This is the initial handout I gave to my players to introduce them to the game setting.
Down The Rabbit Hole
1851 Queen Victoria inaugurates the Grand Exhibition of Great Britain, a celebration of modern science and industry on the grounds of Hyde Park just outside of the city of London. A gigantic palace of glass is constructed as the masterpiece of the Grand Exhibition to house the exhibits. The exhibition runs for 9 months and attracts over six million visitors from around the world. When it closes the grounds are used as an exhibition and concert hall
1852 Nikola Tesla produces his prototype for the electric light bulb just months after the end of the Great Exhibition. The Crystal Palace commission decides not to form a special exhibition for Tesla because they feel his many electrical experiments received enough attention at the Exhibition. The Order of Avalon offer Nikola Tesla a very generous commission to pursue his experimental work in private in exchange for complete control of the light bulb.
1853 Holland & Mayfield demonstrate a device that utilized refracted light to view events at extreme distances on the Crystal Palace grounds. There was an accident where a bank of limelights caught fire and the mechanism exploded. When the fires were put out there remained a great smoke-black ring hanging in the air and on the other side was an unknown geography. Hyde park was evacuated and locked. After brief study of the event horizon the portal is walled off and secured.
1854 Famed explorer Dr. Livingstone celebrates the beginning of his second African Coast exploration but rather than venturing to the port his entire expedition are driven to Hyde Park where they are the first British citizens to step foot in the land beyond the portal.
1854 Escalating tensions in the Crimean Peninsula between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire drew in the British Army and lead to a costly series of battles that severely tax the good faith of the People of England and mark the first significant defeat of the British Empire. The role of journalism in the Crimean War and in the developing rebellion in India causes a lockdown of any information about the event in the Crystal Palace being made public.
1857 Immediately in the wake of the Crimean War there began insurrections throughout Imperial India causing loss of lives but even worse losses of infrastructure and resources. Propaganda about the rebellion meant to outrage England only served to embitter them to failed colonial efforts. The years following the rebellion saw remote regiments recalled and the end of British Colonial efforts.
1858 The East India Company, facing failure in the West Indies recalls most of it's India Office operators. Many of the operators responsible for the Indian Rebellion are transferred to distant outposts where British military are withdrawing to protect the interests of The Company. The desperate actions of these men, isolated and without the support of the crown, begin to spread tales of supporting anti-Empire forces, poisoning locals and even funding pirates in order to protect Company interests.
1859 After two expeditions through the portal are dispatched it is decided conclusively that the portal is a gate to a geographic location outside of the British Empire, likely in Eastern Russia or the Americas. The location beyond the portal was unofficially named the New Imperial Territories, and the a nickname for the portal suggested by author Lewis Carrol is unofficially adopted, naming the portal the “Rabbit Hole”. When the second expedition was attacked by natives with bows and swords the Portal was locked with a huge vault door. Among the recovered materials from the expedition was a Zoologist’s sketchbook filled with drawings of fantastical creatures.
1863 London bank Overend, Gurney and Company collapses amidst a fraud scandal. There is a financial panic and a run on London banks. The banks are secretly shored up by the crown but at great cost.
1866 An attack on the encampment in The New Imperial Territories resulted in the deaths of almost all of the workers and Lord Edmond Siberly, Baron of Newhampton. The fighting spilled through the vault and hundreds of monstrous persons spilled into the Crystal Palace attacking anyone in sight. As the otherworldly forces spilled into residential streets the slaughter was known as the Paddington Riots, an event blamed on discontented troublemakers. Police constables contained the violence by barricading the streets and the Royal cavalry rode in to cut down the invaders. It was deemed a disaster and nearly ended England's flirtation with the Rabbit Hole, however the non-human corpses left behind was clear evidence that the portal led to a location not of this earth. Queen Victoria dispatched cavalry and infantry to secure the location. The occupying forces formed a fortified encampment to defend the other end of the Rabbit Hole. The camp became known as Fort Alice.
