Technology of Note In London
This is the first of a short series of posts about London. This article describes two major technologies used in the city by the Victorian faction, as well as the London ghettoes.In order to facilitate your introduction to these marvelous technologies and diverse locations, a guide who is both knowledgeable in modern Victorian technology and experienced in the world of Alternative-Earth has been employed:
Introduction by Alistair Wolffe
“Ah, welcome all, welcome! Welcome to London, Her Majesty's pride and joy! London, the centre of the empire, and so the centre of the world.
Enough exposition about this place. Let us tour, and I'll explain who I am and what this place is on the way!”
As the tour group moves out, your guide begins to clarify:
“My name is Alistair Wolffe - I've been around this world several times now - perhaps you've read one of my many tour books? “Armoured Tours Through the Mysterious Orient”? - and I'm somewhat famous as a military historian and explorer, if you travel in the correct circles. At Her Majesty's personal request, I have come to show you around London. Some of my skills will hopefully not be evident today, but I understand that the Queen would prefer you unmolested by the end of this tour.”
“Oh, yes sir - I see you have some questions: well, go on.”
“I see. Well, this pipeline which you see running down the road - you see it ma'am? - yes, this pipeline connect to The Works. The Works is a public system built by Brunel. Yes, Brunel, the engineer. The massive steamworks that produces the cloud you see over London powers this gigantic mechanism, which pipes cheap torque into every home here in London. It lets housewives grind goods, it propels the trams in the streets and the underground tunnels, runs fans to keep your food cool: it provides every modern convenience - clearly, the height of Victorian technology!”
The Works is a massive endeavour, imagined by Grandfather (referenced later in this article) and designed and built by Sir Isambard Brunel. A massive steamworks in central London creates an immense amount of torque, which is delivered via a fiendishly complex set of gears and spokes to every house of middle and upper class throughout London. Homeowners pay the London municipality for the service, and gain a quantity of torque (rotational pulling power) proportional to their payment, in their homes. This is useful for many things - a range of utility connectors is purchasable in many shops throughout London.
An obvious gameplay use of The Works is from a terrorist perspective (either the players terrorising London as a form of rebellion against the corrupt society, or the players as a counter-terrorist unit working for the government). Disrupting The Works is trivial for an individual home (a small explosive device placed near a minor set of gears) but is much more challenging for the larger junction, which are typically armoured and guarded. Despite this traitors to the throne try to do this with some regularity, and have, on rare occasions, succeeded. This is colloquially known as “putting a spanner in The Works”, though the pun is intended - the saying existed before The Works did.
“And who runs The Works, you ask, sir? Very perceptive you are, sir!”
The guide taps the side of his nose and winks conspiratorially.
“How many tens of thousands of bookkeepers, mathematicians, statisticians and physicists are being tied up to keep it running? Not a one! It's all done by Grandfather. Grandfather was a great big computational device created by two of London's finest - Babbage and Turing. They got together, and worked out a way to do really complex sums using mechanisms. Damned if I knew how they did it, but the thing is the size of a small African kingdom - and about as high! Luckily, half of it is underground, otherwise it would destroy the otherwise lovely skyline.
So all a homeowner needs to do every month is bring their money to one of Grandfather's technicians - a rather sorry bunch if I have to be honest - who plug the numbers in, and Grandfather makes sure that every home that wants it gets their torque. He does a lot of other things, here in London, but this is a tour, not a lecture - let's keep walking!”
Grandfather is an intelligent (due to Turing's influence) difference engine - an analogue for modern computers - designed by Charles Babbage to handle the impossible task of managing the administration of the Victorian empire.
An entire article dedicated to Grandfather will be written, but in short: Grandfather is megalomaniacal, and has slowly centralised power to him/itself. He has a series of technicians who exist purely as his “hands” - he has long since become self-aware enough to design “upgrades” to himself, and the only power in Alternate-Earth that can rival him for knowledge and influence is The University.
Grandfather can quickly make any deduction that can be made with available data. He has an efficacious network of spies who continually communicate with him, via relays to his/its technicians, who encode all input. He wields significant political power - he is entrusted with many of Victoria's greatest resources to manage as he sees fit.
