Story Seeds – Mad Scientist

Picking the Mad Scientist seed could mean that there is a single prominent scientist that is threatening to destabilize society or that there are going to be many scientists that the player group will encounter.

Victor Frankenstein is probably the original template for a mad scientist. He builds his creature without really considering what the consequences are. He also has found a way to harness the power of electricity. Nikola Tesla is also an excellent real life model of the “mad” scientist. He was undeniably a genius but his habit of proclaiming he could build death rays and earthquake machines made him seem unstable and a threat. Tesla stated repeatedly that by making terrifying weapons he would make war impossible to wage. Many inventors of the time felt this way, that by inventing a horrific device it would prevent war. Historically only the atom bomb was so horrible that it was difficult for nations to accept using it but it provides a motivation for a mad scientists of the age. The mad scientist is only concerned with his ability to master creation with his intellect.

In most instances, the classic mad scientist frequently has a mastery of the use of electricity. In the Victorian age, electricity is exotic and little understood. To be able to command and control it is such a feat that it requires nearly superhuman intelligence.

The mad scientist is often in conflict with the rest of society because of the danger their actions pose to the health and well being or accepted norms of the day. The player characters may be acting as protectors of the populous or they may themselves be threatened by the Mad Scientist’s actions.

If there is only one main Mad Scientist, they should be built similarly to a PC but with 40 Story plus 20 for every player character.


Normally a player characters can only invest 6-10 points into an invention at creation. NPC characters can have as many of their SP spent on inventions as the GM wishes. In addition they may have several inventions instead of a single invention.


A Mad Scientist should have a very high Intelligence attribute. They may be very eloquent and lucid but in some situations they may seem babbling and incoherent. This is a style choice made by the GM. Intelligent and lucid maniacs need much stronger motivations than ones that are merely driven mad by power.


For a different take on the mad scientist, there is the misunderstood genius. A good example of this is in the story The Cronic Argo where the scientist is simply minding his own business but his seclusion makes society fear him as being malevolent.

Posted in Settings | Leave a comment

Story Seeds – Pirate

By picking the Pirate story seed, the player is asking for pirates and piracy to be a theme of the unfolding story. In this setting pirates may be a common problem that merchants must contend with or the players may have to contend with a single group of pirates that the story is centered around.

Historically pirates in the late 19th century were rare in the Atlantic. The American Navy hunted down pirates in the Caribbean and the English Royal Navy hunted slave traders and pirates off the coast of Africa. Pirates in the late 19th century were common around China and in the rivers of the Americas. The conditions that allowed piracy to flourish in the open ocean was the chaos of several countries grabbing and trying to control territory. Governments were strained trying to defend their territory from other nations, sometimes even promoting piracy against their rival nations.

If there are a large number of pirates in the setting it’s likely to be in a similarly chaotic environment where navies are otherwise occupied or cannot easily reach.

Pirate Ships

Ships used in piracy are often small and maneuverable but some pirates did acquire large vessels.

Blackbeard’s flagship the Queen Anne’s Revenge was a Frigate with 40 cannon, one of the largest pirate vessels in the Caribbean. Before taking the ship Blackbeard used two sloops, small fast vessels.

For each cannon the ship’s gun multiplier is one, so a ship the size of the Queen Anne’s Revenge would have a gun multiplier of 40. His smaller sloops carried 12 guns and 8 guns respectively. This gives the 12 gun sloop named the Adventure a Gun Multiplier of 12. The Gun Multiplier does not always have to signify the number of guns on a ship, a large gun by itself may have a multiplier of 2 or more depending on how big it is.

The Queen Anne’s Revenge had a crew of as many as 150 pirates. The Adventure reportedly had a crew of 120 although it may have been overloaded to storm the frigate. A large frigate is a much stouter ship so it has a SP Multiplier of 2. Along with Blackbeard himself (SP 20), the Adventure would have an Story of 140 while the Queen Anne’s Revenge would have a Story of 340.

