Friday, 27 January 2012

Bookhounds: the Grand Opening

I recently decided to start an online game with some friends of mine. I thought it would be useful to describe the creative process, and also to post the initial campaign description.

The best way to begin, I find, is to get the players involved straight away. In Bookhounds, this means that in addition to their own characters they're going to be helping to create the shop, and to a certain extent some elements of the game world. We got together for a quick Skype and threshed out the specifics; including character generation, the whole process took about two hours, though it may have helped that we all knew each other well and had a fair grasp of the rules at the outset.

Before we began, I sent out a brief outline describing what had gone before. I made some assumptions, among them:
  • that this was a new business, opened after the first one closed down.
  • that the shop would have some descriptors given it by me, and some given by the players;
  • that the stock would include some items decided by me, and the rest by the players.
  • that the regular customers would include some NPCs designed by me and the rest by the players.
Anything given by me was over and above anything the players might want for themselves. My job wasn't to spend their points allocation, but to encourage them to start thinking about the kind of things they might like. Things unique to their story - such as where in London the shop was located, or whether their previous business had been a success or a failure - were entirely up to them. Letting them design some of the NPCs and stock gives me a better idea of the kind of adventures they'd like to go on, which is all to the good when planning out future shenanigans!

I went for a Grand Opening because it allowed the game to start fresh. It's a completely new business, and they're just settling in. That's a perfect set-up for the beginning of a campaign.

From there we batted around ideas, and the final concept looks like this:

Grand Opening

Players: Adrian (James Fidler, former forger gone straight for the good of his health), Pete (Elliot Parker, unscrupulous book scout with a talent for lockpicking), Wayne (Percival Bryers, intrepid bookseller who thinks giving in to horror is mere cowardice).

Premise: In three days time the Hounds will open their new antiquarian book store. This replaces their previous venture, which met an unfortunate mishap. They are now the proprietors of Whyte’s Books (formerly owned by Ebeneezer Whyte, current whereabouts unknown), which they bought at a knockdown rate from the bank as part of repossession proceedings. They salvaged as much stock as they could from the rubble of their previous enterprise and moved in, but what with the fire and other related issues they weren’t able to take much away with them. Much of their present stock was already in Whyte’s, and they’re sorting through it.

Location: Spitalfields, in the East End, not far from the meat market. In the very early morning, troops of pale-fleshed butchers walk to work, the tools of their trade jangling at their belts. Later in the evening they return home again, splattered with scarlet. A nearby pub, the Bull’s Heart, offers crack-of-dawn pints to this passing trade, and often the butchers fry up their breakfasts in the pub’s fireplace.

Credit Rating: 2, using the average of all Character Credit Rating scores.

Bookshop Stock:  6, using a projected base of 3 players.

Base Stock: This includes Bibliography 1 (The Art of Books, a compendium of famous printers and book binders going back to the early 1830s) The Knowledge 1 (London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, 1851 3-volume edition, that excludes the fourth book on prostitutes, thieves and beggars).  Occult 2 (The Golden Bough, by Sir James Frazer, both the 2-volume 1890 edition and the more recent 12 volume edition, and Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie also known as Transcendental Magic, by Eliphas Levi, 1855 edition with supplementary notes in an unknown hand), Archaeology 1, (a collection of books and papers written by Sir Flinders Petrie), Oral History 1 (Legends of London by Robert Friend, reporter for the Daily Telegraph, 1928 edition) with 2 in reserve.


