World Basics

From Dragon Eye Atlas

The purpose of this page is to give us modern readers a few key points to understand just how different the world used to be. If you have engaged yourself in re-enactment or medieval studies, you can probably skip this page.

Daily Life

Age & Life Expectancy

To put a myth to rest first: People in the middle ages didn't die at 35. The average life expectancy was somewhere that many years, but the main driver of that was high child mortality. If you have 2 children and one dies shortly after birth and the other lives until age 70, then their average life expectancy was - 35 years. Better statistics are looking at the life expectancy of those who reached adulthood or otherwise account for child mortality. I recommend reading this excellent article. It references this book and statistics in stating: "from 1200 to 1745, 21-year-olds would reach an average age of anywhere between 62 and 70 years".

So in a typical Dragon Eye human settlement, you will find plenty of people of all ages, including senior citizens. There would be more children than in our modern world, especially many more young children - and at least half of them won't reach adulthood.

Age is largely a matter of health, and the difference in available health care, good food, etc. between peasants and nobles was considerable, so nobles had a much higher chance of reaching old age than peasants. On the other hand, plenty of nobles died by assassination or poison.


Almost all food consumed is both local and seasonal in nature. Especially the basic foods of peasants and served in low-cost inns will be whatever is available in the area at this time of year. In summer and autumn, fresh vegetables are plentiful, while in winter, the selection of available food is much lower.


Animals are all around, everywhere. Peasants often sleep in the same (the only) room with their livestock, chickens run around in the castle yard, dogs and cats roam the area. Not only is the scale of animal farming much smaller than today, living animals are also the cheapest and most convenient way of keeping their meat fresh. So armies on the march are often accompanied by herds of animals used for milk and slaughtered when meat is needed.


With no dishwasher, washing machine and other machines, manual labor is everywhere. That also means that all but the very poor have servants. Even most farmers have a few servants, serfs or farmhands. Anything you are unable to do by yourself you hire someone to do for you. It is simply far more common to have servants. A noble's household would be bustling with servants everywhere, maids, cooks, people carrying things, stoking fires, cleaning up, helping the lord and lady to dress and bathe, taking care of the horses and carriage, guards, and, of course, the temporary service people like bards, minstrels, scribes and others.


Nights can be really dark, depending on the cloud cover and moon phase.

Without electric or gas light, there is very little light outside during the nights, even within the cities. In a forest, when clouds cover the moon and the canopy blocks the starlight, it can be pitch black.

Within the houses, that means as soon as the sun sets, fires are lit. Commonly, wood fires. Fireplaces provide both light and warmth. Candles are too expensive to be just burning all the time, but are fairly common. They are somewhat affordable by the common folk at low quality, but the wealthy and nobility would use higher-quality candles. Oil lamps were also popular for those who could afford them. There are also many other variants, such as the rushlight or grease lamps.


Fire is a great killer. Both inside the house (cooking is often done over open fire) but also on the larger scale. Villages and towns can burn down from a single out-of-control fire, and often do. Not to mention that arson is a popular tool of war.


In most cases, outhouses actually are outside, away from the main house. That includes outhouses at inns. At the edge of villages or at a roadside inn in the middle of nowhere, people often go when the sun goes down, need or no need, and then try to avoid going to the outhouse in darkness.


In the towns and cities, outhouses are not enough. In the north-eastern parts of Auseka, sewers are fairly common and can be found in many cities, though sometimes they span only the more wealthy parts. A sewer system is an old dwarven invention, more than 500 years old, but humans have only built them for about 200 years, and in western Auseka, they are even more recent, with many cities having no sewers or only a very basic network spanning the main avenues and keeping at least the main streets relatively free of human waste.


Unlike the (mostly false) prejudices, people do wash regularily. Heating water is a long and expensive matter, however, so much washing was done either communaly (bath houses in towns and cities, family bathing day in villages) or cold.

Washing clothes is hard labour and takes a long time. "Washing days" are exactly what they sound like - in many villages, one day a week the women gather and all go down to the river together to wash clothes - for the whole day.


In general, most people travel much less and shorter distances, due to the absence of cars or trains. Commoners, especially, often travel only within the general area of their birthplace and might take a trip to the nearest city once a year for important matters.

