I often find that many settings forget to emphasize how the commoner fits into the world. For this discussion, I will assume that most human commoners are farmers (food cultivators), say 90%. What do they know of their world? What assumptions do they hold and how did those assumptions come to be? For example:
- How big is the world?
- What shape is the world?
- What is beyond the horizon?
- How far has one traveled from home? What's that radius like? 15 miles?
- Which gods are the most important to them on a daily basis? Remember that Farlanghn walks the Flanaess, so a few have evidence beyond clerical say so to know they are real.
- What % have actually witnessed a true performance of magic?
- How is a wizard regarded when encountered? Distrust, fear, respect, favor?
- With so many overlapping divine portfolios dealing with death and the afterlife, what does the common person believe happens when they die?
- What roles do the moons and stars play?
- What are the moons and stars?
- What's a rainbow? Who made it and where does it end or lead?
- Which monsters threaten them the most if any? ...enough that the monsters aren't relegated to the role of fables and boogeymen. Drow in Sterich are known to be real but in Furyondy few, if any, have heard of them.
- How common are demi-humans to their mind or experience?
These are just a few off-the-top ideas, so I'm sure there are many more. PCs tend to know more in part because their players know the setting.
I'd like to know what a commoner knows in your Greyhawk.
I often find that many settings forget to emphasize how the commoner fits into the world...
-Oooh, Yummy! This is the sort of thing I think is underdone.
For this discussion, I will assume that most human commoners are farmers (food cultivators), say 90%...
-First, I think that the percentage of the population needed to cultivate food would be lower in most of the WoG than in our historical Medieval period, mostly due the direct impact of magic, but also indirect impacts (e.g., better knowledge of fertilizers, etc. since a high priestess of Atroa can simply ask the goddess herself what works). Let's say, 75%.
...How far has one traveled from home? What's that radius like? 15 miles?...
-The cliche I've always heard is 50 miles, but I don't know how that figure was actually calculated (or who did it). There are related discussions, here:
In this case, I don't think the WoG would be that different from the Medieval period, mostly due to lack of need, or interest. Sailors, traders, would be an exception, maybe fishermen. Nomads from non-settled societies. Even soldiers and pilgrims wouldn't necessarily travel 50 miles from home. Using England, Canterbury wasn't 50 miles away for a good chunk of Englishmen, and an Englishman could go to war in Wales, Scotland, or France without travelling 50 miles. The same thing would apply to the WoG.
...What % have actually witnessed a true performance of magic?...
-In Good and/or Lawful societies, almost all adults, but not the flashy kind: "Cure/Remove Disease"; "Cure Minor- or Light Wounds"; spells to improve crop yields or livestock survival. Maybe "Bless" at some point. If they've been to war, then they've probably seen a few examples of the flashier stuff.
...How is a wizard regarded when encountered? Distrust, fear, respect, favor?...
-Keoland had a long distrust of arcane spellcasters, and the cold barbarians don't like them at all. For most others, I assume a certain amount of respect, but how much would depend on the spellcater's power (or their assumed power).
...Which monsters threaten them the most if any? ...enough that the monsters aren't relegated to the role of fables and boogeymen. Drow in Sterich are known to be real but in Furyondy few, if any, have heard of them...
-As you already pointed out, it's area specific.
...How common are demi-humans to their mind or experience?...
I DM'ed the Battle of the Loftwood for some new players who were part of Quegg's warband. They were experienced D&Ders, but had never done WoG before. I mentioned some elves marching past, and one of the players started to role-play antsy and exicited. I pointed out that, being from around Bluefang Pass near the Timberway, his PC had probably seen elves before and his chieftain foster father may have dealt with them, with him present. Seeing elves wouldn't be an everyday experience, but it wouldn't be mind-blowing.
