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The servants and retainers of a wealthy family can be every bit as interesting to role-play as the aristocrats themselves. The following draft excerpt from the upcoming “A Ghastly Companions to Castles, Mansions, and Estates” will aid Players and Presenters in creating and portraying the typical staff in an upper-class household.
Many servants and Retainers are listed under both their English and French titles. The prestigious status of French as the language of High Society during the Ghastly Age means it is not unknown for servants to be called by their French titles even in the most distant corners of Europe. Likewise, many servants must know at least a smattering of French words and phrases. A Lady’s Maid or Valet may even be expected to speak the language with passable facility. Remember that even within the borders of Ghastly Age France itself, fluency with the French language is not a given – most common people in Brittany still primarily speak Breton or Gallo, for example, and Provençal remains the everyday language of the south.
In terms of the Ghastly Affair rules, most servants and retainers are simply Everymen (or Everywomen), and the description of each type includes examples of the kinds of skills that would be subsumed as part of their “Professions” (or “Avocations”). Some may may actually be Leveled in exceptional Clases, however – Libertine, Demon Hunter, or even Magician! Also, certain servants and retainers might enjoy their +1 “Profession” (or “Avocation”) Bonus when making Saving Throws against hazards to which they are regularly exposed. The description will include examples of such accustomed dangers. When the servant has a Class other than Everyman, their professional skills can be represented as an Asset, or else one of their Class’ usual Special Abilities will be replaced with “Profession”.
Types of Servants and Retainers (Blacksmith to Dairy Maid)
Blacksmith [Grounds Servant]
Strongest Ability: Strength or Constitution.
The Blacksmith forges and repairs iron and steel objects, especially horseshoes, gardening tools, nails, and cookware. The estate Blacksmith will generally also serve as the Farrier, shoeing horses, and caring for their hooves. A Blacksmith will be somewhat resistant to the effects of smoke, fumes, and high temperatures, applying his +1 “Profession” Bonus to Saves against such hazards. The estate Blacksmith never lives in the great house itself, but will reside with his forge either in the Farmyard (Basse-Cour), or in a small cottage elsewhere on the property. Since he is not a house servant, he may be raising a family of his own on the estate, and thus take his meals with them.
A Blacksmith’s wages average 350p a week – 4550 per quarter, , or 18,200p a year. This rate includes 150p per week Board Wage.
Butler (Maître d’Hôtel, or Majordomo) [House Servant]
Strongest Ability: Intelligence or Charisma.
The Butler (or Maître d’Hôtel) is the highest ranked male servant. His first and primary duty is to hold the keys to the Butlery (also called the Butler’s Pantry, or Office), where the silverware, fine porcelain, and most expensive food are stored. He also oversees the Wine Cellar, and is in charge of dinner service. In the absence of a House Steward or Estate Manager, he oversees the other male servants, and is responsible for the overall functioning of the house. A good Butler can sense when people are lying, and will be skilled at investigating the constant petty thefts committed by his fellow servants. He will be able to appraise the value of objects, and the worth of foodstuffs. He will be a connoisseur of wine especially. In fact, in most aristocratic households the family members seldom have any deep personal knowledge of food and wine, but rely on the Butler’s expertise instead. The Butler is the paymaster of the other servants when there is no House Steward or Estate Manager to do it. Thus, he must be literate, and good at mathematics.
A Butler’s wages average 300p per week – 3,900p per quarter, or 15,600p a year. He is also entitled to keep such things as cast-off clothing from the Lord of the house, the ends of candles, used playing cards, and the remainder of poured wines.
Cavalier Servente [Retainer]
Strongest Ability: Charisma.
The Cavalier Servente (also called a Cicisbeo, or more euphemistically, a “Live-in”) is a man paid to be the social escort of a married woman. In Italy and southeastern Provence it is openly understood that the job includes satisfying the woman’s sexual needs, but elsewhere that aspect of the profession is always kept discreet. Aristocratic marriages in the Ghastly Age are about property and social status, so married aristocratic woman are not expected to love their husbands, or remain faithful after they have produced a male heir. In Venice, a man may pride himself in providing his wife with the most handsome and cultured Cavalier Servente he can afford, and the lover will usually be installed in a bedchamber (or suite) adjoining that of the wife. Such a Cavalier Servente must be available for his mistress’s use whenever she desires.
