Archive for the ‘World Creation 3’ Category

World Creation III: Conclusion

07 Aug

I think I’ve just about finished cracking this world into shape. I like how it looks, I like how it works, and it’s got enough juice running through it that if I throw ideas against it, a narrative will lurch to life and stumble off on its own. The setting debuted last Wednesday in the first session of a long-form roleplaying campaign whose first chapter I’ve named “The Ragman Murders.”

The final tally is about 8 months and 88 pages of work, but keep in mind that the first half of that was iterative. It took a lot of grappling to settle on the alternate-history, nightmare-and-fantasy foundations of this project–that was certainly the most significant decision I made, but also one of the most difficult. I’m not sure I adequately portrayed just how much of this setting came together in a single month–before that it was slotting in ideas, rubbing concepts and motifs and hooks against one another, until all at once everything clicked into a solid and workable foundation. Everything after that was just building on that foundation as quickly as I could, because once I hit that vein of exciting, inspiring material, every idea I had felt solid and interesting and logical and pinwheeled into a dozen others.

Anyway, the campaign is looking like a blast. The player characters include a shallow face-changing aristocrat, his estranged nightmare-obsessed natural philosopher brother, a quick-thinking but hopelessly short-sighted con man, a Greek industrial spy, an honest tradesman accused of a horrible murder he may have committed, a drunken female Irish aristocrat who’s nearly given up hope of ever seeing her homeland again, and a beautiful, naive animated doll. It’s always exciting to see what happens when other people interact with your custom campaign setting. It’s like watching people construct a house out of tools you designed for them. If my only reward for having built the thing was having people make player characters in it, that probably would have been enough.

Anyway, we’re pretty well done here. I’m certainly not done with the setting–I’ve got my campaign, I’ve got Barney, and I have been working on a longer-form fiction project for a couple of months now. And I’ve got my notes, and can certainly answer any last questions any of you readers might have.

As for the next World Creation…well, let’s just say there’s something none of you know yet.


World Creation III: System Document

18 Jul

This is by way of payoff on the past dozen posts: the character creation primer for UnNight. No mechanical details, but a summary of flavor and character options are to be found.

Character creation takes place today at 7:00. I’ll let you all know how it goes.


I’ll reformat it for the website about the time I let you know what kinds of characters people are playing.

EDIT: More delays have come up. I’ll try to get a few pieces of content done during the day today.


World Creation III: Barney’s Dog, Dream 1

06 Jul

Barney lay awake long into the night, listening to the rats in the floorboards beneath his new cot–rats were everywhere in this part of the city, the only mammal that truly thrived. It was a comforting noise, and one that he found his focus settling on as he let his thoughts settle.

When sleep came, it brought nightmares that were more familiar to him than anything he’d seen or experience so far.

He sat nailed to a serving platter on a table ringed by dogs–dogs in suits, dogs in masquerade attire, dogs in butcher’s aprons, dogs in rags. The dogs’ heads were shrunken and nearly hairless, and set into their deep red-rimmed sockets were human eyeballs. The dogs were barking, all of them, only as he listened and tried to free his hands he felt as if the barking turned to laughter–as their mouths flashed open and shut, their teeth blunted and brightened until human.

Wriggle though he might, Barney’s hands were stuck fast. He did not so much see as sense that his struggling had brought him to the attention of the dogs, perhaps for the first time. Movement at the end of the table caught his eye–he arched his back to watch the scene behind him unfold upside-down. A dog in a suit hopped up onto the table. The dogs’ front paws were bloodied and bandaged, and it whimpered, a counter-note to the laughter that rang so loud it stung Barney’s ears, and pulled itself onto its hind-paws as if it were walking on two legs. It did not walk but lurched, but its bright eyes remained steady on Barneys’.

Barney’s will and spine gave out, and his back fell flat. All he saw was the ceiling, all he heard was the laughter. And slowly, like the gliding of a ghost, the dog’s horrible widening white eyes appeared and stared straight into his.

