What kind of setting do you like to DM?
Me? I'm a “Late Dark Ages - Early Middle Ages” kind of guy – say
900 AD to about 1200 AD. This is the age before full plate armor.
Personally, I prefer that my players not have access to anything more
substantial than half-plate, but you can well imagine how hard that
edict is to enforce! So full plate armor is my one “exception to
the rule.” It's an “exception” in that plate armor and
gunpowder co-existed for quite some time (the 16th Century saw the "arrival" of flintlocks), but I absolutely do
not allow gunpowder in my game.
So, what type of setting do I like to DM?
I can best answer that question by quoting from the book: "1066
The Year of the Conquest," pages 12-19. This is the year that
William the Conqueror invaded England. These particular pages
describe “life” in the village of Horstede, which existed at the
time of William's invasion and was located only a very few miles from
where William's forces actually landed. I reprint the information
here, for your consideration:
"A village was surrounded by a fence, and its land by another
outer fence. Beyond that were miles and miles of primeval forest and
heath, empty and wild . . . For ordinary people, to see the nearest
town might be the event of a year or even a lifetime, and to meet a
stranger was a nine days wonder. If a traveler approached the
village, he blew a horn before he crossed the outer fence to show he
was coming openly. . . .
"Within his own village, an Englishman knew everybody and
almost every tree and animal. . . . But he had no conception of a
map, no mental image of the shape of the country as it might be seen
from hundreds of miles above, or of the relative positions of places
in it. . . . He lived in a world that had his own village as its
center. . . .
"Conversely, the news of the outside world that came into the
village was vague, brought by peddlers, or filtering down from mouth
to mouth from the house of the Lord, or rumored at the occasional
district meetings. . . .
". . . The Thane, whose name was Ulfer . . . was the only man
in the village likely to travel far . . . he had to appear and share
judgment of crimes and disputes in the hundred court, which met once
a month, and perhaps in the shire court which heard more serious
cases twice a year. . . .
"Horstede was less isolated than many of the villages of
England . . . Horstede people could reach the outside world without
much trouble if they wanted to. But isolation, imposed on most
villages by distance, was also an attitude of mind. There was no
reason for them to go to Lewes (12 miles away), except on an annual
expedition to sell the produce they could spare; no reason ever for
them to cross the river to the Roman road (2 miles distant). No doubt
when they did go to town they felt out of place and a little
apprehensive, like any country people, and were glad to get home
again. . . .
"There was one link that joined Horstede to the social system
of England, but it was not the town, it was 'the hundred.' Though
rule at the top was autocratic, the English of that age were great
committee men. Horstede, and any other village, organized its own
affairs at a village meeting, a moot, and if they had a problem they
could not solve they took it to the hundred moot. Above that was the
shire moot, and above all the witena gemot, the embryo parliament
which advised the King. . . .
"One senior citizen of Horstede would therefore ride out once
a month . . . to attend the hundred moot."
I invite you to keep in mind that this description shows village
life as it was approximately 500 years after the supposed reign of
King Arthur, who historians now believe was based upon a real –
though minor – Saxon king.
This information helps us to appreciate that in our own real
history “ordinary people” – the simple farmers and fishermen –
did not travel very far from their place of birth during their entire
lives. In addition, the inhabitants of the “village” did not
receive all the "latest news” and what news of the outside
world they did receive was usually distorted in some form, or fashion. All
of this helps us to appreciate that the population was rather thinly
spread out. Also, as was shown above, the isolation that the villagers
experienced was – to a considerable extent – self-imposed. It was
an attitude they, themselves, had. The “ordinary people” of the village
couldn't have given a wandering traveler directions to London – they had no
idea where it was in relation to their own village.
In my game world, the population is just as “thin” as it was
during the time of William the Conqueror, and the “ordinary people”
just as “out of touch” with the “greater world” lying outside
of their immediate environs. That's the type of setting that I like.
In my opinion, it makes for a much better “hero” generating
environment. It makes it rather easy to conceive of the people living
in such remote isolation – during a time of crisis – as spending
much of their time wondering just “who” was going to rescue them
from “the Orcs” threatening their existence? Or were they about to be wiped out? After all, the
villagers in question are not warriors, or fighters – they're just
farmers; tending their flocks, their herds and their fields.
And so, in my game . . . along comes a “hero/heroine,” the
proverbial “knight in shining armor," who receives the “hero's
welcome” he/she will so richly deserve. This is the game I play,
sans 21st Century morals and sensibilities. The people of those times
simply did not “see” things the way we do today. Consider the "Slavers" modules; it would be easy for some of the people of our time to be offend by those, even though no offense was or is meant. That's simply the way the world worked back then and that time period is the game's over-all setting.
I try to
incorporate as much of that atmosphere, that “feeling,” into my
game as I can. That will bring us around to languages in the next post. Given Horstede's isolation, it is doubtful that any of it's citizens were bilingual. "Common" anyone?
So, how do you play it?