GM: You enter the 15’x15′ dungeon room, your torchlight dances on the crumbling stone walls revealing the room to be empty.
Player: We fortify the doors and set down camp for the night.
GM: You all die of asphyxiation in the night, choking on the copious smoke from your 13th century pitch soaked torches.
I’ve done a little bit of research on historical lighting after watching a youtube series on torches by Lindybeige:
Also this semi-related video about lighting fires (Or rather why you wouldn’t have normally done it)
Mostly I’ve been trying to think of the forms of lighting a group of adventurers would use coming from a background who’s tech level is comparable to western Europe in the middle ages. Of course the “Middle Ages” are a rather vast swath of time covering a few hundred years, but during most of that time illumination was utter crap.
For most of human history, when you really needed good lighting, you went to sleep and waited for the sun to come up. If it was too dark inside to work you’d take your tools outside and work beneath the light of a sunny day. Most interior lighting came from the hearth, with wax, oil, or fat fueled candles and lamps for spot lighting. Light came from fire, and unless that fire was the sun it wasn’t exceedingly bright, or without soot and smoke filling the room.
This all answers the question, What would be used to light a dungeon in a typical Fantasy world? (Probably candles and oil lamps) But begs another question, How on earth can I reflect this in game without creating a rats nest of overly complicated rules? You could write a body of lighting rules even more complex than the game itself if you weren’t careful. And what about all the other things we casually gloss over in our gaming because it isn’t fun? I don’t bother with gender based stat mods, or require characters to find a restroom a realistic number of times per day.
The simplest (and totally un-play-tested) solution I have thought up so far is to grade different light sources and penalize torch use in enclosed areas. I’m thinking of a simple house rule to cover being overcome by fumes/smoke when in an enclosed space where tar, pitch, resin, or similarly unpleasant substances are alight (Including torches using those fuels), and another house rule making wandering monster checks more frequent when using low grade (but cheap) tallow based lighting. I’m going to give this a shot when I can get together a group to play ACKS. If you’ve tried something similar let me know how it went in the comments.