The Complete Priest's Handbook book review

Six months after the release of The Complete Thief’s Handbook, TSR finally released, in June of 1990, PHBR3: The Complete Priest’s Handbook. Written by Aaron Allston, this title was unlike the other books in the series, and a lot was expected of it. Of all the core classes, the most effected was the Cleric, with the inclusion of Spheres dictating spells, this book had to bridge all of the products that had been released previously, and in this task, the Priest’s Handbook went above and beyond the call of duty, becoming not just a Player’s aid, but one that was used by the DM as well. One could almost say that the Priest’s Handbook should had had a blue cover, instead of the brown!

Priests, Gods, & the World

Unlike the other Complete Class Books, this one focuses on world building; and this chapter immediately get down to business of helping you create a pantheon. Even in published settings, the gods can sometimes be ignored, and they really shouldn’t be. Besides evil gods which the players may come into more contact with, the NPCs need gods, including ones that don’t matter much to the players . . . at least on the outside. What this book seeks to do is help you make a more advanced world with more opportunities for adventure. If you are starting a world from scratch, or just trying to make up for the fact that you don’t own some supplement that examines the pantheons, this book has you covered. It also has a worksheet at the end of the chapter that helps you organize your thoughts, which is always helpful.

Its primary concern is with giving your world background. An epic past, detailing things that had come before!

Designing Faiths

Again, more world building, but this chapter details, not specific gods themselves, but how they are seen. It does not force you to make every campaign world controlled by pagan deities, which is available if you want, but it offers more suggestions. Religion can be philosophical only, or one god can control every aspect of faith. Through Faiths we can insert conflict, and it is nice to see such a detailed chapter. TSR did a fantastic job of offering multiple options, which really sets it apart from later supplements, and it doesn’t stop there!

Of all the classes in the Core PHB, it is the cleric that leaves the players wanting. As the PHB is a reference book, many people who use it, don’t actually read it. You learn the game by playing the game, not necessarily by reading. There is a little itty bitty passage in the first paragraph that tells you the powers of a generic cleric, and it is so short and sweet that many players who have played this game for years still haven’t seen it, what one does see is some large lists of suggestions that are all dictated to the player by the DM. A good question is if the cleric really gets to pick from that stuff at all, or are those suggestions all within the domain of a priest? Where does a cleric fit into the system? Is he just under the paladin? This is all lines of questions which must be figured out by the Dungeon Master.

There is also an old joke which refers to the Cleric as a medic. I don’t think that anybody thinks that that is really true, as the cleric is a competent fighter, but TSR and players did want this class to be a bit more advanced. Sure, he was the only character who could restore lost hit points, but he should also be role-played. He is a teacher of faith! He is a religious and pious man, and one can’t properly play that if one has no religion to be found in the game.

Sample Priesthoods
This is a poorly named chapter which makes this book such a workhorse. At this point in time, the reference manual for gods and goddesses was still the 1e Legends & Lore, which is a great book! However since the 2e system altered the class by adding Spheres of Power, the DM was left to figure this stuff out on his own, which isn’t impossible, but not something that a new DM could easily do. It also goes back to the Lazy DM who didn’t create religions, or a table which didn’t own or care to own a book that’s only purpose was to talk about gods.

This book was an incredible tool while playing Greyhawk. Personally, when playing a setting, I just want to use the original boxset material, everything else I create myself. I never owned anything beyond the original Greyhawk box, so all of the gods and goddesses were up to me to flesh out, and it was this chapter that made it possible to do so with consistency. That is the beauty of a generic product!

I have also used this product as a player, not all DM’s want to work on this stuff, so I could easily submit powers for an adventuring cleric that was balanced enough so that any DM could say yes to, without worrying about me pulling any munchkin tricks later on.

As a DM, it helps us quickly make gods which are aimed towards the mundane aspects of my worlds, or Gods for the Every Man. Religions which probably aren’t all that well suited for adventuring, but adventurers will run into them from time to time in their own travels. It saves time and gives the illusion of a complete world.

