Lamentations of the Pope - LotFP campaign set in 16th century Rome

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CRKrueger

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As to werewolves; I don’t know how LotFP handles them in general, but it might be interesting to fit them better into the 16th-century European environment. That will mean jettisoning a good deal of the typical Hollywood werewolf image. I don’t know of any real Italian materials about werewolves in this era, but the stuff I’ve read from French and German sources does not treat werewolves as cursed individuals who must transform at the full moon. Instead, they are people who choose to change into wolves, attack, and eat people. They are often described as doing this by use of some magical item—say a belt, or a wolf-skin, or perhaps just a magical salve. They may have gained the item and the rituals needed to make it work through traffic with demons; they may be devil-worshipping witches themselves.

Actually, a lot of Early Modern discussion of werewolves revolves around whether or not they are physically transformed into wolves. A minority of authors, including some heavy-hitters like Jean Bodin, accept the possibility of this, while the majority deny it on philosophical and theological grounds. According to them, the werewolf’s apparent transformation is a demonic illusion, created either by demons’ ability to manipulate the material world (roughly like a practical effect in a movie) or by their skill in deluding the senses directly. The latter we might compare to a digital effect in a movie—the viewer sees it, but in fact there was nothing there at all. Personally, I prefer the idea that people are really undergoing a bodily transformation.

Early Modern texts don’t suggest that the bite of werewolves passes the condition on to others. Here I’d be tempted to play with things a bit and say that the bite causes a rabies-like disease in victims. This leads to dementia, in which the victim lashes out like a wild beast and tries to bite others, and shortly thereafter in death. That actually connects with another Early Modern idea about lycanthropy—that it is a form of madness in which people imagine they are wolves and act accordingly. It also helps explain why werewolves are so feared—the disease makes their bite fatal, even if the blood loss and trauma does not.

There’s also little hint in the Early Modern materials I know of that werewolves are immune to normal attacks and can be harmed only by silver or blessed weaponry. In fact, many werewolf tales from this era feature the monstrous wolf being injured (shot with an arrow, cut, appendage struck off, etc.) and then identified in its human form because it has an identical injury—or even has an identifiable arrow sticking out of it. So, to make werewolves tough opponents, I’d assume that they have a lot of hit points and move very fast. The latter might mean a better armor class (or equivalent), a high dodge rating (in games that have that sort of thing), and maybe multiple attacks per round.

As I said above, there doesn’t seem to be much Italian material from this era concerned with werewolves, but here is a suggestion of how to fit them into Rome c. 1560. It connects them with Rome’s Carnival celebrations, which deserve extended treatment on their own. As usual, I’ve spoilered the suggestions for length.

The historical background here is the Roman religious festival of Lupercalia, celebrated on February 15 by a religious association—it is misleading to call them priests—the Luperci. The rite began with a sacrifice of dogs and goats at the Lupercal, a cave on the Palatine Hill in which Romulus and Remus had been suckled by the famous she-wolf. After the sacrifice, two young men had their foreheads smeared with the blood of the animals; this was then wiped away with wool soaked in milk. The two were supposed to let out a shout of laughter at this point. The Luperci feasted on the sacrificed animals and cut their skins up, making whips of them. Then came the main public part of the festival. Naked, or dressed only in the remains of the goatskins, the Luperci ran a set route through the city, whipping the crowd that watched them. Being hit brought good fortune, especially for women—it was supposed to help them conceive or, if already pregnant, to have an easy childbirth. The Luperci belonged to two different brotherhoods, the Quinctiliani and the Fabiani; in 45 B.C. Julius Caesar’s party added a new third group, the Julii, which did not survive his downfall. It was at the conclusion of the Lupercal race in 44 B.C. that Marc Antony three times offered Caesar a crown—really a diadem.

We are not really sure what the religious meaning of the Lupercalia was; it’s likely that by the time the Romans themselves were writing descriptions of it they had also forgotten, including which god it originally honored. It seems to combine elements of a fertility ritual with one of purification, and it was tied to the wolf and Rome’s legendary beginnings. The two original brotherhoods of Luperci were mythologically linked to Romulus (the Quinctiliani) and Remus (the Fabiani). The festival outlived the suppression of most pagan religious ceremonies in Rome at the end of the 300s, since Pope Gelasius complained about its continued existence in the 490s.

So, our Roman werewolves will in fact be Luperci, members of these two brotherhoods. There’s actually some earlier precedent for connecting them to “this transformation of men into wolves” as Augustine puts in in The City of God; he claims the 1st-century B.C. author Varro had made the association. We’ll substitute wolves for dogs in the Lupercalia and say that the Luperci create from their skins the magic belts or pelts that allow them to change shape. How often they can make the transformation is up for grabs: any night (or even day), or only at the full or new moon. The lunar link doesn’t appear in Early Modern werewolf lore, but we could justify it with references to Diana (as goddess of the hunt) or Hecate (by the Early Modern period often seen as a goddess of the moon as well as witchcraft).

To make things more interesting, let’s say the two brotherhoods of Luperci always functioned as protectors of Rome, but with different roles. The ones linked to Romulus (once the Quinctiliani, now just the Inner) protected the city itself from criminals and other internal threats; those linked to Remus (Fabiani, now Outer) defended it from external foes. But, after the fall of the Western Empire, the Outer Luperci lost their way. They came to see any foreigner—anyone not of ancient Roman blood—dwelling in the city as an enemy. In their wolf forms, they savagely attack and consume these outsiders, particularly women and children, since these threaten to supplant the old Roman stock. This fits with 16th-century werewolf lore, which often has them preying on women and the young. And since 16th-century Rome was filled with foreigners, they have a lot of potential prey. The Inner Luperci, on the other hand, keep to their ancient task of disposing of malefactors or other threats that the law cannot deal with. They also struggle against the Outer Luperci, trying to limit their depredations.

Now, let’s further posit that one brotherhood of Luperci or other is always in the ascendant. If it’s the Outer, they are free to attack foreigners in Rome as they like, without the Inner brotherhood’s intervention. If it’s the Inner, then the Outer Luperci are muzzled, so to speak, and may only make such attacks as the Inner brotherhood endorses—basically, they can then only attack evil-doers. The Lupercalia itself has become a contest in which the two brotherhoods compete to see which group will dominate. I’m not sure what form the competition should take—a battle (though not to the death) between the two groups, or their champions? Something to do with the race—whichever side can strike the most people with their thongs? Or perhaps a sacrificial victim is chosen and whichever side hunts it down first wins (the Inner would use an animal for this; the Outer might choose a human being). Anyway, one side or the other triumphs, leading to a ceremony in which the leader of that brotherhood is three times offered a crown, in memory of Caesar. The Inner leader will refuse it, the Outer accept it—but regardless of the gesture, the winning side presides throughout the coming year.

