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Modified Skills for the Victorian Era

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Gothic Portraits: Leanor

"Gothic Portraits: Leanor" by BigBad-Red is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0


By and large, the skills as written in the World of Darkness core rulebook are generalized enough as to not warrant extensive changes, but a few aspects are important enough to affect a historical game.

Academics: Penalties to research rolls should be more severe and/or bonuses more restricted given the limitations of Victorian libraries (particularly when compared with modern collections, databases, and archiving). Information was spread out, which would lead one to consult more than one library, and it was more difficult to track down and wield, since books might be misplaced and without indices.

Research rolls should represent one hour of effort and if the required number of successes is not acquired in a number of rolls equal to the character’s Intelligence + Academics, they are not able to find what they are looking for in that facility. It might even be there, but they are not able to uncover it until they gain a new dot in either Intelligence or Academics, or a specialty that would help. In the meantime, they must start again at another location with a cumulative -1 penalty for the previous frustration.

Collections available only to and maintained by exclusive groups are likely to be specialized but greatly helpful within their chosen focus (adding +2 to +5). It is also worth noting that the libraries of the great cities like London are not all equal, as certain neighborhoods have more resources to offer.

Computer: This is not a viable skill for the Victorian age, but the likeliest substitute is Technology (which can be easily added to Mr. Gone’s Victorian Lost sheets). Mechanization was rising and experiments with all kinds of methods and materials were bearing fruit, but most people did not understand much about how everything worked or how to operate such things. Some Victorians might have grasped a small portion of a process because they were in charge of it, but Technology dots would have been needed to operate complex machinery without supervision (1 dot), understand the whole process (2 dots), reverse engineer something (3 dots), or design a new contraption outright (4 or more dots). As with Computer, dots in Technology do not apply to actually repairing or building anything; that requires the Crafts skill, with likely specialties being things like Steam-Power, Clockwork, Carriages, and older common crafts like Leatherworking. While there were experiments with Zeppelins and other types of aircraft, they were limited experiments and were not largely operational or available in the era.

Medicine: There were a number basic things about medical treatment that Victorian-era doctors simply did not know or understand, and while hospitals were improving overall throughout the century, they were not all provided with adequate means. To reflect this general lack of knowledge, no single method or tool can grant more than a +3 bonus to a Medicine roll. In addition, a doctor with fewer than 3 dots in Medicine will treat less severe wounds first, rather than the standard modern practice of treating the worst injuries first, unless they obtain an exceptional success on their roll. Furthermore, workhouse hospitals generally suffer a -3 to -4 penalty due to squalid conditions and deprivation.

Drive: The Victorian era saw many different kinds of vehicles in use, with horseless carriages only coming in for the very wealthy at the end of the century. The vast majority were horse-powered and thus Victorian characters require at least one dot in Animal Ken in addition to any dots in Drive to maneuver such vehicles safely. Even if one is guiding a man-powered rickshaw (requiring a Strength and Athletics of at least 2), a character must purchase dots in Drive in order to operate a vehicle in the first place, as most people simply do not have the knack and are not routinely taught.

Any kind of vehicle pursuit was greatly complicated in dense urban areas like London, since the street traffic in and around the city was congested at best and impassable or physically dangerous at worst. Intimidation rolls might be used to make others get out of the way, especially if one is in a noticeably upper-class conveyance, and a ritzy rig should grant some bonus to maneuvering rolls regardless. Trying to pursue anyone in a London fog enacts penalties and could result in the fatigue or death of a horse. Most times, bonuses and penalties will be assigned based on time of day and year.

Tailing and catching up with a vehicle are typically much easier to do, however, since Victorian cabs can only go so fast and are often held up by traffic on city streets. It is far more difficult to notice when you’re being followed during peak traffic times, as well.

Horse-drawn carriages of various kinds were popular, especially with the middle and upper classes, usually required two horses to pull, and could comfortably carry anywhere from one to four people. Some were uncovered and generally easier to get into, especially for women wearing bulky clothing like crinolines, while others were enclosed and offered more privacy and protection from the elements. They averaged 4 - 8 mph and could, if pressed, cover 70 to 120 miles a day. Heavier carriages used for hauling goods sacrificed speed for durability, while lighter carriages like phaetons were known for being faster and more difficult to control.

Coachmen were usually hired and the upper crust would only drive themselves around for show. With all of the methods of public transportation, from buses to trains, there were few reasons for most people to want to learn how to drive.

Science: Although the theory of evolution was widely debated in Victorian times, many still believed that man was special amongst the species on earth and that a chain of being existed which placed mankind on top. Traditional ideas about humanity and the age and composition of the planet started to shift, though slowly, and many scientists still interpreted their findings in the framework of their faith. Religion and science started to be viewed as separate spheres as the century drew to a close, however, and the era saw the rise of the professional scientist. Any players portraying science-based characters should consult more specific resources like The Victorian Web’s entries on the various sciences to get an idea of what was known and what was not.


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