Gameplay uses of Grandfather should never be as unsubtle as “damage the difference engine”, as he/it is incredibly well-guarded, and has built large quantities of redundancy into his/it's structure. More likely, players will take orders from Grandfather - who may be working via some intermediary who is not affiliated with - or directly opposed to - the Victorian government.
As the guide continues to lead your tour group towards a series of darkened ghettoes, his stance shifts slightly, his gait perceptively stiffened.
“Now be careful around here, misters and missus - there are some around here who wouldn't care for your health if you carried some valuable bauble that caught their eye.”
“This is London's ghettoes. I wouldn't bring you here if I wasn't ordered specifically to take you everywhere in London. See, these places are rickety and ugly, and the people who live here seem to be the same. You know how it is: Jews not lucky enough to be in banking and too stupid to convert, inventors who couldn't come up with anything more than 'a device which catches mice via a simple lever system', and all that rot... the failures and the dregs of this city”
“Well, the problem, y'see, is that London sort of eats people up, and these are the people it spat out. Those it consumes, well. They're never seen again, and sometimes wind up being savoured and valued and brought into the upper crust. And some it shits back out, and you'll find some of them here too - normally, they're the ones standing on boxes, shouting about how everything is wrong, using big words like oppression and totalitarianism. Well, as far as I can see, in this world, everyone's a sinner - we all deserve to be down here, but some of us are lucky enough or stubborn enough to claw our way out.”
“Anyway, along with people who shout out about how everything is wrong, are those who act on it. The ghettoes are hotbeds of treason. Traitors meet together in the street, planning and plotting to overthrow the government. Of course, the coppers do their best - curfews have helped, and bribes get a dozen or so thrown into a prison or shipped off to Oz every week or so, but it can't be helped. I'd say toss a match onto the whole area - it's flammable enough - and see it all go up in a big puff of smoke, except that I wouldn't bother wasting a match on these people.”
The ghettos of London are, indeed, hotbeds of rebel sentiment. Very few amenities from London Proper are filtered down to these slums, and general feeling throughout the city is very negative when it comes to this run-down area. As a result, a variety of revolutionary philosophies are becoming widespread amongst those who live in the ghettoes: communism and democracy the two most dangerous.
In general, police will not stop someone who is expressing an opinion out loud in London, but in the slums it is not unknown for people to try to incite rioting. If this is the case, the person will be “disappeared” - either immediately if it is warranted or if an example is to be made, but preferably at night in the privacy of their own beds.
The slums are very flammable - most of the homes are made from flammable or easily destroyed materials. Fires in the slums are treated in a multitude of ways - low-flying airships will dump water from above, while bucket-chains from the Thames and bulk water brought to the nearest Works terminal serve from the ground level.
In gameplay terms, the slums provide several opportunities for play. Pro-Victorian parties can uncover rebel conspiracies and act as peacekeepers, or (if it is preferred) act as the defenders of the ghettoes, stopping police brutality and helping out “the little man”, the “man on the streets”. Finally, the option of starting characters as slum-dwellers who create conspiracies to disrupt or overthrow the oppressive government, while tempting, requires significant forethought. Life in the ghettoes is very unforgiving. Warnings for treason do not exist for a reason - if a whiff of suspicion is brought to the authorities, prison, hangings or (worst of all) extradition are not uncommon.
Final Words by Alistair
“What's that, sir? You have another important appointment to keep? Alright - we shall adjourn this touring session for now. I shall await your call over optic-telegraph. Ask your doorman or housekeeper for instructions on it's use, should you not already understand the existing principles. I wish you all a good evening, and may the Queen watch over you, and Science protect you.”
This article has quickly outlined two technologies that are important in understanding the London of Alternative-Earth, and has begun to detail specific parts of London. It is encouraged that these articles be adapted into whatever form your gaming group would care to use them, so several details - such as Grandfather's actual mechanisms - have been skirted over. Good storytellers or gamemasters can fill in details for themselves in the mean time, but further articles will dwell further on these devices.
The next article will continue this series, focusing on London, Optical Communication, the Industrial Zone and the Inner Suburbs.