Friday, October 12, 2018

Nourish and Extinguish- Salamanders in Victoriana

Victoriana is as much fantasy as it is rooted in 1850s history, so as I wrote about chimney sweeps my mind wandered into more fantastic waters. Fire elementals and medieval bestiaries kept popping up, but I didn’t have room for them in my previous posts. So now, here are some ideas and rules for Salamanders in Victoriana.

While many cold-blooded creatures thrive in heat, the salamander is truly Pyrophillious.  Unlike the amphibian of the same name, salamanders rest in blazing flames without burning or bother. Fire warms their blood, cleans their skin, and serves as a sanctuary for eggs about to hatch. Should a fire grow too hot for the salamander’s tastes, glands in its skin sweat a milky flame-quenching liquid, a teaspoon of which dripped into a fireplace quickly extinguishes all flames leaving only lukewarm ash and smoke. Salamanders wander into camps and homes in search of unattended hearths or open flames. Modern industry attracted salamanders out of marshes and forests into the cities of Europe and Asia in search of a nice warm fire.

A fully grown salamander spans 2-4 feet from their blunt nose to their thick tail and weighs between 30 to 70 pounds. Their four legs terminate with curiously human-like hands. Moist pitch-black skin mottled with bright yellow stripes or spots covers their long chubby bodies. Strangely, the temperature of the fire surrounding their egg when they hatch drastically affects their coloration and demeanor. If their fire grows too warm, orange or even red hues creep into the yellow patches and their ferocity grows to the point of attacking with little provocation. If the fire dies before they hatch, their pigmentation dulls to a dark brown and they have a more docile temperament.

A deadly poison covers a salamander’s skin, causing irritation, hair loss, and convulsions upon contact.  Prolonged exposure or ingestion brings death in minutes. Some medieval legends describe predatory salamanders killing a full grown man by leaping on his head, and rubbing their belly on his face. Paradoxically, the salamander’s excretions and skin save countless lives every year. Tanned salamander hide loses little of its inherent flame-retardant qualities. Salamander skin gloves protect engineers and craftsman attached to prestigious firms and the most successful chimney sweeps wear full suits of salamander skin when battling chimney fires, although many only claim to own a salamander suit in order to raise their credibility.  Salamander farms collect their excretions for fighting fires and a host of industrial applications.

Salamanders are not native to the British Isles. The nearest native population of Salamanders slither in the French countryside across the channel, despite the efforts of local hunters to rid their home of such a dangerous creature.

Initiative: 8
Physical: 8
Mental: 3
Health Pips: 4
Special Traits:
Pyrophillious- Salamander’s bodies are adapted to heat and possess Armor Value 8 against any fire damage. A salamander may spend an action to extinguish flames touching its body.

Regeneration x3- (See page 294 in Victoriana 3rd Edition Rulebook) In addition to quickly regaining hit points, Salamanders can regrow lost legs or a lost tail a few days after their loss. A Salamander’s body loses its regenerative abilities at death.

Poisonous Skin- Any character touching a salamander with their bare skin must pass a Fortitude test against the poison’s potency of 8. Whether they pass or fail, the character’s skin exposed to the poison turns bright red and stings causing -1 to the character’s Dexterity.

On a failure, the character suffers -2 health per round and an additional -1 to their Dexterity. These effects continue until the character passes a Fortitude test (5 black dice), another character passes a Medicine test with 5 black dice, or the character’s death.  
Damage: Bite (2)

It was pretty nice to just come up with a monster this week after wallowing in horrid squalor, however we will return to the worst jobs of Victorian England next week with a look at Rat-Catchers. I hope you enjoy.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Bristles and Brushes- Luck and Divination

After plunging ourselves into all the disease, danger, and despair in the life of a chimney sweep, let’s consider some of the charming and strange lore connected to their profession.

The Luck of the Sweep
European superstition clings to a belief seemingly ridiculous to anyone familiar with the hard cruelty of the chimney’s sweeps life: Chimney Sweeps are Lucky!  Back in the 1700s, King George II rode in a royal procession until his horse began savagely bucking.  The king held on for dear life until a lowly chimney sweep ran forward and calmed the horse. The sweep left before the king could bestow a royal reward on his savior. Recognizing the sweeps profession by his soot-covered clothes, the king declared all sweeps to be lucky. Or in a strikingly similar story, a chimney sweep rescued King William the Conqueror from an out of control horse and cart, and that grateful king made the proclamation of luck. Of course, it could just be that the sight of a chimney sweep reminds everyone how lucky they are to not be members of that profession.

