Saturday, 12 December 2015

TW 1890: Setup

Last weekend, we held the first session of my Torchwood 1890 game. Having discussed the broad concept and rule system last time, I think it's time to talk a little more about the setting itself.

The year, as indicated in the title, is 1890. According to the TV series, the Torchwood Institute was established on the 1st January 1880, a few months after the events of the Doctor Who episode Tooth and Claw. As of 1890, therefore, the organisation has been going for ten years, and is very much in its early days. It's around this time that Torchwood Two (in Glasgow) and Torchwood India (in what was then Bombay) are established, which gave me an excuse to say that most of the pre-existing members of the organisation had de-camped to these new locations. At the beginning of the campaign Torchwood London consists of just two agents and a handful of staff. Both agents were, of course, PCs, with the remainder being new recruits.

One of the first questions I had to answer therefore, is where exactly Torchwood's headquarters are. In the TV series, the London branch is based in One Canada Square... which, as of 1890, won't open for over a hundred years. Where were they before that? I'd say that one of London's many abandoned underground train stations is a likely bet, and fits well with the Hub from the TV series. But, in 1890, there are very few of those around, and, besides, it wasn't the mood I was looking for.

Since Torchwood was set up by the Queen, it seems likely to me that its earliest agents were members of the aristocracy, or at least the professional classes, such as doctors and so on. While the organisation is clearly discreet - it's "outside the government", after all - I don't see it's earliest employees being hidden in some dark underground base. That can wait until the 1940s! So what would Queen Victoria have done? Why, buy a house in a posh area of London and just be fairly quiet about it!

I placed the Torchwood base in St. James's Place, London SW1. This is a moderately sized residential cul-de-sac that runs off the larger thoroughfare of St. James's Street in the heart of London's clubland. That's "clubland" as in "place full of hideously expensive gentlemen's clubs", of course, not the more modern sense. The cul-de-sac backs onto St. James's Park, is essentially just around the corner from a royal palace, and boasts the London home of the Earls of Spencer (Princess Diana's family).

So, yeah... nice part of London.

I obviously took some liberties with the design of the building itself, which doesn't quite fit with any of those on the actual street. Nonetheless, it wouldn't look entirely out of place there, being, like many of the real buildings, a five story terraced house with basement. I drew floorplans of the building, equipping it with a laboratory, extensive basement (complete with morgue and holding cell), a large library, an impressive gun cupboard, and so on. The players have already started co-opting bits of it for their characters' use!

The crusty old aristos and military types who de-camped to Bombay took most of the domestic staff with them, but they left behind three NPCs who collectively provide the upstairs-downstairs feel you need for a game set in the 1890s, and do the stuff too boring for the PCs. In the first session, the players really only met Perkins the butler, but they also briefly talked to the maid, and there's a secretary around the place somewhere...

There are four player characters. Character generation went quite smoothly, partly due to our familiarity with the system (which was, after all, the point of picking it), but also, I suspect, due to the fact that it's a straightforward system in that respect, anyway. I doubt that this bit would have taken much longer with something like Savage Worlds, which is very similar when it comes to character generation, even if it's different in many other respects.

Part of the plan going in was that Torchwood is, at this point in its history, just beginning to open up its entry criteria, and taking a much more pragmatic attitude to picking the right people. Life expectancy in the organisation is supposed to be fairly short after all, so there comes a point where you can't be too choosy about replacements, so long as they'll get the job done. In short, this could well be the beginning of the more messed-up organisation we see in the TV show.

So, essentially the only requirement, beyond a useful skill set, was that the character be a British subject who at least appears to be loyal to the Empire. Beyond that, it was pretty much open.

Our four characters are:
  • A former detective who is a minor scion of a noble family
  • A no-nonsense female doctor from the East End
  • A former criminal with friends in low places, and a hole in his memory
  • An eccentric steampunk inventor

The session started with a mystery in the Thames, during the doctor's first day on the job. The former criminal was also introduced to Torchwood during the session, with the other two being the existing members. The intent of this was to mirror the way introductory episodes of this sort of show often work - Everything Changes from Torchwood being the obvious example, although the first episode of Marvel: Agents of SHIELD would be as good a one. It also meant that I could organically introduce the organisation, and, in particular, the above-mentioned base and staff; for at least a couple of the characters, this is as new to them as it is to the players.

By the end of the session, the PCs had a mystery corpse in their morgue, and hopefully at least a few clues that might enable them to work out who he was, and, more importantly, what killed him...

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