1867 Ciara Sullivan publishes The Dynamikos Sheta-Maat Spellbook: A book of the powerful hidden truth. England is consumed with hysteria for a short time pursuing witchcraft cults believed to be practicing magics from the book.
1868 The effort to quarry rock to build Fort Alice unearthed exotic soft metals that that aroused great interest in British industrialists. Irish labor was brought in to extract ore and construct a rail line that would run through the portal from the heart of London to Fort Alice. Workers were allowed limited access back through the portal and needed long term housing for their work so they constructed a ring of small homes around the fort. This was the birth of the town of Neverwhere.
1869 Lord Nathaniel North of the Royal Geographer's society, after a bout of strange behavior told his fellows that he was “Going for a walk to clear his head” and never returned. The following year he was sighted in native dress among the native people in the New Imperial Territories. While Fort Alice has no other known defectors but the theoretical practice of going native is jokingly referred to as “Going North” or “Clearing one's head”. The crown found North's defection less amusing, threatening life imprisonment to anyone found to be aiding native populations against the interest of England or her colonies. The edict had a chilling effect on those who proposed peaceful contact with the native peoples but thus far nobody has been accused of violating this Royal Edict.
1872 A rash of attacks by strange beasts in the city of London drives an aggrieved Metropolitan Police Force to go on strike, refusing to uphold their duties until more men are hired and better pensions are provided. The Order of Avalon steps in to secure the peace and in their investigations become aware of strange cracks between the British Empire and an an unknown territory. Their investigation brings them to Hyde Park and the Rabbit Hole. Queen Victoria personally requests Investigator Wilhelm Stieber recruit London Policemen to form a Citizen's Vigilance Society to attend to uncontrolled crime in the city. After the end of the strike these men become the founding members of the Secret Field Police Bureau.
1873 The British Vessel RMS Atlantic sinks off the coast of Nova Scotia. Survivors claim to have seen a sea monster larger than the vessel capsize it.
1874 The London Spiritualist Confederation proposes the erection of Egyptian obelisks in strategic locations to stabilize the fractures seemingly caused by the Rabbit Hole. Queen Victoria secured the obelisks by threatening King Mohammed Ali with the withdrawl of English Empire Troops from embattled Egypt unless he complied. The last of the obelisks, the Needle of Cleopatra, was installed in 1877.
1974 John Earnst Worrell, an American scientist who had consulted on the Rabbit Hole announces the invention of his Etheric Generator, an alleged perpetual-motion generator. The American demonstration is a failure.
1875 The Order of Avalon commissions renowned mechanical engineer Hiram Maxim to develop modern arms for the order in exchange for securing a knighthood for him.
1877 The Hanging of an Irish workman named Michael McRory in defiance of the Public Execution Act marks the official recognition that Fort Alice as a colonial territory and not subject to London Law.
1879 With limited success in the construction of the rail line and difficulties between the civilian labor and the military command, the Queen finally permits the East India Trading Company permission to operate within the New Imperial Territories. Dozens of under-employed management, fixers and security persons are transferred to the “Crystal Palace” office. These men are charged by the Queen to manage business affairs of the new territories rail head.
The New Riches of the New Imperial Territories
Aether – This chromatic colored liquid is found on the surface of lakes and ponds in the New Imperial Territories where it is theorized to condense from passing clouds. The liquid was hoped to be a fuel source but evaporated quickly when exposed to flame or heat. However the rising gas was significantly lighter than air or even hydrogen, allowing it to create a great deal of lift with minimal energy. Early tests with Aether have allowed truly massive weights to be lifted with a reinforced balloon. The Crown has commissioned a pair of very large heavy airships that are supported with Aether and Fort Alice is constructing a small airship for use in the New Imperial Territories but at this time Aether is scarce and there isn't enough available to practically put any vessel in the air.
