Monday, August 4, 2014

Making It At Home

The biggest thing that's been phased out of real medieval life when it comes to D&D is just how much was done in the household. That is, we as moderns are used to stores, restaurants, pubs, taverns, bars, hotels, etc. I've harped on this subject time and again in the past on this blog, but I think the time has come to bring it up anew. Purchasing, for example, beer was rarely done in large quantities in the middle ages because you made your own. Taverns for the most part didn't exist—when you were finished with a big batch of beer or ale you'd invite the town in (hence, a public house) to buy your wife's wares and drink with you for that night, or on the succeeding nights. Most towns and villages wouldn't have a dedicated place for travelers to stay when they were coming through. Rather, you'd be well-served if you could find a local farmhouse (rather a large affair) and pay in labor (perhaps splitting wood, singing if you sing, mending pots if you mend, etc.) in exchange for a place to sleep, whether on the ground by the fire, in the loft in the byre, or out in the stables.

"Brands" of ale, wine, and beer didn't exist. You would drink the damn stuff that was made locally—and that's that. Large foundations such as abbeys might be able to sell it on the marketplace, but you'd never know where it was from for the most part. Things were identified by the region from whence they came. As part of the effort to grittify and medievalify D&D a little bit, here are some charts and other such things.

The Farm
Open hall buildings were pretty much the standard for medieval farm-houses. The hall is the heart of the farmhouse, since its warmed by the hearth and that is where all the cooking is done. The lofts on either side could store grain or fruit gathered in the harvest. The pantry and buttery were more likely only present in very fine farms or townhouses—most farmer's houses would instead have been undivided, making a single great hall. In many cases, animals could have (and would have) been stabled here as well.
You'd also have laborer's cottages on a large or wealthy farm, though the laborers would eat in the farmhouse with the family. This example is a timber-framed house with wattle and daub, but some farms may have been of stone. Wattle and daub were extremely common in urbanized settlements.

Approximation of a centrally located cooking hearth (12th century)

This town has no inn. Where can I sleep?
1. Local lord is willing to put you up in his hall. He may do this in exchange for a story, for work (probably adventuring work), or for some silver.
2-3. There's a local abbey nearby that will house the PCs for free.
4-11. A moderately wealthy farmer and his family and servants. They'll want everyone to pitch in: someone chops wood, someone else stokes the fire, etc.
12-15. A shepherd is willing to share his hovel with the PCs and has some beer laid by to pass around.
An artisan, such as a blacksmith, or a goldsmith. They'll want to be paid. 
16-17. One of the houses in the village is a public house tonight, and if the PCs agree to assist in selling the ale they'll be given places to sleep.
18-19. A local temple will allow the PCs to sleep on their property for a handful of silver or the promise of chores.
20. There's nowhere to sleep indoors in this town! The farmers are all abed or unwilling to trust the dangerous-looking PCs and they are left to fend for themselves as though in the wild. 5% chance that someone attempts to pilfer from their camp in the night.

I just arrived at a local domicile. What's it like?
1. Smallhold farmer, very narrow house, no servants. The farmer has a wife and 1d8 living children that assist him.
2. Wealthy farmer, whether free or servile. Large hall. He has a wife, 2d4 children, and 2d6 servants living on his land with him. Servants may have separate lodgings.
3. Miller. Wife and 1d6-1 children. Wealthy, but untrusted by the town. Knows all the news, since everyone comes to grind their grain at his mill.
4. Whitesmith. Wealthy, probably a little standoffish. Very wary of allowing adventurers into his house, since it contains a fair amount of precious metal.
5. Blacksmith. House attached to a workshop with at least one joining wall of stone to prevent the spread of fires.
6. Priest's house. Adjoins a temple, most likely. The priest has 2d4+1 servants to work his land. Probably willing to chat and share a meal.


  1. Great article. I'm willing to hand-wave the tavern / inn assumptions for larger cities (and the trope has its place) but this is a great example for handling smaller towns and villages.

    1. Thanks. I'm of the same opinion (and there may have been inns or taverns in larger urban centers, some recent research suggests tavern-like buildings in a 13th-14th century setting) because the inn/tavern is just so damn useful for the game.