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[Æther] Interesting Historical Figures and Lesser Known Fictional Characters

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  • [Æther] Interesting Historical Figures and Lesser Known Fictional Characters

    So, we had a thread like this for Adventure!, and I felt it might be interesting/useful to have one for Æther as well.

    I'll start with Nellie Bly. Bly was the pen name of Elizabeth Cochran. Born in Pennsylvania as the youngest of thirteen children. She got her start as a newspaper writer by writing a rather passionate response to the Pittsburgh Dispatch's column about how women were meant for making babies and keeping house (and I'm not exaggerating). The editor was so impressed he hired her, and she started writing articles about the need to reform divorce laws, and later about the conditions of women factory workers. Then she went to Mexico for six months to report on the lives of people there, but had to flee after the Diaz regime threatened her for protesting the arrest of a local journalist.
    After this, Bly found her way to New York City and worked for Pulitzer's New York World, going undercover as a patient at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Island). After this, she did an interview with female serial killer Lizzie Halliday.
    In 1889, Bly set out to match the fictional accomplishment of Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days . Setting out with nothing more than her dress, an overcoat, several changes of undergarments, a toiletry bag, and £200 in money, she traveled from New York to England, France (where she met with Verne), Italy, the Suez Canal, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and San Fransisco, finally returning to New York after 72 days. This made her so famous, she and her trip were the subject of an 1890 board game, Around the World with Nellie Bly.
    After this, Bly became a serial novelist, writing twelve novels between 1889 and 1895. (These were thought lost until rediscovered in 2021.) In 1895, Bly married millionaire Robert Seaman, who was 40 years her senior. When his health started failing, she took over as head of Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., which mainly made steal cans, boilers, and oil drums. She also invented and patented a new style of milk can and a stacking garbage can. Under her leadership, Iron Clad offered employee health benefits and recreational activities. Unfortunately, she was not a great financial manager, and one of the factory managers embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars, forcing the company into bankruptcy. She would return to reporting as a war correspondent in the Great War's Balkans front. She died in 1922 at 57 from pneumonia.

    In Æther, I think she'd make a pretty cool Squire. Also a potential contact (or even patron as head of Iron Clad Manufacturing) for PCs. If one wanted, you could even go so far as to have Iron Clad become a maker of Ætheric Science devices.

    What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
    Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)

  • #2
    And in the realm of lesser known literary characters, I offer the Nathanial Hawthorne story Rappacchini's Daughter. This gothic story was first published in 1844, and I confess that I'm cheating just a smidge by the fact that while it's exact temporal setting isn't given, but there's implications that its set in the 16th century. However, Frankenstein is set in the late 18th century, but has still become a staple trope of Victorian horror and Steampunk, so I don't think it matters that much.
    Anyway, Giocomo Rappacchini is a medical researcher and botanist in Padua, in northeast Italy. He has cultivated a garden of exotic, very poisonous plants, and his daughter, Beatrice, has been raised to care for the garden. In the process, she has become toxic herself, with non-poisonous plants and insects dying in her presence. This is in contrast to her apparently innocent and pure spirit and persona.
    A medical student, Giovanni Guasconti, falls in love with Beatrice and continues to meet with her in spite of the warnings of his own mentor, Professor Pietro Baglioni. Giovanni himself eventually begins to become a poisonous being himself. Baglioni offers Giovanni a cure, but he gives it to Beatrice instead. It ends up being toxic to her, and she dies.

    I think this offers a number of interesting possibilities for Æther. For one, Beatrice Rappacchini, who is an innocent soul with a monstrous physical curse keeping her apart from the rest of humanity, makes a good concept/inspiration for a Magog character who isn't a total monster. Alternately, one could turn her into a Victorian Poison Ivy, who is now as deadly on the inside as she is on the outside.
    Giocomo Rappacchini, on the other hand, would make for a good mad scientist among the groups involved with Dr. Jekyll and/or Victor Frankenstein, obsessed with the idea of making more poison people.
    Prof. Baglioni may have found a home among the Society for the Opposition of Monsters. As might Giovanni. He could have been cured of his poisonous curse. Alternately, he may still be a Magog, but one who clings to his humanity by fighting other monsters. Or he could be a sort of reverse-Gog, one who is dependent on chemicals or medicines to stay human and not revert to his poisonous form.

    What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
    Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)


    • #3
      Carnacki the Ghost Hunter is a few years late for the period, but only ten or so. A scientific ghost hunter fits the period.

      Look up the Alarune. To the Germans of this period she was an unnatural monster. We'd see her as a child conceived via artificial insemination. In the setting she'd be born a Magog that looks completely human and in fact beautiful. Raised as a lab experiment rather than a child, she lacks a moral compass. Worse, her Magog powers seem to erode the morals of those she tries to make a human connection with.

      Rotwang ( literally Mr. Roseycheeks) is also late for this period, but as a Gog slipping into being a Magog, wounded by the cruelty of a once friend, he's dramatic and terrifying. His friend, the industrialist from the film is fully human and as horrible as any Magog. Remember, the industrialist hires Rotwang to break Freoder to the industrialist's will because the young man was beginning to become socially and morally aware.


      • #4
        This thread is a great idea. I'll be watching it with interest.

