1879: How ‘Bout Them Dodgers?

In the revised FASA cosmology, 1879 takes the place of Shadowrun as the early Sixth World game, even though it begins in the Fifth World. Magic returns to Earth earlier than it was supposed to, and so the Awakening begins in 1878 instead of 2012. The process stumbles along erratically, jump-started out of sequence. But we’re not here to talk about magic. We’re here to talk about the people who run in the shadows. Victoria’s Empire casts some very large shadows indeed.

Where there’s big money to be made, and large mercantile interests set up to make it. there’s skulduggery. Taxes will be evaded. Goods will be smuggled. Outright thievery will occur. And then there’s industrial sabotage. Some of the damage will be caused by irate employees taking out their anger at the boss on the equipment, some by union agents punishing companies for unethical behavior, but every now and then, a firm will decide that its competition is just doing far too well and needs a spanner in the works. Enter the Dodgers.

A person willing to put their skills to work causing trouble for a firm for no reason other than the coin paid by a rival firm can make a small fortune in short order. Of course, the risk is considerable. Imprisonment and the loss of one’s estate sit at the low end of the table. Further up, transportation takes up three or four seats with its expansive threat of permanent exile. At the head of the table, execution occupies the chair, a headsman’s axe at its feet and the shadow of a noose on the wall. Just being arrested puts one in danger, as some firms kill their erstwhile employees rather than take the chance of them being a bit too chatty with the authorities. The individuals who ply this trade have to be quick-witted, sly, equipped with foresight and charm and the ability to vanish without a trace. Small wonder that, as word of their exploits filtered up from the streets, the popular press took to referring to them with the name of one of Mr. Dickens’ more scandalous characters, the Artful Dodger. These real-life “dodgers” aren’t the cheeky, plucky lad who found a way to survive by his wits. Many of them come from better origins, having turned to dodging after falling on hard times. Some are career criminals who learned new skills as a way of rising in the underworld. All of them seek their fortune in ways they know were blatantly illegal, coldly accepting the possibility of disaster as the cost of making their living.

Not all Dodgers are Dodgers, which makes more sense if you know that the Dodger is one of the character Professions included in the group. There’s also the Brassman, the Byron, the Mage, and the Fiddler, all of whom play critical roles in the shadowy war between the high street firms. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

The Dodger Profession covers surreptitious entry, the burglar and the second story man. With Stealthy Stride as their Profession Skill, they focus on quiet entries and departures. They get Climbing, Lock Picking, and Streetwise as Core Skills starting out, and Bribery, Danger Sense, and Picking Pockets as Optional Skills. As they advance, they gain Skills that enhance their ability to get in, get the goods, and get out, and survive any dust-ups with private security or the peelers. A word here from Frank Goniff might help illuminate their outlook:

“Nar, we’d done for the factory workings like we wuz paid to, and wuz ‘alfway out of the skylight, we wuz, when Bill drops ‘is spanner. Clang off the pavement and didn’t it make a terrible noise! Peelers came round straightaway, but by then we’d scarpered, all but old Bill, still tryin’ to find ‘is spanner. Get ‘nother one, I told him, but no, he wasn’t ‘avin’ none of it, three quid it cost him, he said, paid ‘onest for it and wouldn’t do t’leave it behind. Well, ‘e won’t grass us, not old Bill, but it’s Dino-Land for ‘im now.”

The Brassman is the underworld’s gadgeteer, although they may do legitimate work as well, keeping their Dodger connections a closely guarded and potentially scandalous secret. The first Brassman, Sarah Guppy, maintained a genteel lifestyle in posh surroundings, supported by her work and the patents in her name, and nobody knew anything about her other clients until long after her passing. Even now, many refuse to believe that she ever turned her genius for building clever devices to illegal ends. In the underworld, though, a truly gifted Brassman may earn the nickname of Guppy, in recognition of their surpassing skill with brass and steel and clockwork. Not only a builder of gadgets but a user of them as well, the Brassman goes into the field when the target is guarded by a particularly fiendish lock, or the job needs a dab hand at hydraulics or mechanical engineering. With Skills in Clockwork, Mechanics, and Engineering (field or civil), and the ability to make exploding ammunition and enhance firearm function, the Brassman provides both front line and support ability.

