Supporting Cast

Albert Hawkshaw, Steampunk Explorer


by Mark Gellis


Albert Hawkshaw was born in 1850, in Manchester, the son of a bookseller. He was always interested in science, especially geology and geography, and he was fortunate enough to his talent noticed by Robert Nicholson, an industrialist who frequented his father's shop. When Hawkshaw turned sixteen, Nicholson arranged for the young man to join one of his expeditions to India as an assistant geologist and surveyor. He knew there was money to be made in Asia and in Africa. He only needed the right men to get the job done.

Nicholson was impressed by Hawkshaw's performance. The young man endured hardship without complaint, did his job better than men twice his age, and had a knack for managing things and people. As the years went on, and Nicholson sent Hawkshaw on different missions around the world, it became clear that the young man also had a knack for languages and, surprisingly, for warfare. Hawkshaw was almost as keen a student of tactics and strategy as he was of geology and geography, talking with the men who led expeditions about how to conduct battles in the wilderness and reading anything and everything he could find on the subject. More than once, he had a chance to put what he had learned into practice, helping defend expeditions from bandits or hostile natives. By the time he had turned 30, he had proved his worth again and again, even saving Nicholson's life from mutinous native guides on one occasion.

His preferred weapons are the Adams .450 revolver and the Martini-Henry rifle (see GURPS: High Tech, pp. 109, 113, 124-125 for details).

By the mid-1880s, Hawkshaw has been working for Nicholson for 20 years, handling geological and mining surveys for him around the world, along with an occasional special job, with a significant degree of success. 40 years earlier, Nicholson had inherited the mine his father started in a small town about 10 miles from Manchester. Now, he owns and operates more than twenty mines on three continents. He owes a good bit of his success to Hawkshaw.

In spite of all this, it would probably be too much to say that the two men are friends. They do, however, understand and respect each other. Hawkshaw considers Nicholson a fair and reasonable employer; Nicholson considers Hawkshaw a valuable asset, a man who is both smart and dependable, so much so that he is willing to provide an unusual degree of support to help him complete certain assignments, including using his wealth and connections to put pressure on colonial administrators or to arrange for "assistance" from the British military. If Hawkshaw says he needs a hundred rifles and a couple of small cannon to get a certain valley surveyed so a certain mine can be built, Nicholson knows he would not ask for such things lightly and will do what he can to see that his geologist gets what he needs.

Nicholson is not mistaken about his geologist. Hawkshaw is a good administrator, a sound scientist, and a skilled mapmaker, more than capable of organizing and leading surveying and prospecting operations. He is also a capable mercenary, able to organize and lead an armed group. He is not much of a brawler or a swordsman (in fact, he has never had any real training in melee combat and would be at a disadvantage against anyone who is), but he is a very good shot with a rifle and with a pistol, and a man of above average willpower and personal courage, so men are willing to follow him into battle. On two occasions, Nicholson has asked Hawkshaw to handle what were effectively corporate assassinations, leading a small group of armed men to kill the leaders of a village responsible for stalling one of his mining operation. In both cases, Hawkshaw was able to plan and conduct the mission quickly and secretly, leaving no evidence that would embarrass his employer.

Hawkshaw has virtually no training in the biological sciences. He is not interested in gaining any such training. He has little interest in flora or fauna, current or prehistoric; his passion is for the Earth itself and for the mineral wealth that it contains. He has also never learned engineering. He enjoys studying the land and figuring things out about it, which he refers to as "squeezing out her secrets," but once he has squeezed out the secret of a particular place, he is not really interested in the mechanics of getting the goods out of the ground. That he leaves to other men.

Hawkshaw's parents are both dead by the 1880s. His elder brother, Philip, owns and runs the bookshop. The two men write to each other (Philip is proud of his younger brother and is always glad to hear from him and about his adventures), but are not especially close. He also has two sisters, both married to Manchester shopkeepers.