When does this happen? I’d suggest moving the Lupercalia from a set date to make it part of Rome’s annual Carnival celebrations, which vary in date depending on when Easter falls. The main reason for this is that those celebrations actually included some nude racing in the 1500s. The first day of Carnival, Rome’s Jews were made to field racing contestants who ran naked, pursued by coaches, and the second day neighboring communities in Rome’s contado likewise had to supply runners. And there were other races, both of people and animals, throughout Carnival. It would be easy enough to slip the Lupercalia race in here. More importantly, Carnival was a time when people often went in disguise, or masked, and when law-and-order became weak or were set aside. A description of it by a hostile English witness c. 1580 makes it sound like The Purge:



Rome’s Carnival as an adventure setting deserves its own longish post. Suffice it to say here that it could serve as cloak for all kinds of shenanigans. Luperci killing people during the festival might be dismissed, if they were seen, as simply men in wolf costumes, and it would be easier to get away with murder at that time. In fact, I’d suggest that even in years when the Inner Luperci are in ascendant, the Outer are free to kill as they like during Carnival—then all bets are off.
The PCs could get involved with these werewolves in all sorts of ways. They might be targets of the Outer brotherhood, or if they are criminals, of the Inner. They could happen upon the competition between the two sides, or the ceremony in which the leader is designated for the coming year. They might stumble on an attack by some of the Outer brotherhood during Carnival and be very surprised when other werewolves leap to the defense of the victim. Or perhaps one or more of them could be recruited to join one brotherhood or the other.
LUPERCAL!!!
39A8AEE7-6BF1-4FBA-89A1-AADFFBA0FF00.jpeg
 

raniE

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You're giving me a lot of stuff to work with Lofgeornost Lofgeornost, thanks a million. I like the idea of the PCs not being totally sure who has the survey map and having to go find them. I've also thought of pushing the start of the campaign back into 1559. This would both bring it closer to the end of the final Italian war, and could also be set during the papal conclave, which lasted from September 5 to December 25, the longest conclave of the 16th century. Thus, the search for various documents and treasure could be sponsored by cardinals either for blackmail material or to prevent such blackmail from other cardinals. The length of the conclave, and the fact that the cardinals were not at all secluded as they were supposed to be (they instead received visiting envoys and letters from various monarchs, especially those of France and Spain), caused a lot of civil unrest in Rome. This was not helped by the fact that the papal chamberlain (or camerlengo, who at this point happened to be Guido Ascanio Sforza, the grandson of Pope Paul III) had to reduce troop numbers due to financial difficulties. The elected pope, Pius IV, was a compromise candidate agreed on finally by the French and Spanish cardinals. Carafa and his faction of Italian cardinals (among them two other Carafas) agreed after Pius IV promised him an amnesty (later broken when Pius IV had Carafa arrested and eventually strangled after a long trial, as discussed previously).

This long conclave seems to me to be ripe for all manners of intrigue, especially as the cardinals were not hidden away from the outside world. With the papacy having to reduce troop numbers, individual cardinals hiring mercenaries to do their dirty work seems pretty reasonable. You can have anything from finding blackmail material to delivering secret messages and bribes to just restoring order on the streets. All mixed in with exploring the Roman underworld both figuratively and literally (in the form of the sewers and the catacombs) and the bleak and nihilistic and sometimes Lovecraftian supernatural stuff that LotFP is known for.
 

raniE

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It's quite easy to see why the protestant movement was so popular and succeeded in so many places. The medieval and renaissance Catholic church was incredibly, openly corrupt. The Carafa cardinals were not the first and not the last to hold the position of Cardinal-nephew of the pope. Pius IV himself pretty much immediately after his election to the papacy summoned his nephew Carlo Borromeo and made him a cardinal. He was canonized as a saint in 1610, so he ended up with a good reputation among Catholics even though his appointment as cardinal was pure nepotism (the appointment of nephews to positions of power is where the word comes from). Not so with the Carafas. As pope Paul IV, born Gian Pietro Carafa, lay dying, massive rioting broke out.

Wikipedia said:
The people of Rome did not forget what they had suffered because of the war he had brought on the State. Crowds of people gathered at the Piazza del Campidoglio and began rioting even before Paul IV died. His statue, erected before the Campidoglio just months before, had a yellow hat placed on it (similar to the yellow hat Paul IV had forced Jews to wear in public). After a mock trial, the statue was decapitated. It was then thrown into the Tiber.

The crowd broke into the three city jails and freed more than 400 prisoners, then broke into the offices of the Inquisition at the Palazzo dell' Inquisizone near to the Church of San Rocco. They murdered the Inquisitor, Tommaso Scotti, and freed 72 prisoners. One of those released was Dominican John Craig, who later was a colleague of John Knox. The people ransacked the palace, and then set it afire (destroying the Inquisition's records). That same day, or the next day (records are unclear), the crowd attacked the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The intercession of some local nobility dissuaded them from burning it and killing all those within. On the third day of rioting, the crowd removed the Carafa family coat of arms from all churches, monuments, and other buildings in the city.

They clearly did not like him much. Pius IV issued a general pardon to everyone involved in the riots after his election. Maybe I should even throw the PCs in here. I have a plan for them to be hired to deliver something to a cardinal in Rome (whether they do so or not is up to them of course), having them show up during or just before the riots would be interesting.
 
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Lofgeornost

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You're giving me a lot of stuff to work with Lofgeornost Lofgeornost, thanks a million.

You're welcome. I'm enjoying learning more about the era and now am thinking I might run my own game set there, once the coronavirus situation allows.

II've also thought of pushing the start of the campaign back into 1559. This would both bring it closer to the end of the final Italian war, and could also be set during the papal conclave, which lasted from September 5 to December 25, the longest conclave of the 16th century. Thus, the search for various documents and treasure could be sponsored by cardinals either for blackmail material or to prevent such blackmail from other cardinals. The length of the conclave, and the fact that the cardinals were not at all secluded as they were supposed to be (they instead received visiting envoys and letters from various monarchs, especially those of France and Spain), caused a lot of civil unrest in Rome...

This long conclave seems to me to be ripe for all manners of intrigue, especially as the cardinals were not hidden away from the outside world. With the papacy having to reduce troop numbers, individual cardinals hiring mercenaries to do their dirty work seems pretty reasonable. You can have anything from finding blackmail material to delivering secret messages and bribes to just restoring order on the streets. All mixed in with exploring the Roman underworld both figuratively and literally (in the form of the sewers and the catacombs) and the bleak and nihilistic and sometimes Lovecraftian supernatural stuff that LotFP is known for.

