The Politics of the First Witches’ Sabbaths

Today, a standard component of the European myth of the witch is that witches are organized. They maintain heretical Satanic sects or covens and form a vast conspiracy to undermine the Christian order. From Faust to The Witch (2015), the idea is almost taken as a given. But it’s actually a pretty new concept. The […]

Professional NPCs from the Medieval Joke Book

Last month, we looked at some jokes from the earliest known printed joke book, the 15th-century Facetiae of Poggio Bracciolini. This month we return to the Facetiae for more late Medieval/early Renaissance Italian jokes, each of which has at its heart a character who makes a great professional or tradesman NPC. Some readers of last […]

Apostolic Succession, Donatism, and the Hidden Pope

We got a weird one this week, folks! This time, we’re going to look at the principle of apostolic succession in the Catholic Church, how it underpins the authority of the pope, how that triggered a revolt in the fourth century, how it impacted the Western Schism of 1378-1429 when there were three rival popes […]

Lord Thomas of Marle, the Wickedest Man of His Generation

Thomas of Marle (1073-1130 A.D.), the Lord of Coucy, was a Medieval French nobleman so evil that the King of France, the Catholic Church, and his own father all tried to destroy him. The era’s chaotic politics gave Thomas the opportunity to rampage across the landscape – and sometimes threw him a lifeline when the consequences […]

Scholarly NPCs from Aubrey’s Lives

Last month we looked at nine bizarre occult NPCs from 1600s Britain, taken from a wonderful historical source: Aubrey’s Brief Lives. This week we return to the Lives for eleven scholarly NPCs, and – as before – we’re less interested in the real biographies of these people than in the gossip Aubrey reports about them. One […]

The Olympic Spirits of Arbatel’s Grimoire

Arbatel de Magia Veterum (Arbatel: Of the Magic of the Ancients) is a 16th-century Swiss grimoire: a book of magic. It purports to be the revelations of an angel named Arbatel “concerning the greatest secrets which are lawful for man to know, and to use them without offense unto God”. It may contain the earliest […]

The Heretic Vendetta

Last week, we talked about the village of Montaillou around and after the year 1300 in (what is today) southern France, and how it makes a great adventure site: full of heresy, political rivalry, and interpersonal drama. This week, we’re going to look at inter-household drama in Montaillou, focusing especially on the vendetta between the […]

Montaillou: The Spy-Infested Anthill Village

A lot of RPG adventures are set in villages. Today, I’ve got a real-world Medieval village that’s just screaming to be fictionalized and dropped into your campaign setting. As you’ll see, it’s got loads of baked-in plot hooks that transcend the Medieval genre! This is the village of Montaillou, in what is today France, in […]

The Trans Conquistador, Lieutenant Erauso

This week we’re going to look at a series of bloody, hair-raising adventures from the autobiography of a 17th-century nun, conquistador, murderer, and transman. Lieutenant Erauso was a celebrity in his own day, and his tales of mischief and mayhem across South America make terrific templates for RPG adventures! I’ll talk more about identifying Erauso […]

The Florentine Architecture Feud

The cathedral of Florence, Italy (Santa Maria del Fiore) is an architectural marvel. Yet its construction was marked by a three-decade-long fight between its most famous architect and his bitterest rival. This story’s got politically-motivated arrests, fine Renaissance art, a papal intercession, libel, and even a jewel theft! It makes amazing inspiration for an RPG […]

The Court of the Khan

This post is brought to you by beloved Patreon backer Colin Wixted. Thanks for helping keep the lights on! If you want to help keep this blog going alongside Colin, head over to the Patreon page – and thank you! The emperor, Möngke Khan, lived in an orda (tent city) larger and more splendid than […]

Emissary to the Mongols

The Catholic powers of Medieval Europe didn’t understand the sudden intrusion of the Mongol Empire into their sphere of influence. Nonetheless, nations must communicate with one another, even those they don’t understand. So it came to pass that in 1253 King Louis IX of France dispatched an envoy to the Mongol Empire. Ostensibly, this was […]

The Bizarre Court-Martial of Francesco Caracciolo

Material more than one year old is available to Patreon backers at the DEEP TIME ($2/month) level and higher. If you’d like access to this piece and hundreds more like it, consider becoming a patron! I’ll even write you a handwritten thank-you card.To view this content, you must be a member of The Molten Sulfur […]

The Heretic and the Pilgrimage of the Dead

Material more than one year old is available to Patreon backers at the DEEP TIME ($2/month) level and higher. If you’d like access to this piece and hundreds more like it, consider becoming a patron! I’ll even write you a handwritten thank-you card.To view this content, you must be a member of The Molten Sulfur […]

The Ethiopian Sepulcher Letters

Material more than one year old is available to Patreon backers at the DEEP TIME ($2/month) level and higher. If you’d like access to this piece and hundreds more like it, consider becoming a patron! I’ll even write you a handwritten thank-you card.To view this content, you must be a member of The Molten Sulfur […]