Clothes as flavor

Few days ago I borrowed the translated version of the book ‘Chronicle of Western Costumes’ by John Peacock from my local library. I didn’t really plan to borrowed but it got me thinking about the role of clothes in my games. Usually, the only time the PCs’ outfit is called for is on the beginning of the campaign when GM says: ”so you meet in the tavern, please describe your character to other players”. After that short and ephemer occasion whole empires can fall without any mentioning of PCs’ nickers or socks.

I think that’s really a shame, since clothes play a significant part of our everyday lives. And although I know most of you don’t have any interest in anything remotely ‘real-life’ while playing RPGs, I really do believe it can add interesting flavor to your games. For example, what is better of these two encounter’s description? A) You see a cleric of Pelor walking on the road towards you; B) You see a man dressed in simple white tunic with wide sleeves and grey canvas coat over it, he is wearing sandals and a sun symbol of Lathander hangs around his neck.

If you feel latter example is somewhat closer to your gaming style, then you should borrow and read this book. I’m sure it’s not the best book with that topic on the market, but it has its edges. Firstly, it covers a huge period of time: from ancient Egyptians and Romans to 80’s years of last century. So basically you can find inspiration for most RPG settings: medieval, fantasy, steampunk, Lovecraftian horror, spy games etc… Color illustrations are vivid enough to make your brain juices flow. The only remark I have with the book’s content is the lack of additional text that explains the background of the particular era’s fashion. You only get short descriptions of costumes which is pretty enough when you need some inspiration for your NPC, but it would be cool if all the story behind clothes has been expanded a bit. I really liked the bit from William Manchester’s book ‘A World Lit Only by Fire’ mentioning that during the Middle Ages clothes had a role of showing the wearer’s status. For example, only nobles had a right to wear fur and they consumed that right feverosly, even during the summer. Or the other fact about peasants who had skin diseases since they usually owned only one pair of rarely washed clothes. Yuck!

Those kind of obscure but bizarre info is something that could be easily used and adapted in your games. Don’t know about you, but for me  a sweaty, stinky noble in his precious furs makes an easily recognizable NPC.

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~ by streebor on March 21, 2010.

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