Orichalcum – A yellowish-orange soft metal was found when quarrying stone for Fort Alice. Workers originally thought they had found gold and many secreted the material away. Orichalcum didn't melt like gold, it changed color to a brassy liquid and if smelted at high enough temperatures it cooled to a greenish-silver. The forged Orichalcum was quite hard due to it's crystalline structure. While it's more brittle than forged steel it's considerably harder. Armor made with Orichalcum has double the DR.
Hard Water – Hard water was found at a depth of 11 feet in a lake-bed to the Northeast of Fort Alice. The liquid is translucent just as water but explorers swimming in the lake noted sediment that would not sink below the Hard Water line, the water below this depth seemed more stiff and proved to be twice the weight of water. Hard Water's real treasure arrive from two different properties. When it is boiled at slightly less than water's boiling temp it expands to three times the volume of normal steam. Hard water also condenses back to it's liquid form just under it's boiling point. Making it ideal for small steam engines where a small amount of fuel can drive a huge amount of force and the steam can be condensed back into a liquid and retained.
Organizations allowed through the Rabbit Hole
Lords and Ladies of the Empire
While Fort Alice isn't a holiday spot it isn't a very well kept secret among the urban nobility of London. The House of Lords are all briefed on the New Imperial Territories and many have visited Fort Alice to inspect it's character. Once gossip spread about this strange gateway to a wild paradise it didn't take long for young Lords and Ladies interested in elite opportunities in a British colony just 40 minutes from the London Theater district began to petition the queen with ideas of how they could serve their empire. Lords and Ladies and their family aren't common in Neverwhere but their finery and their stiff demeanor makes them very visible among the frontiersmen. Most nobles are looking for an opportunity to make their mark, others enjoy the escape from oppressive Victorian etiquette.
Royal Armed Regiments
The 50 men and horse of the 3rd Hussar Regiment was dispatched to respond to contact with violent forces in the New Imperial Territories and suffered substantial losses. In 12 years of service over half of the men have died in service and been replaced through infantry conscription. The current Cavalry is the 1st Reformed Cavalry, a smaller armored cavalry regiment with tactics adapted to fighting forces in the New Imperial Territories. The 74th Line Infantry Regiment was deployed with a compliment of Engineers to secure the rail head on the other side of the Rabbit Hole. They were engaged as they have been for 10 years fortifying and defending the rail head, but often they accompany expeditions into the wilderness.
Infantrymen begin the game with a service uniform, an Enfield caplock service rifle and a cleaning kit, a pith helmet, and an ammunition bandolier. Cavalrymen begin the game with a service uniform, warhorse, saddle and tack, a colt Army 44 and cleaning kit, a cavalry saber, and Cavalier Armor and Helmet.
The Order of Avalon
The Order is a knightly order who's history is intertwined with the rise of the British Empire. It's knights are sworn to protect the crown but do not answer directly to the Queen or Prime Minster. The Order has both a unique grasp of occultism and mysticism and access to highly advanced technology. The Order has always had 32 knights, each anointed by the Lord Council, a triumvirate of British nobles that serve as the guiding hand of the order. If a knight is killed in service or retired they are surpassed by a one of the order's squires who adopt the name of the knight who's place they fill.
The Order has been given great latitude by the crown to investigate strange occurrences in London, recently it has been decided that this gives them latitude to ride through the Rabbit Hole. Like all knights of the Empire the order is not beholden to police or common law. For the most part they must obey the same laws. They may search a commoner's residence without writ and may kill a commoner with relative impunity, but they face serious punishments for transgressions against Nobles.
Avalon Squires and knights begin the game with Knight's Dress armor, a Borchardt C-78 Autoloading Pistol, Avalon Service Saber, Electric Voice Transducer and a vial of the Black Water.
The Secret Field Police Bureau
Despite the Crown's best efforts to keep the public away from the Rabbit Hole site spies and journalists continued to gain access to Hyde Park and the metropolitan police themselves were believed to be distributing information. In response to the need for secrecy in and around the Rabbit hole, Queen Vicotria commissioned the Secret Field Police under the direction of Wilhelm Stieber. The SFP are highly trained investigators and interrogators working both overtly and covertly to keep the site secure. In the New Imperial Territories the Secret Field Police Bureau are the uniformed police force, keeping the peace at Fort Alice and for all intents and purposes the only law West of the Rabbit Hole.
