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Thomas Rowlandson - A Ball at Scarborough - Google Art Project

As indicated in the Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual, dancing is an important social activity for people of all social classes during the Ghastly Age (1765 – 1820). Even ordinary working people consider dance lessons to be a necessary expense. Upper class people frequently host dance parties in their homes, and have memberships at exclusive urban assembly rooms (such as the famous Almack’s of London). Middle and working class people patronize public dance halls (Paris had well over 600 of them in 1796), and attend dances held in taverns. Dances last long into the night, and a ball that concludes before 1 AM is considered to have ended early.

Even at upper class gatherings, the dances (and accompanying music) of the Ghastly Age are much livelier than will be the case at fancy balls in Victorian times. Dance steps are often intricate and hard to master, and the dances are very much considered performances for the spectators. Many of the dances are for groups rather than couples. A single dance can last for 15 to 20 minutes before the dancers have a chance to rest. The rules of etiquette are also different than will be the case later in the 19th century. For example, dance cards are not yet in common use during the Ghastly Age. Ballroom floors are often crowded and very hot, smelling like a mixture of heavy perfume, sweat, and burning candles. Beside the dancing and there will always be people resting, talking, and playing cards along the outer perimeter of the room.

Although the table assumes the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century setting of the Ghastly Affair RPG, it can obviously also be adapted for use in games set in slightly earlier or later time periods.

d20 Incidents at the Dance

  1. A well-dressed woman stumbles and falls, knocking down several other dancing couples. Is she sick, dying, or just clumsy? No matter the truth, the unfortunate lady will be immediately be the subject of vicious ridicule communicated through the Language of Fans.
  2. A bizarrely dressed man seems to believe he dances well, but moves awkwardly.
  3. Two women sitting together on the perimeter begin arguing (over a man, fashion, or the souring of their once-intense “romantic friendship”).
  4. A man starts taking liberties with his partner, and her husband challenges him to a duel.
  5. A man standing on the perimeter leers with predatory eyes at the dancing women. Is he a creature of darkness looking to sate his unholy appetites, or just an ordinary lecher?
  6. A musical instrument breaks, throwing the dancers off.
  7. An older gentlemen suffers a stroke or heart attack from the strain of dancing.
  8. A man starts inquiring about his new wife, who has gone missing from the room. Meanwhile a newlywed woman is making similar, more discreet inquiries about her missing husband.
  9. Someone who was previously known as a terrible dancer astounds everyone with their new-found skills. How could they have learned to dance so well so quickly?
  10. An obviously drunk man breaks etiquette by requesting dances from women to whom he has never been introduced.
  11. Someone begins passing around a small metal box containing hashish sweetmeats.
  12. The chandelier falls, possibly injuring (or even killing) one or two couples. Was it an accident due to neglect, or deliberate sabotage?
  13. Someone bursts into the room, screaming that a murder (or other crime) has been committed.
  14. A woman breaks etiquette by rejecting a dance with one man, but accepting another man’s request for the same dance.
  15. The host and/or musicians introduce a bizarre (or scandalous) new dance. During the Ghastly Age this could be the shockingly erotic Viennese Waltz, where couples hold each other close as if they are about to make love on the dance floor!
  16. A scandalously inappropriate couple (such as a duchess and a common soldier) is dancing. In a place like 18th century Venice (where any self-respecting woman is expected to have a cavalier servente or cicisbeo), this could even be a married couple!
  17. A women breaks a heel while dancing (if the dance is during the Decadent Era before the French Revolution), or sprains an ankle (if the Bloody Era after the Revolution).
  18. A woman experiences a wardrobe malfunction, accidental or intentional. Note that some 18th century French gowns were cleverly constructed to occasionally expose the breasts of the wearer, who might then feign shock and embarrassment.
  19. Men begin fighting over who will get to ask particularly pretty woman to dance. This could result in them going outside to duel (or fist-fighting right on the dance floor if they are working class).
  20. A couple breaches etiquette by dancing every dance together.

Breaking a rule of etiquette will naturally require a Charisma Check to see if the break is considered a serious Faux Pas that causes the rule-breaker to be labeled “Gauche”. Succeeding at the check means that the rules are considered to have been broken well and with style, and the rule-breaker will therefore be considered fashionably scandalous – much to the confusion of less charismatic people ostracized for exactly the same behavior!