Sunday, 16 December 2012

Bookhounds: Expanding on the Text

It's always useful, when considering published source material, to expand on the text provided, and this holds true whether it's a scenario or a sourcebook. The case in point this time is The Book of the Smoke publsihed by Pelgrane Press and written by Paula Dempsey, a work I'd highly recommend to anyone wishing to run Bookhounds games. The section I'm going to be discussing can be found on page 58: The Buckingham, in Berwick Street.

I don't know whether this establishment is based on something in the real world, or something that the author made up. That doesn't matter. What does matter is what I do with it because, ultimately, this needs to fit my game, and that means it needs to fit my play style. This is precisely why the Keeper should always rework in-game material; however well written, a supplement's author doesn't play in your game world, and it's always best, if you want to keep on top of the game, to add your own personal touches to the material.

"A fashionable supper club where one may dine and dance to the latest jazz music," a club that hasn't been in business very long, is what the text says. This is very handy, as it gives me enough to work with, without bludgeoning me with too much detail to work around.

Describing a place as a supper club implies that you're intended to spend pretty much the entire evening there. You might turn up at cocktail hour, enjoy a few swift ones, then have a meal, and afterwards go dancing or enjoy the cabaret, all in one well-presented package. It also implies a certain standard; not everyone is going to be able to get in, and that in turn suggests that there must be bouncers on site, and probably also slick manager-types to deal with fractious VIPs. Any business catering to the fashionable set needs to be able to meet pretty much any contingency, from the mundane - rowdy drunks, always a hazard wherever alcohol is in the mix - to the more serious, like yellow journalists infiltrating the place, sniffing after one or more of the clients. It will probably be reinventing its look every other season, just to keep up with trends, so the important thing for the Keeper is to get the personalities right; like any other business, a nightclub's culture tends to be dictated by the management, so the Keeper needs to put some detail into the NPCs.

So, without further ado: the Buckingham.

Its current aesthetic evokes a New Orleans style, with gaily painted murals on the walls meant to make the guests feel as though they're in the heart of the South. It has two levels, with the serious drinking done on the ground floor, while the eating and dancing happens on the upper level. The Buckingham often has guest bands performing, but the club regulars are Pat Quinlan's Quintet. Pat's a a Chicago Style man, and claims to have once played in a club owned by Bugsy Siegel.

Nobody knows who owns the Buckingam. The Club has a manager, Charlie Cooper, who is well paid to keep his mouth shut and run a clean place. Rumor has it that Charlie, a former associate of dope dealer Eddie Manning, had his record expunged by friendly Scotland Yard officials so he could get a license to run the Buckingham, but Charlie - a very personable character who looks a decade younger than his actual age - denies this. His criminal past, he claims, is greatly exaggerated; he was a little wild when he was a lad, but then, who wasn't? As for Eddie, Charlie only ever knew him as someone in the neighborhood; Charlie never touched dope. Charlie's talent, apart from a natural business acumen, is for spotting journalists, even in disguise. He claims to know every single one and, while he says he has no prejudice against them, Charlie's rule is that journalists aren't allowed inside the Buckingham. Charlie says it would make the other guests nervous, if they thought that what they got up to on Friday night would hit the Scoop on Saturday morning.

The other attraction of the Buckingam, apart from Archie's lethal cocktails and Quinlan's Quintet, is Charlie's Girls. These well-groomed women can always be found at the bar or on the dance floor, willing and able to keep guests company should they arrive stag. Not that there ought to be any suggestion of impropriety; Charlie's been known to get personally offended when drunken guests mistreat his girls, and there's never any question of lewd behavior. Charlie's girls are there to lend the place tone, to dance, and to make light conversation. Anything more than that is ought of bounds. 

As might be expected, there are any number of stories about who might have a stake in the Buckingham, and one of the most persistent is that it's secretly owned by the Honorable Charles Evelyn Harcourt Pryce, also known as the Duke of Crime.

Technically he’s not entitled to the honorific; he’s not the son of a peer, much less a Duke. That said, there’s a lot of money behind him, and people will keep claiming he’s the bastard son of an otherwise childless peer of the realm. Certainly he dresses and acts the part, and he is a Baliol man, as well as a former college cricketer.

