D&D General D&D, magic, and the mundane medieval

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Spinning off a bit from some discussion in the Dragonlance thread.

D&D derives a lot of its aesthetic and assumed setting from the medieval to renaissance period in Europe. I've just been thinking about some of the historical factors that were enormously prominent, everyday, and important in the real world, but which D&D either neglects completely, or just casually makes assumptions about without really thinking about how the everyday presence of magic and the verifiable existence of a polytheistic pantheon of gods would affect it.

Tax, for instance. It was probably the cause of the majority of medieval wars and uprisings that weren't caused by religious differences. When was the last time your PCs paid taxes? Who does pay the tax in your campaign world? How does money get raised to build castles, city walls, sewers, and roads, or to pay soldiers and bureaucrats? Higher-level PCs are some of the richest people in a campaign setting (other than dragons...) - if they're not paying tax, who is?

Monarchy. Historically, monarchies almost always drew their legitimacy from the endorsement of the Church, who spoke for god. Divine Right of Kings and all that. Are your D&D campaign world monarchies divinely endorsed? If so, by which gods? What do the residents of the kingdom who worship other gods think of this? Does the endorsing god ever revoke their endorsement when a monarch goes off the rails, or starts worshipping something else, and if so, what happens then? If the monarchy is not tied to religion, where does it draw its legitimacy from? And the same with all the lesser aristocracy further down the chain.

Land. Who owns it? Who decides who owns it? There's a lot of Generic Wilderness in most D&D settings, in your setting is this on nominally owned by someone and it's just too monster-haunted for them to use, or is it legitimately unclaimed? Do you have a squattocracy of powerful adventurers picking bits of land out that they like, slaying the monstrous inhabitants and setting up domains of their own regardless of who owns the title in a dusty ledger hundreds of miles away? And even in more rural and tamed areas, or in cities - who owns the land? Is your average farmer or shopkeeper a yeoman who owns a small holding of their own, or are they tenants paying rent to a noble or landlord? And in a world of dungeons and underdarks and subterranean dwarven cities how deep does title run?

Spell lists. Most D&D spells are intended for adventurers obviously, because that's what the game is about. But that leaves a lot of conceptual space for spells that'd be incredibly important in the non-adventuring world. The Ceremony spell is a nice gesture in this direction, and Plant Growth has some great agricultural utility, but there's some fairly obvious gaps. Does your world have people researching/casting spells like Ease Childbirth, or Improve Dwelling, or Increase Fertility, or Accelerate Fermentation, or Grind Grain, or Contraception, or Permanent Dye? If not, why not? Are there any other obvious utility spells that a pre-modern society would have developed that DON'T centre around bashing monsters?

Punishment. Pre-modern societies were very big on corporal punishment. Floggings, hard labor, and mutilations and so on. There's some fairly obvious Rule Zero reasons that this stuff wouldn't be welcome at a lot of tables, but in that case, how do minor crimes get punished? Corporal punishment works because people are afraid of pain and injury, but this is D&D, when most injuries disappear after a good night's sleep and pain (or deprivation, or discomfort, or boredom, or bad food) only matters if you choose to roleplay it. What sort of punishments do your rulers apply? Are there magical options - application of spells like geas?

Social mobility. Ancestry and birth were historically very important. Even if you were rich and successful, if you were low-born you could almost never truly achieve equality of social status with those who were born noble, or high-caste, or royal. How tightly do the nobility guard their class integrity in your world? Can your successful adventurers purchase a title, or can their wealth open doors into high society and will they be genuinely accepted there? Can the commoner hero marry the princess without comment, revolution, or ostracism? But if there's no meaningful dividing lines between noble and commoner, what does being a noble even mean?
 
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Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
Does your world have people researching/casting spells like Ease Childbirth, or Improve Dwelling, or Increase Fertility, or Accelerate Fermentation, or Grind Grain, or Contraception, or Permanent Dye? If not, why not?
A level-1 spell that offered reliable contraception would change the world.

