Friday, April 19, 2019

Paper Trail- Now Available

I’m very pleased to announce that Paper Trail is now available to download for free on Skullduggery in the Smoke’s resources page. The PDF contains forty-eight visiting and business cards ready to be printed out for Victorian role-playing games. You can download it here or on the resources page.



I knowingly veered away from historical accuracy in a few cases to make these cards a bit more user-friendly. For example, while some visitor cards displayed the owner home address, it was not as common as the cards in Paper trail suggest. I also gave only a street name and number to avoid setting the cards in a specific city or town. Most obviously, Paper Trail is a black and white PDF to be a bit more printer friendly. Some of the colors used in actual Victorian Visiting Cards have to be seen to believe. 

I hope you enjoy Paper Trail and use these cards at your own gaming table. Few gamemaster tricks help immersion as quickly and simply like handing a paper prop to a player. If you do use these cards in your own games, I would love to hear about it.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Paper Trail- Following the Cards

Visiting and business cards may seem like a mundane setting detail to some, but they can tell extraordinary stories at the gaming table. They’re the perfect Victorian clue machine, leading investigators and scoundrels forward to the truth. Finding a mysterious card in a poor corpse’s pocket is just the beginning. Both business and visiting cards form tangible connections between people. Every respectable home keeps a collection of visiting cards in their entryway. While peeping at this pile is an absolute taboo, it would be an easy way to check if any of the other suspected cultists have dropped by. In the same vein, finding a business card for an industrial chemist in the back room of the anarchist pub connects a few dots.


The etiquette of visiting cards could guide a story’s pacing. A servant drops off the visiting card of a person of interest. Her At Home day for visits is tomorrow. It might be a trap, but we can look into other leads until then. Or the right man might drop off a visiting card in person at the right moment to be asked to translate some hieroglyphics. Alternatively, a providentially dropped visiting card might pull the party away from an accidental red herring and back into more productive investigations.


A player character with visiting cards at their disposal has a host of new ways to approach a problem. While it won’t open every door, following the etiquette of introductions impresses most respectable people or spooks the right guilty persons into the open. Leaving a card with the right people at the right time could also bring much-needed backup in time-sensitive situations. A pack of cards with a variety of names could also help add a layer of verisimilitude to an improvised lie.


Adventure Ideas
Customer’s regularly found new uses for business cards. A card with all the ingredients needed to hatch a basilisk listed on the back distinctly spells trouble.

The social codes surrounding the proper use of visiting cards provide the perfect cover for clandestine communication. Every few weeks, a clerk in the foreign office receives six visiting cards from different names but all with the same folded corner.

Of course, once a social visit begins, adventures should be on their best behavior, despite the temptation to search the house for the missing balloon plans.

After a bout of slight inebriation, a friend remembers dropping off a visiting card with some ill-advised words written on the back. Fortunately, the lady of the residence is in the country for the weekend. Will someone please help him get his card back before the lady returns home?


We're past all the prologue! Paper Trail is ready for its release next Friday.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Paper Trail- Business Cards

The more mundane and crass cousin to the visiting card is the business card (also known as a trade card). The purpose of a business card is to advertise, so a business card should never be left as a visiting card. Only the most uncouth tradesman would consider them a suitable replacement. Any mention of a profession on a visiting card was very impolite. The only exceptions to this rule were professions with a title such as doctors, lawyers, clergy, and military men. Their very name advertises their vocations. Most business cards list the owner’s occupation, business address, specialties, and services. If the card gives a business address rather than a home it’s a business card.


Unlike books or posters, cards were printed on the small hand presses ubiquitous to every printer’s shop. They were cheap and quick to produce making business cards available to even entrepreneurs of the lower class. By the 1860s, every printer’s shop had a typeface book full or sample text in a variety of styles. Business owners often chose an eye-catching typeface or a variety of eye-catching typefaces with little regard to taste. With the spread of lithographic techniques, cards could advertise twice as loudly in bright colors. Even after paid advertisements blossomed with explosive growth of magazines and newspapers in the 1850s, business cards remained an essential tool for businessmen of all trades and classes. Anyone could have a stack of cards in their pocket, ready to be presented to future clientele, left at every door in the neighborhood, or tacked to the wall of public gathering places.


While ubiquitous in the Victorian world, middle and lower-class households reused and re-reused every spare scrap of paper they had on hand. A fine visiting card might be spared and kept on casual display, but after being handed to a potential customer business cards saw a lot of use. Price quotes, directions, and shopping lists commonly cover their blank white backsides.


Next week, I’m pulling out story hooks, adventure ideas, and mysterious clues revolving around visiting cards and business cards. The following week, Paper Trail will be available to download for free on this blogs resources page. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Paper Trail- Social Codes

Visiting cards say so much more than just their owner’s name. The second most obvious information on a card was marital status and age. Middle age or married men always included the prefix “Mr.” before their name. Younger unmarried men usually did not. Widows and wives always placed “Mrs.” before their name, while most young unmarried ladies used “Miss”. Married couples could share a visiting card, but always under the husband’s name. Grown but unmarried daughters living at home were often listed on their mother’s card and accompanied them on visits.


The French developed a code of two-letter abbreviations scribbled on their cards too quickly indicate their intentions for the visit.  The English enthusiastically adopted these codes and kept the French terminology.  The most commonly used abbreviations were:

P.P.  (pour presenter)- I would like to make your acquaintance
P.F. (pour féliciter)- I wish to offer my congratulations
P.R. (pour remercier)- Thank you
P.C. (pour condoléance)- Sorry for your loss
P.P.C. (pour prendre congé)- I'm leaving. Goodbye

Folding a card in a specific manner before its delivery also sent extra messages. Folding it in half showed the visiting card was for the household’s entire family. A folded upper right corner indicated the card had been delivered in person by its owner and not by a servant. Folding down the upper left corner meant it was a congratulatory visit, while folding the lower left corner meant condolences. Finally, a fold on the lower right corner showed you wanted to visit before you left for a long time.

Even the style, typography, and fabrication of the card could give a favorable or unfavorable impression of its bearer. The most prestigious cards were engraved, then those professionally handwritten, and last those simply but elegantly printed. While expensive, the lithographic process gave visiting cards more intricate designs and colors, although too much decoration was considered garish in certain social circles or worse, common advertising.


Next week we’ll look at the etiquette and art of business cards, how they work in the rules of society, and a few more examples from Paper Trail.