The Clockwork Impostor – A New Creature Inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann


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The Automaton Exhibition 1826 at Gothic Hall in Haymarket London

Around the same time Mary Shelley was creating “Frankenstein” in 1816, German Romantic E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote “The Sandman”, one of the first stories to explore the horrific implications of android technology. Shows of humanoid automata were in fact quite popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and it was widely believed that the chess-playing machine called “The Turk” represented the invention of actual artificial intelligence. Although “The Turk” later proved to be actually a puppet fraudulently operated by a hidden person, it inspired many of the advances in technology that ultimately flowered into modern computing and robotics.

Clockwork Impostor

An automaton designed to cleverly mimic a real human being.

Creature Class: Monster (can be used as a Monstrous Servant)
Number Appearing: 1 – 10
Initial Impression: A person with attractive facial features, but a noticeably stiff manner.
Size: Human-sized

Perversity: 9
Disposition: Determined
Charisma: 9 Intelligence: 9 Wisdom: 9
Strength: 9 Dexterity: 9 Constitution: 9
Speed: 9

Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 1
Attacks: 1 (fist or weapon)
Special Abilities: Programmed Skills; Fearless; Immune to Poison, Disease, and Nausea; Immune to Fascination Effects.
Weaknesses: Limited Vocabulary, No Sense of Taste or Smell.
Assets: None
Afflictions: Dull Conversationalist
Preternatural Powers: None

Natural Habitat: The laboratories of Mad Scientists, cabinets of curiosities, salons, and balls.
Level: 1

A Clockwork Impostor is a creation of Mad Science – a sentient automaton of wood, metal gearing, India rubber, oilcloth, human hair, and wax that masquerades as a real human being. They are made to be servants, companions, and even assassins, and will be dressed in clothing appropriate to their apparent gender and use. They are intelligent, but noticeably dull in conversation. Clockwork Impostors are self-aware and capable of some independent decision making, but will never disobey a command given to them by their creator. They can ape the expression of love, but never actually feel the emotion.

Despite representing the height of automaton technology, a Clockwork Impostor is still not a perfect imitation of a human being. A successful Wisdom Check will reveal that the thing moves in a curiously stiff manner, its face is strangely inexpressive, and its eyes seem lifelessly glassy. It possesses no body heat or odor. A Clockwork Impostor is not usually able to consume food or drink, a fact that can be used to reveal its true nature. Its vocabulary is limited, and it has trouble reacting appropriately to unexpected situations. And of course, it needs to be wound up every 8 hours (unless its creator is also capable of fitting it with a device that provides Perpetual Motion).

Sometimes a Clockwork Impostor is built to impersonate and replace a specific person. Acquaintances of that person are entitled to a Wisdom Check (made secretly by the Presenter). Those that succeed will know that the Impostor is not who it claims to be – although the realization will not extend to knowing the true nature of the thing.

Clockwork Impostor Special Abilities

Programmed Skills: A Clockwork Impostor is programmed to possess the skills of a Profession, such as Musician or Soldier. This ability is similar in every respect to an Everyman’s Profession, allowing the Impostor to automatically succeed at simple tasks, and granting a +1 Bonus on attempts to do extraordinary work. Some Clockwork Impostors are built so that they can be reprogrammed for different Professions, by exchanging toothed metal cylinders located inside their bodies. In all cases, however, a Clockwork Impostor is incapable of true creativity – it can faithfully imitate, but never innovate. One can be programmed to be a painter capable of flawlessly accurate portraits, but it will have no imagination to depict anything it does not actually see. A Clockwork Impostor could sing a song written by another, but not compose a new one of their own.

Fearless: Clockwork Impostors have no regard for their own safety, and never check Morale.

Immune to Fascination Effects: A Clockwork Impostor is immune to all Preternatural effects which manipulate minds or emotions.

Immune to Poison, Disease, and Nausea: Since it has no flesh or organs, a Clockwork Impostor cannot be poisoned, catch disease, or be nauseated. Likewise, it cannot be harmed by smoke inhalation, or toxic fumes.

Clockwork Impostor Weaknesses

Limited Vocabulary: A Clockwork Impostor’s spoken vocabulary is limited to about 100 distinct words and phrases (although it can understand anything said to it in the language it is programmed to speak). Observant people may notice how the Impostor constantly asks the same questions, and repeats the same answers. Clockwork Impostors are seldom programmed with many proper names in their vocabulary, and so may avoid addressing people directly.

No Sense of Taste or Smell: A Clockwork Impostor can see, hear, and feel, but cannot detect odors, or taste flavors.

