Sunday, April 10, 2011

Medieval Technology

Most D&D-based campaigns are set in a setting more or less analogous to Medieval Europe. We tend to think of such times are backward in the extreme, driven by media images such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail. However, the Medieval peoples had fairly sophisticated technology that we might not realize they had. Here are ten pieces of (mundane) technology that you might want to consider including in your campaign.
  1. Central Heating (9th century). Hot air was forced through channels beneath the floor. The Romans had something similar much earlier; the whole floor was raised above a small chamber filled with hot air (called a hypocaust).
  2. Mechanical Clock (13th century). Wound springs turn precision-made gears to move hands on the clock face. 
  3. Magnetic Compass (13th century). Magnetized needle is placed on precision-floating pin, without needing to float on water. Magnets themselves are used as early as the mid-12th century.
  4. Eyeglasses (13th century). Convex lenses allow for correction of eye defects and magnification.
  5. Watermarks (13th century). Mark pressed into the paper itself helps prevent counterfeiting.
  6. Distilling (12th century). Distilled liquors were sometimes used for medicinal purposes.
  7. Liquid soap (9th century). Solid soap came later, in the 12th century.
  8. Cannons (13th century). Originally cannons were made with iron staves held in places by metal hoops. That's why a gun's muzzle is still called a "barrel" to this day.
  9. Paper (8th century). Much easier and cheaper to produce than papyrus, vellum, etc. 
  10. Incendiary Grenades (9th century). Made with "Greek Fire", a mixture of petroleum and bitumen that can burn even underwater.