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Anecdotes: Notes and Advice for the Referee

". . . the referee can make or break a campaign, as it is [the referee's] imagination which the other players use as a springboard to adventure."
Traveller Book 1: Characters and Combat

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The "Metagame" perspective on Silkpunk Victoria

Inspired by the occasional "Ref's Notes" feature of the Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society, Ref's Notes are "an informal discussion of some aspect of [the campaign] from the referee's viewpoint, with the aim of helping beginners get started and helping the experienced ref add a little spice to his game."

Anecdotes also features discussions of the role-playing philosophy of the Silkpunk Victoria campaign and will examine the ways in which role-playing philosophy has influenced the campaign setting.

Ætheron & Thaumaturgy | Characteristics (Attributes) | Free‑form role‑playing | Silkpunk vs. Steampunk | Political Geography

Ætheron & Thaumaturgy

"While the Traveller rules give a reasonably complete range of psionic abilities, there have always been a few which seem to have defied classification."
— John Morrison, "Special Psionic Powers," Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society #5

Thaumaturgy in Silkpunk Victoria is inspired by the Psionics of Traveller.  This is not to say that thaumaturgy is simply a fantastical version of science-fictional "powers of the mind" — thaumaturgy in Silkpuk Victoria is specifically magical — but rather that in terms of game mechanics thaumaturgy functions in a manner similar to that by which psionics functions in Classic Traveller.  Thaumaturgists have a thaumaturgical characteristic — "Thaumaturgy," akin to the more conventional characteristics — which affects their thaumaturgical "abilities and reactions."[*]  (Indeed, all characters have the Thaumaturgy characteristic, though it's rudimentary in non-thaumaturgists.)  Thaumaturgical capability manifests in "Talents," broad categories comprised of specific abilities.

A key difference from the psionics of Traveller is that every thaumaturgical ability, in addition to being typically dependent upon a character's Thaumaturgy characteristic, can only be used in conjunction with a specifically-designed thaumaturgical substance or device crafted using the thaumaturgical substance ætheron.  (The crafting of these devices is itself accomplished via the thaumaturgical ability of "Artifice," with the associated substance in such crafting being ætheron itself.)

There are seven thaumaturgical Talents: Alchemy, Empatheia, Impetus, Kinæsthesia, Œcologia; Sentiency and a Special talent.  Alchemy is the talent which enables the manipulation, reaction or transmutation of physical substances and includes abilities such as Blast, Melt and Rejuvenate. Empatheia is the talent which enables contact with other minds and includes abilities such as Apprehend, Emote and Lifesign.  Impetus is the talent which allows objects to be manipulated without physically touching them and includes abilities such as Break, Levitate and Push.  Kinæsthesia is the talent which allows manipulation of one's own body (or, sometimes, another's body), and includes abilities such as Heal, Nourish and Sleep.  Œcologia is the talent which allows manipulation of the natural environment (including animals), and includes abilities such as Adjure, Lightning and Wave.  Sentiency is the talent which allows a person to sense circumstances at a location displaced from their position and includes abilities such as Find, View and Listen.  The Special talent enables a diverse collection of especially unusual abilities (which may entail intertwined elements of other Talents) and includes Assault, Metamorphose and Præcognition.

Most thaumaturgists have at most a handful of thaumaturgical abilities and it is rare for someone to possess abilities from multiple Talents.  Typically, the more abilities a thaumaturgist has, the less capable they will be with any given ability.  In all circumstances, a larger Thaumaturgy characteristic will enable a broader range of abilities of greater capability.

Thaumaturgical Talents and Abilities































































[*] Psionics in Traveller were first described in Book 3: Worlds and Adventures.

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Player-Character Characteristics (Attributes)

"Characters are generated initially through a series of six double [six-sided] dice rolls, which determine the basic characteristics affecting abilities and reactions."
Traveller Book 1: Characters and Combat

In Classic Traveller, player-characters have six "natural, in-born characteristics": Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, and Social Standing (though at least two of these — Education and Social Standing — are not actually "natural" much less "in-born").[*]  In original Dungeons and Dragons, player-characters also have six "abilities": Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution (equivalent to Traveller's Endurance), Dexterity and Charisma (all of which would seem to be both "natural" and "in-born").[]

Attributes in original Dungeons and Dragons are not particularly well-defined.  Strength is useful for fighting and "will also aid in opening traps and so on."  Intelligence is useful "for magical types," is used by the referee to make decisions "as to whether or not certain actions would be taken" (i.e. are successful) and "allows additional languages to be spoken."  Wisdom is useful for clerical magic and otherwise "will act much as does" Intelligence.   Constitution is a "combination of health and endurance" that influences a character's ability to endure injuries.  Dexterity is associated with speed, a character's "missile ability" and initiative.  Charisma is primarily about the ability to inspire loyalty.