Clockwork Impostor (for OSR games)
Number Appearing: 1 – 10
Size: Medium
Alignment: Neutral
Morale: Never checks Morale
Intelligence: 10
Move: 120′ (or 12”, or 30 ft.)
Armor Class: 6 (or 14)
Hit Dice: 1
Attacks & Damage: 1 punch (1d4), or 1 weapon (by weapon type)
* Possesses a Secondary Skill, Profession, or Non-weapon Proficiency
* Immune to all Mind Magic
* Immune to Poison and Poison Gas
* Immune to Disease
* Immune to Nausea effects
* Spoken vocabulary limited to 100 words and phrases.
* No Sense of Smell or Taste
* If observer Saves versus Spells they will notice the Impostor is not what it seems.
Saves: As Fighter 1
Challenge: a single 2nd Level character, or two 1st level characters.


Hunter’s Song by William Rutter – Now the First Official Ghastly Affair Novel!


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From the author’s description:

“Georgian London, the late eighteenth century: a time of social decadence and political upheaval.

Lila Davenport was born a noble heiress, but when tragedy strikes she is outcast from her inheritance. Now a hunter of the demonic forces which stalk the shadows, Lila finds herself the target of a supernatural enemy more terrible and cruel than she could have imagined.

But how will she prevail when even those closest to her are not what they seem? Her journey will take her across a Europe torn by revolution, and down into the darkest depths of her own heart…”

Get your copy on Amazon and DriveThruFiction today!

Another Actual Play Video for Ghastly Affair


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The first session of “The Bedevilled Birthright” has been posted to Youtube. If you’re interested in seeing Ghastly Affair in actual play, check it out!

A big “thank you” to everyone involved!

Ghastly Affair PDFs Now Unleashed on DriveThruRPG!


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Since their debut on DriveThruRPG, the “Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual” and “Ghastly Affair Presenter’s Manual” have been screened from general view behind the “Adult Content” filter. This was a decision I made, to respect the standards of the site. After consultation, however, I have decided to remove the “Adult Content” filter. There has been no editing or alteration of the text or illustrations – simply a reconsideration of my original decision.

Ghastly Affair is now unleashed! If you’d like to experience the decadent horror and dark romance of authentic Gothic role-playing, take a look at the Ghastly Affair PDFs today!

And of course, both the “Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual” and “Ghastly Affair Presenter’s Manual” remain available in softcover print on Amazon.

The Leeds (or, Jersey) Devil – For Ghastly Affair and other OSR Games


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I’ve previously written up the Jersey Devil for Castles & Crusades, as the “Pine Devil”. Here is the beast redone for use with Ghastly Affair, and other OSR games. Although the creature is now commonly known as the “Jersey” Devil, in the 18th and 19th centuries it was called the “Leeds” Devil.

Leeds Devil

A chimeric monster that haunts the desolate pine forests of southern New Jersey

Creature Class: Monster
Number Appearing: 1
Initial Impression: A bat-winged creature like a dog walking upright, with a horse’s head, and a long, split tail.
Size: Human-sized

Perversity: 13
Disposition: Goading
Charisma: 10 Intelligence: 7 Wisdom: 12
Strength: 15 Dexterity: 15 Constitution: 15
Speed: 9 walking, 17 flying

Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: 1 (claws or bite)
Special Abilities: Paralyzing Gaze, Nightvision
Weaknesses: Distracted by Food
Assets: Stealthy, Resistant to Preternatural Effects
Afflictions: None
Preternatural Powers: Dimension Door (6 times a day)

Natural Habitat: The Pine Barrens of New Jersey
Level: 5

The Leeds Devil is a monster that haunts the British colony (and later, State) of New Jersey. It lurks among the stunted pines that cover the southern portion of the region, preying on small animals (and the livestock of neighboring farms). It will usually harass, rather than directly attack, a full grown person, but it enjoys the taste of infants and children. On occasion it will roam to Philadelphia or New York City, but always eventually returns to its gloomy home. It is said to have been first created in the early part of the 18th century, when the witch Mother Leeds cursed her offspring to be born a monster (as per the preternatural Effect Monstrous Offspring). There may in fact have been more the one Leeds Devil created by the witches of the Pine Barrens, although only one has ever been seen at a time. If it is a unique creature, there appears to be no limit to its lifespan. If more are being created, they are likely under the command of the witches who give them birth.

Physically, the Leeds Devil resembles a large, lean dog walking upright on its hind legs, but with the arms of a man. The head, however, is like that of horse, but with sharp teeth. Its hands are clawed, and its feet are cloven-hoofed. A pair of smallish, bat-like wings sprout from its back. Trailing behind it is a long, rat-like tail that splits into three ends. The beast makes an unnerving hissing sound that can frighten animals.

