- After checking interest levels in the Game Planning thread I'm moving forward to GM a game that is centred around London of the 1880's. (See the guide below for more info). Similar to the NBC show "Heroes" the characters will slowly come to discover that they have abilities beyond normal people...and will be hunted because of them across the foggy streets of London by person or persons unknown. Any character idea will be considered but characters will have subtle abilities to start with which they will build over time. Heroes in Steampunk
Players and Application process - Ideally I would like six players. Applicants should register their intention to write a character and PM me their application so that the other characters are not aware of their abilities (If you choose a character with abilities - you don't have to). To save you time during the application process before you spend hours writing up the application sheet write me a one pager about your character. I would like to see references of other games in which you have played as part of your application. Brief background concept, tell me the ability you have now, and what you want that abilitiy to grow into in the fullness of time. I will let you know if that is what I am looking for before you go to the trouble of filling in the blanks, which you will do using the D20 Modern sheet here at Mythweavers and link to me.
I will initially run all the characters in separate threads and bring the characters together in the game over time. This is designed to keep the pace of the game relatively fast and avoid any players with the tendency to fizzle. Leveling and how that process will work in relation to your experience will be discussed once you have been accepted as a player.
System - I've decided to go with D20 Modern as the base system. Being open source there are enough resources around the place that you don't need the books as a player to get started. It also allows itself to be flexible enough for most character ideas I anticipate. I am familiar with the system but it's been some time since I GM'd a game using it, so I am not a rules genius. Accordingly the usual Caveats of games I GM applies, that is "If the rules don't fit what I'm trying to achieve in the story I will fudge it if I think it necessary and you will not complain." and "If you exploit the GM's unfamiliarity with a loophole in the rules system he will exploit his absolute mastery of the universe in which you are pissing to destroy you in a visually spectacular way. Please use the D20 Modern character sheet here at Mythweavers. If you need help with the d20 system you can find resources here http://www.d20resources.com/index.php and http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=d20/article/msrd
I will run this advert until the 15th of November or until all places are filled, whichever comes first.
A Guide to Victorian London 1880 - 1900
During the 1880's, the British Empire was at its height, and to the average Briton, it seemed that nothing could dampen the indomitable spirit of the time. The average Briton, too, was completely convinced of the rightness of the British way of life. True, he was aware of the sufferings of the poor and of the too often excesses of the upper classes, but these were viewed as temporary situations, something that the inevitable progress of the British way would eventually solve. If he thought anything at all about the colonies and the natives who sometimes had to be subjugated, he thought only that they were misguided, uneducated chaps who merely had to be taught the British order of things, after which they should gladly come into the fold.
After all, there was no better way of life than that of the British subject, be he walking the streets of London or the jungles of India. The Victorian age was a time of great strides in invention, in social progress, in the arts and elsewhere. Much that we consider modern had its roots in the Victorian age. New inventions - the automobile, radio, electric lighting – either first appeared or were perfected in Victorian times. New sciences and strides in medicine and disease control made possible the increased population growth of this century.
Although the whims of royalty still sometimes served to guide government policy (note the building act that prevented the building of skyscrapers in London for some 60 years because a new project was so high it cut off Queen Victoria's view), for the most part the duty of governing the empire was in the hands of the politicians and diplomats - the Disraelis, Gladstones and Salisburys - and in Parliament. Still, royalty was venerated with a love we might find hard to understand in this age of quickly elected and just as quickly deposed leaders. After all, Victoria had ruled longer than any British monarch in history. To many, she was Britain. And if the Prince of Wales was just a bit too flaunting of social conventions, well, it was excusable. He was, after all, the heir to the throne and would someday come under the burden of leadership. And his excesses made him seem somehow closer to the common man, who could live vicariously through the Prince's exploits.
And except for the radical socialists, those who believed that Ireland should have home rule or who advocated the abolition of royalty altogether, no one doubted that England would remain on top of the world, despite internal troubles or external threats. While the British army could at most field only half as many men as could the armies of France or Germany, the British navy ruled the waves with more capital ships than all its rivals combined.
This was England of the Victorian Era. Full of vitality, full of hope for tomorrow, the British could not foresee any time in the future in which the sun would ever set on their empire. Yet, as the brightness of the time, personified in the new electric illumination, pushed out the dimness of the past, there still remained dark spots in the soul of the city. In the dim-lit, fog-strewn streets of London lurked hints of both ancient evil and of the darkness that was to quench the bright hope of the Victorians. Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of London, The poor still died in the streets of disease, their bodies gnawed by rats, in the dingy recesses of the East End. Girls still found it necessary to sell their bodies to live (though some, known euphemistically as "adventuress", found they could live quite nicely in the oldest profession if they should find the right patron - one wealthy and with a title).
