Black body market: cornerstone of the executioners’ economy

Black body market: cornerstone of the executioners’ economy
07.03.2017 admin

History knows a number of executioners who were quite wealthy and respectable despite their profession. For example Charles-Henri Sanson was a member of a long Parisian dynasty of executioners. King Louis XIV granted him an estate and the right to levy tribute from traders at the local market with their produce which he then sold himself. That gave him a sizeable source of income in addition to his salary as the executioner.

But not everyone had his luck. Many executioners who got paid piecemeal for each job had to take freelance work in their spare time that most citizens wouldn’t touch, like catching stray dogs, cleaning sewage and grave digging. Some became medicine men (since they had a lot of practice learning human anatomy) or even exorcists (at the time healing the mentally ill was tantamount to banishing a demon and torture was considered the prime way of achieving that). They also sold body parts that were in demand for creating “magic potions”, amulets for thieves and alchemical powders.

In our game, as in life, in addition to his modest salary the Executioner has the right to appropriate the body and any clothes or possessions his victim wore or carried below the waist.

It’s easy to understand how clothes and purses of those executed could come in handy. Bodies are a different matter and their value is tied to the mentality of that time.

First of all, alchemy was a widespread trade. Human lymph, blood and bone dust were in demand for many alchemical experiments. Secondly, among respectable christians there were people who would stoop to witchcraft and rituals of black magic. Those were frequent clients of the executioner in more ways than one.

At the time all questions of death and what lies beyond was the Holy Church’s domain. Contrary to popular belief, autopsies were not forbidden: they were widely practiced at medical universities, and if a nobleman died under mysterious circumstances doctors were invited to find out the cause.

However clerics in general were against studying human anatomy since the body was created by God and in Him image, and the idea of keeping corpses intact was prevalent. Dismemberment was strictly forbidden and autopsies could only be performed by a scientist with a degree, never a barber or a surgeon. Even so demand for bodies among medical students and doctors always exceeded supply — one could only autopsy a corpse supplied by the executioner. Simple folk rarely surrendered bodies of their loved ones “for the good of medicine” — the soul was far more important, and a tainted burial could rob the soul of an afterlife (many believed that the dead would come alive again during the Second Coming). Everyone wanted a decent, proper christian burial, so the doctors could only get their hands on the bodies of “lost souls”.

All of that guarantied the executioner a steady stream of customers. Shady clients (alchemists and warlocks) paid a lot, and shouldered all the consequences if they got caught. Those in power always turned a blind eye to this little bit of business the executioners had on the side.


So our hero, Theodore Grim, is not poor, but needs to earn him living. After his father was beheaded for treason, his family was stripped of all privileges and ordered to maintain their tools of their trade in good condition on their own dime, the hero will have to pull in his belt and keep a watchful eye on his finances. He has several streams of revenue: selling the bodies, bribes from friends and enemies of his victims who would like to shorten or prolong their suffering accordingly, creation of potions and reagents…

You could step on a slippery slope and take bribes to execute victims a certain way if a certain doctor needs a certain body part intact. Or if a certain warlock needs a particularly disfigured corpse for his rituals.

The question is — who do you have business with: the medics, the mystics or the relatives of the victims? Each choice has its perks and conditions.

Of course there are as many ways to spend money as to earn them if not more. During your investigations your assistants and yourself might need quality weapons, horses, medicine, even rare books, potions and reagents if you want to delve deep into the occult and medical sciences. Some people are easier to bribe than kill or intimidate. There’s also your house that has seen better days, torture equipment in need of upkeep, swords and axes that break or become dull…

There are additional opportunities for the player who manages to avoid unnecessary purchases and save some money: Theodore will be able to pay for important information about the plot that got his father accused of treason; buy a house away from the the capital teeming with rebels and conspirators, or donate money for the needs of the Revolution… The list goes on.

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