Video Village

Fantasy games are set just far enough away from our modern reality to feel exotic. But presenting a realistic feel for your unrealistic setting can be difficult if you didn’t happen to ground your imagination with a foundational major in Ancient History. Luckily, we live in an age of digital knowledge! Travel with us through the Video Village to find educational and entertaining examples of how things used to be.


The Well

Water is the essential element for any settlement to begin and many villages will be centered around a well, like this one which is being dug by hand in Mexico. Here’s another version that’s slightly more elaborate, but suitable for a fantasy setting. And if your game-village has drainage issues, then you’ll want to check out this channel: Primitive Skills. He does lots of projects involving hand-cut drains, irrigation, and water management in a rainy environment. Adding little details about drains and ditches into your worlds can give them an extra sense of realism.

The Smithy

Metal is at the cutting edge of the technology of the time (ha! – see what I did there?). As such, the smithy is akin to a modern-day industrial factory. Just getting iron out of the ground is hard enough, but then you have to actually shape it into something productive, like this forge ladle. Armorers focus on metallic defenses. Weaponsmiths specialize in armaments like the katana. But don’t just stop at iron and steel – there’s also bronze tools and even complex machinery like the Antikythera Mechanism.

The Market Square

The Market Square or Street would be a bustling center of commerce, both on official market days and throughout the rest of the week as useful things were created for and by villagers. Among them, you might see a baker, a butcher (warning if you don’t like to look at raw meat), or a candle maker (also known as a chandler). Poor folks used rush lights instead of candles, by the way. Other roles in town: a cooper who makes buckets and barrels, a wheelwright who makes carts and wagons, some gentle soul to shoe horses, a jeweler, an engraver, a rope-maker, a weaver, or even someone who weaves beds. There’s at least four different jobs that go into book-making, depending on what period of history you’re looking at. Unless your village economy is based purely on barter, you’ll probably have some kind of coinage. Larger towns might even make their own coins – a fairly difficult process as shown by this How to Make Everything video. And there’s lots of other things to do, too, like these terrible jobs from this documentary about awful occupations.


The Moat

A simple, defensive idea that requires quite a lot of back-breaking work, as demonstrated in this video from Primitive Survival Tool. Their example is fairly small, shallow, and meant for swimming – but you can easily extrapolate what kinds of effort might have gone into such an endeavor. And now, imagine trying to cross one of these in an attempt to infiltrate a well-protected fortress. Here’s a clip of what that might have been like from The Science Channel. This presenter accomplishes some swampy transit at the cost of his wardrobe, but one can envision doing the same in armor, hauling full kit, and being harassed with projectiles from on high. Oh, and many moats would have also served as sewers, by the way.

The Castle

If a Castle, Keep, or Watchtower happens to be overlooking the village and provides military protection, it is likely the center of much local activity and economics. This British series, Secrets of the Castle, shows a 25-year archeological experiment in designing and building a castle from scratch in France using medieval techniques. Throughout the series, they discover little tidbits of how and why ancient construction went the way that it did – very insightful. This classic PBS program, Castle, combines the illustrations, cross-sections, and animations of David Macauly to give an account of daily life within a working castle.

The Siegeworks

To counter the protective power of the castle and other fortifications, siege weapons were developed that could breach walls and oppress defenders, like the ingenious devices shown in this examination of siege engines of antiquity from Invictus. As castle technology improved, so too did the weapons of the besieging armies. This Nova documentary, Secrets of Lost Empires, shows more of the later developments in the field of keep-killing. Cannons and field artillery eventually ended the age of castles.


The Road

Old cobblestone streets have a deceptive amount of work put into each stone. And those dry-stacked stone walls might have been the work of generations. Along the road, you might meet a traveling musician or a HedgeWarder (also known as a Hayward) whose job it is to manage the leafy barriers that serve as natural fencing.

The Farm

Beyond the village, you might see homes ranging from simple wattle and daub huts to hearty cabins. What they farm here will keep everyone in the village alive and thriving, even the simple hay crop. Farm folk are a self-reliant lot who make their own clothes.

The Woods

A nearby wooded area can be the perfect source of many raw materials, like timber or bamboo, as long as one has permission from the woodward who manages it. In fact, woods near a village will likely be managed meaning that locals would make adjustments to the area to provide them various specialized materials or to encourage animal life to behave in certain ways.

One useful product best made on-site is charcoal, which is burnt in an earthen mound to cook it. The remnants of charcoal mounds might be visible in the forested area near a village, as would various construction projects like this medieval capstan – a kind of winch.

This was just a short tour of a village, but there are many more videos online as well as books in your local library that can offer that groundwork of knowledge upon which all good fantasy is based. Most of the video presenters linked in this article have excellent channels filled to the brim with useful information. Keep researching and looking for those little details which breath soul into your worlds. Mix and match these ideas as you find them and the stories you tell will come alive!

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