This would be a much better replacement for Ceremony (etc.).
 


kigmatzomat

Adventurer
Huh. Just last week I was doing the math on how 1st level magic would impact farming. So guess here is where my data dump goes:

Premise : A 1st level mage is equivalent to a modern 100hp utility tractor complete with implements and can effectively, and consistently, out-perform 4 adult farmers while barely breaking a sweat.

Let's start at preparing a farm. You have some land that seems to have decent soil, where there is nearby water. You need to clear it. Unseen Servant - has the abilities of a medieval 75yro except no back pain, doesn't eat, doesn't drink, and doesn't need a bed. As a ritual the caster can maintain 5-6 servants at a time. Give them sickles and other light hand tools to cut down the the plants and then have them remove the cuttings. Each one isn't as fast as an adult with a fullsize scythe but there's 6 of them most of the time and the mage is just chanting in the shade.

Now you need to deal with the sod, till the soil and plow. The Mold Earth cantrip can cut sod. Have a cube of earth "roll" out of the hole in one big chunk so the sod is on the bottom. Have the soil flow back into the hole but leave the sod layer behind. Repeat in a line to create sod rows. This also effectively tills the soil to a depth of 5 feet. Add furrows when it goes back in the hole and it is plowed.

It takes 2 castings per 25sf so 12s. That means in about 6 hours they can remove sod, till and plow 1 acre (43,560sf). If there is no sod to cut, the caster can do an acre every 3 hours. Fyi, an acre was originally defined as the average amount of land a man with an ox could plow in one day, assuming the land was already clear and the soil had been broken up before. This means the farm Mage is four times as productive as a farmer plus an ox.

Use a few hours to cast 5-6 Servants again to cut the sod into smaller pieces and move off the field. They actually make good building material for low buildings, being a naturally reinforced brick. Great for barns, farm cottages, etc.

Next consider grading and drainage. Mold earth moves 125cu ft. Dirt weighs around 100lb/cf so 12,500lbs . Compare to 100hp tractors with front end loaders are rated for ~3,000lbs. mold earth can move 4x the soil of a 100hp tractor. tractor can move faster than 5ft/6s but has to travel 8x as far to take repeat trips so call it even.

Its fairly easy to set up irrigation and/or drainage channels. Drainage is just suitable furrows to a pond or creek. With Mold Earth they could make a decent pond in an afternoon. Irrigation could be long elevated earthen channels to carry water from a river or pond. Of course, they have to get the water out of the pond and into those elevated channels.

Enter cantrip Shape Water- moves 125cf of water 5 ft. Or it can animate it into crude shapes for up to an hour. 8 gallons per cf x 125cf =1,000 gallons every 6s. this is a 10,000gpm pump with 5ft of head. That puts it on par with a modern 1hp pump, which is more than enough to irrigate fields. Each casting is 1 day of water for 3 modern homes, several agrarian families, about 50 cattle or 300+ sheep. It could also power a small water wheel by moving water from a lower pond to an upper pond.

Our farmcaster has cut sod, tilled the soil, set up drainage and added irrigation. Now its time to get to planting.

Planting is no problem for our Unseen Servants as they can each carry 30lb sacks of seeds/cuttings. Set them in teams with one planting and (given their low strength) a pair covering the seeds. There should be two teams at play. Every so often the caster will need to move as the Servants can only be 60ft away. As long as they keep their umbrella handy, they are literally sitting in the shade.

Maintaining fields is usually the slow, tedious work of weeding and insect collection, which is right in the Unseen Servants wheel house, as is rock collection and other simple chores that normally consume days of effort.

In the fall Servants can harvest most crops at similar speeds to a person as it doesn't take much strength to pick beans or cut wheat. Root vegetables like potatos and beets would be noticeably slower than a typical farmer so either teams of 2 or the mage uses mold earth to pull back the top foot of soil. Even haying isn't a big deal. Break out those sickles for the Servants. Some cut hay, others tie up sheafs and the others move the sheafs. You may have to get undersized baskets or sheafs of grains/hay to account for your Servants low strength but if they make extra trips it is no sweat off the farmmage's nose.