But above it all, the light that was England managed to sweep away much of the darkness, bringing the world a little closer to the modern era into which we were all born. There was adventure in Victorian times for those who chose to seek it out There were great strides and great failures. And most importantly, there was the will to try - to attempt to overcome the past, while preserving the best of tradition, to push forward and make the world an even better place for their children.
The Coin of the Realm
The standard unit of currency in Victorian England was, and still is, the pound/sterling (£). Unlike the tidy decimal system used today, however, the pound was made up of 20 shillings, each of which equalled 12 pence. While bank notes, usually issued by the bank of England, were in use in denominations of £S, £10, £20, £50, £100, £200, £300, £500 and £1,000, coins were the most prominent medium of exchange.
The shilling, a silver coin equalling 12 pence, or pennies, was the most common coin other than the penny itself. Much could be purchased for a shilling in Victorian times. The slang term for a shilling was a "bob." Sums in shillings were noted by the abbreviation "s" (five shillings = 5s).
Previously copper coins, pennies were by mid-Victorian times minted in bronze. Twelve to a shilling, 240 to a pound, the lowly penny was not the smallest monetary unit of Victorian England. There was also the half-penny (known commonly as the ha'penny) and the farthing, which equalled a quarter penny (from fourthing). There was even a copper half farthing minted intermittently. The penny itself was indicated by a "d" (derived from the Roman denaritcs, which like the early British penny was a silver coin). When used with shillings, however, the designation was "/" as in 10/4, or ten shillings, four pence.
Moving upward in value we have the silver threepence (or threpney bit), which, as its name implies, is equal to three pence (there was also a twopence - or tuppence - coin, though it was not in general circulation at this time). The silver sixpence, or "half shilling," equalled six pennies. It was often called by its slang name, "tanner": Three bob and a tanner = 3/6.
Several other silver coins were common in Victorian times. The florin was worth two shillings (2/-). The crown was a five-shilling piece (5/- or 5s.), and the half-crown equalled 2/6, or two shillings, sixpence.
Four gold coins, and possibly a fifth, were in general circulation in the times covered by this article. The chief among these was the gold sovereign, the standard coin of exchange, equalling 20s. or one pound sterling. Whenever £1 was paid out, unless the sum were paid in shillings, the sovereign was the monetary unit used. The sovereign was known in slang as a "quid." Other gold coins in general circulation were the half sovereign (10/-), the two-pound piece and the five-pound piece. The fifth gold coin mentioned was the guinea. Originally a gold coin equal to 21 shillings, the guinea was more a monetary unit than an actual coin by late Victorian times, though some were still in circulation. The higher-priced stores of the times often listed their prices in guineas rather than pounds, since 20 guineas sounded less than £21 (much as $4.98 sounds like less than $5.00). There was also a half-guinea coin, but it, too, had come to represent a unit more than a circulating coin by late Victorian times.
A few last notes on paper money: British pound notes of the time bore little resemblance to what we think of as "money" today. They were closer in nature to the original bank notes, which were actually promissory notes, with the bank as the promisor and a named individual as payee. The Bank of England note originally specified a date on which it was to be paid. Unlike our dollar, with its silk threaded paper, Bank of England notes used distinctive watermarks as a safeguard against counterfeiting. Pound notes were also huge, ungainly bills compared to modern bills.
Price List of Common Items
A good breakfast
A good lunch
A good dinner
Mug of stout (beer, ale)
Glass of whiskey
Bottle of expensive whiskey
Bottle of good wine
Average suit of clothes
25s (and up)
30s (and up)
5 guineas (and up)
Pair of boots
Hotel lodging (average to good)
Attendance at West End Theatre (standing/seats/boxes)
2/6, 10/6-15s, 1½-6 guineas
Tip to porter
Hansom cab fare (one hr. within four mile radius)
1-2s 6d + 6d/extra person
Underground fare, station to station or complete circuit
Postage (1½ oz letter)
Box of 100 revolver bullets
Shotgun, 12 g., double-barrelled
Box of 50 shotgun shells
Clothing Styles of the Day
While clothing styles of the early Victorian period were quite colourful, the styles, for men at least, took a more sombre turn toward the end of the 19th century. Black, grey and other dark colours were the rule in men's clothing. Shirts for both casual and formal wear tended toward white. The "Prince Albert" or double-breasted frock coat with silk-face lapel, narrow waist and closed skirt front was popular throughout the period, though usually reserved for formal occasions, and was worn most often with a silk top hat, silk scarf, gloves and spats. The '80s saw the appearance of the "Cowes" or dress sack coat, known in the U.S. as the tuxedo.
