Friday, 13 March 2015

Shropesyre Geographic Data

Full details of the domain are not nearly complete, but we now have enough to go on. I can now say with confidence that during this weekend’s session, the groundwork is laid for the PCs to travel anywhere in the shire. This is certainly not to say that they must visit any particular locale over the course of the game, but anywhere they do will contain at the very least the breath of life. The following is an overview of the shire including information on population, economics, government, and culture.


The population of the shire is considered to be 48,502 using the estimate by Broadberry, Campbell and Leeuwen (2010). I find it far easier to go with a number like this and distribute it in a logical manner than to attempt to extrapolate population based on how much land is required to support people. There ends up being too many variables in standards of living, population fluctuations following famine and disease, and so on. Using what is known by professionals whose job it is to study this sort of thing goes a long way toward establishing the population centres described in the next section.

Tradition divides the populace into three classes: those who fight, those who pray, and those who work; but three pandemics of the Great Plague, among other factors, renders this stratification increasingly complicated by the time of our game, and there are many who fall outside of it. Nonetheless, the following chart, in lieu of a pyramid, gives a basic idea of representative wealth of various social classes to give players an idea of the buying power of their pound sterling.

Secular Social Structure

Annual Income
Usually more than £1000
Usually up to  £1000
Esquires and Knights

More than £40
Yeomen and Franklins
More than £5
More than £1
Less than £1

This chart obviously shows some overlap between the estates of ‘those who fight’ at the top and ‘those who work’ beneath them. Many townspeople, such as merchants, entertainers, mariners, and of course adventurers, fall outside this structure. The clergy also have a different but parallel structure, which is meanwhile more complicated because it includes both the regular clergy, who isolate themselves from the world in their monasteries or hermitages, and the secular clergy, who live in society and administer to the people there. Approximately two percent of the adult male population are clergymen, and this figure includes those priests who are adventurers.

Adventurers are rare, with perhaps a handful being found in every thousand persons. As the risk of death is great and the work often takes them far from other people, PCs will rarely encounter NPC adventurers at random, and the benefits to the survivors will be significant.


The map identifies populated settlements in black text as one city (in 30-point font), several towns (24-point), villages (18-point), hamlets, farmsteads or manors (14-point), individual buildings of note (12-point); and deserted or abandoned settlements in brown text. Religious establishments, when not otherwise connected to a settlement, are in blue. A total of 358 places are labelled.

The definition of a city is nebulous, but for our purposes will be a town of several thousand inhabitants that is a significant cultural, commerce and administrative hub. (Actually, one defining characteristic, arguably the most important, is the presence of a cathedral, and this definition would apply to only seventeen municipalities in the whole of England at this time, none of them in our shire.) What we will tentatively deem a ‘city’ is Shropesberie, near the centre of the map with approximately 3,500 permanent inhabitants. This number is frequently swollen to double or more with people coming and going from the countryside for purposes of commerce. During fairs and other festivities it will be even greater.

Towns tend to be somewhat less populous, but will be filled to double the permanent number during market days, which are normally once per week. The definition of a town is complicated, but will be simplified here as possessing a town charter from the king or the right to hold a market. For now, considering every town on the map as a place where the party can buy supplies will be sufficient; if they do not have a market they will still have a variety of shops and craftsmen to provide basic goods.

The status of village indicates the presence of a church. These areas tend to be based in agriculture, and their inhabitants go to the nearest town to buy things. They tend to have several hundred inhabitants.

A hamlet is a municipality, different from a manor or independent farmstead, that is nonetheless a community of several families but does not have a church. Its inhabitants go to the nearest village for church services and to the nearest town for shopping. These may be a few hundred persons or as few as several tens.

A manor is generally as small as or smaller than a hamlet, so is labelled in the same 14-point font. It consists only of a noble household and its peasants bound to the land, and is set apart from any municipality.

Likewise an independent farmstead is set apart but is labelled. Many of these are isolated and inhabited by only one family.

There are many former settlements on the map that have been abandoned during the Great Plague or because the source of the settlement’s economy declined until it could no longer support a population. (Some buildings therein might have become the abode of wild animals, goblins or kobolds, but are most likely to contain nothing but mildew and vermin.) Even settlements that appear in black text are likely to have decaying buildings on the outskirts. In some cases a former village may have become a hamlet when its income could no longer support a priest, and its church torn down for lumber and other resources. In other cases the size of a church was altered to fit the shrunken population. In still others ancient buildings remain, such as stone churches from the Norman period and abandoned castles inside or outside of a settlement.


Presiding over the shire and parts of other surrounding shires is the Earl of March, who divides his time between castles at Ludeforde, Shropesberie, and his family seat at Ardintone as well as some outside the shire.

Direct administration of Shropesyre is carried out by the High Sheriff (or shire-reeve), the king’s chief officer of the shire. His headquarters is at Shropesberie, where he maintains the shire gaol and shire court every six weeks. Twice per year, at Easter and Michealmas, the Sheriff’s court, or tourn, visits each hundred to hear all untried cases, convict criminals, and levy fines against communities that failed to report crimes. The current High Sheriff is Sir John Burley.

