Home > Uncategorized > On the regular hell that is the improved Spanish Prisoner con

On the regular hell that is the improved Spanish Prisoner con

I realised I had one more thing (for now) to say about Spanish Prisoner Cons (SPCs):

the big problem with the basic form of the SPC is that it promises to deliver a good thing, one day. It’s much, much more effective to promise to stave off a bad thing. The longer you delay gratification of the good thing, the more likely it is that your marks will turn against you. But the longer you prevent the feared catastrophe, the better you look. “They’ve kept us safe for years! Who knows where we’d be without them?”

ahem. And as long as the bad thing cannot be shown to have happened yet, the con is sustainable.

Also, the bad thing gives the con-man an implicit yardstick to measure their own offerings against. “Do you want that? NO? Then accept this.” See also insurance, the war on drugs, policing, fascism etc.

The avoid worse yardstick also points out a secondary game/layer implicit in Call of Cthulhu: merely being “better than the monsters” gives the PCs a license to be as bad as humanly possible. Everything above that level is left as an exercise for the players’ own consciences. It seems to me that this is a challenge, to make CoC the most interestingly humanist, compassionate game around, but my actual play experience has worked out closer to the bottom end of that spectrum.

(see bottom of post for a confusing aside on Spain as a source of SPCs)

OK, that’s done. It seemed important to say it, but now it feels finished and I fear I’ve wasted your time with very obvious stuff. So in recompense to the Joesky we all have inside us, you need to know about this D&D campaign dreamed up by 16th century Flemish society: Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) is a “folkloric character, the leader of an all-female army on a quest to pillage hell.” Painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

Pretty much everyone who talks about this figure and her depictions delights in recounting the old Flemish proverb: “One woman makes a din, two women a lot of trouble, three an annual market,* four a quarrel, five an army, and against six the Devil himself has no weapon.” I feel I can get away with repeating it because it neatly encapsulates my thinking for Counter-colonial Heistcrawl.

* I do love the equivalence drawn here between discord and commerce. I also have to quote Braudel’s quoting of an unsourced proverb: “three women and a goose make a market.”

A confusing aside on Spain and prisoners:
Spain in the 16th century (the country making Brueghel’s life miserable) seems to me enmeshed in a veritable Piranesi nightmare of prisons and prisoners:
1. the church’s SPC (avoid hell) justifies the crown’s ethnic cleansing scheme (clean Spain for Christians only!), so that genocide against Iberian Jews and Muslims is conducted in the name of Catholic dominion. That incidentally leads to the revolt of the Netherlands, long-term disorder, and some atrocities that inform the visions of hell for which we so love Northern Renaissance art.
2. Loot grabbed during that genocide drives a market for the conquest of the Americas and sparks another set of SPCs, because if the Spanish Crown has already grabbed the gold, you gotta go get more.
3. if Natalie Zemon Davis is to be believed, American treasure also causes an inflation crisis in church favours: guilt at the atrocities committed to get the gold can only be expiated by giving it to God (decorating churches), incidentally deflating gold a little as a form of money in circulation, but also leading to an ever greater demand for gold decoration: the ultimate elastic market.

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