“All dogs are singing to you,” said its voice, which was too high to be human.

Barney wrenched his hands. Sweat and blood pooled in his palms, and still the nails were stuck fast. The pain hit him suddenly, as if he had remembered it was there, and his vision swam until the dog and eyes and teeth were one blur.

“Dogs can’t eat anything,” said the dog, opening its mouth even wider.

“Please!” said Barney’s voice, although he hadn’t meant to say anything at all and his tongue wasn’t moving. “Please, God, just kill me! Whatever you’re fucking doing to me, just kill me, please!”

“Dogs can’t eat anything,” said the dog. Now he couldn’t see the dogs eyes, only his mouth–oversized human teeth set into bloody dog gums, a long dog’s tongue, human lips, and tendrils of drool that dangled a quavering inch from Barney’s face without breaking. Behind the teeth, behind the quivering tongue, was a black tunnel whose back could not be seen.

A rat’s nose emerged from that darkness and began to crawl towards light. The rat put its paws on the dog’s lip as if that was all that kept it inside, and then it was dangling half-in and half-out of the mouth. Barney wrenched himself left and right, trying to escape…and felt something like an iron vise begin to force his jaw open. Then his mouth was open, and the rat was dangling in the air, and then it fell…

Barney woke up.

There was a rat nibbling on his lip.

Barney seized the rat and threw it against the wall hard enough to kill it outright.


World Creation III: More Questions, Answers

27 Jun

Don’t worry, there’ll be Cahmel and other stuff before the week is out, but I just thought I’d punch out answers to these last couple questions.

Zagzag asked:

I’ve really loved what you’ve written so far, and there was one thing that I wanted to ask after the information we’ve been given so far: what caused Britain and France to become so close that they joined into one country? I’m presuming (probably incorrectly) that you are basing The Great Empire off Britain and France’s involvement in the real world First World War, but in real life a war between Britain and France seemed almost certain in the early 20th Century, rather than the eventual war with Germany. It was only a rather bizarre series of events involving a royal visit to France that actually reduced the tensions. In the real world Britain and France never even had a formal military alliance, even during the First World War, and I’m curious as to what happened in this setting to bring them so much closer together that they become effectively an extended Britain.

The joining of Britain and France into a single Empire was not a particularly amicable process, nor is there much in the way of unity or love between the two peoples. The individuals who took charge of Britain after the Dream were hard, bloody-minded industrious men who decided the best way to survive the loss of half of their colonies to devastation and the radical alteration of the world’s makeup was to grab as much of the world as possible. It was Britain who managed to get back on its feet the fastest of any nation, in part because of powerful leadership, in part because of its stiff-upper-lip pragmatic approach, and in part because it had just the right ratio of available casters to environmental hazards to best take advantage of the new power sources. Many other nations were busy grappling with creatures of Nightmare, opportunistic bandits, and sociopolitical upheaval. France had things particularly bad for a variety of reasons, and the power centers of France, facing a breakdown of law and order, ended up taking a deal that merged their nation with Britain’s. The truth of the matter is that France is a glorified colony of Britain now, and that most Frenchmen frankly revile the unification as a betrayal of their heritage and people.

Dovius asked:

And when you say that the other continents vanished, do you mean that in the sense that the New World is basically the current globe with everything besides Europe and Asia being turned into water, or that a Discworld-esque shard of the planet containing Eurasia is all that remains?

That’s an interesting question, because one thing I determined early on is that nobody in the setting actually knows. The standard methods of extrapolating the Earth’s shape are obviously still possible, but the individuals performing these experiments unaccountably get different results–in fact, the same scholar may receive different data every day of the week, suggesting that the Earth is round or flat or the same size or a hundred times larger.

Ramsus asked:

So does this mean that a Bugman would not be a viable character choice?

It does.

Rolf Andreassen asked…well, his comment is multiple parts and would be a bit clunky to quote, so I’ll just use it as the jump-off point for an explanation that should stand on its own.