The most famous witness to the Leeds Devil was Joseph Bonaparte, former King of Spain (and brother of Napoleon). After being exiled from Europe in 1816 he eventually settled in Bordentown, New Jersey, where he encountered the Devil while out hunting one night. He was paralyzed by the sight of the hissing creature, which then took flight. Joseph sought many times to find the creature again, but was never able to.

Leeds Devil Special Abilities

Paralyzing Gaze: Anyone meeting the gaze of the Leeds Devil must make a Wisdom Save or be Paralyzed for 5 Rounds.

Frightful Hiss: Any ordinary animal that hears the hiss of the Leeds Devil must immediately make a Morale Check.

Dimension Door: The Leeds Devil can use its Preternatural Power of Dimension Door 6 times a day.

Leeds Devil Weakness

Distracted by Food: The Leeds Devil is essentially a hungry predator, and will break off combat to follow easily obtainable fresh meat. That includes crying babies!

Leeds (Jersey) Devil (for OSR games)

Number Appearing: 1
Size: Medium
Alignment: Neutral
Morale: 10 (or 14)
Intelligence: 7
Move: 120′ (or 12”, or 30 ft.); Flying 360′ (or 36”, or 70 ft.)
Armor Class: 6 (or 14)
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks & Damage: Bite (1d8); or Claw (1d6) Claw (1d6)
* Magic Resistance: 30%
* See in low light as if daylight.
* Paralyzing Gaze: Make a Constitution save or be Paralyzed for 5 Rounds.
* Frightful Hiss: causes ordinary animals to check Morale.
* Dimension Door: 6 times a day.
Saves: As Fighter 4
Treasure: 1,000 gp worth of rare skins, medicinal plants, valuable shells, raw gemstones, and possible incidental jewelry from eaten children.
Challenge: Four 5th Level characters.

Ghastly Affair Creatures for Other OSR Games


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Here’s a guide to converting the creature stat-blocks of Ghastly Affair for use in other Old School and OGL role-playing games. Obviously, you can also work the system backwards to translate into the Ghastly Affair format.

A Ghastly Affair creature:

Reanimated Wretch

Number Appearing: 1
Initial Impression: An enormous humanoid with grotesque facial features and a muscular, yet sickly look.
Size: Large (7 – 8′ tall)

Perversity: 13
Disposition: Curious
Charisma: 8 Intelligence: 9 Wisdom: 10
Strength: 40 Dexterity: 18 Constitution: 18
Speed: 10

Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 5
Attacks: 1 (strike or weapon)
Special Abilities: Difficult to Control, Fast Learner
Weaknesses: Emotional Instability
Assets: Resistant to Cold
Afflictions: None
Preternatural Powers: None

Natural Habitat: A Mad Scientist’s lair, or any isolated place.
Level: 5

Reformatted for other OSR games:

Reanimated Wretch

Number Appearing: 1
Size: Large (7 – 8′ tall)
Alignment: Chaotic (or Chaotic Neutral)
Morale: 9 (or 11)
Intelligence: 10
Move: 150′ (or 15”)
Armor Class: 4 (or 16)
Hit Dice: 5
Attacks: 1 strike or weapon
Damage: 2d8 (as a Hill Giant)
* Strong as a Hill Giant.
* 18 Dexterity.
* Attempts to Magically charm or otherwise control the creature will result in it behaving randomly.
* Learns twice as fast as an ordinary person.
* +3 on Saving Throws against Cold.
* Highly emotional, easily angered, and prone to murderous outbursts
Saves: as Fighter 5
Challenge: Four 4th Level characters.

Doing conversions, line-by-line:

Creature Class can be translated in a common-sense way where needed. It makes little mechanical difference in most OSR games, and doesn’t usually need to be indicated on the stat-block.

Number Appearing needs no translation.

Initial Impression is likewise purely descriptive.

Size is self-explanatory, and translates directly for OSR systems where weapon damage varies by the size of the opponent.

Perversity converts to “Alignment” in the following ways:

GA Perversity Equivalent Alignment (3 choices)
1 – 6 Lawful
7 – 12 Neutral
13 – 20 Chaotic
GA Perversity Equivalent Alignment (5 choices)
1 – 6 Good
7 – 8 Lawful
9 – 12 Neutral
13 – 14 Chaotic
15 – 20 Evil
GA Perversity Alignment (9 choices)
1 – 3 Lawful Good
4 – 6 Neutral Good
7 – 8 Lawful Neutral
9 – 10 Neutral
11 – 12 Chaotic Good
13 – 14 Chaotic Neutral
15 – 16 Lawful Evil
17 – 18 Neutral Evil
19 – 20 Chaotic Evil

Some Ghastly Affair creatures, such as Demons and Devils, should simply be assigned their appropriate Alignment in the system being used.

