Stuffed Crocodile

Mazes, Martians, Mead

Commedia dell’Arte

English: Pantalone year 1550 Italiano: Pantalo...

In a way this was the original roleplaying game.  It was a bit different from what we know of course. Number one difference: they actually performed. In front of an audience.

Number two difference: they were acting it out, for real. So technically those are more LARPErs than the usual Pen and Paper crowd.

The rest of the differences are rather marginal: there stock characters which take over the role of classes (the paladin always is goody-good and il Capitano is always a bragging coward), there are stock plots in barely codified scenarios, there are jokes that always come up (“I throw the dwarf into the room, does anything attack him?”).

Ok, the video is funny and interesting to watch. But it also shows something else: the use of stock characters. And this is actually why I started being interested in the Commedia again. As GMs we are often striving to give every NPC a proper voice, to make every NPC memorable. But that is plain not possible. The players don’t care that the servant character has an inordinate fondness for flower arranging, especially if that fondness is never brought up. Sometimes we have to give them the gist on a character in shorthand: yes, this is the merchant, he is greedy. And I was wondering, the next time I play a merchant for the players, why not just play Pantalone then? The next time I play a servant, why not use the Zanni? Or the next captain of the guard might just end up being il Capitano.

On the other hand in many ways the characters of the Commedia dell’arte are based on stereotypes of 17th entury Italy. And not everything fits in there. So in addition to these I will have to get myself some stock characters for fantasy as well. Dwarves speaking with a Scottish accent for example. Then we give that character some greediness, fondess for chainmail and beer… and end up with the the most chliched dwarf possible. And that is okay! He is not supposed to be a deep character, he is supposed to be a shorthand for: this is a dwarf, be nice to him.


6 responses to “Commedia dell’Arte

  1. seaofstarsrpg March 9, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    I have always thought it would be a fun cover for a group of fantasy adventurers to be a Commedia dell’Arte troupe. You have reason to travel, a desire to learn about the local area and lots of chances to get into trouble.


  2. Geoffrey March 10, 2012 at 12:17 am

    I think I saw some supplements proposing exactly that, in German unfortunately. Das Schwarze Auge proposed that a few times. Among other things as spies for the good guys in the dark lands. Actually, come to think of it, there was at least one critically acclaimed module for the game doing exactly that.
    I think I saw a mention about a Commedia dell’Arte rpg somewhere. Have to look that up some time.


    • seaofstarsrpg March 10, 2012 at 3:59 am

      Nifty. Let me know what you find out.


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