The ‘Duke of Crime’ tag dates from 1928, when the Honorable Charles was accused of a string of jewel thefts that had been committed over the previous five years. The trial occupied the front pages for several months, and the so-called Duke was accused of being, among other things, the mastermind behind a gang of well-organized thieves. However the whole case fell apart when the two chief witnesses for the prosecution vanished, and the Detective in charge of the investigation, Bill Saunders, was found to be blackmailing Pryce. It was assumed at the time that the witnesses were involved with the blackmail attempt and had fled before they could be arrested, but they’ve never turned up since, whether in London or anywhere else. Bill Saunders was disgraced and was lucky to escape imprisonment; these days he works as a barman in a much less prestigious East End establishment.

Though the Honorable Charles is, of course, entirely innocent of any wrongdoing, it is odd how so many people seem convinced that the Buckingham is the best place to meet with knowledgeable fixers and discreet criminals.

Bill Saunders maintained his innocence throughout the investigation, and once swore revenge, but that was long ago, and he’s done nothing about it.

The Honorable Charles is an athletic man approaching his forties, dark haired and clean shaven. His face is amiable but not truly handsome, though he has a reputation as a charmer. He’s seldom seen with the same woman twice. He’s never dressed in anything less than the best; he claims his man, Emsworth, would never permit him to be seen in public otherwise. He’s usually found either propping up the bar or on the dance floor, and is supposed to be on very friendly terms with the as-yet-unidentified management.

Bill Saunders, the Honorable Charles' self-appointed nemesis, is a burly man gone slightly to seed. Though he’s only in his mid thirties, he looks at least ten years older, and his hair is prematurely grey. His nose has been broken badly, and not mended properly. His current job is his third; he can’t seem to keep a post long, probably because he gets into fights.

Clues associated with the Buckingam:

The Knowledge. Nobody knows where the management got the money to open up the Buckingham. Wherever they got it from, it wasn’t the usual sources, and none of the gangs have ever tried to put the bite on. All sorts of rumors are flying around. The most popular is White Russians, refugees from the Soviets, sunk some of their capital into it. The one thing everyone seems agreed on is that the Honorable Charles certainly did not put money into the Buckingham. People who suggest that, even in jest, get very unfriendly treatment from Charlie.

The Knowledge, Streetwise. Though there are fixers and criminals who use the Buckingham as their office, they never show up before midnight and they never do business direct. You have to put your request through one of the staff, or Charlie's girls, using the words ‘Mister Bill said he’d meet me here; let me know when he shows up.’ A generous tip also helps. After that, the terms and conditions are up to you, when Mister Bill - any one of several well-connected fixers - shows himself, but violence is not one of the commodities they trade in at the Buckingham, and drugs are at best discouraged. Discreet theft and goods bought in bulk well below market rates is their usual line. 

The Knowledge, Occult. During the Cholera Epidemic of 1854, the building the Buckingham now occupies was abandoned by its owners, who fled to the country. When they returned some months later, they discovered that a family of twelve had broken into the building while they were away, contracted cholera, and all died. Nobody discovered the bodies until the building owners returned, by which time decay was well advanced. People say their ghosts still haunt the building. Magicians claim that some houses within the cholera zone are useful sources of magical energy. All that death ended up stored in the walls like a psychic battery.   

Streetwise, Cop Talk. Bill Saunders daren’t set foot in the Buckingham. Last time he did was when he got his broken nose, and since then the doormen are under strict orders not to let him in. That said, Bill still has some friends, and those in the know claim he’s been building a case against the Duke of Crime. Not that any evidence he gathers will ever see a court of law, but he thinks he can get enough together to convince the powers that be to reopen the Pryce investigation. Any dirt on the Duke of Crime will be gratefully received by Bill, though he can’t pay much. 

 Plot Hook associated with the Buckingham:

The Honourable Charles is an amateur bibliophile, with a fondness for crime of all kinds. He’s particularly interested in Sherlock Holmes and all his derivatives, from non-canonical to comic pastiche. He’s supposed to be an easy touch for that sort of thing and will pay well over the odds. As luck would have it, Bill Saunders has a copy of a book the Duke might be interested in, a galley proof of an Arsene Lupin novel by Maurice Leblanc, featuring Herlock Sholmes. Bill naturally isn’t keen on meeting the Duke face-to-face and will want an intermediary, but is there more to this book deal than meets the eye? How did Bill get this French galley proof, and why did he even want it in the first place?