Disposition can be used to assign “Morale” as follows:

GA Disposition Morale (range: 2 – 12) Morale (range: 2 – 20)
Determined 12 20
Aggressive 11 17
Goading 10 14
Curious 9 11
Friendly 8 10
Scheming 6 7
Cautious 5 6
Shy 3 4
Cowardly 2 2

Disposition may may also interact with certain spells and abilities (such as those which target “aggressive” beings, etc.) Note: under the Ghastly Affair rules, a Morale Check is made by rolling under Charisma.

Charisma, Intelligence, Wisdom, Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution generally translate directly to most other OSR systems, when necessary. However, an Ghastly Affair Intelligence of 9 (average human) should be translated as a 10. Also, Ghastly Affair handles super-normal strength differently than most other OSR rules. Use the following table to figure the equivalent Strength for your system from the GA score:

GA Strength Strength in other OSR Systems
19 18 (50)
20 18 (00) (or equivalent to an Ogre)
21 – 50 19 (or equivalent to a Hill Giant)
51 – 100 20 (or equivalent to a Stone Giant)
101 – 200 21 (or equivalent to a Frost Giant)
201 – 300 22 (or equivalent to a Fire Giant)
301 – 400 23 (or equivalent to a Cloud Giant)
401 – 500 24 (or equivalent to a Storm Giant)
501+ 25

If a GA creature’s Dexterity score is 15 or above, it can be noted in the creature’s description as a “Special” characteristic.

Speed can be converted to your system’s “Move” or “Speed” by using the following table, based on the speed of an unencumbered human being.

GA Speed Move (base 120” or 12”) Speed (base 30′)
1 – 2 10′ or 1” 10 ft.
3 – 4 30′ or 3” 15 ft.
5 – 6 60′ or 6” 20 ft.
7 – 8 90′ or 9” 25 ft.
9 120′ or 12” 30 ft.
10 150′ or 15” 35 ft
11 180′ or 18” 40 ft
12 210′ or 21” 45 ft.
13 240′ or 24” 50 ft.
14 270′ or 27” 55 ft.
15 300′ or 30” 60 ft.
16 330′ or 33” 65 ft.
17 360′ or 36” 70 ft.
18 390′ or 39” 75 ft
19 420′ or 42” 80 ft.
20 450′ or 45” 85 ft.

Armor Class is easy to translate:

  • In descending AC systems, subtract the Ghastly Affair Armor Class from 10.
  • In ascending AC systems, add the Ghastly Affair Armor Class value to 10.

Hit Dice work the same as in most other OSR systems, but note that Ghastly Affair creatures aren’t assigned additional Hit Points in addition to their Hit Die (for example: 1+1, or 5+5). Add such additional Hit Points where appropriate. Also, Ghastly Affair generally only uses d6 to determine Hit Points, so use the appropriate Hit Die size (d8, d12, etc.) for your chosen system.

Attacks made by creatures are handled slightly differently in Ghastly Affair than in most other OSR systems. Most Ghastly Affair creatures only roll once to represent all their attacks in a Round, doing damage equal to 1d6, + the number of their Hit Dice. If the description indicates that the creature’s attack is actually composed of several different elements (such as a bite and 2 claws), translate the separate attacks of a Small creature as inflicting 1d4 points of Damage each, those of a Human-sized creature as inflicting 1d6 points each, and those of a Large creature as inflicting 1d8 points each. The attacks of particularly large creatures (over 20 feet) might do 1d10, or 1d12 each. Creatures with a humanoid shape who have Strength equal to a Giant’s can inflict the same damage per attack as the corresponding giant type.

Special Abilities will generally translate directly to the “Special”, “Special Attacks” and “Special Defenses” sections of other OSR monster stat-blocks.

Weaknesses are an important element of Ghastly Affair creatures, but don’t generally correspond to anything on the monster stat-blocks of most other OSR systems. They can be indicated on the “Special” line, if present.

Assets don’t directly translate to most OSR systems, but can be interpreted as “Specials” granting +3 bonuses on related Saving Throws, skill checks, proficiency checks, or Ability checks.

Afflictions likewise don’t directly translate to most OSR systems, but can be interpreted as “Specials” inflicting -3 penalties on related Saving Throws, skill checks, proficiency checks, or Ability checks.

Preternatural Powers correspond directly to “Spell-like Abilities”, and can be indicated in the “Special” or “Special Attacks” section.

Natural Habitat is largely self-explanatory.

