Persona Development – Advice from the interwebs…

Perhaps a group of friends … could make a deliberate effort to come to events in persona, support each other in their roles, and gradually ease the people around them into doing the same. … Perhaps at some mass event such as the Pennsic War a group of true believers could fence in a patch of enchanted ground for their encampment and let it be known that whoever came inside was undertaking to join them while he remained.” – TI No. 63, Summer 1982

One of the attractions some of us find in the Society is the opportunity to imagine, for at least a few hours, that we are actually medieval people in a medieval world. One problem with doing so is that many other people are playing a different and inconsistent game. It is hard to be a medieval person while answering questions about the sources for my clothes or my food, or even while the people next to me are conducting such a conversation. – From Cariadocs’ Miscellany


English Officers of Arms, 1511
English Officers of Arms, 1511


Duke Cariadoc of the Bow is a triple peer and the founder of the enchanted ground at Pennsic. He has inspired countless Gentles to pursue a more persona-oriented approach to attending an event. In this class we attempt to carry on his ideology by discussing persona play, tips and techniques, and having experienced Lords and Ladies give us insight into what has worked for them. For this post I use a lot of information from Duke Cariadoc as well as from this wonderful Signora



Part I – Tips and Techniques for Persona Play

What is your level of comfort?

A. I have to have a persona, so I will pick and name and clothing style. Case closed.
B. I love research. I want to pick a time/place and find out as much as I can about the period.
C. I want to role-play for the entirety of every event.

Depending on which you choose, or a combination thereof, remember that this is a hobby for most. Have fun!! This game shouldn’t be cause for undue stress by persona police.

To get beyond A, if you so choose, the steps are comparatively easy: Go to the library, read books. Look at the bibliographies, find those books. Read more. And so on.

For C, expect to shed sweat and tears. It is difficult to act without a script for a novice. Take baby steps. Use the background information you have on your persona’s place in time. Try to act and react as your persona would based on their skills and knowledge of the world.

Be consistent. Think about the daily situations in which your persona would find themselves. How do they wake up? How do they wash and dress? Do they wash at all? When do they eat their first meal? What would it be? How do they greet others? How do they react to insults? How do they enjoy themselves? You may have to make this up BASED ON WHAT YOU KNOW. As long as you have some basis for your invention, it will work, and is fine until/unless you gain knowledge that your approach needs to change.

Now the elephant in the room. There is a contradiction between playing a persona, a person in some historical setting, and being a citizen of a barony in Gleann Abhann with a political system and culture that only slightly resembles a slew of medieval systems.

How does a 15th century Italian noble deal with being inducted into the Order of the ___? Sitting next to a 14th century Welsh bowman at feast? Or dancing to Hole in the Wall after dinner? How do you deal with this? Again – each person will have to choose how they personally reconcile this anomaly.

Ideas? One way may be to treat the Known World as a strange far away land that you are visiting or have moved to for some period of time. Here, unlike “home” there are 13 Kingdoms and once on the throne the Royals usually don’t live very long. Which is no wonder when one considers how they love to fight.

Another idea is that this is all a dream. A recurring dream of a place that is different than your persona’s reality of living in 14th C Bruges. That both places exist, but only one is really real. Remember physics? Well, whichever you choose just remember “long ago IS far away” (space and time are aspects of the same thing).




Part II – Creating and Sustaining a Persona

Start by discovering a general historical overview of the period you desire to “be from”. Books will become your best friends. Your local library, second-hand bookshops, long-term SCA members’ personal libraries, and online reference websites (university libraries, museum information, etc.). Be careful with the internet – which can be your friend, but like some dodgy friends can tell you consistent, bold-face lies.

Where to start:

1. General historical overview of your chosen time and place (history textbooks are awesome!).
2. General costume information for the same (also SCA member websites on garb).
3. A book or website that deals with the nuances of life in your age (politics, maps, trade, etc. because wanting to be a weaver in a town devoted to the fruit industry is perhaps a far flung wish).
4. Find examples of how people actually spoke (plays, letters, treatises, etc.), and pepper your speech with these words and phrases.
5. Befriend a herald. Seriously. (Identity is often closely tied to names and arms, to properly christen yourself can be difficult without specialized books which the herald would have at their disposal. Usually your herald can help you understand more about your place and time, and your place in it.)

