20 February 2013

Dungeoneering Tools: The Candle

Candles were bloody expensive. Consider that in the 14th-15th C. a cow was worth about 8 shillings, or about 96 silver pennies (basically a gp). From that cow, you could probably get 300-400lbs of meat (you can get more from a modern steer, but 600 years of selective breeding have made cows bigger), so that's about a farthing (one-quarter of a silver penny) for a pound of beef (not counting butchery, etc., as people often did that themselves back then).

Compare that to tallow candles at about 2d/lb, or wax candles at about 6d/lb.

Keep in mind, that in this period, wages for unskilled labour were in the range of 1d/day.

Making a wildly inappropriate comparison to modern-day minimum wages, that's the equivalent of paying something like $250 for a pound of candles.

So you can see why many people using rushlights (reed stems soaked in fat or pitch) or splinters (splinters soaked in fat or pitch), both of which were more or less free (if you were willing to pick the rushes and gather the pitch yourself).

But back to dungeoneering.

Candles are a not really a great source of light, probably comparable to a period oil lamp, but you can get a candle lantern for them. This helps with dazzling, and with the candle going out from the wind of walking around (seriously, that's enough to put out a candle, or at least make it pour scalding wax on your hand - candles suck).

Even a big double-wick candle isn't throwing enough light for you to see OK-ish more than about 10-15', with dim shadows twice that. Reading requires a candle to be within a foot or so.

But at least you're not blinding your friends with your torch, or worrying about spilling the oil out of your lamp.

EDIT: Forgot to include burn times. A one-pound candle would burn for about 70 hours. Not too shabby.

17 February 2013

XP for Gold: Trade

Trade is a little trickier to handle, and I think the notions of personal bodily risk and martial skill will be helpful in determining whether or not to give XP for wealth gained through trade.

Two polarized scenarios present themselves immediately.

Milanese Trader

The first is a wealthy merchant living in Milan. He inherited an estate, a large sum of coin, and five ships from his father. Now, obviously he does not level for his inheritance.

But neither should he level from the profits he reaps from shipping finished suits of armour to England. There is no factor of personal bodily risk, and no application possible for martial skill.

Medinan Caravan Leader

The other is a caravan leader from Medina, carrying spices to Egypt. The caravan leader personally accompanies every caravan, and plays a part in defending the camel train from the numerous bandits on the way.

In this case, the caravan leader has taken on personal bodily risk, and demonstrated martial skill. These are the things which are being represented by the XP for gold mechanic, and therefore the caravan leader should be receiving XP towards his character class not only for the bandits killed and driven off along the way, but for the net profits reaped by the sale of the spices.

Note that only the net profits should be used for the calculation - otherwise you're potentially giving XP out for the same gold twice! Imagine our leader had obtained 1000gp from a dungeon delve (and received XP), sunk that whole 1000 into a caravan laden with spices, and sold the whole lot for 1250 in Egypt. Our dusty caravan leader would only get 250XP for the sale, as he's already received XP for the initial 1000gp investment.

Grey Areas

I think that by applying the tests of personal bodily risk and demonstration of martial skill, the GM should be able to intelligently make rulings on grey areas. Consider on one hand a trade route where a caravan is almost certain to be waylaid by well-armed and organized bandits or dangerous monsters, and another where there is no risk of banditry or creatures, and interpolate between the two.

13 February 2013

XP for Gold: 20th-level Kings?

There have been Kings who have been great warriors. Richard I comes to mind. Henry VIII took his martial arts pretty seriously, if I understand correctly.

But they don't have mad levels in Fighter because of their enormous incomes.

That's because gold for XP only really makes sense for plunder. The inherent assumption in the system is that the gold in question was *guarded*, whether by traps, tricks, or monsters. It required some skill - whether in cleverly avoiding the threats, or by battle, etc. etc.

On the other hand, the income coming to a landed knight, baron, earl, count, king, etc. is due to the office, and requires no special skill, ability, or even action on the part of the earner. Similarly, if someone's father dies and leaves the 2.5 million gp, that person doesn't suddenly skyrocket 5 levels (or even one, if you're playing that you can't go up more than one level in a go). That's because they didn't do shit for it.