Level most directly translates to systems where dungeons have Levels rated from I to X. It can be used to figure how challenging an individual creature would be to the average adventuring party of four in the following way:

    • An “Animal” would challenge a party whose average character Level is equal to ½ its own.
    • An individual Human “Antagonist” would challenge a party whose average character Level is equal to ½ their own Level, except for Magicians and Mad Scientists, who could individually challenge a adventuring party of their own Level.
    • A “Fairy” would challenge a party whose average character Level is one higher than its own.
    • A “Monster” would challenge a party whose average character Level is one lower than its own.
    • A “Revenant” would challenge a party whose average character Level is equal to its own.

    Each additional Creature in a group past the first generally raises the Level of adventurers need to handle them by one (if Animals, Adversaries, Monsters or Revenants), or by two (if Fairies or Spirits). A single Ghastly Affair Goblin (a Fairy with Preternatural Powers) can challenge four 2nd Level OSR adventurers, but 2 GA Goblins can challenge four 4th Level OSR adventurers.

    Note that a Ghastly Affair creature’s listed Level is not rated on an absolute scale, but relative to other creatures of its own Class.

    Further Notes on Conversions:

    In systems where Monster Savings throws can vary, a Ghastly Affair creature has the “Save As” value of a Fighter of its own Level, or else as a Magic User (if it has Preternatural Powers).

    Ghastly Affair doesn’t use “Magic Resistance”. If your system does, simply assign appropriate creatures (Fairies, Angels, Devils, and Demons) 5% Magic Resistance per point of Wisdom.

    Lastly, Ghastly Affair creatures have no listed XP values, because characters in Ghastly Affair do not receive Experience Points for defeating creatures. Figure the XP values in whatever method your chosen rules-set suggests.

    If you play Savage Worlds, Sean Tait Bircher (of the Wine & Savages blog) has done a series converting the Adversaries from the Ghastly Affair Presenter’s manual into Savage Worlds terms. I recommend giving it (and Sean’s other work) a look.

Seven League Boots – Another Weird Object for the Ghastly Affair RPG


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The wearer of Seven League Boots can traverse up to 21 miles in the time it takes to take a single step. However, the wearer will be just as tired as if they had actually walked the entire distance without stopping, and so suffer the Affliction “Fatigued” (-3 on all Ability Checks) until they can get a full night’s rest.

If the wearer tries to use the magic of the Boots a second time in a single day, they must Save versus Constitution or be reduced to 0 Hit Points (and thus fall down completely incapacitated) at the end of their journey.

If the wearer avoids becoming incapacitated, and tries to use the Boots a third time in a day, they must save versus Constitution or die from exhaustion at the end of their trip. If they survive, they must likewise Save or die with every seven-league step attempted thereafter, until the wearer has had a chance to sleep.

Remember that all Constitution Saves made after the taking first step are made with a -3 Penalty from being “Fatigued”.

Blasting Rod – A New Weird Object for the Ghastly Affair RPG


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The Blasting Rod is an exceptionally dangerous item, as hazardous to those who employ it as to their enemies. Physically, it is a rod of hazel wood the length of a man’s forearm, with forked ends that terminate in sharply pointed steel caps. It grants its possessor numerous malevolent powers, but also physically damages them, and can quickly cause madness. Naturally, the ceremony to create a Blasting Rod is exactingly difficult.

By pointing a Blasting Rod at a Spirit or Fairy, the User can Banish it to its natural abode, without a Saving Throw, and regardless of the creature’s might or status. Even Lucifer himself cannot resist the power of a Blasting Rod. Using the Rod in this way causes the User to suffer Lethal Damage equal to the Level of Spirit banished, and they must also make a Charisma Check or have their Perversity increase by the same amount.

Similarly, by suffering 1 point of Lethal Damage, and risking a 1 point increase in Perversity, the User can fling an Elf Stroke.

By suffering 3 points of Lethal Damage, and risking a 3 point increase in Perversity, the User can shoot a Lightning Bolt.

The User can Raise Storm by suffering 5 points of Lethal Damage, and risking a 5 point increase in Perversity.

By suffering 3 points of Lethal Damage and risking a 3 point increase in Perversity, the User can create a Gust of Wind.

The user can Call Lightning by suffering 3 points of Lethal Damage, and risking a 3 point increase in Perversity.

By suffering 3 points of Lethal Damage, and risking a 3 point increase in Perversity, the User can Blast Crops.

The User can Bewitch Cattle by suffering 2 points of Lethal Damage, and risking a 2 point increase in Perversity.

By suffering 2 points of Lethal Damage, and risking a 2 point increase in Perversity, the User can inflict Barrenness.

Furthermore, the Blasting Rod can also serve as a regular Magical Implement for the the use of Invocations already known. If employed in that way, the Magician only suffers the usual Nonlethal Damage.

The Rhythm of Life in a Late 18th Century Grand House


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Strawberry Hill Engraving

Enjoy this draft excerpt from the upcoming Ghastly Affair supplement “A Ghastly Companion to Castles, Mansions, and Estates”.