Sloop – Adventure

Crew 120 + Blackbeard
Story 140
Gun Multiplier 12
Maneuverable – Agility +3

Frigate – Queen Anne’s Revenge

Crew 150 + Blackbeard
SP Multiplier 2
Story 340
Gun Multiplier 40

In the steam age, steamships and ironclads add to the possible kinds of vessels a pirate can encounter or operate. Steam vessels get the method Under Steam – Intelligence +3. (The pilot’s intelligence is used for the vessel’s speed) Ironclads get the Iron Hide trick and a SP multiplier of at least +1 but possibly more. An ironclad the size of a frigate like the Queen Anne’s Revenge would have a SP Multiplier of at least 3.

Airships can work similarly to seagoing vessels but also get the method Flight – Agility +3. Depending on the design of the airship and how it is kept aloft, the number of guns are likely to be fewer and therefore the Gun Multiplier lower. Dirigible and blimp type airships are also more vulnerable to damage and so are unlikely to have an SP Multiplier.

Naval Ships

While there were unarguably many smaller naval vessels in the league of the Queen Anne’s Revenge in the various navies, there were also larger vessels.

Ship of the line

Crew 300-1,200
SP Multiplier 3-4
Story 900-3,600
Gun Multiplier 60-140

Many Ship of the line were refitted as steamships later in their careers, the addition of paddle wheels often eliminated space for guns and reducing their Gun Multiplier by 20.

Honor Among Pirates

It should be remembered that honor is still important to a pirate in Victorian times. In the 18th century it was common for a pirate crew to do no further harm to a crew that had surrendered.

Posted in Settings | Leave a comment

How to Make Chicken – The Mad Scientist Way!

Posted in Background Fodder | Leave a comment

More Thoughts on Setting

A while ago I was watching a Nova special on quantum mechanics and one of the physicists commenting said something along the lines of ‘If it weren’t for quantum mechanics we would all be still using steam engines’. That made me think, in an alternate universe, where quantum mechanics didn’t exist, would we be living in a steampunk 2012? Steampunk is notoriously hard to pin down with a satisfying definition but this could be a compelling component to reach one.

I’d need to do a lot more research to figure out the full implications of a no quantum mechanics world but what if Neils Boar was wrong? For one, solid state computers would not work. Diodes and transistors would not work. I don’t know if a vacuum tube would work. I don’t think there’s anything particularly quantum mechanical about an internal combustion engine so we might be in more of a dieselpunk world. Lasers would not exist, nor would LEDs.

I tend to watch out for factoids that match up with ideas and then I chain them together. What I’ll do is continue to look out for implications to a world that does not operate under quantum mechanics. I’ll categorize them under the heading “Quantumless”.


While doing research for skills, I came across an article that explained the reason for the development of Eniac (which I can’t find now), the first electronic computer. I found the story quite compelling and it made me question the central premise behind books like “The Difference Engine”. The reason behind it’s development was that the mechanical calculators (basically difference engines) were too slow to keep up with the demand for firing tables for cannons. The article went on to explain the vast speed and reliability improvement of an electronic computer. So in a quantumless universe, it comes down to whether vacuum tubes would still work. If they do, then the move to electronic computation would still occur. If they don’t, well then the Analytical Engine starts to look more attractive.

So the concept is a compelling one to me. What would happen to technology and therefore society without quantum mechanics?

Posted in Background Fodder, Quantumless | Leave a comment

File and Wiki Updates

I was playing with adding a little bit of ironwork to the headers. I have a feeling they’ll cause trouble every time I update the files so I don’t know if I’ll keep them.

I put a few more skills in the wiki. I’ll be doing that periodically because if I add a lot of them at a time the cpu usage shoots way up and the webhost starts throttling my cpu usage.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

About The Setting

Another thing that the game book needs is a setting but this is tricky. The game world is supposed to be built according to the players choices, wouldn’t an established setting make that impossible or at least more difficult? It could but it doesn’t have to. Broad sweeping strokes should be enough to establish the setting.

The Inventor

It’s finally completed. For years I’ve labored on it and it has cost me dearly. At first my friends thought I was joking but then abandoned me, they couldn’t allow themselves to be embarrassed by a scandal if it didn’t work.

