Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Tigress of Forli by Elizabeth Lev

One of the characters that made an appearance in both versions of the Borgia series I've seen, was Caterina Sforza, a woman whose name on this book goes by Caterina Riario Sforza De'Medici. How's that for a mouthful.

Her Wiki entry has some of the nuts and bolts of her life. This book takes such nuts and bolts and expands them greatly. Elizabeth Lev does a nice job of making a book that's at once readable and one filled with notes from dozens if not hundreds of other resources which curious readers can go further on and read.

In terms of gaming, there is much to mine here.

1. Background. Caterina is raised to enjoy hunting and the military arts. The author notes that this was because unlike other nobles of the time, Caterina comes from a mercenary family that rose to prominence on the strength of their sword arm so raising all the children to fight was only normal and natural as opposed to segregating them into different roles.

2. People: Caterina has eight kids by three different husbands. Two of those husbands had powerful alliances to other families of the time. This doesn't count Caterina's own family and the rise and fall of status dependent upon not only your own abilities as a ruler or with diplomacy, but on the rise and fall of others that you may have no direct control over.

3. Rapid Reversal: There are several times throughout the scene that Elizabeth Lev sets, where one is assured that based on X, Y should happen. Nope. For example, when assassins kill her second husband, they think that they will be greeted with a hero's welcome. They are killed by the dozens instead. This happens a few times where people hear, "Oh, this is a problem is it? I shall solve it and all shall love me." only to find out that yeah, that was pretty much idle talk and acting on it was really stupid.

4. Different Perspectives: One of the other characters that made an appearance in both Borgia series was Savonarola, the initial inspiration for the bonfire of the vanity. Apparently he and Caterina had exchanged correspondence and it left an impact on Caterina that would follow her for the rest of her days. In this exchange, Savonarola doesn't' get much page time, but he does sound rather sane and reasonable unlike how he was portrayed in either series. For one person, an ally might seem saintly and full of vigor and vim and for another person, an adversary of devastating cunning and ability.

5. Disease: Since this is a book about the Renaissance and the various French invasions of Italy, we have to have some mention of 'The French Disease', along with Malaria, and the Bubonic Plague, all of which make their appearance in this historical. Indeed, is is no sword or poison that ends Caterina's life, but rather disease.

6. Social Combat: Initially there are many celebrations and honors given to Caterina upon her initial marriage as that was to a 'cousin' (some say illegitimate bastard) of the Pope of the time, Pope Sixtus IV. Thanks to that connection, Caterina has social advantage and ability that many in her time lacked and the parties that followed allowed for a lot of intermingling that could have consequences lasting well past the initial meetings.

7. Instability: When a pope dies in Rome, the citizens go a little crazy and form into unruly mobs. This can be a situation in a standard game as well when a well loved figure dies and there is a time of mourning as well as individuals using these situations to their advantage. Easier to send in the assassins while the city burns then attack the front gates.

8. Esoteric Hobbies: Among the many things that Caterina enjoy, hunting in the gaming grounds of the city Pavia, as well as breeding and riding horses, she was reknown for her herbalist skills and even had a book published on her findings. Some have even referred to her skills as 'alchemy'. In a fantasy campaign, it's easy to imagine Caterina having levels of Noble, Alchemists, and Fighter among others.

There are so many characters that Caterina interacts with or is there to see rising, that it gives the whole of the Renaissance itself a greater feel, like some massive tapestry that cannot be seen in one viewing and must be taken in from various angels.