1879: Phoebe Figalily, DSc, FRS

In which we describe Phoebe Figalily, DSc, FRS, provide her backstory, and discuss her work. We’ll be putting out a $1.99 PDF later on with Adventure Hooks, eight spider-themed Devices, and a bit of art, as the first in a proposed Personalities line.


Everyone who knew her agreed that Phoebe Figalily was an odd child. Most girls of her social class ran shrieking at the sight of a bug. Phoebe kept a pet spider in an old aquarium she found in the garret, tidied up, and put on her nightstand. Her nanny tried to get rid of the horrid thing, several times, but after the third one went missing (wrapped in the newspaper from the nanny’s lunchtime fish and chips and tossed in the bin by the kitchen door), Phoebe started carrying around the fourth. Mother put her foot down at that. Pets were not allowed at the table, not even small ones that rode on one’s shoulder and made no mess or noise. Nanny got replaced by someone more sensible and that was that. Her big brother Thomas thought she was weird, but respected a girl that wasn’t afraid of spiders. Her little sister Cremona just tried to keep out of her way. Not that Phoebe was aggressive – she was just fascinated, and like anyone obsessed with a subject, would hold forth on it, with specimens for demonstration, at the drop of a hat.

Some girls never quite outgrow the horse phase. Phoebe acquired new interests – mechanical engineering, drafting (she was quite a clever artist with a pencil to begin with), chemistry, and of course entomology – but never left her spiders behind. At ten, she built a wooden spider with jointed legs worked by a wheel on the underside, and gave Cremona a terrific fright by dragging it across a doorway on a string. At fifteen, she took honors in her school placement tests in maths, and her father shrugged and said, well, these are more enlightened times, let’s start thinking about a university. At twenty, she earned her first Master of Science degree, at Cambridge, coming second in the Tripos much to her annoyance. Her faculty advisor reassured her that second wrangler was a very impressive achievement, and considering her work in the engineering department, she should consider her academic career as a whole, and not judge her achievements by a single competition. After all, hadn’t her steam-powered hydraulically-operated spider defeated all comers at the Bare-Steel Brawl? Her only problem was likely to be a lack of suitors, most men being intimidated by a woman of such demonstrated brilliance, who could build a giant mechanical spider capable of throwing a steam-coach. This failed to bother Miss Figalily, MSc. She had other interests to pursue.

At twenty-eight, with a Doctor of Science, a membership in the Royal Society, and a position on the faculty at the newly established Victoria University at Manchester, Professor Arachne (as she has become known) leads the field in arthropodal engineering. Rumours that she has taken up adventuring on the side, partly as a way of field testing her devices and partly out of boredom, are most assuredly the work of those jealous of her achievements. Young she may be for such a high position, even at a university just starting to build its faculty, but every professor takes sabbaticals from time to time to pursue their own research.

Character Sheet

Click here for the PDF, and note the following.

  • This is the first draft, not the final version. As such, it contains a couple of mechanical errors that are getting sorted in Editorial.
  • Professor Arachne’s Animal Skills are restricted to insects, arthropods, and similar creatures. She just doesn’t relate well to anything warm blooded.
  • Her Profession abilities are:
    • Recovery Step +1
    • Karma for DEX and PER-only Tests
    • Delayed Blast (affects Exploding Ammunition)
    • Percussive Operation
  • Her Money only reflects her ready cash, and does not include her investments in various manufacturing facilities, patent license income, stock holdings, and so forth. Dr. Figalily keeps her actual monetary worth a closely held secret. She must be well off, though, to afford a townhouse in Manchester, a private laboratory in a converted cotton mill, a personal steamcoach, a (used) lorry with a crane fitted to its bed for loading and unloading her larger contraptions, and the materials for the devices she’s built. As well, a year ago, she bought a slightly larger house for her parents, and pays for their staff, including a live-in nurse as her parents are aging and need a bit of looking after.
  • Her Animal Companion, Shelby, may be given the same stats as a Snake (1879 Game Master’s Guide, p.365) if needed. Note that the venom of a cobalt blue tarantula causes intense muscle cramps expanding outward from the bite location, and tissue inflammation that can result in necrosis if the bite isn’t properly tended.

Tally Ho!