SFP Agents have the power to act covertly in interest of the crown. They can kill with relative impunity provided there is evidence of criminal activity. Any violation of the law undertaken by an SFP agent is reviewed by the command of Scotland Yard but for agents working in the New Imperial Territories that review may take some time.
Secret Field Police begin the game with a service badge, a Webly M.P. revolver and cleaning kit, and two pairs of iron manacles.
The East India Company
The company has been brought into “mind the store” in Fort Alice. They are functionally the bank and store and run the rail line through the Rabbit Hole. And in the future they expect they will manage the rail line into the New Imperial Territories. The Crystal Palace office represents the future of the company. It's best and brightest manage the Crown's business interests in Fort Alice, but this also means that the men that were the most effective at getting results and the most seasoned mercenaries of the company.
Company men have unusual power in the New Imperial Territories as few are eager to earn the wrath of The Company. Often Company Men are released from jail with no trial or fanfare after a sealed letter is received from the other side of The Rabbit Hole. The East India Company also doesn't have to resort to smuggling or favors to get goods through the portal as they control the rail line.
The Royal Geography Society
Members of the Royal Geography Society were recruited under the auspice of the Great Amazon Expedition. Naturalists, Cartographers and Linguists were all brought to the Rabbit Hole, at first to identify the location of the other side of the portal, and then to explore and map the New Imperial Territories. Many have been lost in the efforts to explore the other side of the Rabbit Hole, some presumed dead, others gone native in the strange new land. The Royal Geography Society are the most knowledgeable of The Territories, having traveled furthest from the rail head. Many of them speak the local languages and are educated in the local tradition and custom.
Despite the air of adventure in being a Society member tasked by the Queen herself to tame the wilds of the New Imperial Territories, there is a lot of downtime between expeditions where Royal Geographer's read, or make copies of maps or do what they can to stay out of trouble. Members of the society are generally very secretive about their discoveries until they are published but something about the nature of the work and politics in the New Imperial Territories has made them almost paranoid, often withholding information from one another.
The London Spiritualist Confederation
A small group of reputable spiritualists under the direction of Lady Edwina Everitt. The London Spiritualist Confederation was convened at the request of the Queen to shed light on the otherworldly nature of the New Imperial Territories. Thus far they've had little success in understanding the strange nature of the portal or the forces at work in the other world but they have determined that the New Imperial Territories have a different spiritual typography. The Confederation operates without any authority in the New Territories conducting experiments and doing research into the magical nature of the world.
Consultants to the Crown
As the world began to hear rumor of advanced materials being made into new technologies by England scientists and inventors swarmed the kingdom, each hoping to get some clue as to how these marvels of the age work. Those that managed to steal enough secrets finally put some of the pieces together and were drawn to the mystery of the missing Crystal Palace. Those that were better at espionage than science were given dank cells in London Tower. Those with a clever mind were invited by the queen herself to work in the New Imperial Territories.
Most of these foreigners live and work in dorms in Hyde Park where they are effectively prisoners themselves but an indispensible few do field work on the other side of the Rabbit Hole. Foreign Consultants are afforded a great deal of respect but they are powerless politically and often have to struggle to have their voice of reason heard.
Ordinary impoverished labor
Once England invested in the New Imperial Territories and work had to be done she began bringing workers into the New Imperial Territories that would be willing to to do the toiling and sweating no Gentleman or Lady could reasonably do. Starting around 1874 The East India Company started recruiting skilled labor from desperate avenues, poor houses, prison-release and done-in rural towns. Most of the labor was Irish or Scott but some from as far away as India and Africa. Working labor are still citizens of The Crown but have limited access to England and threatened with imprisonment for discussing the nature of the work they do on the other side of the Rabbit Hole.