This chapter also gives us a very useful template for creating our own religious aspects, which quite often, a template is a more useful tool then the charts themselves! It allows the users to be creative more productively, which is definitely the case here. You can either use the material as written, or create your own, that is, once again, offering options to the user, which makes this book so useful!

Priest Kits

At this point, the book begins falling in line with the rest of the books of the PHBR series.  This chapter gives players ideas for stepping outside of the bounds of the PHB, but in a fair way, to make a completely unique character. Of all of the player classes, I think that it is pretty safe to say that each character really is its own kit anyway, but this helps us with themes which can be interesting. It is sometimes a rare thing for a player to willingly play a cleric. Sometimes he is press-ganged into it by the other players as the group really needs one, or the campaign is getting so difficult that they may need more than one, so players who don’t normally want to play this class, have options which get them interested right away.

I think that it also separates clerics in our worlds even further, a barbarian priest who can get plants to grow in the inhospitable north would be seen with greater reverence than a priest who does the same in a fertile environment. Also, within one church, clerics of the same deity would have different jobs and bring different sets of skills to the table.

This chapter also returned to players the Monk class, which had been initially edited out of the PHB, not because Mom said so, but for budget reasons, and the limited amount of space which Dave Cook had to work with.


I’ve mentioned this before. Today this chapter sounds silly, but at the time, and for new players, this chapter is a game changer. It is easy to roll up a cleric, and play it exactly the same way as the last one. It is the rare player, indeed, who plays the cleric as it is supposed to be run. Of all the core classes, this one depends heavily on the role-playing aspect of the game, because he probably doesn’t have the same thought process or beliefs as the player does.  Even how he interacts with the other players would be different. Is he going to heal the heathen fighter whose been stricken by disease? While he may not demand payment in gold, he will demand payment of something else. He may heal his body, but he will also want to heal his soul.

Besides different styles of role-playing, this chapter gets more involved than the version in the Fighters and the Thief’s Handbooks, as a cleric’s power doesn’t truly come from himself, but from a deity, and, if he displeases the deity in any way, he may lose his powers until he appeases the god once again.

It also makes suggestions for power structures found within a church, as well as suggesting that the DM create a calendar, and/or add religious days and festivals which would be important for this class to observe. Thus, we go pretty deep into aspects of this class, which really set it apart from all the others.

Yes, all classes involve role-playing, but role-players love this class! Thus, this chapter is helpful to even advanced players of the game.

Equipment & Combat

The last chapter of the book helps flesh out items which were only briefly defined in the PHB, such as the holy symbol, but it also adds some new weapons which were brought up within the book, or added some weapons that were left out of the PHB.

Since the Monk class is restored to 2e, martial arts were also restored, and this was the 2nd Editions first attempt at doing so. This system isn’t perfect, but it is functional! I played a fighting monk as written in this book and had a blast! I personally don’t think that AD&D has ever found a decent way to handle hand to hand combat, as it is an elusive thing, but the system invented by Aaron Allston is sound, as it can be used in two ways, to either knock-out or to do harm. What makes it such an elusive mechanic is that hit points are not defined (which I see as a good thing), but in unarmed combat, a hit is most definitely a hit. What Allston didn’t do was add a critical hit chart, which I’m sure that Mom wouldn’t approve of, as we always see in Kung Fu movies, instant kills and broken limbs, which breaks the rules of AD&D, as we don’t want to be forced to deal with violence in our games if we don’t want to, but this is something that can easily be fixed by the DM if that is the style of game that he wants to run, and he can still use this chart to get the job done.
I have heard that a later book in this series called The Complete Ninja’s Handbook offers a better matrix for handling this sort of thing, but I’ve not seen it, nor have I used it myself. This table has always been good enough.


This books original function was to replace or help the DM/Player modify the information found in older books. This predates the 2e Legends and Lore book by only 2 months, but compared to PHBR3, Legends and Lore is a very limited book.

