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Ye Can Always Tell A Yankee, But Ye Canna Tell 'im Much

by Loren Wiseman

The character generation rules in Space: 1889 are intended to permit the generation of British subjects‹ and succeed very well at that. The generation of American characters, however, requires some modifications to the basic rules, primarily in the specific careers available. Likewise, since America differed from Great Britain in certain social aspects, this article will summarize those differences. All page references are to the Space: 1889 rule book.

America And The World

America in the late 19th century had just begun to exercise its economic muscles and had not yet developed military ones. America had no colonies in 1889, a relatively small standing army, and some thoughts of building a modern navy. It did, however, have economic spheres of interest: Americans believed that it was their God given right to go anywhere and sell anything to anybody who had the money.

The vast plains of the Midwest produced grain in quantities previously unthought-of, and the burgeoning railroad network constructed in the '70s and '80s permitted this grain to be readily transported to eastern harbors for shipment and sale to Europe. American factories were growing rapidly, and while they were closing in on those of Great Britain, they had not yet overtaken them. Overall, the American economy was in its infancy, but some observers were already predicting that the baby would soon grow up to be a behemoth.

Americans were world-class in one category, however: machines. Nobody could invent them, build them, or maintain them like Americans. When Oscar Wilde said, "There is no country in the world where the machinery is as beautiful as in America," he did not mean physical beauty, but the beauty of a well-oiled, efficient mechanism. American machines worked, and they worked well, and American tools were acknowledged to be second to none.

Americans had a fascination with gadgets and gizmos that was to continue into the 20th century and was to change the world radically. The backyard inventor and the tool shed tinkerer were typically American mythic characters. Tom Swift, Hank Morgan, and their ilk would soon replace the Horatio Alger-type heroes in American literature.

In some ways, America is the same as it was then. In many other ways, however, there was a tantalizing mix of the alien and the familiar. Cigarettes (especially those new-fangled readymades) were still viewed as a radical invention in some circles and were illegal in some states. Edison (who chewed) refused to hire cigarette smokers. Baseball was the great American pastime in 1889, but the rules were not the same as today. In 1889, overhand pitching had only recently been introduced, and the batter could signal for a high or low pitch (the pitcher was required to oblige).

The dimensions of the field were recently altered (the distance from the pitcher's plate to home plate was increased from 45 to 50 feet in 1881), and no pitcher's mound appears in the rules until 1903. (Before you baseball fans write scathing letters, bear in mind that the distance was extended again, in 1893.)

American Society

"There are only about 400 people in New York society," one social arbiter remarked in 1888 in reaction to the publication of that city's first social register. It contained 3600 entries drawn from telephone customer listings, among other sources (this is not as silly as it sounds‹the telephone was still something of a rich man's toy in those days). The statement is of value here only in indicating one person's opinion of the number of socially acceptable people in the largest city in America: 400 out of four million.

Class divisions in America were not as sharp as in Europe, and movement between them was much easier. Few families had been in America for more than a few generations, and most Americans were not interested in pedigrees -‹ only the present (and the future, of course) was important. America had no royal family and no titled nobility, but it did have a rough equivalent in the various "socially acceptable" families in each community.

Social level in America revolved completely around money and how you had gotten it: If you had made the family fortune, you were nouveau riche; if your father had made it, you were barely acceptable; and if your grandfather had made it, you were in.

The aristocracy consisted of two parts: old and new. The old were the prestigious families of the eastern seaboard (like the Adams) and families like the Vanderbilts, whose money had been around long enough to have worn off some of the stigma. The new were the families of the self-made millionaires like Andrew Carnegie or John Rockefeller, who still had a slight nouveau riche taint to overcome. Unlike the aristocrats of England, however, engaging in business was not socially forbidden‹provided it was the right kind of business (that is, if there were heaps of money to be made at it) and provided that your family fortune had been made by a remote ancestor (it was acceptable to make money if you already had a lot of it to start with). Indeed, the aristocracy of America tended to send its sons into business. (It tended to send its daughters to Europe to marry land-rich but cash-poor noblemen.) Government was the only other respectable career.

At their best, these people could be quite laudable. Andrew Carnegie founded libraries throughout the country and was famed for other philanthropies. It was Carnegie who said, "The man who dies rich dies disgraced."

At their worst, these people could be totally ruthless and uncaring, especially where business was concerned. Competitors were to be eliminated by whatever means worked, legal or illegal, short of actual murder. The callous and conspicuous displays of wealth (especially during the minor recessions of the era) defined a stereotype for the bloated, money-grubbing, sybaritic capitalist that became a stock character in many melodramas and provided ammunition for anarchists and Marxists for decades.

