Thursday, December 20, 2012

Attention Gaslight Gamers

 If you are planning to run or play a Gaslight game, in other words, a game set in Victorian England than you are best served by doing some research to really bring the setting to life. Why bother setting something in this era if it really just feels and acts like a modern version of your own country with slightly backwards technology and some funny clothes? The era is so much richer than that and it doesn’t take many historical details to give it a sense of authenticity and richness. I’m not suggesting that you need to be able to describe each step of lamp lighting but being able to mention a lamp lighter and his assistant, or a link boy, or a maid clearing up coal smuts, can adds that extra layer and help your players get a feel for what it would be like to actually be there.

I mean, did you know that there have been technological advances in candles? They used to be much smokier and sputtered but over the Victorian period they became both easier to produce and more like modern day candles. Just think about the extra atmosphere you could apply by mentioning the sputtering candles over the table.

You don’t have to get paranoid and go overboard, though. Unless roleplaying is your groups’ idea of historical re-enactment with a criminal or paranormal bent, they’ll be happy if you mention a technological advance that doesn’t occur until a few years later or if you neglect to have the paupers use rush lighting in place of candles in the early Victorian period. They really won’t mind. Honestly. But they may like a few touches that secretly teaches them something new and helps place them in the exotic and strange world of the past.

How do you do this? Well, I turn to a couple of really good books that cram oodles of historical details between their covers. Oh, and don’t worry, I’m not being paid to point them out. I wish I were but, alas, I am not an internet sensation just yet.

Everyday Life in Victorian and Regency England will give you a really good understanding of a largely urban lifestyle. It touches on the issues of the rich and the poor and is rich with not only technical details but ones of lifestyle choices and social changes. It plunges straight into discussions of lighting so it just goes to show that Kristine Hughes really doesn’t want to waste words. It has some explanatory pictures and the detail is written in a very understandable style that keeps it from being boring or a difficult read. This book covers quite a breadth of topics and while you could doubtlessly spend your time slaving over dozens in books you won’t really need to with this one as it will cover most things. If you’re running an investigative game, it can also help you think up some extra clues and issues that could be massaged into a plot.

The Victorian Farm is based off a television series and will give you a fantastic and incredibly in-depth view (with lots of colour pictures) of the world of Victorian farming with an eye to the tenant farmers. While this is a bit more specific, if you are playing a game where your characters are involved in farming or even if you’re on a country estate, this can be incredibly helpful. The book goes into the nitty gritty details even more than the documentary but feel free to read one and watch the other. It talks about animal husbandry, cricket, fun and games, raising crops, technological advancements, cooking, greenhouses, walled gardens, hedgerows (more complex to build than you’d think) and the various specialised jobs that a rural area required.  It also talks about the impact of the rise of foreign imports, factories, and a push toward large-scale farming.

So there you have it. Hope this helped.


  1. Some great resources here too. The menu on the left take you to thousands of primary source documents on all aspects of Victorian life.

    I used this a lot, both when researching my Unhallowed Metropolis games, and during my degree.

    1. Okay, now this is cool. I'm going to have a lot of reading to do.