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 Post subject: Crime in Medieval towns
PostPosted: Sat Oct 27, 2012 9:01 am 
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Yes, yes, I know, the subject is very vast and depends a lot on the place and time. But...still...

I have a stahlnish town of about 3000-4000 inhabitants. It is an intersection for two major trade routes (a river and a road). There's no church or clergy (Stahl, atheism). The town is divided by a river into west and east sides - with one big bridge connecting the areas. Both sides are surrounded by stone wall.

Now, I'm trying to figure out how crime shows in my town and in the nearby areas.
- what types of crime are there? thieving and robberies of course, but what else? Protection money? Extortion? Loansharking? Slave trade? Smuggling (what are they smuggling)?
- is the crime organized and how?
- are there known criminals who are well connected to political/rich people or nobility and thus can operate without being outlawed or punished?

I want the crime to be bad (or at least worse than average) and organized in this town but at the same time I want it to feel at least somewhat medieval-realistic. My vision of OG comes pretty much from The Sopranos or The Wire so I'm really lost when it comes to medieval crime.


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 Post subject: Re: Crime in Medieval towns
PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2012 11:45 am 
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chade wrote:
I have a stahlnish town of about 3000-4000 inhabitants. It is an intersection for two major trade routes (a river and a road). There's no church or clergy (Stahl, atheism). The town is divided by a river into west and east sides - with one big bridge connecting the areas. Both sides are surrounded by stone wall.


From the perspective of outright warfare, how long has this place been at peace?

This is a tiny town. It is still of the size where the locals will largely know or know of each other. Any sort of organized crime would have to be indicative of the complete breakdown of law and order. After all, everyone knows who the criminals are yet nobody does anything about it. The feudal structure has broken down to the point where members of the third estate have usurped the authority of the nobility...

For me, this doesn't work very well. There are better alternatives that are more logical.

In a trade town such as you describe only the locals are citizens. By locals I mean people who own land or have rented land for generations. The rights that apply to the town apply to these people -- not the foreigners (those itinerant people who pass through the town for the purpose of seasonal work, those who come for the (annual, half-yearly, quarterly??) tax-free markets, those who work in the proscribed tasks (banking?)).

The foreigners operate under a much greyer area of the law. In reality they have far less access to the justice system. It would seem logical for them to be somewhat suspectible to the structures and events you describe. As long as they keep the peace and do not affect the locals they would largely be left to their own devices.

Interestingly, perhaps, those responsible for keeping the peace -- the sergeants of the court -- were by association assumed to be somewhat dodgy. They spent too much of their time operating on the fringes of society to be truly reputable.

Regards,

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 Post subject: Re: Crime in Medieval towns
PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2012 6:49 pm 
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chade wrote:
I have a stahlnish town of about 3000-4000 inhabitants. It is an intersection for two major trade routes (a river and a road).

If I may be so bold: I think you are way off the "medieval model" with your setup. The intersection of two major trade routes really doesn't go well with only about 4.000 inhabitants. It would be acceptable - but only just so - if your model was the darkest part of the Dark Ages between the end of classical antiquity and the reascendence of the middle ages, say, Europe some time around 700 AD, but considering that Weyrth strikes me as mostly late middle ages to renaissance, your population number is way too low. Presuming that Stahl is in the late middle ages but only lightly urbanized, an urban centre at the intersection of two major trade routes should even under the most averse of circumstances not have any less than 10.000 inhabitants at the very least, and might under good circumstances have five times that.

Is there any chance you can still amend population numbers or have you already ommunicated them to your players? If so, you might at least retcon by pretending they misunderstood you and that each half of the city has 4.000 inhabitants, for a total of 8.0000 people; you might even say that this doesn't include itinerants, who should be plentiful at such a centre of traffic and commerce.

Point is that with more inhabitants you don't just come closer to your medieval model, you also alleviate the problems Ian has mentioned. For a criminal underbelly to able to secretly exist at all, you really need to get away from a face-to-face community, which a town of 4.000 people is very much.

Consider your current town's daily workings: Everybody knows everybody else by sight, and most people by name. Everybody knows almost everybody else's profession and relations. And people talk; without internet, tv, wireless, newspapers, magazines, and books, gossip is one of the main leisure activities. And in a gossipy community where everybody knows everybody else it is nigh impossible to hide the fact somebody is making more money as they're supposed to - even if they manage to hide their crimes, how are they going to enjoy the fruit of it? The moment they display more wealth than they're supposed to have, they stick out, and everbody, literally everybody, will realize that they aren't kosher.

That's nothing than what Ian wrote above anyway, I just wanted to cast more light on why your setup ins't working. Crime needs anonymity to be committed in secrecy, or, lacking that, a complete breakdown of order and civic authority to operate in the open with impunity. If you want to showcase a community's criminal underbelly I'd strongly suggest you change your setup.

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 Post subject: Re: Crime in Medieval towns
PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2012 9:18 pm 
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The area is sparsely populated (quite north in Stahl) so a "major trade route" might not be that major. Anyway, listening to your arguments I could probably bump up the population to ~10k people. Our group has no problems adjusting to changes like this. Could I know find some semi-realistic grounds for organized crime?

And yeah, pretty late middle ages, around 1100-1400.


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 Post subject: Re: Crime in Medieval towns
PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2012 6:35 am 
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chade wrote:
Could I now find some semi-realistic grounds for organized crime?


IMO there are three main avenues for what I think you are trying to achieve:

1) The town has a small core population of citizens and a large itinerant population of foreigners (by which I mean not citizens of the town yet could be relatively local). In this place citizens totals 4,000 and they are the ones subject to hearth tax. Itinerant population is 8,000 - 12,000 and represents the seasonal workers who come for three months of the year to perform the harvest and related support services.

Established patrician families -- that handful of families that can trace themselves back to positions of authority when the toen was founded -- still control the land of the surrounding county and even though the town has won its charter of independence (thus the wall around the town) the patrician families continue to exert great influence. These families are the law -- the law has been constructed to ensure their grip on power is eternal. So while they are not criminal, their exploitation of the itinerant population and their stewardship of the citizenry appears so to us.

2) The local nobility are removed from the daily lives of the citizenry of the town. They own the land of the surrounding countryside, and the revenue streams that go with it, but the town is the real money spinner. The town has won its independence from the nobility, has its charter, and so those who control the town control its revenue streams. These people were once ordinary citizens but are now wealthy and exert control over the town well beyond their families and their professional associations.

3) The itinerant population is organized by a cartel of foreign powers, whose local representatives hold absolute power over the foreigners. Locals liaise with these people when they need a workforce, and foreigners liaise with these people when they want work. This extra-legal power structure is ripe for abuse.

Regards,

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 Post subject: Re: Crime in Medieval towns
PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 3:00 pm 
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Ok, thanks, I'll think about it a bit and see what comes out.


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