plundering Dragonlance: how old are these rotted furnishings?

This entry is part 8 of 11 in the series dragonlance

In Dragons Of Autumn Twilight, the companions stumble into a bakery in a city which has been abandoned for 300 years. They get comically covered with flour (of course).

Is flour still good after 300 years? or has it totally rotted away? Can I really eat bread made from flour that was ground in 1713? That sounds awesome.

PCs are always adventuring in abandoned buildings, and so it’s useful to know stuff like the time-to-live of various household goods.

  • How long does flour, or other kitchen goods, last, and what does it turn into? (I don’t know about flour, but honey famously lasts forever.)
  • How long does it take copper to turn green? (about 20 years.)
  • If the bed’s canopy and bedclothes are “rotted”, how old does that make them? How old is the skeleton’s rusty sword? (Depends a lot on the water content of the environment.)

    Of course, a lot of this is for the amusement of the DM. Most of the time, no one will blink an eye if you have copper-colored copper in the 4000-year-old tomb. There’s always that one player out of a thousand, though, who will try to draw reasonable conclusions from environmental cues. “Hey, if no one has been in here since the last millenium, why are torches burning?”

    While we’re on the subject of traces of the past, here’s one of my favorite area descriptions from the game module:

    33. Kiri Valley
    The forest darkens and thickens beside an ancient trail. A cold, dry stillness hovers in the air, and the trees are knotted and bent. Everything seems to watch you. An evil wizard died here long ago. Only his essence remains.

    I don’t know how long essence remains vis a vis flour – I’m guessing longer. I like how this area isn’t important to the plot, but we still get a little throwaway hook to hang DM creativity on. What exactly is the wizard’s essence? It might just manifest as a cold, dry stillness, or it might manifest as a ranting ghost. The detail is there for the DM to expand or ignore.

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  • 13 Responses to “plundering Dragonlance: how old are these rotted furnishings?”

    1. Jake says:

      Yeah, I hear that — the players in my online Greyhawk campaign are exploring a dungeon beneath an ancient school for wizards that was abandoned 400 years ago, and I am continually confronting this problem. For example, I had an extremely long exchange with a friend about what kind of medium could preserve an ogre brain in a jar for 400 years. Mostly, I have handled it by making every room at least a LITTLE humid, so that most furnishings are basically piles of rot.

      This has led to some amusing exchanges:

      Player 1: “If the “bottle containing dark liquid” might be a potion, Arradeth will dip a finger in and taste it.”
      DM: “It tastes like something foully rotten that has existed for so long in a stoppered flask that it has become impossibly complex and bizarre. You vomit. You do not think it is magical.”
      Player 2: “Yeah, Fjel’s not going to carry that around any longer. If Arradeth wants it, it’s all hers :)”

    2. Mike Monaco says:

      FWIW, hard tack (which is basically flour, water, and salt baked into “crackers” that must be soaked to be edible) is said to last a really long time, as long as it is dry and bugs kept out. Like decades. Heard stories about Civil war era hardtack being used during the Spanish-American “war” and also that Napoleanic era hard tack is still on display in museums. Not sure if it would harm you to eat it. Probably not, but I doubt it would nourish you either.

      I always picture “Iron rations” as hardtack, nuts, and raisins, maybe jerky too.

    3. From what I remember flower will stay pretty well so long as it isn’t exposed to moisture. Of course the problem with flower and corn mill is more weevils than anything else as they’ll get into them faster than moisture, young children, and the wind combined.

    4. Brett Slocum says:

      I had a moment while watching National Treasure this week. When they are finally in the top of the secret hiding place, Nick Cage picks up a 250 year old torch and lights it. My first thought was, “Wouldn’t the lamp oil (or whatever it was using as fuel ) evaporate in that time?”

    5. 1d30 says:

      I read about a Central American archaeologist who reported that some chewing gum recovered from a dig site had “a smokey flavor”.

      Check out also the documentary series “a world without people” which focuses more on how modern technology would probably break down over the years, but includes architectural stuff.

