Saturday, December 16, 2017

Ghost Stories for Christmas- The Ghostly Steward of Eastbury Park

It’s Christmas time and once again the legends and folklore of the British Isles provide lumps of coal aplenty for all your players. We are again (we’ve done it twice so it’s a tradition now) looking at British ghost stories and picking out bits to adapt for Victoriana adventures. As before, all our tales come from the fabulous “Gazetteer of British, Scottish, & Irish Ghosts” by Peter Underwood, a terrific guide full of horrific hauntings.  So bring a torch Jennette Isabella, we’re telling Ghost Stories for Christmas!

North of the town of Blandford in Dorset, a spectral suicide haunts the remains of the Eastbury Park country estate. The estate once held a huge mansion in the Baroque style, commissioned by politician George Dodington. Dodington died in 1720, two years after construction began, but his heir, George Bubb Dodington, continued the construction of his late uncle’s grandiose mansion until it’s completion in 1738. Both Dodingtons spared no expense. The construction cost over £140,000 not including its costly furnishings or the extensive grounds keeping.

After George Bubb Dodington’s death in 1762, his cousin, Richard Grenville-Temple (the Earl Temple of Stowe) inherited Eastbury Park. Already wealthy and not needing another expensive country house, especially one so gaudily out of style, Grenville-Temple had the majority of the mansion blown up 44 years after its construction, leaving only the kitchen wing standing. He had the remains refurbished as a stately house and hired a steward named William Doggett to care for the estate and oversee it’s tenant-farmers until he could sell his burdensome inheritance.

Doggett proved either a hateful steward or a foolish one. In some stories, Doggett stole thousands of pounds from his employer, sold the mansion’s furnishings, and abused the tenants under his authority. According to another source, he loaned his brother a massive amount of his master’s money. When his brother couldn’t pay him back, Doggett sold the estates furniture to hide the financial loss. In either case, Doggett shot himself in the head before he could be caught.

After his suicide, a strange ritualistic apparition appeared on the property. On certain nights of the year, a phantom coach, driven by a headless coachman and pulled by headless horses, picks up a lone passenger and takes him to the house. The passenger exits the coach, goes to the room where Doggett killed himself, and soon after a gunshot sounds.  Those who saw Doggett in life claim the passenger wears the same yellow ribbons tying his knee-breeches Doggett used to wear.

In 1855, Eastbury Park belongs to James John Farquharson that famous sportsman and Master of Hounds (the leader and organizer of a foxhunt). Even at his ripe old age of 71, Farquharson regularly performs his duties. He uses the property’s grounds as a kennel for his massive pack of over 150 hounds and houses his 50 horses in the stableyard. In the constant animalistic cacophony, it’s surprising anyone hears a ghostly gunshot!

Adventure Ideas
Perhaps some of the items’ Doggett sold to cover his losses were more valuable than he realized. Did several magical artifacts bind his specter to the house until their recovery?

William Doggett’s body was buried in St. Mary’s church yard. In 1845, workmen exhumed his body during the church’s demolition. His body looked fresh, his cheeks had a healthy rosy glow, and his characteristic yellow ribbons looked brand new. Before his reburial, a stake was driven through his heart. Whether Doggett is a ghostly vampire or a vampiric ghost, if that stake gets removed Farquharson may end up with a new servant who knows the house well, and wears old-fashioned ribbons.

Pioneer of the English Gardening style, Charles Bridgeman, planned the extensive and extravagant gardens of Eastbury Park. As is common in this school of landscaping, Eastbury had a replica Grecian temple as a decoration on its grounds. While this temple served purely aesthetic purposes, any estate landscaped in the English Gardening style could have a temple just sitting there ready for more magical usage. A petty conjuror could gain power by dedicating an unused temple as a site of worship to a particular pantheon. Perhaps the temple isn’t a replica. No Archon would want its temple used as a simple decoration, and could subtly manifest its outrage.

George Bubb Dodington had a reputation for intrigue among his friends, and may have been a spy against the Jacobites for the crown. So many parts of Eastbury park’s history suggest a cover-up. Did the lavishness of the mansion’s design hide secret constructions below ground? A few pounds for carpentry and excavations get easily lost in such a massive undertaking.  Was Doggett murdered to keep a Star Chamber site safe? Was the house’s demolition a cover story for its destruction from a more violent source, like a demon or giant mechanical monster? 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Ghost Stories for Christmas- The Black Hand of Inver

It’s Christmas time and once again the legends and folklore of the British Isles provide lumps of coal aplenty for all your players. We are again (we’ve done it twice so it’s a tradition now) looking at British ghost stories and picking out bits to adapt for Victoriana adventures. As before, all our tales come from the fabulous “Gazetteer of British, Scottish, & Irish Ghosts” by Peter Underwood, a terrific guide full of horrific hauntings.  So bring a torch Jennette Isabella, we’re telling Ghost Stories for Christmas!

