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Detlef Sierck Presents: Mostellaria (The Haunted House), by Plautus

March 25, 2020 2 comments

Borrowed from the Long Island Press. Uncredited.

 

You have probably never heard of Titus Maccius Plautus. He lived in Rome in the second century BCE, when it was still a republic, and he wrote farces. Shakespeare stole his play The Brothers Menaechmus and called it A Comedy of Errors, and Molière stole The Pot of Gold for his play L’Avare (“The Miser”). The musical (and movie) A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum combined elements from several of Plautus’s plays, and the 1963 London production starred Frankie Howerd, whose TV comedy series Up Pompeii was almost certainly inspired by it.

 

I discovered Plautus in the mid-70s, reading his plays in translation as part of a side-project from my Latin class. It was a golden age for farce and low comedy in Britain, with the Carry On films on television every weekend, or so it seemed, and TV shows like Up Pompeii, Are You Being Served?, On the Buses, and others holding out against the more surreal comedy stylings of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Goodies. Discovering Plautus and his fellow Classical farceurs Terence and Menander was an eye-opening experience, proving that farce is eternal – and that there’s no such thing as a new story.

 

Mostellaria (“The Haunted House”) has a timeless setup. With his father out of town, young Philolaches is hosting an epic rager – and Dad returns early. There’s no time to stop the party and clear everyone out, so it carries on unabated while a resourceful servant named Tranio intercepts his master.

 

Tranio spins the best lie he can think of: the house is haunted. The merry din from inside is really the moans and screams of tortured souls, and the sounds of breaking crockery and furniture are violent poltergeist manifestations. An inconvenient money-lender has to be explained away, and other obstacles are overcome before the truth comes out.

 

Many English translations of Mostellaria are available, including this free one from Project Gutenberg. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is available on multiple streaming services, and among its many other attractions it features the immortal Buster Keaton in one of his last roles as the returning father, Erronius.

 

While A Funny Thing combined it with plots and characters from several of Plautus’s other plays, the basic idea of Mostellaria could make an entertaining one-shot adventure in an urban setting. The PCs are friends of a young noble, or they need to curry favor with him for some reason. As the party rages on, ever louder and more obvious, they must devise an explanation to save their patron from his father’s wrath, and maintain it in the face of all manner of problems from late-arriving guests to impatient creditors. In a fantasy setting, a real ghost might provide a plot twist, as the party literally wakes the dead and the outraged spirits of family ancestors must be pacified.

 

What other plots and incidents would you add to turn The Haunted House into a full-fledged “Rough Nights” adventure? Drop your ideas in the comments section below. Meanwhile, Monday Maps #8 has some plans and elevations of noble mansions that you might find useful.

 

Other Detlef Sierck Productions

The Alchemist, by Ben Jonson

 

About Detlef Sierck

Detlef Sierck, the greatest dramatist of his day, was created by Kim Newman (under the pesudonym Jack Yeovil) for the Warhammer novel DrachenfelsHe made guest appearances in Jack Yeovil’s Genevieve Undead and William King’s Skavenslayer, and has appeared in two products for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: the Warhammer Companion for  WFRP 1st edition and Rough Nights and Hard Days for WFRP 4th edition.

Although Sierck is a part of Warhammer’s Old World, the plays and other sources in this series can serve as inspiration for almost any roleplaying game, in almost any kind of setting.

Detlef Sierck Presents: The Alchemist, by Ben Jonson

January 29, 2020 1 comment

subtle

 

I first got into roleplaying games through amateur theatre. I was a member of a couple of different local groups in the 70s and 80s, and while I was working at Games Workshop I joined Nottingham’s Lace Market Theatre and got a part in this play. I don’t think it inspired “A Rough Night at the Three Feathers” directly, but it is certainly similar in that it features a single location – in this case, a London town house – in which multiple plots collide over a short period of time.

The house’s owner, Mr. Lovewit, has gone to the country to escape an outbreak of plague, leaving his servant Jeremy to look after the place in his absence. Jeremy has plans of his own, though, and joins forces with two confederates to cook up a number of schemes. One is a con man named Subtle, and the other is a prostitute named Doll Common. Jeremy himself adopts the persona of Captain Face, with the social acceptability that brings, and lures prospective marks to the house.

Dapper is a lawyer’s clerk who wants better luck at the gaming tables. Subtle convinces him to seek the favor of the Queen of the Fairies (played by Doll) and the two subject him to various “fairy” tricks and humiliations while relieving him of all his valuables.

Abel Drugger is a tobacconist who wants his newly-opened shop to succeed. Under the guise of advising him on the luckiest stock and furnishings, the trio robs him of a lot of valuable tobacco.

Drugger introduces them to two acquaintances recently arrived from the country. Kastril is a quarrelsome young gentleman who wants to learn how to argue in the sophisticated manner of the town. His sister, Dame Pliant, is wealthy and recently widowed. The three smell profit in both of them.

Sir Epicure Mammon is rich, and would like to be richer – and younger, and more sexually vital. He is quickly convinced that Subtle is close to perfecting the Philosopher’s Stone that can turn all things into gold and is a key ingredient in the Elixir of Youth. Mammon hands over a fortune in household goods to pay for Subtle’s experiments. He also falls in love (or more likely, in lust) with Doll after catching an unintended glimpse of her. He is accompanied by Sir Pertinax Surly, a skeptical friend who tries without success to expose the con, dressing up as a Spanish nobleman at one point and allowing himself to be led towards a marriage with Dame Pliant.