The Forgotten Realm’s book, Adventures, does a great job of beautifully updating and identifying the gods, but honestly, it can’t compete with this book's generic usefulness; it replaces it, as well as religious based supplements found in later products. Is it as fun to read? No. But it is still a superior product to those who are on a budget or wish to handle these details themselves. I also want to point out that the information within this book is not aimed at any specific civilization, so it can be used for any time period, and any setting. If the players wish to space jam, or dimension jump, by using the tools in this book, a DM can very quickly set parameters and prep an entire world in one session.

This book not only clarifies rules, mechanics, and items found in core products, but it also offers options and suggestions so that it doesn’t leave one hanging in the wind. It asks questions before your players do, it allows content to be created during play, and it is can be used by both players and DM. When a reference book does this much, it is no longer just a supplement, it is core. It is a great companion to the Dungeon Master's Reference series, & a must have for world-builders of all skill levels.

At the time that this book came out, I think that we all bought it, but we all didn’t quite understand just how much was actually in there. Even today one can say that it is still ahead of its time. The Generic aspect of the book can cause it to be dismissed,  admittedly, it isn’t a beautiful book to look at and there was confusion about if it was written for players or for DM’s, which led to both ignoring the thing. It was a book that expected to be read prior to adding it to the game, which turns people off as well, but if you can get over the cosmetic aspects, and sit down and read it, you will see it as the tool that it is. Unlike the Fighters, the Thief’s, and the Wizards Guides, which I see as supplemental, I consider this book to be a core rule book. In later years, setting guides sought to replace this title, but they never have.

Back in the day I’d give this book a C-, I played under more than one DM who disallowed all of the PBHR books right off the bat because they hadn’t read them nor did they have any intention of doing so. Once the players who had read it began DMing games, THEN it became more and more excepted.

Today, my opinion of it has definitely improved. Instead of grabbing Forgotten Realms Adventures when dealing with religious matters, I grab this book first and foremost. It is faster and more accurate, and allows more creative freedom to those of us who now consider it core. I give it an A-, it isn’t all that useful if you aren’t playing with 2e rules, as the most important aspect of the book was to supply you with suggestions for spheres, and it did predate the Tome of Magic, so those spheres are not included in this title (which really isn’t that big of a loss as far as I’m concerned). It isn’t perfect, but it is a title that is in the stack of my prep material. Can it be used to prep 1e games? I would think so. I, like many AD&D users blend the two editions together. I would think that the formula and worksheets would be backwards compatible, even if you aren’t using the NWP-system, which this book really doesn’t depend upon too heavily.

What Aaron Allston did was write one of the most complete and helpful titles in a DM’s tool chest, and it isn’t just this title either, as he also wrote PHBR1 The Complete Fighter’s Handbook, as well as the RPG Masterpiece, The Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. For some odd reason, Wikipedia does not credit him for PHBR3, but he is listed as the only writer in the book’s credits, so why Wikipedia left this title out is kind of a mystery to me.

As far as PDF vs. Hardcopy, this book is readily available, and not collectable in any way. I wouldn’t spend more than $15 on it, but I would highly recommend the hardcopy. It is one of those books that I find myself reaching for more often than I give it credit for.

A Trip to Dragon's Lair, a Local Gaming Store

Last week, my wife and I headed over to Omaha, Nebraska and went to what used to be a favorite store of mine called Dragon’s Lair. Now, back in the day this was a Gaming Store! The walls were covered in little miniature single packs, the shelves were lined with titles from all the different RPG lines, adult board games unique to specialty stores, new RPG books as well as Used RPG books as they’d always buy the books, regardless of condition. It was actually cool to buy a used module from them and look at the modifications done by the original owner. They sold hex paper, play mats, and all of the other supplies that Dungeon Masters used, as well as having fancy tables for players to come over and play battle games like Warhammer and such, or even just space so that people could sit down and play D&D if they wanted to. This was the place to go! The owner was a gamer, and he wasn’t the only show in town. If you look at old Dragon Magazines you can find a place advertised in Omaha called Star Realms, which was even larger! But Star Realms was miss-managed and collapsed, and Dragon’s Lair is still around.