How to move produce? Floating disk can handle 500lbs of goods and, assuming crops are under 3ft tall, it will pass overhead without damaging them. Otherwise you need your Servants to move baskets of produce out of fields to the disk, which you then take to your storehouse. The 5-6 Servants you can maintain almost continuously will easily outpace 4 adults.

It gets even more impressive when you add simple machines. Not steam engines, just ropes and pulleys. When you have 12,000lbs of dirt you can move 5ft at will, you have a massive amount of potential energy. Using a half dozen pulleys and around 80ft of heavy rope, you can use the 12,000lbs of dirt as the "engine" to push a platform down 5ft and use the other end of the rope as a host that can lift ~2,000lbs up to 20ft in the air. (It should be closer to 3,000lbs but I am assuming a lot of friction loss). The mage can readily hoist heavy goods up the side of their farmmage tower.

Let's talk about building that tower. The Farmmage has Servants to collect rocks & mix mortar or just fill molds with straw and mud for clay bricks. With a half dozen of them working together, thry can lift one end of a heavy log, Mold Earth a support, repeat at the other end, then use Floating Disk to move the log, with the Servants to help stabilize it. Put it on a suitable Earthen support as you prepare it. Give the Servants simple wood tools to strip the bark and then square it off as needed. It won't be elven artisinal craftsmanship but so what.

Assembling the tower may be complicated as its unclear how well an Unseen Servant can navigate a ladder. So don't. Romans did some incredibly impressive construction by using dirt as a form. Assuming you are willing to completely strip the soil a couple acres around your future tower, you can too. Build the walls up to chest high then use Mold Earth to pile dirt inside and out for bracing. The dirt stabilizes the walls and ensures the work is simple as the walls are never taller than chest high. Installing floors/roof/dome is simple as you lay the bits out on the ground as you affix them together. Place your heavy beams where you need them and let them sit on the ground. When finished, just dig out the building with Mold Earth, top to bottom. Redistribute the dirt as needed.

Of course they could also build a barn but you know, mages like towers. Or maybe a silo....

And there, we have a 1st level farmmage
 

kigmatzomat

Adventurer
The military implications are pretty immense. With just a few days warning, large ditches & earthen walls can be erected around cities. Rivers could be dammed up or diverted, creating large marshes around the city, denying attackers ready access to the area.

Conversely, sappers would be immensely effective as tons of earth steadily flow down the ever expanding tunnels. Trenches for lines of circumvallation could be dug at around a half-mile per hour. Aqueducts could be built almost as quickly. Latrines would be easily managed, cutting down disease. And that 12,000lb block of mobile dirt makes a excellent counterweight for a trebuchet of truly massive proportions.

Unseen Servants could handle many mundane military tasks, like bending wire into rings for chain mail, splitting feathers for arrow fetching, shaping arrow shafts, or just hauling buckets of water to the troops on the wall.

Ritual casting Alarm can protect food and water stores from theft or sabotage or ensuring tunnels intended for escape are not used for intrusion. Familiars act as additional guards and can scout, especially bats and owls that can operate at night.

Any city run by someone with a brain will open a Community Wizard's College. Tuition, room, board is free but you work 1 day a week at the farms, plus a week at planting and a week at harvest until you graduate. After graduation you spend a year working for the City doing public works.

Their farms would produce far more goods. Their roads would be smooth and always repaired. They would have more secure water supplies. Mines would have "pumps" to stay dry and "dirt engines" to get the materials out of the hole. They would have both the free manpower and surplus food to maintain a professional army, that could travel rapidly thanks to the road system.

They could a model city where education is common and the majority of people are skilled labor, living in relative luxury.

Alternately it might be an economic quagmire, where the lives of the unskilled masses are valued less than Unseen Servants which need no food, clothing, or places to sleep. The poor are dirt poor while a "middle" class of skilled labor are constantly chipped away by the mage guild finding a new way to use their Servants or Dirt Engines to reduce the need for skilled workers.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Tax - I do imply that the PCs are expected to pay Tribute to a local ruler or Temple. For non-adventurers these tributes are collected as part of the annual harvest festivals or similar Feast days.

