The dull red lights pulse softly. The human seated before you appears entirely relaxed- and barely aware of your august presence. It is inspecting one of the patchwork bits of soft-circuitry near its navel. You cough.
It looks up, and its wet eyes fill with gratifying fear. Then it leaps to its feet, backflips away two paces, bows, tumbles forward, and pops up. Its patchwork clothing plays something your audiOS identifies as “bells.”
“I take it you are the Harlequin?”
“At your service!”
The Harlequin is a character from the Commedia dell’Arte. It goes back at least as far as the 1500s. The modern clothing pattern of diamonds appears in painting at least that far back- and being that old, the origins of the pattern are rather contested and there are, of course, variations. However, the fundamental thing they have in common appears to be that there are differences- differences in color, or in the shape of the diamonds, or in the fit of the garment. The word harlequin has even come to mean slightly mis-matched, in the antique world.
If you’d enjoy some delightfully in depth breakdowns of how the Harlequin was traditionally played, go here!
Watermelon Mini Harlequin From Michael Miller, by the yard; via Stitch Stash Diva. Ships worldwide. $9 USD
Mens 60s Mod Harlequin Paisley Hipster Classic shirt via Company V. Ships to the US only. $9 USD
Cute Vintage 50s Harlequin Blouse via Rock Doll Vintage. Ships worldwide. $44 USD
Do You Know What They Call Dungeons & Dragons in Paris? ~ A Detailed Look at Kinds of Player and Character Skills ~ Simulation vs. Emulation ~ The Haute List- Under $25 ~ The Office Lolita! ~ Summer Safety for Tanking Types ~
A very dear friend of mine, back home in Cincinnati, used to make me things when I came to visit: a pot of espresso; a shared cigarette; pancakes on a Sunday morning. And this time of year, when Cincinnati is covered in ice and mud, I would flee to her house for warmth and sustenance.
One such day, she made me drinking chocolate from little chunks of chocolate melted in a pot, mixed with milk and a tiny spoonful of sugar. She poured it into mugs and we drank it from her sofa while the weather pissed sleet on the window panes.
Chocolate has been around as a beverage since at least 2000 BCE in the Americas, and it entered European cuisine in the 1500s, via the Spanish. This article via the Smithsonian is a great introduction to the history of chocolate. Especially these tidbits:
Aztec sacrifice victims who felt too melancholy to join in ritual dancing before their death were often given a gourd of chocolate (tinged with the blood of previous victims) to cheer them up.
By the 17th century, chocolate was a fashionable drink throughout Europe, believed to have nutritious, medicinal and even aphrodisiac properties (it’s rumored that Casanova was especially fond of the stuff). But it remained largely a privilege of the rich until the invention of the steam engine made mass production possible in the late 1700s.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Drinking chocolate can be used as an aid to ritual sacrifice atop a rain forest temple, as a debaucher’s morning drink in Renaissance Europe, and as a sign of steampunk ingenuity around the world. So the next time it’s snowing and you’re hiding in the tavern, watching your thief eye that paladin’s purse and waiting for the weather to clear, consider indulging in that ancient pleasure: chocolate.
Image credit: Raimundo Madrazo’s Hot Chocolate (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons.
And, as a bonus, have this lovely article comparing their flavors!
If ever you play a character that uses poison, there is one person in history you must know: Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de’ Medici.
This little Italian girl became the Queen of France, Catherine de’ Medici, and ruled for nearly 30 years. Her sons may have reigned, yes, but there were few times during that period when Catherine was not in control of the monarchy.
Anything you read about her should be interpreted with severe skepticism; she was a powerful woman in a tumultuous time, which means she was written about largely by people who didn’t like her. That doesn’t mean necessarily that those people are wrong, or what they are reporting is inaccurate… but they might be. However, they are accurately reporting their own opinions about poisoners, and people who get power the “wrong” way, and they are recording a whole pile of poisoning ideas!
For example, she was portrayed as using diamond dust as a poison, delivering poison via apples, fish sauce, gloves, or the pages of a book, and experimenting with poisons on the poor under the guise of giving out free health care.
A poisoner is a tricky character to play, especially in the more combat oriented larps; dungeon crawling is hardly a strong suit. Another issue is that NPCs don’t always persist, and a poisoning is something that often needs a lot of research and thought. For combat, my favorite route is a stealthy character with a reliable means to transmit the poison and the ability to get the hell out of dodge if it doesn’t work.
