Netherwerks writing on Old School Heretic, one of the many blogs that make up his sprawling Internet empire, recently ponied up an interesting post on the revolutionary effects of chocolate.
No, it wasn't a belated April Fool's joke, nor was he writing recipes for tasty post-session snacks; rather he was talking about how chocolate as a commodity was introduced historically into renaissance Europe and the tremendous effects that had on the political, cultural, and economic structures of that day. It's a theme that resonates with me and is worth checking out the post for it's own sake (as is a classic, somewhat similar one by Doc Grognard on the paradigm shift that the under-appreciated potato had on his campaign world.)
A few simple sentences dropped in the original post inspired a mental tangent for me last night that kept with me til this morning, “most Fantasy RPGs like OD&D onwards predominantly feature a setting that is loosely based on Europe in the 1400s to early 1600s. Some go earlier, some go a bit later, most mix it up vigorously and see what shakes out.”
That sentence--and the post in general--reintroduced a question that nags me: what really is the historically-analogous period implied in the garden variety D&D?
My own age-old assumption was that particular flavor of vanilla always had a sanitized version of an earlier feudal-era England or France standing somewhere close behind it (roughly somewhere around 1100-1300)--even when the outward trappings are presented as coming from the more exotic pages of pulp fantasy. It's rare to never stated that precisely, of course, and I would hazard a guess that most GMs would rather just shrug their shoulders and say something “who cares, it's fantasy” (A sentiment that I can at least sympathize with at moments myself.)
Yet, the throwaway references to that kind of world are so thick and common from the earliest days to now that I don't even feel like I need to quote them. Dig around any major old school D&D board and you will inevitably find these deep and consuming discussions and debates about medieval demographics: what the exact number of bushels of grains in a harvest were, what the percentage of clergy and townsmen was compared to land-bound serfs, what population density was like in say England in 1253, what the weights and denominations were for the Angevin-era penny, etc. References to the Domesday Book or the pay scales of a longbowmen in the Hundred Years War fly thick.
Indeed one of D&D's earliest spin-off comparisons was Chivalry & Sorcery, an entire system predicated on the fact that OD&D and it's successors were dead wrong in the detail and feel about it's supposedly feudal setting. Each iteration of that game dug deeper and deeper into the implications of that trajectory—and Harn followed as its spiritual successor.
I admit to loving both the obsessed discussions and the period-obsessiveness of C&S all dearly and I still find myself reading and rereading these threads constantly as the Domain Game grows, but I wonder straight-out if it's a lot of smoke and fire generated for a period that simply doesn't match the political, cultural, economic fabric that is implicit in the bog standard D&D campaign. Do D&D characters live in a world even vaguely like ours in that time?
Ok folks, I am going to stop short of banging you on the head with my own strong opinion on this (at least until the comments), as I started this post trying to fish for a more open-ended discussion.
I am curious fellow over-thinkers, what connection do you see the standard D&D campaign having with a real-world historical analogy? How distant of a mirror is it? Why? What changes do the elements of the fantasy and the weird make to that analogy?
Did you place your own campaign outside a feudal European analog? Why? What changes did this bring to how you thought about the game?
Does it even matter?