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Unearthed Mundana: Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood

This article was first broadcast in Episode Sixty-Three on 27th February 2019.

*Sounds of a large crowd*
RyuOkay, who are all these people?
LennonYes, thank you, we’ll be in touch, next please!
OstronLennon? What are you doing?
LennonJob interviews!
RyuFor what? We’ve got a full staff, don’t we? And I mean, with the Oblex in HR…
LennonNo, no, I’m trying to fill out a village for my campaign. I need some tradespeople.
OstronDon’t you just need to say “hey there are this many people in the village”?
LennonSure, if you want to half-ass it.

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A lot of times when players in a campaign wander into a village, they only get to know three types of people: the innkeeper (assuming an inn exists), any shopkeeper willing to buy things from them, and whomever in the village has work, or a problem, or some item the characters need. But there are a lot of other potential people that could be inhabiting the town and getting a lot of attention, if you look at how such places operated in actual history.

First, you have the blacksmith. Even if there’s a shop in the town, technically any work involving armor, weapons, or metal of any kind is going to be their purview. If they can actually work armor and weapons well, they’re also going to be very much in demand; if the characters want special work done they’ll probably have to wait multiple days or even weeks for him to be available for their request. If the village is also in the domain of a lord, it’s likely he would have moved him into the manor or castle to outfit and maintain his and his guards’ equipment.

Another craftsman the lord is likely to want close to hand is the Artillator or Bowyer. This is the person with the knowledge and skill to make bows and possibly even crossbows. They may or may not be able to also make the arrows used with them, but that is more likely to be a Fletcher. The fletcher isn’t likely to move into the castle, though, because they will need to go out hunting birds to find feathers to put in the arrows.

Speaking of moving into the castle, if there is a sizable manor house or castle in the area, a lot of the people in the village are going to know someone that works and lives there because most of the castle staff will be made up of sons, daughters, and cousins of people who are working as porters, cooks, stable-hands and other staff. Some of them will actually live at the manor house but others will have homes to return to, particularly if they’re older established servants who raised families.

But returning to the village proper, the leaders of the community are likely to be those who are professional tradesman. Almost every village is going to have both a miller and a carpenter. The miller is the one who operates the mill in town to produce flour and bake bread, and everyone has to go to them for both purposes. The carpenter basically does the same thing modern carpenters do, but with less power tools. Both of them have to do things for the local lord, assuming there is one, but because of their control of local building and baking, they will have more money and higher social status than most of the villagers — and proof of this can still be seen today, particularly in my neck of the woods where “Baker” and “Wright” are amongst the most common surnames (Wright being an old term for carpenter, as in shipwright). If they are friendly and cordial, they may be seen as the leaders or representatives for the villagers. If they take advantage of their position, they’re going to be resented by the rest of the villagers.

Further, each of those tradesman is also going to have apprentices, who are probably local young adults or teenagers. If they are older apprentices, known as journeymen, they may be doing some simple tasks on their own  

Depending on what else is in the area, other tradesmen may be present in the village. If the local lord is in control of a vineyard then there will likely be a vintner in charge of the production of whatever comes out of the vineyard and gets turned into wine and vinegar.

If the village has access to a lot of wood, there’s likely to be at least one cooper and possibly a wheelwright. The former makes barrels, while the latter, as you might have guessed, is responsible for forming wheels out of wood.

All of these tradesman would have apprentices and would have as much pull in the community as a miller or carpenter. They would also, again, be slightly richer than the average villager as people both in and out of the village would be paying them for their services.

Now, some people’s jobs will translate differently because of time. For example, you still go to a barber if you need a haircut, but you’d also go to them if you need a tooth pulled or major surgery. The barbers of medieval villages also tended to serve as doctors, though expertise and knowledge would vary widely.

If there’s no barber around it’s very likely medical treatment will be the purview of local older women who have herb gardens and have passed on some herbalism knowledge by word of mouth. They would guard this knowledge closely; they usually wanted to help people, but being the only one in the area that knows how to treat indigestion or ease a toothache usually meant people would leave gifts and money after they were helped out. But demanding too many accolades is also what got some of these women accused of witchcraft.

Speaking of older women, a spinster in a village is probably going to be a woman, but they might be any age and they may or may not be married. Spinster in medieval times referred to the literal job of taking wool and turning it into yarn. Working closely with the spinster is likely to be a Walker, which isn’t someone who exercises the village dogs, but instead beats and presses cloth to make it denser.

Finally in our list of different titles, the local bailiff has nothing to do with a court system. They would be a peasant that owns their own land, though not much of it, but they are tasked by the local lord to assign the work of any serfs or peasants that own no land for themselves. All of this person’s well being comes at the grace of the local noble, so they are unlikely to be sympathetic or liked by the rest of the peasantry.

Now, obviously we’re taking examples from medieval Europe and the height of “traditional” middle ages. In larger cities things would be different, and in times and areas where merchant guilds or shipping are more of a focus the jobs and economy would work very differently (definitely don’t take the lessons here and try and apply them to 1400s Venice, for example). But if you want to walk into a remote village in the countryside and put someone else besides an innkeeper there, those are some options that fit with the theme.

 

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*Large crowd returns*
RyuNow, Lennon, are you going to do something about this rabble, or am *I* going to have to?
LennonSay no more! Right, thank you all, I’ll be looking over these CVs and get back to you with my decisions. Please follow me, door is this way.
OstronOkay, while Lennon’s sorting that out, let’s head over to the scrying pool and see what the listeners have to say.

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