  • Mice! For whatever reason, the place is alive with the little beggars. In any one scene, mice may appear when least expected or wanted – eg. when an important client is in conference with the players.
  • Freezing cold office. The back office is remarkably cold, even in summer, for reasons which aren’t entirely clear, making it difficult to stay in there for longer than an hour at a time.
  • The floorboards are plain, unsanded wood. They must have been slightly green when they were put in, and now they’ve suffered through a winter or two they’ve begun to hump and heave. The building is quite old for it to have a new floor; perhaps the dry rot got it. There’s certainly a faint smell of dry rot in the stacks of books.
  • The door between the main shop and its back rooms is far grander than anything else in the building. It must have been salvaged from somewhere else and installed there, possibly at the same time the floor was replaced. It’s a magnificent six panel door with carved head and architrave, in the style of a winding leafy vine. At the head is a face of a woodland spirit, possibly a faun or dryad. Tentatively dated as Georgian, but may be older.
  • Whyte’s is a garret shop, with a pawnbroker beneath. Sometimes the two shops do business, and in the very lean days perhaps Whyte’s will pawn a few items. So far it hasn’t come to that.
  • The windows are very high level, with iron frames. In winter the cold air fair whistles through the cracks in the casement.
  • Whyte’s front entrance, at street level, opens onto a hall and a creaking main staircase. This stair is original to the building and buckled with age.
  • There are three open coal fireplaces, which Whyte’s does not use. They have become simply another place to store books. The original gas fittings are still in place, mostly, but aren’t connected to anything. Instead a row of leaky modern radiators provides heat, and Whyte’s is fitted with electric light.
  • Percival Bryers has brought along his cat, Isolda, a black Siamese. The adventuresome creature can often be heard pattering around in the stacks, hunting mice.

Regular customers: This includes:

  • Book Scout: Mr Charles Pettimore, balding fortyish thick-set man, with a thin wispy beard. He always dresses well, or as well as he can afford, but is often in debt and hocks his suits to cover his expenses. The result often is a mishmash of off-set suits, as a coat or pair of pants is being held by the pawnbrokers.  He has a client list which he keeps to himself, but includes some fairly disreputable characters, some of whom occasionally come looking for him to ‘settle his debts.’
  • Professor: Miss Georgina Fife, Senior Fellow of Shrewsbury College, Oxford. Her speciality is Elizabethan dramatists. She’s tall for a woman (slightly under six feet) and this makes her self-conscious, causing her to stoop. As part of her academia she’s become a self-taught expert on stage combat, and is a middling to fair fencer. She always seems to have money, and yet rarely dresses or eats well; she may prefer books to creature comforts.

·         Dramatist: Mr Quincey Riddle, tall cadaverous man with blue chin and glasses balanced perilously on his great beak of a nose. He writes frothy comedies for the stage, and is also ASM for the Little Stanmore Repertory Company. So far none of his comedies have really taken off, though he has had two of them performed. He’s constantly on the look-out for interesting material he can use in his plays, and for anything to do with the history of the theatre.

·         Artist: Miss Alice Klein, a youngish woman, probably in her early thirties, with dark hair and thin features. She has a studio near the shop and is always on the lookout for romantic art books or plates to use as inspiration for her work. Rumour has it she’s connected to money; at any rate she never seems to need credit, unlike some of the other customers.

·         Old Gent: Kurt Sctumpfer, a pleasant and garrulous old fellow who used to come to Whyte’s when Ebeneezer ran the place. He’s almost a fixture. Nobody can say how old he is, but he claims to have seen Wellington’s funeral procession, and has a memory like a steel trap for anything that happened before Victoria died. He isn’t really a purchaser but he does like his cup of tea and a good natter, and there are days when he spends hours yarning on with whoever cares to listen.

·         Policeman: Eric Binns, the Sergeant of the local nick. He’s tall, broad-shouldered and has a military bearing. When the characters ran their old shop, he used to poke his nose in every so often to make sure Elliot and James were behaving themselves. Now he’s become a regular, who enjoys a good cheap sensational bodice ripper when he can get it. There have been weeks when his have been the only cash sales, which is usually just enough to keep the tea urn filled.


  1. Just dropping a line to say I really enjoyed this Bookhounds campaign kick-off, and to say hi. There's not a lot of Cthulhu blogging to be found out there, so each one is a prized discovery. I recently read The Brick Kiln and I'm sure I'll get around to my own review of Not So Quiet at some point. Looking forward to hearing how the campaign goes, if any reports are forthcoming. Cheers!

  2. I too was glad to find this. I'm running my own Bookhounds campaign via Skype, and my players and I have really had a blast so far. We're starting up again tonight after a brief break, and I'm just looking for ideas. I would love if you posted some of your previous sessions here, even if in brief. Thanks!

  3. Hiya

    I post session summaries on my YSDC blog, which can be found here:

    I hadn't really intended to make those part of Ephemera as well . . . it's a thought.

  4. This post convinced me to buy Bookhounds of London, by the way.