However, a poisoner might well be a fascinating NPC, especially as a long-running antagonist to the players. MacGuffins are a fantastic method of poison delivery, and pitting combat players against an enemy that cannot be defeated via combat is a clever way to deal with things like power creep. If you can employ half the creativity attributed to Catherine, your players will have more story and conflict than they know what to do with. Just make certain there is a way out for them… unless its a horror larp. In which case, the fact that their very environment seems to be turning against them is perfect for inducing paranoia.
Aren’t you happy it’s impossible to relay poisons via blog, now?
Image: Scene from La Reine Margot, the story of Catherine de’ Medici’s daughter, and wife of the target of that poisoned book.
Welcome to DIY Friday! This is going to be a regular feature from now on- DIY is a huge part of the larp experience and there’s nothing quite like awesome stuff you’ve made yourself.
This week’s video is another from Threadbanger, showing you how to make a straitjacket. This project does require a sewing machine, so if you don’t have one, talk to your crafty friends!
Straitjackets (aka camisoles de force) were invented in France in 1770, and were lauded as being a more humane way of restraining people. Which, when you compare them to being chained to a wall, I suppose they are. The design of the garment hasn’t changed much over time, which means they’re actually a reasonable costume element or prop for any character from the last 240 years. Trade would mean they might show up even in places relatively distant from Europe, though it would be increasingly unlikely as you move further away from port cities.
If you have an entirely fictional universe, straitjackets don’t require much in the way of technology- you need to be able to make shirts with sleeves, and to work leather, and to be able to attach the one to the other. A straitjacket is simply a unique arrangement of otherwise preexisting clothing items, so any culture that has those items has the potential to create a straitjacket.
Thematically, I think they’re best for horror larps. While they were initially considered humane, they were also frequently misused by asylum staff who weren’t trained to deal with patients any other way than by restraining them. I think it’d be particularly cool for an undead character from the right time period to keep around one as a memento. Or, you know, to restrain people with.
The most notorious of these ticketed parties was the bals des victimes, held on the first floor of the Hôtel Richelieu, to which only those who had lost a near relative during the Terror were invited. The room was draped in black: black ribbons tied on to the musicians’ violins, black hangings on the walls, black crêpe on the chandeliers. Dancers of both sexes had their hair cut short at the back, à la victime; women wore thin shifts like the ones in which their mothers and sisters had gone to the scaffold, and narrow red ribbons around their necks, as if to show where the guillotine’s blade had missed. They greeted each other with sharp, awkward nods in imitation of the motion made by severed heads as they dropped into the basket below. - Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France by Lucy Moore (links are my own)
This is not a Halloween tradition per se, but it is very much a fitting concept for the season. Just after the Terror, the people of France used morbid parties like these at all levels of society to deal with the sheer volume of death they’d experienced.
Think about the lives of the locals that so many of us are helping in our games- they are constantly plagued by monsters, villains, and disease. Even the PCs experience death- how many times have you been resurrected, now? When will it end? How does your new PC feel about the way other characters remember your old PC- the one who died in battle too young, against an enemy too strong for their tender levels?
This is a concept that’s most fitting in horror settings- adventure larps tend to focus less on making the characters feel helpless, so there are different emotions to process. Still, a red ribbon around the throat is another simple and brilliant costume addition for a character marked by death.
DIY steps for making the necklace above. (Instructions in French and English)
Simple red ribbon chokers from Etsy. £2.79 (about $5)
Fun fact: individuals condemned to die by guillotine had their hair cut just before execution, to keep it from getting in the way of the blade.
A character with some real angst might wear a hank of hair on their belt, to remind themselves of someone they lost, or to remind everyone else that they’ve already cheated death once.
If you don’t have an extra foot of hair to lose, you could make one by picking up some extensions from a beauty supply store or some pharmacies- I know Walgreens carries them. I’d recommend cutting off any artificial attachments like the clip, and then getting the hair a little dirty or dusty. It was, after all, cut off in a prison.
Image is of Thérésia Cabarrus in La Force. The portrait on the wall behind her is Jean-Lambert Tallien, one of her lovers. From Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France by Lucy Moore.