The Richest Man in the World

William K. "The Public Be Damned" Vanderbilt considered himself to be the richest man in the world, even though he admitted that certain British nobles owned more property. He held that since their value was tied up in useless property, his income was greater (it was in the millions of dollars).

People with less disposable income than Vanderbilt were only able to accomplish minor investment feats -- such as that of New York financier W.R. Grace, who assumed the debt of two Peruvian bond issues in 1890, saving the country from bankruptcy and effectively buying control of the nation's resources (including several railroad leases, all the Peruvian nitrate deposits, five million acres of oil and mineral lands, and the Cero de Pasco silver mines).

Unfortunately for players, people such as these are completely off the scale as far as Space: 1889 goes. If your character is Social Level 6, you are perhaps a distant cousin to one of these wealthy families, and you have access to only a miniscule fraction of the vast family fortune (assuming you roll high enough).

The gentry were the less wealthy versions of the aristocracy -- those who hadn't quite made the climb to multimillionaire yet or who had fallen from that dizzying height. Ante bellum Southern families (who tended to be on the landlord end of the sharecropper system) were often in this class. The American Civil War (aka the War Between the States) had eliminated (or freed) the bulk of their wealth but left their pride intact.

In the North, the growing economy spawned thousands of mills, factories, newspapers, breweries, steamship lines, railroad lines, banks, and brokerage houses, and their owners were accumulating money faster then it could be spent (remarkable though it seems). Not that there was any shortage of places to put it: There was always some new invention to be invested in (the cash register, for instance, or that new-fangled office machine that was revolutionizing business paperwork -- the typewriter).

The middle classes were likewise burgeoning. They consisted of the same sort of people as the middle classes in Great Britain and in many ways were identical to them, except for a more optimistic attitude about their immediate future. America was obviously on the way up, they felt. Any boy could grow up to be president, if only of a major business concern. All it took was hard work, intelligence, and a free marketplace.

The working classes of America's I cities were mostly immigrants or the I children of immigrants. (Between 1845 | and 1917, 33 million immigrants settled I in the United States.) They labored in I the factories of the gentry and the I sweatshops of the middle class, and j dreamed of better days to come. Unions were in their infancy, and this was the time of the 1 2-hour work day and the six-day work week (although the burgeoning unions would soon change both of these). Children were employed as soon as they became strong enough to do work, and most women either worked in a sweatshop or did piecework at home. The lucky ones were employed as servants of the middle and upper classes. Nevertheless, there was still a good deal of optimism, and most believed that their children, at least, would have a better life than they.

The rural laborers tended to be farmers or ranch hands in America, although in some regions they were miners (copper, lead, silver, and gold in the West, coal in the Appalachians, iron in upstate Minnesota). Unlike Great Britain, there was plenty of room for agricultural expansion (the conclusion of the last of the Indian wars had seen to that), and every laborer could dream of owning his own farm if he worked and saved.

The Closing of the Frontier

The truth of the statement that "every laborer could dream of owning his own farm if he worked and saved" was largely due to the gigantic quantities of inexpensive land opened up to settlement by the end of the Indian wars. The census of 1890 would conclude that the American frontier no longer existed, and most of the country could be counted as organized, if not actually civilized.

Except for occasional flareups (the Ghost Dancers of the plains Indian tribes, for example) the great Indian wars were over. Red Cloud and Crazy Horse were dead. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce and Geronimo of the Chiricahua had surrendered, and Sitting Bull of the Sioux had recently been on tour with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. The clash between cultures was inevitable, and the final defeat of the various tribes was simply a matter of time after 1865. Some tribes emerged in better shape than others, but even those that cooperated with the army (such as the Crow) usually got shafted.

Huge ranches (often owned by absentee landlords) dominated the grazing areas of the West once the Indians were out of the way. The Homestead Act allowed settlers to acquire cheap land, but the influx of farmers was viewed with alarm by the local cattlemen, who often opposed settlement with criminal measures (such as those which caused the so-called Johnson County War).

Attributes And Skills

Character attributes for Americans are determined in the standard fashion, without modification (although the definitions of the various social levels are somewhat different from those listed in Space: 1889).

The types of skills available are the same, and these skills are obtained in the same way as for British characters, although the specific careers differ somewhat. General skill points are allocated as noted on page 12 of the rules. Skill explanations remain identical.

Careers And Money

The rules on careers, wealth, additional benefits, and inventions outlined on pages 12-13 of the rules remain unchanged, except as outlined below.

Government Careers

Government careers suitable for Space: 1889 characters are pretty much the same as in the rule book, with a few minor changes.

