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The Town Hall - Cobb's Corner

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Hi guys,

I'm very much a beginning keeper who has started running TTH for has very patient investigators. We are still on episode 1 at present and, while I think I'm possibly letting them explore the town a little bit too much at this early stage, we are all enjoying the slow burn sprinkled with oddities.

One thing that cropped up tonight was that they wanted to investigate the Town Hall but there is no information on this building anywhere in the materials. I thought that this was odd but worked around it by saying that the sheriff would not be forthcoming with access and deterred them from breaking in (they were desperate to get into that damn building) by explaining that breaking and entering would do nothing to strengthen relationships with Spenser.

Has anyone else had any problems or have I missed something?



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This is something you are going to have to deal with unless you railroad your players through every game. PC's always want to go where there is no reason for them to go except in their fevered imagination.

Best bet is to look at similar types if building in movies and your own home town and extrapolate from there. It's much easier than a fantasy game as you at least can see real world versions in your own time and place.

What is going to be in a real world Town Hall? There's going to be the Mayor's office, probably the counter where people pay taxes and licences (fishing, hunting etc.). There will be some form of Records office where Real Estate transactions are recorded that also has land records. There will be a police office, or a sheriff's office if the town is unincorporated. That means a jail as well and also a courtroom, judge's chambers and prosecutor's office(s). There has to be a dusty basement for all those old records. I'd put in some sort of night watchman/security if the police office is somewhere else.

The local government structure in New England is  probably Selectmen IIRC, so some sort of council chamber and offices and the Mayor would be called something other than Mayor, maybe First Selectman.


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As nclarke said, extrapolate and don't be afraid to advise your players that wandering about town isn't actually getting their work done. 

Unfortunately, in published scenarios we just don't have the capacity to detail every non-essential location, and the Keeper must extrapolate if their players feel the need to search around such non-essential places. Of course, feel free to build your own subplots and red herrings into such locations but be aware that doing so can send your players way off the track of the scenario!

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My players spent some "quality" time there - they wanted to research property histories and deed records.  "What date did [character's family] buy the property?"

Finally I broke down and was like "guys, I really don't have notes for these specifics," - and they still kept looking.  Point of note, if there's anything that's hard for me to fabricate, it's stuff involving history dates.  Eventually one of the players got the hint and was like "at the risk of metagaming, I think we're being told there's nothing here for us and all we're finding is boring, barely legible records, let's go do something else."

As a small town New Englander myself - generally the buildings are minimally staffed, there will be various town records and at least one person nominally in charge of them (maybe several and it will be all departmentally sorted), some head of town type role (selectman or whatnot), an assessor, probably a meeting room for town meetings.  records would include property ownership, any sort of licensing, town meetings, etc.  feel free to get creative with where in the building stuff is stored.  Some stuff will likely be in offices (ie current year/stuff needed immediately on hand), some things like town maps may even be in drawers in the meeting/common room space.  Plan on some sort of dusty back room with old files which lets the players dig through stuff.  Some towns do the town meetings in a different location depending on the size of their town hall, like a church or even the fire station.

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On 11/12/2016 at 1:34 PM, joggiwagga said:

As a small town New Englander myself - generally the buildings are minimally staffed, there will be various town records and at least one person nominally in charge of them (maybe several and it will be all departmentally sorted), some head of town type role (selectman or whatnot), an assessor, probably a meeting room for town meetings.  records would include property ownership, any sort of licensing, town meetings, etc.  feel free to get creative with where in the building stuff is stored.

As another resident of a small New England town, I agree with this.  Most will have something like 3 selectmen.  It's democracy at its most basic - there is no head or lead selectman, they are equals, though there may be a Moderator for the town meetings.  You will only have a mayor once the town is incorporated as a city.  And then you will have a city council along with the mayor.

Town halls are minimally staffed.  The Town Clerk will be the main occupant and handles day-to-day records.  Records will include voter lists, census records, property records/deeds, licenses (marriage, hunting, etc.).  Selectmen may come by, but they usually have day jobs too (e.g. dentist, doctor, owner of the general store, etc.).  Town meetings (open to all) are held weekly.  There will be a town Treasurer and/or a Tax Collector. 

There will be an Assessor (or Board of Assessors) who determine property value.  There will be a school board (probably 3 members), and likely a board of health (also 3 members).  These, again, are part-time elected positions.     

