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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    Hello, I was thinking for a bit about how you would actually in medieval or ancient times create a working light system (pumps, lots of copper, and tungsten via chemistry) in a D&D esque world. Mostly with assumptions of working alchemy. But the question is this:

    We know at the bare basics that at times like this, unless there's a super cheap access to flammable oil or mage lights, most of the place is like, really dark, with the most lights being from torches, lamps, and other such places, at most some from patrols. Probably some large lights being lit, but considering what I know ({scrubbed}) the lighting was rather terrible.

    So anyway, there's now early electrification lights in areas like the docks, the marketplace, university, workshops, a few public buildings... etc. What changes? Other than the obligatory awe for five minutes at the glowing lightbulbs.
    Last edited by Peelee; 2021-06-24 at 09:44 AM.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    Quote Originally Posted by Accelerator View Post
    We know at the bare basics that at times like this, unless there's a super cheap access to flammable oil or mage lights, most of the place is like, really dark, with the most lights being from torches, lamps, and other such places, at most some from patrols. Probably some large lights being lit, but considering what I know ({scrub the post, scrub the quote}) the lighting was rather terrible.
    I wouldn't say terrible, at least not in a lot of places. Those lamps, torches and candles can be quite bright, and quite cheap. If anyone needed to have the insides lit, they could do so, there just wasn't a lot of reason to do it, see below.

    Where you wouldn't have lights is outside, at least not very often - a festival will see some use of lanterns, perhaps, but remember those are a fire hazard.

    Quote Originally Posted by Accelerator View Post
    So anyway, there's now early electrification lights in areas like the docks, the marketplace, university, workshops, a few public buildings... etc. What changes? Other than the obligatory awe for five minutes at the glowing lightbulbs.
    Very little actually changes.

    You have two levels of lighting that are relevant here: enough light to see and move about and enough light to read or do precision work.

    The former is, in the interior, already within capabilities of candles. The latter sort of is, but you need a lot of them, meaning only rare places did anything like this, usually monasteries (writing books), jewelry workers and such. These are all pretty lucrative professions, so the cost of candles wasn't an issue.

    Unless you have a widespread literacy, there will be little need for reading for the average commoner - if you do, and we're talking IRL renaissance if not later, then you will definitely see more appreciation for the new lighting, and increase in book sales, since not only do more people want them, there is also more time to cheaply write them. How or why printing press enters the picture can also be an interesting thing to consider, the tech behind it is literally stone age, it just wasn't used in Europe because there wasn't enough demand for books.

    Now, for the outside.

    Rural areas will have little use for this, even modern combine harvesters much prefer to operate during the day. It will make life more convenient, sure, but won't start a revolution.

    Cities will have a much better use for these, since there already was a fair bit of night life around, what with a lot of business being conducted indoors. You'll likely see an almos-modern disregard for day-night cycle in terms of working hours, lit displays, maybe even something like neon signs, but made of wood with artwork cut into it. This will boost the economy of cities a small bit, but not all that much in the grand scheme of things.

    This could well result in Ankh-Morpork like cities, a strange mishmash of medieval material culture with almost-modern attitudes towards a lot of things. Those lights persumably need to be paid for by the city, meaning increased taxation, it's a city-wide network, meaning some degree of centralization and before you know it, you're in industrial revolution era organizationally.
    Last edited by Peelee; 2021-06-24 at 09:45 AM.
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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    With a mantle an ordinary oil lamp is as bright as a lightbulb.

    What it looks like is 1900. Electric lighting requires an industrial base just to get started. A one-off gimmick may be possible before that, but a wizard can cast Light spells at first level, so why bother with an inferior and much more expensive option?

    My players always opted for a shuttered lantern with a continual light spell cast on it. It costs one lantern and a third level spellcaster.
    Last edited by brian 333; 2021-06-24 at 07:17 AM.