What follows is a brief and general overview of a day in a typical European grand house of the late 18th (or very early 19th) century. You can use it to plan the timing of dramatic events in a story, or to know where the Player Character might encounter certain NPCs. Naturally, there will be some variation in schedule from country to country, and even from house to house. The general British system of household management, for instance, differs in some particulars from the French. Also, servants in houses outside of France and England often do not have clearly-defined duties, but perform whatever work they are assigned from day to day. However, the enthusiasm among European aristocrats for all things Gallic means that the French system of servants and household management might be imitated anywhere in continental Europe (or even in Britain itself).

In general, country houses will only be occupied from late spring to early autumn, while urban mansions are inhabited from late autumn to early spring. While some families may indeed stay in a single primary residence for the entire year, the usual pattern for aristocrats is to spend the winter in town, and the summer in the country. When the family retires to another of their own residences, usually the entire staff of house servants will go with them (with the possible exception of a Manservant and / or Maid-of-all-work, who remain behind to maintain the house). Grounds servants (such as the Gardener and Gamekeeper) will generally remain on an estate all year. It is not unknown, however, for a particularly nasty family to just terminate the entire staff’s employment and hire a new staff at the residence they will be occupying. An interesting series of Affairs could consist of the mundane and supernatural troubles faced by the skeleton staff of a country estate during the long and lonely winter.

To modern eyes, a grand house of the Ghastly Age functions like a combination of small village and vacation resort. Even the houses and estates of the modern rich who have household staff usually operate in a very different manner than those of the late 18th century. For one thing, the actual family members inhabiting an 18th century grand house are usually outnumbered by the servants. Each house and estate has its own schedule of meals, legends, peculiar customs, and even uniform (livery). Indeed, many of the practices of the modern hospitality industry have their origins in French noble households. There are usually more servants living the house than family, and the spouses and children of the grounds servants will often be living in cottages on the property. It is not unknown for the same family to have been in service to an aristocratic house, and residing on the estate grounds, for many generations. Visiting guests, even unexpected ones, can expect to be kept occupied with scheduled activities and entertainments (attendance at which is not, however, always optional). Most striking to a modern mind is the practically nonexistent level of privacy, where servants may be listening and waiting outside your door even when you are engaged in the most personal and intimate acts. Or even be in the room with you…


The servants generally awaken about 5 AM. They are expected to clean and dress themselves, and begin their work. The Housemaids must open the windows (if it is summertime), clean out the fireplaces and heating stoves, and clean up from whatever the family and guests were doing the previous night. Candles, lamps, fireplaces, and stoves will be lit as needed. If guests are expected their rooms need to be prepared. Buckets of water must be brought into the house (unless there is a pump or tap in the Scullery). The Footmen will begin cleaning the artworks and expensive decorations. On a country estate, eggs and milk must be collected from the Farmyard, and herbs, fruits, and vegetables taken from the Kitchen Garden. In the city, the Housekeeper or Cook will need to obtain food from the market (or receive deliveries). The Kitchen staff will begin making breakfast for the family, guests, retainers, and house servants. The day’s bread must be baked. On the grounds, the Gardener will begin his work. The Groom and Stable Boys will feed and prepare the horses for the day, while the Coachmen clean and make the carriages ready for any trips. If there is going to be hunting that day, the Gamekeeper will set traps and lures to ensure that one or more animals will be in a convenient location later in the day. A bell may be rung early in the morning, as a warning for extramarital couples to return to their own beds (so everyone can pretend no impropriety has occurred).

If this is a laundry day, the Laundry Maids (or Scullery Maids) must begin their washing first thing in the morning. Laundering of household linens is done once a week in an English style house, but once a year in a French château (with the soiled linens stored in a large Lingerie [Linen Room]).

Breakfast for the family, guests, and retainers will be served anywhere from 7 AM to noon – generally earlier in the years before the French Revolution. It is considered déclassé for family members and guests to awaken and attempt to start their day more than an hour before breakfast – both because the servants need time to prepare the house and grounds, and because early rising implies that the person needs to work for a living (like some kind of common tradesman). It is the job of a Lady’s Maid (Femme de Chambre) or Valet to see that a fire is lit in their master or mistress’ bedchamber, wake them at the proper time, make sure warm water is brought to their room, wash and groom them, and dress them them to a presentable degree. Breakfast may be served in bed, or in a dedicated room. Even when breakfast is served in a dedicated Dining, Breakfast, or Morning Room, guests (especially female guests) can usually elect to instead take their breakfast in bed. In English practice, a breakfast not taken in bed is served on a sideboard, and guests are expected to help themselves (or be served by their own servants). Already in the Ghastly Age, English breakfasts are a substantial mix of meats, cooked vegetables, eggs, and breads – while in France, petite dejeuner (breakfast) might be nothing more than a pastry and a hot cup of chocolate. Women who attend breakfast wear a morning dress (much simpler and more covering than evening wear), and are not expected to be fully made-up, or have their hair done. They just need to look reasonably presentable.