There are clear, concise definitions of characteristics in Traveller.  Strength represents a "character's physical ability" as well as the "force which may be applied in combat."  Dexterity measures "physical coordination."  Endurance represents both "physical stamina and determination," the latter apparently being a mental characteristic.  Intelligence represents the character's intelligence quotient, which is typically understood to be a measure of reasoning ability.  Education "indicates the highest level of schooling attained."  Social Standing represents the "level of society" from which the character — and their family — comes.

The Silkpunk Victoria campaign adopts the "physical" characteristics from Traveller (and the corresponding attributes from Dungeons and Dragons) of Strength, understood to represent physical power, Dexterity, understood to represent physical agility and coordination, and Endurance, understood to represent physical health and stamina.  Silkpunk Victoria also uses three "mental" characteristics: Will, a mental analog to Strength also understood to represent the mental determination aspect of Endurance from Traveller, useful in the short term bearing of injury; Wit, a mental analog to Dexterity similar in many ways to the Intelligence of Traveller (and Dungeons and Dragons), and Resilience, a mental analog to Endurance also useful in the longer-term bearing of illness.  Finally, there is the campaign-specific characteristic of Thaumaturgy. (When characteristics must be determined randomly, the Traveller convention of a throw of two six-sided dice may be used.)

[*] Player-character characteristics in Traveller — strength, dexterity, endurance, intelligence, education and social standing, originally each determined randomly by a throw of two six-sided dice — were first described in Book 1: Characters and Combat.

[] Player-character abilities in Dungeons and Dragons — strength, intelligence, wisdom, constitution, dexterity and charisma, originally each determined randomly by a throw of three six-sided dice — were first described in Men and Magic.

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Free-form Role-playing

"This will be a 'free-form' (i.e. non-rules-based) role-playing game that emphasizes character (and plot) development over rules-crunching."
— "Space Viking's Daughter," 2004

Silkpunk Victoria adopts an explicitly "free-form" approach to role-playing which was used previously in the "Space Viking's Daughter" game, an online science-fiction role-playing game campaign set in H. Beam Piper's Sword-Worlds.  As in Space Viking's Daughter, the emphasis of Silkpunk Victoria role-play gaming is upon character, setting development and adventure plotting.  Here, for example, were the "character generation" instructions provided to players in the Space Viking's Daughter campaign:

". . . send [the referee] your character write-up (a prose description of appearance, history, experience, and personality, not a list of statistics from some RPG rules system). . . .  Your character should be the sort that one might encounter aboard a Space Viking ship (interpreted broadly — Space Vikings can have some interesting visitors at times) but should not be an actual character from Beam's novel.  (A not-too-close relative or acquaintance of a character from the novel will be acceptable but is not encouraged.)  [The referee] will review your character description (possibly suggesting some modifications) [and] we [will] begin play [once] we have agreed on your character description. . . ."

This approach which favors "narrative" over "rules-crunching" will be apparent throughout all aspects of the Silkpunk Victoria campaign.  Descriptions of player characters (and non-player characters) won't typically include statistics for characteristics or skill levels.  There will be no detailed statistics for craft and vehicle capabilities, for firearms and equipment, for encountered creatures.

Nevertheless, some elements of the Silkpunk Victoria campaign will, from time to time, be informed by rules from the Classic Traveller science-fiction role-playing game and "Old-School Revival" / "Open Source Rules" (OSR) rules such as Cepheus Engine and Cepheus Deluxe inspired by Traveller.

