Why are all Medieval stories fantasy?

I was replying to a topic when this thought hit me. Why is it that writers always feel the need to add magic and dragons when writing a story set in the Dark Ages? The Dark Ages were dangerous enough, and they didn’t have dragons or witches, they just had other people and that was enough to make their lives uncertain.
Let’s look at what we know about Medieval Times:

  1. There are bandits. Lots of bandits. If you weren’t protected then you couldn’t travel anywhere. This could lead to a bandit simulator where you play as someone in a bandit gang trying to steal to survive. You could decide to be a Robin Hood type, or just try to protect you and yours. Or maybe on the opposite side, you could be a merchant or guard trying to survive while dealing with bandits.
  2. The Black Death. There could be a story all around this bit here. Everyone was either dying or afraid of dying, people were rioting and hiding, murdering and stealing, doing whatever they had to to stay alive. Life was uncertain and tensions were high. If the plague doesn’t kill you, other survivors might. 1 goal: Stay alive
  3. Corrupt despot. Everyone with any amount of power was willing to abuse it. This could turn into a game about politics kinda like how Choice of Romance/Intrigues did it, which is one of my favorite choice games to date. Lots of Game of Thrones-type political intrigues and any whisper in the wrong ear could spell your death.
  4. Knights were a-holes. Yes, I made this an entire number because that’s how horrible knights were. Corrupt, greedy, most were rapists or murderers, they were unpleasant people to be around. The most I could see in this is if you were to become a knight and be exposed to how horrible your fellow knights were and choose if you want to follow in step or stick to the ideals of what a knight should be.
  5. Wars. Cause war, war never changes. In that it will always suck and nobody likes it. War is the really angry kid in lunch that everyone tries to sit away from but he keeps coming around and picking fights with everyone but for some reason he never gets expelled. I could see this kind of game mixing with a knights game, but they could be done separately. Basically, just fight a war and try not to die or lose yourself to the bloodlust.
  6. Witch Hunters. In a day when owning a cat was enough to be charged of witchcraft. Tasked with hunting down witches and exterminating them, the Witch Hunters operated with ruthlessness and extreme prejudice when fighting against the evil spawns of Satan…except, well, witches didn’t exist. So pretty much everyone they tortured and burned alive were completely innocent of any devil worshiping. Oops. For this I’m thinking a man of the Witch Hunters who hunts and exterminates “witches” but then begins to question his faith he is forced to do unspeakable acts to people who seem like just ordinary citizens, or perhaps playing as a woman who was a healer in a remote village before being accused of witchcraft on some groundless evidence that really wouldn’t hold up in any court of law, like your favorite color was red or you climbed a tree really fast that one time. You are then forced to go on the run to avoid capture, imprisonment, torture, and burning.

See? 6 potential stories that took place in medieval times but didn’t have anything to do with fantasy? It only took me about 10 minuets to think of those. Now I like fantasy, some of my favorite games were fantasy, see Choice of Romance/Intrigues, Lost Heir, and Life of a Wizard. But you don’t need fantasy to make a medieval story interesting and I don’t see why nobody has done a straight medieval game before.


It is pretty simple.

Medieval settings without fantasy can be boring and/or depressive if the writer is not creative enough.

Dragons and Magic are usually just a way of making it more interesting.


You can find some medieval or medieval-style stories and media if you know where to look.

Also, the stories the authors have in mind are not always based on the real life Middle Ages, and their societies are built and made differently. And while there were no real dragons and witches, that didn’t stop people from believing that there were supernatural events and characters hiding in plain sight around them, so they’re frequently associated with that time period.


Fantasy is just my favorite genre. I prefer fantasy in modern day than medieval day. But the medieval ages fascinate me. I think it’s just the era where magic “might’ve existed” while nowadays we KNOW that magic is impossible and illogical. I’m not sure, though. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:


I believe Lord of Aswick (hosted game) is straight medieval. And I’d enjoy the straight medieval ideas you mention. Write one! :smile:

One possible (and I think respectable) reason for writing magic into a medieval European setting is that medieval people’s own experience/interpretation of their world was shot through with magic and the supernatural. There’s a case to be made that to immerse a skeptical modern reader in an authentically medieval perspective, it helps to have a world in which magic is real; it deprives them of any anachronistic confidence in germ theory, plate tectonics, etc.

But of course a game aspiring to do that would need to have magic that fit within the parameters of the lived medieval experience, not the magic missiles and Raise Dead spells of your typical post-D&D fantasy setting.

Anyway, some of us like the magic more than the medievalism. But there’s no reason not to have more straight-up historic games.


Maybe one of the reasons they avoid those is the same reason you don’t see an over abundance of slice of life CoGs. People are living through the darkness, sometimes they play to think of themselves as something more, even for a moment.

There is one big advantage to the medieval fantasy setting. If you want to build a world that is simultaneously exotic, magical, and familiar, medieval fantasy is one of the only genres that makes this easy.