Tribulation Wholesome and his sidekick Ananias are Anabaptists, members of a strict Protestant church with puritanical leanings. Despite this, though, they are intent on perpetrating a con of their own: using Subtle’s gold-making prowess to counterfeit Dutch money in order to advance their sect’s position there – increasing their own wealth and influence in the process.

Needless to say, the various plots collide horribly over the course of the play. The three con artists quarrel endlessly, refusing to trust each other because they are all liars and cheats. Subtle’s lab explodes at a critical moment. People from one plot arrive unexpectedly to interrupt the progress of another. In other words, farce ensues.

At the height of the chaos, the householder Lovewit returns unexpectedly. Despite his servant’s best efforts, the various plots are exposed one by one as things come undone. Subtle and Doll flee empty-handed rather than face the wrath of the law. Face – now Jeremy again – placates his master by offering him marriage to the wealthy Dame Pliant. The remaining plots are quickly wrapped up and the play ends with Lovewit triumphant and Jeremy chastened.


 

Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson by Abraham van Blyenberch, circa 1617

Ben Jonson was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and this play was first performed in 1610. His language is similar to Shakespeare’s, but includes more contemporary London slang. Don’t be put off by that, though. Any edition worth its salt will come with explanations and footnotes. If you can find a stage production, you will find that the frantic pace pulls everything together beautifully. I would recommend a film or TV adaptation, but there don’t seem to be any, which is a pity.

Alchemist cover

 

So there you have it. A town setting, multiple plots, colorful characters, greed, lust, chicanery – it’s all very WFRP, even though it’s not fantasy.

Watch out for more #DetlefSierckPresents posts, and I’ll share more of the things I was watching and reading when I worked on WFRP. Perhaps they will inspire you, too.

 

Other Detlef Sierck Productions

Mostellaria (The Haunted House) by Titus Maccius Plautus

About Detlef Sierck

 

Detlef Sierck, the greatest dramatist of his day, was created by Kin Newman (under the pesudonym Jack Yeovil) for the Warhammer novel DrachenfelsHe made guest appearances in Jack Yeovil’s Genevieve Undead and William King’s Skavenslayer, and has appeared in two products for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: the Warhammer Companion for  WFRP 1st edition and Rough Nights and Hard Days for WFRP 4th edition.

 

Although Sierck is a part of Warhammer’s Old World, the plays and other sources in this series can serve as inspiration for almost any roleplaying game, in almost any kind of setting.

Troll à la Morceaux: A Warhammer Recipe

January 13, 2020 5 comments

This short piece of fiction was written in 1989 or 1990 for a never-published sourcebook on Ogres and Trolls in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Marcel de Morceaux is mentioned in the adventure collection Rough Nights and Hard Days, and I might use him in some future adventure if the opportunity presents itself.

Marcel’s cookbook Adventures in Gastronomy includes some of the most ambitious – and dangerous – recipes ever published in the Old World. It is banned in many places, and of all its contents, Troll à la Morceaux is considered the riskiest. Even if every precaution is taken to ensure that the Troll does not regenerate back to life during the cooking process, one can never be sure….

Very few are brave or foolish enough to try this dish, but there are some in the Old World who will venture beyond the limits of convention and common sense in search of new and unique experiences.


Feast

Picture from Lure of Power: Nobility in the Empire (Fantasy Flight Games, 2009). Used without permission. No challenge intended to copyright holders.

The preparation of the flesh of the Troll requires the greatest care and the most trustworthy of assistants, but if the many pitfalls can be overcome, a chef who can present his lord with a dish such as Troll à la Morceaux will never want for employment. But you must remember, mes amis, that one mistake can lead to disaster, and such a disaster can lead to the gallows or worse.

Firstly, your Troll must be absolutely fresh. Do not trust those robbers who will sell you venison at ten times the price and tell you it is Unicorn or Troll. Great cookery demands that no short-cuts may be taken.

The butchering of a Troll presents several unique problems, but a chef who is truly dedicated to his art may be daunted by nothing. The Troll must be securely bound, with its head held in such a way that it cannot eat the ropes that bind it. As each cut of meat is removed from the carcass, it must be placed immediately in a strong marinade of vinegar – the strongest vinegar you can find, for the presence of acid will slow down the process of regeneration.

Any waste and off-cuts must be burned immediately, or if you have arranged to sell pieces to a wizard or alchemist, he must be on hand to take them away tout à l’instant. Remember, and drum constantly into your servants, that not even the smallest scrap of the carcass must be left lying about.

You must be extremely careful when cleaning the carcass, Remember the great size of the stomach, and the immense power of the acid it contains. If at all possible, seek the guidance of a wizard or alchemist in carrying out this process; it is not too much to offer him the stomach in payment for his supervision, for a mishap with a Troll’s stomach can be a catastrophe véritable.

After the meat has stood in the vinegar marinade for two hours, inspect it closely; if it shows the slightest signs of regeneration, add more vinegar. Keep the meat in the marinade for as long as you can – the longer it stays there, the more tender it will be when cooked – but take no chances.

Enfin, we come to the cooking of the meat. This requires the greatest of care, and must be carried out in two stages.

First, the meat must be seared to prevent it regenerating once it is removed from the vinegar marinade. Use a large skillet of cast iron, and heat it until it literally begins to glow. Drop the meat in, turning it repeatedly until all sides are seared black.

This done, the meat is roasted, fried, or stewed in the same way as beef or venison, allowing double the normal cooking time.

A final word of warning. Do not – jamais, never – undercook Troll. When le patron demands his Troll medium rare, it is perhaps time to consider a change of employment.

Trolls in the Pantry

If something goes wrong, the result could be like this – but not as funny.