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Political Geography of Victoria's Silkpunk World

"On [the British Empire's] dominions the sun never sets; before his evening rays leave the spires of Quebec, his morning beams have shone three hours on [Sydney Habour], and while sinking from the waters of Lake Superior, his eye opens upon the Mouth of the Ganges."
Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh), October 15, 1821

Image - Northeast Pacific satellite map

The Northeast Pacific region
(Image extracted from Google Earth)

The Silkpunk Victoria setting imagines a world similar to the late 19th Century world but in which European predominance and British hegemony are less prevalent.  This is a world where there are small, European-heritage states along the western coast of North America, like Russkaya Alyáska, the Oregon Republic and the California Republic.  It is a world where Qing China has gained a foothold in North America — Qīng Jiāzhōu — and Meiji Japan controls Hawai'i.  In the Intermountain West and on the Canadian Prairies and the Great Plains there are independent confederations of Indigenous peoples like the Plateau Confederacy, the Great Basin Confederacy, the Great Range Confederacy, the Northern Plains Confederacy and the Southern Plains Confederacy.  This is a world where the American civil war ended in stalemate[*] and where Central and South America are comprised largely of Mestizo successor states to the Spanish and Portuguese empires which look different from the quasi-republican states of the actual world.

Silkpunk Victoria is a world where Prussia did not come to eclipse Austria as the preeminent German state, where Poland — or Poland-Lithuania — was not consumed by Austria, Prussia and Russia, where Spain remained on relatively equal stature with France and Britain (or England), where perhaps an Ottoman-like state survives in southeastern Europe (and perhaps an independent Khedivate of Egypt in North Africa), where Sweden did not become a neutral backwater, where, perhaps, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars — and the republican "Revolutions of 1848" — unfolded differently in Europe.

The Silkpunk Victoria world also descends from a very Asia, where Qajar Iran in the southwest, Maratha Bharat in southern Asia and Durrani Afghanistan in central Asia were not overwhelmed by Europeans, where Qing China did not seek to hide from the outside world, where the Dzungar Khanate was not subsumed by Qing China.  It is a world where Europeans not only fought with each other in the "Scramble for Africa" but also with powerful, expansionist Asian states.  It is a world where Great Power politics meant that more African states managed to maintain a degree of autonomy, if not actual sovereignty, by playing European invaders off against their Asian counterparts, and vice versa.  All in all an interesting place for silkpunk adventure.

[*] While the alternative history of the U.S. Civil War is a popular concept in English-language speculative fiction, these circumstances are only peripheral to the Silkpunk Victoria campaign which is focused on the Pacific coastal region of North America in an imagined world with a much broader alternate history by the end of the 19th Century.

Southwest Asia | Central Asia | South Asia | East Asia | Oceania | . . .

"The quaint conceit of imagining what would have happened if some important or unimportant event had settled itself differently, has become so fashionable that I am encouraged to enter upon an absurd speculation."
— Winston Churchill, "If Lee had not won the battle of Gettysburg," 1930

An Alternate South Asia

Image - Shahu Bhonsle II

Chhatrapati Shahu Bhonsle II

Formally, all of South Asia is part of the Mughal Empire and all of the nations of South Asia — east of the Iranian plateau (and Qajar Iran), southeast of the Hindu Kush mountains (and Durrani Afghanistan), southwest of the Himalaya mountains (and the Dzungar Khanate) and west of the Arakan mountains (and Konbaung Myanmar) — swear loyalty to the Badshah, but it is actually Maratha Bharat which dominates South Asia.  The major Mughal subject nations — Bengal, the Deccan and Mysore — and smaller subject nations like Awadh, Gujarat, Lahore, Multan, Sindh and the Karnatak Sultanate are all under the practical control of Bharat.

Some European nations maintain trading ports in the Mughal Empire, often owned and operated, at Maratha indulgence, by a nationally-chartered trading company.  The French East India Company operates factories on the Coromandel Coast, in the Northern Sarkars, on the Malabar Coast and in Bengal.  The Dutch East India Company operates factories on Ceylon, on the Coromandel Coast, on the Malabar Coast, in Bengal and in Gujarat.  The Portuguese House of India operates factories on the Konkan Coast and in Gujarat.  The Danish East India Company operates factories on the Coromandel Coast, on the Malabar Coast and in Bengal.  The Swedish East India Company operates factories in Bengal and in Gujarat.  The British East India Company operates factories on the Coromandel Coast, in the Northern Sarkars, on the Malabar Coast, in Bengal, on the Konkan Coast and in Gujarat.

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