Heavy tweed suits were the style for sportswear. The Norfolk jacket, modelled after the Duke of Norfolk's hunting suit, appeared in the '80s and was worn with knickerbockers - the knee-length pants contrasting with the long trousers normally worn for daywear during the period.
Overcoats for men included the ulster, the MacFarland (a coat with long sleeve-capes) and the Inverness caped coat, popularised by the illustrators and movie portrayers of Sherlock Holmes.
Hats of the period included the soft-felt Homberg, or fedora, the "boater" (a straw hat so named as it was often worn while boating up the Thames), and of course the derby, known more commonly in England as the bowler or "billycock". Silk top hats were the norm for formal evening wear, and a variety of soft cloth caps were worn casually. (The deerstalker, again popularised by portrayals of Sherlock Holmes - though he was never mentioned as wearing one in any of the stories - was almost never worn in the city, being considered more for country or sportswear.)
While beards and other variations of facial hair had been popular in the early Victorian years, by the '80s and '90s it was common to be clean shaven, though the moustache was still popular.
Women's clothing was much more colourful and varied than men's garb. The long skirt was the rule, occasionally allowing a scandalous glimpse of ankle. Bustles were popular in the mid-to-late Victorian era, disappearing around 1889. Thereafter, skirts began to fit smoothly over the hips and to spread out into a bell-shape at the bottom. Waists were narrow (the Victorian ideal being the "15-inch waist" – requiring extremely tight corsets that contributed to many fainting spells among women of the era, and to abundant references in novels to the "heaving bosom"), and bodices were tight-fitting.
Sleeves on ladies' dresses which were generally wrist-length or, if shorter, accompanied by long gloves that reached higher than the elbow, began to expand during this period. They became bigger and bigger, swelling out into what was nicknamed the "leg-of-mutton" style. Often the sleeves were of a different colour or even a different material from the rest of the dress.
Hats and bonnets were of various sizes, shapes and colours as well, including a straw hat similar to the men's boaters.
Knickerbockers or "bloomers" – trousers for women - came into vogue with the popularity of the bicycle, despite the scandalous idea of women wearing pants.
The bell-shaped skirt and high-necked blouse remained fashionable for women until about 1908, when the Victorian styles, originally highly influenced by the French, began to give way to more "modern" modes of fashion.
The above clothing guidelines are generally for the middle to upper class of London's population. The poor had to make do with whatever could be made, begged, borrowed or stolen. Still, dress lengths for women remained conservative (if somewhat tattered) even among the lower classes. Player-characters in unusual clothing would find it easier to fit in with the poorer sections of London's East End (Spitalfields, Whitechapel and the like) especially among the street entertainers and costermongers of the teeming street markets in those areas, than in the more fashion conscious West End.
Aside from simply walking from one place to another, transportation in the London of the 1880s-'90s was dominated by the horse and the rail. Horse-drawn cabs and carriages filled the streets of London, while below those streets the Metropolitan or Underground railways carried passengers via steam or, after 1890, electric train.
The streets were dominated by the hansoms and the growlers, or four-wheelers. The hansom was the fast two-seater of the period, affectionately called "The Gondola of London." It held two passengers (three if they didn't mind sacrificing comfort) sitting side by side over the wheelaxle of the two wheels of the vehicle, their weight balanced by the driver on his high seat behind and by the horse in front. Luggage sat on the floor inside the cab. Half doors closed at the front and small side windows gave the occupants the option of seeing (and being seen) or not. Orders were shouted to the driver through the trap door in the top. The hansom was an excellent choice if one needed to travel quickly and lightly through the streets of London. It was the preferred method of transport for Sherlock Holmes, as well as for many other Londoners. In 1886, some 7,000 licenses were issued to hansom cabs.
In the same year, only 4,000 licenses were issued to four-wheelers, known colloquially as "growlers" and more eloquently as "Clarences". The four-wheeler had accommodations inside for four passengers (a fifth could ride up front with the driver if he so wished) and luggage :ode on the roof, which made it better suited to larger parties or those with a lot of baggage. The passengers were totally enclosed, except for the windows over each of the side doors. The driver, from his seat up front, could not easily observe what went on behind him, making the four-wheeler the choice of those who wished to "disappear" en route. The straight back axle could also serve as a perch for those who wished to cling unobserved to the back of the cab.