Directly under the High Sheriff is a small number of magistrates, local men of good standing selected by the king who to act as judges in disputes and interpret the law at shire courts.

The shire is divided into several hundreds, a hundred being an area of land traditionally deemed able to support one hundred warriors. A particular hundred may be under the king’s lordship or under the lordship of a baron, but in any case is administered by a bailiff of the hundred. The bailiff answers either to his lord in the case of a private hundred or to the High Sheriff in the case of a royal hundred.

Hundreds are further divided into townships, the chief officer of each being a constable. The constable does not govern per se, but reports crimes within the township to the bailiff. At this level government is administered either directly by the lord of a manor, through his steward, or, in the case of most towns, by a mayor elected by and from within a council of aldermen. Smaller towns and villages might be headed only by a single alderman (or steward if the village is privately owned). Most hamlets have no official leader but only a chief tithing man, who is responsible for law enforcement at the level of the tithing, which is normally ten households in close proximity to one another.

Local law enforcers include the coroner, who must ostensibly be present when justice is carried out, and members of the local guard or watch in the case of towns. If any crime is witnessed, it is incumbent on local people to raise the hue and cry, to which everyone within hearing distance is legally obligated to respond. If a perpetrator or suspect is sighted, he is likely to be arrested by the locals and brought to a tithing man, local guard, or whoever is available to detain the prisoner and convey him to gaol or the stocks until justice can be done. (Some ordinances permit summary execution when a criminal is caught ‘red-handed’. Technically, the coroner should be present, but this is not always the case.)

Finally, it should be added that very serious offenses may be conveyed to royal judges. Twice per year these visit each shire to hear serious cases from the tourn. Every seven years, or as the king decrees, they hear all unresolved cases and empty the gaols, a process known as ‘gaol delivery’: each prisoner is tried and hung or, depending on his reputation, cleared of charges and set free. (As evidence is generally difficult to obtain, it is often the testimony of a convicted man’s associates that saves him from the gallows.)

Routes of Travel

Overland travel is common for merchants, pilgrims, aristocrats and adventurers. The ‘roads’ indicated on the map are obviously well-trod paths. Not all roads need to be shown at this time because the PCs would not be familiar with them yet. 5-pixel brown lines indicate very clear main routes of travel that lead with certainty to market towns and travel within the vicinity of other communities. They are of necessity wide because in times of bad weather they may be subject to flooding, potholes or other hindrances, and traffic moves the ‘road’ to either side as fits the circumstances. 3-pixel lines are less frequently-travelled routes that still bear visible marks of foot and hoof traffic. In places that are not marked with any lines, traffic passes so infrequently that the landscape does not display permanent evidence. If travelers are lucky, there be a stone cross standing alone in a field to indicate the general direction of the nearest settlement.

If the party should become lost, the most rational course of action would be to follow a river downstream. It’s likely to lead to a market town eventually. I haven’t yet added all the minor rivers and brooks to the map; some are too small to be visible, but by far the majority of settlements are located along or nearby some flowing water source. It should also be noted that many rivers of significant size will have wooden bridges in various states of repair. Some of these are so rickety that one would be safer simply wading through the water. Once in about every 40,000 acres, though, there might be a stone bridge, built and maintained as an act of charity by someone wealthy enough to do so. Most of these have chapels built on them.

Some statutes require manorial lords to keep the roadsides in their vicinity clear of brush in order to make it difficult for robbers to hide, but enforcement of these statutes is irregular, and highwaymen do still rob people. The best strategy for protection is appearing both poor and dangerous. Most travelers meet at inns and embark together if their destinations are in the same general area.


For the sake of brevity, I will generally assume that the PCs act in accordance with typical standards of behaviour unless the players specifically indicate otherwise. This includes leaving any weapons with one’s host on entering an inn, a private residence, o a religious establishment. In certain towns it is against local statutes to carry arms or wear armour within town limits (knights and members of the watch exempted).

Observing the zeitgeist also means going to church regularly and following the dietary customs of the realm. People normally eat two meals per day: dinner, the largest meal, in late morning, and a more modest supper in late afternoon. Few people outside the wealthiest classes eat breakfast, but they might have some bread and cheese on rising if they plan to travel a long distance. What they may eat is dictated by seasonal availability as well as by the Church. No meat may be consumed on Wednesdays, Fridays or Saturdays, or during Lent or Advent. Furthermore, during Lent they may eat only one meal per day, and no eggs except on feast days. If PCs are seen breaking these rules, they may find themselves dragged to a church court and fined or forced to do penitence.

Seasonal availability is part of the explanation for the origin of the above customs. Fresh things become scarce as the season grows further from the harvest. Many animals are slaughtered at Martinmas because of the expense of keeping them alive through the winter. Fruit and vegetables are most abundant in autumn. Fresh fish are most available in summer, when the waves are not so rough for fishing; in other seasons they are likely to be salted, pickled, or otherwise preserved. Thus I have four different lists of what is available for purchase, and varying prices, for each season. (Fortunately, the prices of bread and ale remain stable throughout the year, thanks the Assize of Bread and Ale.)

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