Playing in a Medieval Setting
Spirits of the Earth is a high fantasy RPG set in a medieval world. While we're high on the fantasy and thus take a lot of creative liberties and don't expect 100% historical accuracy (after all, this isn't a historical game), we like to keep to the general spirit of the time period. Also, as a note: please be careful about confusing Victorian/steampunk with the medieval period! The two are far from the same and we're not a steampunk or Victorian game!
So here are some things to keep in mind while playing in SotE's medieval world! Remember, this is just a very general overview, and there may be a lot of variation in different locations. (For example, the island nation of Thanatos has a different set-up from this, and the tribal Yoreiq Isles also do not follow this structure, etc.) This write up mainly applies to Serendipity, Connlaoth, Adela, La'marri, and Zantaric.
It is important to note that while the following things are the norm for SotE's medieval world, your character does not have to adhere to these things.
Your character can still wear what they like (within reason; they better have a good reason for going against the norms of their respective society), believe what they want, and live how they want. You can still play whatever you like! It just means you have to get more creative about it, and that you need to remember that if you're playing a character outside the norm for their society, their society will think them strange for it. Again, this is not a game steeped in historical accuracy, especially since we have stretched it in many ways in creating SotE's original fantasy world. Feel free to be creative, but acknowledge that the following things are the norm for the setting and that they will influence other characters' (including NPCs) perceptions of your character.
Just because an area is, for example, strictly patriarchal and doesn't allow women soldiers, it doesn't mean you can't play a woman soldier in that area. It just means you have to get creative. Have her cross-dress to hide her sex, or maybe she's just done something remarkable, catching the eye of a lord, that has earned her that privilege. That is just one example of the many, many things you can do. You can make any character concept work within any setting if you just give it a little thought. Don't think of these things as roadblocks and bans and restrictions--think of them as fun challenges and find a creative way to use them. You'll have a richer, deeper character for it--and some awesome plot opportunities.
History is full of wonderful, notable exceptions. Fantasy should be no different!
Morality and Values
Remember that modern values do not apply to SotE's world. This takes place in a medieval setting, a time period with vastly different values which vary from nation to nation.
For example, feminism isn't around yet. In many of SotE's nations, the sexes are not considered equal and people acting outside their gender roles are considered radical and even insane. While it happens, and while there are definitely those revolutionary individuals, it's uncommon, unpopular, and usually it's a big deal because it's so uncommon. Racism is common and people don't really understand how terrible it is; it's acceptable to judge someone on that basis. Owning slaves does not make someone a terrible person; to them, it's completely normal, so speaking about the injustices of slavery would be thought of as odd. Arranged marriages are not viewed as awful things--they are a normal part of society and is is normal to marry for status rather than love--and hope that love would develop and that, at the least, they'd get along with their spouse.
Similarly, in this time period people have very different ideas about individuality. A person is part of their family, and family comes first. Their goals are your goals, and it's the good of the family, the group, before the wants of the self. Putting oneself before the needs, wants, and goals of the family is considered shockingly selfish.
These are just a few examples of how morality and values differ from modern ones in this time period and setting. It's important to read each area's information to get an idea of what their values are, what's normal in their society and what's not normal, and then check your modern morality at the door when you play your characters. Of course there are going to be characters who push the boundaries and reject their society's conventions and it's totally cool to play those kinds of characters! Just keep in mind that those attitudes are thought of as weird--and possibly even heresy.
Cereal is the most important staple. For the poor, this comes in the form of barley, rye, and oat, generally eaten as porridge, bread, gruel, and pasta. Generally, only the upper class can afford wheat, which is far more expensive. Vegetables and beans are also a highly important supplement to this diet, often eaten as pottage, a sort of stew made from oats and vegetables. Meat is uncommon, as animals are very expensive to raise, and meat can often be as much as four times more expensive than bread. Thus, it is less common among the lower class and, while it may be more common among the upper class, it is rarely the main course of a meal.
What meats people have access to also depends on their class. The lower class is typically restricted to domestic meats: beef, chicken and other domestic fowl, lamb, pork and, depending on where they live, some types of fish. Even the blood of a slaughtered animal is used for puddings.
The upper class, however, also has access to wild game such as rabbit, deer, boar, and pheasant, which are considered the property of the lord of that land. In many places it is considered a crime for a peasant to poach wild game, and the peasant could be faced with fines or even death depending on whose land they poached. Of course, this is only if they get caught. In SotE, these laws are primarily effective in Serendipity and Connlaoth (and Connlaothian soldiers are notorious for poaching wild game).