Things you’d know:

• Where did you come from? Where do you live now?
• Who are your relatives?
• Who is your ruler? How many rulers have you known in your lifetime? Are you a peaceful nation? Who are your enemies?
• What would you wear on casual Friday at home? How about to an extravagant feast at a noble estate?
• What is your name? (Naming conventions have well-defined rules and trends. You should endeavor to call yourself something that a person of your place and time would have called themselves)
• What did you eat at meals? What pastimes would you enjoy?
• How do you write letters? Address others? Swear?
• What Court scandals may you enjoy recounting?

Things you can do to ‘create and sustain’ the persona illusion:

• Choose garb to match a period illumination or painting. Take a photo. Have it enlarged and put on Canvas. Display it prominently at events.
• Carelessly toss off comments learned from your research on “how people spoke”. For example, in much of our period in England nobles addressed each other as “cousin”. Since we are all nobility – use it.
• Parasite unashamedly on the better-informed. (i.e., ply your favorite peer with chocolate, wine, or other goody…flatter them and reap the benefits of an impromptu –and free– lecture!)
• Develop a list of the top ten facts about your period that are useful to you. Keep it on a card handy for reference at events until the knowledge becomes second hand. (incl. ruler, current wars, state of Church, popular authors, cookbooks and dishes of particular appeal to you, popular oaths or exclamations, gossip about your ruler’s sex life, the major fashion faux pas’)




Part III – Persona Introductions and Conversation

Stand up and introduce yourselves as your personae. Tell us about you, without stepping outside persona. As a hint, just as you would not walk up to a new acquaintance IRL and say, “I’m a 21st Century American”, your introduction should be something other than “I’m an tenth century Cumbrian farmer”.

ATTENZIONE: Within these bounds the twenty-first Century does not exist. You are welcome to join us.
We only ask that you restrict your conversation to topics suitable to your persona.


Part IV – Panel Discussion (Q&A)

• How did these illustrious panel members get their start in “persona play”?
• What do they wish they had done differently to start?
• Best resources and lessons?
• How many persona iterations have they gone through?
• Do’s and Don’ts?
• Biggest mistakes made (may have been serious at the time…which we can laugh at now )


Part V – Lagniappe

Persona Game: Well, I never! – Identify another SCA member from a country or religion in conflict with your own. Make rude comments about them, insult them, get into philosophical arguments with them, or refuse to sit near them at feast because of their insanitary national habits. Do all of the above with freezing dignity and unfailing courtesy, to demonstrate the superior manners of your own culture.
**Remember, this endeavor can be as complex or simple as YOU like. Above all, it should be FUN.
Persona References on the WWW: – for persona tips – for hand kissing etiquette  – timeline of who is when for persona research
Questions for Persona Development:
• What age are you? When were you born? What year is it? When does the day start? When is the new year?
• How do you describe what year it is? What date it is?
• Where do you live? What does it look like? Describe your locality (village, shire, barony, etc). Describe your home.
• Describe your family. How closely connected are you? Have you got family obligations, alliances?
• Were you parents married when you were born? If so, by what rite? If not, what consequences does this have for you? Are your parents still living? Other family members? What contact do you have with them?
• Are you married? When were you married? Why? Have you got children? How many?
• What clothes do you own? How many? Who made them? What material are they? Where did you get the fashion from? What do the peasants wear? The lords? The king?
• Who is your lord/overlord/baron/etc? Which country do you live in? Is it stable? What alliances does your country have? Enemies? Who is king? What is your relationship with him?
• What language(s) do you speak? Your neighbors? Your lord/ruler?
• Do you have military obligations, directly or indirectly? To whom? What kind?
• Can you read/write? Who taught you? Why? What do you read?
• What were you trained for? How good are you at the things you can do? Did you end up doing whatever it was you were expected to do? Have you travelled? Where? Why? When? With whom?
• What is your religion? That of your neighbors? Is this the mainstream religion? What happens to people who don’t share yours/the mainstream religion? How do you worship? Who/where is your ecclesiastical focal point?
• How do you sustain yourself? What do you eat? What do you/your neighbors grow? What is the main economy of your area? How do you get money?
• Do you own land? How much? How do you count land?
• What is your status? Is it related to land? Can it change, through marriage, purchase, service? In what way?
• What coinage do you use? How do you count the currency?
• What do you do during the day? What is your favorite pastime? Entertainment?
• Who wrote your law? How is it enforced? Who do you talk to if you have a complaint against your neighbor? Who has ultimate jurisdiction? Is your family involved? What happens to an outlaw? What kind of punishment would a thief get? A murderer? A rapist? An adulterer?
• If you were to fall ill, who would you call to see to you? What sort of treatment might you receive? Who would look after you? What might be wrong with you?
• If you died, who would get your possessions? If your parents die, who would get their possessions?
• What threats do you face? What do you fear?
• What are your prospects, hopes, plans? What can you hope for? What can you expect?