On the side, they sold Comic books, but the emphasis was Table Top Role Playing Games. The owner was a gamer. Even as late as a few years ago he was personally running a 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game. I don’t know if that campaign is still going on. Granted, he, as well as the rest of us, is much older than we used to be. Younger people are now working the counters, and the emphasis seems to be comic books, super heroes, and card games. Card games: I never understood them. The game of Magic the Gathering was popular back in the day, but I thought that it was stupid even then, and just a way for a company to make money from suckers. Imagine my shock and horror when the company that sold Magic the Gathering purchased Dungeons and Dragons! I still don’t get that hero clicks stuff, any game with some RARE thing which is only rare because a company decided that it would be, makes no sense to me, but people eat it up! I guess that I never was a collector, well, I never used to consider myself a collector, but it would appear that I am now.

A couple of years ago, the original Dragon’s Lair had burned down, so now they have moved and the store is actually much bigger! However I am dismayed at just how little they have. Comic books, card games, and large boxes of Warhammer crap that everybody knows isn’t worth the price of the plastic garbage in them. They still sell the modern war game materials, that I don’t play. They do have a selection of adult board games, but the bread and butter has always been the RPG materials. They have the two current leaders, 5e and Pathfinder, but the rest of the stuff has been consolidated into two display boxes that had formally been reserved for comic books, and the system is a mess. I went through that entire thing and found no AD&D material what so ever. NONE! Not even other system neutral material or anything remotely interesting to me.

Granted, they had two copies of Dungeon Crawl Classics available, as well as a full set of Castles & Crusades, but I don’t have the money, nor the player interest to get into a new system. We already made our investments into gaming years ago when we still had disposable income, but now I have to buy school clothes for two kids, work on projects around the house, and be a grown-up. I had a few bucks to spend and I was hoping to find something at the old gaming shop and I found nothing! Not even so much as a new set of dice that I liked.

What does this tell me? Well of course the online stores have taken a huge bite out of the book market. Why shop at a store when you can shop at home? Well, I don’t always like shopping at home. I’m paranoid when it comes to credit cards and know just how easy it is to become a victim of fraud, especially on the used book market. A brick and mortar store is very attractive to me.  It also tells me that both editions of AD&D are hot right now, and I am competing with locals to acquire materials. This isn’t collectable materials, this stuff isn’t rare. TSR saturated a market, and most of the books are still alive and well.

There is a RPG renaissance going on, but I’ll be honest; I’m not a part of it. I don’t play 2e because it is a thing right now, I play it because I bought into the system and simply never stopped. I didn’t get bored with it, when I did stop playing it was because life got too busy, it had nothing to do with the system. Once everyone got to a point where we had the time and energy to play again, we picked it right back up. But, I’ve gotten side-tracked.

Dragon’s Lair! There is still a lot of system neutral products that are being released. Where are they? It makes more sense to release stuff like that, what with every table playing a different system, there is a market for that. Back in the day Gygax would get so angry at 3rd party leeches that he’d yell at us all through Dragon Magazine. Some of these products were really shoddy and crummy, but some of these products were really really good too! Where are these things? They are still being made, but are they for sell at one of the midwests only gaming shop? NO! Instead of selling Gaming Products, Dragon’s Lair now sells COLLECTABLES. Over-priced garbage that serves no other purpose but to sale it, games that’s values are decidedly manufactured, overly polished products produced by insane people who expect the consumer to make up for their inability to stick to a realistic budget, old RIFTS books that have sat on that shelf since they came out back in the 80’s and you can’t pay people to take them they suck that bad.

