1879: Haktanir Teyze the Engineer

In which we describe Nilufer Haktanir, provide her backstory, and discuss her work. Today, you get her Backstory and character sheet. Next month, she’ll be a $1.99 PDF with five Connections, three Adventure Hooks, and three Goodies.


The “one foot” metaphor can be extended in so many ways to describe the Ottoman Empire, its capital city, and its people. For example, the Empire itself is often described as having one foot in its expansionist past and the other in a future of international trade. Its government has one foot in religion and the other in secular space. The capital city has one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, quite literally, straddling the Bosphorus and its dividing line between the continents. Even the name of the city has one foot in Turkish history, its inhabitants calling it Istanbul, and one in the West, most Europeans still calling it Constantinople and the Turks accepting this with the dismissive humour they use for pretty much anything that annoys them. The Turks themselves live in a mish-mosh of the past and present, smoking Western-style cigarettes made with harsh Turkish tobacco grown for the hookah, wearing caftans during the day and putting on European-style formal wear for the evening, attending literary salons and arguing about ancient warrior poets.

This dichotomy, this idea of everything having different aspects depending upon which way it’s facing, applies in particular to the career of Bayan Nilufer Haktanir, native Istanbullu, wife to Bey Ferhan Haktanir, and an engineer in a couple of senses of the word. As a child and then as a young woman, Nilufer worked with her four older brothers in their mechanic’s shop, because it was the family business. The thought of traditional gender roles came up from time to time, but they needed the extra hands. Her mother sighed and said that grandchildren would happen, insha’Allah. When the military opened up technical schools for civilians for support positions, Nilufer applied. The recruiting sergeant asked her if she was joining up to find a husband, and she made a rude joke about already having a set of tools that got the work done, why clutter up the place with a man? As an Army-trained mechanic, she had the mathematics education, political position, and money necessary to win admittance to an engineering school. By then, destabilization brought on by necessary but harsh civil and military reforms, and constant threats from the outside (usually Russia), meant the Empire needed every hand and mind it could get. Like Prussia, the Union, and so many other countries, practical need won out over age-old patriarchal prejudice. That didn’t make it an easy journey. Along the way, Nilufer learned how to get what she wanted, and how to get other people what they wanted, in the finest traditions of military scrounging and Istanbullular deal-making.

Nilufer married at 22, a bit late by her culture’s ideas, enough her mother was worrying a woman who designed and built machines might not even be able to find a husband. Ferhan and Nilufer met at a company mixer for a supply firm they both dealt with, had a coffee the next evening, and spoke with their families about the match the day after. When asked about the speed of their courtship, they both just shrug and say, “I just knew.” She opened her own shop, two of her brothers came to work for her, and people started dropping by because Haktanir teyze knew where to get specialized parts, or who could make them. She had connections with inspection and licensing bureaus, government contract procurers, and a host of foreign manufacturers and import-export agencies. She could engineer a three-way finagle as well as any man, and her ability to make and close a deal won her an ever widening circle of business acquaintances. Currently, Ferhan Bey handles the money, being an accountant and generally good with the books. Haktanir teyze engineers the machinery, rules over the shop and its builds and repairs, and engineers business deals and political favours for her friends.

The Haktanirs have since had three children. The eldest girl, Hamiyet, age 14, wants to marry an imam, and has been attending a few chaperoned matchmaking meetings with religious students and other girls with similar aims in life. Haktanir Bayan rolls her eyes, but if her daughter wants to be a housewife, providing support to a religious leader contributes to the community. The middle girl, Binnaz, age 11, is her mother’s daughter, no question, rejected the dolls she was given in favour of whatever tools were within reach, and stole her younger brother’s toys once he came along. She works in the shop with her mother and uncles now, who call her araba ustasi, or Maymun for short. The youngest, Vecdi, a boy, is only eight, just starting to really show any preferences. He seems to like books and libraries, maybe he’ll be some kind of scholar. Ferhan sees that as a good thing. Continuing to work while pregnant caused some issues, mostly with Haktanir Bayan having to accept that she was spending more time at the design table and supervising the build and less with a spanner in her hands. That left her more time to handle the people end of the business, and she got to know so many people.

As a woman engineer with her own fabrication shop, Haktanir Mühendis hamm was invited to many socials and salons, run by firm owners and minor nobles trying to encourage more people to succeed in the field. Given her natural inclination to look for a better deal and trade up, after some time on the circuit Haktanir Bayan made the most-desired list in the city: Princess Nazli’s personal salon. She and the princess got along fabulously. When the Idea was being prototyped, Haktanir Bayan brought the first few scale models to the salon, then invited the women round to the shop to see the full-size version. The sultan’s sister visiting Haktanir’s Fabrication stirred up enough gossip to last a week. The two women remaining close friends over the next several years became the stuff of legend, the young, attractive, well-read and politically savvy sister to the sultan and the older, care and shop-worn mother of three who built fighting machines for the Army.

Haktanir Mühendis hamm was there the day the Idea was born. She and three other engineers put together the tools and parts lists for the first build. When the Russians declared war, she started a build in her own shop, clearing out anything that got in the way. She was not going to have her children’s home overrun by the Cossacks. They did things just as bad as the Turkish irregulars in Bulgaria that they said they were fighting against. When the first four dovmaks fired up their boilers, charged their electrical lances, and assembled outside the Fifth Military Gate, by the Church of Saint Kyriake, Haktanir Mühendis hamm piloted Number Three, the one with her children’s names painted on the cockpit hatch. At the Miracle of Plovna, she led the second charge, the one that overran the enemy command and left the Russian forces without their senior officers, routed in disarray. Haktanir Bayan keeps the medals (she has three, and would have had more had she been regular military) in a small box in her sock drawer. They only come out when she can’t avoid the summons to a state occasion.

So yes, go see Haktanir teyze if you need a complicated repair, or a unique piece of machinery built. See her if you need an introduction to someone who can lay hands on a specialized part, or fabricate one. Do not underestimate this short, slightly dumpy woman with the patchwork apron. Three years ago, this middle-aged Turkish mother drove an untested prototype three-story-high fighting machine, that she built herself, into combat against the Russians. And she still has tea with the princess once a week.

Character Sheet

See the PDF, and note the following.

  • Her Profession abilities are:
    • Karma for any PER-only Test
    • +1 to Mystic Defense, +1 to Social Defense (incorporated in character sheet)
    • It’s a Very Bad Design
  • When using a tool as a melee weapon, Engineers do not take the Improvised Weapon penalty.
  • Haktanir Bayan’s original dovmak is currently in a hangar at the Istanbul military base, with the armoured vehicles and mobile artillery. While she has ready access to it, it’s considered something of a cultural artifact, and won’t be brought out for battle unless the enemy crosses the Golden Horn. She’s currently working on a third generation design, but all she has of that so far is the chassis.
  • Her Money is her ready cash. She has a considerable interest in the mechanic shop, a stipend from the government and a (closely monitored) expense account, and other resources she could tap into if she needed large amounts of funding in a short time. Precisely how much is a question of game balance and should be decided for the campaign being run.