The Underground railway system of London was one of the engineering marvels of the day. While a good part of it actually did run underground in tunnels, much of the system ran in deep, uncovered trenches through and around the city.
The trains running on the underground rails were, in the beginning, steam-driven. Thus the atmosphere of the underground, filled with the smoke from burning coal, was not exactly the healthiest in London.
The Metropolitan Railway and the Metropolitan District Railway formed the Underground circuit known as the Inner Circle, which wound around the whole of the inner part of London from Aldgate in the east, north to King's Cross and St. Pancreas Stations, east past Paddington, south to Victoria Station and up along the north bank of the Thames. The Middle Circle was a western extension of this route out past Kensington. Several other lines ran suburban trains in connection with the Metropolitan lines on the Outer Circle, which reached out in a wide curve from Kensington on the west and north to the north-western suburb of Willesden, looping back around north into the City from the north-east to connect with the Broad Street Station.
Trains could be expected to run on the Underground lines every three to ten minutes. Generally, the round trip would take about a half-hour. For those who could take the discomfort, the underground was a quick, economical way to travel. It was occasionally dangerous as well, though not due to any fault of the rail lines - the underground stations were often the targets of the Dynamiters, Victorian terrorists whose speciality was planting bombs at prominent locations. Their activities stretched throughout the period covered.
Numerous railway stations existed in London to take Londoners and visitors to the city to outlying areas of the country. Victoria Station. Waterloo Station and London Station were situated on the city's south side, from west to east, the latter two located south of the Thames. To the east were Broad Street Station and Liverpool Station, sitting side by side, and Bishopsgate just north of them. Paddington Station was the major railway access to the West End, just north of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. To the north, just east of Regent's Park were Euston Station, St. Pancreas Station and King's Cross Station. All these stations were easily accessible by the Underground or by cab.
Two other forms of transportation common in Victorian times should be mentioned: the omnibus and the bicycle. The omnibus was a horse-drawn version of our modern bus, crowded, often double-decked, but reliable and economical. And despite the smell of horse, the air above ground was considerably easier to breathe than that in the tunnels.
Communications in Victorian England, while not matching the speed and efficiency of today's satellite communications, were still quite sufficient for the day. The first telephone exchange had opened in London in 1879, and by 1888, the United Kingdom boasted 20,400 telephones, the majority of which were in London.
However, it is the telegraph, favoured communiqué of Sherlock Holmes, that is most typical of the time. With the laying of the underwater telegraph lines in the 1870s, London was in touch with the world via telegraph. A telegram from London to Egypt took only 20 minutes, to Bombay 50 minutes, to China 120 minutes and to Australia only 160 minutes.
Telegraph offices were numerous throughout London and domestic telegrams reasonably priced at 6d, for messages of up to 12 words and ½d, for each word after that.
The postal service of Victorian London makes our own look poor in comparison. There were 11 deliveries per day in seven of London's eight postal districts and 12 in the East Central district, where most of the city's financial centres were located. The first delivery was at 7:20 a.m., the last at 7:45 p.m. Same-day delivery was the rule, all for 1d for most letters.
One final note on communications in Victorian London concerns the newspaper. Literally dozens of newspapers flourished during the era. The Times, The Standard, The Daily News, The Daily Telegraph, and The Daily Chronicle were only some of the London dailies read by the population of the city.
Player-characters are very likely to encounter a representative of British law in some form or another. In all likelihood this will be one of the members of the regular police force, the Metropolitan Police Force, the blue-clad high-helmeted bobby. The term "bobby" came from the name of the founder of MPF, Sir Robert Peel. London policemen were also called "Peelers".
The policeman's lot in Victorian times was not a happy one. A police constable of the MPF worked seven days a week, without a day of rest for a maximum of 23s 4d per week. Even the detectives of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) made only some four times that. Corruption was often a necessity for survival, and the constable on the beat would often turn a blind eye to minor misdoings for an extra shilling here and there.
Still, it was to the MPF that the victims of the worst types of crime could turn for protection. The policeman himself, however, received little protection from the law. Forbidden to carry firearms, London policemen were often themselves the victims of assaults (in 1887, there were more than 2,000 assaults on the MPF) which often warranted little more than a small fine to the attacker. Among the rougher classes, it was almost considered a natural right to assault policemen, and this was in an age when guns, knives and clubs were carried freely. With crime often running rampant in the dim gas-lit corners of the more run-down areas of the city, the Victorian policeman had to have been extremely dedicated to his work, for without him, the rapidly growing urban centre of London might have degenerated into near-anarchy.