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    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    The Chandler's Guild smashes all the light bulbs.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    Quote Originally Posted by GeoffWatson View Post
    The Chandler's Guild smashes all the light bulbs.
    Does not seems likely: the first light bulbs would be owned by rich people(because at start it would be experimental) and that guild would probably not want to get rich people as opponents so they would merely smash the light bulbs the poor people gets once the tech starts being sold to the poor.
    The first rich people likely to see the interest of light bulbs are those who owns hospitals (really useful when operating on a patient) and you do not want them to be your opponent (because then they might simply not heal you once you are sick or wounded)
    Last edited by noob; 2021-06-25 at 04:43 AM.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Goblin

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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    What changes? A lot. Mostly associated with the infrastructure required to produce the electricity and light bulbs.

    In order to make light-bulbs on a mass scale (where they are anything more than a curiosity) you need a fairly advanced metals, glass, and ceramics industry. To support those industries you'll need a chemical industry. Right there you've catapulted your medieval setting into an early modern setting because of the associated changes. Telegraphs are easier than electric lighting and use a lot of the same technology and will have a bigger impact on your world. And that's just one example. Electrolysis, which is easier than electric lights, has a huge impact on the chemical industry.

    May I suggest that rather than trying to put your technology into a medieval setting you simply transfer the social and political structure of a medieval setting onto an early modern technological setting? Add dragons, and kingdoms, and gods, and magic to a Victorian (or other early modern) setting. It will be easier for you to subtract some technology, as needed, rather than trying to work through all the things that should be added.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    Quote Originally Posted by jjordan View Post
    What changes? A lot. Mostly associated with the infrastructure required to produce the electricity and light bulbs.

    In order to make light-bulbs on a mass scale (where they are anything more than a curiosity) you need a fairly advanced metals, glass, and ceramics industry. To support those industries you'll need a chemical industry. Right there you've catapulted your medieval setting into an early modern setting because of the associated changes. Telegraphs are easier than electric lighting and use a lot of the same technology and will have a bigger impact on your world. And that's just one example. Electrolysis, which is easier than electric lights, has a huge impact on the chemical industry.

    May I suggest that rather than trying to put your technology into a medieval setting you simply transfer the social and political structure of a medieval setting onto an early modern technological setting? Add dragons, and kingdoms, and gods, and magic to a Victorian (or other early modern) setting. It will be easier for you to subtract some technology, as needed, rather than trying to work through all the things that should be added.
    Light bulbs are more than a curiosity in hospitals when doctors are operating: it makes a lot of light without dirtying everything.(it is definitively dirty due to using battery power but not inside the hospital)
    If you only use those in hospitals then you could possibly have it battery powered rather than having the infrastructure to produce energy.
    But yes: seeing light bulbs only used in hospitals would make them more of a detail than a part important for the setting regardless of how it improves survival rate in surgery.
    Last edited by noob; 2021-06-25 at 05:08 PM.

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    Off the battlefield, where mass casualties are a thing, who needs surgery? And if surgery is needed why can't a CLW be used to close the wound and prevent scarring?

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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    You can certainly have well lit areas without electricity and a lot of pre-industrial buildings are designed to maximise natural light

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weavers%27_windows



    If you don't have heavy equipment like a loom you can do your business outside

    Artificial light - in sufficient quantity - is going to make workers independent of weather or time of day.
    Last edited by wilphe; 2021-06-25 at 11:25 PM.

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Bohandas's Avatar

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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    It'll make star gazing less of a thing.

    Also, I think I recall hearing (in an Extra History video IIRC) that the use of street lamps reduced crime when it started
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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin recounts a period he lived in London, one of the things he disliked about the Londoners' ways was that they often stay up late and sleep during the first part of the day, out of sync with the sun.

    This was about a century and half before London had an electric grid, so we know widespread artificial lighting can happen without electricity.
    Excuses and explanations are different.

    Sometimes when there can be no excuses we must look the hardest for explanations.

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    Quote Originally Posted by Quizatzhaderac View Post
    In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin recounts a period he lived in London, one of the things he disliked about the Londoners' ways was that they often stay up late and sleep during the first part of the day, out of sync with the sun.

