THESEUS: Come now; what masques, what dances shall we have,
To wear away ths long age of three hours
Between our after-supper and bed-time?
Where is our usual manager of mirth?
What revels are in hand? Is there no play,
To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?
— A Midsummer-Night's Dream, by Wm. Shakespeare
The title Master of the Revels was a government position in Renaissance England, but the concept could easily be mirrored in any fantasy setting. Exactly how much power and authority this appointed position might have varies greatly depending on the whims of the king. Historically, the position goes back to at least the time of King Henry VII in the 15th Century.
Originally, the Master of Revels was in charge of preparing for festivities and parties in and about the Royal Palace. This included arranging for performances and entertainment, which lead to control and budgeting of plays within the palace, and eventually extended beyond the palace. So what started as a sort of "royal party planner" eventually grew into an office with the power to censor plays nationally and collect license fees from performers. The authority of the position was frequently in flux, growing and waning in power by royal decree, act of parliament, or the political temper of the court. Eventually censorship duties were taken away from the Master of Revels and given to the office of the Lord Chamberlain.
As such the Master of the Revels might interact with, hire, and/or have authority over playwrights, actors, musicians, dancers, court jesters, etc, and also the tailors, carpenters, etc who construct costumes, props, and sets for the performances. They might plan, control, pay for, or ban theatres and plays, masquerade balls and parties, holiday celebrations, etc.
In some years, the Master of Revels must personally give permission before a play can even be performed within the capitol city. He gets to view one of the last rehearsals in private. If there's too much profanity, or politically sensitive material in the play, he might insist on last-minute edits, or ban it outright. He signs the script, after crossing out any lines he intends to ban. That signed version of the script is what must be performed, and major divergences from it could result in the playwright, director or actors jailed. The Master of the Revels (or later, the Lord Chamberlain) might not attend to such matters directly, but instead task and assistant to be Examiner of the Stage.
Similar, but less authoritative, figures could be found at any feudal court with the same job, MC'ing events for the noble patron and controlling the arts within his domain.
Some other windows darken in the evening
And never before morning show a light
But for me there is no night
For I am the Master of the Revels
The caller-up and caster-in of devils
And I am here for your instruction and delight
(from) The Master of the Revels Peter Atkin
Game and Story Use
- The Master of the Revels could serve as patron or mentor to a PC bard or other entertainer-type character. They would be a powerful patron, capable of opening doors to the royal court, and having an extensive budget.
- They could as easily be a nemesis or impediment to social advancement, intent on banning that same PC from performing anywhere near the King and his Royal Court. Offend the Master of Revels, and you may be banned from performing at all (anywhere in the Kingdom).
- If the Master of Revels were to be corrupted by an insidious cult, they might find room in the budget for a performance of The King In Yellow, or some other madness-inducing play or demon-worshiping festivity. It may be cloaked in symbolism, or the details kept as a "surprise" until the last moment.
- Alternately, the Master of Revels may be innocent to such depravities. The PCs are called in to investigate when the Master of Revels goes mad, or missing, or dies after watching an advance performance of a play that opens tomorrow. You have less than 24 hours to get to the truth or all of London is doomed!
- Another possibility: There is a play that doubles as ceremonial magic, used to bind or contain a demon that would otherwise lay waste to the kingdom. The Master of Revels disappeared before approving this year's performance, or is refusing to approve it for reasons unknown. Can Our Heroes find out what is going on?
- The Master of Revels has read about an obscure play, and is willing to pay good coin for a troupe that can perform it at the winter solstice. A director contacts the PCs: you find a copy of the script, and you get half the take.
- A band of assassins is masquerading as a theater troupe and plans to kill the king while he's distracted by their performance. As the Master of Revels, are you a bad enough dude to find out which troupe it is and save the king?
- As for "the caller up and caster in of devils", in the right setting (and it would be very Eric Moorcock) the Master might even arrange for supernatural entities to attend a high end, high decadence revel, whether succubi concubines or some kind of demonic musician or other entertainers.
- Where baitings are a popular form of entertainment, PCs could find themselves hunting down things to bait.