A New Campaign - New York by Gaslight

Broadway, 1890s
Having gotten together a small group for a Fantasy Grounds Call of Cthulhu game we settled on a Gaslight-era game set in London of the 1890s. Being a history buff I did all sorts of research, read my Sherlock Holmes and H.G. Wells.

The research proved useful and the first adventure, though hindered by busy schedules and Murphy's Law, went pretty well over three sessions. In the last session our heroes survived, albiet a bit less sane, and had angered an apparently pretty powerful cult. With that in mind they decided the best course of action was to cross the Atlantic Ocean and set up shop in New York City.

Alrighty then. So glad I did my homework. Actually, in all honesty, I was thrilled. To let you in on a not-so-dirty little secret, I love it when what I planned goes up in smoke - at least if it does so as a result of players going off the beaten path (vs. an adventure just going lousy). To the way I figure it, I'm not a writer of fiction. I'm constructing and/or running a scenario for my players with a goal of us all having a good time. Why should the players be the only ones who have to think on their feet and adapt to changing circumstances?

So, off it was to New York. Ironically, though we had lots of delays in our first adventure I had two weeks to get ready for the move from London to New York City. That said, it is not as if I was going into the scenario blindly. I was born in New York City and though I did not live there long, growing up I had family there and often spent school vacations and summers in Brooklyn. I absolutely adored my grandfather who imparted his love of New York City to me. Born in 1907, he was able to give me glimpses of a city that no longer existed. He showed me the remains of trolley tracks in Brooklyn. Seeing what a rail-fan I was, he told me about the earlier subway system, the elevated lines in Manhattan, etc. He took me to the museums, told me of the construction of the skyscrapers. He took me to the World Trade Center and Empire State Building but I'm pretty certain his favorite building was the Chrysler Building. My brother and I both found the only time we didn't regret his passing in 1999 was after the September 11 terrorist attacks - I think it would have broken his heart to see the whole in the skyline.

With that background I've been doing some homework on the New York of some two decades before his birth. It's a New York that, at the time, did not include the East New York neighborhood where he grew up. It does include the Brooklyn Bridge, though that name had not yet become official - a bridge which as a little kid I referred to as "the cage bridge" - it was, and remains, my favorite path into Manhattan. And the most beautiful bridge I can imagine, with apologies to those of you in London or San Francisco.

I'll be posting details on some of my research and inspirational readings. But one thing that has become clear to me is that this is definitely an underused setting in role-playing games. You've got a corrupt political machine with Tammany Hall. You have members of the police force who supplement their income by payoffs. There are well-intentioned reformers who seem to have the habit of taking things to extremes - Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt's crusade to enforce the prohibition of alcohol on Sundays being a fine example of this. There are people of all races and nationalities in New York City. The wealthiest and the poorest are within walking distance of one another. There is constant construction going on, good excuses for people to build hidden lairs or hide bodies.

I'm hoping the game goes on for some time. We had our first New York by Gaslight session last night. It went reasonably well, though was plagued by many real world distractions - we're recovering from a blizzard here in New England and my kids who normally leave Daddy alone during his "playgroups" were a bit on the wild side with cabin fever. Even with that, we were able to make some good progress of our fist investigation in Gilded Age New York, the murder of a rabbi on the Lower East Side.

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