The massive vagrant class in London is a relatively recent development–Smith & Rayl have required human workers to supplement their animations throughout most of their history, but have, within the past ten years, perfected the use of intelligent automatons to the point where humans have been nearly phased out in their London factories. This generates an impoverished class with few options. Certainly service individuals are still in demand, and–as in areas of real-life poverty, such as Mumbai–in some cases the ingenuity of the desperate creates brand-new service positions found nowhere else in history, but subject to the vogue of the wealthy. But the fact is that even then there aren’t enough jobs to go around for everyone.

Some of these impoverished individuals do leave London, but for most there’s the issues of:

1.) How do you leave? Relocating somewhere else, especially with a family, takes finances. It might be hard to scrape up enough money to get by in London, but it’s even harder to scrape up enough to supply yourself during a trip, acquire transport out of the city, and stabilize yourself until you can find work somewhere else. It’s not a matter of not wanting to leave, it’s a matter of not having the wherewithal to leave. What’s more, a good percentage of the poor owe debts to criminal classes who wouldn’t be happy to see them pick up and leave–loan sharks can always find some way of extracting a payment, even if it’s in labor rather than capital.

2.) Where do you go? There are more opportunities in other cities, to be sure, but most of those places aren’t keen on the idea of a bunch of London refugees flooding in and taking all of their jobs. You’re always going to be competing against the natives for work. As for the country, enough farmers already exist to feed just about everyone in the country. You can’t just wander into a field and start a new life there, especially if, again, you’ve got a family.

And then there’s the issue of how Smith & Rayl makes its profit and what it’s used for. This is a large question, but the bottom line is that while there are still plenty of people to sell things to in London, most of their money is made from exporting their goods to other cities and nations. Their capital is then turned towards expansion into other markets, political favors, land purchasing, and investments.


World Creation III: Questions and Answers

24 Jun

This is the reader question hour, in which I answer questions submitted by the sapient ant-men I grew in my junk drawer and taught to impersonate regular readers of my site. My ant-men have grown to reject their slave-names, so out of respect I’ll just refer to them by the names of the posters they’ve mimicked.

Ant-PossiblyInsane asked:

How does sea travel work? Are the oceans much the same as ever, except for the point of no return, or are they plagued by the same nightmare and fantasy hotspots as the rest of the world is? How exactly have expeditions far into the ocean gone awry? Do they simply disappear?

As the continents outside of Europe and Asia have vanished, there’s little reason to travel by ocean. Navies exist, but don’t venture too far from the coast–ships that’ve gone out to explore the deep ocean sometimes don’t come back and sometimes come back with shellshocked crew, all gibbering to anyone who will listen about they horrors they saw, each man’s report different than the rest.

Ant-Sydney asked:

What is magical versus…(what word have you chosen for non-magical?)…warfare like? Conventional weapons were already quite effective by 1915, and even the most combat-focused magicians in this universe don’t sound like they’d have much to say in response to a machine gun.

It certainly sounds like the magicians have the better of it, but…how?

As warfare looms and Nightmare threats are plentiful, conventional weapons are every bit as well developed in my 1915 as they were in real 1915. Even magicians focused on hurting other people are armed only with directed assaults, not with defenses, and so a magician is every bit as vulnerable to arms fire as anyone else.  In fact, two of the Black Barons were killed with  conventional arms–a recent one named Peter Mills was shot in the back by a Prussian spy, and the first Black Baron, Chester Norwick, was famously beheaded by a cannonball.

Ant-Thanatos5150 asked:

Similarly: Is there any sort of quantifiable anti-magic? Psychic nulls, blanks, witch-hunters, effective witch-hunting techniques, straight-up allergies to the magickal arts, government-sponsored witch-hunting campagins/corps?

I made a conscious decision to include nothing of the sort. Anti-magic always smacks of D&D-esque gameishness. Besides, it allows magic to be checked, and a major theme of the campaign is that magic can’t be conclusively checked is consequentially extremely destructive.

