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Building Character: Birth in Medieval Fantasy

By Joshua Raynack

Before you shove your fifty-foot rope into your adventurer kit to explore the known world and beyond, give thought to your humble beginnings. What better moment to begin than the hour of your birth? In this article and future Building Character articles, we will explore the medieval fantasy world and your place amongst its fold.

If your birth reflected that of a normal child, you were born at the home of your mother. Her relatives and friends swarmed the home ready to assist; all of whom were women. Men, even your father, had no place except to stand vigil.

If your parents involved a physician or surgeon, your birth proved too difficult beyond the capabilities of the common midwife. On the other hand, if born to a privileged household, your mother benefited from the services of a professional midwife, rather than a doctor, to ensure a healthy birth. Though if born to the lower ranks of society, your mother most likely relied on neighbors with learned skills gathered from years of experience.

While maternal deaths are uncommon, it remained a moment of heightened peril for both you and your mother. Though if your mother died during childbirth, a surgeon or midwife may have performed a Caesarean section to save you. Such a procedure, however, is a last resort since it always proves fatal for the mother.

While divine healing is possible through a parish priest, most are lowly curates and lack the gift to channel the power of those they worship. Clergymen capable of the feat may extract a steep tithe or the blessing ties the child to a particular saint or deity. A further toll, should a curative prayer or ritual save the life of a newborn, may grant authority for the church to raise the child; whisking them away to an abbey or nunnery when reaching the appropiate age. Is this how your religious journey as a cleric began? Perhaps, this is how you entered the spiritual ranks as a paladin or crusader?

Should your mother survive, unless you are an only child (which is uncommon), she may have succumbed to excessive blood loss birthing a younger sibling. Though childbirth is dangerous for the mother, it is much more so for the child. In fact, one in ten infants are stillborn. Did you witness the burial of a younger sister? Are you named after a stillborn sibling that would have been an older brother?

With your birth a success, life is still uncertain. Your immune system is weak and with disease rampant across the countryside, along with inadequate medical knowledge, you might not survive to adulthood. Given that life is precarious, as dragons cripple livestock and bloodthirsty ogres raid undefended farmlands, it is conceivable you lost your first childhood friend before age five; then several more before reaching twenty.

As you now surmise, grim life in a medieval fantasy world did not begin when you decided to leave your village and those you cared for behind for a life of adventure. It began the moment you took your first breath into a larger world wrought by danger and fantastic beasts. Life experiences, even those you may not remember, shape your core being and may have had a hand developing the driving spirit that now thrusts you toward fame and glory.

However you entered the world, it is now yours for the taking.


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