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Building Character: Growing Up in Medieval Fantasy Part II

By Joshua Raynack

Imagine running down narrow streets, swiping a hat from a raker as he cleans filth and refuse from the lane. Are you in a game of tag, in a foot race, playing hoops, or do you have your prized fighting cock in hand and rushing to your school master before the cock fight begins? Perhaps, you are chasing a pigeon with a stone bow or scurrying from a shopkeeper whose window you broke? In the last Building Character article, we focused on growing up in a violent, medieval fantasy world. In this column, we continue to center on adolescent life within an urban sprawl, away from the farming villages that survive on the edge of unknown lands.

Do not dismiss that danger just lurks beyond the fortified walls and the city watch keeps such villainy at bay. A crowded street breeds peril and risk for all children unaware of its pitfalls. Do you remember the rhyme your mother often preached: "Child, climb not over house and wall for no fruit, birds, or ball. Child, over houses no stone fling or at glass windows no stones sling. And child, when you go out to play, look to come home by the light of day." Did you witness your childhood friend fall to his death when he climbed out a window and along a gutter to fetch a ball? Did you revel at the wharf after curfew with a few fellow chaps as the mood darkened when your mate slipped into the river and drowned? Did you spy a secret from outside a high tower window, though survived a fall as a treacherous lord pushed you and left you for dead?

Though life as a young lad or lass had its moments of indiscretions, it also held the burdens and realities of adulthood. Living among the lower classes of society, you began work as an apprentice at age seven; seen your twin brother hung as a thief the same year; and soon after your twelfth birthday, served on a jury.

If your father possessed a bit of wealth, he acquired an apprenticeship for you to a master craftsman so that you might learn a trade. The demeanor of your master determined whether the experience proved a favorable one. It is not uncommon for youths to rebel or even run from an apprenticeship. Is this how you found yourself an urchin at a young age, scavenging in dark alleys? Did the daughter or son of the household catch your eye? Were they kind and patient and now do you seek to avenge their deaths at the hands of a rival? Perhaps, your family could not afford an apprenticeship and instead found yourself working as an unskilled laborer before risking life and limb as an adventurer?

As a young noble, preparations and training to become a knight began at age seven along with an education in etiquette and basic literacy skills. Furthermore, you served as a page or an apprentice squire to a knight of another noble house. Aside from learning martial training, you ran messages, cleaned clothes and weapons, and armed and dressed your lord. The knight served as your mentor. Were you close? Did he teach you the fine social graces of hawking, hunting, horse riding, and games of the mind such as chess? Was he or she a hero or despised and disgraced? Was your teacher also your captor; were you a political prisoner?

While the law demands young lads learn how to wield a sword, the myriad of dangers that lurk in a fantasy world does not discriminate between the sexes. Therefore, it is not uncommon for young girls to receive training in swordsmanship. During a time of strife, your lord may have summoned you to war at the youthful age of fifteen. If you were of noble birth, you may have led a battalion despite your youth. Are you haunted by the deaths of those under your command? Are you burdened by traumatic screams of hundreds of soldiers burned from the fiery breath of a rampaging dragon? Do you suffer from a lingering infection from an orc blade?

Despite being burdened with serious responsibilities, you are not yet considered an adult. Entering adulthood is a rite of passage, not dictated by an age, but judged by your actions to gauge a sense of maturity. While most adolescents do become adults between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five, the transition to adulthood could happen years before or many years later. To achieve adulthood, one must appear mature to civil authorities. Being mature means you are solid and serious, settled in your ways, and capable of guile.

Therefore, chaotic aligned adventurers, though guileful, might achieve adulthood at a much later age while lawful characters become adults earlier than their peers. A high or low Wisdom could further contribute for a criterion for adulthood. Those with an extremely low Wisdom may never reach adulthood and thus have a guardian to manage their affairs.

Your journey into adulthood might depend on those who can attest to your nature as a child. Did you have a selfish master reluctant to free you from your apprenticeship and cheap rate? Or does your mentor still fear your actions reflect upon his or her reputation? Perhaps, your close, emotional bond with your master left him or her disheartened to see you leave as would a natural parent and thus refrained from testifying in your favor? Does a corrupt noble guardian continue to deem you unfit to rule your household? Is your elder, frail arcane tutor hesitant to free you from your instruction because he or she needs constant care? Does a threat of an old rival still linger and your lord needs another man-at-arms to guard the gate? Are you considered an adult when you first set off for adventure or are your quests to prove you have what it takes to enter adulthood?

No matter how hard you attempt to leave your childhood behind and bound toward adventurous glory, you may find the ghosts of your past still linger when you return or worse: come and seek you out. Until next time, happy gaming!


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