Friday, 19 December 2014

Vin Mariani: Cocaine, Wine, and Cthulhu

Once upon a time there was a fascinating substance called cocaine, first imported to the West after the conquest of the New World by Spain. This habit-forming substance enjoyed a kind of reluctant endorsement from the powers that be; the Catholic Church, for example, was very hesitant about cocaine, blaming it for all kinds of sins and claiming it was an invention of the devil, until it realized that workers dosed with the stuff were twice as productive. The Third Council of Lima allowed the Church to take a 10% cut on all cocaine sales, after which the Church dropped any and all reservations it had.

In 1863 a Corsican apothecary, Angelo Mariani, hit on the idea of mixing cocoa leaves with wine. The cocoa leaves bled off their alkaloids into the wine, creating a cheery substance, Vin Mariani or Vin Tonique Mariani, which soon became a hit. It helped that Mariani was an absolutely shameless media hound, extracting celebrity endorsements from the likes of Thomas Edison, Queen Victoria, two Popes, Jules Verne, actress Sarah Bernhardt, the Empress of Russia, and so on. The whole list of endorsements, it is said, took up fifteen leather-bound books; The King of Tonics, The Tonic of Kings, or so went the advertising. It became one of the most popular tonic wines of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and continued to be manufactured until Mariani's death just three months prior to the start of the Great War. He took the formula to his grave, in Cemetary of the Père Lachaise in Paris. It's still possible to find examples of the original bottle for sale as antique glass, and there's at least one example of the original stuff still kicking about.

Some of the known physiological side effects of cocaine use include a decreased need for food and sleep - something night owl Edison appreciated - a tendency to become talkative and energetic, intense euphoria, increased libido, irregular heartbeat, bulging eyes, gaunt appearance, increased blood pressure and valve damage, obsessive behavior, paranoia, hallucination, feelings of impending doom and death. and so on.

Taking all of that into consideration, what does this mean for Trail games?

Bookhounds begins, more or less, in the 1930s, while Dreamhounds kicks off in the 1920s. During both periods Vin Mariani would be available for sale, though probably in reduced amounts since it is no longer manufactured. Or is it? After all, Vin Mariani isn't protected by trademark and even if it was, the person most concerned with protecting it is long dead. The Keeper could easily rationalize that someone stepped in to make an inferior version of the original, particularly in Paris, since Mariani's manufacturing plant was in France. It's always possible some associate or employee of Mariani stepped in to fill a void in the marketplace. Of course the original, probably still available at least while stocks lasted, would be the superior vintage by far.

It would be beloved of older occultists and other NPCs. Anyone over 40 in 1930, for example, might easily have enjoyed the original while Mariani was still alive and making it. A few bottles of Vin Tonique could be used as window dressing in any scene involving NPCs of this type, as could the cocaine shakes, gaunt appearance and so on that is characteristic of long-term use.

In a game like Dreamhounds, Vin Mariani could acquire an odd reputation. After all the whole point of the setting is to get into the Dreamlands somehow, and here's a substance that reduces the need for sleep. Some Dreamhounds might find that a blessing or a curse, depending on what they've been up to; a sudden spike in their wine consumption could be a significant Sense Trouble indicator. Or perhaps Vin Mariani, or its equivalent, has made its way through to the Dream somehow, perhaps carried there by a fan. Can it be manufactured there? What would happen if it was?

Going over to Night's Black Agents for a moment, a few months back when I was discussing the nature of Conspiracy I posited an organization that wanted to become the premier source of Gray, a narcotic substance, in the Western World. Consider what Vin Mariani is: a wine infused with an intoxicating substance. Now consider what the Conspyracy wants: an easily transported, easily disguised means of distributing ghost-impregnated stimulants. Sold! Vin Mariani, or a wine very like it, could easily have been one of this Conspyracy's first attempts at distributing Gray. It might still have vineyards out there being dusted, fertilized or what have you, with the essence of dead souls, sold to its more discerning clientele.

Or, leaving Gray aside altogether for a moment, a Vampire with nineteenth century connections could still have a hankering for its favorite tipple, particularly with a drop or two of blood added. After all, just because Dracula, rather snootily, says he doesn't drink wine, doesn't mean that the rest of the blood drinking community has turned teetotal. But as the years advance and Vin Mariani becomes much more unobtainable, that Vampire might go to extraordinary lengths to ensure a supply. Following the bottle trail could be an extremely useful way of tracking down a dangerous opponent.

That's it for now! Enjoy.

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