Retainers (such as the Governess, Estate Manager, and possibly a live-in Mistress) may breakfast with the family, or separately. While the family, guests, and retainers are occupied with breakfast, all the chamber pots will be emptied. Female guests and family members may attend to the remainder of their toilette (which is often stretched out to occupy up to two hours) after breakfast, or delay it until the hours before dinner. The Governess, however, must begin giving lessons to the children. The servants will then have their own breakfast in the Servant’s Hall (or Salle Commune). If luncheon is going to be served, the Kitchen Staff must begin preparing it as soon as the servants have finished eating breakfast. Whether or not luncheon is served, the Kitchen must also begin work on the longest-cooked dishes for the house’s dinner. Cookies and pastries may be placed in the boudoirs of the house, ready to be eaten by any ladies who plan later in the day to storm off in tears and pout over some trifle – an antic that eighteenth century men often considered irresistibly attractive.

Any entertainments or activities scheduled for the morning will be those that require the most daylight – shooting, touring the gardens, or setting out to visit a local site of picturesque beauty. Any hunting expedition will begin after breakfast (and will basically consist of dressing up in special hunting outfits, riding out to the spot where the Gamekeeper has previously lured one or more animals, and killing them). Most of the sport in aristocratic hunting actually consists of riding horses through rough terrain. Women who don’t join in activities with the men may tend a personal flower garden, draw, or embroider together. In the city, aristocrats will often promenade until the afternoon along a tree-lined avenue, or in specially dedicated public gardens. If the master of an estate takes an interest in it’s agricultural produce, he will attend to the Farmyard after breakfast. Lady’s Maids and Valets will usually accompany their mistresses and masters on any excursion outside the house. In particular, a man’s Valet will be expected to load and hold his guns during any shooting or hunting session.

Before the afternoon the Housemaids must prepare a Drawing Room or Salon so the mistress of the house can be ready to formally receive any important travelers who might arrive unannounced.

Tables for determining the circumstances of breakfast, and the morning’s activities, will be found in “A Ghastly Companion to Castles, Mansions, and Estates”.


Luncheon (dejeuner) is not always served in they years before the French Revolution, because dinner was often in the afternoon. After the Revolution it becomes more common to serve a luncheon between noon and 2 PM. Such a Luncheon may take the form of a picnic on the lawn, or an alfresco meal in a garden. Oysters are a popular luncheon choice, when they are available.

Often, ladies will still be déshabillé (only half-dressed) at luncheon, and will probably not have their hair fully dressed in any event. Afternoon activities in general will be similar to morning ones, or even just the continuation of the morning’s entertainments. In fact, if there is going to be a formal dinner the women will usually spend the remaining hours leisurely dressing for it, and having their hair and makeup carefully done while a retainer or servant reads from a book, or a plays music for them. Male guests might be invited to attend the later part of such a long toilette, or continue with their hunting or lawn sports.

Any new visitors to a country estate will usually arrive early in the afternoon, since they will probably have spent the previous night in a coaching inn and set out in the morning. As guests arrive the Porters must bring their luggage to their assigned rooms, the Stable Boys and Postilions must stable the carriage’s horses (with the carriage being brought into the carriage house). The visitors’ Coachmen, Footmen, and Pages will be quartered with the houses’ servants. A Lady’s Maid or Valet may sometimes be given a small room adjoining the one assigned to their mistress or master. Any visiting Retainers will be treated as guests, but their bedchambers will be the least grand ones.

At this time, the Kitchen Staff must begin dinner. The house servants may have their dinner in the afternoon before the family, or simply eat the leftovers of the family’s dinner later on. Either way, servants will usually only only have two actual meals in the course of the day.

Tables for determining the circumstances of luncheon, and the activities scheduled after it, will be found in “A Ghastly Companion to Castles, Mansions, and Estates”.