The Cavalier Servente will be skilled at dancing, conversation, seduction, etiquette, connoisseurship, and all the activities of High Society. He will have better than average…endurance. Often, he will be Leveled as a Libertine. Naturally, the Catholic church dislikes the institution of the Cavalier Servente and preaches against it, but they will not succeed in removing it from Italian society until after the Napoleonic wars.
Strongest Ability: Wisdom.
A Chaperone is an older woman who accompanies an unmarried young woman whenever she leaves the house, to ensure that she remains a virgin. The job is often given to older spinsters in the family. In some places, such as Spain, the job is taken very seriously, and Chaperones are expected to be as overbearing as possible. A good Chaperone will develop skill at spotting hidden and sneaking people, and have an intuitive sense for when people are lying. Chaperones may even have some resistance to poison, as a result of frequently being drugged with soporifics! Their knowledge of the Language of Fans is usually out-of-date, however – a fact exploited by their charges (and their paramours). Some Libertines take especial pride in their ability to seduce Chaperones.
An interesting character could be a Libertine Chaperone, who secretly facilitates the corruption of the young lady in her charge, while maintaining a mask of impeccable respectability.
Chaplain (Aumônier) [Retainer]
Strongest Ability: Charisma or Wisdom.
The Chaplin is a live-in clergyman that performs religious services in the chapel, collects alms for distribution to the local poor, and generally sees to the spiritual needs of the family. The aristocracy of the Ghastly Age are generally secular in their personal attitudes, even frequently impious. They seldom feel themselves to be in any way bound by the religion and morality that they promote as appropriate for the lower classes. Nonetheless, it is considered proper to make a show of religious faith, as an example for the commoners to emulate. Therefore, even agnostic and atheist nobility may maintain a Chaplain, as a matter of social convention. Even the Marquis de Sade, for example, actively encouraged church-going among his tenants.
It is not impossible for a Chaplain to be a White Magician, effecting actual miracles through Pacts with the Angels.
Coachman [Grounds Servant]
Strongest Ability: Dexterity.
The primary job of a Coachman is to drive the family coaches and vehicles. Very wealthy households may employ separate coachmen for the male and female member of the family. A Coachmen will be mechanically minded, have a good understanding of animal behavior, know how to to train animals, possess steady nerves, and have an intuitive sense of direction. Because of the threat of highwaymen, a Coachmen needs to be able to use a gun (an will usually have one ready when driving). Coachmen often live in the Coach House, and when not driving are expected to maintain their vehicles in top working condition.
A Coachman’s wage averages 150p a week – 1,950p per quarter, or 7,800p a year.
Concierge: See Porter
Cook (Cuisinière or Cuisinier) [House Servant]
Strongest Ability: Wisdom or Dexterity
The Cook oversees the kitchen staff, plans the menus, and ensures that meals are properly prepared. She keeps track of the items in kitchen storage rooms, pantries, and larders. Like the Kitchen Maids, a Cook will evidence a higher than average resistance to smoke and flame. Her knowledge of herbalism may be extensive, her skill with knives impressive, and she will be familiar with animal anatomy. A cook will almost always be literate, as she is responsible for the kitchen accounts. In a world of Gothic Romance, she might even be an initiated witch. In a British household the Cook is most frequently a woman, but in French practice a male Cook (Cuisinier) with a staff of Kitchen Boys is more usual. In Britain, a female Cook ranks under the Housekeeper, but in France the Cuisinier may run the house along with the Maître d’Hôtel.
A Cook’s knowledge of herbs may in fact come from being Leveled as Magician. A French Cuisinier may even be a Mad Scientist, pushing the limits of flavor beyond those imposed by Nature. Most horrifyingly, a Cook might also be a Cannibal who can transform the loathsome into the toothsome!
