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Basic Information

An Arras is a tapestry that conceals a small alcove, storage space, or hidey-hole. In other words, a hanging tapestry that is distinctly not just lying flat against a wall, though this arrangement may not be obvious to people on one side of the cloth. It was a not-uncommon feature of castle design and decoration, or similar construction back in the era when rooms where often subdivided with tapestries to aid with keeping heating bills low in winter, and as changeable decoration.

The word would likely have vanished into obscurity, if not for Hamlet stabbing Polonius whilst the latter was hidden by an arras. William Shakespeare lived just after the time when the most prestigious tapestries were made in (and named for) Arras, France. (If you're specifically talking about the tapestry sans alcove, you're better off using the more technical draps d'arras to refer to it.) In effect, Shakespeare was using the word to refer to both a well positioned hiding spot, and the brand name of a lush furnishing. Those furnishings (and the alcoves they concealed) were already antiques, due both to changing styles and the transition away from castles as cannon technology made them obsolete. In other words, Shakespeare talking about an arras could be seen as him geeking out over a technical detail of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, or more specifically of the famous folk of a vanishing era. I mean, the dude was definitely a pop-culture and history nerd. Just sayin'.



Game and Story Use

  • Obviously, such a feature could be used to conceal a treasure, secret door, spy, assassin or eavesdropper.
  • The arras itself, especially if of high craftsmanship and actually from the prestigious weavers of France, could be a valuable treasure.
  • An NPC's dying words are "look… in… arras", because there's something in an alcove (or a detail woven into a tapestry) that he wants the PCs to find. His words are a clue, but will the PCs know what it means? Are they likely to have even heard it clearly enough to know how to spell it? If they don't, the mystery remains unresolved until some later plot point (perhaps a fire that needs to be smothered) strips the concealing tapestry from the wall.
    • Probably best to save that for a modern campaign where an arras is unusual enough that not everyone knows what it is, but at that point, go for it … bonus points if they end up in France.
  • For more ideas, see our tapestry and textile pages.
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