Academic Lineage, Connections, and Mad Chuck

Bear with me for a minute here. I’m going to indulge in a habit common to cardware writers, systems engineers, and Byrons, and I’m going to explain what I’m thinking to an invisible audience. In the modern era, it’s known as “rubberducking”. Not sure what they call it in the Victorian era – it’s not woolgathering, or musing, or pondering.

Lineage is one of the characteristics by which we, as individuals and as tribal groups, define ourselves. Bloodline determines inheritance of thrones. The knight who raised you from commoner to squire, and saw you enter the chivalry as their peer, is still your knight, and the line traces back through the years. In academia, lineage is just as crucial. Who your doctoral advisor was determined the initial opinions of the review board. Your methodology and foundational assumptions are going to be similar to those of your mentor. The Galvanic Order may have prestige, and official standing with the Prussian government, but their leaders are still members of the von Helmholtz Circle, and owe their careers, their standing in the academic community, and their ability to play musical instruments to Professor von Helmholtz.

Lineage matters to Byrons as well. They may be to some extent self taught, but in the end all of them go back to three men and one woman: John, John, Charles, and Ada. Mad Chuck Babbage created the Engine. He sought order in a chaotic world, and the impossibility of that quest may have been what pushed him over the edge. Countess Lovelace, Ada, Lady Byron, the wellspring of cardware and operating systems and computational analysis of the Bernoulli equations, has left her names to the school, her thoughts embedded in the machine. Baron Johnstone and the Earl of Annandale set their mark indelibly on the Engine and how it’s programmed with their Mark III Analytical and Ten-Key Differential Engines. The spirit of two entrepreneurs, recently come into wealth and position, using their advantage to obtain commercial success and make a significant contribution to the defense of their nation, permeates the field. Everyone wants to Make a Difference.

It’s when it gets to the how that we screw down to the sticking point …

Even more so when we’re talking about Weird Scientists. While the Herons like to point back to Heron of Alexandria as their inspiration, let’s face it, their lineage really only goes back to the 12th Century, the Reconquista, and Toledo. That sort of disparaging remark, dismissing a tradition as not being unbroken back to the founder, and having only a paltry seven hundred years under its belt, is the sort of treatment someone can expect if their lineage isn’t of the first water. The Newtonians only go back a hundred and fifty, maybe sixty years, not even two centuries, and their namesake kept his alchemical experiments a secret for a reason. Sir Isaac didn’t even found the School, it’s just named after him. Who really are the academic founders of the Newtonians? What are their credentials?

We shan’t discuss the Prometheans. No.

So lineage matters. When you build your Byron, your Scientist, your Heron or Promethean or Newtonian, think about where they came from. Think about who they have to know in order to have achieved the position they currently occupy. Consider who they’re going to have to get to know to advance their careers. These are your character’s initial Connections. We’ll be talking about Connections in the Players Companion, about how the player helps build the GMCs that their character knows, owes a favour to, has a bargain with, or holds a marker for. In the late Victoria era, very much like today, it’s not who you are so much as who you know.

And we haven’t even begun to discuss the plot complications that lineage can introduce. You’ve got roleplaying material for months just off of an associate trying to publish a paper. Think about mathematicians and the Mathematics Skill. These people have well established lineages that go back for hundreds of years. How do they feel about working in the new field of computational science, the study of the theory underlying the Analytical Engine, which has a lineage that only goes back thirty-six years and starts with someone known as Mad Chuck? Respectability is everything in the upper Social Levels. How can an mathematician (or an Ozzie) possibly gain respectability when working in such a strange and sometimes disreputable field?

Those of you who are storygamers and worldbuilders and who like to see the sausage made, thank you for sticking around for all of that. Those of you who want dice mechanics and Stuff Blowing Up, we’ll get to you shortly.