In the digital age the only letters that fall through the letter box are bills, bank statements, menus from the local (or not so local) takeaways, random junk mail and the literature all political parties put out around the last election. Occasionally you might be lucky to receive cards (birthdays, Christmas, special occasions) but it seems that proper old fashioned, hand written letters are somewhat of a rarity. Most in-character conversations seem to happen online via forums or email – accessible by phone and easy to skim read.
Regardless of the medium I receive them, I love receiving in-character letters. There is a joy behind them – of sharing a character through a different method that doesn’t rely on costumes, in-character context or dodgy accents – that I find enhances certain aspects of my game.
And whilst I have no problem with sitting down to type out a letter and send it whisking via raven/pigeon/mechanical bird through the ether to its intended inbox, there is something special about sitting down and writing a physical in-character letter.
There are many many ways to go about preparing an In-Character letter – either one you intend to send in the post, or one you intend to give to someone at an event, or even just a copy of one someone has sent to you that you want to keep on your character. I even prepare In-Character wills in a similar way if they would be carried on the person (just in case anyone chooses to go rifling through my pockets once the character is deceased …)
- Draft of what you want to write in the letter – I find having an English copy to hand makes copying up a little easier so that I have no doubts about what I’ve written, or have to think about whilst translating it into another alphabet.
- Paper (A4 printer paper, coloured paper, coffee/tea stained paper, sketch pad paper, watercolour paper …) – something to write on. Preferably not the back of a fag packet or napkin, unless that’s something your character would do.
- Ink and pen / pencil (biro, fountain pen, dip ink pen, permanent marker, coloured pen, crayons etc) – something to write a letter with.
- Optional extras
- Sealing wax and seals / tape
- Coloured inks, pencils, ink pens, decorative paper/borders
- Time (too much of it?)
- Letter opener
Writing a Letter
You have decided to write a letter and send it to another player in game – either by snail mail or carried with you to an event. The reason is up to you – maybe you want to see their reaction first hand, maybe you want to brighten up their day or maybe you just like writing and sealing letters – but regardless you will have to write the letter. I draft the letter first by hand, or via word processor, to get spelling / grammar / tone etc correct before setting about writing. I try to write in the way my character does – some have had poor spelling, some use long words, some have an accent written in if it’s strong enough to tweak the spelling of certain words.
Once I’ve got this all sorted to my satisfaction, I go to my material stocks and get busy. It’s rare that I take the time to “age” a letter (unless it’s a particular prop that is meant to look old, worn or water damaged) but there are plenty of tutorials online (such as here, here and here), or just experiment with cold coffee and tea. I usually use printer paper (because I have it around the house), though I have done “nicer” documents on cream coloured paper or paper loosened from a sketch pad. Watercolour paper has a lovely texture to it if you want your letter to have the weight of parchment without a) buying some, or b) making a mockery of your own. I am yet to cook up my own parchment, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be giving it a try …
Depending on how quickly I want to get the letter written or what the letter is depends on my writing tools. Often I use a black gel pen as the colour is lovely and dark, there is little chance of smudging and it dries reasonably quickly, though I have written some using fine tipped felt pens or calligraphy nibs. A quick guide to starting with dip ink pens can be found here, though there are lots of calligraphy resources online – like at the Pensive Pen or Ian the Green’s guides. Calligraphy is something I’m looking to experiment with in the future for personal and in-game resources.
Take your time when writing – there is nothing worse than getting most of the way through a document and making a great blot of a mistake. If you don’t mind crossing through it as you might if writing a letter normally then good for you! If you do mind, be careful as you work or be prepared to do many many copies. Or if it’s only a minor glitch, work with it and reword your letter to accommodate your slip.
Decorate your letter if you feel like it with pictures, borders, sketches – whatever your character might have on a letter. Would it have heraldry? Would it include drawings of what they’re trying to describe? Could it (heaven forbid) have gotten in the hands of a scout with a perchance for doodling on anything? Have fun with your writing, particularly if your character has flamboyant fancies.
Sealing your Letter
Once you’ve written your letter it’s time to send it / carry it / tuck it away. Depending on whether you’re sending it via snail mail or carrying it in person will depend on what you do next. If you’re sending it via snail mail you’ll need to put your letter in a “normal” envelope for a proper address and stamp rather than mar your hard work. It’s just an extra layer, but worth considering – particularly if you’ve written pages and pages of epic prose that might not fold to fit the standard posting size. However, if you’re handing it over in-character then you can be a bit more creative.
There are tutorials on the internet that show how to fold envelopes that you could use for real life or in game, or how to fold a letter to seal with a wax seal. My personal favourite is writing a letter in such a way that it could be folded over to become it’s own envelope (it took a bit of forethought).
There are also ways of folding your letter so it seals itself. Various methods I have used are – regency style, another regency style, “secure” renaissance style or just using an envelope (I like number one, it’s a good one to use to fold a letter into its own envelope)
To seal a letter you could make a paper seal and stick it down with clear tape over the point of the envelope or the fold of the letter to simulate the wax seal, but why pretend when you could do the real thing? Hobbycraft sell a range of wax and seals as do Amazon and Ebay – light the wax, let it get a small pool of molten wax under the flame then carefully drip it onto your letter. Let it harden or apply your seal/button/thumb to the cooling wax to leave your mark. As good as a signature and looks the part! It’s also quite satisfying to break open when reading a letter …
If you’re sending your letter via the post I suggest you write your address on the outer envelope before putting your fancy letter inside and check its weight before sending it (just in case your epic saga of your deeds pushes it over the different classes of post … highly unlikely but who knows) and seal the envelope with a strip of tape.
If you’re carrying the letter in-character then you don’t have to be as careful and just make sure it gets to the intended recipient by delivering it by hand, or by getting some grubby oik to take it for you (for suitable coinage of course – a penny, a drink at the bar, a future favour if you dare …).
One of the nicest things I find is receiving such IC letters, because you know someone has spent their time preparing the physrep. Either crack the seal with your fingers or slide your handy letter opener under the seal to lift it from the paper – what do you mean you don’t carry one? All respectable nobles should. Then I suggest you take the time to read your letter by candlelight (and frantically translate the letter from the alphabet into english as you go) and know that someone took the time to send you this letter. You should probably take the time to send them a response.
Speaking of which, hand me that quill and ink pot. I’ve got letters to send!