The period of the conclave would be really interesting for gaming, in part because, as you said, law and order broke down in Rome during the interregnum. I guess the streets there were not all that safe at the best of times and became positively dangerous as the conclave stretched on. There were complaints about 'murders day and night' in the Avviso di Roma of Sept. 23, and the city government complained that 'disputes are settled not by by law, but by swords and killings' on Nov. 3.

As pope Paul IV, born Gian Pietro Carafa, lay dying, massive rioting broke out... They clearly did not like him much. Pius IV issued a general pardon to everyone involved in the riots after his election. Maybe I should even throw the PCs in here. I have a plan for them to be hired to deliver something to a cardinal in Rome (whether they do so or not is up to them of course), having them show up during or just before the riots would be interesting.

It occurs to me that, if the parties who buried the treasure were renegade papal or Imperial troops, they might have been in jail and then found themselves liberated by the riots. That could explain why they haven't got around to looking for the cache in the last two years.
 

Lofgeornost

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Your mention of papal nepotism brings up another figure whom I think needs to be an NPC in the game—Innocenzo Ciocchi del Monte. He was maybe the worst choice for the red hat of anyone in the 1500s. Though he was less successful than Carlo Carafa, his rise and antics put the latter to shame. I'll spoiler details of his life for length.

He was born c. 1532 in a small town near Parma. His mother is sometimes described as a beggar, sometimes as a prostitute. His father may have been a soldier named Angelino Santino, but this isn’t certain, since he was illegitimate. The boy was apparently baptized Fabiano—the name Innocenzo came later—and spent his early life in great poverty. Sometime before 1544, he became a valero (footman—his job was to conduct visitors in the household) to Cardinal Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte (the future Julius III), while the latter was serving as governor of Piacenza. The boy may have secured employment because his his father had once been in the cardinal’s employ as a guardsman.

One of the boy’s tasks was to take care of an ape that a noblewoman had given the cardinal. One day it attacked the young man and his pluck in fighting back and subduing it apparently caught his master’s attention; this is the source of the later nickname ‘Cardinal Monkey.’ Cardinal Giovanni Maria became extremely attached to the boy, wanting him around at all times. He convinced his brother Baldovino to adopt him, changing his name to Innocenzo Ciocchi del Monte. The cardinal also groomed Innocenzo for better things, arranging tutors for him. The boy probably did not absorb much learning, but he did learn to read and write Italian, at least. When Innocenzo was 14, the cardinal granted him a benefice, making him provost of the see of Arezzo. This was the source of another nickname for Innocenzo, Il Prevostino ‘the little provost.’ Innocenzo did not really fulfill the duties of this position, of course; it was meant merely as a stepping-stone on a future clerical career.

Once his patron became pope as Julius III in 1550, Innocenzo’s rise was meteoric. Julius made him cardinal-deacon on May 30, the first creation of his pontificate. This was quite a scandal—it was openly opposed by reformers like Reginald Pole and Gianpietro Carafa (the future Paul IV), who complained of Innocenzo’s age (he was 17), obscure background and birth, and unsuitable character. Moreover, the pope elevated Innocenzo over his real blood relations, several of whom he later made cardinals. Innocenzo became the chief ‘cardinal-nephew’ of Julius’ administration, in theory at least the pope’s right-hand man; from November 1551 the pope even ordered nuncios to address their letters to Innocenzo rather than to Julius himself. And he showered Innocenzo with offices and benefices that brought him a whopping income estimated at 36,000 scudi or more—a truly princely sum.

We don't know why Julius favored Innocenzo so extremely. There were rumors at the time that the boy was his natural son (almost certainly not true) or his lover. The latter is possible, though some of the early sources that allege it are Protestant controversialists with an axe to grind. Julius enjoyed life--large meals, gambling with fellow cardinals for high stakes, and racy talk and dirty jokes. Maybe Innocenzo's unsophisticated ways appealed to him.

If Julius thought Innocenzo would rise to his new station, he was sorely disappointed. The young cardinal had no interest in work, so the pope was forced to create a new position, cardinal secretary of state, to take over his neglected duties (the office still exists). Instead, Innocenzo devoted himself to living la dolce vita, in scandalous fashion even for Rome in the 1500s. He went about armed and in secular garb, frequented courtesans, partied constantly, and generally acted the way you might expect a cosseted favorite (or a rock star) to behave. He almost went too far when he seduced Ersilia Cortese, a noted poet and the wife (or widow, depending on when the affair began) of his adoptive brother Giovanni Batista del Monte. This affair nearly led Julius III to strip Innocenzo of his cardinalate—he was said to be considering this on May 10, 1562—but instead he choose to back him further, issuing a bull three days later legitimizing Innocenzo’s birth, so that his illegitimacy could not be used against him by his enemies.

Innocenzo lost some of his offices and income when Julius III died in 1555, and might have been in for trouble from his successor, Marcellus II. The new pope warned Innocenzo publically to reform his life—but then died after only three weeks on the throne. The next pope, Paul IV, seems to have taken no real actions against Innocenzo, in fact supporting him in a dispute over income with the king of France. One reason may be that Innocenzo was apparently a part of the Carafas’ circle of friends. He was involved in an incident in early 1559 that helped lead to their fall and exile early in that year. There is a nice summary of it in Kenneth Setton’s The Papacy and the Levant, vol. 4, p. 711:
Carlo’s downfall began with the new year, and involved his brothers too. On 1 January, 1559, Giovanni Carafa’s secretary Andrea Lanfranco invited some friends to dinner, including the wayward Cardinal Innocenzo del Monte and Cardinal Carpi’s brother Gian Lodovico Pio, together with Carlo’s secretary Andrea Sacchetti and Leonardo de Cardena, a relative of the Carafeschi. There were also three courtesans, one of them being the well-known Martuccia, in whom Gian Lodovico di Carpi was interested. As the guests and their host were finishing dinner, Marcello Capece, a nephew of the Carafeschi and allegedly the lover of the duchess of Paliano, burst into the room with ten or a dozen armed men. Capece had been disappointed in not finding Martuccia at home, but had learned that she was dining at Lanfranco’s. Apparently disregarding those present, Capece sat beside Martuccia, and embraced her several times. He met Gian Lodovico’s protests with insults, and the two were soon exchanging blows. Cardinal del Monte, who (contrary to papal decree) went about in secular dress and armed, tried to intervene, but was impeded by the furniture in the room. The scuffle soon ended, however, with apparently no greater mishap than one of del Monte’s grooms suffering a cut on his face.

Innocenzo apparently left Rome in 1559, since he was in Venice when the conclave was called on Paul IV’s death. Passing through Nocera, he cut down an ostler and his son, maybe as a reply to an insult, but perhaps as part of a dispute over changing horses. Both men died of their wounds. He took part in the conclave, voting with Carafas’ faction, and resumed residence in Rome at its end. Then, on May 27, 1560, the new pope Pius IV had Innocenzo arrested and imprisoned in the Castel S. Angelo.

