Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph and Francis Gies is a must-have book for any medieval fantasy game. Period. I do not use terms like “must have” very often because it implies that the lack of this book somehow makes you a lesser game master than those that do own it.
In this case, it is absolutely true.
I often speak about the need for more history in role-playing campaigns, especially those based somewhat in a real world. It adds a level of realism to an otherwise fantastical environment. Sadly, many game masters base their medieval worlds on Hollywood’s shallow and flat wrong portrayal of history.
LinMC has twelve chapters covering everything from the traditional knights and castles to women’s role in daily life and how the household operates. This last category covers the low-level “nuts and bolts” activities that occur every day in a castle and I found the most interesting. Not every day in castle life involves a siege or battle and the lord (or lady) was often more of a manager than a war leader. There is bookkeeping, sheep shearing, repairs and hundreds of other activities keeping the castle functional. Hollywood does a miserable job of portraying the dull drudgery that made up daily castle life. Castle’s are very exciting to us, but for the inhabitants it was just as dull as our current day jobs.
One chapter describes a year in castle life, complete with holidays and feudal responsibilities to the peasantry. I had no idea that the lord provided holiday dinner at points during the year to his serfs or how serf justice worked. Justice which bears more than a passing resemblance to a modern American jury system. Fascinating.
The last chapter is a sad affair describing the fall of the castle idea. The authors betray a bit of personal sadness that the mighty castles of old are now ruins, bereft of their former glory.
Still, as a resource for game masters, this book is amazing. Dropping trivia from this book into a campaign will surprise and amaze your players.
Remember, reality makes for better gaming.
Oh, the same authors have an entire series of “life in” books (Life in a Medieval City and Life in a Medieval Village) that I will check out in the near future. Here are the Amazon links if you are interested in getting a jump on me. 😉
Trask, The Last Tyromancer