Ant-Andrew Stiltman asked:

What are the costs of using magic? What (apart from laws and practice) is going to stop someone from continually using their magics?

Nightmare magic carries side effects both obvious and unobvious. The direct effects are escalating mental tolls, starting with temporary headaches, escalating into muddled and unclear thinking, and culminating in serious mental problems over sustained long-term usage. Even light practitioners go a little mentally quirky after too long, though.

Fantasy magic has similar effects. The effects mirror the stages of intoxication, starting with a light haziness, escalating into irrational thinking, and culminating in an unpleasant stupor. Like intoxication, long-term usage tends to burn someone out.

Read the rest of this entry »


World Creation III: Two-Moon Circus

20 Jun

I’ve mentioned that a couple stripes of magic, like healing and illusion, aren’t legal within city limits–but like anything people want, they’re available if you’re willing to pay the price. If you’re wealthy, you might have a few talented individuals on retainer in private boltholes, or, just as probably, you might have a family member who’s been openly practicing magic since she was old enough to say “privilege.” For the average plebeian, the only reliable source of Fantasy magic can be found in the smoky tents and guarded wagons of the Circuses.

Circuses are mobile societies that hop from town to town, and often across borders, to glean a living. They offer a way for a company of men and women to make a reliable living in a world stricken by rampant unemployment. Partially their continued existence is due to the fact that entertainers can always find an audience somewhere, and partially it’s due to the fact that not all of a circus’ profits come from tickets, or even from legal sources.

Circuses hire performers for a weekly wage, but they also take on “travelers” who get permanent spots on the caravan, food, and protection in exchange for a monthly rent. Circuses tend not to ask where this rent money is actually coming from, and, not coincidentally, tend to move from city to city a lot.  A disreputable circus company may consist of one third employees and two thirds pickpockets, grave robbers, resurrectionists, gamblers, housebreakers, livestock thieves, slave traders, gin runners, fugitives, and con men. It’s unsurprising that the circus coming to town is viewed as a mixed blessing at best, though many hold themselves to a higher standard.

But even the better class of circus will have a few specialists in Fantasy magic aboard. Individuals who need special healing or who want to avail themselves of Dream go to these places looking for the right tents. Constables know better than to try to sting traveling magicians, firstly because it’s a bad idea to attack anyone magical and secondly because declaring war on a circus has gotten at least one city burned to the ground.

The Gypsy tradition has largely been folded into the great traveling circuses. The terms “gypsy” and “circusman” are often used interchangeably.

A town like London can expect a new circus every month. The great circusmasters have long since formed committees to ensure nobody steps on each others’ toes, and any circus not big enough to attend these meetings knows better than to pick a fight with a circus that is. Sometimes a few minor caravans will show up during the same offseason lull, and what follows ranges from an uneasy truce to open warfare–and if it’s that last one, then the townspeople are really in for a show.

A few of the legal delights commonly available:

  • Acrobatics
  • Specially-crafted animations
  • Freakshows (containing a healthy mix of humans and animals afflicted by nightmare, humans and animals with regular birth defects, and good honest fakeries)
  • Boxing matches
  • Magic acts (almost never real magic)
  • Clowns
  • Plays and comedic performances
  • Live music
  • Technological wonders
  • Games of skill and chance

And a few of the gimmicks that define specific high-profile circuses:

  • One Nightmare-themed circus has mobile trailer-based “lumeal manses,” which are something like walk-in haunted houses.
  • At least one circus is staffed almost entirely by animations and humans disguised as animations (except for the travelers, of course, who are all unabashedly fleshy).
  • Vera Dogshead’s circus has no actual physical setup. Even its legitimate performers are buskers who rampage across the city, terrorizing neighborhoods into paying them and visiting bloody reprisal on anyone who raises a hand against them.
  • At least one circus is based entirely around artistic acrobatic spectaculars themed around Nightmare and Fantasy.