In the region of the Seven Cities (of which Bishnagar is the largest) are found both High-Judges who rule the cities and Low-Judges who administer the Bazaars ensuring that negotiations are fair and witnessed, this includes visitors attempting to sell treasures. The Low-Judges also exchange gold for Dragonmarcs from the Bank of Bishnagar which are tradeable bills of exchange guaranteed by the Dragon Bishnagar who encourages people to deposit coins in his hoard.

For Domain management I use the Hyde (120 acres) with 5 hides to a mile - each Hide is a single holding (village, manor, castle, forest, temple, Wizards tower etc. wilderness is also a Holding type) with each Holdings being taxable.

for divine right of Kings you need to play Birthright but yes, PCs can establsih a Holding too. Indeed multiple authorities can hold influence in the same Domain and how they work it out is politics.

Hallow is another important ritual spell, and plant growth is indeed a boon but I tend to avoid spells getting too medical, alchemist can brew a aphrodisiac or contraceptive elixir if its needed.

as to social mobility I tend to pitch PCs as being freemen, minor aristocracy or the sons of such. Very few real peasant-heroes unless they are specifically followers/servants of a higher status PC.

oh and other than the occasional Pillory or sighting of a corpse in a gibbet, capital punishment is kept in the background, unless the PCs are in a gaol

Spinning off a bit from some discussion in the Dragonlance thread.

D&D derives a lot of its aesthetic and assumed setting from the medieval to renaissance period in Europe. I've just been thinking about some of the historical factors that were enormously prominent, everyday, and important in the real world, but which D&D either neglects completely, or just casually makes assumptions about without really thinking about how the everyday presence of magic and the verifiable existence of a polytheistic pantheon of gods would affect it.

Tax, for instance. It was probably the cause of the majority of medieval wars and uprisings that weren't caused by religious differences. When was the last time your PCs paid taxes? Who does pay the tax in your campaign world? How does money get raised to build castles, city walls, sewers, and roads, or to pay soldiers and bureaucrats? Higher-level PCs are some of the richest people in a campaign setting (other than dragons...) - if they're not paying tax, who is?

Monarchy. Historically, monarchies almost always drew their legitimacy from the endorsement of the Church, who spoke for god. Divine Right of Kings and all that. Are your D&D campaign world monarchies divinely endorsed? If so, by which gods? What do the residents of the kingdom who worship other gods think of this? Does the endorsing god ever revoke their endorsement when a monarch goes off the rails, or starts worshipping something else, and if so, what happens then? If the monarchy is not tied to religion, where does it draw its legitimacy from? And the same with all the lesser aristocracy further down the chain.

Land. Who owns it? Who decides who owns it? There's a lot of Generic Wilderness in most D&D settings, in your setting is this on nominally owned by someone and it's just too monster-haunted for them to use, or is it legitimately unclaimed? Do you have a squattocracy of powerful adventurers picking bits of land out that they like, slaying the monstrous inhabitants and setting up domains of their own regardless of who owns the title in a dusty ledger hundreds of miles away? And even in more rural and tamed areas, or in cities - who owns the land? Is your average farmer or shopkeeper a yeoman who owns a small holding of their own, or are they tenants paying rent to a noble or landlord? And in a world of dungeons and underdarks and subterranean dwarven cities how deep does title run?

Spell lists. Most D&D spells are intended for adventurers obviously, because that's what the game is about. But that leaves a lot of conceptual space for spells that'd be incredibly important in the non-adventuring world. The Ceremony spell is a nice gesture in this direction, and Plant Growth has some great agricultural utility, but there's some fairly obvious gaps. Does your world have people researching/casting spells like Ease Childbirth, or Improve Dwelling, or Increase Fertility, or Accelerate Fermentation, or Grind Grain, or Contraception, or Permanent Dye? If not, why not? Are there any other obvious utility spells that a pre-modern society would have developed that DON'T centre around bashing monsters?

Punishment. Pre-modern societies were very big on corporal punishment. Floggings, hard labor, and mutilations and so on. There's some fairly obvious Rule Zero reasons that this stuff wouldn't be welcome at a lot of tables, but in that case, how do minor crimes get punished? Corporal punishment works because people are afraid of pain and injury, but this is D&D, when most injuries disappear after a good night's sleep and pain (or deprivation, or discomfort, or boredom, or bad food) only matters if you choose to roleplay it. What sort of punishments do your rulers apply? Are there magical options - application of spells like geas?