Practically any encounter with a chimney sweep (save for their visits to clean a chimney) imparts luck to those around them. If a sweep kisses a bride on her wedding day or if a sweep attends the wedding, the marriage will be happy. Passing a sweep on the street or shaking hands with a sweep transfers luck. Finally and most lucky of all is meeting a sweep on the street on New Year’s Day. Some sweeps make extra money attending weddings and selling handshakes to superstitious or desperate people. This belief opens doors that would remain shut to an ordinary member of the working-class covered from head to toe in filth.

Tephromancy and Capnomancy
In addition to cleaning and clearing a stopped up flue, chimney sweeps with a foot in the spirit world might perform oracular services. All over the world, civilizations current and ancient searched cinders, soot, ash, and smoke for clues about their future. Even Victorian Englishmen performed the rite of “Riddling the Ashes”. They spread ash over the hearth on certain holy days such as St. Mark’s Eve or Halloween and checked it the next morning for the footprints of any person in the household to die in the coming year (or the footprint of a future husband, or the footprint of a future child).

Reading the remains of a fire is called Tephramancy. Most traditions hold only the ashes of a sacrificial fire hold any meaning, but family life revolves around the hearth. A fireplace might have some very personal prognostications if someone took the time to look for them. Similarly to Tephromancy, Capnomancy divines the future through the movement of smoke. Chimney sweeps know how smoke should behave as a part of their profession. They would be the first to notice when it flows in a way it shouldn’t, gathers strangely, or turns the wrong color.

Adventure Ideas
A certain gambling den has been plagued by a string of incredible lucky streaks. Every night the house loses far too much money from bets on rat-baiting. The only connection between the lucky winners is the small dirty kid that pets the rat-terriers before they start.

No matter what precautions they take, the chimney sweeps make a mess whenever they clean out the chimney in Mrs. Swale’s boarding house. It’s odd how the soot only clings to items belonging to that mysterious tenant.

Next week, we’ll finish up by looking at a semi-mythological creature with interesting connections to the work of the chimney sweep: the Salamander.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Bristles and Brushes- The Health of the Chimney Sweep

As we look into the unpleasant facts of a chimney sweep’s life, it’s as dark and dirty as the flues they cleaned. Sweeps, some as young as four, lived short unloved lives performing dangerous work in deplorable conditions. The older a sweep ages, the more his profession takes.

In exchange for meager room and board, climbing boys risked their lives and lost their health. Horrific sores opened on their elbows and legs, rubbed raw from climbing and bracing up countless flues. Some master sweeps toughened their apprentice's young sensitive skin by brushing in brine (water mixed with salt) as they stood close to a warm fire. Working in a confined space with no air flow while purposefully stirring up contaminants in the air does no good for the bodies of growing children. A nasty fall from high up a flue crippled many sweeps for life, and some grew up deformed from the rigors of their work before their bones stopped growing. Disturbed soot particulates spread through the air, causing tears in inflamed eyes, and range of respiratory problems if frequently breathed in. If a sweep stuck and suffocated to death halfway up a flue, the bricks of the chimney had to be torn out to remove the body.

Outside of work, frequent beatings from the master sweep, malnutrition, and filthy living conditions destroyed an apprentice’s health further. By law, master sweeps must provide their apprentices with a bath once a week, but many went dirty for longer than a month. Particularly nasty sweeps never provided their charges with bedding, so many climbing boys slept in the bags they used to collect soot.

The constant accumulation of carcinogenic soot had little chance of being washed away. Years of exposure cursed most sweeps with large dark scrotal warts, known as “soot warts”. Soot warts often developed into cancer which spread fatally into the abdomen. More chimney sweeps contracted cancer than any other profession in London due to their daily exposure to soot. Percival Potts famously connected the sweep’s cancer to their occupational exposure in 1775, making public the easily avoided danger. The sweeps of continental Europe adopted tight-fitting, hooded body suits and daily baths, but English sweeps clung to their methodologies.

Adventure Ideas
Recently a number of child sweeps died in the chimneys of houses in the same community as a crusader against child labor. Boys looking remarkably similar to the dead sweeps have recently enrolled in a boys school.