My family fortune is almost gone. It’s taken almost every shilling I have to make my dream come true. I cannot fail now or it will all be for nothing.

Even my professors thought I was mad. Could they not see it, or were they not daring enough to try? Soon all my detractors will be silenced. The boiler is stoked and building pressure, the flywheel is almost up to speed. There are just a few more levers to throw and the mainspring will be fully wound. This will be a glorious victory.

I will show them that I’m not mad. They’ll shower me with sovereigns just to see my wondrous invention. I’ll change the world.

The Friend

He’s become increasingly withdrawn in the last few months. I come to call on him but he has no time for me. I fear for his health and his sanity. After all one secluding himself will ignore practical wisdom.

We’ve taken in his wife as she is unable to live in their house. She had to let go the help because he leaves her with nothing to pay them with. It’s a deplorable situation. It breaks my heart to think of him this way.

He barely eats and his wife says that he keeps himself on some concoction to stay awake all hours of the night. I fear he may have to be put in an asylum.

The Professor

In theory he may be right, that I cannot deny but his manner and methods are so disagreeable that no one could speak reason to him. It’s a scandal and a disgrace to have his name associated with the university. He asks for funding and what am I to say? No, this hallowed institution cannot be linked with this madness.

What would such an infernal device do to society? It would be turned upside down. Even more, it would dash society to pieces, never to be put back together again. How could I condone this action?


When invention outstrips the pace of a finely balanced social order the result is upheaval. Who is mad and who is genius? In a world powered by coal and steam, men and women pit their intelligence against iron and coal fire. Will it be for the betterment of mankind or it’s destruction?

Posted in Book Additions | Leave a comment

File Update and Fun Stuff

The PDF has been updated. I haven’t done all the things Rob asked me to do but I’m working on it. In the mean time here’s some fun links and video.

Victorian Names

Steampunk Names


Posted in Background Fodder, News | 2 Comments

Creating A Scenario

Rob Lang over at 1KM1KT gave me a laundry list of fixes to the game book. I’m starting to work on them and there are some big oversights. One is that I don’t explain how to create a scenario to a new GM so here’s my attempt at it.

Players will need some kind of world to act within. They will have selected a set of story seeds in the character creation process. The game master now takes those seeds and uses them to imagine a world that uses them. Not all the seeds have to appear in every game, they can come in and out of the story’s focus.


Two of the seeds selected are “Pirates” and “High Society”. The game master can’t think of a situation where they both fit in one play session so to start out he makes one session about pirates at the end of which the players find out the governor was the one harboring the curs. The next play session the PCs must infiltrate a high society ball to expose the governor.

One way to develop a scenario is to set up an environment for the PCs to operate in. That environment can start off as a single building if there’s enough to do in it to keep the player’s interest. It could be a town, city, ocean, or even the entire world if the game master desires to create it.

Players will often not operate in a linear story fashion so it’s best to construct events so they can be encountered in different orders. To do this, think of the things the players have to do to get through the story as doors. Once the players get through one of the events it’s like a door opens up into the rest of the story. An experienced game master will be able to make several doors that may lead in the same direction but they players decide which way they will take to get there.

The players are on a ship that is attacked by pirates, first they must defeat the pirates. Once they do, they discover letters the pirate captain was writing to the governor about payments they are making to him. A door is now opened to the next segment of the story.

Alternatively, the players were captured by the pirates and must now try and escape the ship. They overhear the pirates talking about the governor and how he’s enabling them to operate in these waters. A door has opened but from a different direction.

The Story World

Many first time game masters look at making a story for their players and think they have to know how everything in the story will happen. That they need to know how the whole world works. If that describes you, put your mind at ease. Setting up a good game story is far easier than you’re thinking. The fear comes from the idea that the game master controls the story. A good game master does not control the story. They only control the doors to different parts of the story. A really good game master doesn’t even control the doors, they just create the doors and the players decide what to do with them.

The simplest of these story doors might be that a bad guy is literally standing in a PC’s way. How the PC deals with the bad guy is not for the game master to predetermine. The GM only has to figure out the bad guy’s methods of stopping the PCs. If the players come up with a way around the bad guy the GM isn’t expecting that’s not a bad thing. You have some creative players and that’s a lot of fun.

