With all the wizards, dragons, and general magic in Dungeons and Dragons, its easy to let the game slip into the realm of the purely fantastical. After all, magic is a mainstay of the game, and it makes sense that you might not get into all the little details of a realistic medieval world.
Still, not every player is going to be playing a magic-heavy class or race. And grounding your campaign in some more realistic rules and features can go a long way into making the world feel more relatable.
Here, we’ve collected a set of small details you can use to add just the right touch of realism to your DnD world.
The Best Way to Keep Watch in DnD
Pretty much every party, at some point or another, sets up camp to rest for the night. They’ll hitch the horses, lay out the bedrolls, and set up a watch schedule. Particularly dramatic players may note just how they’re keeping watch, too, such as:
“I gaze into the campfire, keeping an ear and an eye out for danger while I brood over my mistakes in the last combat, how they could have lost my friends their lives.”
This is all well and good, very angsty and all, but there’s a serious problem. Namely, looking into the light.
When you’re keeping watch, looking at the fire is the last thing that you should do. Your enemies will be coming from the darkness of the surrounding wilderness, and even if you hear them coming, it’ll take precious moments for your eyes to adjust.
Instead, make sure that any of your camping-adept characters (like rangers, druids, or even soldiers) know to look away from the fire during their watch. And if they remember, maybe give them advantage on their perception rolls as a realistic sort of reward.
What You'll Drink in a Tavern
If your party is spending the night inside, it’s a good bet that they’ll spend it in a tavern or a bar. And in a tavern or a bar they’ll want to buy some drinks. It’s all good fun to have them get drunk off ale and beer, but realistically that probably wouldn’t happen.
Most medieval drink had relatively low levels of alcohol, meant mainly as a safe substitute for sometimes-dangerous water, which might have carried diseases. It also made up for a lot of the vitamins that their food often lacked, having little fresh fruit or grains in the early middle ages. Even wine would normally be watered down to save on its costs. The good alcohol, the stuff that would get you drunk, would either be much more expensive, or saved for special occasions.
This means that, in a medieval setting, ale is cheap, and water expensive. In DnD, of course, Purify Water is an available spell, so larger cities with access to clerics and temples would be able to provide large quantities of drinking water. But smaller villages would probably have to buy it if they needed it to drink and not just to water their crops.
As for implementation, there’s a few option for this particular fact. You can adjust the prices of water, or require the players to make some Investigation rolls to locate clean drinking water, or risk taking on the diseased condition (this will make your utility casters really shine, and encourage them to take more than just offensive spells). Or, you might include an NPC water purifier, who goes from town to town selling purification for their water to drink and treat wounds. There could even be a plot hook with him, since sellers of clean water wouldn’t take kindly to his work.
How Commoner NPCs Live
Most of the maps you’ll find online for DnD looks mostly like modern houses, minus the electronics and appliances. But actual medieval houses, at least the ones lived in by peasants and commoners, wouldn’t have.
They’d mostly be 2 stories, and house a large number of family members, plus whatever animals they owned (and they would own animals, such as goats and chickens, for food). The animals might live outside during the day, but at night they’d be brough into the floor level of the house. The family would then climb a ladder to the upper floor, where they’d sleep mostly altogether. The heat of the animals below would rise to keep them warm!
The Basics of Feudal Titles
If your campaign is set in a feudal state (as many are), it’s important to note just how the system worked. From a modern perspective, it looks like a bunch of rich people who mostly sit around and collect taxes. And, sometimes, it was. But nobles did have distinct roles and jobs, and they answered to the people above them.
A Count, for instance, was in charge of protecting and caring for a set amount of land within a Duchy, owned by a Duke. So, not only would he be below him in the pecking order, he would have been technically granted his rule and power by said Duke. This trail of power went all the way up to the King, and then the Emperor.
There were also Lords (of the Manor), who were often knights, who didn’t really own much land, and as such didn’t make much of their money from taxes and agriculture. Instead, they often answered directly to the king, and were paid handsomely for their war efforts.
How would this affect your world? Well, it can spark quite a lot of political intrigue and plots that go past the usual “bad king vs. good king”. Plus, it changes the reference point of most of your NPCs. Peasants won’t usually have complaints about their king overall, but of the Baron or Lord who’s setting their taxes and directly impacting their life.
Are there any little details that you like to include in your campaigns? We’d love to hear about them, and how they go down with your party!