The Kerberos Club
The primary assumption of this book is that players will take on the roles of members of the Kerberos Club, and one major goal in writing it has been to make this prospect as attractive as possible. The Kerberos Club is many things, but within the setting it is the vanguard against the Strangeness which is transforming the world: the Empire’s first and last defense against menaces too weird for ordinary people. As a facilitator to play, it is a perfect excuse for characters of radically different social background and class to mingle and work together as equals, something which can present a problem without this conceit in the context of the Victorian social order.
The Kerberos Club is a refuge for the Strange. It counts among its members Indian mystics, fallen women, gentleman adventurers, occultists, and those who meddle with the outward limits of what is scientifically possible, seeking to transgress those limits at any cost. All its members have been Touched. As Kerberans, the player characters stand somewhere at the nexus of Hero and Monster, and as the Club becomes more public knowledge, they are equally lauded and despised. They possess unnatural abilities which defy reason and a perspective which defies morality. They cast a lurid glow that casts the period’s social landscape in sharp relief.
Within the walls of the Club’s London house all are equal and treated as such (and those who can’t adapt to this don’t long last on the Club’s rolls), but outside the walls, they find themselves thrown back into the same struggles, preconceptions, and expectations as everyone else, and subject to the mistrust and resentment of ordinary folk who envy and fear their freedom. In this way, they are both within and without proper Victorian society, subjects of admiration and envy, sometimes revulsion, but always fascination. And as much as Society would wish it were not so, the Kerberos Club is needed.
What characters do is as complex as who they are. The pursuit of personal agendas is entirely acceptable. A detective may consult on cases unrelated to the Club’s business, and a physician may seek cures for weird diseases. An inventor invents, an explorer explorers, a woman fallen to vice, free thinking and the study of the occult has plenty to occupy her time. But if one visits the Kerberos Club’s house often enough, one will inevitably be asked to look into certain things, handle certain business, have a word with this person or that. The Kerberos Club’s officers (whoever they might be) never assign jobs or duties; rather all members are obliged to look favorably upon the humble requests for assistance made by their fellows. Likewise, the characters have this same privilege of asking for assistance, information, and specialized services from other members.
The currency of the Club is favors done and favors owed, and though there is no official tally, most members are scrupulous about keeping track of who they owe and who owes them. Offers of assistance, if accepted, are indebting as well. The Club’s grand tradition of meddling in affairs which don’t concern it sees Kerberans on the trail of many menaces and threats even before an official request for aid comes down the convoluted channels separating the Club from the Queen. Such requests follow a path like Louis Pasteur’s torturously twisted glass tubing, which keeps wandering microbes from inoculating his broth while still allowing air to pass through. Communication without contamination.
Victoria’s Empire is under assault constantly from all quarters. In Ireland the Fae grow restless with the Queen’s rule, and their discontent with Her rulership mirrors that of the Irish people. In India, the legion of native gods and demons and divinities, asleep for ages, has begun stirring again, seeking new epic stories to play out upon the societies of man. In Europe, France and Prussia clash, and beyond them, Russia grows increasingly aware of its might. In the Americas, the broken Union is heading to war. Spies, anarchists, criminals petty and grand, Faerie contagion, industrial transformation, blasphemous science run amok, strife within the Church over the Queen’s apparent divinity, and all the mundane evils of poverty and desperation and injustice push the Empire to the boiling point. Assailed from without by enemies on four continents, corrupted from within by Progress run mad, it is held together only by the increasingly inhuman will of Queen Victoria Divinus.
The Kerberos Club has plenty to contend with.