A curfew is a regulation or law prescribing a time of day at and after which (or occasionally before which) specific restrictions apply.
The term originates from the medieval French couvre-feu and stems from laws which required urban dwellers to ensure that all fires were banked, screened or extinguished by a specific time of night. These laws were normally intended to avoid the risk of major conflagrations started by the inadvertent spread of fires unattended whilst their owners slept - and the added casualties caused by such fires taking sleeping residents unaware.
Curfew laws could also restrict what craft activities could take place outside daylight hours - normally to prevent poor quality goods being made by low grade artificial light - and prevent people from moving around the streets during the hours of darkness. It was also normal to close gates both in the outer wall of the settlement and in any sub-walls dividing districts.
In modern usage, curfews apply almost entirely to movement - whether of heavy vehicles to prevent noise nuisance by night1, or even of people (generally because of civil disorder and a desire to either prevent protest or to keep civilians out of the line of fire).
Depending on the exact nature of the breach, curfew violations may be punished by fines or arrest. Exemptions are typically given for those with business on the streets during curfew - physicians are an obvious class, but occupations as humble as the baker may also need exemption if the city expects fresh bread in the morning. Likewise, curfews may be discriminatory in nature, applying only to members of a specific group - many societies apply either de facto or de jure restrictions on the movement of children (and in some cases women) after nightfall and social minorities may also face the same treatment.
Game and Story Use
- To the modern user, curfew orders appear dystopian, something that only happens in dire emergencies or under repressive states, but they were a fact of life in many pre-modern times and places.
- Curfew restrictions can add extra amusement to PCs nocturnal adventures - appropriate licences (fake or otherwise), the right level of status or deep pockets (for fines or bribes) may help, otherwise they will find themselves dodging the night watch.
- In many medieval cities, enforcement of curfew by the night watch may be the closest the place gets to public order policing.
- Various legal duties may also alter at curfew - for example, trespass after curfew may be more severely punished as the intruder is then assumed to have broken into a secure property, having no business walking in off the street.