Saturday, March 20, 2010

Estate du General

Like the data on cities, this was created during a period when I wasn't actually running any games; I was trying to get a handle on what the structure and format of a manor house was, how it operated and so on, because in those days I still hadn't cracked my economic system.  This file below is a fragment of the research I did the previous year ... I can't find the rest of it, as several boxes of my stuff were damaged, destroyed or thrown out by a roommate I had.  This file here was an attempt to rebuild the lost work, with the expectation that I would do the research again ... but I never did.

So this is an outline of a 'standard' estate ... it was not intended for an adventure, but as a representative model for how much food would be raised and how much might be surplus, how many people would live on how much rural land, how many animals might exist there, what income it might generate and how labor would be divided.  This so that I could judge the population density of certain regions, to identify how people lived and how difficult it was to buy and sell food (and thus set up a basis for an entire system).  Obviously, it does serve as the basis for a possible adventure, but I wish to stress that the numbers here are not pulled out of my head, but were all carefully researched from source materials (and averages used where multiple estimates were discovered).

Lord knows why I liked the Frenchified name.  Probably sounded more D&Dish to me.  In keeping with the practice I established, this is unedited in content.  I fixed a few spelling errors and broke up the paragraphs some (since it apparently was written out in one solid block of writing) for ease of reading. I'm printing these things unedited because I want to emphasize that I got better at writing things like this with practice. The gentle reader should take that as an assurance.

from November 30, 1998

Estate du General
The Estate du General is organized among the various classes of persons who dwell there: the steward, who stands in stead for the Baron and watches over the gardens, fields, and paddocks, is master over the largest portion of cultivated land, about 400 acres total—though these fields are not positively removed from the general cultivated fields, which lie in a half circle to the south and west of the Manor, at about a kilometer distance in all directions.

The Manor itself is surrounded by a hundred acres of parkland; to the immediate south is a meadow of about 80 acres, and to the west is a civilized forest of about 135 acres, separated from the more distant cultivated land by another meadow some 150 meters wide extending more than 2½ kilometers (89 acres). Between the forest and the east meadow the church directs about 50 acres of unsown church land.

As the Lord of the Manor, or “Chief Manse,” the Baron holds six complete fiefs total, of which this is one; the manor house is used by the Baron’s Steward for administration. This house is a 30’ diameter square stone building, with three or four rooms, facing an inner court. Attached to the stone house is a wooden hall some 20 ft. long and 15 ft. wide, wherein dwells the two overseers, and the manor servants, and their families; they look over the field and boon work upon the Baron’s estate. There are, in addition, several other buildings hedged around, including workrooms, a kitchen, a bakehouse, a winery, servants quarters, barns, stables, and other farm buildings. Around the whole there is a hedge carefully planted with trees.

An account of the servants (besides the overseers) includes the vintner, the cook and his son, the baker and his son, the scribe, the charwoman (wife of the cook), and the Steward’s valet.

Between the two meadows, located along the stream through the Estate, is the village of the cultivators, the villeins. This is a cluster of three sizable houses of wood, some 17 well-kept huts and 4 dilapidated hovels. The stream provides water for the village and operates the mill.

The only person who works perpetually in the village is the Miller, a freeman, who not only mills the available grain in flour, but also cuts hay from the meadow, and collects brush and fallen timber for fuel and building purposes, which he gives to the baron or sells to the villeins or passers by.

Three gentlemen both work farms and have specialty skills, which enable them to be freeholders of their farms, though they are still endentured to provide services for the chief manse. These are the blacksmith, the mason and the carpenter. None have their own tools, but work one day a week in the workshop of the Baron.

Their houses are wooden, about 15 ft. square, of one floor with a stone foundation. They own an equal portion of land to that which the villeins work, that is, about 30 acres. In other estates, these men are sometimes able to hire cotters (lesser serfs who have much less land than villeins) to work their land while they provide for and operate their own shop, which they’re able to do three days a week.

