those oaths can be made binding in a medieval fantasy world, especially among those of the Arts. Their own power would enforce the oaths in the manner of a geis.
The Middle Ages, and even the Bronze Age, were more sophisticated than most people think. The Romans and Byzantines had their own versions of the pony express, such relay rider networks were a common feature of every ancient empire. The Hanseatic League in the period of the game had a regular mounted relay rider service between not only the principal towns of the League, but also with the chief citadels in charge of protecting their assets and interests abroad.
Homing-pigeon messenger bird services are as old as ancient Persia, and the Romans, again, used them especially for military operations. The Greeks used them to spread the news of the victors in the Olympic Games. By the 1100’s they were in use in Baghdad. Before the advent of the telegraph, this method of communications was very popular among bankers and financiers. Even amidst the development of telegraphy and telephony, carrier pigeons remained in use for fortress warfare (siege).
The GM should make use of these facts. There is absolutely no reason why the GM should not make these practices the standard for his gameworld, as well. Even some aspects of technology that occurred in the Real World after the time frame specified for the period of the game can be viewed as natural and normal extensions of medieval practice and/or technology and simply make sense to allow in an essentially perpetually medieval world.
How would it change the social order to allow true, more comfortable carriages and cabs to have developed and available when the medieval people ran cart services for carrying not only goods but passengers from town to town. If the medieval regimes have been in place 6-700 years rather than 3-400 this is something that is highly likely to be present.
The invention of lager beer came from a house of monks in Germany who discovered the fact that new beer kept longer when stored in cellars made in cool mountain caves (“lager” coming from “lagern”, the German for ‘to rest’ or ‘to lay’). Outside the mountain districts this phenomenon was not observed, but general knowledge of the principle could certainly have travelled, especially within the community of scholars of whom the monks are members, especially the alchemists among them, and their associates – the wizards.
The practice of refrigeration is generally unknown in the period, EXCEPT that the practice of mixing sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate to water as a cooling agent for tubs in which wine was kept for table service is first recorded in 1550 along with the words “to refrigerate”. However, the earliest surviving description of the purification process for potassium nitrate was recorded in 1270 by the Arab alchemist and engineer Hasan al-Rammah of Syria in his book al-Furusiyya wa al-Manasib al-Harbiyya (‘The Book of Military Horsemanship and Ingenious War Devices’).
Religious differences, fear and suspicion, mainly on the part of the Catholic Pope, kept a great deal of knowledge, including many classical era texts in geometry and mathematics, philosophy and the much more advance Arabic medicine from passing from the scholars of the Middle East to their colleagues in the West (where the Church had a monopoly on education).
It is possible the practice could have been MUCH more widespread at a much earlier date. Ice boxes might be in common use and the cutting of winter ice for storage and sale through the warmer months as profitable a business as it was in the 1800’s.
Although the canning process was not discovered until 1809, it has been included as a skill for both the Cook/Chef and Alchemist skills, under the assumption that in a medieval world where magick works and information may be passed around a little more freely by somewhat more altruistic communities of scholars, the process would have been discovered sooner among alchemists as a means of stock-piling foodstuffs against famine and for transport en masse for feeding armies on the move (which was the original impetus for the Real World discovery). The large scale and domestic use of the process would no doubt have been relegated to those in the business of food – Cooks and Chefs.
The royal and noble and the wealthiest of the merchant houses who can afford magickal tools or services at need, could have instantaneous communications from place to place by use of a message book, where what is written in one appears in another book, or several, or a crystal ball or magickal mirror that is always “on” to allow continuous communication in real time over great distances. If more was invested in it and the magickal resources made available, a network of magickal portals might be set up for the use of couriers, or at least some means of extremely fast (magickally enhanced) transport from place to place, so that a courier system would be at least as good as our modern mail – 3 days or so to get a missive delivered hundreds or even thousands of miles away, perhaps without the need for horses, or with them but at a much reduced cost to use due to magickally enhanced speed. Uprisings would have NO time to foment and organize, they could be crushed from the outset.