In the American Army, there were no fashionable regiments and no native regiments; artillery was largely restricted to coastal batteries; and the technical services were quite small. The U.S. Army had no native regiments, but it did have the scouts, which were similar. Likewise, it had no fashionable regiments, but it did have staff. Americans didn't like their army much (in peacetime, anyway), and it was commonly viewed as a career suitable only for misfits, criminals, and the lower classes (those of higher social standing who insisted on joining the military tried to get themselves assigned to staff positions). Therefore, implement the following changes:

Soc 1: Private soldier -- skills for Social Level 1 are unchanged, but add the following branch:

Scouts: Fieldcraft 1, Tracking 2.

Soc 2: Noncommissioned officer -- skills for Social Level 2 are unchanged, but add the following branch:

Scouts: End 4+. Fieldcraft 1, Tracking 1, Leadership 1.

Soc 3-5: Line officer, common regiment or scouts -- Leadership 2, Marksmanship 1, Close Combat 1 (pole arms). For Soc 5, technical services are not allowed.

Infantry: Fieldcraft 1, Wilderness Travel 1 (mapping), Observation 1.

Cavalry: Riding 1, Fieldcraft 1, Wilderness Travel 1 (mapping).

Artillery: Gunnery 1 (MLC or BLC), Mechanics 2 (machinist).

Engineer: Engineering 2 (earthworks), Mechanics 1 (machinist).

Surgeon: Medicine 2, Science 1 (biology).

Scouts: Fieldcraft 2, Linguistics 1 (as troops commanded).

Soc 6: Staff officer -- Leadership 1, Riding 2 (horse), Eloquence 2, Bargaining 1, Linguistics 1 (any European language).

The U.S. Navy was somewhat more socially acceptable as a career than the army. All skills are identical to those on page 15 of the rules, except that "BLC or machinegun" should be replaced with "MLC or BLC" since the American Navy was not as technologically advanced as the British Navy.

In the United States, the state department is the equivalent of the Foreign Office (even though the only firm foreign policy in 1889 was to have as little to do with foreigners as possible). The careers of agent and diplomat remain the same. Since America has no colonies, it has no Colonial Office and no colonial administrators -- the Colonial Office career does not exist. The remaining careers are identical.

Exotic Careers

Exotic Careers are all identical to those in the Space: 1889 rules, with the following three additions.

Shootist: Agl 4+. Wilderness Travel 1 (foraging), Fieldcraft 2, Tracking 1, Marksmanship 3 (pistol). As a special bonus, the shootist may fire two pistols in the same action, thus getting off up to six shots per action instead of the normal three. Marksmanship is one less for both pistols.

Circus Performer: Agl 5+. Theatrics 1, Eloquence 1, Fisticuffs 1.

Aerialist/Acrobat: Wilderness Travel 2 (mountaineering), Marksmanship 1 (rifle).

Animal Trainer: Riding 2 (horse, elephant or camel).

Magician/Escape Artist: Crime 3 (lockpick 3, pickpocket 1).

Gambler: Int 5+. Theatrics 2, Marksmanship 1 (pistol), Observation 2, Eloquence 2.

Service Careers

Service careers are also identical to those in the rule book, except that grounds keeper is replaced by cowboy/frontiersman.

Cowboy/Frontlersman: Soc 2-, End 3+. Riding 2 (horse), Wilderness Travel 2 (foraging), Close Combat 1 (edged weapon or bashing weapon), Tracking 1, Marksmanship 1 (pistol).

Mercantile and Professional Careers

Mercantile and Professional careers are identical.

Criminal Careers

Criminal careers are identical, except that poacher is replaced by rustler, and the career of desperado is added. Rustler: Soc 2-. Riding 2 (horse), Wilderness Travel 2 (foraging), Tracking 2, Marksmanship 1 (pistol). Desperado: Soc 3-. Riding 2, Fieldcraft 1, Marksmanship 2 (pistol), Close Combat 2 (edged weapon or bashing weapon). As a special bonus, the desperado may fire two pistols in the same action, thus getting off up to six shots per action instead of the normal three. Marksmanship is one less for both pistols.

Bloodletters And Badmen

One of the classic characters of the American West was the gunfighter (aka gunman, gunslinger, hired gun, owl-hoot, pistolero, and several dozen other things). For the purposes of Space:1889, a distinction is drawn between the white hat gunmen we have labeled shootists and the black hat gunmen we have labeled desperados. Shootists are mostly good guys and some scruples. Desperados are basically crooks. Some examples: The James gang started out as shootists and ended up as desperados. Wyatt Earp, the Sundance Kid, and any gunfighter John Wayne ever played were shootists. James Dalton, Butch Cassidy, and Lee Van Cleef (in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) were desperados. Historical personalities tended to be a complex, continually shifting mixture of both good and evil. Space:1889 characters, however, can (and should) be larger than life and will show one predominant characteristic.


