1879: Actual Play NYC: Session 0.2: Thomas and Abraham

Continuing the character build toward the NYC adventure, Thomas, like Rachel, opts to dig into his heritage a bit. Although he moved to NYC from Philadelphia, he decides to go with a man who was born in New York during the War of Secession, and calls him Abraham Carlisle, a name the character is going to struggle with a bit, partly because so many black men of his age are named Abraham, and partly because Lincoln isn’t remembered nearly so fondly after the War ended with the Confederacy still standing, and black people in the South technically freed, but indentured, and mistreated nearly as badly as before. The former president having been accidentally killed by a close friend in a post-War hunting accident takes a little of the curse off it, as one doesn’t speak ill of the dead, but still.

Thomas decides that Abraham’s father, Matthew, is a mechanic and electrical technician, working to install and repair the moving signage that has become so popular in New York. From that, Abraham gains an early exposure to the power of mechanisms and electricity, but takes that interest in a different direction, and becomes a Galvanic Mage. The Prussian-based Ordnung Galvanisches proves to be less exclusive, racially speaking, than one might expect, being concerned first and foremost with ability and the willingness to work hard to expand the sphere of knowledge. Within the Order’s lodge, Abraham finds not only acceptance, but recognition for his efforts, as he advances rapidly in Galvanic ranks.

Outside the lodge, New York is still a hard place for a young black man to live. The Gilded Age does not bring the same benefits to the lower classes as it does to the elite. While the white barons of capitalism enjoy decadent lifestyles in posh townhouses and private rail carriages, less fortunate whites turn on their black neighbors, blaming them for the War, the tremendous loss of life that still strains the workforce, and the crushing economic depression that the Union hasn’t yet recovered from. Many neighborhoods remain segregated, as does public transit, schools, and cultural institutions. Black men without substantial property only gained the vote ten years ago, and black women were excluded from the Suffrage Act that gave white women the right. The Carlisle family lives in San Juan Hill, near the southern end of Central Park, in an overcrowded tenement building on 61st Street half a block west of West End Avenue. While they have their own two-bedroom apartment, the building has not been well maintained by the absentee landlord, and the steam heating system only works because Matthew and Abraham keep it in repair. Abraham’s younger sister, Joslyn, moved to Philadelphia two years ago after she married Rufus Hammon, a journalist currently working with Christopher Perry to get the Philadelphia Tribune off the ground.

Having a backstory makes character build easier, as Thomas has a direction to take his Mage. He decides to build the Skill structure first, then assign Attributes according to what his Skills require. Abraham gets Spellcasting as his Profession Skill, and the full set of Core and Optional Skills at the Initiate Tier, Thomas agreeing with Rachel that a well rounded character is better than a specialized one with higher Ranks in fewer Skills. For his Knowledge Skills, he takes New York City, so that Abraham has a working knowledge of the city in which he lives, and Politics, so that he understands what drives New York. His General Skills go to Unarmed Combat and Streetwise, taking into account growing up in the tenements of the East Side.

At PR 2, Abraham learns Empathic Sense and Firearms, Thomas deciding to go with an alert, aware character who can defend himself. His Free Skill slots go to Clockwork and Bribery, again reflecting his background, as his father has taught him how to use tools and repair the fiddly mechanisms of moving signage, but also how to slip a dollar to the shop steward or the cop so that you don’t get messed with on the job or on the way home. At PR 3, he learns Impressive Display and Craft Device from his Profession, understanding that he has to be able to grab the attention of his superiors in the Order, and do more than throw energy around. Abraham picks up Sprint and Gambling in his Free slots, thinking about the nature of San Juan Hill and New York in general. Win or lose, you still need to be able to outrun the other players. At PR 4, he selects Craftsman (Magical Tools) and Stealthy Stride from his Profession. Matthew has taught his son the importance of making your own tools, which carries over to the arcane for multiple reasons. Being able to pass unnoticed, or at least unheard, is handy in a lot of situations. Beginning to understand that uptown society drives New York, Abraham begins to study the wealthy and powerful, taking Secrets of the Aristocracy as his Free Skill.

At PR 5, Abraham graduates to Journeyman and begins more serious work both in his Profession and in his life. His Core and Optional picks are True Sight, Willforce, and Mechanic, adding perceptiveness, power, and breadth of mundane ability to his skillset. He takes Etiquette, Conversation, and Engaging Banter for his Free Skills, understanding that it’s not enough to know about high society. He has to be able to pass among them if he’s going to rise to any sort of power himself, and it’s going to take a lot more work for him than for an Astor. As he studies, his awareness of the situation in North America grows, and so at PR 6, he takes Knowledge (Union) and Knowledge (Confederacy) for his Free Skills. A growing sense of purpose pushes Abraham now, a need to use the power he has gained for himself both socially and in arcane practice for the greater good. He picks up Resist Magic, Conceal Object, and Taunt as his Core and Optional picks, starting to think about passing through areas outside of New York, and what could be done in the larger world.

