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Old 06-07-2013, 10:40 AM   #1
wat3rm0le's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: Lafayette, CA
Default Birmingham, AL (1930) for mystery campaign

I'm creating a mystery campaign set in Birmingham, Alabama in 1930. I've used the City Stats as a resource, but this is my first GURPS setting so I wanted to get some feedback. I know I need to add more 'Notables' and some templates for common NPCs: police, businessmen, moonshiner, etc. Thanks in advance for your advice and help!

Birmingham, AL (1930 A.D.)

Population: 259,678 (38% Black, 62% White) [Search +3 for hirelings, jobs +4 for industrial related searches especially iron and steel]

Physical and Magical Environment
Terrain: Mountain foothills
Appearance: Average (0 reaction modifier)
Hygiene: -1
No Mana

Culture and Economy
Language: English (Southern Dialect)
Literacy: (Black: Accented, White: Native)
TL: 6
Wealth: Struggling (Black: Poor, White: Average)
Status: -2 to 6

Political Environment
Government: Representative Democracy, Subjugated (Municipality of
the state of Alabama)
CR:4 (Corruption -4)
Military Resources: $10,387,120.00
Defense Bonus: +5 Many concrete structures

Birmingham occupies Jones Valley, flanked by long parallel mountain ridges (the tailing ends of the Appalachian foothills) running from north-east to south-west. The valley is drained by small creeks (Village Creek, Valley Creek) which flow into the Black Warrior River. The valley was bisected by the principal railroad corridor, along which most of the early manufacturing operations began.

Jim Crow, a racial caste system, is in full effect in Birmingham 1930. The Jim Crow system was undergirded by the following racist beliefs or rationalizations: whites were superior to blacks in all important ways, including but not limited to intelligence, morality, and civilized behavior; sexual relations between blacks and whites would produce a mongrel race which would destroy America; treating blacks as equals would encourage interracial sexual unions; any activity which suggested social equality encouraged interracial sexual relations; if necessary, violence must be used to keep blacks at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. (

The start of the 20th century brought the substantial growth that gave Birmingham the nickname "The Magic City" as the downtown area developed from a low-rise commercial and residential district into a busy grid of neoclassical mid-rise and high-rise buildings and busy streetcar lines.

Economically, in 1930 the Great Depression is hitting Birmingham especially hard as sources of capital that were fueling the city's growth rapidly dried up at the same time that farm laborers, driven off the land, made their way to the city in search of work.

Landmarks in Birmingham: Birmingham-Southern College, the state fairgrounds, East Lake and Avondale parks, Sloss Furnaces.

East Birmingham
Red Mountain
West End

Main industries: iron mining and refining (Sloss Iron and Steel Company, Sloss Mines, and Sloss Furnaces)

Crime: Birmingham has one of the highest crime rates in the US. In 1930 Prohibition is still in effect. There are many moonshiners and bootleggers in and around Birmingham. "The trip from Alexander City to Birmingham used to take about forty-five minutes without rushing. At least four times a week the sounds of an ambulance going south brought smiles at Newberry’s service station. 'There goes another load of whiskey.' The adults would say. Under the guise of an emergency they successfully passed-up lawmen in Harpersville, Childersburg, Sylacauga, and Goodwater. Along with their haul and numerous moonshine stills, bootleggers and shot houses stayed well supplied." (
Moonshiners and bootleggers found it necessary to payoff police, sheriffs and prohibition enforcement agents as a cost of doing business.
The widespread corruption of officials created disrespect for law in general and for Prohibition in particular. If bribes didn't work or became too expensive, violence was sometimes used. A plot to "exterminate" all prohibition enforcement officers operating in the northern part of the state was discovered after the death of one officer and the wounding of two others. (

[roll 3d6 each day that characters are in the city to see if they are victims of a crime]
6-18 no crime
5 victim of a theft (taking something)
4 victim of a burglary (break into a building)
3 victim of a rare crime roll again and see below

12-18 Auto Theft
9-11 Assault
7-8 Robbery
5-6 Rape
4 Arson
3 Murder

Important Birmingham NPCs:

Mayor: James Marion "Jimmie" Jones, Jr (born September 18, 1883 in Eufaula, Barbour County; died 1940) was President of the Birmingham City Commission (de facto Mayor of Birmingham) from 1925 until his death in 1940.
Jones, the son of James Monroe and Emma Louise Davis Jones of Eufaula, worked as a brakeman for various railroads as a young man, but took up the study of finance after losing a leg in a train accident. He graduated from the Eastman Business College of Poughkeepsie, New York in 1905, married the former Cynthia Bryan in 1907, and was appointed town clerk of East Lake under mayor Nathaniel Barrett in 1908.
When East Lake was annexed into Birmingham in 1910, Jones took a position as clerk in the city's treasury department at City Hall. After Barrett was elected Commission President in 1917, he appointed Jones comptroller. He resigned to open a contracting business in 1921 and ran for public elected office four years later.
Jones' campaign in the 1925 Birmingham mayoral election was supported by the Ku Klux Klan, then an influential political organization. Despite narrowly making the runoff, he soundly defeated his opponent in the general election. After taking office, Jones refused to show favoritism to the Klan or to other groups and earned respect for his incorruptibility. He was also noted as an opponent of two-time Governor Bibb Graves.
He was re-elected in the 1929, 1933 and 1937 municipal elections, serving until he died in office in 1940.
Jimmie and Cynthia Jones had five children: William Marion, Marie Louise (Daniels), James Bryan, Mary Elizabeth, and Joe Chester.

