Monday, August 15, 2016

Medieval vs. Early Modern

I've been reading some of the archived posts from Against the Wicked City. This one, Medieval vs Early Modern, from about a year ago is interesting. I'll run down the 7 items on his list from an earth timeline and also talk about some thoughts for my Honor+Intrigue campaign.

1: Everyone has guns.

Guns, or gonnes, are a medieval technology. But they aren't commonly in use until the early modern period. By 1620 every military and naval unit and many, probably most, bands of brigands and highwaymen will have some people armed with guns. In town, carrying guns seems socially or legally problematic - at least from what I've read both fiction and history. This is also the way I've tried to run my H+I campaign. I've gotten the players used to the idea that guns need to be hidden in town when carried. And, unknown to them, when they go about town armed to the teeth I frequently roll to see if they encounter or are observed by a patrol of Paris Archers or other guards. They've been lucky so far.

2: Telescopes exist.

Telescopes or their smaller versions, which I call spyglasses, are available, but rare. One PC (a nobleman and a spy) routinely carries a spyglass when traveling. Here is the entry from my equipment table (L stands for livres):

  • Spyglass (called a 'longue-vue' in French) x8 power; Cost: 30 L 

3: Printing is commonplace.

By the 1620s newspapers, newsheets, and broadsheets all exist and books are much more readily available and are increasingly written in common languages other than Latin. I've done a number of posts on the effects of printing including: Oldest Newspapers, Newspapers and Broadsheets, Newsheets and Gazettes, and Magical Writings. Here are some relevant entries from my equipment table:
  • Pamphlet: cheap printed news-sheet, full of Faction propaganda, news of war, or tales of crime/witchery; Cost: 1-2 sous.
  • Bible: A well bound copy of the Bible; Cost: 6-10 L
  • Ordinary Book (150-200 pages); Cost: 2-3 L
  • Maps (France, Europe, or New World); Cost: 8 L each
  • Printing Press: can be dismantled and carried on a cart; prints books, pamphlets, religious tracts, etc; Cost: 150 L
 EDIT: This post on the cost of books might also be of interest.

 4: People have access to stimulants as well as depressants

My recollection is that coffee is effectively introduced to Europe later in the 17th century. First in Venice or Vienna (one of those V cities) and later spreading to Paris, London, and other cities. One wealthy and well connected NPC introduced one of the PCs to coffee, but it isn't readily available. The Wicked City posts are inspiring me to anachronistically introduce coffee early so PCs can use it and so that coffee shops appear sooner. It is something to ponder.

Chocolate was introduced sooner via the Spanish and their colonies in the New World. I've used chocolate as a stimulant in the form of a strong, hot, bitter drink. The PCs encountered it in the Spanish Netherlands and one or two PCs are regular imbibers of hot chocalate. Guy de Bourges who is a fashionable courtier and spy serves hot chocolate to his favored guests. 

Tobacco was introduced to the English and others by this time. None of the PCs have picked up the smoking habit, though the hot chocolate loving courtier also uses snuff.

5: People have access to painkillers

Opium use is completely routine. Forget what you think you know about opiates: your character swigs laudanum, or swallows opium, in exactly the same way that you take aspirin or paracetamol. Most people do this without becoming addicts, or suffering serious side-effects, although a character with the fatal combination of chronic pain and a low wisdom score may very well end up as an opium-eater. Given how frequently adventurers get hurt, opium is probably something they use a great deal, and it would never occur to them to think there was anything wrong with this. Sure, sometimes they get trippy dreams after a heavy dose, but what's the harm in that?

The information on opium and laudanum is interesting. I associate that with a 19th century vibe, but it seems I'll have to look up laudanum and opium to see if it should be added to the price list as something available from apothecaries in the 1620s and also something used or required by healers and physicians when healing lost Lifeblood. In play so far, Guy de Bourges has long had a trusted companion and valet who is an apothecary. This has introduced various pain killers and soporifics, though we haven't specified the exact nature of most drugs, poisons, or antidotes. 

6: People might have access to phosphorus

Alchemists have access to phosphorus. It and Greek Fire have shown up in the hands of NPCs. So far the PCs haven't tried to acquire either.

7: Rich people have pocket-watches

They also let you look like a really smooth bastard. I mean, a pocket watch. On a chain. Which your character can consult in between puffs on her tobacco pipe, while looking out for enemies through a spyglass and gulping down black coffee to help her stay awake, with three loaded pistols shoved into her belt and a musket lying at her feet. Tell me that's not cooler than yet another sub-medieval adventurer sitting around by a campfire with a sword across his knees, waiting to be attacked by 2d6 goblins. Of course it is. You know it. You know it in your heart.

Not just pocket watches, but also compasses and pocket calculators (slide rules). Several courtier characters (PCs and NPCs) carry pocket watches, one acquired a compass after directionlessly  blundering about in the Paris underworld, and even before that the PCs came across a rare circular slide rule. Here are some entries for equipment.

  • Watch, silver pocket watch and chain; Cost: 24 L
  • Watch, gold pocket watch and chain; Cost: 40 L
  • Watchmaker’s Tools: Cost: 32 L
  • Compass: A magnetic compass, housed in a wooden, ivory or brass fitting. A lodestone is used to magnetize the piece. Cost: 8 L
  • Compass; Cost: 125 L

While I have two equipment entries for compasses, I'm not sure why the costs are so different. Ive assumed that the 8L version is simple pocket compass of only moderate accuracy, while the 125 L version is a large brass and wood ship's compass which is considerably more accurate. I think I may up the cost of the pocket compass to match the price of a pocket watch. 

Anyone have sources for historical pricing?


  1. Glad you found the blog post useful! Coffee and opium both become widespread in the Middle East before they catch on in Europe, which is why they play such a prominent role in ATWC, but even Britain had cafes by the 1650s - and, as you note, very dark and bitter chocolate was playing a similar role a generation earlier. Where I've really taken a liberty with history is presenting printing as being widespread in early modern alt-Asia, whereas in fact the only printing presses in operation there at the time were in the occasional monastery: I seem to recall that the Ottoman empire got its printed books from Venice, because it had no printers of its own. In Europe they'll fit right in, though!

  2. They had movable printing presses in that time period. They were used in France during the Religious Wars for printing pamphlets and broadsides and such. Then the government tried to stamp out those presses.

    You could probably get an adventure or 3 out of the PCs needing to

    a) transport or guard the transport of a movable press somewhere so that pamphleteers can print their propaganda. Meanwhile the ruler or government they are opposed to wants to stop the presses.

    b) The PCs could be the one's trying to find the secret press and destroy it.

    c) The PCs could take the printed broadsides and such to another city so they can be distributed. "You guys take these reams of paper and once you get to the Wicked City pass them out, put them up on walls, etc."

    d) The PCs could be hired to get the press past the closing governmental blockade and safely to freedom so it can continue printing.

    Just some thoughts.