The secret of instantaneous communication as allowed by some magicks might remain a closely held secret among the practitioners of magick, however, along with the spherical nature of the world and geographically accurate maps. The GM might use this as the background of a campaign in which the secret is discovered and the magickal community scrambles to keep the secret from becoming common knowledge.
Outside the community of magick, the knowledge and practice of the gameworld might reflect only what was available historically, except insofar as the GM allows for the furthering of the craft over time with development of optics and measuring tools such as the sextant, which would allow for maps more of the character of those seen in the Renaissance, using the timeline of those developments in the Real World as the medieval fabric of society remains in place longer and longer after 3-400 year duration cited.
As mentioned, it is quite possible for one of the more isolated races, such as the dwarfs or the elfs, to have technologies that remain hidden within their own mountain halls or secret communities, away from prying eyes, only the most privileged of the other races allowed to enter and view them and sworn to secrecy. This is the manner in which a great number of developments were worked into and maintained in the author’s own gameworld.
At some point, UNLESS the GM wishes to use these technological innovations as continuing markers in the history of his gameworld as it unfolds, a line must be drawn beyond which the GM decrees the technology may not progress, maybe even because of the machinations of those who practice magick.
Perhaps this is for the benefit of longer-lived races, especially the elfs, watching the old ways die off but constrained to remain in the world as the modern world grows up around them. It would take a great deal for them to simply return forever to Færie and abandon the world they fought so hard to retain after the arrival of the younger races.
If handled in such a way that time between adventures passes at a faster rate, it is possible to see the characters age and even pass away, for the players to orchestrtate the fortunes of a whole family through a few hundred years, maintaining a certain frame of historic reference and using it as a background for the families’ fortunes as played out by successive generations of PC’s all related by blood.
All the above being taken into consideration, what would essentially be a perpetually medieval world in regards to social practices, government and the law is a very real and viable possibility. With the great capabilities of magick available, life in general could be maintained at a far more tolerable level, with a much greater degree of satisfaction to the average commoner than was historically true.
The impetus for change is rather slight in comparison to the pressures that pushed mankind forward in the Real World.
In the perpetually medieval world, it is inevitable that the populations of the cities grow, and some town amenities to become more structured over time.
The most heavily used streets must be paved, at least in the cities and towns, main streets better than side streets with smooth paving stones or dressed blocks with a solid foundation equivalent to that used in making Roman roads. The longer the medieval state of the gameworld, the more roads are likely to become paved. Brick-making can easily be rediscovered and used as it was during the Tudor era.
Water was and should be piped by aqueduct, pipes and masonry channels criss-crossing the medieval world as they did the Roman world, but especially to provide for the needs of the great cities and towns. The old Roman baths should be a much stronger tradition than they were in the historic medieval period, retaining their prominence and presence just as strongly as seen during the Roman era.
The technological and social advantages enjoyed by the Romans that were lost in the Dark Ages are much more likely to have been preserved in certain pocket-areas that remained well-defended and unspoiled. Once the waves of invaders settled after the dissolution of the analogue of “Rome”, the knowledge and practices of the previous era would have been shared between bouts of fighting as society emerged from the Dark Ages.
The existence of magick in the first place must be considered and accounted for with care. It can too easily become so great a presence that it turns the power structure and relationships as they grew up in the medieval era completely on their ear. These are the hallmarks of that era that carry a great deal of the “flavor” of it that many come to the genré to enjoy. The presence of real magick in the context of the gameworld should ONLY be enough to allow it to remain mysterious and a source of wonder and maybe even a little fear when encountered. It is certainly a power to be respected by PC and NPC alike. The people of the era already believed in the existence of magick, historically, and acted accordingly. Their example is best used as the template for NPC reactions to magick in general.
The power of Wizards (et al.) as it arose and was first discovered would have been decried by the priests for rivaling and challenging their own power – but only at first. When the pious among the ranks of magickers made themselves known it put the Church on very unsteady ground in that argument. When the Wizards who lived the holy life of the ascetic made themselves known, it stupefied the Church and confounded them.