Windfalls, rent, investment incomes - none of these should generate XP in a gold for XP system.

Because of that, kings should be modestly levelled, if at all. An average man-at-arms or landed knight would likely have more Fighter levels than a king. (That reminds me to rant about the 0-level man-at-arms - the idea that a professional fighter doesn't have a few levels of Fighter is laughable).


At this point, some may be tempted to say, "OK, so kings aren't 20th-level Fighters, but maybe they're 20th-level Kings!". Well, let's examine that.

What class abilities would a King have? What do Kings do? Well, they drink and feast and hunt and whore, but those are well within the reach of anyone who has the wealth. Those don't need to be class abilities.

They conduct diplomacy, and manage the affairs of the kingdom. Or they appoint someone to do that for them. You could maybe argue that levels in King increase reaction rolls and increase kingdom revenues.

When you come right down to it, though, being a King is pretty much just being a normal guy, only richer. I have a pretty hard time accepting there's enough for a whole class there.

Where does that leave us?

Well, kings are just normal guys. They get power not through class levels, but through the dignity of their office and through the vast wealth and incomes that come with the title.

Gold is its own reward. Gold brings its own power.

You don't need to add personal power on top of the economic power wealth provides, unless there's some factor of personal bodily risk.

10 February 2013

XP for Gold: Reputation and Confidence?

XP for gold has a venerable history, and is a totally workable mechanic.

What bothers me is some of the justifications I've seen for it.

As I see it, XP for gold is an abstraction specifically suited for adventurers, and the idea is that if you are recovering treasure, you are encountering danger, and therefore learning. More treasure usually means more danger. Fair enough.

The mechanic stops making sense if you try to extend this mechanic to non-adventurers. Some lordly Baron sitting in his keep is in no danger and is learning nothing about being a fighter by sending out tax collectors to collect money from his tenants.

Where things break down is when people start trying to find some kind of further real-world justification for it. Some, for instance, consider XP for gold to represent reputation and confidence. I find this explanation to be indefensible. If this were true, you could level up by bragging, or by drinking whiskey. The fact that you can't become a better wizard by partaking of a little Dutch Courage exposes the internal inconsistency of such an explanation.

Fact is, neither confidence nor reputation correlate with ability. I remember a martial arts class - we'd drilled defending against dagger attacks for a couple hours, and I was getting a good feel for it, and felt really confident in my abilities.

Then we tried some free-play, and in my first match, I went up against one of the most experienced guys at the salle. Well, long story short, my skull would have looked like hamburger if we'd been using real daggers. My new-found confidence helped *exactly zero* against a skilled opponent.

Similarly, even if I have a reputation far and wide as the fastest draw in the West, that won't help me one whit if that whole reputation is built on bravado, and the exaggeration of one sloppy victory. When push comes to shove, my reputation counts for *exactly zero* in a real duel against a skilled opponent.

Long story short: XP for gold good, XP = confidence and reputation bad.

7 February 2013

Dungeoneering Tools: The Torch


First off, dazzling your friends is one problem with a torch I've never seen considered. While the person carrying the torch can hold it over their head, and thus get full benefit of the light, anyone walking behind them will either a) have the torch in their field of view, and will be dazzled, or b) have to look at the ground.

Walking to either side of the torch-bearer would be fine. Being in front of the torch-bearer obviously means dealing with your own shadow.

As for what this means in gameplay terms, I would say anyone walking behind the torch-bearer is dazzled, and isn't getting full benefit from the torchlight. Say, halve the illuminated distance.

Probably won't come up too much, but something to think about.


There are a few important versions of the "torch" to consider.

Most familiar to people would be a stick with pitch-soaked fabric tied to the top with wire, so I won't talk any further about it.

Other versions include the splinter, rushlight, cresset/basket, candle/stick, bark/tinder, simple stick, and animal torches.

