Having done a piece on meta-gaming and realism, I find myself needing to provide some reference for my position in certain matters. I've never found a better description for my type of "world" than that given in the book "1066: The Year of the Conquest," by David Howarth.
In this publication, Mr. Howarth gives us a description of village life at the time of William's invasion of England. He uses the village of Horstede to demonstrate the lifestyle. Horstede was located in Sussex and very near to William's landing spot. Life in this small village went something like this:
"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, where men would venture by day to herd their pigs or gather logs for winter, but would not willingly spend the night for fear of wolves and spirits . . . 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." Page 12.
"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 several hundred miles above, or of the relative positions of places in it. He lived in a world that had his own village as the center of it." Page 13.
"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 great events of the time were written down by monks in their chronicles and so became history; but to the men and women who were living in the villages of England then, they were only oral tales of distant happenings, more or less twisted in the telling." Page 13.
"The thane, whose name was Ulfer . . . was the only man in the village likely to travel far. He had to appear and share judgment in 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." Page 19.
"Above all, Ulfer was the man who had to give military service. Thanes, or perhaps their sons or deputies when they grew old, were the mainstay of the fyrd, the army the King could call out, or the earls on the King's behalf, to defend the realm . . . Horstede was less isolated than many of the villages of England; for one thing there was another separate and rather smaller village only a mile away on the other side of the millstream. It was called Gorde, and was held by a thane named Helghi . . . Only twelve miles away . . . was the town of Lewes which may have had as a many as a thousand people. The Roman road from Lewes to London, which carried a good many travelers, passed with a couple of miles of Horstede; . . . Thus, physically, Horstede people could reach the outside world without much trouble in 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, 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." Pages 20 & 21.
"There was only one link that joined Horstede to the social system of England, but it wasn't the town, it was the hundred. Horstede . . . organized its own affairs at a village meeting, a moot, and if they had a problem that they could not solve they took it to the hundred moot. Above that was the shire moot, and above all the witena gemot . . . One senior citizen of Horstede would therefore ride out once a month . . . to solve the problems . . . in the hundred. But his way was not to town (Lewes) . . . (but) in the opposite direction, into the forest . . . its moot was held in another village called Flesching, no larger than Horstede." Page 21.
"Thus the ten mile trek through the woods to Flesching was Horstede's source of help and justice and news, the tenuous thread that bound the village (Horstede) into the life of England." Page 22.
And there you have it. Though only a few miles from anywhere, the villagers felt little need in traveling. Their news and "justice" did not come from "the big city," but from another village where their "hundred moot" met to reconcile matters. This is how I view my Greyhawk. My Flanaess is not a place of six billion people.
So let us place the village of Horstede near Greyhawk's Hool Marshes. A young man growing up in such a "Horstede" would no doubt learn about Lizardmen and Bullywugs, but why would he grow up knowing about Orcs (hills), Bugbears (mountains) or Quaggoths (underdark)?
So our young man decides to be "different" from his fellow villagers and . . . leaves! Ta da! We have ourselves a 1st level Adventurer! Now, just how much is this 1st level Character going to know about the world's monsters? As I said above, he's not even going to know a great deal about "mundane" monsters like Orcs, where does that leave the more exotic kind?
It has been said that our Adventurer would have at least heard of such creatures, but would he? My world works much like what is described above. Storytellers of any stripe do their best to captivate their audience. This is done with stories of Dragons and Sea Serpents, Unicorns and Faeire Princesses, Vampires and Ghost stories, not with Orcs and Bugbears. Why, even our visiting Peddler may not have heard of those creatures. It would depend upon how widely travelled he was and if he wasn't the "stranger" spoken of above, then he probably wasn't that widely traveled.
Even the long lived Elves will be occupied with the denizens of the Underdark known as Drow, not Quaggoths and Illithids. That's why you see the "young" adventuring Elves questioning their elders in all the movies and books, getting information that only the "most learned" among their people know; the "ancient" tales.
And the Core Books, themselves, tell us that very few -- apart from the Illithids themselves – know about Alhoons, the Undead Sorcerers of their kind. So how would a 1st or 2nd level character – even a Wizard type – "recognize" an Alhoon when he saw it? The information on such a creature would, in itself, be hard to come by. Getting such information could be an adventure in itself!
Characters from the "big city" have their own limitations, which we can discuss in another post, since I'm sure this one won't be the last of these. But this should give a clearer view of why I don't like my 1st and 2nd level characters to know too much about the more exotic monsters of the game. In my world, they really haven't had the opportunity to learn about them.
That's why they're adventuring.
Oh! Horstede is still there, by the way. Today it's called "Little Horsted." It's not far north of Beachy Head.