However, some villages can get permission from their lord to hunt game animals, usually small ones like squirrels.
It is also commonly believed that the digestive systems of the upper class differ from those of the lower class: a lord's digestive system is far more discriminating and thus demands finer food done up in rich spices, while the peasantry was made to be able to handle cruder, blander food. Of course, this is not true, but it is a belief and an excuse as to why the upper class gets to eat better than the lower class.
Medieval people grow and raise their own food. Any extra that they produce is bartered at market, exchanged for foods or items they do want or need.
Most people do not drink water, as it is often dirty and makes people ill. As a result, most people drink ale, cider, wine, or milk, though milk does not stay good for long. Ale is the most common drink, drank even with breakfast, and many villagers carry a flask of ale with them when they work the fields instead of water.
Also important to note: there are no restaurants. There are taverns, drinking houses which may also offer simple meals and where patrons can go for music, ale, gambling, and even prostitutes. However, it was also common for a family to brew a large batch of ale and turn their home into a temporary "tavern", inviting their neighbors over to drink. And there are inns, as well, in more populated areas, and those serve meals. However, the concept of "restaurants" with menus and such is a fairly modern one.
Another notable fact is that most people do not own their own ovens. Most villages have a communal oven that all the villagers pay taxes on and use to bake their bread.
It is common for people to own only two or three outfits, though the upper class may own more.
There are no zippers or flies in the breeches people wear--breeches tend to lace up instead. Similarly, clothing with buttons is expensive and thus often exclusive to the aristocracy. Most commoners simply cannot scrape the money together that would buy them button-adorned clothing, and that money can certainly be better spent on items they need to survive! Thus, buttons are generally viewed as a status symbol. The upper class can be very extravagant and excessive in their styles.
There are no slacks, trench-coats, jeans, fedoras, bras, tank tops, or other such modern styles. Similarly, while women wear dresses in most locations, women do not wear skirts (except in Yoreiq, Thanatos, and Essyrn). It is largely considered indecent.
It's suggested that you read up on the different clothing styles of each nation before you dress your character. For inspiration (and for our more Eurocentric locations) you can also google what kinds of styles were popular during medieval times.
While there are people who are not particularly religious, and people who may not believe in any deities, the concept of atheism has not yet been invented and there are very, very few actual atheists.
SotE's world is one in which a great deal of supernatural and magical phenomena occurs, a world of magic and faefolk and demons. Magic is often used in place of science, and so the people do not have a very strong understanding of the natural forces of the world. Natural disasters like earthquakes and lightning storms are believed to be the work of gods and even witchcraft. In a world with so much crazy and sometimes scary phenomena, a world where medicine is crude and unrefined, war and death is common, and plague outbreaks claim numerous lives, people cling to belief more than ever because they need to believe in something larger than life. They need hope and faith.
Soldiers need gods and spirituality to keep fighting and stay brave even as their comrades die around them. Peasants need spirituality to be content with their lot in life, hopeful that the afterlife (or their next life) will be better. People need the gods to explain scary things that science can't yet explain. And heck, they need gods to explain the amazing, miraculous and beautiful things that happen without explanation, stories and tales and legends about the stars, the northern lights, how people came to be.
In a world with so much unexplainable phenomena, people turn to the one things that can make sense of everything: religion. Most medieval people are religious, or at least believe in some deity or other. Very few people don't, because why would they not? Science in this period is heavily influenced by religion, and thus science often has a religious bias. Rejecting religious theory in the medieval period is viewed as about as crazy as rejecting common scientific facts in the modern age.
This of course does not mean that players can't play characters who are not religious! Just remember that they will be viewed as odd, as that is not the norm in this period.
While books are being produced, most people are still illiterate--and would be lucky to know how to write their own name. There is no public education; only those wealthy enough to afford tutors will learn to read, write, or do more than very basic math.
Often, even if a peasant could afford to buy an education for their child, the lord of their land will not permit it as a way of keeping the peasant in their place. Education is power, after all.
Because most people are illiterate, there are very few written signs. Instead, most signs use simple pictures and symbols to show what kind of business it is. For example, a tavern called the Boar's Head may have a sign with a picture of just that--a boar's head.
The technology level is pretty basic and gritty. Roads tend to be of poor condition, but there are also deep ruts in them from travel which makes it easier to pull a wagon down them.
There is no indoor plumbing; people typically use chamber pots which they keep by their bedside and have to empty. Water for bathing needs to be brought inside from an outdoor well, and the water may or may not be heated. Similarly, there is no indoor heating. Any heat comes from the fireplace or hearth, and large stone buildings (such as castles) are often very cold.