Thaumaturgists, sigil scribes and petty mages often use fire as a key component to their spellcasting preparation. The sweeps hired to clean a magician’s chimney would contract more otherworldly ailments from soot sprinkled with magical particulates.

The nasty brine mixture rubbed into the apprentice’s skin could have a more supernatural quality. Civilizations all across the world use salt circles and salt water to keep fairies, evil spirits, ghosts, and other horrors at bay.  Is there something in the chimneys of London that would harm sweeps if not for the presence of salt water in the skin?

Enough of that. Next week, we move back into the fantastical side as we look at odd folklore and superstitions connected with sweeps.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Bristles and Brushes- The Horrible Story of Apprentice Chimney Sweeps

Numerous unpleasant truths lie behind the fa├žade of Victorian gentility. Few are more disgusting than that of the child apprentices to the chimney sweeps, better known as “climbing boys”.  Children, as young as 4, served as laborers in dangerous and brutal conditions. Some never reached their teens.

Master sweeps procured most of their apprentices from working-class families. Parents paid the sweep to raise their child and teach them a trade. Under the Poor Law, sweeps also made arrangements with workhouse guardians to procure apprentices. Others recruited from orphanages, and a dastardly few even kidnapped children. Whoever they were and however they were gotten, the life of a climbing boy (and some climbing girls) stole away their childhood.

A chimney flue holds little space for a full-grown sweep to work, but a young child could still fit. By bracing and scooting with their feet, knees, and elbows the apprentices climbed the chimney to reach every soot-covered nook. Protected only by rough pants, a shirt, and a cap pulled down over their face, climbing boys squeezed to the top of the chimney loosening soot deposits and clogs with a broad tough brush and a scraper. If the chimney was particularly narrow, the boys worked “in the buff” to save space. At the suggestion of the master sweep, older apprentices “encouraged” scared or stuck climbing boys by squeezing up after them and sticking their feet with pins or lighting a small straw fire in the hearth. Once he reached the top of the chimney pot, the apprentice climbed back down and collected the fallen soot to sell later. After seven years of these deplorable conditions, climbing boys became journeyman sweeps, and could serve under any master sweep they wished, but after seven years they were also growing teenagers often unable to fit up a chimney making their apprenticeship nearly worthless. Some became master sweeps and continued the tradition of tragedy, others found new professions. More still turned to crime or drunk themselves to death.

The horrific plight of apprentice chimney sweeps did not go unchallenged. Some homes refused to hire sweeps with child apprentices, though many others believed a chimney cleared by climbing boys safer and more thoroughly cleaned than with the extendable tools used by more humane sweeps. In 1788, the British Government passed an act restricting a master sweep to no more than six apprentices all older than 7, but with no enforcement, no change followed. The Chimney Sweepers Act of 1834, ensured that an apprentice must desire to work for the master sweep, and increased the legal minimum age to 14, again with no effect.
Finally, the work of crusaders and activists bore fruit in 1864. The Chimney Sweepers Regulation Act imposed fines and imprisonment for master sweeps found breaking the law and gave the police authority to arrest suspects. Although the practice of child-endangering apprenticeship continued, the act gave teeth to public outcry and hastened its end.

Adventure Ideas
While stuck in the narrow confines of a flue, one poor suffocating climbing boy heard a whisper in his pitch-black confinement. He miraculously appeared safe and sound on the street outside after striking a bargain with the voice.

A gang of apprentice sweeps, recently freed by various twists of fate from their masters, formed a gang known to the police as “the Climbing Boys”. Using their head for heights and their knack for crawling through narrow spaces, they’ve formed an ill-disciplined but efficient team of burglars.

I know this subject matter is pretty awful, but I do think this kind of historic injustice can fuel some very powerful storytelling and could help pull players into a more ethically complicated setting. By pulling these hard historical facts out of the background, we can explore deeper material and ask hard questions in a safe place. Next week, we reveal further horrors of the sweep’s vocation, specifically their work’s terrible cost to their health.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Bristles and Brushes- The Work of the Chimney Sweep

Family life in every Victorian home centers around the flickering, crackling fireplace but, the warmth and cheery light of the hearth requires filthy and dangerous work to keep it lit. For the next few weeks, we’re going to examine the humble vocation of the Chimney Sweep and their possible uses at the gaming table