In Choice of Dragon, for instance, there is very little description or explanation regarding anything. The genre is so well worn that the reader already knows what a castle looks like, and how the local queen is likely to respond to a dragon attack. We know what goblins do. There is plenty of room for imagination, but the setting is already familiar.

Lords of Aswick, on the other hand, has to describe and explain and describe some more, plus you get a bunch of extra information in the stats screen. That’s because it takes place in the actual middle ages, which is a strange and foreign place to us. Without all that information we would not know enough about what is going on to make meaningful choices.

Two extremes, but there may be a way to find a middle ground in a magic-less game.


Oh God no, I’m not writing anything. I don’t know what would be more intimidating; writing the story itself, writing the dozens of different branches and endings, or fiddling with the choice script. I’ll leave that to the people who do this for a living, thank you.
Though, if someone saw one of these ideas and wanted to use them, I would be ok with that.

I tried Lords of Aswick, but I couldn’t finish the demo. It wasn’t a bad game, just kinda…meh. Nothing was happening, it all felt so boring and static. Kinda like what like @TechDragon610 described. I was sort of picturing writing about the desperation and hardships people in the Dark Ages had to go through just to get by. The really gritty and depressing stuff; no political correctness or censuring

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I am story studient right now, and European so I am tired of real Medieval. Real medieval is not like Americans portrayed it. And it is boring, unfair and doom. And as a Cog if you would be realistic. The choices a normal people could have are so few and scarce. Forced to marriage at twelve have children die young or wach your family die by famines and illness…

I’m assuming we’re discussing generally, and not entirely specific to CoG stories. I’ve found the same trend and agree with you, but there is a niche for realistic medieval fiction if you know where to look. Check out Christian Cameron (great author, highly recommend), he writes a lot of classical/medieval era historical fiction which is fantastic. Also, there is a huge RPG being developed by Warhorse Studios called Kingdom Come: Deliverance which is devoid of fantasy elements and is looking amazing! They’re actually sharing tech with the guys making Star Citizen.

Michael Crichton has a horror novel called Timeline. There is time travel, which is how he throws modern people back into the Middle Ages, but otherwise every threat is par for the course for a realistic historical setting. He did a ton of research, and the setting is terribly grim. I think that might be the only way a Medieval game without magic could work - work with the horrific elements rather than denying them.

I think dragons/fantasy elements in Medieval fiction are kind of code for “the author kept the stuff they like from the Middle Ages and is ignoring whatever else is inconvenient, because magic changed the stuff they don’t want to think about.” Which obviously, some people enjoy in their escape fiction.


In Medieval times, people believed in magic and magic-related stuff so game authors decided to include it.

Because the Dark Ages are despressive as crap and would not be fun to play. And that’s coming from someone who used to be obsessed with everything medieval. (Not knowledgable, maybe, but obsessed.)
Without fantastical elements, the Dark Ages are really just about stinky people pooping in the streets and dying in the most horrific ways. As romantic as many people make it sound (cough cheap historical romance cough), that is a world I would not want to enter - as a player or otherwise.


I think presenting the Dark Ages as about “stinky people pooping in the streets and dying in the most horrific ways” as if everything was a form of pain and suffering until somehow humans magically (word chosen intentionally) evolved out of being something somewhere beneath apes is about as realistic as depicting a game set in the present day where most people are kind, smart, friendly, competent, and otherwise completely the opposite.

Yes, the Middle Ages sucked. But presenting it as if this: http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Sheriff_of_Nottingham
is less bad than normal is no more realistic - and certainly no more interesting, as relates to why we don’t have a lot of nonfantasy medieval games - than presenting it as a lost utopia.

Frankly, I’d love to play something set in a realistic version of the Middle Ages, but if that’s just going to be an excuse for playing up the nastiness because we can’t possibly have anything prior to the 20th century - or maybe the 18th for the really, really open minded - be presented in any shades other than vileness and despair - then I would hope it fails to occur.

There’s a lot of good that can come from exploring things outside the box, do we have to settle for games playing up how awful things can be to the point that dolphins (picked because dolphins aren’t very nice) would weep? Do we really have to confuse “darker” and “more realistic” to tell a story set in a historical period and not a fantasy world?


It’s inaccurate to say that people who think the Dark Ages were horrific must be present supremacists. I would argue that there were many better times and places to be alive, including ones earlier than that. And probably a few worse ones, though it’s hard to think of any off the top of my head.

@Sashira I would be very pleased to discover a single element in the life of an ordinary Russian under Peter the Great that would be an improvement upon the conditions under Vladimir the Great seven centuries earlier.

I would be extremely surprised - and just as pleasantly - to be wrong in stating that Philip II of Macedon or Augustus of Rome had no more scruples about abusing power than Philip II of France.

I would certainly not be able to pick between Castlegard and somewhere in an equivalent situation in the Thirty Years War instead of the Hundred Years War for “places I’d rather just be shot than live in”. If that’s a reflection of my ignorance I will bless the person who corrects me on how landsknechts were less likely to kill, rape, and steal.