      Remember that stuff in an oxygen-deprived environment is going to rust slower, bacteria won’t have as much effect, etc. So if your dungeon has noxious underworld fumes wafting everywhere and the PCs can’t breathe it for very long, that might help preserve items.

      A player shouldn’t wonder (that is, passive-aggressively argue) so hard about what kind of fluid can preserve a brain in a jar for 400 years. He should be thinking of ways to use that!

      Plus, magic.

      Related to this, I’m thinking about that Solomon Kane (I think) movie where he drops into a zombiedungeon but there are burning torches everywhere. Like somebody goes down there every half hour and knocks *rap rap rap* – “HOUSEKEEPING” and all the zombies shuffle away as they replace and relight torches in case a traveler comes by that week. That kinda stuff is lame. Especially since the scene would have been MUCH BETTER if the dude was holding one torch which barely held back the darkness and all he saw were zombie claws coming at him and the occasional horrible body or face.

    6. Do not forget that in the real world, flour and corn meal have what we call “preservatives” in them, a.k.a. “chemicals.” Such things do not exist in my version of Greyhawk (my favored game setting).

      Honey contains “natural” preservatives, from the bees themselves.

      A “rusty” sword is made from steel, but not “stainless” steel. It wouldn’t take very long to get a “coat” of rust upon a “plain” steel sword, but it would take sometime to become “nothing but rust.”

      A remember the oxygen part, mentioned by 1d30. Both fire, rot and rust are nothing more than a process called “oxidation.” Fire is rapid oxidation, while rust and rot are slow oxidation.

      Nearly everything in our world contains oxygen. The oxygen is always trying to “get out,” be released back into the atmosphere. This process is called oxidation. Rust and rot release the oxygen slowly, fire releases the oxygen rapidly.

    7. Jake says:

      Lots of interesting comments and helpful info. For the record, my discussion was not an argument with a player, but a consultation with a science nerd to achieve maximum verisimilitude prior to describing the brain 😉

    8. Rhenium says:

      “Nearly everything in our world contains oxygen. The oxygen is always trying to “get out,” be released back into the atmosphere. This process is called oxidation. Rust and rot release the oxygen slowly, fire releases the oxygen rapidly.”

      Actually, (chemist here) you have it backwards, oxygen is trying to get in. Converting iron (Fe) to iron oxide (Fe2O3, rust), food (carbs) to CO2 and so on…

    9. My bad, Rhenium, been a very long time. I knew it was something along those lines. Sorry for getting it backwards.


    10. Paul says:

      I’ve head that grain lasts longer than flour before it is spoiled – presumably, both are well within a human lifetime.

      Here are some items found recently in New York: they’re just 200 years old, but in pretty bad shape. Of course, they were dug up, not found in a dungeon:

    11. paul paul says:

      Oh, here’s another useful one: a body takes 3-6 months to become a skeleton under normal conditions.

    12. Canageek says:

      The other thing to remember is that once something iron starts rusting the rust acts as a catalyst to make it rust faster.

      Now, if the item is oiled, in an oxygen deprived environment, in a very dry environment, those things will also slow rust down.

    13. 1d30 says:

      I remember seeing something about egyptian archaeologists unearthing stuff in tombs and watching it rot away very quickly because the conditions changed. Light, moisture, body heat form the humans and lights, air motion. Or maybe it was from a fictional movie I watched? I know they definitely like to keep something in the same conditions it was in (high pressure seawater, dry motionless air, whatever) because if it’s survived this long in those conditions it might not survive long outside of them.

      Cave of Forgotten Dreams talked about four things that I immediately saw in relation to D&D: speleologists locating hidden cave entrances by feeling for drafts of air coming out (one more way to describe an Elf automatically finding a secret door), mold being introduced into the cave and causing damage to the paintings, the main entrance having been sealed by a collapse which meant the whole cave was remarkably well-preserved, and a rear section of the cave that people couldn’t enter because the air was poisonous (or something).

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