In Aberdeenshire, Scotland two miles west south-west of Balmoral, the waters of Fearder Burn flow into the River Dee. A small patch of land called “the Inver” sits before these waters meet, with the burn to the north and the river in the south. Inver holds little of interest, only an inn for travelers, a post office, some granite quarries in the west, and a centuries-old meal mill grinding the grain of the surrounding farms. Despite the tranquil simplicity of Inver, mill workers live in fear of “The Black Hand”. For centuries, locals whisper of a ghostly hairy hand cut off at the wrist floating inside the mill. Some claim the hand belonged to a captured solder whose hands were cut off with his own sword before he was thrown into the River Dee and drowned.

In 1767, a mill worker named John Davidson put the Black Hand to rest. One winter night, John glanced up from his work in the mill and spotted the spectral hand. Instead of running, Davidson stood his ground and grappled with the Black Hand. Although he never told anyone what happened next, the next morning John Davidson dug a deep hole near the mill, uncovering a basket-hilt broadsword. Davidson hung the sword over the meal mill’s fireplace and no one saw the Black Hand again.

Adventure Ideas
Obviously, you should just cut and paste this whole ghostly visitation into whatever adventure you’re in right now. If the players need an ancient artifact, there are few better delivery systems than being attacked by a monstrous disembodied hand.

My favorite part of the story is the big blank between Davidson wrestling the hand and him digging up the sword the next morning.  Some versions suggest the Black Hand “told” Davidson where to find the sword that cut it from its body. Just imagine the role-playing opportunities of interrogating a severed hand through gestures and yes or no questions!

If the sword Davidson dug up is the same that cleaved the Black Hand from its body, the hand may lurk semi-corporally until it beats someone wielding that sword in a duel. Anyone armed with the sword faces a fierce five-fingered opponent. Attacks targeting the Black Hand suffer 6 Black Dice. The Black Hand has 5 health points (one for each finger, if it loses all its fingers, it vanishes for now).

Alternatively, some stories describe the Black Hand as gigantic. A hairy, floating, severed hand the size of a child would make for a very creepy fight. If the ghostly hand belonged to a giant, its sword must be enormous and incredibly valuable.

If the hand did belong to a giant, this tale might be connected with the story of Druon Antigoon, the Flemish giant. He extorted tolls from travelers over the river Sheldt. If they couldn’t pay, he cut off one of their hands as punishment. His terror continued until a Roman soldier named Brabo killed him, cut off the giant’s hand, and tossed it into the river.

With Balmoral Castle just two miles away it seems a waste to leave it out of the story.  Prince Albert arranged to buy the Balmoral estate in 1848 as a peaceful country home, but the royal family quickly decided the current house was too small for their needs. By 1855, their new house, Balmoral Castle, nears the completions of its construction. If the Black Hand’s sword (or whatever the player’s need to dig up) is buried on the house’s excavations, they’ll have to act fast or it may be gone forever.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The City of Countless Names- It’s Done!

At last, The City of Countless Names is ready for release. Here is the basic book you need to run a Victoriana Campaign in Constantinople in 1855. There are two more books to come, one detailing each section of the city in more detail and the other a book of monsters and adventure ideas, but The City of Countless Names is enough to get started. It’s a broad overview of Constantinople, packed with history, setting details, and new character options.
The illustration and layout was a lot harder to assemble than I anticipated, but I think the book really emulates the 1800s travelogues I read for research. I’m pretty proud of it. As always I welcome criticism and play test feedback.
As with all my PDFs, The City of Countless Names is free to download on the Blog’s Resources page or you can click here.

Next week, we begin our tradition of Ghost Stories for Christmas. Every Friday in December, I look at a different haunting from the British Isles and stuff your stockings with adventure ideas. I hope you’ll join in the festivities next Friday.

Friday, November 17, 2017

City of Countless Names- Portraits 2

Last week I gave my manuscript for City of Countless Names to my proofreaders to look over. Once these corrections are done, I’ll put the document up on the blog’s Resources page for everyone to enjoy. City of Countless Names serves as an introductory guide for players and a basic overview for Gamemasters wanting to adventure in 1855’s Constantinople. I’ve included character concepts, plot hooks, a new magic system, a new Trait, a new Asset, and a small slew of new Privileges.

As I am still waiting for my proofreader’s feedback, you will have to be content with more portraits representing the city’s inhabitants as seen through the lens of Victoriana’s alternate history fantasy. I cannot tell you how delighted I am by the Turkish catfolk lady. That was a last minute change. I realized I had too many humans and not enough beastmen. It struck me how easy that portrait would be to assemble.  I think it turned out pretty great.

I will not be posting next Friday because I will be in a food coma after celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. So my fellow Americans, enjoy Thanksgiving, and my fellow international readers enjoy not having Thanksgiving.