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The Yellow Smoke: London Fog in the World of Darkness

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“A London fog is a sad thing, as every inhabitant of London knows full well: dingy, dusky, dirty, damp; an atmosphere black as smoke and wet as steam, that wraps around you like a blanket; a cloud reaching from earth to heaven; a ‘palpable obscure,’ which not only turns day into night, but threatens to extinguish the lamps and lanthorns with which the poor street-wanderers strive to illumine their darkness, dimming and paling the ‘ineffectual fires,’ until the volume of gas at a shop door cuts no better figure than a hedge glow-worm, and a duchess’ flambeau would veil its glories to a will-o’-th’-wisp. A London fog is, not to speak profanely, a sort of renewal and reversal of Joshua’s miracle: the sun seems to stand still as on that occasion, only that now it stands in the wrong place, and gives light to the Antipodes. The very noises of the street come stifled and smothered through that suffocating medium; din is at a pause; the town is silenced; and the whole population, biped and quadruped, sympathize with the dead and chilling weight of the out-of-door world.... Silks lose their gloss, cravats their stiffness, hackney-coachmen their way; young ladies fall out of curl, and mammas out of temper; masters scold; servants grumble; and the whole city, from Hyde Park Corner to Wapping, looks sleepy and cross, like a fine gentleman roused before his time and forced to get up by candlelight. Of all detestable things, a London fog is most detestable.” -- Mary Russell Mitford, Our Village, 1820s-1830s

London “pea soup” fog comes in different unwholesome colors, from yellow to green to black, and lasts anywhere from a scene to a day. The pollution from burning coal in homes and factories mixes with the natural vapors in the Thames valley to plague the populace (not that anyone seems to be thinking too deeply on the causes at the time). It results in breathing problems and sickness in locals, especially those who must be out in it for long and are already weakened by age, disease, and exhaustion. Not all mist in the city is so toxic, but “pea soup” fog is always noticeably different and unpleasant.

While it is not a daily occurrence, yellow brumes are not exactly rare or entirely unexpected. A Storyteller who overuses the special agitation that comes with such an event will diminish its overall effect and value. A Storyteller who ignores it entirely, however, misses out on a truly thematic and historical phenomena that began in Victoria’s reign and extended well beyond her death. You can flip a coin to determine if a given day is affected by a “pea souper,” decide that one happens every other game session, or reserve it for dramatic occasions. For a quick randomizer, roll 1d4 to determine how many quadrants of the day (morning, afternoon, evening, night) or how many scenes are affected.

While the haze lingers, the following applies for all characters:

  • penalties to visual and auditory perception checks typically range from -2 to -5, depending on the severity
  • penalties to all rolls for strenuous outdoor physical activities (such as lifting and running) apply to anyone who needs to breathe, and vary from between -1 (for younger, healthier folk) to -5 (for the sick and elderly)
  • penalties to social rolls made to impress others accrue if you’ve been caught out in the damp, typically falling between -1 to -3
  • bonuses to Intimidation and Stealth fall between +1 to +3
  • penalties from -1 to -3 are incurred on Composure rolls to retain one’s temper

As the gloom lasts, the following applies for all changelings:

  • Contracts of Darkness, Elements (Smoke and Shadow) and Smoke gain a +1 bonus to all activation rolls so long as the fog holds
  • Contracts that summon wind or similar weather effects can only disperse a true “pea soup” mist for three yards per dot of the user’s Wyrd for each success on an activation roll (or as specified by the Contract, whichever is lower), and only for half as long as the normal duration
  • bonuses to rolls to harvest anger or fear-based Glamour vary between +1 to +3

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