Sunday, November 29, 2015

Time in Fantasy

From a role-playing aspect, we need to make sure that we don’t place modern concerns on fantasy era people. I am thinking today mainly of time.

In the modern era, everyone either has a watch or a phone that acts as a watch. We know what time TV shows start and when someone says, “I’ll pick you up at 8:00” we expect to see them at 8:00, plus or minus ten minutes, maybe. We know when to be at work and what time is considered late. We even know what time it is in other countries and factor that into some of our communications.

But the fantasy folks don’t have it that easy. Even in my world of Fletnern, where there are grandfather clocks and semi-reliable time keeping devices (hour glasses, water clocks, and measured candles), the average Joe on the street doesn’t know exactly what time it is. I usually represent this by the way they talk about time: It’s noon; It’s two hours after dawn; It’s four hours after midnight, etc. Minutes are rarely discussed because they are too hard to measure.

This forced me to rethink my fantasy era factories. I do have fantasy era factories, but they do not use the assembly line. For example, if your job is to make ceramic bowls, then that’s what you do all day long. There may be someone who brings you the clay and someone who fires the pieces you threw, so sort of assembly line, but not. Maybe a better example is an enchantment factory. The enchanter makes the item from start to finish. They may have access to shared tools, be guarded by shared guards, and have shared buyers purchase their materials, but they do not do one process and then have someone else do the next process, and so on.

So why does this matter? Well, if you don’t have reliable clocks, then you cannot pay people by the hour, or even by the “full day’s work”. I think you need to pay them by the piece. Maybe you can establish a quota - making 15 stoneware platters is considered a day’s work - but still it has to be more piece work. This actually fits most of my fantasy cultures anyway - being paid for work accomplished and not for time spent at work. But this is an important change!

The other place that this really matters is in long distance trade. When you need to be on a cruise ship in this day and age, you need to be there at the specified time. And you can expect to disembark at the established time. Planes seem a little less reliable, but even still, nothing on the fantasy era. A ship could be off schedule by three to five days before most folks would really start to get nervous. A caravan could be delayed by rain, washed out bridges or fords, or any number of setbacks. Especially with the ships, this probably means that there would be a job of “ship watcher”. Some apprentice would sit on the docks and wait to spot ships coming in. Then he hightails it to the ship owner to let him know his cargo is on the horizon, giving the owner time to get up and get over to the docks to meet his ship and captain. Is it an apprentice to the merchant or the harbor master who does the running and spotting? I think it depends on the town.

Are there other jobs? Yep! History tells us that some factories would have wakers - people who would walk the streets of the city with a staff and bang on the windows of the factory workers in order to wake them up so they could be to work roughly on time. The various guilds would probably have rules or guidelines set to make the piecework rates “fair”, or the quotas. That probably means they would need to have some manner of auditor go and check on the guild members. That’s what is coming to mind now, but the more you think about life without watches, the more cultural impacts you can think of.

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