The fact that the Wizards worked with the nobility, as the nobles who were able drew them into service in their courts and households, those with such power as could aid their causes, strengthened the position of the practitioners of magick thus weakening further the Church’s position against them. The gods remained silent or merely hinted at Their being the source of ALL power, so the Mystics counseled caution on that front in spite of strict interpretation of dogma, regardless of the disaffection and bitterness of the body of clergy as an institution against those who wielded magick.
The Mystics are held forth by many within the Church as the only TRUE magick, coming directly from the gods as it does, BUT the gods obviously suffer other not so devout to have similar power, though in taking the reins they suffer the consequences and shoulder the burden of responsibility that goes with it.
So, without a clear monopoly as a mandate from the gods, the position of the Church on magick cannot be easily defined.
The role of the Church remains strong because the body of Clergy is enormous and they attend everyday to the needs of the people, an integral element woven into the social fabric of daily life. The Mystics working the will of the gods validates their presence and position in society, and the princes of the Church are afraid NOT to put the voices of the gods in the positions of authority to steer the Church when they ask it – or at the very least in the position historically occupied by the pope, which steers the course of religion. This keeps them from many of the excesses to which the historic Church was all too prone to fall. No Mystic would ever request such a position except on being instructed to do so from On High. It is simply understood they do not seek that kind of power or influence. The Virtues guide their steps. The favor of the gods has never been attached to a concept of heredity, AND only 1 or 2 in 10 among the Mystics at most are actually sworn to the vows of the Church, so the number of Mystics in high Church positions is actually rather small. Their voices are given the weight commensurate with their direct holy patronage, nonetheless.
While the course of the Church as a whole steers away from politics and worldly matters, sometimes secular powers must be admonished, and the secular lords within the Church often forget the sacred nature of the duties with which they are charged and have to be admonished by the Mystics above them, more often than they should.
All high prelates and arch-bishops should be Mystics called to service by the Light, but only 1 or 2 in 50, at most, among the ranks of bishops, monsignors abbots, mother superiors, priors/prioress’, etc., should be Mystics, and only 1 in 1000 among the ranks of common parish priests. Out of c.100,000 clergymen in a realm having an overall population of 5,000,000, only 100 will be Mystics, and those spread out through ALL the generations currently living. And this is the total for ALL races in that realm.
The Three Estates in a perpetually medieval setting isn’t likely to change, but the presence of magick would perhaps see it modified in some ways. What the GM must keep in mind is that the people of the era are most inclined to define things and deal with them in terms of the world as they know it already, by the use of familiar forms.
The power and authority of secular lords in the period of the game came from their role in fighting (Nobles being the First Estate), the clergy in seeing to the spiritual needs of ALL the people (Clergy being the Second Estate), the common people do the work that provides the food and makes all of the goods to support ALL the people (the Third Estate).
The Second Estate, or Those Who Pray, must share their special place with the Wizards and those of that ilk. It is the only place in society in which they “fit” even vaguely.
The Wizards have the ability to share in the work of the nobles and royalty, in fighting with their arcane arts, and they have a role as educated folk on a par with lawyers, philosophers, physicians, the cream of the scholastic crop, compromising the rule of the Church in education OR providing a common ground on which they meet OR challenging the Church’s preeminence over it, BUT they are also capable of performing services that replicate the work of the commons – this can be overlooked by the nobility because those who wield magick do not toil by the sweat of their own brow, they get the magick to do it for them. However, their education is one of the outstanding aspects that sets them apart as a class in society, and in that capacity they are most comfortably lumped together with the rest of the luminaries of the scholastic world.