When asked where all of the AD&D stuff is, the kid working the counter started getting scared. He led me over to the shelf where HASBRO was nice enough to print over produced reproductions of every book that users don’t need and at a price that is comparable to buying all of the original Core books plus some DM material and still have enough money for Cheetoes.

I represent a very large market of gamers, and there is nothing for me at Dragon’s Lair anymore. Nothing! Not an old module, not an extra copy of a book, not a little metal man that I can paint, not even so much as a scrap of hex paper, NOTHING! It was a wasted trip, and I had money burning in my pocket, but there was nothing! I would have even bought one of those funny little pencils with a fuzzy head! It was sad.  

Gameday: Gothic Earth 1

Our monthly game went well! I had a lot of reading to do, and we are building up for a module game which will be heavily modified. It is a really hard one to do, but after figuring out some details, I feel more confident that I can run it.

This game actually took longer than what I thought that it would. I wanted to advance the Weathermay story-line, re-introduce two major NPC's, and introduce two new PC's into the mix. We also had to at least get to the module setting, which is an Insane Asylum located in Germany.

On a technical level, the Weathermay House is odd. It is the focal point of the campaign, however the players rarely get to be there. The way I did originally drafted it was insane. We hadn't played D&D for the better part of 10 years, and I talked my wife and a buddy into it. We were rusty as hell, and I had absolutely nothing prepared outside of some ideas about a complex ghost story. I literally drew the house up as the players explored it, all while telling an old fashion murder mystery that didn't go as planned, as the murderer was exposed very quickly, and it turned into a game of cat and mouse as he ran through the houses secret passages, to make a long story short, I took the best notes that I could, as did the other players, and the next day; after the game was over, I sat down and put everything together in a way that structurally makes sense, and then, mapped the house, adding blank rooms to add stuff into later on.

In later adventures in the house, I moved stuff around further, adding things, taking away things and making simple notations on the map which, after a few years of sitting in a binder, are now mysteries to me. To complicate things further, I had mapped the property, and a hidden chamber below the house on a separate sheet of paper, which I apparently lost.

It is hard to keep notes, and the notes for this adventure seem to be scattered. My wife had a bunch in her PC folder, the bulk of it was on a hardrive that had crashed a couple of years back, so that stuff is gone, but that is okay. I had written a record of our adventures on this blog, but I kept many secrets to myself, which are lost as well.

I think that I got my map corrected now, but everytime the players find their way back in, things have changed subtly, which kind of works for the setting, and the theme of this season, being that our sanity and sense of self depends upon our belief in memory, and since memory truly isn't all that reliable, sanity itself is subjective and depends entirely on faith.

Anyhow, while in the house, the Si Fan made two assassination attempts. A few bottles of wine were poisoned, and a cursed magical item was delivered to them under the false pretense that it was from an ally.

I had planed on giving a clue that the wine was poisoned: The grounds keeper had stolen a bottle, he was caught drinking it by a PC, who actually ended up drinking with him. Now, if the wrong PC drank the poison, he or she would be dead, thankfully this character was the strongest one, and even though he failed his saving throw, was able to survive the full effect of the poison. It disabled him for the bulk of the adventure, greatly limiting what he could do, but it quickly exposed the attempt.

The other attempt is still active. The player's know what it is, but their characters don't. A mystical staff turns into a cobra at the command of it's true owner, Fu Manchu, and this led to a very fun scene.

A new character joined the game, and he is surrounded by mystery. He is a Doctor, who doesn't put much faith into the occult, but he is a wizard non-the-less, and he must keep this fact secret from everyone. Of course all of the players know what he is, but the characters don't, which makes it fun. So, my wife's character is sleeping in bed, when she feels a sting on her foot (she makes her saving throw), she throws back the sheets and a cobra spits in her face, blinding her and she screams, jumping out of bed into the corner, waking up everyone in the house, who all run to her room.