    This was about a century and half before London had an electric grid, so we know widespread artificial lighting can happen without electricity.
    I believe that at this point they had gas lights and arc lights. Powerful, very much not friendly to domestic life, but still light.

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    Pixie in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    I'd Think they'd be mainly brought by richer people (I.E high-ranking merchants) as a cleaner alternative to oil lamps. The poor wouldn't care- the starlight/torch/etc is enough light for them. On the other hand, if industrialization started, they'd become MUCH more popular with all due to being cheap and clean

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    AssassinGuy

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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    Quote Originally Posted by brian 333 View Post
    With a mantle an ordinary oil lamp is as bright as a lightbulb.
    This.

    The big innovation of light bulbs isn't that they were electric lights, it is that they were electric lights with a performance similar to gas lights. Arc lights had existed for a while, but you wouldn't want one in your house.

    I agree with those who pointed out that widespread use of light bulbs requires a manufacturing infrastructure that means what you end up with looks a lot like the early 20th century.

    I sense that the question really was about the changes to society if there is plentiful clean artificial light, and as others have observed D&D has already got a mechanism for providing that: Continual Light cast on a golf ball.
    If spellcaster are as common as the demographics tables in the DMG suggests, then every major city - and a lot of minor ones - have streetlights.
    Which results in a setting that feels more Victorian than medieval.
    Which is why I prefer settings where magic is scarce.

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    Flumph

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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    Quite a lot.

    the first electric bulbs didn't have an analogous effect because they were not replacing torches and candles as much as they were replacing gas lamps.

    and if you want some ideas there is decent research into this in the in 1950's electrification campaigns in places like rural Texas which I think should be pretty easily findable. The effects of electrical water pumps was probably just as important (especially on women health) as candles but I'm pretty sure you could find a lot of good detail in these archives.

    so some of the major changes would be things like shops would stay open later. In many places of business staying open wasn't worth the cost of the candle.

    also would have significant changes in health as good lighting has quite a bit of response in being able to see problems and deal with them before they become a health hazard in houses with poor lighting.

    people would also just stay up longer which would drive socialization longer into the night and also atomize such socialization. Where a village may congregate in only a few houses where a fire/candle is being used when everyone can light their home they are more likely to stay in before bed. And go to bed later in general.

    Would also probably cause a shift from the kitchen/cook fire being the main place to socialize to an actual "living room" in those who are just able to afford both.

    Would make traveling between urban locations significantly safer. Even today one of the first things people do to drive down street crime is to make sure there is more street/parking lot/hallway lighting. Increasing Parking lot lighting was a big thing in the US even into the 1990's. There is a reason for this. People prefer to mug people in the dark. Dark alley's are a trope for a reason.

    Also most DnD is aimed toward the high/late medieval era to early renaissance (say 1100-1500) and candles were still pretty expensive back in this ear. Thing did get better later but as mostly animal products (most candles were tallow, whale oil was big fraction of oil lamps etc) they were expensive.

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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    Quote Originally Posted by jjordan View Post

    May I suggest that rather than trying to put your technology into a medieval setting you simply transfer the social and political structure of a medieval setting onto an early modern technological setting? Add dragons, and kingdoms, and gods, and magic to a Victorian (or other early modern) setting. It will be easier for you to subtract some technology, as needed, rather than trying to work through all the things that should be added.
    I find the Victoriana RPG did this quite well, although I've only played a single one-shot campaign in it. Had its quirks though... social prestige is an important resource in that game, which costs you when building your character. (I personally chose to completely jettison it in favour of magical power and other perks when building a fish-out-of-water Congolese hunter gatherer witch doctor to run around London with a party of mostly gentlemen adventurers).

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    Default Re: What would medieval life be like with electrical lights?

    On the subject of magic as science or science as magic...

    https://youtu.be/YmrQkfKz5CQ

    Thoughts?
    Last edited by Max_Killjoy; 2021-07-28 at 01:38 PM.
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