A female Cook in Britain might be paid as little as 100p per week (1,300p quarterly), while a French Cuisinier could have the status of a Retainer, and demand as much as 2,000p a week (26,000p quarterly). In a French household the Cuisinier is also given the leftovers of meals, the choicest of which can be re-sold as “Harlequins” in Paris (or the nearest city if the house is far from Paris).
Dance Master [Retainer]
Strongest Ability: Dexterity
Being a bad dancer will inevitably lead to endless ridicule in High Society. Therefore, prominent Dance (or Dancing) Masters are frequently invited to give lessons in most Grand Houses, especially before a ball is to be held. Many households go so far as to keep a Dance Master as a permanent Retainer! Besides having knowledge of both classic and contemporary dances (because no young man or lady wants to be seen dancing last year’s steps), a Dance Master will usually keep abreast of the latest fashions, be familiar with modern music, and know the Language of Fans. Their memories will be particularly acute.
Many Libertines become Dance Masters, since the job give them access to pretty young ladies (and handsome lads) of quality!
Drawing Master [Retainer]
Strongest Ability: Dexterity
All upper-class young ladies in the Ghastly Age are expected to learn how to draw landscapes, objects, and people passably well. If their Governess’s own drawing abilities are not sufficient, a Drawing Master may be employed to teach more advanced techniques. Besides their artistic ability, a Drawing Master will usually have a good understanding of mathematics (in order to figure out perspective). As with a Music Master, the most prestigious Drawing Master to employ is an Italian.
Since they are artists, Drawing Masters are often the subjects of amorous fantasies. A Drawing Master may be a Libertine, skilled at convincing attractive subjects to disrobe in their presence. For Art, of course.
Dairy Maid [Grounds and House Servant]
Strongest Ability: Constitution
The Dairy (or Milk) Maid is responsible for milking the estate’s cows, making cheeses and butter, and storing them properly. She also bakes any breads that include milk or cheese. It is common for Dairy Maids to contract mild cowpox when young, which then gives them immunity to the much more virulent (and disfiguring) smallpox. Their reputation for having unblemished complexions thus gives rise to the expression “pretty as a Milkmaid”. They may be the subject of much amorous interest by the men of the household (and some of the women, of course), as well as many envious slights from other females. Although she is usually considered a Grounds Servant, the Dairy Maid will eat with the House Servants.
Naturally, some Dairy Maids are also True Innocents, which makes them all the more irresistible to the Libertines of High Society.
The Wages of Servants and Retainers
Wages for most male servants in the 1765 – 1820 era average about 100p per week, while those for most female servants average about 50p. In modern money that translates to about $50 US, and $25 US respectively. Male servants are given an outfit to wear, while male servants in livery (such as Footmen) will usually be given two suits. Females servants are not expected to wear any special uniform, and are therefore not generally provided with clothing by their employers (besides the cast-offs given to Lady’s Maids). Usually, a servant’s meals and washing are included as part of their compensation, but it is not unknown for them to be charged for both. Grounds servants who do not eat their meals in the house (such as the Gardener), will be given additional Board Wages (usually around 150p per week) to cover their meals and expenses.
Male Retainers can expect a middle-class income – about 1,500p a week, or 78,000p a year. Governesses (and other female Retainers) are relatively poorly paid, however – only earning about 200p a week on average.
Visitors to most Grand Houses are expected to tip the servants before leaving. In many houses, certain members of the staff will be permitted to line up by the front entrance in order to receive these payments, called “vails”. The expected amount is 10 – 12p: a Shilling, Livre, or Franc. For some servants (especially Pages, Hall Boys and Halls Maids), these vails are the only actual pay they receive.
Note that even though wages are expressed on a per week basis, a servant or retainer would almost never be actually paid weekly. Usually, they would be paid quarterly. Since the Lord of an estate was usually also the legal authority for its residents, a lengthy delay in the payment of a servant’s wages was not at all unusual (even were it was illegal).
In remember, in terms of historical money 240p = 1 Pound, 10p = 1 Livre (pre-Revolution), 12p = 1 Franc (post-Revolution), and 80p = 1 Spanish Peso (or Dollar).