Useful Links:

Writing Fic for the 1930s:
Money and Inflation in 1930s:

Harris Lee Parcus--The Godfather of North Alabama
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Old 06-09-2013, 05:43 AM   #2
Gold & Appel Inc
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: One Mile Up
Default Re: Birmingham, AL (1930) for mystery campaign

I can't believe it took me this long to notice this thread. You kick ass.

My humble contribution:

'Shiner [10]:

Culture: TL 6 [0]; Familiarity: Western [0]; Languages: English (Native / Native) [0];

Attributes: ST 10 [0]; DX 10 [0]; IQ 10 [0]; HT 10 [0];

Secondary: Dam: 1d-2/1d; BL 20#; Spd: 5.0 [0]; Mov: 5 [0]; HP 10 [0]; FP 10 [0]; Per: 10 [0]; Will: 10 [0];

Advantages: Contact Group (Underworld: 13*, Available 12-, Unreliable) [10]; Resistance +3 (Poison) [5]; PLUS Choose 20 points from Allies, Any Attribute, Any Contacts / Contact Groups (Particularly improved Underworld or new Law Enforcement), or Any Secondary.

Perks: Alcohol Tolerance [1];

Disadvantages: Secret ('Shiner) [-20]; PLUS Choose -20 points from: Alcoholism (Illegal) [-20]; Compulsive Behavior (Binge Drinker) [-15*]; Debt [Any]; Illiteracy [-3]; Intolerance (Authority Figures) [-5]; Paranoia [-10]; Social Stigma (Criminal Record) [-5]; Status -1 [-5];

Skills: Cooking (E) (Op Spec: Distilling) IQ+3 [4]-13; Camouflage (E) IQ+1 [2]-11; Smuggling (A) IQ+1 [4]-11; Streetwise (A) (Op Spec: Liquor) IQ+2 [4]-12;

Optional Skills: Area Knowledge; Driving (Automobile); Guns (Shotgun); Traps;
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Old 06-20-2013, 07:59 AM   #3
wat3rm0le's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: Lafayette, CA
Default Re: Birmingham, AL (1930) for mystery campaign

Thanks! I'm definitely adding 'Shiner. Resistance +3 (Poison) is brilliant and hilarious.

Thanks again for the encouragement!
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Old 06-20-2013, 03:07 PM   #4
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Join Date: Oct 2004
Default Re: Birmingham, AL (1930) for mystery campaign

I love southern history, especially this period. Comments:

The 'Shiner needs Driving and mechanical skills for auto repair: see Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR.

In this period the Klan is very active. It is a shadow government in many parts of the South -- most judges, police chiefs, and even preachers and newspapermen are in the Klan or at least sympathetic to its "moral" arguments in regards to segregation. Not sure how City Stats handles that. The Klan was as likely to threaten "dangerous" whites as blacks, and that shouldn't be forgotten. Jews, Catholics, and "foreigners" (Italians, Greeks, etc., essentially all non-WASPs) are generally suspect. Add to this unmarried women and anyone with too little money, or too much. "Crime" in the south is largely still a product of male dominance violence and social pressure during this period was immense. Step lightly in the south, as its hand rests lightly on pistol, knife, and shotgun.

Manners matter, though. As one would suspect, with such stark social classes, manners are important. Flouting social convention was considered dangerous, provocative, and often started fist fights, at least. People were killed in the Prohibition south for the slightest social insults. Blacks were expected to never look a white in the face, to say "yes sir" and never be near a white woman, or even look at one. Black men crossed the street rather than pass a white woman on the sidewalk. I know of one lynching which occurred because a black teenage boy took his nickel -- which he had dropped -- from a white toddler who picked it up. She cried, and the people lynched him immediately. It sounds insane, but that system -- if not that level of anger -- was still in place in the 1930s.

That said, the south was (paradoxically) profoundly hospitable, if not genteel. As poor as the region was, most folks would help one another if they could, especially if the family name was respected. (And this went for whites helping blacks, too.) You could, in those days, hitchhike anywhere safely, and sleep in barns or on back porches without raising much suspicion -- if you were the right type (middle class white male, or an "appropriately socially submissive" black). Loans and business deals were sealed by handshakes, and even lower class white women had a "domestic" or two in the house a couple of days a week to help with washing, etc.

It's also worth pointing out that segregation meant some parts of town were black and some were white and BOTH races generally did not cross those lines. Whites who ventured into black neighborhoods were either on official business (police, ministers, doctors, etc.) or considered "up to no good" and the general population was nor surprised if a white man was killed in a black neighborhood. This reinforced social stereotypes of blacks, but also "evened the score" if a white Klansmen was caught on the wrong side of town. See "Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition" by Adam Gussow
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Old 01-28-2018, 02:46 PM   #5
Join Date: Jan 2018
Default Re: Birmingham, AL (1930) for mystery campaign

As a resident of Birmingham and a student of history, I'm definitely working this up some more! I've been trying to interest my wife in RPGs, and this would be the perfect setting to pique her interest. Thanks, y'all!

Trussville, AL
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Old 01-28-2018, 06:26 PM   #6
Join Date: Jan 2018
Default Re: Birmingham, AL (1930) for mystery campaign

One of the first inductees into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, Fess Whatley, is a fascinating figure of the time. Black musicians played in White establishments, particularly those serving bootleg alcohol, throughout the period in which this setting takes place. You can find information on Fess Whatley at Check out for all sorts of period research for your game.
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city stats, custom setting, ideas to share

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