For those of you who’ve been following the series so far, throw any questions about the world down into the comments and I’ll answer ’em next week.


World Creation III: …Like a Great Black Pit…

12 Jun

In 1915—the “present” year that I’m operating from—London is a seat of power, a social capital, an academic hub, and the staging grounds for one of the vastest and most productive industrial setups in the world. For ninety-five percent of its population, it’s a living hell.

London faces three severe crises.

Firstly, there are a few little pockets of persistent Nightmare affliction scattered around. They manifest through spontaneously-generating todflies (large insects that lay eggs in human flesh), aggravated bad dreams, increased rates of illness, increased rates of insanity, and a textbook’s worth of lurid birth defects. Naturally, these pockets are located on the poor side of town. The one Nightmare zone that wasn’t already a slum is one now.

The second problem is that law enforcement is currently in a transitory stage. Due to job hazards and low recruitment figures, beat constables are deployed only to middle-class areas, such as commercial districts. The poorer areas are patrolled by animated constables, lamppost-like walkers that are autonomous, barely sapient, and can only respond to crimes they actually see occur. The richer areas have private guards. The result is that the middle class are the only people who’d have trouble getting away with a crime, whereas crafty crooks a fiscally-endowed gentleman could literally get away with murder.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the biggest factories in the city are run by Smith & Rayl Industries. Further explanation is required to accurately convey how much this screws everything up.

Back in the early days of UnNight, an American refugee (John Smith) and a British magician (Thomas Rayl) teamed up together to explore the possibility of creating permanent, subservient labor animated through Fantasy magic. The two purchased a poorly-performing textile mill, fired all of its human workers, and retrofitted the machines to fit a few specially-prepared constructs. The factory’s high output made up for its middling-quality goods, and soon the two men had made enough capital to expand. Soon, Smith & Rayl owned three-quarters of London’s business.

It’s difficult to overstate the dire consequences this had on the city. By the time the Dream occurred more than half of England’s population was urban, and the reason for this was that the city offered plentiful factory work for unskilled laborers. By replacing human employees with automatons that never eat, sleep, or draw wages, Smith and Rayl were reaping massive profits while eliminating over half the positions for poor workers in the city. Not every job was eliminated, but the pool was made significantly shallower. If Smith and Rayl didn’t make so much of their profits off exports to other cities and countries, it’s probable they would have folded up along with the local economy.

Smith and Rayl are figures of much controversy. Some believe that animated employees should be illegal, and that the factories should be reformed or shut down. A growing neo-Marxist faction argues loudly for a campaign to replace all applicable labor with animations and abolish currency instead, envisioning a world of plenty where no human need lift a finger. This vision is complicated by the fact that permanent animations are presently expensive, difficult-to-make investments that only the already rich can afford, but that will pay for themselves in the long or even medium run.

Demographics are particularly bleak in 1915 London. Significantly less than one percent of the population consists of its elite, the aristocrats and industrialists at the top of the food chain. Beneath these are the middle class—bankers, shopkeepers, traders, tradesmen—who represent about five percent. Sixty-five percent of the population are its laborers, who have the good fortune and occasionally the illegal connections required to get a job, and the remaining thirty percent of the population consist of impoverished vagrants and desperate criminals.



World Creation III: Barney the Employee

05 Jun

“Would you like a cup of tea?” asked Mr. Ballard.

A little hot tea sounded pretty good to Barney. It was cold blue unnight, and a chilly caleal breeze blew through the burnt-out holes in the walls of Mr. Ballard’s office squat. As soon as Ballard had filled a chipped cup from the teapot, Barney took it with a nod of gratitude.

“Tastes a bit off, but it’s good stuff,” said Mr. Ballard, pouring his own. “I wouldn’t do to buy one of those bricks from the gyppos. I know where this muck comes from, yeah? No rat business in here. Just tea leaves.”

Mr. Ballard took a sip, and Barney followed suit. It tasted like hot dirty water.