The 19th century was a time of overt racial prejudice, and feelings still ran high on the subject. It wasn't a very happy time to be nonwhite in America. On the other hand, things were not hunky-dory for all whites, either. Blacks shared the lower rungs of society's ladder with other groups: Mediterranean and Eastern Europeans were just beginning to arrive and were subjected to the overt prejudice that the Irish had finally managed to overcome. Jews were subject to mistreatment, especially if they came from eastern Europe. Physical appearance, however, tended to keep blacks, Indians, and Orientals on the bottom. The social and career restrictions below are reasonably historical. It might have been exceptional to see some combinations of race and career, but player characters represent exceptional individuals, don't they?

Blacks: Blacks were the most numerous of those who could be distinguished by physical appearance. Reconstruction was over, and although slavery had been eliminated, the system of tenant farming and sharecropping that sprang up after the civil war wasn't much of an improvement. The so-called "Jim Crow laws" were beginning to eliminate the freedoms the 1 3th and 14th amendments had established, and the South (where most blacks still lived -- the migrations to northern cities were still to come) was in an economic doldrums that was only to be made worse with the coming of the boll weevil (which would destroy southern agriculture as it was then known). The civil war had settled the question of the existence of slavery, but the racial problems of the "peculiar institution" would last to the present day. Night riders (groups of white vigilantes) intimidated the newly freed slaves and persuaded them to remain in "their proper place." Only in the West, on the frontier, was there a measure of equal opportunity, but the frontier was rapidly vanishing -- on Earth.

All was not hopeless, however. In the 1880s, the first freeborn generation of American blacks reached adulthood. There were black colleges (of which Tuskeegee in Alabama was the most famous), black intellectuals, black scientists, black cowboys, black soldiers, black professionals (albeit they served only black communities), black sailors (one even commanded a coast guard brig in the gulf of Alaska and as such was the only government for most of that territory and some of Siberia), and even black inventors. No reason exists why there could not have been a black anarchist. Within another generation, a black statesman (Booker T. Washington) would be a dinner guest of the president.

Black Characters: Black characters are restricted to Social Level 3 or lower. Blacks did not achieve ranks higher than noncommissioned officers in the army or petty officers in the navy (and then only in command of other blacks) and were forbidden from the diplomat career, but they may enter any other career for which they qualify.

Orientals: Japanese in America were almost unknown, but Chinese workers had built the western third of the transcontinental railroad, along with much of the rest of the West. They were subject to horrible prejudice and mistreatment in many places, and barely tolerated in others. Anti-Chinese riots were not unusual in some areas.

Oriental Characters: Oriental characters are restricted to Social Level 3 or lower. Orientals operate under the same career restrictions as blacks.

Indians: War, pestilence, and socioeconomic factors had significantly reduced the number of American Indians by 1889. In 1888, congress formally did away with communally held Indian land and gave each Indian family 80 to 120 acres. The plan was to encourage them to take up agriculture. In practice, most were soon forced to sell the land in order to survive or were cheated out of it. The religious revival/ antiwhite rebellion called the Ghost Dance began in late 1889 and would end (a couple of years later) in disaster for the tribes involved.

Interestingly enough, it is possible for Indians to have participated in the Indian wars on either (and sometimes both) sides. Members of one tribe sometimes enlisted with the army to fight their tribal enemies (Crow warriors fought as army scouts against the Sioux, for instance, and it was not uncommon for Apaches of one group to assist in fighting another).

Indian Characters: Indian characters are restricted to Social Level 3 or lower. They are restricted from all government careers except the army scouts and navy. They may enter any other career for which they qualify.

Hispanics: Americans of Hispanic descent might be respected, barely tolerated, or subjected to prejudice as horrendous as that inflicted on any other group, depending upon the location. The old "land grant" families of the Southwest were much like some European aristocrats in that they were often land-rich and cash-poor (and like them, they tended to marry into cash rich but status-seeking Anglo-American families). Among the middle range of society, different cultural values sometimes caused conflict between whites and Hispanics. Hispanics were also guilty of their own form of prejudice -- a distinction was drawn between those of "pure" European ancestry, and those of mixed European and Indian descent. The lower classes were despised by both upper-class whites and upper-class Hispanics.

Hispanic Characters: Hispanic characters are restricted to Social Level 5 or lower (no Hispanic equivalent to the Astors existed). They may be treated with less respect in some circles, however. Hispanics may enter any career they qualify for without other restriction.


This article was not intended to be a complete summary. I encourage players to read up on the period (look in the card catalog under "Gay '90s" or "Guilded Age"). For pictorial references, check out the Time-Life The West series. You will find that Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane looked nothing like Paul Newman and Doris Day.

Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:54:56 EDT

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