Literacy: I assume that the likelihood of literacy in settled areas is a cross between Intelligence and class: If Lower-Lower Class, 12 INT and higher are usually literate; If Middle-Lower Class (often the largest single demographic group), then 10 INT and higher are usually literate; 8 INT for Upper-Lower Class (common in well-off areas). I assume that the Middle and Upper classes are usually literate. This might be a little higher than historical, but 1) The WoG would be slightly better off than our Medieval period and 2) The rate of Medieval literacy is often under-rated. People were considered "non-literate" if they could NOT read Latin, which would make most of the people reading this "non-literate". Literacy in the local language (e.g., English) was a lot more common, although I've never seen figures.
EDIT: corrected to read "...People were considered "non-literate" if they could NOT read Latin..."
Last edited by jamesdglick on Wed Aug 24, 2022 12:24 pm; edited 1 time in total
The World of Greyhawk box set says Oerth has a polar circumference of 8,400 leagues (25 ,200 miles). Thus, traveling 23 leagues (70 miles, 2 1/3 hexes) in a north r south direction covers one degree of latitude.
Earth has a 24,901 mile circumference. That's a 1% difference. So when I overlay Oerth maps on Google Earth, I ignore the difference.
Most DMs believe the world is round. I'm surprised that more DMs don't seem to consider it hollow. Maybe they haven't thought of the option before. For beyond the Flanness, there are various attempts to come up with something floating around. Most seem to be based on a player's style map but that doesn't totally match with the words that Gary Gygax described his vision for it after he left TSR. There are a few threads on Canonfire! which cover this topic. Anna Meyer has a take on it.
If you buy into Menzter's take of the placement of Oerth as Tau-Ceti, then you can use Google Earth to see the stars since I think it should be close enough to Earth to essentially be the same.
My own notes for what Greyhawk characters know includes:
* OD&D Volume 1: Men & Magic:
Characters who employ spells are assumed to acquire books containing the
spells they can use, one book for each level. If a duplicate set of such books is desired,
the cost will be the same as the initial investment for research as listed
above, i.e. 2,000, 4,000, 8,000, etc. Loss of these books will require replacement
at the above expense.
* Greyhawk box set has od a Character's Place of Birth (Acrobat page 118).
All PCs speak common at least
Gygax 1983: "The sun travels around Oerth in 364 days, visiting the 12 Lairs of the Zodiac in an appointed round which never varies... When both Mistress and Handmaiden (moons) are full, things of great portent are likely to occur, depending on the positions of the five wandering stars in the Lairs, naturally."
Gygax 1985: planet of Rao, greatest of the celestial spheres in the family to which Oerth belonged
Gygax: On the planets nothing more except he intended one beyond "Pluto" making 10 altogether.[/i]
Thanks to both of you for your comments and insights.
To clarify, just in case, I was curious what the commoner knows. If, for example, a Player Character entered the Inn of The Welcome Wench, stuck up a conversation with a group of natives, and asked if the Oerth is flat, how would they answer? What truth is held by the general population of the Flanaess? Would my PC sage of Celestian be mocked if he stated that the world is a globe? If not, how do people know their world is a sphere suspended in space just as PCs do?
Anyway, I was curious. I know I could answer this for myself, but I wanted other DM's take.
And then there's any similar question left unexplored.
Thanks again. Always good to get such sage advice.
...To clarify, just in case, I was curious what the commoner knows. If, for example, a Player Character entered the Inn of The Welcome Wench, stuck up a conversation with a group of natives, and asked if the Oerth is flat, how would they answer? What truth is held by the general population of the Flanaess? Would my PC sage of Celestian be mocked if he stated that the world is a globe? If not, how do people know their world is a sphere suspended in space just as PCs do? ...