Social mobility. Ancestry and birth were historically very important. Even if you were rich and successful, if you were low-born you could almost never truly achieve equality of social status with those who were born noble, or high-caste, or royal. How tightly do the nobility guard their class integrity in your world? Can your successful adventurers purchase a title, or can their wealth open doors into high society and will they be genuinely accepted there? Can the commoner hero marry the princess without comment, revolution, or ostracism? But if there's no meaningful dividing lines between noble and commoner, what does being a noble even mean?
 
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reelo

Hero
While I do love me some medieval times (as opposed to Renaissance and later!) I am fully aware that fantasy RPGs unfortunately are bad at implementing actual feudalism.
My ideal setting is one as it existed BEFORE or at the very start of the Middle Ages, i.e. the Migration Period.
It has polytheism, belief in mythic monsters and magic, loosely allied villages and towns relying on charismatic leadership, remnants of a fallen empire (Rome) to explore/uncover, and just enough knowledge and technology for my taste.

Games/settings like "Wolves of God", "Mythic Britain/Logres", "Vikings of Legend" are totally up my alley.
 

The traditional trappings of D&D are post-christianization Western Europe (jarring polytheism notwithstanding).
I think "traditional" is important here. Why is that traditional? I would argue that it's simply because that is the kind of stuff D&D's original creators liked and were interested in.

Fantasy, as a genre, is clearly much broader than that. for example, consider the movie Krull. Released in 1983, when D&D was still young, it is clearly fantasy, yet not remotely Medieval European. And it scored highly in the "best D&D movie" forum game. We shouldn't be surprised that as D&D has passed through different hands it has moved away from the stuff that its original creators were into. And as a result, "medievalism" can no longer be considered a core assumption of modern D&D.

So, what does that mean for players and DMs? I would say that it means that if you want a medieval flavoured game then you have to create it yourself. It isn't in the core rules. It means a lot of well researched world building from the DM, and a buy-in from the players. As suggested earlier, in the next edition of the DMG, medievalism should be addressed as a specific type of setting, in the same way wuxia is addressed in the current iteration.
 

pemerton

Legend
Historically, monarchies almost always drew their legitimacy from the endorsement of the Church, who spoke for god. Divine Right of Kings and all that.
This isn't the whole picture. There is also the "bottom up" theory of kingship in mediaeval political thought - that the monarch owes their position to the support of the nobles whom they rule. Somewhat like a warband leader. The conflict between clerical endorsement and lay election drove a lot of political action.

Spinning off a bit from some discussion in the Dragonlance thread.
The biggest thing for me that comes out of that thread is that D&D relies on many non-modern, non-liberal moral tropes.

Many D&D campaigns involve paladin rulers of good kingdoms. The idea that it is possible to have good, admirable government by way of monarchy isn't reconcilable with liberal democratic values. It's the quintessence of reaction, though a very common fantasy trope (Arthur, Aragorn, even some versions of Robin Hood and King Richard).

A lot of fantasy motifs - whether taken from Homeric tales, or martial arts films, or less romantic mediaeval-type stuff - emphasise honour, loyalty, and similar values around personal charisma and personal standing. And consensual submission to violence (eg duelling; or the rather casual use of lethal violence against those who are themselves ready to use it, like bandits and hobgoblins and castle guards). There are also issues of hubris and humility. These sorts of values don't fit very well within a humanist morality.

Maybe with a bit of squinting and clever argument bits and pieces of this can be reframed to fit within a modern value system. But to me it makes more sense to acknowledge that when we play a fantasy RPG, we imaginatively project ourselves into a different, "mythic" or "romantic", moral universe.
 


pointofyou

Adventurer
This isn't the whole picture. There is also the "bottom up" theory of kingship in mediaeval political thought - that the monarch owes their position to the support of the nobles whom they rule. Somewhat like a warband leader. The conflict between clerical endorsement and lay election drove a lot of political action.