It’s not entirely clear why. Oddly enough, it does not seem to have been for the murders in Nocera, since Pius had apparently agreed to forgive Innocenzo for past offenses when he was elected. But Innocenzo had continued to misbehave in the spring of 1560, getting involved in brawls and duels. On May 24, he was one of the combatants in a brawl at the house of the courtesan Martuccia and about this time he fought Giocomo Malatesta, a Roman nobleman. He also seems to have killed one of his own servants. It’s likely that Pius was doing a ‘test run’ for his upcoming arrest of the Carafas—imprisoning a cardinal who obviously needed disciplining to see how the rest of the college would react.

Innocenzo survived the investigations better than the Carafas, in part because he had support from Cosimo I, the duke of Tuscany. He was liberated from prison on Sept. 20, 1561, though at considerable cost—he had to resign most of his benefices (leaving an income of ~1000 scudi), pay a whopping fine of 100,000 scudi, and enter a kind of house arrest at Tivoli, under the care of two Jesuits who were to work for his spiritual reformation.

I won’t summarize the rest of Innocenzo’s scandalous life—he was in trouble repeatedly, and imprisoned or under house arrest several times—but I’ll just mention one of the charges against him as indicative of his character—in 1569 two prostitutes were discovered in his carriage and it was found that they had been living in his house for most of Lent and Holy Week.

Innocenzo could be an interesting NPC, either as an employer, opponent, or fellow-roisterer of the PCs. In 1559-60 he was only 27-28 and he no doubt had ties to all levels of Roman society, from the cardinals down to cutpurses and prostitutes. It’s hard to see how he could have risen as he did without some wit and a rough charm—I picture him as something like John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back Kotter.

Innocenzo would also be a good candidate for the traitor in Rome who was supposed to open the city to Alba (and who buried the treasure). He was a chancer and his career as a cardinal was pretty clearly not going to advance after Julius III’s death; Alba could have offered him a secular principality of some kind in Naples where he could relax into debauchery without worrying that some future pope would seek to reform him. Also, one of Innocenzo’s adoptive relatives, Cardinal Fulvio della Corgna (who actually was Julius III’s blood nephew), was being held in prison by Paul IV in August 1557, because the pope thought he favored the Spanish side in the war. Innocenzo could spin/justify his deliverance of Rome to the enemy as just a way to help his relative escape confinement. Given Innocenzo’s non-existent work ethic, it’s no stretch to imagine that if his treasure cache was covered up by the flood, he might lack the energy to look much for it.
 

raniE

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He's quite a character, and could definitely show up in some capacity. I'm also happy that the details of the conclave has given me a list of actual cardinals to use, including such figures as this. That way I don't have to make any of them up (I'll save that for lower ranks of the clergy).
 

Lofgeornost

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He's quite a character, and could definitely show up in some capacity. I'm also happy that the details of the conclave has given me a list of actual cardinals to use, including such figures as this. That way I don't have to make any of them up (I'll save that for lower ranks of the clergy).

He was that. When I mentioned the title 'Cardinal Monkey' to my wife, she immediately said "Curious George goes to the Vatican." Now I want that book...

Some online sources for the conclave that I've run into might interest you:
  • A website on papal elections and conclaves by John P. Adams, an emeritus professor at CSUN. The entry for the 1559 conclave is http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/SV1559.html . It includes a list of the cardinals with some details about them.
  • Ludwig von Pastor's History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages, vol. 15: Pius IV, ed. and trans. Ralph Kerr (Routledge, 1951; German original c. 1899). This is available through the Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/historyofthepope15pastuoft/page/n7/mode/2up . Pages 1-66 describe the conclave and appendix 1 (pp. 381-89) gives the details of each 'scrutiny' or vote.
 
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AsenRG

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No. And it is really unusual for more than one player to be particularly interested enough in the setting to use any of the material that is actually out there anyway, whereas any player can surprise you with some random knowledge of real world history or geography (for instance, the longest proven sightline in the world is from Pic de Finestrelles in the Spanish Pyrenees to Pic Gaspard in the French Alps, 443 km away. Good luck finding anyone who knows what the sightlines are between mountain ranges in the Forgotten Realms).
Maybe the creator:grin:?
 

Lofgeornost

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Back to the hunt for buried treasure. Upthread we’ve noted ways that the PCs (or their competitors) could look for the cache using Bufalini’s putative surveys. But there are other ways in a fantasy game, like magic. As Cellini’s tale of demon-summoning in the Coliseum shows, a main reason to invoke spirits was to get them to reveal where treasure was hidden, so the hunters could follow that route. But there are some other occult practices they could use, or hire specialists to perform for them:

This could be used to answer all kinds of questions, but the whereabouts of buried treasure was one of the prominent ones. As it happens, we know of one particular practitioner of this sort of magic in Rome around this time (there were doubtless more), because she was arrested for magical acts early in Pius V’s reign.

Her name was Persia, she was about 50 in 1567, and poor—her husband was a bird-catcher by trade. She lived near the church of the Holy Apostles. She possessed a mirror, known as the ‘white angel’ that she used for divination. Records show that it was kept in a wooden box with lids that opened in the middle and that it (or its frame) was inscribed with magical symbols that the court could not decipher. It also had a handle of some sort. The mirror was apparently the home of a spirit, known as Giovanni Paolo, an unusual name for such an entity—it might suggest that the spirit was thought to be a ghost. Persia claimed that she had obtained the ‘white angel’ some years ago as a gift from an aged Franciscan friar who served at the Holy Apostles. One of the suspects in the 1567 case opined that the friar had imprisoned the spirit in the glass; this might have happened as part of a somewhat deviant form of exorcism.

The court records describe the divination ceremony: a virgin girl, who acted as a medium, knelt and was given a blessed white wax candle (these were distributed at churches at Candlemas, February 2) already alight. She then said preparatory prayers, three ‘Our Fathers’ and three ‘Ave Marias,’ and was given the mirror. She looked into it while Persia and possibly an accomplice (in the court case it was a priest) recited an incantation to summon the spirit and get it to answer their questions. The court records include the beginning of the spell, which is fairly standard for this sort of thing:
Giovanni Paolo, Mother of God, I pray you by the virginity of the Virgin Mary, and by the head of St. Paul, and of St. Peter, and of St. John the Baptist, and by all the holy apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, widows, and by all the male and female saints of God, and by my virginity, that you appear in the mirror and tell me the truth about which you will be asked. I conjure you, Giovanni Paulo, by name, and through you of the Savior of the world, and by the Virgin Mary, and by the holy angels, archangels, thrones, dominations, powers, virtues of the heavens, and by the seven planets…

There seem to be some words missing from the incantation; some of the degrees of angels (principalities, cherubim, and seraphim) are omitted, for instance, and the juxtaposition of Giovanni Paolo and Mary at the beginning is odd, as is the ‘through you phrase’ later in the text. It could be that the transcript is faulty, or that Persia had muddled the spell a bit; she seems to have recited it from memory rather than reading it aloud from a text. We’re also missing the good part, so to speak. The priest involved in the summoning, who wrote down the spell, refused to record the end because he found it disturbing. One could insert LotFP Lovecraftian weirdness here as desired.