The magickers are able to share in attributes of the ALL of the classes. Rather than allow magick to supplant or challenge the nobles, it is most likely they would join forces. For the power and advantage they represent, the nobles seek out the Wizards (et al.) and marry them and bring the power into their own bloodlines and seek to preserve that power in their houses. The use of marriage to create alliances to increase their prestige and power is a most natural first response. Although it does so in a general sort of way, the nobility discovered that the talent and Power does NOT follow blood with any sort of predictability,. The talent for magick only rarely passes directly from father to son. This does not eliminate the value of having a practitioner in the family, if only for their education, there is no denying the benefits of the Power they can wield on the family’s behalf.
So the nobility are always on the lookout for an eligible practitioner of the Arts willing to ally in marriage. This has the added benefit of diversifying the gene-pool and enabling the noble families to survive longer in the direct male line than was common historically.
With so few of the Mystics actually bound in vows to celibacy, the Mystics are just as wealthy a resource for the nobles to plunder in maintaining their own position, BUT the Mystics cannot be lured by secular power or wealth, and their animal lusts do not command them, so beauty and material advantage are no good to bring their power into hand, only purity and Virtue will unlock the Mystic’s heart and bring his power into the family. The holy patronage does not pass by blood at all, however.
This makes the Mystics a viable alternative for power, although one more difficult in general to win and only for the lifetime of the Mystic – a poor second choice from the perspective of the nobles, but a second choice nonetheless.
When it comes down to negotiations, the Wizards (et al.) are not so easily courted either. The Nobility, holding the power to rule, want those with Power married into families and their magickal power firmly claimed by their estate, BUT none can claim these folk without their permission, and many of this caste have NO interest in the headaches involved in rulership. Social equality with these folk should thus be considered sufficient for the nobles to overlook base bloodlines in seeking marriages to ally the magickal power with their political and monetary clout. They are far more willing to engage in marriage talks to begin with, however, and approach the prospect of marriage in much the same manner as the nobles, for power and wealth and the founding or maintenance of a dynasty. And who better to negotiate for another practitioner to wed the progeny of such a union and keep the family power flowing besides the noble parent who just happens to be a practitioner himself due to the family’s previous success in courting Power to wed?
Thus, as much as the nobility are able, they court the magickal folk to bind to themselves in blood to usurp that power. In this way, the castles of the king and those of his tenants-in-chief as can find magickal folk to marry get magickal enhancements and protection in residence. The magickal crafts of the Olde Ways, Druids of every stripe and Witches, place the Light in a difficult position, as the nobles are not so scrupulous as to ignore that great resource of Power, if they can court it. Their connection to the wild places and aversion to cities and towns poses something of a problem of practicality and logistics in pursuing the noble life and regalian causes. Mayhap the Church sits still for it if the followers of the Olde Ways convert at least in name – a fair justification for the adoption of so many pagan practices into the Church, to bring the magick of the followers to the nobles – that concession allowing the Light to maintain its position, rather than being undermined over time, for simply having made themselves irrelevant in that arena.
The Mystics wander separately, and the Wizards and their ilk prefer to wander singly, as well. Any cabals that form between them are rare in the extreme, except in the case of a town-based guild among the trade magick-wielders, for those who wish to brave the power-games in return for access to the guild’s library and social prestige.
There should not be enough of these folk to overwhelm any government, and there are very real limits on their power (although those limits can be broadened when that power and knowledge are concealed). A knife in the back will generally kill the great majority of practitioners the same as any mortal – only their craft will make it far more likely that they will return from the grave afterwards to exact revenge or to drive another of the living to take care of that for them.
While nobles provide us with the highpoint in power, culture, and wealth at the apex of medieval society, they comprised only 1% of the general populace, at best. They provide a large portion of the charm and attraction of this period for the purposes of roleplay, though.
In light of this, to keep magick balanced in the grand scheme of things and to supply those who use it with a similar cache – very nearly social equality, the incidents of magickal practitioners, the total number of practitioners (all the Druid trades, Wizard, Witches and Mystics) should be about the same – 1%, inclusive of ALL age ranges and degrees of accomplishment in trade SL.
