Common Victorian Locations, Damnation-City Style
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Turkish Bath House
Type: Commercial (though a few were residential; see below)
Description: The basic floorplan consisted of 2 to 3 dry heated rooms through which customers would walk at their own pace, each room hotter than the last and inducing sweat by the end. Then there would be a cold shower or a plunge into a pool of water, followed by a massage and a full body wash (called “shampooing”), and ending with reclining in a cool room. While some of the bathhouses were more practical than pretty, a number of them were set up as lavish palaces of leisure. Before the development of better electric fans in the 1880s, however, the air in the heated areas of most baths was stale and laden with sweat a majority of the time.
The theme of the Turkish bath was relief and release. Time was spent away from the home, outside of the workplace, and clear of church or social obligations. If friends or acquaintances were present, it was an opportunity to catch up or hatch schemes. If alone, a fortuitous stranger might have appeared to pass the hour. The chance for some quiet time could help clear the mind, as well. And while the baths were segregated by sex, that hardly meant that sexual tension was absent, though it was certainly forbidden and dangerous to indulge in too much or too openly. At least, in most public bathhouses. Private baths might have been another thing entirely.
History: Turkish baths reached London in 1860 and spread in popularity throughout the Empire until just after World War I They became a way to wash the masses and offer indoor access to water and relaxation. Suggested as a treatment for common afflictions like gout, arthritis, and poor temper, the baths were originally meant to let all classes of English society mingle and to help the poor with sanitation. But they were swiftly stratified into First and Second Class accommodations and priced out of range for most of the lower class. Some baths were forbidden from opening on Sunday, which was the one day off most poor people had. The baths were further divided by gender (either in different facilities, different days of the week, or particular service times). When bathhouses were dedicated only to serving women, they tended to be smaller and not as well appointed.
Despite warnings from some doctors, public Turkish baths were plentiful and often positioned near railway stations, but they were also installed in hotels, hospitals, and select private residences. Few were ever built in the worst sections of a city, and generally they were touted as a way for women to beautify themselves for their men. Though they remained a past-time of the middle and upper classes, the baths were places where people intermingled either on a regular basis or at least a few times a year.
Activity: Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., prices were typically higher and the clientele elevated and sparse, mainly older people or visitors to the city. After 4 and until closing at 10 p.m. (or sometimes as late as midnight), prices might be reduced and the patrons might be middle to some lower class. The busiest time was between 4 until 8 p.m., when most people got out of work. The baths were open year-round.
Significant Storyteller Character: William/Wilhelmina, favored shampooer (Politics 2, Empathy 3, Subterfuge 3)
Extras: Rough-handed operator of the showers/cold pool, deferential shampooer, gregarious owner/proprietor (sometimes a woman whose husband originally started the business), political aspirants conversing in a corner, best friends sharing gossip, couple eyeing each other across the room, strangers trying to help each other relax.
Hostile Encounters: Garroters look to rob wealthy patrons leaving the establishment. A vampire uses the baths as a feeding ground. A customer accuses a character of stealing their clothes. A gentleman accuses a character of staring too long, offending his honor. In an older model bathhouse, the heat comes from below the floor and burns anyone who falls and can’t get up fast enough.
Locations: The front lobby, the locker and disrobing area, the three heated rooms, the dipping room, the shampooing room (+2 to attempts to harvest Glamour, which is almost invariably desire-based), the reclining area (-1 to detect falsehoods, -1 to Initiative if you've gone through the entire bathing ritual).
Stories: Use the bathhouse as a covert but public meeting place. Pick up a partner for business, pleasure, or a meal. Intimidate a target’s favorite shampooer into revealing secrets they’ve heard. Blackmail the operator of the bath with the threat of spreading rumors of disease.
Traits: Size: 3, Security 1, Location 2, Advantages: +1 Persuasion, +1 Socialize, +1 to meditation rolls, Status 2 - 3 (depending on where it is), Durability 55, Structure 2.*
*Please see Damnation City for more information. And because it's awesome.
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