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Basic Information

A rookery is a type of densely packed urban slum, first identified in 18th century London and consisting of a mass of ramshackle buildings with little or no infrastructure support, divided by narrow alleys (often known as jiggers or ginnels). The name comes from the messy, tightly packed nests formed by colonies of rooks (the birds). Rookery housing is usually of the order of one or more families to a single room - frequently at flophouse standard or below and with insecure tenancies. In some cases, rooms may only be accessible by climbing over rooftops or by using rickety plank bridges between "buildings" - whilst original buildings, some of them potentially quite well built, may exist under the mass of the rookery1, such buildings are likely to have been extended beyond all reason, filling up most of the original streets and all sorts of dead spaces not previously envisioned as housing. The addition of several illegitimate floors atop the original roof is also common. As already implied, building standards are probably most notable by their absence and roofs and walls should not be relied upon to keep out weather or anything released from other premises - likewise an absolute shortage of fresh air, sewerage or clean anything is to be expected. Those residents who can afford both food and fuel to cook it with are likely to struggle to find any (safe) facilities for cooking. Fires and contagious diseases alike will sweep freely through a rookery and encounter little or nothing in the way of an obstacle.

Movement through rookeries could also be imperilled by all sorts of expedient traps and obstacles - cited examples include a concealed entrance to a sewage tank and hidden spikes2, as well as rooms accessed by floor level crawlways or by climbing spikes driven into an external wall. Strangers, especially those moving quickly (for example, whilst chasing a native), ran a serious risk of injury and/or placed themselves in circumstances in which they could be attacked from considerable advantage.

The Kowloon Walled City was probably the most awesome example of a rookery ever to evolve.


The Victorian Underworld Donald Serrell Thomas
The Victorian Underworld Kellow Chesney
London Labour and the London Poor Henry Mayhew

1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Often really dangerous places - even if you are not actively mugged and/or murdered, there is still the disease and various terrain hazards to consider.
  • Only those with serious local familiarity - and probably underworld connections - are likely to be able to find anyone who doesn't want to be found in a rookery.
  • Conversely, a good place to hire criminals - assuming that you can survive the process. No place for a swell cully, but a right sharp turk that's down on the manor should be fine3.
  • Another good home for the PCs of tight-fisted players - or a background for anyone who wants a dirt-poor urban character.
  • Even a pre-modern rookery might roof-over some or all or its streets (although there's no much evidence of this actually occurring), turning a whole block into a single sprawling building.
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