Lawyers historically reached the apex of their careers in being appointed as judges; the crowning of the career as a judge was knighthood. The same was true of any who performed steadily and faithfully in the service of the king in pursuing his causes, especially aiding him in war, whether it be a particularly efficient wealthy merchant supplying victuals or supplying soldiers, or some greatly skilled Physician or especially Surgeon saving the life of some great noble, even the king himself, who were thus commonly knighted. English society was stratified, but permeable, flexible for those who were able to catch a patron’s eye (especially the king’s).
ANY man enjoying £40 in income from lands each year were required to take up the mantle of knighthood, perhaps being knighted in a mass ceremony on the eve of some great battle, as was common. This was known as distraint of knighthood, a development that arose form the erosion of the feudal duty of lords, many of whom failed to retain or subinfeudate or employ the knights required as the price of their tenure and title. The mantle of knight became the price of holding a certain amount of land or greater, the owner forced to be able to defend it.
Wizards and their ilk occupy the same strata and segment of medieval society as lawyers. The crossover between the wealthy, successful commoners into the ranks of knights is an established practice already. Stratified in the same manner as Physicians and the rest of the healers’ trades, closely tied to the universities and the society of Scholars among whom Lawyers are commonly knighted. It only makes sense to levy distraint of knighthood on all those practicing magick who are members of a guild and also enjoying a certain level of income or greater, perhaps using the same £40 a year as the landowners.
This can be further developed or refined, so that all practitioners wielding only Common Sphere magick are accorded the (equivalent) social rank of Knights, perhaps being treated as Gentlemen in the first years of their apprenticeship and Squires while in the later phases of training. Those wielding the Noble Sphere magicks can be accorded the (equivalent) rank of Lords, and those attaining the power of the Sovereign Sphere accorded the (equivalent) rank of earl, marquess or duke, according to their degree of accomplishment. These dispensations might be accorded whether the income requirement were met or not. The medieval mind is very fond of such distinctions, which hearken back to the Golden Chain of Being.
Where the income requirement is met, it is likely the practitioner would be tracked down and handed his Letters Close from the Crown ordering him to seek knighthood, and no guild affiliation required. When arising solely from the practitioner’s knowledge and power, it is up to the practitioner to ensure that he is enrolled in a guild to start with and then petition that guild for testing to verify his qualifications before the rank may be conferred and the elevated dignity observed.
Thus, those who achieve the Journeyman Improver status that comes with completing their formal guild apprenticeship, will celebrate with an investiture ceremony, which should include some symbol of new status equivalent to the knight’s gilded spurs. Achieving the Greater Sphere knowledge and demonstrating it before the guild would require another investiture ceremony, finding a sponsor to do so in the same manner a Squire becomes a Knight, and receiving some token of that elevation equivalent to the knight’s golden spurs. The same upon achieving the Noble Sphere, if a sponsor can be found, the investiture being marked by the conferring of a lord’s filet.
Thus, the whole process would parallel the situation found among the wealthy commons. The medieval people are far more likely to reproduce and apply a practice arising from a custom that already exists in adapting to the presence of the practitioners of magick, following familiar forms. This topic is also touched on under the heading “Magick in the Game World”, although the main thrust of that article is the balancing of magick with the mundane in the GM’s world.
The information presented here can make for a more truly medieval feel to the fantasy of the game (except those anachronisms deliberately included, of course). Those technological advancements discussed above that are ruled out by the GM (as firearms in general are in the author’s game) should be kept in mind, along with the general principle that, if it sounds like a commonly taken-for-granted convenience of the modern world to the player’s modern ears, it probably should not be available in the medieval fantasy gameworld.
For the most part, it is not the level of technology that gives the medieval game world its “medieval-ness”, but the strata into which society is divided. More than this, however, the importance of the very complex web of relationships (sometimes based on blood, sometimes not) that stretch between those strata cannot be stressed too much, the exchange of fealty for patronage and the personal importance with which those relationships are invested. All of this is reflected in the essence of and belief in the Golden Chain, that world is in its most perfect form – that there is no need for social reform. These are all key to understanding the way in which the medieval world works, day to day.