Fumbles in adventure design
Copyright Robert Wenner ©2003
Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion
Everybody knows that, in a medieval setting at least, you cannot take the fingerprints of the dagger grip to
find out who murdered the old Duke. Some other pitfalls for adventure
designers may be less obvious. The following list (certainly incomplete,
but all seen in real life) gives a hint on what not to use in your
"Let's meet in the city park at noon!" -- but not in a medieval
town! Europe's medieval towns are known for their narrow, small, twisted
streets and overhanging houses, almost touching each others' roofs over the
middle of the street. There simply was no room for bushes, trees and the
like. Cities had to be protected with expensive city walls and each and every
square foot inside the protective walls was used for occupation. And, who needs
some garden inside the city whenever there are fields, forests and wilderness
just outside the city wall? Remember there is no industrial
age air pollution, no cars or heavy industry to degrade the environment. Protecting nature
wasn't an issue, either, being protected from the vicissitudes of nature was.
Ordinary folk did not even have the time to sit around relaxing.
Daily work took all the time a day had.
A contrast to this are the luxurious parks around past-medieval chateaux and
mansions. But even those were neither inside a city nor a public area.
The characters have damaged the tavern, drawn their weapons in the bar brawl
for no reason, and now the city guards come for them. Some players may think
"No problem, that will be two or three days in prison, so what...? "
Wrong: prison wasn't a usual punishment for ordinary people.
After all, just imagine the costs: building a safe prison, have people work
there, and finally pay (in terms of providing food) for the criminals? Prisons were used
for important people you just could not execute (or have murdered), or for individuals
that you wanted to keep away from somewhere else for political reasons.
Ordinary criminals were put in the stocks, flogged, thrown out of the city, or just executed, saving
the ruling classes much unnecessary expense.
"You recognize the writer's poor spelling and grammar..." --
not in medieval times. Everyone could write as he liked (if he could). There
was no common agreement on how to write. Maybe some monasteries or guilds have
their own style, but writing and spelling only became standardised long after the
invention of the printing press.
No common way of writing, and no dictionaries. There was no need for
dictionaries, after all most people could not read or write, and if they
could they already knew the language. Anyway, who would really go away from
home? Those who knew the language would not need a dictionary and those who
did not had to learn by using the language -- or by paying a teacher.
So, don't allow your players to buy a dictionary if they want to travel to
foreign countries. Have them hire someone to translate.