Of these, only the cresset/basket, candle/stick, and the bark/tinder torches are practical for mobile use - splinters and rushlights are for lighting a home or tent.


I touched on the cresset in a previous post - it consists of a hinged light source on a pole. This source can be a lamp, or it can be a basket of burning material. This is pretty self-explanatory, I think - tinder and small sticks (possibly soaked in pitch, resin, or fat) burn in an iron basket on the top of the cresset.

The obvious advantage of this is the ease of finding material for it - burning pitch-soaked cloth or wood would be best, but at a pinch you could just chop up some wood and toss it in. It's also probably a little easier to just have a sack of pitch-soaked pine and a single cresset than a bundle of bulky torches.


Candle torches consist of maybe 3 feet of heavy candle (4" across) on a wooden handle. This seems a little odd to me, especially given the historically high prices of candles, but there is historical evidence for this.

These would, to my mind, be primarily a status item for wealthy people walking around in the town. As candle-wax could cost as much as 4 times as much as meat, this would be an exceedingly expensive torch.


Bark and tinder torches consist of a core of pitch-, resin-, or fat-soaked tinder wrapped in bark. This is a primitive but effective type of torch that can burn as long as 2 hours, 1 hour probably being typical. These are pretty bulky, being maybe 12" in diameter at the top, and 4" in diameter at the bottom, and maybe 3' long.

The advantage of this is the ease of preparation - this could be constructed with little effort anywhere you have access to pine trees (for the tinder and pitch), hardwood trees (for the bark), and a day or so to collect the materials and make the torches.

Simple Stick

This is just a stick where the end has been smashed into splinters and soaked in pitch, resin, or similar.

Obvious advantage is simplicity and ease of manufacture, the disadvantage is that it's not as bright and doesn't last as long.

Animal Torches

Certain animals (candlefish, storm petrel) have such a high fat proportion that there are accounts of people using them as torches. Simply catch one, stick a wick (made of moss, cotton, or similar) in its mouth, and strap the beast to a stick.

Not going to make much light, but could be cool for "barbaric" NPC's.

Waterproof Torch

Wikipedia has an uncited entry claiming that the Romans made a torch with sulfur and lime that would not go out if submerged.

I'm sceptical, but it would probably be possible to make something like this, as quicklime does heat up considerably when wet.

Whether or not this is true or historically accurate, I think it might be interesting to be able to make waterproof torches.

4 February 2013

Dungeoneering Tools: The Lantern & Oil

The Lantern

When most people think of a D&D lantern, they're thinking of something like this:

These did not exist until the 19th century. They are not available in a 14-15th century world.

Your D&D "lantern" likely is more of an oil lamp, and would look more like this:

This is the kind of lamp that existed in the Middle Ages. More or less a reusable candle. No chimney, small wick, probably made of clay or brass.

Another option would be the cresset, as seen here. More or less an oil lamp on a stick, but with a hinge so it stays upright. Could also apply to little braziers for other fuels similarly mounted.

UPDATE: Candle lanterns are the only period form of lantern I can find:


Similarly, when people think of lamp oil, they're thinking of kerosene. Stinky, low viscosity, and rather flammable.

That is not what lamp oil was back then.

Lamps were fueled with whale oil or vegetable oil. Not really the same thing.

Try to imagine dousing someone in olive oil and setting them on fire. Not bloody likely.

EDIT: Burn times for oil lamps. For a smallish oil lamp, you should get 4-5 hours of light out of an ounce of oil.

1 February 2013

Dungeoneering Tools: The 10' Pole

Much the same problems here as the spear, only more so.

Incidentally, the European Quarterstaff was typically in the 7-12' range, so the 10' pole and the quarterstaff can be considered to be the same thing. Some masters recommend a 7-8' staff, George Silver recommends a behemoth staff of 9-12'. Crazy.

People like having a long stick around so they can poke things and not get hurt. But how do people feel about doorways? Corners? I like being able to move around.

Leave the 10' pole at home. Or else pick between:

  • your movement rate takes a 33% hit (being careful with the pole)
  • you never surprise your foes (pole ends up bumping off everything)