In the ritual, the spirit would presumably appear only to the young virgin, who would then report what she saw to the others, as in the Cellini example upthread. In this particular instance, the information sought was actually the sex of an unborn child, but one of the people questioned in the trial thought the interrogation was about finding treasure, so presumably Persia did that sort of thing as well. I suppose that, for treasure hunting, the spirit would devulge an image of where the cache was buried. Interestingly, in this case, several of the people questioned refer to the spirit ‘speaking’—one even says that Persia on previous occasions caused the spirit to ‘speak the sibyl.’ This is probably just metaphor, but it could be neat to put in an auditory component, especially if spectators could hear it, not just the young medium.

German texts of a somewhat later date offer another possibility of how a magic mirror could be used to find treasure. The operator took it to where the cache was thought to lie, recited the incantation, and turned the mirror to the sun; it would then reveal the precise whereabouts. This might be by an image, but we can imagine a ray of reflected sunlight shining on the burial spot. Since Persia seems to have done her magic by night, we could substitute the moon here. If the mirror produces a ray visible to all, we could also dispense with the virgin-girl medium.

Another possibility route is by dowsing, using a divining rod. This practice was common in prospecting for ore, but it was also used to seek buried treasure—or other things; a dowser in late-17th-century France acted as a detective, hunting down criminals. Dowsing for metals straddled the line between magical and natural; many authors explained it by attributing it to some sort of ‘exhalation’ from the metal, or a magnet-like influence, which the rod or the operator detected. But according to Georg Agricola, the early mining expert, some dowsers recited incantations; he felt the whole practice was suspect and magical.

Agricola describes fairly simple versions of the divining rod. It should be of different materials, depending on what was being sought: hazel for silver, pine for lead, and iron for gold. The rod needed to be forked, and the operator held it loosely, so that it would be free to move when attracted to its target. According to Agricola, not everyone could dowse successfully—you needed to be sensitive to the ‘exhalations’ from the metal. We might wonder if a practice designed to find lodes of ore would work for the smaller amount of precious metal in a cache of treasure. A remark of Paracelsus suggests it would—he deprecated dowsing because it was too sensitive, usually turning up lost coins.

A text on the divining rod was attributed to the (probably imaginary) late-15th-century German alchemist Basil Valentine; the writing itself likely comes from the late 1500s. It describes a whole variety of alchemical dowsing rods. A couple that look interesting are:
  • The ‘leaping rod’ which bore on its end a piece of ‘marcasite’; this would jerk violently when it encountered the exhalations of its target metal. By marcasite Basil meant not the mineral so called today (iron sulphite) but some alchemical substance that varied by the metal sought. The marcasite for gold, for instance, was lapis lazuli, while that for iron was the loadstone, or magnet.
  • The ‘trembling rod’ made of various metals and glass, and the ‘superior’ rod which involved a small quantity of mercury and was supposed to be sensitive to ‘breath’ or exhalation that linked metals to the planets. I would be inclined to combine these into a single complex apparatus, looking a bit like a cross between a surveyor’s instrument and an armillary sphere, with a small bit of mercury in a glass capsule as an indicator. Using it would involve doing astrological calculations as well as taking measurements; Paracelsus advised hunting treasure only at the astrologically appropriate times, anyway.
Some simpler occult treasure-finding methods are available, too. Giralamo Cardano, a physician, astrologer, and humanist scholar, held that one could find buried treasure by using a candle made of human fat, which would hiss and then be extinguished when brought to the right location. Reginald Scot’s skeptical Discoverie of Witchcraft mentioned a less grisly approach. The treasure-seeker wrote certain symbols on a piece of paper; the inscription needed to be done on a Saturday, ‘at the hour of the moon.’ If the paper was placed where treasure was buried, it would burn, but otherwise not. It’s not clear if this was meant to be spontaneous combustion, or if the operator attempted to light the paper. The symbols are:
Treasure Symbols Scott.png
 

Lofgeornost

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Arthus Trivium, a French comic series involving Nostradamus and set c. 1565, provides a neat idea: an image that is a doorway into the world it presents. You can enter either mentally, while your body remains here in our reality, or in a fully physical way. In the comic, the image is a tapestry (I think) showing an imaginary classicizing landscape, with mythological creatures and a temple, which is used as a hideaway/headquarters by a magical secret society.

That idea would work fine as it is—it would provide a way to include satyrs or a minotaur in the game without disrupting our reality too much—but I can think of a couple of ways to fit it into the Roman setting more fully. The 1500s were a great time of 'urban renewal' in Rome, and apparently a lot more developments were planned than were actually built. For example, Julius II intended to crown his new via Giulia with a large Palace of Justice surrounded by a sizeable piazza, but the palace and plaza were never constructed. And some building projects took a long time: Michelangelo planned the rebuilding of the Campidoglio in the 1530-40s, but the work had not gone very far by 1560 and was not (mostly) finished until 1660—in fact, the pattern of arcs around the statue of Marcus Aurelius, which Michelangelo intended, wasn’t installed until Mussolini’s day.

This is an etching of Michelangelo’s plans for the Campidoglio, published by Etienne Dupérac c. 1568:
Duperac Campidoglio 1569.jpg

But this is what things really looked like c. 1560, in an engraving by Nicolas Beatrizet:
Campidoglio Beatrizet 1560.jpg

The planning drawings for one of these abandoned or as-yet-unbuilt developments—or all of them—could be doorways into other Romes. Rather than ‘normal’ alternate worlds, I would make these empty of people (except the magician and his followers, of course) and without color; being in them would be like inhabiting an architectural drawing.

Another possibility would be a villa or palazzo with trompe l'oeil decorations that, under the right conditions, become actual spaces, not an optical illusion. Perhaps a ‘magic word’ would be needed to pass them, or a special gesture, or some item, a ring or broach with a special symbol. This would offer a lot of possibilities: there could be rooms or apartments, or even a garden, that are only reachable through a painted image of a doorway or arch. Or passing through such a doorway might bring you out through another one in some other part of the villa. Magical texts could be hidden in plain sight on trompe l’oeil bookshelves in the villa’s library, etc. I think the Farnesina villa, built for Agostino Chigi c. 1510, used a fair amount of trompe l’oiel, so the style is not out-of-place in Rome. This is one example:
Farnesina Trompe Smaller.jpg

The idea would be fairly easy to work into a gaming scenario. The PCs are investigating someone or some group, or looking for some information, artifact, or kidnap victim, and cannot find what they need until they discover the secret of passing into the painting/tapestry/etc. Or they end up investigating a murder in the trompe l’oiel villa and have to figure out how the perpetrator moved around the building in apparently impossible ways.
 

