The basis for an adventure I'm writing is a child. He is extremely intelligent and had a knack for magic at a very young age, but he has a mental disorder (something similar to Asperger's syndrome).

He was kidnapped and "raised" by a demon who trained him to use his magic to "play," which usually ended with death and destruction, though the child was oblivious to it. The child is now a young adult and extremely powerful, and the demon is using him to accomplish various nefarious deeds.

While controlled by the demon, the boy still has a personality and remembers the experiences from his normal life before the kidnapping. I want to incorporate those experiences in the design of the adventure and the encounters the PC's have.

Example - I may have a combat encounter in which the PC's are teased and attacked by a group of huge ogres, modeling larger children making fun of the boy.

What is the life of a child like in a medieval/fantasy setting?

  • \$\begingroup\$ You should ask about this on History. There's a persistent but wildly inaccurate myth among the common folk that play is a modern invention. If anything, the reverse is true. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2015 at 5:39

3 Answers 3


Medieval peasants and most tribal cultures...

Typically, children under age 1 were nursed by mothers who nursed them frequently whilst doing other work. Children aged 1-2 might still be nursing, or might already be transitioned to the next group...

Ages 2-4 were supervised by aunts and grandparents, and had as much play as they would ever see; the basic idea was to get them talking, and knowing who to defer to, and be able to take instructions.

Most 4-8 year olds were being tasked with the easier tasks of the family. Girls started helping mom with cooking and gathering in aboriginal societies, and boys doing hunt-imitation type play; both started working the fields with mom in peasant societies. This is where the two begin to diverge sharply.

By age 8-12, most peasants were being tasked to separate tasks, usually supervised by an older sibling or cousin. Play was not well tolerated, and the long days of work were already starting on shaping the adult body. The gender role differences are still minimalized. Note that the local priest might pick a child or two a year, and pull them for life in the church... if boys, and excellent singers, odds are that castration is in their immediate future, but other than that, the life of a cleric of this age is one of constant study, practice, and prayer.

In that same age 8-12 range, aboriginal peoples tend to have the boys starting to accompany the men on lesser hunts, and the girls begin to be serious parts of the gathering team. Girls can look forward to being married shortly after this age bracket, so they are being trained, almost as a commodity, to be good spouses. Boys are taking a slower and longer body building course of increasing effort hunts, and helping with cleaning and carrying prey back.

Ages 13-15 for peasants tend to run to being less supervised and more task focused. The brighter children being given more adult level tasks. Gender role differentiation is really started, and puberty tends to start later in this period; modern 15 year old nubile sexy-shape is mostly absent, due to poor nutrition and lots of physical athleticism (both of which delay both onset of menses and female secondary sexual characteristics). Males tend to hit puberty earlier.

That same ages 13-15 for clerics and religious sees education in writing, many common tasks they already know continue, but at a reduced level (self-sufficiency level, rather than commercial level), and even less tolerance for individuality.

Ages 13-15 for aboriginals generally is considered adulthood for the girls, who are usually married into another tribe or family; they spend this time mostly being incluturated there, and possibly pregnant. Males tend to be assisting in the hunts; while not physically mature, they are still pretty useful, and their contributions are important to the tribe; they are pulling their own weight most of the time.

In any realistic peasant society, a child showing any skill at the occult would either be apprenticed to the local healer, or turned over to the church, or killed. The demon scenario would result in a child killed by one or more of those groups. Murder was a high crime, and a child killing another was usually put to death. Killing livestock was likewise grounds for maiming or death penalties.

In an aboriginal society, where such killings of animals could be easier hidden, the child might stand a chance... or might be cast out. In ether case, if the child shows a magical aptitude, the shaman or shamaness will likely take them from the family at about age 5-8. And if the child shows that much evil, and the shaman finds out, quietly or publicly kill the child, or possibly, just cast them out.

So, for either of these, the most believable is that the child was normal, showed a bit of gift, and then was possessed around age 5-6, and escaped into the wild. A child that age can survive (it's happened several times in the last hundred years in France), and the demon would then have free reign to warp the child.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer, except you forgot "and on average, die before reaching that age" :-P \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Jun 7, 2011 at 0:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 Great answer! Can you cite any sources or is this just accumulated knowledge? \$\endgroup\$
    – dpatchery
    Jun 7, 2011 at 0:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dpatchery Accumulated knowledge, but based upon way too many reads of various studies and books on it. There is an excellent book about life as a medieval peasant, and there are several good layman accessible anthropological studies on childhood and aboriginals. Most of which I read during my ECD class in grad school as an Elementary Ed grad student. \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Jun 7, 2011 at 5:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Myx yeah, let's just agree to ignore dysentery, cholera, influenza, plasmotoxosis, smallpox, and all the other banes of childhood in an urban medieval environment... because I didn't even touch on the urban groups. They're much more lethal. Most children who made it to age 2 survived, based upon the studies of children in aboriginal and asian early 20th century peasants... but about half didn't make it to age 2. In cities, only one of 6 to 8 did. Childhood mortality in ages 2-15 generally accounts for (IIRC) just under a 50% loss of the survivors, and the lifespan ran long... \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Jun 7, 2011 at 5:31

Childhood is a modern invention. In medieval times, children were treated as little adults.

So, the idea of "play"? That's a modern invention, too, and especially a Western one. In medieval times, children were expected to work as soon as they could.

In some non-Western cultures today, the same applies. The child gets involved in cooking and caring for siblings. There's a wonderful example, from an anthropological study, of a brickmaker's child who was given a little hammer to chip at stones. As soon as he could hold a full-sized hammer, he'd use that. Thus, children worked.

Your child could well have been raised by a demon. (Remember that, in medieval times, that's a real thing: for most people, demons actually existed.) I think it would have been like an apprenticeship. The child would have done little bits of the demon's work.

The normal life he remembers wouldn't have been a childhood, as we understand it today. Instead, I think he'd have flashbacks to living with humans in a small community. That community would be the thing he loses.


If his talent for magic manifested at a young age, and he wasn't able to control it, a staple of the genre is the people thinking he's a witch and trying to burn him. Otherwise, his life as a beggar would have been very hard.

Possibly he could have been forced to beg and beaten by older men, scrounging food from the streets, surviving by miracle (and thus being very resilient later). Stories of abuse would be very likely, if you want to deal with that. Life in the middle ages, esp. the dark middle ages, was bad for everyone, moreso for women, moreso for orphaned children.

Extra bits you could use are scars, badly set bones, perhaps a malnutrition-related status, paranoia or at least deep distrust, street smarts...

You can read about the life of an "orphan" in the Spanish 1500s (a bit later, yes) in the Lazarillo de Tormes, at the very least.

You can also read about the life of an orphan in a magical medieval setting in the first part of The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. The rest of the book is awesome, too.


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