With the bobby on the beat working on ordinary crimes, it was up to the Criminal Investigation Division, formed in 1878, to track down the more dangerous or devious criminals. The plainclothes detectives of the CID were better off than the MPF regulars in that they weren't as easily recognisable as the law. If they were recognised, they at least were allowed to carry firearms for protection. The CID was headquartered at Scotland Yard, a name now synonymous with British justice.
Few realise that there were two Scotland Yards during Victorian times - Great Scotland Yard, which housed the CID from its formation until 1891, and New Scotland Yard, the CID's home from 1891 until recent times. Great Scotland Yard was located in Whitehall Gardens off the street named Great Scotland Yard (the Kings of Scotland had stayed there when in London). New Scotland Yard lay between Whitehall and the Victoria Embankment along the Thames, and was a building originally designed as an opera hall. Great Scotland Yard was the target of one of the Dynamiters' attacks in 1884. The bomb nearly wrecked the detective department and destroyed a pub next door.
New Scotland Yard was many things - an administrative headquarters, a laboratory, an office for licensing carriages, a central records office and a "black museum" (housing "mementoes" of infamous crimes).
However, it was not, in the strictest sense, a police station. What most people think of as the Scotland Yard "police station" was actually the Cannon Row police station next door. It was here that criminals were brought to be charged before being taken next door to the Yard for interrogation.
While the MPF and CID had authority in London and surrounding areas, they had no authority in the rest of England, though they were often summoned in an advisory capacity. Oddly enough, the MPF had no authority in the City of London proper, the district of the metropolis that is its commercial centre, running roughly from the Tower of London on the east to the Temple on the west. The City was legally a separate municipality, distinct from the administrative county of London. As such it had its own police force, the City Police. Again, however, the CID was often called in on serious cases.
Characters who run afoul of the law may very well find themselves being booked at the Cannon Row station and questioned at Scotland Yard. They may find themselves on trial at the Central Criminal Courts (CCC) at Old Bailey and held in Newgate Prison, abolished by this time as a "Gaol of Detention" except during sessions of the CCC.
When speaking of the Underworld of London, one must be careful, as the term had two meanings. In one sense, the Underworld was simply the domain of the poor, the down-and-out of the city. These were the inhabitants of the poorer sections of the East End - Spitalfields, Whitechapel and surroundings. This included the street vendors and costermongers, the entertainers, the beggars, those who may be involved in illegal acts or may simply be trying to survive. More properly, the Underworld was the criminal class, those who made their living by their wits or their muscles.
While individual cardsharps, pickpockets, thieves and murderers were in no short supply, neither was organised crime. The Victorian underworld often referred to itself as "the Family." There was indeed a "brotherhood" among criminals, with its own codes of honour and conduct, rough as they may have been.
Characters attempting to "infiltrate" the underworld of London for their own purposes may have a time of it, especially if they're not familiar with the criminal slang of the day.
Barker - a pistol or revolver
Blower - an informer
Bludger - a particularly violent criminal, especially one who uses a bludgeon
Broadsman - a cardsharp
Cracksman - a burglar, especially a safecracker
Crow - a look-out, especially for a cracksman
Dipper - a pickpocket
Dollymop - a prostitute, often an amateur or part-time street girl
Duffer - seller of stolen goods
Esclop - a policeman (usually pronounced "slop")
Flash-house - the headquarters of a criminal gang, used for setting up business, receiving stolen goods and training new generations of criminals
Ladybird - a prostitute
Life-preserver - a short weighted club, like a blackjack or sap
Lurker - generally a beggar or a criminal who uses a beggar's
disguise, often employed by criminal organisations as spies or lookouts
Macer - a cheat
Mobsman - a swindler or a pickpocket working with a mob
Mug-hunter - a street robber
Nobbler - a criminal whose purpose is to inflict bodily harm. A superior nobbler was called a Punisher and was used to inflict severe beatings
Palmers - shoplifters
Smasher - one who passes counterfeit money
Snoozer - one who steals from hotel guests while they sleep
Toffer - a superior prostitute
Tooler - a superior pickpocket
Player-characters might find themselves victimised by toolers, snoozers, dippers, or broadsmen, or propositioned by ladybirds, dollymops or, if they appear high-class, toffers. Should they offend the wrong criminal elements, they might find themselves set upon by nobblers or punishers. Should they attempt a bit of freelance crime themselves, they may find themselves caught between the esclops and the Family both - not an enviable position.