Lofgeornost

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Adventure Seed: What the Dwarf Saw
To drag things back to the Carafas, the game won’t feature standard RPG nonhumans, but there is no reason to exclude dwarfs in the Tyrion Lannister/little people sense. They were sought after by some Renaissance courts, where they might play a role similar to that of jesters. Isabella d’Este of Ferrara collected them, and Cosimo I de’ Medici’s dwarf Morgante shows up in Florentine art of the period—here he is in an engraving of Cosimo’s investiture as Grand Duke of Tuscany by Pius V in 1569:
Johann_Stradanus_Mediceae_familiae_victoriae_et_triumphi_ubs_G_0402_I_(2).jpg

As it happens, a dwarf was present c. 1560 in the household of Giovanni Carafa, the duke of Paliano and Carlo Carafa’s sometimes-estranged elder brother. The dwarf’s name was Giovanni Battista Pendola. He haled from Genoa, where his family were merchants, apparently down on their luck. In December 1557, his father Antonio and his brother Bartolomeo brought him to Rome, hoping the pope would want the dwarf in his entourage. Paul IV wasn’t that kind of pope, but his cardinal-nephew Giovanni Carafa was interested. He took Giovanni Battista into his household and also supplied the dwarf’s father and brother with room and board. The dwarf was provided with new clothes and gifts, some by Innocenzo del Monte (our ‘Cardinal Monkey’), and spent much time in the duke’s presence, often dining with him. He became a favorite of Carafa’s mother, the contessa madre Caterina Cantelmi.

In the spring of 1558, the dwarf’s father and brother, feeling that they had not been sufficiently rewarded, decided to take Giovanni Battista back to Genoa. The spur may have been Carlo Carafa’s return on April 23 from his diplomatic mission to the Imperial court in Brussels. One of Carlo’s main aims there had been to get his brother Giovanni some territorial compensation for the territory of Paliano, which he had lost as a result of the recent war with Spain. He failed, and this may have convinced the Pendolas that they were riding the wrong gravy train. After attempting several time to get leave to depart Carafa’s household and Rome, on May 1 the Pendolas snuck Giovanni Battista out of the city, heading for a ship in Ostia. The Carafas sent soldiers after them, who took a bribe to look the other way and then arrested them anyway, along with the ship captain.

We don’t know what happened afterward, but it’s likely that Giovanni Battista rejoined the duke’s household, and left Rome when Giovanni Carafa was banished on January 27, 1559. By the autumn of 1559, though, he might be ready to flee again. Caterina Cantelmi died in August, about the same time as Paul IV; she seems to have been one of the dwarf’s main patrons. With her gone, and with the Carafas in such bad odor in Rome, it might have seemed a good time to look for new employment.

But—and this is how the whole situation could fit into gaming—Giovanni Carafa might be even less inclined at this point to let his prize dwarf depart. In his role as companion/curiosity/jester Giovanni Battista might have witnessed some of the Carafas’ crimes, especially the recent murders of Giovanni’s wife Violante and her alleged lover. Miles Pattenden summarizes the incident as follows:

A few weeks before, while at his seat of exile in Gallese, Giovanni had burst into the bedchamber of his wife Violante one night and found her, so he claimed, engaged in a secret tryst with his own captain of the guard Marcello Capece. Capece had tried to flee but was caught and, together with two suspected accomplices, dragged away for questioning at Giovanni’s other castle in Soriano. Once there, a makeshift court had been assembled with Giovanni joined as judges by his brothers-in-law Ferrante Garlonio and Gian Antonio Toraldo and Violante’s uncle Leonardo de Cardena. Betrayed by Violante’s servants and his own accomplices, Capece had eventually confessed under torture. Giovanni, in a fit of rage, had bitten off his nose, stabbed him twenty-seven times, and dumped his corpse in the castle sewer. Violante was confined to her room while the whole family was consulted as to how best to act to restore their honour. Even though it was discovered that she was heavily pregnant, the instruction was sent through by Carlo and Alfonso that she too should die and, as the cardinals assembled in Rome for the new conclave, she was strangled with a silk cord.

Violante was one of the few members of the Carafa family for whom the Romans had any affection by the summer of 1559 and her death soon became a scandal. It was an important charge among the many brought against the Carafas the next year. Now, as a companion of Giovanni Carafa in exile, the dwarf Giovanni Battista might have witnessed the duke’s shocking behavior in Capece’s trial—biting somebody’s nose off is over-the-top, even by the standards of Italian nobles in the 1500s—and more importantly know things about Violante’s death. So if he chose to flee the Carafa embrace once more, as he did in 1558, Giovanni would certainly try to stop him. The PCs could be tasked with helping the dwarf escape from Giovanni Carafa’s household, or with hiding him once has done so, or with winning his confidence so that he will testify against his one-time patron.
 

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Some additional period dress. This comes from an engraving that shows 28 women in their regional costumes: Romans come first, then other Italian cities, and places farther afield. The picture dates to the 1580s and is by Ambrogio Brambilla:
Roman Women-crop.jpg

You can find the whole image, which is zoomable, at the British Museum's website: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1947-0319-26-180
 

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Adventure Seed: The Speaking Statutes

Rome was—and still is, I guess—home to an unusual tradition: posting anonymous lampoons or satires, normally in verse and about public figures and events, on or near certain statutes. The most important site was a Hellenistic statue of Menelaus, rediscovered and erected in 1501 near the Carafa palazzo in Parione. The image was known as Pasquino and the poems are thus called pasquinades. Other statues were used as well—Marforio (an image of Neptune in the Capitol), Babuino (a depiction of Silenus in the Campo Marzio), and Abbot Luigi (a Roman patrician’s statue near Santa Andrea dalla Valle)—but pasquinades could be posted anywhere. After the unpopular Pope Adrian VI’s death in 1523, someone hung one on the papal physician’s door, thanking him for delivering the city. Here’s an image of Pasquino in the 1540s; as you can see, some of the texts are in Latin and some in Italian:

Pasquino c1540-crop.jpg

Pasquinades were handwritten and sometimes illustrated with pictures. They circulated in manuscript, rather like samizdat texts in the old Soviet Union; it was too dangerous to print them. Pasquino’s statue stood in an area where many professional scribes had their offices, so it was easy for them to copy the lampoons and sell them. At times, anyway, some powerful people were willing to pay well for copies—as much as 200 scudi on occasion. The texts also circulated orally. Since they were poems, they were easier to memorize and recite than prose would have been, and some were composed as ballads, sung to familiar tunes, including hymns.