All villeins are expected to serve one day per week in the maintenance of the chief manse (called “boon” work), and two days in the fields of the Baron. No one is allowed to work outside on a Sunday, and so the villeins are free to work their own land the remaining three days.

Seventeen of the houses of the village are occupied by villeins, and four by cotters. The houses of the former are about 100 sq.ft. in size and well-kept. They are made of straw, mud, wattle, and some wood. The houses of the cotters, however, are only about 60-80 sq.ft., and in poor condition.

The cotters each work the fields (though no boon work) of the Baron five days per week and are free therefore to work for themselves but one day per week. They each have about 6 acres of land which they cut themselves, with permission, from the waste forest south of the cultivated fields. They must pay an equivalent tax as other villeins, though they have much less land, and they support themselves by working odd jobs as needed.

The cultivated lands amount to a total of 801 acres, divided into three great fields. In one the winter crop is sown, and another sown in the spring for the summer crop. The third field, in rotation, is allowed to lie fallow each year. The arable fields are divided into one acre strips, each one furlong (40 rods) by 4 rods wide, separated from one another only by balks or ridges of unplowed turf.

As said before, each villein owns 30 strips of land, 19 of which each year is planted. The Baron’s portion of the cultivated land is 195 acres, of which 130 is planted. The scattering of ownership among the joint fields encourages a communal form of labor.

Each villein keeps a small garden plot of about 1 acre; the garden plot of the Baron is 10 acres. In addition, the Baron also holds a huge orchard of 195 acres, dedicated to various fruits and grapes. These plots are used to raise vegetables, pulses, and other more obscure crops: portions of them are set aside for grapes, beehives, and so on. The Baron’s plot includes a sizable orchard as well.

Within the yard of their houses in the village, the villeins keep chickens, geese, and pigs. Cattle and, more commonly, sheep are allowed to graze upon the Baron’s meadowlands for a yearly tax. Pigs feed upon acorns and other nuts in the surrounding forests. Children are generally given the task of herders, but the Baron’s flock is looked after by a chief husbandman and two herders; further, the paddock is looked after by a muleskinner, or horse trainer.

The Manor House: Steward, Reeve, Hayward, Vintner (or brewer), cook, baker, scribe, wagonner, valet, shepherd, swineheard. 11 adult males, 9 adult females, 21 children, 4 aged males, 3 aged females.

Village: Miller, Blacksmith, Carpenter, Mason, 17 villeins, 4 cotters. 26 adult males, 20 adult females, 50 children, 9 aged males, 7 aged females.


  1. This is a very helpful post! I just did some back of napkin calculations trying to determine how much food is produced on a manor this size. The average yield per acre of cereal and wheat is about 75 bushels with average bushel weight of about 40 lbs. A single person eats about 12 bushels a year so an acre feeds about six people. A manor this size could produce enough to feed about 1500 people a year. (I'm not sure what losses due to spoilage were but I rounded my numbers down a bit to help account for that.)

    Feeding 1500 people a year from a single open field manor seems a bit high but the High Middle Ages period was marked by a massive expansion of urban growth and decreasing grain prices, so it fits in general with the historical trends. In addition to the falling price of grain, the exodus of peasants moving from farm to city increased rural labor costs which reduced the manor incomes for the nobility. Trade increased too (wagons and wagons of grains based on my math!) and along with it the middle class, further reducing the influence of the nobility. Feudalism may have started manorialism but manorialism helped put an end to feudalism is the end.

    I'm not sure what the urban to rural population ratio was at the end of the period but it started at about 1:3. London grew from about 20,000 people to around 100,000 during this time. The plague starts to hit at the end of the period due to urban crowding and slows the population expansion.

