Nothing says Old World decadence like a showboat. These are not the luxury liners of today, but the slow, stately paddleboats of the previous century that meandered up and down the Mississippi and other large rivers. Men and women who can afford the steep prices travel down the Mississippi on these elegant vessels, drinking, dining, and sometimes gambling in the well-appointed salon and the impressive grand ballroom. Less affluent travelers buy economy tickets, which lets them take the riverboat but does not give them access to its top deck. Of course, where the rich and powerful gather, those who would prey upon them also appear, and showboats are a favorite haunt of showgirls, musicians, con artists, and the famous riverboat gambler. But the fact that these people are out to steal from, swindle, or seduce the rich only makes the journey more exciting.
The classic showboat is a paddle-wheel riverboat. These large, flat-bottomed boats are designed to move smoothly along rivers, and they are made for stability rather than speed. Furthermore, since only the rich can afford first-class tickets, showboats are designed with the rich in mind. Their cabins are handsomely appointed and spacious, more like elegant hotel rooms that just happen to be on board a ship. The ballroom is as grand as any hotel’s, and the salon as elegant as any opera house’s. The food is excellent, and showboats compete in hiring the best chefs available. They also provide live entertainment, which ranges from musicians to dancers to actors. In the salon, a variety of games are available, the most popular being poker for the men and bridge or whist for the women. Some showboats hire professional dealers for these games, while others provide tables, cards, and chips and leave the rest to their guests.
Most showboat guests care little for the world passing by on either bank. They are far more interested in the world within the riverboat, particularly their fellow passengers. Showboat passengers love to gossip among their own class, and look down upon their inferiors or envy their superiors. Many take a showboat as a form of vacation, traveling with close friends and spending all their time in the ballroom and the salon or walking along the upper deck. Economy passengers, on the other hand, take the showboat because it’s faster than walking to their destination, and a little more stylish, and also because they hope to get the chance to rub elbows with their wealthy fellow passengers. This rarely happens, however, since the ship’s crew is careful to keep the economy passengers and the first-class passengers separate.
A showboat is a fascinating setting and great opportunity. Mysteries often occur on showboats – after all, people from different classes, some tossing money about and others envying that luxury, are bottled up on a ship with nowhere to go and plenty of free time to brood or plot. Showboats also offer interesting plot developments, particularly for young performers who hope to win wealthy patrons, or for travelers to be forced together with old enemies or old former friends.
Don’t Miss …
The River Queen is a standard showboat, though of course her owners claim she is grander than all the rest. She is a large, flat-bottomed boat with three decks. The lower deck contains a mix of crew cabins and work areas, including the engine room. The middle deck holds economy-class guest cabins. The upper deck has the more expensive first-class guest cabins, the captain’s rooms, the salon, and the grand ballroom. Deck chairs and small tables are placed around the balconies of each deck, and small lifeboats hang from the roofs of the balconies.
Above the upper deck is the wheelhouse, a small room with windows on all side, and the large pilot’s wheel at its center. Speaking tubes connect the wheelhouse to the engine room, the kitchens, and other areas of the ship. Two massive smokestacks stick up high above the wheelhouse, on either side of it and slightly before it. The rear of the ship has a massive paddlewheel, as wide as the boat itself and slightly taller, and it is this wheel that moves the ship along.
Things to See
+ Wooden deck chairs painted white
+ Wooden tables, covered by fine white linen, and chairs for dining
+ Crystal chandeliers
+ Real, green tropical plants, a meter or more tall, in ornate metal pots
+ Musical instruments (trumpet, trombone, guitar, piano, fiddle, bass cello, drums and sticks, cymbals, etc.)
+ For additional ideas, see the “Casino” and “Restaurant” entries
People to Meet
Showboats have at least one riverboat pilot, a captain, boatmen, cooks, waiters and waitresses, maids, card dealers, musicians, and sometimes other performers. Riverboat pilots have at least 3D in Perception and Reflexes, with pips in piloting: boats, swimming, navigation, and search. Captains have pips in charm and Command (as well as the same skills as a pilot) and at least 2D in Presence. Boatmen have at least 3D in Reflexes, with pips in brawling, climbing, and swimming. Cooks have at least 3D in scholar: cooking and know-how: cooking. Serving and cleaning staff do not have any particular skills or attributes. Card dealers have at least 3D in Coordination and Perception, with pips in sleight of hand, gambling, and con.
Musician: Reflexes 2D, Coordination 2D, Physique 2D, lifting 2D+1, Knowledge 2D, business 2D+1, scholar: music 4D, Perception 3D, artist: musical composition 4D, streetwise 3D+1, Presence 3D, charm 4D, persuasion 3D+1. Move: 10. Strength Damage: 1D. Body Points: 8. Wound levels: 2.
Things to Do
+ The National Poker Tournament is about to begin! As always, it is being held on the River Queen, the grandest of all paddlewheel riverboats. This year, one of the player’s characters has been invited to play! Which is strange, considering that person isn’t really that good of a poker player ….
+ The characters have been hired on as security on this, the ancient riverboat’s last voyage. It is sailing back down the Mississippi, and then it will become a floating museum permanently moored in New Orleans’ harbor. But why would the owners feel they needed extra security? What is there about this venerable boat that could need protecting?
+ The Dutchess, the first of the three-story riverboats, has just opened for business. Everyone wants to take the tour of this impressive new ship. But the owner is a little worried. He’s sunk a lot of money into the Dutchess – if anything happens to her, he’ll be ruined. And some people might prefer that. So he’s asked the players’ characters to keep their eyes open for any trouble.