The founder of Aelia Capitolina hardly deserves to be considered to have the moral high ground over Edward I just because the latter was a medieval king.

I can go on - and I will gladly cede I’m not enough of an expert on antiquity or the early modern period to be as through as I’d like, so most examples will be more modern - but I think this is enough to justify being fair to the Middle Ages instead of presenting them as a time so horrible that it’s “hard to think of any worse ones”.

Edit: Do we count the obvious 20th century examples of horror as out as too far from the century’s mores? That’s my reason for not naming them above.

I’m well aware that there are time periods worse than the Medieval ages, but that’s like saying a broken leg isn’t as bad as two broken legs. They both suck, one is just less sucky than the other.
Anyway, this topic isn’t about which time period was the worse or best to live in, it’s about why Medieval without Fantasy is so neglected on this website

@Interestedparty It’s like saying that having a sprained wrist is less sucky than having two broken legs.

But to address this in terms of making interesting games, here’s a dead WIP of a particularly nondull part of the era:

I’m fairly sure if it had actually been finished it wouldn’t have been worse received than the fantasy games here (which do seem to predominate the list). Why the author didn’t finish this I don’t know any more than any more magical/fantastical game that is a dead WIP - those have died too.

So if we’re going to talk “Yes, why don’t we have games like that?” a game where my choices on encountering a peasant maiden involve deciding whether I want to kill her before or after raping her is not “medieval nonfantasy”, it’s just a different sense of the word “fantasy” than dragons and wizards. It’s the kind of fantasy that brought us Custer’s Revenge in different trappings.

I think that’s important if we’re going to try to get anyone to write or play something set in this thousand odd years of history.

This was getting off-topic pretty fast, so I’ll follow your lead and go back to the facts as relevant to making games.

Custer’s Revenge is not a thing that should ever be recreated in any form. :disappointed_relieved: You make a good point there. I didn’t mean to suggest that a plot set in the middle ages would have to be grim or horrific, or a character has to act this way, but the setting cannot be romanticized if the designer is attempting realistic fiction.

Ways to get around the dilemma you raise, of awful behavior being expected from the MC by their society:

  • Use the Timeline cheat, and send back a character with modern ideas and values, while keeping the rest of the setting realistic. Not everyone they meet will be awful, and some residents of the past may appreciate their radical opinions; how many challenges the MC runs into might depend on where exactly the game is set, whether they’re male or female, etc. If you never meet Sir Tristen the Terrible Person, there’s no need to write that interaction.

  • Don’t give the MC that much social power. If they’re 98% of females, a commoner, or anything but “nobles and knights”, they’re not going to have the option to abuse people without repercussions. You can then give that character valuable skills, brilliant ideas, or the ability to break social norms to their benefit (e.g. making them a criminal) to give them a fighting chance at affecting their situation.

  • Set your game in that era somewhere other than Europe. There were various interesting things going on in the world during that 600 years or so (I think we must be dividing eras differently, if your definition is 400 years broader.)

I don’t know most of the societies you mentioned in your counterpoint, so I’ll take your word that they were awful. I’m better with pre-history/antiquity.

They’re not going to have the option as “nobles and knights” either. If you want to be a power wielder who can say “talk to the death spewing firepower” to any questions on what they do with their power, you expressly need a 20th century authoritarian state.

Sure, being a medieval peasant was subject to the will of his lord far more than I’m subject to the will of Samuel Farr - but droit du seigneur appears to be a myth, and easily the classic example of “the Middle Ages were
even worse than they actually were”-ism.

Otherwise I like those ideas - I’d say the best situation in a game always puts the PC in a situation where they’re powerful enough to make choices and not so powerful as to make too many people make choices. If you make this about kings and emperors they need to deal with the problems of the throne, not the fact even without absolute power over their subjects they still don’t have to pay attention to 90% of the rights we moderns take for granted.

It’s going to be a disturbing place even at its best. Medieval life was not for sissies even under kings that put “for the good of my kingdom” as something distinct from “me”. I’d look at how Sabres of Infinity and following treat that situation for its equivalent-to-18th-century - admittedly its technically fantasy, but it does give an illustration of how “I’m a noble.” puts you above any commoner, by definition, in ways that simply don’t exist anymore.

And I’d definitely welcome a good game set outside Europe. I know Europe best and care most (because I know and understand it - compared to other areas), but there’s no reason a game set in “the Crusades” has to be from the POV of a crusader to pick one of the most recognized, if not necessarily understood, elements.

And finally:
I’m defining the Middle Ages from the last Roman Emperor in the West to the last Roman Emperor in the East (476 to 1453), the Dark Ages as an era within that end somewhere between Charlemagne and AD 1000.

You? I’ve heard other definitions, but I grew up on that one and am slow to adjust to the idea of starting with 632 or something (based on ideas of “Late Antiquity”), though I’m not concerned as long as I can follow it. .

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