    Given that most fantasy worlds seem to be fairly static settings, wide spread open field farming as found on manors might not be the best agricultural model unless you want a renaissance period to begin in a few centuries. Mixing in more pre-feudal German and Celtic style argicultural models (more cattle and hunting, much less wheat) might be a good idea. Then again, marauding hordes of orcs and dragons might help keep progress in check. Or angry gods inducing crop failures. (How exactly do orcs feed and equip those roving hordes, I wonder...)

    Good stuff.

  2. I did a bit more digging and learned that manor agriculture wasn't very productive; a good game mechanic would be an acre supporting d4 people a year.

    Also, it seems like over two-thirds of the peasants should be cottagers or half-villeins with some having less than two acres for themselves. Many of these would be forced to learn some skilled craft such as weaving, brewing or leather working, etc. to make ends meet. Fee, rent and taxes took from 25% to 50% of the peasants gross income.

    Here's a interesting paper on manor productivity:

  3. This stuff is fascinating. Thank you for posting, Alexis.

    I was wondering if you could post a summary and update of your economic system. I broke out my spreadsheet from the time I tried to take a whack at adopting it to a fantasy world I was working with about 18 months back and I could really use a refresher.

    I'd like to use a meaningful economic model for my next game and yours is a great place to start.

  4. Mattbot,

    The exact data for a lot of these things, rural population vs. urban, the number of cotters vs. peasants, and so on, are highly contentious due to the manner in which researchers choose to read the documents, what's hip in feudalistic historical circles (which will all be thrown out when the next group of profs need to publish and there's nothing to do but reinterpret again) and the sweeping differences between different geographical parts, not just betwen large regions, but even between two valleys only a few miles apart. As I said, I sought to find an average, and not to accept any single source as dogma.

    I did in fact want the Renaissance period, so that was a good call on your part. This sort of 'estate planning' doesn't really help in parts of the world that are manorial, which is one of the reasons I abandoned this idea in favor of other approaches (which have been recorded on this blog).


    I can't emphasize this enough ... keep it simple stupid. There should be enough posted already, and I don't want to go through that all again (I may at some point if I make any major changes). I can say that this last week and a half I have been troubleshooting my distance table for distribution between trade cities - it is up to 500 cities by 500 cities, and has gotten so large (xcel file = 20 megabytes) that it is almost impossible to manage. I've had to chop it up and create additional checking processes just to be sure it's accurate.

    So like I said, keep it simple. Concentrate on just principal resources (not all of them) and chop the world into fairly large areas (not every city like me) until you get used to the system you devise. I pretty much had four years of not running D&D to do nothing but work on the trade table I use, and I don't think you want to take that sort of time.

    Rome, at any rate, is fairly easy - all roads lead to it. The Mediterranean economy in the 3rd century BCE was almost entirely colonial except for the Aegean basin and the Fertile Crescent (parts of Asia too, but I don't think that's of much concern for you). Virtually everything is produced and shipped either to Rome or to Carthage, so you have an economy where the powers that be in those two places can set any price they want (less flexibility in the system overall).

    Thus, a property owner who would normally ship his goods to Carthage and get Carthaginian prices for it, probably wouldn't sell it cheaper in Valencia - he'd have a guaranteed sale in Carthage and wouldn't perceive it was worth his while to cut his profits just to sell locally. Mercantalism is non-existent, banking worked very differently in that age (and wasn't called banking) and even 'wages' as we understand them were much more fluid. It didn't cost a merchant time and wages to move product further, since the wage he paid was likely hinged on what profit he made (ah, those were the days) ... so it saves him nothing to sell right now rather than later.

    Plus, of course, there's no desire to make his buyers in Carthage unhappy.

    Principal goods would be wine, lamp/whale oil, grain, meat, cotton, leather goods, skins, salt, fish, pitch, timber, stone, spices, wool, cloth, iron goods, metals, general luxuries and foodstuffs. I'd make a list of maybe 20 to 40 items you'd want to track (other items can be added later)

  5. Thanks, Alexis. That will get me started.


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