Few pasquinades survive from most of the 1550s, because both Julius III and even more Paul IV forbade them and punished those responsible for them. But when Paul died, the dam burst, and a flood of attacks on him and his Carafa nephews was the result. As Peter Partner describes it:
Paul IV was after his death termed a demon, a tyrant, a drunken sot, a criminal, a hypocrite; he was made to write a letter to his cardinal-nephews from the depths of hell. In some of the writings against him, there is no trace of irony or humor; only of hate which has been long pent-up and is now released. Two poems celebrate the destruction of the statue which had been placed on the Campidoglio and destroyed by the mob after his death. The rest of the Carafa family was treated by Pasquino with equal brutality.

This custom, and particularly the flood of pasquinades during the sede vacante in 1559, offers a number of adventure hooks. The PCs could be engaged to help disseminate, or even write (if one of them has the skills), pasquinades that their patron finds useful. Or they could act as agents collecting the satires for the delectation of some foreign court—we know that the duke of Mantua paid operatives to do this in 1559. Alternatively, perhaps the PCs’ employer is being attacked by pasquinades and they are tasked with finding the author and persuading him or her to desist.

Or there could be an occult twist. Apparently, one of the more clever pasquinades during the conclave that elected Pius IV featured a comparison of various cardinals to cards in a tarot deck. That got me thinking: could a pasquinade be, in effect, a spell, or at least part of a magical ritual? After all, it’s a rhythmic text chanted aloud—a successful one would be inscribed over and over by different people, and spoken again and again, all over Rome. That might be a good way to generate lots of magical energy (or whatever). We can imagine that the point of tarot-pasquinade is to forge an occult connection between the cardinals named in it and the cards it associates them with. Every repetition of pasquinade would strengthen that connection. Then, a magician might be able to use a properly-created tarot deck to manipulate those cardinals—probably with the goal of influencing the papal election.
 

Lofgeornost

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The Speaking Statues—Part II:
This is the skeleton of another scenario involving pasquinades. It probably doesn’t fit all that well with LotFP’s view of the ‘weird’ or occult—more like something from Hellboy. It begins with pasquinades which interest—maybe because they attack—the PCs’ patron. The poems are sonnets, filled with biting, obscene invective. The PCs are tasked with finding the author. Maybe their patron just wants revenge, but a more interesting option would be that he wants to recruit the author to write against his enemies.

No doubt the PCs will stake out the statue of Pasquino, trying to catch the writer when he posts the lampoons—traditionally, this was done in the dead of night. But the poems themselves are another clue. Their patron (or someone else) notes that they are very reminiscent of Pietro Aretino’s work. That famous satirist, dramatist, and pornographer wrote a set of fifty or more pasquinades during the conclave after Leo IX’s death in 1521, promoting Giulio de’ Medici and attacking his rivals. He became known as the ‘chancellor of Master Pasquino,’ and wrote many later satires as well. But the poems can’t be Aretino’s work—he died in Venice in 1556. Maybe someone is copying the master’s style?

Titian Aretino 1537.jpg
Portrait of Aretino by Titian (c. 1537)​

Looking for Clues:
So the PCs could investigate, looking for associates of Aretino. Anyone who remembers his time in Rome will be fairly old, since he left the city in 1525, and only returned afterwards for brief visits, the last in 1553, when there were rumors that Julius III might make him a cardinal. But there might be aging courtesans, or other lovers of either sex (he reportedly had many), or retired minor papal bureaucracrats, who still recall Aretino’s exploits in Rome as a young man in the 1520s. They could describe how Aretino convinced Pope Clement VII to free his friend Marcantonio Raimondo, who had been jailed for publishing a set of erotic drawings title I Modi (‘The Positions’), and then repaid the pontiff by writing a set of ‘lust sonnets’ to accompany a republication of the etchings. Unsurprisingly, Aretino had to flee Rome temporarily after this, in 1524. Or they might recount his feud with the Papal Datary, Giovanni Matteo Gilberti, whom he attacked with a pasquinade in 1525. Gilberti was so incensed that he commissioned an assassin to deal with Aretino; though seriously injured, he survived.

Travelers or immigrants from Venice, where Aretino spent most of his years after 1527, could also be good sources of information, particularly for his later years. They could describe his still-riotous lifestyle in a rented palace with ceiling painting by his friend Titian of the satyr Marysas’ flaying by Apollo, his generosity, and his many affairs, often with married women. They might mention the rumor that he died of a stroke brought on by seeing a monkey trying to walk in his boots. And the PCs could talk to scholars or authors. They would doubtless know his writings, which cover a wide range from poetry to plays, dialogues, and prose narratives, and from the obscene and irreverent to pious religious works. Or the PCs might interview some of the nobles who patronized Aretino—or more likely their advisors or servants—and learn that, while such patrons valued Aretino’s literary genius, they feared the possibility that he might libel them in his writings more. For some, the payments were more in the nature of blackmail than support; Aretino himself bragged he made more money in that way than from the sale of his writings.

In these investigations, the PCs will learn that at least one of the Aretino’s old associates is in Rome during the conclave, and likely writing pasquinades: the humanist Nicolò Franco, who was Aretino’s secretary and amanuensis back in 1536–38. The two men had a falling-out, though, and Franco became one of Aretino’s literary enemies, penning sonnets defaming him. Still, he seems worth investigating. When the PCs approach him, he will frankly own up to writing a number of pasquinades recently, mostly attacking the deceased Paul IV and the Carafa. As he is only too glad to tell them, he came to Rome in May, 1558, looking for patronage on the invitation of the Carafa, only to be arrested by the Inquisition for his impious writings, and held until February 1559. Perhaps he would use the same words about the affair that he used in a later trial before the Inquisition in 1568, defending his satires of the Carafa:
I had been called to Rome by his [Paul IV’s] nephews and then betrayed, imprisoned in the Corte Savella, led chained to Ripetta where I was injustly treated and tortured. After eight months I was freed and left in such a state that I went begging for a bite to eat.