The Byron, like their above-board cousin the Lovelace, turns their genius to the Analytical Engine and its predecessor the Differential Engine, but for darker purposes. Like the decker of Shadowrun, the Byron introduces their own code into the system, takes control of Engine subroutines, and turns the work of the Engine from the firm’s intent to their own. The output may be a deposit to the Byron’s account, or a cheque made out to an alias, or could be the release of secrets to the press that embarrass the firm and create a scandal. Not all Byrons put their knowledge to use out of greed. Some seek social justice, punishing firms for unethical behavior, and redistributing ill-gotten gains to the victims. And then there’s the ones that are just in it for the money. Besides Engine Programming, they gain Skills in Cryptography, Clockwork, and Lock Picking. Their social engineering Skills include Graceful Exit, Slough Blame, Disguise, and Mimic Voice. It’s not enough to be able to reprogram an Engine, after all. One must gain access to the system, and that often requires getting into the facility.

The Fiddler takes their name from their mode of operation. In the vulgar parlance, a fiddle can be either an illegal or fraudulent scheme, or a tricky and delicate operation. In the world of the Dodgers, it’s both. Not every job can be accomplished in a single night’s burglary. Not all the assets of a firm are accessible via the sky-light. Sometimes, the best route to the target is straight through the front door in broad daylight. The Fiddler has both the talent and the brass nerve to manage this. Part confidence trickster, part spy, with the skills of a forger, a salesman, a cracksman, and a clark, the Fiddler presents themselves as a potential employee or customer to the targeted firm. And then one bright morning, the trusted and reliable employee is nowhere to be found. The brilliant sales representative has vanished somewhere on the road. The company discovers that they’re short a few thousand quid or that the plans for the new model have gone missing. The bank draft that the customer paid the invoice with turns out to be of the purest India rubber, or drawn on an account that doesn’t even exist. If the firm insisted on coin, it proves to be counterfeit. No, the hotel has no record of that person ever taking up rooms. The boarding house landlady has no clue where that nice young man or respectable young lady went in the middle of the night. Should we bring in the police? In the meantime, the firm’s rival has announced a new design that suspiciously resembles the missing plans, or has come by a windfall profit that allows it to poach an investment that the victim was negotiating. With First Impression as their Profession Skill, and Core Skills including Forgery, Streetwise, Acting, and Winning Smile, the Fiddler is at their best convincing people to hand over the keys to their most prized possessions. In a pinch, the Fiddler also gains Optional Skills in Firearms, Unarmed Combat, and Avoid Blow, and can at the very least defend themselves long enough to make an orderly exit.

Our team wouldn’t be complete without a Mage. Anyone with sufficient reputation and Social Level to belong to one of the proper Lodges wouldn’t be caught dead running with the Dodgers. That’s okay. The streets have their own magical tradition, learned through painful trial and error, and handed down directly from Mage to Mage, as literacy isn’t as prevalent at the lower levels of society as the upper. The Mumpers have discovered ways of using the arcane energies released into the world from the Rabbit Hole in ways that enhance their survival. When a Mumper yells “Scarper!”, there’s real power behind the command, giving their allies the extra speed they require to escape the coppers.

With the massive profits to be made supplying the exploration and colonization of the Grosvenor Land, and the importation of raw materials and finished goods from the new world, firms have made targets of themselves for the Dodgers. More than that: they sometimes employ Dodgers against each other, not content with the advantages that can be gained through legitimate means. Cut-outs, people who give the firm plausible deniability, ply their labor for off the books cash and use the back entrance. Mister Fagin must be one of the most extraordinary men in the world, the police say. He appears both tall and short, fat and thin, old and young, light of complexion and swarthy, clean shaven with a full and heavy beard. He wears a top hat, a bowler, a porkpie, a slouch, and a trilby. He wakes early in the morning but never stirs until the afternoon. Mister Fagin is never to be found, and yet always available when needed. And he hires Dodgers, providing the necessary buffer between the firm and the illicit act needed to preserve reputation should the Dodgers be caught in the act. Gain enough reputation on the street, and Mister Fagin may have a numbered agency on the far side of the cut-out instead of a firm, with a target that isn’t part of Her Majesty’s Empire. Governments, too, have need of plausible deniability from time to time.

So Mister Fagin has arrived at your table in the back of the pub, with a brandy in one hand and an offer of work in the other. Of course you won’t inquire as to where the coin came from, that would be impolite. All you need to know is that someone, somewhere, is willing to pay a considerable fee for a manufacturing firm to suffer a significant inconvenience. Are you in?

Tally Ho!