-Most of the locals would know that the Oerth is round for two reasons:
1) Just like in our world, the "experts" say so, and most people in the Flannaess (or Earth, for that matter) tend to go with that, but there, experts have far greater credibility than ours do, because they can commune with the gods. In this example, a distant predecessor of the sage's high priest undoubtedly communed with Celestian and got the right answer. Over time, this would have filtered down to ordinary people;
2) Even in our world, knowledge that the world was round was more common than popular imagination has it. Any halfway intelligent person who watched a ship go over a horizon would grasp the possibility (well, assuming it didn't sink before returning). Actually, anyone who saw a horizon could understand it conceptionally. The problem would be understanding why the ship doesn't fall off the globe as it sails on. But here again, the concept of gravity would probably have filtered down. In this case, the average person would probably think of gravity as a form of magic (Beory wills it), but I suspect that really isn't too different how most modern people understand it. 😉
I think most people would have access to the astronomical information Raymond quotes, but most people would be fuzzy on the details (e.g., Oerth's circumference = 25,200 miles). For comparison, what percentage of the modern US population could tell you the Earth's circumference (roughly 25,000 miles)? Or the order of the planets? I can't remember the order of Neptune and Uranus, and I'm a well read, reasonably bright guy. Or even name all the planets? And does Pluto really count? Yikes! For patrons in the Welcome Wench, I'd say no, unless they had a relevant skill/proficiency, but anyone with 10 INT would know that the circumference of Oerth was over 10,000 miles and would have heard of all the planets, even if they couldn't name them all off the top of their heads. If you're using D&D 3X or later, I'd say anyone in the Welcome Wench who made a DC 11 (skill trained required) check could name the planets and moons off the top of their head, put them in order, and would know the approximate circumference of Oerth. In 577, they'd have heard of Hepmonaland and Fireland. If you were in the SW Flanaess, I'd make knowledge of Hepmonaland's existence a DC 10 (untrained) check. The same for goes for Ratik, the Frutzi, or the Schnai and Fireland.
Shoot, I'm surprised there's a thing now called Flatearthers. And that's a real life deal not an in-game deal. So, there may be characters or monsters in Oerth that believe Oerth is flat. I don't know when that would come up in my games. I don't think it ever has.
Maybe you want Flatoerthers in your game for some reason. You can do it if you want to. I've never read anything that says what inhabitants believe for the shape of Oerth. I've only read what was meant for the DM.
But as someone pointed out, the idea that Oerth is the center of the geosystem might be from an unreliable narrator. I hadn't thought that before, but I see a good argument for it. I'm not sure which choice I would choose at the moment if I had to (and right now I'm not DMing so I don't have to choose). And yes, I'm ignoring the SpellJammer geocentric stuff. But it is TSR so that might be something that makes you want a geocentric setting.
Most of your questions tend towards the peculiarities of a campaign. Personally, I like to keep my campaigns fairly realistic, with magic and fantastic beings being fantastic so that there is a sense of wonder.
A couple of caveats; I keep my Grehawk less-literate than most AD&D worlds, and in fact charge an extra proficiency to write a language vice reading it, which was historically accurate. It’s a good jobs program for scribes and also forces the players to really think about where to allocate proficiencies. Secondly, I don’t have a Common language. I use some of the smaller languages, such a Keoish, Velondi, et. al. and make them the local vernacular and Old Oeridian is the language of the upper class and educated. Think Norman England where for the first few generations, the kings could not understand their subjects.
To most commoners, the size of the world is not something they have likely contemplated. It might be a “month’s walk” or “1000 leagues” but any answer they give that is not sarcastic is likely to simply be an expression of “really big.” They would know that beyond the horizon is more world, but most will not have travelled far… perhaps the nearest one or two market towns. An exceptional commoner may have travelled to a city nearby, or even served in an army some distance away, but overall locals are just that, locals and they do not get out much.
Skipping to magic, I don’t have wizards just popping off spells to announce their presence with authority or some such. People know magic exists, and the guys and girls and robes with staves and wands do it, but how it works is not known or understood. Sure, a resident of Greyhawk has seen the Desportium of Magick but most people do not see anything so grand or significant. Burne is not likely casting spells publicly often, as it draws the wrong sort of attention. Likewise, clerics will heal if necessary, but not every bump and bruise… clerical magic serves the gods’ purposes, not to make everything easier, so the kid with the broken leg will have a broken leg.
I think the question of monsters and demi-humans are related.. in short, it depends where they are. Woodsmen in the Gnarley and Vesve have likely seen elves, but not dwarves. Farmers in the Great Kingdom would have little if any experience of demi-humans and would be shocked to meet one, while a laborer in Greyhawk might be surprised to be addressed by an elf, but probably would not stare.
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