Outside of Thief, torches are also frequently depicted as the most common light source in both pre-modern fantasy and historical fiction settings alike, and can be found as permanent fixtures on the walls of every fictional palace, castle or peasant hut, from the Lord of the Rings film series to the Gladiator.
But what does history actually say about the usage of torches before the invention of gas and electrical lights, and how sensible and commonplace was their usage? I've debated this matter on the thread of a recently released FM, and I thought it would be worthy to further put this into deeper discussion.
Not as bright as you think
What happens is that contrary to popular perception torches are an impractical and unreliable source of light, and their usage indoors is a particularly poor idea. While still being used around the world today in ritualistic ceremonies, such as processions, torches primarily served either as offensive weapons to set buildings ablaze, or as beacons to temporarily signal a location or send a message from afar.
The reasons for why torches were simply not used as a portable or wall-mounted light source become pretty self-evident if one has ever been close to an indoors wood fed fire source without any direct ventilation: torches do not burn cleanly without making lots of smoke, their light is unstable and obfuscating at close to medium range, and their primarily fuel source lasts for half an hour at best. In fact most movie prop torches are generally cleverly disguised gas torches, burning without any smoke. Moreover, placing a torch near a wooden structure, or any other generally flammable material, such as wallpaper, would present a serious fire hazard at its worse, and a source of soot, stink, and burned spots at its best. As personal light sources, torches are far from being handy objects either, starting by the fact their sheer size and amount of heat produced make for a fairly uncomfortable object to carry around, added to the previous general disadvantages of smoke and stink.
History researcher and youtuber Lindybeige further describes the problem with torches in the following video series.
So what was used instead?
In ancient times the light sources were actually plenty, very accessible and quite easy to carry. People would build their houses to maximize the use of natural light by default, but for night time there was a wide variety of decently lasting clean light sources available, both expensive and very very cheap. Commoners would mostly use pieces of rush weed embedded in fat, which could burn cleanly sometimes for more than hour. Richer households would be able to afford tallow candles or even beeswax candles, which would become cheaper and eventually ubiquitous in the centuries past the middle ages. If you're curious about details I would recommend you reading this article on medieval light sources.
So what does this mean for TDM?
As of the moment there is an unholy amount of torches on plenty of TDM fan missions as part of this misconception, and my goal with this thread would be precisely to change that. While TDM is a fantasy franchise it is important to notice people are incidentally educated of many historical notions through fantasy representations, and as such I feel it is important to keep at least some aspects of daily live grounded in actual reality for this purpose. This does not mean you should rush to delete all the torches from your current mission, but maybe be more wary of their placement in the future missions you create.
And what are the alternatives?
Fortunately TDM already has plenty of alternatives to torches, from oil lamps to lanterns, which produce a similar effect. To have a model consistent with the larger light radius of a torch, perhaps an oil lamp with several flame ends could be added, as well as diversifying the amount of candelabra both for oil and candles. Some mappers already well-aware of this notion. A good example of proper use of candles and lamps replacing torches can be seen on the Wm. Steele series.
In what situations would it still make sense for me to use a torch?
In every situation where it would either make sense to have a beacon meant to be seen far away (such as tower) or as an impromptu flame source on outdoors locations such as encampments. Although not truly historical, this usage can at least be justified by common sense through some extent.
One good example of allowed indoor torches would be magical flames created by paranormal events or entities. These flames generally take a unusual color (such as green or blue) to signal their unnatural source.
What about dungeons?
On another example of a classic misconception, dungeons were never lit in ancient times, precisely for safety reasons. If a prisoner could not see where he was going, there would be little chance he could find his way out in the event of escape. For this purpose, only guards and visitors would carry light sources. In fact the absence of light in dungeons was such that it would not be uncommon for prisoners to go completely blind overtime.
Edited by zergrush, 08 May 2019 - 01:26 PM.