Silverware is uncommon. Most people use wooden utensils or simply eat with their hands and a knife. Peasantry is not expected to have good manners, though the nobility is expected to adhere to proper etiquette.
Clothing and other objects are all handmade, and they tend to be sturdier and longer lasting. As a result, however, they are often more expensive.
Medieval medicine is very crude, especially in the magic-dominated parts of the world. Connlaoth has the most advanced medicine while Serendipity and Adela, for example, have some of the worst, as magic and healers have replaced traditional medicine in many areas. However, even Connlaoth's medicine is nowhere near as advanced as the medicine of today; they are only slightly ahead of the curve.
Medieval people do not have anesthesia and so surgeries are performed without pain relievers. The closest they come to pain relievers is alcohol, but aside from that they simply have to bite the belt and endure. They also believe that the cure for ailments resembles the ailment, and that all things (plant, animal, and mineral) carry with them a "mark" that indicates their usefulness. For example, urine can be used to treat jaundice, as both are yellow. The seeds of skullcap, which resemble skulls, can be used to treat headaches. The leaves of lungwort resemble lungs and so are used to treat lung ailments. Herbs are a very popular remedy.
Many of these treatments, as can be imagined, do more harm than good. For example, arsenic is used to draw out the vapors believed to cause plague. Sweating and bloodletting (including the use of leeches) is also a popular treatment for disease. In addition to going to the barber for a haircut, people can go to the barber for a bloodletting or operation. And indeed, most "surgeons" are unskilled.
These operations can easily be fatal. People do not yet know of the existence of germs, and thus tools are not sterilized before use. Wounds also have a high chance of getting infected post-operation.
There is very little actual science going on, and their understanding of the human body is limited and based more on theory than fact. In most of the areas (excepting Thanatos), experimenting on corpses is taboo, and thus people just haven't gained an understanding of anatomy. Many illnesses are believed to have a supernatural cause. For example, people do not have an understanding of mental illnesses. Instead, it is believed that the mentally ill are suffering from possession, curses, evil spirits, and bewitchment.
Some of the treatments do work, as there are some herbs that genuinely can benefit people, and people have learned how to utilize them. But medicine is still a shaky, imperfect science.
The class divides in medieval societies are huge. There is an upper class and a lower class, but no actual middle class. Some wealthy merchants could come close to the definition of "middle class", but that is as close as it gets. Everyone else falls into either the "rich" category or the "poor" category.
People do not cross these class divides, not even for love. Rich merchants could potentially marry into a desperate noble family, but that is rare and scandalous. While illegitimate children are often born from a union between a noble and a peasant, the children are rarely officially acknowledged and they are often stigmatized. Many are at least given a chance at knighthood, but the noble does not play any larger role in the child's life. Acknowledging the child would bring shame and scandal onto the family and even potentially upset inheritance rights.
While love between nobles and commoners is rare and stigmatized, players are still free to play it, of course! It's just important to recognize that the relationship will be scandalous in the eyes of other characters and NPCs and possibly lead to major social consequences.
Travel is difficult, inconvenient, and oftentimes dangerous, and people can go their whole lives without traveling more than five miles from their home. Travel is commonly done on foot, as it is mostly rich people who have horses, though a merchant may have a pony and cart.
Most peasants are serfs bound to their land. As they don't own their land or their homes (the lord they serve under does), they are not really allowed to leave and thus simply don't have the opportunity to travel.
This doesn't mean people don't travel! This simply means it's uncommon, and that characters that do travel are viewed as extraordinary and exciting. It is especially uncommon in smaller, rural villages where an outsider passing through is an exciting and rare event.
Because of how uncommon travel is, most small, rural villages don't even have an inn. Instead, travelers generally stay with the lord of the area if they're a noble (or anywhere else they like, as none but their enemy will fail to entertain a lord), or with any family that will take them in for a night if they're not. A village needs to be fairly large with a steady enough inflow of travelers before building an inn is even worth it. Even then, most inns are small and consist only of a common room with a kitchen. Come night time, the chairs and tables are pushed out of the way and the travelers just sleep in the common room.
Higher quality (and more expensive) inns have actual rooms, though they function more as a hostel instead of a true inn. Each room houses several beds for other patrons to sleep in, each bed capable of fitting three men. The best inns will only have one or two beds per chamber. Women are expected to share the same quarters, though married couples may share a bed. The host of the inn is legally responsible for their patrons, and so weapons are expected to be surrendered upon entering the inn.