Where Duty Lies Part 1: The “Prior Engagement” Shortcoming in Victorious

The shortcoming called Prior Engagement is given a brief description in the Victorious rulebook, to wit:

“Prior Engagement: Not everyone can dedicate all or even most of his or her time to fighting crime. In fact, some find it difficult to escape their more mundane commitments in order to battle villainy and save innocents. A Hero with this shortcoming must roll a d20 at any critical section of the game (Genteel Magistrate’s choice) and if the Hero does not roll a successful CHA check (no levels added) then they are detained and cannot participate in that part of the adventure. If the important event is a fight, the GM should roll 3d4 and the total of that roll is how many rounds of combat will pass before the Hero can arrive to assist their fellows. A roll of “1” means that the Hero cannot arrive during that scene at all and must wait until the circumstances are resolved. As social and/or work obligations can effect people of any strata of society, Heroes with the Wealthy skill can have this shortcoming as well as those with the Poverty shortcoming. At the Genteel Magistrate’s discretion, this may be taken up to Rank 3, with one roll per session per rank taken.”

Yet what is a neophyte Genteel Magistrate to do when his player rolls her character’s Prior Engagement and fails the roll; then she asks “why?” Just what is her character doing that prevents her from engaging in battle against villainy most dire? The original intent of Prior Engagement was to leave it as a sparse description so that both player and GM could work together to determine why the scarlet specter can’t arrive on time to her rendezvous with crime. Yet a mental blank can hit the best of us, usually at the worst possible times. Background for a character can help, but even those with the Wealthy skill or the Poverty shortcoming can lead to repetitive declarations of “Uh, she’s at a ball.” Or “Uh, she’s at work in the sewing factory.”  The following assumes a ”Gilt” setting, with Grim and Grand chronicles requiring a bit of tweaking to make these engagements more dark and gritty or high adventure; as the GM wishes.

The below is provided as a list of possible events that could occur to impede a hero or heroine’s call to duty to defend truth, justice, and all that. Most of these are problems if the character has either the Secret Identity or Fame shortcomings, though even those with neither would find most of the following of real impediment. The first list is a collection of things that could happen to most anyone regardless of social or financial class. In Part 2 of this article, I will provide lists for both Wealthy and Poverty-stricken to give events unique to their situations. Finally there will be a list given for SuperMankind in their costumed identities. After all, Wolvesbane can’t transform to help the police of Boston if the hero of fang and claw has been sent by the President on a secret mission to Spanish-occupied Cuba now can he?

Prior Engagements for One and All:

Charities: As with churches, persons of the middle and upper classes (Wealthy skill) were expected to occasionally donate to charities. Depending on the charity, individuals might even donate time as well as money for events and fundraising. This is another good engagement for the middle and upper classes alike. Those with the Poverty shortcoming could also be engaged in charities, though often as a token member of the “Worthy Poor” that said charity was helping, and so shown off during events and fundraising.

Church: Most people were churchgoers in this era, especially in the middle and upper classes. This didn’t mean they were terribly religious (though it could), but that church was treated as a place to see and be seen. The service’s aid to the soul was purely a happy byproduct. This can occur even on weekdays, as most churches (as many today) have events going on throughout the week and weekend that the character might “have” to be seen at.

Club Night: Most men (and a rare few middle and upper class women) of the era were members of ‘Gentleman’s Clubs’, social gathering of like-minded fellows in a building or penthouse to drink, fraternize, and generally chat about the news of the day. This is NOT the Gentleman’s Clubs of today; unless your chronicle allows such! A rare few women had clubs, but only for the wealthier types and only in truly major cities. The lower classes usually went to local public houses (‘Pubs’) to perform the same functions. Like the garden party, excessive absences will create resentment and hostility to the character.

Employment: House Calls: Men of the middle and lower classes (and women of the lower classes too) are expected to have employment and that could take anywhere from 5 to 7 days a week; depending on if the Poverty shortcoming is part of the character’s background. Women of the middle classes didn’t work outside the home, though they frequently made calls to visit each other during the day. In fact, the visit was optional if the person wasn’t receiving visitors; simply leaving their card could be “visit” enough. It did take time though, and since calls could go on from 10am to as late as 7pm it’s an excellent Prior Engagement event.

Garden Parties: The women of the Victorian middle and upper classes frequently broke their tedium of calling on each other and church/charities by holding garden parties. These would be events where the person in question invited friends not acquaintances, so if the character didn’t attend more than once then the person holding said party would feel snubbed. This would result in the character losing friends and status in the community, and undue attention brought to their strange behavior. Barring the Fame or Notorious shortcomings, most persons of the era would do much to avid undue speculation on their lifestyles.

Nosy Neighbor: Unlike today, people in this era were very social to their neighbors. At least, they are far more involved in their neighbor’s business than today. Events such as avoiding Mrs. Pauperbottom’s incessant offer to help wit the flowers in the garden can make a prime Prior Engagement.

Traffic Accident/Caught in Traffic: Traffic jams and accidents are not solely the problem of the motorcar and the current age. Despite lower speeds of horse drawn carriages, the packed streets and lack of safety features of any kind resulted in truly horrible accidents and logjams of cabs that could inhibit travel in major cities for hours on end. Furthermore, most carriages had little privacy except in Town Carriages or Landaus, so changing into the SuperMankind’s heroic guise would be extremely difficult to do without being seen by others caught in the flow of traffic.

Under the Weather: Just because SuperMankind are immune to normal sickness doesn’t mean that they can simply ignore illness. Someone never getting sick will stand out in a neighborhood (regardless of class), especially with the previous Nosy Neighbors event. To protect a secret identity or even just to put others at ease, a character might have to at least give the impression of illness; which leads to lost time for other engagements.

Visiting relations: This inevitable social event happens all the time, but rather more frequently in the 19th century than today. For those with the Poverty shortcoming, this is probably a situation where said relative is worse off than the character, and is staying just long enough to ‘get back on their feet.’ For middle and upper classes (Wealthy) this is probably a relation who’s traveling and has decided to drop in on the character for a few days. This can be a virtually never-ending source of friction, but having a harmonious family (or at least appearing to) is a critical social paradigm that can’t be ignored without social censure.

Weather: Speaking of under the weather, just because one can fly or run at lightning speeds doesn’t mean that a serious rainstorm can’t wreck your plans. It’s not helpful to be able to run a hundred miles an hour if you can’t see ten feet in front of you because of the rain/fog/snow/etc. The same applies to flight, and don’t forget in most cities of the time all these effects will be made worse by the introduction of coal soot in the mix.

Part 2 will go into some specific Prior Engagements that are unique to those with the Wealthy skill, the Poverty shortcoming, and those ill fortunes that can fall upon the SuperMankind in their costumed personas.

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