The biggest thing for me that comes out of that thread is that D&D relies on many non-modern, non-liberal moral tropes.

Many D&D campaigns involve paladin rulers of good kingdoms. The idea that it is possible to have good, admirable government by way of monarchy isn't reconcilable with liberal democratic values. It's the quintessence of reaction, though a very common fantasy trope (Arthur, Aragorn, even some versions of Robin Hood and King Richard).

A lot of fantasy motifs - whether taken from Homeric tales, or martial arts films, or less romantic mediaeval-type stuff - emphasise honour, loyalty, and similar values around personal charisma and personal standing. And consensual submission to violence (eg duelling; or the rather casual use of lethal violence against those who are themselves ready to use it, like bandits and hobgoblins and castle guards). There are also issues of hubris and humility. These sorts of values don't fit very well within a humanist morality.

Maybe with a bit of squinting and clever argument bits and pieces of this can be reframed to fit within a modern value system. But to me it makes more sense to acknowledge that when we play a fantasy RPG, we imaginatively project ourselves into a different, "mythic" or "romantic", moral universe.
I agree with your last paragraph that we project ourselves into the setting but I think that is perhaps true to the extent we are the audience for the game. To the extent we are the authors of the game I think we are perhaps attempting to create a setting that is consistent with our values and our understanding of how the world works. I don't see much if any conflict between those.
 

Huh. Just last week I was doing the math on how 1st level magic would impact farming. So guess here is where my data dump goes:

Premise : A 1st level mage is equivalent to a modern 100hp utility tractor complete with implements and can effectively, and consistently, out-perform 4 adult farmers while barely breaking a sweat.
I was going to agree but quibble over details until I realized that a) unseen servant and floating disk don't take concentration, b) ritual casting is only 10 minutes, not an hour, c) active spells remain active while ritually casting another spell. Instead of harvesting 2 acres per day with a cradle scythe and a second person gathering, that could go to 6-8 acres per day with the farmmage and a helper. Depending on the commonality of magic, that could be family or village changing.
 



I think these kind of things are great fun to consider and discuss!

The first thing in my mind is the commonality of magic. kigmatzomat makes a great point about how a first level magician can improve farming. But, it is irrelevant if there is only one guy in the county that can do it. How common do you all perceive formalized magic (i.e. PC level magic) in your campaigns?
 

I think these kind of things are great fun to consider and discuss!

The first thing in my mind is the commonality of magic. kigmatzomat makes a great point about how a first level magician can improve farming. But, it is irrelevant if there is only one guy in the county that can do it. How common do you all perceive formalized magic (i.e. PC level magic) in your campaigns?
but if it is a learned skill that 1 guy can teach how many apprentices? and they can teach how many more? even an Int 8 commoner CAN learn it in theory without caster stat checks'

edit: and even in game worlds with rare casters (and that is a rare setting today) I don't know any that has 1 per kingdom, heck most have more then 1 per city
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
I think these kind of things are great fun to consider and discuss!

The first thing in my mind is the commonality of magic. kigmatzomat makes a great point about how a first level magician can improve farming. But, it is irrelevant if there is only one guy in the county that can do it. How common do you all perceive formalized magic (i.e. PC level magic) in your campaigns?
That depends on the world, but it makes zero sense to me that magic would be as rare as all that. PCs aren't special, and even if they were, where did  they learn magic from?
 

but if it is a learned skill that 1 guy can teach how many apprentices? and they can teach how many more? even an Int 8 commoner CAN learn it in theory without caster stat checks'
Well, I don't know.

For my campaign, magic requires talent. Sorcerers have an excess of it, and don't need any formal training. They often get by with a tragic backstory. Wizards have an average amount, and with proper training they are able to cast spells. Warlocks may or may not have talent. The pact allows them to use magic either with no training or no talent. Also, you need an Intelligence of 10 + spell level to understand a given spell. So you'll need to find peasants with an Intelligence of 11 or better (~45%, I think?). Again, IMC.

The farm mage being first level may not understand the techniques well enough to teach them. His friends an neighbors may not have the talent or be able to understand.
 

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