“Anyway,” said Mr. Ballard, very casual, “I hear you beat the piss out of Fran and Roger. Now, to be honest with you, I can’t say as that impresses. Rubbish like that is an impediment to industry. What kind of industrialist would I be if I let my work force get kicked around by some pratie-digging shite like you?”

The way it was put, the question might have been rhetorical or it might not, so Barney let it sit for a moment. It occurred to Barney that Mr. Ballard did look a little bit like an industrialist. More specifically, he looked like a growth on an industrialist’s arse had gotten big enough and hairy enough to run away–and had done, after stealing one of its owners’ suits from the ragbin. An improbable scenario, but once inside Barney’s head, it was a hard image to dislodge.

Mr. Ballard gestured impatiently, and Barney retrieved his mental cue.

“A pretty damn bad one,” said Barney.

“Yeah, that’s right. Now. I’m going to overlook this just once, because I suppose you didn’t have much of a choice in the matter, but I’d like for you to take a moment to appreciate what a stroke of mercy and understanding this is. Yeah?”

“Sure enough.”

“Right. Now it happens that when you get to be a man of my stature, it gets to be that your job is to look out for promising new people. We’re always expanding, eh? So if you’ve no objections, I’d like to give you a spot on my streets. You’ll be working for the Gentlemen in an official capacity, with all that entails. How does that sound?”

“Promising,” said Barney, noting the emphasis on the word “gentlemen”.

Terms were brought up. Barney haggled a little, but not much. Mr. Ballard had a point he clearly wasn’t willing to go above, and Barney’s minimum price was about three-quarters that anyway. So they agreed, shook hands, and Barney was taken off by a wounded Fran to his new apartment.

Mr. Ballard had made at least one very interesting assumption about him that hadn’t been true. Sooner or later, once he’d met everyone and gotten himself on stable footing, Barney would have to conduct a few gentle inquiries and find out just who the hell he was working for.


World Creation III: A Brief Note on The Circumstances of the Dream

05 Jun

(A round of insincere cheers for finals-sized posts.)

I’ve noticed there seems to be a little ambiguity about the whats, whens, and wheres of the campaign world’s apocalyptic paradigm shift, the Dream. Let me inject a little disambiguity into things with good hard bullet points:

  • The dream occurred in the middle of the nineteenth century. Some speculate that it coincided with the completion of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, others with the moment that England’s population became more urban than rural. Naturally, these theories aren’t popular outside of England.
  • The first five to ten years of the Dream are obscured from history. Thanks to an inscrutable mixture of simple hysteria and legitimate, magic-generated delusion, accounts of the first six months or so are varying and contradictory. Members of the same family will offer very different perspectives on the same period of time, arguing over things as straightforward as how long something lasted, what color the sky was, how the family dog died, what happened to the garden shed, etc. Even once the chaos dimmed a little, the process of recording writing history was sufficiently jarred that anything that happen in the early days is subject to debate.
  • There now exist realms of Nightmare and Fantasy that orbit our own, strongest in pockets scattered throughout the world.
  • The daytime has been replaced with the UnNight, and the sun with the UnNight moon Caleus. Caleus acts as a window to Fantasy; Lumus, the old moon, acts as a window to Nightmare.
  • The Americas, almost all of Asia, Australia, nearly all of Africa, and parts of Europe have been completely lost. The only landmasses still around are the bulk of Europe, a sliver of Asia, and a few islands that were once the northernmost parts of Africa. It is no longer clear that the world is globe-shaped. Observations disagree, and attempts to sail around the world have not been met with success.
  • Almost every contemporary religion survived, but the principles of Diadism–essentially treating the emergence of Fantasy and Nightmare as object lessons from God–have become popular worldwide. The first application of this was to Islam, and thus the Islamic version is sometimes called just Diadism or–rarely, by certain scholars–Orthodox Diadism.
  • Nightmare and Fantasy can cause mutations. Sometimes, these mutations can be leveraged to exert magical control.
  • England, France, and Belgium–among a few other minor territories and some of Britain’s remaining colonies–have formed into a single nation, the Great Empire. The Great Empire is centered in London. It marries a small measure of monarchic authority with a mixture of aristocratic and parliamentary legislature.
  • Countering the Great Empire is the growing Prussian Empire, centered in Vienna.