Hawkshaw is generally content with his life. He has certainly gone further than he would have sharing the family bookselling business with his brother. He has seen things most white men have never seen and will never see. But most of his work, while interesting, is really quite tame, aside from the risks and annoyances of working for weeks at a time in the wilderness. Mostly, what he does is travel to foreign and often exotic places, studies the land and the soil and the rock formations, surveys the countryside, makes maps, and helps manage the efforts of the engineers and technicians who will build and run mines, ports, railroads, and so on. At the same time, he has lived through his share of real adventures and he has seen his share of enemies crushed under his heel.

He is a loner by nature. He is not unfriendly, but he prefers solitude and does not have any genuinely close friends. If anyone asked him, he would have to admit that he has probably never been in love.

If Hawkshaw has one serious flaw, it is jealousy. The simple fact is that he is a good explorer, but not a great one, and he knows it. He feels overshadowed by people like Dr. David Livingstone and Sir Richard Burton. He likes working for Nicholson, but he fears that he will never do anything that will put his name in the history books. As a result, he is quite likely to feel jealous of anyone who appears to be competition with him and he is willing to sabotage such people. In addition, he is vindictive; once someone has crossed him, he will hold a grudge for a very long time. This makes him a useful but not entirely reliable ally and a potentially dangerous rival or adversary.

Using Hawkshaw In A Campaign

Hawkshaw can be used as a player character (or the basis of one) if one is running a campaign at the 150-point level.

Hawkshaw is designed for a campaign set in the 1880s, the height of the Steampunk era, but he could be used in an Age of Napoleon, Old West, late Steampunk (Edwardian era), Cliffhanger, World War II, Atomic Horror, or any modern era campaign with only a few changes. He could also be adapted for campaigns in other locations without difficulty; in most cases, all one would have to do is modify his biography and substitute a few of his current languages and skills (Riding, Area Knowledges, etc.) for more appropriate ones.

As an NPC, Hawkshaw can appear as an ally or an adversary. In general, he will be working for Nicholson, so whether the player characters are allied or in competition with Nicholson will determine whether they are allied or in competition with Hawkshaw. If someone had the right connections, however, it is possible that he or she might be able to convince Nicholson to "loan" Hawkshaw to a team of player characters for a special mission. He would be a useful scientific consultant for any venture involving mining, surveying, or other projects where large quantities of rock and soil might be involved. His combination of scientific, administrative, and tactical skills make him a valuable addition to any party operating in poorly explored and possibly hostile territory. And Hawkshaw would be particularly interested in joining an expedition exploring uncharted territory; it is here, after all, that he might earn a place in the annals of history.

Anyone meeting Hawkshaw will see a fairly ordinary looking man, memorable only for looking like he would be equally comfortable in the wilderness or in an office. He does not talk much, but if one can engage him in a conversation, they will soon learn that he is an intelligent man, quite knowledgeable about a variety of topics, but mostly about such subjects as geology and cartography. Someone who has a university education might suspect that he is mostly self-taught, but would see that this does not appear to have harmed him much. Anyone asking about him will probably be able to learn that he is attached to the Nicholson Mining Company as a surveyor, but that he often does a lot more than just survey; a particularly good investigation might uncover some rumors that Hawkshaw has been involved in some pretty tight situations and handled himself well.

It is possible that someone who is skilled in areas Hawkshaw considers his "territory" might make him jealous, but the only sign will be that he brings the conversation to a close as soon as he can do so without being rude. Any future meetings will be civil, but Hawkshaw will not be very willing to provide the player characters with assistance or information. If someone really manages to annoy him, a GM should remember that he does tend to hold a grudge; it would not be unreasonable for him to become a recurring "enemy," showing up on occasion, when an opportunity presented itself, to frustrate the plans of the player characters.