Now, seeing this character huddled in the corner, covering her eyes and screaming isn't all that unusual, but then the snake spits at them. The gunfighter, in a bad way a from drinking poison a few days earlier, attacks the snake with a Silver Headed Cane+1, and the Detective, still mentally trying to shake off the effects of an opium overdose is hitting it with an umbrella. The gunfighter hits it a couple of times, until it spits in his face, and also ends up blinding the detective, leaving the mage who suddenly says, screw it, and casts a cantrip which causes a pop that is just enough to dissipate the mystic cobra. This is the first spell that this mage has ever cast in his life, and he did it right in front of everybody, so he thought that he had some explaining to do. The player playing him thought that he had lost that aspect of the game already, and it was still just the first game, until he realized that everybody else was blinded, and the rest of the party saw nothing. He was the great hero who saved the party! And, he got away with it!

In our world, magic is a lot different from the core spells. While in Forgotten Realms, a wizard who casts Cantrip is an every day thing, in this world, a world without visual effects and complex rituals, what he did was a huge deal. He had probably tried to cast spells in some form for years, and maybe part of him thought that they worked? But there was no real proof either way, until just now. He roleplayed this, as well as the jubilation of  maintaining his characters secret to the hilt, and it was great!

We did a lot of roleplaying, probably too much. One of our players had to leave and go to work at ten, and it was my goal to have the game finished by then, we ended up having to continue playing without her, and another buddy really had to get going because his son was exhausted and wanted to go home. Thankfully he stayed with us until we finished the Weathermay House section of the game.

We also got a brand new player to our game, who had never played any role playing game before. We got his character ready, and I wanted him to watch the experienced players do their thing so he wasn't at the house, he would officially join the party once the players got on the ship which would take them to Germany. He is the mate of our player who had to leave at 10pm, and God bless him, he stayed with a bunch of strangers after she took off, and two of my players wanted him to play so they hung around and we just did the journey stage with just the three of them.

He got to do some role-playing, and after we got to the conclusion of our session I did a really quick combat with him just so that he could have a better chance of understanding what was going on when situations like this came up. My dice hate people. I had to switch dice else kill him with a stupid zombie. He ended up hanging around after everybody else went home until around 1am just to talk and have some more fun. It was a great night! Everyone had fun, I got everything done that I had set out to do, and can now focus on prepping the module section.

One of the most important things that I had to do was get weapons to the party, as I had taken away all that they had had. Van Helsing gave them a Silver Headed Cane+1, as well as a bag of antidotes that they can use if they know what they are doing. This stuff was free. If they gave good intel to their shacky allies/enemies, The Six-Fingered Hand (which they did), they got a weapon that I created called Pistol of Hiding which will escape detection if one is frisked and remains hidden unless it is drawn, as well as a belt that hides up to twenty bullets. They also got an iron shank, but they did miss an opportunity to acquire a silver straight razor, but, what are you going to do?

A History of Life in the Renaissance

A lot of people at least claim to play during the medieval time period; I’m not sure if that is either just a word that they use which has lost all meaning, or if they really do go all history with it. Me, personally, when I do play fantasy, I don’t play it during a medieval setting; instead, I typically shoot for the Renaissance. The reason is simple, even from the Renaissance, our minds and philosophies are very far removed from these ancestors or ours, and this only gets worse the more ages we go back. In all actuality, we have little in common with these people which we claim to be role-playing.  

The Renaissance is the time period where our modern philosophies began to take form; it wasn’t anything like us yet, but the seeds of decency were planted. It was during this time period that the West was ready to emulate the Roman culture; they had their basic needs met, and they were ready to begin work on a very hard to grasp concept for them, Civilization. Improving life, not just your life, but the life of others as well; and when one spends generations living fist to mouth, and spending all of their energies gathering resources for themselves, it is very difficult to shed what we modern westerners would call: Selfishness or Self Serving behavior.  Perhaps, in game terms, what this means to us is that, during the Renaissance, the Lawful Good alignment returned to humanity after an absence that had lasted since the fall of Rome. Up until the mid-Renaissance, in order to survive you had to be self-serving.

