Rough Music
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Basic Information

Rough music is a generic term for an assortment of social punishments, carried out on an unofficial basis by communities against those who have gravely offended against their collective mores - in effect a sort of non-fatal lynching. Typical targets for rough music includes adulterers, perverts, derelict parents, spouse-abusers, petty criminals who have avoided official justice and the generally anti-social.

The usual process is for the offender(s) to be seized by a crowd, tied to a chair or similar conveyance and paraded through town accompanied by jeers, mocking songs and a clatter of pots and pans (the "rough music" itself). The offender may be daubed with various substances (including being tarred and feathered), dressed in mocking costumes or have items or slogans relevant to their crimes hung around their neck. At the end of the procession the offenders may be dumped at the edge of town, or into a pond, mud pit, dunghill or horse trough. Where the offender themselves is unavailable, or too dangerous or powerful to assail directly then they may be paraded in effigy instead - possibly with the effigy burned or thrown into a body of water at the end of the procession.

In some traditions, the rough music may be less mobile and consist instead of a noisy protest outside the offender's home - although this is likely to test the commitment of the offender's neighbours to supporting the protest and may be less popular than a one-off parade. Such a protest might be related to the ancient practice of a wronged person standing outside the wrongdoer's home and demanding justice from them.


A rough music shaming is inflicted on the eponymous mayor and a former lover in Thomas Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge.
In the TV series Rome Servilla Junia, having being ruined and disgraced, besieges the house of the Julii, demanding justice from her rival Atia Julia.

1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • This is the sort of community event in which you are expected to choose sides … PCs reaction will be marked and noted and their allegiances decided upon as a result. Of course, effects will be much greater if the PCs are locals - strangers might well be forgiven for not joining in; people who are meant to be part of the community may be judged harshly for not supporting its collective actions.
    • Even more fun if the community is divided over the issue - whatever you do, including nothing, may offend someone
  • Those with sufficient leverage in a community may be able to manufacture this sort of trouble for virtually anyone given enough motivation. Some kind of scry-vs-scry might then ensue to try to prevent the coming attack - that or a suitably convincing visit to persuade them that the future of their kneecaps will be brighter for calling it off…
  • Rough music is meant to be non-fatal - but even communities that tolerate that sort of behaviour might need to act if someone dies during the process, whether an old man being denounced for lechery dies of a heart attack or the town drunk drowns after being flung into the duck pond. Tarring and feathering might also lead to septic burns.
    • Lucetta, one of the targets of the shaming in Mayor of Casterbridge miscarries her baby and dies as a result, but that might not warrant legal investigation in the pre-modern period.
    • It might, however, prompt a visit to whoever organised the shaming by a someone with a piece of wood with a nail or two in it…
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