Assembling all these Skills and looking at their Attribute requirements, Thomas spends his build points and Attribute Increases for DEX 13, STR 11, TOU 13, PER 17, WIL 16, and CHA 14. He’s going to need a couple more Attribute increases to hit the next breakpoints in terms of Step and Defenses, but Thomas is thinking in the long term now. This character may be adventuring well beyond the current story. Thomas spends APs for the Attribute buys and Skill Ranks he wants, making sure that he’s got enough Core Skills at Rank 6 or higher to justify his Professional Rank of 6. He also buys a Durability of 6, following Bethelie and Rivka’s example of matching Durability Rank to his PR. After doing the math, he’s got 47.500 APs left, and a strong character with a broad range of ability.

Equipment goes quickly, the one item in question being his armor. Thomas and the GM discuss, and decide that Thomas will need to build a Connection with a Promethean to justify having a spider-silk ballistic jacket. Other than that, the medium revolver and ammunition are easily obtained. There will come a day when a black man may have problems buying a revolver in New York City, but that will not be in the late 1800s. Thomas also argues successfully for a used steam-coach, a four seat model that’s seen better days and that Abraham maintains himself, having the Mechanic Skill to do it. The coach is a beater, not much to look at, but it’s also going to pass relatively unnoticed in the neighborhood where Abraham lives. As well, Abraham has decided that it’s best not to get too attached to a vehicle in his line of work. It’s likely to end up with bullet holes, or wrecked, or blown up, or stolen, or meet some other dismal fate.

His spells take a little work. He ends up filling all the slots on his character sheet, and creating a couple of new KAVs in the process. The names and effects for Explosion (Fulmination), Pass through Barrier (Step out of Phase), and Replicate Item (Transitory Duplicate) are easy enough. Deny Attack gets restricted to Unarmed Combat, and the name of the KAV becomes the insult Abraham will hurl with the casting, Pathetic Pugilist. While Abraham knows how to defend himself in personal combat, the best sort of fight is one where you don’t get hit.

A final check turns up a need to specify Languages, since Thomas has bought up his Speak and Read/Write to a Rank of 4 each. English is Abraham’s base language. He picks up French for both high and low society, posh types showing off European manners and Creoles up from Louisiana or down from Canada, and Greek and Latin from his Profession. The character sheet being finalized, Thomas looks it over, and sets about creating his Connections.

First is the Promethean, who Thomas decides is French Canadian to further justify the Language choice. Remy Lettiere maintains a workshop in Brooklyn, where he tends his spider-churns and makes a nice living underselling the Chinese silk importers. Abraham has done Remy the favor of setting a Faraday’s protection on the facility, so that when, not if, Remy’s Chinese rivals try to set fire to the place, the flames won’t catch nearly so easily and there’ll be some warning, enough that the local fire department might actually get there in time. The two men have a professional understanding, with no current favors owed.

Abraham’s second Connection is his brother in law, Rufus Hammon, the Journalist in Philadelphia. Rufus knows some people in New York City, in the same profession, and could make introductions for Abraham if he needs them. He’s also got access to the newspaper morgues of Philadelphia, and is willing to do the occasional bit of research for Abraham, especially if there’s a story in it. The two get along well, being family by marriage, with some good-natured mock threats from Abraham about how Rufus treats his sister.

The third Connection takes some thought. Thomas does some research of his own, and decides on a hotel owner in the Tenderloin, one Hosiah Jackson, proprietor of Talmadge’s on Broadway at 28th, one of the establishments of The Line. Matthew Carlisle does a lot of work in the Tenderloin, taking care of signage advertising recreational activities ranging from booze to dancing to short term rooms, which everyone understands include the price of a prostitute. This is Hell’s Hundred Acres growing northward past Madison Square, Satan’s Circus spreading up Broadway, the area named by its police precinct captain for the quantity and average amount of the bribes needed to keep the brothels operating, enough that a man used to chuck steak could indulge in a bit of tenderloin. The crusading preachers do what they can, but the city’s government is invested in vice in a large way, and its police department keeps the crime rate down in the area so that the customers stay happy and the collections keep rolling in. In the midst of it all, Hosiah keeps his doors open and his head up, a well heeled man running a high class brothel with a prominent NO SAILORS sign, a piano player in the parlor, proper linens on the beds, and girls who get a medical inspection once a week. What he doesn’t know about the business of Broadway probably isn’t worth knowing. The stereotype of the pimp comes to mind, and Thomas decides to confront it head on, with a successful businessman taking advantage of a corrupt system to make his fortune. Don’t hate the player. hate the game. This is New York, son, it’s dirty and corrupt and it chews people up if they’re not on top of their business.

And Abraham is on top of his.

Next time: Parker builds a Brassman!

Tally Ho!