Thursday, March 26, 2015

Of Overlords, Kings and Barons, Building a Feudal Setting Part 5

Continuing a series of posts detailing how I developed the feudal system of the City-State in my Majestic Wilderlands campaign.

Remember this is a broad overview focused on concepts that are gamable as opposed to being focused on recreating history.

Historically the general view of medieval society was that the it was divided into three major segments; those who toil (peasants), those who pray (priests), and those who rule (nobles). The major exception to this orderly view of society were the towns.

Towns are large settlements of people. Many towns in our Middle Age were surviving urban settlements from the Roman Empire along with some newer settlements. Their existence depended on trade. Because of that, and because that the cost of transport by water is an order of magnitude less than transport by land, most towns were on a navigable river or the coast.

And the size of the town were a small portion of the overall population. Medieval agriculture did not have the surplus to support a large urban population. The percentage of Urban population ranged from 5% to 10% through the medieval period.

Here is the magic and fantasy assumption of D&D and similar games will have the biggest impact. My general rule of thumb is that D&D style magic allows for a 20% improvement in the overall quality of life as an average for everybody. The reason that it isn't higher because people don't realize all the things they could be doing with magic in the way that an individual from 21st century would know. Also the life of the wealthiest and the life of certain narrow segment of society (like mage's guild) would approach 18th, 19th century levels of quality.

So what makes a town a town. While population helps what really makes the town is its market. Or rather it right to hold an official market where people and buy, sell, and trade. It is the market that drives the town's existence and as a right it is highly prized. Also it can be a point of contention especially if two sizable markets are close to each other.

Market's are lucrative sources of revenue. Often a market grant is a prerogative of the sovereign alone. The demands of administering markets was one of the major reasons that lead to the centralization of royal power in the late middle ages.

Finally markets are so lucrative that towns are often able to purchase their emancipation from any feudal overlord except for the sovereign. Anybody who lives in the town is considered a free man and entitled to the sovereign's justice.

Also because of the more sophisticated economics of a town, the legal system is more focused on economic crimes particularly crimes of privileges. A lot of medieval economics are about monopolies. People pay the sovereign the right to make X or to trade in X, or to handle trade in a specific region. And they expect that right to be enforce against competitors.

Like much of medieval society markets have a hierarchy. As the lowest level are the market villages. They are ordinary villages that have the right to hold a periodic market. These markets are the first tier in funneling what the manor produces to the nearest town. Also they are the last stop for goods going from the towns to the manor. Market village will typically be twice the size of an ordinary village, have around a dozen shops compared to the 3 to 5 shops of an ordinary village.

An ordinary village may have a smith, carpenter, charcoaler, miller, and a tanner. Possibly a tavern catering to the local. A market village would have these and a selection of what could be found in the towns however likely none of the businesses engaged in a luxury trade. For example scribes but not goldsmiths, chandlers but not jewellers. An exception would be if the market village is in a region whoes economy is devoted to producing a specialized item. For example Noresun is the hub of several gold mines and has 3 engineers and 4 goldsmiths working in the village.

Next step are the local towns. These are the hub of a region and funnel the trade of three to eight market village. They won't have everything a city would but there is a high chance that several of the luxury trade shops would be present catering to the local elite.

Finally there are the cities. These are at the center of a far flung trade network funneling the output of a dozen towns, dozens of market villages, and hundreds of manors to the city's markets.

I recommend using S John Ross' medieval demographics to get a sense of how many settlements of different sizes there would be in a realm. There are several on-line calculators like this.  D&D fantasy setting tend to have lower populations and just as important lower population density then historical societies.

Also note if you want to generate what in the town, you can use Medieval Demographics or my own Fantasy Demographics which is my take on the sources that S John Ross used. Note that I don't cover population density like Ross' Medieval Demographics.

Finally there are the fairs. In one sense they are just markets but only held one or twice a year. Fairs were the great events of medieval economics and like the hierarchy of markets there were a hierarchy of fairs. Also some fairs are specialized for example many English fairs were centered around the wool trade.

Next I will talk about religion in a feudal and then finally into the specifics of the Majestic Wilderlands.

1 comment:

Troy Whitney said...

This is a great series of articles on how to set up a feudal system. I will have to send GMs for
over to this set of articles. This will really help those that are not sure how to set things up build a great campaign setting. Thanks! Keep up the great articles.