The equipment lists given in the Player's Handbook assume your campaign is set in a generic medieval fantasy world. In practical terms, this means you haven't tied your campaign to any particular date in history. All this is perfectly fine and is commonly done in fantasy stories and fantasy campaigns—you are dealing with fantasy, after all.
However, it is also possible to create exciting and interesting campaigns that are tied to specific time periods, but this will work only if you know something about the time period. This is important! A lot of people assume things about the past without knowing the facts. The truth of the matter may be far different. Go to the library and do your homework before you begin designing a time-specific campaign. Even if you don't do such a campaign, it's useful to learn a little more about medieval history. It will only improve your own fantasy world.
It is not necessary to pick a precise date to model, such as 1237 A.D., although again there is nothing wrong with this. History and historians tend to divide the past into different ages, and you can do the same. Four different ages are covered here—the Ancient World, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. Each has its peculiarities and differences, some of which are described below.
The Ancient World
This covers a period of great empires spreading from the Mediterranean. Some weapons and armor were made of bronze, others of iron, and a few were made of steel. Most household items were pottery, wood, stone, and wicker. Bronze weapons were easily dulled and, in game terms, break or bend when a "1" is rolled on the attack roll. Stirrups hadn't been invented, so characters can't use heavy lances, and charge attacks can't be made with normal lances.
The Dark Ages
This was the period after the collapse of the Roman Empire, from 450 A.D. to about 1100 A.D. While much of the learning and culture of the ancient world was lost, it was not as bleak and ignorant a period as some believe. Still, in many ways, it was a step backward from the previous age. During this time the stirrup was introduced, allowing riders to gain full use of the lance.
The Middle Ages
The Middle Ages (roughly from 1100 to 1450) is the period in which most fantasy campaigns are set. It was the period most people associate with knighthood and chivalry. The knights went off on the Crusades. Great stone castles were built. The role of traders and merchants began to grow. Virtually all the items on the equipment list were available in this time period.
The latest time period that should be considered as a setting for a normal AD&D campaign, the Renaissance was a time of great change. The collapse of the feudal system had begun throughout much of Europe. There was great growth in literature, art, and science. The power of the old nobility began to decline while the influence and wealth of merchants and businessmen continued to grow. Gunpowder and simple guns revolutionized the face of warfare. Foot soldiers became more important than cavalry, and armor was not nearly as useful as it once had been.
Adjusting Equipment Lists
When you set your campaign in a specific time period, you might want to adjust the equipment lists to reflect changes in availability and price. Some suggested changes are listed in Table 23 . Like the capsule descriptions, the table is not 100% accurate. Instead, it reflects whether items were commonly used in the time period. For example, flails (as an agricultural instrument) have existed for time immemorial. However, they were not commonly used as weapons in most time periods, except in cases of emergency. By doing further research, you can refine and expand this list.
|Item||Ancient||Dark Ages||Middle Ages||Renaissance|
|Block and Tackle||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Bronze Plate Mail||Yes||No||No||No|
|Composite Long Bow||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Full Plate Barding||No||No||No||Yes|
|Heavy Horse Lance||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Heavy War Horse||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Pole arms, not pike||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Silk Clothes||No||Very Rare||Rare||Rare|
|Silk Rope||No||Very Rare||Rare||Rare|