All family members and guests will be expected to be fully dressed in formal evening wear for dinner. The time of dinner could be as early as 2 PM in the late 18th century, but after the French Revolution it becomes fashionable to eat dinner much later, around 6 PM. Whatever time it is served, dinner is the most elaborate meal of the day, consisting or three or four “stages” (or courses) of up to twenty dishes each. It is presided over by the Butler (or Maître d’Hôtel), with the dishes delivered to the table (and cleared away) by Footmen. The servants of visiting guests will stand behind the chairs of their masters and mistresses at dinner, to serve them the dishes they desire from the selection offered. In France, it is usual for the master of the house to personally pour the dinner’s best wine for his guests, and dinner will be punctuated by several ritualized toasts. After dinner, women and men retire to separate rooms to relieve themselves. Often, the men remain in the Dining Room, because chamber pots for their use will be located there (usually hidden behind a panel). After the first retiring, the company may either be expected to reassemble together in a Drawing Room, or retire again to separate rooms according to their gender. Coffee, chocolate, or tea will be served, and the evening’s activities commence. Meanwhile, whatever leftovers cannot be converted into breakfast dishes (or sold) will usually be eaten by the servants. In a French-style household, the higher ranked servants (Maître d’Hôtel, Femmes de Chambre and Valets de Chambre) will get first pick of the leftovers (and eat in the Office [Butlery] where the fine serving ware is kept), while the remainder is left for the rest of the house staff in the Salle Commune. The Kitchen Staff must then begin preparations for the night’s supper at least two hours before it is to be served, while the Housemaids mend curtains and linens in the Sewing Room while daylight remains.

Often the hours between dinner and supper will be occupied by playing cards and board games (especially chess and backgammon). If there is to be a ball or dancing, the guests will assemble in the ball room (or embark for the city’s Assembly Rooms) after dinner and coffee. In an urban mansion, people will leave to attend the opera or theater after dinner. Even if a dance is being held at the house, there will always be people not actually dancing, but playing games and conversing on the side. Guessing games such as charades (the eighteenth century version is very different from the modern one) and “proverbs” are popular. In many houses there will be amateur dramatics and musical performances, in which guests may be expected to play a role. Whether all the household retainers take part in the same evening activities as the guests will vary according to the customs of the house. Meanwhile, the Housemaids will be emptying the chamber pots used after dinner, and the dining room will be cleaned. They will also draw the house curtains, close any open windows, and make sure every bedchamber is ready for its assigned occupant.

Tables for determining the circumstances of dinner, and the activities scheduled after it, will be found in “A Ghastly Companion to Castles, Mansions, and Estates”.


The final meal of the day is supper, which can be served anywhere from 8 PM to midnight. In fact, if a dance or ball is being held, it might conclude with a supper as late as 1 or 2 AM! Conversation is often the favored activity for the hours between supper and bed, but card and board games are also usual. It is likely that the Governess will retire to her bedchamber after supper, to prepare the next day’s lessons (and perhaps write in her journal as she ruminates sorrowfully on her impossible love for a member of the household). Guests might read to each other, or listen to the Reader specially employed for that purpose. New and interesting drugs (like nitrous oxide) might be indulged in. Events after supper will in any case be more relaxed than at other times. Naturally, any licentious activities will also usually commence at night. Unless the explicit purpose of the gathering was carnal indulgence, propriety demands that guests keep such matters discreet, and be back in their proper assigned beds before breakfast. Finally, the Estate Manager, Butler, or Maître d’Hôtel will lock up the house for the night, while any Guards (or Porters doubling as Guards) keep watch for intruders.

Remember that before the late 19th century is was usual to sleep for a few hours, wake up for a time, and sleep again until morning. People spent the time in-between their two sleeps reading (if they could), talking, doing light chores (if not aristocrats), or having sex. The period of night wakefulness is also the time when guests (or new servants) in haunted houses will probably first notice any spectral activity!

Tables for determining the circumstances of supper, and the activities scheduled before bedtime, will be found in “A Ghastly Companion to Castles, Mansions, and Estates”.

Naturally, the typical day’s schedule may be disrupted by special events like weddings or all-day regattas, but generally the rhythm of the day is set by the time required for the servants to perform their myriad tasks. It will be noted that aristocratic life (like the architecture of a grand house) is about indulgence and splendor, not efficiency. The toilette can last for hours not because it needs to, but because a lady has the time to turn the process of getting dressed into a leisurely indulgence. Aristocrats hunt in a ritualized and ostentatious manner that should prevent them from actually encountering any prey, if they didn’t employ Gamekeepers to ensure that animals will always be placed in the path of their hunting parties. A servant’s life, on the other hand, is generally busy from morning to night, with a perhaps a half-day off on Sundays.

Nine Gothic Maxims


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Thomas Girtin 005

Here are nine simple ways to recognize the Gothic.

1: Beauty and horror are inseparably linked.
2: Places are characters.
3: The past is present, and inescapable.
4: Innocents shall suffer.
5: Evil is a compulsion to do wrong.
6: The evidence of decay is everywhere.
7: One shall inevitably be in darkness.
8: That which is rejected always returns.
9: Desire drives all things, and will not be denied.