Let’s go back in time to France, besides Italy, the greatest achievements of the Renaissance age were found in this country, and they kept really good records. In order to understand our differences, we just have to look at how we treated children. In the Renaissance, life was hard. Society dictated that a man should have at least 10 children to survive him, but they had many many more, and most of these youngsters died very early in their lives. Today, the death of a child is impossible to get over, but back then, in farm journals of the period, it was just another notation in the books, and not a very important one either. More children died than lived, and even those that did survive didn’t live well.

If a woman died, her husband, though a devoted man to her, quickly got married again. Things got even worse if the husband died. When a woman was widowed, she too was expected to get remarried as soon as possible, but her children were not a part of the deal. If an infant was lucky, perhaps a widow’s sister would be kind enough to keep the child, but older children were completely abandoned and left to fend for themselves. They never saw their families again.  This was behavior dictated by society that only recently became unacceptable, so chances are, all of the players who refuse to write up a family background are actually playing closer to period than those who fuss over such things.  As far as what else we can take away from this, if people can do this kind of thing to their own blood, how do you think that they treat each other?

To be fair, a man of his time treated himself no better. It wasn’t uncommon to take a long journey on a drunken whim which serves no real point, and drag whoever happened to be there along with you. If you didn’t die on the road, you typically came back ruined and without friends, and for what? Well, a man of his time wouldn’t ask that question. Thinking of the consequences of his actions was not yet even a thing. Again, you live a fist to mouth existence, and you are genetically designed to fulfill immediate needs first, but now you have a little bit of free time to think. The Romans knew that free time was not productive, so they eliminated it, which wasn’t the case in France. People got bizarre ideas and they acted on them, and why not? The highwaymen who robbed and killed travelers stupid enough to follow the roads on their own typically made more money than any body else. Sure, if you got caught you were killed, but so what. The future was unthinkable to most men, thus it was ignored.

Lets get away from men, and let's look at other things in his world that are more real to us than how he saw the world around him. Cities! I’m sure that we all know what Waterdeep is! A bustling city full of people, adventure, and violence! Well, that is not what happened. There were no cities like that during the Renaissance, and they hadn't existed since the fall of Rome. Paris, the capital of France, what was it like? We have a much larger population today than back then. Most people chose to live in the country, and when they couldn’t, and they were forced to live in the city, they always brought the country with them.

There were no bustling crowds of people, though it was a place to gather to buy and sell at the market, but most of those people didn’t live in the city itself. Streets weren’t cobbled, they were muddy trenches that froze in the winter, and caused horrible clouds of dust in the summers. The few homes within the city all had gardens, and buildings, just like in the country, but on a smaller scale. I suppose that one could compare them to very small villages today. If one is going to live in the city, one needs to have a trade, and make a tidy living. Nothing extravagant; Instead of gold, or money, it was chickens, eggs, or dried whatever that you preferred to work for. As nice as gold is, one has never been able to eat it.