Schifanoia-Francesco_del_Cossa_1450s-Trionfo di Venere


Persona Development Quiz: Or “Why can’t you answer questions that the village idiot would know the answers to?” This quiz is based on an article by Cariadoc of the Bow that was reprinted in “A Miscellany”. Its basic premise was that most SCAdians can answer questions about their family tree (seven generations back!) but can’t tell you the time of day. The purpose of the quiz was to raise consciousness about your persona. The more you know about the day-to-day details of your daily life, the easier staying in persona becomes.

Now, take the test (no guessing and only historically-documentable answers allowed) and then stop at the library on the way home and get to know yourself. (Submitted by Lady Shoshonnah Jehanne Ferch Emrys.

1. How do you tell time? When does the day start- (dawn, midnight, etc…)
2. Who is your overlord? His title, name of estate/castle and your duties to him?
_ Who is your ultimate overlord? Is he/she popular with the class you are a member of?
3. Where do you live? Name the country or province you live in.
_ How far is it to the capital city? (miles or unit of measure your persona would have used)
_ Have you been there?
4. What did you have for breakfast today? Are there any religious restrictions on your diet?
5. What are the spices you use (consistent with your pocketbook)? Are they imported?
6. What is the basic unity of money?
_ How much does a loaf of bread cost?
_ If you own one, how much does a riding horse cost?
_ How much did your home cost?
7. How do you support your lifestyle?
_ Do you work at a trade? Do you belong to a guild? What is your rank (does your work merit this rank?) Should you belong to a guild (i.e.- would have been required to be a guild member to practice what you do?)?
_ For gentry, where does your money come from? Monopolies on certain trade? Which ones and how did your family obtain?
8. Can you read or write?
_ More than one language? Which ones? Why did you learn them?
_ How did you learn? (taught at home, church school, etc…)
9. What is your favorite drink?
_ Is it imported? Can your persona afford it in the quantities you drink at an event? How much does the drink cost vs. your income?
10. What wars have there been in your lifetime where you have lived?
_ How did they affect you (i.e.- lost your land, starved for a while, et..)?
_ Did your country win or lose them? How did this affect your family?
11. What diseases have you had?
_ What was the method of treatment?
_ How many of your brothers or sisters died in infancy?
12. What “mythical” creatures do you believe in?
13. Do you have servants?
_ How much are they paid? If not money, what did they earn?
_ What are their duties?
_ What are the arrangements with them- do they live in, are they serfs, etc…
14. What would you be doing on an average day? Assume that your country is at peace and you are at home. If you are military man, describe what you would be doing at your garrison or military “base”?
15. How many generations of your family would your persona really have been aware of? Most 20th century people can’t get back farther than three generations.
16. Are there laws regarding what you should wear? What are they? Were they commonly followed? Would have been allowed to bribe your way around the laws?


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