Rushlight
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Basic Information

A rushlight is a cheap and plentiful alternative to a candle, that even the poorest peasant could afford. They were commonly made (at least in the area that is now the United Kingdom) all throughout the Middle Ages and were revived during the blitz in World War II. To make a rushlight, you take a rush plant and soak it in bacon grease, mutton fat or tallow. The plant soaks up that animal fat, and essentially becomes a variant candle where the wick and the fuel are the same structure. It was a simple, efficient, easy to make and much cheaper than an actual candle. It was less likely to burn your house down down than if you hauled a torch around with you. Rushlights were so ubiquitous in middle-ages Britain, it's kind of a surprise that Hollywood and RPGs have completely failed to acknowledge they existed. The Royal Navy used a similar sort of light source - the "Pusser's Dip" - into the middle of the nineteenth century.

In appearance the rushlight looks like a long and extremely thin candle, usually some shade of brown in color, and often not completely straight nor symmetrical.

Rushlights were usually held in small metal clips, which may be similar to a candlestick, candelabra, or small lantern in shape. A wall-mount like a tiny torch sconce is also a possibility. Usually these will be unadorned and workmanlike, and made of iron rather than a more precious metal, because the rushlight is an affordable light source used by the lower-class. If you've got the money for an intricately decorated silver holder, you've probably got the money for candles that will burn longer and more reliably than some random weed dipped in fat.

A rushlight of typical length would burn for about 10 to 15 minutes on average, but longer plant stalks could burn longer, perhaps as much as an hour. It's a short-term disposable light-source that needs regular replacement. Luckily, they're cheap and plentiful.

Sources

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Game and Story Use

  • Add them to your equipment list in D&D for a bit of historical accuracy and verisimilitude.
    • They're a great for situations where you need just a bit of light, and they're small enough to carry several hours worth on your person. This seems like ideal adventurer equipment. It won't cast as much light as a torch or lamp, but that's potentially an advantage when you're sneaking around as adventurers often do.
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