One could use him in an adventure similar to Conrad's Heart of Darkness, replacing Kurtz with Hawkshaw. The story would begin with him going insane for some reason ("This is how I will make my mark on history!") and turning one of Nicholson's mines into his own petty kingdom. The gradual loss of profits combined with the total lack of communication from the mine would alert his employer that something was amiss and the player characters would be dispatched to investigate, but they would know very little about what they were getting into. Or, it might be some other agent of Nicholson's who has gone mad, and Hawkshaw is guiding the team of investigators. A particularly cruel GM might even assume that Hawkshaw and the other agent are both mad and are working together, with Hawkshaw leading the player characters into a trap (or, if this is not true, the GM might still drop false clues that it is).

Nicholson might also ask Hawkshaw to operate as an agent provocateur, a saboteur, a spy, or an enforcer, either to further his own ends or on behalf of the British government. The 1880s are a busy time for the British Empire. Hawkshaw could show up in India or almost any part of Africa. Nicholson may have "loaned" him to the British government to handle a special job (or he might be doing it on his own, having arranged a leave of absence, hoping to win some kind of fame). He might be observing foreign forces under the guise of doing a survey for Nicholson. A man who knows land and how armies do battle can gather a lot of useful information simply by looking around and writing down his observations. Perhaps he has been captured by bandits and the player characters need to retrieve him, and the information he now carries in his head Or he might be asked to eliminate some threat to one of Nicholson's mines or British settlers. His target might be anything from villages of hostile natives to mercenaries hired by one of Nicholson's competitors. No matter what Hawkshaw is up to, the player characters might be working with him or protecting someone else from him.

Finally, Hawkshaw might be used as a red herring. His current business might not have anything to do with the player characters. Because he tends to be quiet, however, he may look suspicious. If he is involved in anything covert or if someone has done something to annoy him, he will be especially quiet. If players jump to conclusions about him based on too little evidence, a GM should remember that it is always his or her prerogative to take advantage of such situations.

Albert Hawkshaw In GURPS

Male; Age 35; 5'9", 150 lbs.; Hair: Light Brown, Eyes: Blue, Skin: White with Freckles

ST: 10 [0] DX: 11 [10] IQ: 12 [20] HT: 13 [30]
Speed: 6.00 Move: 6 Dodge: 6

Advantages: Absolute Direction [5]; Alertness +1 [5]; Patron (Nicholson) (9 or less) [10]; Very Fit [15] (HT: +2; Fatigue Loss: Half; Fatigue Recovery: Double Rate); Wealth (Comfortable) [10]

Disadvantages: Duty (to Nicholson) (6 or less) [-2]; Jealousy [-10]; Loner [-5]

Quirks: Attentive [-1]; Avid Reader [-1]; In conversations, tends to listen rather than talk [-1]; Vindictive [-1]; Wants to be famous [-1]

Skills: Administration-13 [4]; Area Knowledge (East Africa)-12 [1]; Area Knowledge (Egypt)-12 [1]; Area Knowledge (England)-12 [1]; Area Knowledge (India)-12 [1]; Area Knowledge (West Africa)-12 [1]; Boating-12 [4]; Cartography-13 [4]; Climbing-10 [1]; First Aid-11 [1/2]; Geology-13 [6]; Gunner (Cannon)-11 [1/2]; Guns (Pistol)-13 [1]; Guns (Rifle)-14 [2]; Hiking-14 [4]; Intelligence Analysis-9 [1], Leadership-12 [2]; Mathematics-12 [4]; Riding (Horse)-12 [4]; Prospecting-13 [4]; Strategy (Land)-12 [4]; Surveying-13 [4]; Survival (Desert)-11 [1]; Survival (Jungle)-11 [1]; Survival (Mountains)-11 [1]; Survival (Plains)-11 [1]; Tactics (Guerrilla)-12 [4]; Tracking-10 [1/2]

Languages: English (Native)-12 [0]; Arabic-10 [1/2]; French-10 [1/2]; German-10 [1/2]; Hindi-10 [1/2]; Kongo-10 [1/2]*; Malinke-10 [1/2]*; Swahili-10 [1/2].

* Kongo is a language spoken in the region of the Congo river; Malinke is a language spoken in the region of Africa that will eventually become Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and Ivory Coast.

Total Points: 150

Article publication date: October 10, 2003

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