Middle Ages
rating: 0+x

If men should arise and return to the noise and time of the tourney,
The name and fame of the tabard, the tangle of gules and gold,
Would these things stand and suffice for the bourne of a backward journey,
A light on our days returning, as it was in the days of old?

Nay, there is none rides back to pick up a glove or a feather,
Though the gauntlet rang with honour or the plume was more than a crown:
And hushed is the holy trumpet that called the nations together
When under the Horns of Hattin the hope of the world went down.

(from) Medievalism, G. K. Chesterton

Basic Information

The Middle Ages (aka the Medieval era) are generally considered to be the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance. Roughly the 5th Century to the 15th Century. This concept applies primarily to European history as although the time period is universal, the socio-political progress of other areas varied greatly.

Some character ideas can be gleaned from the List of Medieval European Professions.

Medicine of the era included humorism and miasma theory and the majority of governments in the period could safely be included under the general heading of feudalism.

For additional ideas and pages associated with the Middle Ages, see our index at List of Pages with the "Middle_Ages" tag.

"Middle" vs "Dark" Ages

The beginning of the Middle Ages is sometimes known as the Dark Ages, although this term is in decline, not least because it is inexact. Traditionally the dark ages stretched from the first sack of Rome (in the late 4th Century) to at least the 7th Century, but different authorities have applied different boundaries and the modern form is to roll the whole era into the Middle Ages. The Dark Ages are meant to correspond - roughly - to the gap between the 'barbarian races' of the volkswanderung period destroying Roman civilization and the rise of the new civilizations that would define the Medieval Period proper. This is the sort of era in which the Saxons migrated to Britain, carved England out from the whole and were invaded in turn by the Norse Vikings, before the combined civilization eventually metamorphosed into the Early English. Likewise the Franks settling in Gaul and their accommodation with the post-Roman population and with the Norsemen who would later become the Normans.


1. A Medieval Atlas - map resources

Game and Story Use

  • The Middle Ages are one of the historic time periods most familiar to gamers, and many fantasy settings are based on them.
  • One of the great delights of the medieval period is the fact that it's considered quite normal to have multiple overlapping power centres with no firm position on which one has precedence … not least because none of them really has the resources or infrastructure to get anything done with any great degree of competence.
    • An example - a hypothetical legal case - a man has been arrested for purchasing goods with fake coinage. He's currently sitting in the gaol of the castle attached to the town in which he committed the crime, which happens to be the seat of the Sheriff whose men arrested him. Unfortunately the town has a royal charter which states that it may administer its own justice and the Sheriff has no jurisdiction in the town - so the prisoner should be tried by the Burgheral court of the town, except that the charter granted to the Guild Merchant whose member was defrauded states that they have the right to try people for fraud against their members and someone has just pointed out that faking coinage is a crime which should be tried before the Royal Justices in the Eyre court … if it comes near the town this year. Also, the man is literate and claims benefit of clergy … he's patently not a cleric and the case has nothing to do with canon law, but he can read from the scriptures and the Bishop is jealous of his rights to court fees. Perhaps it would be easier to let the wretched man escape …
      • This sort of mess (and similar historical examples) can be mined for use in other settings. For instance, in a cyberpunk hacking case, the UCAS claims jurisdiction over all crimes committed by their citizens, while the DPRK claims jurisdiction over all crimes committed against theirs. The United Nations has a resolution claiming all cases of mixed jurisdiction, but in the future as in the present, no one listens to them. Hass-Bioroid insists on handling it, since the crime involved tampering with H-B property. So does Medusan Shield, since the injured party has a protection contract with them. Complicating this whole mess, the entire crime happened in the Budayeen, which does not recognize anyone else's investigative authority; and the accused fled to the Dual States of Gaza, which are refusing to extradite. The African Alliance offers to arbitrate, but this is uncharacteristic of them; rumor says that the defendant is actually an AA spy and this is a convenient excuse for an extraction.
      • In either case, prompt action by proactive individuals (like PCs) may be able to force the issue by delivering the prisoner into (or indeed from) the custody of a specific party who is prepared to proceed directly to trial and sentencing. Done properly, this can present the other parties with a fait acomplis which would be impractical to attempt to reverse - done badly and/or with too much collateral damage and active conflict may result. Of course, if the PCs work for a third party this may be their aim. For example in the twenty-minutes-into-the-future example above, PCs might go in shooting, noisily violate Gazan sovereignty and then drop the prisoner off with someone they wish to put in conflict with Gaza or they might quietly extract him and then, posing as Gazan security forces, drop him off at a UN Legation. Medieval power centres can be much the same, and simply turning up with enough force - or money - may be enough to win custody, whatever the legal rights and wrongs. A lot will depend on who cares most about the offence and who has the most power that they can bring to bear1.
      • Also, be entirely prepared for there to be no effective jurisdiction - a medieval foedus could be quite prescriptive and it could well omit, either by accident or design, things that would seem logical to include. Also, there is the possibility, given the scarcity of resources, for anyone who is providing law enforcement to be extremely bloody minded about doing so anywhere that isn't explicitly their domain. In the absence of specific authority, responsibility usually defaults to The Crown, but they may not have forces in place. As an example, the suburb of a major city may turn out to be outside the jurisdiction of the city council - not to mention outside their sphere of fundraising - and therefore not policed by the city guard - but equally the local sheriff has no interest in sending his men at arms into the alleys and winds of a built up area, especially when there is the risk of being sued for any trouble that spills over into the city proper. Of course, if he also risks being sued for trouble originating in the suburbs … well, that's where small teams of brutal sellswords come in handy, to either eliminate the troublemakers at source or drag them out into the open. Equally, the city fathers may be prepared to fund discreet operations against troublemakers in the suburb. In true cyberpunk style, these are, of course, as likely to target un-guilded craftsmen as they are genuine criminals.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License