Those who do travel often travel most of the time. Mercenaries and merchants, sailors as well as craftsmen with rare skills, but also generals and high officials and even some kings and dukes spend most of their time in travel due to the sheer amount of time it takes. Many of these people do not even have a permanent residence.

Note that strangers are always the prime suspects in any crime and wrongdoing. If something happens while a group of travellers is in town, they will almost certainly be among the accused. This is because justice is based more on your reputation as a law-abiding citizen and the good words of your fellows than it is upon evidence and witnesses.


Roads can be anything from trampled dirt (that turns to mud when it rains) to cobblestone. But even with a road, travel speeds would be around 20 km per day, 25 on a good road, as walking is the fastest long-distance travel speed available to most. Horses are good for short distances, but have less endurance than a human and can't keep up the speed for long. Over a whole day of travel, most people can actually walk faster than they could ride. Most carriages and waggons are without suspension and travel in them is far from comfortable.

Travel speeds depend a lot on how much is carried. With luggage, people slow down considerably, and having a pack animal is a good way to keep travel speed high.

The most comfortable travel option and also the one best suited for carrying large amounts of cargo, is by boat or ship. River boats in most inland areas, ocean-going ships at the coast.


A key element to understand pre-modern society is the concept of hospitality. Having guests in the house was quite normal, and in fact the reason why nobles or wealthy townspeople had large houses. In a noble estate, at any given time, you would find some relatives, one or more famous artist, scholars or the like, possibly another distantly related noble and such as guests. It would be unusual for a large house to not have anyone staying over. The ability to house guests is a question of status, and refusing someone who is not a total stranger would make people wonder if maybe you can't afford it?

Even among the common folks, giving a relative who is in town a roof and a bed is expected.

In the countryside, travellers are often welcome as sources of news and have a good chance to receive a meal and a place to sleep in exchange.


Many wayside inns offer a limited selection of food and drinks, and in simpler establishments it is not uncommon that there is only one dish on the menu.

As far as sleeping opportunities are concerned, most inns offer the so-called common room, which is a shared sleeping room. It can be a room with bedrolls, but very often it is simply the bar room after closing time, where patrons can sleep on the benches, tables or floor for a few copper pieces.

Shared sleeping rooms are the most common accomodation in traveller inns. There will be a bedroll and a chest (that can be locked, for valuables) for each patron. Six, ten or twenty people sleep in such a room, often close to each other. In higher quality inns, the shared rooms will be smaller, down to four places, and bedrolls will be replaced with simple beds.

As far as food is concerned, even high-quality inns rarely have a menu. There is typically a dish of the day that is offered, varying depending on what the innkeeper bought on the market that morning. Only the most refined places in the larger cities sometimes have two or three dishes that you can choose from. In the vast majority of places, you order lunch or dinner and get served whatever is for lunch/dinner that day. Perpetual stews or similar meals are very common.


Alcoholic drinks are omnipresent, and beer, ale or mead are pretty much the go-to things an inn serves. Water (contrary to common prejudice) is also a common drink. Milk, on the other hand, is typically reserved for children or the infirm as it spoils quickly and must be consumed the same day.

Most of those alcoholic drinks are fairly light in alcohol. Anything above 10% would be considered a strong drink and only distilled spirits - all of which are considered hard liquours - go above 20%, though sometimes considerably. The exception are dwarven beers, which are at least 25% strong and many go above 40%. Not that precise measuring methods would exist, but that is strong.

Honey is the common sweetener in most drinks, especially in beer and mead.


Water, in general, is valuable because people have to draw it up from a well or haul it from the nearby stream or river. When you've carried that bucket for a kilometre or two, you don't just throw it out. Most water is re-used or conserved. Baths would be shared among the peasant family with each member taking a turn, not because they liked to be dirty but because filling the bath was quite a bit of work (both carrying the water and heating it).

Many houses would collect rain water as a relatively easy means of getting some supply of water, but this would depend on the season and general location.


Most common people can't read or write, or have basic skills at best. Letters are common between nobles, but peasants communicate by speech and news and tales are brought to the villages and towns by bards in the form of songs. Many peasants have no idea what their king looks like, except for the descriptions of him in those songs. Bards are essentially the newspapers of the world, one reason why they can often hope for a free meal and a corner to sleep in at both inns and castles.



