Thursday, 9 April 2015

Junkhounds of London (Trail of Cthulhu, Bookhounds)

This time out I want to talk about an optional addition to the Bookhounds character list: the Junkhound. I owe inspiration for this character type to George Orwell, particularly his essay Just Junk: But Who Could Resist It? I've had reason to mention Orwell before, and I highly recommend his short essays to anyone planning on running this game.

The Junk Shop probably exists on the same street as the characters' bookshop. They may well be neighbors, particularly since the kind of customer likely to wander into a junk shop is exactly the same kind of customer that might patronize the characters' establishment. If you should want to visit an example of the breed and happen to be visiting, or live in, London, I highly recommend The Junk Shop in Greenwich, which I used to visit often when I lived in South London. It's probably less dusty than those found in Orwell's day, and unlike Orwell's shop the owners of the Junk Shop are usually happy to make a sale. Otherwise it's a picture perfect example of the breed. American Pickers, for those of you trapped within the confines of the US of A, is also a pretty good example, except of course they seem to do most of their business long distance, where a junk shop relies on walk-in trade.

You can find almost anything in places like that; I can remember being tempted by a chunk of scrap from an American fighter, World War Two vintage, that someone had dug up out of a muddy field in Europe. My memory tells me it was probably a Curtiss Hawk or Warhawk, but the wretched thing was huge, perhaps three or four foot across, not the sort of piece you could put in a display case. Yet I could see it hanging above a mantlepiece, and was disappointed when, after going away to think about it for a while, I returned to find the scrap metal had sold to someone keener than I.

There will be some crossover between a bookshop and a junk shop. A junk shop is more likely to carry back issues of magazines, cheap publications, or books in bad condition. In the terms of the trade, its book stock is almost certainly disbound, remainder binding, or - worst of all - unsophisticated. Still, that shouldn't stop ambitious Bookhounds poaching from the Junkhound's stock, now and again. Equally a book shop may carry things of interest to the Junkhound, or the book scout may come back with news of an estate sale that has items of interest both to junk and book collectors.

While it may seem that the Antiquarian overlaps a bit with the Junkhound, there's one very important distinction to make. An Antiquarian is primarily interested in things of the past, collects items of historical interest, and generally is concerned about the condition of his stock. Not so the Junkhound. While the Junkhound has some love for history and things of historic importance, any item of scrap is grist for the Junkhound's mill. It doesn't matter to him how old it is, how decrepit, how valueless, or lacking in merit. The Junkhound stocks anything. If the Junkhound specializes in, say, pictures, as Orwell says one shop of his acquaintance did, those pictures will be from all possible artistic schools, of varying age, and the only thing they would have in common is a general lack of artistic talent. If ever you're going to find Dogs Playing Poker, it will be in a junk shop. Though there could be something valuable hiding away in the stacks of forgotten landscape artists and minor surrealists ... 

With all that in mind, I give you:


You live surrounded by other people's discarded valuables, and make your living from them. You  have a deep and abiding love for your charges, and spend days hunting down rumors of a complete set of whatever it might be, or a replacement chair, or even just a trove of scrap metal. You own either a shop front, or a yard, filled with what anyone else would see as scrap, but you see opportunity. You're a close relative of the rag and bone man, except you'd like to think of yourself as one step up on the social ladder, since you own your own premises, and a rag and bone man often does not. There's nothing you won't sell, but you can't often give an accurate history of the things you do sell. It's not as easy a life as bookselling, but you enjoy it, because with every new day comes a new item, something you may not have seen before; something you can turn to a tidy profit.

Occupational Abilities: Auction, Accounting, Assess Honesty, Bargain, Craft (often Carpentry, or something to do with metalwork), History, Oral History, The Knowledge

Credit Rating: 1 to 3

Possible Drives and General Abilities: The Junkhound isn't restricted as far as drives go, but Artistic Sensibility is probably the least likely. The one thing you can be sure of is that a Junkhound wouldn't know true art if it bit him on the leg. A Junkhound is quite likely to still rely on a horse and cart for transport, so Riding is a useful general ability. Abilities that allow the Junkhound to do minor repairs or reconditioning, like Electrical or Mechanical Repair, are also useful.

Special: Like the Bookseller, you own your own store or yard, and have the final word on anything to do with that establishment. Like the Antiquarian, you can, once per session, draw on your stock for something of minor interest. This item cannot be exceptionally valuable, be a weapon of greater than +0 damage, or supply a clue greater than a 0 point informational clue. However your greatest advantage lies in putting people - usually customers, or people who might be able to supply you with junk - at their ease. You have a raffish, disreputable charm that disarms people. You can use Oral History to activate contacts in the same way a Hobo can. These contacts can be from any Occupation, but your ability only works on those with Credit Rating 2 or lower. Those with higher Credit Rating don't want to know you.

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