New safety regulations after the Great Fire of London reduced the lawful width of a chimney’s interior down to 14 inches. The change from wood to coal as fuel for the fire increased the speed of soot accumulation in the now narrowed chimney flues. Coal fires covered the flue in creosote, and the inevitable soot stuck to the creosote forming thick deposits which could perfectly plug up the chimney if left to accumulate long enough. A clogged flue prevents fresh air from passing over the flames causing a weak fire in the hearth and the stray soot floats into the room blackening any surface it touches. Worse, with no escape up the chimney, smoke and carbon monoxide fills the air around the fireplace. An upward flying spark could ignite the accumulation of creosote in a flue causing the entire chimney to catch fire!

To prevent these disasters, every home relies on chimney sweeps to clean their flue free of soot and clogs. The sweep comes early in the morning when the chimneys are cool and unused. He walks down the street calling “Swe-ep, Swe-ep”, carrying his soot-stained bristles, brushes, and long sections of hollow rods made of flexible cane reeds.  Using these rods he extends his bristles to the top of the highest chimneys. His clothes and skin are black with soot from the top of his cap to his shoes. The room around the hearth has been prepared for his messy profession by the removal of all knickknacks, carpets, and valuables. Sheets cover all furniture and mirrors. A roll of cheap fabric, such as drugget (a coarse woolen fabric) forms a walkway to protect the floor from sooty footprints.

Once his bristles burst out of the chimney pot on the roof, the flue is clear. Depending on the height, a sweep could charge anywhere from 6p for the chimney of a small cottage, or up to three shillings for a very tall complex chimney with multiple hearths. Many sweeps offer an 11 shilling subscription to service a home’s chimneys for a year.  Chimney Sweeps make further income by collecting and selling the soot and ash they scrape free of the flue. The thick tarry mixture can be used for fertilizer, wood preservatives, pest control, and a number of pharmacological applications.  A bushel of chimney scrapings sells for 10p up to a whole shilling. Should a chimney fire ignite, the emergency extinguishing by a sweep called to the home deserves a gift of 5 shillings in gratitude.

Adventure Ideas:
A number of chimney sweeps have disappeared, each while cleaning the flue of one particular house.  The increasingly desperate occupants offer an extremely generous sum to clear their chimney, but all the local sweeps steer clear for fear of also vanishing.

A sweep found a few scraps of partially burnt paper mixed in with the soot collected from the flue of an aristocratic townhouse. The words on the paper hint toward dark magic and murder.

A killer-for-hire, know to the terrified public as “Mr. Soot”, climbs down his victim’s chimneys, and leaves black stains around their broken necks.

Next week, we’ll continue our look at Chimney Sweeps with the tragic use of the children as sweeps and the horrific health risks of the job.
A killer-for-hire, know to the terrified public as “Mr. Soot”, climbs down his victim’s chimneys, and leaves black stains around their broken necks.

Next week, we’ll continue our look at Chimney Sweeps with the tragic use of the children as sweeps and the horrific health risks of the job.

Friday, September 7, 2018

City of Countless Names- Revised Edition Released!

At last, both City of Countless Names and North of the Golden Horn are done (for now)! The revision of City of Countless has added a little text, greatly improved the layout, corrected some errors, hyperlinked the contents, and sharped the illustrations. I'm very proud to have this terrific little gazetteer look as good as my last project. They really belong together now.
You can find the new revised City of Countless Names and the newly released North of the Golden Horn on the Blog's Resource Page here, or click the links below:
City of Countless Names PDF

North of the Golden Horn

These two PDfs are the first half of my guide to Constantinople for Victoriana. I plan to take a bit of a break from the city of the sultans and get back to London for a bit. It's been fun and I'm charged for more, but I'm lacking certain perspectives on the city.  Until then, we'll be looking at some more obviously Victorian content.

Friday, August 31, 2018

City of Countless Names- Revision

After seeing how well the layout of North of the Golden Horn came out, I decided to take a couple of weeks and update the PDF of City of Countless Names to bring it up to that same level of quality and style. I’m swapping some illustrations for better replacements, adding a little bit more information here and there, and hyperlinking the chapters.
I need to add two more illustrations before I proofread the entire document to make sure I did not accidentally delete something while adjusting the layout. Next week I’ll rerelease City of Countless Names, and the following week  we'll continue with new weekly content for the Victoriana RPG.