That’s enough broad overview. Next week, I go into what London is like now. Spoilers: it sucks.


World Creation III: Barney and the Church

31 May

(Later than expected, but technically still daytime when I sat down for this one. Schedule kind of snarled up on me.)

Logically, Barney had just been asleep inside the flophouse. Logically, it was nearly morning, and retiring now would throw him well outside the bounds of a healthy sleep schedule. Barney was smart enough to know both of those were true, but his senses told him he was tired, and so he crawled up in the spot by the disused church that his instinct told him would be safe and dry.

Barney dreamed that night of a bedroom. He was bundled in sheets of yellowing linen that were soaked through with his own sweat. They were heavy as iron chains. They hurt. They cut off the blood to his arms, or head, or something, so he couldn’t rest but could only fight them. Whenever he wrestled himself upright he caught a glimpse of dirty paintings and cracked walls before his weight and his headache brought him back down to the mattress. Something was swimming in front of his eyes, and then was swimming inside of them. Something was tickling his nostrils. Something was caught in his teeth, and it was moving. He was choking on air. He was drowning in his own hot spit.

The last thing he remembered in the dream was the door creaking open, and footsteps, and two blurs of darkness. “He’ll be just like this for another two days,” said one, and then they both left for good. He didn’t remember anything after that, but he knew the dream went on.

Barney didn’t believe in dream interpretation, so when he woke up he put the whole thing out of his mind and got some breakfast from another vendor.

The man running the flophouse had not been wealthy, and his wallet was growing light in Barney’s pocket. The money wasn’t going to last much longer than the next street pie. It was becoming clear that if Barney wanted to get used to this eating business, and he rather already was, then he was going to need to find gainful employment of some sort.

The troublesome part about that was that Barney had been keeping one eye open since he got here and he’d seen barely anyone worth mugging. Part of this was the low traffic; the streets looked deserted, although Barney knew better. He could feel the twitching of skittish vagrants trying to minimize their profile in gutters, squats, piles of garbage in the alley. None of them would have valuables; probably they were afraid of being attacked by other vagrants more than anyone else.

The main question was where the good pickings could be found. He intuited pretty naturally that certain parts of the streets would be hotspots, where an industrious man could safely and peaceably relieve the unwary of their valuables, and others would be a waste of his time and would intersect with constable patrol routes. It was all well and good to say “let’s experiment,” but Barney had nothing to build on and was counting on this to prevent him from starving. Too much experimentation and he’d go hungry or get arrested. Luckily, Barney was a lateral thinker, and before too long he had an answer: keep walking until some people tried to rob him.

Barney was crossing an empty street thirty-five minutes later when a young woman walked out of the alleyway and stopped in front of him. She smiled prettily at him. She was a distraction.

“Beg your pardon, sir, but could we trouble you for a few pence to restore the Judgmentists’ Church up Barkley Avenue?”

Barney didn’t answer, but took a sharp turn and walked onto the pavement. The woman hadn’t expected him to keep moving, and she tried to stay in front of him, but by then he’d put his back away from the street and he could see the woman’s accomplice, a man in a flatcap, who was holding a rope and had stepped out of another alleyway as if to sneak up behind him.

“You two working alone, or do you have a boss?” asked Barney.

The man and woman glanced at each other.  It was the man who lost his look of indecision, and turned to Barney to say, “‘ere now, hand over your wallet or we’ll choke you ’till you turn violet, understand?”

Barney withdrew his axe handle.

A minute later, Barney had lost a little bit of blood, and littering the pavement were two battered broken-fingered thieves, the choking rope, the woman’s skinning knife, and a few loose teeth. And then Barney repeated his question.

One problem had been solved.