Where Duty Lies Part 2: The “Prior Engagement” Shortcoming in Victorious

As noted in the previous article (Part I), there are a plethora of situations that can get in the way of heroines battling villainy. The first part dealt with events that can happen to characters regardless of their social or economic stations in life. This article will look at several events that can impact specific strata of society; namely the wealthy and the poor.

For those among the Wealthy:

“Being Seen”: Regardless of whether a hero is a wealthy plutocrat or titled aristocrat, perhaps the most vital role played in the Victorian era was that of “being seen” by the right sort of people in the right sorts of places. This can range from being involved in government through the House of Lords, associating with MPs or American Congressmen, attending the new Italian Opera, and such like. In Britain this can even involve being invited for tea with the noted Lady of Importance to the city. This can be Mrs. Vanderbilt or Mrs. Astor in New York, Lady Grey or the Countess of Warwick in London, or similar folk in smaller cities. For those with Wealth Rank 2 or more, an invitation to have tea with the Queen herself is not out of the range of possibility; and you do NOT snub the Queen’s invitation, even if Martian Tripods are laying waste to Surrey or Brooklyn. It’s just not done!

Business: A hero with wealth – regardless of how they got it – will have to spend a certain amount of time attending to these tawdry but necessary details. Only in fiction can someone blithely live off a pile of cash and have nothing to do with maintaining it. This is as true of New York dilettantes as much as Barons or country squires. The exact nature of the business is set up between the player and the Genteel Magistrate, but this can be banking and stock investments for the merely rich. For the titled, this would be rents from tenants, maintaining their estate lands free of poaching, assigning mineral or lumber rights to companies who pay the character, and such like.

Country House Party: This was the primary pastime of the bored elite of most advanced countries of the Gilded Age/Victorian era. They usually weren’t held in the winters, but could start in the early Spring and go on until mid-Autumn. August was an especially popular time as people who could left the hot and humid capitals of London and Washington as soon as they could, for as long as they could. Remember this is an era before air conditioning! These parties were held on remote estates, and could last as long as two weeks at a stretch. As such, telegrams will be nigh-impossible to send, and will probably only be received slightly faster than the normal mail delivery. Hunting, riding, dining, and other pastimes were held at such parties, and frequently they were used as excuses for illicit affairs as people went from room to room; since it was unusual at this time for even married couples to sleep in the same room at night.

Evening with Peers: This is similar to the “Being Seen” event above, but doesn’t involve public display so much. The Gentleman’s (or rarely Ladies) club was the usual place for this sort of bonhomie, though private townhome parties were another source of associating. If the heroine has a hobby, this would be another type of semi-private gathering that she wouldn’t want to miss too many times in order to maintain her standing among her colleagues.

Trouble with the Servants: It was an unfortunate fact that for most well-to-do of this era (titled or simply wealthy alike), servants were treated as little more than furniture. However, they certainly didn’t see themselves that way. Servants talk, and frequently talk with other servants who are employed at other nearby houses. A kind master or mistress might obtain a certain amount of loyalty from his servants, but they still might inadvertently let something slip and create a scandal. As there was no way of vetting servants beyond the unreliable “letter of reference”, all too often servants would steal food and even valuables from their employers and thus have to be fired and others hired; taking time from the hero’s schedule. Scandalous situations aren’t limited to the upstairs folks as well, as often jealousies and enmities among servants can cause even more trouble for wealthy types to deal with. See the TV show Downton Abbey for ideas in this regard.

To those afflicted with Poverty:

Bad Habits: Often a stereotype of the poor in the Victorian/Gilded Age was that a poor person was poor partially because they had bad personal habits and a weakness of character. Depending on how authentic a GM wishes his chronicle to be, a character with the Poverty shortcoming can have any sort of addiction or trouble handling money. Maybe he can’t but wreck his lodgings, causing him to be evicted. Or she has a large family and takes in strays that have the same result. In an era where opium and other narcotics could be purchased openly at the chemist’s shop (pharmacy) a wide range of habits could impede the hero in the course of events.

Crime upon Proper Identity: Since poverty tends to force the character to live in poor neighborhoods, its likely they will suffer crimes against them in their proper identities. Perhaps someone broke into their flat or doss house room, picked their pockets, or even mugged them in an alley. If secret identities are at stake, the heroine could be unable to use her powers, thus allowing the criminals to escape; at least initially. They can be hunted down later in her heroic guise, but this takes time away from other obligations.

In Need: This can describe a wide range of needs, from a lack of food or sleep impairing the hero in his patrols to seeing a smoke cloud in the distance but lacking cab fair to get to the location quickly. The player and Genteel Magistrate should work together to insure a plausible use of this need in the chronicle.

Long Hours: Being poor is certainly no fun, and one will do one’s best to try to overcome the other events listed here. This is usually done with a job, but in this era most low-wage jobs worked long hours (10-12 hours straight) and paid such low wages that if one could pay for a bed and food they counted themselves lucky. Missing a day of work could result in immediate firing (no unemployment benefits at all) and in some places in Britain actual arrest by the police! It’s hard to leave your job by saying Doctor Golgotha’s Skullgears are about to lay waste to Parliament, especially with a secret identity. Weekends are limited to Sundays off, and that expected workers to be at church; with possible firings resulting from inappropriate behavior (according to the employer). Remember in this era employers could fire workers for any reason, or none at all. This made maintaining a good job critical to the poor or even lower middle class.

Looking for a New Home: As noted earlier, the poor lived on the edge of total destitution. They moved around a lot, as sometimes a bed could be afforded in a flop house, sometimes not. Police were vigilant about arresting vagabonds or those who tried to sleep in alleys or public parks. Like employers, landlords could accept or evict tenants at will and for little to no reason at all. Taking a landlord to court for a violation of contract took money all by itself, so the poverty stricken usually just gathered what few meager possessions they had and tried to find another place to live.

Relations: Like in the main list of Prior Engagement events, family relations or close friends might arrive on the character’s (figurative) doorstep and need assistance. It might not be money, perhaps simly a bit of food or help to get medicine for a child’s illness. This isn’t always a bad thing, as this support network was stronger and more reliable among the poor than among the other social strata. It will take time, but sooner or later the character will find themselves turning to these relations in the future for help themselves.

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