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I should probably wander into this forum more often. I am currently sitting at my desk at town hall, about 15' from the tax window where I can hear people paying (and complaining about) their taxes (due the 1st so there are additional fees plus interest). 

Everyone's missed one of the most important things for investigators. Town Clerks hold vital records: birth, marriage, and most importantly for investigators death certificates. So if you want to find information about someone dying young or a pattern of deaths or anything like that, this would be a great place to look. Marriage records could tell you what families intermingled what what others. Records prior to around 1920 are also sort of rambling, usually handwritten in a large book. Town halls also (even today) end up as a nexus for town gossip. Town Hall would really be a primary research location in a scenario set in New England, right up there with the library or newspaper offices.

Governmental structure of Massachusetts towns is that a Board of Selectmen act as a sort of "collective" mayor. They're the executive and run day to day operations, not officially the legislative branch. Nowadays, most towns have moved to a professional town manager who runs things day to day rather than moving to a mayoral system, but in the '20s, the Selectmen would be actively involved and probably stop in Town Hall every day or so to sign this or that. Even today, we can't mail our bill payments until 3 of the 5 Selectmen show up at Town Hall and physically sign off. Town Meeting is the "legislative" branch and consists of all the voters in the town. It's held once or twice a year and voters gather and vote on articles written up in a warrant. In the old Four Freedoms painting by Norman Rockwell, the little blue books are the warrant. (15 years of Town Meeting have left me cynical as hell. Just looking at the guy, I'll bet good cash money that he's asking about something that's explained in the warrant, but he hasn't bothered to read it.)

A truly excellent source for getting a view into small town New England is to peruse some Town Reports. Archive.org has a lot of these from the 20s and 30s digitized. For example, Hamilton sits roughly where Arkham would be, though it's smaller than I perceive the Arkham to be based on Chaosium publications. Here's their 1921 town report. You'll find the payments, what is tracked and taxed, and you can see the warrant. You can figure out a lot here. For example, most areas had phones by this point, but many rural areas even in New England weren't electrified. Well, if there's a line item for "lighting" then you know they were electrified. If there's only one for fuel, then probably not.

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Thanks for all the replies, guys! Comments from New Englanders make for very interesting reading.

I've tried to take onboard the comments regarding improvising and have really enjoyed the wild goose chases/strange developing storyline as a result of it.

Last night we went through day four of TTH and it resulted in several interesting points. The group dreams piqued interest in a supposed cellar in the MacIearan House and a spot hidden resulted in them finding a previously hidden trapdoor which contained little apart from rotting farming reference books.

Things went a little wayward stumbled upon the clearing after tracking Jimmy MacIearan (this was the closest that they got to getting back on track), the biologically minded investigator ended up killing and taking the corpse of a zoog before the group narrowly escaped the pursuit of fifty more of the little critters.

While I let things go a little bit crazy, they had a great session that involved some rather exciting moments for the investigators. I did try very hard to get them back on track, they didn't take the bait.


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  • 1 year later...

For some reference...
The town of Camas Washington (no, not in new england) had a big old, fascinating,  town hall building in which  the ground floor was the public library. the basement had the old police office and jail (before incorporation) and a big old steam boiler.  The second floor had the municipal office with the mayor's office and county clerk. There was also the tiniest court room you ever saw, and a town meeting room taking up the rest of the upstairs. 
Today, it's just the library (rebuilt and expanded). 

It would be interesting if the PCs broke into the basement of the town hall and wondered why there are jail cells when the sheriff's office ALSO has jail cells. 

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I'd like to add in some additional details from a recent personal experience - on the chance that it isn't one person who does everything (the town I grew up in has a population of about 700 for reference), there may be some really really bizarre hours.

I had to get my birth certificate when I started a new job.  The town clerk was only in office one day a week, in the evening (there is a town coordinator who's there M-F during business hours).  The town clerk position uses an aol email account, other official positions in town use accounts with a town domain, gmail, and aol.  If they have an email at all, which many don't. 

You can go weird on this and not necessarily have it be that far from the truth.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm going to make a guess that in your home town, the town clerk is still elected. This means they can pretty much do whatever they want. We had one that just stopped coming in and for over a year there was not one thing we could do about it because she was responsible to the voters, not the town administration. After her, they changed the position to an appointed one. My guess is they use an aol account because they get little or no email and don't feel like checking a different account and since they're elected, nobody can force them to.

Edited by Numtini
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