Children in History

THERE IS SOME HUBBUB ABOUT A NEW PRODUCT that has brought to many, a sense of disgust. I shan’t be giving this specific product any more attention then it already has. Of course finding out what it is will only take a few second for my readers, but that is beyond the point.

I really do strive to keep it PG around here, but this will be one of the times where parents may not agree with me that I am riding the line properly. To them, I am sorry.

History itself his many lessons to teach us, but when it comes to certain topics, those whom bring forth this knowledge are made to pay. It is outrageous! I am glad that people still get upset about such things, it proves that we aren’t morally bankrupt or dead. Probably the biggest changes that we have made as a species, is how we raise and treat children, as well as their roles in society.

I’m not going to beat around the bush, this article isn’t going to be nice. Conditions of the world itself demanded a different set of rules. The life expectancy for any one person was 10 to 27-years-old depending on when and where you were born. There was no such thing as birth control, families often had too many children, and many children were conceived as the result of a crime which was committed upon them.

In our ancestors defense, they didn’t have as much free time as we do today, they never got a chance to sit and ponder the philosophy of Child Rearing. They never got a chance to do much thinking of any kind, work was backbreaking and exhausting. This is the average, therefore our leisure and happiness is not the norm when looking back through the ages, it is a very rare exception!


All one has to really do is just look at the daily activity of a society to understand. The role of a man was harsh. If he was lucky to have a job it wasn’t one of those eight hour deals. He didn’t get paid by the hour. If he had a skill he worked from the time that he got up until the time that he went to bed.

Women had it no better. Their jobs were in the home, cooking was an all day thing. Where do children fit into this? Well the obvious answer is that they don’t! Children were used as extra labor. In the rural communities your life was better then in the city. City life for a child was hellish.

In the city, your average family was broken. Your mother and father were typically addicted to vice. Homes were rare and you spent your entire life barely scraping by. Adult life was unbearable, children were often left to their own devices.

It was expectable to abandon newborn children. It wasn’t just acceptable, it was required! You barely have enough money to get food and shelter for yourself! People would try to give the babies to friends or family who may be in a better position then you, but your options are limited.

Babies left abandoned either died from exposure, were eaten by stray dogs, or picked up by someone who would keep the child as there own, but, more often then not, as a pet or a slave.

The rich did not raise their own children, they hired this job out. Everybody below this scale had a more difficult time, the hardest part was waiting for a child to grow to the age of 5, THEN the child could start giving back.


In the 1900’s people threw a fit because this was the year that children were ordered by the government to be educated at the expense of their parents. For the first time in history, it actually COST money to have a child, needless to say this went over about as well as a pig in a bathing suit. Education is still a fairly new concept. Many societies had schools, however only the very rich could afford them. For the rest of us, there was labor!

Rural families, of course worked beside their kids. One spent their entire life within the 15-25 miles of which they were born. City kids also had to work, many jobs were designated as “YOUTH JOBS“. These weren’t easy, we are talking about mining ore and other harsh physical labor! Typically, for a job of this kind your father would sell you. In Rome, you were allowed to sell boys up to 3 times. By law, on the forth time the child was worthless and had to be given away for free.

If you were a lucky child, your father could find a tradesman who will except you. You’d be an apprentice, cleaning up the work space, helping the craftsman with extremely labor intensive and highly dangerous work. With so many children running around, you didn’t have very long to make a good impression. The bulk of the children failed at this job and were forced to roam the streets aimlessly doing petty work, or worse.

This was for boys, girls had it much worse. Poor families who were slaves themselves just couldn’t afford too many girls. Maybe 1 if they were wealthy enough. These girls could only help their mother, and were judged worthless until they were of marrying age. The age of marriage was between 11 and 17, anything older then seventeen; you were judged as too old, and guess what happened to them!


Prostitution was always the fastest way to earn a buck, and both boys and girls partook in this trade. It is disgusting, however this sad life was even prevalent in American cities up to the early 1900’s, before the state really decided to crack down on it. It is still an active problem in some Eastern Cultures, and it does still happen under our own noses right here in the West. People have always been sick, this isn’t a new trend.


By the age of 13, you were considered to be an adult. Until this time all of the money that you have earned went directly to your parents. Of course, it wasn’t rare to have all of the living generations of a family living in the same tiny house. With women being so rare, since they are more expensive to raise, your chances of getting married aren’t very good. Women were considered to be an investment! They could bring more wealth to the family, well they had to potential to anyway.


The spur in people’s goats right now is the details of casting a spell that requires the sacrifice of a human. Human sacrifice was rare, at least when it comes to sacrificing your own blood. In fact, the only faith that I know of that actually practiced this was the Celts who would sacrifice a local baby boy every year and eat it. Most of the time it was either animals (which were equally expensive) or captured enemies.


Where does this stuff belong in the games that we play? Well, it depends on our own style, just like it always has! Much of this stuff is simply fluff. We play more fantastic worlds then anything else, however the very idea of children in the game is often ignored. Normally the only time that we see them, they are either being kidnapped or living healthy, happy lives while playing “ring around the rosy” in their parents yards.

THIS IS FINE! We always have the final say so, but I do think that D&D is also a teaching tool, and culture shock is a great lesson that we can all stand to learn a bit better. There is a reason why we play adventurers over carpenters. All of our character’s have sad backgrounds that act as motivations for doing what they do. If they were happy they wouldn’t be risking their lives over a handful of gold, nor seeking glory just for the sake of it.

I bring this up because it is part of our jobs to be taking back as much gold as we possibly can, and what better way to take it back then to have them give it to their families? No doubt they will need it! Perhaps the family roles could take more precedence then what they normally do? It is an option.

Taking this article into account: It is stated that our characters start off at 1st level at ages between 15 and 19-years-old. This is really conservative, perhaps, for characters who possess no usable trade, we should start off with a base age of 13 + 1d4? Innocence was something that one lost before the draw of one’s first breath.


Unknown said...

Kids had a hard life in early industrial societies. I'm not real sure how directly that maps out to things that would have happened in a medieval society though. Dickens popularized the plight of children with his works but I'm not aware of anything similar from earlier times. One thing to consider is that the value of children fell in early industrial times. Previously you'd want children to help work but that role was steadily being filled by machines.

I know you could chase after Dickens for ideas on how an average character's family life might have gone but there are other options. The more gritty elements of the fantasy genre seem to lean towards the characters coming from a merchant class or the nobility. I tend to prefer more of a Cinderella story. Peasant who works hard like everyone else and has something magical enter their lives.

David said...

This is an accurate feeling article.

Kids these days are treated as if the slightest indication of sex or cursing will make them prostitutes and degenerates later in life.

Violence is apparently ok, though.

Anyway yes, I can see how having moral qualms over this product is a bit goofy when the general process of any adventuring group is to slaughter people for money. Still, society (western society) places a certain amount of stigma on children and crimes against them, particularly crimes of the type described in the product, and thus it makes people ill to think of it.

Anyway, nice article.

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