If we go look at a Lord’s chateau, one would think that this is where the good living is taking place, and it was! But, it wasn’t what you’d think. In fact, the nobles were forbidden to earn currency, they were expected to live off of that which was provided by the king, and this was not easy. Their homes were grand, and if you go to one today you will be impressed, but at the time things were very different. Today we live better than kings! In our homes we have cold and hot water on tap, we have a refrigerator to help us keep what we eat fresher longer. We can cook things on demand, but of all of these modern conveniences which we ignore every day, the men of the Renaissance had no central heating and cooling, specifically no heating. One can go see their massive fireplaces and marvel at their grander, but one is still standing in a modern temperature controlled environment. These places were cold! In the summer, they brought greenery inside to keep the stench down, but the hardest time was in the winter. Straw was brought in to cover the floors, imagine that for a moment. These lavish and beautiful chateau floors covered in straw. This helped keep the heat in. And one would assume that the lords and the servants avoided each other, but this is a Victorian idea, and one that never entered into the minds of our Renaissance ancestors. People didn’t have personal space back then. There were no comfort bubbles. People lived right on top of each other, and it wasn’t just people. The warmest room in any house has always been the kitchen, and that is where you found everybody. From the lady of the home, dressed in the most modern finery to the men who worked out in the fields all day covered in filth, they all crammed into the kitchen every chance they got. Imagine that you are a child, doing your studies, you’ve got everyone pressed together in the kitchen; dogs are running around fighting over scraps and looking for attention, not to mention the goats and the chickens which are kept indoors so nothing can take them. Your smaller siblings are running around, your infant sister is squalling for attention which she will not get. Your mother is dutifully and critically watching the maids who are trying to set the table, your father is there too yelling to be heard over all of the noise as a cook kicks a dog to get it to go back. How in the world did anybody get culture? This scene played itself out, not just in chateaus, but in homes all over Europe.  The quest to stay warm was one of necessity, and when it comes to this, the more the merrier!

Travel was dangerous, thieves killed and robbed everybody who they judged game. One wanted to travel with armed men, and lots of them. Everybody knew that they were out there. That was a given. If you did survive traveling the roads by day, one found themselves at a dark inn full of homeless, fellow travelers, and the undesirable all gathered around to repeat this ritual of finding warmth in company. These places were not nice, the highwaymen could be found here as well, in droves. If one was lucky enough to get a room, we again run into the common theme, beds were huge, but most inn beds fit four men, and they slept together without a second thought, this too kept you warm. Being alone in the Renaissance never happened, and the men and women who lived here didn’t want it to happen! One didn’t find much rest here either, once a room was full, a dresser was pushed in front of the door, one drew their sword and rested as best as they could until the sun came up and travel was once again possible.

Actually, speaking of the sun, man had not yet tamed the darkness, and darkness was a very terrifying thing. Darkness dictated our lives. We were slaves to it. People didn’t sleep all night, to sleep for 6-8 hours was unheard of! One had to get up periodically and check on their loved ones, look in on horses and other animals too large or too dirty to be kept indoors. They would venture out into the night to check on their neighbors. Many of these jaunts were fatal, it is easy to get lost in the pitch blackness. If something happens to your light source, you were typically doomed. People fell into rivers, twisted ankles and froze to death. Superstition dictated much of what was known, and when the body of your neighbor is found floating in the river, people had only their fear and superstition to explain this.

Now, what about the King? When one thinks about a king, one imagines a powerful man sitting on a throne and making decisions for people, but this wasn’t all that accurate. A king who stays in one place will soon be a king of nothing. In France, from the time of his coronation, to the time of his death the king is on the move. What about his court? Well, the court traveled with him. Visions of beautiful princesses and ladies of the court are fantasies, these women were just as hard as the men, they had to be. Even the Queen was on the road with her husband. In the morning, the servants would rush ahead to where the King would be spending the night, typically a Lord’s Chateau. The royal huntsmen would attempt to find red meat or fish, which were rare. The royal cook would take over the lords kitchen and begin preparing supper while the lords servants rushed around to make the house look presentable and make room for all of the king's horses and all of the king's men. This was the life of a noble! God forbid that a holiday was coming up, typically the King wanted to be in a specific place for religious observances, some were long enough to give himself and his men a break from the road so that he could actually spend a month in one place.

The King would look over the lords records, which had to be kept in order. He himself was forbidden to earn currency as well, with the exception of leveling taxes upon the people. Nobles and the King were expected to live on a budget, if one went over their budget, then tough! The only class which could earn currency was the middle class, namely merchants, soldiers, and tradesmen. This formed the basis of European economy for centuries. A knight who went looking for wealth was unable to keep it, as the wealth that he found belonged to the people. That is something to think about.

Not that we want to be trapped in history while playing our games, but it is something to consider. If well used, history can provide many fun ideas for us to try. It is a lot of fun researching this kind of stuff too.   


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