But Franco will deny having written the pasquinades that interest the PCs’ patron. It will be clear from the conversation that he still loathes Aretino, four years after the man’s death. He will refer to the famous writer as a buffoon and an ignoramus, noting that he was the son of a cobbler (true), and had ‘little Latin and less Greek,’ relying of Franco’s help in composing some of his religious works. Franco will allude to accusations of sodomy and blasphemy that forced Aretino to flee Venice for a few months in 1538, and claim that his break with Aretino came because the latter feared him as a rival, as soon as Franco published his own collection of Letters in Italian. (He won’t bring up the fact that he supplied information for a viciously negative biography of Aretino published in 1537, but may admit it if pressed). He will end as follows:
Anyway, Aretino himself could not have written those pasquinades, even if he were still alive. They read like his mordant early stuff. By the time I knew him in Venice, that fire had mostly gone out—he was becoming middle-aged and almost respectable, in his writings if not in his life. Did you know he even had the cheek to write to Michelangelo criticizing his great fresco of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, because of its nudity? They say some fool cardinals are discussing painting breeches on some of the figures! Anyway, he didn’t write much poetry after he settled in Venice, just prose
.

Franco-crop.jpg
Franco, in a frontispiece to his Philena (1547).

If the PCs compare the handwriting of the new pasquinades to Franco’s, or the hands of old contacts of Aretino’s whom they’ve found in Rome, they’ll see it does not match. Oddly, though, if they compare it to Aretino’s own script from his Roman days (say in documents in papal archives, or letters his old friends have preserved) it’s a fairly close match. As Franco or any old acquaintance of Aretino can tell them, this is quite odd, because the assassin in 1525 stabbed the author through the right hand, robbing him of much use of it, and changing his handwriting.

The Stakeout of the Statue:
Meanwhile, the stakeout of Pasquino’s statue continues. A few random incidents should be inserted here—the PCs catching a couple of satirists posting pasquinades in a different style and hand than the one they are seeking. Then, one night, in the wee hours, they see a strange site. A small shape creeps down the Carafa palazzo next to Pasquino, and attaches a poem to the statue’s base. When the PCs move in, they discover that (1) the creature is a monkey and (2) the posting is clearly the work of the author they want.

The PCs will of course give chase, as the monkey scrambles up and flees along the rooftops. Whether they catch it then, or on a subsequent occasion, having come better prepared, makes little difference. Ultimately they will trace the beast back to an empty home on the nearby street of the Lute-Makers. Searching the house will reveal little indication that anyone has been living there, though apparently somebody has been keeping the monkey in that place—there’s bed for it in a pile of rags and the remains of some fruit it has eaten. But the pasquinades are being written, or at least copied, there—there’s a desk, pen, ink, and paper for the purpose.

So, probably, the PCs will stake out the house itself. Watching from outside won’t be productive—no one will enter or leave the home. But in a couple of nights or so, the monkey will re-emerge, with another pasquinade in hand. If the PCs rush the building, they’ll find it empty. So closer surveillance will be needed; no doubt the PCs can come up with some way to keep watch on the room where the poems are being written, either by magic, or by boring a peephole from an adjoining room. When they do, they’ll soon find the answer—as they peer into the dimly lit room, they’ll see the monkey itself at the table, writing away.

So what’s going on? The PCs might guess that the monkey is somehow being controlled, guided to copy out the poems, but it’s weirder than that. I’m not sure how they should find out the truth—the monkey itself could write out the story for them (it cannot speak), or they could get part of it out of one of Aretino’s old contacts in Rome, who might be more forthcoming at this point.

The Truth Revealed:
As a young man in Rome c. 1519, Aretino made a deal with a spirit—let’s say a demon. Aretino was sure of his talent, but knew that this alone might not be enough to let him rise, especially given his humble beginnings. So the devil promised him a great career as a writer, as long as he plied his craft in the shadow (figuratively) of Pasquino—that is, within a Roman mile of the statue. Anything he wrote while farther away had no guarantee of success. The demon made this bargain planning to cheat Aretino. Anybody who made a living writing lampoons in Rome might expect exile, or even to be sent to an early grave, and Aretino’s own personality suggested he’d soon attract powerful enemies. Still, perhaps the demon encouraged Gilberti’s attack on Aretino in 1525, to speed the process along.

As the writer recovered from that assassination attempt, he realized the bind he was in—he needed to leave Rome, but his career might crash if he no longer wrote in Pasquino’s shadow. So he sought magical aid. Humanist occultists since Marsilio Ficino had been well aware of Neoplatonic texts explaining how the ancients had entrapped the souls of celestial beings in statues to create pagan idols. Aretino found one who was willing and able to transfer a small part of his soul into the broken image of Pasquino. And there it remained, throughout his life and beyond. His pact with the demon was unbroken, so he enjoyed great success. But he left some of his talent and rebelliousness behind, explaining the change in his works in later life.

Then, in 1556, Aretino died while laughing at a monkey’s antics. With his soul splintered into two parts, it did not move on to the afterlife, but remained here. The part left with his body possessed the monkey, perhaps because it was the only nearby vessel, perhaps because of a sympathetic connection—the animal was trying to walk in his boots, after all. No doubt this was all deeply wrenching and confusing for Aretino, but over time he took control of the monkey, and led it to Rome, seeking to be re-united with the part of his soul that resides in Pasquino’s statue. But how? Aretino thought that writing and posting pasquinades, an activity deeply linked to his original bargain, might hold the answer, but they have not.

At this point, the PCs could go in a variety of different directions. They might try to help Aretino to reunite the parts of his soul, either by magic or by religious ceremonies (maybe some sort of exorcism of the statue)? Or they could deliver the monkey to their patron as the author he is seeking, or befriend it and try to make it their sidekick, etc.
 

Lofgeornost

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This thread seems to have about run its course, but I happened on something reading Pastor's History of the Popes that just screams out for inclusion in a game. This comes from his description of Pius IV's economic initiatives--it refers to a decree of 1561:

Debtors who tried to evade their liabilities by appealing to
various legal exemptions could neither obtain nor avail
themselves of such benefits unless they made themselves
known to everyone by wearing a green hat.

This seems like something out of Jack Vance, but a little poking around online suggests it may have to do with customs for shaming bankrupts and that it was found in France as well in the 17th century. It could still be a neat bit of 'color' (so to speak) to include in a scenario--someone trick the PCs into lending him money because they don't recognize the headgear.
 

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Hey, just wanted to note that after a time with real life issues, I'm back, and still planning on running this game, once the pandemic is over and I've moved closer to my friends (move planned for the end of June). So if you want to keep posting cool stuff Lofgeornost go right ahead. I'll try to contribute too :smile:
 

Lofgeornost

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Hey, just wanted to note that after a time with real life issues, I'm back, and still planning on running this game, once the pandemic is over and I've moved closer to my friends (move planned for the end of June). So if you want to keep posting cool stuff Lofgeornost go right ahead. I'll try to contribute too :smile:

That's great! I have some other ideas about things one could do with the sede vacante; I was doing some reading about it around Christmas time and there is some very gameable stuff involved in it. So I'll try to post some of that when I have a chance.
 
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