        Matthew Dawkins
        In-House Developer for Onyx Path Publishing



        • #5
          AJ Raffles was one of the earlier "Gentleman Thief" characters, created by Sir Author Conan Doyle's brother-in-law EW Hornung. Hornung was a fan of Doyle's Holmes stories, creating Raffles as a sort of inversion of the character as a tribute to him.
          In his public life, Raffles is an amateur cricket player and well to do socialite, but he's also an amateur burglar and safe cracker who only steals from the very wealthy. Raffles is a master of disguise, and is incredibly charismatic, with an ability to make himself irresistible to others. Theft is an intellectual challenge for him in addition to an economic necessity, and he considers himself an artist.
          Raffles is accompanied by his longtime friend, Harry "Bunny" Manders, who acts as the Watson to Raffles's Holmes (including being the chronicler/narrator of their adventures). The two have known each other since their school days. Because Raffles was partially modeled on real life cricketeer and criminologist George Ives, who was a homosexual, there has been constant literary speculation over the decades that Raffles and Bunny are "more than friends". And if you wanted to go that way in your Æther game, you certainly could.
          The biggest thing about Raffles and Bunny is that, first and foremost, they are Gentlemen. While neither religious nor holding to any exact ethical code, there are certain things that are "Not Done". They will not abuse the hospitality of a guest (they might steal from a fellow guest, but never the host), and will not resort to violence to commit a theft.
          The pair make for very fun allies or potential foils for the PCs in a London based adventure involving high society or intelligently plotted heist mysteries.

          Raffles appeared in 26 short stories (originally collected in The Amateur Cracksman, The Black Mask, and A Thief in the Night) and a single novel, Mr. Justice Raffles.

          (I keep hoping that if they ever do a third of the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes films, they might include Raffles in it.)
          Last edited by No One of Consequence; 08-07-2022, 03:15 AM.

          What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
          Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)


          • #6
            I'll recommend a couple of sources I think might be useful, and purely coincidentally were written by friends of mine.

            Wonder Women by Sam Maggs: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History. This was admittedly more useful during Adventure!, featuring people like Bessie Coleman, the first African-American and Native American woman to hold a pilot's license, but the women featured here span centuries.

            The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, 2nd Edition by Jess Nevins: It's an ebook because it's over 2500 pages long. This encyclopedia is truly an encyclopedia and not a quick reference; it's got damn near every fictional character from the Victorian period, the result of literal years of research.

            Ian A. A. Watson(he/she)
            Onyx Path Community Manager
            Trinity Continuum Content Lead


            • #7
              Since I mentioned George Ives in the above post, I might as well mention the real world secret society he founded. The Order of Chaeronea was created in the 1890s, the exact date of which seems to be unclear, which is understandable, given that it was a secret society of homosexuals.
              The Order's name comes from the Battle of Chaeronea, the 4th century BC battle in which the Sacred Band of Thebes was destroyed. The Sacred Band was an elite group of the Theban army made up of 300 men who were 150 gay couples. (The idea, apparently, being that each of them would fight to the death rather than disgrace themselves in front of their lover with cowardice or other dishonorable behavior.)
              Ives formed the Order in order to advance what he frequently referred to as "The Cause", the end of oppression of homosexuals and the illegality of homosexual behavior. It was also a part of the aesthetic movement, mixing art, politics, and idealism in a pursuit of the ideal of Beauty. The group had a fairly elaborate system of rituals, secret codes, passwords, initiation ceremonies, and the like (all typical for Victorian societies of any sort). Member prerequisites were to possess "Zeal, Learning, and Discipline", and swore oaths to never vex or persecute lovers.
              No membership lists for the Order survive, but it's believed that Oscar Wilde and his one time lover Lord Alfred Douglas were members. It apparently found a hidden place among artists and the upper classes of Europe, the United States and elsewhere. While the Order was primarily made up of men, it is believed to have included a handful of female/lesbian members.
              [Note: Exactly how all of these people fit into the current LGBT+ community's spectrum of gender, attraction, etc. is anyone's guess. I leave such questions to people much more knowledgable than myself.]

              So how does this group fit into Æther? They're really too niche to be a full Society. However, they make for a really interesting Origin or Role Path Connection for LGBT+ characters or allies.

              What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
              Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)


              • #8
                From the mind of HG Wells, I present Prof. Gibberne, from the 1901 short story "The New Accelerator". Gibberne is a chemist and physiologist who has developed an elixir - "Gibberne's Nervous Accelerator!" - which accelerates all of an individuals physiological and cognitive processes by orders of magnitude. In layman's terms, it grants super speed (including speed of thought). This all works by the rules of comic book "Bat-Science. The friction of the air from running will singe the user's clothing, but they can still breath normally.
                Obviously, this sort of drug being readily available to the public offers potential for abuse, especially among criminals. But does Prof. Gibberne care? No, he does not. "We shall manufacture and sell the Accelerator. As for the consequences? We shall see."

                This is prime Gog material, naturally. Gibberne can be a Gog antagonist or rival (or somewhat amoral ally of dubious loyalty). Alternately, one of the PCs can take his place, being the inventor of their own Accelerator to advance the goals of themselves and their Society.

                What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
                Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)