A GM only has to know what will get the players from one door to the next. What difficulties will they encounter? What do they see while traveling from one story door to another? Some detail is good but too much detail will get in the way of the players doing what they want to do. Players will ask questions the GM hasn’t considered, it’s alright to make things up as you go but try and keep things consistent from game to game. The story world can be built up slowly over a series of games.

Three Acts

Even for a dedicated group of players, three main doors in a game session is all they will likely be able to get through. Past three and the game becomes more complicated and is unlikely to be finished in a single session. If you have more doors for the players to get through, don’t throw them away, keep them for the next session.

Many plays, books and movies follow a three act structure, you can use this to build your three doors. The first door is getting the PCs into the action. The second act is usually twice as long as the first act and takes up a bulk of the conflict. The third act is the climax where the characters must face a larger challenge. Following a three act structure is not required but it is how we’ve come to expect stories. The players will be more likely to recognize what is expected of them when a story is presented this way.

How’s That?

Does that work? Is that too meta for a starting GM?

Posted in Book Additions | Leave a comment


One of our questions from the get go was how does money work in a game where the equipment is based on common sense rather than an exhaustive list? Several Events give the character money, two of them give £500 and the Inheritance Event gives £2000, but how much is that? I knew those were decent chunks of money but how much was it back in the 1800’s? I had to do some digging.

Lets Talk Money

I didn’t find a simple answer right away. I did however learn a thing or two about victorian and edwardian british currency. For you brits out there, you’ll have to bear with the rest of us who don’t know what a guinea is.

First of all you have the british pound. At the time a pound was worth about five american dollars. So £2000 was about $10,000.00 US back then (that’s not counting inflation). If you had a one pound coin it was called a sovereign, if you had a paper pound it was called a note.

Most everyday things didn’t cost anywhere near a whole pound back then. The brits did have pennies but one hundred pence didn’t equal a pound, twelve pence equaled one shilling (nickname: A  bob). Twenty shillings equaled one pound. That means 240 pence equaled one pound. Shillings were a common coin used to pay for services in those days. Taking a cab, renting a room for the night, etc. would be paid for in bobs.

So what’s a guinea (nickname: yellowboy)? It’s a coin worth one pound and one shilling. Don’t ask me why I really can’t tell you. They seem to be the currency of choice for certain professional services like hiring a lawyer.

There was a wealth of other coins, I don’t know if anyone is going to need them in game. If you’re already an expert on coinage, the added realism could add a lot of flavor. I don’t think I’m going to have my players worry about carrying florins and mites.


I got different answers as to how much £2000 would be worth today but it’s somewhere between £100,000 and £155,000. In US dollars, that’s near a quarter of a million. Some estimates put it at closer to half a million US dollars.

Buying Power

Here are some approximate prices from back then.

Horses ranged from as low as £6 to as high as £200 (or possibly higher?).

A Colt Peacemaker in 1873 cost $17 or £3 8 shillings

Rent might cost a working class family 16 shillings a week.

2 bushels of coal $1.36 or 5 shillings 5 pence

In Game

In game, having that amount of money is primarily a way for a player to say “I’ll just buy one at the store.” and not worry about it. £500 is not going to run out in short order if they’re not making huge purchases. That said, what if they want to make big purchases like funding a new invention? I’m working on that. One thought is to have money convert into SP for things like buying vehicles, animals, and buildings or invention funding. I don’t want money to be converted back and fourth too freely though because it would break some systems. Any suggestions?

Posted in Background Fodder | Leave a comment

The Wiki Is Up

To give a place to all the ideas that won’t fit in the basic book I’ve set up a wiki. I threw in some basic structure so people can see basically how it’s intended to work and even threw an example of a new skill.

What I’ll probably do, is post new character creation Events, skills, etc on the blog here and then record them in the wiki. Sure you can search a blog, and sort it but after a while it gets really hard to manage.

You can find the wiki here.

Posted in News | Leave a comment
  • Translate

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Subscribe via Email

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 575 other subscribers

  • RSS The Artifact RPG Blog