Many parts of the world are as bureaucratic as the modern world, especially when it comes to taxes. There is a tax on everything, and tolls and fees on many more things.


Belonging is an important fact in the harsh environment of a medieval world, and society provides a much stronger framework for an individual's life than it does in the modern world.


In addition to crimes and punishments, laws are also used to regulate behaviour. Every place has sets of local laws that determine who may do what and when and what the fines are for breaking them. These laws sometimes regulate the weight of bread, or who may use the well. They can be strangely specific, such as a law that says that nobody may sell ale from his house unless he hangs a sign to that effect. Or that visitors are allowed to carry weapons within the town, but drawing them carries a fine of 5 copper coins, using them of 20 coppers and drawing blood with them a fine of one silver.

These laws change from place to place, and adventurers can easily run afoul of them, often without realizing it. They might break a law that states no horses may be on the market place on a specific day, or that certain goods may only be purchased by non-citizens during specific times of the day.

Many realms also have a hierarchy of laws, where local laws, regional laws and royal laws all are valid at the same time, even though they can be conflicting. Those who broke the regional or royal laws are either brought to the nearest town or city in front of a judge, or placed in a local gaol until a travelling judge passes by - which can be weeks or months.

Complicating things further is the fact that there are few law books, and those that exist are academic treatises. Oral tradition is often the only way for a commoner to know about the law, and when it comes to grey areas or unclear situations outside the everyday experience, many are unsure if a specific action is legal or not.


The economy in this age is still very much an agricultural one. Most people work in food production, either as farmers or in a related profession such as miller, butcher, etc.

As such, society is pretty much built around things important to the food supply. Seasons influence daily life much more than they do today, and the weather is not just a nuissance or pleasure, but a matter of life and death.

Agriculturaly techniques and methods vary by area, but three field crop rotation is very common throughout Auseka.

Unlike our modern agriculture, fields and farming are not optimized for large-scale machine use. Instead, fields are lined with hedges and dotted with small groves, animals are often grazed in or at the edge of the forest, and the variety of plants is much larger with fewer monocultures. Each of these things serves a purpose - hedges and groves break the wind, preventing soil erosion, while at the same time providing berries, fruits and firewood. Many animals, such as chickens, are less stressed when they can hide from birds of prey under trees or bushes, and so on.


The role of cities is much, much lower than in the modern world. In western society, more than half of the population today lives in cities. In the age of Dragon Eye, urbanisation is between 10% and 20%, depending on the region and realm. Cities are the exception, not the norm. Most people live in the countryside, close to and surrounded by nature. Cities are dirty, criminal, dangerous places - both in the minds of the majority of the population and in many cases in reality, too.


The core points of both political and military maps are castles, not cities. Castles can control the land for miles around, and extend their control much further if they are located at chokepoints near rivers, passes or other locations not easily circumvented. They house the nobles and knights and can project military might around. No enemy controls the land without taking its castles.

Castles are also vital economically. The presence of nobles, knights and their households attracts other craftsmen and villages near a castle usually prosper. The castle also offers them safety in case of attack, and villagers will retreat there, often together with their most valuable livestock.


Life being harsh pushes people closer to those they know and trust - family and others "like me". Foreigners are often viewed with suspicion, at least until they've made it clear they are not threat. And the more alien a foreigner is, the more he will be mistrusted. Different skin colour or being a member of another race (dwarf, elf) will often be a considerable problem in social interactions. Even the gnomes, which are integrated completely into human society, are viewed as foreigners in the villages and other places where they are less common.

As a consequence, racism is real and normal in the world, and unlike our modern world, there are next to no voices against it.

Note: This is not a political statement, just consistent world-building. If racism is a touchy subject for you, feel free to ignore racism in your games.


Most of Auseka has a level of technology and understanding of the world roughly equivalent to the late middle ages in the real world, before the discovery of steam engines, modern medicine or the scientific method.

Dwarves and gnomes, as well as a few humans, are masters of mechanical devices, including complex contraptions and some semi-automation using water- or wind-power or animals. Springs and levers are well-known and transmutation and alteration magic allows for the construction of devices that would be difficult to build otherwise.


This topic has its own page at Magical World.