[Fourpenny Touch] How much do you need to know about the background?

edited June 2010 in Game Design Help
I've written a game called Fourpenny Touch which is about the lives of the women who will be killed by Jack the Ripper in 1880's Victorian London.

I'm having a setting section so that players who aren't particularly familiar with the background have some understanding of the situation of these women. In some ways this is similar to Steal Away Jordan which has details about slavery in the South, the historical setting and the daily life of such people.

What I do want to do is provide something that is seen as useful by the players. Not a massive amount of reference but something that gives the tone or feel of the situation.

So, my question is, if you're going to play this game, how much background information do you require?

And by this, I mean you personally, not some other hypothetical gamer.

If you know tons about prostitution in the Victorian East End, then please do say so. If you've seen From Hell and think that tells you enough, that's fine too. If you see this as a passion play for everywoman with no need for specific historical context, that's also good. If you want to know what the fourpenny touch is, the cost of bootlaces, life expectancy, the racial mix and the legal niceties of prostitution then that's of interest to me also.


  • I've read From Hell and I think it was plenty. That comic is 90% information and reference. The movie is a joke compared to it (even if I enjoyed the movie).

    Anyway, I think you should include an amount of information appropriate to the length of the game. Personally, I'd like to see an one-page rundown of short paragraphs illustrating various aspects of the victorian era, with a focus on the everyday lives of the inhabitants of Whitechapel. How long does one live? How's the medicine? What do they eat and drink? How's higiene? What are the moral standards? Social classes? What do people wear? How much do people earn and how much does stuff cost? Short, almost bullet-point facts about the tangible, day-to-day stuff that can immerse you into the flow of life.
  • My preferences run towards the simulationist, so I would want a pretty good amount of information. (Also I know almost nothing about Victorian London.) That said, I'm not necessarily interested in "the cost of bootlaces" so much as "what'll get you an angry look from your neighbor" or "what you probably do for fun if you happen to find yourself with some extra time or money". Dogs in the Vineyard is pretty light on setting information, but it does a good job of emphasizing what is important, so I would suggest looking there for inspiration.
  • A cheat sheet of era- and location-appropriate slang would probably go a long way. Not only does dropping the slang into play add verisimilitude, but it gives an idea of what's important enough in people's lives that they come up with slang for it.
  • I don't require any. I know quite a bit about prostitution in the Victorian East End. I don't actually know what the cost of bootlaces, life expectancy or racial mix are, so I'd be interested to know.

    Although I don't require any information, I'd really like some. As much as possible, please. Quirky little essays, giving background information for play. Descriptions of locations.
  • I would like to know one real world significant influence on each woman. A priest? A friend? A parent? A client, even?

    Was there ONE real-world problematic thing that each one had to deal with? That if they hadn't been murdered they might have been able to deal with?

  • Ooh, I like Queex's suggestion. That's really clever.
  • edited June 2010
    I wouldn't NEED any background on the Whitechapel area during the period of Jack the Ripper, I've got a good friend who has researched it thoroughly for a novel he was writing (which I have been asked to illustrate). We've chatted about the period, the costuming, the daily lives...he even visited the area last year and has copious amounts of photographs and other forms of documentation regarding the location.

    On the other hand, I agree that Queex's suggestion has some merit.

    I'd also be interested in seeing how the game designer's take on the setting reflects against the reality...these can often be two different things. What aspects are being played up? The stereotypical "pea-soup fog", an underlying horror, the triumphs of "modern science" (looking at Scotland Yard forensic practices of the time). Certainly make sure that the details provided in the book are facts that can be quickly incorporated into play, and that the balance of facts reflect the type of game as its intended to be played.
  • edited June 2010
    A bit of social context for prostitution in this era would be helpful - what kind of status do these women have? Who are their clientele? How did they end up in this profession? What is their relationship with the police? What are likely to be their biggest day-to-day concerns? What can they aspire to?
  • Thanks guys for that, very instructive.

    I'm a bit resistant to using slang, possibly because when games have a lot of made-up slang it really jars to my ears. But in this case I suppose at the very least I can mention Cockney Rhyming slang. 4d touch is, of course, a slang term used by prostitutes. It's the cost of their basic service and also that of one night in a doss house coffin. Victorian slang is plentiful so it will probably be a case of not going overboard.
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